Friday, September 23, 2016

Quote and variations.

I recently ran across this quote that concisely explains what is meant by the phrase "social construction".

Here's the quote:
“We think we see ‘race’ when we encounter certain physical differences among people such as skin color, eye shape, and hair texture. What we actually ‘see’ (or more accurately ‘perceive’) are the social meanings that have been linked to those physical features by the ideology of race and the historical legacy it has left us.”

-- Smedley, Race in North America (xii)
I read it several times and realized that it could be tweaked a little and accurately reference other instances that we tend to think have some meaning outside of what we humans make up and apply to such ideas. For instance "gender":
We think we see ‘feminine’ or 'masculine' when we encounter certain physical or other differences among people such as size, voice timbre, clothing, behaviors and hair length and/or style. What we actually ‘see’ (or more accurately ‘perceive’) are the social meanings that have been linked to those various features by the ideology of gender and the historical legacy it has left us.”

-- Smedley, Race in North America (xii) (modified for “gender”)
It's instructive and enlightening to consider terms like "race" or  "gender" or other terms that are socially constructed...which means humans made them up...to "explain" something and those explanations have been created via the interactions of power and culture and history and such and...they can change depending on any or all of those factors.

They aren't fixed...they morph and change to suit shifting times and circumstances...all the while upholding structures of oppression.

The problem of oppression isn't that there are differences among living beings...the problem is created by the fantasized (but purposive) meanings humans attach to those differences.

And...way way too often these human created meanings of differences (sometimes called "identities") are then used to mark which living beings are targets for oppression and policing and control and violence and which beings are considered to be "fully human" and "superior" and worthy of freedom.


For one powerful instance of human created 'meaning' go here and read about the difference between having white skin and the ideology of whiteness. Those are two different things, one is simply a description referencing skin color and the other is a human constructed system of comprehension and understanding (an ideology) designed to implement and maintain oppression. 

Having white skin is one thing...the ideology of whiteness (often attached to and conflated with having white skin) is something quite different.

For a further insightful bit of writing about these notions...go read Aph Ko's excellent article regarding the need for change in our conceptualizing about the way we understand "knowledge" and liberation.

Hmmm...when we forget history and context and relate to social constructions as if they are independent of human made meaning...well...that's when we enter the troublesome land of believing that fantasy is "true" and while that could theoretically be fun and interesting...the sad fact is that, way too often, it gets misleading and dangerous and harmful real fast.

Here's one last quote that tells us something very important:
The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world.

—James Baldwin
I have slowly and haltingly...oftentimes with dismay and sorrow...come to realize that things like liberation and social justice and freedom are simply out of reach without doing some arduous and frequently frightening and painful digging into my own ways of understanding the world and how I've been taught to comprehend the living beings in that world.

Think of it this way...most of the people I know seem to be good-hearted and well intentioned...I suspect most of the people you know are too. If that's the case...how is it that we live in a social world where living beings are routinely subjected to horrendous instances of harm and oppression?

What the hell is going on?

I'm saying that maybe we're seduced and/or co-opted into...without intention or desire...being complicit in upholding and maintaining those systems of oppression.

And maybe...part of what's getting in our way of breaking out of these systems of harm has to do with our understandings. Maybe a big part of our job...if we are desirous of interrupting these systems...is to start digging into our own selves and into the understandings that were given to us by our culture and our society and figuring out which of those understandings have some actual non-harmful utility and those which primarily serve to uphold and keep the operations of oppression in place.

Maybe...if we want things to change...part of what we have to do is to engage in the work of changing ourselves by examining and revising our comprehension and our understanding.

Wallowing around with and wrestling with all this is absolutely the most difficult and painful thing I've ever undertaken in all my life. I fluctuate between astonishment and dismay and bewilderment and sorrow...sometimes...I even have moments of clarity. I must admit that clarity is rare...but it does happen on occasion. And wow...it's quite a treat when it does.

I'm dreadfully old to be engaged in something like this...most of you who read this are probably much younger than me. Don't wait, please...the longer you put off this quest the longer you (without meaning to) engage in oblivious complicity in upholding systems of harm.

I firmly believe we can do better than what we've done so far...but...we must do the work of taking apart these social constructions that we confuse with "reality" that our culture/society has presented to us. And...once we do that and gain a little more accurate understanding then we can better choose how to go about achieving social justice.

This is what I think so far...in no way do I believe I don't have further to go. If you see obvious errors or distortions here...please...let me know what you think. Heck, it's even ok to let me know if you think this makes sense.  

 

Friday, September 16, 2016

James Baldwin.

One of the most insightful and talented thinkers and writers ever. The graphic below might offer you some understanding of why I make that statement.


The part of this quote, where ignorance and power are referenced and that an alliance of those two phenomena present the greatest obstacle to justice is scary true.

I'll add that we who are afflicted with whiteness (along with everyone in this society) are carefully and incessantly taught to be ignorant (but to be oblivious to that not knowing) and all the while thinking we are well informed. We all are subjected to this sort of demeaning flimflam but...those who belong to oppressed groups also are slammed with experiences that counter such social propaganda.

I have a book that contains a collection of his essays and it is just excellent. It's titled: The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings and it contains some excellent work....and his other writings are superlative too.

Notice how Mr. Baldwin is expressing (albeit in much more lyrical and powerful form) what Ruth Frankenberg has condensed into one the axioms she formulated as tools to assist in analyzing information.
Axiom Three: Those who are being harmed and/or oppressed by a system of domination are going to have the best location for detecting, apprehending and comprehending those domination activities. In other words, those who are being hurt by domination/oppression are going have the most comprehensive viewpoint. If you want to know what is going on...listen to the victims of oppression...they know more than you.
I love it when I run across things like this. If you haven't read James Baldwin...do so.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Some humans

are spooky. I'll be more specific...some humans who are raced as white are spooky.

This morning I went on Facebook and quickly ran into a link to this story. A brief summary:...a woman (white) publishes a textbook about Mexican American heritage and makes the mind-boggling statement that "...Mexican-American scholars weren't tapped to help write the book in order to have an unbiased book." She's saying if you want a supposedly factual book about a subject you should avoid consulting those who are knowledgeable about the subject in order to be "unbiased". Hmmm...

Then I ran across this next story. It's an article about a woman (white) who has written several books but this time the author is giving a talk and in the talk she's promoting the idea that she (or anyone) should be able to write about anybody's experiences because...it's fiction. She's arguing that since fiction is "fake" anyway then no one should object to her (or anyone) writing from the viewpoint of, for instance, a rapist (even if they are not a rapist) or a Nigerian woman (even if they're not a Nigerian woman) and on and on.

This might be an interesting question to wrestle with (whether or how you can "know" the experiences of someone different from you) but...apparently that wasn't the tenor of the talk. The speaker was primarily ridiculing the idea of anyone objecting to writing from viewpoints that the author knows little about...if they were writing fiction.

There might be something of substance to consider here...but...I suspect the substance is going to be bound up primarily in consideration of whether the speaker/writer is operating from being positioned in a group that socially dominates another group or other groups. I'm specifically referring to Ruth Frankenberg's third axiom.

I can meld the messages together coming from these two women (white) and they seem to be saying that they should be able to present anything they want...without anyone objecting...and that ignorance about the topics is actually a strength. If the writing is supposedly factual then ignorance is a strength because it is "unbiased" and if the mode of writing is fiction then ignorance is a strength because it is an exercise of "freedom".

Notice that both are apparently upholding and lauding and maintaining that ignorance indicates some kind of strength or positive thing.


I couldn't help but think that, in some form or fashion, both of these women (white) seem to be confirming some of Dr. Mills' conceptualizations about an epistemology of ignorance.

He wrote about the substitution of ignorance for "knowledge" in regard to race but he also made mention (as does Cori Wong) that maybe there is an epistemology of ignorance for each manifestation of group dominance/subordination.

There's ignorance (masquerading as "knowledge") associated with white people vs people of color, there's an ignorance associated with men vs women, there's an ignorance associated with heterosexuals vs non-heterosexuals and on and on.

In each configuration of social domination directed toward a subordinated group noted in this post, the members of the more powerful group claim that they don't have to "know" that which they don't "know" and that their their "unknowing" is actually a good thing...either because it is "unbiased" or it is an exercise of "freedom".

There's something sort of Orwellian (think doublespeak) about all this...and...like I said...spooky. Humans sort of frighten me vis a vis their attitudes and behaviors toward Earthlings not identified as humans.



And, even more unsettling (spooky) maybe, is the fact that more and more I am rather frightened by white people.

Notice that I am situated as being in each of these groups (human, white...plus, jeez, I'm also situated as male and cisgendered and heterosexual)...and that is deeply uncomfortable to me. Because...each/all of those groups are situated as dominant and there seems to be a pervasive epidemic of unfounded prideful superiority coupled with a serious and persistent embracing of ignorance among all of them.

Also note...even though both the folks referenced in the articles I'm writing about are situated as women (a subordinated group) they are raced as white (a dominant group). Their dominant ways of viewing the world are apparently obscuring or suppressing the possible knowings they might have access to as a result of their belonging to a subordinated group. Is this a situation where the bad pushes out the good or power makes you deficient in awareness? 

These two articles made me think about the notion of not knowing what we don't know. It's very unlikely that we'll be able to find out about our not knowing that which we don't know if we maintain the position that our lack of knowing (or our lack of knowing that which we don't know) is a positive or laudable condition. That seems very much like saying "I'm ignorant and proud of it" or "I'm ignorant about being ignorant and I'm proud of it". Or...as Mr. Orwell said...ignorance is strength.

Like I said...some humans (especially those who are raced as white) are spooky.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Dr. Johnson wrote

this in his book:
…the basic features that define patriarchy as a type of society have barely budged, and the women’s movement has stalled in much the same way that the civil rights movement stalled after the hard-won gains of the 1960s.
Thus far, the mainstream women’s movement has concentrated on the relatively less threatening aspects of the liberal agenda. The primary goal has been to allow women to do what men do in the ways that men do it, whether in science, the professions, business, or government. The more serious challenges to patriarchy have been silenced, maligned, and misunderstood for reasons that aren’t hard to fathom. As difficult as it is to change overtly sexist sensibilities and behavior, it is much harder to raise critical questions about how sexism is embedded in major institutions such as the economy, politics, religion, and the family. It is easier to allow women to assimilate into patriarchal society than to question society itself. It is easier to allow a few women to occupy positions of authority and dominance than to question whether social life should be organized around principles of hierarchy, control, and dominance at all, to allow a few women to reach the heights of the corporate hierarchy rather than question whether people’s needs should depend on an economic system based on dominance, control, and competition. It is easier to allow women to practice law than to question adversarial conflict as a mode for resolving disputes and achieving justice. It has even been easier to admit women to military combat roles than to question the acceptability of warfare and its attendant images of patriarchal masculine power and heroism as instruments of national policy. And it has been easier to elevate and applaud a few women than to confront the cultural misogyny that is never far off, waiting in the wings and available for anyone who wants to use it to bring women down and put them in their place.

From The Gender Knot, 1997, Allan G. Johnson, page 13. (I have an older version of the book...it currently is available in a 3rd edition)


The hierarchies we are all squeezed into (and uphold by our knowing and/or oblivious actions and/or silent complicity) rarely are challenged by the excellent question he asks: "Do we really want a society that is based on dominance and control and the valuing of some lives more than other lives?"

Dr. Johnson doesn't live vegan (from what I've learned about him so far) yet that question he poses is one that addresses the functioning of every system of oppression...including speciesism.

From what I've been able to grasp over the past couple of years is that a tremendous amount of identifying and theorizing and conceptualizing of systems of domination has been accomplished...mostly by black feminists and anti-racist advocates. These systems...which involve all of us, sometimes as oppressors and sometimes as oppressed, are often "normalized"  (e.g., 'Tradition') and made invisible.

One of the purposes of normalizing and/or invisibling is to decrease the possibility that these systems are recognized and understood and discussed and debated...and maybe interrupted or dismantled. Heck...if you don't know about something and it is not comprehended (as oppressive) then the likelihood that you'll do anything about it is pretty low. 

I was recently in a setting where folks were assigned to groups of four and each group was asked to draw a line representing a continuum and place the various racial groups on that continuum ranging from least valued/powerful to most valued/powerful. All the groups placed black folks on the least powerful side of the line and white folks on the most powerful side with other racial groupings somewhere in between those two extremes.

The most interesting part of the exercise came when a young Native American woman talked about how doing the exercise was very uncomfortable. The discussion revealed that the discomfort came from making visible that which everyone knew (all groups placed blacks on the least powerful side and whites on the most powerful side) but everyone was uneasy with being open about this and talking about it. Breaking the silence triggered discomfort.

That phenomenon of everyone knowing something but not making that knowing open and talking about it exemplifies invisibling. The discomfort of being open and overt about what "everyone knows" is one of the forces used to maintain invisibility and invisibility is one of the prime ways that "everyday" or "normal" oppression maintains its power.

You could do the same sort of exercise by using groups such as sexual orientation or gender or species or ability or age and...it's likely that most of you could predict how those group members would be placed on a continuum of least to most powerful/valued and...it's likely that doing those exercises would result in discomfort or unease. Because...you're breaking the silence...you're interrupting the power of invisibility.

     
Interesting, eh? We all "know" that certain groups of humans (gender, race, age, etc) are valued less than others and we all "know" that various groups of living beings (humans or other Earthlings) are denied rights and/or restricted in their freedom...or are discouraged or prevented from accessing societal resources and on and on.

We all know these things but we tend to avoid talking about it...discouraged either by our own sense of discomfort and unease or...if we persist in trying to discuss such stuff...we'll often find ourselves discouraged from talking about such shared knowings by other people.That's how invisibility works.

If you're a white person, try talking to another white person about race/racism. I suspect that if your own sense of discomfort doesn't get in your way...you're likely to be end up being encouraged to shut up by the other person. That which we all know but participate in silencing are usually the very aspects of our social structure that are the most odious and harmful.

Whew...invisibling is insidiously and amazingly effective. Of course oppressive structures are much more complex than I've addressed here and there are other factors that maintain them in addition to invisibility...but invisibling is something that most of us engage in and therefore we can access it and challenge it ourselves...if we so choose.

Do be aware though...that oppression is potent stuff and when it is challenged strongly enough it will reveal itself in all its awfulness.

Oppression is, in the end, maintained by violence or threat of violence and challenging it always carries the potential to evoke that usually hidden aspect. Breaking silence around those who are invested in maintaining oppression can be risky in ways that go beyond personal discomfort. It can be dangerous because it might be met with ostracism, avoidance or...at the ultimate extreme...physical violence. 

Dr. Johnson is writing about the oppressive structure called patriarchy and it is especially difficult to grapple with...in part because of the aspect of it that's shown in this graphic.


That intimate association makes disentangling the factors involved in patriarchy (and sexism) really really confusing and tricky.

The graphic below lets us know that intimate association isn't the only aspect of patriarchal oppression that is convoluted and complex.

One of the ways to lose yourself when trying to comprehend oppression is to not consider historical factors and/or identity aspects. Each group targeted by oppression has its own unique history and...none of these groups are monolithic...by that I mean each member of a particular group will have their own unique experience of how oppression plays out in their life and among the factors that will influence how they experience that oppression will be their ethnic and/or racial grouping. 

There is no woman who exists who is not also assigned to a racial group...just like there is no member of a racial group who isn't assigned to some sex group...(as well as being in some class and being of a certain age and some particular ability level, etc.) hence...it can be profoundly misleading to think about oppression as a single factor sort of thing (think intersectionality).

Now...there's no way in hell I have the capacity to keep all these factors in mind simultaneously, therefore I often think in shortcuts or by using words like "woman" that actually always encompass other aspects of lived experience (like race, age, class, history, etc.). But...if I lose sight of the fact that I'm using a shortcut word that collapses together lots of other important factors...that's when confusion and lousy thinking sits in. And...I do plenty of that...but...hopefully less than I used to.

This sort of "forgetting" is something that happened to what is sometimes called the 2nd wave of the feminist movement. It "forgot" some factors and inadvertently fell into mostly only theorizing about and advocating for...white middle class heterosexual women. It was trying to oppose oppression and stumbled into being a source of oppression itself...by silencing and ignoring the experiences of women who weren't raced as white and/or who weren't middle class and/or who weren't heterosexual.

What is called Black Feminism challenged 2nd wave feminism and triggered a tremendous amount of re-thinking and re-conceptualizing about the various ways that oppression works. It is within the Black Feminist tradition that the notion of intersectionality arose and intersectionality is probably one of the most potent theoretical tools ever in terms of being able to make visible many of the dynamics of the operation of oppression. If you want to become more familiar with the one of the origins of the Black Feminist movement...you can read the most excellent Combahee River Collective Statement here.

See what I mean about this stuff being complex?

But...the great thing about all this is that it might make my head hurt to try to wrap my mind around it...yet it doesn't injure my spirit...in fact it often lifts and liberates that part of me. That's totally different than what oppression does...to everyone...oppression injures the spirits of both those who oppress and it injures the spirits (and often the bodies too) of those who are targeted by oppression. It isn't good for anyone even though it might be seductive to think so (thinking that it is good for the oppressors is one of the seriously insidious and dangerous aspects of it).

And you thought this was simple, right? All ya gotta do is save the animals, right?

Nope, sorry, it's a lot tougher than that. Oppression has been operating in a whole bunch of ways for a whole bunch of centuries...that's not an accident. This stuff called oppression is tough to figure it out and to effectively stop it...we gotta figure it out.

I'll end this thing (I didn't intend to write this much) by quoting a wonderful dedication I ran across in a book about feminism. The title of the book is "We Were Feminists Once" by Andi Zeisler. 

The dedication reads: "To my sweet Harvey -- May your generation be the one that finally figures this shit out."

Is that not nifty? I hope Harvey's generation gets it done...in the meantime it is incumbent on all of us to struggle with trying to figure it out and to interrupt oppression where we can...while being aware that oppression has persisted, in part, because often efforts to oppose it resulted in recreating oppression elsewhere. This is really really nasty and insidious stuff.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I saw on facebook

this entry by Christian Sebastian and thought it was terrific. He wrote:
PSA: Shaming don't work. It didn't work in 1642 for Hester Prynne and it don't work now. Humiliation diminishes. Humiliation fosters defensiveness. And most importantly, humiliation causes people to deny responsibility. How much of your animal activism is rooted in punishment versus creating change? Now be honest.
(Note: PSA is an acronym for public service announcement) 

I have wrestled with aspects of this over a number of years. By that I mean I have gotten angry and upset and said (and thought) negative things to or about people who dismiss or reject or ridicule veganism. And...that's really a piss poor way to go about getting humans to convert to a vegan lifestyle. I've never had anyone that I behaved poorly toward fall down and say I'm sorry and convert to veganism.

Whereas I've been fortunate enough to have several people over the years be open to listening to my non-shaming, non-attacking message about the harms associated with not living vegan and eventually they opted to live vegan too.

It's vitally important for me (and for you too) to remember that all the people who don't live vegan are going to have to eventually come to living vegan if we are to end systematic human harming of our sister/brother Earthlings. And...it's unlikely to further that goal if we attack or shame or humiliate them. They are potential allies in the quest to stopping the harming of Earthlings who don't happen to be human and beating up on them isn't very wise or effective.

Most of us, at one time, were not living vegan and it's important to remember that too.

I would not have wanted someone who was vegan to have attacked or shamed or humiliated me when I was gripped with obliviousness to the harm I was doing...and no one else wants that either.

The fact is...when we approach people that way they almost always focus on defending themselves...not on listening to the message that might be being conveyed. I'm not saying they'll necessarily listen if you don't attack or shame them...but I am saying they are much more likely to be open to an approach that isn't humiliating toward them.

So...don't. Ok?

If you can...pretend that the message you're conveying is being directed to you...if it would offend you then probably someone else would be offended too. Offense usually evokes defense...not receptivity or careful listening.

Christopher said it a lot more concisely and eloquently than I can.



Sunday, August 21, 2016

Help and reward

yourself with a stay on the beach (maybe). If you purchase entries in this raffle. But hurry...the last day to get a ticket is September 2nd.

The link goes to the Heartland Rabbit Rescue website where there is information about contributing to Midnite's surgery fund by entering a raffle that offers...among other rewards...the grand prize of a seven night stay at an ocean side condo in Myrtle Beach, Florida. If you don't want to enter the raffle...you can contribute without buying tickets too.

Help out this charming and handsome fellow (more info about his troubles can be found if you follow the link) and maybe win a stay on the beach...as well as a chance at some other excellent rewards...that's pretty snazzy.

Information can be found on the Heartland facebook page and also in this graphic.


The cutoff date for getting your chance(s) is September 2nd...hurry...and please help and thank you.

Midnite (the magnificent)

Midnite thanks you too. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eh?

Over at the So I'm Thinking of Going Vegan blog there was a post back in July that featured this image from VeganStreet.com:


The image creators said they were inspired to make it because: "This is a version of those cute little "All I want to do is drink wine, take naps and cuddle puppies" t-shirts for people who really want to make a positive change in the world."
All well and good, right?

Not so fast...if you want to take the time to look at the original offering of the image you can scroll through some of the comments and find that...whoa...a number of people apparently got all riled up over various aspects of the image...which you will note is just a statement that someone wants to end the oppression of the marginalized groups identified as women, people of color (not that separating 'race' and 'gender' is really possible) and animals. What is there to object to? Apparently a lot, judging from some of the comments.

I tend to not engage with (committed) naysayers because I have this (absolutely personal and not empirically confirmed...not systematically anyway) notion (hypothesis) that if someone has a strong enough negative reaction to statements about ending racism and/or patriarchy and/or and/or...to be willing to openly and forcefully state their objections then "engaging" with them is pretty much an exercise in futility that almost invariably causes me much more upset and/or dismay than any gain there might be in jousting with such potent certainty. I've rarely had anything worthwhile (that I was aware of) come out of doing any back and forth with such folks.

Some people seem to enjoy that sort of stuff...I don't. I tend to end up feeling sad and beat-up as a result of such exchanges. When I was younger and a bit less jaded (?) than I am now, I sometimes would get into it with such folks but not so much anymore.

Notice that I'm not saying I'm unwilling to dialogue with someone who might disagree with these sentiments...I'm saying I'm unwilling to engage with those who disagree (resist?) and are so certain of the validity of their objections that they're willing to strongly assert their displeasure in some sort of public or open forum. The important thing isn't the disavowal or skepticism (although that's troubling)...the big factor here is the power of the motivation and the certainty behind those dismissals.

My speculation is that when a strong pushback like that is encountered...it is most likely driven by great fear and/or pain and dealing with such stuff is not likely to be resolved in any kind of online doings. Very often when you encounter strong anger or outrage the underlying factors include a great deal of fear/threat/pain. Folks who attempt to deal with those personal factors by angry attacking or dismissal of what scares them usually aren't inclined to do much exploring and/or thinking. They're interested in obliterating that which disturbs them...not in exploring issues and/or experiences.  

Glancing over some of the comments associated with the image above shows that there are a number of folks who figure that they know all they need to know and exposing them to some broader picture about manifestations of oppression is unwanted and even offensive to them...i.e....it upsets them and they're motivated to attack/destroy that which bothers them. That might mean attacking the notions that spook them...or...it might mean attacking whomever offered such notions.

I'm reminded of the phrase "often wrong...but always certain" when I read some of those comments.

I am frequently uncomfortable when I feel tentative and uncertain about what I think I know...however that discomfort seems a small price to pay for striving to not be oblivious to the amazingly devious and subtle ways that oppression permeates western European societies and manifests itself here in the USA.

It seems astonishingly obvious to me, now anyway, that resisting and interrupting harm to those with little or less social power is an often difficult and complex task. I didn't used to be aware of that...which, by the way, is exactly how societies drenched in oppression want you to think. Nope...I don't think that way anymore but that doesn't mean I don't get fooled by subtle (or obvious) presentations of oppression...I do...and often...but...hopefully not as much as previously. That's an improvement...I think.

Tell ya what...go read the excellent blog post and then go poke around in the comments about the image and see what you think.

I've come to accept that striving to decrease and/or end my harming of other living beings is a difficult and demanding journey and anytime I think I've "arrived"...that's when I'm most likely to be full of crap. I know for sure though that I really don't want to be as obtuse and filled with fear driven oblivious certainty as some of those commenters seem to be.

It's unlikely any of them would don white robes and burn crosses and/or assault women...but...those who reject the pervasiveness of oppression in this society are exhibiting and participating in the core of obliviousness that supports and upholds such awfulness and perpetuates the "normal" systemic and institutional oppression and harming of living beings who are are identified as members of marginalized groups.

Such denial facilitates and is complicit in harm...whether intended or not...and that's just not ok.

We are all in this together no matter how much we might pretend we are not and harming others is both unnecessary and repugnant...and...because we've been socialized to not notice it or recognize it...it's often disgustingly difficult to detect and comprehend.

We can do better than that. I know that to be true simply because my understanding has expanded over the past couple of years...and...if a really old white man can become more aware (and hopefully less inadvertently hurtful)...then so can we all.       



   

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Women's Resource Center

is a community based (not government associated) organization that provides: "...specialized services catered to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking,..." for the Cleveland County (Norman, Oklahoma) community. All their services are provided at no cost to those who seek them.
I've been attending training there for the past few weeks so I could serve as a volunteer for them. I was the only male (shocker) out of a group of 11 or 12 people who were wanting to volunteer. (I'm basing that notion of 11 females and 1 male on external appearances only)

I was a little apprehensive about doing this mainly because I figured that few men volunteered. My apprehension partially had to do with the "real men don't do this sort of thing" nonsense. Sadly, just because I have some limited awareness about societal messages about masculinity doesn't mean I'm not still influenced by them. That's one of the paradoxes (whee) of recognizing some of the goofy and harmful socialization messages we get...I see that they're crap but they still can make me shaky or uncomfortable or apprehensive. Jeez.

And...I'm also aware that this is a shelter/organization for victims who are almost always females who have almost always been harmed by...guess who...males.

So...I was, in part, reluctant to attempt to help because I am conscious of being a member of the group (males) who are almost always the source of the violence that harms those who seek help there and I didn't want my presence to create or invoke fear or discomfort from victims.

The training is finished now and I think we've figured out some ways that I can sometimes assist WRC as well as avoid making folks who use their services be uncomfortable. (and those ways of assisting appeal to me)

A number of things from this effort has helped my comprehension. Most especially is some increased awareness that we all swim in a rather nasty ocean of what is called the "rape culture". I hope you'll take the time to read about it if you're unfamiliar with what's meant by that phrase.

If you do some investigating you'll notice that it (rape culture) has to do, in part, with "normalizing" violence toward and domination of a less powerful group. Does that sound familiar?

I'm going to summarize something here and in doing so I'm cognizant that summarizing is...in a number of ways...risky and misleading (maybe it even can be thought of as violent). Because when we summarize something we obliterate details...and...in the end...the details are pretty much everything.

Think of it like forest and trees. The old saying about not seeing the forest for the trees has to do with getting so focused on the details (trees) that we don't see a bigger picture (forest)...well that works the other way too...we can get so focused on the bigger picture (forest) that we neglect to comprehend that it is the details (trees) that are the sole makeup of the forest. Always remember (and I'm reminding myself here too) that you can have details without a bigger picture but you can never have a bigger picture that doesn't consist of details.

Sorry for the pedantic sounding digression (I probably was a teacher for too long) but I wanted to give some context before I made a summary.

The summary is this...our culture (the USA) is structured...and very much so...maybe even almost totally...on the dominance of various less powerful groups by other more powerful groups. And we all participate in this stuff in one way or another...but...since being aware of this ugliness would be upsetting and uncomfortable (and maybe awareness would result in change so dominance depends in part on not being comprehended) we are all socialized to see this dominance/subordination as "normal" or to not see it at all because it has been made invisible.

This "normalizing" or "invisiblizing" of dominance (and the violence or threat of violence that supports and upholds it) is a necessary part of maintaining all this stuff because (in part)...we don't want to see ourselves as a**holes. We all want to believe we're "good people" and good people don't hurt others or dominate others or harm others or threaten to harm others. So...we hide truth from ourselves...we "normalize" violence...we make it invisible. And..."rape culture" is a way of naming and identifying an aspect of that "normalized" violence.

Part of the training for WRC included screening a documentary called "Tough Guise 2". It was a painful and enlightening look at the fact that most human originated violence is generated by...guess who...males (mostly white, cisgendered heterosexual males). We have a problem...and the problem touches all of us...some more hurtfully than others and quite differently depending on whether we're positioned as victims or perpetrators...but make no mistake...we all get harmed.

My last blog post touched on the fact that little boys get harmed and that harming often shapes them into adults who then tend to harm others. Arrrgh...it makes my head hurt to try to wrap it around all this...but slowly slowly I do think it is becoming more clear to me. Somewhat anyway. Maybe.

And...it isn't a pretty picture. One thing that is of utmost importance...and...that is I must always retain awareness of is that seeing the "bigger" picture is only a tool and only useful if it can help in interrupting this stuff. And the interrupting of it always has to do with reducing or eliminating harm to members of marginalized groups...and most importantly...without doing harm to different marginalized groups.

Maybe that's the useful thing that trying to get a bigger picture view allows is that it can sometimes assist in avoiding or stopping harmful stuff without inadvertently or accidental recreating harm. Hmmm...maybe that's a useful way to think of it...big picture stuff helps not recreate oppression and attending to the "details" means consulting victims and following their lead in terms of how to reduce and/or stop harm to them.

PETA serves as a wonderful example of how not to do activism because PETA often opposes harm by recreating harm. Routinely they oppose harming animals but their efforts often include making women into sex objects which in turn upholds aspects of rape culture or their efforts sometimes uphold racist notions. They seem to see the trees (they seemingly try to stop harm to victims) but are often oblivious to the forest (shifting harm to other groups of victims).

We can do better than that, I think. But...it's often not easy because we've all been thoroughly and totally socialized to not think this way. We see harm to living beings who have little power and we want to make it stop...but...way too often our efforts to stop the harming often simply shifts harming to a different group of victims. It's a trees and forest sort of problem and too often we leave out one factor or the other when that's exactly the way to not do it.

Here's where I console myself with something that seems really hopeful...and that is...we humans created this oppressively structured culture and that means we have the power to change it...we don't have to operate this way...it didn't just fall out of the sky onto us. We humans made it this way and that means we humans can unmake it.

I'm trying to get some useful (and accurate) comprehension of this stuff...if you can help...please chime in.

 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

I thought this statement

by bell hooks was pretty accurate. It certainly corresponds with a number of experiences I had when I was growing up and and also after adulthood. It also reminded me that I had made up some rules for myself as I went along in life that served to guide me in my behavior and I created those rules because of my fear of what might happen to me if I didn't behave and speak in certain ways...or avoid behaving or speaking in certain ways.

What I hadn't thought much about was the violence (or threat of violence) associated with those rules. But once I read this I remembered that hints or threats of it were always sort of floating around as these "acts of psychic self-mutilation" were taught.

When I began the journey of learning to do psychotherapy I ran smack into one of those rules and had a big struggle...that continues, from time to time, to this day.

That's the rule that "men don't cry". Guess what...you can't do psychotherapy effectively unless you can cry...because to be able to authentically cry you must be in touch with your feelings...and there's no way to effectively perform psychotherapy unless you're in touch with your own feelings.

Patriarchy (USA style) has to first be violent or threaten violence toward those little children called "boys" in order to train/create the adults who enact and perpetuate that patriarchy. Mostly (but not always) that violence (or threat of violence) comes from adults called "men" and is directed toward young humans who are called "boys".

In addition...and this is not a small thing...the rules of patriarchy are often also taught by women. Which means that little boys (I'm writing from my perspective as a white man who was once a little white boy...so I'm only able to have experienced being taught the rules of "being a man" from the perspective of being white) often have no adults around them who aren't encouraging and/or teaching and/or enforcing the rules of patriarchy (I'm specifically referring to USA type white patriarchy here).

It's pretty insidious when you think about it...the enactors (who are ones who primarily benefit from patriarchy) have helpers who also teach/enforce the rules of patriarchy and those helpers are the victims of that system...women. Human children really don't have much of a chance to break out of patriarchy since almost all of the adults they encounter are teachers/enforcers of the rules of patriarchy.

Think of all the wars that are instigated and fought by men...all the violence that comes from men...does this have anything to do with the "psychic self-mutilation" that little boys do to themselves in their attempts to follow the rules of patriarchy? Hmmm....

Friday, July 29, 2016

Further thoughts about "real" men...

In a recent post I did some speculating about socially constructed identities. I've been thinking about such stuff off and on since then and something occurred to me that was right in front of me but also quite invisible.

I recently ran across a graphic that triggered some of my thoughts about this "real man" stuff.


What's nifty about this graphic is that it addresses veganism as well as the socially constructed notion of "real men".

It seems to me that applying the adjective "real" to a living being is often a clue that you're dealing with a socially constructed phenomenon.

Weirdly enough, back in 2010, I wrote a little about John Wayne, who is looked up to (especially by many older white men) as exemplifying the essence of a "real man" and it turns out that some aspects of the image versus the actual reality are rather different.

One way to think of the idea of "socially constructed" is that it means something that was made up by humans (usually white men) and that it was made up because those folks (again, usually white men) thought it benefited them or it promoted some notion that was positive for them or upheld their power in some way. (P.S. I'm not so much picking on white men so much as I'm pointing to the reality that U.S. culture or western European culture has (and is) essentially controlled by white men both currently and for all the centuries since its inception. Which, by the way, we're encouraged to not notice or see because that would serve to make that control not invisible...and that might mess up the control.)

Now that I consider if further...maybe it's a good idea to always realize that whenever the "real" adjective is stuck in front of a reference to a living being that's a signal that the opposite is probably the case. "Real" doesn't have anything to do with the essence of a being...it has to do with how well or skillfully they're enacting a script or playing a role...and that script or role is socially constructed.

In other words, if "real" is stuck in front of a word used to designate an Earthling it almost invariably means "skillfully fake". It tells us that we're dealing with with ways of behaving that are made up or artificial (socially constructed).

Hence..."real man" signals "fake or artificial man" or "person performing a man act". Judith Butler (a philosopher and gender theorist) takes this idea further in her thinking. She maintains that all gender roles are constructed (made up) by societies...her term is that gender roles are "performed".

Here's a quote from a website that writes about Judith Butler's thinking about gender roles:
 Butler underscores gender's constructed nature in order to fight for the rights of oppressed identities, those identities that do not conform to the artificial—though strictly enforced—rules that govern normative heterosexuality. If those rules are not natural or essential, Butler argues, then they do not have any claim to justice or necessity. Since those rules are historical and rely on their continual citation or enactment by subjects, then they can also be challenged and changed through alternative performative acts. As Butler puts it, "If the 'reality' of gender is constituted by the performance itself, then there is no recourse to an essential and unrealized 'sex' or 'gender' which gender performances ostensibly express" ("Performative" 278). For this reason, "the transvestite's gender is as fully real as anyone whose performance complies with social expectations" ("Performative" 278).  
Hmmm....

She's arguing that ways of "performing" the roles of "man" or "woman" are rules that are imposed on us by others (via history and convention) and she doesn't need the adjective "real" to signal that they are artificial or fake or made up.

Thinking about all this was (is) rather mind blowing for me...and interesting...very interesting. "Performing" gender...considering that notion expands your ways of conceptualizing this stuff, eh?

Just to further complicate your thinking...you might want to consider how (at least here in the U.S). it's not possible to realistically consider the roles of "woman" or "man" without also considering other socially constructed notions like "race".

Kimberle Crenshaw notes this in her writings about intersectionality. She points out that gender roles and race (among other factors) are not separate and mutually exclusive but rather that they overlap and always occur together. Hmmm....

Once you start pulling some notions apart, like "woman" or "man", and looking at them in detail...what might seem simple and easily understood rapidly becomes amazingly complex and much more difficult to comprehend.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

This image

is a variant of one that I used about a year ago in this post. I like this new image better in that it provides much more information.


The image I used earlier only had the information presented in the first two panels...the image above expands and elaborates. Equality seems to be a marginal improvement on reality...equity is definitely an improvement on both reality and equality but the ultimate goal for all is liberation. Here liberation means that the 'norm' is absent artificially maintained barriers or obstructions for everyone.

This image is a rich condensation of a large amount of information and I suspect it will continue to trigger thinking for me for some time to come. Maybe it will work that way for you too.

One other thing I wanted to share in this post is a link to a bit of writing and information gathering I stumbled across recently from an unusual source. The author of this blog post is a self-described religious conservative and a white guy. His post is a huge compilation of factual information about white privilege and systemic racism. I've printed it out for study...and it came to an astonishing 18 pages. Mr. Tucker did some serious and useful work in terms of gathering this data and putting it into a structured format for use.

I like that he ended it by asking: 

So… Who are you today? In the face of today’s injustice, which all of the above just barely even begins to describe, are you being today the kind of person that would have opposed slavery, the Holocaust, Jim Crow, and Apartheid back then?     
It was cool for me to see that I wasn't the only one who had thought about things in those terms. It was almost six years ago that I wrote a post about time travel and a thought experiment.

I was writing that post focused on the horrors of speciesism while suffering severely from the obliviousness of whiteness. All I can do about that is regret it and note that I struggle against that obliviousness and think (hope?)  it has decreased somewhat. I plan on printing out that earlier post and going through it in detail in order to rectify the errors in it as an aid to my comprehension. In the meantime, I apologize for and regret the warpings and distorting and misleading analogizing and obliviousness in it.

One part of it caught my attention though and I believe the thought I was expressing to be about as true as anything can be.
There is a curious thing about life, each of us in our own time of living can be faced with significant moral questions.  Great injustices and horrors occur on a seemingly perpetual basis.  We often ignore or deny or seek obliviousness to these occurrences, nevertheless, they exist.  You can pretend they don’t…but pretense does not magically make them disappear nor does it absolve you and your actions or your failure to act. 
It's weird to me that I could write about obliviousness then...all the while...at that time...I was, in ways large and small, engaged in being oblivious to the ongoing oppressions of racism and sexism and heteronormativity and ableism and ageism and and and. (and I have no doubt that, in various ways, I continue to be oblivious)

Just when you think you've figured something out...poof...you find there is still yet more to become aware of and to comprehend.

It seems to be that one of our ongoing tasks as living beings is to struggle to comprehend and resist injustice and no small part of that struggle is to comprehend...because if we don't comprehend then we can't know what to resist and struggle against and if we suffer from obliviousness then we often engage in opposing one sort of oppression while recreating other oppression(s).

And...each of us...no matter when we live...if we live in societies that normalize and support oppression then we will be presented with a version of "reality" that, in both large and small ways, explains and upholds and conceals that oppression as being "normal" and "just the way it is".

Jeez...what a pain in the kabooka. It would be nice to have the default to be non-oppression...but that's not what we have right now.

I'm convinced that part of the task of living, for humans anyway (especially white humans but also for all humans), is to ceaselessly struggle to accurately identify and struggle against oppression. Which means...we have plenty of work that remains to be done.

And the real kicker is...that unless you're actively engaged in struggling to comprehend and to resist (and I include myself)...then you're being complicit in the ongoing manifestations of oppression. There is no sideline...there is no "neutral". As much as we want to...we can't go hide under the bed and be "innocent". Our legacy from our ancestors is pervasive structural oppressions and our task is to dismantle those structures. We white folks (especially) can thank our ancestors for that.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

I got a hoot...

out of this graphic. It humorously summarizes the absolute necessity of examining the focus of and the origin of "knowledge", especially knowledge that has to do with the behavior of living beings.


Like most white people here in the U.S. I grew up being carefully cultivated to believe the notion that "objectivity" was the standard by which to evaluate "knowledge".

Over the past couple of years (weirdly enough, I had reservations about this "objectivity" notion for a number of years, I just didn't have any coherent frame for my reservations) my learning journey has taught me to be very aware that I'm probably being duped whenever the "objectivity" rubric is invoked for knowledges or comprehensions having to do with the behavior of human beings...or all Earthlings for that matter.

Now, whenever I hear the "objective" meme applied to information or knowledge about humans and/or human behavior (or any Earthling) I'm aware that I'm probably being exposed to stuff that is generated by white people (usually white men) and that stuff is probably justifying or upholding the frameworks of oppression associated with race, sex and heteronormativity and class and ability and species and and and.

It's an effective and insidious shtick and one that has kept me rather off-balance for decades. No doubt I'm still off-balance, but hopefully not so much as I used to be.

If you're interested in finding your way out of the dismal swamp of "objectivity" you can start no better place than by reading James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me. It's a good place to start cracking open the box of incomprehension and distortions (about history)  that we're all exposed to by the media and by the institutions here in the U.S.

Once you've developed a little taste of understanding that we're all drenched in slanted information that masquerades as "truth" and "history" and "objectivity" then you might want to start listening to the voices of marginalized folks. The reason for doing that is the sad truth that those who belong to subordinated groups in frameworks of dominance/subordination tend to be more aware of what's going on than do those who belong to the dominating groups (in part because they simply have to be in order to survive).

Here's a link to a reading list that can assist. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an excellent writer and thinker and he believes all of these books are worthy of attention. If I was only going to recommend one author off of the many on this list...I would urge you to read James Baldwin...also watch the video that's offered that shows a debate featuring Mr. Baldwin. He is a treasure beyond measure.

For those reading this post who are vegan and struggle with grasping what any of this has to do with veganism...consider this...if you wanted to wrap your mind around the enormity of the reality (horror) of "factory farming" would you listen to those who created and run such obscenities or would you 'listen' to the victims?

You also might think about the fact that every major societal institution here in the U.S. (education, government, business, the media, healthcare, etc) is now and always has been controlled by white men...in other words...those with the power (white men) have made things in this country be the way they are.

Also notice that every "reform" that appears to benefit those with less power (ending human slavery, women having the vote, ending legal segregation, protection for people of color voting, etc) has only happened after much struggle (civil war even) by those who were victimized by and/or resisted and opposed oppression. In other words, those in power (white men) only agreed, grudgingly and with great resistance to implement any "improvement".

When have those in power in this country...white men...ever said hey...this sucks for lots of folks and for lots of reasons...let's fix it....without having their feet held to the fire by the victims of oppression and those who objected to oppression? Never, as far as I can grasp it. Therefore...why would you ever look to those in power for knowledge and/or understanding regarding what's going on?

Make sense?




Sunday, July 10, 2016

Help...

Heartland Rabbit Rescue offers refuge to more than 100 rabbits...there are also other Earthlings who call Heartland home. That includes several donkeys and several ducks and a small horse with a really really big spirit named Midnight.


He has a damaged/broken rear leg (ankle area) that is going to require some expensive surgery to fuse the joint so that he can have pain relief and be able to put weight on that leg. The prognosis is good for him if he has the surgery...in part...because he's not a full sized horse. Smaller is better sometimes.

The figure I've heard is anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 dollars but that's a guess...whatever it is going to be it is huge. Jeannie and Brad, the founder/director of Heartland and her husband, contribute most of the ongoing expenses (along with the help of supporters/contributors) of caring for all the residents of the sanctuary but this amount is beyond their capabilities.

Please help.

You can donate by going here and chipping in or you can go to the donation page on Heartland's website. (Note: Heartland supports and encourages living a compassionate vegan lifestyle.)

Thank you. Midnight is a very special Earthling...and...he's vegan.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A 4th of July Holiday?

If you've taken the time to learn about the Declaration of Independence...the adoption of which is what this holiday is supposed to celebrate...you will be aware that these words are part of that document:
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
I don't believe any "celebration" should be devoted to such a racist travesty. Neither, as you can see from the image below, did Audre Lorde.


The fact that many of the wealthy white men responsible for writing this declaration were also people who enslaved human beings accounts for the repugnance expressed by the statement of Audre Lorde.

Since this document refers to Indigenous peoples as "merciless Indian Savages" it would be more appropriate for anyone who actually ascribes to the "liberty and justice for all" notion to view this day as one of national shame.

I used the image below in my last post...it is woefully appropriate to use it again here to give a salute to anyone who uses this day to reflect on the difference between cultural conditioning (including "holiday" celebrations) and factual information.


If you are engaged in the struggle to align your beliefs with facts...thank you. Your efforts are cause for celebration.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Images with info...

I've run across a few images recently that pack quite a bit of information into a compact form.
This first image is a handy guide to visualize how most western European based cultures implement the hierarchical ugliness of groups of humans oppressing other groups of humans. The image identifies oppressor groups and target groups. If you wanted this image to reflect the oppression that's countered by veganism you could add a panel to the top called humans with species in the middle strip and then animals in the lower panel...you could also do something similar if you wanted to show environmental oppression.

Two of the myths that work to keep these oppressions invisible to us (especially here in the U.S.) are 'individualism' and 'meritocracy'. The notion that your effort will allow you to achieve anything you want and the notion that those who are "on top" get there because of their merit and/or effort are two deceptive fictions that work to obscure our awareness that groups we are assigned to are pretty much the biggest factors that determine our experiences in life.

By the way, one other thing you can glean from the above image is to be able to identify which group members (on average, there will be exceptions) accurately comprehend things. In other words...the more power any group possesses the less accurate folks that belong to those groups understandings (or beliefs) will be (again, this is on average)

This next image makes me smile for a number of reasons.

I suspect that you know from your own life experiences that people who work at re-calibrating their beliefs upon encountering credible information that contradicts those beliefs are exceedingly rare. Most work at ignoring and/or denying such information instead of struggling with changing their beliefs. One strategy that's often used to avoid modifying beliefs is to attack and/or reject the messenger who brings (or points out) contradicting information. It's almost as if we would rather believe erroneous things than to do the work of modifying our beliefs to more closely correspond to accuracy. That's sort of spooky when you think about it.

For me, doing this sort of changing is really difficult, I've often failed at it...but sometimes I've managed to do it. I've also found that many/most people struggle with this sort of thing. That's why it is a good idea to be rather tentative about how strongly you embrace beliefs, especially those that aren't based on reliable and credible facts...and even then you would be wise to be aware that you may encounter information that requires you to do a re-evaluation of a belief.  

This last image has to do with a big part of why beliefs are rarely changed when we encounter information that contradicts them...it's unpleasant and uncomfortable and even painful. The image uses the phrase "unlearning oppressive behaviors" which would include changing the beliefs that uphold or support those behaviors.


One of the clues that can really be useful that we may be encountering information that contradicts something erroneous (or oppressive) that we've learned is...you guessed it...feeling uncomfortable. Which...may also be a signal that we may be in the presence of something that we very much need to learn. Is it the case that we might need to move toward that which bothers or upsets us instead of away from it? Hmmm....