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16 April, 2012

Educating Myself: Part 1001

Harry's eyes were very serious. "Hermione, you've told me a lot of times that I look down too much on other people. But if I expected too much of them - if I expected people to get things right - I really would hate them, then. Idealism aside, Hogwarts students don't actually know enough cognitive science to take responsibility for how their own minds work. It's not their fault they're crazy."
- Eliezer Yudkowsky, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

I have work that I'm avoiding, so in the meanwhile, here are two reminders of why I insist that, when it comes to human-caused atrocities, focusing on the people who dirtied their hands in person is insufficient. It's not enough to get up in arms about a given problem; if the goal is lasting improvement and the prevention of future problems, then systemic change will be necessary.

Much of the world's human rights abuses appear to be economically motivated, and North American consumers (e.g. me) are a major source of economic leverage. Collectively, everyone using basic goods and services, like grocery stores and gasoline, constitutes a driving force behind murders, behind torture. Today's reminders include corporate manifestations of colonialism and, in an article that I bumped into following up on the first, Chiquita's interactions with oil politics. I found both of these while detail-checking an article on Tiger Beatdown. Remember, it's not simply the case that a corporation -- such as Chiquita, formerly United Fruit -- is a monolithic, inhuman entity. Nor is it the case that the individuals comprising that corporation are monsters. Rather, we all live within a context that enables monstrous acts. That includes not only the people holding the guns, not only the wealthy people funding them, and not only the consumers making violence profitable, but those populations in interaction with our cognitive flaws and our social and economic pressures. [I find it impossible to write about one thing because all things are intertwined.]

I know it's disheartening to think of ourselves as our enemies, and it's not all our fault: the choice to harm another is always on the shoulders of the individual who made that choice. We who enable and motivate such choices, however, share that responsibility. That said, the information we need to make ethical choices is often obscured from us, and it's difficult to participate in this society without making choices every day that contribute to suffering at home and abroad. [Thus the HPMOR epigram.] But, if you feel disheartened, remember that sharing information and supporting organizations that are already working on these problems can help offset our less positive contributions.

U.S. imperialism is a real thing, but the fact that it's often carried out by economic interests rather than by governments as governments can obscure its existence. Remember, imperialism via commerce is an old story -- the East India Company had some nominal backing from the crown but might as well have been an empire in its own right. The heyday of the United Fruit company was mere decades ago, and it's a mistake to imagine that the phenomenon has ended. In the information age, companies have adapted to make their abuses invisible or to pawn them off onto third parties. With some companies, it's anyone's guess whether their owners and employees even know the extent of the devil's bargains they've made. Responding to apparent abuses is complicated, too: what workers in one place need may not be the same as workers in another.

A libertarian professor of mine stared at me as if I had two heads when I suggested that private companies are replacing governments as the locus of constraints on human freedoms, and I always remember that disbelief when I discuss corporate power. When I write on economics or politics, his mind provides the standard of proof to which I aspire. He might acknowledge a similar problem, though, under the name "crony capitalism" -- politicians working closely with companies to funnel money in the direction of their supporters, who then fund campaigns in turn.

In such a situation, surely it's inappropriate to discuss governments as being the site of power. Rather, because the capital itself is the means by which one engages with a high-profile election campaign, the means by which one acquires capital is the site of power. The government is merely the end result of that process: in the U.S., one does live in a republic, but only the most visible candidates stand a chance, and visibility is dependent on (among other factors) the capital that a candidate's supporters are able to throw being their initial advertising campaigns. One can also learn about individual politicians through news media, but because those are also corporate endeavors with a scant few owners, advertisement through the press amounts to a specific instance of the same phenomenon. The ultimate site of state power is therefore neither with voters nor with the structures of government but with the means that individuals use to acquire government positions: the money itself. It's not that corporations buy elections; it's that, without money, no-one knows your campaign exists in the first place. [Internet literacy may be one effective countermeasure, but only for people with the free time and ability to do research.]

Of course, money begets money, and too-great disparities in income inequality are not only self-perpetuating but also an upstream factor in an appallingly large number of problems. I've just discussed one: that, in an economy where it's possible for a handful of people to control amounts of capital astronomically greater than the population's median income, representative government gradually becomes a sham. Many people have studied the health consequences of neoliberal economics. Among the worst longterm problems, though -- I've said it before -- is education. Low-income families have trouble educating their children, especially in areas of great population density (a contextual factor that's easy for this forest-raised fellow to forget), which creates a cascade of disadvantages that hamper the ability of these young people to develop themselves and transcend the conditions in which they were born. Again, much of this comes back to information management. In population pimples, much as in the case of governments attempting to manage overlarge constituencies, it's increasingly difficult to keep track of mere reality: where money is going, who has done what, how accurate a given claim might be.

People are not born knowing how to navigate this world. Not only literacy and numeracy but also responsibility, rationality, and a motivation to think and act for oneself are essential skills if we hope to equip citizens to improve such a world. Given that children are in many respects the fundamental oppressed underclass, as anyone who's read a couple of Roald Dahl novels can attest,1 young people typically don't have the power (or perspective) necessary to secure proper educations for themselves. Fast forward to adulthood, and anyone who's working overtime just to put food on the table has proportionally less time not only to educate themselves but also to do the work necessary to be heard in this noisy world. Many people whose parents were poor are thus short-changed for life, and the existence of occasional rags-to-riches stories can't outweigh the story told by the numbers.2 They and we miss out on whatever they might have accomplished; if what I've said is true, it's an obvious consequence that, if a person's childhood funnels them into less than complete self-development, their children will also be in a bad starting position, and so the aggregate multigenerational consequences of severe income disparities in the absence of powerful uplifting education are ... well, H.G. Wells might have some things to say. I think it's valid to claim that, without high-quality universal education, autonomy and self-determination will slip out of view for disproportionate numbers of certain classes.

It's never just one thing, is it? No wonder I can't decide what job I should pursue: there's no one job that will let me fix all of this bullshit. Right, I was going to take Yudkowsky's implicit advice and work on that God complex. Oops. Too many fantasy novels, I guess.

Ok, I've punched the clock at work and here today. I have anime to watch. See you later.

1: I trust you'll apply contextual awareness; e.g., there are differences between a Matilda Wormwood and a Veruca Salt.

2: Sources for empirical information about income inequality and intergenerational social mobility include: Solon, 1992; Bowles, Gintis & Groves, 2005; Andrews & Leigh, 2009; but they're all necessarily out of date. By the time we have data on this generation, it'll be too late for anyone but a time traveler to act on it.

14 April, 2012

I've been trying to figure out, lately, how the hell to deal with education given the absurd complexity of the contexts from which my students hail and in which I find myself as an educator within a specific institution. Here's an educator talking about the fact that the width of social and financial disparities in a given society has a direct influence on (among other things) educational outcomes. He also goes on to discuss the scientific problem of studying human endeavors in a world of complexity and uncertainty -- the difficulty of working to be less wrong, in as many words -- and how difficult it can be to make predictions about what will be effective in education, including the false idol of standardized testing (a version of the concept/instrument distinction that I've spent a term discussing with students,1 with additional complexity from the human -- economic, political, personal -- problem that people fudge data to protect their own interests), "Because they had to make the number, not do the job right."

2011 Dec YEM - David Berliner, PhD, internationally-respected educational psychologist from SFU Education on Vimeo.


Education is a tricky subject. On the one hand, it's important to have some top-down influence: for one example that'll let me pretend there's a reason I'm posting this video to this particular blog, we need to prepare people to live in a world of difference, and if we give local school boards complete control, they'll perpetuate local problems. On the other hand, as mentioned in the closing moments of this video, the large-scale measures used when a state institution attempts to assess school performance are pseudoscientific: not only is the work-skill oriented rhetoric used to support math & science education a profound distraction from the fact that the ultimate role of public schools has always been to help us become engaged and responsible citizens (and perhaps a responsible person will be personally motivated to seek out math & science education, reducing the need for coercion in our primary schools), but the means used to assess performance are at such a remove from the complexity and diversity of individual students' experience as to be meaningless. I'd love to write more, but I've spent the day on things like this and need to go catch up on grading.


1: These articles might provide a starting point if you want to know what I mean when I talk about the distinction between concept and measurement and how this can be a problem in any and all sciences, but especially those with ambiguous targets such as psychological concepts, educational outcomes, or any concept not strictly identical with a physical object. Academic articles may be hard to find without access to certain databases or an absurd amount of disposable income, so here are not only the articles' titles but also links to places where they've been hosted online. If you can afford to pay for them or can access them directly through a group membership like those most universities offer their students, please do so; no doubt journals track access data, and these writers will be glad of the attention.

Baker & Hacker, "The Grammar of Psychology"

Essex & Smythe, "Between Numbers and Notions"

Jost & Gustafson: "Wittgenstein's Problem and the Methods of Psychology"

If you're curious about this issue within psychology specifically, I encourage you to pursue related papers by Michael Maraun.

24 March, 2012

Maybe Maimed: Polyamory's Superpower

Ah, I meant to post this a week ago! Here's a piece of writing that a non-primary love of mine sent me. Please, take some time to read this and think about it. I'm doing the same. I'll get back to you.

This keynote address from the recent Atlanta Poly Weekend offers a serious challenge to all poly people to practice a more consciously revolutionary style of relating. For a taste:

'In many of our experiences, the people with whom we have pre-existing relationships still claim certain “dibs” on us, and we claim certain “dibs” back, on them. In one way or another, especially in romantic entanglements, most of us are subtly told what to feel, told what to do, and told what to want. Even if a new person is welcomed into an existing relationship structure as an “equal,” it’s common to assume the pre-existing dyad’s relationship agreements are automatically enforceable on the new person, unless and until they are re-negotiated. However, for the most part, the polyamorous world considers this treatment of people acceptable because we were treated in much the same way and internalized the idea that “that’s the way you have relationships.”

'The essence of couple privilege is disrespect of individuals and individuals’ agency. Consider how the following statements are essentially disrespectful. What are the assumptions behind each of them? Do you remember having heard any of these when you were developing your polyamorous relationships?

“You’ll really like your metamour.”
“Before you get involved with someone else, you need to check in with me.”
“You need to get along with my other lovers.”
“You need to meet all the people I’m involved with.”
“What do you know? You haven’t met her!”
“We have an agreement that we only date as a couple.”

'...a metamoric relationship is a structure. It is not a form of intimacy, or closeness, or even a kind of “togetherness.”'


Maymay argues, to give you an insufficiently detailed synopsis, that the conversations poly people tend to have about our relationships obscure their operations in a way that winds up oppressing us -- especially oppressing people who are secondaries to all partners. Other, non-romantic, relationships can and do cause the same structural problem. He also argues that, because polyamory affords an opportunity for conversation about this problem -- polyamory's "superpower" -- the solutions we develop to overcome the problem can serve us elsewhere. The address offers tools for thought that can lead to better relationship anarchy practice.

Read the thing. It's good. It might make you question the way you operate, and it might make you inclined to take action in new ways.

18 March, 2012

Suits, Part II

From Lisa Schirch, The Failed Fantasy of Firepower:

'The fantasy of firepower rests on a faulty assumption that "evil" resides in a group of people that need to be killed in order to restore peace. A realist understands the civil wars in Libya, Syria and Uganda are far more complex than killing some 'bad guys." Like pouring toxic chemicals into an oil spill, the solution of pouring weapons into a civil war just doubles the agony for civilians and prolongs instability. ...

'Military victory rarely leads to democracy or peace. Victory only ends a tiny percentage of wars. Far more wars end by peace agreements and power sharing, with military forces used only in peacekeeping roles. The history of successful transitions from brutal regimes to democratic governments illustrates that nonviolent civil society-based movements, like the one in Egypt today, have been far more successful. Peaceful protests worked even against brutal dictators like Chile's Pinochet who for decades systematically tortured and killed any citizen who uttered a word against his iron fist. Violent rebel movements like the one in Syria are less likely to bring about positive change and result in more civilian deaths compared with nonviolent civilian movements, regardless of the level of repression against them. ...

'Instead of calling for airstrikes, call for an end to the weapons trade. Instead of falling for simplistic analysis of "good guys versus bad guys", look for a political process to address the root causes fueling violence. Instead of hoping for a quick solution, look for long term sustainability. Instead of just pointing fingers at these regimes, look at how Western policies in these regions have too often perpetuated rather than lessened violence.'


Schirch is making a more detailed, grounded, informed version of the rant I gave in my earlier post, "Suits". If you'd like to see the world change, treating the symptoms -- individual wars, individual warlords -- will do little in the long run. We'll have to do the intricate, complex, strenuous work of addressing root causes of violence and exploitation (many of which originate in affluent countries where, for example, economic leverage such as demand for raw materials or cheap labor produces incentives for violence and exploitation elsewhere; whose money do you think makes this fighting worthwhile, and which countries build the guns they use?) To read her original article and follow through to the evidence by which she makes her arguments, see The Failed Fantasy of Firepower here.

17 March, 2012

Poly Politics in the U.S. Public School System

Franklin Veaux apparently has a new article addressing polyamory and rules. (Since I started drafting this post in February, there's also been maymay's keynote address at Atlanta's Poly Weekend.) Many poly people like to craft a set of rules for themselves to make guidelines for relating in a style that may feel foreign. Says Veaux, "If a person loves you and cherishes you, and wants to do right by you, then it's not necessary to say ‘I forbid you to do thus-and-such’ or ‘I require you to do thus-and-such.’ All you really need to do is communicate what you need to feel taken care of, and your partner will choose to do things that take care of you, without being compelled to."1

I heard about this essay through this fantastic response at Modern Poly. The poster, Angi, picks up on Veaux's perhaps rhetorical conflation of anarchy with chaos, when the two are quite distinct, and follows through on his essay by pointing out that "we live in a society that organizes itself around the basic principle that human beings are only able to treat one another with kindness and respect if we are forced to do so. The structures of our criminal justice system, our work places, and even our schools are all predicated on the notion that people must have the threat of punishment in order to behave properly."

"For me," writes the author, "it feels inaccurate to label something as 'love' if it is not freely, enthusiastically, and consensually given. I choose freely to treat my partners with love and respect. And it matters a great deal to me to know that their love and respect for me are given freely, as well."

It's an awesome article, but for me, the keystone is a story about the author's child. "My eight-year-old daughter has recently begun attending a democratic free school. The kids determine their own behavioral guidelines, via consensus, at all-school meetings. ... What I find most striking, however, is their behavior. These kids have no threats of punishment. When a conflict arises, they can choose to talk it through with a peer mediator. Otherwise, they are governed only by their own mutual agreement to abide by community guidelines. And these children — given their autonomy and freedom — are kinder to and more respectful of one another than most people believe children are capable of being."

By contrast, note this list of 19 children unnecessarily arrested and brutalized by police officers in U.S. schools. Bonus points for counting how many of those kids -- among the subset of stories that aren't anonymous -- aren't white or are members of other frequently marginalized groups. Despite the article's title, this isn't "crazy" behavior: nominally sane, ordinary people are following their scripts, and the result is that our public schools are an apparatus of oppression. When one is young, oppression is in many ways normal: for a thoughtful introduction to the systemic nature of the problem, see John Bell's introduction to adultism.

I want to take this one step further and argue that this top-down, ageist, behavioral-control approach to rulemaking creates the situation we use to justify our rules. Angi characterizes the attitude in her piece: "If we took away a rigid legal system, common opinion says people would simply be running amok and committing heinous acts of violence against one another. If we gave factory workers any real autonomy, they would be sleeping on the job. If we gave children the ability to make their own decisions, they would sit and watch TV all day and never choose to learn anything at all." What I see as the critical difference between these situations and Angi's child's school is that the lazy or antisocial behaviors anticipated by legislative societies, even if they do exist, may be reactions to a system of imposed rules and emotionally invalidating social norms (exacerbated by situations in which, for example, the profit-motivated individuals in control of what's shown on TV choose to make cheap and uninspiring but gratifying material when, if people put enough thought and effort into their work rather than focusing on short-term profits, every show could be an Avatar).

Seeing the contrast between my experience and the behavior of these democratically raised children, who not only treat each other with the respect that I never saw from my school's bully culture but also, as Angi tells it, are conscientious about doing the work they've elected to assign themselves, I develop a hypothesis. If we, with the guidance of responsible, thoughtful mentors (including experienced fellow students), were the ones creating rules for our own behavior from childhood on, not only letting us practice the skills of negotiation, communication, and respect but also removing us from the situation of being forced to conform to a set of expectations imposed on us without justification, then a lack of a punishment apparatus would be less likely to result in harmful behavior. I argue that those behaviors are in large part, though not exclusively, a reaction against or a consequence of oppressive conditions in a society with high-profile narratives that place a high value, at least relative to some of the overtly oppressive regimes one might name, on individual expression and freedom.

There are counter-arguments. One has to account for findings suggesting that, for example, antisocial behaviors are correlated with unstructured leisure activities, while young people participating in highly structured activities tend to be in better harmony with their communities. Does this suggest that top-down control has the best social results? First, we need to ask whether that structure somehow causes or facilitates that more constructive behavior, or whether these teenagers -- who've already experienced years of education -- are already demonstrating a longterm deleterious effect of the top-down education model: an undernourished ability to self-impose structure. Remember also, if you're still concerned, that anarchy is not chaos: a reduction in top-down control is not synonymous with a reduction in structure. Instead, the structure becomes the fact of the communication-heavy, consent-based method itself.

I don't have experimental psychological or sociological data on anarchist/democratic schools, only the anecdotal case of the one Angi's daughter attends. All I have are a handful of articles arguing that education increases anti-authoritarian attitudes, but only with the right teachers; that a democratic education system may have been what enabled citizens of the USSR to resist the ruling regime; and that, in the United States, authoritarian attitudes are creeping into our public school system at a dangerous rate, which ought to reduce anti-authoritarian attitudes and increase complacency among coming generations, if the first paper is to be believed. None of these speak to the notion that externally imposed rule structures, as opposed to self-imposed rule structures, contribute to a disinclination or inability to self-impose structure (perhaps through making work extrinsically rewarding rather than encouraging people to do intrinsically rewarding work in class) or do less to discourage rulebreaking than would participation (as participation would enable students to try to change rules that don't work for them and to see the process through which they get created in the first place).

As it is, though, I can speak from my own experience growing up in an elementary school environment where I often struggled with authorities who either followed rules blindly or saw no reason to inform me of their decision-making process; certainly, students were directly involved in neither disciplinary decisions nor the initial rulemaking. Now as then, I strive to meet the demands of my situation, but the moment that I've met those demands, I often collapse: a moment of precious freedom! My chance to be myself! Such moments are rare and to be savored; I'm thus unlikely to do much work in that free time. And, in contrast to the external demands of productivity, "being myself" means not working. (I have noticed this changing for the better since I've entered graduate school.) My experience in high school was similar. We students had a direct hand in the school's Honor Code, its community and ethical framework (although seniors had a clearly privileged role in that process), but we did not have a hand in the curriculum or in discipline.

Let's not forget another problem: that having discipline externally imposed leaves people without a reason to learn self-discipline. I mentioned above that top-down imposition of rules and of assigned labor may damage the experience of learning as intrinsically valuable, instead making learning an extrinsic reward system and thus discouraging both self-education and self-directed work later in life. The most direct contrast I can offer is the badass self-motivated work ethic I see in many homeschooled friends. These friends of mine, who have always had a more individualized education and who have been personally involved in their own curricula, never stop astonishing me with both their drive and their can-do attitudes. They don't work for other people, either, or out of a socially imposed sense of productivity -- they do what they love, because they love it. Perhaps confounding variables exist and are to blame; also, my sample is absurdly small and biased toward people I like in the first place. One might use Google Scholar (or a paywalled article aggregator, if you're on a campus or can walk into a local university library) to investigate for oneself, unless one is too used to having information spoon-fed to one by teachers.2

Having been encouraged and involved instead of stifled and invalidated, these children have grown to rise and follow their own paths, setting a high standard and inspiring others along the way. One possible consequence of authoritarian schooling, in other words, is to severely undermine children's potential as self-motivated (and thus fulfilled and successful) individuals -- which, in an overpopulated and authoritarian world where leveraging collective power requires moving highly motivated groups against powerfully entrenched systems of control, undermines the freedom of future generations and our ability to know, care, and believe in our own agency enough to work against oppression on a global scale. If so, who knows how many potentially proactive people have been warped by this system?

Of course, one thing that most poly people have probably noticed is that a negotiation process takes time. If one is interested in a move toward a more consent-oriented, negotiation-based system that balances individual agency (and safety! -- anarchic democracy, not representative government or majority voting, would HAVE to be the rule to avoid perpetuation of any normative cruelties or ignorances the children bring with them from home) with community cohesion, one will have to contend with arguments about efficiency, productivity, economy -- one will have to contend with the idea that a person's value is related to their material and economic contributions, and that learning or personal growth are only justified by being in service of some productive end goal. (Citizenship doesn't show up in standardized test scores.) If one wants to engage in that conversation, one important place to start might be to listen to the experiences of (biomechanically or mentally) disabled individuals who've been marginalized based on, among other things, the difficulty of fitting such a person into existing apparatus of labor. One will also have to contend with the agricultural reality of our economy: y'all gotta work if y'all wanna eat, and if y'all want to support continued advances in medical science via both public funding and, on a more systemic level, societal division of labor ... and so on. In such an economy, it can be hard to make time for all of this interpersonal communication, as one is trying to earn a living. Perhaps this is among the reasons why consensus decision making isn't already prevalent in industrial societies, while government by consensus can be found in, for example, the Haudenosaunee (and scroll down for an essay an Onondaga/Mohawk law student). The amount of time and effort required for these negotiations also relates to my argument that we need to start when children are young: invite teenagers to the table in this model, and half of the people from my (highly selective, highly participatory, Honor Code based) high school will slouch through negotiations without saying a word, then go back to creating a culture in which casual bullying and teasing are so prevalent as to be make speaking out an act that feels like breaking a social contract. They may not have been a majority, but they just didn't care. Getting people involved when they're young fosters the sense that participation and political self-education are simply what one does.

As it becomes harder to justify our current top-down standardized education system and easier for nonsensical views to propagate, thus making it important for young people to be discerning, patient, and shrewd, I hope that people will realize that anti-authoritarian attitudes aren't just good for the rebels: they're good for society as a whole, because they produce responsible self-educators and thus better, more proactive global citizens. Moreover, self-motivated and autonomy-oriented attitudes are, of course, good for individuals (as long as we are careful to -- as a consensus model pushes us to do -- educate ourselves about the needs, perspectives, and experiences of others, which should lead to better empathy and more frequent freely made prosocial, anti-oppressive choices.) In a country where the individual is supposed to be the locus of civil rights and the easily forgotten civil responsibilities that go hand in hand with those freedoms, it's about time we started preparing people to live that way.

1: Veaux continues, "On the other hand, if your partner doesn't love and cherish you, and doesn't want to do right by you...well, no rule will save you.” I would add: or, they might love and cherish you but NOT choose to fulfill your every wish, in which case you get to make your own choices about whether that relationship still meets your needs, priorities, and boundaries. Love doesn't mean doing right by someone you love at your own expense, and I'm sure Franklin Veaux didn't mean to imply that love and wanting to do right give people the magical power to fulfill everyone's needs all the time. Sometimes, honest love means having the strength to say, "I can't".

2: See what I did there?

13 March, 2012

Suits

From award-winning blogger TransGriot, an example of a well-spoken Democrat who won't take any bullshit from his debate opponent: Maryland governor O'Malley speaks with Virginia governor McDonnell.

First, O'Malley heads off any nonsense with regards to economic arguments against Obama's administration. He doesn't distance himself from Obama, no doubt reading the wind to guess that Obama is going to have a second term, and guessing that Obama will have more visible successes during that next term. Then, he gets serious about attempts by conservatives to distract from other political problems by yanking at moral dumbfounding, rather than allowing social progress to take place with less controversy (and better role models), making room for in-depth, nuanced, intelligent debates about whatever other issues are on the table.



So, O'Malley's another southern white man in a suit, meaning that it's hard for me to condone the least pinch of trust for him, but his rhetoric makes for a good model.

Second, after have the guile and daring to say that "governor O'Malley's the only one with social issues at the top of his agenda," McDonnell makes a states rights argument on legal institutions structuring social institutions by majority vote, citing Virginia's ~60% majority vote to define marriage as being between one (I'm guessing cisgendered) man and one (likewise) woman (and when queer people are born in Virginia, do you fund their emigration? do you pay for their therapy after the bullying they'll face, do you hire bodyguards for them? or do you only care about individual rights when it's convenient?), but he also tips his hand to show the race card in discussing "Anglo-American" traditions in addition to the usual religious conviction arguments.



And then, FUCK OF ALL FUCKS, this joker argues that "intact two-parent [hetero] families", where by "intact" he means that any other family structure is missing something, like the body of an amputee, are empirically the best (by what standard? and I'm sure that any problems faced by children in those families couldn't possibly be due to outside social stigma or disparities in institutional support, no way1), and that any other families are the reason we are obliged to spend money on social services.

And when is a Republican -- or, hell, any politician -- going to point out that among the reasons we are spending a thousandfold more money on war than on taking care of people at home are that businesses and trade agreements in the U.S. are creating unstable economic conditions elsewhere; that, as in Afghanistan, international conflicts like those between the USA and the USSR created traumatic and unstable conditions in a host of less powerful regions; that, as in central America before and in Iraq just recently, businessmen within the US become politicians, make choices that destabilize other countries, and then, in the aftermath, hand out building contracts to US companies or replacing existing leaders with kleptocracies -- the time-honored "banana republic" maneuver -- to create new opportunities for profit, after which (like any high-profile politician) they can retire and grow wealthy on corporate "consultant" positions; that (as in the ongoing situation with Iran) we lead with threats rather than seeking understanding and peace ... not to mention the host of other issues decried by conservatives but created by the States, such as the immigration from Mexico spurred in part by the NAFTA-created damage to the Mexican economy.

Instead, THIS is the debate that we're having. WHAT THE FUCK, folks. What the fuck.

And that doesn't even delve into issues in the corporate realm apart from their relationships with the State, such as the way that advertisements focus on appearance and functionality rather than on sources of the goods or the ways in which everyday products that we support contribute to situations that we bemoan -- for example, see page 10 of this summary report (but don't stop there).

So, where are our priorities?

O'Malley is right about the Right: get them into office, and they will nail you hard at home and at work. He isn't speaking to the middle, though (there is no Left in the United States' national arena and hasn't been since before I was born) about the Dems' silence on these larger issues. To undermine the conservative ideologies that currently hold sway over so many of our minds in the States, and to prevent those ideologies from spreading to similarly less disadvantaged countries like our more reasonable but flagging neighbor Canada (also a perpetrator of imperialism at home, let's not forget), we need to make the conversations more complex. People need to seek access to the long version of every story, to seek access to data solid enough to let us judge for ourselves, and to care long enough to sustain our attention and reach proper conclusions. Otherwise, we are allowing ourselves to wreak havoc not only at home but also far afield. Something -- everything -- is broken, both at the end of the state and media and at the end of every individual citizen who isn't both outraged and speaking up about it.

If we're going to keep obeying the words written by suits in offices, then what I want -- what I need -- is a little faith in my institutions.

1: For example, the following papers find social stigma or violence by majority members to be a cause of psychological and other problems:

"How does sexual minority stigma “get under the skin”? A psychological mediation framework."

"LGBT Identity, Violence, and Social Justice: The Psychological Is Political."

"Voices from the heart: The developmental impact of a mother's lesbianism on her adolescent children."

"Wellness in Adult Gay Males: Examining the Impact of Internalized Homophobia, Self-Disclosure, and Self-Disclosure to Parents."

...etc.

10 March, 2012

Did you know that when Barack Obama was eight or so, his family living in Indonesia, his mother hired a transgender cook and nanny named Evie? Evie's still alive -- by luck and by caution -- and she spoke with a reporter whose clumsily written article is full of illuminating information.

I learned this via A Bitch For Justice, as I learn so many things.

From the source article by Niniek Karmini, Associated Press:

Evie ... has endured a lifetime of taunts and beatings because of her identity. She describes how soldiers once shaved her long, black hair to the scalp and smashed out glowing cigarettes onto her hands and arms.

The turning point came when she found a transgender friend's bloated body floating in a backed-up sewage canal two decades ago. She grabbed all her girlie clothes in her arms and stuffed them into two big boxes. Half-used lipstick, powder, eye makeup — she gave them all away.

"I knew in my heart I was a woman, but I didn't want to die like that," says Evie, now 66.... "So I decided to just accept it. ... I've been living like this, a man, ever since."

...[Trans* people in Indonesia] have taken a much lower profile in recent years, following a series of attacks by Muslim hard-liners. And the country's highest Islamic body has decreed that they are required to live as they were born because each gender has obligations to fulfill, such as reproduction.1

"They must learn to accept their nature," says Ichwan Syam, a prominent Muslim cleric at the influential Indonesian Ulema Council. "If they are not willing to cure themselves medically and religiously" they have "to accept their fate to be ridiculed and harassed."


As the article will make plain, it's a problem specific neither to any one social institution nor to any one country. (Before we cast blame overseas, let's please clean up at home.) But, thanks to an accident of history, Evie is getting some press today; and, meanwhile, the man she helped to raise has made the absurdly accomplished Amanda Simpson the States' first openly trans presidential appointee.

1: I'm struck by the absurdity of valorizing reproduction when the world is already overpopulated. We should be treating childless people as role models.