Monthly Archives: January 2014

Because obvs women aren’t in charge lolz

Okay, there’s already a pile of responses to Mike Huckabee’s LIBIDOFFENSE 2014. But having now heard Allen West’s “thoughtful” additions, I have to ask:

Can we talk about how even the language used by conservatives constantly excludes women from positions of influence, placing them at the mercy of (male) lawmakers?

Exhibit A, Huckabee: “[W]omen are far more than the Democrats have played them to be. And women across America have to stand up and say enough of that nonsense.”

Exhibit B, Allen West: “the left tries to win the women’s vote by talking from the waist down. What we have to do on our side as conservatives … we have to talk to their heart and we have to talk to their mind”

Both men seem to think that the category of “women” and “democrats” have no one in common: there are democrats, and then there are the women democrats portray as Outta Control. And it apparently works the other way, too: there are conservatives, and then there are the women conservatives must appeal to by speaking “above the waist.”

fragile femalehood

Meanwhile, how often do politicians, on either side of the aisle, question how a political party (or its agenda) is portraying males? How much “concern” is there that men are being disrespected or undermined by political decisions? WHO WILL FIGHT FOR ENDANGERED MALE HONOR??

But seriously, when we switch the gender of politicians’ supposed concern, we can readily recognize a gross inequality that ignores women’s subjectivity, competency, and political presence.

These latest (hilarious) republican attempts to not be anti-woman reveal, in their very grammar, a view of women as outsiders — in need of men to make and enforce laws that pander to them, “win them over,” portray them “respectfully,” and even apologize to them for the other party’s failure to “get it.”

Yes, our numbers in Congress have been kept dismally low. But hey men. We’re right here. We can hear you. We may even be lawmaking like, right next to you.

It’s time to stop using “we” when talking about lawmakers, and “them” when talking about women.

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What Writers Can Glean from “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Writing MoralsIn my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, I summarize the Crazy response to The Wolf of Wall Street, and tackle the Good that might come from ethically-precarious art.
An excerpt:

Criticisms of The Wolf of Wall Street both devalue viewers—by assuming they can handle only moralistic tales—and esteem them, by providing immediate evidence of their astonishing critical thinking skills. The film’s critics affirm the necessity of moral-ethical conversations while simultaneously proving we’re capable of having them. This irony is ridiculous.

It’s also empowering.

Snag some motivation to “go write your way into controversy”…

Check it out and comment at the original post here.

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The Myths that Sustain Oppression, Income Inequality, and Poverty

wars and povertiesOkay friends. Given recent battles over minimum wageall the news regarding the 50-year anniversary of Johnson’sWar on Poverty,” and political statements that examine  poverty and income inequality, I present to you

this eerily relevant excerpt from Paulo Freiro’s celebrated Pedagogy of the Oppressed1968:

[O]ppressors develop a series of methods precluding any presentation of the world as a problem and showing it rather as a fixed entity, as something given — something to which people, as mere spectators, must adapt.

It is necessary for the oppressors to…keep [the people] passive…by …depositing myths indispensable to the preservation of the status quo; for example, the myth that the oppressive order is a “free society”; the myth that all persons are free to work where they wish, that if they don’t like their boss they can leave him and look for another job; the myth that [the current] order respects human rights and is therefore worthy of esteem; the myth that anyone who is industrious can become an entrepreneur — worse yet, the myth that the street vendor is as much an entrepreneur as the owner of a large factory; the myth of the universal right of education, when of all the Brazilian children who enter primary schools only a tiny fraction ever reach the university; the myth of the equality of individuals, when the question: “Do you know who you’re talking to?” is still current among us; the myth of the heroism of the oppressor classes as defenders of “Western Christian civilization” against “materialist barbarism”; the myth of the charity and generosity of the elites, when what they really do as a class is to foster selective “good deeds” (subsequently elaborated into the myth of “disinterested aid,” which on the international level was severely criticized by Pope John XXIII); the myth that the dominant elites, “recognizing their duties,” promote the advancement of the people, so that the people, in a gesture of gratitude, should accept the words of the elites and be conformed to them; the myth that rebellion is a sin against God; the myth of private property as fundamental to personal human development (so long as oppressors are the only true human beings); the myth of the industriousness of the oppressors and the laziness and dishonesty of the oppressed, as well as the myth of the natural inferiority of the latter and the superiority of the former.

imageAll these myths (and others the reader could list) the internalization of which is essential to the subjugation of the oppressed, are presented to them by well-organized propaganda and slogans, via the mass “communications” media — as if such alienation constituted real communication!

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opiates, meaning, and asking the wrong questions

get you some religionSo The Atlantic posted a health column today with the following title:

Where Life Has Meaning: Poor, Religious Countries.

It’s a writeup of a recent study published in Psychological Science about the quest for meaning around the globe. The grabby tag:

“Research indicates that lack of religion is a key reason why people in wealthy countries don’t feel a sense of purpose.”

As you might guess, the article is a mild celebration of religion as a source for meaning and purpose among those who don’t have much materially. And it comes with a not-so-subtle assertion that those who wish to be psychologically healthy may need to get themselves some religion.

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Journalist Julie Beck begins an analysis of the Psychological Science study with a nod to the cliche (yet truthy) notion that money can’t buy happiness. This is obviously the case, because the countries in which people had the most meaning (a version of happiness) were definitively not the wealthiest:

“Toward the top [for meaning] were Sierra Leone, Togo, Laos, and Senegal, all of which were in the bottom 50 countries in the world for gross domestic product per capita in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund.”

But as Beck notes, the study demonstrates that meaning requires more than just rethinking money as a source of fulfillment. Wealthier countries are also less religious than poorer countries — and according to the study, secularity sets wealthy countries back in the meaning department.

The researchers found that this factor of religiosity mediated the relationship between a country’s wealth and the perceived meaning in its citizen’s lives, meaning that it was the presence of religion that largely accounted for the gap between money and meaning. They analyzed other factors—education, fertility rates, individualism, and social support (having relatives and friends to count on in troubled times)—to see if they could explain the findings, but in the end it came down to religion.

What we wind up with here is the assertion that having a sense of meaning ultimately requires a religious frame of reference. At first glance, this looks like a win for religious evangelists: evidence of the necessity of religion. After all, “it appears,” the author writes,

“there’s something to be said for being given answers to the big questions, whether they are true perhaps less [sic] important than just having them, sparing yourself the agony of looking.”

But such a statement baldly sets up religion as an opiate (not a win for evangelists after all), while the article as a whole — particularly given its categorization under “Health” — identifies religion as our only viable source of meaning. In other words, we may be better off if we lie to ourselves. Beck tells us that the Psychological Science study actually wraps up by quoting Roy F. Baumeister’s book Meanings of Life,saying,

“creating the meaning of your own life sounds very nice as an ideal, but in reality it may be impossible.”

The takeaway? You can’t make adequate meaning on your own. You need religion. But don’t fear: the religion doesn’t have to be true! You simply need to buy in so that you never have to view your circumstances without the assistance of an inherited (or enforced) frame of (mythical) reference.

The article doesn’t claim to be offering religious or psychological advice, but it nevertheless functions as an excuse to settle — in the name of health — for what appears to be kind of working. It also reduces faith to a desperate self-protection method — a reduction which rings true to atheists, but would likely offend those who claim their faith sustains them.

what might we be missingWhere I believe Beck ultimately falls short in reporting on this study is her failure to frame the study within a global system of oppression, repression, and assertions of power. Granted, she likely didn’t set out to do so. But without critical and overarching frames of reference, studies like this help us minimize the material oppression, suffering, and/or disadvantages of those in less wealthy economies by celebrating their ability to “find meaning.” For example, the study notes that poorer countries do have much lower rates of “satisfaction” (which “has to do with ‘objective living conditions.'”) But satisfaction and meaning aren’t the same things, and at least in this study, meaning takes precedence over satisfaction. Better to be poor and have meaning than to have nice living conditions, but wind up merely “satisfied.”

Unfortunately, this conclusion is implied by those conducting the study — who may be representative of economically-privileged populations. (Is it clear that those who claim to have great meaning wouldn’t also like to have better living conditions?)

A simplistic approach to the study’s findings also encourages a creeping condescension that says, “Sure, I may have more amenities, but those people have more meaning. That’s so good for them! I’m glad they have their faith.” This removes any sense of urgency with regard to questioning the global structures and systems that reinforce privilege and disadvantage. After all, disadvantage has been so deftly handled via religion and its accompanying meaning.

Meaning and purpose are obviously common human quests, and studies of how, when, and where they are found are not only legitimate but necessary. However, when simplistically described and represented, studies like this one become a means by which the wealthy can dismiss their advantage by feigning envy of those with whom few of them would actually be willing to trade places.

Ultimately, rather than questioning the economic, political, and possibly religious reasons for a gross disparity in “living conditions” and satisfaction, this article leads readers — for a moment, anyway — to see income advantages as disadvantages. Yet even then, we aren’t encouraged to alter our privileged circumstances, or to move to a place in which we have less access to material amenities. (Not that such choices would “work.”) And we certainly aren’t urged to consider our roles in perpetuating global systems that channel wealth to places in which it already abounds. (A choice which could be truly positive.) Instead, readers are urged only to consider adding religion to the mix.

That’s all we need, after all. Some answers to the big questions.

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white privilege wears many hats

Does white privilege apply even to “broke white people”? From TheFeministBreeder.com, here’s a quick yet insightful discussion of white privilege from the pov of a white woman who “came from the kind of Poor that people don’t want to believe still exists in this country.” Author Gina Crosley-Corcoran begins,

Have you ever spent a frigid northern Illinois winter without heat or running water? I have. At twelve years old, were you making ramen noodles in a coffee maker with water you fetched from a public bathroom? I was. Have you ever lived in a camper year round and used a random relative’s apartment as your mailing address? We did. Did you attend so many different elementary schools that you can only remember a quarter of their names? Welcome to my childhood.

So when that feminist told me I had ‘white privilege’, I told her that my white skin didn’t do shit to prevent me from experiencing poverty. Then, like any good , educated feminist would, she directed me to Peggy McIntosh‘s 1988 now-famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

Read and respond to Crosely-Corcoran’s piece here.

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placebo for rape terror

Um PlaceboHere’s this, that you should read. (I’ll wait.)

Because seriously, for the thousandth time:

We should be able to be frightened by violence — to look at it, talk about it, work with it — without retreating into jokes and denial.
If we can’t, we should be creating communities of support that make such reality-gazing possible.

The method of dealing with our terror by blaming violence on its victims — Sure, this method works… if by “works” we mean, “makes us feel better via the numbing effect of denial and other-ing.”

If by “works” we instead mean, “keeps us legitimately safe,” or “makes us better people,” or “builds compassion” or “decreases overall violence in our communities and society,” the victim-blaming method is, objectively, a massive failure.  To pretend otherwise is to put one’s need for pretend momentary safety above one’s need for actual, legitimate safety, and/or for effective, caring support when that safety is savagely compromised.

The cost of victim-blaming is compassion. And a grasp on reality. And any effectiveness in the realm of human rights.
Please, stand in the terror. Look at it, work with it, speak it. The numbed-out words are meaningless.

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Silencing the News about (Over)Consumption

hooray landfillIn a January 4 SF Gate article, Carolyn Lochhead raises creepy, blasphemous questions, like:

  • Can the earth sustain the (misguided) notion that a healthy economy must grow – constantly and indefinitely?
  • Can we trade “having stuff” for a better way of life?
  • Can we share resources — cars, power tools, etc — rather than approaching everything with a mindset of ownership?

I know. Scandalous.

Shh:

consumption-samuel-carter

In America, consumption is such a marker of “health” that even some conservative Christian leaders — who still btw sermonize about camels and needles and storing up treasures in Heaven — would rather question Pope Francis’s Capitalism Cautions than risk an economic dip caused by Americans actually reining in their greed. In a culture in which buying things is patriotic, contentment will feel like treason. No wonder we can’t have a conversation that seriously addresses the impact of over-consumption.

Unfortunately, we have to deal with the consequences either way. Lochhead’s questions, above, are driven of course by the inarguable depletion of natural resources. Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily states unequivocally that, “We’re driving natural capital to its lowest levels ever in human history.” Lochhead mentions that this is particularly clear when one considers fisheries: “Scientists estimate that commercial fishing, if it continues at the current rate, will exhaust fisheries within the lifetime of today’s children.” Um. That’s soon, kids.

628x471

Glen Libby and his brother, Gary, prepare a batch of crabs in Port Clyde, Maine, Dec 2013. (Craig Dilger/The New York Times)

Annie Leonard, the founder of Story of Stuff — a project aimed at taming mass consumption — told Lochhead, “It’s not just a bummer for us to not get sushi.

“We are approaching the planet’s limitations. So when I see the media barrage about buying more stuff, it’s almost like a science fiction movie where […] we are undermining the very ecological systems which allow life to continue, but no one’s allowed to talk about it.”

(Logic).

It’s common sense: Limited resources cannot support unlimited growth. Meanwhile, our culture continues to esteem possession, seeing in it an affirmation of human value, dignity, or achievement. We often sense that ownership signifies independence, but this is a dubious connection, particularly since the motives behind compulsive consumption are hardly individual. We’re manipulated into desires (and their accompanying frameworks of value) via media, marketing, and our own envy – which is itself socially constructed. Then we quiet any suspicion of mindless apery by seeing our buying power as a marker of choice and thus dignity.

Ew.This is old news, and I don’t claim to be outside this Web of Ew. But we should at least be able to talk about it. An honest confrontation with excess won’t require us all to join communes and burn our nonessentials, but it will require that we stop pretending that “overconsumption” is impossible dialogic territory.

We can talk about this.

For example:

Christian leaders on the right should be able to acknowledge that, by encouraging capitalism, they’re ultimately encouraging ongoing consumption — which is not easily reconciled with the lasting contentment they claim to offer. Such an acknowledgment wouldn’t preclude Christians from being capitalists; only from pretending that a Christian/Capitalist identity presents zero conundrums.

Similarly, economists and politicians must be able to acknowledge that nearsighted policies can have dangerous, irreparable repercussions. Yes, the felt impacts of detrimental policies are often a long way off, while the felt impacts of “Omg! Growth!” are gratifyingly now-ish. But seriously, people who work with stats and projections shouldn’t be so threatened by the logic of finite resources.

And finally, the rest of us should be able to talk about (over-)consumption without debilitating guilt, or the fear that we’ll turn into miserable, austere crusts.
FOR-EV-ER.

Besides, it’s not like Buying-and-Owning-Shit has a solid rep for making people notably happy. Maybe trying a different tack is less scary than just — sensible.

Louder, Please.

The thing about silence is that it’s a symptom of fear: that we won’t be able to handle the response that truth demands of us. Easier not to know. So, although experts assert that an economy can be healthy even at a “steady state,” that health should be measured by more than financial figures, or that people can successfully share their possessions, such assertions are often dismissed, mocked, or actively silenced. Meanwhile, we miss out on strategies for Better. This is what makes Lochhead’s article so significant, and why we should be writing, sharing, and searching for more like it.

The breaking of the silence around overconsumption is a call to creative intellects: to re-imagine what it means to be successful, to exercise options, and to have dignity.
More of that, please. And a little louder.

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