#metoo

Of course it happened to me too.  More than once.  In an assortment of ways, in various situations.  A little over a year ago; in 2013; as a teenager; as a child.  

White Americans tend to start from an ahistoric assumption that safety is the default.  We live in a collective bubble defended by relatively unassailable boundaries, formidable military might, and national neighbors who more or less want to leave the 800 pound gorilla alone because they are safer nestled up next to it than at odds with it.  Inside our daily lives, broadly speaking, we expect to be safe.  When we interact with the police over speeding tickets or improper use of our turn signals, we don’t expect to be shaken down for a bribe, or a favor.  We don’t expect to reach for our wallet and get shot as a result.  

But safety is not the default for the vast majority of the world.  Really, only white folk in Western nations have successfully created a bubble that more or less covers us and definitely doesn’t cover anyone else.  Everywhere else, no one is safe from drones and carpet bombs and chemical attack and corruption and, of course, sexual violence in the form of harassment and rape.  

None of which is mentioned to diminish the individual trauma.  Just to point out that we need to think a little deeper about all of this and start asking some questions.  What does it mean to feel safe?  What are our rights?  As an American, I believe that I have the right to bodily autonomy: control over where I go, what I do, who I do it with, and what happens after the fact.  I have the right not to be wilfully, physically damaged by another person; and also the right to expect that others will conduct themselves in such a way as to ensure that the things under their control conspire to do no harm to my physical body.  I have an unpredictable, anxious dog.  I am responsible for ensuring that unpredictable, anxious dog is not in a position to inflict pain or damage on another with his teeth.  That is my obligation, others have the right to expect me to conduct my affairs in such a way as to not endanger anyone.  

Does everyone have the same right to safety, or bodily autonomy?  If a worker exchanging her time and effort for money in the workplace as a secretary has the right to say no when her boss wants to stick his tongue down her throat, does a prostitute who is exchanging her time and effort for cash have the right to define what effort she is willing to engage in?  It seems to me that the two situations are fundamentally the same.  

If a white woman has the right to insist that her breasts not be touched by a coworker, does a black woman have the right to inspect that her co-workers won’t touch her hair?  Is one’s head any less included in bodily autonomy than one’s breasts?  

We should be careful with our outrage, lest we find ourselves with the same fundamental flaw that runs through every accused perpetrator of infractions both egregious and irresponsible: the inability or unwillingness to recognize the discrete, complete, equally valid experience embodied in every other human we come across.  The wanting impulse that can only see the want in you, and not the want in the other.  

This is why men feel different about women after they have a daughter.  Why things make sense to them after fathering a girl that didn’t make sense to them before: a daughter is the first female they have ever met from whom they want nothing.  She’s the first female in their life where there is nothing that she can do for them, and everything that they can do for her.  A mother is there for warmth and comfort and sustenance, and that is the extent of it.  She might as well be a microwave fronted by a teddy bear.  A girlfriend is pleasure and support and someone who agrees that they are the most important person in the room.  A wife is pleasure on demand and clean shirts and the mechanism which allows them to focus on what pleases them while ignoring the mundanities like keeping the house clean.  A secretary is a coffee dispenser with a nice ass.  But a daughter?  A daughter is hopes and dreams unrelated to him, but that he has cause to absorb as his own.  He looks out for her, has hopes for her, because she is not a bundle of things that can be done for him, she is a bundle of things she wants all by herself.  

And suddenly, the notion that a man somewhere might treat his daughter in the same way he has treated all the other women in his life starts to mean something.  A fourteen year old in a short skirt isn’t a temptation he’s going to have to wait four years to oogle, she’s his girl in a few years.  She’s a kid who plays with lipstick and then goes home to watch Frozen for the millionth time, because she’s a kid.  

So yes, #metoo.  But you know what else is also #metoo?  Looking at someone and ruthlessly preserving my obliviousness to the fact that they are a whole and complete person with a perspective, and reasons, and a history, and a story, and wants that are completely foreign to me yet still as valid and reasonable as my own.   

What allows Al Frankin to forcibly kiss someone, or to pose for a photo with a sleeping woman’s breasts in his hands, or to put his hand on a stranger’s bottom, is that he isn’t coming to the exchange with the understanding that her desires are equal to his, that she as as much right to control what happens in her mouth as he does, that she is whole and complete and he has no right to inflict consequences on her without her participation or consent.  She is the punchline, the object, the manifestation of his desire to be approved, or to feel strong, or whatever.  She isn’t as human as he is, at least at that moment his mind.  He is the good guy, the hero of the story.  She is a prop.  

Is the flaw as deep with Frankin as with someone like Roy Moore, or Brock Turner, or Bill Clinton, or Donald Trump?  Probably not.  But it is a flaw we all possess, this working assumption that our experience is the only one that matters.  It is the belief behind every backstabber, every bully, every liar, every con job, every corporate raider, every bank executive behind a massive foreclosure operation, every abuser, every racist… the list is endless.

I’ve heard it said that compassion begins when we start to recognize that everyone we meet is attempting to move towards comfort and away from pain.  There is something equally fundamental in Don Miguel Ruiz’s agreement to take nothing personally.  Restated, it isn’t about you.  Nothing is about you.  The world and the people in it are not there to serve your desires.   

No one has a greater right to safety than another, not by race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, belief system, education, ability, creed, or experience.  Without exception, everyone should be able to walk through the world in complete control over what happens to and with their bodies.  We can talk about toxic masculinity, sure.  But let’s also talk about toxic self-absorption, and the conviction that everyone else’s role in the world is to serve your immediate desire.  Let’s talk about the fatal conviction that, no matter the room you stand in, you are the most important person in that room.  Strip every individual in a society of the conviction that nothing matters quite so much as what they desire in any given moment, and the world would change in an instant.  And for the better.  

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#metoo

Silence

Over the past two months, there has been so much damn talking.  In the past two weeks, so much damn freaking out.  This is where normalization begins: fear is exhausting.

There are some among the subscribers to this blog who I suspect find my fear of Trump’s administration ridiculous and over-dramatic.  For those people, consider how concerned you were about Hillary’s candidacy and then keep in mind that she never said she wanted to upend your second amendment rights.  Trump has out and out stated that he wants to revisit the first amendment because it goes too far.

I fear for marginalized groups.  My grandfather, Nazi resistance fighter in Holland during World War II, said “Well, you’ve elected another Hitler.  But you’ll be fine.  You’re white.  Just keep your job.”  He’s probably right, save the fact that a solid 50% of the people I love aren’t white.  I fear for increasingly militarized police with a Justice Department headed by someone who doesn’t give a shit about a citizen’s rights, so long as that citizen is brown.  Not all Trump voters are racists and bigots, but all Trump voters elected someone who is openly tolerant of racism and bigotry.  I have family members among that group, which is difficult to accept.

But we are here, and there are things I want to talk about.  But first, the single most helpful voice in all of this has been Mark Blyth.  It helps that he has a Scottish accent, as most things are improved by a Scottish accent.  But he also provides a global and historical perspective.  This talk at Brown University from the day after the election has been particularly helpful in shifting my perspective…  We aren’t looking at the beginning of Hitler, we are looking  a reincarnation of the French Revolution.  For now, the rage has been directed at brown people–a useful distraction if you happen to be of the 1%–but the pitchforks will eventually point in the direction of Wall Street and those who have implemented and fought for wealth redistribution in the direction of the already wealthy.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not alarmed for minorities, those who are marginalized, and the vulnerable.  I’ve donated to the ACLU and will continue to do so.  I’ve subscribed to support journalism.  I’m committed to the first rule, which is don’t be an asshole.  I’ve written to my Senators and I now have a list of all the people who represent me across all levels of government.  I’m prepared to do what I can in my sphere to speak up against cruelty.

Meanwhile, there is a bigger play here, which is a perspective I had lost.

Silence

All About the Benjamins

The book is thicker than a Bible that has the original Greek, the translation, and commentary all packed into one.  It’s called the Great Deformation and I’m not going to read it.  It was in the library at work and it seemed like the kind of reading you might want to do if you are writing about the end of the world.  Except that it isn’t.  Surely no point takes 712 ages to make.

Besides.  I’m about full up of outrage.

From what I did read, the book is complaining about the divorce from the gold standard, corporate bailouts via TARP, printing money, the Fed…Basically, what we have isn’t pure capitalism (duh) and this is outrageous.  Nothing is real and it is the end of the world.

Which has the ring of truth to it, but fails to take the argument to its full and logical conclusion: money is a social construct.  Value is a social construct.  If we had all agreed that a tree was an acceptable denomination and a real standard of what a man was worth, Donald Trump would be telling us he owned more trees than any other mofo on the planet.

We’re in a play that isn’t a play, fighting on stage with no audience, using weapons that draw blood from people who don’t get back up when assaulted, fighting over bright pink monopoly cash.  It only means what we say it means.  We’ve all agreed that these things are real: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, Benjamins…  but they are only real because we say they are real.

Not that I know what to replace it with.  We all know I love my house and I’d have something to say to anyone who tried to take it from me.  But I got that house because my mom traded time at work for symbols of value, which she traded for different symbols of value, which turned into more symbols of value in the stock market.  And then she died and those symbols came to me through no merit of my own.  Without ever touching anything, I signed a couple of papers and those arbitrary symbols turned into a house, which I, in turn, trade my time for new symbols which get turned over to the bank for the privilege of the various and assorted things that go wrong when you own a house from 1955.

I love my house.  I really do.  I’m sorry for talking bad about it.  It ought to be proud that it’s still standing 70 years later.

Anyway, it’s absurd.  As is only getting worked up about one aspect of a ridiculous system without getting worked up about the whole.  As is getting worked up at all.

So what do you do?  One of the maddening things about media is that they pile on all of this anxiety–both sides are guilty of this–without providing anything to do about it, which tends to foment impotent rage.  Impotent rage eventually finds an outlet and that’s never good (see Fox News, white supremacists, comment sections, etc).  There’s no need for it…  Take the liberty of laughing.  The emperor has no clothes, but he’s the emperor…  Dethroning one emperor only brings on another.  The far-sighted ones go for benevolence.  I mean, no one is going to overthrow Queen Elizabeth for being malevolent.  Maybe for being too expensive, but not for being a murderous tyrant.  The Royals might lose their jobs at some point, but not their heads.

There are times when revolt is required.  A successful coup against Hitler would have been nice.  But here in the US?  Meh.  (I’d be less meh were we to have a President Trump… viva la revolucion?)

The system is bogus, but it is only vaguely relevant.  What matters?  Love.  Family, lovers, friends.  Making someone smile.  Touch.  Community.  Kindness.  A bogus system doesn’t keep you from showing up.  From trying.  It doesn’t stop you refusing anything predicated on the suffering of another.  It doesn’t keep you from making your corner of the world better/kinder/more welcoming.  Money is only a stand in for time, and you don’t need a Benjamin to add value to the world with your time.

All About the Benjamins

Politics and Writing

In my mind, writers are observers first.  You can tell what an author finds fascinating by what they write about.  Claire North wrote The First Fifteen Lives of Henry August.  If I were guessing, I’d say that Ms. North is fascinated by choice, the butterfly effect, and the way our experience of time is so linear as to be stifling.

Me, I’m interested in social interaction; the push and pull of individualism vs. social necessities; the way we think, not just what we think; and what happens when fear takes over a group of people.  There are other things I’m fascinated by, depending on when you ask…  But I write dystopia.  These are the things that I like to observe.

And right now, there is a lot to observe in the American political system.  Maybe the world’s political system too.  Our social structures feel turgid and tense, like something is on the verge of bursting…  it isn’t Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist.  Those are dichotomies and what works is usually indifferent to simple binary categories.

So I’ve been talking a lot of social/economic/political stuff.  I’ll probably keep talking about it.  The questions around how we encounter and experience the world, what role choice plays in our experience, and how we might push forward into a future that allows more opportunity, not for cold hard cash, but for connection and joy…  this is what I write novels about.  This is what I blog about.  This is what I think about on the train going home from work.  Not trying to step on any toes or hurt anyone’s political feelings.  Just trying to come to these questions with curiosity and intellectual integrity.

Politics and Writing

People are Icebergs

And so are relationships.  Maybe 10% is visible to you and will submit to the tyranny of language.  90% is submerged in a place beyond description and way too big to get your judgement around.

Just … be easy on other people.  Yourself too.  There are some truly awful people in this world; but most of us, most of the time, are doing the best we can with what we’ve got.  It’s so easy to be certain of what other people should do, of what you think you would do were you in the situation…  but you don’t know what kind of a victory it is that some of us make it out of bed in the morning.  Sometimes just hanging on is so unbelievably brave that asking for more is like accepting a vault full of diamonds and pouting because there weren’t pearls involved too.

Before you get certain about what someone else should do, figure out whether or not you’d be willing to assume their burden of experience first.  Unless you’d gladly take on what they’ve taken on in their life, see what they’ve seen, endured what they’ve endured, and survived what they’ve survived…

Of course, if you did all of that, you’d have nothing for compassion about whatever it is they chose today…

Other people’s opinions are a heavy thing.  Even when unvoiced, we carry around concern for what we think someone else might think.  Don’t make it worse.  Honor the 90% with your quiet company, and hope to G-d that you have someone who can love you cleanly enough to do the same for you.

People are Icebergs