Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stop Feeling Proud of Your Hatred

As I stated for the previous post to this effect, and as I will heretofore never again forget to preface: I am well aware that, as a white person, I have no place to ask anything of people of color, because no matter how hard I try I will forget again and again what it means to be ruled and surrounded by people who see you as inferior, as Other; who manifest this perspective in a million ways, big and small, who tell themselves they are being fair because they chalk it up to culture, or tell themselves they forgive it because it's nature, who tell themselves, and you, repeatedly, that they are being good to you, that they have your best interests at heart, etc. 

I forget, again and again, that I cannot begin to conceive of what this would do to your psyche. As a woman I have experienced a degree of this, but I am privileged enough to escape it, to ignore it. 

If any of those people of color most recently subjected to this return, my apologies. From now on, I will make clear my audience: I am speaking to other white activists who take on the same excuses and give themselves the same leeway as people of color, the same license to rage, without the actual need for it. I am speaking to those who know they can do better, but call their outrage holy. I am speaking to those who have the capacity to understand, the capacity for compassion, but choose not to exercise it.

Don't punch a Nazi. Don't give heartfelt speeches about how we're going to save all of the outcasts by punching a bad guy. I get that it satisfies some deep instincts and that fear and desire for security demand action and this is the most clear tangible action: punching some dude, but people. We must rise to our humanity from our brute animal existence if this world is ever going to look anything other than brute and animalistic.

I find it ironic that some of the people most outspoken about intersectional feminism are the same ones who flatly refuse to acknowledge the intersection of poverty and feminism; of lack and ignorance. 

How can you not see the contradiction when you lambast elitist white feminism for failing to consider the concerns of women globally, while at the same time explicitly deciding, from a place of privilege, to exclude a large group of the population from your concern?

I have high hopes for the intersectional crowd. They are practiced in their empathy. They have the capacity to analyze and criticize their own behavior. It is high time we all realized that every philosophy that encourages us to cut off love, to divide our loyalties, to pick either/or when we think about the needs of the world, particularly when it comes to those who have less than we do: less education, less mental stability, less awareness of how we fit into history and the socio-economic story of our country--we need to realize these are destructive philosophies that weaken us and keep us enslaved.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What it Means to Me

I know you're sick of hearing me say it, but it's still true: we need to be concerned with EVERYONE'S welfare, not just those who agree with us, or we'll all go down together.

It is vital that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN expand our circle of concern to AS MANY OTHER HUMANS AS WE CAN MANAGE, with the urgency of a world on the verge of nuclear holocaust; with the urgency of our literal lives depending on it.

Banding together as a tribe to conquer the other tribe helped us get this far, but now it is tribalism itself that threatens us all.

So let's review briefly what R-E-S-P-E-C-T looks like.

RESPECT version 1.0: House Rules

In 2000, when I was fifteen years old, I lived in Provo, Utah. With just over 100,000 people at the time, it firmly qualified as an urban area, but looking at homogeneity alone, it might lean closer to rural standards.

Eighty-nine percent of us were "white." Eighty-eight percent of the population were Mormon, and I'm sure that percentage climbs when you look at the non-white communities, considering the fact that Mormonism is what brought many of the meagre population of Pacific Islanders, Latinx/Hispanics etc. to the state in the first place. 

Respect, for a community with a clearly dominant population, tends to operate like house rules. When someone visits your house, everyone is clear as to who is in charge and who needs to bend in the case of conflict: graciousness demands that the host take in stride a certain amount of clash when it comes to values, but should the clash escalate, the guest is the one who needs to give in or get out.

House Rules is a nice way to put it. "My way or the highway" in other settings amounts to little more than bullying. But let's take it in its most innocent, natural form: you've entered a town where a bunch of people who like and agree with one another have built a set of standards of how they want to live. You, the guest, the stranger, ought to at least try and understand and make room for what they want. It's only courteous.

RESPECT version 2.0: Fair Play Rules

Now I live in the Bay Area. The greatest common denominator for the majority of people here is that we come from elsewhere. In one sense, there are no House Rules because there is no clear House.

But there is a Community, and it has rules, too, which everyone who arrives is expected to follow or suffer the consequences. The Fair Play rules of community demand that everyone get on board with the same basic rules of interaction, regardless of what House they come from. This enables a multitude of different lifestyles, religions, cultural practices, viewpoints, and unique understandings of the world to all get along in close quarters. 

Instead of presenting one specific way to live, and demanding that everyone contribute to/allow for the functioning of that particular lifestyle, everyone is required to suspend their ideas about how others should live and narrow their sphere of control to their own lives and families.

So, for example, when I was growing up (and yes, still today), it was seen as completely fair and normal and natural that because Provo, Utah was established and governed by Mormons, non-Mormons should not be allowed to do certain things they wanted to do, ever: like buy liquor on Sundays, or get married to people of the same gender, or access recreational facilities on Sundays. 

Here, it is seen as a threat to community when you try and regulate behaviors of others that have nothing to do with you. Any attempt to impose your way of life on those around you will earn anger and recrimination.

Respect, here, means that the only standard I ask of others is that they allow me to exist as I want, and I allow them to do the same; I recognize and regulate my behavior where it directly impacts them, and I leave them alone except when it comes to their behaviors that directly impact me. "I don't understand why you do that, I don't particularly like it, but it's none of my business, so carry on, friend." 

It requires a much higher level of tolerance than you're used to if you've been part of the dominant population of a House Rules area. If you're coming from that position, being in a city might feel oppressive, intimidating, and unfair. 

On the other hand, it allows for a much higher level of freedom and self-expression than you're used to if you've been part of the submissive population of a House Rules area. If you've grown up submitting to (or suffering the consequences of resisting) a dominant population, city living is going to feel liberating, generous, and much more loving than any environment you've experienced before.

A lot of the clash we see on the internet and in our politics is a bunch of people used to the House Rules version of respect entering a globalized conversation alongside people who are used to the Fair Play version of respect.

It's easy to argue that the Fair Play version of respect is a much better fit for the modern world than the House Rules version, but the thing is, the social consequences for refusing to capitulate look exactly the same as the ones in the House Rules model. If you refuse to adjust and adapt, you are shamed, ostracized, avoided, boycotted, and otherwise punished for your refusal.

In other words, the Fair Play model is still utilizing the same Old School Consequences. 

Because here's the thing, the YUUUUGE blind spot of city liberals, of social justice warriors, of activists: by separating all of society into those who benefit from power, and those who don't, we've not only identified a class worthy of our unquestioning protection, we've identified a class of Unworthies from whose fates we 100% absolve and detach ourselves, regardless of what their actual lives actually look like

What I see, what I witness with my own eyeballs, is that people with the means, the insight, and the capacity to engage in levels of self-care, autonomy, and luxury that are unheard of for the vast majority of the Unworthies, I'm talking about people who can routinely piss off to beautiful foreign countries for meditation retreats, get monthly massages, people with advanced degrees, thriving businesses, etc., people who are dancing on a pin on the tippy-top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, crazy privileged people is what I'm saying, are somehow feeling cozy and justified writing off whole swaths of the population:

fellow humans who are actively struggling to get from today to tomorrow
who are succumbing to suicide in alarming numbers
whose communities have been ravaged by addiction
who have been most affected by the withdrawal of the corporations who made them promises, sucked them dry of resources, and then abandoned them, 

These self-proclaimed warriors on behalf of those in need give zero poops about extreme magnitudes of suffering, all because the people who are suffering think they are white. 

And this active withholding of concern and empathy is supposed to be in the name of a better world. It doesn't add up, guys.

Let me say that again: wealthy people are prancing through life feeling righteous for wholeheartedly condemning those in far more desperate circumstances, never thinking to ask or care whether they ever had a reasonable chance to choose a different way of being. (Hint: they didn't.) 

Do you take intellectual freedom, structuralism, and the ability to separate yourself from your beliefs so totally and utterly for granted, you've forgotten it takes scaffolding and training to reach this understanding of the world?

Lucky you!

And because of the false dichotomy--either we care about the racists, or the populations they attack, one or the other, pick a side--we have been protected from seeing that  all along, we have been nurturing not a better world, but our sense of our own moral and intellectual superiority.

Look: I was a Molly Mormon and an avid reader: it's pretty much always been a huge goal of my life has been to try and be as good as I can to as many people as I can. And even *I* had a hard time extricating myself from the racist ideologies I was born and bred into! 

THEY ARE POWERFUL AND SUBTLE AND SINISTER AND PERVASIVE! We're talking intellectual Alcatraz here! Please stop treating racism like Club Med!

I have the humility to recognize that had I not enjoyed the guided, immersive, patient, supportive assistance of an entire classroom of students of color, plus countless encounters and experiences since, including a year living in a different country and a natural propensity to immerse myself in different experiences, I might STILL be racist.

RESPECT version PREVENT WORLD WAR 3.0: Third Way Respect

Everyone you meet, no matter how dope or awful they seem to you, became that way the same way you became you: through various encounters and interpretations of those encounters. 

Your perspective on their dope-ness, or awfulness, is highly selfish: that is, based on your perception of the world, NOT THEIRS. You are a terrible, inaccurate, unjust judge of their behavior and character because you do not have access to the ledger of their entire life. You do not know where the behavior comes from. You do not know, furthermore, what future encounters they will have; or what your encounter with them, right now, is doing to affect their awfulness or dope-ness in one direction or another.

It really doesn't take much reflection to realize that you are a terrible instant judge of another person's worthiness, regardless of their behavior. That said! That said: even if you were a good judge, are you even remotely invested in their rehabilitation? Or are you just invested in the pure animal question of whether they pose a threat to you and those you care about, or can possibly benefit you later?

All previous models of respect: 

"It is my job to respect __________  but not _____________ because _____________."

New model of respect:

"Respect is not something I give or take away based on variables of those I encounter; it is something that I offer to all because I am a respectful person.

Because I do not have access to the interior of others, I respect them. Because I do not know the journey of others, I respect them. Because I do not have control over the actions of others, only my own, I exert that control through consistent, unchanging respect towards all.

Respect does not mean that I agree with others. It does not mean that I capitulate to actions that threaten my own well-being or the well-being of others, or let such actions go unchecked. 

Respect means that I do not wait to see whether the Other assists or obstructs my well-being before I decide how to treat them or whether to concern myself with their well-being. It means that I hold myself to the same standard of concern for the well-being of the Other as I do for my own well-being and the well-being of the people I am easily able to love and understand.

It means that I support them in what they want for themselves, just as I hope they would support me. It means that I allow them space to grow at their own pace, just as I hope they would for me. 

It means that I never treat them as an obstacle. It means that in the case of direct conflict, I do not fixate on the elimination of one of the two sides, but instead put my energies towards the Third Way: that which satisfies their desires and alleviates their fears without threatening me.

For example: the term "white privilege" obscures the fact that most racists are not really fighting to be allowed to make gains above and beyond people of color. They're not fighting for privilege. They're fighting for survival. They are fighting to maintain the what little ground is still beneath their feet against the threat of losing absolutely everything. This fear is sustained, nay, fanned by the unwillingness of neo-libs to see anything other than their inability to release House Rules in favor of Fair Play Rules; their utter unwillingness to take into account the poverty, loss, desperation, and disconnection that fuels--that has ALWAYS fueled--hateful, nativist ideologies.

Go look again at Peggy McIntosh's knapsack of "Unearned Privileges." NONE of those would be considered a "Privilege" in a just society. "Disappearing Rights" is a better name for that knapsack. I would cling to my rapidly disappearing rights too, if I had no context and no clear idea of what awaits me when I finally let them go. (Hint: clear-headed accountability, humility, and the resulting empowerment.) 

There are saner, more productive, more sustainable ways to protect ourselves from harm than the Cave People, tribalist method of causing harm first.

Is it enough to have these beautiful handfuls of Believies? (warning: profanity. also hilarity.)

No. It is not.

This is not some ridiculously high-minded, impossible approach to life. This is the only way to escape the Battlestar Galactica-style eternal feud nightmare: the inane, pointless back and forth of "are you good or evil? EVIL! EVIL! I knew it! BAM EVIL BACK" "Oh no they didn't! EVIL! EVIL! I knew it! BAM EVIL BACK."

The important thing to understand about the Third Way is that it's impossible to find if you're not looking for it. As long as you're still trying to dominate/remove the obstruction/eliminate the threat, the more elegant, beautiful, harmonious, SUSTAINABLE, NON-NUCLEAR solution will eternally evade you.

If you think nothing to demand of those with less power, with less lived privilege relative to your current life, with less practical access to information (you have to have a framework for understanding, critiquing, and placing information before you can truly access it), that they change their entire way of seeing the world to better align with the mentality of people who not only give zero poops about their well-being but wage constant verbal assault on their intelligence, style, and most deeply held beliefs, how much more so, then, is it the responsibility of those with the insight, with the knowledge, with the mental space and proven capacity to change their ways of interacting with a hurting, diseased, imprisoned world? 

Amen, Dalai Lama. Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Religion Is Not The Problem

My husband and I just began attending Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and let me tell you, it has been an eye-opener. (I promise this whole post is not one big ad for the class. I have no affiliation with Dave Ramsey except this weekly class I just started taking.) Up until now, my personal strategy with my finances has been the Ostrich Method: stick your head in the sand and pretend the threats to your well-being do not exist.

It’s not a good recipe for peace of mind, you know? Ignorance isn't bliss; it's deferment. As anyone with student loans can attest, the longer responsibility is deferred, the bigger the problem gets. So I’m trying something else. And it’s already difficult, to be sure, but it also feels better, already, to look my demons in the eye and roll up my sleeves. Our entire financial system is designed to predate on those not paying attention. If you don't know what's going on, you're likely being taken advantage of. I highly recommend this class to anyone who does not feel in control of their financial lives. (For my non-religious friends: it's got a Christian slant to it, but swallow the meat and spit out the bones.)

One thing Dave addresses, which I really needed to hear, was the idea that poverty is holy. This has long been an excuse I’ve given myself as to why I shouldn’t have to do the work to regulate myself and live within my means: I don’t like money taking up my mental space. I want to save my mental space for what matters. Relationships. Service. My work.

But of course, by not focusing on it on the front end, money always ends up taking up quite a bit of my mental space on the back end. When I don’t have it, and really need it, it takes up way too much space. The money I owe to my dentist takes up mental space. The money I owe to my cousin takes up mental space. The subcurrent of anxiety that lives in me always because of my massive unaddressed debt takes up who even knows how much mental space.

I can’t help but equate this whole situation to the state of our world. A huge number of people are ostriching pretty hard when it comes to the very serious threats we’re facing. And they’re doing it in the name of holiness.

I grew up in a religious community, and now I live in a place where religion is widely considered to be The Problem. I’m here to say that religion isn’t The Problem. The religious just happen to be the most willing to discard facts that don’t serve them. But they’re not alone in this. Atheists do it too. For example, they’re all too willing to dismiss faith as an important phenomenon, despite the fact that the majority of the world finds it beneficial to their lives, simply because it doesn’t fit into their conclusions about the universe.

The real problem is the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and it is the job of the religious to see that faith wins.

First, let’s establish a definition for truth. It can get pretty complicated to try and break down, but the kind of truth I want to talk about here is simply “that which is consistent and unchangeable regardless of the angle from which it is observed.”

According to this definition, science is the language of truth. Why? Because no matter who you are or where you are, you can follow the rules laid out by science and observe the same consistent, unchangeable results, and (importantly), if you observe different results, and can demonstrate these different results, it necessitates a change in the language itself.

Science is the language of universal truth, the common truth of humanity, because everyone who calls herself a scientist must hold to the same standard of truth: absolute consistency. Not only is a scientist willing, they are dedicated to letting go of conclusions, no matter how much it means to them, the moment their results are shown to be inconsistent.

This stands in clear contrast to certain definitions of faith, which set out to hold onto certainty, no matter what external inconsistencies appear to occur. The idea here is that there is a higher truth than the one that we observe around us, one with higher laws that supercede the laws of nature, of the world. So what about Truth with a capital T? What about that understanding of the universe that many claim to be higher than science? Where does God, the Great Everything, the Divine, the Design fit into the picture of our common truth?

It doesn’t. Faith does not belong to realm of our common truth because it is not observably consistent. The bible is full of stories of miracles, but these, too, belong in the realm of personal belief, since they occurred, if at all, before the time of scientific documentation, before the time of the camera. If the Divine All chose to keep miracles exclusive to a time before pocket video recorders, that seems to me enough evidence that Truth was never supposed to try and occupy the space of truth. Either way, not a single modern account has emerged of someone who can convincingly, consistently demonstrate a line of communication with the Great Everything. For all our ability to record evidence, no one has been able to demonstrate a consistent relationship between prayer and outcome, between internal impression and outside world event.

I’m not trying to demonstrate here that God does not exist and/or that there is no Great Everything that communicates with humans. What I’m trying to establish is that this communication, if it DOES exist, does not fall under the umbrella of truth YET.

One day we may understand the mechanics of that communication such that we WILL be able to observe the consistency of it. But that day has not yet arrived, or trust me, we would know it. So when you’re talking about God, understand that you have (for the time being) exited the realm of a discussion about truth. Now you are talking about faith.

Faith is a conviction in the existence of things for which we have not yet established observable consistency.

Scientists really ought to understand better than anybody the need for faith (and many do!). Our documented observations about the world have been reimagined and essentially overturned too many times to count. Things we once held for crazy are now the most agreed-upon explanation. Science is not a group of set-in-stone rules--it’s a fluid language, constantly being refined, redefined, restated, upset.

But what the anti-science crowd really needs to understand is that while science is not infallible, it is still the best language we have for our common truth, and indeed the only language that describes a truth common to us all, because that is the entire point of it: to describe the most universal truth in the most accurate way possible.

We can tell that it is the best language for our common truth because when people learn it, they become more able than any other to exert mastery over the world around them. Science might as well be the language of God, because it consistently makes the impossible possible. Breathing underwater. Traveling to the moon. Changing the shape of animals over time. Healing ourselves.

So what is the place of faith?

Faith gives us the ability to hold a narrative for ourselves in this world. It shapes, encourages, and defines our personal journey through life. It gives meaning to our struggles and offers comfort when we are afraid. Faith is the language of our highly personal relationship with What Is.

As such, it is not anybody else’s business what anyone chooses to believe. And in any case, it is pointless to attack someone’s beliefs or faith. There is literally nothing that can convince someone to relinquish a belief system that they feel serves them: science, logic, the clearest evidence, the most carefully outlined statements, not even torture or threat of death can have the slightest effect on someone’s faith. Internal beliefs are 100% impenetrable from the outside. The only thing that can move someone to change their beliefs is the personal, internal conviction that they will benefit from the change.

Huge problem, right? No. It isn’t. Faith in a higher power isn’t what’s destroying our world, creating so much conflict, leading so many to reject the things that serve them, their communities, their children’s future.

What needs to change is the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and it is the job of the religious to see that faith wins.

This mentality has become the curtain behind which the wizard hides; the wizard, in this case, being anyone who does not want to take accountability for the outcome of their actions. Industry in and of itself is not evil, but common outcomes of industry are most certainly evil: children getting leukemia because of chemicals dumped carelessly or leaked carelessly into their water supplies. Whole ecosystems being destroyed. Forests that took centuries to reach maturity, decimated in seconds, with no research into what the loss will mean. Industrialists have found a way to completely absolve themselves of accountability for the consequences they are dumping upon us, upon our children--consequences that don’t go away just because no responsible party is called to the carpet.

All they have to do, they’ve discovered, is convince the religious that to oppose the rape and pillage of the Earth is tantamount to opposing the will of God that His children should prosper and flourish. All they have to do is convince the faithful that it’s holy to extract resources from the Earth without accountability.

They’ve already convinced most that we all share in the benefit from these extractions at least as much as we suffer the consequences from them, evidence to the contrary be damned.

It’s become all too clear that they’ve even managed to link the right of industrialists to do as they see fit without preparation or accountability for consequences to faithful’s eager anticipation of the second coming: that is, the more you allow the world to be destroyed, the more that exhibits your love of Jesus, because when the world goes down in flames, that’s when Jesus comes again. The more warnings the Earth sends us in the form of natural disasters, the more the faithful seem to believe that they are serving God’s will.

If anything, this attitude exhibits a lack of faith, a lack of humility, a lack of willingness to bend to the will of God. The eagerness to rush on Armageddon is the modern Tower of Babel: the desire of the faithful to reach the kingdom of heaven at their speed, on their own terms, rather than His. The religious have been awaiting the End of Times since long before any of us were born; it seems they’re getting increasingly impatient about it.

But I personally have faith that this world will rehabilitate, that the religious will trust once again in divine will, that they will stop relinquishing their accountability to their neighbors, to their friends, to their grandchildren in the name of faith. The saying is not, after all, "God rewards those who destroy themselves." We have become a nation of deferrers, of destroyers, of people who write checks that they cannot cash. But that is not what this country stands for. This is a country of people who take pride in reaping what they sow, in earning what they have, in building something for themselves out of nothing.

I've been stressed about money since I began gleaning, as a small child, the kind of stress it caused my parents. If I can look my money problems in the face and start to take charge, by all that is holy, we on this planet can start figuring out how to start taking responsible stewardship of this planet.