Category Archives: ideas and opinions

Blessing and Curse

13590396_656072581210333_1237927477030822866_nHonestly (and I know this was meant to be funny, but I can’t help it), I think it’s the latter. Humans in general, and Americans in particular, don’t have a great track record of being awesome in the aggregate, and despite what the Republicans will try to sell you, we’ve NEVER had our collective shit together.

I think of this the same way I think of illness; I am not sure we really DO have more incidents of cancer or heart disease per se…well, yes, I do; see processed foods and polluted air and water, but work with me for a second. What I’m getting at is that we have significantly better detection practices and can find those diseases sooner and better than we ever have before. More people have access to screenings so, naturally, we’re going to find more incidents of these problems.

The racism (and, worse, the violence it spawns) are NOT new nor, I think, is the prevalence of it. What IS new is our “detection practices.” Masses of people now have video cameras in their pockets that double as computers and mass communication devices. Now, instead of being a few column inches on page 9 of the local paper, the beatings/murders that happen in little towns and faraway places are being broadcast to the public across the country and the world. Think about it; unless you lived in the immediate neighborhood, would you EVER have heard about Treyvon if it hadn’t been for social media? Sanford is a nothing town in Florida. Neither party was famous (though shame on us for making Treyvon’s killer famous after the fact) or noteworthy in any way. There is no reason to think that we’d ever have heard about it. Sure, it would have been news in the greater Sanford area, but I, way up here in New England, would likely never have heard Treyvon’s name.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing in that we get better access to more information (and it’s harder to keep shit from the public now, though a lot of it still manages to get quashed). Curse because any idiot with a smartphone can play; there’s no IQ or minimum decency requirement.

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Filed under concerns, critical thinking, ideas and opinions, ruminating, this is NOT a drill

If Not Me, Who?

I was born on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1969, the year after he was murdered in Memphis, so our lives never overlapped, not even a little.  Despite that, I’ve always felt a kind of kinship to the man; for as long as I’ve been aware of him (and I learned of Dr. King very early, sharing, as I do, a birthday with him), I’ve felt that something about his energy and mine resonates; that I carry, even if only a little, some of his legacy.

When I was about 6 or 7, the family lore goes, I made an offhand comment to the effect that I was sad that I was born when I was; my greatest regret is that I wasn’t born in time to march with Dr. King; though several friends have pointed out that one can’t regret something over which one has no control – like the timing of one’s birth – the fact remains that the feeling I have is best described as regret, so that’s what I’m running with.

I am an empath; I feel, deeply and profoundly.  I believe that others’ suffering – even if I have no tangible connection to it – makes my life less.  I believe that we are less free when others are oppressed.   I also believe that we are all made better when good is done, wherever and whenever it is done; that an act of kindness or compassion or mercy done anywhere makes us all a little bit better.

The last few years have been particularly difficult ones for empaths.  Sandy Hook.  Ferguson.  Charleston.  Beirut.  Nigeria.  Mali.  Iraq.  Turkey.   ISIS.  Boko Haram.  Al Qaeda.  Al-Shabaab.  Al-Nusra.  The Taliban.   Angry, frightened white men and racist police in this country (and that’s not even talking about governmental policies in this country that are specifically designed to disadvantage particular groups of people).

Seriously; it’s enough to make some of us feel like withdrawing from life altogether.  The amount of suffering we seem to delight in heaping on one another can feel overwhelming.

It occurred to me the other day, though, that I no longer have cause to regret being born when I was.  I may have come to this party too late to stand with Dr. King, but there is more than enough opportunity for me to carry that legacy in the here and now.

There’s not much I can practically do, really; I mean, I can donate to ethical causes and I can continue to support my local community, but in terms of big, sweeping gestures, I’m pretty limited (though I am doing some preliminary research into how my family can foster an unaccompanied refugee; more on that later).  Really though, the biggest things I can do are commit to my teaching practice and to continue to call out, unapologetically and loudly, all of the racist, xenophobic, jingoistic, hysterical bullshit whenever and wherever I see it.  I will NOT allow my silence to be mistaken for my agreement; I will NOT stand by while my brothers and sisters – ANY of my brothers and sisters – are denigrated, dehumanized, or oppressed.

I am one little voice, but I will continue to scream.  I am one little body, but I will continue to stand up.



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I Am a Non-Believer

So, I went to church today.

I KNOW, RIGHT?!  It freaked me out, too.

The reason I went is because Martin (you remember Martin, right?) was invited to speak at my in-laws’ church this morning on the theme of reconciliation for the occasion of Veterans’ Day.  He had tipped me off about the gig when I emailed him a love note a week or so ago, so I got a sub for my yoga class, put on a skirt, and for the first time in my adult life, went willingly to a Sunday service so I could be there to support my friend.

The Earth did not tremble.  The maw of Hell did not open to swallow me whole.  I did not spontaneously combust.

I KNOW!  I’m a little surprised, too!

I DID leave the experience with a fair bit to think about, however, and I’m going to try to render some of that thinking here.

Here’s the thing; I love the idea of community.  I love the idea that people can come together and fill in each others’ gaps, or hold one another up, or challenge one another to their best and most authentic selves.  I love the kinds of communities that band together to do good; the ones that see a deficiency or a need and pool their resources – their money, their talent, their time – to address those shortcomings as best they can.  I like communities that are inclusive and welcoming and accepting.

My in-laws’ church is like that, and though my husband has told me that it hasn’t always been so (there was a fire-and-brimstone pastor who scared the shit out of him as a kid), it has been mostly lovely since well before Mr. Chili and I were married (Mother and Father Chili wished for us to be wed in their church and, since the pastor at the time was the aforementioned inclusive and welcoming and accepting – not to mention kind and lovely and funny – I agreed.  That was the first time in my adult life I went willingly to church on a Saturday, in case you were wondering).

Sitting in the Chili pew this morning (yes; they have a pew), I remember thinking that while there was nothing that was specifically offensive to me as a non-believer, I was still a little weirded out by the message that was being subtly sent that the REASON these people are lovely and welcoming and accepting is because GOD DEMANDS IT, and while they never actually said those words in that way, the implication that there is a mandate that originates outside of ourselves to be generous and kind was pretty clear.

This is not a new concept for me.  I’ve been told plenty of times that people are good because it’s what their god requires of them; in fact, this is a direct quote someone said (well, wrote) to me just recently:

“I love other people, my neighbors in a global sense, because God calls me to” (emphasis mine).

I think that this is part of where some of the mistrust of believers toward non-believers comes from.  I don’t NEED a god to tell me how to treat people, and I wonder if those who feel they do don’t understand how someone can be the originator of their own compassion.  I don’t NEED to fear a divine punishment (or seek a divine reward) to be a good person.  My morality is centered on my humanity and my capacity for empathy; it is not driven by a desire for Heaven or a fear of Hell, and it is certainly not based on the edicts of an ancient text which contradicts itself more than it makes sense.

For the most part, the service was lovely.  I don’t really feel a need for the ceremony, but I suppose I don’t begrudge the people who do.  I do think that the service would have been more lovely, however, if we’d been able to leave the idea of a supernatural, external influence out of it.  How about we take ownership of our own behavior?  How about we accept that we ARE strong enough, kind enough, and compassionate enough to take good care of one another; we don’t NEED a god to tell us to be those things because we’re completely capable of doing them on our own.  Reliance on an external force feels weak to me – and emotionally and intellectually dishonest – and even though the people in the elder Chilis’ church have never given me any reason to mistrust their motives, I really do wish that we as a species could finally figure out how to evolve enough to grow beyond what I see as an almost compulsive need for religion.



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Another Deconstruction of Another Hysterical Tirade

So, the other day, Glenn Beck got on his radio show and advocated that parents abuse and bully their children in an effort to teach them about their rights (no, really).  A friend posted the article that accompanied the rant on his facebook page with the comment that “the degree to which left-leaning websites have taken the last paragraph out of context is laughable.”  Since I needed more space than a facebook post could provide me to prove that, no, the last paragraph is NOT being taken out of context – that, in fact, the entire premise upon which Beck is making his claim borders on actual insanity –  I decided to deconstruct Beck’s paranoid, delusional rant here.

You won’t believe what these people are trying to do, and it fits right into that, just on a very grand scale. This is just a small scale. ‘The Bill of Rights are outdated. Bill of Rights are outdated, kids. So, let’s help rewrite it. In fact, why don’t you tweet your answers.’ The Bill of Rights are outdated? I have a right to speak. I have a right to worship God. To my understanding, I have a right not to be searched. I have a right not to testify against myself.

So far, so good.  Ignoring the dismissive and disrespectful (and contextually vague) “these people,” he DOES have those rights, though I think he’s failing to address that he doesn’t have complete and unfettered rights to those things.  He does have the right to speak, but there are also limits on those rights; he’s not allowed to slander, he’s not allowed to lie under oath, he’s not allowed to threaten or incite to riot.  He does not have the right not to be searched; we’re searched at airports and some sports and entertainment venues, and if a reasonable suspicion exists that we’re concealing something illegal or dangerous, law enforcement does have the right to search our persons and our property.  The point is that these are not free-for-all, unencumbered rights; there are legal limits placed on all of them.

…Who do these people think they are? They think they are God because the Bill of Rights is outdated. The Bill of Rights, that’s what gives us the understanding of, you know, when people say, it’s an empty quote, ‘I’ve got rights, you know.’ Really? Name them. Name them. ‘Well, I’ve got rights.’ Name them. Name them. Tell me what they are. If you can’t name them, tell me where you get them. Where do you get them? Has anybody ever said, ‘I get my rights from the government.’ If you are saying that, the government then can take them away then, can’t they? So the government just decides, ‘Oh, you don’t have those rights.’ ‘I have rights.’ No, you told me the government gives you those rights. So, the government can take them away. If the government issues them, then the government can take them away.

Again with the “these people”?  Regardles; um… yeah.  The government CAN – and HAS – taken rights away.

It’s pretty clear here that Beck is aiming straight at the “GOD gives us rights!!” position.  I’m certain he’s going there because the Declaration of Independence enshrined the idea that we “are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  (I find it interesting to note here that, when I brought up the idea of the Declaration in the last argument I had with an ultra-conservative article, I was told that the Declaration didn’t matter; it was the CONSTITUTION that mattered.  I’m coming to understand that, like religious fundamentalists and the Bible, conservative fundamentalists only quote the bits of the founding documents that suit their purposes).

‘Well, I have rights.’ No you don’t. Now, where do you get your rights? All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable, unchangeable rights.

Well, would you look at that!  That’s exactly where Beck went!  Surprise, surprise!

You cannot take them. You cannot amend them. You cannot bend them. Certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the outdated Bill of Rights takes that a step further and says, ‘Because all men are created equal and given certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the government shall not ever do anything to stop you from speaking your mind. You have that right from God. And government shall never infringe on your right to say what you believe about the government.’

Okay, here’s where we get good.  I don’t know where he’s getting the meme that the Bill of Rights is “outdated” (though there are certainly parts of the Constitution that could use some amendment.  The Constitution was INTENDED to be a flexible document; the Founders were smart enough to know that the world wasn’t going to be like they knew it forever, but that’s a topic for another post), but he’s dead wrong when he says “you cannot take them” and “you cannot amend” or “bend them.”  By way of investigation – and to be very clear about our parameters, let’s look specifically at what the First Amendment actually says, shall we?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is the exact text of the First.  If we look at it piece by piece, we see that the subject of that sentence is Congress and the verb is shall make, with the direct object being law (or, more specifically, no law).   That’s pretty straightforward.

The first thing about which Congress shall not make a law is the establishment of  religion, or the prohibition of the free exercise of religion.  Basically, that means that the government can’t sanction a religion for the State (so when the ultra-conservatives and tea-party types scream that this is a “CHRISTIAN NATION!!” they are, not to put too fine a point on it, dead. Fucking. Wrong).  To this point, the government has done an okay job with this one; *I* would argue that the Church as too much influence in politics and governance, and I would further argue that if Churches are going to partake in the political process, they should be taxed just like every other venture, but that’s an argument for another day.

The second thing that the First protects is the freedom of speech and the press.  Again, this is not an unfettered right, regardless of what Beck and others like him would want you to believe.  There are a NUMBER of limitations put on the freedom of speech.

Let’s start with Brandenberg v. Ohio.  This was a case in which the Supreme Court established the “imminent lawless action” standard, which creates the “principle that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action” (citation here).  Short version; this is the “you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre” provision.

Further, speech is limited when it involves “false statement of fact” (a statute under which the entire organization of Fox News and 90% of the GOP should be prosecuted).  This was decided in the Gertz v. Robert Welch case, in which SCOTUS ruled that “there is “no constitutional value in false statements of fact.”  This gives us libel and slander law, among other things.

Speech is also limited in cases of obscenity (Miller v. California) and child pornography (New York v Ferber), “fighting words” and offensive speech (Chaplinski v. New Hampshire), threats (Virginia v Black), speech owned by others (plagiarism; Harper and Rowe v. Nation Enterprises), and in diminished protections for “commercial speech” (false advertising, bait-and-switch, etc).

FURTHER, the government enacts any NUMBER of limits on speech in its myriad capacities.  The speech of government employees and members of the military is regulated.  What can be broadcast over the airwaves is regulated.  The speech of prisoners is regulated.  Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, anyone?

The short version of all this is that GOD does not give us the right to free speech; the GOVERNMENT (and, to perhaps a greater extent, society) does.  That means that, yes; the government CAN take that “right” away when it sees fit.

There are also restrictions on the right to assemble (which GOP governors seem to be making good use of as they order the detention and arrest of any number of protestors in their respective State Houses) and in petitioning the government for redress of grievances (one can be counter-sued by the government for bringing what it considers to be a frivolous claim).

Too many people were burned at the stake because they stood up against the church or they stood up against the government. And they were burned at the stake when they stood up against the church because the church was the government, which leads us to the other part of that: the government shall not endorse any religion, make a religion a requirement. You can’t force people. If you want to be mayor, I can’t force you to be a Catholic. Otherwise, only Catholics can be mayor. I cannot go against your conscience. If your conscience says, ‘No, my God tells me, my religion tells me that I will not comply. I will not go against what god tells me to do. I will not perform an abortion. I will not supply abortion pills or aid to abortion clinics because my God, my understanding of God tells me I don’t have to.’ You want to. You can. I will have no part in that.

Bullshit.  We live in a society with rules and laws.  Your religious beliefs DO NOT supersede the laws of the land.  You cannot abuse children because your religion tells you to (up to an including denying children medical treatment).  You cannot practice polygamy in the United States, even if your religion requires it.  You cannot practice child marriage in the United States.  Certain psychedelic substances are banned, even from religious ceremonies.  If your God tells you to practice ritual human sacrifice – even with a willing victim – you will go to jail for murder.  You have a right to BELIEVE however you want, but you DO NOT have the right to BEHAVE however you want.

…That’s why you have the second right: that you will never be infringed. A right to keep and bear arms. Our government was not afraid of a foreign force. They were afraid of government. They were not afraid of jihad. They were afraid of the government because they had just lived through it.

No, they weren’t “afraid of government.”  The Second Amendment was passed to strengthen militias (think National Guard) to put down citizen rebellions (like Shay’s), slave revolts, and Indian attacks. Armed rebellion against the new government was considered treason, and hey, guess what?  IT STILL IS!

You can’t put soldiers in my house and make me feed them.

This is true, and there hasn’t been any need for the military to do that, so it’s not a big issue of contention.

You can’t haul me off in the middle of the night.

Um… yeah, we can.  If law enforcement has a warrant, they can haul you off in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, or right in the middle of supper.

I have a right to say what I want to make my case, let my voice be heard, stand in front of a jury.

That’s true as far as it goes, but you do NOT have the right to “say what [you] want to make [your] case,” if saying what you want involves lying under oath.  That speech is NOT protected.

There are no secret courts.

Not that we’re aware of, no, but that’s part of the problem with “secret” courts….

You can’t spy on me.

Really?  Been watching the news lately, have ya?

You can’t come in and take my papers and just look at all my stuff. You need a warrant. If people understood this, they would never have gone for the IRS. The IRS you are guilty until proven innocent. You are guilty. They tell you, provide the information. Show us how you have not cheated us. Show us. I tell you what, federal government, why don’t you abide by the Constitution? You show me how I have violated it. You show me the evidence. I’m innocent until proven guilty. Who are you to tell me? Produce these things. You produce them.

Yeah… no.  The 16th Amendment was passed in 1913 WITH the requisite number of states’ ratification, so it IS, by definition, a Constitutional organization.  Its operation is highly regulated and adjudicated.  What’s more, Beck can’t have it both ways; because taxes are constitutionally required, either it is the individuals’ responsibility to report their income in order to determine their tax responsibility OR the government knows exactly how much we earn because they require regular reports of our income.  Which would he prefer?

The whole world has been turned upside down and inside out by progressives. ‘It’s an outdated document.’ No. I’m sorry. Universal truths are never out of date. They may be out of fashion because man’s tastes change. Sometimes they want to be free. Sometimes they just want to be counted. Sometimes they just want to be seen. Sometimes they just say, ’I’m not a number. I’m a human being.’ Sometimes we see the struggle of the individual. Sometimes we see that one person, that every single one of us matters. And then other times as always happens, whether it’s the length of skirts or the cut of hair. Fashion comes and goes and fashion dictates… And the rights of man. The rights of man are much more important than the rights of men, a single man.

I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say here; if I received this from a student, I’d send it back asking for some pretty serious clarification.  He doesn’t offer any evidence for the world being “turned upside down and inside out by progressives,” so I’m not sure what, exactly, he’s whining about here.  He hasn’t made much of a case for “Universal truths,” as I’ve demonstrated through case law that the truths that Beck is claiming are “universal” are, in fact, subject to the established legal precedent of the government.  The “they” in his sixth sentence refers to the “truths” in the fifth, but the “they” in subsequent sentences does not, so I’m not certain to whom Beck is referring here (though he COULD be talking about the “progressives” in his first sentence, who’ve apparently turned the world inside out and upside down, but I can’t be sure).

The rest of his paragraph is incomprehensible; I honestly have no idea what his point is here, though the last sentence seems to be saying that it’s okay to limit the rights of the individual for the greater, common good.  If that’s an accurate reading, then EVERY SINGLE THING he’s said to this point has just been invalidated because, up until now, he’s been trying (in his fevered, paranoid, barely comprehensible way) to argue that the “rights” of the individual are sacrosanct.  For him to close this (I suppose you could call it a “thought”) by saying that the rights of “man” are more important than the rights of “a single man” is self-contradictory.

Here’s where he goes for the big finish.  Brace yourselves:

Ask your kids tonight at dinner, what gives you the right. Challenge them. Get in their face.

“Get in their face.” Translation: bully them. Intimidate them. Threaten them.  I challenge my kids (both biological and academic) by asking them questions, not “getting in their faces.”

You talk about, I’ve got rights, you know? Really? Who issues them? Teach them a lesson. Push them to the wall, they are going to cry, it’s going to hurt their feelings.

In the common vernacular, “teaching someone a lesson” usually involves the application of some kind of force.  I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not in the habit of TRYING to make my children cry or of purposefully hurting their feelings.  Apparently, though, Mr. Beck thinks I should be.

Push them. Because if you don’t do it now, it’s going to be much worse when they are pushed and they are shoved and they are shot.

So, the only way that people are reasonably challenged in Beck’s world is if they are challenged violently, huh?  Okay, I suppose that makes sense.  Beck’s worldview seems to be that of a maligned and threatened truth-teller whose efforts to enlighten the population inexplicably results in his being the target of threats and violence, apparently.

Push them. Teach them. They need to know the truth. And they need to be pushed up against the wall once in a while so they know they can defend themselves.

The only time people need to “defend themselves” is when they’re being threatened. Beck is advocating THREATENING children. You can argue that “pushing them against the wall” is metaphorical – and perhaps it is – but that doesn’t change this idea one bit.

Further, the parent-child relationship is INHERENTLY unequal. Backing someone of lesser power or authority than you up against a wall – literally or metaphorically – is threatening and intimidating.

Beck is NOT advocating the kind of defense I practice with my kids. What I do is ask my kids to think critically about topics; to look at EVIDENCE and advocate for a position. Often, I ask them to take the CONTRARY opinion so that they can practice thinking beyond their own experience. I do not tell them WHAT to think.  He’s advocating putting people – particularly children, who are already at a disadvantage in the relationship – in a position where they have to challenge authority that they’ve likely been told they have no right to challenge (and in what are likely very stern terms; the conservative family is pretty high on the “honor thy mother and (particularly) thy father” bit). It’s VERY clear, both from this rant and from what I’ve heard him say on prior occasions, that he’s not at ALL interested in entertaining ANY position but that which he advocates. Say the wrong thing, kid, and you’re getting the strap (or worse, getting kicked out of the house). People do not do good critical thinking under threat.

And what “truth” are we talking about here?  This line, maybe more than any other, tells me that Beck is NOT advocating challenging people (children) to think critically.  If there is a “truth” that people “need to know,” there’s no room for questioning or speculation; you either believe and adhere, or you don’t (not that this stance surprises me in the least).

They know they can survive. They don’t run around like little girls crying at the drop of a hat.

There is nothing about this sentiment that is not blatantly offensive. Not only does it equate girls with weakness (BIG surprise there), but it also implies that Beck does not think that “little girls” are subject to this “truth” knowing.  “All men are created equal,” unless you’re a woman, I suppose.

Push them. Failure is important. It is the only way to success. Let them fail. Teach them that it’s the way that you fail and you treat your success and your failure, so are both imposters, to quote Rudyard Kipling, and treat them both the same.

I have NO idea what this last sentence means.  The only Kipling quote I could find about failure is “we have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse,” but I can’t figure out how that ties into what Beck is trying to say…

What is inside of you? Who are you? And what right do you have? And who gives it to you?

Ending a thought with a question is a fine tactic IF you’ve offered enough evidence in the body of your work to allow your reader/listener to come up with an answer.  Beck hasn’t done this; in fact, all he’s succeeded in doing is mashing together a bunch of paranoid, baseless assertions about God and rights and the implication that, somehow, the world is coming to an end.

In the end, I don’t think there’s a bit of this that’s logically defensible.  That being said, I really didn’t expect anything else from Glenn Beck.


Filed under Civics on Saturday, critical thinking, doing my duty, duh!, dumbassery, frustrations, Home and Family, ideas and opinions, Parenting, politics, strange but true, teaching, technical difficulties, this is NOT a drill, Uncategorized, weirdness, Worries and Anxieties, WTF?!

Monday Musing

So, my brother Marc posted this on his facebook wall today:

Marc:  Right?

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 8.46.10 PMAtheist Jesus
Some people believe I am gay because I am supportive of gay rights. Does this mean I’m a pregnant woman because I support the right to have abortions? An animal because I am against animal cruelty? African American because I am supportive of African American Civil Rights?

Well… You are right.

On the internet no one knows you are a gay African American womanly pregnant animal…

It sparked this conversation.  The only thing I’ve done is change the names and skipped over an exchange between Charlie and Marc (my brother) about Charlie’s tone.

I don’t think it’s over yet, but this is as far as we’ve gotten as of this writing:

Chili:  I think this speaks to our collective difficulties mustering up simple empathy. It continues to astonish me that people will ask me “why do YOU care; it doesn’t affect YOU” when they give me a hard time about how passionate I get about some topics.

Charlie:  Have you ever answered the question “why do YOU care”? I am mean really dug deep to figure out why you care?

Chili: Yes, I have. What’s your point?

Charlie:  Well I was expecting a full answer to at least one of the topics where someone asked you “why do YOU care?”

Chili: Pick one; I’ll answer

Marc:   Why, Charlie? You didn’t ask why she cared; you asked if she had ever thought about it?

Charlie:  I don’t care which one she picks, I want to understand how she comes to the conclusions she does. My line of questioning is going to be about the approach to understanding not the subject matter. Choose the one you’ve thought about the most.

Chili:   Okay, Charlie; I offered to answer, so here’s one; abortion rights. I am a loudmouthed, insistent proponent of choice, and I always have been. I cannot get pregnant anymore (at the risk of TMI, I am ‘fixed’), so there is only something like a .000009% chance that I’ll ever need an abortion. Whether or not abortion is legal really doesn’t affect me in any kind of personal way, right?

Except that it DOES. Not only do I have daughters whom I want to be able to have access to all the medical care they may ever need in their lives, but I feel that ALL women should have access to all the medical care they may ever need.

Beyond that, even if I DIDN’T have daughters (and even if I weren’t a woman), I would still be pro choice, and for a number of reasons. First, if a person – ANY person – does not have full and complete autonomy over their own bodies – the only thing, it can be argued, that we TRULY own – then they are not fully human. If someone else has enough power over you to tell you that you may or may not treat YOUR body in a particular way, then you are essentially a slave. Religious or ontological arguments aside, telling someone they can’t have an abortion is tantamount to telling someone they are not fit to make their own choices. That’s degrading for ANYONE, and I’m not down with degrading people.

Second, I have no right – ZERO – to tell someone else how to live their lives (and yes, that includes my children, but that’s a discussion for another day). I do not live anyone else’s experience; I do not feel anyone else’s feelings, so I have NO BUSINESS telling someone what they can or cannot do with their lives. It is a STUNNING act of hubris to tell another person that they may not or can not do something that they feel they should do with THEIR LIVES. Can we encourage, as in the case of alcoholics or drug addicts? Sure, but in the end, we have to accept that adults get to make their own choices – that’s part of the point of being an adult. I may not LIKE their choices, but they’re not MY choices.

Finally, and I don’t know if this is going to be acceptable to a bunch of you who are probably reading this, but it doesn’t MATTER that something is going to have a direct effect on me or not. I am a human being living in community with other human beings. I truly believe that everyone does better when everyone does better, so I nurture my capacity for empathy and compassion at every opportunity. We’re failing to do that more and more; we’re taking on an attitude of “it’s not MY problem” or “I got MINE, you’re on your own,” and I find those sentiments repugnant. Gandhi asked us, “if you can see yourself in others, whom can you harm?” I work hard to foster a sense of decency and humanity and compassion toward everyone; though I am human and often fail at this, particularly when I’m met with anger, ignorance, fear, and aggression, that doesn’t stop me from trying. I think the world would be a better place if we were a little more gentle with each other, so I’m trying to set a good example.

Charlie: That is a great response and since I am incapable of an equivalent response in under a week(it would take me a week just get the grammar close to being correct, not a joke) I will ask more questions because that is how I best learn and understand.

I too believe(feel) “I have no right – ZERO – to tell someone else how to live their lives” (children included). I also have a massive feeling of burden when faced with having to earn enough money for my family and myself over then next 20 years, expessily with my diabetes.

My question is if I can’t take care myself and my family for the next 20 years should I force someone else to help me? Knowing that it goes against my our belief that “I have no right – ZERO – to tell someone else how to live their lives”.

Chili:  Here’s the thing Charlie; remember when I said that I live in a community with other humans? Part of the social contract we have (and I think I pointed this out to you before in a previous conversation we had around insurance), we’ve collectively agreed to at least marginally care for one another. We have settled on a minimum of care – emergency rooms for people without insurance (though that’s about to change with the implementation of the individual mandate of the ACA), welfare and other assistance for the very poor or disabled – that are funded by those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to not need them.

*I* personally don’t feel that I’m being “forced” to care for anyone; in fact, I’d like it if MORE of my tax dollars went to programs that helped people, rather than to programs that bought bombs and funded wars. Further, I don’t see that care and assistance as “telling someone else how to live their lives,” though I’m going to gather, given how you framed your question, that on some level you do. I don’t know how I can adequately address your concern until I understand it.

Let’s say that you can’t provide for your family because of your disease. There are a number of programs that are designed to assist you in meeting a minimum standard of living (though we can argue whether that minimum standard is adequate – or even decent – but that’s another argument). If you’ve worked AT ALL in the United States, then you’ve already paid into the programs that will be helping you later; Social Security and disability insurance taxes are taken from everyone who earns an “over the counter” paycheck, so you’ll be participating in programs that you’ve – at least partially – helped to fund.

Those programs do not dictate HOW you live, though. They don’t tell you that you have to live in a certain town or a certain kind of apartment. They don’t tell you what kind of work you can or cannot do as a condition of your receiving your benefits (though there are MAJOR changes that need to be made to the systems that allow people “runways” or “off ramps” off those programs, rather than just cutting them off wholesale if they make a dollar more than the minimum required for them). They don’t tell you what kind of food to eat (though I would argue that there SHOULD be limits on what kinds of things food stamp money can be used to purchase; I’m not crazy about people buying cigarettes or lottery tickets with EBT money, but I AM okay with them buying aspirin or diapers). They don’t check in on your living conditions, they don’t require you to check in with any kind of report or evidence of your having spent your benefit in a particular way, so I’m not really sure how being the recipient of aid is tantamount to being controlled in any way.

Charlie: Can you explain the community of humans better to me? Others have brought this up to me as well, not using your exact phasing but the same idea.

Personally, I have so much burden on my shoulders and it is unfair to give, even if they want it, or force that burden on anyone else. Doing so would go against my good concuss and only burden me with more guilt because I know they could be doing better things with there lives then taken care of me. Not burdening others is my why of giving back to the community.

Chili:   Charlie, we live in a society, right? We’re a bunch of people living together. We aren’t a loose collection of independent farmer/homesteaders anymore who fend for ourselves and owe everything we have to our own guile, sweat, and effort; we’ve formed INTERdependent communities. Mr. Chili and I were just talking the other day about the fact that, if the whole system were to collapse, we’d be dead in a month. We both work with our heads (I’m a teacher; Mr. Chili’s a space science engineer). Neither of us knows how to farm or hunt, and I have NO idea how to get a chicken from the back yard to a cooking pot. We rely on other people to provide things that we can’t. When people live together – in families or tribes or neighborhoods or towns – they make both implicit (cultural norms) and explicit (laws and rules) agreements about how they’re going to behave, and how they’re going to treat each other.

Some societies do this better than others. Look at the example of the Nordic states; they’ve managed to get their poverty under control, their educational systems are working, their crime rates are admirably low, and they don’t have a huge unemployment problem. This is not my opinion; look at the facts. They manage to hit all those high points by agreeing, collectively, to care for one another to a level that they find acceptable, and they do that through “the State.” Everyone pays in to the collective pool, and those resources are allocated according to what the society has decided is important.

A lot of people (perhaps you, perhaps people you know) call that the “Nanny State,” which is a derogatory term implying that people don’t DO anything to earn these benefits; they have a “nanny” who cares for their every need and whim. They DO earn those things, though; they pay in to them, and the country’s collective wealth – which is generated by its people – pays into them. People in the Netherlands work, just like we do, but they don’t live under the same kind of pressure and fear that you’re feeling; if they get sick, they know that there’s a system in place that isn’t going to force them or their families to live under a bridge when their preciously meagre resources are exhausted because the system THEY’VE PAID INTO is going to pick up the loose ends..

The thing is, WE do this, too; we pool our collective wealth (taxes) and allocate it to what we think is important. The problem, as I see it, is that “what we think is important” isn’t being dictated by us anymore. Dig into some history and you’ll see that the burden for tax revenue has shifted DRAMATICALLY in the last 100 or so years from companies to individuals. The monied few have been manipulating our laws and policies to the extent that the individual (who is likely struggling) is paying FAR more than the companies (which are FLUSH with cash right now). Seriously; *I* paid more in taxes last year than Exxon, GE, and Bank America COMBINED (and you did, too – and what’s worse is EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE COMPANIES GOT SUBSIDIES PAID FOR BY OUR TAX DOLLARS).

Further, the way we allocate our funds has been hijacked, too. We’ve spent enough on wars (mostly for oil…hmmm… who’s benefiting THERE, I wonder…?) to wipe out every bill we would EVER need to pay – like, forever – AND take care of every single human in our borders to a humane and decent level without and STILL have enough left over to fund things like science and medicine. When you hear people screaming that food stamps and Social Security are driving our country into financial ruin, ask those people to prove it. It’s not the social programs that are killing us, it’s our irrational and incessant need to fund bigger and more involved wars (and to prop up banks, oil companies, and other businesses that, I assure you, aren’t adding much to the general welfare).

While I understand that you don’t want to be a “burden” on society, I think that your way of thinking is a direct result of the “nanny state” narrative that’s been pushed by people who don’t want to be bothered taking care of their neighbors. This “I got mine, you’re on your own” attitude is short-sighted and inhumane, and doesn’t take into account things like privilege, opportunity, and sheer, random luck. I don’t think FOR A MINUTE that I got where I am ALL ON MY OWN. I was LUCKY; I grew up in a poor (and abusive) home; the ONLY reason I am where I am today is that I had good people in my life who helped me (some emotionally, some financially) and encouraged me to be bigger than my past. I’m white. I was born in a relatively affluent part of the country (imagine if I’d been born in back-woods Appalachia, or if I’d been born black in the projects of some big city somewhere). I’m able of both body and mind. NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THOSE THINGS WAS IN MY CONTROL; they were all the result of fortune and luck – luck that I was helped into a position to take advantage of by people who cared enough about me to put out the effort. That those things are true contributes to my privilege; I have it easier than a LOT of people (though not so easy as some, but that’s always going to be true, regardless of who you are). Do I have ANY right to stand there and say “you’re not working hard enough” or to admonish people to “pull themselves up from their bootstraps” when it may be true that they don’t even have boots?

The short version of this story is that *I* (and a lot of people who think like me) WANT to help you. I would MUCH rather my tax dollars go to funding disability and Social Security and Head Start and Food Stamps than go to subsidies for EXXON or GE or Bank of America – or to fund more war toys. We KNOW how to be decent to one another; we know how to be encouraging and helpful and humane, we’re just choosing not to be those things. That’s what I’m working to change.

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Thought for Thursday

So, this afternoon, I discovered – and facebook posted – Dan Savage’s latest outreach effort.  He’s joined up with a number of progressive (or, at the very least, not batshit crazy moderate) Christians who are trying to speak up and not allow the batshit crazy among them to highjack the conversation about what Christians do and do not believe.

One of my former students re-posted the link from my page and posited a question to his friends (most of whom are, I’m assuming, like him; fundamentalist, evangelical Christians).  Understand that this kid is someone for whom I have a healthy dose of respect; we disagree about nearly everything, but he’s a thinker, and he’s curious about the world and willing, I think, to modify his beliefs to accommodate new information.

Clearly, though, his friends are not.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Exhibit A:


A couple of observations here:

First, wow.  It doesn’t MATTER what we think?  Uh… okay.  I could stop right there.  I mean, really; here’s a perfect, real life,  from-the-horse’s-mouth example of people trading their intellect (and, not for nothing, the difficulty that comes from having to wrestle with the nuance that hard questions ask us to appreciate) for religion.  “NOPE!  I get to hate gay people and never question the rightness of it again.  Says so right here!”  Alrighty, then.

Second, WOW.  What kind of hubris is required for someone to say that they KNOW what God thinks?!  So much for being humble before the Lord, huh?

Finally, this whole exchange (which was “liked” several times after I took the screen shot) prompted me to private message my student to ask if I could jump into the conversation (see above, re; respecting him and his way of thinking).  He asked me not to; he wanted to keep the conversation to his Christian friends, and I had to admit that I, too, was curious to see what they’d say without the big, bad atheist stirring up their pot.  We ended up having a lengthy private conversation about the nature of the Bible and how people do or do not interpret its various edicts.  As a consequence of that, I’ve come to understand that I still disagree with him on just about everything, but he’s reinforcing that my respect for how he comports himself with those who disagree with him is well founded.

*this will likely be edited to continue the conversation as more of my student’s friends chime in.  Watch this space.

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Quick Hit: Why do YOU Care?

I get asked, shockingly often, why I get “so worked up about stuff that doesn’t affect” me.


Their reasoning goes something like this: I’ll never need an abortion. I’m not gay. I currently experience no roadblocks to exercising my right to vote. I don’t carry student debt anymore.  As a result, people – far too many people – can’t understand why I’m so passionate about these issues.

I sometimes wonder if I can explain to them why I care so deeply about justice for others whose lives are so different from mine; I’m not always sure I understand it on an intellectual level myself.

I have always been an empathetic being.  I feel very deeply, and I have a keen sense of right and wrong.  I am profoundly bothered when I hear about – or witness – injustice;  *I* feel less human when someone else is degraded, abused, or disrespected.

This story goes around on facebook every once in a while, and it’s as close as I can get to how I feel about this, big picture:

An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats.


When he asked them why they had run like that when one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said, ‘UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?’  ‘UBUNTU,’ in the Xhosa culture means, ‘I am because we are.”

I guess, in a very real way, I AM affected by those things that people think don’t (or shouldn’t) matter to me.  How can I enjoy access to the things I want and need when others struggle and suffer?  Don’t I owe it to the Universe, to myself, and to my brothers and sisters to use the gifts I’ve been given – the privilege I enjoy – to try to lift others up, too?  If not, why not?  How is it that so many people are content living an attitude of “I got mine, you’re on your own”?

I close my yoga classes by saying “I am because you are; all that is good and true in me honors all that is good and true in you.”  Sometimes, I choke up saying it; too few people understand that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other, and that we have the power to make one another’s lives so much easier and more joyful if we just figured that out and started behaving like loving people.

Sadly, I don’t think the people who give me crap for “caring too much” could even begin to understand.



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