Guns, Sex, and Social Stories

There’s always time for a quick revelation.

Like when after reading way too many takes and post-takes and post-post-takes on the Aziz Ansari incident (I won’t even bother linking), you finally read one that reminds of you of something totally not related and yet totally exactly the same that you’re like, holy shit, this is a sociological pattern if there ever was one.

I’ll quote directly, because that’s how I roll. I will also add the caveat that I actually have not read the entire article because this connection is too obvious to let a commentary go even five minutes stewed.

The Aziz Ansari case hit a nerve because, as I’ve long feared, we’re only comfortable with movements like #MeToo so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack. Once we move past the “few bad apples” argument and start to suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize. To insist that this is is just how men are, and how sex is. (Lili Loofbourow in The Week)

Let me repeat for effect: “… so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack … [once we] suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize.”

What does this pattern — the pattern of separating monsters but normalizing systemic violence — remind you of?



Continue reading


A brief summary of headlines from the last 24-ish hours, and what to do about it.

#tbh, I’m already exhausted.

It’s now Day 5, and reading through my Facebook, NYT, and other news feeds, there are too many ridiculous things happening to even feel as though I can address any one of them and be effective, let alone all the ones that anger me and chill me to my core.

Here’s a sampling of things from the roughly last 24 hours that we should all be anywhere from pretty to terribly concerned about. In some cases, I’ve included links to or suggestions for concrete actions: Continue reading

We stand by: a Thanksgiving meditation

There has never been anything, nor will there ever be anything, which so frightens those in power as a great demographic shift among the powerless.

Because the powerless, when they see themselves in the powerful, can delude themselves into thinking they share in the power. After all, they have the same interests, the same concerns, the same ideology. But when the powerless look up and see something that looks so unfamiliar, they begin to feel restless. They clamor for change. They know that these strangers, who purport to speak for them, in no way have their best interests at heart. Ultimately, they threaten the powerful — not overtly (necessarily), but covertly. Not with conflict and protest, with guns and violence, but with that most subversive act of all. With their vote.
Continue reading

On Syria, from someone who knows more than many and less than some

Since Syria doesn’t seem to be magically disappearing as a global disaster, I suppose I should say something about it. Because we all know I have an opinion that I wouldn’t want to keep to myself, and not just because this is so much like the plot of this season of Newsroom.

Let me preface this by saying the use of chemical weapons is reprehensible. If you disagree, you should find some humanity or just go off to a cave and die. But somehow, the use of such weapons isn’t a thing that seems to bother us as a country. And I think that’s shameful.

I’m certainly not much of an interventionist: if we could morally and ethically and humanely sit on the sidelines of all conflicts that don’t directly concern us, well, I think that’d be swell. But we don’t; we pick and choose and we pick and choose bizarrely and, frankly, unethically. And by the fact that we do choose to intervene at all, I don’t think it morally allowable to stop intervening when the ethical case is so clear cut.

Not that we have a stellar track record for ethically-minded intervention: we, like a rational actor, take action when it suits our political needs, which is at least intellectually consistent if not admirable, as in Iraq in 2003. But when it makes no difference to us, as in Sudan or central Africa or Burma, we are conveniently and conspicuously absent. As much as we might like to think of ourselves as moral protectors of the free world, we are far more politically-driven than anything.

What makes Syria particularly prickly is that it matters to us somewhat as a regional issue, but not as much as Iraq, and it is mass murder, much closer to Sudan or the Kurdish genocide, neither of which received so much as stern words (maybe some stern words) from Team America World Police. So do we react to Syria like we did Iraq, as a matter of regional import, or like we did Sudan, as a human tragedy that is, unfortunately, outside the scope of our concern?

Then how do we rectify our prospective courses of action in Syria with our strikes in Libya and Yemen? These are both instances where we have specific targets, Qaddafi and al-Qaeda respectively, and we take action, relatively quietly, on a small scale. So why can’t Syria fall into this category?

Then, of course, there’s our inconsistency in weapons issues: we launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq when they MIGHT but probably DON’T have “weapons of mass destruction,” instead launching the country into what we might kindly refer to as disorganized chaos, yet we do nothing but yell really loudly at and emptily threaten Iran when they DO have nuclear weapons capabilities. This logical inconsistency is proof enough that Iraq never had these things: Iran does, and we know better than to provoke them. Had Saddam Hussein actually possessed such capabilities, we probably would never have dared provoke him, either. He was, after all, a genocidal maniac.

Just like another good friend of ours: Bashar al-Assad. So what do we do when this G.M. (genocidal maniac) has and USES weapons like this? Do we just sit on the sidelines and wait for him to attack a country we actually “care” about? Because don’t get me wrong, we don’t really give much of a flying **** for Syria. Not like how we do give two ****s for some of its neighbors (not that we get anything out of that relationship either).

A recap on weapons:
1. Iraq might but probably doesn’t have scary weapons. We launch a nearly-decade-long war.
2. Iran does have nuclear capabilities, but we’re not sure about weapons. We talk loudly.
3. Syria definitely has nerve agents and it’s highly likely that they’re being used against the rebels and civilians. What we do is TBD.

Are we so afraid to take action in Syria, despite the clear moral case (it would, certainly, be a just war by Thomas Aquinas’s criteria), because it’s a civil war? And is it that civil war is, by its nature, an intractable conflict? Do we not meddle in domestic affairs of other states? That last question is tongue in cheek: pre-Revolutionary Iran and Lebanon, for starters, might beg to differ. Of course, last time we put troops in the midst of Middle Eastern civil war, Americans died. Did we, shock, learn our lesson??

Syria is a confounding anomaly: it matters regionally, it’s a clear-cut ethical case, they have scary weapons, it’s a civil war, and its ruler is, by all accounts, a terrible human being. So is it Iraq 2003, is it Iran, is it Sudan, is it Lebanon or is it Libya? In three out of five cases, we act. And the jury is still out.

What I’m suggesting isn’t necessarily intervention: only logical and ethical and behavioral consistency. If we’re going to be Team America World Police, we need to be Team America World Police. Perhaps we ought to be a more ethical version of TAWP. And if we want to stop trying to be TAWP, is this really the right moment?

On Racism, Republicanism, and Stereotypically Shoddy Logic

Here is how I arrived at the conclusion that racism exists: firstly, because we talk about. Why would we talk about it if it wasn’t a thing? Just because it is a thing I don’t see doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Let me be clear: I’m not usually one for calling people racists (story perhaps at a later date), or any other kind of blanket identifiers, but I won’t hesitate, after careful consideration, to say thy are behaving in a racist (e.g.) manner or exhibiting racism (e.g.) or racist (e.g.) tendencies.

In reading and discussing–or arguing about–a few recent Slate articles on racism in the Republican party (one creating an argument for neo-racism in the Republican party and the other about middle-aged white men, whiteness, and the Romney campaign; I recommend reading the articles because they can make their arguments better than I ever could) I am reminded of an inalienable truth I learned in childhood: jokes are funny because they have kernels of truth. As tools of humor, stereotypes fall into the same category. Likewise our baseless assumptions about social structure also contain kernels of truth.

An episode of NBC’s new sitcom The New Normal presents us with a superb assumed-truth-stereotype: the incompatibility of blackness and Republicanism. The seemingly well-off, white, openly racist and homophobic (also sexually repressed) grandmother is delighted to meet a fellow Republican in Democrat-laden California, forgiving him his transgression of blackness. In our stereotype-defined social outlooks, this is what we least expect: the black Republican. It’s kind of funny, if only because we are inclined to see it as inherently contradictory. Why? Because Republicans are, obviously, old angry white men.

This stereotype of the Republican Party being the white man’s party, though not categorically true (as the exception-to-the-rule rule teaches us), must possess a kernel of truth. It must also, following a particular path of logic, be racist. Stay with me for a moment as I summarize thousands of words written by better writers than I:

The South is Republican (stereotypical and political truism). The South is Confederate (historical truism). The Confederacy is racist (historical truism). Ergo so too must be the South and, particularly, the Republican South. Can we extend this to say that Republicans are or the Republican Party is racist? Rather, does the Republican Party exhibit racist tendencies? I’d be inclined to err on the side of “yes,” mostly because my Kernel of Truth Logic means stereotypes can be used in proving their basic contention. (If there’s a stereotype about it, it must be partly true: if there’s a stereotype about no black Republicans, then there must be very few.) If we are inclined to think of the white South as Confederate (racist) and simultaneously of the white South as Republican, then logically the Republican party is Confederate and/or racist and all this must be at least partly true. I don’t necessarily agree with this, just following a path.

That’s settled. Now, I want to consider not the role of racism in modern politics, but the baser argument that racism HAS a role in modern politics, or modern society, particularly the South. I’ve proved with shoddy logic that it does, but I believe I have some empirical evidence in support of this conclusion.

The minuscule optimist inside me is hesitant to accept the kerneled truth of this racist white Southern Republicanism stereotype (though intellectually the arguments are, if not compelling, at least interesting) but then again my white upper-middle class suburban life has been wonderfully and misleadingly absent of racism. All white Southerners could be racist Republicans (I do not believe this); how would I know? Still, in this sheltered upbringing and subsequent, also somewhat sheltered, life experience, even I have encountered racism’s remnants.

Here are two small anecdotes in support of the theory that America is not done with racism:

My only real brush with American Southern Racism (I’m branding it) was in the third degree. My friend and I were driving from Houston to New Orleans and he made sure, repeatedly, I knew “we can’t stop in Vidor. Whatever we do, we can’t stop there.”
“Why?” I asked. Until that point, our discussions of race had extended only to talking about our own, and never in any substantive or broad sociological way.
“My friend just told me not to go there unless I wanted to get shot.” Or maybe he said lynched. Either way.
The implication was clear, but so unreal that I was half-tempted to stop there for some racism-tourism. You’ll be happy to know pragmatism won the day.

I then thought of East Texas, probably inaccurately, as this racist backwater that didn’t reflect Texas or the South on the whole. (I think a lot of terrible things about Texas, but being racist isn’t one of them.) That must be where all those old-school racists are, I thought: in tiny Bayou hamlets hiding in their legacies of hatred. But then I came across a line in one of those aforementioned Slate articles which made me recall another small nugget from my annals of childhood memories.

In the late 90s, controversy and conflict (both internally and nationally) over the Confederate flag flying atop South Carolina’s State House was coming to a head. I will not pretend to parse the meanings of the Confederate flag; suffice to say sighting it causes discomfort. A local artist–we lived in New Jersey at the time–was making statues of individual slaves aboard slave ships shackled to their wood slat “beds”; tucked under each statue’s head, while he lay in skeletal and near-death eternity, was a triangle-folded Confederate flag. These slave statues were a protest against South Carolina flying the flag, against the Carolinian and more broadly Southern legacies of the Confederacy and slavery. My parents acquired one of these statues and it now, as it did then, makes me cringe. I cringe partly because of the realism of the art (look at me, the critic) and partly because it is a constant reminder that the Confederacy still matters in a very real way.

My (thankfully) limited exposure to Southern racism nevertheless forces me to conclude the undeniable: slavery’s most virile offspring, racism, is alive and well. Whether it’s in the United States as a whole, in the Republican party, in the white South, or in some combination thereof, is not for me to say conclusively; but the evidence is certainly intriguing.

Know your audience.

Theme of the day:

The first hilariously this-isn’t-me piece of junk mail arrived addressed to me, from a local-ish bank (who, incidentally, is represented for their PR by a former colleague — whoops). “Cheap” bank account? Credit card? What goodies did they have in store? Well, aside from an insert advertising a “free” $100 to open a financially-not-feasible checking account with them sometime in the next eight weeks, it included a letter beginning “Dear Audrey” and which continued “Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!” and went on to describe how many couples-to-be neglect to think about the combining of finances during the wedding planning and this bank was here to save the day! Hooray! Well, No Name Bank, not only am I very much not getting married, but if I were, the first thing I would do would be to think about finances and their combination, or not.

The next instance of Know Your Audience came with the second piece of junk mail I decided to open.

This plea for monetary support was addressed to my father, but reading the envelope which announced its intention to secure financial SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL on behalf of some foundation named after some old presumably Jewish guy, I just had to open it. I knew he wouldn’t care, but sorry anyway, U.S. Government. OopsFelony.

I can’t really describe the letter, except to say there were some embarrassing grammatical errors, so here’s what happened in visual re-enactments (I apologize for the wonky quality of these scans):

The third junk mail I opened was Obama campaign mail (what a lovely infographic they included on job growth) — free sticker! — and the fourth junk mail was actually not junk mail at all, but a notification telling my mom it was time to get her car serviced. So, mom, add it to the to-do list.