Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quiet Ones

Another rampage at a public school. More children dead. A child with unknown motives in custody. A community, and a nation, asking "Why?" The incessant and familiar refrain: "He was quiet."

And as the old saw goes: it's always the quiet ones.

Why? Why was he "quiet?" Quiet compared to what? Was he mute? Did he not raise his hand in class? Did he not talk about his home life, or school, or girls, or football? One girl said: "He didn't speak up for himself much." Why would he have to?

We know what went on here, even if we don't know. Here was a boy who felt he had to deal with whatever was troubling him by exacting revenge in the most violent fashion. He had a purpose, he had a plan, and we may never know either with certainty, but we do know what he did, and his innocence is assured by the Constitution but his guilt is written in blood on a cafeteria floor.

What happened? We know. We know in our hearts, in our minds, in the distant and dim recesses of our memory. We remember high school. We remember cliques. We remember who was popular and who wasn't. We remember being picked on. We remember the unremitting degradation at the hands of and through the words of others. We remember going home to find solace, only to be cast into more turmoil of an even more personal nature. We remember going to a room, closing a door, trying to shut it all out, wishing the pain and humiliation would magically abate, blown away as dust in the gale.

We have felt the pain, the sorrow, the lamentation of another day in those "hallowed" halls, wherein torment lies. We have been witness to it, perpetrator of it, or victim, but we know it. The artificial social environment that is the American high school is a well-oiled machine, grinding up and spitting out children on the doorstep of adulthood, with the same rigorous machinations for children now as existed back when we, too, ambulated among the lockers and classrooms. Names, faces, and sneakers may change, but there is always the undercurrent of "Us" versus "Them" that clings to every surface, that adheres to every nascent Freshman soul, and permeates the atmosphere like a sickly and awkward fog. The subdivisions are artificial, highly dubious, and maintained with a Machiavellian tenacity that survives the generations, not unlike the spore of a virulent plague.

The meaning of Chardon, Ohio is as clear to us as day, but as impenetrable to the popularity-obsessed culture in which we reside as the blackest, Moon-less night. We know in our heads what happened, but our minds will not accept the reality of the situation, preferring pat answers and off-the-cuff observations to truth. We refuse to acknowledge that far from the responsibility of the young man who did the killing, each and every one of us had a hand in this moment, where we could not act or where we tacitly supported those concepts that led to a moment of panic and ultimately, death. We have built the society that glorifies blood, that pampers the popular, that places looks above smarts, and that continues to perpetuate stereotypes that have no business being part of our culture. We give implicit approval to a society that speaks volumes on its problems, but is silent on solutions.

This boy will face his punishment and serve his sentence, both within and without. He will be condemned by our nation, as much as he was condemned to a life that led to these circumstances by that self-same nation, where the well-known problems of our society are left to run riot while we tune in our favorite show on the television, the one where the problems are always solved, or at least, mitigated. We pull down the blinds and peer at our screens, content to live in our world vicariously, while outside the door, poverty, malnutrition, poor education, and the many ills of society wander loose, to collect the souls of the unwanted and the unloved. This moment, like Columbine before it, is the warning; let us pray it does not take another such moment to rouse us from our insularity. Our youth cannot afford the cost.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Right Is This That Men Make But Do Not Honor?

Let us start from first principles, and accept the premise that -- as was put in the Declaration of Independence -- we are all equal and endowed with unalienable rights. Let us also say that any American citizen, nay, any human being, can be said to claim such rights implicitly.

If we have posited such, and we accept such, and this fundamental ideal is the basis upon which a nation was founded and forged, what business have any of us to declaim against it?

To be fair, we have every right, by the Constitution of the United States, to say what we will in regards to individual liberty and freedom. Any opinion may be expressed; any thought may be, though not must be, shared in regards to it.

However... while we might rant and rail about specific formulations and values of said unalienable rights, we are not given leave to strip those rights from others, merely upon our say-so or the say-so of others. That they are proclaimed "unalienable" means they are not forfeit, not subject to the vagaries of human foible. Though one or all among us might proclaim them limited, their very essence proclaims them beyond the pale.

So, if we take the Founding Fathers at their word, those rights are ours and so on in perpetuity. Those rights may be regulated, where some of us would presume that our rights are superior and therefore should attempt to subject all of us to their whim, but to strip them as to leave none intact is a barbarity that turns citizens into slaves.

As such, the attempts of some legislative bodies in our nation to take the unalienable right to the control and disposition of one's own body -- specifically where one is a woman or of the female gender -- and remove their freedom of action is tyrannical. It is anathema to the spirit and law of the nation. It is a reckless and ruinous attempt to bend the will of women into a subservience that only in the last one hundred years they have managed to dig themselves out of.

The same can be said of the attempt to place those who identify as homosexuals from enjoying the same level of rights and privilege as all other Americans. Where we define things as matters of the State, and where the State is tasked with ensuring that such things are distributed equally to all, how can it be that we deny some the same rights as others? At every level, we have known this to be wrong: with blacks, with native tribes, with women, with immigrants. How can we claim that now another group is deserving of such shoddy treatment in the face of such factual and historical knowledge?

If one wishes to not avail themselves of certain medical procedures, or live their life in a certain circumspect fashion, owing to their personal feelings or beliefs, then they should -- and do -- have the freedom to do so. But as belief is the province of the individual, so is the right of self-determination, and one's beliefs do not automatically supersede those of others, despite what those beliefs might impute. The right of the individual, where such a right does not trample upon the self-same rights of all individuals, is paramount.

Of course, where we come to governance, the rights of the individual must be balanced against the rights of our society as a whole. Where this is true, liberality is preferable to close-fisted adherence. The litmus test must be the effect of the thing on society as a whole, where such effect is broad and direct. More often than not, outside the realm of those who commit crimes, the effect of the thing lays upon the individual's doorstep, not out own. It is disingenuous to claim that the thing affects those who have no direct tie to it, save in a tenuous and ephemeral fashion.

Ultimately, enough things find confluence in our society, that we are all affected, to a degree, and that is where government is tasked to ensure such effects are not deleterious. The government must, in this process, ensure that at no point is the effect so disproportionate to the measures designed to deal with it, that it can be said to remove our unalienable rights. We will be asked to tacitly support some things we do not, ourselves, see as necessary or desirable, but that should be done so only where the greater good will be directly influenced, not where such are in the realm of caprice. The ultimate goal of our unity is the resolution and equality of all things across society.

The diversity of belief, opinion, and action is out greatest strength, where we do not choose to impose it unnecessarily on everyone. Our unalienable rights start and end with us. Where you choose to tread upon those rights in others, you no longer deserve them yourself, and it is oafish hypocrisy to claim otherwise. All people are not subject to your whim, where they have the right, paid for in blood, to be free. It is time to end the continual perfidy that comes of intolerance for the beliefs of others and learn to live within the bounds of the human community as it is.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes To Ashes, Stardust To Stardust

Today is the holy Catholic day of Ash Wednesday, marking the opening of Lent, a hearkening back to Jesus' 40-day fast in the desert before beginning his formal ministry. The streets of many nations will be filled with people with a cross drawn in ash upon their forehead as a sign of repentance. It marks an attempt for many Christians to reconnect with the actual teachings of their Savior.

Sadly, it doesn't work in most cases.

Even the most devout, once Easter has passed, suddenly forget the life and death of Jesus Christ, his words and his wisdom. They slip off the cloak of piety and slip on the armor of judgment, of pitilessness, of self-righteousness. They attempt to force the world to conform to their uninspired and often insipid interpretation of The Bible, the words of their Savior to become dust upon the ground. That dust, however, is not devoid of meaning. The dust and dirt that cover our Earth was a gift from the universe, mixed, recombined, forged, broken, and reconstituted millions of times, starting with the beginning of creation itself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Realistic Female 'Privilege' Checklist

I was compelled to create a post on my Tumblr account, due to an on-going brouhaha involving moderation of the 'politics' tag on that site, and the misogynistic and socially offensive rantings and ramblings of the editor in question (who was subsequently removed from his editorial post). Part of his defense of his irretrievably unconscionable behavior was rooted in his denial of the idea of male privilege and his mistaken impression that the whole root cause of feminism was to drag men down into the mud and stomp them into it. When works of false and ignorant premises, one invariably opens themselves up to attack.

One place he pointed to, was a web site called 'Feminist Critics' -- which I shall not deign to link to -- and an article there on "female privilege," which was just an outrageous collection of non-interrelated and male-centered screeds on how "good women have it" in comparison to men, and how male privilege is just a figment of feminism's imagination. It so enraged me, that I proceeded to pound out what I consider a more accurate representation of "female privilege" as it exists in the modern world, and part of which I now reproduce here:

As a woman, you have the privilege of...
  1. Being told by men that you do not have a right to do what you like with your own body.
  2. Being told by men that they only find you attractive when you dress sexy.
  3. Being told by men that if you dress sexy, you're being "slutty."
  4. Being told by men that they want to have sex with you.
  5. Being told by men that if you have too much sex, you're being "slutty."
  6. Being told by men that if you don't want to have sex with them, you're being "frigid."
  7. Being drugged or manhandled by men who want to have sex with you when you don't.
  8. Being raped by men, whose sexual needs override your consent.
  9. Being told by men that if you were raped, you were asking for it, because of what you said, how you were dressed, what you drank, where you went, etc.
  10. Being told by men that if you get pregnant by being raped, you should "make the best of it."
  11. Being told by men that your position in life is to carry a fetus to term, even though you don't want it, can't afford it, and they won't lift a finger to help or support you.
  12. Being told by men that marrying them and raising a family with them is what you're "meant to do."
  13. Being told by men that the black eyes, bruises, and broken bones you got from them beating you is "your own fault."
  14. Being told by men that if you try to leave them, they will take away your children and you will never see them again.
  15. Being told by men that they've "moved on" and "found someone new" who is "more exciting," a.k.a. "slutty."
  16. Being told by men that you are not smart enough.
  17. Being told by men you're not good enough.
  18. Being told by men that you're not strong enough.
  19. Being told by men that you are too emotional.
  20. Being told by men that you are too cold.
  21. Being told by men to make them a sandwich.
If I were a woman, and I had to navigate that world on a daily basis, you can bet your ass I might harbor just a small amount of enmity toward men. Women have spent millennia getting the short end of the stick... ask Eve. And maybe, just maybe, women are tired of taking crap from men. BTW, I know I'm being all cis here, and I apologize to my trans friends, but the bottom line is: if you're a woman in this world, born that way, built that way, or otherwise, you can look forward to a long life of being told you are subservient to men, that that is the way "God intended it," and you should just shut up and accept it. I'm here to say that's wrong, that male privilege bullshit talking, and this is one man who doesn't buy it. You're a person, not a possession. You have rights. You have feelings. And no man has the right to tell you that you owe them anything.

Any man who denies his privilege is obviously so colored by it, that he cannot be rationally expected to understand it, so it is up to other men not as tinged by it, to explain. Because one cannot look at what's going on in our nation and claim that there is no male privilege at work, when the majority of anti-choice organizations are run or advocated for by men, when the bulk of the legislators who are bringing forth and supporting anti-choice and anti-woman legislation are men, when the vast majority of Congressional members are men, when there has been no woman President, when women are a scarcity in boardrooms and at the heads of corporations, and where women, on average, still earn far less than male counterparts for the same level of work.

It is easy for a man to dismiss the complaints of women; those in a position of power, for no other reason than they are of one gender -- or one race or one religion, similarly -- have exactly that which they are unwilling to share. To a man, it may seem far-fetched that a woman would want or should have power, and that man will find it easy to construct a specious and fallacious argument structure to reinforce their view. It is a facet of an on-going issue humanity has, whereby fact takes a back seat to belief. Men believe they are meant to be in control, to dominate, to rule, and would rather fight among themselves for the privilege, than allow women an equal opportunity.

As I have noted before, men wrote their dominance of humanity into society of their own accord, not because it was necessary or required. Misogyny is an extension of the primitive hunter/fighter mentality that drove primitive human society. It is a self-reinforcing construct, held in place by the male domination of society. That is privilege at its most basic -- I have the power, therefore I was meant to have it. If the heroes of The Bible are mainly men, it is because men were in the positions of power, men wrote the words, and men determined which gospels would be included, meaning the female voice was conspicuously absent by design. If most nations in the world have been run by patriarchal forces, that is because those forces already held sway. If the governments at the local, State, and Federal levels in the United States are dominated by men, that is by design, as it was men who dominated society and initiated the creation of the nation.

It is not enough that women fight for their right to join men equally in power, for to overcome thousands of generations of patriarchy through sheer will and determination means thousands more generations before it can come to pass. If women are to reach the equal footing they deserve, and is long overdue them, then it is up to we men who understand our privilege and its ill effects on society, to stand up to our brethren, and make them aware that the current state of affairs will no longer be tolerated. We must stand beside our sisters and we must take the power away from the patriarchy that maintains its death-grip on human society. We must break ranks with those men who hold power for power's sake. We must drive the money changers from the temple, to restore order to a more natural state of human equality in every dimension. We must reject our privilege, for to do less only perpetuates a system that has been unfair for far too long.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Daughters, My Wives, My Mothers, My Sisters, My Lovers, My Friends

I grew up in a house of women; my grandmother, my mother, my sister, and I lived together for over a decade, and whether that sensitized me to the plight of women, I do not know nor cannot say with any surety. I remember tears, hugs, fights, laundry, long hours, and plenty of time in the solitude of my room, absorbing the happenings of the world, trying to he the "man" of the house. I saw the pain, I knew the travails, unspoken though they were most of the time, and it could not help make an impact on me.

Now I sit here, decades later, steeped in the tenets of humanity and feminism, father to a daughter, husband to a wife, brother-in-law to a sister-in-law, watching as self-righteous, self-satisfied, self-proclaimed "arbiters of morality" tear at the fabric of our society by demeaning, degrading, and deploring women and women's rights. My mortal soul writhes in agony within, knowing that these men -- and they are men across the board -- would suffer women horrors that womankind has not had to know in decades, all in a bid to reassert their "rightful" place as dominators of the social contract.

Nowhere is this most cowardly, most reprehensible, most misogynistic bent seen than in Virginia, where Governor Bob McDonnell, a man of undoubtedly low and amoral character, is ready to sign a bill that would give State sanction to the forcible penetration of a woman's vagina by a doctor for an unnecessary ultrasound prior to an abortion. Yes, that is correct: forcible penetration. As if that were not enough, he is also aligning behind a "personhood" amendment, declaring fertilized eggs people. But back to the first indignity -- in order to pander to Christian anti-choice fanatics and make himself a choice candidate to become a Vice Presidential candidate, this man is will to place his name on a bill that will require the forcible penetration of women.

The amount of bile that rises in my throat, the disgust that wracks my innards, the Vesuvius-like rage that boils behind my eyes for this man and all those who supported this bill, cannot be truly placed in words. It tempts my vow of anti-violence to a degree that nothing has in some time. The people behind this violation of human decency and the civil rights of women must be excoriated in their ignorance and religious fervor, for no person of right mind would consider this a reasonable thing to do. This is akin to the Salem Witch trials, where innocent women were killed for the merest suspicion of witchcraft. It is as if the State government of Virginia is wont to re-write, annotate, and expand on The Malleus Maleficarum, "The Hammer of Witches," as if the modern woman's desire to have control of her own body bears the taint of dark magics. Virginia is busy plunging itself into the 15th Century.

I am torn up inside, knowing that people such as these exist, people who would hide behind religious zeal and the march of "morality," people who would proclaim themselves "decent" and "Christian" people, even as they seek to torture and defile those who do not willingly follow their command. It stinks of the thumbscrews, of the stake, of the manacled form wreathed in flames for the "mercy" of her soul. This is the 21st Century, and ideas such as these have no place in a society predicated on freedom and individual liberty.

I ask these people these simple questions: Could you do this to your mother? Could you do this to your sister? Could you do this to your wife? Could you do this to your lover? Could you look a woman for whom you have the greatest love and admiration, and take a cold steel tube, and jam it up inside her, with a clear conscience? Could you see her lying there, in suffering and torment, and proceed to torment her further? Is it far easier to detach yourself from the heinous nature of the crime against a woman's body, to know it will not be you who has to do it? Would you so easily bestow on others the garish and lurid mantel of purveyor of pain, forcing them to deal with the consequences to their soul, while you sit in the comforting walls of your home, oblivious?

These women, these women I do not know, have not met, may never know, are my wives. They are my daughters. They are my mothers. They are my sisters. They are my lovers. I would not stand idly by and watch them suffer under such ignominious conditions for your "morality." I will not allow my daughter to be raised in a world that values her only as a brood mare, that sees her body as a plaything of the State. I will not allow you to strip these women of their dignity, where there is the least little thing I can do about it. I will write words, shout them from rooftops, I will organize, I will agitate, and I will not stop until I see every one of you who put your festering and fetid stamp on this, brought down and boiled in a stew of your own iniquity. This is not America. This is not justice. This is not liberty. This is the heavy hand of the State, and this is what was fought against to raise up a nation conceived in liberty and justice for all. These women will have their justice and their liberty, and you will not be able to stop it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Strongest Sex

This year has seen a full-on assault on women and the female gender by men in positions of power or attempting to obtain positions of power. Without pouring over the sordid details, it should be noted that women's health care, contraception, abortion, education, and social standing has been under constant fire with the turning of the year, and misogyny has risen to cast a cloud over our society as never before. This whole movement toward rolling back the status of women to some point in 1950s, on the way to trying to push their rights and privileges back to some point before the 1920s, is unconscionable in the 21st Century. How can we be at this point again?

It boils down to a simple fact: men have dominated human society for millions of years, based solely on the perceived notion that they are the stronger of the binary genders, a notion conceived and reinforced through the application of wholly artificial standards and practices developed to stack the deck in their favor. In the distant mists of the human past, when survival was not assured and no mean feat, men perhaps thought that their hunting and fighting skills made them the natural leaders of humanity. A few million years later, it's easy to see why this idea is wrong...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Normal Isn't

The idea of "normal" is a statistical affectation. It is an attempt to take a large assemblage of disparate items and find some significant middle to them, that ties them all together into a neat package that can be leveraged to make "value" judgments. It is an imaginary line that runs through each and every grouping imaginable, placed there by outside agency, a wholly artificial yardstick against which each and every thing in the group is measured.

From statistics, the idea of normal has progressed into the realm of human society. When you have a group of numbers representing data points in a continuum, you can use those to find a middle, an average, a norm. Then you can place every number in relation to the norm, leading to "above average" and "below average," and "normal," where something varies very little from the mean. And if that works for numbers, why not people? It starts with physical, measurable characteristics: height, weight, percentage of body fat, age, etc. Gradually, it expands to more ephemeral and esoteric regions: intelligence, beauty, wealth, and the like. Soon, we speak of people only in terms of their relative "value," and just how far from "normal" they stand.

This process of measuring and charting and cataloging humanity can be shown to be the determining factor behind the basest of human interactions: spite, envy, bigotry, racism, snark, superiority, hypocrisy, lack of empathy, judgmentalism. Where some artificial "norm" exists, and where we choose to compare others to it, we set up the conditions for placing people in category we find desirable or undesirable. We reduce human beings to numbers, names, categories, and so on; we place ourselves above others through wholly artificial and self-serving measures. We act as if this is how it is supposed to be.

Over seven billion people inhabit the Earth and the genetic variation between them may be unbelievably small, but it leads to a rich and varied species that has come to dominate the planet like no other. If that seven billion can be reduced to any number, it is one -- one species. The individual variations that appear in each and every one of us are part of a pre-programmed inheritance billions of years old, that drives even a singular species such as ours to display as much diversity as possible, to allow for a greater chance at survival. No measure of such variation can lead to anything that resembles a "normal" human being; we must pursue a varied, divergent, and expanding course in order for humanity to survive.

There is no fractionating humanity. Like the picture that is made up of millions of dots, humanity is a species made up of billions of variations. The drive to create conformity, to place everyone in their box, to hold up some as paragons to be aspired to, is to go contrary to everything that gives our species its strength. Unity of purpose and breadth of vision are far greater reinforcements for our advancement as species, than attempts to anchor us to artificial measures that hold no basis in our evolution. Appreciation of our differences makes us human; anything else makes us mere animals.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Turning Bones To Dust

The streets of Homs in Syria are slowly becoming caked in the blood of people whose only offense is that they prefer freedom to tyranny, as the tyrant shows his love for "his" people by showering them with a fusillade of rockets and mortars. Not unlike Libya in the recent past, a people seek to throw off the yolk of oppression, and are willing to fight if that is their only recourse. But there is fighting for freedom and then there is being an animal penned for the slaughter, and right now freedom lasts only as long as the whistling shriek of the shells.

The Syrian government refuses all calls to remove itself from power. Any deals brokered to do so are quickly cast aside or forgotten. The Arab League seems powerless to act. Certain members of the United Nations obstinately refuse to acknowledge the dying shrieks that ring forth amid the shuddering blasts that fill the town. Condemnation is rife, but action is nigh invisible. No sanctions, no blockade, can shield a populace from the hellish fury of a dictator bent on retaining power.

It is perhaps incumbent upon the United States to once more be forced to take the lead, as it is ever so. Surely, there will be nattering in many corners by some, who will first chastise us for doing nothing then chastise us again for taking action. But, do we dare stand idly by and let innocents suffer? No one has ever handed us a badge, but many have looked to us in the past to take up the mantle of protector of freedom and defender of liberty. There can be only be hand-wringing in engaging in another conflict, but there can be no peace while blood is spilled in the name of tyranny.

What to do? We must come to a decision soon. Where we wish to keep the sword, we do so with the tacit knowledge that we will be called upon to wield it. We must be unwilling, we must be reticent, lest we become enamored of our power, but the time comes when other considerations must be laid aside and the greater good must step to the fore. We cannot allow people to die where we can do something to stop it. Let it be that we take action now, and when it is done, take that same energy of destruction and turn it to energy of construction. A people cry out; how can we not answer?

Friday, February 3, 2012

No Longer In The Pink

Breast cancer is a scourge. It can, unchecked, eat away a woman's dignity, as well as her life. Like so many chronic, noncommunicable diseases, there is no cure, only treatment, and the treatment is sometimes worse than the disease in debilitation of the body and depression of the mind.

Sadly, I have been privy to the monster's ravages, both within my family, a friend's family, through an associate of my wife, and through the glimpses brought to light by people I follow on social media. Something which I had thought of in the abstract, has become only too clear and terrifyingly close to me in recent years, like a tide advancing and eroding the barrier between my quiet life and the bedlam of the raging sea.

So, when Susan G. Komen For The Cure decided to pull its funding of breast exams at Planned Parenthood, due to a "policy change," thereby depriving women of limited means access to critical health care, I became incensed. And I was not alone.