Friday, February 29, 2008

Crispy Fucking Chicken

What follows is a case in point as to why I cannot take the fundamentalist Christians seriously when they claim they are just trying to make the world a better place.

According to the always-entertaining conservative World Net Daily "A billboard campaign for 'Crispy Frickin' Chicken' is ruffling the feathers of a Pennsylvania couple who believe the word 'frickin' is a 'euphemism for fornication.'" And, according to World Net Daily's super-duper scientific, poorly-worded, and suggestive poll, the large majority of its readers who voted don't appreciate this "obscene" ad. About 15% found nothing wrong with the ad.

Seriously? This is what some people care about?

Of all the issues this couple could have brought to light- the mistreatment of chickens in factory farms, the high rates of obesity that fast-food and crispy chicken sandwiches contribute to, or heck, even the low wages that the restaurant workers are often paid- they chose to wage war against a word that may or may not be obscene.

Family values? Give me a frickin' break, gosh darnit.

Are People in Spain Less Bigoted Than Americans, or Just More Into Equality?

On July 1, 2005 gays and lesbians were allowed to marry in Spain. 65% of Spaniards, of whom 82% consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, supported this legalization.

Unsurprisingly, Catholic bishops came out in opposition to full equality saying,

"If it is the state itself that establishes a law which ignores the essence of marriage, then the damage it causes to the true family, to children and society as a whole will be incalculable."

While the Church desperately clings to antiquated notions of "family" and seeks to preserve an unequal, sexist, and homophobic society, the people of Spain feel differently. 75% of them believe that the Catholic Church "is out of touch with social reality."

That seems harsh.

I mean, how could a Church whose boys-only clubs wear fabulous dresses and funny hats yet who simultaneously cover up rampant sex abuse while opposing equal rights for gay people and the ordination of women possibly be seen as "out of touch" with modern society?

And, how could a Church that claims without a scintilla of credible, reputable evidence that full marriage equality will cause "incalculable" harm be considered "out of touch"?

Oh, right. Let's examine that interesting and telling word choice: "Incalculable." See, when people talk of "incalculable" harm, they are talking about harm that is unable to be calculated. Because, of course, the harm does not exist.

It's been almost three years now since gays and lesbians have been able to marry in Spain, and we're hard-pressed to find evidence of the Great Harm that the bishops predicted.

Harm that exists only in the minds of bigoted men, after all, cannot be calculated by scientific methods.

Bravo to the people of Spain for recognizing and overcoming church-sanctioned intolerance.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Marriage Ban Harms Real People

I read this on Dispatches from the Culture Wars and had to repost it.

"Yet another story that shows why not allowing same sex marriage causes real harm to real families.

'Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond had planned to take their three children on a family cruise. The Olympia, Washington couple had been together 18 years and with their children were looking forward to the holiday.

But just as they were about to depart on the cruise from Miami, Florida. Pond, a healthy 39-year-old, suddenly collapsed. She was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami with Langbehn and the children following close behind.

But once Langbehn and the children arrived at the hospital the hospital refused to accept information from her about Ponds's medical history.'

Pond ended up dying and her partner and children had virtually no contact with her prior to her death:

'Langbehn says she was informed that she was in an antigay city and state, and she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as family.

A doctor finally spoke with Janice telling her that there was no chance of recovery.

Other than one five minute visit, which was orchestrated by a Catholic priest at Langbehn's request to perform last rites, and despite the doctor's acknowledgement that no medical reason existed to prevent visitation, neither she nor her children were allowed to see Pond until nearly eight hours after their arrival.

Soon after Pond''s death, Langbehn tried to get her death certificate in order to get life insurance and Social Security benefits for their children. She was denied both by the State of Florida and the Dade County Medical Examiner.'

This is not an abstract. This is a real family in a real crisis and they were treated abominably. And there is one and only one reason for that: anti-gay bigotry. Let's hear those "pro-family" groups defend what happened to this family."

I'm sickened. "Congratulations" anti-gay bigots in Florida and everywhere! In deigning to "protect" families, you once again have shown that you are doing anything but that. You should truly be proud of yourselves.

ADDENDUM: I'd like to add the following from a legal perspective. Same-sex couples in Florida are, for all intents and purposes, legal strangers no matter how long they have been together and even if they have raised children together. In explaining why the legal benefits of marriage are vital to protect the rights and dignity of same-sex couples, I have explained that it is necessary for same-sex couples to draft health care powers of attorney for each other- so they will be able to make health care decisions for each other in the event of something like this. (On Janice's blog, she explains that she and Lisa had these documents. But because they were not carrying these documents with them on their vacation, of course, the hospital staff denied Janice the right to see her partner. Seriously, who just carries around their advance directives with them at all times?).

One anti-gay man with whom I was arguing facetiously said something along the lines of "but heterosexuals should draft powers of attorney too, so there's no legal difference here." Simply put, he was wrong. And in the interest of contriving any possible explanation to oppose marriage equality, he blindly and perhaps willingly failed to see that the "default" rules on who gets to make decisions for someone who gets seriously ill are detrimental to same-sex couples.

Yes, all people regardless of sexual orientation should draft powers of attorney. But in many states, including the one I live, by default and without a power of attorney, married spouse's are already able to make health care decisions for an incapacitated spouse. The same is not true for same-sex couples because same-sex couples are legal strangers in most states (even the ones who don't proudly proclaim that they're "anti-gay"). What happened to this couple who had been together for 18 years is the abominable result.

And I really do place the blame on every single person who has ever voted against full marriage equality and who advocates against equal rights for all Americans. If you really do care about the human dignity of all persons, it's time to fucking act like it.

Blasphemy! (Part II)

Yesterday, I explored the reasons for my rejection of organized religion- specifically, my rejection of Christianity. The purpose of today's post is to explain why, contrary to the declarations of some authoritative fundamentalist Christians, I still have something to live by and for.

Theologian Karen Armstrong describes the major religions as having, at their root, the principles of the "Golden Rule, compassion, and loving-kindness." Yet, most followers of these major religions fail to measure up to these qualities having "fallen prey to exclusivity, cruelty, superstition, and even atrocity." (In The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions) Many religious persons today have lost sight of these simple principles. A look at modern events, the divided state of our nation, and the so-called "culture wars" confirms Armstrong's argument. Acknowledging that some individuals, religious and non-religious, actually do live mostly according to the above principles (and are usually the people who aren't telling the whole world how holy they are), Armstrong describes the true test for "religiosity":

"If people's beliefs-secular or religious- make them belligerent, intolerant, and unkind about other people's faith, they are not 'skillful.' If, however, their convictions impel them to act compassionately, and honor the stranger, then they are good, helpful, and sound. This is the true test of religiosity in every single one of the major traditions." (Ibid.)
We can see how fundamentalist Christianity fails each prong of this test: belligerence, intolerance, unkindness about the faith of others? Check, check, and check.

And thanks but no thanks.

Yet those of us who reject formalized religion walk in this world with the "atheist," "agnostic" or "secular" label on us, knowing that many religious people see us as immoral or amoral. Religious persons declare that we are going to Hell and that we have "nothing to live by or for." While they base these claims on the fact that we do not accept "Jesus Christ" as our "personal Lord and Savior," these claims are really an attempt to scare us or guilt us into accepting the intolerant and belligerent set of beliefs that go along with accepting their personal savior (who I have a hunch would not appreciate what they are promoting in his name).

And, because their religion dictates their moral beliefs, or so they believe, on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and equality of the sexes, they are uncomfortable with our non-set of such beliefs. Where they crave certainty, we are okay with uncertainty. They believe that we just make it all up as we go along. They sometimes believe that we label as moral whatever is convenient to our wants and needs.

That being said, I would rather have people declare that I don't have anything to live "by or for" than be forced to adhere to an intolerant, bigoted, sexist, homophobic creed. I am okay with that.

Instead, I strive to live in the following way...

I want to live making a conscious effort to do as little harm to others as possible. I've been reading a bit of Buddhism (I know, how yuppie and New-Agey), and even though I don't consider myself a Buddhist, in the simple principle of "do no harm" (which is similar to the Golden Rule and compassion) I found something that resonated with me more than any holier-than-thou religious proclamation ever has. I found this especially true when I imagined what the world would be like if everyone adhered to the simple principles- the Golden Rule, compassion, and loving-kindness- that are at the root of the major religions and stopped caring about which religion was the True one, which God was the real one, and which believers were damned.

Yet in this simplicity, however, I think I have found something that will be difficult... yet rewarding.

I anticipate some of the more difficult times to adhere to these simple principles will be when talking about and engaging in dialogue with people whose views and assumptions regarding the world are very different than my own. Especially when they resort to dishonest, abusive, and generally mean tactics- which, it seems, they inevitably do.

I will try to stop myself and ask whether I want to contribute to the aggression present in the world. Knowing that I am human, I will fail often, I am sure. Just as I have many times in the past.

Anyway, I sincerely hope that I am not coming off as self-righteous. Because, knowing that I am human, I am sure to often fail at my resolution, and that I will be tempted to fall into old habits of reacting to aggression with aggression.

But I did read something recently that I think many of you can appreciate:

"When one understands that one's enemies are held under a powerful influence of their own ignorance and aggression, that they are trapped by their habits, it is easier to forgive them for their irritating behavior and actions." -Dzongsar Khyentse

And with this post and yesterday's, I suppose I'm "coming out" as one who rejects formal religion. While I am not, per se, an atheist, I am going to proudly place this label on my blog as one who accepts a higher being than myself yet who rejects man-made institutionalized conceptions of it:

Do the same if you feel the same way. In my opinion, we do have something to live by and for: countering a religion that embodies the worst of humanity while refusing to be demonized for doing so.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blasphemy! (Part I)

I'm just going to jump right into this next post here. It has to do with religion and what I think of it. It's been brewing for some time, and after recent comment events with a certain fundamentalist Christian, I think now is as good a time as any to post it. Since it's sort of long I've broken it up into two parts. Tomorrow I will post Part II.

Having been raised as a Christian, I now personally find it lacking and have found it as such for many, many years.

What I find most troubling and offensive about Christianity is the concept of God the "Father" and Jesus his "Son"- human relationship concepts that present the Supreme Being in gendered form- the male one. Of course. (I should note that Christianity is not alone presenting God as male, and in fact, I take issue with any religion that does so.) That these/this "Being," this All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Super-Duper, Great and Powerful Supreme Being who created everything in the history of ever is male and that "fact" is taken for granted as unquestionable just because some men said so in a book written (and interpreted) during times when it was a given that women were to be subservient to men does a great disservice to the humanity and dignity of half of the world's population.

So, yeah. To put it more simply, I think the idea that God is some sort of male being is a quaint man-made idea. Due to its inherent sexism it can only be explained as a concept created by men who did not appreciate the full humanity of women. And now? It is an idea that is perpetuated by those who continue to think, simply, that men are superior to women. All contrived explanations for a man-made male God (as well as the fact that women cannot be ordained in most religions) I attribute to sexism. Pure and simple.

But what to me is even sadder than a bunch of men desperately trying to maintain male privilege, is that the male God is accepted by women who silence that doubt in the back of their minds because someone once told them that it was "un-Christian" to raise such questions.

I don't think God has a gender. I think some men have merely given "him" one. Namely, theirs. In addition, a just God, a God worthy of devotion, would not prohibit women from ordination. That is what men do, not God.

Secondly, what now passes as Christianity in the US often repulses me. While many Christians in the US embody the compassion, tolerance, and love of Christ, some of the most vocal Christians embody anything but those characteristics. And, too self-righteous in their vocal moralizing and religious posturing they don't even realize how hypocritical they are. For, I don't think that attending religious services, "accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior," and believing certain "moral truths" just because someone points to the Bible and selectively interprets tells you what those moral truths are make one morally better than another person. See, just as men have created God as a male in their own image, they have created a God that coincidentally has all of their very human faults of tribalism, sexism, intolerance, and bigotry.

Such a God is ultimately not worthy of my devotion, because to worship such a God is to worship the human beings who created "him" as they have created "him" in their own image. Not to mention the fact that a bigoted, sexist, USA-preferring, intolerant God is certainly not worthy of world-wide devotion, adoration, or love.

I seek transcendence not idolatry. So, to anyone seeking to save my soul, I say this: First show me a god worthy of devotion- a god that does not embody the worst traits of humanity.

On a more individual basis, many of the Christians I knew growing up were the most hypocritical people I knew. That is, they held other people to different moral standards than they held themselves. While the "upstanding" Christian married men judged my mother for being divorced, they secretly tried to have affairs with her. And, more publicly, some of the ones who so vocally denounce homosexuality as being an abomination, are closet gays having secret gay sex.

But perhaps, most relevantly, those are not the only reasons I am turned off from Christianity as an organized, formal religion. Without going into too much detail, I ultimately cannot accept the Christian premise that Jesus, although he may have been a great human being, is or was any sort of supernatural being. And that belief, by definition, sort of excludes me from calling myself a Christian, eh?

While it's much easier to slap a label on your religious beliefs and have that label, consequently, decide every great moral issue of the day for you, I think reality is more nuanced than the black and white answers that some religions gives people. Or rather, reality is more nuanced than the answers religious leaders give. There is a distinction.

I don't think my feelings here are unique, either. Many people today, I suspect are turned off from organized religion. Despite popular demonization of atheists, agnostics, and humanists, we are not morally lazy or seeking to live a wild and crazy immoral life. We are simply fed up with religious violence. We see right through religious intolerance and hypocrisy. We don't believe that all humans are "inherently evil." We find the fundamentalism that breeds neverending wars to be distasteful. We acknowledge that while religious groups can do some great work in the world, more often it seems that the bad stuff outweighs the good.

And, what else?

Tomorrow, I will continue with what I live "by and for."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Deep" Thought #2: The "Sexist" Orientation

A few months ago, I stumbled upon this (obvious parody? of an) anti-gay website (clearly written by a child with no knowledge of the logical fallacy of equivocation) that proclaims this: Gay people are sexist for not forming relationships with persons of the other sex.


You see, how it works is like this:

"Racism: 'I’m white and I have an orientation for whites above blacks'

Sexism: 'I’m male and I have an orientation for men above women' (a.k.a. homosexuality)

Er. Um. Yeah.

In addition, gay people should stop discriminating against the opposite gender and start dating, marrying, and having sex with people of the same gender. You see,

"[W]e need to realize that all people have undesirable intolerant, anti-diversity, racist and sexist preferences that are no worse in their bias than homosexuality is. Gay people are not an enemy. They are victims of homosexuality.

However, if genetic alcoholics can abstain from alcohol, like anyone, GLBT folks can abstain from acting upon their sexist, gender intolerant orientation."

Does anyone else find that first sentence is more than little revealing as to the author's character. His window to the world is that while "we all" are intolerant, racist, and sexist (speak for yourself, buddy). Gay people, you see, are just more intolerant than the rest of "us."

But alas, because gay people discriminate against the other gender, marriage between two people of the same gender is unconstitutional state-sanctioned discrimination.

Or something:

"Therefore, if tax-payer benefits are not allowed to go directly to a same-sex women's club, then why should civil benefits go to same-sex marriages or civil unions which are essentially same-sex clubs of two?"

"Same-sex clubs of two." I've never seen it put... quite... like.... that. You know what this means, don't you? Every single gay and lesbian couple is a cell of the Gay Mafia. Watch out!

"Gay Answers." Yeah. Deep thoughts.

** The author of this blog is also a Weapon of Mass Projection because while he sees gay people as "discriminating" against those of the opposite sex, he's the one with the ultimate goal of sanctioning discriminate against a group of people.

Book Review: Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power*

After reading the blurb on the back cover of Gerry Spence's Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power: The Rise and Risks of the New Conservative Hate Culture, I was extremely eager to read the book. [Update: Although, the title is horrific. "Bitches" and "Pimps" - really?]. For, in it, Spence makes a compelling case that "conservative hate-mongers: Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Nancy Grace, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, and others.... occupy the bully pulpit of the new American hate culture."

In short, Spence validates the disgust with which many of us on the left (and in the middle perhaps) view some of the right's most vocal ranters. A disgust born from the "conservatives are automatically holier and more moral, than liberals" attitude of certain popular conservative spokespersons that in reality is hatred, loathing, and intolerance.

1. Hate Sells

In short, the overarching theme of the book is this:

Americans are angry. The conservative movement taps into this anger by blaming every conceivable social ill on liberals. Implicit in this blame is the message that liberals and everything they stand for are to be hated- and that liberals are not real Americans or real Christians. And, while conservative pundits foster a culture of hate and aggression they enrich themselves and help maintain an unequal status quo. While doing so, they distract the masses from the actual causes of why so many Americans are unhappy. The actual cause being that we live in a greedy hyper-capitalist culture that values corporations more than human beings.

2. Those Beret-Capped Elites Again

Before I delve further into Spence's main arguments, I want to make a quick note of Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and company's distrust of and dislike for so-called "elites." One, does anyone else find it... odd and sorta hypocritical that these very rich, educated, and very influential persons with their own talk shows, radio shows, and books rant about elites? I mean, in what class of Americans do they see themselves as being?

Spence took the same issue I did in my review of Shut Up & Sing with regard to "elite"-hater Laura Ingraham's new self-made definition of "elite": "In short, Laura Ingraham's definition of the elitist is substantially similar to Coulter's definition of the liberal" (27). In Ingraham's world, elite no longer means "persons of a higher class," but is a synonym for liberal- or, those with whom she disagrees.

The favorite target of some in the conservative movement is the so-called "academic elite," which of course really only means intelligent people who disagree with conservatives. Spence writes,
"Professors are a problem, I suppose. Those in universities presumably have been trained to think, and those who think usually do not adopt the numb, dumb creed [Laura Ingraham] espouses. Still, giver her credit. She's in line with the idea of Mao, who hated the intelligentsia as well. But Mao simply took them out, stood them against the wall, and shot them." (32)
Well, Laura can always dream.

3. Anger and Hate

When listening to Ann Coulter, I have often been struck by her rage and, to put it simply, her mean-ness. Her presence and vitriol detract from virtually any "debate" in which she participates. I have to wonder if she says some of what she says for pure shock value or if there's a real human being in there somewhere. And yet, there is a reason she is popular. (Perhaps the same reason many dislike her). Hate sells.

Why does hate sell?

According to Spence, these right-wing talking heads have been directed by their corporate bosses to "seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions" (69).

And what stories make the masses angry?

To answer that we must first acknowledge this: The stories that make the masses angry serve as distractions from the fact that conservative pundits "favor the positions of their corporate sponsors" which, sadly, are positions that do not favor the masses.

As Spence writes,
"Do we think that NBC, owned by General Electric, is going to get behind a movement to take corporations off corporate welfare?... Do the corporate media kings censor? CBS refused to run MoveOn.Org's thirty-second spot during the Super Bowl, an add that opposed the war in Iraq. It was too political." (98)
And Spence is right. While "angry men" are yelling at their televisions because they agree with Ann Coulter that John Kerry is a French-looking faggot, they are ignoring real problems. After all, more corporate welfare means less money that goes into our public infrastructure- schools, hospitals, roads, and public transportation to name a few examples. But that's boring, right?

As for why Americans are so angry, as for why there is a "molten lava" of hate running through America, Spence argues that we are all sort of enslaved by corporate interests because (1) Most of us are bound to corporate/government work by necessity; (2) Many of us can be easily replaced by a new (or perhaps cheaper overseas) employee at will; (3) Corporate accountability, from a moral and legal standpoint, has decreased; (4) We prepare our children to work for the corporate/government master; (5) Most workers receive a pittance for retirement; (6) Propaganda is used to make us feel patriotic and loyal to this system; and (7) Out of helplessness, we become apathetic.

These characteristics of our profit-obsessed society causes the masses to be "despondent and depressed" (200). And, what reinforces these characteristics is that the masses are taught that to question the system is unpatriotic, Marxist, or some other pejorative label with scary implications. Inevitably, some Joe Shmoe (like Fitz, perhaps) will come along and ignorantly denounce any critique of the system by slapping the "commie" label on it, even though by ignoring the critique he's actually harming his own self-interest.

Wake up.

3. The Consequences

The consequences of right-wing hate messaging are several.

One, the messaging influences the masses to regularly vote against their own interests. As Spence puts it in the most important paragraph of his book, the masses are fed a "diet of hate to the end that people blindly voted against their own interests" in the 2000 election. For instance:
"Because they hated gays, and voted that single issue, the poisonous side effect of their vote was to elect candidates who were enemies of labor and the poor. Because they hated free-choice advocates, and voted that issue alone, they elected candidates who also fought against fair wages, decent health care, and an environment already staggering under the poisonous sludge or corporate pollution. These hate-mongers, through the dark dynamic of hate, delivered power to the right wing, who thereafter used their power against the fundamental interests of the people who elected them" (121).
I would like any person out there reading this who is anti-gay to re-read the above paragraph. This single-issue mythical "moral values" voter phenomenon is readily apparent, and, I believe, is responsible for the current sorry state of our nation in general and our economy, international reputation, and "culture war" in particular.

The likes of Pat Robertson and company are truly perpetuating a culture of hate that is doing nothing but damage to our nation. But more, it has the potential to incite violence.

Of Nancy Grace, Spence writes:
"Perhaps she does not understand that her own biting cynicism can call to life the same hate-filled but dormant sentiment of her viewers.... I think of how this phenomenon works, that is, how we are influenced by the attitudes of the people we listen to and are expected to respect. If we listen to the love of Billy Graham, the love in us tends to rise to the surface. If we hear the call for love and justice of Martin Luther King Junior, we respond in kind. But anger is the mother of hate. And it is dangerous. I am not comparing her to Hitler. But in a later chapter we shall see how a similar stirring of the people's latent hate led unalterably to the Third Reich." (15)
To quote a cliche, nobody's perfect. We are all guilty of being mean at times and of acting with anger in our hearts instead of love. However, what I find most unfortunate about the likes of Ingraham, Robertson, and company is that they are given a very large platform to influence and change the world for the better. But in the interest of profit, they choose to contribute more hate and negativity into the world and, most unfortunately, influence millions of people while doing so.

Monday, February 25, 2008

On Healing a Nation

Until I saw the heartbreaking documentary Rabbit-Proof Fence some years ago, I remained largely ignorant of the plight of the Aboriginal people in Australia.

To this population, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaking on behalf of the the parliament and government issued a formal apology for the government's removal of Aboriginal children from their families into internment camps, orphanages, and other institutions. He said, in part:

"And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation."

While a formal apology will not magically heal those who have been wronged, perhaps an important step in healing pain is a state-issued acknowledgment that sometimes human beings do horrible things to other human beings with the sanction and/or complicity of the state. Because despite the macho "patriotic" blustering of some leaders who act as though their state can do no wrong, it doesn't change the fact that a state is only as perfect and fallible as the human beings who run it. Which is to say, of course, that a state is imperfect.

See, part of the values I learned growing up was that when "mistakes are made," an apology is in order. Which is why I think we're long overdue for the US government to issue a formal apology to Americans of African descent for its sanctioning of and complicity in slavery. No, none of us were alive during slavery. I was neither the enslaved nor the slavemaster. Neither were you. In fact, let's just stop a minute with the White defense mechanism and acknowledge that the legacy of slavery remains. As one writer puts it:

"Slavery gave way to Jim Crow, lynchings, poll taxes, redlining and educational and job discrimination. Although illegal now, these tools perpetuated a racial hierarchy that affects every American today, no matter how subtly. Just compare any rates of achievement, poverty, imprisonment by race; blacks are nowhere closing to catching up."

I find it telling that the only government resolutions our government is interested in are ones pretty much saying how awesome we are. You know, like House Resolution 888, the one "affirming the rich spiritual and totally fundamentalist Christian religious history of our nation's founding," a resolution championed by the Christian Right that is unsupported in historical fact and is really another step in the creation of a repressive and intolerant Christian Nation.

Now that that's all settled, who's going to step up and propose a symbolic measure that's actually rooted in reality and supported by historical facts?

You know, a long overdue government atonement for slavery. It is something simple that our government could do at little cost to anyone, yet it could go a long way in continuing the long healing process that we pretend we are so over.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Deep" Thought #1. Gay People Can't Get Married Because Marriage Isn't For Gay People

I have a theory that whenever anti-gay bigot Jose Solano gnashes his teeth about how the "perversity" homosexuality, an angel loses its wings. Same goes for his circular arguments against marriage equality.

On his blog, he states his favorite circular argument against gay marriage while simultaneously exposing his hateful and intolerant bigotry always brimming just below the surface:
"By the actual fundamental definition of marriage, that is, complementarity, [two people of the same-sex] cannot ever form a marriage.... we must stop handing out mock-marriage licenses because they deceive both the homosexuals and the public in general into imagining they can actually form a marriage and because the act itself is a abominable perversion of the human sexual experience."
Two people of the same-sex can't get married because marriage can't exist between two people of the same sex. A-der. And oh yeah gay marriage licenses are fraudulent and gay people are gross and butt sex is icky.

Yeah. Deep thoughts.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Well, He Has a Point. Even If It's a Small One.

It was only a matter of time until some insecure powerful-woman-fearing literalist would come along and make this argument:

"Legally, a woman can't be elected president"

His reasoning?

"The language is clear. The 19th Amendment says: 'The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.'

We cannot read into the amendment something that is not there. Now, had the amendment said, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote or hold public office shall not be denied," it would have accomplished what the feminists think took place."

We feminists really pulled a fast one on the US of A, right? Thank God(dess) that Dick (yes really) Marple came along and pulled the feminist wool from our eyes to inform us that it's illegal in our nation for a woman to be president.

But wait! The best part follows. Read further down into his expose where he starts speaking in that curious English hybrid of Opine-speak:

"Today's feminists believe the election process is an evolutionary process, legalized by common practice and that someday a woman will be president. They are convinced that since women have run for the office, the male-gendered presidential office has been neutered." [emphasis definitely mine]

The Secret Service really needs to keep an eye out for those pesky feminists who seek to neuter the president! But more importantly, why do wingnuts always have their own really odd and creepy vocab?

The clincher is (aptly-named) Dick's solution to the Woman Problem. He takes his expose a step further and tells us how to save society from the Great Harm (TM) of a woman president (although he never articulated why a woman shouldn't be president, he just authoritatively states that it's against the law):

"[The feminists] will be challenged, and a Supreme Court ruling on the language will be necessary. At the very least a constitutional amendment to change the language will be required."

A constitutional amendment, eh? A move straight from the "I want to try to make inequality permanent" handbook. Why is it that every time we get a little closer to equality, those opposed to equal rights begin proposing rule-changes?

I salute you and your mission, Dick.

No really. I do. Good luck with that.

This looks like a job for Leftist Gender Warrior:


"Watch me trick everyone into thinking the outrageous, preposterous, outlandish notion that women are human beings and deserving of equal rights!! Har har har har!"

She's Too Hard! No, wait... She's Too Soft!

What's up with the contradictory opinions of Hillary Clinton. Let me illustrate:

Rush Limbaugh's recent "analysis" on why men don't like Hillary Clinton (Because, you know, Rush Limbaugh speaks for all men. Especially the super-duper manly men with really large penises):

"It's -- a lot of it's attitudinal -- she just -- she reminds men of the worst characteristics of women they've encountered over their life: totally controlling, not soft and cuddly. Not sympathetic. Not patient. Not understanding. Demanding, domineering, Nurse Ratched kind of thing. Everything you do, you have to do behind her back, that kind of -- and then, after all of that, with Mrs. Clinton with this -- the characteristics I just described -- with the flick of a light switch, all of a sudden, she's a victim of evil men and bad Republicans and she starts crying and she wants sympathy. She's a classic manipulator."

Soooo, Clinton shouldn't be President because she's cold and, let's just say what Rush means here: unfeminine.

But wait!

If a woman displays feminine traits, she is not cut out for the presidency. For, after Clinton's much-reviled "tearing up" incident, former presidential hopeful John Edwards pounced:

"I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business."

And there we have it folks, no matter how women in leadership roles act, they can't win: whether they're "hard" or "soft" they just aren't cut out for the presidency.

Christ. The rampant and unquestioned misogyny is almost enough to make me support Clinton just because she's a woman. (Don't worry, I didn't! Lest anyone accuse me of "gender politics" dun-dun-dun). It truly speaks to the sad state of gender affairs in our country when the very real prospect of a female president is so very threatening that it's causing a certain group of scared little boys to piss their little britches.

Feminism is, like, so irrelevant, right?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Grace from Law with Grace kindly bestowed upon Fannie's Room this Excellent Blog Award thingy!

It's my turn to pick someone else. I choose the contributors at Live, Love, Learn for their timely and insightful commentary on civil rights, religion, and politics. Oh, and I also want to pick Brita for her hilarious weekly L Word rundowns! I highly recommend her critiques to any fans of the L Word.

Pass it on!

(Sorry, I'm too lazy right now to get the graphic to work, even though I think I'm supposed to post a picture of it.)

Book Report: American Fascists, Part II

What follows is the second half of my book review and analysis of Chris Hedge's American Fascists. In Part I of my review, I examined Hedge's case regarding the appeal of the Christian Right movement and its ultimate goal of dominion.
Today, I want to examine Hedge's claims about the great scapegoat of the Christian Right (gays) as well as the Christian Right's hypocritical new definition of tolerance.

3. On Gays

The Christian Right's pet cause, their scapegoat for just about every conceivable social ill, is "homosexuality." Firmly believing that society should not tolerate gay people and that homosexuality is innately immoral, so-called "Ex-Gay" therapy thrives within the movement. In homosexuality, the Christian Right has found its chief enemy around which to rally its troops.

Hedges writes, "The legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts has helped mobilize the Christian Right, including many in the state who see the move as morally polluting their schools and communities."

Marriage equality is, or should be a common-sense non-issue of fairness and equality in a nation that prides itself on these values. Yet the Christian Right has created an entire anti-gay industry that allows God-fearing Americans to rally around an invented enemy of the state. In their eyes, subjugating an immoral population for the alleged best interest of society trumps the equal rights that gay people deserve.
If I saw the Christian Right actually promoting social justice and caring about true human suffering, I would take their claimed concern regarding the "best interest of society" more seriously. But, it is readily apparent that the Christian Right is doing nothing more than preying on the fears surrounding an already-disliked group of people for political gain.

Ironically, in the Christian Right's quest for inequality, they cultivate a sense of Christian persecution to further demonize gay people. Of "homosexual radicals," pastor Tom Crouse in a prime Weapon of Mass Projection states, "They're rabid and they're active, and they have no problem telling you that they're going to kill you, no problem telling you that they're going to burn you to death, no problem telling you anything, all in the name of tolerance" (100).

Really, Tom? Really? I don't know what your definition of "pastor" is Tom, but I expect more honesty from a man who claims to be one. The pastor's statement here is an obvious Weapon of Mass Projection because, for all intents and purposes, he and the Christian Right have no problem telling gay people that they do not have the right to exist.

But lying about our intents is not enough for these religious folks. Remember when Pat Robertson blamed us for 9-11? Hedges can foresee a future where the Christian Right is powerful enough that: "Should another catastrophic attack occur, what will prevent these preachers from calling for the punishment, detention and quarantine of gays and lesbians- as well as abortionists, Muslims and other nonbelievers- to safeguard the nation?? (109). It has happened in our nation before to other groups, and it would be naive to think it could not happen again.

I won't re-hash all the tired and abusive "Christian" pronouncements against gay people. We know them well. But, Hedges does a good job of examining the reason behind the anti-gay sentiment. Basically,

"Any relationships outside the rigid, traditional model of male and female threaten the heirarchical male power structure vital to the movement. Women who do not depend on men for their identity and their sexuality, who live outside a male power relationship, challenge the cult of masculinity, as do men who find tenderness and love with men as equals. The lifestyle of gays and lesbians is intolerable to the Christian Right because their existence is a threat to the movement's chain of command, one its leaders insist was ordained by God" (110).

Any real threat that gayness poses, is a threat to the man's place at the head of household, church, and society. While the men in charge of the Christian Right pretend that gayness shakes the very foundation of society, it is obvious that the only thing homosexuality shakes is the myth of male supremacy. And that, I suppose, is threatening enough to many to justify the continued persecution of people like me, and possibly you.

In the end, fundamentalist Christianity teaches that gay people will not and cannot be "saved." Gay people, they say, are less than human, we are "unnatural" (115). According to the Rapture doctrine, only straight people will go to Heaven and gay people will suffer- deserve to suffer- endless torment in Hell. But it's okay, you see, gay people can become straight if they just try hard enough.

(Right Jose?)

4. On Tolerance

Like the propagandists they are, the fundamentalist Christian movement is replacing the meanings of American virtue words such as "truth," "wisdom," "liberty," and "love" with new opposite meanings. In fact, it's like whenever the Christian Right speaks, it's Opposite Day.

As Hedges puts it, they engage in "'logicide,' the killing of words. The old definition of words are replaced by new ones. Code words of the old belief system are deconstructed and assigned diametrically opposed meanings" (14). One stark example: tolerance. In this new fundamentalist Christian vocab- tolerance no longer means tolerance. It means its opposite: intolerance.

See, a central, and my personal "favorite," claim of the fundamentalist Christian movement is that "secularists" are the ones who are intolerant. What these Christians inevitably and blindly fail to see, however, is that secularists are opposed to a fundamentalist Christian faith whose central message is one of intolerance of anyone other than the fundamentalist, heterosexual Christian.

Rather than teaching a lesson in religious plurality and tolerance, fundamentalist Christianity preaches that Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and well, basically any other religion, spiritual belief, or non-religion are wrong. Period. To these Christians, such certainty does not represent intolerance. Or, if it is admittedly intolerant, church leaders believe it is justified intolerance because they think they know with absolute certainty that fundamentalist Christian doctrine is the Truth. For, if one knows the Truth, one is justified in not tolerating opposing, and "wrong," faiths. Fundamentalist Christian leaders mock lispy liberals' dedication to true tolerance, smugly and self-righteously proclaiming that Christians have no obligation to respect other viewpoints, because these viewpoints are simply false.

Most scary, however, is that these Christians dream of a world where non-Christians no longer exist. By it's defining nature, fundamentalist Christianity- using the scare tactic of The Rapture- seeks to recruit non-Christians and those who aren't the "right kind of" Christians into its swelling ranks. The message non-Christians learn from The Rapture is this: convert or die a miserable death and then spend an eternity in hell. Fundamentalist Christians believe that once all the non-Christians and infidels (gay people, for exampe) are gone, the Earth will be a utopian paradise. Carried to an extreme, it is not hard to see this apocalyptic end-of-the-world vision perhaps someday inspiring and justifying religious and sexual genocide.

Hedges ends with this thought regarding faith and religion,

"I do not deny the right of Christian radicals to be, to believe and worship as they choose. But I will not engage in a dialogue with those who deny my right to be, who delegitimize my faith and denounce my struggle before God as worthless. All dialogue must include respect and tolerance for the beliefs, worth and dignity of others, including those outside the nation and the faith. When this respect is denied, the clash of ideologies ceases to be merely a difference of opinion and becomes a fight for survival. This movement seeks, in the name of Christianity and American democracy, to destroy that which it claims to defend.... All Americans- not only those of faith- who care about our open society must learn to speak about this movement with a new vocabulary, to give up passivity, to challenge aggressively this movement's deluded appropriation of Christianity and to do everything possible to defend tolerance." (210-211)

I agree completely. On a more personal note, in my attempted conversations with those opposed to gay rights, I have come to believe that they dream of and yearn for a world where gay people no longer exist. Dialogue with such persons- those who deny my very right to be and to be left alone- is ultimately futile. They consider my very existence and desire to live a happy life to be a radical, "in your face" imposition on their Christianity and morality even though I am telling no one who to have sex with, who to love, or who to marry. Weapon of Mass Projection much?

Yet more generally, wrapping themselves in the American flag, bearing the cross, and preying on the liberal virtue of tolerance, fundamentalist Christian leaders ultimately seek a homogenous, closed, and repressive society. By claiming that those who oppose Christian intolerance are "intolerant" (for not wanting to tolerate intolerance) they seek to create a society that is opposed to gay people, opposed to women working outside of the home, opposed to women in positions of authority, opposed to rational science that challenges their selective interpretation of the Bible, and opposed to non-Christians and atheists. Does that sound like a "free" or "tolerant" country to you?

I don't know how we as a country should deal with the problem of the growing influence of fundamentalist Christianity. Hedges perhaps implicitly argues that this movement needs to be silenced- that we should not tolerate such a repressive movement. He argues and makes a very strong case for the fact that this movement is not legitimate and should not be treated as such (36). He writes,

"The leading American institutions tasked with defending tolerance and liberty- from the mainstream churches to the great research universities, to the Democratic Party and the media- have failed the country. This is the awful paradox of tolerance. There arise moments when those who would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible should no longer be tolerated. They must be held accountable by institutions that demand the free exchange of ideas and liberty." (36) [my emphasis]

And Hedges is right about the paradox. He alludes that it would be a "final irony" for liberals and progressives who believe in tolerance to one day see the demise of tolerance because we ended up being too tolerant.

And yet.... It would be reprehensible and would constitute true persecution (as opposed to the imagined persecution the Christian leaders today preach about) to legally, or from a free speech perspective, restrict this 'religion'. What would differentiate progressives from any other authoritative movement if such tactics were used?

Ultimately, our nation needs a progressive educational movement to counter this intolerant, dangerous, and repressive fundamentalist movement. Rather than using the tactics of propaganda and logic-killing statements of the fundamentalists, accessible and honest education- perhaps led by a Christian denomination that truly encompasses tolerance- is in order. Those of us on the outside, must continue calling out the Christian Right for what it truly is and criticizing its hypocrisy, lies, and intolerance.

In the end, in an open and tolerant society perhaps the best we can do is to put faith in humans, when faced with persuasive propaganda versus honest information, to decipher right from wrong and then do the right thing. The key, of course, is in getting the information out there and ensuring that people get that when they vote for the Christian Right they are actually voting against their interests and the interest of everything good that America stands for yet fails to live up to.

And yet... can we be confident in the ability of he masses to do the right thing when propaganda is more persuasive than cold hard facts?

After reading this book, I am more uncertain than ever...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book Review- American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America

Fascist is a word that is often used yet not very often defined. In debate parlance, those on any side of an issue often claim that the other side is "fascist,"- when they really only intend to denounce the other as some sort of "bad person."

In American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges takes this a step further and makes the case that the Christian Right movement has the potential, and perhaps seeks to, turn America into a fascist state. While defining fascism is tricky and controversial, Wikipedia does a pretty good job of it. Hedge's book makes a strong case that no matter what we call the Christian Right movement, it encompasses many characteristics of fascism, most notably a rejection of modernism, fear of difference, permanent enemies/war, and submission to a central moral authority.

Throughout this article, I use the term fundamentalist Christian and Christian Right interchangeably. "Fundamentalist" is an important qualifier, as these Christians do not speak for all Christians and, in fact, fundamentalist Christian often do not consider other forms of Christians (ie- liberal Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians) to be true Christians at all.

So, what is fundamentalist Christianity and what is the threat?

1. On Certainty

One of the mass appeals of the fundamentalist Christian movement is that it offers certainty in an uncertain world. It teaches that the Bible is to be interpreted literally and that this literal interpretation encompasses the Truth about the world and morals. Yet, Hedges details how "evangelicals and fundamentalists are, as the Reverend Sloane Coffin wrote, not biblical literalists, as they claim, but 'selective literalists,' choosing bits and pieces of the Bible that conform to their ideology and ignoring, distorting, or inventing the rest." (8)


What is less clear to me is how the fundamentalist Christian masses are not aware of this practice of selective literalism. Perhaps they are blind to the internal contradictions and distortions in their quest for a morally certain world. Hedges references psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who describes the "heavily loaded language, the words and phrases that allow believers to speak in code" which he describes as "though-terminating cliches" (57). Upon conversion, you see, certain cliches are used (eg- "The wages of sin are death") to "end all discussion" (Ibid.). "Doubt is sin. Questioning is sin. The only proper relationship is submission to those above you, the abandonment of critical thought and the mouthing of religious jargon that is morally charged and instantly identifies you as part of the same, hermetic community" (Ibid.).

It's all very effective mind control on a mass scale. The movement teaches that the Truth is already known, and therefore, it cannot and should not be questioned.

For the many born-again converts, their new religion "gives the believers a cause, a sense of purpose, meaning, feelings of superiority, and a way to justify and sanctify their hatreds.... They do not have to make moral choices." (58) It can be a relief to many, living in a complex world of shades of gray, to conform, to dismiss "the facts and logic for magic," and to submit moral authority to someone- something- else (59).

In short, because of a variety of factors- personal loss, crisis, divorce, addiction, economic despair, abuse- (which Hedges outlines in detail) "many yearn to be deceived and directed. It makes life easier to bear" (Ibid.).

The way I see it is like this. Ultimately, we all make choices with regard to our spiritual and religious lives. We can deceive ourselves and choose to become a part of a movement where everything is already figured out for us- where those who have figured everything out for us are, like us, mere humans claiming to speak on God's behalf. Or, we can choose to accept that we don't have all the answers. No one does. And that, no matter how holy a certain man-written book is, it is just that- written by men. I am okay with uncertainty, just as many people are. But many people aren't. And because of that, a hateful, intolerant religion is preying on the human fear of the unknown and is becoming a destructive force.

2. On Dominion

This relatively new fundamentalist Christian movement differs from traditional fundamentalism in its attempt to impose its belief system on the rest of the nation. Hedges writes of R.J. Rushdoony's book The Institutes of Biblical Law, which is "the most important book" for the movement (12). According to Hedges, Rushdoony believes that Christians are the new chosen people of God and are therefore called to "create a godly, Christian state" (Ibid.).

What would this state look like? Well, "Educational and social welfare should be handed over to the churches. Biblical law must replace the secular legal code. This ideology... remains at the heart of the movement" and we are seeing its influences under the Bush Administration (13).

"Many of its tenets are being enacted through the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, currently channeling billions in federal funds to groups such as National Right to Life and Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing, as well as to innumerable Christian charities and organizations that do everything from running drug and pregnancy clinics to promoting sexual abstinence-only programs in schools" (13).

In this way the fundamentalist Christian movement is attempting to replace our secular government with its brand of faith-based government.

With regard to the war, "The Christian Right is deeply involved in the building of America's first modern mercenary army" (29). Here Hedges is referring to Blackwater, the private security firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq. I won't go into the detail that Hedges does in describing this outfit and its cost to us, the taxpayers, but I want to add this quote:

"The term 'contractor' deflects attention from the ominous rise of a mercenary army. Paramilitary forces have no place in a democratic state. These forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues in the police and military, could ruthlessly abolish what is left of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands to corporations, and to right-wing interests that back the Christian Right, could become a permanent condition.... 'Unlike police officers they are not trained in protecting constitutional rights,' said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. 'And unlike police officers or the military they have no system of accountability whether within the organization or outside it.'" (Remember where else we heard about war contractor immunity from the law?)

Hedges also describes literal Biblical warriors- those on the movement's "outer fringes" where "collections of odd messianic warriors, those ready to fight and die for Christ" exist. I previously examined one such group, the anti-gay hate club Watchmen on the Walls. Hedges references the American Veterans in Domestic Defense (AVIDD), "a Texas group that transported former Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore's 2.6 ton 10 Commandment monument by truck around the country." (28).

(As an aside, I visted AVIDDs website. As its totally macho mission statement admits, it seeks to search out, identify, and "neutralize" the negative impacts on our society. The negative influences being these. Regarding gay people, "one woman" says that we should just stick gay people back in the closet because they're not like the rest of us. This woman, mind you, is admittedly ignorant and she confesses to not having read a newspaper in years, her source of "news" coming from right-wing talk radio. Yee-haw, Donate Now!)

But seriously, can you imagine an America where ignorant, bigoted fringe groups such as these were in charge, guns ablaze "neutralizing" their perceived threats to the country?

What, perhaps, is most frightening and threatening is the eagerness with which so many so-called religious folk accept violence, killing, and war. I am at a loss as to how any credible or legitimate religion sanctifies violence. But the Christian Right, using a tactic as old as religion, tells its masses that in the event of apocalypse and war "God will protect Christians; that hundreds of millions will die, but because Christians have been blessed they alone will triumph from the ash heap" (36). For those of us nonbelievers who are killed, we are at fault for turning our backs on God.

Sort of a problematic outlook on violence and war for those of us trying to live in a civil society, eh?

This concludes Part I of American Fascists. Stay tuned for tomorrow's conclusion where I review the Christian Right's attack on The Homasexul and Tolerance!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Book Review: A Useful Woman- The Early Life of Jane Addams

I hope that you, dear readers, enjoy my book reviews.

Beginning with the short little book about Harry Houdini that I read in grade school, I learned that I have a soft spot in my heart for good biographies. (I'm open to suggestions!) Maybe I'm just nosy, but it's fascinating to read all about someone else's life.

The most recent biography I read was A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams.
Why did I choose this one? Well, I picked it up not knowing much more about Jane Addams than that the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Social Work was named after her. Upon reading the jacket summary, I learned that Jane had marriage-like relationships with two women during her life.

Cool, I thought. A lesbian from the 1800's! I'm in.

1. Was she?

It turns out, Addams' sexual identity is the least interesting part of her biography. I say that because she was a remarkable person who accomplished much during her life during a time when women had very limited roles in society. She helped spur a new social justice movement for the poor, stepped out of her pre-ordained role as a woman, and was awarded a Nobel Prize. But I'll get to those things in a minute...

But first, the juicy details. To make a long story short, there aren't any. Addams' biographer notes that there is no evidence that Addams had a sexual relationship with anyone, let alone women. But at the same time, her relationship with one woman, Mary Smith, in particular was marriage-like. Mary, who was very wealthy, lent financial support to Addams and her social justice project (Hull House). The two women traveled together, visited family together, spent their remaining years together helping care for each other. Their relationship with each other was probably the most important and intimate relationship in both women's lives. Yet, while their various letters to each other indicate a very strong attachment and intimacy,

"The relationship between Jane and Mary, however, was conducted with such scrupulous privacy that today it is almost impenetrable. Adding to the mystery, toward the end of her life, Jane destroyed most of Mary's letters to her. She never explained my. Perhaps she was trying to cover up the sexual nature of their love." (183-184)

Whether their relationship was sexual or not, I think is irrelevant. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, "homosexuality" was a largely un-named and unidentified identity. People who we would now think of as "gay," had no name for their feelings, desires, or actions with people of the same sex. It is clear that Addams did not want to be married to a man, nor did she have any desire to live her life with or to form romantic attachments to men. The most intimate and important relationships in her life were with other women. In my book, those two factors sorta mean you're a lesbian. Because ultimately, what is "gayness" if not the formation of intimate relationships with those of the same sex while simultaneously rejecting marriage to an opposite-sex partner?

But, at the end of the day, does it matter whether Addams was a lesbian? I think it matters for two reasons. One, it adds to the historical fact that even though the "gay identity" and movement is relatively new, gay people have existed throughout human history. Even if there was no name for it. Two, Addams' sexual identity is important insofar as her rejection of the "wife" role allowed her to lead a burdgeoning social justice movement.

2. An Early Great Harm Myth

Now, on to more important things...

One of my favorite things about reading biographies historical figures is that I am reminded that, throughout history, people have always created and perpetuated Great Harm Myths to justify denying opportunities and equal rights for certain groups.

One Great Harm Myth that was alive during Jane Addams' early adulthood was the idea that education would harm women and, therefore, rather than attending college or high school, women should stay home and prepare for lives as a wife. As Addams' biographer writes,

"Many thoughtful people agreed with Dr. Edward H. Clark, a former professor at Harvard Medical School, who'd argued in his 1873 book, Sex in Education, that girls were constitutionally unfit to follow the same intellectual regime as boys. Professor Clark maintained that brain activity by women 'diverted' to their heads vital blood they needed for menstruation. Other experts claimed that women couldn't cope with strenuous thinking because their brain's were smaller than men's." (60)

Seriously? Along that line or reasoning we could also argue that brain activity by men diverted to their heads vital blood they needed for erections.

But anyway...

Women should not become educated, you see, because it wasn't good for their bodies, brains, or (most importantly) reproductive organs! Education would cause (dun-dun-dun) Great Harm to women. And, to be fair, we could look at this Great Harm Myth from (at least) two vantage points. Male doctors and politicians were truly concerned about the alleged harm they thought would befall women- whose primary duty at that time was to bear children. They were "merely" basing their conclusions on untrue and stereotypical opinions about women and differences between the genders. Or, they wanted to hoard educational benefits for (upper-class) men only. No matter the motive, this Great Harm Myth had the convenient effect of largely keeping women out of the public sphere thereby decreasing competition for college degrees and jobs.

And, although the statements of these doctor are laughable now, I can't help but to wonder how remnants of this type of thinking linger today.

But alas, in Jane Addams' early adulthood, the options (upper-class) women had for college were to attend female seminaries and women's colleges (there were a few). Addams had the class privilege of being able to attend college, and she attended the non-degree granting women's seminary (because why did women even need degrees back then?) in Rockford, Illinois- "with its weak academic program, its emphasis on religion, and its rigid code of conduct." (60).

After college, she had the further (and even more rare) fortune of attending a Women's Medical College. Women doctors were seen as necessary mostly to go into OB/GYN care (as vaginal exams given by male doctors back then were seen as very embarassing procedures akin to rape) or to become doctor-missionaries overseas. Jane early on became disenchanted and dropped out of medical school because,

"[S]he knew she would not be happy in a profession that relegated women to an inferior role. Male doctors were virulently hostile to their female colleagues. Once, when a group of women showed up at a lecture at the men's medical school, they were met by yells, hisses, mock applause, paper missiles fired at their backs, and obscene remarks about their appearance. A few of the men even followed the women into the street at the end of the lecture, swearing and spitting tobacco juice on them." (84-85)."

I don't know how this behavior could be interpreted as anything other than men trying to guard their privileged positions in society. Again, fewer women doctors means fewer doctors to compete with for jobs. Or, these guys were just chumps. Either explanation is plausible.

After leaving medical school, Jane Addams spent a few years seeking mental health treatment, caring for her family, traveling the world, and searching for a greater purpose in life.

3. Feminism

During the years between college and her founding of Hull House, Addams suffered an affliction common to many educated, well-off young women in the late 1800's: she was educated, but because of career constraints on women at the time, she had no practical way to use her talents and intelligence. For, in the late 1800's, once the relatively few women who went to college finished their studies, most of them returned home to marry or take care of their families.

It is clear that Addams had the luxury of class privilege- she inherited about one-third of her father's considerable estate and was able to attend college. Yet, she wanted to use her wealth for common good. Not caring about what society told women to be (ie- a self-sacrificing "angel of the house") she actively looked for a greater purpose in life- something more than being a wife or family caretaker. (Yes, yes being a wife and caretaker is wonderful. But every single woman in the world should not be relegated to that one role in life. It's all about women having choices, folks.)

As Jane wrote,

"It has always been difficult for the family to regard the daughter otherwise than as a family possession. She is told to be devoted to her family, inspiring and responsive to her social circle, and to give the rest of her time to further self-improvement and enjoyment..... But where is the larger life of which she has dreamed so long?" (117).

As it turns out, she discovered this larger life while traveling in Europe with a group of female companions, where she discovered that "she could live happily on her own with other young women." (121). This discovery seemed to spur her founding of Hull House. Hull House was a settlement that Jane Addams and several other women founded in a poor, working-class neighborhood of Chicago that provided education and activities for mostly-immigrant neighborhood residents.

You can read more about Hull House here. For this review, I was more interested in exploring the early life of Jane Addams. Specifically, I wanted to look at her experiences coming of age and somehow thriving in a society that largely only approved of women who were wives, mothers, or daughters. We can see that some segments of our population even today (social conservatives mostly) hold similar views of women. They are in favor of male-breadwinner households where women are relegated to Wife/Mother/Daughter role. The only difference is in the Great Harm Myth used. Those in Addams' era argued that Great Harm would befall women if they stepped out of their role. Social conservatives today argue that Great Harm is befalling society because women are able to work outside of the home. (Missing from these analyses, of course, is the fact that lower-class women have almost always had to work outside of the home. Women, you see, should never work outside the home. But poor women, of course, should always work outside the home or they're lazy welfare queens.)

For a time, and after her founding of Hull House, Jane Addams was one of the most popular and respected women in the US. And that is a testament to the great masses of men and women who actually favored expanding the role of women in society. (Too often the many men who supported women's rights are forgotten, while only the discriminatory ones who opposed women's rights are remembered.) Unfortunately, however, Jane's popularity waned in the US when she became active in the peace movement during World War I. Various Red Scare and propaganda-like tactics were used to smear her name and, because she supported the working class and labor unions, she was labeled a "communist, the Reddest of the Red." Where she was once America's sweetheart, she was suddenly labeled "the most dangerous woman in America" (262). All because, of course, she did not support the war.

Which leads me to ask, must history always repeat itself? We never learn, it seems.

With the benefit of time and hindsight, Addams' legacy has been largely restored. She is recognized for the social justice pioneer she was, and the Red Scare Tactics that were used against her are now recognized for what they were. For her work in the peace movement, Jane Addams was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Not too shabby for a "dangerous" Red.

I'm glad I read this biography. It is comforting to get reaffirmation that our society tends toward social progress in spite of stereotypical, ignorant, and belligerent opinions.

To conclude, I'll end on this fitting quote:

"What after all has maintained the human race on this old globe despite all the calamities of nature and all the tragic failings of mankind, if not faith in new possibilities and courage to advocate them." - Jane Addams

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Some Voter Stats for Super-Duper Tuesday

What follows are possible explanations as to why George W. Bush was elected and then re-elected in 2004. It is also a further testament to the idea that we need an independent judiciary to save our country, minorities, and democracy from a tyranny of the (ignorant) majority.

We should all be aware of this information:

"Most of the time, only bare majorities know which party has control of the Senate, some 70% cannot name either of their state's senators, and the vast majority cannot name any congressional candidate in their district at the height of a campaign."

"Overall, close to one-third of Americans can be categorized as 'know-nothings' almost completely ignorant of relevant political information."

"Particularly significant is the fact that, on many issues, the majority is not only ignorant of the truth but actively misinformed." For instance, in the 2004 election, majorities of voters did not know that Congress passed a major Medicare bill, a ban on partial birth abortion, or the Patriot Act. Most continued to believe that there is a link between Saddam Hussein and 9-11 despite repeated Bush Administration claims to the contrary.

"Voters are ignorant not just about specific policy issues but also about the basic structure of government and how it operates."

While I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to vote, I will continue to maintain that we need an independent judiciary that is not dependent on the will of the majority. For all of the above reasons, this (largely ignorant) majority should never determine what my, or anyone else's, civil rights are. Remember these facts the next time you hear someone whining about an "activist" judge overturning the rule of the majority or going against the "will of the people." Because while everyone has their own sense of what is icky and wrong, the decisions of so-called activist judges who protect the rights of minorities are the ones who are truly promoting and sustaining democracy.


Monday, February 4, 2008

But, What Does the "Unhinging of Our Culture" Tangibly Mean?

Reading some of the American Family's Obsessed with Gay Sex Association's materials on The Homosexual Agenda, I came across this super-duper scary statement about what the gays are up to:

"For more than 30 years, homosexual activists have been demanding that our Judeo-Christian culture capitulate and embrace their view of human sexuality, marriage and family. If Americans ever accept these demands, they can expect to live in a culture that will be turned upside down — literally unhinged from the sane moorings instituted by the God of heaven."

Being a more questioning reader than AFA's usual sheeple, I wondered: Okay, but what does "literally unhinged from the sane moorings" really mean? What, specifically, will happen to society? Because what comes to my mind when I read that phrase is earthquake-like tremors bringing down Church steeples, lightning bolts striking innocent children on their way to school, and housewives flying off the Earth's axis into outer space.

Wow, the implications of The Gay Agenda (dun, dun, dun!) are scary!

But wait! The next paragraph is a bit more specific in terms of what the unhinging of society entails:

"Harvey’s prediction is of a grotesque culture that includes: 'Lesbian bride dolls. Fourth grade ‘gay’ clubs. A king and king at the high school prom. Dating tips for same-sex teens. Bathroom ogling — and sometimes quick encounters — in the middle school boys’ restroom.'"

That's it?

No, really. That's it?

Let's start with the "scary" ones. Fourth grade gay clubs? What does this mean? What would that even entail- little boys playing Barbies together and little girls playing with Transformers? I don't know any gay advocates who are pushing for this. Does anyone else? Yeah, give us clubs in high school, when many people are actually developing their sexual identities. But let's be realistic about the concerns that are high up on the "The Gay Agenda's" totem pole.

Bathroom ogling? Quick encounters? Wouldn't that occur between people regardless of The Gay Agenda's intervention? Aren't there steps a school can take if such encounters are happening? Again, the only group seeing The Gay Agenda (tm) pushing for these encounters is the AFA.

Now, on to the fun ones.

What, specicically, is so very bad about lesbian bride dolls, dating tips for gay kids, and a prom king and king? (And for the record, my Barbie dolls were lesbian brides before lesbian bride dolls even existed) But anyway, how many gay people reading this might have had more positive experiences growing up had things like, oh acceptance, been available? I, for one, would have liked to have heard that what I was feeling was normal and relatively common. It would have done much for my psychological well-being back then, because really, as fun as it is to think that you and Melissa Etheridge are the only two lesbians in the entire world... oh wait, it's not fun. It sucks big donkey dick.

But, you see, groups like the AFA don't care about easing human pain. Even though lesbian bride dolls and two prom kings would harm no one in any real way, they seek to deny gay kids these things- these experiences of growing up believing that they, too, are "normal." Using abstract armageddon-invoking language, the AFA creates paper tiger threats to the family. And, in the end, they are doing more harm to society and to children than any good they "try" to do.

But, does anyone think the AFA is truly interested in doing good?

I sure don't.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Conservative Identity Politics- Weapons of Mass Projection

Some of you may have noticed that a new blog label has appeared on the righthand list of Fannie's Room blog labels: Weapons of Mass Projection. This series arose after I became fed up with conservative/Christian/anti-gay mass projection. Projection is a pretty common psychological defense mechanism- one that all of us probably use to some extent. But, I must say that I've really noticed that vocal conservatives of the far-right variety tend to use this mechanism to a disturbingly high degree. (Take a walk through my Hypocrisy Hall of Shame for several examples).

For purposes of this series, I am using the word "projection" in this sense: The conservative's act of attributing his or her own thoughts or actions onto others while being blind to the fact the thoughts or actions are his or her own.

The examples of conservative projection are abundant, and you are probably aware of many of them. We've all seen fundamentalist Christians claim that non-Christians are seeking to oppress them (even though some of these Christians are seeking to oppress non-Christians). We see evangelical Christians claim that that gay people are seeking to recruit children (even though evangelical Christians are the ones seeking to recruit children).

I should also note that me pointing out these examples of projection isn't simply a case of me saying "I know you are, but what am I?" For, even if what conservatives say about "us" is true (as it is in my example below), projection is troubling because it indicates an extreme lack of self-awareness and an abundance of self-righteousness. While they moralize about the behavior of others they, hypocritically, see no internal conflict with the fact that they engage in exactly the same behavior- precisely because they do not see their behavior for what it is.

Today, I want to talk about one timely and prominent Conservative Weapon of Mass Projection:

"Black people/Women/LGBT people/[insert minority group] are playing an identity politics game by joining together on the basis of their shared identity and demanding rights."

The term "identity politics" has, these days, taken on a pejorative connotation. When people invoke the term in the context of elections, it is usually done by White people, men, and/or heterosexuals and usually means "[Minority candidate] is unfairly using his or her race/gender/sexual orientation to gain an advantage."

Why is the conservative claim that minorities unfairly band together to play identity politics problematic?

For the same reason that claims that Hillary Clinton has unfairly "played the gender card" are problematic.

Both claims are Weapons of Mass Projection.

Even if minoritiess band together on the basis of a shared identity, so do conservatives- including Whites, Christians, men, and/or heterosexuals. Yet, when white, conservative, anti-gay, and/or religious persons band together and form a voting bloc on the basis of their shared identities and beliefs, it's considered politics as usual. When LGBT persons, women, or racial minorities do it, the opposition labels it "identity politics." Yet, to use one recent example, the political organizing of fundamentalist Christians and anti-gay advocates meets the very definition of identity politics.

For, although these groups are larger than most "minority" groups, they claim to be oppressed. Some Christians claim that the "state," "secularists," and/or "non-Christians" are oppressing (fundamentalist) Christians. Some anti-gay bigots claim that LGBT people, even though LGBT people are in the minority, are oppressing heterosexuals and "families." Such persons view themselves as groups of oppressed people who shared certain beliefs and experiences. In the case of fundamentalist Christians, they form a large and powerful voting bloc on the very basis of their Christian identities! How is that anything other than identity politics? (And no, I generally don't really believe that Christians and anti-gay advocates are oppressed.)

Do these groups, who so eagerly label minority organizing as "identity politics," not label their actions as "identity politics" because they see their identities as The Authentic and Standard Human Experience? (Much like Hillary Clinton is accused of "playing the gender card" for daring to allude to the fact that she could be the first ever woman President in the US, even though male candidates play up their manly-man-ness all the time and have always done so, yet their doing so is just politics as usual.)

Social conservatives recognize their "oppression," and form groups, advocate for change, and garner support all on the basis of being "American" (Which some groups have changed the definition of to mean only social conservatives), "Pro-Family" (Which is a code word for married heterosexual two-parent families)" or Christian" (Which some groups have the changed the definition of to mean only Evangelical Christians).

This phenomenon is similar to the way in which some conservatives believe that their values are "American" values and any value that is not conservative is un-American. They see their identities and experience as The Human Experience around which all "other" human experiences revolve. In essence, the white, conservative, anti-gay, heterosexual, Christian see themselves as "without" identity- as the norm. And what follows from this "lack" of identity, of course, is that the organizing of those without identity could never be considered "identity" politics.

To end, I am admittedly and immediately suspicious of anyone who invokes the phrase "identity politics" to imply unfairness in debate, organizing, or politics. To see one group's way of politics as the norm, and any "other" group's exact same way of organizing as unfair identity politics is an exercise in privilege and narcissism.

Ultimately, the "identity politics" cry is about fear. It's about one group having real power, and another group trying to silence minority groups and keep them from demanding their rights based on their very real and shared group oppression. Is there a better way to keep minorities from demanding their rights as a group than to say it is unfair for them to demand their rights as a group?