Sunday, February 28, 2010
After meeting this morning I was approached by a Friend (fellow Quaker) who seemed deeply impressed at my latest vocal ministry. The first question she asked was "So, how long have you been here?"
I suppose I could have taken some offense to this, based on the fact that I've shared messages regularly, with a five month break in between, for nearly a year and a half. Though we had never talked directly, I knew her face and I certainly knew her through her words and her participation in First Day worship. That it took a particularly powerful message to give her the inclination to speak to me at all is something I lament. After all, I never know what message the Light of God is going to grant me from week to week, and while certainly I am pleased when it makes a major impact upon the worship service, any message I speak is no more or no less blessed nor inspired by the Divine.
Part of what I'm dealing with, unfortunately, is ageism. In surveying a very large cross-sample of faith communities, I have discovered that they are often disproportionately comprised of the middle aged and above and sometimes comprised almost exclusively of senior citizens. To their credit, I recognize that many faith groups have taken the initiative to address this directly and have coined acronyms, buzz words, and clever titles to draw more younger worshipers into the fold. The intent is often noble, but the follow through is frequently less than a rousing success.
The reality is that when you're in an older community, it's a lot more difficult to be taken seriously as a young person. As has been evident with me, you have to really prove yourself first. So far as "young" is concerned, I'm only a few months away from 30, so I'm not exactly fresh out of adolescence anymore, but even those of us quickly entering the third decade of existence are all too often not nearly as involved or even as inclined to share vocal ministry or actively participate in meeting functions. I, of course, am different in that regard, quite deliberately so, and while I appreciate the fact that my regular participation often encourages those in my general age range to show up, I am also often the only person younger than say, 45, who feel comfortable or moved to share a message. I know that there are others my age who would not shy away from opening their mouths and sharing with the rest of the meeting their own inward, equally valid stirrings of the Light.
If only this phenomenon pertained purely to faith communities. It is true in many organizations, regardless of political allegiance, ideology, cause, or any other metric. Just as before, those who are younger than the statistical mean often have to deeply impress the regular participants before they are considered part of the whole. If they are incorporated at all, they are sometimes included merely as an afterthought or as a token member, meant to serve as the entire voice of a generation, when surely we have realized by now that one person alone can never serve as the mouthpiece for a very diverse, highly unique group of people, regardless of their superficial similarities.
I recognize, certainly, that this is a habit pattern more than any desire to exclude. It's easy for us to get lulled into submission by The Way Things Have Always Been Here™. This is why I am not particularly outraged by this sort of behavior as much as simply annoyed and inspired to speak out against it. It wouldn't take much to correct this kind of willful slumber if we were willing to embrace the idea that change is neither incomprehensible, nor threatening, nor some sort of zero sum game whereby we somehow lose what we have at the expense of someone else. We all gain from opening our eyes a bit wider and with that comes the richness of greater participation and the wealth of insight which exists when many different people contribute their own voices and their own experiences.
We might recognize then that we are made stronger and more enlightened, not less so when we see the beauty of life's pallet projected upon a canvass of our own creation. We might understand that there is more that links us together based on our common humanity than the few superficial differences exploited by those who aim to keep us separate, not just from ourselves, but also from God, who craves our collective unity as much as he loves each of us equally and without condition. If we learn these lessons, we will have that which drives us and propels us forward towards the change we know we must have.
My prayer is, as it has always been, that we will reach this point, someday.
"Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest.
From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable."- Aurora Levins Morales
Thursday, February 25, 2010
As I frequently do, I use the debates and ideas always present here on Feministing and transform them into the basis of a blog post. I should add that I crosspost all of my substantive entries to Daily Kos. Periodically my Kos diaries end up being rescued and put up on the front page for several hours. It pleases me greatly when I receive this great honor, and indeed, earlier in the week I received one such recommended diary mention.
Bragging on myself, however, is not exactly the reason why I am writing this post. Frequently I receive some backlash when I, being male, write about Feminist issues. Unsurprisingly, most of it is from men who feel as though I'm somehow forfeiting my masculinity or that all I need is just a heavy dose of teh man to make me see the error of my ways. This implication is present in the comments I get online or, most recently, the anonymous person who "invited" me to a web group devoted to men who drive motorcycles.
To be sure, I am more or less used to this. I also recognize that any of us who deliberately claim the label of feminist is going to get a good bit of criticism and personal attacks. If I were a woman, I'd probably get ten times the abuse. Many of you have been called "man-haters", "Femi-nazis", "bitches", or even worse. And we all know going forward that these sorts of comments are unlikely to go away any time soon. If I had feminine mannerisms, a higher voice, or anything about me that could be considered effeminate in the least, I'd open myself for even greater, even crueler insult. Such is the struggle in which each of us find ourselves.
If "Christian" is the label I claim for myself or if I make Christian allusions, then I know I will receive some snap judgments from other people. Some will assume I'm one of those scary Evangelical types or that I'm out to push my faith down someone else's throat in some kind of pushy high-pressure sales pitch. The reality is that Jesus himself in his time on Earth was alternately feared, revered, and not taken seriously. Lest I forget, the first Christians were often persecuted and sometimes killed for daring to practice their religion in public, not private. Though these days we need not worry about being put to death for being Feminists, at least here in the United States, we know we could easily go underground where the criticism would be less virulent. But, we dare to speak our minds openly, despite the risk involved.
My fellow sisters and brothers, keep fighting. I know the battle is difficult, the work is challenging, and that often we can't even seem to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes the problem looks so vast that one hardly knows where to begin. But do know that you, each of you, have enriched my understanding and my life one hundred fold. You have opened my mind and opened my heart. What others fail to understand is that I have not forfeited any part of myself in this endeavor, rather I have made great gains that I wish they could really observe for themselves.
My thoughts turn to Dr. King's final public address given in Memphis. He said,
"We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind...
I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land... I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
In deciding what I could write about today, I acknowledge I could go in any number of directions. I could strongly express support of President Obama's health care reform guidelines while being sure to note my extreme displeasure with the lack of a public option. Or, I might chart a different course altogether and add some new wrinkle about the blame game currently raging inside the Obama Administration and the Democratic caucus as to how a supposedly sure thing all began to slip away. I could take a populist angle about how the scourge of big business and monied interests that have a concerted interest in making a profit at all cost leaves the rest of us in the poorhouse. Each of these would likely be received well and be in good company to what others have already written.
But what I've chosen to write instead about are the times that working together towards a common purpose succeeds. My decision to enter a woman-centric space gave me an understanding of what minorities often feel like when they set foot inside spaces reserved for usually white men. I would not describe what I experienced in negative terms, but I would classify the experience as uncomfortable and uncertain in the beginning. I would not seek to blame anyone, including myself for what I felt up front. Adjustment to any challenging situation requires dexterity and an open mind and I tried as best I could do keep those two life skills close at hand as I stumbled through deeply unfamiliar subjects while keeping in mind the responses of some, not all, who may have been just as uncomfortable with my being there as I was. Challenges need not be negative or unfortunate, after all.
Over the past nine months or so, I've begun to take an active role in contributing to the group discussions and controversial issues which are always in debate within young Feminist circles. Finding my footing at first, as I've noted, was difficult, since I was instantly aware upon arrival of the fact that I was in unfamiliar territory. This was predicated purely upon the fact that I am male and most of the contributors and regular readers are not. Still, my desire to learn and then to make my thoughts known superseded any reservations I might have held at the beginning. Male allies within the movement as a whole have never been plentiful and I recognized going in that I was going to have to be a bit of a trailblazer, whether I wanted to or not. A part of me, whether motivated by romance or noble purpose has always wanted to be a leader, especially in circumstances where role models or models of any kind at all are often minimal or altogether nonexistent.
Months of absorbing content and the opinions of others has led to a greater understanding on my part not of how we are different, but how we are very similar. Moreover, I recognize that all of these supposed truisms regarding gender identity and strict delineation between that which is "male" and that which is "female" has given me the ability to recognize that aside from a few undeniably biological differences, men and women are really not all that dissimilar. Even so, I can understand the skepticism many women feel about any male who claims the label "feminist" for himself. The implication is "How can you really understand?" My answer is, and will always be, "I listen and I try to draw parallels to my own very human experience".
Whether wrongly or rightly, anyone who is different within any movement or group ends up drawing some fire. I recognize that within Feminist spaces my ideas and commentary are more heavily scrutinized then they would be if I were a woman. I am also aware that anything I say in a public forum is going to seen by many as the Official Male Response™. This could make me angry, resentful, or both, but I have made a concerted effort to remove those sorts of instant responses from my canon of emotions. Anger has done nothing but make me miserable and keep me there. Indeed, if the situation was reversed, I'd probably make the same assumption myself.
That few of us are willing to brave this sort of often uncomfortable transition period of acclimation and discovery is what often keeps us separate. In an ideal world, we would have no massive barriers in place that stifle communication and dissemination of information, but this is the world in which we live. For better or for worse, we are are need of more trailblazers, more allies, more brave souls willing to clear the path for those who would follow after them. I have discovered in my own admittedly limited experience that once the hard part subsides, true growth and true unity follows, and with it comes friends, allies, and supporters beyond one's wildest dreams. Once we begin to trust and not fear each other, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. Until we do so, however, we should expect little beyond what we have now.
by Bob Dylan
I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you,
Beat or cheat or mistreat you,
Simplify you, classify you,
Deny, defy or crucify you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
No, and I ain’t lookin’ to fight with you,
Frighten you or tighten you,
Drag you down or drain you down,
Chain you down or bring you down.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I ain’t lookin’ to block you up
Shock or knock or lock you up,
Analyze you, categorize you,
Finalize you or advertise you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I don’t want to straight-face you,
Race or chase you, track or trace you,
Or disgrace you or displace you,
Or define you or confine you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I don’t want to meet your kin,
Make you spin or do you in,
Or select you or dissect you,
Or inspect you or reject you.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
I don’t want to fake you out,
Take or shake or forsake you out,
I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me,
See like me or be like me.
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music
Full update coming later in the morning.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
A few of my more recent posts regarding spirituality have centered around conduct in meeting itself, and I would like to take the opportunity to note that I do not envision my role as that of martyr or chief complainer. I'd very much rather us get along, but sometimes that goal is complicated by a few who misinterpret my messages. My motives in documenting these, to be frank, jarring confrontations stem from love and with it the hopes that others who may have experienced similar situations in their own faith journeys might recognize that they are not alone. I feel certain that many of you have had to make a rough compromise with your faith gathering of choice, knowing that while most of your fellow worshipers are convivial and friendly, a few of them are not. Indeed, I refuse to let those who set themselves up in antagonistic positions based on their own unfounded fears and anxieties jeopardize my own prayerful, spiritually moving experience.
To wit, those of you who attend more traditional services whereupon a minister, rabbi, imam, vicar, priest, or other singular figure is the sole person responsible for an extended talk/sermon might find unprogrammed Quaker service a bit of an adjustment. If the laity were not merely encouraged, but also expected to bring their own vocal ministries forth into active worship, one wonders what group dynamics would be expressed. Too often what suffices for freedom of expression among fellow believers is stifled or discouraged by passive-aggression both before and after service, and it might be a disquieting experience if people directly stated their opinions in the middle of service itself. One wonders what elephants in the room might be pointed out and what these might say about the spiritual gathering as a whole, or, for that matter, those individuals who comprise it.
To be sure, vocal ministries in Quaker worship are not really supposed to put anyone in their place or instruct as to them where they have strayed, but some with a vested interest in the way things have always been seem to be quite willing to use it in that fashion. I think I understand now evermore why change is so threatening for so many people. For some, change is perceived as a zero sum game. For others, it is a needed, collective effort towards reform and equality. I fall into the latter camp, as do most of my fellow Friends, but there is a decidedly vocal minority who side with the former. I suppose they have their reasons.
I could always ignore the compulsion from the Inward Light of God and not even bother speaking forth the messages it bids me say. But if I did so, I would be acting in direct contradiction to the Spirit itself. To be blunt, though it frequently comes across as an unwelcome admonition when someone invalidates my own message, I try as hard as I can not to judge. It is never pleasant being lectured by someone who can't see beyond his/her own tunnel vision enough to not take a very small sliver of a larger point completely out of context.
I was certainly glad that others in meeting came to my defense, as they have come to my defense before, but I honestly would rather they hadn't had a need to do so. Meeting is not a battleground. Meeting is not a time to snipe at others. Indeed, the irony of all is that my message was a rather tame one, all things being equal. I spoke, in part, about how I appreciated everyone's contribution to First Hour and noted that there was a sort of freedom inherent in an unprogrammed worship service setting, structured as it is so that there isn't a very regimented litany of hymns to sing, passages to recite, Bible verses to read, and all of the other programmed features of Christ-centered worship I grew up observing.
I concluded by mentioning that I took the messages I heard on Sunday with me through the rest of the week and took the time to ponder them. This was taken by one Friend as meaning I was somehow implying that anything went with Quakerism and that we had no established rules of worship. Furthermore, she continued, my message must have been incomplete and not well thought-out. My conclusion was clearly wrong, and she clearly knew better than I did. That interpretation was in such direct contradiction to the original intent that it took me several minutes to understand how the Friend had even arrived at that conclusion in the first place.
When situations like these arise, my immediate thought is to what precisely God is teaching me. Having had several hours since this morning to contemplate the matter, I think He was showing me, yet again, the reasons why change, real change, is so difficult to achieve. In these times, we've all been wondering why we haven't gotten the necessary reform measures passed through Congress and enacted for everyone's benefit. Within the context of an individual faith group, one has a chance to view what life is like from the the inside, not the outside. The personalities, problems, egos, rivalries, and maddening complexities of humanity are in full display there. It's no wonder than many take the path of least resistance, which in my case would be merely to sit down and shut up. But I refuse to do so.
Though Quaker service might be conducted in silence, this silence is not a passive one. It is a very active silence in which we commune with God. As I sat this morning and tried to make sense of what I had heard, my mind flashed to a familiar song by Simon & Garfunkle. Specifically, I recalled the last two verses of "The Sound of Silence".
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
"Fools," said I, "you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence
Silence ought not be passive. Silence is active if we take from it what we are instructed by whichever Higher Power or Divine Guidance from which we draw spiritual guidance and solace. We can always choose to do nothing. When God instructs us to stand, speak, and be heard, we can always ignore it, as we are remarkably good at formulating evasive excuses and rationalizations. We have that freedom at our disposal and we also know that God speaks to us differently. I believe that He has a different plan for each of us and we have a choice whether to embrace it or not to embrace it. We can always push it aside for fear of being misunderstood or to avoid potential pain caused by those who do not understand and will lash out at us. We are granted a choice and it will always be ours and no one else's. To be a minister of any sort promises the best and the worst of humanity.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
The Food Stamp program has always been a contentious, heavily partisan issue. A recent New York Times article highlights the back-and-forth that has characterized the highs and lows of the program, and where it seems to be headed. Today I've chosen to write about this controversial subject to, in part, document of my own direct personal experience. Though food stamp usage might have been more stigmatized in an earlier year, there is unfortunately still much bias and prejudice directed towards those who take advantage of its existence. Until this is eliminated, others will refuse to apply and find their poverty and need considerably worsened. If this be Welfare, it is one of the most essential safety nets ever devised and my fear is that a resurgent GOP presence will eliminate it altogether, or prune it back considerably.
I have mentioned before that I have been receiving food stamps for the past couple months. Let me say resolutely here and now that they have been an invaluable resource, particularly because I am now officially disabled and have severe financial limitations as a result. Americans have a tendency to discount the combined expense of groceries because we assume offhandedly that the food we purchase ought to be plentiful and cheap. In reality, food is much more of an income drain than we really think. By means of an informal exercise, if you feel so inclined, add up your own combined grocery bill for a month, and see where you end up. The total will surprise you. As it stands, my monthly allotment of food stamps is reliably expended well before thirty days are up, though I certainly am glad to have some means by which I don't have to dip into my my rather modest reserves to spend on the most basic of necessities.
More recently, however, I have unfortunately received the scorn of a few supermarket cashiers, who often take one look at me and assume that there should be no reason at all that I'm not able to pay for my groceries out of pocket. Initial observations can be deceiving. If you looked closely at what I was wearing, you'd see that though my clothes are clean and look presentable, most of them are two and three years old. If you bothered to look at the brand of heavy coat I wear all winter long, you'd recognize it was bought at Target, not a department store. If you looked at my cell phone, you'd see that it's already obsolete and has a cracked face that could only be fixed by my buying a brand new one, which isn't exactly in the cards right now. The iPod I own is the cheapest model around and was, I note, a Christmas present from someone else. Moreover, I wasn't always poor, or rather, I wasn't always this poor.
I suppose someone who looks like me might not fit the profile, so to speak. We jump up and down about profiling in criminal matters, but the truth is that we all profile others, since we frequently make snap judgments based on a minimum of hard evidence. I get this identical reaction when I mention that I am, believe it or not, disabled. To many, my disability might be invisible, but for me, I never get the opportunity to forget, nor overlook that a chronic disease of the brain known as bipolar disorder is very real and very present. It might be a bit easier for some if I sat in a wheelchair, I suppose. To be blunt, in the minds of some, apparently a relatively young Caucasian male using food stamps doesn't seem to pass their sniff test. I really have no inclination to make a big deal out of this. I try to live my faith and practice forgiveness, but the attitudes I get from some, but not all, frequently make grocery shopping a stressful experience, to say nothing of the need to overlook and take account for other peoples' own judgmental attitudes. Over time I've learned to avoid certain cashiers at local grocery stores to avoid having to be privy to their own personal prejudices.
I find it exasperating, to say the least, at how indebted certain people are to conservative ideology on this topic. Ronald Reagan's first run in 1976 had him criticize some supposed "strapping young buck", never identified by name, who used his food stamps to buy a steak when others were waiting in line to buy hamburger meat. This anecdote utterly infuriates me because it's a completely unfair, biased view of reality. To be sure, I do certainly buy hamburger meat on a frequent basis because it can be made to stretch over several days. But, I also have been known to buy a steak every now and then because it augments a meal well and eliminates my need to buy as much at one time for one meal. Without being too particular here, if I eat a steak one night, it's so filling I don't have to buy much else to round out my dinner. Furthermore, I don't buy the most expensive cuts and can usually find discounted steak at not all that much more than maybe a couple pounds of ground beef.
According to the Times article referenced above, 1 in 8 Americans is on food stamps. The percentage of people on the rolls varies wildly based on race. An interactive graphic reveals in Washington, DC, where I live, only 1% of Whites are on food stamps, but fully 30% of Blacks are. This is a deceptive statistic that reveals the vast income discrepancies in the District. Caucasians who live within the District of Columbia are some of the wealthiest of the wealthy, while African-American residents are some of the poorest of the poor. I can imagine that this creates no small degree of resentment, but I don't appreciate being the target of income discrepancies I actively speak out again and did nothing to put in force in the first place.
To pull in an additional metric, it's not like I'm that far removed from the situation, lest I forget. The rural Alabama county where my Father was born and raised has fully 22% of all residents enrolled, including a staggering 44% of children. 16% of Whites are on food stamps, as are 38% of Blacks. When the textile mills went away, so too did the county's largest employer. Many residents felt no inclination to go beyond a high school diploma, since they fully intended to spend a career working in the mills just as their parents and grandparents had done before them. Now that sure thing job is simply no more. The recent recession has been especially demoralizing and impoverishing for the working poor and has exacerbated existing trends. Bad situations have merely gotten worse.
The tension between self-reliance and relief can be seen at the food bank’s office in Harlem, where the city lets outreach workers file applications.
Juan Diego Castro, 24, is a college graduate and Americorps volunteer whose immigrant parents warned him “not to be a burden on this country.” He has a monthly stipend of about $2,500 and initially thought food stamps should go to needier people, like the tenants he organizes. “My concern was if I’m taking food stamps and I have a job, is it morally correct?” he said.
But federal law eases eligibility for Americorps members, and a food bank worker urged him and fellow volunteers to apply, arguing that there was enough aid to go around and that use would demonstrate continuing need. “That meeting definitely turned us around,” Mr. Castro said.
These were also my same reservations at first. However, financial necessity was just that--necessary. To be sure, I have no desire to stay on Food Stamps forever, but I have to face the reality of the situation. A frustrating job climate even for able-bodied people has left those of us with severe limitations with nowhere to go. My goal is to one day get my illness in check, though I also note, with much regret, that I'll always need to self-monitor and opt for work that I can handle. Until unemployment rates stabilize, which I'm expecting will take years, I have resolved that I need these things for right now. I think I've always related more to the New Deal terminology of all these safety net services: relief. Right now, relief is what we all need.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Democrats desperate to find a winning issue in the fall have decided to propose a bill to push back against the Supreme Court's ruling to undo years of campaign finance reform. For all the recent talk of a lack of bipartisanship and cooperation somehow having complicated and ruined the process itself, this bill finds itself with support from both sides of the aisle. Though the primary sponsors are Democrats, several Republicans have also signed on. In this election cycle, which began with a populist backlash that has only grown with time, running against a High Court which values big business over individuals is, one would think, a supremely safe position statement.
An article in yesterday's Washington Post reveals that the roots of public dissatisfaction with the recent SCOTUS decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission run deep. As the paper's own polling reveals,
Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court's Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.
The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).
The results suggest a strong reservoir of bipartisan support on the issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are in the midst of crafting legislation aimed at limiting the impact of the high court's decision.
The Roberts Court unfortunately reaffirmed that corporations have the same basic freedoms and rights to free speech as do individuals. The sordid history of corporate personhood began in the late Nineteenth Century and has been a contentious, divisive issue ever since. With the rise of corporations and multinational conglomerates, corporate personhood has never been far from the public consciousness. A series of rulings over time have revealed the depths of the debate.
Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas both rendered opinions attacking the doctrine of corporate personhood. Justice Black, in a dissenting opinion, concluded,
If the people of this nation wish to deprive the states of their sovereign rights to determine what is a fair and just tax upon corporations doing a purely local business within their own state boundaries, there is a way provided by the Constitution to accomplish this purpose. That way does not lie along the course of judicial amendment to that fundamental charter. An amendment having that purpose could be submitted by Congress as provided by the Constitution. I do not believe that the Fourteenth Amendment had that purpose, nor that the people believed it had that purpose, nor that it should be construed as having that purpose.
(Hugo Black, dissenting, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Johnson (303 U.S. 77, 1938)
It remains to be seen whether this bill will be signed into law, or, assuming it is, what its greater impact will be. The recent ruling has just now taken effect and no one at this point is certain what liberties corporations might take or intend on taking in this year's election cycle. Furthermore, the Obama Administration and the Roberts Court have not yet taken highly antagonistic positions with each other the same way FDR did with the Hughes Court back in the 1930's. However, it must be noted that FDR's New Deal lead to the enactment of a variety of reforms and Obama has only managed a paltry sum in comparison. A majority desperate to minimize its losses would do well to start here.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
It seems nearly inconceivable that this time last year many were pondering, with all seriousness, as to whether or not the Republican Party was dead. What a difference a year makes. Still, the almost certain GOP gains at the end of this coming election cycle are not a result of the rebirth of a party, any party, though this will certainly be the narrative the media spins out this November. Democratic incompetence has created this unfortunate situation, just as Republican incompetence led directly to the last substantial power shift in 2006. And, in all fairness, this is usually how it happens. The party in power proves to be all talk and no action, and the opposition party runs against it and capitalizes on voter ire. This should, of course, never be confused as a mandate. The GOP has no more new ideas then it ever did.
Evan Bayh's decision yesterday to take his ball and go home was immediately taken in many corners as some centrist repudiation of President Obama's so-called "liberal" agenda. I have to say I took great offense at this argument. When was the last time centrism did anything positive for anyone? The passion and the dreams of a better society lie with Progressivism. Forgive me for believing that centrism in the context of Leftist politics is merely some middle ground created purely out of expedience, with a foot in both the liberal and the conservative, but being firmly indebted to neither. I see nothing remotely inspiring about running to be re-elected, instead of running to guide our country in the proper direction. The Democratic politicians who cite the polarized times in which we live as their reason to leave the stage do sound, for to my ears, exactly like a band of whiners, complaining how their previously cushy jobs as stewards of the peoples' trust is now challenging and time-consuming. Forgive me as I remove my violin from its case.
We might be wise to reintroduce into the discussion the ways in which liberals and liberalism set to improve conditions and level the playing field for everyone, to push back against those who still demonize the very word as proof of its ultimately destructive agenda. Bayh merely used it as a convenient excuse from an ancient script. Though Republicans may label the programs Democrats and President Obama pushed as socialistic and wasteful big government, these derogatory denunciations aren't nearly as effective as the overlying anger of not having a job, making less money at work if one is gainfully employed, a decrease in spending power, and many other discomforts that were a long time in coming and may very well be a long time gone. Everyone's hands are a bit tied in this regard, but not in all areas.
If I could impress any concept upon the presumptive voter it would be that prior attempts to change horses in mid-stream haven't necessarily made us better off. I recognize that it's our system of government that is to blame and that reforms must be made. I certainly know I'm far from the only one to make this argument. And when over a third of voters surveyed would support a third party rather than giving their allegiance and voters to the two established players, then one understand the deep well of dissatisfaction driving the political climate. Our Progressive legislators have not forsaken us. Instead, it has been the mushy centrists like Bayh who have tried to triangulate and posture to no positive end besides their own poll numbers. Allow me to qualify my remarks slightly. There will always be a need and a place for moderate voices in the Democratic Party, but this also means that Progressive voices deserve a spot at the megaphone too. If President Obama's legislative slate were really as far Left as some have characterized it, then criticisms of it would seem less vituperative. The reality is that most of them are sensible and far from some sort of imaginary radicalized Jacobinism. Myths like these need to be addressed and repudiated while at the same time we confront those who make them.
It is up to us, then, to drive the narrative forward into the fall. If we don't do it, then Democratic movers and shakers certainly will not do it for us. There are winning issues out there beyond the superficial and most of them revolve around frustration with business as usual. The party in power will always find itself drawing most of the heat in situations like these, but if we assume that we have little to no control over the health of the economy and the rate of unemployment, there are still other bread and butter issues which need to be revealed to all and then fully fleshed out. A year ago, I, like many people, believed that handing over the reigns of power was sufficient enough to accomplish the change I knew we needed. Now I recognized that I should have never placed complete faith in those with no clue how to navigate through perilous terrain. If you want something done properly, sometimes you have to do it yourself.
Monday, February 15, 2010
After the 2008 election cycle advanced a long litany of proposed reforms and massive structural changes which came attached to Presidential candidate Barack Obama, 2010's agenda is much more modest. A disillusioned, frustrated electorate looks to lash out against those in power by casting their votes accordingly, hence the reason why so many long-time legislators within the party have retired in the past several months. As we know, scaled down versions of existing measures are the order of the day, and skittish Democrats are wary of making additional promises that they know they can't likely keep, aiming to avoid increased voter ire at all cost. Still, it would be foolish to cast aside all talk of additional reform, particularly since some slightly more modest proposals would likely go over well, even in this dubious climate.
Even with the severe limitations of the 2010 cycle, there are a few issues Democrats could hammer home that would resonate well with voters. Polls reveal that the recent Federal Election Commission v. Citizens United Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance reform is a highly unpopular one, and some Democrats on the state and local level have proposed measures to push back and guard themselves from the potential sweep of corporate interference.
Maryland lawmakers are mobilizing to prepare a series of campaign finance reforms in response to a recent Supreme Court decision that will open federal elections to more corporate and labor spending.
About a dozen Democratic senators and delegates this week outlined a package of bills meant to restrict the ability of those businesses to spend in state elections.
The initiatives come after the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned a prohibition on corporations and unions using general treasury funds for political ads.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said the legislators are working to "try and contain the damage."
It should be noted that none of these measures do a tremendous amount to reverse the decision itself and its now-established precedent, but they do provide additional safeguards in case corporations decide to take new liberties. The nightmare scenario envisioned by many is an influx of corporate-based cash into races and regions in ways that had never before existed. Thus, this proposed legislation is designed primarily to prevent business from overreaching into political races. Even so, sensible strategies like these would go over well with constituents in every state, and would give increasingly vulnerable Democrats a powerfully populist talking point. Subsequent pro-big business decisions from whatever source are likely to be viewed negatively by the American people, and if the national Democratic Party wishes to rebrand itself to keep its control of Congress, it might do well to consider strategies like these.
Running against the SCOTUS as a whole might also prove to be a winning strategy, since the latest unpopular heavily split decision reveals the undemocratic nature of a small, deliberative body who is appointed for life and cannot be collectively, individually, or otherwise voted in or voted out by the general public. We can forever debate the merits of why the Federal judicial system was set up in such a fashion, but we simply can't deny the reality of it. Voters now are concerned much more about results, not reasons. Moreover, the direct impact upon the 5-4 decision itself showed plainly in the person of the two Justices that Former President George W. Bush nominated. Democrats could once again point back to the destructive Bush Presidency as a still-evident and still-existing part of the problem. The Roberts court has not yet set itself up as directly antagonistic to President Obama and his agenda, but it very well might as time goes on, which would give the incumbent Chief Executive a weapon when the time arrives for him to run for re-election in 2012. Setting the scene early as well as the framing would make that message far more pertinent and pervasive.
Though the party in power is always under the gun when a bad economy, high unemployment, and Congressional gridlock spawn massive ill-will in the voting public, a slight modification in focus could limit losses and stem the bleeding. As it is right now, Democrats are rushing about in a million different directions with no coherent, nor cohesive sense of message discipline. As many have done before, I have criticized those in positions of authority who have either abused the peoples' trust or have frittered away a golden opportunity by their own inability to form consensus or make resounding, firm decisions. The sea change in Washington politics ushered in by an astounding 2008 cycle and an equally astounding rapid decay of many of those gains in the course of one short year has redefined previously existing parameters and expected results. Acting sooner rather than later works against the math and logic of a previous age, I recognize, but what we have all discovered recently is that significant developments of the Twenty-first Century proceed at an incredibly rapid clip, and those who jump out in front of an issue first usually fare the best. The clock is running down, but there is still plenty of time left.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
If we were to be fair with ourselves, we would admit that, compared to most of the rest of the world, we really do have it good. As I say this, I recognize that statements such as these have been set forth multiple times to scold those who feel no desire to contribute to some worthy cause or endeavor. I'm not really out to highlight an issue or to request a donation, nor do I seek to appeal to your latent sense of guilt. Rather, I do ask for your sober contemplation. What I say now is designed to encourage discussion and discourage argument. We have enough back-and-forth as it is and we waste so much of our energies and ourselves in the process, passion better spent focused on different avenues.
All of us live in one bubble or another. The wealthier and more privileged we are, the greater and more exclusive the bubble. Growing up in the South, as I did, my parents and the parents of my peers most often had been born into solidly working class families. It had only been through their hard work and a resulting favorable economic climate that they'd had the ability to achieve social mobility, and in so doing scale one class up the proverbial ladder. Now that I live in a city where I encounter on a regular basis people my own age who have come from a long line of relative wealth, their views and mine are often as different as our priorities. I find it quite difficult to not be jealous and envious of, for example, their multiple trips abroad to Germany or their ability to attend an elite institution (or two) of higher learning. Still, I recognize that compared to many who live in the state of my birth, I had it very easy.
When we talk about Haiti, Darfur, or the Middle East, all the usual conduits to direct money and financial assistance fall easily in place. Yet, it is rather telling that it takes a catastrophe before we give even half a second to contemplate what life must be like for those in the Third World. Whether we admit it or not, a hierarchy of need exists, and the simultaneous blessing and curse of having our own basic needs met on an almost constant basis is that we can afford to have trivial, tedious arguments of insidious intent. And what to what overwhelming question does this lead us? It's tough to say, really, but whatever it may be is frequently useless and thoroughly counter-productive.
As for our friends in dire need, their daily thoughts tend to be whether they have enough food to eat, or whether their lives will be in danger tomorrow, or how they'll manage to raise their children in a harsh, unforgiving environment. To them, our arguments would seem not just ludicrous but also completely incomprehensible. Many have talked about this concept before, too, I recognize. If I believed we had gotten the message before now I wouldn't bother reintroducing it. To be sure, I am aware that some do take this matter to heart. These are the ones who jump at the chance to volunteer to serve the less fortunate in other countries. I admire and appreciate their devotion. I do also take to heart the often-conservative criticism that we spend so much time and energy temporarily boosting the stature of devastated foreign countries while simultaneously neglecting our own poor and downtrodden. We would certainly go far to document the lives of our own needy beyond the occasional human interest story or anecdote. It's not so much where we devote our energy as it is a question of our general mindset, which must not just be a single-minded and highly time-limited desire to cross off the phrase "humanitarian effort" from our Socially Conscious™ checklist.
The problem with bubbles, of course, is that bubbles isolate. They are impermeable. They keep information from getting out and in so doing keep necessary strategies and potential means of assistance in the hands of and for the use of a small, fortunate few. In discussion with those of other nationalities, I note that they have at times expressed no small frustration with us that we in this country seem to believe that nothing happens of much importance unless it happens here, or has some direct relevance to America and Americans. If our ultimate goal was complete equality, as we say it is, then we'd make a general effort to take into account the unique stories, news, and issues of other regions and countries of the world. Put this way, these very pertinent topics wouldn't have to be consolidated into a tab labeled "World News" on one's browser, or reduced to a niche interest targeted to a niche interest group.
What we deal with primarily is a discrepancy involving money and means. Here in Northwest DC, for example, some have spent years bickering about the location of a new library and whether it should be granted zoning rights and the ability to finally break ground. Common sense alone would have dictated that the existing temporary library space is much too small to accommodate the number of patrons who use its services, meaning that the construction of the building can't get underway soon enough. Whereas, if I turn my attention towards the Southeast in the direction of Anacostia, I am faced with the blight and decay of dire poverty---with it a lack of basic services. Here, where I live, there are many restaurants and grocery stories I encounter on even the most modest of walks up and down the main thoroughfare. There, one is hard pressed to find more than one restaurant, and grocery stores are either severely limited, or nowhere to be found. This underscores how finding common means of comparison is difficult enough between people of similar interest, but in this way, both residents speak completely different languages.
I fail to take into account that many of us genuinely try to do the right thing. I've seen it for myself, many times. I'm not stating that one ought to drop everything, give all one has to the poor, and move to an impoverished country. But what I am saying is that once we leave the bubble, we don't need the novelty of a country or region in crisis to recognize that until our efforts here on these shores are a success, we simply won't have the infrastructure and the methodology in place to give better aid and assistance to foreign countries in need. If that on-going War on Poverty is ever won and won forever, it will start here, then spread to other places, not the other way around. Speaking American English in all its varieties and variations is tough enough, with so many regional, ethnic, and economic distinctions. Speaking the native tongue of another place is a daunting, if not completely impossible task until we've found our own means of translation.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Recent high profile news events involving abortion rights have revealed that while the omnipresent skirmishing may temporarily subside, it doesn't take much to stir the issue into a new frenzy. The latest embarrassing public relations snafu involves the Birmingham, Alabama, Planned Parenthood clinic, which has been placed probation for a year. Before there was ACORN and young right-wing activists with visual evidence, last year a California-based anti-abortion group employed the services of an UCLA student to secretly videotape instances of wrongdoing. Posing as a 14-year-old girl seeking an clandestine abortion after getting pregnant with her 31-year-old boyfriend, the tape revealed that the worker she spoke to agreed not to report the matter, in violation of state law, and added that it might be possible to perform the procedure without the knowledge of her parents. By the time the video came to the attention of the Alabama Attorney General, the statue of limitations had passed, but it did trigger a revealing in-depth investigation via Alabama's Department of Public Health.
John A. MacDonald of The Birmingham News has the whole story.
Perhaps the most damning allegation is that the clinic has come under increasing scrutiny and fire due to new charges which allege that workers a negligently refused to report obvious instances of childhood sexual abuse.
In that potential abuse case, a 13-year-old girl reported that she became sexually active at 12 and came in for two abortions within four months. She was not asked by staff about potential abuse, and her case was not reported to authorities.
"If she was being abused, you give her a chance to be rescued from that situation," said Rick Harris, director of health provider standards for the Alabama Department of Public Health.
This matter only throws hot water onto an already overheated issue. Aside from the immediate emotional appeals, explosive revelations like these reveal that local government often fails to adequately police itself internally and to follow rudimentary protocol. As for why these seemingly basic rule were not followed, perhaps the worker or workers in question at the clinic might have sought to protect at least two young women, and likely more, from the stigma and emotional turmoil of prosecution and a trial by jury. Indeed, our own initial responses might be to cover up or skirt past tragic situations like these out of sympathy for the victim or out of our own desire to not have to think about them. Some may consider tactics like those tantamount to cowardice or sloth, and there is an strong argument to be made for that as well. But no matter what justification and rationalization may be provided, state law does require those who observe cases of flagrant child sexual abuse to report them immediately to the proper channels. So many of these cases are not reported enough already and this is, in part, the reason why these sorts of offenses are shockingly prevalent in our supposedly civilized society.
In nine out of nine cases tested, the clinic did not get girls ages 13-15 to authenticate the signature of the parent providing consent for the abortion. In one case, the person who signed the consent for a 15-year-old girl provided an expired driver's license of a person with a different last name and address from the girl's. A subsequent review of Alabama birth records showed that person was not listed as a parent.
The pattern that emerges here is that of gross incompetence and dereliction of duty rather than some sort of willful desire to broach protocol and skirt the law. I doubt that anyone holds such a radical agenda that they would choose to violate parent notification rules and in so doing, fail to adequately check identities before proceeding. While I have always believed that requiring parental consent before an abortion can be performed unfairly restricts a woman's right to choose, ANY woman's right to choose, I am deeply uncomfortable with the notion of civil disobedience at the workplace in this context. There is lots of blame to go around, but I point the finger at the system itself. I think the most likely is that what transpired over time is that women would arrive without the necessary paperwork to move forward and after observing much delay in extracting the necessary signatures and confirmation needed in prior cases, clinic workers eventually overlooked them to expedite the process and make their own jobs easier.
One can form any number of conclusions based on the available information. Anti-choice proponents will surely use this story to confirmation of their own views in this and those of us who are pro-choice may, as I do, find it hard to easily make sense of this. I seek not to be an apologist for this kind of behavior, specifically because it makes women's reproductive rights and abortion services agencies look foolish and incompetent. But what it does highlight, however, is how uncomfortable we are when it comes to frank discussions about abortion. We can screech and yell about baby killers or those who murder abortionists, but we rarely really talk about the lives of individual women who find themselves faced with a grave situation---presented with the unenviable option of either terminating their pregnancy or bringing a child into the world. If we, as part of our 9-5 job, sat across the desk from a child whose pregnancy clearly resulted from a case of incest or rape, it would be tempting to wish to spare her from any subsequent trauma. Since a strong taboo already is in place regarding these sorts of crimes, it would be easier to simply take the path of least resistance.
The story also implies that sad tales like these are hardly unusual. To this I add that anyone who has dealt with our convoluted legal system knows that justice, assuming it eventually arrives, is not exactly a precise, timely affair. Court dockets have long been swelled past capacity, trials routinely last weeks on end, and moreover the emotional stress involved with lawyers, fees, strategies, and the massive amount of hoops to jump through make the process thoroughly exhausting for everyone involved. Though I do not absolve the Planned Parenthood workers for refusing to follow their job descriptions and adhere to the letter of the law, I do recognize that often existing systems are so ridiculously complex and set in place to patch a hole, not for the ease of implementation.
After a time this encourages people to take short cuts. If we ever really wished to devise a world that was fairer and more efficient, we'd adopt a system whereby the only rules we imposed were those absolutely necessary. As it stands now, if one person breaks a rule, everyone else is punished by having to adhere to a new regulation or restrictive standard. Good management punishes, and if need be, removes the individual offender, not the collective body. Pushing aside for a moment our own passionate defenses, we can learn from ACORN and Planned Parenthood if this pushes us to closely re-examine whether rules, regulations, standards, and statutes really make our lives easier, or burden us to the point that we'd just as soon ignore them wholesale.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Many bloggers, including me, have expressed frequent consternation at the lack of substantive female voices in the mainstream media. On that note, there are times when I wonder what both Kathleen Parker and Maureen Dowd are both smoking and inhaling. Tweedledum and Tweedledee routinely write columns crafted with such a flagrant disregard for coherence or original analysis that I wonder how they even ended up with a job. Both of these writers are supposed to be the apex of serious journalism and with it the mouthpiece of womanhood and womens' concerns. It seems as though both conservative and liberal women are getting the short end of the stick, though I'm hardly surprised at the revelation. And it isn't just women who are suffering from such inadequacy.
Martin Austermuhle, writing today at dcist, points out the sloppy logic of Parker's latest column in The Washington Post.
Parker asserts that shoveling is something men just need to do, like it's hard-wired into our genetic code. "What do men want?" she asks. "Shovels. Men want shovels, the bigger the better," she responds.
"Women can't be blamed for wanting to be independent and self-sufficient, but smart ones have done so without diminishing the males whose shoulders they might prefer on imperfect days. Add to the cultural shifts our recent economic woes, which have left more men than women without jobs, and men are all the more riveted by opportunities to be useful," she observes.
According to her profound analysis on the matter, the minute we simple-minded men see a flake of snow, we go running to the nearest shovel. "Man is never happier than when he is called to action, in other words. That is to say, when he is needed," she posits. Of course, she does add that women will shovel, but she only admits as much to avoid "sexist stereotyping." Yeah. That's like prefacing a homophobic joke by saying, "But some of my best friends are gay!"
I frequently use personal examples in my posts and diary entries, but I am always careful to try to use facts and other sources to bolster my claims. There is great power in the personal, but Parker proves that the personal can be used very wrongly to stand in for objective truth. Ignoring societal conditioning in favor of innate biological programming is a tactic frequently employed by the Right, particularly as a means of keeping gender distinctions frozen in time. Even so, there are a few undeniable elements of our behavior that must be chalked up to the undeniable fact that some of us have two X chromosomes and some of us only have one. Yet, relying too heavily on that fact fails to take into account that we are distinct from other animals in that we have highly advanced brains and reasoning abilities. Since the beginning of time, humankind has been imposing its own version of reality beyond purely biological imperative and survival instinct.
The feud between Parker and Dowd is well-documented and I don't need to add much more to it. Unsurprisingly, both columnists manage to miss the point altogether when they cobble together a collection of stale arguments and pseudoscience to make their case. They end up on opposite ends of a great existential divide, managing to be equally wrong in the process. Contrary to what Dowd says, men are necessary, but it should be added that they are necessary in ways beyond shoveling driveways or providing emergency manual labor. Contrary to what Parker says, it's not biologically determined that men are born snow shovelers and ditch diggers.
Later in the column, Parker at least makes an effort to try to state that she isn't homophobic or dismissive of the fact that gay men are equally capable of being "masculine", but the conclusion she draws is bizarre, at best. If it wasn't so strangely rendered, I might take more offense to what it implies.
As for Craig, he's been happy the past 25 years with Jack, who, though he pleads a bad back, cooks a mean stroganoff, from which I have benefited twice since the snows began.
Doubtless, such displays of manliness -- which in my view include feeding the hungry -- are, like the weather, passing divertissements. And these jottings are but a wee contribution to the annals of gender study. But if one should ever stop pondering the malaise of modern woman long enough to consider what men might want, the answer is obvious to any except, perhaps, the U.S. Congress.
Give a man a job, and he'll clear a path to your door.
Her convoluted conclusion seems to be that women have focused too selfishly on their own empowerment that they've failed to understand or appreciate the contributions of men. With it comes an underlying assumption that men feel confused these days because their time-honored roles in society have been somehow denigrated or tarnished since women started demanding equal rights, equal pay, and basic equality. If only things were this simple. If only women had anything remotely close to the same degree of parity with men. If only, for example, there was some set standard of what all men wanted or what all women wanted, for that matter.
One can't just make a blanket statement based on absolutes. Men are not some monolithic entity any more than women are. Surveying the women and men with whom we work, live, and interact will reveal that gender distinctions are not distributed exactly the same for everyone. In that spirit, it is equally wrong-headed to reduce men to violent brutes or women to flighty fashionistas. A major problem everyone faces is that we are forced to conform to gender roles that are designed for one-size-fits-all settings when we are all different sizes, shapes, and proportions. If gender were a set of clothes, we'd be tugging on it constantly, hoping that with enough effort it eventually would cover us properly. And so long as we impose simplistic identity upon complex humanity, it never will quite work.
The major problem at play here is that Feminist groups and women's rights groups tend to often to couch their analysis in overly-academic terms. I can vouch for this personally. This means that pop-feminist analysis like Parker and Dowd ends up shaping the perception of most people, as though these sorts of stilted descriptions are some objective picture of the way things really are. But these two aren't even the worst offenders. At least these columnists usually mean well and usually at least aim high. Meanwhile, aside from "serious" analysis, a perversion of Feminism leads women to believe that there is something empowering in being publicly sexual or in adopting the same pose of their chauvinistic brethren. Objectification by any other name, this is an attitude reflected ever more frequently in popular culture. But instead of focusing on whether or not it's a good thing that now Tween aged girls are dressing provocatively rather than like the children that they are, or whether we're including people of color into our depictions of feminine identity, or whether transgender citizens are treated with the respect they deserve, instead we get into the eternal back and forth about whether the cause of women's rights has done more harm than good and whether men are suffering as a result.
This degree of navel-gazing does no one any good. Periodically, it might be helpful if we engaged in a respectable dialogue about how far the rights of women have come, where the movement is headed, and what we all might take from it. However, if this territory is mined constantly without anything especially novel or even interesting to report from it, then we forget that there's much more to Feminism and gender equality than the tit-for-tat that never ends. Gender is a construct of the human mind and it is so pervasive that its impact effects us in ways that are both exceptionally glaring and maddeningly minute. The complexities of civilization and the human mind have given rise to a huge amount of interrelated information to be combed through, but if we fail to survey it in totality, then it does us no good. The mysteries of men and women will remain so forever. We might not solve them all, but we'd be a damn sight closer to a greater understanding than we are now, instead of focusing so narrowly on one particularly yawn-inducing issue.
As I write this to you roughly as of 9:30 am local time, the phrases white-out, blowing snow, and blizzard conditions would be apt descriptions. Likewise, I estimate 8 inches of new snow is on the ground, though it is difficult to say for sure because the winds are howling so hard that visibility is almost nil.
Since most of my posts have a political focus, and since this entire city has largely been at a standstill for the whole week, I really have nothing to say today. I'm mainly hoping I don't lose power.
Take care, everyone! Once everything returns to normal, I'll be back to my usual loquacious self.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Monday, February 08, 2010
I write this post in response to a handful of Super Bowl commercials that I write this post in response to two or three Super Bowl commercials that aired last night. The implication in each of them, to some degree or another, was that masculinity was under attack, the ravages of femininity were destroying machismo, or that marriage was an emasculating process that turned male virility into weak-kneed passivity. These views are nothing new, but when they are emphasized so heavily, the general implication is quite clear. Some must believe that men are losing control of the game and being transformed into, if not women, some hybrid form which is itself a cheap imitation to the rough and tough masculinity of the past. Knee-jerk responses neglect to understand that in the process of achieving equality for everyone, masculinity will change in direct proportion to the way femininity has changed. The truth is that nothing is being lost and everything is being gained, but some confuse the cause of reform with tragic destruction of the tried-and-true.
If I didn't know better, I might buy into these wrong-headed assertions myself. However, I happen to recognize that while an older incarnation of masculinity might have been less compelled towards public displays of sensitivity or equal deference to relationship partners, this kind of supposed supreme self-reliance also meant that men were often incapable of sharing vulnerability and thus expressing the fullest range of human expression. Problems best talked out and shared with others were frequently kept inside, often disguised or numbed away by alcohol or other drugs. I suppose having had a grandfather who likely struggled with bipolar himself, one who, I might add, never really ever came to terms with what he considered a shameful weakness, does makes me understand his struggle without rushing to judgment as some might do. I don't romanticize the masculinity of another age. I pity it. To me it is supremely limiting and heavily stunted. Why anyone would wish to reinforce masculinity in such rigid, lonely terms is beyond me.
When we talk about a Patriarchal society, we mean a societal framework designed by (usually white) men for other (usually white) men. The scope of Patriarchy is vast and at times so invasive and omnipresent that one has a difficult time adequately stating its fullest impact upon all. Feminist voices for years have taken much time pointing out Patriarchy's shortcomings, especially how it callously disenfranchised women by forcing them to play by the parameters and rules of a system for which they were often ill-suited. Their criticism, which is quite valid, states that if men were capable of designing such a fantastic system, why then does it produce so many unresolved problems? More recently, Feminists have fought for the inclusion and incorporation of people of color, LGBTs, and other minority voices into the discussion. It is my opinion, based on what I have observed, that any system which does not take into account multiple points of view and the unique concerns of a wide swath of people across the board will always remain imperfect and inequal. The deepest irony of all is that the Paternalistic system as it exists now works for the well-heeled, powerful, and well-connected at the expense of almost everyone else imaginable, so many men now terrified at its supposed demise are the very same who are ground underfoot by it.
The radical Feminists of a generation prior envisioned a superior, alternate system designed by women, but the failing in that point of view is that by being just as exclusionary as their male brethren, they managed to perpetuate only a brand new spin on the same problems. Though I am a man, I do not find any discomfort whatsoever in spaces dominated by women, because unlike some of my same gender, I do not see gender equality as a zero sum game. Inherent in each of those Super Bowl commercials was that belief---that in surrendering to the desires of women, they would be losing their masculinity and freedom in the process. My hope is that other men will come to understand, as I have, that everyone's liberation depends on maximum participation by everyone. This includes participation in spaces, circles, and movements not often populated by white men, or, for that matter, men at all. Still, so long as the way things have always been finds itself threatened, the same old appeals to some standard of masculine purity will be invoked. The paradoxically unifying feature of gender inequality is that both male and female gender roles are defined as the pursuit of a kind of perfect balance that is beyond the grasp of everyone, regardless of gender identification. Still, it is invoked frequently to chide or to lecture people to get back in line, else some kind of anarchic chaos result from it.
We know where we're headed, and we also know that every age presents its own challenges and its own problems. It is easier to declare a war and invoke a moral panic than to calmly examine the reality of the situation before us. Whether it's sexting or some perceived attack on masculine strength and independence, we ought to expect the same sorts of attacks until the end. Names change, context differs, the sales pitch is modified slightly, but in the end, it's really no different. The goal is to plan for the inevitable, hope for the best, and make sure to never relinquish control of the framing. Reform and the need for reform of any sort and in any context is ceaseless. Let us cogently articulate our reservations, discuss our strategies, put them into action, and then wait for the next volley from the other side. In the meantime, I fight alongside my sisters as well as my brothers and do so happily and with great purpose.
Now that the impact of the snow has subsided a little, I have crucial errands to run like buying more groceries. This will likely impede if not prevent me from posting today, so please pardon. I'm trying to get back into my daily routine. What really concerns me is that we're now predicted to get anywhere from 3-6 additional inches on top of what we have already received tomorrow night into Wednesday, making a messy situation even messier.
Sunday, February 07, 2010
I'm a riddle in nine syllables.
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.
-Sylvia Plath. "Metaphors".
Saturday, February 06, 2010
It is a truism that leaders are few and followers are numerous. This is itself an inequality that we don't often contemplate, nor feel any compulsion to amend by direct action. No flurry of blog postings or activist group with a message statement to convey has ever proposed that we ought to consider revising this important discrepancy. This may be because the gap itself is likely a construct of biology, for whatever reason. One wishes perhaps the numbers would be a bit more balanced, certainly not flip-flopped, since if most of us were leaders, we'd never get anything accomplished. In that regard, herding cats might be putting it lightly. Still, as it stands, for whatever reason, those who lead hold minority status and as such they often easily manage to attract followers to their causes and private bandwagon. It is another paradox of human behavior that while most minorities find reduced numbers much to their detriment, those who lead find the fact that they are relatively few in number much to their benefit.
We always seem to return to the example of the Great Man or Great Woman, the almost superhuman being who through his or her personal skill fixes all outstanding problems and provides mass unity. We should really know better than to expect that one single person could save us from ourselves, but to some extent, it isn't surprising why can so easily opt for this belief. Two thousand plus years of a Christ-centered framework leads us to expect that a Messiah will rescue us, whether we acknowledge it consciously or not. This is true whether we're Christian, Jewish, or not a person of faith at all. I myself recognize that I'm still waiting for Jesus to return, and would gladly fall at his feet to offer my assistance if I knew for certain he had returned. If the Second Coming arrived, some would doubt to the very end, some would desire proof, and some would resist altogether purely for their own reasons. Many, however, would breathe a sigh of relief, and quickly fall in line behind him.
Recent developments with political leaders have showed what happens when power corrupts, temptation leads to bad decisions, or disappointment sets in when high hopes are not realized. There is certainly enough fault to spread around if we seek to assign blame. However, that is not exactly my intent with this post. Nor am I seeking to absolve those who let their own shortcomings destroy the good will and good stead they formerly held. With power, charisma, and charm comes temptation of all kinds--monetary gain and sexual gratification only but two of them. I seek to bring light, in part, to the fact that those in leadership roles who court the adoration of the crowds, instantly reap all the benefits and all of the drawbacks in the process. If I, for example, stand up before an attentive audience and impress them with the cogency of my arguments, the eloquence of my rhetoric, or otherwise strike a nerve, I can expect to receive compliments, flirtatious glances or conversation, and an instant kind of immediate attention and personal favor with those who until a moment before were complete strangers. Everyone wants to be my friend, at least for that moment.
A close associate is fond of advancing a particular theory concerning this phenomenon. His example concerns the immediacy of live music, but it works well in this context, too. As he puts it, the reason we find it so easy to be attracted to to musicians, in particular, is that we see our own best qualities reflected in whomever is singing or playing. A powerful emotional intimacy is present in that moment that perhaps speaks more to us and our condition than to those on stage. This concept may wash over political leaders as well, particularly when on the stump, particularly when their personal charisma renders them something close to celebrity. They inspire so much in us: adoration, trust, envy, hope, desire, and so on. That we would entrust them so willingly with all of these in the blink of an eye makes me wonder how anyone who stands out in front can survive for long, with or without the benefit of handlers. It takes a tremendously strong person to not succumb to distraction, properly handle the stress, stay on message, and not get waylaid by a thousand wild goose chases. It is precisely our demands upon which they must conform and though they never are allowed to forget, this doesn't mean that they're always in the easiest position to respond. We expect much in return for our trust and our affections and the conditions of the transaction are both numerous and exacting.
So long as we expect perfection from our leaders, we can never see them for their gloriously flawed humanity and never forgive them for their frailties. We sometimes treat these figures as though they were our lover, one which always must say the right thing at the right time and halfway read our minds. Assuming they were the keeper of our heart, we would then need to concede that we would need to love them not just for their best qualities, but also for their worst. We can easily be dismayed, demoralized, and distressed at the behavior and conduct of those we idolize, certainly, but forgiveness is a concept ultimately foreign to us far too often. If it arrives, it arrives late, if ever at all, and it is yielded grudgingly. How often have I "forgiven" someone by mentioning, "Well, I'll forgive you this once, but you better not do it again, or I'll never speak to you again".
This ought not excuse mediocrity, philandering, or a distressing turn towards hypocrisy, but it might better explain a bit better some of the hypocrisies buried within our minds. We often say we'd never want to be a celebrity, a politician, or anyone with the same degree of constant media exposure and with it a fishbowl work environment, but many of us would also jump at the chance if it were available to us someday. I'm not so much advancing a notion that we ought to Leave People in the Public Eye Alone™ but that we need to look within ourselves and examine why we thrust so much of our entire selves, dreams, and aspirations towards whomever might have ability, courage, or God-given talents of oratory and authenticity. They certainly use our faith in them for their own benefit, as is part of the beast, and hopefully never forget the potency of the dreams of thousands upon thousands. If this truly were a relationship rather than a social contract, there would be disturbingly equal proportions of sadism and masochism present.
As it stands now, this compact is a curious kind of two-step, whereby we give all of ourselves to whomever represents us formally, with the requisite number of strings attached that we put in place in an effort that ensure that our personal wish list is followed without in order and without flaw. As for those who would lead or stand out from the pack, raising the bar high, be it in music, entertainment, or politics sets a huge precedent in place and some can rise to the challenge by hitting another home run out of the park, though many fall short. It would seem, then, that the responsibility to keep things in proper proportion is everyone's. We may not be able to close the gap regarding the number of those who lead versus those who follow, but we can make strides toward adopting a much more feasible strategy, one that would lead to fewer headaches and fewer feelings of betrayal. To me, forgiveness could be a solution. And by this I don't mean forgiveness for selfish reasons like the ability to successfully cross off another item on a voluminous to-do list, but forgiveness out of a realization that doing so would encourage true healing. True healing leads to group health. If Jesus does return someday, he would expect nothing less.