Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Of Big Dawgs and Bitches: The Hillary Identity

In Politics on July 28, 2016 at 11:40 pm

Hillary Clinton has an identity problem. After all of her decades in politics, after being First Lady of Arkansas and First lady of the United States, after being a U.S. Senator, after being the first female Secretary of State, after years of advocacy on a huge range of issues, even after being feted nationally after the first ever commencement speech by a graduating senior at Wellesley, during which she challenged a sitting U.S. Senator who was the guest of honor; people don’t really know her.

I think I may have figured out why.

Hillary Clinton grew up at a time when men who sought power, who had ego and ambition and drive to achieve great things were the Big Dawgs, an epithet often applied to her husband. Women who had the same attributes could never aspire to be anything more than Bitches.

And so they were.

Women like Hillary Clinton played the Big Dawgs’ game. They used whatever power they could get hold to carve out a place in a world that had been built by men to serve men. They married their way or slept their way, or bought their way; they said what was expected of them, they did what they had to in the public eye while they schemed and fought and lived and died in the shadow of men. And everyone who knew them knew that they were Bitches.

And here’s the thing. They knew it, too. And they were not only willing to be Bitches, they were proud of what they had accomplished. Think of one great feminine – or if you prefer, feminist – heroine who advanced the many causes of women in a male-dominant American culture who was not called a Bitch, not once, but many times. That was the price of standing up and standing out. You were a Bitch.

Think it’s changed? You’re not paying attention.

Nancy Pelosi is famous as a Bitch. Elizabeth Warren has been called a Bitch. That classy, elegant woman Michelle Obama has been called a Bitch for nothing more ambitious than suggesting that the nation should do more to ensure that even the poorest children should have access to good nutrition on a daily basis, and for doing it while being Black. Hillary Clinton has been a Bitch for most of her life. She has spent a lifetime building a career and a political destiny predicated on being the biggest, baddest Bitch in the room.

But times have changed. Having finally gotten to the point where she is poised to become the first woman ever to hold the office of President of the United States, she finds that people want her to be something else: a woman. After playing for more than four decades with the Big Dawgs, beating them at their own games, playing by their rules, she is told that she is disliked, not trusted, because she is too much of a Bitch. They want to see her softer side, her feminine side, whatever that means.

Male candidates parade their masculine. They are tough, strong, aggressive, they say what they are thinking, they bellow and belch and strut about with their cocks leading the way, and few ever ask if they could show a little softness, a little of their feminine side. They boast of their membership in the fraternity of Big Dawgs.

Maybe it’s time for the Bitches to rule. Stand up and shout it, “Damn right I’m a Bitch! And now is our time!”

But, in a tribute to the words of the old song, “I’ll never let you forget that I’m a woman.” Give Hillary a chance to be the woman – caring, nurturing, soft, feminine – that you want her to be. She can be all that and more. She always has been. Tell her, gently and respectfully, that you want more of her and she’ll do her best. But first acknowledge the value of her (and of all the Bitches who led the way before her) being a Bitch for so many years.

For the women of this country who need to believe that they may finally be taken seriously, that they may have a powerful voice, a seat at the table with the Big Dawgs (and not just any seat, but the one at the head of the table), who want to know that their place and their purpose and their value to society may never again be measured in comparison to the men they love, or the men they compete with; Hillary has a chance to give them that.

Enough with the Big Dawgs, barking and howling and strutting their stuff on all the stages of the world! If a woman is to finally be the President, let her be the biggest, baddest Bitch in the room. And let her bring in with her all that makes her a woman; because the feminine is what’s been missing for far too long.

That’s the challenge Hillary has to face now. She has shown that she can play with the Big Dawgs and beat them at their own game. Now she has to change the rules, make it her game, make it a woman’s game. If she can do that she could be a whole lot more than just the “first woman President.” She could be one of the great Presidents, no gender qualification needed.



In PeaceAble on July 26, 2016 at 9:17 am

Let me be clear. That meme you’re so excited about is not going to DESTROY Hillary Clinton. That factoid you’ve just found on your favorite FB page doesn’t mean that TRUMP WILL NEVER BE PRESIDENT if “everyone” shares it. Despite the proclamations of right-wing hyperventilation, Hillary Clinton is not a TRAITOR who is about to be INDICTED because of that YouTube video she DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE. And the latest LEAKED MEMO isn’t going to be the SCANDAL that will bring down whatever. In the same way, the latest overnight poll numbers are not PROOF TRUMP WILL BE OUR NEXT PRESIDENT, just as yesterday’s numbers don’t show HILLARY CLINTON POISED FOR HISTORIC WIN THAT WILL DESTROY REPUBLICAN PARTY.

So chill. Please.

One of the consequences of the country’s polarization, and some of the best evidence of its influence, is that everybody is writing terrifying headlines in all caps every time one of the candidates or their supporters sneezes. GOLDENROD ALLERGY DESTROYING BERNIE SANDERS NOSE MUCUS! REAL REASON HE CAN NEVER BE PRESIDENT!

So let’s stop. Now. Really.

Because this level of hyperbolic shouting at one another is both cause and a symptom of some other disturbing trends.


This is both figurative and literal. There are actual members of Congress telling their constituents that Hillary Clinton ought to be shot for treason. There are actual real delegates to the Republican Convention (not to mention their nominee) who are tweeting out messages calling for death to Muslims, abortion providers, protesters, and rival candidates. There are Democrats who are calling for a revolution to bring down the Democratic Party even if it means Trump gets elected because maybe then we’ll all “wake up.” There is a growing sense that winning a debate or an election isn’t enough, the opposition needs to be completely vanquished, done away with and destroyed.

This is not how our democracy is supposed to work. No party is supposed to have, as Karl Rove dreamed it, a “permanent majority.” Winning an election is not supposed to be a mandate to obstruct and posture and refuse to work with the other parties. And losing an election means you are supposed to step aside willingly and let the winners take office. We cannot afford to develop into a society that threatens the press, punishes political opponents and encourages violence in our rhetoric and especially in our daily interactions. Shooting policemen will not solve the problems of police violence. Beating up random Muslims or burning mosques will not solve the problems of Islamic radicalization.

And the idea that violence and revolution are good ways to bring about social and political change is what leads to things like assassinations and domestic terrorism.


Superheroes are big these days. Whether we are talking about the classic DC and Marvel costumed crusaders or larger than life military characters, or James Bond and Jason Bourne superspies with a license to kill; people are flocking to watch good defeat evil.

But there are two problems with this.

First, superheroes don’t really exist. And the more we admire them and look for them, the more likely we are try to create them out of the actual flawed human beings we are asking to help us solve our real human problems. And when we do that we are setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. Electing Barack Obama as president did not mean the end of racism, did not heal our racial wounds. No one man can do that. And electing Hillary Clinton will not miraculously open the doors of power for women everywhere. The president who follows Barack Obama will be white; the president who follows a Clinton presidency will probably be white and male. And it is highly likely that the president after that will also be white and male. And there is no superhero we can elect who will single-handedly change that. We all of us have to do the work, together, slowly, day by day, in small ways and large, in order for problems to be solved and change to be made.

Second, superheroes require supervillains. But supervillains don’t really exist any more than superheroes do. And we are far too busy right now creating imaginary supervillains for our imaginary superheroes to do battle with. If Trump is your superhero who is going to make America great again; then Clinton and the “liberals” have to be sinister and evil supervillains to be defeated in epic battle. If Sanders is your Superman then the big banks, the wealthy one percent and the oligarchy are transformed into Lex Luther and his minions. The Republican Party is drawing dark illustrations of America as Gotham City; the Democrats have a slightly rosier picture of America as Metropolis in the comic books of my childhood: essentially sunny, but with always the risk of a supervillain or an alien being threatening the quietude.

But nobody expects their neighborhood superhero, whether friendly or deeply brooding, to snatch up jaywalkers, arrest petty criminals, or rebuild a crumbling infrastructure. And all the problems are fixed quickly and dramatically with no cost to the taxpayer.


Here’s a clue: if millions of people disagree with your position, in whole or in part, then the truth of it is clearly not self-evident. It is, in fact, not even indisputable on the evidence. This doesn’t mean that you are wrong. It merely means that you cannot make your case once and be done with it. You have to keep persuading, keep arguing, and keep working; even after it seems you’ve finally won. Forgetting this means two things.

First, there will be backlash, there will be backsliding; and thinking you’ve won and the argument is over may leave you unprepared to deal with those things. Roe v. Wade did not secure the right for women to choose what to do with their own pregnancies and their own bodies for all time; and it can be argued that thinking it had is part of what allowed the rise of the right-wing anti-choice movement to erode those rights. The civil rights movement and Affirmative Action clearly did not establish for all time that people of color are equally human beings deserving of all the same rights and privileges as white people; and the failure of comfortable blacks who had achieved a significant measure of success and self-satisfied whites who wanted to be released from cultural guilt to continue the battle for that equality can arguably be said to have allowed the new racism and racial divisions to fester and then erupt.

Second, your self-righteousness will be evidence, for those who disagree, that your position is in fact wrong, and that you are de facto an extremist with whom they don’t have to actually argue about the ideas. If you are a self-righteous radical they can simply call you names, dismiss your ideas as “out of the mainstream,” and wall themselves in with their own self-righteousness to defend against yours.


It is entirely possible for large numbers of passionate, committed, and energetic people shouting at the top of their lungs to be wrong. We are all aware of this when it is a large number of people we disagree with marching in the streets and shouting passionately. We are not so sure when we are doing the marching and shouting. This is because being a member of a large, loud, passionate and committed group is enormously empowering. When we sit in a packed auditorium or stand among a couple of thousand people on a city street; when we see ourselves and all those other people on the evening news or trending on social media, it is easy to believe that we are standing at the vanguard of whatever brave new world we envision. All these people gathered like this, all this passion, all this power can’t be wrong; and anyone who can’t see the rightness of it, who don’t share our vision will surely be swept aside by the irresistible force that is us.

But of course they won’t be. And in a democracy they aren’t supposed to be. In a democracy we live with the idea that majority and might do not make right; and we live also with the risk that what is right will probably take time.

This is not to say that large numbers of passionate and committed people is never a good and important thing. It is. It can be a catalyst for change. But it can also be a catalyst for anarchy. Just as it can empower people to create change; it can also empower those who won’t change to create oppression. When volume, in numbers or in tone, begins to substitute for reasoned argument and measured change, we move toward polarization, division, and confrontation.

Too often these days, it seems that people have forgotten how use their indoor voices, how to type in lower case; and how to listen to the ideas buried beneath the rhetorical cacophony.

We are losing our ability to function as a representative democracy, as a government of, by and for the people because we are losing our idea of “the people.” “The people” isn’t just “us,” it’s “them” also. Our shouting and cursing and name calling and apocalyptic pronouncements of doom or hyperbolic declarations of imminent greatness are threatening to drown us all. It’s time to take a breath, calm ourselves down, and begin again quietly; tell each other in reasoned tones what we fear, what we need, what we believe, and why we’re hurting. And then we need to listen carefully for clues to the way forward together.


Shh . . .

Take Offense. Please.

In Politics on May 12, 2016 at 1:59 pm

One of the most overworked words in the American lexicon these days is “offended.” And like Vizzini’s use of inconceivable in The Princess Bride, I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Offended does not mean, for instance, that one disagrees; finds your comments or your behavior to be rude, hateful, ignorant, biased and prejudicial, unsupported by objective evidence, or deliberately provocative and misleading; or that one is angry, saddened, disappointed, fearful or disdainful.

Offended also does not mean that one wishes you harm, hates you, is at war with you and whatever you believe in, or is trying to silence you, censor you or violate any of your rights.

It is, of course, possible that any or all of those things are happening, but they do not mean that one is offended.

It is also possible that one is offended and any or all of those other things as well; but too many people have begun to use offended as an attack on the other person, often even as a preemptive declaration that is intended to discredit any unfavorable reaction.

This is the “I’m not politically correct” strategy. And it is most often used when the originator’s intend is to actually offend someone. Offending as many people as possible is, in fact, the best evidence that one is being “politically incorrect.”

So politically correct becomes the equivalent of “not wishing to offend,” which is seen as weak; and being offensive is presented as “not politically correct,” and therefore strong. It’s a twisted sort of logic that depends on allowing the person making the claim to define both the rules of engagement and the meaning of the words. It is the strategy of the bully.

The “not PC” bully is sending a mixed and contradictory message. On the one hand he is saying, “I am proud of my ability to offend others.” On the other hand, he is saying “Those others shouldn’t be offended.” And he is claiming superiority and control in the situation.

But the proper response to the “not PC’ bully is simple. Reject all or any part of his message and respond only to what is relevant with what is true. To “I don’t want to offend anyone,” respond “Then don’t do or say whatever it is you thought might be offensive.” To “I’m sorry if you’re offended,” say “I don’t think you are, since it is clear that you anticipated my taking offense and yet plowed right ahead.” To “You shouldn’t get offended,” respond with, “You don’t get to tell me what should or should not offend me; if I take offense because you have said or done something that gives rise to that offense; I will take responsibility for my being offended, now it is up to you to take responsibility for having done something that was offensive.” Or perhaps, “I’m not offended. I am angry (or whatever is true) and I can explain to you what I find wrong with your words or actions and why, if you would care to listen. If, however, your only purpose was to demonstrate power by deliberately trying to offend me, then we are done here.”

There is nothing wrong with being offended by something you find offensive, no matter how trivial or unworthy of offense someone else may proclaim it to be. There is much in the world that is deserving of offense.

But check in with yourself. Are you really offended? Or is something else going on? I’m not offended by the Confederate battle flag, for instance, but I think it is past time to remove it from official use and consign it to museums along with a frank discussion of all its symbolism. I’m not offended by anyone else’s religious beliefs or practices; but I have my own, thank you, and I feel angry when someone tries to impose their religious practices on me. I’m not offended by that weapon you have slung over your shoulder in the grocery store, I am frightened by it because I have no idea who you are or what your state of mind is.

So stop telling trying to tell me what I am feeling and what I should feel. And if that offends you . . . well . . . there you go.

The “Joke’s” On Us

In PeaceAble on February 29, 2016 at 9:56 am

It has always been true that a society’s entertainment is one of the primary voices of its cultural norms. As a society’s focus shifts, its popular music, movies, literature, television and advertising reflect that shift. The entertainment media reflect more often than they create the rise is certain attitudes and behaviors. When a society feels especially afraid, for instance, or defenseless against large, terrible, uncertain dangers, there will be a rise in super hero movies, in television shows about heroic police, and ads that use those fears to sell everything from home alarm systems to pharmaceuticals to bullet-proof backpacks; not to mention guns. Because normative cultural messages reflect shifts in how we see ourselves and reality, and because social media have become so prominent I the dissemination of those messages, I am disturbed by the appearance of certain memes on my Facebook feed. Two recent “humor” trends illustrate the problem, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.

The Blond “Joke”: I thought we had settled this 30 years ago. There is nothing inherent in being a young, blond female that makes you dumb. And there is no joke, whether basically funny or not, that is made funnier by making the central character a dumb blond female. Yet I keep seeing the “jokes” popping up as click bait. Many of them seem harmless enough in the few sentences visible before you click on them, but it quickly becomes apparent that the authors feel comfortable once again in using this sort of irrelevant, pointless and insulting image as a basis for “humor.”  At a moment in history when we have a woman as a front runner for election to the presidency we are also seeing a resurgence of attacks on women’s right and women’s health, and the return of the dumb blond female “joke.” This is not a coincidence.

The “Funny” Mexican: As Donald Trump has been fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia in his presidential campaign (and his success has led his rivals to head down the same pyromaniac path), I have been seeing a Facebook meme that consists of a picture of a grossly grinning “Mexican” in a clownishly stereotypical serape and broad-brimmed hat, with various punch lines about how “Mexicans” speak English. We are being told that it is once again okay to use racial and cultural stereotypes to get laughs at other people’s expense. Again, as we try to engage in a national conversation about immigration, this is not a coincidence.

The argument being made by those who post such things, of course, is that everyone is too easily offended, and they are not going to be “politically correct.” You can fertilize an 18-hole golf course with those arguments.

If we seem to be more easily offended it is simply because we are becoming more conscious of the offenses. Before people pointed out that blackface on white people was offensive, there were already people of color who were greatly offended. Long before the Washington Redskins were being told that their team name and mascot were offensive, there were already First Nations people who were greatly offended. Long before Reese Witherspoon was “Legally Blonde,” generations of young blond women had to endure the offensiveness of such jokes. The only reason the rest of us were not aware of these offenses is that those who were offended were also marginalized, discriminated against, and shut out of the cultural messaging that was creating, reflecting, and perpetuating the offenses.

“Political Incorrectness,” like religion, is a refuge for scoundrels. The truth is that political correctness is a Loch Ness Monster. There will always be people who will believe in it and others who will be sure they’ve seen it, but it probably doesn’t really exist. Asking that we, as a culture and as a society, not do pointless, insensitive things that are hurtful and offensive to others is not political correctness, it’s maturity. As individuals we are expected to grow out of certain behaviors. Things that are cute in a 5-year-old are disgusting and immature in a 30-year-old. A society that continues to think that stereotyping of entire groups of people, discrimination against the “other” of the day, and the perpetuation of racist, sexist, xenophobic images and ideas is funny isn’t “politically incorrect,” it’s immature.

Now let me ask you. Are you someone who has reposted these sorts of memes and materials? Did you do so because you found them funny? Are you now feeling uncomfortable and perhaps, dare I suggest it, offended? There are times when every one of us might be reasonably offended by something. There isn’t anything wrong with that. If I were poking you with a stick, you would be right to feel pain. And you will feel that pain even if I do not intend to be poking you and I am not aware that I am poking you. You aren’t being “too sensitive.” And if you tell me that I am causing you pain, you would be rightly angered if I kept poking you because I thought it was funny, and even angrier if I told you that it was your pain that was wrong, not my behavior and I refused to be “Painfully Correct.”

There seems to be a growing sense in this political season that being offensive is a sign of honesty, of “telling it like it is,” and “speaking one’s mind.” In reality, it is a sign that we are regressing culturally. And we are easily made complicit in this regression. When we long for simpler times when the stereotypes of non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual and/or foreign people were fair game; when the objects of our humor were expected to simply recognize that not being white, male, heterosexual or American was justification enough for us to make fun of them; when “I was just joking” was legitimate cover for our insensitivity and offensiveness; then what we are really missing is our own culturally normalized superiority.

And as I close this argument, let me say that I am equally disturbed by those who make jokes about Trump supporters or Tea Party supporters as “Southern Hicks” who hump sheep and marry their cousins; or any “humor” that reinforces the polarizing, prejudicial attitudes that keep us from finding common ground on the high ground rather than the low. We can make a point of not telling these kinds of jokes, not laughing at them when others do (not even politely), and speaking up in protest against them. We are all responsible for the voices that define and reflect our culture.

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

In Politics on October 8, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Let’s talk about bubbles.

I have been seeing a lot of talk about bubbles lately. Washington legislators and their minions live in the bubble of Washington politics. The wealthy live in the bubble of their wealth and influence. Gun legislation opponents live in a bubble created by the NRA and right-wing media. Liberals live in a bicoastal bubble of intellectual elitism.

I have just read an interesting article (“Yes, I know the context of this t-shirt and yes, it is still ridiculous,” by Shaun King, published on Daily Kos), which takes Meryl Streep and the cast of the movie Suffragette to task for wearing promotional t-shirts with the words “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” The writer is not alone in criticizing the particular quotation as being insensitive. Many people see the juxtaposition of the ideas of rebel and slave as offensive. And there is some evidence that Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the leaders and a public face of the suffragette movement, considered the conditions of women in Great Britain at the time to be worse than African slavery in America. And there is outrage at seeing the t-shirts on white-privileged actors.

The t-shirts are part of the promotional campaign for Suffragette, a new film that chronicles the early struggle over women’s right to vote in Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The t-shirt quote is part of a longer, well known quote from Pankhurst. She depicts the struggle as a revolution, women as an oppressed minority, and the choice as one between rebellion and continued oppression and servitude.

But it is the writer’s core argument that has got me thinking. He argues that the privileged white women in the cast live in a bubble created by their whiteness and their privilege and they need to understand that their words and actions have consequences outside of that bubble. He argues that the fact that a great many people assumed that the t-shirt was a statement about slavery made by privileged white women outweighs the importance of considering the actual context of the statement.

I have two criticisms of this line of argument. First, living in a bubble of one’s own experience, one’s own communities, one’s own culture, is a basic part of the human condition; and it is one that applies just as much to the author of the article as it does to his subjects. Second, if we remove context from our consideration of what something means, then we take away one of the most important clues for understanding, and we make language entirely personal. Put those together and the author is essentially arguing that every message I encounter means what I say it means from my perspective, and it is unnecessary for me to consider anyone else’s perspective in order that we might properly understand one another.

Successful communication requires some work from all parties to it. It is not only the responsibility of the speaker to ensure proper interpretation of the message. The listener has some responsibility as well. People don’t seem very willing lately to do that work or take that responsibility. We declare that we know what something means and that’s all there is to it. We cherry pick the Bible and the Constitution. We choose the context in which we have decided the meaning really lies and proclaim that as the only important context. The important thing is that we are right.

This is especially dangerous in the context of the current polarization we are experiencing around what seems to be every possible difference, large and small, that might possibly divide us. The danger is further fueled by a bumper-sticker/meme mentality that encourages us to respond to sound bites rather than to consider even complete sentences and certainly not extended conversation. We’re in a hurry to argue, a rush to confront; and no hurry at all to compromise, understand, or reason. From “the right to bear arms” to “religious freedom” to “socialism” to “one nation under God” and a thousand other shorthand expressions, we speak to one another as though our first reaction is the right one and nuance is unthinkable.

But context is not fixed by either the speaker or the listener. When we claim that this or that is the only proper context in which to consider something, then we deny the reality of the depth and breadth of human communication and experience.

Consider some possible contexts for what the slogan is saying.

What do the words themselves actually say?  Taken out of any context except their literal meaning, what is the problem with proclaiming that “It is better to be a rebel than a slave”? Does the idea itself offend you? Do you disagree with it? I doubt that any reasonable person would declare that it is better to be a slave than a rebel. Yet it is the reality of the oppressed that they don’t see that it is possible to rebel, because the oppressor has taken steps to prevent it. The oppressor knows that slavery is subject not to the slave’s unwillingness to rebel, but by how dangerous the oppressor has made that rebellion. Isn’t this quotation essentially the same as “Give me liberty or give me death”? When the oppressed see that rebellion is the better choice, then oppression is in danger.

The quote is specific to the real life events and persons the movie depicts. Emmeline Parkhurst apparently did say that; and she was specifically referring to the very real social, economic and political conditions affecting women at that time. Is it really fair to take it out of that context and apply to it the nuances of contemporary sensitivities? We can look back nearly any historical period, event or personality and find things to be offended by if we judge them by contemporary standards. But what does that serve? Was Pankhurst any less a progressive and courageous figure in her own time because she doesn’t have the consciousness of ours?

The current ubiquity of public and social media means that we cannot control our audiences. This slogan and the photos of the film’s actors wearing the t-shirts are clearly intended for mass distribution, so there is certainly a need to consider multiple audiences. The message is almost certainly going to create controversy somewhere. I think we can be predict almost without contradiction that there are some white people somewhere who think that the slogan itself and the controversy around it is an attack on white people. I am sure that there are people muttering about political correctness, and others thinking that the t-shirts would look great while they walk around open-carrying their AR-15s to protect themselves from the tyranny the government. In a diverse culture there will be diverse responses. Some perspectives will have more validity, more importance, and more resonance than others. And it is fair to argue that our own perspective should take precedence. But if we want others to respect our perspective, then we ought to show theirs the same respect; provided that it is honestly presented, reasonable, and not ill-intended.

Comparing one oppressed group’s struggle to another’s is a common rhetorical technique. You may certainly quibble with the simile, but the suffragette movement would arguably have been less successful if its leaders had compared women’s suffrage to something less dramatic. Would the impact have been the same of “It is better to be a rebel than . . . well, something certainly not as bad as African slavery in the Americas, but bad enough nonetheless”? Currently there are certainly far too many attempts among certain groups to make out that everything they don’t like is the same as Hitler and the Nazis, or to suggest that slavery really wasn’t that all that bad, or to conflate every social program with a communist conspiracy of some kind. But this quote doesn’t do that. It doesn’t diminish the horrors of slavery, it simply refers to the idea as a benchmark for how bad things were.

Slavery continues to exist in the world, and women are particular victims of it. From international sex trafficking to third world sweatshops, and even to the practices of some unscrupulous employers of undocumented workers in this country, slavery is a world-wide problem that needs to be addressed. The slogan might certainly have resonance for millions of oppressed people. No one group and no single culture owns slavery. It wasn’t invented for Africans, nor ended when the American slaves were emancipated. If we see the words in the context of the lives of those who suffer even today, do they not have contemporary resonance? Could the slogan not easily have been the battle cry of the Syrian rebels?

The people wearing the t-shirts are all privileged white women. Yes they are. And they’re promoting a movie about mostly white women who were not so privileged, led by white women who, in their own time were also privileged by the standards of their society. But these aren’t a group of ignorant, insensitive snobs. They all appear to be intelligent, progressive, thoughtful people. One could certainly talk with them about the potential for offense and the need for sensitivity. It is certainly not necessary to condemn or vilify them. And it’s counterproductive. Disadvantaged and historically oppressed groups have recently been very vocal about the need for members of privileged classes to come out as allies in the fight for equality and acceptance for non-whites, for LGBTQ persons, for rape victims, for trafficking victims, and the list goes on. Isn’t there a real danger that those alliances get more difficult if we substitute outrage for reason?

We are currently engaged in a deeply divided debate in this country about things like systemic racism in the economy, in law enforcement, in immigration policy and in political representation, to name just a few. At a time when #BlackLivesMatter is seen as militancy and anti-white or anti-police, there is certainly a reasonable argument to be made that a greater degree of sensitivity to the needs and concerns of minority communities is required. But just as #BlackLivesMatter is not a statement that no other lives also matter, this t-shirt slogan is not a statement that the issues raised by #BlackLivesMatter are trivial or that we don’t have to work to resolve them. The slogan can stand as a statement about the themes explored in the film; and also as a statement about current economic, racial, gender and other inequities; and as a general statement about the need to help people to rise up against oppression wherever it occurs.

Like everyone else, I am reading the slogan and writing the response from within the bubble of my own experience, and I am a white male. If we are going to seek genuine understanding and real solutions to the issues that divide us, don’t we need to first acknowledge the limitations of our own perspectives? My knowledge and my appreciation of the experience of non-whites in America are limited by my own white skin. I can empathize but never really identify. I will, probably more often than I know, say or do things that make sense to me, but will cause discomfort or offense in others. If I do, then I am more than happy to hear how they have been affected. But I want to hear about their experience of my words, not their judgments about me or my bubble.

The author of the article is, I infer, male. Shaun would be an unusual name for a female.   Some language in the article suggests to me that he is not a white man. Beyond that I know nothing about him except that he publishes his writing on Daily Kos, a liberal website. So what are the bubbles within which he lives? Clearly there are things that seem self-evident to me that might seem entirely wrong to him; and yet we would probably agree on eighty or ninety percent of the positions we might take on important issues of race, equity, privilege, media and messaging, and a host of others.

So, from the parts of our perspectives that we do not share, we disagree about this slogan and whether these women ought to be wearing it on their t-shirts. But I think that in the larger picture we will find that our need for each other in solving the real problems is more important than our rhetorical disagreement.

The Unfriendly Meme

In PeaceAble on May 24, 2015 at 11:14 am

I was just unfriended by someone over a meme. I bring this up because I was caught off guard by it, and because it is indicative of a couple of related major problems in this country: the substitution of easy imagery for actual thought and the tendency to personalize and over-simplify everything rather than to see the larger picture.

First, the offending meme. A picture of a bucolic rural scene; barn and man on tractor in the background; old Phillips 66 sign; in the foreground one of those roadside message boards, and written on it the words “God Bless the Old America! I sure miss her.”

Now my comment: “Which old America? The one that owned slaves? The one that imprisoned and stole the property and lives of Japanese Americans in an irrational fear response to Pearl Harbor? The one where there was child labor and sweatshops, and where only white men could vote? I could go on. The existence of some idyllic “old America” is a myth. America has always ben a great many good things and a significant number of not so good things.””

Harsh, I know. Too harsh? I won’t try to defend it on that point. I thought it was clear that I was criticizing the meme, not the person who posted it. I certainly never thought she would think that I was suggesting she actually wanted to return to those things. I thought that my last sentence made it clear that I did not think that America was all bad.

I was wrong.

Her response: “I was going to reply to your comment. But it was not worth the effort. With friends like you who needs enemies.”

And because I was wrong, because I had not been clear about the intent, and because my comment was more harsh than I intended, my first instinct was to apologize; not because I believe my opinion of the meme was wrong or bad, but because my choices in expressing that opinion had led to her feeling judged and demeaned. But I couldn’t apologize, or even offer further explanation, because I could no longer post on the thread. She had unfriended me.

There was another consequence to this unfriending, also. Other of her friends (one a mutual friend) could continue to post things about me and my comment to which I could not respond. One response: “It seems David has a big old bitter taste in his mouth when someone says something nice or puts up a photo or a sign of our flag. I guessing he was NOT BORN HE.(sic)” I was, of course arguing that what the meme was saying was not all that nice, so we disagree about the niceness thing; but there was no flag in the meme and if she was trying to say I must not have been born here, well I don’t have a clue how she got to that. As for bitterness, my comment wasn’t, in my opinion, bitter at all. It was, as I said, harsh, but so what? Are we supposed to treat every meme like videos of babies and cute animals?

Perhaps the harshness (which I think anyone who has read my blog or comments on other posts would agree is not typical of my comments about such things) deserves some explanation, however.

We are being told two things over and over by those who would lead us, and by the media which influence our attitudes and help to shape our culture.

First, we are told that we do not need to, and should not think too much about the complex issues facing our nation and the world. Every issue, we are told, can be divided into two distinct opposing camps and we must choose our side; every idea can be reduced to a slogan or a meme or a sound bite, and that these contain all we need to know about it. Ideological purity and adherence to a simplistic and rigid moral code are the only standards. We must be for or against, ally or enemy; there is no room for complexity, for nuance, for understanding the ecological nature of ideas, of societies, of human behavior.

And corollary to that, we are told that we should be afraid. We should fear the “other,” of course. Difference is threat, disagreement is attack, everyone is either friend or enemy. We are sold everything from goods and services to public policies to spiritual beliefs by appeals to fear. We fear our government, our police and military, our teachers, and our religious leaders. We fear our children, our neighbors, our communities. We fear the black people and the brown people and the yellow people, and the female people and the male people; and we fear anyone who does not share our ideas about what God might be like or whether there is one. We fear that science is right and we fear that science is wrong. One respondent to my comment presented the argument, which is a reasonable one given the reality I have just painted, that it is her “perception (that) lately there has been an increase in crime that just doesn’t make you feel safe anywhere.” In support of this she cites school shootings and terrorist bombings, and even the fact that several people she knows have been the victims of minor hit-and-run motor vehicle accidents in the past two years. But how realistic is the generalized fear these things engender? National crime statistics show that violent crime rates are at their lowest in 40 years, that crime over all is down and the deaths of law enforcement officers are at a 50 year low. Violent crime rates actually peaked in the 1990’s.

So why are we afraid to let children walk outside alone, why do we not feel safe anywhere? The Dali Lama was once asked how he could remain so centered and optimistic in the face of all the horrible things being reported around the world. He replied that things get reported precisely because they are not the norm. By the time we saw the spectacle of children killing children at Columbine, children had been dying in the inner cities for decades, but because the national media believed (along with most of the rest of the country) that such things were normal for the cities, they didn’t report it. But when it happened in the privileged communities of rural and suburban America, the story caused schools everywhere to begin transforming into high security facilities. Similarly, we don’t see a lot of “good things” reported simply because those things aren’t remarkable, they’re ordinary, they’re more common than the other. Also, of course, we need to know about the bad things that happen because they represent problems that need solutions; but we cannot find solutions through unrealistic fear, or through a haze of rigid either/or perceptions. Our reality is personal, shaped through the filter of our perception, but society’s reality is perceived through the filter of our cultural messages. The public media have become more interested in creating exciting, vivid and dramatic stories than in the presentation of facts. We not told what is, but how to think about what is. Something called the vividness effect causes us to attach importance to a story based on its presentation rather than its content.

The particular meme I commented about caught my attention because we are now being told by a great many people that America is in decline, that our problems are too great and too urgent for calm, rational discussion, that there is some imagined point in the past that, if we could only return to it, would eliminate all our problems.

There is no such point.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, The United States of America has seen tremendous progress as well as terrible tragedy. There is much work to be done, and there is even some backsliding, but that is the nature of cultural change. It takes time, it’s difficult, and it requires us to be willing and able to work together; we cannot do it by just shouting at each other and retreating into the comforting company of those who already agree with us. America is as great as it has ever been; but we are being told to look over there instead, see the bad things, fear what you see, all else is a lie.

I remember thinking these same things about the proliferation of issues-oriented bumper stickers in the second half of the last century. There was quite a bit of commentary about “bumper sticker arguments” and the danger they posed to rational discussion. But encountering (and actually being able to read) a bumper sticker was fairly random. Now social media has made the meme so ubiquitous that one cannot avoid being confronted with all kinds of foolish, ill-considered, fallacious, manipulative, and even outright deceitful and malicious messages if one is to enter that great modern marketplace of ideas. Technology has given us tremendous tools for communication, interaction, and cooperation, and all we can think to do is use them to drive us apart. My reasonable respondent talked about a rising fever of hate and entitlement. Part of this perception is the result of that technology giving a voice and a platform to people who have never had those before. As a society and a culture, we need to learn how to use the tools, how to act responsibly with all this new-found power; how not to let those who are already powerful use it to manipulate and control us.

The past is prologue, not prescription. There is no such thing as “the good old days.” Memory does not recall so much as it reconstructs the past. We need to replace a false nostalgia for an idyllic time that never existed with a commitment to see the world as it really is right now, at this moment in history; and we need to look forward to how we can do better tomorrow. The lessons of the past cannot be learned through rose-colored glasses, but through a more realistic, albeit sometimes harsh, examination of who we have been, who we have become, and who we want to be.

If FB is a Marketplace, Why is Every Aisle Filled With So Much Junk Food?

In PeaceAble on December 10, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Now let me say that this is not intended as a rant. It is more of an observation, a public service message if you will, about the impact of Facebook, Tweeter and other social media platforms on the erosion of our sense of personal and social boundaries and appropriateness in our daily communication with others; and vice-versa.

Allow me to illustrate.

Suppose you were in a public place with a lot of people, some of whom you knew well, others you knew only slightly, and a whole lot of others who were strangers to you but friends and acquaintances of the others in the gathering. Now suppose that someone suddenly, without any provocation, stood up on a soapbox and loudly announced, “Jesus is the only path to salvation! If you agree, raise your hands and repeat this. 99% of you won’t have the guts to repeat it, but I’m proud to be one of the 1% who are real Christians!”
What would your response be? Would you think, “Wow, that’s really inappropriate”? Would you feel embarrassed? Would you think the speaker was some kind of egotistical nutjob with a bad case of verbal diarrhea? Or would you think that this was clearly a sincere believer expressing his devout belief; and good for him?
Before you answer, take out “Jesus” and “Christian” and insert “Allah” and “Muslim.” Does that change your reaction any?
Now imagine that two people in the crowd began a discussion about some current issue of concern or interest; let’s say the minimum wage. Suddenly everyone within earshot began shouting about libtards and repugs, and making derogatory statements about lazy welfare moochers who should get a job and greedy rich people who are trying to destroy America. And let’s imagine that the discussion begins to spread throughout the whole crowd and turns into a shouting match in which every extreme position on every conceivable issue is turned into an obscenity laced rant, even though the obscenities are cleverly muffled just enough so you know what was said, you just can’t hear them clearly.
Now imagine that you are invited to return to the same place with the same people the next day and every day after that with the expectation, even the promise, of more of the same.

This is not to say that no one should ever talk about religion, money, politics or sex on Facebook. All of these are legitimate topics of public discussion, and it is through this public discussion that we all engage in a great ongoing cultural conversation that helps us to understand who we are.
But who are we?
Are we a civilized society capable of engaging one another about our diverse perspectives, experiences, beliefs and opinions? Are we a people who value the importance of honest, informed discussion of the issues that confront our society and require workable well-thought-out solutions? Or are we a nation, a world, of foul-mouthed, bullying, self-righteous, arrogant boors; who want everything our own way or not at all? If our democracy were a sport, would it be more like golf, or more like professional wrestling?
Social media have the potential to be a wonderfully liberating, truly democratic place. But they are also a distillation, a reflection, and an encouragement of all that is the worst of us. When we begin to break down the social boundaries that help us to work together and engage each other in peaceable ways, then the fabric of society gets unraveled a bit more every time we cross a line that our social conventions used to keep us from crossing. And we can see these things happening all around us, not just on line. Our social behavior is becoming less reasonable and democratic, and more confrontational and violent.
Sometimes these boundaries need to be crossed, of course; no fabric exists forever without some fraying, some normal wear and tear; and even the necessary regular laundering and ironing out of the wrinkles can do some damage; but these kinds of things develop the character of a nation, increase its value for us, and give it its history. The danger is that everyone has stopped caring about the fabric itself and we are instead just tearing it apart as we each try to claim it as our own, refusing to share any part of it. We are taking the scissors to it as we try to get rid of all those parts of the pattern we don’t like, as if it were a photograph of friends that includes our ex — to mix my metaphors some more.
Look, the point is this: engagement through social media, like our engagement in society itself, requires that we respect one another’s boundaries, show some restraint and personal discipline in our behavior, and treat others as we would like to be treated. So before we post something, or get caught up in the latest viral reposting of whatever is the latest outrageous meme or pointless hoax someone has decided to drop in our news feed; let’s take a moment to breathe, check our prejudices, check our facts, consider what sort of persons we want to be and what sort of society we want to have; and maybe not hit post or share quite so quickly.

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