Unaccountable

Any group of people with power or authority, who are not held accountable in some way, will end up doing bad things.
 
If you see any group; cops, politicians, priests, judges, jailers, professors, doctors, dentists, business tycoons, psychologists, faith healers, karate instructors, whatever… anyone with authority over others… who is trying to ward off attempts to check on their behavior either is doing something unethical or are afraid they are.
 
It’s not as if people set out to do bad things, generally, but the first slip happens, and if there’s no blow-back there are fewer reasons to fight against that next slip. If there are rewards for slipping, then pretty soon you have institutionalized secrecy as a rule for group membership…
 

Resources for the Resistance

I realized today that I was seeing a bunch of helpful links, and I have not been tracking them. I’m going to put them here for my use, but if you know of good ones, let me know and I’ll share them.

It’s probably obvious, but inclusion here in no way implies that I’ve vetted the groups, nor am I recommending them. If I find out that a given link is dubious, I’ll drop it. Also, I’m not even going to pretend that this is in any way an all-inclusive list.

I’m intending this list as a resource for people who are wondering what they can do to help, but I’m pretty sure that if you wanted to throw some cash their way, these organizations would be happy for that sort of help in return)

“I don’t need to march for any rights,” she said.

I spotted this post on Facebook today, written by a Trump supporter, a woman with an Hispanic-sounding last name.

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I am not a victim. I don’t need to march for any rights. I have the same rights as anyone else. I’m not raising a victim either. So let’s call today’s activities what they really are, an anti Trump rally for prochoice people. What a bunch of bullies and so much hate speech (scarlet johansen verbally attacking a woman – Ivanka Trump and Madonna talking of her fantasies to blow up OUR White House). I don’t want my daughter looking up to any of those nasty women.

Anyone involved in this farce, I am disappointed in you for being a part of such hypocrisy. You are not victims. I would have so much more respect for you if you just called it ‘Women marching against Trump in fear of losing (abortion) choice.’ I stand behind your right to march for that. Just be honest about what you’re doing.

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I want to discuss this point-by-point, so I’m including the entire thing. I’m also going to write about some things that are at least implied by her profile.

Point one: A woman wrote this. Women only slightly older than I am have told me about rights they only gained within our lifetimes. She seems to assume that, because she has these rights now, that they’re somehow to be taken for granted. Many, many, many women and men have fought for over 200 years to get to the point where she can feel confident that she has the same rights as the men around her. I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that she has these rights in part because ‘nasty women’ stood up to social pressure to fight for them.

Point two: A person with a minority last name, Hispanic in origin, wrote this. There are American citizens of Hispanic descent in the US today who face daily discrimination, including being unequal policing and discrimination in the workplace. She lives in an urban area in North Carolina, so it’s possible she herself doesn’t see such discrimination, but I suspect that it would be an eye-opening experience for her to drive through some of the states along the Mexican border. Even in North Carolina, though, it’s probably only her economic status that’s shielding her. I hear people casually referring to Hispanic folks with really ugly racist terms, and assuming/implying that “the Mexicans” are only capable of being roofers, landscapers, or house maids. I wonder if she’d be comfortable being addressed with any of those terms, or lumped into those assumed limits.

Point three:I am not a victim” she says. That’s great. I’m glad that she feels safe in her life. I’d never wish any ill to her. But many of our fellow citizens are not so safe. I can also see that just because I’m not currently personally being victimized, the incoming administration is putting many more of those citizens into precarious situations or outright danger.

Point four:I don’t need to march for any rights.” Nice. Apparently she doesn’t have the slightest sense of gratitude for everyone who has marched and fought for those rights.

Point five:let’s call today’s activities what they really are, an anti Trump rally for prochoice people.” I can’t call the marches that, because it would vastly understate the reasons I’ve seen my friends list for why they marched.

  1. Yes, some are pro-choice, but not all.
  2. Yes, nearly all the marchers are anti-Trump, but that wasn’t exactly a hidden motivation.
  3. I’ve seen people who are also marching against the incoming vice president and Trump’s choices for his cabinet and other administration posts; let’s not pretend Trump is the marchers’ only concern
  4. I’ve seen people marching in support of LGBT rights, which they see as being at risk with the new administration
  5. I’ve seen people marching in support of minority & immigrant rights
  6. I suspect the list is a lot longer than this.

Point six:What a bunch of bullies” The definition of ‘bully’ is: A person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people. It’s essentially impossible for someone out of power to bully a person in power. I’ll ding her here for poor word choice at a minimum. Given the tone of the rest of the post, though, I would prefer to list this as a biased word choice. People are often cruel, and if the speakers were, in fact, being cruel, then I wouldn’t support that. If they were, rather, speaking emotionally and emphatically, then I totally support that.

Point seven: “I don’t want my daughter looking up to any of those nasty women.” That’s fine. I hope that she models really good behavior for her daughter. I’d suggest she look carefully at her Facebook posts, though, to see if she’s doing so. I’m also really curious as to whether she think’s Trump’s behavior is a good model for her offspring. Would she really feel comfortable sending her daughter out on a date with a young man who spoke about women the way Trump does? I think she’s exhibiting a double standard by defending Trump, but accusing the speakers at the march as being nasty.

Point eight:You are not victims.” How can she know that? Her assumption — that everyone at those marches is a safe in their lives as she is in hers — goes beyond simple privilege into territory I find offensive. She is invalidating the concerns of millions of other Americans just because those concerns aren’t hers. Outrageous.

Point nine: In her second paragraph, she accuses the march of being a farce, and the marchers of being hypocrites. To use the word “farce” to describe hundreds of thousands of people taking (in many cases) days out of their lives to express outrage and concern about a long list of political and social issues is just plain slander. It makes me doubt her claim that she would stand behind the right to march against Trump and for reproductive rights. She reinforces my doubt with her accusation of hypocrisy, because, again, the marchers have worked really hard to list their concerns on social media, on the signs they carried, and in innumerable blog posts, speeches, and interviews over the last two months. I see no hidden agendas, no hypocrisy.

Final point: I saved this for the last, because it would have been redundant to make it for each point above. To assume that — because you have a right now — you will always have that right, is to ignore history and ignore all of the people who fought and sometimes died for these rights. Rights, once gained, need to be actively protected for many years, and jealously guarded from attempts to diminish them.

To return to the subject line of this post… Why are people marching? People are marching to keep and extend the rights that this woman takes so much for granted.

Marcher in New York City on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Robert Stribley, used with permission.
Marcher in New York City on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Robert Stribley, used with permission.

Trump… and a meditation on buying stuff to make yourself feel better.

Most of us know — or suspect — that we don’t always buy things because we need them, but because we think we’ll feel better/more complete. Advertisements and reviews can hint that you’ll be better looking/cooler/more manly/more well-liked (or whatever) if you just had this watch, or that jacket, or the new car, blender, book (OMG the promise of books…).

Then we buy it, and often experience buyer’s remorse, or just a vague sense that it  just wasn’t right. In any case, the promised perfect future isn’t here.

Most people either run out of cash to keep trying again or go deep into debt to keep buying more/ better quality/faster/bigger/more expensive things. Some people with more money actually buy stuff and then give it away soon after to make room so they can buy the latest stuff.

Some recognize the futility and try to find other paths to personal fulfillment, or try things like volunteering instead of purchasing.

These are really hard paths, not least because our whole society is set up to keep us hoping the next gadget or guru will be The One.

Even volunteering to help people can lead to the same disappointment; “oh, look, there are still homeless people, I’ve failed again.” (I’m not trying to discourage volunteering, by the way. 🙂 I just suggest that you meditate a little on why you’re doing it. Being really clear on your motivations will probably keep you focused for longer and prevent burnout. Heck, it might even keep you from being badly used.)

But now imagine that you are so rich that you not only have marketing people manipulating you to think “this is it!
you also have hangers-on manipulating you to keep spending money because their chance for wealth depends on you thinking that.

If you’re not particularly self-aware, it’s not even likely that you’ll recognize what’s going on.

It’s certainly easy to see this pattern in Trump. If he can just build the best resort, the biggest tower, the fanciest golf course… he’ll get the adulation and satisfaction he craves.

Picture Trump in 2015: his 70th birthday is looming. He may not have many years left. He has his name on towers, golf courses, luxury resorts. It’s all a bit flat.

He sets his sights on a new project; running for president. It’s absurd, over-the-top… it’s classic Trump. Ahh, now the hangers-on are really excited. This next vanity project is one that they can not only make serious money on, but maybe even get serious power, which is the ultimate prize at this level…

It’s easy to see Trump as a buffoon; it’s less easy to remember that nearly all of us have similar base urges; we just have more obvious limits. If you make $30,000 or $100,000 a year, you’re pretty likely to run into your limits fairly soon. If you make $10,000,000 a year, your limits are probably less obvious.

I’m not saying that understanding that we have something in common with this guy means letting him off the hook. We absolutely have to fight him; and even more importantly, we have to fight the manipulators who helped him get to the point of being elected as the President of the United States, but we should at least be aware of our similarities, even if… or maybe particularly if… looking in this mirror makes us uncomfortable. I suspect that it’s hard to fight efficiently and effectively if we are in denial about our own weaknesses.

People who annoy me. November 29 installment…*

<rant>

  1. People who confuse the flag and the concepts the flag stands for.
  2. People who promote something close to worship of the American military.
    • There are MANY people who risk everything to help others. Why aren’t you in awe of those folks as well? If you can’t figure it out, you may want to contemplate whether you’ve been taken in by an elaborate marketing scheme. (Corollary: not all veterans are combat vets. I was in the Navy. I washed floors and managed storerooms. Probably most military jobs are at that level of ‘glamorous…’ keeping things running so the small minority who are fighters can be ready to do their jobs. All of these jobs are important to keep the organization in a ready state, but don’t assume every person who was in the military had some deep combat experience)
    • Any organization is made up of people. People who are given large amounts of money and power are at grave risk of being corrupted by the attractions of money and power. We should be as critical of the U.S. military as we are of any other organization, to make sure that they’re not falling into abuse of power or theft/mismanagement of resources.
    • Supporting the troops shouldn’t mean blindly supporting everything the military does. How about supporting the troops by not sending them into danger for stupid reasons? How about supporting them by taking care of them when they get home?
  3. People who think freedom of religion should only apply to their particular faith.
  4. People who assume that if you are religious you’re more moral than non-religious folks… against much evidence to the contrary.

</rant>

*prompted by current threads I’m seeing on Twitter, of course

PS: Get off my lawn.

My bias against bullies

I’ve been thinking about one of my biases, and how it undoubtedly influences my view of current events.

My entire school career, from about 3rd grade until I left school, I was the designated safe target for bullies.

My experience of trying to get help was that it leads to teachers telling you that you should not to make up stories, because those boys came from good families and would never do such things. It’s of teachers punishing me if I dared to fight back, and never protecting me or punishing my tormentors.

Nine or ten straight years of being called faggot, nerd, loser. Having my homework stolen and destroyed, having food thrown at me as I got off the bus, of being beaten repeatedly, of hiding during recess, of having drinks poured over me, of being told I was entirely worthless.

I’ve had an absolutely great life since I left school. Amazing adventures, the craziest jobs (and finally finding my niche), great friends. I no longer suspect that I’m worthless, and I don’t hang around with people who don’t value me.

But I still twitch in reaction when I hear people shouting mean things; I assume they’re targeting me, I guess, at some deep level.

When I recently learned the word “gaslighting,” I understood it — and its implications — right away. I was told for years that, essentially, the bullying was my fault. Or that I was just imagining it. Or that I was just weak and should let it roll off my back. It has taken me a long time to stop believing that.

I’m not writing this to get sympathy. That whole thing ended 38 years ago. A guy I knew in the Navy talked me down from the last serious bad reaction I had. Done.

I’m writing because when I see stories of bullying, this is why I’m more primed to believe the victim’s stories and disbelieve you when you say “that was staged” or “this is just people being too sensitive.”

So there’s my bias. I freely admit to being on the side of the underdog, not the side of the bully, the big man on campus, the Good Boy from a Good Family.

Cold air, false history, and privilege

I’m not sure I have the skills or knowledge to turn this into a decent blog post, but I keep finding myself mulling over these ideas so I figured I’d write them down, trying to clarify my thinking.


During the summer of 2015 I was reading the news about the attempts by various activists to get the Confederate battle flag removed from official government locations, including from in front of the statehouse in South Carolina, where I live. The conversations on social media during that time also frequently included a message along the lines of “check your privilege.”

A Twitter poster whom I generally enjoy reading posted several angry comments, saying that he didn’t want people to yell at him any longer about “privilege” because it was a concept that included no path for taking action. He said that he didn’t mind being told that he needed to treat people more fairly, or stop doing something that caused distress …whatever… but that there seemed to be nothing that he could do about privilege. If we white men are privileged in America just by accident of birth, he said, then there’s nothing he could do to change it. He wasn’t going to stop being male nor white, so everyone should just shut up already…

I knew right away that I disagreed with him, while also sympathizing with him to some extent. After all, being blamed for something you aren’t even aware of benefiting from isn’t much fun for anyone.

My problem was that I couldn’t figure out — any more than he could — what to do with this concept of privilege.

A few days later, it occurred to me that a great use of being aware of social privilege is in checking assumptions for things like… oh… the idea that police treat everyone fairly. I saw posts this summer that were variations of the old “hey, if you don’t like being mistreated by the police, maybe you shouldn’t do any crimes, then the police won’t have an opportunity to mistreat you.” This can only be spoken by someone who has never had to fear that they’ll be pulled over while driving just because of how they look, stopped and searched just because of how they’re dressed while walking through a neighborhood. If you know that privilege exists, then you can, perhaps, pause while reading a news story about someone being arrested and not automatically assume that the person deserved to be arrested. You might start realizing that there are people who ‘do the time,’ even if they haven’t ‘done the crime.’ There is value in this not only in the sense of your being a more discerning consumer of news, but even in a larger sense of perhaps supporting changes to some future legislative efforts to bring about police reforms.

I think that one of the reasons privilege is so hard to think about when you’re a beneficiary of it is that it spoils you, and no one likes to give up comfort. It’s like someone who is sound asleep in a warm bed on a cold night, and their partner steals the blanket. Without even waking up they grab the edge of the blanket and grumpily pull it back into place. Feeling the cold air outside your cocoon is uncomfortable.

Here’s a real-world example. I know mature, responsible adults; upstanding members of their communities; valued employees; parents… who did drugs in their 20s. It would strike them as completely absurd if you tried to explain to them that the world would somehow be a better place if they’d spent the last 20 years in jail for their indiscretions. It’s obvious that punishing them for something that hurt no one would not have helped the world. Their current lives clearly enrich the world, and strengthen the fabric of society. But somehow they manage to ignore the fact that our prisons are chock full of people who committed no worse crime. People who will have no chance to ever turn their lives around, because very few businesses are willing (or even able; it’s often against the law) to hire anyone with a felony conviction. These people don’t see that having an entire underclass of people who can never hope to contribute to society weakens the country. Some of these prisoners didn’t even commit the crimes they are in jail for.

You don’t even want to get me started on the subject of the way that prisons have systematically removed proven programs for educating and reforming prisoners over the last few decades, essentially ensuring the profit structure of the prison industry (all in the name of being tough on crime).

Then, just this morning, several more pieces fell into place in my mind.

I recently listened to a podcast profile of the “father of PR,” Edward Bernays. The podcasters described how Bernays helped create the consumer culture we live in today, but they also touched on his forays into politics, including his involvement in the overthrow of legitimate governments in Latin America. This clicked with a complaint that was popular a few years ago among right-wing columnists; the idea of “historical revisionists” who were re-writing the history of the US and, for that matter, all the history of western civilization. I doubt that any real historian would use the term revisionism, because the practice of history involves (or should involve) going back and checking assumptions, checking the work of other historians, making sure that we try to describe what really happened.

The columnists, of course, were upset because their cherished mental images of glorious, flawless founding fathers were being shown as the figments of imagination that they actually are. Great men and women are never flawless (which is not to say that they were not great).

Where does public relations and marketing come in? All of this hinges on the old idea that history is written by the winners. I’d take it further; I’d say that history, perhaps particularly so in the US, has been written by marketing experts, often in the guise of the writers of heroic stories and songs, but just as often by patriotic textbook authors and newspaper columnists. It’s very easy to buy their product’s authenticity when their stories are providing the warm blanket that reassures you that all is well with your world. That the USA is a glorious bastion of freedom, that your religious leaders are moral paragons, our soldiers clean and upright young patriots, and our police firm- and fair-minded defenders of justice.

This is why the argument by poor, disenfranchised white men — that since they are poor and disenfranchised that they clearly are not privileged — doesn’t hold water. Privilege doesn’t imply that you have all good things in life. It implies that you’re able to continue to believe the comforting stories that you’ve grown up with. That the police only arrest bad people (of, if they make a mistake, our justice system will correct the problem), that our military only serves to protect our shores from evil men, and our leaders have our best interests in mind. I’ll grant you that the fabric of this mythology starts looking more than a little thin when you’re poor.

Becoming aware of the layers of unreality you live behind… in other words, becoming aware of your privilege… won’t, in fact, directly change anything. You can’t stop benefiting from it. But becoming aware of it might help you see through some of the illusions and, if nothing else, help you make decisions based on something closer to reality. Who knows, perhaps you’ll even help someone struggling under an unjust system somewhere.

(First draft dashed off without edits on Dec. 20, 2015… I reserve the right to edit for content (as I learn more), clarity, grammar, wording, or anything else…)


“The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily written as the history of its dominant class.”
Kwame Nkrumah

Center-left

Possible essay topic I’m mulling over.

I’m not gradually moving left on the American political spectrum because I have some love for governmental intervention (rather the opposite, I suspect).

No, I’m moving left because most of the kindest people I know seem to be on that end of the spectrum.

I have, with a little luck, a few decades left alive. I’d rather spend them working toward solutions to problems than being told that I need to be afraid of other humans who are also dealing with really bad problems.

I can’t ignore the legacy of political maneuvering and disastrous political experiments of the last 100+ years, but if you can hold that legacy to one side and look at the people involved, I keep finding the bravest and kindest ones (the people I want to hang with) seem not to be on the far right.

I know this isn’t much of a basis for making decisions on, but it feels… at least honest to the person I want to be.

My fifth Toastmasters speech: Getting physical

The assignment for this, my fifth Toastmasters speech and with the project name “Your Body Speaks” was to express myself physically as I gave the speech, so I walked when I described walking, bowed when I described myself bowing, etc.


My uniform is a simple pair of trousers, the legs of which reach barely below my knees; a heavy cotton jacket; and a simple white belt.

As I change into my uniform, I can start feeling the cares of my day — even the stress of the drive to the dojo — fade away. Like traffic sounds fading as I go deeper into a forest, I may not notice it right away, but the hurry and bustle is less, then less again. I’m often the first person to arrive and I have the changing room to myself.

Once I’m dressed, I gather the bag of wooden weapons and leave the changing room, then walk down the flagstone path to the dojo itself. This is a simple wooden building on the edge of the woods, with a high roof, windows all the way around, and a porch across the front. The flagstones of the path are irregularly spaced, requiring me to slow down even more as I approach the porch.

I step onto the porch and leave my sandals by the bench. I slide the door open and bow. I enter the dojo and place the weapons in their proper corner, then get the broom and clean the dojo. As I do each task carefully and in its proper order, the external stillness starts settling deeper and deeper into my mind, and my body further slows. I’ve gradually learned that taking time to do something carefully and well holds value in and of itself.

Sweeping done, I enter the dojo again, bowing more deeply as I do so. Bowing slows me down, makes me pay attention. Bowing breaks the rush that I go through most of my life in. Bowing reminds me of why I’m here. It shows my respect for my teacher, and the teachers who went before him, and shows my respect for this space, for my fellow students, and even for myself.

I begin my warm-up, and while I’m stretching and rolling and swinging my arms, other students begin to arrive, each quietly bowing in and greeting me. Finally, our teacher shows up and we pause in our warm-ups to welcome him.

Soon the class begins, and we always start by bowing again, very formally this time, once to the front of the dojo as a symbol of respect to the teachers who have created, preserved, and strengthened this art, and once to our teacher; he bows to us as well; the respect goes both ways.

Then the class is in full swing, and we are practicing with sticks or wooden swords; throwing each other across the room (and being thrown!); learning new skills or practicing familiar motions.

On the inside I’m feeling a swirl of emotions. I’m gleeful when I execute a front roll correctly and at high speed; I’m frustrated at not being able to do a pin or a kata correctly which I thought I’d perfected. I’m embarrassed when I forget something my teacher just taught me a few days ago.

In the brief interludes of rest I sometimes think about the fact that I’ve spent so much of my life avoiding anything that might embarrass me, anything that I wouldn’t be able to excel at doing, and I wonder how many good things I’ve missed. At the dojo there’s certainly no danger of my excelling! I’m no natural athlete, and even those who are athletes may have to start studying when they’re in their teens to be considered experts… but that matters less here than anywhere else I’ve been. Experts don’t spend any time strutting around on the mat; they spend their time teaching and learning and practicing. The teachers and my fellow students are incredibly helpful to me, because we can’t have fun on the mat unless everyone is as capable as possible. It’s an art with no competition and no conflict.

Every time I make a mistake, forget a move, or mix up my Japanese vocabulary, I start to sink into my usual self-pity and self-accusation, but none of that comes from my teacher or my fellow students, and I’ve gradually learned the difference between humility and humiliation, between being humble and being humbled. My pride, which has stopped me so many times, in fear of being hurt… I’m finally learning how to set it aside and not be ruled by it. To learn, with no expectation of perfection, an art that seems to get bigger the further into it I go.

I’m starting to discover that there’s something to learn that’s not only in my head, things to learn that you can’t cram for, that take years to discover, and that that discovery is both inside and outside. It’s how to be physically present so that I can roll out of a throw without being hurt, and how to be with other students with respect and attention. There’s something in the process that is changing me in subtle ways. I can tell that a change is happening, but I can’t tell where I’m going yet.

Finally, the class ends, and once again we bow to the front of the dojo, then to our teacher, and last to each other, quietly gather our wooden weapons and bow a last time as we leave the mat.