wholepeace

Posts Tagged ‘Progressive’

THE DISUNITED STATES

In PeaceAble, Politics on December 12, 2020 at 10:46 am

Perhaps we should have seen it coming.  Maybe it was always inevitable.  Possibly the plan was fatally flawed from the very beginning.

America.  No, wait.  The United States of America.  Sure, we regularly use the shorthand, but the 50 states and 5 unincorporated, permanently inhabited territories are not America.  They are, in fact, not even most of America, which refers properly to two continents that comprise nearly all of the western hemisphere.

I bring this up because the 2020 presidential election, following four years of a presidency that has ripped the sheets off deep and abiding divisions and enflamed them nearly to the breaking point, has led to what may seem impossible-to-heal polarization.  On the left there is talk of never forgiving those who have so egregiously wounded the fundamental bonds of democracy; and on the right there is talk of a new civil war, of secession.  Each side is throwing around charges against the other of sedition and treason. 

How very “American” of us.

We call ourselves the “United States,” but a degree of disunity has always been there, has always lingered in the shadows, waiting for its chance to break things apart.

Each of the “united” states has individual sovereignty.  We have always been a federation of sovereign states, not a nation with a unitarian identity.  Our differences and divisions have been part of who we are since before the revolution, and have been codified by the Constitution and the courts since the 18th century.

The most obvious manifestations of this have always centered around racism and slavery, but have expanded to include all kinds of arguments involving every kind of human characteristic that distinguishes white men as the natural ruling class; wealth as the equivalence of superior intelligence and ability; nominally Puritan ideas about sex, gender, matrimony and general morality as normative; protestant Christianity (itself rife with internal division) as the institution of authority for all things called god; and Manifest Destiny as the final word on the United States’ proper place in the world.

We are, in other words, not really designed to be a nation at peace with itself, with a singularity of purpose or vision.

In some ways, this has been our strength.  We gave ourselves permission, whether the founders knew it or not, to become incredibly diverse, to become a melting pot, to become a home to so many who found themselves homeless in other nations. It gave us a foundation on which to build arguments of justice and freedom and fairness for non-whites, for immigrants, for the differently-abled, for LGBTQ+ individuals, for followers of a broad range of religious beliefs and doctrines or none at all, and all kinds of educational, economic, and cultural classes, communities, practices and personal choices.

But it has also allowed us to hang onto deeply rooted prejudices, and normalized discrimination.  It has allowed us to abuse, disenfranchise, dehumanize our own citizens.  It has allowed us to make self-aggrandizing claims of freedom, equality and justice while maintaining embedded exploitation, inequality, and injustice.  Freedom has come to mean a measure of anarchy; equality has come to embrace the idea that the false is equal to the true and the harmful equal to the healthy; and justice has been reimagined as the rule of authoritarian law.

This is the great dilemma that must ultimately be resolved.  Are we to be a single nation?  Will we embrace in reality our idealistic pledge of indivisibility?  Can we at last find a way to reconcile and repair our violent, bloody past and the long-festering, unhealed wounds of intolerance, bigotry, and human exploitation?  Can we, in the 21st century, use this moment of open – even honest in its own way – polarization to become what we have fantasized ourselves to be?

Have we, at last, hit bottom?

For the moment, the ball is in the Progressives’ court.  If meaningful change, lasting change, substantive change, is to happen, it will be because Progressives are able to seize this moment without rancor, without vengeance, without exacerbating the divisions that plague us, but by finding intelligent and effective solutions and advocating tirelessly for their implementation.  It will require perseverance, patience, and genuine adherence and fidelity to our most important principles, even when we have to apply them to people we have heretofore denigrated as deplorable and dismissed as irredeemable.

I sincerely hope that we are up to the task.

WAITING FOR THE PUNCHLINE – AND WANTING TO PUNCH SOMEONE

In Politics on March 29, 2020 at 11:01 am

We have relied, for the past several years, on the network and cable comedy shows to help keep us sane in these difficult times. Often, it seems as though John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, and the other late-night hosts have been a more reliable source of the truth about what’s happening in this country and the world than the main stream media.
And yet.
And yet.
Now that all the shows have been put online without audiences, I have been unable to bring myself to watch them. I see the Daily Show videos, the Colbert monologues, and I can’t bring myself to watch them.
I can no longer allow myself the luxury of relying on comedy to get me through this. It is too great a privilege.
I am a 72-year-old white male, retired, living at home with my wife, who is also retired. I can afford to sit at home and laugh through my anger and fear. I’m not being deprived of a wage that was already less than a living wage. I don’t have to figure out what to do about my children. I have books and television and radio and my cell phone and my computer. I can be isolated and not alone. I don’t have to go to work every day and risk my life. I don’t have to strip off my clothes before entering my house, then deny myself and my family even the simplest intimacies.
I am fortunate and I am privileged.
I even have reason to believe that even if I got sick I could afford testing and treatment.
My wife and I are social-distancing, self-isolating. We go out only to pick up a few things at the grocery store, where she goes in because she is younger than I and all the advisories say that I am more at risk if one of us gets infected. She is also required by family obligations to go out more than I. Of course, we must assume that if one of us were to become infected it is most likely that we both would.
Still, we follow the protocols. We clean everything that comes into the house. We leave groceries on the porch until we can sanitize the packages as best we can. We wipe down the mail. When we go for a walk outside with a friend, we stay 6 feet apart. We wash our hands frequently. We have reviewed all the guidelines. We live in a rural community where the virus has not yet been shown to be present, but assume it is only a matter of time.
We do this not simply because the government or the CDC or WHO or anyone else has required it, but because we want to be as safe as possible and we want others to be safe as well.
We worry about our sisters and brothers, our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors, many of whom may be more at risk than we are.
We live in ignorance of the facts. Like everyone else, we cannot really know the extent or location of the virus because testing is not being done as broadly or efficiently as it should. Was that dry cough a reaction to my blood pressure medicine or was I sick? Is there always a fever, or could I have been carrying the virus asymptomatically? Were our grandchildren infected before the schools were closed; before their soccer practice or games were suspended?
Will the measures now, finally, being taken mean that this crisis will be behind us by summer or still with us at Christmas?
How long? How much?
And that is why I cannot look right now at the comedy.
I’m too angry.
I can no longer laugh at Donald Trump. I can no longer see his daily displays of ignorance, pettiness, self-aggrandizement, lack of empathy or compassion, attacks on anyone and everyone who dares to suggest he might be wrong, might do better, might have some genuine responsibility to something other than himself, and not feel frightened for the future of our country, our democracy, our way of life.
I am way past the time to allow myself to believe that black humor, trench humor, can help us. These are dangerous times; not just because of the coronavirus, but because we are witnessing the willingness of the people in power openly and wantonly to destroy the Constitution in order to enrich themselves with both money and political power.
While we sit in our houses or suffer through our lives in the shadow of COVID-19, Our government is conspiring to stack the federal courts with unqualified, ideologically driven judges. They are arranging to give away hundreds of billions of taxpayer money to multi-billion-dollar corporations. They are stealing land and stealing the vote from the First Nations. They are carrying out petty vendettas. And they are dragging their feet on addressing the COVID-19 crisis because of unrelated, unimportant, fringe beliefs and issues. They are spinning lies and conspiracy theories and distortions rather than dealing directly with the very real issues of life and death.
And I want to go into the streets. I want all of us, by the millions to be in the streets. And we can’t be. The coronavirus has not just made us into hermits, it has robbed us of our most important power as citizens.
I expect I will get my sense of humor back. I do see some hopeful signs, good things swirling around in the chaos with everything else. I am, however, afraid that November may be too late for far too many of us. What will be left by then? And will we be able to come back from this?
We must stay engaged. We must stay afraid. We must stay angry. We must stay safe. When the doctors and the health experts tell us it is safe enough, we must go into the streets. And when the Fall does come around, we must take our fear and our anger to the voting booth in numbers that will make it loud and clear that we are not fooling around any longer.

Why the Democrats Could win this Election and Lose the Next

In Politics on March 20, 2020 at 11:19 am

I feel fortunate to live in a state that is extremely unlikely to give its electoral votes to Donald Trump in 2020. As a result, I could probably choose to vote third party and not change the outcome of the general election. Nonetheless, I am committed to voting for the Democrat in November, even if it is Joe Biden, whom I do not believe will be a strong effective President and whose policies both current and historically are nowhere near to what I can enthusiastically support. I will do so because I think that it is important that the Donald Trump presidency needs to be overwhelmingly rejected both in the electoral college and in the popular vote.
(If you are a Trump supporter please stop reading this now and do not respond with some sort of pro-Trump MAGA nonsense. This discussion is not for you and not about you.)
But if either of the old white men currently leading in the primaries is ultimately chosen as the candidate, and the party does not select a running mate who is significantly younger, progressive, FEMALE, and – as a bonus – non-white, the Democrats may win this election, but lose their majority going forward.
Let’s be honest. The Democratic Party of 2020 is a center-right party. The left wing of the party, represented at its extreme by Bernie Sanders, would be simply center-left if our major parties actually reflected the spectrum of the American people, their values, their priorities, and their needs.
And if we continue to be honest with ourselves, we need to recognize that the rightward drift of the Democrats is neither historically all that distant a drift. The Democrats are as stuck in the past as the Republicans; and though the Democratic party still offers a greater likelihood that the kinds of progressive policies I support may eventually be realized, they cannot count on that small likelihood to sustain them after 2020.
It’s comforting for some in the party to believe that the party’s rightward shift was politically necessary, that they needed to shift right because that’s where the country was going, so the shift was needed to win elections. What they don’t say out loud, however is that the party establishment actually believed that it was the correct direction for the party to go in ideologically. In other words, they thought that the Republicans weren’t entirely wrong.
The rightward movement of the American people was always a myth created by the media after Ronald Reagan was elected. It was a way of explaining both Reagan’s success and Carter’s rejection. A time magazine article at the time of Reagan’s election analyzed it as some kind of extreme rightward change in America. To prove it, they did a survey. They asked a lot of general questions designed to elicit expected responses that could be analyzed as conservative. But when they asked, in the same survey, more specific questions about support for abortion rights, gun regulations, civil rights, women’s rights, and so on, the results were almost entirely left of center by sixty to seventy percent or more. Their conclusion: the country is in a major conservative swing . . . but there is still some disagreement about the issues.
The Democrats have long counted on the left wing of the party having nowhere to go. Minor party voting has long carried a risk of electing regressive right wing politicians and slowing even the modest progress that was being made to address gender, race, religious, and economic inequalities and inequities and injustices that have persisted throughout American history. And this has encouraged the conservatives who control the party to keep moving to the right while promising slow, delayed, “eventual” progress on the issues important to progressives; then asserting that the left has to vote democrat.
2018 showed us that there is not only enough progressive enthusiasm and power to move the party back to the left, there is also enough to seriously suggest that it would be possible to create a new, left of center, Democratic Socialist party that would be a major party rather than a third party spoiler. If the center right Democrats win the White House in 2020, but fail to deliver on progressive issues for the next four years, they may forever lose the support of the progressives.
But here’s the thing. If that meant the practical demise of the Republican party as a major party in this 2-party system of ours, it might be a good thing. Poll after poll show that the political center of the country on issues such as women’s health and abortion access, on taxation of the very wealthy, on income equity and a living wage, on Social Security and Medicare, on LGBTQ issues, on universal health care, and so on, is significantly left of where the Democratic party’s “centrists” are.
If we are to be a system that depends on two major political parties, then those parties should offer more than just two choices on the same side of the political spectrum. One should be able to represent the right of center and the other the left, so that there is a balance between left and right that allows for progress to be made, but compromises, also.
So, I am somewhat torn. I would love to see the Democratic party move back toward the left, embrace the Democratic Socialists, start in 2020 to restore what we have lost, and begin to make real substantive progress beyond that. On the other hand, I would love to see the white supremacists, racists, oligarchs, religious zealots and exclusionists of the far right, and the current Republican party that embraces them reduced to fringe political existence; and the rise of a new, powerful, progressive party to replace them.
For that reason, I will vote blue in November even if the candidate is not even my fourth or fifth or worse choice among the primary contenders who started. And I will work to help elect genuine progressives at the local and state level and into both houses of Congress.

“I’ve Changed!”: Why expecting forgiveness for past bigotry is just another form of privilege.

In PeaceAble, Politics on February 11, 2019 at 12:50 pm

If you are a white person over the age of 30 in America (I’m trying to be generous here.) you need to accept, understand, acknowledge and learn to deal with the fact that you were raised in a culture that supported, even promoted, racism and white superiority as normal. It was normal for real estate agents to direct people of color away from white communities. It was normal for businesses to reject black job applicants. It was normal for advertising and film to make their heroes and heroines white; their servants, their inferiors, their attackers, their enemies non-white; it was normal to see things like blackface as harmless remnants of minstrel shows and the memory of performers like Al Jolson, and Amos and Andy. It was normal to see native Americans portrayed as either villainous or noble savages. It was normal to assume that non-whites were less intelligent, more violent, poorer, and generally less civilized than whites.
If you are a male of the same age you need to also accept, understand, acknowledge and learn to deal with the fact that you were raised in a culture that supported, even promoted, misogyny and male superiority as normal. It was normal to assume that a man would get paid for his work and a woman would not. It was normal to assume that when a woman was paid, she would be paid less than a man. “The weaker sex” was a normal thing to say about women. It was normal to expect that strong, virile men would be sexually active and non-monogamous, but that only immoral, wicked women would be. It was normal to believe that women were less intelligent, less mechanically inclined, less interested or credible in matters of politics or the world in general, and more suited to domestic duties than men. It was normal to believe that women were intended to serve men, not compete with them.
Because of these things, if you have always been a normal, ordinary white person, it is quite possible that you have, sometime in your life behaved in ways that reflected what that culture was teaching you. Perhaps you went to a Halloween party dressed in blackface, saying “yesiree, boss” as you shuffled along in too-big clothes with patches. Perhaps you went as an “Indian,” with leather fringed clothing and a feather in a head band, saying “kemo sabe” or using “me” instead of “I,” giving out “war whoops” as you did a “war dance” around the room. Perhaps you found it funny to dress up as Charlie Chan and pronounce your Rs like Ls. Perhaps you thought you were not affected by racism because you had some non-white friends or co-workers that you liked. Perhaps you told yourself that it wasn’t Malcolm X’s, or Muhammed Ali’s, or Martin Luther King’s race that was the problem, but their politics.
Because of what the culture had been teaching you since your birth, as a normal, ordinary male, it is quite possible that have, sometime in your life, behaved in ways that reflect the culture’s misogyny and chauvinism. Perhaps you found it disturbing that a woman was put in a position of authority over you. Perhaps you thought that putting a woman on a pedestal was the same as respecting her. Perhaps you thought that being able to seduce a lot of women into sex meant that you “love women.” Perhaps you thought that getting a woman drunk and having sex with her was consensual. Perhaps you thought that a woman you met in a bar should have expected to have sex with you. But you wanted your wife to be a virgin the first time you took her to bed, and you vowed to “kill” any boy who tried anything with your daughter.
If any of this is true, perhaps you don’t see that it should be a big deal now. It’s unfair that there should be consequences now for how things were then. You’ve changed. Times have changed. All that was a long time ago. You apologize, explain, seek redemption and forgiveness, what else can you do?
The argument has always been that human beings are products of their time and their culture, so we should excuse their past behaviors and only judge them on who they are now. The problem with that is that who we are now are products of our own past, and that includes our past prejudices, our past behaviors, and our past privileges. And the people who were subjected to who we were then are also products of that past. Expecting forgiveness is just another expression of the normative privilege we have always enjoyed.
And here’s another thing. The normative rules haven’t really changed all that much. Racism persists. Misogyny persists. Religious bigotry persists. Xenophobia persists. Homophobia persists. Fascism persists. The class system persists. And we are still raising generations of white men who believe that they are the normative measure of all things, who are being taught that cultural change is an assault against them, not just culturally, but individually. They are being taught to fear the change, to see themselves as the victims.
So, what can we do?
We can embrace our own past and learn from it. We can learn to empathize with the other, to see our past in the context of the other’s experience of it, not just our own. We need to become who we say we are now not in spite of our past, but because of it. We need to take personal responsibility for cultural privilege.
We need to shift our focus from proclaiming that we support progressive change in spite of our past to understanding how and why we can support progressive change because of our past. It’s not enough to apologize for past sins and promise that you are a different person today. You need to be able to explain how those sins changed you then, are changing you still, and how they inform your actions today. And if you can’t do that, then expect neither forgiveness nor redemption.
The truth is, it will be difficult for white men to present themselves as the champions of changing cultural norms that have benefitted them for a very, very long time.
Is that unfair? Is it more unfair than the historic injustices suffered by people of color and women?

The Learned Hypocrisy of Being Human

In No Particular Path, PeaceAble, Uncategorized on July 30, 2018 at 10:44 am

To be human is to live in contradiction.
Perfect consistency is impossible for us. We think too much; we feel too much; we believe too much. We invented philosophy and science, and art, and morality. And every time we think that these have given us an answer that is final, that is absolute, that we can rely on, that is true, the world changes and we change and the answers have to change as well.
But change is hard, so we cling as long as possible to the old truths, accepting only what in our pain and our grief and our fear we can no longer deny; and contorting ourselves to make everything fit. We shake our heads in disbelief at our own contradictions, and label others’ inconsistencies as hypocrisy.
But it’s really just all of us being human.
I just read something that asked the question, “How could we go so abruptly from Barack Obama to Donald Trump?” How could the same country elect an erudite, scholarly, compassionate and thoughtful leader, then replace him with a crude, anti-intellectual, self-aggrandizing, impulsive one? Which of these very opposite men really represents who we are?
The answer is, of course, that they both do.
We have evolved into creatures who deal with the natural conflicts and dangers of the world by contriving to make them more contentious and more dangerous. There are real solutions to the real problems of the world. There are more than sufficient resources. But we allow our worst traits, our basest instincts, our superstitions and prejudices and fear to rule us; we hoard our resources instead of using them, we reject comprehensive solutions to complex problems in favor of simplistic analyses and short-sighted solutions. We proclaim our desire for peace and understanding, we pray for the relief of suffering and ask why we can’t all just get along; but we refuse to do what is necessary to achieve those things. If we can’t see a way to fix something right now, for all time, without any sacrifice or compromise on our part, we tell ourselves that no solution exists at all.
We are simultaneously all that is good in the world and all that is evil. And every choice we make is a choice to turn in the direction of one or the other. Our moral compass is broken and we have lost our ability to find our way in the wilderness.
We are polarized because we have made a choice to declare ourselves only half of who we are, and to further assert that our chosen half of this bifurcated self is the only acceptable truth, the only reality.
The contradictions remain, of course, but rather than acknowledge them and try to understand how they make us whole, we either deny them or tie ourselves in knots trying to fit them into the incomplete self we cling to.
We do not live linear lives. Our stories are told first in stream of consciousness, and we try to understand who we are by rewriting the stories until they make sense; but each story needs to make sense on its own as well as finding a place in the whole anthology of our lives, and we need to forget so much to make that happen.
I am a man and a male. How can I change the normative misogyny and chauvinism of the culture unless I can acknowledge that it lives within me? I can’t remove it from my experience, from the teachings that shaped me. It’s there. It always will be. But when I allow myself to see it I am better able to see my way forward; so that there may come a time when we will have raised a generation that never learned it in the first place. I’m not a feminist because I have never seen the feminine as less, but because I have, and I am working to change that in me as well as in the society.
I come most directly from pink-skinned European ancestors. How can I change the normative xenophobia and racism of the culture unless I acknowledge that I carry within me the same learned fear of the other, of the different, that I wish to change? I don’t seek racial justice and equality because I have never felt afraid, but because I have, and I’m working to change that in me as well as in the society.
I am cisgender and heterosexual. How can I change the normative homophobia of the culture unless I acknowledge that I have feared and felt shamed by the feminine in myself, that I have questioned my own capacity for intimacy, both emotional and physical, with both women and men? I don’t fight for the humanity of those who are homosexual, or bisexual, or transgendered, or gender non-conforming, or to allow everyone to love whomever they love because I was never told that my feminine was weakness and abomination, but because I was; and I’m trying to change that in myself as well in the society.
If we are going to tell our stories authentically and honestly and make it possible for others to do the same, then we cannot forget, cannot leave out, the parts that make us contradictory, inconsistent, and even sometimes hypocritical.
There is no high road or low road; there is only the path we have walked thus far, with its hills and valleys, its twists and turns and detours, its dark passages and glorious vistas; for there is no way forward except from where we are right now.

A Message for Men Who Feel Compelled to Say Something About Sex Abuse

In Politics on December 8, 2017 at 12:11 pm

I will begin this with a personal revelation. This is hard. It should be hard. It requires me to take as honest a look as I can at my own past and my relationships with women. I offer this as neither explanation nor excuse, but only as background.
I grew up in the 50s and came of age in the 60s. I could see, even as a young teenager, that my male friends and acquaintances were treating the girls in their lives abominably. I could see the destructiveness of cultural stereotypes and norms that asserted the superiority and dominance of men over women. I have always thought of myself as a feminist.
I was also a young man who was shy and awkward around women, who was trying to grow up in a culture that sent me a lot of harmful messages about what a man was supposed to be and what I should expect of women. Like most other young men I was stupid about such things. My early experiences with the opposite sex involved awkward and embarrassing attempts at physical intimacy, including some groping and what I’m certain now was at the very least unenthusiastic making out. I felt afraid, unattractive, undesirable, powerless and desperate.
By the time I was in my twenties, I was in a marriage that was already on a self-destructive path. In my thirties I became a college professor, and a leading figure in local theater, and I suddenly discovered that there were women who found me attractive and wanted to have sex with me. I had affairs. All the affairs were consensual and initiated by the women, so I was able to dismiss the element of power. I compartmentalized. I allowed myself to think that the attraction was based on my charm, my intellect, on all sorts of personal qualities other than the fact that I held a position of power and status. I never asked the question of whether any of these women would have found me attractive just for myself if circumstances were different.
Throughout this period of my life I was, again without seeing it, a bully and a tyrant, selfish and insulated in my struggle to become something like the man my culture had put in my head. And all the while, because I supported women’s rights and argued for women’s issues and talked about how badly women were treated, I was convinced that I was a feminist and an ally.
So how can I now claim any credible standing to speak about what women need?
As more and more men in positions of public power and influence are being accused of inappropriate behavior towards women, everyone seems to be talking about the problems associated with powerful men and sex.
Can we back up a moment here and acknowledge that when we are discussing relationships between men and women the phrase “powerful men” is redundant? In America (anywhere, really, but let’s stick with our own culture for the moment) there has always been a power imbalance between men and women; and that imbalance has always been to the advantage and benefit of men. This isn’t simply about outing and punishing public figures in the movie industry, or politics, or the news media. That will quickly get tiresome for some, overwhelming for many, and eventually fade into the fog of the 24/7 news cycle that shapes our current experiences.
If you have grown up in America, you have been daily bombarded with messages about men, women, and power. For men, power has always been attractive and expected. For women, power has always been unnatural and dangerous to the social order.
Men have always been told that power over women is essential to being a real man. If a man can’t demonstrate his power over a woman we have a large lexicon of emasculating and feminizing insults with which to attack him. If a woman demonstrates power over a man, that same lexicon has words that de-humanize and de-feminize her, and make her ugly.
If you are an American male who has reached puberty, you have been raised in a culture which has encouraged and rewarded this kind of power-imbalance behavior. Most have never committed rape or the grosser forms of harassment, but all have taken advantage of the privileges associated with being male in our culture, and hurt women in the process.
If you are an American female of any age, you have experienced an often overt, sometimes subtle, but constant stream of messages about yielding power to men, regardless of the consequent injuries to yourself. You have also been taught that sexual power is the only power you naturally have over men, but that using that power is forbidden. If you have sex with a man, regardless of the circumstances, any negative consequences are your own fault. At the same time, if a man doesn’t want to have sex with you it is also your fault, and you need to do more so that some man will want to have sex with you.
This double bind is why women spend billions of dollars every year to conform to a male-normative ideal of attractiveness, to wear carefully crafted make-up, to dress provocatively, to learn how to be what the masculine culture tells them they should be, often through the voices of other women; only to be told that they have only themselves to blame if a man is unable to control himself around them. If you are a woman in America, it is likely that you continue to follow at least some of the cultural rules that give men power over you.
If you are, like me, a progressive American male; if you consider yourself an ally, an advocate, a feminist; if you have been making or are about to make some statement about those powerful men now being brought to accountability for their actions, I suggest you stay quiet for a moment and check in with yourself about two important considerations.
Before I pay much attention to your declarations or praise you for your positions, I want to hear you explain the following:
In what ways have you, as a product of this culture, as a man who has been given the power and privilege of being male, taken advantage of that power and privilege in your life; and how has that hurt any woman or women?
I’m not asking if you have ever raped someone, or abused a partner, or even if you were once a serial groper. If any of those are true you should probably just deal with them and shut up about other people’s bad behavior. I’m asking when was the last time you laughed at something that contributed in some way to the culture’s misogynistic and demeaning attitudes toward women, like a “dumb blonde” joke. Was there ever a time in your life when you had lots of reasons with which you could defend misogynistic pornography or coercive prostitution that caters to male fantasies about women and sex; such as lofty arguments about how every sexual interaction is an exchange for value of some kind, or how there’s nothing inherently wrong with people choosing to have sex on film for other people to get pleasure from? Have you ever assumed that the fact you had sex with a woman is evidence that she freely consented to that sex, regardless of the circumstances? How carefully and honestly have you looked at your relationships with women – personally, socially, professionally, romantically – and understood the role that cultural norms of maleness and femaleness have played in those relationships?
Why do you feel compelled to make your statement now?
It is, of course almost always a good thing to make a statement in support of an important movement or action. I’m not questioning whether something needs to be said or whether men ought to be saying something. But I think that we need to be clear about our motives. So much of what men have historically said about their support for women, their admiration for them, what’s good for them, and how we want to help them has turned out to be self-serving for men and hurtful for women that I think we at least want to be honest about how we see our purpose in this. There is little reason for women to trust what we say and we need to make an effort to earn that trust. What do you want? If you’re a politician or public figure, for example, are you concerned that your silence implies that you don’t support women in this struggle? What other commitments are you making with this statement to actually work toward change? How does this statement square with other positions you have held in the past and how will it inform your behavior henceforward? If you are not a public figure, but feel the need for a public statement, what role do you see for yourself in the struggle to change the culture and bring women fully into their rightful place as human beings and members of society? Why should your opinion be considered valuable or important?
After you’ve addressed these questions, wait a moment longer. Let women speak. Let them say what they think about your answers, perhaps give them the opportunity to ask for your input or give you permission to speak. Address their concerns, rather than assume you know what they want or need from you. Be careful that you aren’t mansplaining or talking over, or interrupting.
When I was younger I was a feminist because I knew that it was right. Now I’m a feminist because I can begin to see where I was wrong. I’m not a feminist in spite of my past or out of guilt about my past. I’m a feminist because looking at my past has helped me to see that the struggle is not just a women’s struggle, it is also mine. Men cannot fix this for women. We can, however, follow their lead and become part of fixing it for us all.

“It’s Just a Joke”: “Humor” as deflection and excuse.

In PeaceAble on June 24, 2017 at 9:47 am

I think that I can claim a sense of humor. I can’t imagine that those who know me would not acknowledge that I can be wry, sarcastic, outrageous, droll, slapstick, sometimes vulgar and perhaps even an above-average punster. But that doesn’t mean that I will find humor in everything you think is hilarious.
So, if I criticize a meme or take exception to a “joke” please do not respond by telling me it is just a joke or telling me that I need to get a sense of humor. And I will promise to continue not telling you those things if you criticize a “joke” of mine.
“It’s just a joke” is not an excuse for being offensive. “Lighten up” is not a defense of inappropriateness, pointlessness, or trolling. “Get a sense of humor” does not address actual issues raised by objections to humor or attempted humor or the harm they can cause.
Humor is one of the most telling aspects of the norms of a culture. We are either laughing at those things which are not “normal” or we are laughing at those things which are so normal as to be indicators of our common foibles or faults. And it is usually possible to tell the difference. When we laugh at the “other” we are doing something very different from when we laugh at ourselves.
I have recently been seeing a new emergence of “humor” based on prejudice, bias, and the kinds of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and downright meanness that we seriously need to marginalize, not re-normalize.
So, a few suggestions from the point of view of my sense of humor.

1. Any joke which is not funny unless you make the butt of the joke a “dumb blonde” (or any other hurtful stereotype) isn’t funny to begin with. Any joke that is funny already is made less funny by making the butt of the joke a “dumb blonde.”
2. Any joke that uses an outrageous caricature of a Mexican or an Arab or an Asian or a person of color any other race or nationality in order to mock their culture, their customs, or their pronunciation of words in a language which is not their first, is not funny.
3. Any joke that marginalizes or grossly distorts the reality of any culture, nationality, race or group of any kind is not funny.
4. Any joke based on belief in a conspiracy theory, a deliberate untruth, or a misleading and debunked claim is not funny.
5. Any joke based on shaming of any kind is not funny. Any joke that targets the fundamental humanity of any individual or group, that furthers destructive stereotypes or keeps us from seeing each other as equally deserving human beings is not funny.

What is funny?

1. Jokes that point out the human frailties we all share are funny.
2. Jokes told by those on the inside of a group about themselves are funny when they tell them (but not when outsiders do).
3. Jokes that speak truth to power are funny.
4. Jokes that play with our common language, both verbal and non-verbal, are funny.
5. Jokes that point out the absurdities of life or create their own absurd universe are funny.

There are, of course, occasional exceptions to these “rules.” But those can be accounted for by differences in where individuals see humor. I don’t really mind if you don’t find something as funny as I do. And long as you focus on what is or is not funny about it, I won’t mind if you tell me it isn’t funny. I might even, on reflection, find that I understand or even agree with your perspective. I have no problem apologizing for “humor” of my I own if it has hurt someone, however unintentionally.
The problem I see here is that humor is becoming a dodge, a way to be mean-spirited, bigoted, and even cruel without taking responsibility for it. “It was just a joke” is simply another way to say, “I didn’t mean it.” But that’s a cop-out. It’s a deflection, a way of making the other person the problem rather than the action itself. This is what bullies do, and “humor” is becoming a way of bullying.
I love a good joke. Humor is an art form, and like all art forms it exists along a scale from simple, vulgar humor to sophisticated, complex humor. And at every stop along that line we can all find something to relate to. And like all art forms it has its genres, its specialties, its in-jokes, and it’s avant-garde, so that not all of it is equally appreciated even by its greatest artists or most astute critics. But I value genuine humor enough to call it out when it becomes hurtful, when it reinforces the stereotypes and biases our culture would rather keep in place.

 

The Fallacy of “Liberal Guilt”

In PeaceAble on March 24, 2017 at 7:53 am

There is an idea circulating that liberals seek things like civil rights, women’s rights, religious tolerance, LGBTQ rights, Native American rights, and so on, out of guilt; guilt about being male, about being white, about being Christian, about being whatever is the opposite of whatever they are championing.

Claiming that people act out of guilt is nothing more than an attempt to delegitimize their actions.  If you are doing something out of guilt, we are told, then it’s a bad thing to do, it’s dishonest, it isn’t genuine.  And it says to those who benefit from the work that the liberal activist doesn’t really care about you, it’s just guilt, so you should resent what they’re doing.  And you should be glad that I, who am doing nothing for you, am not demeaning you or being dishonest to you out of guilt. 

This idea of guilt is also associated with accusations of colonialism, of a supposed sense of superiority and entitlement.  In discussing the social safety net, for example, it works for the liberal activist this way:  1. You feel guilty about the fact that you have plenty of food and a home and a comfortable life when others don’t; 2. This guilt is derived from your belief that you are privileged and therefore superior; 3. When you advocate for the poor you are acting out your superiority, telling the poor that they need your superior largess because they can’t do it themselves; 4. This makes them dependent on you and deprives them of some of their freedom because they believe they are entitled to what you want to give them.  For the recipient it works this way:  1. The liberal doesn’t really care about you, he’s just feeling guilty because he has stuff you don’t have; 2.  What the liberal is telling you is that he is superior to you and you aren’t good enough to do what you need to for yourself; 3.  You should resent the liberal for his guilt and imperialism; 4. You need to learn to take responsibility for yourself instead of feeling entitled to help from guilty liberals; 5. We’re your real friends because we don’t feel guilty about our privilege and our wealth, and we want to give you the freedom to do it on your own, because we respect you.

In other words, if someone helps you they aren’t helping you, and if they don’t help you they are helping you. 

What a crock.

Guilt is an illusionary emotion.  It reduces complex events of cause and effect into simplistic arguments of blame. It masquerades as responsibility when it is really fear; it pretends to be empathy when it is really ego.  Guilt imagines that if one suffers sufficiently, then the wrongs of the past are atoned for.  And guilt doesn’t actually motivate action; rather, it seeks absolution and forgiveness. 

Guilt is a much more showy and public condition than responsibility.  Private, unexpressed guilt is a poison that slowly kills its host.  The only way to rid oneself of guilt is to make it known, and by making it known seek forgiveness.  On the other hand, we don’t seek to rid ourselves of honest and genuine responsibility, nor do we feel the need to make it public. Guilt emotes, responsibility acts.

Is it so hard to believe, especially among those who claim the mantle of Christianity, that any person, regardless of their political, religious, ethnic or other standing, might just have empathy, compassion, concern for another human being?

Is it not possible to feel a responsibility to correct historic wrongs without feeling guilty about the wrongs themselves?  A white person who recognizes that people of color have been enslaved, oppressed, discriminated against, disenfranchised and marginalized by white people can certainly also see that something needs to be done to correct those things without feeling personal guilt.  A man who sees that women have been disadvantaged and disenfranchised by a male-dominant culture can certainly also see that these things need to be corrected without feeling guilty.  A heterosexual or cisgender person does not have to feel guilty about the historic treatment of LGBTQ persons in order to want to correct the injustices.  When a wrong can be clearly seen, guilt is not necessary to motivate the desire to make it right.

If you feel guilty about something, examine it.  How is the guilt helping you?  What is it getting you?  Replace the guilt with understanding and knowledge about what the real problems and issues are, and what can be done about them.  Let your compassion come from empathy not from debt.  Let the past, both cultural and personal, put wind in the sails of positive change, not throw out an anchor that keeps us from moving forward.  And don’t listen to those who try to tell you that not feeling guilty means not having to do anything.

Cultural Normalization and “Manchester by the Sea”

In PeaceAble, Uncategorized on January 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

Aspects of the norm in any culture are expressed and reinforced in small, subtle and pervasive acts of acceptance.  There are innumerable ways in which our cultural norms are transmitted, with public media an important part of the whole.  My intent here is to use a personal critique of the Oscar-nominated film “Manchester by the Sea” to illustrate how we are led into unconscious acceptance and reinforcement of cultural norms.

First, let me say that media do not, for the most part, create norms or cause cultural change.  The media, including the artists who work in the media, reflect more than create subjective reality.  Films are created at least in part with an intent to make money.  They will only do that if they appeal to a significant part of the available audience.  The best way to ensure that is to reflect the feelings, attitudes, ideas, and perceptions the audience already holds.  Films that challenge our perceptions may achieve critical success, but rarely achieve box-office success.

Also, it is entirely possible for a film to be artistically successful but culturally problematic.  When that happens, it is useful to point out both the artistic quality and the cultural problems.  Failure to do that, in my opinion, reinforces the expressed norms and inhibits cultural change.

“Manchester by the Sea” is in many ways a very well made film.  There is some remarkable acting, though I did not find Casey Affleck’s performance equal to the over-the-top hype that so many reviewers seem intent on propagating.  It’s a solid performance, but hardly revolutionary.  And the film is not without its flaws.  I was especially disappointed in the script over all.  Despite some nice moments of dialogue and character interaction, the story is slow to get started, keeps wandering off into side stories that are never adequately resolved or clearly connected to the main thrust of the narrative.  And the resolution at the end of the film seems hurried and not well developed.  The final decisions of everyone involved seem nearly a deus ex machina rather than a clear consequence of the characters’ earlier choices.

But the larger objection I make to the film is not about the quality of the production.  In fact, the quality of the production actually exacerbates the problem I have with it; for the higher the quality of the art, the easier it is for us to overlook the cultural issues it raises and the problematic norms it reinforces.

The film’s characters, who are faithfully and authentically portrayed, represent a privileged masculine norm that goes unrecognized and unquestioned.  The men are uncommunicative, shallow and misogynistic.  The female characters are all treated badly, either directly abused, or ignored and dismissed, or left hanging in unfinished side stories.  The 15 year-old boy, Patrick, is sleeping with one girl and plotting to sleep with another; and his uncle blithely and without comment agrees to keep everything a secret so that the girls’ parents don’t find out about the sex and the girls don’t find out about each other.  Patrick’s mother is presented as unfit to raise him because she is portrayed as a frightened, somewhat dim-witted and hysterical woman under the sway of a “Christian” fanatic in a side story that is unnecessary, stereotypical, and unexplained.  Lee Chandler blows off his ex-wife’s attempt to come to terms with the past in a particularly cruel way and the whole thing is just passed over, providing no closure and no attempt at understanding.  Several smaller female characters are introduced for a moment to offer criticisms or critiques or some small incident, but their contributions are either ignored or trivialized.

And the men don’t fare much better from this version of what it means to be a guy.  Lee’s brother apparently never told Lee just how close to death he was, nor asked his permission to assign him as guardian for Patrick, nor provided any clue as to how that could be managed.  Given Lee’s emotional state and the conditions of his life, those failures are cruel to both Lee and Patrick; and have the potential for absolute disaster.  While that is part of what creates the core conflict in the film, it is never addressed honestly for what it is.  Lee and Patrick communicate mostly through grunts and shrugs, although Patrick often seems the closest to an adult in the room; and most of the really consequential communication Lee has with his brother’s friends and associates seems to take place off-screen, while the on-screen exchanges are fraught with unspoken emotions.  This, we are to accept, is how these men communicate.  And that’s true, but the possibility that that might just be the real problem here is never explored and nothing about it ever changes.

I bring all this up not because I want anyone to not see the film.  As I have said, it is over all a well-made film, with much about it that is worth seeing.  And the characters, however flawed, are portrayed honestly by talented actors.  I am really talking here about culture and how norms are established and reinforced.

Day by day, we all encounter situations where we are presented with examples of cultural norms in action.  We see advertisements all around us for cosmetics for women and power tools for men.  We see magazine articles that propose to tell men and women separately what the other really wants and how to “win” them.  We click on a FB link because we are teased by a sexy body or a provocative headline.  A co-worker tells us a joke involving a dumb blonde woman or a grotesque caricature of a “Mexican.”  And we hear people “man-splaining” and “white-splaining” and “straight-splaining” why things are as they are.  And if we do not, whenever possible and safe to do so, point out the cultural norms inherent in those things, or fail to say why they are a problem, then the normalcy of them is reinforced.  Every time we fail to question the logic in the ads, every time we buy the magazine and read the articles without response, every time we click on the link or smile politely at the joke or fail to see things as they really are, the norms are reinforced.

I know that movies are fiction.  I know that they are portraying real things.  And I know that we are all capable of convincing ourselves that we have the maturity, the insight, and the self-awareness to consume these things without being corrupted by them.  But cultural norms aren’t fixed by our opinions of our own virtues.  If there are things about the culture that you feel need to change; if you believe that women, non-whites, people of other nationalities or religions or ethnicities, the disadvantaged and disenfranchised need to be included, given equality of representation and opportunity, and given a chance for economic equity; then the culture will need to change.  And cultures are most permanently changed by the small, everyday reactions we have to the constant onslaught of normative messages.

Do you think that our culture is too violent, too warlike, too quick to attack and too slow to seek more peaceable solutions to our problems?  Then look for the violence in your own life, in your entertainments, in your myths and heroes.  Acknowledge that it is there and question its place in your life and in the culture.  And look for the opportunities you are given to choose the peaceable route.

Do you think our culture makes second-class citizens of our women?  Look in your own life for the small things you do or fail to do that are consistent with that.  Recognize how your own life has reinforced those things in you.  Know that you are not immune, and that changing the culture requires constant checking in with ourselves to see how we are falling prey to norms we claim to disdain.

Do you want to support equal and fair treatment of non-whites, non-Christians, and the LGBTQ+ community?  Take note of your own internal reactions.  Do feel you afraid, even slightly, in encountering the other?  Can you acknowledge that the racism or xenophobia or homophobia of the culture that has raised you has affected you, that you are not completely free of its influences?  Can you recognize and own those times when you have behaved badly, perhaps without intent or awareness, but badly all the same?

And did you go to see a film like “Manchester by the Sea” and not at least make note of the fact that what you just saw was filled with misogyny and male privilege and a cultural perspective that is exactly what we need to change?  And did you say anything?

Art is one of the most powerful purveyors of cultural norms.  Film has a way of drawing us into the reality it seeks to portray.  Indeed, the suspension of disbelief, the acceptance of the terms a film sets for itself is central to its success.  But after the viewing, take the time to talk about more than just whether Casey Affleck is the best thing since Brando, or who might get the Oscar nod, or how interesting and beautiful the cinematography was.  Talk about what the film has to say about all of us as human beings, and what it has to say about what is normal in our culture.  Then ask yourself what you want to do about it.

Normalization and the Norm

In PeaceAble, Politics on December 14, 2016 at 10:28 am

There seems to be some confusion out there about what we mean when we use the word “normalize,” and how that is related to the word “normal.” Allow me to clarify.

When we talk about normalizing a particular behavior or idea, we are not saying that the person exhibiting that behavior or expressing that idea is not “normal” in the common sense of that word. We aren’t, for example, saying that the person is deranged, or intellectually deficient, or pathological. Some might actually think those things, but that is a different discussion and I would appreciate it if you did not engage in that here.

We are, rather, using the word “normal” as the adjective form of the word “norm.” A norm is a behavior or idea that our culture or society tells us, in both subtle and more obvious ways, we should expect from each other. We are trained from early on to regard these things as “the way it is.” Now norms are not necessarily the most common or most acceptable or most likely behaviors or ideas, which is what the word normal usually suggests. For instance, American culture has, for its entire history, been dominated by the behaviors and ideas of straight (at least openly), male, Puritan/Christian (at least publicly), powerful warrior men. In other words, the straight, white, Puritan/Christian, powerful male warrior is the norm. And we are socialized to view the world from that perspective.

Now, there are, in fact, more women than men in the population; there are far more people among us more who have no more than modest power, and we are quickly discovering that LGBTQ+ people are much more numerous than we have been told and the non-white population may soon outnumber the white population. And any one time, the number of people who are veterans or serving in the armed forces is less than 15% of the population.  But that only states the demographics, not the norm. The norm remains primarily straight, white, Puritan/Christian, warrior men of power (especially economic). And that means, that despite our attempts to change things, the perspectives arising from that norm continue to pervade the society.

Distrust, bigotry, discrimination and disenfranchisement of people who do not represent that norm is “normal.” Misogyny, racism, homophobia, and the Christianization of society are “normal.” The dis-education and miseducation of those not part of the norm is “normal.” Using the very genuine fears of the working class, minorities, and women to divide the masses of people and thus more easily rule over them is “normal.” The idea that success is to be defined in terms of wealth is “normal.” The idea that everyone has the same opportunities to achieve that mythological thing we call the “American Dream” is “normal.” The idea that problems can be best resolved through force is “normal.”

Now we have tried over the years to change some of those things, but progress is always slow and still fragile, as the recent election demonstrates. The things we do to create greater equality for all, to promote justice and protect the rights of those who have less power to protect them for themselves,  and to seek more peaceable solutions to our problems, are called “normalization,” or “normative behaviors.” That is, they are things we do to create new norms that better reflect our diversity, our stated American ideals, our rights, privileges and responsibilities as members of society. But our social behaviors, our laws, our public images of ourselves in the media and our demographics all change more quickly than our norms do.

So electing a non-white President did not change the norm of whiteness as the perspective through which we see things. The Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, Roe-v-Wade, and the striking down of laws that would require the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in public school science classes, for a few examples, did not usher in a new secular norm. Women still have less access to power, non-whites and non-Christians are still marginalized, and it is still “normal” to proclaim one’s patriotism while waving the flag of a nation that went to war against the United States, and lost. We still think that the more firepower we have, the safer we are.

When we try to normalize something, we are trying to create it as a norm. We are saying that this behavior or this idea is to be expected, that it defines us as a society and a culture, that this is now the perspective from which we will evaluate and express our public and official actions.

So, what we are really seeing around us now is not the normalization of bigotry, of white supremacy, of male dominance and privilege in the affairs of the nation; we are seeing an attempt by that “normal” perspective to roll back the normalization of those things that threaten it. It is not the normalization of racism that threatens us, it is the de-normalization of diversity. It is not the normalization of misogyny, it is the de-normalization of the idea that the feminine is in all ways the equal of the masculine. It is not the normalization of xenophobia or homophobia or religious prejudice, it is the de-normalization of acceptance, tolerance, and cooperation. It is an attempt to say that who we are becomig is not who we are; an attempt to say that who we are is embodied in the worst of who we have been all along.

%d bloggers like this: