Friday, May 29, 2009

Lift The Burden

It is sad to me that a genetic adaptation, expressed by my chromosomes, something passed down to me by my ancestors, and currently beyond my power to control (save for exposure to ultraviolet radiation), has been made into a burden by history, namely by those self-same ancestors of similar lineage but no direct relation, who saw fit to express their power to the detriment of others.

Thus is a white man's burden.

Now, before the self-righteous among you decide that it is anathema for a white man to talk of race, racism, and race relations, let me point out that I am in no way absolving anyone of the consequences of their actions, nor making excuses for their behavior. I am also not speaking for my race, because I'm a firm believer in the right of an individual to self-determination, and therefore, responsibility for their actions. What any of us do, falls upon us when the time comes to be judged, or so it should be. It is incumbent upon our society to judge by action, by deed, and by character.

Hence the burden. A burden carried by every person of every skin type, for at some time, their color has determined how someone, somewhere, felt about them, even if they have never met them. And for every dozen people of good moral character, hard-working, honest, and decent, there is the one who is not the embodiment of the race, who splashes a stain on its character by mere association. That is the burden.

For if we are to be judged as people, not as sexual characteristics, skin tone, or even belief systems, we must somehow erase those stains by our own rectitude, living as high and moral a life as we can manage in our own circumstances. The world must be flooded with the examples of how we do right by others, not by how we tear them down. That is the burden.

The problem is: for all our attempts to show that we are beyond the petty dictatorship of our skin, our sex, our religion, there are those who would exacerbate the preexisting doubt, uncertainty, and fear in other people's eyes by their actions. In a time when we should be coming together, coalescing as a progressive, forward-thinking, and above all, inclusive society, some seek to throw a wrench into the works, to bring our forward progress to a halt. They covet their power too greatly, bemoan the changes that are self-evident and, according to Darwin, inevitable. They refuse to believe that their view can be wrong, and seek to instill fear in others, fear of "what may come," as if a shadowy war is just beyond the horizon.

What is worse, many of these fear-mongers have positions of power, that grant them access to vast communications resources, that allow them to spew their shameful vitriol with near impunity. They can reach to every corner of society, seeking out those with doubts, who harbor moral ambiguity, or even fervent hatred; supplicants and converts, waiting for a word, a sign, that they are not alone. That is the burden.

For a person like myself, who has done his level best to see people only as people, who has striven to live a good and moral life, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, I am sickened, and many times disheartened, to hear words spoken in public, by figures of some renown, that cast aspersions and generate false witness against others, for no other reason that they can. There is no reason for any human being to claim superiority over any other, but these disreputable mountebanks continue to stain us all with the broad brush of their ignorance. There are days I wish to slough off my skin, that to wear it feels unclean. It is as if every good deed I do is poisoned. That is the burden.

Our burden can only be lifted if every person of good conscience and free heart and mind, stands up and speaks, to drown out this tidal wave of intolerance. We many, we, the silent majority, must unite our voices in a choir of dissent, to bring forth the true harmony of humanity. Be it pen, blog, or microphone, we must do whatever we can to show that in the United States of America, ours is a society that tolerates differences but does not condone discrimination on any level, that allows the individual the freedom to think and do as they will but does not stand on a foundation of moral indifference when those thoughts and actions threaten us as a whole. We must show that, in the end, it is possible for all people to live together, free to be who they are, free from the fear that who they are and what they are will mark them somehow. We must rededicate this country to the idea that all people are created equal.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Battle of the Sex

A couple of months ago, I wrote a tract on opinion and judgement, stating that it is a slippery slope we tackle when we write opinions and commentary on our blogs, or in public forums, stating that we believe our point of view to be the "correct" one. While it is possible to find a great number of people who may agree on any one salient point about a particular topic, statistics tell us there will always be groups outside the mean with differing opinions. The idea of debate is founded on this; for any subject, there is more than one side, more than one opinion, and in a proper setting, the give-and-take of ideas allows us to see all sides clearly, form value judgements, and come to a consensus.


The twin phenomena of the blog and the commenter, brought about by the rise of the Information Age, has altered the normal structure of debate and dialog to a great extent. Whereas great debate has always taken place in person, between parties capable of reacting to each other, making their vision and passion known through their actions at the podium, as well as their words, the Internet has provided us with the idea of "telepresent" debate, whereby hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people may weigh in on a topic, in a kind of whirling frenzy, punctuated by colorful metaphors and diatribes and remotely-launched character assassination. All this, from behind the cloak of anonymity, or in some cases, pseudo-anonymity. Most combatants in this game of computerized expostulation take part behind shields of their own creations, pseudonyms being the rule more than the exception. Even I find it easier to comment while shielded by a name which is part trademark, and part jest.

Most of it is harmless enough. Trading banter has always been part of the human condition. However, the relative anonymity and ease of attainment leads many to unleash inner demons, allow the darker parts of themselves to roam free. Intellect and cogent discourse are subverted by emotion and rampant gainsaying. A holier-than-thou attitude, normally checked by proximity to people, is launched onto the Internet, to wreak havoc and sow discord through narrow-mindedness and effrontery.

This was no more evident than when Linda Hirshman, of Slate's female-oriented site doubleX, went on a rambling, baseless, and self-indicting screed against a site on which I comment regularly, Jezebel. The gist of the attack was that feminism was being ruined by the editorial staff of Jezebel. Rather than reproduce any portion of the diatribe here (feel free to look it up on doubleX, under the title 'The Trouble With Jezebel'), given that I do not wish to drive any more readers to that site, it must be said you could find more coherence of thought in a Chinese restaurant menu.

I won't launch any kind of personal attack here; I will say that if Linda Hirshman is holding herself out to be a scion of feminism, then feminism is, indeed, in serious trouble. You cannot, on one hand, claim that feminism is about the liberation of women from the oppression of men that has lasted for centuries, while, on the other hand, decrying women using that hard-won freedom to do as they wish. It is especially galling that she should heap her particular brand of ill-considered scorn on the editors and staff of Jezebel, who represent what is probably one of the best staffs of any web site you care to name. Day after day, they fill Jezebel with timely and important information of interest to women (and men like myself, who care about women's issues), as well as entertainment news, providing an eclectic mix that makes for a pleasant read.

Ms. Hirshman based her opinions on a handful of posts and one video from an ill-fated discussion attended by two editors. From that scant base, she concocted a theory of how the freedom of these women and their personal choices spelled the doom of classic feminism. Apparently, being a feminist and having been freed of the patriarchy, you are free to go about your business, as long as it doesn't reflect badly on feminism. That is to say, you're not allowed to make mistakes in judgement, not allowed to determine how you will handle your own rape, not allowed to imbibe freely, not allowed to be a free-wheeling, devil-may-car, sex-enjoying woman. Once you have been labeled a feminist, you receive your ID card and handbook, and are expected to be circumspect, to follow the tenets of the movement religiously, and are allowed no variation from them.

To say that all this is laughable and ludicrous, is to put it mildly. Like so many of the "old guard" that any movement spawns, Ms. Hirshman is frightened by these women, who have taken their freedom and run with it, while she remains fettered to the movement. As any movement (feminism, civil rights, gay rights, etc.) progresses, it grows and evolves, incorporates more people, people with different viewpoints and perspectives, who take it in new directions and break new ground. Such is the way of things. This leaves the old-timers waxing nostalgic, pining for the ground-breaking days, when they could control the thing they breathed life into. But the only constant in the universe is change; those who deny it are left behind, embittered.

Eventually a thing grows beyond those who brought it into being. That is true of our country, which the Founding Fathers would know but not recognize. Or a California redwood, which has far outlived all the plants and animals that were alive when it sprouted as a seedling. It is very true of children, who last far beyond their parents, and see the world become far different than the one they first emerged into. So it is that feminism has moved beyond suffrage and "women's lib," to become a standard, something that generations of women from now to the distant future will accept as their normal birthright. True, women are still caught in an imperfect human society, portions of which have yet to see this new birth of female freedom, but no longer is it just a crazy idea, a pie-in-the-sky dream still awaiting its day. No, feminism is now a living, breathing entity, an implacable force that will shape our world in myriad ways, as it sweeps across our planet and lifts the faces of all women up to the sun.