Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Monday, March 20, 2017

Navigating Privilege As a White Middle-Class Male

I live in a culture where aspects of my identity present me with concrete and abstract privileges that I am at times aware of and unaware of.  I'm a white, middle class, perceived-as-heterosexual, male.  Historically and to still today, this intersection of identity attributes represents one of the most powerful groups in our culture.  (If you are unfamiliar with what I mean by privilege, I recommend checking out Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" for a quick primer and there are several other useful knapsacks out there including ones on sexuality, sex, class, etc).  

Not all of these identity attributes operate at the same time or same level; the context of any given situation indicates just how much one will be more salient than any others.  Walking down the street in any part of the city, I am significantly less likely to be seen as a victim or perpetrator of robbery or sexual assault.  While driving, I'm not likely to be pulled over (in 20 years of driving, this has only occurred when caught at speed-traps, when I was well over the speed limit).   When applying for a job, my name doesn't raise questions or seem "foreign" or "ethnic" during the screening process.  These are but a few of examples--there are plenty more. 

None of this negates that I am hard-working, care about equality, or believe people are largely good.  However, it notes that I was dealt a different set of circumstances in a particular place at a particular time--and historical forces shape that place and time to give me preferential treatment while others are denied the same treatment or given unfair treatment.   

Word cloud in the shape of a cube

A "Woke" Kin

There are some people out there, like me that like to think they have better awareness of privilege in American culture than the average person who benefits from an intersection of privilege such as being white, male, and middle-class (to be clear, I include myself in recognizing that I am making the assumption that I am better aware; I always have my doubts about this and should as I note below).  That, of course, is a slippery slope to balance upon.  The term, "woke" can often be used to describe such people.  But when I think about the term "woke" and what it means, particularly for white people, I feel it gets complicated and challenging.  This NY Times article captures a lot of my concern with it:

““Woke” feels a little bit like Macklemore rapping in one of his latest tracks about how his whiteness makes his rap music more acceptable to other white people. The conundrum is built in. When white people aspire to get points for consciousness, they walk right into the cross hairs between allyship and appropriation. These two concepts seem at odds with each other, but they’re inextricable. Being an ally means speaking up on behalf of others — but it often means amplifying the ally’s own voice, or centering a white person in a movement created by black activists, or celebrating a man who supports women’s rights when feminists themselves are attacked as man-haters. Wokeness has currency, but it’s all too easy to spend it.” 

For those reasons above, I am skeptical of using the term woke for myself or other white people. It's more than that though.  The thing that people with privilege (woke or otherwise) don't realize is that to understand systematic inequality, be aware of it and to thoughtfully consider the experiences of those who do not have the same level of privilege means regularly engaging and learning from others who have experienced it and/or studied it. 

Woke is a process of staying awake, not an end destination.   

Engage, Reflect, Repeat

Many people of privilege have taken the time to read a book, blog post, or article, attended a workshop, or watched a video or documentary to inform themselves of the ways in which people are "othered" in our culture.  I appreciate those that have done so and felt changed by it.  But for me, I don't think that one-time or even the occasionally toe-tipping is enough.  In a culture where so much of the system of privilege is made invisible to those who benefit from it, dominantly repeated in our discourse, and blindly ignored through the myth of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps individuals, it feels like using a single cup of water to put out a fire.  It might help, but the submersion in the fire is inevitably likely to evaporate the water so quickly that it barely leaves a mark. 

While I have taken courses, attended seminars, workshops, and retreats, I have also read thousands of academic, professional, and online articles about understanding this.  I've watched movies, documentaries, TV shows, and online videos that address this.  I've read a lot of books (check out this bookshelf for some good recommendations) to continue to inform myself.  The goal for me is to regularly find ways to keep this in my view as our culture makes it extremely easy to forget.

For some, I'm sure this sounds like a lot of "work,"  right?  Why do it? Two reasons come to mind:  

1.  It's not a lot of work. It's a pleasure to expand my horizon, reflect critically about my life, and the world around me.  It's enriching, rewarding, and empowering to understand the roles I play in perpetuating privilege and learning ways to address and dismantle privilege.  Every time I learn something new, it helps me to better understand the world and my (privileged) place in it.  This helps me to better address and articulate the problems that exist as best I can.  It also means that I can better enrich my relationships with others, more consciously work towards being genuinely welcoming to others, and help other people of privilege understand these things.  It also helps me to better understand hostile or toxic thoughts that occur in my head (or in culture) and where they come from within our culture. 

And yes, I have toxic thoughts--thoughts that undermine, devalue, and disregard others that are not based on the facts and context of a given situation but informed by the numerous messages about marginal identities that I have been exposed ot since before I could remember.  Given that thoughts appear like lightning in one's head, "not thinking" isn't the issue; I can't necessarily stop these thoughts from happening.  But I can recognize these thoughts and call them out in my own head as they occur and do my best to unpack them and disregard them.   

2.  Our culture's messages reiterate the privileging of those identity attributes are strongly and repeatedly reinforced.  When we live in 2017 and (white) people claim there was no racism before President Obama (yes, the article is from 2016 but this sentiment still holds true for many) or that Obama is the cause of the racial divide (the second, told to me by a white male police officer), it tells me we are still far from really understanding folks who are different from the dominant group.  When we have a President in 2017 whose presidency fixates on the threat of "the other" to the point that KKK and white supremacists across the country are empowered to be increasingly hostile to non-whites, we're not really thinking about this whole thing as seriously as we should.  

These misinformed views, of course, largely miss how racism have been infused into politics for generations (well, actually, centuries) and is still a prominent intentional approach by Republicans with their Southern strategy and repeated attempts to block African Americans from voting.  To read the words of Lee Atwater from 1981, they resonate with how the Republicans have actively codeswitched to play upon white privilege:  "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can’t say 'nigger'—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'"  And none of this is to implicate that other political parties don't play with privilege in direct and indirect ways, but I'm struck by how blatant and open the Republican Party has been about it in the last 50 years.

Moving forward, for those at the intersection of privileges, it can be easy to miss things like this or dismiss non-privileged positions in our society given our rhetoric of individualism; it puts responsibility and success on the individual at the cost of realizing or recognizing the systematic forces at play.  

Thus, culturally, we pretend that humans are produced in perfect uniformity as if we were spit out of an assembly line--different models (e.g. a white male, a black female, a middle class latina, etc.  If a person fails, we assume the failure is a fluke, something wrong with the person, not the assembly line.  We never question how we are constructed and what parts go into composing us.  By contrast, it makes more sense to think about humans as building construction.  We all start with blueprints, thus some universal similarity, but our success and longevity has much to do with what precedes our existence.  Does the land we are being built on been made stable or environmentally sustainable?  Did the people involve in the construction use the same standards, the same tools, the same resources?  Is the community going to give the building the same level of support through reinvestment and upkeep?  Will the building be held to the same standards and regulations by inspectors?  In the building metaphor, it becomes more clear how privilege can produce 2 very different buildings from the same blueprints, but no one is likely to see the collapse of one and assume that it was just the building's fault and that other factors contributed to the collapse.

So to me, it is important to regularly re-engage with the subject matter that reminds me of how our culture values me as a building (of white, male, and middle class) and devalues other buildings (e.g. non-white non-male lives).  It's not a guilt thing either.  It's a matter of wanting to better understand myself, the culture that I participate and perpetuate, and the world at large.  I am intentionally blinded to the systematic justice going on behind the veil and therefore must repeatedly seek it, engage with it, and use it to inform me of how to better align my values with my actions.  

For those that are interested in doing similarly, there are some great suggestions that I've harvested over the years.

  • Read (or listen). There are many many many great books out there (many of them in audio).  Get reading/listening.  Here's my full reading this that I continually add to.  
  • Mix up your feed.  If you use social media, be sure to like/follow/link/subscribe with writers/creators/artists/publications that provide a strong lens on marginal voices along race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexualiy, gender, religious, class lines (Everyday Feminism is a good place to start given that ways they tackle intersection).
  • Get in on the conversation.  Join discussion forums or listservs that are actively having these discussions.  Often, you can join and listen to the conversation, without having to participate until you feel you have a meaningful contribution or sincere question. Another means of doing this is to research the relevant hashtags and follow the public conversations on the topic.
  • Hit the documentary circuit.  There are some great documentaries out there if reading/listening are not your thing.  Start with 13th on Netflix, but then check out others like the I Am Not Your Negro, The Birth of a Nation and feel free to find others--there are many.
  • Look around for local organizations that represent marginalized groups and voices.  I'm a big fan of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which has groups around the nation and put out great newsletters that allow for many different opportunities to learn, engage, and advocate for marginalized voices.  
  • Share what you find.  Some of my best discussions and opportunities arrive when I share what I've found and others benefit or challenge what I post.  This opens up dialogue that is sometimes contentious (especially when a commentator is disregarding the view) but is always educative for me in understanding the roles I play in privilege.  Also, please come back to this post to share what you find!
  • Be willing to regularly look in the mirror.  As you encounter so many of these things, there are going to be times you will try to disassociate yourself (I'm not like that; I don't do that; I'm a good person).  As I said earlier, nothing about privilege negates you are a good person.  You are going to encounter struggles that you have overcome, because privilege doesn't negate struggle, but rather changes the probabilities of different types of struggles and the degree to which you experience them. Don't use those struggles and challenges to avoid looking at and considering how you may have experienced privilege or seen it at play in the world around you.  This is hard but it is often necessary because it means unpeeling layers of culture that have trained us not to see that privilege. Find ways of looking in that mirror by writing/journaling or talking with trusted people who also understand privilege to better parse it out.

Other recommendations?  Other thoughts about what I've been talking about there?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, November 28, 2016

We Can Do Better; I Can Do Better

So where am I with all this?

The swirling hurt, disappointment, and rage still swirls deeply in my soul.  I knew it was possible, but just like cancer and death, it is not something I conceive of happening until it's too late.  I had hoped the country would not go down the path toward a Trump presidency in the weeks since his election, I'm more scared for this country's future and in particular, those made more vulnerable by his hateful rhetoric.  At the time of composing this post, the count was at over 700 reports of harassment

Word cloud of this blog post in the shape of a lightbulb

And I'm mad at a lot of things, people and places--all the forces the colluded to make this election the barely-conceived win that it became--not for Republicans so much but how much the messages of Trump's campaign mixed together a message of hope that was deeply seeded in hatred, anger, fear and frustration.  I get and want change in our government like so many others;   I get and want change in our politics like so many others; I get and want a better future for myself and my loved ones like so many others.  But in the messages and plans that I came across on behalf of this candidate, they were dead-ends to me because so many of them were based on dispossessing others of their rights, freedoms, and opportunities or lacking any substantive means of execution.

Like many others, I am pained by the idea that people chose fear and anger and in some way, were comfortable with disregarding the rights of people like myself and others.  But I don't want to blatantly categorize people.  They are not Trump, though their choices do reflect or feed into and validate the hate and vitriol that has emerged from the white supremacists to the degree that some white supremacists are being offered up as Cabinet members.  For me, calling people who voted for Trump racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc is just too easy.  It lets me off the hook from understanding and humanizing them.  It reminds me of how I used to talk about zombies when I taught about monsters.  Zombies are great enemies--because you can easily kill them without remorse; their humanity is gone.  You don't have to empathize with a zombie, but I need to empathize with the folks who voted for Trump--because we're all still here and in the days to come, we may likely need each other much more than we all realize.

I'm concerned that being on the left-leaning spectrum, we fumbled it a lot in how we related (or failed to relate) to those that chose to vote for him.  We shared ridiculous memes, we made simplistic and often passive-aggressive ultimatums (e.g. "if you are voting for Trump, just defriend me"),  we made assumptions about the typical "Trump supporter" (we collectively decided they were "uneducated"--a term I loathe for all its elitism), we villainized him and his followers.  We did that which we are supposedly not supposed to do; we marginalized.  I get that many did so because so much of what Trump says and speaks to was marginalizing.  We denied them the complexity and contradictions that we often grant ourselves.  But how do we get out of that cycle?  How do we fight hate in a way that doesn't look exactly like what we're fighting against?  We must be as nuanced and respectful of the variations within the people that believe what happened on November 8th was a good thing as we are with ourselves.  If we fail to do that, we fail ourselves.

I use the collective "we" within this post and yet I know not everyone of "us" did all of these things; but they were prevalent enough in our actions, commentaries, and media that we are complicit (or relationally as complicit as we have judged Trump supporter in the negative aspects that he embraces).  But in reality, so much of what I write here were things I grappled with prior to or directly after the election (hard to parse things out as this election riled up so much in all of us).  So this is more about me and what I'm trying to take and encourage others to consider about what has happened.   

I also am writing this from my own position of privilege as a white, middle-class, perceived-as-heterosexual male and I'm strongly aware of this, which is why I emphasize that what I say next is geared towards other white folks--folks who are rooted invested in social justice, equality, equity, and fairness in our society for one and all.  I say this to others whites because it is our responsibility to engage in the race politics of whiteness, race-baiting, and embedded within that, class. It's not enough to sit within our enclaves of privilege, diversity, or complexity, and then judge (often on stereotypes) and deny the complexity of those who voted different from us.  And to be clear, I am not saying that we are all doing this or saying this, but that these ideas are present in our discussions and are part of what leads to our inability to help other white people understand or appreciate the stacked decks that our culture is playing with.   

For white folks like me, we work hard to recognize and understand intersectionality and complexity in the lives of non-white folks as we should, I believe, given the systematic inequality that exists and is woven into the fabric of our culture and laws.  But even in doing so, we can't forget and also work to recognize and address the intersectionality and complexity of whites who live in working class and impoverished conditions that lack access to things--particular to post-secondary education and training.  I grew increasingly frustrated to hear these groups talked about as "uneducated"--a term that in the constructs of our culture and education system, says a million different things; it's not a neutral term but one that implies a lack of intelligence.  For all the left can get right about respectful language, calling large swaths of people "uneducated" and using their voting choice as proof positive of it, just seems like a non-starter. We failed to engage and listen and learn--which isn't entirely surprising given that this is a credo directed toward white allies pretty regularly. We need to understand and when possible ally with them on common grounds of things that are important to all of us (and there are far more things that are likely to be important to all of us than not--after all, many people are suffering under the current system of politics).   

Beyond talking around and about these people, we need to find ways of better talking with them.  I saw too often people that attempted to disavow those friends who were Trump supporters and offered up ultimatums to disengage with us if they believed something different from us.  That is the epitome of intolerance and in this case, I saw many of us use it inappropriately.  The general disclaimer to defriend if someone supports Trump isn't meeting intolerance with intolerance; it's assuming what the Trump supporter believes and minimalizing the complexity of beliefs of another person (something the left strongly advocates against); it is stereotyping and refusing to engage with people that are different.  It's refusing to understand why or having the hard conversations to trace of the nuance of their position.  Not everyone did this, but how many of us actually tried to understand and parse out the nuance of a given Trump supporter.  Instead, we embraced our echo-chambers, which told us of the extreme and problematic things he was doing (often in overexaggerated tones that we accused the right-wing "news" sites of doing--Mother Jones, I'm looking at you and your ridiculous click-bait), which allowed us to believe the worse in Trump and his supporters, while not recognizing the most important things that we actually agree on.    

I feel like as white people, we need to better communicate the importance of equality, equity, and fairness for all people in this country (and the world for that matter--but hey, baby steps)  to other white folks and to understand that when we address those things, we improve everyone's lives.  Moving forward, I feel like we need to change and do this differently.  We need to work hard to bridge efforts; we need to think differently about conversations we have with those we suppose, present, or assume to be the "enemy" or representations of those things we dislike, fear, or take issue with.  

I've started with trying to figure out how to go forward and then moved into rethinking how I do social media.  This post has helped me to flesh out what are some of the things that I am challenged by what myself and other white social justice folks have been doing in the last few months.  In future posts, I'm hoping to more concretely find actions that put in contact and collaboration with people that hold different views from me in order to better connect and relate and maybe, for us to at least understand and respect each other more in a way that this previous election seemed to fail to do.  

So that's where I'm about you?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Politics in Social Media: Memes, Public Talk, and Snacking

As you know from previous posts centered on politics, I'm doing a lot of thinking and reflecting about courses of action that are important to me.  Within that, it means I am also starting to think differently about how I engage and act politically in social media.  I will always contend that social media is a powerful and important tool; one that has inevitably changed my life for the better, making me a better communicator, more thoughtful and sensitive person, and better aware of the world around me.  But it has me thinking differently about certain aspects of it that I need to change my approach on.  Here are some of those different approaches that are currently on my mind.


Moving forward--I'm largely done with memes.  Neutral memes that may be amusing and interesting are probably not off the table but memes in general, I'm done using.  We all like memes because they are perfect analogy machines, distilling our issue into something that is a picture and handful of words.  However, memes do not really encourage or make for better dialogue between people with differences but rather allows one to state their claim, relying on the (often faulty) logic or limited facts of the meme to be proof positive.  They are shields with which to stand behind but generally non-starters for actual conversation.  They're used as proof-positive, often with the implication that if we just share them around enough, everyone will finally get it.
Word cloud of this post in the shape of a word balloon.

In order to critique the idea at the center, one has to engage in a long and drawn out explanation which often takes time and often, the original poster is not interested in hearing.  Not only do they take time but because the meme has framed the point, one is often trapped in having to contend with the present frame, which because of its distilled nature often is a challenge to do so in an engaging way given the person who posted it feels strongly enough about the meme to post it.  

So for me, I am refusing to engage in the meme-wars.  They aren't constructive in the end I believe and therefore would rather spend my time sharing more constructive ways of publicly thinking.  That being said, I am still going to speak up when I see memes that marginalize or alienate people--not as a means of engaging the person who posted it per se (though I hope they are willing to listen) but to make sure others who see the post (especially people that might be a target of the post) know that not everyone feels that way.   

Public Conversation vs Private Messages

Social media has been fantastic in putting me contact with a great many people and enjoying the opportunity to have many interesting conversations and debates.  But in moving forward, I think I shall be trying a new tactic.  We know that when it comes to beliefs, we are often likely to dig in deeper when we are publicly challenged because it becomes that much harder to admit if our thinking is wrong in some capacity.  We stake ourselves as intelligent, professionals, or just aware and so to be shown otherwise in public means that we are likely to avoid it.  Thus, I can imagine for myself and others that as I dig into a conversation deeper and deeper, trying to defend my beliefs, I'm reluctant to give ground or to really hear the other person.  But maybe, if I move the discussion to a more personal nature--to just me and the person via private messages, email, phone calls or face-to-face, it changes the conversation.  It moves from public to private and creates better opportunities to hear one another.  

So my goal is that when I engage in conversations that seem in direct opposition to things I believe in, I will initially post my public response (agian, believe it is important that others see it that it will be an opportunity for those neutral OR those that the post targets feel supported) but if the conversation goes into a more protracted discussion, that I move that into a private realm for me and the person to better understand one another.  

Snacking Social Media

I plan to reduce my social media usage.  I still plan to use it regularly, even daily but I need to shift away from the mindless scrolling, the endless search for interesting content, the constant look for something.  I need to be more strategic and focused in going on social media--seeing it as a place to check in regularly but not constantly.  I want to hear the different voices of people I am connected with but like others, after this past week, I'm realizing how much I'm drowning in it and I'd rather not be so inundated.  So I plan to start planning spots within the day to tune in but to stop grazing while doing other things and recooperate time to do some of the actions that I am in pursuing as a result of where I find myself politically.  

Subordinated into that is going to be a reduction in how often I explore differnet news outlets; especially that includes clickbait or over-dramatic responses to what they present as news (on the left, Mother Jones, I'm looking at you; on the right, Breitbart news, I'm not having it or any "news" space that have a bajillion article links along the side and at the bottom to other tabloid news).  For me, these sites are not useful; I want to know what happened but I'm so damn tired of the hyperbolic rhetoric--that's what got us here; it won't get us out.  So I say goodbye to them.

These are some of the actions in my daily practice that I am pursuing.  What about the rest of you?  How might your relationship with social media change given your experiences over the last few months?  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What Am I Doing...Actions Taken

So in my last post, I said that the election for me and anyone else that was not something they liked in terms of its execution needs to do something to avoid it happening in the many problematic ways that it played out.  How's that going for all of us?  What are some of the action items you've taken up in the last few days?

Here's my run-down of what I've done thus far:

November 8: Election Day

I voted, of course but I also wrote the initial post from the other day that has got me going down this path of thinking about what to do next.

November 9:  A Day of Mourning & Reflection

Word cloud of this blog post in the shape of a lightbulb
I stayed up through most of Election night and had trouble sleeping (maybe 2 hours that night).  Wednesday was a really hard day for me.  It was spent in a bit of a haze.  It was spent shedding public and private tears and commiserating with friends.  I cried because the loss to me represented so much that was wrong--wrong with how the election was fought and the differing reasons why those who lost, lost and those who won, won.  It was navigating a path of sadness and frustrated and fear and not letting that turn into hate and anger but into actual things that I can learn and do better by this.  It was looking in the mirror and doing my best not to villianize those who are not us.  There are many things I feel that I am right about (e.g. caring for the equity, equality, and fairness of all humans) but recognize that I have gotten a lot of things wrong in how I go about it.

November 10:  Connections

I spent a large part of my free time on this day reaching out to as many people I knew that were as heart-stricken or felt particularly threatened under the rhetoric that President Elect Trump voiced.  I wanted them to know I cared about them and that I was there to help.  In my own mind, I spent the day thinking about what it means to connect and how to engage in action that is meaningful to move foward.  I realized that I and others would need some group support and guidance so I created the Time to Act group on Facebook to help people (including myself) to find guidance, support, and feedback on how to move forward.

November 11:  Time to Act

I spent time further wordsmithing the purpose and setting up the Time to Act group before launching it and inviting friends who I thought would be interested in joining or learning from.  Since then, it's up to about 500 members and more people are joining and inviting others.  Beyond that I also began to work with a good friend of mine about looking at an opportunity to reach out to the Electoral College (we began talking about this on the 10th actually).  A petition started int he past few days had us thinking.  The petition is an attempt to get the people that compose the Electoral College to change their vote.  It is an absolute moonshot to convince them but at the time of this composing, over 3.5 million people had signed it.  I also had conversations with my partner about the actions we wanted ot take together in the days to come.

November 12:  The Actions Grows

And today.  Today has been a mixture of engaging in idea-exchange with the group; composing a list of groups I wanted to monthly donate to, working with my friend in the above-mentioned project, and forming a plan for the days ahead.  It's getting energize by hearing from others in the group about the actions they plan to take and thinking about ways to better understand and connect with people that are different from me.  

Where am I going from here?

So now I'm off to think about more ways to act and seeing what are things I can do each day to act.  As I execute or explore new methods I will be definitely sharing them here on this blog but also within the group mention above.

What can I do?

I provided some initial ideas in the previous post about what to do.  Here are some more personal actions that people can take in the aftermath of the election.  
  1. Check in with people who may be made more vulnerable by the change of things to see what it is that you can do to help them.
  2. Reach out to organizations (e.g. local Muslim centers, women's centers, immigration protection organizations) to communicate support or ask ways in which you can support and advocate for their protection in the days to come.
  3. Write letters to local, state, and federal representatives voicing your concerns about how the country is moving forward and ask what you can do and what they can do.
  4. Avoid posting memes: Sound strange? I'm starting to think memes are one of the misinformative ways in which created echo chambers as they often marginalize the other person's point of view beyond the ability to create reasonable difference.
  5. Talk with people who did not vote the way you did and listen carefully to why it was they made that decision. The goal is to listen and learn; not to defend and attack. Just a few off the top of my head.

It's Not About the Candidate

I'm already writing a blog post about the issues around the election, my emotions, and things I'm reconsidering. But I want to be clear about my views on this. I'm not necessarily hateful towards the President Elect. I ultimately want him to succeed because his failure will do even more harm. However, it is undeniable that he used a range of hateful and fearful tactics that increased the vulnerability of groups that were already subordinate in our society. In the days since the election, hate groups and individual bigots have seen his election as a justification for their disregard for human decency and respect. And for that, I do hold the President Elect accountable for, especially since he had done nothing significant to quell the hatred.

That's all for now!  I'd love to hear what everyone else is doing and hear more about your ideas.  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Are You Going To Do Today, November 9th?

Good morning America!

It's Wednesday, November 9th and the cards have fallen where they have fallen and if you're like most of us, you have many different views on how and why they fell the way they did.  There are millions of ecstatic Americans that their candidate has been elected and yet, there are millions more who did not vote for this candidate and even part of the base of pro-voters did it reluctantly.  After a race that has been going on for years, we awake with a hangover and utter regret.  Our regret stems not just with the outcome of last night's dirty tussle of (ballot) sheets but from recognizing that this is what always happens.  We awake, we see the results, we feel dirty about the process, but we go on.  

Many of us voted; many of us didn't.  There's an assumption that at least if you vote, you have a right to complain, but those who refuse to participate in a process that feels problematic from the onset have right to not waste their effort endorsing a system that they believe generates false or manufactured hope.  Others voted for third party believing that by doing so, they supported change, and so they too have the right to complain about whoever was elected.  But here's my new standard and challenge for all who read this.  No one has a right to complain if all you have done is vote or not voted.  I'm going to go with Henry David Thoreau on this one and one of my favorite points that he makes:  

"I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote."

In my travels, discussions, and trips down the rabbit hole that is the internet, I have yet to find anyone who is anywhere near happy that this is how things have happened; to say the least, most of us are angered and disappointed by the whole process.  This is a theme repeated election after election, probably since time immemorial.  And it has to do with today, the day after the election.  The vast majority of us sit back and decide that "I've done my job; I voted."  But voting is literally the least thing you can do in a democratic republic such as ours.  As Thoreau points out, it's merely reaffirming the majority but not necessarily addressing what it is that got so many of us up in arms (sometimes, literally, in this election season).    

I know that many of us are just exhausted.  We've been assaulted with ads, news, faux-news, memes, misinformation, accusations, conspiracies, and just about everything in the 24+ month campaign season.  So many of us have been waiting for it to be over for months and have felt deep anxiety around so much of it.  We want to be free of it for now; to breathe, to relax, to just return to some level of normality.  But that won't happen.  The election cycle will continue to get longer; these theatrics will continue to get more ridiculous; the inability to find actual truth and quality news will continue to diminish.  This will continue and it will continue because today is November 9th and we are all deciding we can finally stop caring.  

So I implore all of us to not stop today.  To get up and find a course of action to take that will make us all better as nation.  

So what needs changing?  Lots--that's for sure.  I'm going to steer clear of what I generally think of the bigger issues that I see as that which needs addressing because they are larger issues that we are all likely to vehemently disagree (as the election bears out).  But I want to highlight or find some ways of improving what it is that we're doing when we participate in a democratic republic.  Maybe you have ideas or maybe you know things are wrong but are unsure of which issues resonate most with your or even where to start.  This collection of links provides some ideas about what to change and some even show you how or at least direct you towards resources to get you started. 

Some of my favorites from that list that I'm hoping to pursue in some way include:

These's two from 10 Ways to Improve American Electoral Process
“Establish an ad hoc committee to monitor the quality of public opinion polls taken and reported by newspapers, television stations and networks. This committee would have no sanctioning power over the media, but it would issue a report when it found poll results to be misinterpreted.” 
"Add a new line to the election ballot that says "Favors a New Election." If that option gets more votes than any candidate on the ballot, a new election with new candidates would be ordered."
This gem from the How do we imrpove the election process?
“Replace the debates with something less confrontational and more informative. For example, an interview conducted by an impartial interviewer who allows the candidate to give a complete answer but doesn't allow him/her to dodge the question.”
4 Simple Ways to Improve Voting had this great idea:
“Revamp voter registration. The system relies heavily on pen-and-paper forms, which lead to typos and errors in registration records. Adding more electronic options would help get more voters on the rolls and keep them there by increasing accuracy and efficiency.  For instance, online registration allows eligible citizens to register -- and to more easily check and update their records -- through a secure online portal. New York offers online registration to those with a Department of Motor Vehicles identification, but that should be expanded to include more eligible citizens. If voters can bank and shop online, it makes no sense that they cannot register to vote online, too.”
I also liked this idea from 10 ideas to improve voting, elections
“Open up voting: A few commenters complained about the party system, and one suggested allowing people to vote for more than one candidate.”
These are some of the ideas that I came across and it's a quick leap from there to finding out how to help those organizations that are involved in these efforts or to start your own organization to pursue this.  I'd love to hear from people in the comments about other ways to help or change the system.  I'm happy to do follow-up posts with additional concepts, ideas, and resources.  

If you need ways to get politically involved, there are a plenty of suggestions and methods for big and small actions.  You just need to be willing to start.  Here are two resources to help think about ways to get more politically involved (essentially a beginner's guide and a massive listing of ideas)

Today, November 9th is a start, not a finish for anyone who wants to change the system.  You can't start with the end result (the election), you start with what comes before. So you have 4 years to change it. You may be exhausted but if you want to actually change it, you need to keep going. If you want more out of this country, you gotta get out and do something, today.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Allowing the Public To Vote? A Question to Answer

Recently, a friend on Facebook asked me the following question.  This is a friend of a different political viewpoint from me and on occasion, we get into a debate about different things.  I appreciated the open question without limited judgement embedded in it.  Distilled down to its basic idea, it's an interesting question and thought I would share both question and answer.  Feel free to also chime in with your thoughts.

" I have a pet peeve, and I'd like your opinion on it. Also want to make sure I'm being reasonable and all.  Here goes:
IF a person decides that they are going to forego work, class, a nap, or what have you to join a protest against a candidate or political party, shouldn't they be required to know and understand what that party or candidate represents? More importantly, shouldn't they be able to speak intelligently regarding the party or candidate they're supporting? This type of exasperating comportment brings about substantial doubt in the voting public."


Interesting question...I would say there's no easy answer.

Word cloud of this blog post.
If you want to TLDR version, it simple:  No to both questions.

However, if you want to understand how I come to that, feel free to read on.

On one level--the pretext of the American idea is that--a person doesn't have to know anything in order to do whatever one wants to do--that's a part of our "freedom".  You are just as free to be peeved as someone else is to be protesting.  We all do things often based on little knowledge, incorrect knowledge, or without actual understanding of what our actions say or result in...and that is really the cornerstone of our nation.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines...Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day."  It is an intentional quality built into the system.  If we all would only be able to act when we have achieved knowledge & understanding of things, we'd so very rarely act.

Additionally, we need only look at the First Amendment to see that there is no stipulation for intelligence.  "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."  There have been limitations on this amendment such as requiring permits and such, but the knowledge isn't one of them.

To get to the question a bit more, I guess I would go further:

"Required" by whom?
I'm assuming you're meaning "morally required" but if not, I guess I would ask who gets to be the gatekeeper.

If "morally required"--I refer back to Emerson above but also raise the question of whose moral systems are we talking about?   Should we be concerned that none of us attain the moral perfection we espouse to and should that be taken into account for whose morals we using to deem something morally required?  That is, should the moral failure of a protestor be held as anything more or less than the moral failings of the person judging?

"Know and understand" to what degree?

The thresholds you provide are insubstantial in that they create no standard upon which all could actually agree.  Knowledge & understanding--according to whom?  To what degree?  If a person can speak eloquently about 3 policy issues on a candidate they support or are protesting, but can't on 10 others, is that an acceptable threshold?  What if those other 10 issues don't matter to the person?

And how do we assess what the protester/supporter knows?  Do we rely on media soundbites that purposely create and manipulate content to illustrate how smart/inept the people are?  Do we administer a quiz to each person to determine their knowledge and understanding?  Should we make them write essays or speeches to explain?  This sounds pedantic and silly (and obviously clearly written by someone who thinks a lot about teaching & learning)...but my point is, who gets to make that judgment call about whether a person knows or understands who they are supporting or protesting?  We can all easily play the game of judging others based upon a few pieces of information we know about them and the assumptions we derive from that about the person and use that to decide if someone "knows and understands"--but to me, that's a weak approach that usually only allows one to reinforce their own biases without doing the work of listening and learning what that person knows or understands and how they come to that.  After all, if someone has forgone other activities to attend a protest or a rally, it means something meaningful has moved them--but meaningful to that person isn't necessarily going to be meaningful to us.

To add another level of chaos and confusion to this is that each party & every candidate puts out thousands of bits of information daily--none of which any one of us can responsibly know and still maintain a functional life.  This was why things like "literacy tests" were abolished as part of voting because they were often clearly used to prevent populations from voting.  Whoever was deciding the threshold could easily move the field posts however they wanted.  We can all play "gotcha politics" with one another based upon what we don't know about our candidates.

"To know and understand what that party and candidate represents"

That's a problematic consideration as well because it assumes each party has a singular meaning and they don't.  There are too many parts to a political party to be seen as singular in a way in which could be agreed up.  Therefore, if people can't even agree on what a party represents (or the dynamics between what the party says and what the party does), defining what a party represents is an impossible act because people who are protesting are likely to have a particular collection of facts in the form of narrative while those attending in support, may have different (or similar) facts but a different narrative that sees the party in a positive light.  In essence, it's impossible for us to "know and understand" a party or a candidate.  Besides being so far removed from said party or candidate, we are all operate with bits of similar and different information that is filtered through our preferred media outlets and into our own understanding of the narrative of politics.  

And of course, you have people within the party that can't agree on what it means or represents--so if the internal members can't, the external are also unlikely to do so.

All of which means that your threshold for the knowledge and understanding of a protestor for a candidate you have sided  with is likely to be profoundly different than what I beleieve should be the threshold or what someone else might be.

As to the second question, I would further add, what does "speak intelligently" mean?  Who gets to decide that threshold?  "Speak intelligently" is in the same hazy space as "to know and understand."  What defines "speaking intelligently"?  Who defines what level of intelligence?  Should it matter if the person is intelligent in area X but not area Y or area Z?  Should it matter if the person doesn't care about area Y or area Z?

Does it only mean "speak" and should the actual speaking abilities of the individual matter?  Should it matter if they are an introvert or extrovert?  Should the context matter?  How someone might "speak" at a rally for their candidate may not be elegant or intelligent--given that most events are just orgiastic love-fests of repeated slogans, cliches, and "we're #1" speak, people's intellectual abilities are often not at their peak.  Where we talk has much influence on how we talk, which means what the camera captures is mediated even before the media play with it.   I'm assuming you mean more than speaking, but that only exasperates the dynamics upon what we judge their abilities.  

All of this is to say that embedded in American ideal is the individual.  The individual has inalienable rights that include protesting and voting.

Does this bode badly for democracy? I would say it has been a feature of democracy in the US since the start--misinformed or uninformed people has always been voting.  If I were to improve the structure of democracy--that's probably not where I'd be looking to change or fix things or be frustrated by.  Even myself, I know, as much as I try to be politically aware, I miss a lot and am misinformed in many ways.

Probably not the response you were looking for, but hopefully not a total waste of your time ;)  I appreciated the question and the opportunity to reflect on it.

What about you, dear reader?  What are your thoughts on the question posed or the answer supplied?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.