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Category Archives: Social Justice

Plato defines Justice as giving to each their due. Not treating everyone equally–just treating everyone RIGHT.

Hello, reader.

It is very nearly election time in the U.S.A., and while I try not to talk about politics here on the blog, it’s a difficult and unsuccessful policy, because politics is simply the natural extension of ethics into broader society, and thus inextricable from who we are as individuals and, from how we think about the world.

This is, of course, part of the problem. We tend to talk about “politics” in the USA as if it were something we could separate out from everything else. There are two sides to this coin, and I’d like to come to grips with them quickly before we move on to the main thrust of this post.

Problem one: The fucking Puritans.

We COULD just stop the post here, comma, semicolon, period, and be done, but I say “UGH the FUCKING Puritans” so often that once in a while I ought to explain it. When I say this, especially here on this website, I am shorthanding a whole lot of stuff (I should do a Toolbox on this…hmm, stay tuned for next week) into the idea that maybe people from the U.S. tend to categorize and make moral judgments very quickly.

Problem two: Politics IS not something that you can separate from daily life. I don’t understand how to say this more explicitly. If you think your brother should be able to go to school without thousands of dollars of debt, you should be in favor of free or low-cost college. If you like the independently owned coffee shop on the corner and don’t want them to go out of business, you should be in favor of legislation that actually protects small businesses. If you think your child should make more than $12.50 an hour, you should be in favor of raising the minimum wage. If you think your health insurance should cost less, you should be in favor of universal health care.  Hypocrisy is bad. Don’t do that.

BUT THAT iSN’T WHAT WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT TODAY, and I’m becoming DISTRACTED by my RAGE.

What I want to talk about is the day, whenever that day actually ends up being in this year of CONTINUAL fuckery, when we actually know for sure what the state of our political system will be in the next two to four years. Because now, and then, we have some work to do.

Because, you see, when we get done with the current president, and when the country finally has a substantive Left that isn’t just three women willing to admit that yes, they are kinda socialist, but in that gentle way where they just want people to not starve to death? if that’s ok?, THEN we are STILL going to have the following problem:

This country is FULL of Nazis.

Let me rephrase this in a slightly less polemic way.

Consider, for a moment, how many people in the United States must have extreme, disconnected-from-reality, hardcore threaten-a-public-official white supremacist ethnonationalist neo-nazi third reich two electric boogaloo views. What percentage of the population are you willing to believe that might be? 2%? 10%? 15%? Fine. Now think about all the people who nod along when those people get started on a rant in a bar, and who if you corner them will say, “sure, he’s a little extreme, but he’s making a lot of good points.” What percentage of the population is that? What percentage of the population is content to live in a Fahrenheit 451 haze while drone strikes are ordered and asylum seekers are held in prison cells, so long as they don’t have to think about the yucky parts of living in a very active imperial power? How many family members do you have, who have voted for the current president, or for one of his supporters, and who you are now ready to cut ties with?

This is the problem.

A problem, I should mention, which doesn’t exist for the Right. Nazis are playing politics on Easy Mode: just listen to your leader. The answer to “what do you do with the part of the population which finds your politics incompatible with their ideal state?” is “genocide them.”  Shoot them, force them to flee the country, lock them out of healthcare until they die. Boom, done, ethnic cleansing accomplished, time to have a huge party where nobody can fucking dance.

But for the left, for us bleeding heart AOC simp snowflake socialist liberals who just want evweywone to be happy, UwUniversal Heawf Cawwe, MinUwUmum Wage Inkwease, we have the following MASSIVE problem: when we’re done, and the GDP is through the fucking roof, and the cost of living is $20 per year, and everyone has free health care, and college is $1, and we’ve nationalized Amazon’s logistical network to carry food through the entire continental United States, entirely eliminating food deserts and shortages, we are still going to have Nazis in this country. 

The next time we have a Democratic president and House and Senate and Supreme Court, we are still going to have a substantial vocal minority of people in this country who want to burn it to the fucking ground. And we are going to have to reckon with this.

Re-integrating these people into society is going to be WORK. It is going to be work from EVERY SINGLE FUCKING ONE of us. Yes, this means people who have baggage. People who have trauma. People who by all fucking rights should not have to do this, are going to have to reach out. Yes, this isn’t fair. Fairness is a luxury for people who don’t live in a post-authoritarian state.

What comes after this presidency is not utopia. Maybe we will live long enough to see a kind, fair, just country. But first comes the grimy, slimy, dirty work of reaching back out and rebuilding some semblance of unity across a political divide that goes back decades. Because it’s simply not possible to run a country well when less than half of its population is on board.

Goodbye for now, reader. Stay safe this Election Day. Good luck.

Hey reader,

Welcome to this week’s post, brought to you by a rising tide of indignation I don’t fully express in my daily life! I’ll tell you upfront that this will absolutely be a rant, and it will be more or less intelligible! If there are questions or comments, drop them in that fuckin comments section down below and I’ll try to uh. Experiment with answering more clearly. We’re going to talk culturally, which requires a certain level of abstraction, and I’m going to be impassioned, which requires a certain level of arrogance, so if you’re fine with that, let’s get started.

We’re going to need to accept this first premise, in order for this post to get off the ground:

Americans have a problem with boundaries. 

I want to sit with this one for a second before proceeding with our rant. This is the cultural commentary section of our show; culturally, we in the U.S.A. have trouble both asserting our own boundaries, and respecting the boundaries of others.

This makes sense. The USA has a very individualistic culture, which means that each person can infringe upon the rights of other people so long as they defend their own. Further, it means that kids are generally on their own when it comes to standing up for themselves–we teach children this all the time. Say no. Fight back against bullies. Be clear in your consent.

Problem is–and I am shorthanding this argument a little today because I still have so much to yell about, but I’ll come back to it out of order–having to defend yourself is tiring. It wears people down, and at the same time, teaches that you don’t have to respect other peoples’ personal boundaries–whether “boundaries” means time, space, touch, or emotion.

There is so much in U.S. culture which just hammers at your boundaries. Many of us work customer-facing jobs, which in and of itself is a constant barrage of invasions. Dating culture involves two people hurling themselves at each other until one of them becomes uncomfortable/brave enough to say no–but saying no somehow feels rude, even though it’s the most natural and respectful thing in the world to communicate where you stand to someone. Your work will call you on weekends and demand you help them.

Even on the societal level, we love to offload the task of defending the weak. Companies put the cost of business on the consumer. Our healthcare system puts the cost of care on the individual. When it comes to environmental care, we focus on what individuals can do, not what the powerful can offer. 

So. There’s a theme. The little people are responsible for defending themselves. Because that’s “fair,” is the idea.

This COVID-19 crisis has thrown this problem into new relief, because once again, the little people are responsible for defending themselves. But in this case, they are required to defend their own lives. And again, as usual, I have the same reaction to employers asking people to go back to work, to governments asking businesses to reopen, to schools asking students to come back, to parents asking kids to come to family events.

How dare you.

Even the most optimistic forecast suggests that we will have this pandemic circulating for another year. More level-headed predictions say we’ll probably be seeing social distancing until the end of 2022. Either way, I’m ablaze with outrage at seeing people be forced to choose between their literal actual life, that they live, where they’re breathing, and their jobs, homes, families, goals–not because of an actual reason, but because, somewhere in the chain of events, some other person decided to make it everybody else’s problem.

It is hard. To look at the future and realize that, for the next year or two, the safe play might just be trying to stay alive and sane by any means possible. To come to terms with the very real fact that none of us will have a normal Thanksgiving this year.

Today I’d like to remind you that your life is yours. We say that a lot in the U.S.A., we talk about personal freedom and all that bullshit, when really what it means is “your life is yours until someone more important wants it.” But your life, sort of by definition, belongs to you. And you can just…make decisions about it.

Something I realized, growing up, was that at a certain point, I can just, do stuff. I can decide not to go to a party the evening of, just because I don’t feel like it. I can start talking to someone more, if I think they are interesting. I am allowed to exercise agency over my life and myself, and people can try to stop that, but all they can do is try.

Many of us are put now into this position where someone else is obliging us to do the hard work. To defend ourselves. To say no, even though in the USA there is such a weird stigma to saying no–and haven’t you ever wondered why that is? Why it feels rude to just outright disagree, to say you won’t do something? To draw a line, create a personal boundary you won’t cross?

What a fucking injustice, by the way.

We shouldn’t be the bad guys for saying we won’t meet people, won’t go to a theater, won’t go eat out. We have to swallow that and say no. We are allowed to say no. We deserve to say no.

And the consequences will be unfair. There shouldn’t be consequences for saying, “I’d like not to die.” But there will be consequences. But we have to put that aside. We have to just endure the fact that it’s unfair, that we should never have had to be in this position, that this is wrong. Live through it. Repress it and unpack it with a therapist in 2035. Survive it.

That’s our task. To survive this, and to come out the other side with our hearts intact and still capable of feeling. The world waiting on the other side of this pandemic needs us. It needs the wisdom we’ve learned. It needs the strength we’re cultivating now. And it needs the kindness that the world didn’t show to us, the candle flame we are protecting.

The storm is here. It isn’t over–not by a long shot. It won’t be safe, not for a while. But it will pass. And we’ll be there when it does.

Stay safe, reader.

Humans have at their disposal a very powerful capacity: the ability to put ourselves into the place of someone else. Metaphors, as mentioned in my erstwhile Toolbox post on the subject, are a fantastic extension of this ability; they are how we take one thing and put it into the place of something else. This is how humans are able to empathize with just about anything, no matter how insensate or simple a form of life or object, and why we can become invested in stories about cars, bugs, furbies, forest animals, R2D2, and Elon Musk.

Today we’re going to talk about that capacity for empathy and metaphor (metaphy? empafor? hmm. don’t like those), while I take an idea that’s been chewing at me for a while and chew it right back. See how it likes that. Stupid idea.

We don’t all have the same experiences. I don’t think by now I really need to take the time to establish this statement in a rigorously philosophical sense; anyone who might have challenged this idea gave up reading the blog around the time that I made that weird post about Eachness back in fucking February. But I think I speak for one of us when I say that our experiences as individuals are often different from the experiences of other individuals.

Of course, are they too different to empathize with and analogize to? Obviously not. We can empathize with a goddamn animate rubiks cube (@Wall-E). Furries exist, and, at the risk of making a controversial statement, the differences between the different (species? races? fuck, this is worse than Redwall) types of furries, and normies, are greater than the differences among physical humans.  We are clearly capable of understanding, empathizing with, and drawing lessons from the experiences of people with very different lives.

We can do the same thing in the other direction, too. It’s possible for someone to create a story about a very different kind of life, and to so in such a believable and vivid fashion that it feels real. That’s sort of the entire idea of novels.

Because, here’s the thing. Any given story has some kind of, analogy distance, let’s call it. The “jump” from you, the reader, and your circumstances, to the circumstances in a book. Even if I am a precocious young lady reading a Jane Austen novel in the English countryside circa 1813, my life is still going to be in many ways quite different from the life of Lizzie Bennett. But I can make that leap of analogy and experience the events of the story as if they were happening to me.

That analogy distance is greater or lesser if the story you’re reading is more or less like your actual life circumstances. And maybe you want a certain minimum analogy distance; maybe you don’t want to read about your life right now. That’s valid as hell. But I want to talk about the other direction, because we talk about representation a lot, magnifying minority voices, etc., etc., and I thought, fuck it, why don’t I make an ass of myself by talking about this subject instead?

See, a question emerges, in the debate about minority representation in literature (which we’re going to dive more into SOON), which is; so. There are more stories about one type of experience than about the others. Some kinds of stories are under-represented. We ought to help balance the scales by uplifting the voices of those who create less-common stories. (I’m in agreement with this point, for the record. I’m going somewhere else with it, though).

Let’s put it this way. Imagine there are 100 writers (who have access to publishing houses which will publish their work, editors who will help them, role models who show them it is possible to make a living as a writer, economic circumstances that allow them to write, etc., etc), and 93 of them are white heterosexual upper-middle-class able-bodied neurotypical men and women (if you REALLY want to get into it we can say that 69 of them are men and 24 are women).

By the way, the stats I just made up for this example are at least tenuously based in reality: both in the dimension of race, and of gender, the publishing industry remains a little uh. Monolithic. So this is sort of a mini-version of the status quo, and now we go, “hey! we need to listen to more minority voices!” Great. But it isn’t, can’t, won’t be, simply enough to add more people, at least not at first. These 100 people have access to publication now. The publishing industry (or film industry, comic book, video game, etc., etc.) is an established fact.

My question, the thing I’ve been boggling over, is: Given the frankly one-sided set of stories we have access to (my dad likes to sing a fun song called “White Male Rage” as he flips through the action movie section on Netflix. I think it’s from SNL), and the apparent structural problems of getting diverse voices into mainstream publishing, we have a long-term problem about minority representation among authors. But shouldn’t it be the case that more of our 93 privileged authors need to take a crack at including a more varied cast? Because unlike in other areas where demographics are one-sided, authors have the critical advantage that they can just, create representation out of thin air.

I mean, sure. If you invite 70 white men to start writing stories about latinos and gays and disabled people, they’re going to create a lot of shitty content. Absolutely will concede this point without hesitation. The question is; would that shitty content be worse than its absence is now? My white hetero friends (all 4 of them, lmao) have a TREMENDOUS amount of shitty content to choose from when they want to watch a movie. Shouldn’t the rest of us have the same luxury?

That’s all the words I have space for today, reader. Tune in next week as I continue with representation–and why it matters.

Have you ever read gender theory?

sweet mother of

 

oh god make it stop

Now, this is not exactly “gender theory”; this is feminism in a raw, elementally academic form.  This is not just any feminist theory: this is Judith Butler.

Judith Butler, whose Wikipedia picture stares out at you with the piercing gaze of Galadriel, has written extensively about gender theory–and identity at large–including Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits of Sex.  She has produced many brilliant pieces, which are just as easy to read as other writing we have previously discussed, like the Outline of a Theory of Practice:

oh please not again

oh please not again

Why is that? It’s not just Butler (who, I stress again, is brilliant).  Gender theory at large is permeated, saturated with big words.   I’ve discussed this before.   If you haven’t read Bodies that Matter, you should. Butler’s writing is fantastic, and mind-blowing, and meshes well not only with gender theory but with contemporary phenomenology.

Unfortunately, Butler is also somewhat impenetrable.  No worse than Bourdieu or Foucault or Husserl or any number of other academic writers, but then the purpose of feminism is not “merely” academic, is it? It should not seem too much of a stretch to suggest that feminism is concerned with theory only as it relates to the achievement of certain stated goals; I.E. the advancement of a political perspective which co-opts the affectations of academic discourse to further its own propagation.  Thus, authors like Butler infiltrate the larger ongoing discussion of identity by using the regular linguistic patterns of “academia”; a subversive approach to feminist writing.

Partly that’s because it’s JUST SO EASY to slip into jargon.  We (and by “we” I am broadly generalizing about anyone who has been taught to talk about gender) have learned certain words, and we have trouble thinking about the topic in other words, let alone speaking about it.

But “the academic discourse” is not the only conversation.  And for every person who finds Butler’s work illuminating, there are lots more who find it inhospitable.  The language which feminism has learned can integrate it into academic discourse quite effectively, and more’s the pity; many promising fields and causes have failed as a result of being entirely integrated with academic discourse.

For feminism to succeed, it needs a voice that can be understood by everyone, not just by academics. For a broad cultural change to take place, feminism must permeate to every level of this big Marxian layer cake called “society.”

When I say “feminism must do x to succeed,” of course, I am drawing on actual stated feminist goals, which tend to exist either in the short term (I intend to use this paper to show the production of gender in interaction, I intend to challenge the perception of the body as a single entity, etc.) and also in the longer term (reshaping society, dismantling the patriarchy, creating cultural change).  To both of these types of goals, the academic voice is, of course, crucial.  We learn from the academic voice.

But we also need feminists who speak plain English.  Who can explain that gender is not quite as solid as it seems.  It isn’t an impossible task, but it is a challenging one.

For example, we can explain that (although we use it to define ourselves, identify ourselves, give ourselves shape and solidity), gender is like a handshake.  A handshake takes place between two people.  The handshake exists only in the interaction between the two people, and everyone involved in the handshake thinks about the others based on what they observe in the gesture.  Let’s slow that down and repeat: The handshake exists in the interaction between two people.  The handshake does not have an independent existence above and beyond two people.  It is not a “thing” you can point to.  It is the product of interaction, and it is created each time two people grab each other’s fingers and squeeze.

Now, no one identifies themselves by their handshake (except perhaps used car salesmen from the 1950s), but you could. You could define yourselves as a soft shaker or a hard shaker (shut up).  And you judge other people based on what you learn from that quick interaction: Do they have a strong handshake? Do they have a good grip? How are they holding their fingers?

Gender is the same way—we make decisions about ourselves and other people based on what we see, and what we do.

Are they wearing a dress? Makeup? What’s their body language like? And we can define ourselves as a dress-wearer, or a feminine-body-language-have-er—or, to use shorthand, a woman.  True, there are more moving parts in gender than there are in a handshake.  Handshaking involves how you hold yourself, your shoulder, and your hand.  Gender involves how you hold yourself, how you use your body, how you talk, how you think, what you wear, what you say, when you say it, whether or not you are comfortable saying it–and more.

Have you ever found yourself being more of a “dude” when surrounded by dudes? More “womanly” when surrounded by women?  Have you ever “dialed back” your gender (or heck, any other identity) in order to fit in?Have you squeezed harder on someone’s hand because their handshake was firm? Did you begin to make nerd culture references because you were talking to nerds? Have you changed what you do, to change what people think of you? Yes you have. What we do changes when we talk to different people. We’re human.  We calibrate.

shut up, Garrus

“Hey! That’s my job!”

In turn, when we have figured out who we are, when we make that apparent in our gender “handshake,” other people take that and interpret it in their own way.  You do that too.  It’s how we understand people.  Is someone wearing an Attack On Titan hoodie? Are they whistling a song by Fleetwood Mac? What other people are doing changes who and what we think they are.

Slowing it down; what does this mean? Gender is like a handshake.  A handshake consists of things we do (sometimes unconsciously–have you ever given a handshake without really thinking about it?) in interaction with other people.  It doesn’t exist outside of human context.  A huffy anthropologist once said “Human thought is consummately social.”

What does that mean? Gender exists only in human interaction and in human minds, not as a thing unto itself.  Does that mean gender isn’t important?

Not in the slightest.  Some other time, I’ll address the idea that just because something exists only in the human mind, it isn’t real, but for now we’ll bracket that issue and set it aside with the comment that it’s dumb.

Gender exists only in the interaction and performance of people.  Gender isn’t important?

Then why do we still shake hands?*

*You can replace “handshake” with any other reflexive, person-to-person cultural gesture, like bowing, high-fiving, greetings, language, the NHL…)

 

Gender is fundamentally important to us all.  The history of the world agrees.  But what is it? I am beginning to discover that it is much more than it seems.  And it is only by understanding that, that we can begin to talk about gender in any productive way.  Only by realizing that gender perpetuates itself in what we do, consciously and unconsciously, every second of every day.  Gender is something we do, and something we have done since childhood.  It is habit many times over.

That is what feminism is up against.  “Patriarchy” merely refers to billions upon billions of habits across billions of people, all placed below the level of consciousness, which have the final, practical, real-world result of destroying, oppressing, and handicapping human development. 

That’s a big job.  It’s not one you’ll finish just by controlling academia.  It needs to be the groundwater.  Feminism needs to be ubiquitous.  So if you’re still reading, and you’re a feminist, I would say this:

Take feminism everywhere. Not even in your overt actions, but in your thoughts.  Feminist theory can be at its most potent and most subversive when it is behind the scenes, when it is upsetting the foundations of the world and pretending to be business as usual.  When it seems to be the most natural thing in the world, feminism has the upper hand.

We have a big task.

Time to get cracking.

SUP NERDS

I’m not even gonna pretend that I’ve come back permanently for any predetermined length of time.  Just keep checking; I’ll post something at some point in your life. But onward to the point!

My school has an anonymous ‘Confessions’ page.  This is basically what it sounds like.  It’s a Facebook page run by an unknown individual at the college (theories abound, but we won’t investigate them at the moment), with a link to a survey site.  Fill out an anonymous survey and the page admin reads it (anonymously) and posts it on the site without your name ever being involved.  Anyone who sees the page can post on it, write on it, read it, whatever.  Many colleges have this exciting feature.

It’s a shit show.

We can pretend otherwise, I can dress it up with fancy psychological terms, but it’s basically a shit show.  People talk about booze, bowel movements, pet peeves, relationships, and personal problems.  The audience is sympathetic to the first two and the last one.

It interests me.  First because some of the commentary is hilarious, to say nothing of the posts themselves.  The usual anonymous online dickery ensues—people passive-aggressively calling one another out anonymously for being too passive-aggressive, and so forth.

Sometimes, someone will post something that looks serious.  They’ll talk about their self-harm issues, suicidal ideation, PTSD, body image problems, etc.  And by and large the response to these is good—not a lot of people shaming, condemning, hating, lots of people encouraging, offering phone numbers and emails and websites.  My school still seems to have nice people.

The other day I read a post on there.  I don’t remember what it was about—some personal issue.  I was about to join the chorus of positive responses, but I thought to myself, “You know, I don’t know who this is.  I know who it might be, though.  It might be someone I don’t know.  It might be someone I don’t like. It might be one of the people who, were I to meet them, I would strike repeatedly with a blunt object. I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them.”

I then immediately felt uncomfortable.  I wasn’t quite sure why, but I felt repulsed by the thought.  I replied to the post, encouraging, positive—after all, they were going through something rough.  Fast forward a few weeks.

The other day I watched Les Miserables. The film adaptation is a remarkable and striking experience.  It’s intimate in a way a stage production cannot be, and arresting in a way the novel cannot be.  The writers did a remarkable job of fine-tuning the story, and granting it an arc which seems much more plain in the film than it did in the novel.

Les Miserables, to give a quick, bare-boned sketch for those who have not seen it [SPOILERS] is the story of a convict named Jean Valjean.  He is released on parole and commits a minor theft—for which he could be returned to prison for decades.  However, the victim intercedes for him, corroborating his alibi, and enjoins upon him to “become an honest man.” Valjean, his life spared and his moment of wrongdoing revealed, is stricken with shame and uses the stolen goods to become an honest man—a very honest, wealthy man, in fact.  But he is still haunted at every turn by the constable who released him from prison, a man known as Javert.

A man is captured who resembles Valjean, and this hapless lookalike is set to be tried and sentenced in Valjean’s stead.  The disguised convict is transfixed by this moral quandary—does he give himself up, or allow the innocent man to be condemned?

But he does the right thing, regardless.  And this is a theme that repeats throughout the novel—Valjean is faced with a dilemma, to save himself or to help another, and each time he chooses to do good.  And each time it turns out better and better.

This is what we call ‘fiction.’

(if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder nerd, keep reading—otherwise, you may want to skip this paragraph; it has a distinctly nerdy flavour)

(then again, if you’re not a nerd, why are you reading this blog?)

The conflict between Valjean and Javert is not one of good vs. evil, morality and immorality—for Valjean and Javert are both potent forces for good in the world (even more so in the novel).  My brother likes to complain that Javert is one of the irritating paladins, the lawman who sticks to the letter of the law and seeks to bring all to salvation through enforcement of his code.  But my response is that Valjean is also a crusader, a paladin, but with his code being one of pure good.  He desires only to help everyone and be as good and honest a man as he can (while protecting his daughter).  And in this clash between Good and Law it is (in the end) the Good that wins out—for Good can adapt and change to whatever form it finds itself in, but when Javert finds himself in a scenario for which no law has been written, he self-destructs in a moment of existential crisis.

AND THE POINT OF THIS LONG DIGRESSION IS

We watch throughout the (film/operetta/novel) as Valjean helps people.  Some of them deserve it.  Some of them don’t.  Some of them wish to do him harm. Some of them want to bang his daughter.  He helps them all indiscriminately, because that is how he rolls.  He doesn’t make judgments about who he helps and who he doesn’t.  Homey don’t play that.

And when I watched Les Miserables the other day, my intuition about that pesky train of thought came clearer.  “I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them. It might be someone I don’t like.”

But it doesn’t matter. There are people I don’t like.  There are people I don’t know.  There are people who I want to strike repeatedly with a spoon.  But they’re people. They’re human, as most people are. The ones that aren’t human (a) kill people and eat them or (b) think they’re a macaque.  Hitler liked to talk to children, hold dinner parties, and dick around with oil paints.  The people I don’t like are people too.  And I don’t dislike people all the way through—how could I?? You can’t dislike everything about a person! We share the same basic, fundamental needs and wants.  That’s how empathy works, understanding how your desires are similar to the desires of others.

In real life, there are people I would throttle with a mink stole or beat with a spoon.

But in real life, if they came to me for help, or told me about a problem, one that was life-threatening and miserable, then no, I would not hit them with a spoon.  I might lecture them, loudly and repeatedly, but I would do it while helping them, while directing them to the nearest counselor or tying on a tourniquet. And a couple of you know that’s true, so don’t scoff at me. Nerd.

No human being deserves absolute condemnation—and that’s why I think this article is amazing. It’s about a revolutionary new approach to school discipline being implemented in Washington—not yelling at troubled children. It sounds so obvious when I sneer at it like that, but GUESS WHAT, our school system today pretty much consists of doing just that. And, funny thing, turns out when you give troubled children a safe, supportive, caring, stable environment, THEY DO PRETTY WELL.  And not just in terms of grades—socially, psychologically, emotionally—across the board, better.  “Problem children” improve, become nicer.  Formerly ‘delinquent’ children, ‘troublemakers,’ stop lashing out.

Prison systems in Norway are the most humane in the world.  Guess where some of the world’s highest rehabilitation rates are for criminals? Did you guess America? Not quite, but thanks for playing—the answer’s NORWAY.

Now, I’m not Jean Valjean.  For one thing, I’m not French.  And I can’t sing.

But what I can do is do good.  And do better.

I’m not proud of the thought that came to me some weeks ago as I sat before an anonymous confession page, but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It led me to a (slightly) deeper understanding of myself, and now I’ve inflicted it upon all you lot as well.

So I suppose the moral of this story, this little blog post about doing-good-no-matter-what, the moral of this story is READ LES MISERABLES.  YES, YOU.  It’s magnificent.

COMING UP NEXT TIME, an EXCITING RANT about why IGNORANCE IS NOT IMMORAL.

LATER NERDS.

Image

ALL-PURPOSE* BROADSIDE: Or, HOW ALL HATE SPEECH IS THE SAME.

Dear [person #1].

You are hereby being served notice of the unconstructive nature of your discourse.  What that means in English is that YOU’RE NOT HELPING.  The vitriolic enthusiasm with which you attack [entity] is NOT going to help in fixing [problem].

You are a [self-identification].  You are not alone; there are many who share your belief, who also are [ideological group].  You have a view of the way the world should be, and it is seemingly incomprehensible to you to suggest that another rational being would ever think differently.

But here’s the thing.

If you have a complete, ironclad view of the way the world should work, that dictates what each person needs to have a flourishing and happy life, YOU’RE WRONG.

Because there are BILLIONS of people on [planet].   You are only one of many, the crossroads of unique individual and unique circumstance.

To presume to condemn [ideological group] as a whole based upon your own individual thoughts and desires is WRONG.  Induction: You are failing at it.

There are [quantity greater than zero #1] of individuals who are also [title of member of ideological group].  They live perfectly happy lives, because they function in a way entirely different from you, because there is a very definite degree to which, thanks to culture and individuality, we are not all ‘basically the same.’  Different things are fulfilling to different people, and if you fail to respect that, you are being just as intolerant as the [ideological group] you claim to condemn.

Yes, [ideological group] has its flaws, and like any human organization other than In-N-Out Burger, they are many.  They can be fixed.  And, more fundamentally, [ideological group] is made up of PEOPLE.   People can change, and we tend to believe that people have certain RIGHTS, such as the right to a certain degree of SELF-DETERMINATION.

[ideological group] DOES NOT EXIST FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF DESTROYING ALL THAT IS GOOD ON THIS EARTH.  And to suggest that all those who participate in [ideological group] are ignorant, hateful, brainwashed, or better off dead is abhorrent.

Finally, and in closing, CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING.

DON’T MAKE GENERALIZATIONS WHEN YOU SPEAK OF HATE.  Do you know what that leads to? That leads to GENOCIDE AND ANGUISH.  I am not exaggerating.  When you hate blindly, you are blinded.

You are BETTER THAN THIS.  I know this for certain, because you are A HUMAN BEING, and human beings are ALWAYS capable of allowing one another to live peacefully.

You live your life, that’s fine. But don’t assume that the only way to live is YOUR way.   It is HARD to be tolerant—I know.  It’s HARD to let people self-determine, hard to take the SLOW way.  But to fight hate with hate, to condemn all who support [ideological group] alike, to make enemies of people who are PERFECTLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS, and indeed, some of whom are probably BETTER human beings than you and I—this path is misguided, and beneath you, and I know you can do better; I know you can learn how, and I wish you the best of luck.

If you want to spread the poison of intolerance, and write off any person as a loss based SOLELY on their membership in a group that also contains poor examples, then I’VE GOT BAD NEWS FOR YOU, CUPCAKE, because if that’s how you roll, you’re a HUMAN BEING, and GUESS WHO’S COMMITTED EVERY MAJOR HISTORICAL ATROCITY IN ALL OF HISTORY?

That’s right, you’ve got a bigger category of hatred to work on—because each of us are connected to thousands of others by thousands of similarities, and blind hatred for any one human is blind hatred for HUMANITY.  So rein it in, [equestrian celebrity reference], you’re riding too hard.

But if you want to work with us, with all of us, all the good people on [planet] who want their ideological groups to be better, who hold ourselves and others to a higher standard, who are willing to fight—and to forgive—for the sake of harmony and a flourishing life, then join me, and we’ll learn tolerance together.

Choose well.  Choose as I know you can.   And I, in turn, will forgive your rashness, for I understand where you’re coming from, because I have my own blindness as well. And you, like all the rest of us, are only human.

And you, like all the rest of us, must struggle with that.

*This will serve as a response to anyone condemning a particular group, religion, or behavioral practice, subject to the following constraints:

  • [quantity greater than zero #1] is greater than zero. (example, 1, and not 0)
  • By ‘condemning’ I mean aggressively.  Hell, or even passively.  The casual jokes of annoying atheists.  The bombastic rhetoric of annoying religious figures. The outdated ideas of annoying, sexist political figures.  A #misandry-tagged post that isn’t obviously sarcastic or made by a misguided MRA.
  • [ideological group] is not an organization created and maintained for the sole purpose of oppressing, disenfranchising, repressing, injuring, or otherwise harming anyone. (example, the Grand Old Party, and not the KKK or a similar hate group) Aside from this constraint, [ideological group] can be anything; a political organization, a country, an ethnicity, a gender, a faction in WoW…
  • [person #1] is a person with thoughts and feelings.

             PEACE, NERDS. 

INTERNET

STOP IT.

I’m talking of course to you, OBNOXIOUS ATHEISTS. Stop hating.  STOPPIT.

NOW LET’S QUALIFY THE SHIT OUT OF THIS STATEMENT.

I have no problem at all with DECENT NORMAL PEOPLE who ARE NOT OBNOXIOUS.  Let’s be perfectly honest—so long as you stay out of my face, I don’t care if you worship God, Jesus, Vishnu, Ramen, Horus, Thor, Hiddleston, Nyancat, or NOTHING AT ALL.

I REALLY DON’T GIVE A HOOT.

Who am I talking to, then, in this BROADSIDE?

I’m talking to OBNOXIOUS PEOPLE.

Specifically, the people who HATE ON RELIGION.

Now if you’re going to say that organized religion has a tendency to be CORRUPT, then I’d be fine.  ANYTHING wrought by man TENDS TO BE CORRUPTED SOONER OR LATER, except, of course, as everyone knows, IN-N-OUT BURGER.   That shit is DELICIOUS.

If you’re going to say that organized religion has a history of VIOLENT TORTURE AND DEATH, then I’m fine with that too, after all, IT HAPPENS TO BE TRUE.

HOWEVER.

DO NOT SAY in MY PRESENCE that ORGANIZED RELIGION is the CAUSATIVE AGENT for (a) ALL WAR AND DEATH, (b) MOST WAR AND DEATH, or (c) THE MAJORITY OF WAR AND DEATH.   You do NOT bring that shit in MY HOUSE.

Do you know what causes war and death?

STUPID GREEDY PEOPLE.

Do you know what causes stupid greedy people?

NOT RELIGION.

PEOPLE WHO ARE STUPID AND/OR GREEDY AND POWERFUL.

NOW THAT WE’VE ESTABLISHED THAT, LET’S MOVE ON.

You know WHAT ELSE you can’t do?

YES THAT’S RIGHT I SAID CAN’T, as in THE CONTRACTION OF CAN NOT. I’m laying down a LAW here, ****er.

WHAT YOU CANNOT DO is MOCK people for believing in RELIGION.

You can MOCK THEIR RELIGION ALL YOU WANT, go ahead, fine, they’ll just think you’re an ass.  BUT DO NOT MOCK BELIEF.

HUMAN TRUST IS AMONG THE MOST POTENT OF EMOTIONS.  If you want to mock something, mock people who trust BLINDLY and CLOSE THEIR EYES TO ALL ELSE. But those people are easy to find—they’re in the NEWS, because they get EBOLA and then they DON’T GET MEDICAL CARE and then surprisingly DIE.  And approximately NO ONE is surprised.

So when you talk about religion, when you talk about SPIRITUALITY, when you talk about A PILLAR OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, do us all a favor and don’t giggle about people’s “Imaginary Friends.”  It’s not an IMAGINARY FRIEND, it’s the ANIMATE INCARNATION OF THE NUMINOUS, and until you can use words like ANIMATE INCARNATION OF THE NUMINOUS to defend your IRRITATING JOKE you can just QUIETLY GO AWAY.

THERE ARE LOTS OF FUNDAMENTALLY DECENT HUMAN BEINGS who are atheists.  THEN THERE ARE ASSHOLES who give them ALL a bad name by doing things like say “Oh remember the famous historical atheists who killed thousands of people? Oh wait, that never happens.”

*COUGH COUGH* MAOSTALIN *COUGH COUGH*  OH SORRY I INHALED SOME BULLSHIT AND HAD AN ALLERGIC REACTION.

CLOCKING IN AT A HIGH SECOND ON THE “THINGS THAT PISS ME OFF” O-METER IS THIS GEM FROM wonderful human being and fabulous comedian Ricky Gervais, who I love dearly.  A very entertaining man and I’m sure a generally decent person.  HOWEVER he happens to have also created a tweet that ANNOYS ME, and so in the TRADITION OF THE INTERNET I am going to SHOUT ABOUT IT ON MY BLOG.

What is problematic about this statement? LET’S BE CLEAR THAT  WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE STATEMENT and not the PERSON, because I only do ad hominem against political figures I dislike (such as when I talk about my theory that Romney is a sophisticated marionette operated by a foreign child-man who doesn’t speak fluent English…but that’s a subject I’ll save for later).

Now, we can make all sorts of noise about whether or not we have the right to judge a tweet.  After all, you pretty much have to literally ask to hear this (by following a twitter account).   But, luckily, someone took a picture of it and started spreading it around the internet, and so of course it’s now free game according to some rules that I just made up.  And using it I will explore this topic in a more calm and reasoned fashion.

HAH.  JUST KIDDING.

So what strikes me as problematic about this statement is the false dichotomy being created between religion and science.   When we talk about religion as the thing implicated in wars and intolerance, we are talking about religion as a system of belief, an ultimately rational, intellectual content propagated via cultural interaction.  This is religion as a social entity.  Which is of course the OPPOSITE of the standard definition of science (a collection of knowledge).

A belief system is a powerful thing. Belief systems drive people and families, societies and communities.  But not all belief systems are religions, and a religion is more than a belief system.

For an example provided to me by another AWESOME BLOGGER over at http://lesbicrafty.blogspot.com/, because we communicate from time to time, we’ll turn our attention to THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION in China.  This is a belief system at work.  The sweeping scope, the ideological supremacist overtones, the call for individual action–it has everything we’d want.  To say it caused millions of deaths is absolutely possible.

It was also entirely divorced from religion and spirituality.  It was grounded in the material and political, and steamrolled an entire country.

Oh, and by the way, don’t tell me, DON’T EVEN START by saying “yeah, but religious revolutions have killed way more people throughout history!”  At that point we’ve already established that religious fervor and ideological fervor are essentially identical, and your only argument then becomes “religion has had more time to murder us.”   So that’s not a path that you want to go down.  Especially not right now, because I AM TALKING.

NOT TO MENTION that “religion” is an INCREDIBLY COMPLEX IDEA.  It can be narrowly defined (by Wikipedia) as a collection of belief systemscultural systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.”  However, if you narrowly defined religion this way, I would think you were WRONG, because you need to be more specific about how religion relates to spirituality and the individual.

There is a tendency, thanks to ANTHROPOLOGY (thanks a lot, anthropology. Asshole.) to think of the ‘religious’ as a wholly social object, ignoring the individual experience, and I think this is BATSHIT, because without the individual spiritual experience and impulsion toward moral agency, WHAT THE HELL IS THE PURPOSE OF RELIGION?  To translate: if you’re not talking about something that resonates in your soul and drives you to a higher standard of behavior, then you’re pretty much talking about a simple social construct, belief system.  But when you add in that numinous aspect, that idea of the holy, if you will, then we are talking about religion.  ACCORDING TO ME, ANYWAY.  And that’s the important point, isn’t it, since it’s my blog?

LOOKING AT RELIGION as a cultural system of belief reinforced by the division of the holy, the individual spirituality, and the drive for individual moral agency, then, we have something that is really not merely a cultural belief.  We have a definition that seems to account for the strange place religion occupies.  We can also then use this to talk about how people become fanatical as regards a non-religious concept: They apply a personal, spiritual significance to a system of beliefs that defines what is holy and what is mundane, a system that impels them toward a particular course of action.   This passion, this fervor, then reinforces and expands their beliefs, provides them with moments of transcendence and a sense of purpose.

Last but not least, what if we did this? What if we redefined science as the belief in the permanence and reliability of the human sensory capacity, the belief that anything can be learned if it can be studied, the belief that all knowledge in the world is wonderful and deserving of exploration for its own sake alone? The idea that we can create a functional model of reality simply with our own observation and cognition?  The driving passion to explore?  The glorious moment of seeing something in a whole new way, looking out at the stars and feeling the immensity and grandeur of the universe stir you to your soul? ISN’T THAT THE SHIT?

Well, then, lo and behold, by this definition we’ve managed to capture “scientific atheism” as a religious belief system as well.

AND LEST YOU THINK that I am waxing banausic, LEST YOU THINK that I am reducing all the world to cogs and definitions and NEAT, PRETTY LITTLE CATEGORIES, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO POINT OUT that we have NO IDEA what it is that DRIVES this passion.  We haven’t the FAINTEST concept of WHY something calls to a person in this way, WHAT IT IS that inspires FAITH, PASSION, and BELIEF.  No idea what drives the NUMINOUS, the SPIRITUAL, those moments of REVELATION.   Go away and think about that.  I don’t care what conclusion you come up with, so long as you take a moment and CONTEMPLATE how INCREDIBLY STRANGE our universe is.

And now I’ve TALKED A LOT, SO HERE’S A PICTURE OF A SURPRISED KITTEN.

oh hai
dont b an asshole
also i am a cat

SO THE POINT OF THIS BROADSIDE IF YOU ARE AN ATHEIST IS SIMPLE, and I’LL WRITE IT OUT FOR YOU

  • Don’t be an asshole.
  • Respect the spiritual, emotional, and moral lives of other people and DON’T JUDGE THEIR FRICKIN’ BELIEFS.
  • Don’t be SNIDE about HUMAN DEATH in order to make a point about how much BETTER your way of life is.  You can also refer to the first point for this.
  • Don’t try to CONVERT other people, and don’t SEIZE ANY OPPORTUNITY TO DISS PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN GOD. This also falls under DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.  
  • If you think of a thing to do, ask yourself “would an asshole do this?” and if the answer is yes DO NOT DO THAT THING.

AND FINALLY.

I’m not on a ‘side’ here.   I am not an atheist, nor am I a follower of any religion but my own.  I don’t really CARE what you do so long as you don’t go around murdering people.  I flipped a coin and it came up heads, so today I’m screaming about logical fallacies in atheism.  Why? Because they’re hurtful to my religious friends, and YOU DON’T PISS WITH MY FRIENDS, and also because if you claim that you have a ‘purely logical’ view of the world, I view it as my personal duty to point out that NO, YOU DON’T, because you are (like a solid 47% of my readers) A HUMAN BEING, no matter who, where, or when you are speaking.

Coming up IN THE FUTURE, similarly without warning, is a similarly massive post blasting the “evils of religion,” etc.  Which are, of course, the evils of man.

Because those hurt people too, my friends among them, and as has been previously mentioned, I WILL END YOU. 

I don’t really think anyone will have any “OH SHIT I’d better turn MY life around” moments from reading this, but AT THE VERY LEAST, AT THE MOST, it would be NICE if you could, just for a moment, question your beliefs.  Consider your stance, in light of the opinion of some random person on the internet.

As Aristotle says, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Sup internet.

So here’s something that confuses me: People who get upset about artists.

As in, people who get upset when they find out that Roald Dahl was anti-Semitic.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s terrible, he should be severely remonstrated with (being dead is no excuse for intolerance).  But (a) he’s dead, and (b) it doesn’t matter.  He’s hailed as one of the world’s greatest children’s writers.  His books are fantastic, and I think most of my peer group grew up with them, as has been the case with children for decades.

He’s a great writer.  His books are awesome. Full stop.  Maybe he was an asshole in person.  Maybe he ate kittens.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care because he’s dead, and because his books don’t eat kittens.

Forsaking Dahl because he was anti-Semitic is slightly akin to avoiding Beethoven because he was deaf.  Neither fact has any bearing on the quality of their art, which has become a pillar of culture.

We seem to expect that our artists should meet some higher standard.  We tie their music, their books, their paintings to them, to their value as a person, and what they do as a person affects the value of their art.  Well, guess what.  If I vomit on the floor, that mess is pretty much unaffected when I go and run over poodles with my ATV.  If I spray-paint a rock in an aesthetically pleasing way, the paint isn’t going to magically peel off or become ugly when I take a baseball bat to a Galapagos tortoise.

The actual artistic value of a piece of artwork remains unchanged regardless of what the artist does.  Adolf Hitler’s paintings are still unimpressive and only moderately talented despite the man’s murderous tendencies (though if he had had training and encouragement perhaps he would have become one of the greats rather than becoming a manic dictator).

Now, there are many artists I would like to meet in person, for whatever reason.  Because I want to know how they did what they did.  Because they seem like they’d be interesting people.  For whatever reason.  And there is a certain intuitive sense to the idea that you can get to know a person through their art.   And I believe it’s true in a way.

But not completely true.

Certainly there is a deep, wild, magnificent wonder in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.   It’s possible that we could even conduct a long conversation on the subject of the numinous and the uncanny (though I’ll freely admit that my Otto is not up to snuff, a little goes a long way).    But Lovecraft was by all accounts creepy, introverted, curmudgeonly, racist, and depressive, so the difficulty of such a conversation would be getting him to talk to me in the first place.   But that doesn’t really matter, because when I read his writing, regardless of how he is (was?) as a person, we’re on the same page.  And that page isn’t “dark-skinned people are creepy and diabolical,” or “I hate my life.”  That page is “LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THIS SCARY SH*T IS.”

And that’s the important connection.   Because I’m not going to have a conversation with the guy, I’m going to read his book.  I’m not going to give him money because I support his deviant tendencies, I’m going to give him money because I like his book.   

SUBJECT CHANGE.

NOW THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE, though perhaps fewer today than in past decades, who say that art cannot be morally judged.  It’s art, man, and its purpose is to lift up the human spirit and blah blah blah djedouhferouwarghrl WHATEVER.

I believe those people are wrong.  Just like many things in life, art is judged on multiple axes.

NO NOT THOSE KIND OF AXES GOD DAMMIT INTERNET I’M TRYING TO BE SERIOUS

A piece of art can inspire immensely strong emotional reactions.  However, it’s entirely possible that those reactions are OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THIS.

I suppose it comes down to the role of the artist.  What does the artist do? The artist communicates with his/her/its/Uds public, and grants to them an inspiration relevant to the presence of the numinous in their lives.  Or so I’ve heard.  IN PSYCHOLOGICAL ENGLISH, the artist makes things that elicit an emotional response from their audience.

Now, an emotional response is different from a moral response.  When someone gets punched, it elicits an emotional response and a moral response.  Disconnects between these two are where we get the “I know I shouldn’t laugh but it’s hilarious” reaction.  Among other things.

Which means of course that you can judge everything morally.  Which is of course an entirely different discussion from whether or not you should, but still. 

Now there ARE people who DO judge everything morally.  We refer to these people as ‘uptight.’

Similarly, there are people who judge nothing morally.  We call these people ‘sociopaths.’

And THAT’S a brief rant on the subject of ART.

Coming up NEXT WEEK, a brief rant on the subject of THE POWER OF LANGUAGE.

But for now I leave you with a last piece of artwork to contemplate.

Farewell for now, INTERNETS.

What is politics?

Well that depends on who you ask.   A quick skim of Aristotle provides the definition of “the most sovereign and most comprehensive master science,” which is highly unhelpful as a working definition for a blog post.

So bear with me while we go through this.   Let’s say that a politician is an individual whose aim in life is to help their people.  What are they helping their people to do? Well, we could say that they are helping their people to live good lives. By good of course I don’t just mean economically prosperous; I mean really happy lives.  The politician seeks to realize their constituency at their greatest potential, to give their people the greatest possible chance to soar at their highest height.

So what is politics?

Well, in that case, politics is I suppose the art and science of raising one’s people up.  After all, the practice of a politician, I just said, was to help their people realize their full potential.

Now there we will sit our definition for the remainder of this blog post.

So what should a politician do?

A politician should represent their people.  They should have always the best interests of their constituency in mind.

Do you know what a politician should not do?

Lie.

There is this widespread delusion among the people of the world that a politician is someone deceptive, someone who will trick and deceive and yes, lie to advance their own personal motives.

No.

Just no.

A people’s motives and needs are never ambiguous.  The better course for a nation is rarely hard to discern, if you look for it—people spend their entire career learning how to figure out things like economics, international policies, and immigration procedures, and among all these experts there is a more or less general consensus about what would be good.

And just as the zeitgeist is never ambiguous, so too should the politician be honest and open.  Perhaps, perhaps, maybe, with an enemy, with a foreign power against whom the country is fighting, but not to allies and never to the citizens.

A politician must be honest about their aims, must have a clear vision of how they will best support their people.  If they lie, if they conceal, if they have any need at all of subterfuge, then it’s quite simple: they don’t deserve to represent the polis.

Americans, as a whole, do not expect their political system to aid them.

We take a semi-liberal viewpoint.  We hope that the government stays out of our way, because we want to go about our business and the government pretty much poisons whatever it touches.

But that’s not good.

Our world has become increasingly cynical.

We expect our government wants to control us.

We expect our politicians to lie and cheat and blackmail and take money from anyone.

We know and expect that elections can be bought by anyone with enough cash.

Most of us are fully aware that we’re killing the planet and that no one is likely to do something unless we all do. And we’re not really doing much about it.

People die in the millions thanks to car crashes.

Slavery is still a thing.

There is poison in our lunch meat.

We’re all aware of these things. We take them for granted.

And…that’s not cool.

THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON IN YOUR FOOD.

YOU PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR FACE.

LIST OF PLACES THERE SHOULDN’T BE POISON: NUMBER ONE:  

IN.

YOUR.

FACE.

 

Politicians shouldn’t LIE TO YOU ABOUT ANYTHING THEY LIKE.  If they lie to you, GUESS WHAT, it’s TIME TO GET A NEW POLITICIAN.   

There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect.  When something bad happens in a crowd, the members of the crowd assume en masse that someone else will take care of it.

This is the reason people get knifed in broad daylight.  Why people get kidnapped in the middle of a crowd.  Because it’s someone else’s problem, and anyway it’s just part of modern society.

Except…it’s really not.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you have no context at all in which to evaluate the following country.

A country where leaders lie, corporations kill for money, and people do nothing.  A country where the likeliest destination for a troubled youth is in a for-profit penitentiary.  A country that is slowly squeezing the planet for resources and belching pollution into the sky.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it?

Would you want to live there? I know I don’t.

And that’s why I write blog posts and get angry about politics.  Because I do live here, in a nation that is all of the things I have listed, a nation that could be so much more, and I am struck every day by the overwhelming conviction that things are not as they should be.

I don’t care what you do.  No one has any right to regulate your actions, so long as you’re not going out and murdering people for sport.

But can’t you agree that there’s something wrong when all of the below citations are true?

And couldn’t you concede that there’s something you might be able to do?

These are huge problems, but they don’t have huge solutions. The answer is in the little things. Buckling a seatbelt and turning off the phone.  Buying fair trade and organic.  Demanding more responsibility from your politicians.

And stopping once in a while to lend a stranger a hand.

Because these are problems that affect us all, and it’s nice to have a reminder, once in a while, that we’re not alone.

And if these things piss you off as much as they do me, well…you’re not alone either.  There are profoundly decent people in the world, just as outraged as we are…some of whom are in a position to do something about it.

CITATIONS:

Distrust of government:

[2011 article documenting a point at which Congressional approval reached 9%.  As in, 9% of Americans think Congress is capable of legislating.]

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/us/politics/poll-finds-anxiety-on-the-economy-fuels-volatility-in-the-2012-race.html

Environmental Apathy:

[the more you know…the less you’re likely to do.]

http://128.138.136.233/students/envs_4800/kellstedt_etal_2008.pdf

Automotive Deaths:

[Just statistics. So many statistics. Average in 2009 was 93 people per day]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

Slavery:

[this website is big because so is its problem.]

http://www.anti-slaverysociety.addr.com/toc.htm

Dangerous compounds in food:

[some of these have been banned in many countries…but usually not the United States. Woo! Free market!]

http://www.purezing.com/living/toxins/living_toxins_dangerousingredients.html

Statistics on domestic violence:

[now this just pisses me off]

http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics/

Growing partisanship:

[oh, right, it’s not just your cookies. Everything isgetting more partisan.]

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/04/news/la-pn-pew-partisan-divide-poll-20120604

HEY INTERNETS.

Sup.  I should warn you today’s article will not be quite as facetious as others have been in the past.  You may wish to skip down to a more palatable subject and maintain your peaceable torpor.  No, but seriously: this article could be a buzzkill. Have Spice Girls on standby.

So I read an article today.

Now, you don’t have to read the whole thing. I’ll condense it very simply for you.  It’s a gay man talking about his childhood and his darkest secrets: both being bullied in high school, and the fact that he was very certainly, certifiably suicidal for an extensive period of his teenage life.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/noah-michelson/sharing-three-of-my-secrets_b_1796457.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices

Remember how I said you didn’t have to read the whole thing? Well, if you’re above the age of 15, you should.  You should see and know this.  You should be aware that people who are bullied become suicidal often.  You should be aware that because of this harsh cultural backlash, people of the “alternative sexualities” (alternative to what? ‘normalcy?’ ‘Real’ sexuality? As Morpheus says, what is real?)  are more prone to depression and, yes,suicide, because of this.

You should be aware that people who are not “normal” are more likely to be murdered.  Dead.  You should be aware that every hate crime is the culmination of a process lasting decades, an endless chain of justification and deprecation reaching its dark apotheosis in a single instant of blind action.   You should be aware that every suicide is the final point in a plunge that lasts a lifetime, a string of misfortunes, poor reactions, and insensitive responses.

Because here’s something not everyone understands.

Everything is funny, yes.  Life is wonderful, and you should live it to the utmost.

But it’s ALL life and death.

            When you look on the television and see someone rambling about a health-care bill somewhere in Vermont? Something on the other side of the country?  Yeah, people are going to live or die based on that bill.  Babble about Voter ID laws in Pennsylvania? Those laws set a precedent: How long they survive will tell their creators whether or not they can get away with openly tweaking elections to ensure that they continue to hold power.  Those laws set a precedent that will conclude with open voter suppression.

When someone is complaining about new crackdowns on phone usage while driving?  Well, you know what? You are massively more likely to kill someone if you use a phone while you drive. Yes, even if you don’t do it that often.   It takes sixty seconds (on average) for the modern brain to fully switch tasks.  That means that if you look at your phone just for a second, to read a text message or use GPS or update your Facebook status, you will no longer be paying full attention to the road for that time and for the next minute.  That will slow your reactions and make it far more probable that you will be unable to respond to an impending collision.

But surely EVERYTHING can’t be life and death, right? Some things remain pure, right? Like butterflies and chocolate?

Well, the biodiversity of butterfly species is plunging due to our destruction of various habitats, and butterflies (along with bees) perform the essential function of pollination, which is complicated but basically IS WHAT MAKES PLANTS KEEP BEING.

Oh, and if plants die basically so do we.  As a species.  And a planet.  Though I’m sure cockroaches will be fine.

But no biggie.

At least we have chocolate, right?  Even if it’s not a six-stamp organic all-natural free trade chocolate (which costs about three times as much!).

Well, about that.

Did you know something?  After the cotton industry, chocolate production (specifically, the care and harvesting of its raw materials) is the largest industry in the world that currently utilizes slave labor.

Yes, you read that right. Here, let me put it in bold in case you missed it.

SLAVE LABOR.

There were some laws that people considered making a while ago that would regulate that.  Laws that regulate chocolate? Psh.  No biggie.  That story pretty much withered on the vine (ha, ha).

Let me outline what kind of slave labor we’re talking about here.  Just to be clear.  Specifically, I’m talking about a location known as Cote d’Ivorie, or The Ivory Coast, a region of West Africa that supplies about THIRTY PERCENT of the world’s chocolate.  Let me make perfectly clear the fact that this is not the only location in the world where this occurs, although West Africa has an especial problem.

In third-world countries, children are all over the place.  We’re talking 10-15-year-olds, mostly, but they can be as young as 7.  Abandoned kids, orphans, runaways…whatever.  They lurk in the street, play around bus stops, and hop mass transit like everyone else. When they head to a bus stop, they might get picked up by a stranger, who might be kind or might be coercive.  Alternatively, they might have desperate, starving parents, who at last are reduced to such dire straits that they sell their child to a stranger.

Either way, if they go with this stranger (and they usually do, because who’s going to help them run away?), they find themselves on a bus ride, or in a car, or on a boat.  This ride takes them, eventually, to a plantation, where they are sold into debt and set to work in the cacao field.

Their clothes are not part of the budget.  They sleep in structures we would deem unsuitable to use as garden sheds.  They are given every menial task, but the job described that I particularly liked was the one that required two children per team.  One goes down the rows of trees with a basket and a machete (a three-foot long, full-sized machete).  They swing at the cacao pods (which are large) and try to cut them loose without hacking off fingers in the process.  Frequently they fail.  While they work, another child follows behind them with a supply of pesticides.

Side note.  DDT, as you may know, was a pesticide used in the 60s.  In the early 70s, it was deemed too toxic to use in the United States and was banned.  That’s right, we banned a chemical for being too toxic.  THE UNITED STATES.  The people who invented MCDONALDS.  Luckily, we’ve since invented pesticides that are FAR MORE toxic, and THEY haven’t been banned yet! Isn’t that lucky?  One example is ROUNDUP, which sticks around in the soil long after any weeds are dead.

ANYWAY, I DIGRESS.

So the second child of the group has a supply of pesticides.  Roundup is a favorite—it’s cheap, mass-produced, and readily available.  They have a mister, and they use it to spray the trees to kill any insects, fungus, or birds.  Oh, and they also spray their partner, because their partner is nearby and they’re APPROXIMATELY TWELVE YEARS OLD.

And these kids don’t run away, because if they try, they’re beaten.  Which is also what happens when they fall over.  Or complain.  Or generally do anything their overseer doesn’t approve of.  There are more scars than clothes on these kids.

They usually die young.

They die a lot.

Most of them never see their home again.

Oh, and also, most of them never taste chocolate.  If that doesn’t convince you that this practice is heinous and wrong, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL.

The upshot of all this information, by the way (before I move on), is this: Those six-stamp organic chocolates? The ones that say “free trade,” and other things, and have stamps of approval from various organizations and government bureaus plastered across the label?  Those are the chocolate companies that don’t murder people.  If it doesn’t have that stamp, you might want to just take a second and think about how much you need it.

Obviously, one person not buying these non-free-trade chocolates is not going to accomplish much.  All that will do is make sure that you don’t have any chocolate.  And there is hope:  Nestlé and Ferrero are among a number of chocolate companies that have made pledges and taken action to remove child labor from their products.  So although the larger issue of child slavery remains a problem, at the very least we can perhaps have chocolate chip cookies guilt-free.  And free-trade organic chocolate is better for you anyway–it tastes better (oh my god yes), it has less unhealthy fat, and it is a significantly better source of certain important chemicals that generally promote longevity and well-being.  Including chemicals that fight cancer and help (very mildly) relieve asthma symptoms.

So let’s get this clear, okay?

When you stand up for what you believe and who you are, when you support the institutions you believe in, when you speak out or offer comfort or strike out, people live and die based on that action.

So I’m not saying agree with me.  I’m not saying agree with anyone.

But know what you’re saying.  Find the facts—it’s hard in the age of free information.  Cross-check your sources.  Make your decisions rationally (not ‘logically’—any attempt to be purely ‘logical’ while remaining a human being is banausic and deluded, but being rational—that is to say, aware of your shortcomings and emotional biases, being truthful with yourself about the reasons behind your judgement—is something that’s within everyone’s reach).   When you choose a position, don’t do it because someone says it’s right.  Demand their sources, ask questions, look it up, and only then make a decision.

But most of all, believe something.  CHESTERTON QUOTE:

“Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.”

Take a stand for something.  Fight for something.  Believe something, and believe in your ability to make a difference, because make no mistake, planet, there is a fight to be fought, and it’s life and death.

It’s life and death every day.

And so begins my second year of college, not with a whimper but with a bang, I hope.  I’ll be trying to keep this blog up along with everything else, because this is my little strike out into the dark.  So to you, everyone, I say this: don’t be apathetic.  Don’t be passive.  Stand up for yourself, your friends, your family, if you fight for nothing else.  Join me in the ranks–if the front lines aren’t your place, there’s always room for healers and musicians and thinkers.

Me, I don’t like front lines.  If I had my way, I’d just go about my business of plinking on the piano and writing in my own little fantasy world, reading things, etc., but unfortunately the world is full of sh*tty people, and politicians keep doing irritating stuff that will hurt my family and friends.  And we can’t have that, can we?

LET’S PLAY.  http://jungwildeandfree.tumblr.com/post/29925289347/i-enjoin-on-you-to-act

But don’t take my word for it.

SOURCES.

http://www.johnrobbins.info/blog/is-there-slavery-in-your-chocolate/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_in_cocoa_production

http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/nestle-advances-child-labor-battle-plan/

http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/20/ferrero-sets-date-to-end-cocoa-slavery/