Archive for category Values
Gay Marriage and the Enlightenment
Posted by Scott Erb in Culture, Human Rights, Rights, US Politics, Values on June 30, 2015
The Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage caused great celebration, symbolized by the Rainbow White House. However, if you venture into the right side of the blogsophere there is a sense of anger and dismay. Erick Erickson at Red State paints a picture of a society that has “lost its mind” with a wildfire burning and “normal” people being trounced by the insanity.
To many of us who support gay marriage and welcome the cultural shift of the last few decades, such a view might seem bizarre. No one is hurt by allowing gays to marry, this simply expands freedom and one has to be a bigot to oppose that, right? That is a view I hear among young people who are just as perplexed and angry about such opposition as the red staters are about gay marriage being made the law of the land.
A bit of perspective. In the 1700s, centered in France, the enlightenment began. After the explosive advance of science in the 1600s, beginning with Galileo and ending with Newton’s discovery of classical physics, people turned their rational minds towards understanding society and humanity. They encountered a world built on tradition, religion and superstition, and started to tear apart that edifice.
It started with the Deists. Believers in God (usually due to the need for a “first mover” in order to get a “world in motion”), they tore apart the Christian Bible, finding contradictions and pointing out that the God of the Old Testament is more like a petulant child than someone worthy of praise and love. Some like Rousseau saw God’s word in nature, but after the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 Voltaire decided that while God made the world, there was no sign God really cared about it. God doesn’t need our love, our fellow humans do, Voltaire declared, beginning an approach that today is called “secular humanism.”
The attack on tradition began in earnest. In Great Britain this attack was pragmatic and gradual – the divine right to rule gave way to a parliament, and the power of the nobility and the Anglican church slowly waned as reforms dominated the 1700s and 1800s. In France the assault on tradition took the form of a radical revolution that wanted to change everything right away! That failed – and it showed a weakness of the enlightenment: reason is a tool, it does not provide the kind of values and core world view that a religion might. Once they pushed aside tradition, they couldn’t agree on how to move forward. Tradition and culture hold a society together; you mess with that at your peril.
Yet that is the enlightenment project – messing with tradition and culture. Edmund Burke, a conservative who hated the French revolution, didn’t oppose that project, he only insisted it move carefully and gradually, with progress showing respect for tradition, even as those traditions lose power.
Every step of the way, there were those convinced society was collapsing. Women getting to vote! That is not what God intended. In the South the assault on slavery led to a civil war. Women getting equal rights, entering the work force, not being subservient to their man – that to many seemed a direct rejection of Christian teaching. Every step of the way, society was seen as going deeper into the darkness.
In way, the critics were right. Unmoored from some kind of rule book, free to choose what we construct, we dabbled with Communism, Nazism, other forms of fascism and fought great wars. For awhile the West embraced radical racism, justifying conquest of virtually the entire planet, destroying cultures and looting natural resources. Many would say, with justification, we still do that, albeit in a less overt manner.
Yet there is no going back. If we opened Pandora’s box, it can’t be closed. Once we examine the world rationally and recognize that religious traditions are mythological and really can’t be true, we can’t say “oh well, it’s better just to believe in them.” Once women can work and succeed, we can’t tell them to just find a mate to serve. Once we make marriage about love, we can’t say that divorce shouldn’t exist and we should bring back “traditional marriage.” Once gays are accepted and can marry, we cannot tell them to scuttle back into the closet. And for all the difficulty our enlightenment freedom creates, it’s worth it.
The enlightenment is a process of human liberation. It is about freedom, it is about constructing a social world rather than adhering to past teachings and customs. It is a dangerous endeavor, as the holocaust, communist dictatorships, the French revolution, colonialism and capitalist sweatshops demonstrate. It is what has led to consumerism and global warming just as it has led to liberty.
That’s how we should understand opposition to gay marriage. They read this into the enlightenment’s dark side, a divorce from tradition, an anything goes mentality that can lead to chaos, lack of moral grounding, and collapse. Psychologically, they yearn for a “right answer,” stability, and a sense of security in the social world. Religion, tradition, and the values those represent are comforting and powerful to them. Symbolically, gay marriage represents a threat to all that.
But every step forward in the last 300 years has meant that. The rock band Rush sums up the enlightenment’s impact on the West well: “It’s the motor of the western world, spinning off to every extreme, pure as a lover’s desire, evil as a murderer’s dream.” Our freedom and rational thinking have led to advances in human dignity, as well as crimes against humanity. It’s a journey worth taking, even if landmines are scattered about.
In this case, gay marriage is to me up there with giving women the vote and the right to work, ending slavery, and eliminating the aristocracy and the divine right to rule. It expands human dignity and value, making it compatible with what Martin Luther King Jr. calls natural law in his “Letter to a Birmingham Jail.”
It is, however, just a step along the path we in the West have been traveling for centuries. And while I see it as a very positive step, I appreciate those who fear losing tradition. To keep us along a sustainable path of progress, we do have to respect the dangers of moving too fast, as Burke might say. The enlightenment is need of a kind of spiritual core to help us avoid the negative extremes. Even if traditional religious stories cannot provide that, they point to the need to take values seriously – something I plan to write about soon.
On this issue I think we haven’t moved too fast. Support for gay marriage is now a majority position, and among young people it’s at near 80%. We’re changing along with the culture, not moving out in front of it. The enlightenment project of expanding human liberation, a difficult and dangerous journey, moves forward!
The Far Right is Driven by Fear!
And that’s just one of the many tweets and posts of racist outrage over a Coca-Cola commercial celebrating diversity. If you want to see a series of screen shots of equally or even more offensive bizarre-ness, click .here
So what did Coca-cola do to offend America’s brownshirts? Seems they had a commercial where “America the Beautiful” was sung in a number of different languages. The song reflects a sense of love for the splendor and diversity of this land. To me it was the perfect song for Coca Cola to use to celebrate America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.
Here’s the ad:
Reactions from the right have been swift and harsh. Besides the neo-nazi vomit one can find on the link above, pundits put their feet in their mouths reacting. In a surreal statement, Fox’s Allen West said that the commercial showed that Americans are not “proud enough” and that this commercial was truly disturbing. More from West:
If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition. This was a truly disturbing commercial for me, what say you?
The irony. If you are scared, defensive and weak, you will fear that an ad showing diversity somehow threatens ones own status. Fear of other languages singing “America the Beautiful” is the response of a coward, of someone who doesn’t understand or accept the reality of American diversity and change.
Over at Breitbart Patrick Leahy whines about an “openly gay couple” being in the ad (how dare they do that in America!) and claims:
As far as the executives at Coca Cola are concerned, however, the United States of America is no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution and American traditions in which English is the language of government. It is not a nation governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty. It is instead a nation governed by some all inclusive multi-cultural synthesis of the various forms of government in the world, as expressed by the multiple languages used in the Super Bowl ad to sing a uniquely American hymn that celebrates our heritage.
Besides the fact that Katherine Lee Bates, who wrote the lyrics for the song, was a lesbian, what on earth in that commercial opposes the Constitution? And really – liberty is only an Anglo-American tradition? Are the only free people those who speak English?
It’s fear. They fear diversity, they fear a country in which soon over half the population will not be white, and an ever growing hispanic minority gains political and cultural clout. The fear globalization, they fear change, they fear the inevitable. They are scared little children, grasping at something that is already slipping away.
Fear drives the worst in our nature. People afraid lash out angrily. They hurt others, thinking that the damage is justified. They rationalize heinous acts, believing them defensive. They lose the capacity to see just how absurd and bizarre their claims are. Rational thought is the first victim of fear.
Glenn Beck demonstrates this by being unable to separate homage to American diversity from everyday politics:
“It’s an in your face — and if you don’t like, if you’re offended by it, then you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration, you’re for progress. That’s all this is, is to divide people.”
Uh, no. It doesn’t say a thing about immigration. And why on earth would one be offended by it? Oh wait, I know! FEAR. Glenn Beck is very scared man – he recently thought that Kenmore was in a liberal plot to change America because it calls some of its dishwashers and vacuum cleaners “progressive.”
Sigh. They are right on one thing – America is changing, and they can’t stop it. Just as America in 1985 was fundamentally different than America in 1935, so it will be profoundly different in 2035. Change is the American way, and increases in diversity and the impact of globalization can’t be stopped. It is inevitable that they will lose the strange “English only” fantasy of what they think America should be. They are fearing the inevitable.
Yet it floors me that they don’t realize how pathetic and whiny their reactions sound. They are humiliating themselves, making themselves laughingstocks, and they don’t even know it!
The Ones that Saw it Coming
Posted by Scott Erb in Consumerism, Economic crisis, Media, Psychology, Values on February 1, 2014
Although Wall Street got away with creating the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, there were some who saw it coming, sniffed out the true nature of the mortgage backed bonds and the craziness of an out of control under-regulated housing market. Those people are the subject of the Michael Lewis book The Big Short mentioned in the previous post.
They cover a range of character traits. There is the self-promoting Greg Lippmann whose desire to spread the news in bombastic fashion helped convince a number of people that the housing market was a bubble and the securities backed by those mortgages were toxic. Then there is Steve Eisman, a blunt, honest hard nosed investor who would offend just about everyone he met. He started as a conservative Republican but realized as he learned about the game on Wall Street that the real mantra was “fuck the poor.”
The first one who really sniffed out what was happening was a one eyed doctor turned stock blogger turned investor, Michael Burry. He read through the material with an almost superhuman patience and attention to detail. He realized that the investments were crap, especially the bonds backed by subprime mortgages. When his son was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome he realized he had it too. That had given him the focus to figure out what everyone else was missing as early as 2003 – and also explained the lack of social skills that alienated his investors who were planning to sue him before suddenly his bets paid off. They never thanked him.
Ultimately they figured out that not only were the big banks creating mortgage backed bonds that seemed to pass off risk, but when they didn’t have enough of those they packaged the bonds into CDOs that, thanks to rating agency incompetence, would magically turn BBB mortage backed bonds into AAA investments. Then they took it a step further with synthetic CDOs. To Burry, Eisman, Lippmann and a few other characters Lewis describes, this was blatant fraud. For Eisman it was a moral cause – the big banks were pulling in billions, earning their traders bonuses in the tens of millions – because they were able to create bonds so complex that the rating agencies didn’t realize they were crap. Investors thinking they were getting very low risk bonds were being fleeced.
The thing that shocked them, however, is that when the inevitable collapse hit, the big banks themselves were exposed. They had rigged the game, but played the sucker anyway. Corporate leadership didn’t understand the way this new derivative bond market operated, and individuals looking only to maximize their bonuses didn’t care about the long term. At some point they had to keep playing because that was the only way to keep the game alive. But it was unsustainable.
What I find intriguing is the personality characteristics of those who figured it out. They share a few traits. First, they were honest and not afraid of what others thought of them. In a world where most people seek approval from others and want to be liked/appreciated, these guys didn’t care. Eisman would blurt out comments offending powerful CEOs giving a talk, not care what he wore to the golf course, and genuinely didn’t seem to mind what others thought of him.
Second, they were remarkably self-confident. If it were me figuring out the insanity of the derivative market and how the big banks were setting the entire world economy up for disaster, I’d say “wait, these are the most intelligent big institutional investors on Wall Street – they must know something I don’t.” And while the thought crossed their minds now and then, they had confidence in their analysis and conclusions. They were willing to place multi-million dollar bets on an outcome the media, Wall Street and government dismissed as impossible.
Finally, they were oddly moral. For Eisman it was righteous indignation at how big money was not only screwing the small investor but also putting democratic capitalism at risk. For Burry it was a strong sense that the truth mattered, and he needed to follow it. Lippmann was grandiose and self-promoting, but was up front trying to help others see what was happening. In fact, they all tried to shout out warnings only to find that the rich and powerful either responded like deer in a headlight or laughed them off.
Jamie Mai, Charlie Ledley and Ben Hockett, who created Cornwall Capital and discovered first that even the AAA rated CDOs were certain to fail, were pre-occupied by what this meant for society as a whole. The system was sick, could it potentially fall apart?
Those traits: honesty, lack of concern for what others think (as long as you’re being honest), self-confidence and a strong moral streak gave them the capacity to truly comprehend what was happening. They were not intimidated by the big names in media and on Wall Street who dismissed such concerns, did not feel like “I must be wrong because the big guys all say differently,” and stoked a sense of moral outrage and purpose.
There is something to learn from this example. These traits gave them the capacity to avoid the hypnotic effect that culture, media and “conventional wisdom” can have on people. All around experts repeated the mantra that “the bonds are safe, housing prices won’t fall, this is real, the money will keep growing…” They did not fall victim to the power of those suggestions; instead, they saw through the facade and ended up turning a huge profit.
They not only saw through it, but it was obvious to them. Now whether one reads the book by Micheal Lewis or one of the others out there dissecting the crisis (The End of Wall Street by Roger Lowenstein, All the Devils are Here by McLean and Nocera, House of Cards by Cohan about the end of Bear Stearns, etc.), it is so obvious in hindsight that one has to ask “how could they have been so stupid? How did more people not see it coming?”
The answer: groupthink and a kind of cultural hypnosis due to the power of pervasive suggestion. The only way to keep one immune from falling into such a trap is to foster true honesty, not worry what others think if acting honestly, be self-confident, and have a moral core. Not only might one see through scams and thus make money (or avoid losing it), but one will also live a life less controlled by the hypnotic suggestions permeating our culture and media, and instead develop the capacity to be true to oneself.
Nelson Mandela – the Radical Hero
Posted by Scott Erb in Africa, Cold War, Communism, Terrorism, Third World, Values, World Affairs on December 6, 2013
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) emerged as one of the true heroes of the late 20th Century. He’s inspired young people, helped his country avoid a blood bath which many thought was inevitable, and demonstrated the power of forgiveness and truth over vengeance and anger.
The path Mandela took to this position was interesting. He started out inspired by Gandhi, who had initially been active in South Africa, committed to non-violent resistance. His activism against the South African apartheid regime began in earnest after apartheid was put in place as an official policy in 1948 by the openly racist National Party. But Mandela’s commitment to non-violence changed on March 21, 1960, the day of the Sharpeville massacre. 69 protesters were killed by police, and it became clear that the government would use all means to support apartheid.
Mandela then gave up non-violence and helped form the violent “Spear of the Nation” or MK. Drawing inspiration from Castro, Che Guevara, and Nasser, Mandela took a more radical stance. He never openly advocated communism, but there were clearly connections between the MK and communist radicals. Moreover, he went to Ethiopia to study guerrilla warfare, as the ANC saw the only option against the National Party to be violence.
On August 5, 1962 he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Even in prison he refused to renounce violence; he said the ANC should renounce violence only when the government would renounce violence against the ANC. He would remain in prison until 1990, becoming a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. Yet Cold War politics muddied the waters.
While most people were sympathetic to the ANC’s willingness to use violence against the racist South African regime, it also provided cover for those willing to forgive racist oppression due to the National Party’s embrace of anti-Communism. With the Cold War intense, the US wanted a strong ally in Africa, and South Africa was a perfect choice. They had gold, minerals, wealth and a strategic location. When people complained about the racism of apartheid, the US and UK could either say they refuse to infringe on South African sovereignty, or argue that they also opposed apartheid, but Mandela and the ANC were not the answer. Moving from apartheid to communism would be to go from one form of oppression to another. With such rationalizations, support for the apartheid regime remained consistent until near the end.
For many on the right, it was far better to support institutionalized racism that dehumanized millions than risk the possibility that a majority black government in South Africa might be friendly to communism. Indeed, the coziness the West showed to the racist government did nothing but push the ANC towards anti-American regimes.
In the eighties the tide started to turn. While the Reagan Administration gamely tried to pretend that it was not supportive of apartheid, embracing the “Sullivan Principles” regarding rules for investment in South Africa (principles designed to benefit blacks and put conditions on investment), the apartheid regime was becoming untenable. Congress overrode Reagan vetos of sanctions against South Africa. Not only was global pressure mounting, making South Africa a pariah state, but young people in South Africa were increasingly opposed to the racist philosophy that defined apartheid and the National Party.
Ironically both Communism and apartheid were undone by the same force – globalization. The inability of South Africa to compete in a globalized world economy along with the isolation of dysfunctional communist economies led both systems to collapse almost simultaneously. That also meant that the apartheid regime had lost its last defense – if there was no Cold War, there was absolutely no reason for the West to support the National Party in South Africa.
Still, the conventional wisdom in the West was that the 1990s would see a South African bloodbath. The Nationalists would hold on to power, the ANC would grow violent and aggressive, as the blacks would rise up in a mass revolt. In this context the last Nationalist President, F.W. DeKlerk, who took power in September 1989, advocated to end apartheid and official racism. To symbolize the significance of this move, he ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela had been in prison for nearly 28 years. He could have been bitter, angry and seeking revenge. Many of the whites in South Africa opposed the ending of apartheid, it could have all gone badly. However, Mandela embraced reconciliation — truth commissions instead of revenge seeking. An embrace of a South Africa where the majority would now rule, but without reverse racism or a desire to avenge the past.
The result has not been a perfect shift towards a new society. South Africa managed to make the transition smoothly, but still faces a myriad of problems. Mandela helped avoid a blood bath and put South Africa on the right path; that was all he could do – the future will have to be made by South Africans together.
Yet it’s sad to see that the far right still harbors hatred for Mandela due to abstract accusations. When Texas Senator Ted Cruz posted something kind about Mandela on his website, he was inundated with negative comments. True, Cruz’s constituents are farther right than most, but that kind if vitriol in ignorance of what Mandela accomplished is simply sad.
Mandela danced with radicals and extremists because he was fighting a cause and they were willing to be his allies. Though he fought evil with violence — he was not a Gandhi nor a Martin Luther King Jr. — the American revolution was also violent. British rule was arguably much less evil than the apartheid regime.
What matters is that when Mandela’s side won, he did it with grace, forgiveness and a sense of dignity that most of his opponents lacked. Mandela is remembered as one of the historical giants – a hero, an inspiration and a great man. The haters will never take that away from him. He was radical when it was necessary, but moderated when the evil he was fighting ceased to be. That is part of his greatness.
Posted by Scott Erb in Philosophy, Psychology, Spirituality, Values on August 27, 2013
One of the main problems in the world now, especially the industrialized West, is our reliance on isolated intellectualism. Our intellects are trapped in a world that appears chaotic, dangerous, and unpredictable. The world moves only from past to future, with no way to predict for certain what will come next. We can imagine horrible consequences of global warming, genetically altered food, Islamic extremism, and economic collapse. The world appears on the brink of something disastrous.
Some people grab that with relish. You know the type – they forecast ‘collapse, downfall, ‘endarkenment’ and other calamitous futures. Sometimes they imagine themselves to be like Cassandra, seeing clearly the future that others miss. More often it’s simply a kind of voyeuristic rush – it’s exciting to imagine disaster. Think of all the disaster movies that have hit the big screen since Irwin Allen’s “Poseidon Adventure” proved such a hit in 1972.
Others find ideological or religious faith – their “ism” tells them the truth of the world, and they divide the world up into those who are right (share their belief) and those who are wrong, often believing the wrong folk to be inferior humans. In other words, ideologues are like religious extremists – they need to think they have the truth, and they are psychologically driven to see others as wrong or inferior.
I think all of these taken to an extreme reflect a trapped or imbalanced mind. Isolating the mind from intuition, emotion, and spirit leads to a cold, harsh view of reality. Idealists can quickly become disillusioned cynics if they don’t temper their ideals with pragmatism, and a recognition that the intellect, logic and reason cannot explain all of human experience.
If the intellect meshes with emotion – with intuition, faith, and spirit – there can be a very satisfying balance. Consider the following propositions:
1. Our world had a beginning. Due to the nature of space-time, it is inconceivable that we could be in the present if there were an infinite past. The laws of physics, however, indicate that you cannot create something from nothing, meaning our universe could not have been created. (One caveat – in quantum mechanics its possible to ‘borrow’ energy from the universe to create something apparently from nothing. However, in quantum physics the universe is permeated with ‘probable energy.’ So it’s not really something from nothing.)
2. The laws of physics governing this particular universe were created at the time our universe was. If according to the laws of physics our world could not have been created, but if it must have had a creation point (not convinced – here’s an article from this month’s Discover on this), then the laws of physics were also created. To be sure, there is likely a larger set of “laws” of the universe that we cannot comprehend that go beyond our space/time physics. Yet clearly something about reality outside our universe (that is, outside our realm of space-time, created about 15 billion years ago) that does not have to conform to what we consider the “laws of nature.”
3. Spiritualism is not supernatural, but a different theory about the laws of nature. This is in line with especially Buddhist thought (though I am not a Buddhist). The argument here is that the usual claims by religion that something “outside the world” – a God or series of Gods – created and maintains our reality are misguided. Rather, our reality may have its origins (and perhaps is maintained) by something that does not conform the the known laws of our physical universe, but reflects a deeper reality.
I submit that this proposition is very strongly supported by quantum mechanics. While the mechanistic building block view of reality put forth in Newtonian physics has already been destroyed, the philosophical implications of this move are still under hefty debate. Yet quantum mechanics, full of paradoxes and weirdness, suggests that the true laws of nature are far more complex and strange than the Newtonian notions we entertain.
Some who want to hold on to a very clear and straightforward mechanistic view of the world insist that quantum mechanics must be wrong at some level because the paradoxes often lead to clear contradiction. They claim that the law of contradiction indicates that the claims of quantum physics can’t be true – two contradictory things cannot both be right. However, it could be that we see the claims as contradictory because we do not understand reality. The contradictions may be linguistic constructions.
4. The key to liberating ones’ intellect is not to fear the spiritual/intuitive side of life, even if the nature of reality, as we now understand it, prevents us from ever being sure if a belief is right. Freedom requires an embrace of uncertainty, and a recognition that there isn’t an answer card to tell us exactly what this life is about. That means rejecting dogmatism and accepting that there are multiple perspectives about the world, and we learn more by exploring each, rather than grabbing and holding on to one, and trying to prove the others wrong.
Ironically, by rejecting intuition, emotion, sentiment and spirituality, we cage the intellect into a cold mechanistic world devoid of meaning. That breeds cynicism and undermines empathy. By freeing the intellect we give up on the hope to have “the right answer” and replace it with gaining insight and understanding. After all, if uncertainty is unavoidable, then we can freely and with a spirit of joy make our best calls about life, recognizing its OK to be wrong!
Racism and White Male Privilege
One of my favorite websites now is “Upworthy,” a progressive website that focuses on pointing out hypocrisy and passing along inspirational stories and snippets. It’s not the usual stuff – it’s usually snippets that inspire or surprise. In this case a young woman shows her particular take on the George Zimmerman case:
Some people disagreed with my refusal to condemn the jury verdict in the Zimmerman case. Yet I agree in the reaction of anger at how a case like this symbolizes the ongoing persistent racism in our society.
The verdict of this particular trial is irrelevant. In fact, if Zimmerman had been found guilty it would be easy for people to praise the justice system and believe that punishing this “bad guy” shows that we’re past racism and those who are not are penalized if they act on their biases. That is not the case.
We live in a society based on white privilege. It’s not always through conscious acts of racism; often it’s an embedded structural aspect of the economy. That feeds bigotry. Rather than looking at how opportunities and constraints are structured into the fabric of society people say “if they made different choices they’d be successful, they must be lazy/dumb/inferior.” The winners of the game always take credit for winning, even if the game was stacked in their favor.
Just as a black man has a very different reality than a white man, even if all other things are equal, the same is true for men and women. That hit me years ago when I was working on my dissertation and would walk home from the University of Minnesota Poli-Sci computer lab at 10:00 at night. It wasn’t the safest walk for me either – once crossing a bridge near the Metrodome a guy I was jogging up to spun around and pulled a switch blade on me. Turns out he was scared – he thought the footsteps coming fast were a threat. We both laughed.
But for women the idea of such a walk after dark would be a much different risk, as would going into the parking ramp late at night alone. Whether it is blatant bigotry (“Women can’t do thinking work like men can,”), overt sexism (“I won’t hire a woman for this job because she’ll just get pregnant and quit or want leave”), or actual danger from rape (with the women often being blamed for the violent acts of men), women continually experience a different reality than men. White men like me often don’t perceive it because we are myopic – we know the world as we experience it, we assume others experience it the same way.
That often leads to a weird form of privileged victim mentality. I remember once when a colleague found out that a woman got a job he had made the short list for, he said “she got it because she was a woman.” I interjected that every man who was in the running for that job might make that same claim but can’t all be right, and he just grunted. Easier to feel slighted.
Yet at top levels of business, government and most of society it’s still a white male dominated world. White men like myself don’t notice the privilege because we think it natural. We think everyone gets treated like us, or if they don’t, they must be getting special advantages. We ignore the fact that inequality between black and white has been growing dramatically since the 1980s. Or worse we may feel its deserved.
It also comes through in obnoxious behavior. When President Obama points out the reality of racism in modern America in a speech praised for its timeliness and vision, spoiled white privileged rich folk like James Wood lets forth a twitter diatribe, comparing the fact he has to pay more taxes (poor James!) to the plight of black folk like Trayvon Martin. Others accuse Obama of “playing the race card” just by pointing out that race matters. No says the privileged elite, don’t mention that, we prefer our privilege to remain unmentioned and hopefully unnoticed!
I doubt he’s an overt racist. Like so many of us white males, we’re so used to privilege that we don’t like being reminded that we benefit from it. But the truth is that reality is different for women than men, and for whites than blacks. That difference is rooted in real social conditions, not just psychological predispositions.
I have no doubt things are better in 2013 than they were in 1963, and that things will continue to improve. The same is true for many groups marginalized or suffering bigotry. After all, is there much difference between Nazi anti-Semites who attacked Jews and supposed Christian Conservatives who attack gay rights? Consider the rants by some baseball fans about Marc Anthony – a New York born American citizen – singing the national anthem at the all star game. Sounds like what some Germans might have said if a Jew had sung at the 1936 Berlin Olympics!
Cases like the Zimmerman case shouldn’t have us fixating on one person, nor is it really primarily a sign of a broken justice system. It’s a sign of a culture that is still profoundly racist in its social structures, even if people consciously deny that racial component. We’ve come a long way towards equality on so many dimensions in the last fifty years. Americans can be proud of what we’ve accomplished, with the advance of gay rights being the latest victory for freedom.
The Zimmerman case and the reality of embedded white male privilege simply reminds us that we still have a long way to go – and the hardest part is to change how we think, not just the laws.
Mates in Quantum Life
Posted by Scott Erb in Fiction, Friendship, Love, Quantum Life, Spirituality, Values on May 9, 2013
(Note: this is part 11 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all the complexities of the world as it really is. I’m not sure where this book came from).
Picking up where I left off, the next section in this ‘guidebook’ is “Mates”:
Quantum life creates the illusion of individual identity, hiding knowledge of the inherent unity of all existence. It is out of this alone-ness that players experience emotions, situations, and challenges that do not exist in the unified real world. However, as players overcome fear and start recognizing the inherent unity of all existence, they also have access to more knowledge about the real world.
A mate is different than the kind of agreement quantum life players make between rounds to meet as friends or choose parents. Mates are innately drawn to each other regardless of the context of the game. They are in tune with each other outside the game, and those harmonies penetrate into the Quantum Life reality. Most players are closed off from such connections, but advanced players can experience an enhanced level of joy in finding a true mate.
Recognizing Mates: For players caught up in the game – level one players focused on the material – mates are rarely recognized as such. Fear blinds the inner knowledge that they are connected, and at best their lives connect serendipitously at various points. At level two mates often meet to help each other see the importance of connection and spirit above material concerns. They can develop into true friends and grow closer during a given round of play, helping each other advance. Advanced players can have stunningly powerful relationships and generally have an easier time recognizing mates.
Empaths can literally feel the energy of a mate. The connection they share from past games and even in the real world is strong; they feel hit by a force beyond anything they’ve ever experienced, drawn magnetically to their mate. Most others intuitively feel a powerful attraction. Mates usually come together in three forms:
True Friends/Siblings: Mates often come together as friends who have a special bond and who can share with each other everything, helping them through Quantum Life’s challenges. True friends can be closer than most spouses, even if each has a loving relationship. There is something mystical about their friendship that both recognize. At times two siblings are also mates, and share an intensity in the family experience.
Chance encounters: Sometimes mates are not together for a long portion of their lives. Their particular game paths may have them going different directions in a given round of play. But they can manage to appear at a time when needed – to save a life, to help each other make a good decision, or to alter the course of an individual destiny in a given round of play. The encounter may be brief, but powerful.
Soul mates: Sometimes the mate is a spouse or life-partner, and the two build a life together and experience the joy of unity at a profound level. This is rare, but represents the closest experience in the Quantum Life world to the joy experienced through the unity of the real world. Soul mates tend to balance and compliment each other, teaching and learning together. However, to truly experience the bliss of unity, they have to avoid the temptation to build walls and be seduced by the culture around them. This means they may met later in life after working through a variety of challenges.
If they choose to be open and honest, sharing completely without fear, they’ll find themselves in a love profoundly deep and mystical. They will sense of taste a the true reality where all is united, and bring a bit of that into the Quantum Life world. It will reflect itself in their lives at every level – physically, intellectually, emotionally and with their families. Soul mates find their lives riddled with synchronicities they draw to themselves. Sex becomes more than a material, physical act, but a physical expression of a love transcending the Quantum Life world.
Choosing the path of total honesty and acceptance is harder than finding each other. Each has to risk bearing their soul and rejecting the protective walls and barriers that most individuals playing Quantum Life feel necessary to build. The risk is worth it; soul mates experience a level of pure joy that very few approach while in the game. It is a taste of the real world. If this path is chosen, both implicitly recognize that their true home is not the Quantum Life world.
What draws mates of any sort to each other is a deep connection at a core level; they are close to each other in the real world, just as they are in the Quantum Life world.
Honesty and Acceptance: Mates only develop a powerful bond and experience true joy if they are able to be completely open with each other. They must be honest about their own thoughts, experiences and emotions, and must accept unconditionally the validity of the others’ experiences, thoughts and emotions. They share secrets rather than keep them. They do not hide part of themselves out of fear of what the other might think. They do not judge the other, but understand.
That signifies the true meaning of Love. Love is a misunderstood term in Quantum Life, often connected with emotions of fear – jealousy, envy, pride or false desire. Mates love because they accept each other as they are, and do not hide who they are. Without such honesty true love is impossible. Mates – true friends or soul mates – can help each other awaken a powerful love inside the Quantum Life world that can ripple through the entire game, impacting every life they touch. It is the personal expression within the game of the love that defines existence in the real world.
OK, enough transcribing for today. Here are links to past entries in the quantum life series:
Quantum Life – August 3, 2010
How to Play Quantum Life – August 4, 2010
Why Play Quantum Life – August 5, 2010
The Soul in Quantum Life – August 20, 2010
Getting Started with Quantum Life – October 1, 2010
Quantum Life: Birth and Pre-Birth – November 22, 2010
Quantum Life: Childhood – July 20, 2012
Quantum Life: Obstacles – July 29, 2012
Quantum Life: Empaths and Extensions – August 8, 2012
Evil in Quantum Life – October 8, 2012
Our Angels Outnumber our Demons
Posted by Scott Erb in Culture, Terrorism, Values, World Affairs on April 16, 2013
Trust drives this world.
Think of it, you’re on a crowded expressway with numerous other cars darting between lanes at over 60 miles per hour. You’re trusting that none of these drivers decides “ah, screw this” and spin out to cause a massive wreck. If you cross a crowded street you trust that the cars will stop to let you cross. When you’re at a major event with masses of people you trust that no one is going to try to turn that into an opportunity for mass murder and carnage.
Alas, sometimes that trust is broken.
It’s easy to lose oneself in the sorrow of the Boston bombings, especially the plight of eight year old Martin Richard, who was killed by the explosion as he was there to see his dad cross the finish line in the Boston Marathon. The pictures are horrific – blood, lost limbs, people in agony, not believing how events are unfurling. A day that is joyous – Marathon day, with a Red Sox game in the morning and a Bruins game at night – turns tragic.
Yet the news isn’t all bad. In a tragedy the ability of humans to reach out to each other, help and often act heroically comes into focus, such as these inspiring images from Boston. How people empathize, cry and feel a bond with the victims speaks to a core aspect of human nature: we are connected. We feel that connection. Some people find themselves almost unable to function due to the pain caused by the suffering of others. Some reach out to their loved ones, embracing the reality that they are healthy and together now, regardless of what the future may bring.
Think for a moment – what if it were reversed? What if all those heroes and average folk who strive to help after an event were all willing to kill and destroy for the sake of some abstract cause? What if all those who feel viscerally for the victims and are saddened by the events were supportive of murder and terror? What kind of world would we have?
It’s natural to grieve for humanity at such a time. The senseless violence, the ability of people to turn off their humanity and kill for some ideology or cause – what a sad world! To that I say – not so fast!
If people were truly prone to senseless violence, this would happen all the time. Crowds in sporting events, parade routes, marathons like this are common throughout the country. Security is never adequate to prevent a determined attack. It will happen when people are truly motivated to kill. Yet it is rare.
Instead of grieving for humanity or donning a pessimistic view of the world, the fact that such an event stands out as an exception to the norm should cause us to recognize the deep bonds of social trust and connectivity that define our world. The deaths are tragic – but how many of the 30,000 plus killed each year in traffic accidents are also children? The fact that this kind of event is so rare says something powerful about the essential goodness of humanity.
Moreover, the way people come together, comfort, help and console shows that our angels far outnumber our demons. Boston hospitals are turning away blood donors because so many volunteered. So yes, grieve for the victims, let tears flow for the family that lost their son Martin, feel the sadness of Bostonians grappling with what this means for the city, but don’t become cynical. Don’t cancel travel out of fear, don’t think that evil is common. We notice the terror act, we should also notice how often we come together peacefully.
As we grieve for the victims we should celebrate our angels, whether first responders, people who care for and comfort the victims, blood donors and simply those of us who feel from a distance. Our angels are everywhere, in broad daylight. Our demons are few and hide in the shadows. They do not define us.
Sex and Love
Posted by Scott Erb in Communication, Consumerism, Culture, Psychology, Religion, Values on April 13, 2013
I’ve posted a lot about consumerism and the corrosive aspects it has on our culture and our ability to be happy. Two articles I’ve read in the last couple days convince me that the problems underlying materialist consumerism are also influencing love and sex, and not in a positive way.
One story involves the growth of completely impersonal “hook ups” solely for sex, especially among young people. It was a Wall Street Journal review of the book The End of Sex by Donna Freitas. It isn’t that I morally condemn such promiscuity — it’s not for me but hey, everyone has to make their own choices. It’s more that as Freitas notes, the “hookup culture” (which apparently 70% of college students admit to participating in) increases the risk of assault and abuse. That comes from the impersonal nature of the encounters.
In the ‘hook up’ culture two people are supposed engage in sex totally devoid of emotional connection. The other is just a body to be used for sexual gratification. Freitas notes that this is using humans as a means to an end, rather than treating them as an end themselves. Much of the time, especially with emotionally vulnerable young women, this puts them at real risk of abuse.
Perhaps more disturbing is that this emphasizes the mechanistic side of sex over the emotional or even spiritual. If young people learn to see sex as nothing more than a pleasurable physical act, it may be hard to be open to intimacy — indeed, the “hook up culture” seems predicated on a dismissal of romantic and intimate love as naive.
This mirrors the way our materialist consumer culture focuses on “stuff” over values. The spiritual and sublime aspects of human existence give way to a cold mechanistic view. Approaches like Carl Jung’s intuitive and spiritual psychology are replaced by evolutionary biology, where humans are just mechanisms used by genes to try to keep the genome alive. If there is only body and no soul, then love is just an illusion.
Look at our culture now – how easy it is for people to use others as means to their ends. People cheat others, treat them unfairly, rationalize the obscene behavior of banks and mortgage companies during the real estate bubble, and look the other way when someone is suffering. If we’re just stuff on a spiraling rock in space, then nothing matters. Collect sexual encounters and material objects. What else is there to life?
Consumerism and the hook up culture breed cynicism and a kind of despair – if there is no meaning, then there is only sensation. But sensations get boring and thus more excitement is needed. Without meaning the material can never truly satisfy. Sexual encounters need to have more drama, consumers need to always buy more, and people live trying to fulfill needs that cannot be met. Not by the new Porsche, nor by the wild (and usually drunken) hook up.
The review said that the writer, a Religious Studies Professor, doesn’t condemn casual sex (though she spends two hundred pages detailing its corrosive effects) but argues instead for a more open, healthy view of sexuality. And that leads me to the other article.
Allegheny College hosted in its chapel a talk “I heart the Female Orgasm” which included (from the previous link):
• An emphasis on individuals making sexual decisions that are right for them, including whether to use the information now or when married or in a serious relationship
• Analysis of the messages women receive about their bodies and sexuality from media, religion, families, and elsewhere.
• Body image, and the links between “befriending your body” and experiencing physical pleasure
• The value of learning how to say “no” to sex—and the problems college-age and adult women sometimes encounter when they realize that’s all they ever learned
• An opportunity to talk openly in same-gender groups during part of the program
• Female anatomy
• Tips for partners about being patient and respectful
• The problems with pressure to have an orgasm, to orgasm faster, to have multiple orgasms, to orgasm with a partner, to fake or not fake orgasms
• Answers to the most common questions about orgasm
This created a visceral reaction from some conservative commentators who accused Allegheny College of hosting a session on “how to masturbate.” They said the talk was smut disguised as education, put on by the radical left to denigrate religious values. The fact it was in the chapel got others riled up.
I could go on and on about what that says about the politics in play (is the next chapter of the ‘war on woman’ the ‘war against the female orgasm’), but I won’t. I find the increasing openness to talk about sexuality refreshing – sex is universal, almost everyone wants it, and most people know very little about it. The idea it is never to be talked about is irrational – something so important should be understood and discussed. Now more than at any time in the past that is happening.
To me the best defense against the corrosive effects of the “hook up culture” is for people to learn about, understand and talk about their sexuality. Sex is pervasive in the media, often in very unhealthy ways. The messages given culturally tend to increase ignorance and misunderstanding, creating numerous problems such as low self-esteem, intolerance and fear. Knowledge about ones’ sexuality – and an openness to talk – is power: Power to reject abuse by those who will manipulate the situation to treat people as objects.
Call me naive, but ultimately I believe the capacity not to see others as only a means to a sexual end makes true love possible. Just as materialism devoid of spirit becomes a cold playground of things that cannot satisfy the hunger one has for more, sex devoid of love becomes a playground of momentary thrills without meaning. And everything is better with meaning.
The 2nd Inaugural Address
Posted by Scott Erb in 2012 Election, Barack Obama, Climate Change, Economic crisis, US Politics, Values on January 21, 2013
I have long felt that President Obama is destined to be remembered as one of the great Presidents in US history. He came into office during a crisis, he is governing in a period of intense national and global transformation, and has true challenges to overcome.
In his second inaugural address President Obama made it very clear he’s not just looking to defend accomplishments of the past or stop Republicans from undermining social security or medicare. Instead he made the case for moving forward, and tackling problems such as climate change, advancing causes like gay rights, and working to undo the slow deterioration of the middle class as wealth gets every more concentrated at the top.
Obama’s speech — and his re-election — might ultimately be remembered as the time when the US shifted from the path of deficits, tax reduction and distrust in government towards a new progressivism, rooted not in ideology but American values.
A few important snippets from Obama’s speech:
“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”
This is a clear indication that over the next four years the President isn’t just going to cut spending and/or raise taxes, but challenge Congress to rethink the core of our economic policies. The path we’ve been on has lead to the most severe crisis since the Great Depression, and has left the middle class battered and bruised. We must rethink economic conventional wisdom for an era of globalization. Another:
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
People have been bemoaning the lack of attention given by the President to an issue many consider the most important of our time – preserving the planet for coming generations by preparing for already evident climate change. There is no reasonable way to deny human caused climate change. There is a self-contained alternative narrative that tries to posit everything from scientists as being frauds to get government funds or cherry picked data, but even one time skeptics are admitting that the evidence is overwhelming. Moreover, not acting will cause us to fall further behind the development of future technology. Another:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
The President’s words, coming after a reminder of the message of Martin Luther King 50 years ago, makes gay rights just as important a civil rights issue as any. Just as you don’t deny marriage, housing, service or care to people on the basis of color, the days are ending when bigotry against gays was tolerated because people thought there was “something wrong” with them.
We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
A recognition that movement forward will often be slow, and in small steps. That even if we set goals, we cannot get there unless we are pragmatic, and recognize that change builds over time. Some activists see pragmatism or compromise as surrender, a violation of principle. The President is telling those activists that’s not how our nation works. We move slowly, and we always have. Partial victories beget more partial victories, and with issues such as gay marriage change grows until it becomes inexorable.
President Obama has the chance to grab the mantel of greatness in his second term. His vision is there, his leadership has been proven effective, and the country is in the midst of transformation. I wish for him the wisdom to make the right call in ambiguous situations, to use the Presidency as a bully pulpit to continue to talk about American values, and to forge a path forward into the 21st century!