So Who Gets To Know

cities burned and traffic stopped
people beaten by mobs of frightened citizens
united
supporting and defending each other
gathered and powerful
but
claiming to feel unsafe
the group growing
their security growing
their safety
they say with each other’s voices
somehow shrinking anyway
a man hides behind a mailbox
trying to be tiny
forgetting his red hat like a beacon
wondering where
can I go
who can I ask
to find out what it feels like
because
if this crowd is so afraid of me
like they keep saying
why do I have to hide from them
they’re after me
and I feel unsafe
wondering how
to find out what it feels like
does somebody know
because this me and this them
sure feels like all of us
so who’s left
and where
and who gets to go
and who gets asked
and who gets to know
what it feels like to be safe.

 

Freedom to Donut

I do love my donut mornings. They’re getting to know me, and when I slapped down my full punch card like it was the winning domino – ameriCANO, mutha fucka! – they gave me the coffee I asked for, and gave me the donut free, too. Thanks, friends.

But first, in my car, I rounded a turn up high on a hill before descending to the beach for my goodies, and was greeted with a view of an aircraft carrier lumbering through Elliot Bay. Probably the Stennis from Bremerton – that’s the one we usually get around here. A quick check reveals that no, it’s actually the Nimitz heading back after sea trials and flight certifications. Another tool in the fight to maintain rights like our freedom of speech.

Having seen the Nimitz out there, I figured it would be worth it to give you a peek into what I am working on at school. This is my Social ethics class. As you can see, the questions are framed to discourage disagreement with the prevailing ideology. It doesn’t mean that the questions can’t be answered in the negative, but most young students aren’t geared for that. They’re just going to read the question and answer it, and store that tacit agreement away in their consciousness. It’s soft, oblique conditioning, and the teachers know full well what they are doing.

This week we did sexual and racial discrimination. People have lost jobs and have had their right to free speech completely revoked for saying some of the things I say below. Innocuous things that nonetheless are not allowed to stand against the dominant narrative on campus. Which is relevant to last week’s topic of free speech and speech codes. Campus speech codes claim to target and limit hate speech, but their target is, in every instance, free speech. My current college has a seemingly reasonable speech code, but it uses words like “harm” and “harassment” without making any effort to define them. When those definitions are left up to the accusers, good people get hurt.

The questions are in italics, and come from the teacher. Answers are where you’d expect them to be:

1. Can you think of other instances or phenomena that are indicative of, or might contribute to, the so-called “rape culture”? What, if anything, can men do to fight against “rape culture” and stereotypes that promote overt male dominance?

I find, first of all, May and Strikwerda’s statement that “rape is a crime perpetrated by men as a group, and not just the individual rapist” to be wildly irresponsible. It’s a moralistic assignment of blame without due process, and a sort of high command to all men to stop everything now and do everything differently. To imply that there is no such thing as a man who is innocent of rape is so absurd that it alone is enough to refute any claim of a rape culture.

If there is a stereotype of overt male dominance, I don’t know it. It’s a trope that’s been “fought against” for so long, and opposition to it has been the dominant narrative for so long, that it seems unlikely that if the stereotype does exist, it holds any sway in society. I just don’t see how socialization can still be blamed for “rape culture” when for decades now the overwhelming social momentum has been against it.

2. In regards to racism and sexism, to what extent [if at all] do you think that being “tolerant” involves tolerating others who are intolerant? In other words, if we are to truly respect others as autonomous agents, how ought we respond to those who do not respect others? Explain your reasoning thoroughly.

This takes us back to the free speech discussion in some ways. It seems more right to tolerate an intolerant person, if his intolerance doesn’t come in the form of speech or expression that causes harm, however we might define that. So yes, in terms of an obligation to respect the autonomy of others, we should tolerate the intolerant up until the point that his intolerance is an infringement on the rights of someone else, does someone else harm (which we must clearly define first), or otherwise restricts the autonomy of another. Still, to show too much respect may cross into the territory of the self-deprecating person (or Uncle Tom or Deferential Wife) in that we may forfeit our own rights and demonstrate a lack of respect for morality in general by doing so. All of which makes my answer remain a firm “yes.” Tolerate the intolerant, but do not tolerate her infringement on your own rights.

3. While we may reserve the right to socially exile or pressure others to be respectful to all, to what degree do you think such pressure should be exerted legally? For example, the fact that former Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, was banned for life from the NBA for his racist comments. Or the President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, who publicly spoke about men being better suited for the sciences and engineering because of their innate aptitude for such demanding fields, while women have more natural “family desires”. Should either, or both, of these individuals be legally or professionally punished for such statements? Why or why not, and to what extent?

I’m all for people like this being professionally punished. The court of public opinion matters, and is a helpful check against unwanted behaviors. Legally speaking, however, no. They may have made poor comments, but they did not cross any boundaries of free speech protections that would warrant legal ramifications. Certainly nothing in our readings would support legal action, even the broadest of speech codes. There was no incitement to violence, and no issues of time and place that would have bestowed their comments with anything resembling a promotion of physical harm.

4. Choose one of the media items from this week’s module that you found the most interesting and summarize its content. Why did you find it interesting? What, if anything, do you think could be done to promote equality between the sexes, races, or both?

I think that to help equalize society, the primary focus needs to be on honesty. For instance, the article “Debunking the Mythical Gender Pay Gap” does not debunk what it claims to. The gender pay gap, the “77 cents on the dollar figure” makes no effort to control for any variables at all. It is the average of all women’s earnings in the US subtracted from the average of all men’s earnings in the US. That is literally all of the data that goes into that number. No data about the types of jobs, hours worked, education of employees, tenure, or even how many women vs men are in the workforce. Therefore, to start a conversation about equality with the 77 cents premise is to start the conversation dishonestly, and push for change from there.

And so much of the rest of our conversations about equality go the same way. The data concerning police brutality does not remotely support the claim that minorities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. An honest conversation would start by acknowledging that fact, but that never happens.
We cannot work to promote equality between anything if we are not willing to be honest about it.

Cleanup Hitter

It takes no thought to lace me up
or to walk in me towards home
where you abuse me.
But I’ll take your little beatings.
The casual wooden raps knocking loose
A few burdensome clumps of clay
to prepare for the run you hope to make

Then you drive my cleats into the ground
and that dirty friction of hard earth
stirs up hints of my own scented body –
plastic, leather, steel.
A strikingly visceral lineup.

If only I were you instead of your shoe
so your twisted beginnings could be batted from me
like the packed dirt underfoot.
A few practiced taps in just the right spot
and with each one, another old scandal
cascades to earth,
lost among the swept remnants
of the others like it.

But let it not be a mere swap.
Shame for shame
crime for crime
regret for heavy, stuck regret.
Let it be a breaking loose of aged burdens
so we may steal a faultless moment
when we strike out for home again.

Eturnal Shakespeare

No doubt I’m a morning person. I like being up and ahead of the game.But it still needs to be mostly dark and quiet. I like, I think, using the time for introspection. I’m not sure any other time of day works as well. Once the sun has come inexorably up, it’s the the dull usuals on a march, slightly out of step.  And as I wrote on that post in the link:

I’m a little tired of everything I have, and am frantically searching for something which, next year, will be what I remember about the great way that this summer wound down. The soundtrack to the end of it all, or something.

Or the beginning. As much as I will be railing against it in February, I always look forward to the winter, just like I always look forward to the change of one season to the next both times it happens here in Washington. Winter changes to Summer, and three months later, Summer changes to Winter. You only have to brace yourself once a year.

I’m not tired of everything I have, though. Going back to school has catalyzed a sea change in the tenor, the mood, the psychological weave of things. It creates an anticipation and uneasiness. A worried excitement. But “sea change?” That’s gotta be from…surely it’s another…

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.

Yep, another eternal turn of phrase from Shakespeare. Eturnal Shakespeare. If it wasn’t for Shakespeare and the Bible, I’m not sure we’d be able to have a useful conversation about anything. Which is a pretty good explanation for the miserable gewgaw language of the social justice movement. Tottering as they are through an education whose strictures carefully target the most important influences, while wheedling students with the most useless reassurances of their personal value.  When you’re ignorant of what made you, you can’t make anything yourself. But you can certainly, efficiently, make nothing of yourself.

I’m sharing the table with my mother in law right now. She writes and speaks for a living, on various socially useful subjects. I’m not sure what’s she’s working on, but she’s taking calls and typing away and leaning in to the screen and, well, this: If my wife were home to see this dynamic – me, with her mom, the two of us just doing our thing together – she would weep tears of joy, and perhaps kill herself knowing that life has reached its zenith. There can be no more surprises. Unlikely affinity is one of life’s most subtle and rewarding little charities.

I did say “socially useful subjects” which may have pinged your radar once or twice as a pernicious little turn of phrase. You are not wrong. She is political, and devoted to the cause.  Refugee-positive in a “we must be universally welcoming and open” kind of way.  It’s sentiment over reason, and to my mind it comes apart far too easily far too early, but I do not brusquely shrug it off.  She is a thinker and does nothing carelessly and I admire that. It is an unrealistic expectation that all careful thinking will arrive at the same conclusion. In the case of me and her, it does not.  In the case of millions of people, it does not. If any of us believed in the virtue of universal agreement, we would hate free speech because it is the ultimate impediment to that brutish uniformity. It is an honor to be sharing writing space with an intelligent dissenter.

I work hard to not be reactionary with people. To be in an argument the way it seems people used to be capable of doing: calmly and with generosity. Jonathan Haidt’s work about the increasing volatility of polarization is instructive here.  It’s actually true that people used to be much, much kinder in disagreement than we are now.  If I could reach back to the past and pull anything forward, it might be that proclivity. But to be really trite, things are the way they are because they are. We didn’t just decide to be inflexible and abrasive one day. We built the structure for it. Here we live. I’m generally comfortable with the idea of people disagreeing with me, doing different things. But the virtue signaling gets so tiresome. Therefore – cue the cliche – we don’t talk politics. Why would we? Football teams don’t play each other hoping for a tie, or to end the game with the other team’s players wearing their uniform. If you want a fight, face your opponent. If that opponent is family, don’t be a jerk. Leave it.

Though I do giggle when I muse about what my mother in law probably thought I was doing when I was working an intelligence position in the Army. SPIES! And now that Hillary has done what Hillary has done, people who formerly had a contempt for all things governmentally secretive and clandestine have to abandon that contempt for a forced ambivalence. “Security clearances? Well, those aren’t really a big deal, anyway. Certainly nothing to get all ‘legal’ about. Amirite?”

Moving on.

It’s a little dark outside. I think Autumn has finally turned out the lights for the year. Or dimmed them, anyway. But the world doesn’t buzz like the dining room lights do. It’s all just wan and limp, leaves and limbs hanging damply, without actually being damp. This will be the scene Monday, when I head back into the classroom. I have two classes on campus, Creative Writing directly prior to American Government. Online I have Social Ethics and the bonus freebie class: Health and Fitness. I expect a lot proselytizing over high fructose corn syrup and big bad evildoers like Monsanto, but like anything, I’ll take what learning I can and apply it where I am able.

 

Slowing to See

The seasons take their time for us,
Though we haven’t time for them.
With pedals down and hackles up
We steamroll what they tend.

Do we know to slow down a piece,
For some short episodes?
To humbly shake our sodden fleece
And the sad brevity it bodes?

We do, I say- and so do they,
Picking lightly through the patch.
A season’s patience in one day.
An eternal instant we can catch.

The Dreamstronaut

The boy adrift in outer space alone,
His hairless pate in a glassy dome.
The awe, the joy, the dreaming soul.
A six-tooth smile in a barrel roll.

While his hands still search and his toes still curl,
Half in, half out of his old man’s world.
The half that’s in heaves a sigh at me,
The half that’s gone starts its reverie.

With that I guess he’s in the stars,
Using them like monkey bars,
To swing amidst the giant rows
While the library of his dreaming grows.

And once it’s up he’ll float about
In no great hurry to be picking out
His stories or his nursery rhymes;
He knows his dreams aren’t bound by time.

He bobs on past hoar-frosted shelves,
And a section with a copse of elves.
With a languid pull he moves along,
To the fantasy he’ll settle on.

I’ve always imagined him like this,
Giggling through the stacks in bliss.
The length and breadth of an innocent’s whim,
His snickers and kicks propelling him.

Now in my arms he’s settled more,
But he shifts a bit one time before
His searching hand tugs on my nose –
He’s grabbed a dream, and off he goes.