Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kumbaya, without apologies

The song was originally a simple appeal to God to come and help those in need but, more recently, it is also cited or alluded to in satirical or cynical ways that suggest false moralizing, hypocrisy, or naively optimistic views of the world and human nature.
-Kumbaya article, Wikipedia

I've already talked about the 'thought-terminating cliché' in a recent post, so reintroducing it here so soon makes me feel like some college freshman who can't help but impose his or her newfound highfalutin lingo from Sociology 101 on the family at Thanksgiving dinner, as if their kin were provincial simpletons in sorry need of enlightenment. Perhaps the family finds it all amusing in an endearing sort of way, even if it is a little much. After all, by degrees the child's well-intentioned desire to change the world will give way to a stoic sense of fulfillment in simply minding the shop.

However, the pejorative use of the word 'Kumbaya', which has become the default usage, is something that has been under my skin for some time precisely because it is now word-as-weapon, to be used in shooting down discussions that dare to veer into progressive territory, thus eliminating a solution rooted in hope and good will from the conversation. "Oh, let's all just join hands and have a 'Kumbaya' moment," as they say. In our culture there is no real comeback to such a statement because it emanates from deep within the rigid firmament of North American thought, and thus any attempt at a retort would seem like decadent whimsy at best. If someone cuts you off in mid-sentence with "Don't get all Kumbaya on us," the tendency is to shut down, particularly if this occurs during a group conversation.

Thought-terminating cliché.

Conversational bullying.

Call it what you will.

My own sense of why the 'Kumbaya' paradigm exists in this part of the world is that the United States as well as Canada both forged their respective identities during a time of massive land expansion and economy-growing. We each had our nations to build and populate, and so any activity or worldview running counter to that imperative would have seemed suspect or even treasonous.

And so, although most of us no longer work in the very  labor-intensive industries that built North America, I think the lingering aroma of the frontier mentality still permeates our thinking, even if we're not consciously aware of it. The idea of constant growth for its own sake is orthodoxy to us, even though constant growth tends to be a toxic phenomenon in any natural system. To offer this suggestion in the U.S., for example, would be considered by many as evidence that you somehow "hate America", as if generating private profits is the only reason America exists, full stop. (There is more to America than profits, isn't there?)

In these parts politicians are expected to exhalt 'public-private partnerships' (P3s) for major projects, though in many cases even marginal private involvement can reduce or eradicate the level of accountability demanded of the participating government body. And even though the value of P3s is much more dubious than proponents would have you believe, it is important for our politicians to be seen as beckoning the business sector into the public house like a harlot in the doorway. We have an economy to build, so how could there possibly be any other way?

It's like there's an old, red-faced farmer in our collective head, animating us out a fear that he'll scream at us to quit goofing off and get back to work if we dare pause to contemplate a reality not based on relentless field-clearing and tree-felling. Moreover, a term like 'Kumbaya', in the now-conventional usage, serves as lead hand for this mythological farmer, as it goes a long way towards squelching expressions of unconventional thought.

I think there's everything to be gained if people learn to stand-up to 'Kumbaya' (and other thought-terminating clichés) and tell the person uttering it to perch and rotate. The old ideas are leading us down blind alleys, and so we need to hear more from those who have the wherewithal to transcend Joe Sixpack's taunts and sneers.





Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The trouble with flags

Over the years my relationship with the idea of a national flag has changed. At one time I would have happily saluted the Canadian flag, as I held it to be a symbol of my nation's people, our values, and my home. That was so long ago, however, and things just don't seem so certain anymore.

The post-9/11 era, marked as it has been by a war on terror that is unending-by-design, has been a period of contemplation and discernment for me as far as flags and knee-jerk patriotism are concerned. Furthermore, the current debacle in the U.S. over the Confederate flag, as well as Louis Farrakhan's incendiary comments about what he considers the racist nature of the American flag, has only served to make me ponder the issue further.

This doesn't mean that I don't love my country – it's just that I have come to loathe the idea of symbols or frames of mind that serve as invitations to stop thinking. (And especially in a time of war, legitimate or manufactured, flags are surely not intended to inspire individual free thought.)

To understand this point of view, think in terms of comparing a flag to its respective nation's constitution.

A constitution is a means by which the people can hold their government and justice system to account, and particularly in a liberal democracy, it serves as a beachhead against iron-fisted rule by politicians who ought to know better. In short, consitutions protect us from the government, which is why hawks and the elite who control governments find the idea of constitutions a stumbling block at best.

The problem with constitutions (for those who don't like them) is that they are comprised of text that can be read, interpreted and acted upon by the justice system. If well-written, a consitution succinctly declares its people's rights that, in theory, must be repected by authorities at all levels. In practice, however, terroristic events (legitimate or manufactured) are used as a justification for gutting those rights, as evidenced by the U.S. Patriot Act. (I don't think the Act's name was ironic in the least - those who proudly self-identify as 'patriots' always come across as jingoistic loudmouths who seem to hate everyone who isn't part of their racial and political demographic. Witness the so-called 'patriot movement'. Furthermore, when have things like helping fundraise to build a new library, making a newcomer feel at home, or lobbying for safe drinking water ever been called 'patriotic'? These are community-building activities, yet I suppose they just don't stack up to protecting the right to fire off a few rounds on the back forty.)

On the flipside of this dichotomy is the flag. It is not meant to be interpreted or debated – just shut up and salute it, already. (And take off that ballcap, damnit!) And because it is an empty vessel to begin with, it can be filled with whatever meaning the beholder attaches to it. In times of war, the conventional meaning becomes the unquestioning self-sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, and implies that they are risking their lives for all of us, even if the conflict in question doesn't remotely concern us.

And when the fallen soldier returns from the field of battle, they are transported in a flag-draped coffin, which by turns further eradicates his or her individual identity, and further discourages any questioning of the validity of the war effort itself. After all, that would be an insult to the deceased.

I fought the war but the war won't stop for the love of god.
I fought the war but the war won.

-Metric, Monster Hospital

While I believe all fallen soldiers deserve honor, it is nothing short of grotesque to me that they are so exhalted for what I think is an ulterior motive, which is to glorify militarism and prevent people from asking pointed questions. To see how insincere dead soldier worship is, just look at how those who return home alive but with physical or mental wounds are so quickly disregarded and forgotten. In the U.S. and Canada, it has taken a non-stop succesion of war veteran suicides to push their respective governments into action, and even then it's to stanch any further political bleeding.

Something like the Highway of Heroes here in Ontario strikes me as nothing more than a propaganda effort of Leni Riefenstahl proportions. Is it for the purpose of remembering the fallen soldier, or is it a ghoulish exercise in social engineering aimed at manipulating public emotions toward a more militaristic outlook? I can't think of a greater desecration to a soldier's memory than the latter possibility.

In summary, consitutions exist to serve the people, whereas flags exist to serve the powerful.

As we North Americans head into our respective national holidays (July 1 in Canada, July 4 in the United States), we should ask ourselves just what it is we are celebrating. (And believe me, in this part of the world there is much to unapologetically celebrate.) Is it our fellow citizens, our community's shared values, or our sense of civic virtue? Or is it merely a religious devotion to national triumphalism?

Perhaps a question to take with you into the holiday is this:

Why is it okay for a government to gut a constitution, but not okay for a citizen to burn a flag?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Breitbart.com: gay self-respect equals 'fascism'

Note: I started writing this post two days ago, and as I was putting the finishing touches on it today I heard the great news coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court vis-à-vis gay marriage. While this is certainly cause for celebration, I don't see any of the anti-gay bias in certain corners going away anytime soon.

Congratulations to all who are so positively impacted by this outcome! I dedicate this post to you.   :-)

________


It takes a very special kind of pundit to capitalize on the fallout of the recent tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina as a way to attack gays, but it seems that John Nolte, Editor-at-Large for Breitbart.com, is up to the challenge.

In his June 23 diatribe (Take Down the Fascist, Anti-Christian Gay-Pride Flag), he makes all sorts of bold assertions that are intended to spook his readers into believing that a Homosexual Army is marching into their town to burn down their churches and supress any expression of the Christian faith. Listen carefully for the sound of pink jackboots, he implies. They're coming for you and your family, values and all!

The trouble with all this is that his bold assertions are backed by a very tenuous interpretation of the facts.

He writes:

Under this banner of hate, people are outed against their will, terrorized out of business merely for being Christian, bullied and harassed for thoughtcrimes; moreover, "hate crimes" are being manufactured to keep us divided, Christians are refused service, death threats are hurled, and Christianity is regularly smeared as hate speech.

Let's unpack the above paragraph and run it through my logic filter, such as it is.

Assertion 1: People are outed against their will

The person being "outed against their will" is Rep. Randy Boehning (pronounced the same as "boning"?), a North Dakota lawmaker who voted against an LGBT anti-discrimination bill. The complication is that while Boehning was a staunch conservative politician by day, at night he was cruising Grindr, a gay social networking site, and had sent a jpeg of his John Henry to Dustin Smith, a 23-year-old man who also frequented the site. In this Age of Anthony Weiner there is no excuse for any politician to assume any sort of right to privacy if they're sending pickle shots to men less than half their age, particularly those who make their living playing to a homophobic audience. Smith didn't "out" Boehning as gay - by participating in an online forum for gay men he outed himself, if inadvertently. Smith is guilty only of exposing a politician's hypocrisy, though evidently John Nolte doesn't get that nuance. 

Assertion 2: People are terrorized out of business merely for being Christian

This is a misnomer. Memories Pizza, a Christian-owned pizza parlor in Indiana, was the subject of a boycott and public shaming online and elsewhere not because the owners are Christian but because they said they'd refuse to knowingly do business with gay people. As far as I know, there is nothing in the New Testament exhorting Christian pizza peddlers to discriminate against prospective customers on the basis of sexuality. Furthermore, why is homosexuality the only 'grave sin' that restauranteurs seem to care about? When was the last time you ever heard of a restaurant refusing to serve murderers, adulterers, thieves, bearers of false witness, defrauders, or dishonorers of fathers and mothers?

It would seem to me that the conflating of gay discrimination with 'Christianity' is a case of theological acrobatics for the sake of legitimizing hatred. Sure, you can cherry-pick some homophobic passages out of the Bible - that doesn't make homophobia Christ-like. In fact, you could cherry-pick all sorts of nasty things out of the Bible that would make any self-described fundamentalist squirm with embarrassment.

Furthermore, while the owners of Memories Pizza are indeed Christians, and while the business is a privately-held concern, it exists to serve the public at large, and not just their fellow parishoners. To use supposedly-religious reasons for alienating certain segments of that public isn't just theologically-questionable - it's bad business, period.
 
As a Christian, I am offended by people turning Jesus into a corpse-puppet like the guy in Weekend at Bernie's, and reanimating Him without His consent to validate their hateful belief systems. I would feel at least marginally better if they had enough integrity to be honest and said "Alright, we just don't like gays, okay?", rather than bringing Jesus into it.



And finally, this particular situation isn't a case of 'terrorism' - it's a form of lobbying in the direct democracy known as a market-based economy. (As evidenced by the result this lobbying effort garnered, I would say this is a far more effective system than the symbolic 'democracy' we have in place in most first-world countries.) If the politician (restauranteur) is going to introduce some ugly policy ("we won't serve gays"), then concerned third parties (gay organizations) have the right to lobby fellow voters (the rest of us pizza consumers) not to vote (do business) with said politician (restauranteur).

Assertion 3: People are bullied and harassed for thoughtcrimes

Nolte backs this assertion with a situation kinda/sorta similar to the one above, albeit in reverse, where two openly-gay owners of a gay-friendly hotel, OUT NYC, came under fire from gay organizations for agreeing to host Ted Cruz at a New York event despite his known opposition to gay marriage.

While said hoteliers are free to engage in whatever political activities they choose, the clientele who would otherwise be their target market are free to publicly express their displeasure through any legal and peaceful means.

On a tangential note, the late Andrew Breitbart had an affinity for activities that Nolte would consider bullying and harassment if circumstances were different.



Stop thinking and start shouting! It's the Breitbart way.

Assertion 4: Moreover, "hate crimes" are being manufactured to keep us divided.

Nolte dredges up a few examples here where gays or transgendered people may have lied about being being victimized on a given occasion. Even if the reportage he cites is accurate, I say "big deal" with arms folded and a look of genuine disinterest.

Gay or transgendered people are just as prone to making stupid mistakes as the rest of us. (And in making false accusations, they're certainly far from alone.) The fact that they made these mistakes in the first place is not symptomatic of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Assertion 5: Christians are refused service

Again, anti-gay beliefs are being wrongly conflated with Christianity. In this case, someone asked a bakery for cake inscribed with "We do not support gay marriage", and the bakery refused that request. The bakery probably didn't give a hoot what the person's religion was - it was the message being requested that was at issue.

In keeping with the above trend, the bakery is free to exercise discretion in how it conducts itself, and in return it has to endure whatever economic custard-pies-in-the-face result from their actions. The freedom to make a potentially wrong decision is a beautiful thing.

Assertion 6: Death threats are being hurled

Okay, so some organizations working to delegitimize gay rights (or even label gayness itself as a 'personality disorder') have been receiving some threatening emails. Perhaps they were expecting truckloads of gays to show up at their door and give them prolonged back rubs out of sheer gratitude?

When you're in the business of bullying a certain segment of society, you can reasonably expect some push back, even if it's in the unjustifiable and inexcusable form of death threats. Grow up, already.

Assertion 7: Christianity is regularly smeared as hate speech

I don't know about you, but I'm getting oversimplification fatigue the further down the list I get. In Ann Curry's interview with Kirk Cameron, she was questioning him about certain things that he has said that could be construed as incitement to mistreat of gay people. (Cameron had called homosexuality "unnatural", and went on to say "it's detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization." At the very least, these are fightin' words.) Whether or not Curry's interpretation is correct, she has the right (and responsibility) as a journalist to question him on it. Asking a question, even a pointed one, is not the same thing as smearing.

And once again, Nolte's logic here is that if Christianity = gay discrimination, and gay discrimination = hate speech (in the eyes of progressives), then progressives must obviously be saying that Christianity = hate speech. There's a fallacious argument in this somewhere. False equivalence?

In conclusion, it seems that John Nolte would like Christians and conservatives alike to have the right to publicly demonize gays and gay rights, often in an outright belligerent manner, but not experience any resistance from the targets of these offensives. They want to get in the ring with the gay community, as long as the gay community has its hands tied behind its back. Nolte, for one, seems to want gays to know their place in the world and not deviate from it with talk of rights and equality, and is ready to pounce on them with terms like "Big Gay Hate Machine" and "fascists" whenever they dare stand up for themselves.

Nolte's frequent knee-jerk use of the term"fascist" is interesting in this case, because none of the examples noted above come anywhere close to resembling actual fascism. In at least some of the cases, they are a matter of gays or transgendered people exercising their own self-respect. (Yes, death threats and false accusations are always wrongful actions, but not fascistic.) So on that note I'll leave you with Lawrence W. Britt's "early warning signs of fascism", and you can ponder for yourself as to how many of them correspond with the Breitbart.com editorial agenda.

  • Powerful and continuing nationalism
  • Disdain for human rights
  • Identification of enemies/scapegoats
  • Supremacy of the military
  • Controlled mass media
  • Obsession with national security
  • Religion and government are intertwined
  • Corporate power is protected
  • Labor power is suppressed
  • Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
  • Obsession with crime and punishment
  • Rampant cronyism and corruption
  • Fraudulent elections
  • Rampant sexism

Monday, June 22, 2015

Political correctness doesn't equal anti-racism

Back in the 1990s, when 'political correctness' first appeared on our cultural radar, we were presented with a term that in my opinion went largely misunderstood, and would go on to become a near-meaningless flashpoint around which progressives and social conservatives could differentiate themselves from each other.

On one side, it provided social conservatives with terminology at which they could aim their seething contempt for the audacity of minority groups wishing to assert their civil rights or others who were addressing social justice head-on. Perhaps these privileged white people felt their cultural hegemony being threatened, and their reflex was to gag by spitting the term 'political correctness' into their talk radio microphones with all the disgust they could muster.

And on the other side were the misguided souls who sincerely believed that by tightening up what we're allowed to say in public, we'd somehow usher in an Age of Aquarius of sorts by the sheer power of words. If we stop allowing racist or other retrograde forms of speech, the reasoning must have went, then we'll all advance another rung up the ladder of higher consciousness. Or something.

The problem with all of the above is that political correctness has never been the same thing as moral correctness. By its very definition, it is a conception of shallowness. A more intellectually-honest term to describe the same phenomenon would have been 'political expedience'. Think of it like this: if you condemn the use of racial slurs, then you can be excused from having to talk about root causes of racial inequality, and thus lull yourself into feeling like you've done you part and can move on to other things.

(As a side note, 'root causes' has now replaced 'political correctness' as the term of contempt for talk radio meanies, as it implies that allowing society to be a winner-take-all jungle a la Milton Friedman will not cure what ails us.)

Here's the thing - there has always been political correctness, though what is deemed politically correct is very fluid and subject to change from one age to another. For example, at one time there would have been nothing politically incorrect about segregation in the U.S., or anti-semitism in Germany, or the idea of wife-beating in almost any part of the world.

And while I don't condone the use of racial slurs in any form, it is foolish for people whose hearts are otherwise in the right place to allow their resistance to social injustice to be used up in squabbles over vocabulary. Furthermore, we as a society are kidding ourselves if we think racism is anything other than a very specific form of class conflict. Sometimes, this conflict can occur in an insidious form that goes undetected in those perpetrating it, and would offend them if they realized the import of their actions (or reactions).

I'm thinking quite specifically of the public reaction to the shooting death of Jane Creba on Boxing Day, 2005 in Toronto, Canada. I don't wish to denigrate her memory - after all, she was just an innocent 15-year-old girl out shopping downtown with her sister when she found herself in the crossfire of a gunfight and took the bullet that claimed her life. Creba certainly didn't deserve to die any more than the next person. In and of itself her death was an unqualified tragedy.

The public uproar and accelerated police response that followed, however, was offensive to me in the larger context of the wave of gang-related gun violence that had been sweeping the city that year. It seemed that hardly a day went by when the latest shooting death wasn't in the news, often a person of color whose only crime had been to be an innocent bystander in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. One such victim was a boy young enough to still be in diapers who, although surviving his wounds,was nearly castrated by the bullet that passed through his hip and into his genitals.

There was much hand-wringing at the time, but it seemed to be frequently punctuated with a vacant shrug of the shoulders. Perhaps it was just a gang problem in the black neighborhood surrounding the Jane and Finch intersection, and therefore allowed affluent suburbanites to consume the information with much detachment, as if it were some grim form of entertainment.

I found it more than a little galling, then, when the shooting death of a white girl from the suburbs while in the middle of an upscale shopping mecca triggered such a public rage for justice as well as an intensive police investigation dubbed Project Green Apple in honour of her favorite food. 

The poor blacks from the projects who died just as tragically in the same crime wave rated much lower concern from everyone involved. And so, even here in tolerant and diverse Canada, in our most cosmopolitan of cities, we are still capable of exercising segregation, at the subconscious level though it may be.

I'm sure many of the people who lavished indignation on Jane Creba's death wouldn't dream of using the N-word, and would sincerely bristle at the notion of having a racist bone in their body. The problem here is that racial inequality has precious little to do with mere choice of words

So, while President Obama's recent use of the N-word to illustrate the ongoing reality of racism despite the best efforts of our well-meaning public vocabulary could be considered politically incorrect, there was a sharp point to his words that no doubt was intended to prick our complacency and make us a little uncomfortable.

Although it may not have been a polite choice of words, these times call for some impoliteness as a moral imperative. And if one is to consider themself an 'anti-racist' in a truly meaningful sense,they should seriously consider the extent to which class struggle is at the heart of the matter, and how far they are willing to go for what they believe is just.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Political ambivalence as passive terrorism

Terrorism: the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.

Merriam-Webster

Can the above definition be expanded to include acts that achieve political goals through frightening people but don't feature any sort of physical violence? For example, if someone calls in a phony bomb threat in the name of some political cause, and thus sets in motion an emergency response from the authorities and a moment of tension and fear in the public, would that qualify as terrorism?

If so, it would beg a clarified definition, such as "the use of violence, or the fear of violence, to achieve a political goal". (I personally think this should be the case.)

At the risk of disappearing into a hall of mirrors, could the misuse of the 'terrorism' designation be considered...well, 'terrorism'? Consider that whether or not the term is officially applied to an incident is often (if not always) politically-motivated. (It can be applied to mere crimes for political reasons, or for political reasons an act of legitimate terror can be dismissed as a mere crime.)

Green light: a termed used by gang memebers when some gang has a hit out on em. "Dude, six fools got blasted last week from that neighborhood...they got the green light."
by ROB $ December 11, 2004

http://www.urbandictionary.com

Particularly in an overheated cultural environment, labeling an incident as an act of 'terror', legitimately or otherwise, can heighten the overall safety and security concerns of a given demographic if the 'terror' is linked to members of that community, thus constituting an official form of "green lighting". A recent report in The Guardian, for example, shows that hate crimes against Muslims in the U.K. have nearly quadrupled in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.




Conversely, what are we to make of legitimate acts of terror that are inappropriately dismissed as mere crimes, or even non-political 'massacres'? Could the refusal to apply 'terrorism' here be politically-motivated, and perhaps cause fear (or at least uneasiness) among the demographic being targeted? Furthermore, could this political ambivalence itself be considered passive terrorism? (If there can be such a thing as 'passive aggression', then it stands to reason there can also be 'passive terrorism'.)

The current example is Dylann Roof, who has said he was trying to start a race war when he (allegedly) shot and killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This would seem to me like a clear-cut example of terrorism.

Unfortunately, the targets and goals of this attack have no bearing on Western economic or political interests, and so Roof is being charged with nine counts of murder, rather than with one count of terrorism. I'm sure that if the targets were white, the shooter was Muslim, and the incident was in the name of jihad, it would be considered a national emergency and would trigger a military response.

But this was not the case.

It brings to mind the Rwandan genocide of the early 1990's (which admittedly was on an entirely different scale), and the role that Western under-reaction played in the widespread massacre in that country. By deploying a small "peace-keeping" unit in a place where peace was nowhere to be found, were we abetting the murderers (by which I mean 'the terrorists'), and thus joining their ranks through association-by-inaction? 

We need to denounce all legitimate acts of terror, but on the flip side we also need to exercise more discretion in the use (or non-use) of this explosive term and not engage in passive terrorism.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Duggar scandal has legitimate news value - get over it

While the Duggar sex abuse drama has played out so publicly over the past few weeks, some on the right (such as Sarah Palin) have cried foul over what they see as a media double-standard in the way that Lena Dunham's admission of sexually abusing her younger sister generated far less controversy when it was revealed last year.

This discrepancy in public condemnation, they reason, is evidence of a 'liberal media' plot to attack conservatives by targeting a family that, up until recently, had emobodied the conservative Christian family in the public imagination, even if they themselves are too extreme to be a truly representative sample. (To the best of my knowledge your typical Christian family doesn't approach their family size with that much theological machismo, nor do they normally run their homestead like a cult compound in full cultural lockdown. I could be wrong.)

Do the tighty-righties have a point? Does the glare of scandal surrounding Jim Bob, Michelle and their outsized litter of Duggarbots really signify some nefarious hatchet job on the part of a media hell-bent on bringing down anyone to the right of Che Guevara? Or is this complaint merely so much manufactured outrage at a journalism industry just doing its job?

To even begin to consider this, we need to first open a can of iced tea, have some dip, and look at this issue with a bit of emotional detachment. The topic of sexual abuse tends to get people all worked up, and rightfully so. However, to sublimate this worked-uppedness into compaints about a perceived political bias in the media is a little disingenuous, and ignores the reality that there is far more to the Duggar case than just the abuse acts themselves.

For starters, let's look at what Josh Duggar and Lena Dunham have in common vis-a-vis the transgressions in question:

  • They have both admitted to sexually-abusing younger siblings.

Er, that's it.

Now let me say that an act of sex abuse in and of itself committed by a social conservative like Josh Duggar is no worse than one committed by someone more 'hip', like Lena Dunham. (The fact that Duggar has admitted to multiple victims doesn't absolve Dunham in any way for her lower victim count.)

As for what separates these two cases, let's get a list going:

  • Josh Duggar was 14 when he is known to have sexually-abused his sisters, with some of them being much, much younger. Lena Dunham was seven. As I said above, all sex abuse should be condemned - however, a 14-year-old, particularly one raised in such a morally-upright environment as the Duggar compound, should know much better not to molest than someone half his age. For Sarah Palin to angrily call Dunham a pedophile seems desperate and politically self-serving.
  • Lena Dunham hasn't held herself up as a paragon of sexual morality, nor has she ever accused any demographic of being prone to child molestation on the basis of their lifestyle, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Josh Duggar, on the other hand, was making a career out of it via his post as Executive Director of the Family Research Center, which has been notorious for continuing to perpetuate a study puporting to show causal links between homosexuality and child molestation. Problem is, this study has long been discredited.)
  • Further to the above, Lena Dunham isn't from a decidedly political family that is using its reality show platform as a stealth way to bring pop culture recognizability (and hence validity) to themselves and, by association, their political, cultural and spiritual pursuits. (Yes, I can hear some of you saying that Dunham is using her platform to advance a liberal agenda. Even if this is true, however, there is a difference between advancing a mere political agenda and using that agenda to promote hatred of a given demographic. See the second-last paragraph below for more.)
  • Lena Dunham didn't sue to keep her state's department of child services from further investigations by having files and testimony from the original police investigation (such as it was) kept sealed. Josh Duggar did just that in 2007.
  • There is no evidence of a cover-up in the Lena Dunham case, other than she herself keeping her mouth shut until going public about it in her autobiography. On the other hand, there was indeed a cover-up on the Duggar compound potentially involving one local police officer (since convicted of child pornography) and a church community that apparently had full knowledge of the incidents but chose to stay silent. Personally, I think the Duggar cover-up was an attempt to protect the Arkansas political establishment in general, and Jim Bob's political fortunes in particular. I've already written about this, and have no desire to rehash it here other than to restate my view that the abuse itself is the source of the scandal, but not the true scandal itself.

That about covers it. In the most general sense, the Duggars exist in our pop culture for the purpose of showing the rest of us how we're supposed to live. On their TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting, they have presented a selective version of their reality, as is the case for any 'reality' show. Where this becomes problematic is in how they have parlayed their genuine on-camera likeability into political pursuits many of their viewers would find objectionable, such as Michelle's retrograde robocall to lobby voters to not support a city council resolution to allow trans people to use public washrooms consistent with their gender identity. In said robocall, Michelle warned that of course men in dresses would soon be preying on children in public washrooms unless something was done about it.

The controversy differential between Josh and Lena's respective acts of abuse would be galling if it weren't for the fact that the Duggars have set themselves up as moral authorities on sexuality, and in the process contributed to anti-gay and anti-trans bias by smearing both groups with the taint of child molestation, real or imagined. And in setting themselves up in such a way, they have set themselves up for a hard fall.

And for this reason, we can't blame the media for simply having a healthy sense of news judgement.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner deserves respect like any other woman

How we react to things that fall outside of 'normal' parameters probably says more about the person doing the reacting than the subject. The classic example is homophobia, which many in the psychoanalytic business contend is an anxiety-based reaction on the basis of the homophobe's own deep-rooted fear of being gay.

At first it is tempting to put anti-transgender bias under the homophobia umbrella, as I'm sure many people assume that having a gender identity different than the physical gender they were born with must be an extension of homosexuality or some such. The problem here is that not all trans people are gay, and not all gay people are trans. And yet, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than 25 percent of trans people face a “bias-driven assault”. These rates climb, naturally, when the trans person in question is a racial minority.

It seems to me that anti-transgender bias must stem from a different sort of fear, perhaps on a larger scale than the fear that one's own gender identity may be more fluid than previously thought. In the fear of or hostility toward the transgender community, whether expressed through violence, verbal abuse, or anti-trans advocacy passing itself of as genteel science, I believe what we're actually witnessing is the gag reflex of a patriarchal society feeling threatened at its very foundations.

And if this is true, I can only imagine the squeamishness felt by whatever patriarchal construct still undergirding the establishment at the introduction of Caitlyn Jenner to the world. After all, she is a former Olympic gold medalist whose career saw her setting world records in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montréal, when she was known as Bruce. Spectator sports have the effect of promoting conformity and normalizing militarism – entire segments of the crowd cheer in unison for a group of people wearing identical uniforms. And in the case of team sports such as hockey, the crowd takes it one step further by adopting the uniform (or jerseys) of the players on the ice, or 'soldiers on the field of battle', if you will. (In my hometown, this is evidenced in an obvious way by the legion of Ottawa Senators fans being known collectively as the Sens Army. Their Toronto counterparts trumpet the cause of nationalism under the Leafs Nation moniker. Any questions?)

So for Bruce Jenner to defy the very meaning we (consciously or unconsciously) assign to athleticism by reintroducing herself as Caitlyn goes completely off the script our patriarchal society would have expected her to follow. For this she certainly deserves the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. This award should also serve to acknowledge the courage of lesser-known trans people, athletes or not, as they are telling us all that their place in the world is for they themselves to decide, and they do not need our input, thank you very much.

I must confess that in a case like this it takes a bit of conscious effort (at first) to use the female pronoun, as somewhere in my lizard brain is the cruft of an previously-held attitude that this is just a man dressing up as a woman. Thankfully, the rest of my brain has advanced beyond such naïveté, and so despite the required conscious effort I use the female pronoun for all trans women out of respect (which any woman deserves), and because in my heart I know that it is the good and right thing to do.