Perception is Nine-Tenths


You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

– Oscar Wilde

I find that, no matter the situation in which I find myself, there is a Wildeism that applies. Today, this one’s mine.

Simply put, I’m often too clever for my own good. I’m often overly convinced of my own vision and acumen, of my own position in the master-student hierarchy. Convinced that in a kingdom of the blind, I’m the only one who can see. In short, as was pointed out to me rather bluntly a few days ago, I am often an arrogant bastard.

On one hand, I’m not persuaded that this is necessarily a bad thing. The very act of writing something down for public consumption entails a certain “humble arrogance”: to think that something one has to say might actually be of benefit to others. To hope that some pearl of dim wisdom, derived from the relatively quotidian experience that is the average human life, might in the end shape the essence of things, might change the world as we know it. This requires a special kind of arrogance indeed.

On the other hand, though, there is the sometimes overlooked fact (at least by me) that the experience of average human life is quotidian precisely because it is shared. I am not the only one watching the world through perceptive eyes; although I may have something of value to contribute, in that I am surely not alone. Failing to acknowledge this entails a not-so-special kind of arrogance.

There are two sides to every coin. And my coin, much to my chagrin, seems to be rigged. It’s a trick coin, a Harvey Dent coin, a coin with a mind of its own. In other words, in the battle between arrogant bastards, the humble guy generally gets his ass kicked.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about gender and race relations. I tossed the coin, aware of the risk I was taking, but not as prepared for the fallout as I thought I was. Like I told a friend, my skin is never as thick as I think it’s going to be. I tossed the coin, and it landed pretty much right on its edge. Which didn’t work for me. So I knocked it over. The wrong way.

Let me be clear: I still believe what I said is in many ways correct. I’m not the type to grovel and scrape, and I don’t feel any need to here. That being said…it has become clear to me that a) I didn’t say it nearly as eloquently or innocuously as I thought I had, and b) what is more important by far, I am perhaps not the right person to say it in the first place.

I want to revisit the Alicen Grey quote that started me down this argumentative road in the first place:

It’s painful when I hear/see quotes from men, waxing poetic about how violent and inhumane “we” “humans” are “to each other”. When historically and globally, males account for the vast, vast majority of violence. Mostly against women. I used to wonder, how could these men – fancying themselves profound and in-on Truth – possibly call “humans” violent when they are technically the source? But I guess that’s what happens when the only people you consider humans are other men.

(I’m going to borrow a bit from a recent e-mail to a friend, sent in the aftermath of the “post-ocalypse,” in the hopes of explaining myself a bit better. I hope she doesn’t mind.)

I believe Alicen Grey is justified in her feelings in ways that (as I said) I cannot understand, being neither Black nor a woman. I’m telling you that I believe her (yes!) imperialistic language is used in this case in an attempt to right wrongs in a system in desperate need of righting, but in a manner that sells itself short by angering the people (men) she holds responsible rather than inspiring them to self-reflection. Not unlike my own reaction. Sometimes people who have a point worth making make it in unfortunate and counterproductive ways. Again, not unlike myself. I can’t hold it against her, because I wouldn’t want it held against me. So, yes, given the opportunity, and given the benefit of the doubt, I would gladly work alongside her. I’m not just saying that. Once I’ve gotten over myself, I truly believe there is no one on this planet with whom I could not find some common ground somewhere.

You see, I forget sometimes that perception is nine-tenths of the truth. I said what I said, convinced of its accuracy, with little regard for the ways in which it might be taken. In other words, I did exactly what I was suggesting Alicen Grey shouldn’t have done. So…shame on me.

Whatever else you take from what I write here (and I’m stealing from the e-mail again), please take this:

I truly desire nothing more than to make the world a better, more equitable and just place for all of us. But at the end of the day, I’m human; I can’t be more than that. No one can. And my humanity, as everyone’s, is the thorn in my flesh. It allows me to soar, and it causes me to crash back down to earth when my wings collapse under the weight of my own hubris. And it always will.

According to Oscar Wilde, the world needs a few more fools. In my case, perhaps an acknowledgement of my own episodic foolishness will do, as a step toward a more Wildean equilibrium.

I will write on. And stumble from time to time over my own wayward ego. And then, get back up, dust myself off, and write on further.

It’s the best I can do…

Sins of My Fathers


Without ash to rise from, a phoenix would just be a bird getting up.

– Schmidt

I want to talk about race, and gender, and some of the other things I’m not supposed to talk about because I’m white and male. Which characteristics I of course chose for myself when the gene genies contacted me for that traditional prenatal identity consultation. This was after the prenatal press conference in which I explicitly endorsed all the injustices committed by all the white males before me, throughout history.

I have news for you: Hogwarts is not real, and there is no such thing as a Sorting Hat. I was born, and I have acted (for better and for worse) on my own account and no one else’s; my impact as a person can be judged fairly only by that rubric.

But that is not the rubric against which I find myself measured. I am told that, regardless of who I am or what I have done, I am complicit in a multitude of previous sins. I am presumed guilty, and am placed beyond proof of innocence. And anything I say can and will be used against me in the court of public opinion.

I’m told that men shouldn’t be involved in the gender debate, that they should just listen quietly and be educated. Fair enough: quiet listening is necessary to education, and speech before learning leads only to Fox and Friends. But there is a time for quiet listening, and there is a time for taking what one has learned and getting into the conversation, respectfully but actively. Otherwise, there isn’t much point in learning in the first place.

I’m told that Black Lives Matter. And they most certainly do. But I’m also told that this is a claim that must exist in isolation; that to suggest, as a member of the white community, that my life also matters, that indeed all lives matter, is an act of imperialism and violence. I am told by those speaking out for their own worth and meaning as people that if I do the same, I am worthless and meaningless. Meanwhile, on many levels, the whole argument misses its own point, given that we are prosecuting it as a multitude of refugees stands helpless and homeless at our borders, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens stand helpless and homeless on our street corners, and all the rest of us stand idly by demanding more attention for ourselves.

I refuse to accept this. I will not play this game nor will I acquiesce to these rules, any more than anyone should give in to the arbitrariness of socially-imposed classes and categorizations. Justice is never about taking dominance away from one voice and giving it exclusively to another. Justice can only come about by way of dialogue; it must involve both the wronged and the perceived wrong-er.

The debate over feminism cannot thrive if it is framed in a such a way as to intentionally alienate or shut out the male voice, not because women are incapable of solving their own problems, but because men are a fact, unfortunate though it may be. We exist; we are everywhere. And if we’re the problem, then we have to be a part of the solution. Otherwise, you’re repairing the roof by tearing down a wall.

Black lives matter. White lives matter. Middle Eastern lives matter. Unborn life matters. Life matters. Wherever it is found, behind whatever sort of face it hides. This is the underlying problem: we think that in order for one group to matter, another has to matter less. This misconception of meaning has provided the framework for every violent human arrangement in history, from slavery to the Cold War to the War on Terror. Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter is but one more example of this false dichotomy. If we are to reach a point at which either black or white lives truly do matter, then it must be in tandem with one another, and alongside all other life. This is a zero sum issue: either all lives matter, or none of them do.

Recently, I read the following quote by radical feminist Alicen Grey:

It’s painful when I hear/see quotes from men, waxing poetic about how violent and inhumane “we” “humans” are “to each other”. When historically and globally, males account for the vast, vast majority of violence. Mostly against women. I used to wonder, how could these men – fancying themselves profound and in-on Truth – possibly call “humans” violent when they are technically the source? But I guess that’s what happens when the only people you consider humans are other men.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what I say, or in how many positive ways I contribute to the quest for social justice, gender and racial equality, or anything else. I am, in the most literal of senses, worth-less, beyond any possibility of betterment, trapped in the web of my original sin: the penis. I am generational evil incarnate. Regardless of my individual character, I am defined by my class and, consequently, disenfranchised. I am refused the right to contribute on the presumption that anything I say is by definition suspect. I am barred, not just from the conversations surrounding gender and racial issues, but from any conversation at all. How’s that for violent, imperialistic speech?

I hear her, and I appreciate (if I cannot fully understand) the pain that animates her words. Women have been sorely mistreated by men, African Americans have been devalued by white America, and ethnic minorities the world over have been abused and murdered by majorities the world over, for far too long. But anger, while a powerful and constructive tool, becomes merely destructive when wielded as a weapon. This may be temporarily satisfying, but it is not ultimately productive. Alienation as a response to alienation only creates greater alienation.

I will not apologize for things I did not do and have not done. No one should have to. What I can (and will) do is my best with my life to ensure that the unjust actions and words of my predecessors and contemporaries are, through my own actions and words, to some measure counteracted. I will honor, respect, and speak out for the rights of women, African Americans, and any others to whom they have been denied, and I will fight alongside anyone (Alicen Grey included) who is interested in bringing about a more just social order for all people. I may not move mountains, but I’ll go down swinging. I will be your ally.

Assuming, that is, that you’ll let me…

Keep Your Words in Your Own Mouth, Please!

churchsign2If you have nothing nice to say,
then don’t say anything at all.

– My mother
(and millions more just like her)

So…I just got back from a conference in Pasadena, CA, at which I presented a paper on social media, and the ways in which they affect our ability to engage one another in meaningful dialogue. One of the topics I discussed, by chance, was the Internet meme. The presentation went rather well, I think, and I was going to write a follow-up post for my bloggy thingy here. And then, I got a forward from my father-in-law, well-meaning spreader of whatever rumor floats his way on the wings of cyberspace, fact-check free:

church sign

Dearborn, Michigan–out to kill us all!!!!! Except…wait a minute…that sign looks a whole lot like this one:

demosign09Exactly like it, in fact! Could it be that someone completely fabricated the “Kill America!” message, and then spread it, knowingly and maliciously, around the Internet as if it were the truth, the whole truth, and…well, you get the idea? Unheard of, right? Who would do such a thing?

After five seconds of research and a very helpful page, followed by a moment of righteous indignation at the intellectual and moral dishonesty of the person who did this…I remembered something. Something I’d seen on the blog of a friend who, supposedly, has taken it upon herself to expose the lies told to the masses by organized religion:


And that looks a hell of a lot like this:

demosign1Before my father-in-law’s forward, I had no idea that “Church Sign Maker” even existed. And, having spent a few years in the church sign business myself, I’ve seen my share of ridiculous messages in front of church buildings. So, I bit. Hard. I even laughed at some that I saw on fellow bloggers’ pages…like this one:


Which, once again, looks a whole lot like this:

demosign3Now, I know that these last two images are not exactly the same (the one above has a larger foreground, etc.), but they are obviously images of the same sign. And that’s the point: who knows which one, if either, is real? That’s what the meme does, people. It bends the truth, even when based on a partial truth, to the point that it’s no longer distinguishable from the lie.

Now, I should have known, me and my tirades about memes and what they do to our ability to relate to one another. But, you see, I trust the person on whose page I saw these things. Trusted, anyway. Now, how am I supposed to know what is real, what is true, in her ongoing crusade against religious “untruth”? My father always told me: Two wrongs do not make a right. What of that? In fighting a lie, is it acceptable to use a lie?

Because, at the end of the day, that’s what these things are: lies. Inventions. Like the “Dearborn sign,” and equally harmful. We can use memes to put our words into the mouths of anyone we want, anyone we don’t like, in a way that creates an illusion of truth and makes them responsible to the masses for something they never even said. And it cuts every which way. Welcome to the world of digital propaganda! We don’t need to discover evidence and expose the truth. We can simply create the truth out of whole cloth.

It’s amazing how our “enemies” conform to our expectations when we’re the ones crafting their narrative for them…

So, next time you try and tell me, my friend, that Christians are the problem, that they’re the ones obstructing productive dialogue, spreading a harmful false message and preying upon the gullibility of the masses, check yourself.

Who’s obstructing whom?

Pasadena, Here I Come!

JISSon, look, we might be in the desert, but we are still civilized
people, and civilized people put up arbitrary boundaries that they
will fight to the death to protect.

Malcolm in the Middle

So, I’m off to Pasadena to participate in the 2015 Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies symposium. And I’m excited. And nervous.

At this point, I’ll be satisfied with not being laughed out of the room…

Anyway, my thanks to those of you who helped me out with my survey back in February. Without your input, this paper would never have happened, at least not in its current form. Your contribution is much appreciated.

For now, I’m hitting the road…

5358746801_4cd8c43918_b…’cause life’s too short not to drive.

Thanks again! And I’ll see you on the flipside! :0)

Surviving the Morning After (Redux)

There is something to be said for social media. I’m just not sure what it is.

I signed back on to Facebook yesterday, hoping against hope that the tenor of all those political squabbles because of which I signed off in the first place might have changed. I discovered (sadly, as I feared) that some things never change. But if you watched President Obama’s victory speech on Tuesday/Wednesday, you too might have heard a statement that’s stuck with me. (And, by the way, for all those folks out there who’ve been going on and on about the “inspirational” nature of the speech: Go back and check out the one from 2008. It’s pretty much the same speech. Which is a tad worrisome. But I digress.)

The president noted that, while at times our national conversation may experience what might be called a discursive breakdown, that is in itself a sign of democracy at work, and a privilege which should be cherished. There are, he reminded us, people around the world laying down their lives “just for a chance to argue.” This is a sobering thought.

So, my Facebook friends…Fire away.

Meanwhile, let’s turn our attention to Mitt Romney’s concession speech. I’ve also been hearing heart-wrenching things about this speech. For Pete’s sake…Chris Matthews, with tears in his eyes and a cowlick on his head, called it a “moment of wonder,” a great act of statesmanship. Well, okay then. For my part, I thought it was a fairly standard piece of political pleasantry. He conceded, which in itself is to be admired, given the tendency of presidential elections since 2000 to degenerate into litigious circus-acts. But the speech–sorry, nothing special.

But in the midst of the speech, he too said something which caught my ear (and which I hope was truly sincere). He said: “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.” Now, given the partisan gridlock of the last several years, the combative nature of pretty much every congressional statement made on any news network by anyone anywhere, and the fact that the exact same folks–with a few important exceptions–are back in the capitol, I find it hard to take that comment with anything but a giant grain of salt. Especially coming from the figurehead of the party that stated its purpose explicitly, not as governing the nation, but as preventing Obama from scoring a second term. But, cynical as I tend to be, I really, really, REALLY hope he meant what he was saying. Even more importantly, I hope his party, leadership and constituency, was listening when he said it. Beyond that, I hope all the Democrats out there quit their cheering and jeering long enough to hear him, too.

Over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, as our political discourse ebbs and flows, as we trade digital punches and counterpunches on Facebook and Twitter, I hope we all strive to balance these two vital features of a healthy democracy in action: the freedom to argue, and the willingness to listen. I hope that the arguments we have are on the important issues facing us all, each one of us as American citizens, and not over whether or not the president’s accent changed when he went down South. I hope we remember (myself included) that at the end of the day, when all is said and done, counting on each other must trump counting coup, that all the insults in the world never fixed an economy or got anyone a job. What moves us forward is us, plain and simple, not I but we, not my needs but yours. The US of A.

Surviving the Morning After

Election day is at hand, and the question on everyone’s mind (at least insofar as my television tells me so) seems to be “What’s going to happen today”? Meanwhile, the question foremost in my mind is “What’s going to happen tomorrow”? Because that’s when we really find out what lies in store for the American polity over the next four years (and beyond). And, to my mind, this has very little to do with who wins the popular vote (or the electoral one), because I’m convinced, cynic that I am, that either way, we stand a good chance of losing.

Since the last election, we have lost an important element in our political process: our minds, collectively and individually. It might be argued that, between 2008 and the present, a greater percentage of the American electorate has found a voice, but I’m not convinced that this is a good thing. It should be, mind you. It should be the greatest thing about a democratic system. It should be resoundingly wonderful that, in this country, groups like the Tea Party and other grassroots start-ups have the freedom to come together and have their collective say on the state of our Union. But the benefits of that freedom tend to be drowned out by the language used to express it. And I don’t mean profanity–I have a great fondness for certain four-letter words judiciously applied–or issues vocabulary. I’m referring to the languages of fear, hatred, prejudice, closed-mindedness–in short, the languages we’ve all been increasingly guilty of using lately. Let me be clear: this is a non-partisan observation. Neither side of the proverbial aisle is in any position to throw that first stone, unless they do it straight up in the air so that it hits them first.

Our “dialogue” has been co-opted into guerrilla sideshows (the Birther movement, the “secret Muslim” brigade, etc.) and a do-nothing Congress in which victory goes to him what don’t cry Uncle. One side finds itself compelled to ramrod legislation that the other side then finds itself compelled to block in whatever way works. We don’t talk to each other anymore; we talk at each other, about each other, at each other’s expense. I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen groups of rogue voters roaming the streets, beating each other with campaign paraphernalia (but, hey, Election Day is young). We have descended into a Mad Max politics that threatens to divide us as a nation to the point of total impotence, a nation in which a broken financial system and a growing debt are weapons to be used rather than problems to be solved. And this is only Tuesday…

Tomorrow, we will wake up–hopefully–to discover that one candidate or the other has won in a decisive fashion (so as to avoid the kangaroo solution), and when that happens, we have a choice: we can dig our heels in, throw ourselves on the floor in a grown-up temper tantrum, and spend the next two to four years rubbing it in or cussing it out; or, like mature, intelligent people deserving of the democracy we supposedly honor and cherish, we can reach across the ideological divide and embrace those who oppose us, try and actually carry on a conversation that doesn’t involve insults or invective. You know, actually, like, get something useful done.

What will it be: the land of the free, or the home of the deranged?