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When Is Appropriation Appropriate?

I’ve learnt not to post anything controversial to Facebook. I’m conflict-averse, like any good native-born Midwesterner, and I also think that the medium of Facebook is inappropriate to debate. It’s not well designed for it. Kittens and puppies, I always say.

Close-up of two pale-colored puppies roughly three months old, possibly Labradors, kneeling side-by-side in green grass.  The hindquarters of a third puppy are visible in the upper left of the photo.

I’ve given you kittens before, so this time, have some puppies. Photo by Lisa L Wiedmeier via Flickr. http://bit.ly/1HTtwNy

But sometimes it seems I can’t help myself. And so today I posted an article about belly-dancing that struck a chord with me. You see, one time I saw a performance as part of a larger event that appalled me. I didn’t know going in that the belly-dancing would be part of the evening’s festivities. And when these white women swiveled out onto the stage, not in haremesque attire associated with the art form, but in kimonos and geisha makeup for a “kabuki-inspired” performance, I raged out of the auditorium. I had fooled myself into thinking that we had somehow got beyond yellowface.

Now, this Japanese take on a minstrel show was beyond the bounds of decency. But it made me think. what about belly-dancing itself? Many performers are not of Middle Eastern descent. Is it okay for them to practice this art?

To answer my question, I just started paying attention to what my friends of Middle Eastern descent had to say on the subject. Not that belly-dancing came up in conversation all the time, and not that I broached the subject with them. But on occasion, a snippet of opinion surfaced, and, over time, I pieced the snippets together.

And the consensus was that it was not okay.

And this is the sort of thing that often has creative types like myself up in arms. An aesthetic can’t be owned by one culture to the exclusion of all others, so the argument goes. If so, we wouldn’t have English-language haiku, or the Asian influences present in Impressionist art. And without the intermingling of European and African influences, we wouldn’t have jazz or rock. So much would be lost, as the argument goes, if we all held to some strict, politically correct standard of artistic segregation. Besides, the artist should be completely free to use whatever methods or aesthetic she wants; creativity is paramount.

I argue that there is something more important than creativity–yes, even for artists. For there is an identity more fundamental than “artist”: human being. And for human beings to survive, let alone thrive, they must be able to live and work together in community. Our social nature, our ability to think in terms greater than the individual, is one of the chief reasons we have evolved to this point, and is key to our continued survival.

Respect is also the key to understanding the concept of appropriation.  And the key to respect is listening.  Simply put: if the consensus of a group to which you do not belong is that it’s okay for others to make use of an artistic expression originating in or representative of that group, go for it! Have fun.

But if the consensus of that group is that an expression is not okay, knock it off.

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an upswell of discontent from Japanese people about speakers of other languages using the form of haiku — even as the form is sometimes stripped of its original intent as a meditation upon nature.

The presence of East Asian influences in Impressionist art came out of the larger European movements of Orientalism and Internationalism in the late 19th century, which developed as a direct result of European colonization in East Asia. It’s important in the study of the Impressionist era to bear this troublesome history in mind. However, to the best of my knowledge, there have not been any recent calls from Chinese, Japanese, and other East Asian artists to dismiss Monet’s Water Lilies or Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in the way we now do, say Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer or Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Though we might want to talk about Gaugin’s objectification of Tahitian women in his work.)

With regard to the musical examples I offered above, jazz and rock, it’s important to bear in mind that artistic movements do, indeed, develop organically. Cultural cross-pollination created jazz, rock, and many other movements musical and otherwise. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a consensus from African American (and in the case of jazz, also Jewish) communities that those who do not belong their communities shouldn’t perform these genres — even as the audience for both jazz and rock over the decades grew increasingly white. An academic critique of, for instance, Elvis Presley and his complicated history with African American performers is worthwhile, but there has not been any great advocacy from the African American community that whites should quit listening to his music (though I half-wonder if some younger readers could list five of his songs — even Kings get dethroned eventually.)

To go back to my initial example, one could argue that the performers I saw that night were simply artists practicing a form of artistic syncretism. But the Asian American community has been resolute in its unacceptability of yellowface performance. And a growing number of people of Middle Eastern descent are decrying the appropriation of belly-dancing.

Even as I declared a certain black-and-white rubric regarding what to do and what not to do, notice that I’ve presented my examples with nuance and exceptions. Human beings are by nature complex, their histories, both personal and collective, tortuous and at times torturous. No one’s going to get all of this right 100% of the time, and group consensus also involves those who dissent. But the goal is not perfection, or “correctness,” but respect.

It’s tricky business. And it’s very much involved in what I do with my life. I’m a creative person across a few media. For instance, I designed this ballcap.  (Sorry for the shameless plug.) I’ve been interested in sports branding for most of my life, but it wasn’t until I discovered the online sports-concept community (and the existence of graphic-design freeware) about four years ago that I took up my hobby in earnest. And as I engaged with my fellow designers, I discovered a sharp divide within the community regarding the use of Native American imagery in the branding of a team, whether real, (like the baseball team in Cleveland or the NFL team in Washington) or fictional (I imagined my ballcap for a baseball team in Charlotte.) And as some designers like myself decry, for instance, the questionable moves of the Washington NFL ownership, others not only state that the branding is intended to honor Native Americans even as Native Americans claim otherwise — exactly what the ownership maintains — but persist in using such imagery in their own fictional concepts. On which point, I will simply say it doesn’t matter what you believe if that belief is contrary to fact. And the fact is that the consensus of Native Americans — with, yes, a bit of dissent, an issue meriting its own essay — is that such branding is disrespectful, full stop. So, to my fellow designers, I simply want to say: stop.

I also design jewelry. Mostly, I practice what is called assembly, meaning that I put together manufactured pieces in original designs — I don’t smelt metal or melt glass or anything like that. (Another shameless plug for my work is here, though at this exact moment the work is not for sale.) Another popular and lucrative style of jewelry design is bead-stitching, much of which was first developed by Native Americans. It’s a style I’ve thought about doing, though I wonder if I’d have the patience for it. But I’m not going to take it up for the time being, for the simple fact that I presently live in a community with a large Native American population, many of whom practice bead-stitching as a source of livelihood. I have decided that to do so right now would be disrespectful to the Native American community in that I would be using my hobby to undercut their ability to earn a living — in spite of the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, the local Native American community has not come out against white people making and selling bead-stitched jewelry.

And, really, that’s what all of this comes down to: personal decisions. But none of us live alone; the personal decisions of all of us over time aggregate to build a culture. And it behooves us all to build a culture that edifies rather than destroys, on a foundation of respect rather than of selfishness.

Dear Gentleman at the Bus Stop

Dear Gentleman at the Bus Stop:

First off, I want to thank you. You see, I’ve been experiencing a bit of writer’s block lately, and I’ve been looking for inspiration. Our ninety-second interaction encapsulated so much of what is wrong with society that I now have writing fodder for days.

And because you don’t know what was going on before our unfortunate encounter — not that you bothered to ask — I thought that I’d fill you in (on the snowball’s chance that you happen upon this post).

I missed a bus. By thirty seconds. That was to take me to an appointment that I have been waiting on for two months. I needed to contact the clinic to let them know I was running late and to see if there was any way they could accommodate me. But I didn’t have the clinic’s phone number. You see — as I’m 99% certain you noticed — I don’t have a smartphone. Because I can’t afford one. I get my phone through the LifeLine program, and it offers no internet capacity.

So I was stuck trying to figure out how to get their number. I tried calling someone who I figured would have the number, but we had multiple issues in getting the correct number to me. And in the middle of all that, I thought to contact directory assistance. If you haven’t used it lately, it’s all automated, and you have to say things very clearly, like “MIN-NE-A-PO-LIS MIN-NE-SO-TA” and “MED-I-CAL CLIN-IC”. And as clearly as you’re talking, over the din of the downtown of a major metropolitan area, you can barely understand a word the computerized voice is telling you. You’re just looking like and idiot saying “MIN-NE-A-PO-LIS”.

And as I’m doing all this, I’m pacing about. I know, this is verboten in Minneapolis. At a bus stop, you’re supposed to stand still. Well, when it’s below zero out, I move, because moving keeps you warm. And all that pacing may make you look like an idiot. But —  unlike everyone else in this town — I don’t complain about the cold.

So, in the middle of all this, the lady standing next to you asked me if I was okay. And I replied — in the foolishly honest manner that I have — that I missed my bus to go to the clinic and that I was having trouble getting their phone number.

And at this point, you engaged me. You told me that my shoe was untied. And I thanked you, but said that I needed to focus on something else right now. Because it was more important that I get hold of the clinic in a timely manner than that I tie my shoe. And, quite frankly, in forty years on this planet, I have never once tripped on my shoelaces.

And then you noticed my coat. And you decided it was not a winter coat. I hate to break it to you, but I was actually warm underneath my coat, probably warmer than you . It has a fitter cut than the enormous parka you were wearing, and so at first glance might appear more appropriate to spring or autumn, but I’m baffled that you didn’t notice how ridiculously thick the fabric is.

And that’s when you told me that I wasn’t dressed for winter. I forget the exact wording, because shortly after this statement, your reasoning spiraled so far out of control that to take down an exact quote from you for this blog was not the first thing on my mind.

Now, here, sir, was your first mistake. Because one would think that if a human being observed another human being underdressed for below-zero weather, and they were engaged in conversation about this very fact, the first thing you should have done was to inquire whether there was anything you or anyone could do to ensure I was more warmly dressed.

(And yes, I said “should”, despite all that liberal-arts public education I’ve had that has told me the word “should” is a bad word. But — and I hate to break it to the academy — this damn relativism has produced an I-can-do-whatever-I-want mentality that is, frankly, screwing society over. I only hope it’s not irrevocably so.)

Now, inexplicably, you decided that my supposedly thin coat made me “crazy”. And that the clinic I was going to must be the “crazy clinic”.

And so, sir, you might have felt quite proud of yourself for your quick-witted jibe. But you know what? Your snide statement only further contributed to the stigmatization of mental illness in our culture — and that stigma leads to people killing themselves, because words like yours make it harder and harder for them to seek the help they need. So, if you notice an infinitesimal smudge of red on your hands tonight, you know where it comes from. Words have consequences.

Now, sir, I don’t know what you thought I was going to do next. Since you had deemed me “crazy”, you might have thought that I would punch you, or rant about the aliens that live under my tinfoil hat. But you seemed to enjoy what I did next.

I’m about to get to the point where I question your upbringing. But, you see, you said “thank you” as I walked off to the next bus stop. You thanked me for removing my allegedly “crazy” self from your almighty presence. And because you have the capacity to say “thank you”, I know that somewhere rattling inside you is some modicum of decency.

So why did you not use that decency at any point within our interaction? You seemed quite proud of your capacity to bully an emotionally distraught person. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find anyone other than yourself to give you an accolade for doing so. Did you honestly think I was going to just stand there and continue to listen to your insults? No, sir, because that would be “crazy”.

I honestly have no idea what your story is — because, from the outset, you ensured that we would never have a chance to exchange stories. Oftentimes, when people act as you did today, when they have the hopelessly wrong notion that some human beings are ontologically superior to other human beings (and of course, they usually see themselves in the former group), I assume that their parents must have somehow inculcated that idea in their heads early on.

This is, of course, a drastic oversimplification (but you were in the mood for oversimplification today, weren’t you?). The majority parents do the best they can, there are societal pressures that undermine good parenting, and some kids just grow up in defiance of their good upbringing.

And yet, I’ve also seen bad parenting in action. See, one of the great many things you don’t know about me is that I spent several years of my career working with families, and I saw all the good attitudes and the bad attitudes that parents pass on to their children. And, frankly, it’s the kids who are being brought up with the bad attitudes that make me nervous for humanity’s continued survival.

But regardless of where nature and nurture fall in this equation, at some point, we all grow up. We become adults. And, for the vast majority of us — with the possible exception of those whom you might erase with the word “crazy” — we become responsible for ourselves. We have to take stock in our lives, and if there was some poor nurturing, whatever the source, that wove its way into our history, we have to take responsibility to unweave it.

You looked to be about fifty. About time you grew up.

I hope that I just caught you on a really bad day. When I was working with families, I was taught to always assume that bad behavior was merely indicative of a “bad day” and not of a larger pattern — even when I saw the same bad behavior from the same people day after day. I hope that whatever got stuck in your craw worked its way out and that you had a good day.

If this is not the case, if your behavior today is the norm for you, then I hope that you’re not a parent. I hope that you haven’t raised your children to believe that your behavior — so utterly lacking in grace, compassion, and the most rudimentary elements of humanity — is somehow socially acceptable. And if that is how they were raised, then, by all that is good and just, I hope that they have taken up the responsibility to undo those lessons.

You see, I don’t get the privilege to be a parent. The best I can hope for is to admonish every person I come across to raise their children to be loving and kind and compassionate. See, I’m committed to making the world a better place, and that means doing everything I can to undo the consequences of the sort of behavior I saw in you today.

You were astonished at my behavior today, though I fail to see how I did much of anything that was beyond the pale, other than that I didn’t exhibit the icy unflappability that is considered the greatest Minnesota virtue.

Well, guess what? When I crossed Hennepin Avenue, getting hold of my acquaintance once again to finally get the correct phone number, I shared my amazement and befuddlement at how a grown man saw fit to run off another man from a bus stop.

Some would say your actions were “crazy”. But I’m not going to erase you with that word. I’m just going to hope for good things for you.

You surprised me, because somewhere in my head, I have this notion rattling around to assume good things of people.

And I guess we’re not yet to the point where I can make those assumptions about everyone.

But, I tell you, I’m going to do my damnedest to work for a world where we can one day.

Peace to you,

Whittier

PS Since you didn’t ask exactly where I was going, and only assumed: I was going to a dental clinic, not a “crazy clinic”. And they were able to fit me in when another patient didn’t show. And now I have a nice smile — one that you can never take away.

Bachmann

On Facebook, I am that guy–the one who scrutinizes memes and articles for the faintest whiff of bovine excrement. I’m the one who replies with links to Snopes.com –even if their determination is that a story is partially true. I’m the first to point out that the Borowitz Report, Daily Currant, Landover Baptist Church, and Christwire are all satire sites.

They aren’t true. They make stuff up. They’re making jokes.

I don’t point out these errors because I want to be a high-and-mighty know-it-all, out to humiliate anyone who makes the slightest mistake in judgment. It is simply that I believe in the value of truth. I’m all for a good joke, but if the joke is being spread as actual facts, then it behooves me to set the facts straight before the lie is taken by all to be the truth. And it’s nothing that I don’t expect others to do with me–if I am wrong, I want to be called out and shown what is true.

But the fact remains that the satire gets passed on as truth. Most of the time, it eventually gets called out and everyone can get back on board with truth. But there is always the risk that a lie can perpetuate, and the consequences are too dire to allow that to happen.

There’s actually a rule of thumb, almost as old as the internet itself, called Poe’s Law, that explains why we fall so easily for these satire stories. The rule, simply put, is that, unless the writer goes out of his way to show that a satirical depiction of extremist views is indeed satire, it will be impossible to distinguish the satirical work from actual accounts of extremism. And, to be sure, sometimes when someone posts something that I think must be satire, it turns out to be true.

I ran into this issue a few weeks ago. A day before Governor Mark Dayton signed same-sex legislation into law in the state of Minnesota, word spread across Facebook that Representative Michele Bachmann would move out of the state if the Minnesota state senate passed the law, which Dayton had already vowed to sign.

This made a lot of people on my friends list ecstatic. She is not their favorite person, nor they hers. She has maintained her Congressional seat for six years, not because of her skill and prowess (her faux pas and outright lies are the stuff of legend), but because she benefits from a ridiculously gerrymandered district drawn specifically to include people who are guaranteed to vote for Not-The-Democrat.

But something just felt off about the story. I spotted the error almost immediately. It was published by the Daily Currant.

And so I spent a good chunk of time debunking the source as the article cropped up over and over and over. And over. Eventually, I had to just back away from the computer and get out of the house to actually celebrate the legislature’s passage of the bill. I went across to the street to a gay bar for a bit of conviviality I was to share with a friend, but our signals crossed and she ended up elsewhere. No matter–the mood was most celebratory in the bar, strangers singing and dancing and parading a rainbow flag around the bar.

Then someone brought it up: “Michele Bachmann said she’s going to move now!” And now, offline, I was stuck having to explain yet again that this was simply not true, without the benefit of linking to the articles that were already debunking the story. It was just little ol’ me, a stranger, my word against what “everyone” had told the guy.

And when I awoke this morning, I thought I was going to have to go through this all over again. I hopped onto Facebook, and the first news I saw was that Bachmann was not going to run for re-election. Here we go again, I thought.

Except that it’s true. And now, as she likely fades from the public eye, the bizarre relationship I have had with the woman draws to a close.

Now, I’ve never met Congresswoman Bachmann. She doesn’t know me. And I don’t live in her district. I live in the district next door to hers, whose representative is Keith Ellison, perhaps the most liberal member of the House of Representatives–in other words, nearly her diametric opposite. She has made all kinds of vile statements about gays–and thus, about me.

And yet, her outrageous lies about me and my friends (never mind other lies she’s told) brought about a pivotal point in my life. Here was someone who, though never having met me, hated me. She saw me as subhuman, as not her equal. And I saw all about me people whose response to her hatred was hatred. The notion was that they would stop hating her when she stopped hating them.

And this made absolutely no sense to me. It put the responsibility for one’s own actions on another person. That’s not how responsibility works. And because this other person–Bachmann–showed no signs of letting up on her views, it created a never-ending cycle of hatred.

So I decided that I had to be the one to make the first move in relation to her. I had to treat her as my equal even if she didn’t believe I was equal. I had to love her even if she hated me.

Look at the alternative. All around the world we see cycles of hate creating endless wars, putting us always in peril of making ourselves extinct. (A previous post gets into this idea further.) And the only way we can avoid this is if each of us makes the move to disrupt the cycle.

And so I have found myself repeatedly defending someone who hates me. I’ve received no small amount of flak in doing so. But I cannot escape the idea that she and I are inherently equal, and to insist she is inferior to me accomplishes no good, even as she declares me inferior to her.

She and I are equal–just as I am equal to my other seven billion siblings.

This is truth. And I must speak the truth.

Friends

I just posted this essay to Facebook. It is largely addressed to certain individuals on my friends list. However, I thought it might be useful to post here as well.

—————–

This is going to take me a long time to write. I’m writing it as a Word document first because I want to get it just perfect before I post it to Facebook. The things that I have to say need to be careful and measured and precise. But in the process, I cannot remove the fire and emotion that is motivating this post in the first place.

I was an evangelical Christian for a long time. I was at church three to four times a week, not counting special events. I studied the Bible and prayed every day. And I talked with everyone I could about becoming a Christian. I had been convinced that the only way they could avoid eternal pain and torment was to become a Christian. I didn’t want anyone to endure that agony; therefore, I wanted everyone to become Christians.

But then two life-changing events happened to me, at about the same time. First was the growing realisation that I was not turning into a heterosexual. I had only been attracted to males all my life, clear back to when I was a preschooler. Never mind that I had a hang-up on Greg Brady when I was three years old—all of this was certainly and undeniably a choice, my church told me, and the only way God would *really* love me (as opposed to just “loving” me the way he “loves” the people he sends to hell) was if I worked my absolute hardest to be attracted to women and not to men at all. But I wasn’t even most concerned about my going to hell. Instead, I was worried about being a “stumbling block.” If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means that your words and actions can cause someone else not to consider God and God’s true character so they will not choose God and they will end up going to hell. And, remember, I didn’t want anyone to go there.

And so I went to “therapy” to turn into a heterosexual. I put it in quotes because no professional medical organization considers this to be genuine therapy. In fact, they consider it to be dangerous to those who pursue it. Given that, for the entire ten years I was involved in this “therapy,” I was either suicidal because my trying my absolute hardest to please God wasn’t working, or I was in a dead fog with no aspirations in life, since I had to put all other dreams on the backburner until I turned into a heterosexual, I concur with these experts. But after a full decade of figuratively (and sometimes literally) beating my head against the wall, after working my absolute hardest and seeing absolutely no change whatsoever, I realised that maybe this didn’t actually work. More audaciously, I thought that maybe I didn’t need this therapy for God to love me.

I came to this radical conclusion—that God might actually love me without my going to therapy anymore. I assumed I would never date a man, let alone have sex—I still assumed God wasn’t okay with this. I was simply saying that I wasn’t going to turn into a heterosexual, and that God was okay with that. But the church I was going to was not okay with this, and they of course knew exactly what was okay with God. When I asked them if I was welcome to continue with the church, they said that I was always welcome, but, because they loved me, it was their obligation to constantly tell me what a horrible mistake I was making and that I was sending myself and others to hell. I replied that I could not be expected to maintain that kind of unequal relationship. Never mind the fact that there were members of the church who were known to engage in premarital *heterosexual* sex and who were also budding young alcoholics who were in the same positions of leadership in the church I had been barred from for not turning into a heterosexual fast enough or perfectly enough.

The second event wasn’t so much an event as a person. I have always had a difficult time making friends. I grew up in a household with severe abuse and neglect issues which have left me with some social impairment. I’ve fought mightily to overcome these obstacles, but more often my fighting has backfired, my best efforts thwarted as I’ve struggled to fit in. The same was true in college—the school in which I was enrolled when I was attending the aforementioned church. I was always reaching out to make friends with my fellow students, in spite of the fact that, as a nontraditional student in classrooms full of folks fresh from high school, I didn’t fit. It only occurred to me later that I was so desperate to reach out to my classmates because my only other relationships, the ones at my church, were far more strained and abnormal than I could admit at the time.

So when I clicked with a classmate, I rejoiced. I befriended a classmate who was kind and funny and smart—pretty much anything you’d want in a friend. He was also planning on becoming a rabbi.

My church had taught me that I had to reach out to absolutely everyone, and do my absolute best to convert absolutely everyone to Christ so they wouldn’t go to hell. But here was this friend who would never, ever become a Christian. It seemed absurd to try. But it also seemed absurd to abandon our friendship over this one issue. After all, I was taught that the greatest commandment was to love, *not* to convert.

All of these things happened over a decade ago. I have changed so much. I am an out and proud and (sometimes) confident as a gay man. Not only am I no longer a Christian, but I am now an atheist. Yet the echoes of those experiences hit me full force on a regular basis—particularly because I am now on the other side of the equation. I have friends who tell me that I need to turn back to Christ, that they’re not going to give up on me. I have friends who tell me that I can’t possibly be an atheist for no other reason than they can’t understand how it’s possible.

To those friends, I say this: which is the greatest commandment, to love me or to convert me? Will you love me as I want so much to love you, even if I reject your religion out of hand? Or will you consider this a case of “pearls before swine” and move on? I’m always going to be here. But if you can’t respect my request that you not proselytise me, then I’m asking you to leave. You will only be dragged down further in your guilt over your not converting me (trust me, I get it, I was drowning—unnecessarily—in that guilt for the longest time), and we both will only ever be exasperated.

Now I wish to address those who believe we need to ensure that the laws of the land dictate that marriage—a legal contract, I don’t care how you slice it, since the government can recognise a marriage not carried out in a church, and a church can choose not to recognise a marriage the government deems valid—must only be between one man and one woman. The only arguments I have ever seen that even pretend to hold water are Biblical in nature.

Let me explain why a Biblical standard for law in the United States doesn’t work. I will keep coming back again and again to the Golden Rule—to do to others as you would have them do to you—and the Great Commandment that we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. This is, as I was taught, the cornerstone of the Christian faith—all the Law “hangs” on the commandment.

First, I get the desire to want to follow God, and to have that desire to inform every decision. But the way you live your life does not of itself form the standard to rule a country. There’s this idea that we are a “Christian nation” and that the laws must conform to Christianity. (More on this later.) I ask, whose Christianity? Methodist? Pentecostal? Lutheran? (And, of course, this gets into the eternal argument of who is “really” a Christian, which I’m not going to engage.) This country was started by folks who wanted the freedom to practise their own understanding of Christianity rather than conform to the Church of England. If you decide that your version of Christianity is the one to form the laws of the United States, then you are doing the exact same thing the Church of England was doing. Never mind the fact that there are a number of Christian denominations (and other religions) who support same-sex marriage rights. You’re denying them the same freedom of religion the Church of England denied the Puritans. Do unto others…

And none of this even touches the subject of other religions. I get the idea that you think that your worldview alone is correct and all other religions are wrong on every level. I used to live deep within that understanding. I get it. But here’s the thing—that standard can’t be used for the governance of an entire country, particularly a country as diverse as the United States. The standards of law must apply to all citizens—even those who do not conform to a particular religion, or any religion. That’s why the law must transcend the tenets of any particular religion. There have been any number of Islamophobes stirring up the false notion that Christians in the United States are somehow being forced to abide by Islamic law. In terms of manufacturing fear, it’s a smart move. Folks don’t want to be forced to conform to a religion they don’t belong to. Bear that in mind when I say: Do unto others…

Speaking of stirring up trouble, there have been a number of organisations and personalities over the past 35 years who have been spreading lies to Christians and threatening them with accusations of being unpatriotic or un-Christian if they dissent. When I was in high school, a gentleman came to my church to teach us our “rights as American Christians.” What he had to say was pretty familiar to us now: that the United States is a Christian nation, that the Founding Fathers were Christians who wrote the Constitution to conform to Christian law, etc.  But one particular statement stuck in my mind. The gentleman declared that Thomas Jefferson had intended his doctrine of separation of church and state to be a “one-directional wall,” by which the state keeps out of the church but not vice versa. And he gave a *quote* from Thomas Jefferson in this regard. But here’s the thing: You can track down this quote as much as you want in vain. Jefferson never said any such thing. The man in my church *lied*.  People are lying about a lot of things. They are lying about the intent of the Founding Fathers. They are lying about the intent of same-sex couples. Do your research. Challenge every notion. Learn the truth. The truth will set you free.

And now I want to pull this discussion back to more personal concerns. I have people who say they are my friends, but who say that they cannot abide by the law allowing me to marry someone on the same basis they would choose to marry someone. I’ve already made all the arguments as to why your religious opinions shouldn’t inform our nation’s laws, and why this actually benefits you. Still, this means nothing to some of you.

This is how I hear it: that this issue exists only in the vacuum of your own theories, and that we must conform to the laws in this vacuum of your theories. But guess what? This is affecting real, flesh-and-blood people. I don’t live in a vacuum. I have a long, complicated story that’s led me to where I am—a story some of you haven’t bothered to ask about or wanted to listen to, telling me that my story is impossible. And I am one of millions of flesh-and-blood people not living in your vacuum.

Now, my mother always taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes, so I’m going to ask you to do that now. I want you to go back to when you were in junior high, high school, to the first time you fell in love. Now I want you to imagine your parents finding out and kicking you out when you’re 13, 14. I want you to imagine yourself tiny and afraid on the brutal streets.

I want you to imagine going to school and managing to get to class and do homework in spite of constant harassment and threats. (This is *me*, by the way.) I want you to imagine worrying you’ll get beat up or worse on the way out of school every day.

I want you to imagine getting fired from your job because someone saw you out on a date the other night.

I want you to imagine you and your spouse. I want you to imagine going to a restaurant and getting kicked out when you hold hands. I want you to imagine the two of you going on your dream vacation, only to have your reservation rejected because you want to share a room. I want to imagine you having kids, and the school only allowing one of you to pick them up from school. I want you to imagine your kid sick in the hospital, and only one of you allowed to visit. I want you to imagine *yourself* in the hospital, and your spouse not being allowed to visit. I want you to imagine that you die in that hospital, and your relatives swooping in and leaving the spouse you leave behind utterly penniless.

Because of current laws and social norms, everything I’ve said is real life—not theory—for millions of Americans. I’m talking about baseline empathy, the minimum standards I’d hold someone to in terms of basic morality. And if you can sit there and tell me that you’re okay with the fact that millions of human beings equal to yourself go through such ordeals and more, then you have no empathy. Moreover, it means you’re okay for *me* to go through these things, even though you’d say you’re my “friend”. I don’t need you dragging me down in my life. I don’t need to feel like one of my slave ancestors, who has found his freedom, only to have his former master chasing him down at every turn trying to drag him back to the plantation. You say that I do not deserve the same rights and protections under the law as you. You—who say that you’re my friend—thus see me as inferior, whether you care to admit it or not. I can’t see how that can be called a friendship.

If you have the guts to maintain this stance, then you have the guts to defriend me. I want you to. I want my Facebook friends list to be shorter in the next week, because people have read this and can’t assent to the idea that human beings ought to be treated like human beings. The only way I want to see this number stay the same is that you’ve actually bothered to read what I’ve said and have taken it to heart. I left a relationship with a church because it was built on inequality. I’ll leave a relationship with an individual for the same reason. But I have some slight glimmer of hope that folks will take what I’ve said to heart. It’s up to you.

And if you can’t assent to any of this, if you do drop me from your friends list, then my parting words to you are to please raise your children to be loving and kind. If I can’t have hope for you, I can at least have hope for them.

———

Read the follow-up to this essay here

Opinions

In my online Adolescent Lit class the other day, we were asked to read two essays regarding the value of young-adult literary awards created especially for works that showcase the writing and stories of racial and ethnic minorities. The first essay was written by a white male scholar, who believed that such awards prefer subject matter over literary merit, and thus run a great risk of rewarding inferior writing. The second essay was written by an African American female author as a direct rebuttal, explaining the history of how mainstream awards have repeatedly dismissed the efforts of non-white authors and illustrators.

For my class, we were to post our response as to which side won the debate in the class “discussion,” which functions like a message board. I wrote that the field of literature was an extension of the field of academia, which exists as the result of centuries of white privilege and institutional racism. The vast majority of whites are, for many reasons, ignorant of the privileges they are afforded in society based solely on the color of their skin. Moreover, a person has no ground on which to claim what is appropriate for a group to which he does not belong, particularly if he belongs to a group that has historically oppressed the group in question. (This is simply a matter of respect in my book.) For these reasons, in the class discussion, I made the bold assertion that the first essayist did not even have the right to an opinion in the matter.

I awaited a mob of classmates, charging with virtual pitchforks, ready to pillory me for daring to suggest that someone doesn’t have the right to an opinion. I waited in vain. Most of my classmates–interestingly, including many who are not white–appreciated my perspective, and stated that they hadn’t even considered the angle of white privilege. Only one student rebutted my claim that the first essayist didn’t have the right to an opinion, since, as we are so often told, everyone always has the right to an opinion.

I, of course, disagree.  For example, I have the right to an opinion about matters of taste. But even then, that only goes so far. I may not like what someone is wearing, for instance, but even then, I don’t necessarily have the right to air my opinion about it, especially if doing so belittles the other person (and so often it does.) In fact, if someone is walking down the street stark naked, the only reason that should be my business is if that person is too cold–then, it is my moral obligation as a fellow human being to ensure they are warm.

As I stated already, I don’t have the right to an opinion of how a group should feel or be treated, if I don’t belong to that group. But that never happens, right?

And then there are matters in which it doesn’t even make sense for opinion to come into play–and yet it seems almost everyone, in their postmodern, it’s-all-what-you-believe mentality, thinks otherwise. Many of these matters have to do with what a person has the right to know.

I do not have the right to know what two (or more) consenting adults do in the bedroom.

I do not have a right to know how your genitalia look or how they function. I do not have the right to an opinion as to whether your genitalia should match what I think your gender is, or even what  you think your gender is.

I could go on, but I need to get a move-on with my day. Blogger Dan Pearce has a great list that delves further into this issue. I’m not sure I agree with all of them, but overall, it is great food for thought.

Like I said, there is much more I want to say on this subject, but that will have to wait for other days.

No

Many across the United States are aware that Minnesota is in the midst of a nasty battle for a constitutional amendment (an amendment the Republican-led state legislature felt so important that they had the state government shut down entirely via lack of budget until the amendment was put to ballot) that will restrict the rights of emancipated adults to engage in civil contract (the contract of legally-recognised marriage) and restrict the religious freedoms of churches who wish to follow their beliefs by marrying same-sex couples.  This concerns me.  Not because I am gay (I don’t think I’m quite marriable).  If I were straight as an arrow, I believe this would still concern me.  See, this battle is being fought by and large by people who claim they are fighting this battle in the name of Jesus.  When I read the Gospels, I see that Jesus repeatedly lambasted those who wanted to embroil themselves in other people’s moral affairs.  He actually praised the Pharisees for their practises of personal piety, but then condemned them for legislating everyone else’s morality ad nauseum.  This Jesus has been forgotten somewhere along the way.

I’m also concerned because I live in the Twin Cities, what I sometimes call a “gay bubble,” and so many I converse with are utterly convinced that the anti-marriage amendment will be defeated, no problem, and they’ll point to some random poll to prove it.  Yet every single poll I’ve encountered has said that, though a tight race, the amendment looks like it will pass.  Moreover, I know a number of people who are working at various levels of Minnesotans United for All Families who all confirm my assertion and refute that of my acquaintances.  I think living in this gay bubble inures people to attitudes outside the bubble

But as concerned as I am about this amendment, I am even more concerned about a second ballot issue which has garnered less national attention.  The proposed amendment would require a “photo I.D.” in order to vote.  Can’t afford the fee for a photo I.D.?  Well, just head down to your DMV and they’ll make you a special, free voter ID.  It sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it?    But then the truth rears its ugly head….

The hue and cry that got this proposed amendment put on next week’s ballot was claims of rampant voter fraud.  Extensive studies have demonstrated that this rampant voter fraud simply doesn’t exist.  The claim that it’s easy-peasy to just go down to the DMV?  Never mind the many mitigating factors that can keep someone from the DMV.  Just ask the good folks in Wisconsin.  They were told that they could do just as Minnesotans are being told, to go down and get your free ID at the DMV.  But then the DMV employees were instructed specifically by the state government to do everything possible to *discourage* applicants from obtaining these voter IDs. (Watch this video to see these tactics in action.)  Or voters of a certain political persuasion (read: Democrat) had their closest DMVs taken away from them outright.  Never mind that the implementation of this special voter ID will cost in the neighbourhood of $50 million with no clue as to how to fund it.

If this sounds like a diatribe against the Republicans, it is somewhat, but only because they are the ones who have seized upon this issue.  (I have diatribes I can write against the Democrats, but that will have to wait for other writings.)  Look at the stats across the country.  There is a clear correlation between the ease with which one can vote in a particular state and the likelihood that that state will favour one party or the other in elections.  (I say this having come from Indiana, one of the more dependably Republican states, which is also one of the hardest states in the country in which to vote.  For example, you have to be registered at least thirty days before election time, and the polls close at 6 p.m.—the earliest in the entire country.)  The Republican leadership are well aware of this correlation, and have admitted as much.  So, on the surface, this is appears to be a matter of one political party subverting the political process to gain control, which is in itself repugnant.  (For the record, I agree with George Washington in thinking that political parties are an inherently bad idea.)

But the heart of the issue is much more insidious than a simple power play.  It is nothing less than the assertion that some human beings are inherently inferior to other human beings.  A couple of months ago, I haphazardly ended up in a debate (I hate debate, or rather what is mislabelled as debate these days) on Facebook with a friend of a friend (there is no enemy like a friend’s friend).  I gave him my personal account of how, two years ago, I was nearly turned away at the polls under the existing laws for reasons related entirely to poverty.  And this friend of a friend asserted that he didn’t care.  He didn’t care about whether circumstances beyond my control kept me from the polls.  Furthermore, he stated that he could hear a million stories that were the same, and they still wouldn’t change his mind about ensuring that this repugnant amendment becomes enshrined in the Minnesota state constitution.

He stated it right there: he believes his Story is more important than mine, or those of the hypothetical million others, and by extension, *he* is more important than I or the million others are.  And I maintain that the belief that some human beings are inherently better or worse than others lies at the core of most of our social ills.

And that is what this fight—what many fights—are about.  It would take unmitigated gall to walk up to someone and say, “Yeah, you know?  You could vote just fine last year, but I’m taking away your ability to vote next year.”  Of course, most backers of this amendment would dare not express such unmitigated gall to someone’s face, instead hiding behind the anonymity of the ballot box and the socioeconomic, racial, and cultural cloisters that keep nearly all of us from ever truly learning the experience of anyone whose Story isn’t like our own.

Last night I went to a Halloween party.  As I rode the bus through increasingly conservative neighbourhoods out to the inner-ring Saint Paul suburb of my hosts, I saw on a number of lawns a maddening sight that was the impetus for writing this article: signs, side-by-side, one saying to “Vote No” on the anti-marriage amendment, but to “Vote Yes” on the voter suppression amendment.  This repeated sight angered me because the posters of the signs could not see that both of these amendments are cut from the same cloth of inequality: that homosexually-coupled individuals are inherently inferior and don’t deserve to live lives of the same quality as their heterosexually-coupled counterparts, and that the poor, the disabled, the elderly, college students and anyone else who doesn’t “fit” that look to be marginalised by this amendment are inherently inferior and don’t deserve to participate in one of the foundations of a functional democracy.  Both of these amendments maintain that some people are fundamentally inferior to others, an assertion that undermines the very notion of democracy.

And so, I turn back to my earlier illustration of all of us hiding in our own little homogeneous cloisters.  We have the gay, the lesbian, the ally who will fight tooth and nail for their own rights and of those close to them, but are at best indifferent to the rights of those who do not run in their own circles.  And that is repugnant.

To vote no on both of these amendments is to affirm the dignity and equality of all our citizenry and to support democracy.  It is the absolute least we can do.  May we do this and far, far more to uplift our species.

A final note: this is my last word on the subject.  And I will not be lured into what-passes-for-debate-today on the subject, because there is no possible way you can convince me that some human beings are inherently better or worse than others.

Edited 28 Oct 12 to add a link regarding Indiana voting shenanigans.
Edited 5 Nov 12: I also want to add that supporters of the amendment have stood on the idea that the amendment will “reduce voter fraud.”  The evidence of voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, far smaller than the statistical margin of error.  Yet this amendment would remove from thousands the ability to vote in order to sift out one or two voting cheats.  From a mathematical standpoint, this makes no sense.

 

Edited 5 November: Fact-checked, figure “hundreds of millions” for implementation of Voter ID measures brought down to “in the neighbourhood of $50 million.”  Still way too much for an unnecessary measure

Uncensored

Last night I indulged in a carton of Ben & Jerry’s–perhaps not the smartest thing for a man trying to lose weight, but it’s not like an everyday thing.  As I decided on my flavour (“Late Night Snack”, fantastic), I noticed that one new fluffernutter-inspired concoction was rechristened, from “Cluster Fluff” to “What A Cluster”.  This did not surprise me.  The company had recently been pressured by conservative activist group One Million Moms to change the name of their latest flavour, “Schweddy Balls”, inspired by a Saturday Night Live sketch.  However, as of today on the Ben & Jerry’s website, that name remains (though, personally, I think the idea of putting chocolate and rum together sounds kind of disgusting).  Even so, though the company has used salacious flavour names in the past*, they apparently felt compelled to change the name of “Cluster Fluff”.

This censorious behaviour echoed an online conversation I’d had earlier in the day with a good friend in Canada.  He had recommended a website for me to check out, and though I was certain it would include no “graphic” imagery, I figured it would still be blocked on library computers.  I told him such, to his shock and consternation.  After all, this was a library, a purveyor of information to the masses, and a cultural institution which has a long history of standing against censorship.  If Canada doesn’t censor public internet use in this way, surely the United States wouldn’t, either.  I then explained that in the United States, the federal government can reduce a public library’s federal funding if they do not install “nannyware” filters in their computer labs.  (Some American libraries have simply chosen to forego the federal funding, on principle.)  I illustrated this attitude in American culture with the catchphrase of Helen Lovejoy, the pastor’s wife on The Simpsons: “Will somebody please think of the children?!”  My friend replied that people should focus on raising their own children, not other people’s.

I’m undecided on how I feel about his statement.  On one hand, as they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Children grow up, not in the bubble of their parents’ watch, but in society at large, and we fool ourselves if we think our actions have no influence at all on the next generation.  On the other hand, how one chooses to parent, how one chooses the values to inculcate into their children–we consider these sorts of choices as a hallmark of a free society, and, so the argument goes, if someone wants to raise their child more “precociously” than another, then so be it.  And yet, this view is also used to enforce attitudes that really do harm society: “I’m raising my child to stand against homosexuality, and rules that say ‘gay’ students get ‘special protection’ from bullying is undercutting my right to raise my child as I want.”

What I am sure of is that it is absurd to believe one can raise a child in a protective bubble in perpetuity.  There is a difference between, say, giving your twelve-year-old pornography (ignoring the fact that some of the Bible is quite pornographic), and that twelve-year-old discovering it just by being a member of society.  Children are going to find out about the real world no matter how much they protect their children.  It is the job of the parents to first build up values such that their children can handle “the real world” when–not if– they encounter it, and then, to discuss issues in an age-appropriate manner when–not if–they come up.

The challenge comes when a segment of society believes it is (literally) their God-given responsibility to act as God’s mouthpiece in any and all situations, to hand out the judgements and punishments in God’s place.  To this, I can only reply that, in a great many situations–from the woman about to be stoned for adultery, to his many encounters with the Pharisees, Jesus told people to mind their own business when it came to others’ morality, and to focus on their own.

As an aside, just to make my personal statement about censorship, allow me to say that, if you were not aware of what “Cluster Fluff” refers to, it’s a play off the phrase “clusterfuck”, which generally refers to a complex and intractable situation.

________________

*”The company has had other controversially named flavors as well — Karmel Sutra and Hubby Hubby (in support of gay marriage) — for example. But Schweddy Balls has received much publicity-generating attention.” Read more here.

Synchronicity

I had planned all week to post yesterday regarding the one-week anniversary of OccupyMN.  But all week, I have been fighting issues related to my hypernychthemeral disorder, which always leaves me with having to choose either to let my sleep cycles run naturally, in which case it would take a few weeks to return to a diurnal schedule, or to take matters into my own hands by staying up a total of 36 hours or so and exhausting myself into an extra-long night of sleep, followed up by a “short” day and early bedtime, to help me get back to a diurnal schedule.  It’s a no-brainer.  I do not want to wait several weeks to live like everyone else.  I am glad, though, to have sat with this article in my head an extra day, because various seemingly unrelated events over the course of the week have unfolded to shape and reshape what I am wanting to say here.

I got back into town after my chorus’s retreat last Sunday, and one of the first things I did was to head down to Government Plaza in downtown Minneapolis.  This plaza, outside our county government building, has been renamed People’s Plaza by the protesters.  The scene looked much like what you see in New York City right now, and in many cities across the country.  There were a few hundred people present, a heartening number, but the first thought that crossed my mind was, how is this going to look when it is -30F out?  The numbers have already dramatically dwindled as our night temps near 40F.  I got to talk to some of the organisers and other protesters.  One was a lovely young man named Osha Karow, who was inspired by Occupy Wall Street to purchase the domain name occupymn.org and get the ball rolling here.  If you saw him casually, you would assume he fits the caricature with which the Occupy movements’ opponents paint the protesters: white, middle-class, and lazy.  But to hear his story firsthand broke all such assumptions, a young man whose life fell apart because health issues well outside his control usurped his education, his job, and (ironically) his health insurance to treat his very serious medical situation.  And, as I believe very much in the power of personal narrative, I believe that, behind each of these protesters that some are wont to dismiss, is a compelling personal story that has driven them to such actions as the protests.

There were some things about the protest I found truly inspirational.  I saw it pulling together diverse ideologies and perspectives.  I heard socialists and libertarians coming together for what they had in common, then taking the opportunity to engage each other in civil and meaningful discourse regarding their differences.  Those who claim that this movement is a mishmash of nebulous and unfocussed anger forget that the civil rights movements was a coalescence of different causes, different frustrations, different people.  I believe that this new movement can, in time and in much the same way, coalesce into something more focussed and more powerful.

But there is also cause for concern.  Though the protest is drawing participants and supporting passers-by from many walks of life, those in their 20s by and large are driving the movement.  They are committed to being “leaderless” and anarchic, but I wonder how much experience they’ve had working in anarchic situations.  There is such a fear of anyone taking charge of anything that even the most minor decisions are brought before the daily “general assembly”.  They do not understand the need to prioritise decision-making–that it is better for something small and minor to simply get done by someone, and that if every minor decision is brought to the general assembly, then there will be no time, and thus no chance to focus on, the major, long-term decisions.  This, I believe, is why the protests appear unfocussed to outsiders, and this lack of focus could lead to the premature demise of the movement.

When people do step up to take care of minor tasks around People’s Plaza, they are chastised for trying to be “leaders”.  These young people do not understand the difference between someone taking leadership by force, and someone rising to a place of leadership simply by being themselves.  The latter are chastised at the movement’s peril.  I cannot think of any significant social movement in history that succeeded without someone coming to the fore as, at minimum, a figurehead, if not a leader.  These historical leaders often rose to prominence despite their own personal desire not to do so.  But if those who are leaders by instinct are prevented from accomplishing even minor tasks, then this movement will sink in a mire of managing the mundane.

I am also concerned about the process of othering that has taken place.  Othering is the social force of determining “us” from “them”, insiders from outsiders.  The protesters feel justified in distinguishing “the 99” from the top 1% of earners, who control over 40% of the wealth in the United States, and thus, in many ways, control our day-to-day lives. They see “the 99” as the biggest umbrella term they can imagine, that pretty much anyone who they come across can relate to being in the bottom 99%.  But in creating this “other”, this 1%, they first distance themselves from some of those who sympathise with their plight, from high-profile billionaires who are quite vocal in wanting Congress to restructure our economy to benefit the 99%, to protesters who themselves come from the 1% and want to work with the movement hands-on.

Some critics of the movement claim that this othering process both smacks of sanctimony–the 99% are pure of motive, the 1% are inherently evil–and allows the 99% to abdicate their own responsibility in helping the economy to decline by, for example, building up untenable lifestyles through purchasing needless luxuries via “easy” credit, and staking claims and “rights” to a “middle-class” existence that is detrimental to the environment and to global economic development.  I am in full agreement with both these critiques.  I feel like the Occupy movement wants to build solidarity through a message of equality across races, religions, and (most) classes, etc, but they undercut their message of equality by stating, overtly and otherwise, that the 1% are ontologicallly, innately different.  This is why my participation in the protests has mostly been confined to a message of “love the 100%”.  I chant, “I have seven billion brothers and sisters,” and rattle off who all that includes, including those the left love to vilify.  I perform my song, “Love The Way You Hate Me”.  I challenge the notion that the 1% are fundamentally different at every opportunity.  I plant the seed, I get people to think.  And if “we are in this together,” then that means we must take responsibility for our mistakes, both individually and collectively, as well as seek to become part of the solution.

However, my personal belief that no-one is fundamentally evil takes a beating sometimes.  One friend of mine points out that my telling the 1% (or homophobes, or what have you) that I love them is like standing in a field with a raging bull charging me, and me offering to talk with the bull and give it a big hug.  (I say the analogy falls apart because I am a bull, too.)  But late Thursday night, I took pause.

My neighbours in my building enjoy watching what passes for investigative journalism today (think truTV, for example).  When I go to the TV room in my building, I can’t just change the channel, so if I choose to be in there, I choose to watch what my neighbours have on until I can change the channel per our community rules.  I’m glad they didn’t change the channel Thursday night.  They showed a recreation of the Jaycee Dugard abduction, imprisonment, and rescue.  To see all that Phillip Garrido did, the layers of deceit and evasion, the unfathomable abuse he laid upon an innocent child, to see how he built his entire life around this cruelty, it becomes almost impossible to separate the man from the acts.

Am I lumping the wealthiest amongst us in with Phillip Garrido?  No; my point is that my belief that anyone could be ontologically, fundamentally evil has been shaken, and thus leads me to question whether my belief that othering is in all cases wrong.  I discussed my principle with someone the other day.  He said that, a few nights prior, he saw a man surrounded by about a half-dozen scantily clad women whom he ordered away from him to go “do their thing” and to be sure that “he got his cut”.  Clearly, the man was a pimp.  My acquaintance remarked that, if he had passed by that man right after the incident, and the man tripped on the sidewalk and bloodied himself, my acquaintance would not have lent him a hand up.

Because I am processing the nature of evil, I am having to confront my own belief in the process of othering, and how it relates to the 99%/1% dichotomy.  I will say this: I have often compared money to alcohol–good and enjoyable in reasonable doses, but addictive, controlling, and destructive in excess.

There are those who say the protesters are spoiled.  In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune a couple of days ago, a commentator, a Tibetan immigrant to the Twin Cities, argued that Americans have the best standard of living anywhere, and that it was unpatriotic to argue otherwise.  She related her own harrowing personal story of what it was like for her family to escape from China to India, of how she was placed in an Indian boarding school with no idea of if or when she’d see her family again.  I will not argue that even the poorest Americans fare better than the average citizen in many countries, and I cannot disregard the woman’s story for a moment, as it has been relived countless times by immigrants to America over the century.  But (speaking as someone who last had ancestors come to America over 200 years ago–some by force), I cannot understand how it is unpatriotic to say that one’s country has the ability, resources, and potential to improve itself, to have faith that it can do so.  Those who chant the mantra that “the United States is the best country in the world” stand against quantifiable data: in terms of education, health care, and physical and technological infrastructure, amongst other arenas, the United States is not #1, or even in the top ten.  And the bottom 10% in a number of countries fare significantly better than the bottom 10% in the United States.  The United States can do better.  Some of us have faith that it can.

Will the protests effect change?  One friend believes that not only will they be ignored by those in power, that the gap between rich and poor will continue to grow, until mass homelessness and starvation lead to civil war.  I told him simply that I am going to fight against that eventuality.  I fully believe that the era of the American Empire, like all empires throughout history, is ending.  The difference will be whether the empire will go out in a fizzle or a bang.  A fizzle would mean a cutting back of military and world economic dominance, resulting in a refocussing of those resources into education, health care, and infrastructure–in short, an acceptance that there are much worse things than being #2.  A bang would be my friend’s scenario: chaos, destruction, and war.  I daresay almost any of us would prefer the fizzle to the bang.

So I will back the protests, though still in my contrarian way, because I believe it is unhealthy and unwise to “stand against” the 1%, for they too are my brothers and sisters, I want good for them, as for the protesters, as for anyone.  What of my epiphany regarding the problem of evil?  My views, like the protests, are sure to evolve over time, and it is too soon to tell what they will evolve into.