education

AP US History: Do We “Teach the Controversy” Or Don’t We?

AP US History: Do We “Teach The Controversy” Or Don’t We?

It’s really amazing how the behavior of conservatives (and unfortunately some liberals that join them in particular delusions) mirrors the behavior of people with really, really low self-esteem.

People with low self-esteem often try to lock onto a narrative, whether it be of their own worthlessness of or some kind of greatness, that they can use to compensate for how empty it feels inside.

And so conservatives today are pushing to change AP US History in Oklahoma (and eventually elsewhere) so that it basically complies with a hyper-conservative view of the world in line with Dinesh D’Souza rather than, say, actual academics. This is only the latest stage in an attempt by conservatives, an effort that has been utterly unmatched by liberals, to force textbooks to teach only their perspective and to force curricula to acknowledge only one half of the controversy. (This by the same people who, when it comes to evolution, demand that they “teach the controversy”, a bit of hypocrisy we’ll return to”).

This behavior is indicative only of a deeply scared and insecure worldview. It says, “I’m afraid that if my country is criticized that children will hate it”. Rather than having confidence that people can look at the evidence and come to the conclusion that conservatives would want them to, conservatives want to stop the debate entirely.

The fight against AP US History is a fight against good education. It’s a fight against people understanding their country with any kind of honesty. It’s a push towards intellectual conformity and is thus both deeply anti-intellectual and anti-education. It is a move that, no matter what the intentions of those people

Let’s be clear: There’s a position to be taken, and not a stupid one, that America’s done a lot of good in the world. One can easily make the case it’s done more good than bad. There are quite smart people who can present a view of the world that says, “The United States was in the past a slave-owning society that was often involved in some nasty colonial affairs. But even during that period, it was a leading light in terms of inspiring people across the world towards democracy and towards freedom. Today, the United States routinely gives foreign aid, intervenes to protect the human rights of people, and is expanding the rights of individuals in every arena from health care to the liberties of LGBTQ people”. Someone of a centrist perspective can, with some justification, point to the fact that the post-World War II equilibrium in which the United States has made itself a hegemon has been one of great material prosperity and peace that was unprecedented in history. Someone can even point out that the United States has rarely invaded countries and taken over directly the way that empires in the past has.

Now, I think that position is deeply flawed and ultimately untenable.

It ignores both how ultimately miserly US foreign aid is and how self-serving the aid that is given is.

It ignores how much the United States both contributes to insecurity across  the world by creating an international equilibrium of poverty and how the security the US has pushed has often been one based in the backing of dictators (ranging from Saddam Hussein to the Shah in Iran to Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan to Pinochet in Chile) and in the overthrow of elected democracy.

It ignores that the United States today, even as we’ve ended formal apartheid and advanced the rights of women, still has immense inequalities based on class, occupation, income, race, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin.

And, of course, the perspective that the United States has created a “Pax Americana” would justify the crimes of the Mongols and of the Roman Empire, both of which also ended up promoting quite a lot of peace and prosperity once they had taken over other countries.

I personally have always looked at American history from the perspective of Howard Zinn and of Larry Gonick’s stellar Cartoon History of the United States. These historical viewpoints are actually quite favorable to America, when people are able to look past simple and easy fairy tale mythology. Zinn had an optimism about the capability of the United States and its citizens to achieve higher levels of justice and empathy. He recognized the heroism of labor workers, people of color, Native peoples, and women.

So why is that an “anti-American” narrative?

Because it’s against white, rich, male, straight Americans. Because it denies that their perspective of history is the only one that matters.

AP US History was a vital exposure for many of my peers to a perspective of the world that I was already immersed in due to the left. It was the first time that simple, easy mythology of happy Pilgrims fleeing religious oppression dining with Native Americans and of American soldiers as the hero in every conflict got challenged.

Did every one of the students that I took AP US History classes with “sign up for ISIS”, as the intellectual coward Ben Carson alleged? Nope. Many of them remained quite conservative. Others fell into pretty mainstream liberal values. (Yes, I know that people who watch FOX News think that anyone left of John McCain is basically an anarchist trying to unmake the United States, but that’s partisan delusion, not anything resembling fact).

My own view of American history is one that sees a lot of complexity. The Framers expressed a view of the world that is deeply inspiring even today… one that they couldn’t live up to, given that they owned slaves, often backtracked on their own viewpoints (as with the Alien and Sedition Acts and with Jefferson’s expansion of federal powers), and ended up fighting against the poor and weak all too often. Americans in the past allowed their sense of entitlement and “manifest destiny” to lead them to commit genocide and to endorse slavery. (And, no, conservatives, the fact that we today feel sorry about that doesn’t make us special. It just makes us not giant dickheads. That’s a pretty low bar. And given how many conservatives are unable to acknowledge even the fact of Native American genocide, we still really have yet to be sorry as a nation without exception).

And I personally view America not only as the first anarchist nation on the planet, but also as a country that has embraced an idea of heroism and positive change that is ultimately good. I think that the desire that many Americans to police the world comes from a really great place. Americans routinely find themselves unable to accept injustice. We want to stand up for the little guy. All too often, we let that desire lead us astray to endorse some really insane policies. But there’s nothing wrong with the desire, and it lets us create art that inspires and galvanizes people everywhere to be their best. We gave the world Superman, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.

Conservatives are trying to pretend when it comes to US history that America is better than every other nation on the planet. Sorry, we’re not. Other countries have decent people and a yearning for freedom too. Other countries have stable democracies and functioning economies.

Conservatives aren’t just asking for their viewpoint to be taught. It’d be fine for a AP US History class to discuss the viewpoints of people who honestly endorse American exceptionalism. They want only their viewpoint to be taught, and none else. In fact, it was so naked that Dan Fisher, the guy who pushed forward the bill in Oklahoma to change the AP curriculum, had to withdraw the bill because his curriculum barely even had any speeches from non-Republican Presidents! (Heaven forbid that children be exposed to that inveterate socialist Eisenhower who cautioned Americans about a “military-industrial complex”!)

Conservatives are trying to rob children of the ability to actually debate issues. If someone wants to come to AP US History classes or even college and debate that America is a “nation on the hill”, they are free to do so. What conservatives want is for them to not have to. They want that argument assumed, even though there isn’t international consensus or even scholarly consensus in the US on that front.

Conservatives want to not teach history.

Remember that whole “teach the controversy” idea? It’s a fine concept. It actually doesn’t work when it comes to evolutionary biology because, in that instance, there is no controversy in the field. But when it comes to US History, there is in fact a controversy, and conservatives don’t want it taught.

So, which is it? Do we teach controversies or don’t we?

I’ll let conservatives figure it out for the sake of their own propaganda.

Until then, I’ll keep advocating that our education system actually teach a range of ideas, from Noam Chomsky’s critical view of the world to Dinesh D’Souza’s one. I’ll keep advocating that American children need to be able to process a whole variety of different viewpoints to be viable workers in a world that’s increasingly multicultural. I’ll keep advocating for a curriculum that actually prepares people to realize that other people don’t view the world the same way that they do.

Isn’t that the core of education in the first place?

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general

“High-Bandwidth Buddies” and Social Media

Clive Thompson has written a really interesting article that challenges one of our core assumptions about social media.

We’re told all of the time that the most successful people are those who make lots of new acquaintances and have a diverse social network. But even I, as a high-intensity extrovert, struggle sometimes with just going onto LinkedIn or Twitter and discussing with people, especially just for naked self-promotion. I’ve always preferred talking about the important ideas and issues.

Apparently, most people are pretty similar. What Thompson points out is that our close friends aren’t necessarily super similar to us. In fact, amongst my own group of friends, one finds a host of ideological, religious, political and cultural perspectives and preferences.

As a sociologist, I find it interesting that maybe the idea of the strength of weak ties has been exaggerated. In my own personal experience, my opportunities haven’t generally come from a cousin’s roommate or someone distantly in my social network, but people closer by.

Certainly, social media can be valuable if all it does is expose us more to the people we care about, and show us surprising aspects of our relations with them.

I wonder about the pressure on introverts from the modern social media age, and the idea that we have to be always outgoing and interacting with others if we want to succeed. It’s bad enough if it’s true, but what if that’s a myth and people are erroneously seeking out interactions with strangers that are fraught with social and personal risk?

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activism, politics

Abortion Laws and Dishonesty

So conservative strategies in this country are pretty basically deceptive.

Eclectablog and RH Reality Check cover the way that Republicans in Michigan are trying to pass multiple laws to try to reduce and fight abortion… But not in any way that anyone could view as being honest or direct.

One of the laws restricts doctors from providing abortions to a nineteen-week-or-older fetus (so basically just BARELY pass the three month or first trimester mark, I imagine to try to get around the original ruling in Roe v. Wade) except in a hospital with a dedicated neonatal unit. Now, I looked on scholarly databases and online, and I’ve found no evidence that there’s any kind of health crisis or serious risk to patients from performing abortions at any clinic. There is evidence that illicit abortions can cost lives, something Republicans have never given a damn about, but certainly not any evidence that, in a developed country, you have to have an abortion in a neonatal unit.

So what’s the point?

Consider it in the context of another bill Michigan ultraconservatives want to ram through, HB 4145. That bill basically prevents “State funds or contracts” from being given to “entities” that do something as basic as refer a woman to an abortion provider for an elective abortion.

Read: They’re trying to kill Planned Parenthood.

Making women have to go into a hospital, where people might see them, in order to have a procedure they have the legal right to have is another attempt at reducing access. In some rural areas, there are no hospitals with a neonatal unit. The claimed reason for the whole neonatal unit thing is part of a law that tries to protect fetuses “born alive”. Let’s be clear: There’s no evidence that that’s happening, at all. Sure, I imagine there’s some edge cases, but there is just zero evidence that it’s a national crisis or even any kind of frequent phenomenon. I’ve certainly found no confirmed instances of it happening.

As Eclectablog points out, Planned Parenthood’s abortion referral services are not only entirely legal and are a means for a woman to be granted access to a procedure that they legally have but are also basically a tiny portion of what Planned Parenthood does. Planned Parenthood may not have the nicest origins, but what the organization does now is, well, help people plan for parenthood. That means contraception information and help, Pap tests, breast exams, and information for prospective parents.

I don’t care what someone thinks about the ethics or even the politics of abortion. It’s an acceptable argument to make that a fetus should be treated as a life. It’s even potentially acceptable, though it’s rarely an argument made with any consideration of the actual implications, to say that that life deserves protection that could arguably trump the choices of a mother to control her own body.

Of course, we have to be honest about what that means: It’s preventing someone from removing, and I know this is hard to hear but it’s utterly true, an organism inside a person that they do not want that causes serious medical problems, which is what we call “a parasite”.

Yes, an unwanted fetus is a parasite. It doesn’t matter that it has the ability to grow into a human being, as miraculous and amazing as that is. Just like someone has no right to set up shop inside your house without your consent, no matter how serious their need, no organism has the right to be inside another organism’s body, no matter how serious the need. And notice that that’s true of a full-grown adult, with all the sanctity of a human life. But I am assuming a right of bodily self-control that, while I think any civil libertarian would have to concur should be protected, is not one that is universally agreed upon.

It doesn’t matter what we think about any of this because this is just deceptive politics. It’s dishonest and it hurts women.

Republicans: Just try to get a Constitutional amendment to ban abortion. If you can’t do that, then stop trying to cheat.

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politics

Reaching Out and Hypocrisy: Obama’s Message to Terrorists And What It’s Missing

Anyone who’s studied communications knows that, in any kind of conflict resolution setting, all parties being willing to admit faults and seeking out “win-win” solutions is pretty much the only way to proceed.

The only way that people can trust each other is if they’re willing to admit the bad as well as the good.

At February 19, President Obama and other world leaders spoke at a summit on “Countering Violent Extremism”.

President Obama said some remarkable things that do deserve some commentary. For example: He admitted that “we must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances… when people — especially young people — feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliations of corruption — that feeds instability and disorder”. This is a compassionate statement, and true enough. He’s right to point out that there are millions of people in poverty who have not turned to terrorism, and even right to indicate that there is no justification for terrorism.

The whole tenor of Obama’s speech had a compassion and an empathy that was missing throughout the Bush years.

But the problem in Obama’s speech is that this compassion is self-serving. The problem is what’s missing from the speech: Really admitting fault, really doing the hard work that could lead to reconciliation.

Obama stated, for example, that “Israelis have endured the tragedy of terrorism for decades”. That’s fair enough. Car bombings and rocket attacks are horrible indeed.

But the only thing Obama had to say about Palestinians, who have also endured terrorism for decades, is a reference to “the young Palestinian working to build understanding and trust with Israelis, but also trying to give voice to her people’s aspirations”.

The terrorists that Obama lists include the Taliban, ISIL, and Boko Haram. All bad dudes, to be sure. But what about the United States? What about Israel? What about extremist groups in the United States who are still plenty dangerous? What about US-backed dictators and terrorists? Remember how the United States backed (and is still backing) Islam Karimov, someone who practiced plenty of terror? The Wikipedia page for “Authoritarian regimes supported” by the United States includes four major world regions and it still reads, “This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it”. Maybe we should focus on shrinking it, or at least not letting it grow any bigger.

One trick that people can use to sound conciliatory when they’re really offering nothing of substance is the faux apology. It goes something like this: “I’m sorry that you feel that way”. It takes on no responsibility.

The reason why Obama’s speech ultimately has almost no merit is because it takes on no responsibility, the same way that someone saying “Mistakes were made” takes on no responsibility.

A real speech that might actually lay the groundwork to end violent extremism might go something like this:

“America has for decades backed dictators and overthrown democracies. It has all too often trained terrorists and directly invaded countries against all norms of international law and peace. We supported, and still support, many of the corrupt and autocratic regimes in the region. We’ve bombed innocent people, and in so doing laid the groundwork for their loved ones to want to bomb us. We did this for oil, we did it out of fear, we did it out of racism, we did it because of the legacy of colonialism. Many people in the world have forgiven us because we often try to do good and because our citizens are usually inherently decent. We ask for more of that forgiveness and patience as we try to live up to an American creed of real heroism and justice”.

The reason why the United States has no credibility to deal with ISOL/ISIL/ISIS is because it has acted in its own interests. Obama may not have been in charge when that happened. President Bush took us to war for a variety of reasons, all of them awful. President Bush destabilized the region and empowered psychopaths in the name of democracy (and I say “in the name of” because in fact democracy was the last thing on his mind).

A speech like the one I wrote is literally the only way peace can happen in anything like the timeframe we want and need it to. The only way to move forward is for everyone to be brutally honest. But if Obama were to be honest, he’d be pilloried here, and not just by his political opponents but by his own party. And he’s apparently not courageous enough to be willing to say something a man such as him, with his degree of knowledge and his background in really valuable work, must know.

But we can’t ever rely on the institutions of power to say those honest and true things. We have to say them ourselves. Our media apparently will parrot those statements without commentary on how absurd they are and how utterly self-serving they are. We can’t trust them to speak truth to power and give power to the powerless.

So, to the world, let me say:

I am an American citizen. I try every day to be decent and good, to be heroic in my community, to speak out against injustice.

I, and people like me, have failed to stop our country from behaving monstrously.

All we can do is ask for patience and forgiveness while we figure out how.

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gender

“Redpills” and Freedom In Relationships: A Project for Feminism

The “redpill” movement’s philosophy is presumptuous and sexist slop that dresses up a very old (and discredited) idea as if it were new and liberating wisdom, and it pisses me off. And it’s just one indication of how we need to craft narratives for people that both empower them to embrace their inner humanity and enable them to express that humanity in the diverse ways that they want to. It’s one more challenge to feminism’s ability to give people the kind of relationships that they desire.

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Image courtesy of Kingpin Social

Okay, maybe I should give some context.

I’m the kind of guy who tends to look at something, a philosophy being expressed, and then try to interrogate it from all angles. Sometimes, I will admit that I can be doctrinaire in doing that, only considering one perspective. But I do try to consider, “What if I’m wrong? How might someone else with a perfectly valid theoretical perspective approach this issue?”

That tends to let me meander. I see connections others don’t. Sometimes they’re salient, sometimes… eh, not so much.

So, what are “redpills”?
The “redpill” movement is a group that, in essence, advocates that women want to be dominated. Let’s be clear: That doesn’t mean they’re advocating physical or emotional abuse, or anything of that kind. They’re advocating consensual submission by women and consensual domination by men, within a framework of mutual respect. One redpill analogy that is used is the idea of the “First Officer and Captain”. The woman should be the first officer, making her objections known in private and having her own opinions that can of course (like Spock’s opinions with Kirk or Riker’s opinions with Captain Picard in Star Trek) differ from the man’s, but in public they should be a unified team.

Of course, this analogy that they’re using sort of indicates the problem. Spock was always willing as a first officer to openly dissent with and even mock both the ship’s doctor and the captain. Kirk had to prove himself and prove the validity of his ideas, but because Kirk and Spock were such dear friends, Spock ended up not only seeing the wisdom of Kirk’s unique approach that balanced reason and emotion but also even would do anything possible to advance that idea.

There are plenty of marriages that work like Spock and Kirk’s interaction. In fact, my favorite relationships have been like theirs: Where my significant other would openly disagree with me, and I had to therefore prove the validity of my argument. It was good for me because it kept me humble, not to mention having the excitement of debate and hypothesis testing.

Why isn’t that a valid relationship too?

Now, let me be totally clear before I proceed: I know people in “redpill” relationships. They are good friends and incredibly decent people. Their relationships seem to work fine. There’s nothing against the idea of empowerment and consent for a person to want to seek out a partner stronger than them and then, in a context of mutual respect and ultimate autonomy, have one partner tend to be the one in charge in the relationship. Moreover, I’ve noticed that many of these relationships in actual fact have the woman firmly in charge in general, dictating the flow of things.

I’m also from the BDSM community in terms of my own interests.

There are millions of people, men and women, who practice submission and domination in their relationships and find it perfectly healthy and liberating. Sometimes, it is the man who is the dom; other times, it is the woman. Sometimes, they practice it within very confined areas, only within the bedroom; other times, couples like to have submission dynamics in the rest of their life.

The problem with the “redpill” movement is emphatically not that someone can’t practice such a relationship without being abusive. The problem with the movement is that its ideological foundation is mendacious and disgusting tripe.

The “redpill” movement in what passes for official literature for a cultural phenomenon asserts, with unmitigated gall usually restricted to cult leaders, that in fact we’ve all been getting it wrong all these many years. All people need to be happy in relationships is for the woman to submit! Women naturally have a submission urge! The man is the “Alpha” and the woman “Beta”, or, from Athol Kay: “Women respond with sexual interest to men that are in social positions above them, and typically have minimal interest in men in social positions below them…  The Captain and First Officer model seeks to harness the erotic potential of a male led relationship (Alpha), but to do so with clear concern for the welfare of  the female (Beta)”. Elsewhere, Kay offers this observation: “The advice [about marriage and relationships] is that bad. The Blue Pill is what women say they want from a man”. The Blue Pill, to be clear, is the idea of marriage equality. And never once does any of this literature suggest that the man can be the First Officer, even though they offer an example of just that from Star Trek: Voyager in their own literature.

The “redpill”, then, is the idea taken from the Matrix (that’s the level of intellectual sophistication we’re dealing with here) that people need to be shown a whole new world… A whole new world that looks pretty much exactly like most marriage norms on the planet since before the 1950s!

This is all bullshit.

Nowhere does the “redpill” movement, or anyone else who regurgitates this sociobiological excrement, cite what gene they believe might cause such behavior. They just point to behavior and say it must be intrinsic.

Anyone who actually has spent time in the BDSM movement knows several things that alone makes clear how wrong the “redpill” assertion is:

  • People can be just as miserable in submissive-dominant relationships as in any other relationship.
  • People want all sorts of things that are bad for them.
  • People think they want all sorts of things they really don’t.

There’s plenty of divorces, intimate partner violence, and bad stuff in the BDSM community, and have been for decades. A woman submitting to her male partner is no guarantee to success. And the idea that these people have stumbled upon the one true secret to divorce rates and social changes that have a ton of sociological antecedents is so colossally arrogant as to call into question their motives and their intelligence. (Again, I am speaking firmly and exclusively about the people who promote this as the only way to live, not those people who just happen to find it works for them).

In fact, of all of the battered women and victims of assault I’ve worked with, that cultural idea (and it is inherently cultural) that a woman should seek out a tough and strong man has been a big part of the problem. Of course people are attracted to confidence and dynamism. But all too often they fundamentally mistake that for arrogance and cruelty. We unfortunately have a repeated tendency throughout history to confuse kindness with weakness and violence with courage. And, to their credit, the “redpills” do admit that a man has to have a mix of traits that include kindness (though they try to justify it by referring to oxytocin release and other pseudo-scientific garbage).

Worse, if you may notice, the above is actually the opposite of many BDSM-based relationships. In those, in public the couple has an image of equality and it’s only in private that they practice submission.

The “redpill” movement is less a rejection of feminism than it is simply ignoring its existence. “Redpill” advocates pretend that they’ve stumbled upon some new wisdom, when in fact what they’re suggesting is as old as recorded history.

Confucian ideology put the woman below the man in every social setting. Madam Ban Zhao suggested, “Let a woman modestly yield to others; let her respect others; let her put others first, herself last”. Though many scholars find that actual Confucian practice may have been much more equitable, its ideology was basically that of the wife as being subordinate to the husband.

The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel suggested that men could participate in civic life but that women just didn’t have it out for that: “Woman, on the other hand, has her substantive destiny in the family, and to be imbued with family piety is her ethical frame of mind”.

In fact, it’s a repeated theme of philosophy for millennia to try to justify misogynistic social relationships as being somehow orderly, or natural, or based on women’s inferiority.

So, “redpill” advocates, let me ask: If you’re so right that women have just been lied to with all these promises of jobs and careers and autonomy and they just really need a man to be a captain and steer their ship because they’re too iddle-widdle to do it themselves, where the hell did feminism come from?
If people intrinsically wanted to be dominated, we never would have seen feminism, civil rights, resistance against slavery, democracy, American revolution, civil libertarianism, or anarchism. If women just want a strong man to take charge in an environment of trust and strength, why didn’t marriage norms that emphasized exactly that for centuries stick and why did so many millions of women reject them so harshly? “Redpill” advocates want to pretend that five hundred years of history never happened.

The kind of people who offer this drivel are usually in tune with or at least sympathetic with the so-called “men’s rights” movement. But the “men’s rights” movement, much as they might want to pretend otherwise, isn’t about curing misandry. The reason why feminism came into being was as part of a trend in history towards greater liberty, greater equality, and more expressions for freedom. Trying to return people to a mold where there’s only one real expression of love isn’t just an insult to women. It constrains and limits us all.

But the “redpill” movement is in fact an expression of a deep challenge, one of the most important that feminists have faced.

Every feminist who has done any kind of work on gender equality will eventually get asked: “Look, my husband [or boyfriend or significant other] tends to run things. I’m happy that way. I like being at home. I like cooking and taking care of the kids. Why should I be forced to do something I don’t like? Why should I be forced to get a job I don’t need and don’t want?”
In his fantastic, if often maddeningly centrist and mainstream, review of ideas throughout history, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto argues, “At least [feminists] succeeded in persuading women to try to make the most of social changes and opportunities that would have occurred anyway… [by] joining the workforce they added another level of exploitation to their roles as homemakers and mothers… Some women, who wanted to remain at home… found themelves doubly disadvantaged: exploited by men and pilloried by ‘sisters’. Society still needs to strike the right balance: liberating all women to lead the lives they want, without having to conform to rules devised for them by intellectuals of either sex”.

Felipe insults feminism markedly here. Those social changes probably would not have happened had it not been for courageous activists. Moreover, equating those women trying to broaden the horizons of other women with men trying to keep them pinioned is pretty grotesque. But there is still something true being said here.

Why have feminists so often insisted on the idea that women should aspire to enter the workforce, or not be at home, or be in charge in relationships?

Because for more than a hundred years, from at least the Civil War to the 1960s, women were controlled at least as much by social norms as laws.

Unfortunately, society restricts our horizons at least as often as it gives us new heights to achieve. When society tells you, “Your best job is to be a mother and a housewife”, people will aim for it. That’s just the thing to do.

It took millions of women being unsatisfied and not knowing why to begin a wave of feminist thought that emphasized women being able to do more. They had to have support groups and discuss quietly before they all began to realize that “The personal is political”: Their personal problems weren’t their fault, it was just that they were being forced by society to do something they shouldn’t have to.

And so, when a woman says, “I like being at home and cooking meals”, our fear is naturally that she’s saying that not because she truly knows all the options but she’s been unable to resist the psychic assault that that’s all she should amount to.

As activists, we often have to try to tell people that their perceptions of the world may be based not on reason or a true consciousness of their inner state but not having adequately interrogated their social assumptions. Sometimes, this means insisting to people who say otherwise that they can and maybe even should do more.

My own experience has been with working with victims of sexual assault and torture, people who are seriously depressed, people with psychological issues. What I’ve found is that the domestication of aspirations is universal. We as a species are so attuned to just accept the bad that we say, “That must be what I want, it’s all that’s possible anyways”. With those people and in fact with people in general, being skillful means actually arguing with them. It means “pillor[ying]” them, as Fernandez-Armesto would put it, because consciousness raising can be difficult and require patience and outside criticism.

Those who love people and want to see a better tomorrow have to tell people that they’re capable of more. We have to say, “Don’t let anyone, even yourself, limit your potential. Do anything you can dream of”. We even have to help them find what those dreams are. That’s one of the goals of anarchism: To create people who know what they want and are empowered to get it.

But what we’re discovering now, in the decades of wildly expanded freedom that feminism and civil rights have given us, is that some people really do enter the workforce and strive to be empowered and they just don’t want it. At some point, the “why” becomes moot. It doesn’t matter if someone wants to be submissive or return to work at home because work is too stressful, or they have low self-esteem, or whatever else. They had the options, they tried it, and now they feel that they are being told that they have to do something they hurt.

Worse, it is seemingly utterly true that feminism’s successes at allowing women to expand their horizons coincided exactly with the changes to the economy that would force women into the workforce.

Let’s be clear: The fact that the economy is so grossly crappy at this point that most couples need to have both partners working full-time is a feminist issue as well as a socialist and progressive issue. Women are restricted by the “second shift” both because of sexism that makes it so women are the expected domestic partners and capitalism which requires those women to also pick up the slack in the workforce.

The “super-mom” phenomenon is not something anyone chose. It was forced on us by capitalism, by the needs of the rich to have an economy that resembles a slot machine more than a factory. No one should need to work eighty hours at home and on the job to be able to be a mother or a father.

Today, we are seeing more men stay at home. We are seeing some men want to cook, clean, and take care of the children. They want that as their family duty.

I think that we’ve struggled for decades now to deal with a very simple fact: People are just different.

“Women” and “men” don’t exist. There are just people.

Some women want to enter the workforce. Some men want to stay at home. I know couples who just want to take it easy, raise their children quietly, watch TV, and have a nice and clean space. They want domestic tranquility. They don’t want to work to the bone to climb the corporate ladder.

So some women want to be in a “redpill” relationship. Fine. But feminists still need to stand up for them, because they might change their mind, and if society accepts the “redpill” ideology as the only valid way, they won’t be able to. They will be trapped, just as women were in most of history before the 1960s.

It’s our mission if we love our neighbors and ourselves to free to fight for people to have options. We have to fight the rhetoric that pretends that there’s any one secret to happiness and any one good life.

It’s just too important for real people and their happiness.

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personal

Gift Cards and True Presents

As I’m becoming more focused on spreading something real, banal consumerism has begun to really annoy me.

There was a picture at my local IHOP. It said, “Give the only gift that makes everyone feel good inside”, or some such drivel.

The gift?

A goddamn gift card.

Not love. Not a poem. Not a story. Not a painting. Not the kind of gift that someone takes from apartment to apartment, home to home, because of its beauty and the care put into it.

Nope. A gift card for pancakes.

I know this is just the slop that a marketing wiz came up with. I’ve done marketing. It’s somewhere between lying and advocacy. Hopefully, the dude who wrote that at least thinks IHOP makes a decent product.

But it stems from a consumerist set of values, and that’s something far, far more serious.

It demeans and trivializes the real experience of human and spiritual merit that we have that actually brings us together, the experiences that we really need. Those experiences can happen at an IHOP, a Denny’s, or even in a trench on the Western Front.

I wonder how much we forget this daily psychic assault. And remember: Given that corporations spend untold billions on it, that psychic assault is winning.

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religion

“Thanks to Him”: Mormons, Propaganda and Self-Loathing

“Thanks to Him, my past doesn’t have to hold me back”.

I get the sincere feeling behind this Mormon propaganda. Sometimes, we need a little help. Sometimes, our past can feel so restrictive that it may seem to require a miracle to act against it.

The problem is that it, again, reinforces a narrative of helplessness. Only someone else can solve our problems. Give your heart to them and they’ll fix everything.

That idea has been at the core of quite a lot of the damage that I have encountered. Whether it was a woman feeling that way about a man she loved, a person becoming trapped by a religious group, or any other pathological relationship of misbegotten authority, the source of the problem was this idea that the individual needed special and external help because of their worthlessness. The loathsome cognition that people are below love and redemption without some kind of external power (especially some kind of magical and supernatural power) is so utterly against Jesus’ ministry that I can’t imagine how this ideological contaminant has sullied the clear waters of our minds for so long. (Maybe because it’s such a good idea if one wants to act as the proxy for that external power and therefore, like the Church, monarchs, demagogues and states have throughout history, gain temporal power from this spiritual concept?)

The whole point of Jesus calling on those without sin to throw the first stone was not to say, “Everyone is contaminated and below love”. It was to say, “Everyone’s flawed, so let’s try to stop judging and start caring”.

No one should have their self-esteem or sense of worth bullied by anyone, especially not a church.

No one needs the Mormon Church, or a lama, or LSD, or a miracle to escape their past. They just need hard work and, sometimes, a helping hand in the real world.

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