Virtuous Violence

August 21, 2017

There’s a secret to bending the most toxic element of masculinity toward whatever political ends you want; dress it up as virtuous.

stgeorge1

When you look at the myth of the Hero, the man who stands above the world as a savior and leader, he is always wreathed in violence. King Arthur’s badge of office was a sword. Saint George stood over a dead dragon. Heracles was driven mad to violence then used various acts of violence to attone. The entire cycle of Hindu Vedas surrounds various wars and how violence is both ennobling and necessary. The greatest gods of every place on earth are described with a power above all others that grant them the description of “greatest of the gods” – violence. Men are taught from the earliest that violence can not only be good but be holy, be virtuous. Even our idiomatic idea of a defender – the White Knight – is a vision of ennobled violence.

This is a dangerous thing for all of us.

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Temples of Violence

June 19, 2017

You stand on a wide, green field. An elysium field. This field is dotted with hills, some massive and some small, and usually in clusters. This green field waves with unseen winds, some coming from the hillsides and some falling from some spectre that haunts it in certain places.

There are places in this field, though, where dark things dwell. Where the grass dies, where the sky seems dark only there, and where the earth feels pitiless and hard. Places where the hills seem meanacing and the winds cut deep within the soul and burn the bones.

Scattered around these places, some on hills and some in the wide valleys between, are temples made of clean stone and strong timbers, even in the dark places. These temples are built to a variety of styles and focuses, each hung with the trappings of their devotion.

This is your emotional landscape and the temples, themselves, your emotions.

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What I had failed to realize, despite my weeks of preparation, is that my ability and willingness to enter into a space of “debate” around the issue of abortion is a manifestation of privilege. What you are wiling to debate – what is effectively “up for discussion” – is frequently a reflection of what you think, in principle, you might be willing to give up.

via On the Privilege of Discussing Abortion.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ORa4mrMUR0]

I just noticed it was up, so here it is! Go check it out and tell me what you think.

Also, as a preemptive note – I will moderate any comments pretty heavily, so any outright ableism (or any other kind of -ism) will be deleted as soon as I see it. Productive comments only.

I know how discussions like this can somehow summon trolls a blog has never seen before, so I thought I’d point that out explicitly.

Save WLP: Matching Fund Challenge! | Indiegogo.

Not much longer for this project, but if you have some money you could throw their way I’d suggest it. They need every dollar they can get to help young women of color in south LA with peer outreach on women’s rights and community support.

But if you want more details, just follow the link and read what they’re all about.

Alright Internet, sit down. We need to talk about something really important. Namely, the context and connotations of what happened here.

I hadn’t read the original essay until today. I’m glad, though, ’cause I would have written it off. I would have pointed out right away that it sounded phony. No one I know who has been poor has “unstructured thoughts” that sound like this. There’s no prefacing, there’s no carefully crafted separation between systemic and academic problems. That’s not an off the cuff thing, not without a lot of training on writing papers. That’s just one of many things that stick out to me, things that sound like affluence call backs or the kind of refinement a poor kid puts into their essay to sound smart. Things like the use of “some time” in the opening of the third paragraph. It doesn’t read like a poor person to me, and I live in an intersection of being poor and having a good education, being poor and being fairly intelligent, and being poor but coming from a once-solidly middle class family.

Is this a problem? Is her lying, itself, a problem? Well, yes and no. No, for the most part, because the issue isn’t her essay. If she was honest about this being a fantasy exercise, a sympathy exercise, it’d be fine. This is a gross misunderstanding of most people’s lives who live in poverty but if she’s trying to raise awareness or become more sympathetic, it would be a fine exploration of fantasy. The part where it becomes a problem is when she claims that this is a real telling of events, a true story snatched from her life, where she clearly had time to refine her writing in the midst of being able to sleep for only three hours a night. It camps out in problematic territory when it’s clear to anyone who has been poor that she clearly hasn’t but is claiming this is real.

Now, to restate my credentials here for anyone who hasn’t been following along – until August of this year and from February 2011, I was functionally homeless except for a five month stretch where I rented a room at a friend’s house. I became homeless after I lost my last IT job and my until then unknown disability reared its ugly head and I found out that I can’t drive anymore without endangering myself and others. While I was on unemployment insurance, I housed my mother, my youngest brother, my cat, and myself in weekly motels. Until we got kicked out on the 4th week at one and couldn’t find another room, then we lived out of my mom’s van. My childhood with my mother was pocked with poverty – she was trying hard to rise out of being poor, out of being supported primarily by my grandparents, but the deck was stacked against her between her depression, her PTSD from her relationship with my father and my youngest brother’s father and a drug addiction that he caused. My entire life has been one of survival since high school, the last time I can remember doing any kind of real formal education.

I know poor people. I am still, technically, a poor person. I am invisibly disabled with no diagnosis. I recently got healthcare, but it’s an awkward healthcare where I wait about a month between doctor’s appointments. I haven’t seen a dentist in over a decade. I have no income and I spend part of every day in pain that I can’t control. I still can’t drive without being very cautious. I live day to day because that’s what I’ve always done. I enjoy what I can right now ’cause I don’t know how long I’ll have it for.

Even I, however, knew how to cook broccoli when we were homeless. Nearly every homeless person I know has known how to cook. Some of the best steaks I’ve ever had have come from people in poverty because when they treat themselves, they know how. Want to know why we don’t eat more veggies or fruits when we’re homeless? They’re fucking expensive.

That’s where the fact that she’s playing this off as a real story becomes an issue (before we even get into the biggest problem here). She’s perpetuating myths about what it’s like to be poor that reinforce delusions of us being subhuman – being uneducated, being unaware of real life, being trained in “bad logic” that prevents us from being healthy and happy, working better jobs, or eating better. That if only we knew to buy in bulk, eat cheap vegetables, save money, we could rise out of poverty somehow. Well, it turns out that this isn’t true. Most people in poverty that work at least one job are not idiots, they’re not uneducated savages scraping by on cheap cheeseburgers from Jack in the Box and buying lavish sneakers and televisions. This is a fantasy concocted by well meaning liberals to create sympathy, latched onto by cynical conservatives to damn the poor, and perpetuated by rich children who have never seen an actual poor person in their life. At least no longer than the amount of time it took to quickly walk past them, maybe drop a quarter infront of them, and get away form the stench of the masses. She was never poor and it’s disturbing to me that she thinks she can speak for me, for us.

Going past disturbing, though, in to full blown anger is the fundraising campaign. I ran a fundraising campaign here, as many of you know. I wanted to raise two thousand dollars, a paltry sum in the grand scheme of things, to not be homeless anymore. A magnificent goal, one I’m quite happy I met, but even then I was accused of lying and that I wasn’t “desperate enough”. This woman, though, lied about being in poverty, uses these codified “I am secretly rich” linguistic signals, and she’s raising $150,000 for a surgery she doesn’t want to pay for, for teeth that look totally fine. I’m sure she might actually have a medical problem but my teeth are disintegrating in my mouth and I have a massive cavity in both of my upper canines, right in front of my face. My teeth are rotten and I can’t raise that kind of money. I haven’t had income in almost a year and I can’t raise that kind of money. I was homeless and I couldn’t raise two thousand dollars without being harassed. This woman, on the other hand, writes a false essay and has raised over sixty-thousand.

This is what disgusts me. She is exploiting the poor, the image of the poor and a false understanding of the poor, to raise money that she doesn’t need. Not only is this taking sympathetic money from the hands of people who desperately need it, people like me and who are worse off than me, she’s making it unlikely that those same donors will ever help someone who’s actually poor. Why should they trust my story, or anyone else’s story? They, who have the luxury to be picky about who to give money to, will feel cheated if it turns out that I’m not as poor as they thought I was! There are these stories of wealthy panhandlers, stories of people with good jobs pretending to be homeless to save money, and then there’s this woman, a society elite and political scholar who used a false poverty essay to raise money! Why should they help the needy? Or, rather, how can they tell if the needy are actually needy?

This woman is poisoning the well of altruism and charity. This is yet another subtle attack on poverty, on undermining the poor and reducing our status in the eyes of society from that of human, of peer and compatriot. I am a swindler and a thief, a liar and a malcontent, lazy and disreputable. All because I have no money. In a society that already equates morality with the size of your bank account, it does no one any favors when the wealthy start pretending to be poor to raise money. Nor does it help anyone when they succeed, despite their audacity, while people like me whither, starve, and die.

Please, if you want to help the poor, start at home. Find the actual poor people around you and talk to them about how you can help them. Ask them what it’s like to be in their position. Don’t just listen to people online about it, don’t just listen to news reports, don’t just read the emails that get forwarded to you. Help the actual people, struggling and starving, in your community.

Normally I’d ask for tips or donations at the end of an article that was this exhausting to write, but I’m not doing that this time. I’m simply too disgusted by this whole situation to think about putting myself in a similar light in any fashion. Take that money to the people in your area that need it instead. Not the organizations – the people. They know how best to use a little bit of money, that’ll make their lives easier and better. Believe me, they do.

In Defense of Idealism

August 23, 2013

We live in an age that punishes those who believe that change is not only possible, but reachable. A time when those who insist that good can be wrought from the nature of humanity are derided and treated as naive. When we are told not to read the comments, not to expect better of our leaders, not to fight hard because we shall never win. We live in an age when those who wish to save the world from the excesses of pain, of frustration, and injustice are overwhelmingly punished for the simple crime of compassion. Those who care are systemically disavowed of their notions of sympathy and affection, told that there is no functional way to achieve positive action in the world around them because people are simply too jaded, too broken to make any meaningful action. The world is the way it is, and the world shall never be any different. This, however, this acceptance of the inevitability of injustice and pain, is the first step toward defeat. Accepting that change is impossible is acquiescing to the unjust structures already in existence. Victory, in anything, requires the idealistic notion that victory is first possible, even in the remotest sense, before it can be achieved.

I am an idealist. It is why I am a feminist, it is why I am an author, it is why I am a hedonist, and it is why I am an atheist. I have a fundamental understanding that humanity is basically compassionate, basically social, and basically just. The breakdown occurs in culture, where we’re trained (not taught, but trained) to see others as non-people, to see humans outside of our prescribed tribal groups as somehow antagonistic even in the most innocent of actions. These systems are taught to those in power, and those outside of the power structure are not told about the secret methods that this training entails. People of color do not learn what white parents tell their children. Girls do not learn what men tell to little boys. Those born disabled are not told the whispered admonitions given to those born able-bodied. The poor do not hear the rules given to the rich by their parents and peers. Even groups that bloom after this training begins, such as gender and sexual minorities, are not told of the fear and indoctrination that those outside of their groups are subject to. Even now, as a pansexual man, I am frequently read as straight and the same calls and dogwhistles I heard growing up, asking me for solidarity against “The Gays”, are directed at me as if I were part and parcel with the institution of oppression that these phrases represent. However, the oppressed know the training happens. The oppressors use the same words, the same actions, the same visual cues, the same looks. Oppression is an expression of a community, not an individual.

Sometimes these systems can be reverse-engineered (such as Feminism, the academic discipline of sociology, deconstructing patriarchal systems and Critical Race Theory deconstructing institutional racism and white supremacy), but those who are oppressed are never given the full training regimen of the young oppressors. The fight against deconstructing these systems relies on a certain kind of idealism – a belief in inherent justice, in a fairness that does not rely on the narratives of the powerful and oppressive aspects of our shared culture. An idealism that rests on creating new narratives, new ideas, and new stories that are inherent in their justice and balance, inherent in their fairness and compassion. Every social movement has relied on similar idealism, whether this was a new religion, a new social order, a new economic order, or a change in leadership. Wars require idealism, no matter the kind of war they are, and new ventures require idealism. Someone who guides the new idea has to burn with the passion of change, of possibility, of ideals. Someone has to push everyone in the right direction to accomplish that change, and someone must give a story to everyone else. “When we topple the empire, we will be free.” “When we restructure the economy, all will be able to eat heartily and regularly.” “When we buy the land and build the store, people will come.” “When we make these changes, all of us will benefit.”

This is still idealism. In retrospect, we can call it vision or wisdom, potential or genius, but it does not change that, in the moment, it was a single ideal held with enough passion to inspire others to follow it as well. In our world where we are told not to read the comments and that oppression is a necessary state of the world, that all we can do is learn to adapt and deal with the aggressions against us (from micro- to major), it is important to remember that everything from new businesses to the first empire started as an ideal. It is important to remember that alone, we may feel like we are weak and powerless in the face of the status quo but together we can rewrite our personal stories, our social stories, and even the narrative of our culture as a whole. We can move mountains, we can change orders, and we can overthrow any power that can be arrayed against us. Idealism is the heart of all social change, and without idealism we will always flounder and stop before the work is done. Do not stop being practical, do not stop being realistic, but also do not stop dreaming. Do not stop looking forward in time and seeing a powerful, just, and ethical future. A future founded on what are just ideals now, but ideals strong enough to carry the world.

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