wholepeace

Posts Tagged ‘social boundaries’

OUR HYPERBOLE IS LITERALLY KILLING US!!!

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.

1. THE “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS” TREND:

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.

2. THE SUPERHERO FANTASY TREND:

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.

  1. THE SELF-EVIDENT RIGHTEOUSNESS TREND:

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.

  1. THE VOLUME AS TRUTH TREND:

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 . . .

There is No Such Thing as an Isolated Incident

In PeaceAble on July 18, 2016 at 8:24 am

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. Life is an ecological system. And in the age of ubiquitous social media we are ever more aware of how events are interconnected.

Whenever something terrible happens we naturally look for causes; but there is a tendency, especially in the current atmosphere of divisiveness, to look for causes that suit our various agendas. And there are some usual suspects for us to assemble: racism, out-of-control police, protesters, “he shouldn’t have resisted, had a gun, had a record,” “she was dressed provocatively,” gun control, lack of gun control, and so on ad infinitum.

And as soon as we get enough people to agree that something specific is, indeed, the cause, a chancy prospect at best, then we vow to do something about it; and sometimes something specific to the agreed-upon cause is in fact done. But the problems, of course, aren’t actually solved.

First, let’s try to be honest with ourselves. We have not solved or erased or outgrown or moved into eras of post-anything. Our culture continues to harbor and express deep systemic strains of racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, religious fanaticism, militarism, and economic inequity and oppression. And that is not an exhaustive list. And let us also recognize that these are the diseases of the privileged and the powerful, but the symptoms are most notable in their effect on the disenfranchised and disempowered.

So, when a Muslim gunman shoots up a nightclub that caters to homosexuals and we try to decide if the cause is “radical Islam” or homophobia or mental illness or the American relationship with guns, or whatever; the answer is “YES!”

And when a clearly disturbed white man shoots up a church full of people of color and the pundits weigh in on whether it is properly an instance of mental illness or racism or right-wing Christian fanaticism, or (again) issues of gun control, or a media narrative that is helping to create an atmosphere of violent rhetoric and violent action, or any of a dozen other proposed causes; again the answer is “YES!”

What we are seeing are not isolated instances of any one of those things, they are the meeting points of them all, and a whole raft of others that we haven’t even thought of.

And the truth is, I believe, that we all know this. We all know; and our cultural messages through our media and our general behavior confirm it and reinforce it every day. The American culture, as defined by the norms it establishes, is dominated by a white, male, Christian, oligarchic, individualist, and nationalist voice.

And all attempts to counter that voice are met with suppression, dismissiveness, deliberate misrepresentation, and polarized divisiveness. Because all of those problems are things that challenge the cultural norm, and cultures are built on power, and power does not yield itself easily, and cultures change only very slowly.

But cultures do change. And they change most rapidly (for good and ill) when the masses of people subject to them begin to make the changes and insist upon them.

But does that mean we should not try to determine proximate causes and correct them? Do we have to say to ourselves that none of this will change until we change the whole culture? Of course not.

But is necessary that we be careful not to get too caught up in one or another cause; that we should be careful and deliberate in our analysis of every incident – both major traumatic and catastrophic events and the smaller events of our daily lives – and see the broader picture as well as the immediate exigencies.

Keeping people on a no-fly list from purchasing guns won’t by itself prevent future mass shootings (or at least we won’t really know if it does, since one can’t prove a negative), but without a careful look at the very existence of a no-fly list and its relationship to our collective fear and easy suspicion of the other and the erosion of our basic civil liberties and the reality of the risks and dangers that we face, both from “others” and ourselves, it has the potential to make things worse. What, in other words, will be the cost to all of us if we get it wrong?

Arming police departments like military assault units and deploying them against citizens not only doesn’t solve the problems of violent confrontations, it exacerbates them.

“All Lives Matter” isn’t a statement of inclusion and acceptance, it’s a failure to recognize that “Black Lives Matter” identifies a particular area of special need, and it attempts to diminish the very real and special importance of that need, and in doing so it makes the need greater and the problem worse rather than better.

The positive aspect of all this is that cultural change is always within our personal grasp. It is, in fact, the only place it’s ever been. But it requires us to strive consciously to practice every day what we claim to want in the world.

Do you want less violence? Avoid the use of violent language, violent metaphors, and even small violent actions.

Do you want a more equitable world? Stop holding onto what you don’t need, examine the degree of excess and privilege in your own life and try to spread a bit of it around to others who have less.

Do you want us all to “just get along?” Pay attention to how your own actions and language create or encourage or unintentionally support bias, prejudice and discrimination (including in what you find funny or what click bait you chase, for example).

Would you like to see a healthier world, the end to the terrible diseases that affect people? Examine where in your own life you choose to support unhealthy practices, and give some of your junk food money to health-focused charities or to support legislation and legislators fighting for better and less expensive heath care.

Do you want to reduce the effect of hate in the world? Examine your own feelings of hatred and look inward for compassion, acceptance, forgiveness and love. Ask any question about what change you would like to see and look first at your own life to make those changes.

Once we begin to realize how challenging it can be to make the small but significant changes in our own lives, we can begin to see what needs to be done to bring about those changes in our communities, our nation, and our world. Perhaps we will see that the answers aren’t out there somewhere in the hands of a super hero who has the power to change it all. And perhaps we can see that most of what passes for solutions is at best just using a teaspoon to drain the ocean, and at worst, throwing gasoline on the fire. Because everything is connected, everything makes a difference, there are no isolated incidents and we are neither alone nor powerless.

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.

On Rights and What’s Right

In Politics on April 29, 2016 at 4:04 pm

What if there are no “unalienable rights?”

The first ten amendments to the Constitution outline some fundamental rights, but we should be clear that those rights are granted by the Constitution. And the idea of those rights, including the idea that our rights are thus limited and unless the right to something is in the Constitution somewhere means that it doesn’t exist (the ninth amendment notwithstanding), is a powerful one. But what does all that really mean?

Rights are a human invention. They are neither natural nor God-given. Rights can only be “natural” if we believe that nature confers rights, but the natural, non-human world depends on neither morality nor ethics for its interactions. In a world of prey and predators there can be no right to life. And the idea that God grants us our rights depends on whether we believe in a god, and what sort of god we believe in. Because humans create and endow rights, they are almost always limited and poorly understood.

There are two fundamental principles regarding rights. The first is that something may be the right thing to do, even if it isn’t a right. The second, its converse, is that just because something is a right doesn’t mean that it is always right.

On balance, I think that we spend too much time trying to define rights and too little time trying to define what is right.

I don’t have to believe that everyone has a right to a basic minimum living wage in order to be convinced that making sure that everyone has the ability to live a decent life and participate in the nation’s economic life is a good idea. . A nation which systemically denies large segments of its people equitable access to and participation in its economic life is headed for more than just economic trouble. If a society genuinely cares about the welfare of its citizens, about the health of its economy, and about the stability of its culture, then seeing to it that every citizen has the means to participate meaningfully in the economy, and to avoid the many ills associated with cycles of poverty, then a living wage makes good sense as a part of that. It’s the right thing to do.

I don’t need to believe that access to affordable, effective health care is a human right in order to believe that it makes a lot of sense to keep the nation’s (and the world’s) populace as healthy as we can and to make it the work of government to ensure that. With or without a right to it, people clearly have a need for it; and a healthy, productive society is preferable to one in which preventable and treatable diseases waste billions of dollars of both personal and public wealth. Also, a society that cares for the needs of its people is less vulnerable to political and social unrest and more likely to promote not just good physical health, but greater levels of creativity, innovation and productivity over all. It’s the right thing to do.

I don’t need to believe (although I do) that universal suffrage and access to the voting booth is a right in order to believe that doing all we can to ensure that every citizen has access to the voting booth is essential to the health of our system of government. When we disenfranchise any of our citizens we cheapen our democracy. A government of the people needs the participation of all the people.

I don’t need to believe that a quality education for all our children is a basic right to believe that having a well-educated citizenry, capable of cultural sensitivity, creative expression, rational discourse, intelligent problem-solving and critical thinking can only improve the quality of our lives.

I don’t need to believe (although I do) that every adult human being has a right to enter into a marriage with another adult they choose in order to believe that a society that marginalizes any group of people and excludes them from the normal life of the community and equal protection under the law is a society that has lost its moral compass.

I could go on, but the point is that we don’t need to reduce every issue to a question of individual rights. We need to decide not just what people have a right to, but what it is right for us to do for them and for us.

And it is equally true that having a right to something is not an absolute guarantee that we will always get exactly what we want. It is inevitable that our individual rights will come into conflict. And when those conflicts occur it is the work of government, through its laws, to balance out those rights. And declaring something a right doesn’t necessarily make everything we do in the name of that right a good thing to do.

We already acknowledge that we have a right to free and open speech and assembly; but we have long recognized that some speech is so harmful that it cannot be allowed. We acknowledge that we have a right to believe as we will, but our Constitution tells us that we cannot impose those beliefs on others or enshrine them in the law.

It is a basic tenet of our culture that one person’s practice of his rights is limited when that practice harms others or when there is a conflict between the rights of individuals with different needs and different perspectives. It is the purpose of law to reduce that harm and to navigate those conflicts so that all our citizens can live together equitably.

In the same way, it is possible to believe that every citizen has a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms, but also to see that unlimited and unregulated weaponry poses a significant danger to us all. This country did the experiment with an openly armed citizenry in the nineteenth century and it didn’t work. People were not safer; so cities and towns enacted limitations on open weaponry within city limits because they saw and directly experienced the danger. We are seeing that danger again now in far too many tragic and terrible ways. There is no reason to believe that we are more mature, more capable of using the weapons safely and responsibly now than we were then, as individuals or as a society.

It is possible to believe that each person has the right to earn what wealth he can, but to see that great income inequity is not sustainable, and that great harm is done to both individuals and the entire society when there is too great a disparity between great wealth and great poverty, and no strong middle class. Certainly, unlimited wealth is not itself a right.

All my examples ignore, of course, any moral arguments that might be made. But morality implies a common basis for that morality and common understanding of what the moral standards are. A complex and diverse society is going to have trouble finding that much commonality. Moral obligations are best left to the individual conscience, whereas arguments about what might be “the right thing to do” can be made more objectively and with clearer reason.

We sometimes get so tied up in arguments about our rights that we forget to see that all rights have responsibilities of equal power and importance. We are not simply a loose collection of individuals coexisting within defined borders. We are citizens of a community, a nation, and a common culture of great diversity, but with the need to work cooperatively and rationally to solve our common problems, meet our personal and common needs, to share our common resources and to manage our conflicts. Unless we confer our rights on each other, every day, in all our actions; and unless we are willing to allow for compromise and accommodation when rights conflict; and unless we are willing claim no rights for ourselves that we are not willing to grant freely to others; then we effectively have no rights at all, only the privileges that come with power.

 

Take My Advice. Stop Giving Advice.

In No Particular Path on March 2, 2016 at 8:48 am

A response by a friend to a post about advice reminded me of something I used to tell students in my communication classes: it is usually a bad idea to give people advice about their lives. Giving advice can go so wrong in so many ways and go right in only one.

Let’s start with the ways it can go wrong.

It is possible that you may give advice, the other person doesn’t take it and they’re right. It works out well. Suddenly, your advice seems less valuable. Perhaps you experience this as a personal loss of value in the relationship. Do you resent the fact that they didn’t listen to you? Why did they ask your advice at all if they already knew better? Perhaps you feel a little foolish as well as disregarded. What if this isn’t the first time you’ve given advice they haven’t taken and their choice worked out well? Are they trying to make you feel foolish? And what about the other side of it? Perhaps the other person is feeling somewhat superior now; perhaps they’re a little smug that they didn’t take your advice, that it is clear now that they knew better all along.

Or perhaps you gave lousy advice, the other person took the advice and it turned out badly. Now it’s your fault. Having already given you at least a share of the responsibility for their decision, they may now be perfectly willing to give you all of it. “You told me to do that!” they’re angry because the results weren’t what they needed or wanted; and they are angry at you, and resentful, because you own the advice.

Maybe the advice was good advice, but they didn’t take it and the result was terrible. Guess what? It’s still your fault. “Why didn’t you make me do what you told me to?” “You didn’t tell me it would be this bad!” Now you’re not only clearly smarter than they are, you didn’t work hard enough to make them see that. They feel foolish for not taking the advice and they feel inferior because you were right and they were wrong. And how do you feel? Can you resist the temptation to remind them that you gave them good advice that they didn’t take? Do you feel a bit superior and ego-vindicated because they didn’t listen and screwed up?

Let’s imagine, however, that you give the other person some really good advice; they take it; and everything works out wonderfully. But afterwards there seems to be a change in the relationship, subtle at first, but unmistakable. They keep saying how grateful they are, but they also seem somehow resentful. Perhaps they are feeling somewhat in your debt and don’t, really don’t, know how they can repay you. Gifts of all kinds – including the gift of advice – can create an imbalance in a relationship where one of the parties cannot give or has not given equally. There is a sense of sudden inferiority that can come with the sense that the other person was smarter or cleverer or better able to say how to act in your life than you were. Debts and obligations of all kinds can leave us feeling diminished, resentful and in conflict. Are these rational behaviors? Perhaps not. But humans don’t always act rationally. And by the way, the advice giver may also feel uncomfortable with the situation. Other people’s gratitude is nice at first, but can become a burden of its own. Any imbalance in a relationship, even a well-intentioned one, any change, even a good one, can cause stress.

But what about the one thing that can go right? You and the other person might have a strong, close relationship built on years of trust, understanding, perhaps love, and a clear sense of boundaries and personal responsibility. You give the advice and then let it go. You want nothing and expect nothing. The other person either follows it or not, but in either case, however it turns out, you walk away with the relationship intact, supporting each other. If you have this kind of relationship with someone, and if you are the kind of person who can genuinely give without expectation or obligation, then you may successfully give occasional advice.

But this is not the norm. In most cases, giving advice is a risk; one that we are often either oblivious to or in denial about. But there is another way to go. If someone asks for advice, ask them what they have already considered. Really listen. Get them to talk about the problem and the strategies they’ve already thought about. Encourage them to think it through, support them in reaching their own decision. If you think of other possibilities, put them in the form of questions: “Have you considered . . .?” “Is it possible that you might . . .?” Add to their options without advocacy, but help them see the possibilities and risks of all the choices. It is still possible that they might make a decision and blame you for it: “I would never have thought to do that if you hadn’t brought it up!” But the risks for you are less than with straight out advice-giving.

Human beings are unpredictable, contradictory, and emotional. Murphy’s Law (If something can go wrong, it will.) is about us, not about some outside force in the universe that we have no influence over. Remember that and give advice sparingly and with great care.

Or not.

It’s just a suggestion.

It’s your decision.

Really. Do what you want.

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.

‘Tis the Season

In PeaceAble on November 27, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Yesterday I went out for a Thanksgiving dinner to a very nice restaurant (there were a great many open, but this was the only one that said a cancelled reservation would allow them to seat our party of three), where every table was filled with happy patrons, and an excellent chef and kitchen staff prepared some wonderful food, a delightful waitstaff brought out our meals quickly and pleasantly, the service staff kept tables cleared and dishes clean, and the managers oversaw everything with efficiency, good humor, and a warm and welcoming attitude.

On our way, we stopped to fill up the gas tank; and passed doughnut shops where we might have gotten coffee, and convenience stores where we might have picked up a few things for later.  In an emergency, we knew that we could count on emergency services, hospitals, police, or firefighters to be available.  We briefly considered whether we might forego the big dinner and just get a pizza; but were a bit disappointed to find no pizza places open.

We also passed places where some people less selfish than ourselves were providing Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless or impoverished, or for those who would otherwise be alone and without family or friends to share a meal.

And I wondered why there is always so much controversy about which big box stores would be open that afternoon to start their Christmas season sales. Why do so many people care if WalMart is open, but simply expect to be able to find places to get gasoline or some last minute items for their own celebrations? Why do they worry that some people might have to work, but simply expect that others will? How do they sit down to all the things they say they are grateful for, but not understand that having a day off may mean for others that they don’t get a day’s wages or a bit of overtime pay, and that may make the difference in whether they make the bills this month; and others may want to work so that they don’t sit home alone wondering what to do with themselves? Why do they not see that such complaints are privileged, first world problems; that forcing big box stores to close would not do very much to solve the real problems that other people face? Why do we all take so much for granted on a day when we are proclaiming our gratitude?

Is it simply because if we don’t need or want something then we assume that it is unnecessary for everyone? Is it because we assume that if we don’t desire something, or dislike it, then that feeling must be universal, or at least the norm? Do we assume that if we have something, like a loving family and plenty of food, and we value those things, that we can speak from our position of privilege for the needs of everyone else? Or is it even more selfish than that? Are we afraid, perhaps, that we will miss out on something? Someone else will get the really big deal, save some money on something we might have to spend more for later if they go to the stores and we don’t. Someone else will beat us to the punch somehow. Are we afraid that if the stores are open we might somehow be unable to resist their siren song?

Like so many things we argue about, the arguments about shopping on Thanksgiving are really about choices: what choices are available to us and to others; who decides; who’s in control; and what difference does it all make? Is my Thanksgiving made less enjoyable, less festive, less meaningful because someone else chooses to keep a store open or go shopping; but not affected at all by the knowledge that I am consuming in excess of what I need while others starve, holding court in a warm and comforting home while others struggle to survive, enjoying the pleasant company of family and friends while others huddle close to keep fear and violence and despair at bay?

There is nothing wrong with celebrating our gratitude for what we have. We have no need to feel guilty about that. For all the things we have that we know are not guaranteed us, we should be thankful; and setting aside a day to make that thankfulness manifest is a good and honest and even honorable thing. So do that. Make it real. Make it your own. Choose to spend the day however you wish. And let the rest go. In your gratitude for what you have, why inject unnecessary outrage about things that really aren’t about you? Maybe spend at least a few moments contemplating what you might do to make things better for those who do not have nearly as much to be grateful for.

All through the long fall and winter holiday season, we see all kinds of pointless complaints and imagined controversies erupting. Halloween celebrates the Devil. People might have to work on Thanksgiving. There’s a war on Christmas. People are saying “Happy holidays.” Everything is so commercialized (When is it not in our capitalist economy?). When is Hanukkah, anyway; and what the heck is Kwanzaa? Why can’t we put a cross or a crèche anywhere and everywhere we want? And once we’ve spent weeks in anger and outrage and spewing violent rhetoric, we will all proclaim our desire for peace on earth.

Maybe instead of looking for things to get in a twist about, we could begin to celebrate the season by actually doing things that promote that peace we say we so fervently hope for.

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.

%d bloggers like this: