Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Backsliding in Women's Rights? Two Examples.

Two recent items about women's rights possibly going backward made me think of the process I go through when grieving after the death of someone who meant a lot to me.

That process is like a circular staircase.  You start at the bottom of it and pretty much go around in a circle, to reach the next level, and then you keep climbing the staircase of, say, grief.   You both climb higher and face the same painful questions again.

I'm not sure what's at the top of that staircase, but during the climb it often feels as if one has come back to the starting point, walked around a circle.  It's not true because the new circle of grief is on a higher level.  We see the loss from a new perspective and we are a little more removed from it.

After that philosophical opening, the actual items which provoked it may seem mundane (which does not mean that they are not important). 

The first is the partial return of a practice restaurants once used as lot: That of either refusing to serve women who entered the establishment on their own (or even in groups as long as the group included no men) or seating them somewhere hidden, such as by the kitchen swing door or next to the toilets.

The reason for that discriminatory practice was that women on their own were assumed to visit restaurants only as sex workers looking for clients, not as customers wanting to have a meal or a drink.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

How To Write About Politics In The Era Of Chaos

I am publishing fewer post on this blog.  The reasons are many and complicated (including does a falling tree in the woods make a sound if nobody is listening?), but one which I'd like to talk about today has to do with the current climate in American politics, the climate in political writings, the resulting online quarrels and the information included or not included in social media, such as tweets.

This Trump era is ruled by the God of Chaos (1), not only in the United States, but globally.  He is having a hell of a time, riding his war chariot through mobs everywhere!  Few notice that he is a) the god of chaos, not of order (he does disguise well (2)), and b) that he has harnessed the horses to his chariot with their butts forward.

And far too many worship at his altar.

He hates nuance so we drop nuance from politics.  He adores anger (causes a lot of chaos and breakage) so we work all day long to get very angry.  He prefers emotions to facts so we learn to think with what we believe are our guts, even if the feeling might be just indigestion from too many hamberders.

He detests facts and is far too impatient to read long articles or research the truth in someone's statements.  And because we are learning that he is the strongest god of this moment, we, too, learn to hate research and reading and the kind of careful thinking which the God of Chaos finds more boring than watching Trump's hair being dyed.

And lest you think that I only talk about the American right-wing here, the God of Chaos is very good at convincing all of us that the best way to serve righteous causes is through the tools he loves:

Anger, accusations, building stronger walls to keep the in-group members in and the out-group members out, public purity examinations and purity policing to make sure that all the in-group members should be allowed to remain inside the walls.

Walls, whether physical conceptual, serve to keep some out and some in (3).  But they also strengthen the smell of civil war in the air:  That various factions regard other factions inside the same country as the real enemies, not as disagreeing compatriots.

Walls become fortifications and ramparts, information becomes propaganda.  Propaganda cannot have nuances, so nuanced treatments go.  No propaganda will include all evidence, unless all evidence supports the arguments of the propagandist's side, so the evidence we will be offered in political debates will be at most partial, at worst false.

Because it is war, we sometimes unquestioningly ally with distasteful causes and beliefs, as long as that alliance hurts our most hated enemies more than it appears to hurt the integrity of our own value hierarchies.


This I cannot do.  Indeed, I cannot play the game the God of Chaos referees, because I know, exactly, what he tries to achieve.  But I also truly cannot play that game.

It's not because I am the last upright, neutral and analytical writer standing (though of course all that goes without saying (4)).  It's because I am bad at the games of chaos, have no talent for the kind of emotional writing that works in chaotic politics, and when it comes to anger, well, you really don't want to make goddesses, even minor snake goddesses, angry.  They tend not to regulate the resulting hurricanes and tornadoes very well.

In short, I am working through this dilemma and hope that it will be resolved soon, one way or another.

(1)  He has to be a guy god because Jordan Peterson, the right-wing prophet worshiped by lots of young conservative men, insists that chaos is female, and that all right-thinking young men should rise up against her.  So it's salutary to correct that belief (wink).

Now why the God of Chaos could become the dominant divine of this era (at least temporarily) probably deserves a separate post which would cover climate change,  globalization and outsourcing and their nasty effects in some countries, the financial markets bubble and its wealth-killing effects for the not-so-rich, increasing global income inequality and the vast human migrations with the social upheavals they cause.

But note that if Almost Absolute Chaos were to rule, there would be strong pressures to replace him with the God of Absolute Control.  That replacement (sometimes in response to just the fear of chaos, not actual chaos)  is how we get fascist states and the kinds of theocratic states where I, for one, would have very few rights.

Chaos and order are not necessarily theoretically linked to right-wing or left-wing political goals or characteristics, though the right has a stronger preference for traditional power hierarchies as a form of order.

But Trump, a right-winger,  happily  sows chaos, and rigid order has certainly been applied, from above, in communist societies.

In practice widespread desire for order is more likely to result in right-wing fascism or extremely conservative theocracies, however.

(2)  The reality might be more complicated.  Just as in politics, the extremes, order and chaos, might be the end-points not of a line but of an almost-completed circle.  It's easy for certain kinds of extremists to jump over that little break in the circle and to end up at the other political extreme.  Likewise, it's possible that extreme chaos is much closer to extreme order than we like to think.  Balance in all things is the proper alternative to both extreme chaos and extreme order.

(3)  Despite Trump's weird border wall fixation, walls are not necessarily bad and have their uses.  Remember this before you go and break down the fence that keeps the neighbor's angry bull in his pasture.

(4)  This is a joke.  Honest.