Now 64% More American!

I swear, if I hear the words “RealAmericans” used to describe *exclusively* non-college-educated white manual laborers ONE MORE TIME, from somebody who thinks every other kind of citizen is really just here provisionally and at the benevolence of those aforementioned “RealAmericans,” I’m gonna throw a very entertaining fit.

We get it, guys, the sudden visibility and acceptance of a whole lot of other kinds of Americans is making you worried that without people it’s ok to look down on, that means you’re on the bottom now.

But that’s not how it works. Other people finally getting treated with a little dignity doesn’t cost you your dignity. Nobody’s going after yours unless you’re going after somebody else’s. There’s nothing wrong with working a trade. It’s a damn good way to make a living, and one of the only remaining paths into the middle class that doesn’t come with crippling debt. It’s a great life. It’s a respectable life. But it stops being respectable when you’re so insecure about your social standing that you start spouting off about how you’re the only legitimate picture of an American, and all the other people who happen to also be citizens just like you are somehow less American than you.

So once more for the people in the back – all these “New” groups, who suddenly want, and are getting, long-overdue recognition as threads in the American tapestry, are just as representative of this country as you are. Not more, not less, the same. And the “Special Treatment” your online pundits are always so keen to accuse them of asking for, is nothing more complicated than “they get what you get, for the same reasons that you get it, the same ways that you get it.” They don’t want special treatment. They want to STOP being singled out for special treatment by people who insist they’re not “RealMurican” enough.

There is a danger in letting ourselves believe that what Norman Rockwell painted was the sum and total of America.
Norman Rockwell painted one slice of American life. He painted it well, and with charm, and wit, and a cool process, and a keen eye for human nuance. But that picture wasn’t the whole story. When we forget that – when we forget that Saturday Evening Post covers don’t mean America was all white and middle class and home-owning and churchgoing and malted-milk-buying once, and come to believe that we as a country have since fallen apart, we aren’t participating in the real world anymore.

When we do that, we’re looking at a tiny slice of what American industry told American consumers to aspire to, during a very short window of time. A slice that, for carefully calculated commercial reasons, omitted everything and everyone that any audience might find controversial or objectionable. Anyone who wasn’t a reflective of the dominant social and ethnic group’s ideal vision of themselves, just wasn’t depicted. I’m picking on Rockwell here, and it’s not totally fair. His work has deep themes of justice and American civic virtue, tolerance for otherness, and diversity woven through it. But the vision of the world that’s held up as When America Had It Right, by well-meaning but low-resolution-thinking white working class America was never really all that was going on. That was never all of America. That was never even MOST of America. It was just the parts we talked about when it was thought of as controversial to say that All Americans Are Actually Equal and American Means American Citizens Not Just The White Christian StraightMarried Middle Class Homeowning Ones With Kids.

There’s a commandment that relates to “graven images” of God in the bible. It’s one we don’t talk about much, the way we don’t talk about the constitutional amendment dealing with being forced to quarter soldiers in your house, but talk a lot about the ones with guns and abolition. The idea goes – God didn’t want itself Depicted Visually, because to do that would be limiting its scope. Once you make a picture, you define characteristics, traits, appearances, gender skin color, body type… Essentially Making God In Our Image. Our own culture, our own looks, projecting our own ideals, to the exclusion of other configurations of features. The commandment is about not limiting the abstract identity of God down to a dude in a white sheet with a long beard, (who’s also white.) I bring it up because it makes me think about the way we do this to ourselves, when we picture an American in our minds. My ten bucks says, no matter what YOU look like, your image of “An American” looked a whole lot like John Cena. (He did a great video on this that I’ll link here.)

But my point in bringing all this up, is this – “Real American” is as hard to visually depict as God ought to be. This is a nation founded on that. Yes it was founded mostly by white indentured servants trading everything for a better life, and by religious minorities too intolerant to be welcome in 1600’s England (a fucking FEAT, that…) looking to set up their own denominational micro-theocracies on a “virgin continent” and so on, but the America described in our declaration of independence is the one that speaks to me, and the one that lines up the most closely with what we actually are, at our best. And anybody who tells you that some Americans are more American than others is just demonstrating how deeply desperately insecure they are, that in the face of all these other groups it used to be “OK” to shit on, being given public respect, there won’t be enough left for them. They don’t know how to feel certain they’re still welcome, if they’re not allowed to make anybody else feel unwelcome. That’s not an especially RealAmerican attitude, but it’s not demographic. It’s a choice. You can be born into being a citizen of this country, or you can choose it. But any time you try to position other groups as LessAmericanThanYou, it’s yourself you’re demonstrating to be a bad fit for the nation of your birth. If you love this country, learn to love its founding principles.

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Slur Double-Down

I’ll give you an example of the ways you can react to new information.
 
We were raised on words like Gypsy and Eskimo. It turns out, these words are pejorative names that groups in power used to describe the ethnic groups you think of when you hear the words rather than what these groups called themselves.  Over the intervening years, these groups have wrestled with the words, and some subsets of them have come to grips, while others still resent them and prefer to be called what they’ve always called themselves instead, rather than the ‘convenient’ labels some outsiders slapped on them.
 
Finding out that lots of members of these groups regard these labels as a slur that brings to mind the ways the groups have been mistreated by the groups who labeled them, a modern person has some choices.
 
Some people are so afraid of embarrassment that comes from feeling wrong, that they’ll go double-down on why the word is fine, how they know someone from that group who doesn’t mind, and anybody who says different is thin-skinned.
 
Other people hear it and say, oh, ok, what’s their real name, so I can use a more accurate term?
 
The only difference between these two kinds of people is that one’s too afraid of being wrong, to become right.
 
There’s a third kind of course. The kind that’s just too arrogant to think it’s worth giving a crap about what anybody thinks. This kind’s just lazy and prefers not to adapt to new information when they find it, and pre-emptively gets mad at anyone who says they should, because they just don’t think it’s fair to expect that people should want to care about being right, or not upsetting people needlessly, if it feels inconvenient to adapt. No pity for that kind. They’re dicks.
 
But have some care with #1. They’re just afraid of being judged, and lashing out. You make it safe for them to’ve been wrong in the past, they’re more than happy to join you in being right.

Patriotically Correct Horse Blinders

For Crying Out Loud… one more time for the sulry white flag-painted-eagle-profile-pictured “patriots” on youtube comment threads. Being the recipient of invisible (to you) privilege doesn’t make you a bad person. Nobody’s saying you’re less valid on account of your race. That’s stupid. What being born into a demographic nexus that exempts you from a lot of crap that less-favored groups live with -DOES- do, is queue you up a set of life experiences that are likely to put you out of touch with the realities of less privileged people, setting you up to form opinions on how the world works and why things happen to less fortunate people that aren’t just irrelevant to their lives but often 1000% insulting. It sets you up to Behave as a bad person would, by accident, despite-and-while meaning well. The only way to mitigate this situation is to educate yourself as much as possible about the lives of people unlike you, so you don’t accidentally bumble through the world spouting off crap that just reveals what you don’t know. I get that it’s embarrassing and shameful, getting called out all the time, when you don’t mean anyone harm, but if you want that shit to stop, it’s not about “bowing to Cultural Marxism” and conforming your opinions to the “Politically Correct” (or at least pretending to in public while you secretly resent it.) It’s about making sure you actually know what you’re talking about before you run your mouth, and that means listening to people who go through crap that you don’t, taking their experiences seriously, and improving the detail of your picture of reality to account for as much of that newfound data as possible, so your opinions are based on more than just your own small slice of life. It isn’t censorship. It’s consciousness expansion. Nobody enters life with a complete understanding of the complicate web of socio-political reality. So for the love of all things Reese’s, (Yeah, I swore a blasphemous oath on the world’s best candy. Fight Me.) quit feeling ashamed and insulted when someone points out that the thing that you just said can only sound worth-saying from a place of privilege, and hit google for a while, with the intent of learning what your prior thinking might have failed to factor-in.
 
“But I like my horse blinders and don’t want to know stuff, if knowing it makes it harder to think what I thought going in.” ~a giant coward who deserves zero respect
 
You will encounter, in this life, people who read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and take the lesson that the better plan is just to stay inside – to hold on tightly to the social misconceptions that unite and bind your tribe, since knowing more can make it harder to relate. To be honest, I doubt most of the people who would take that away from it are reading very much Plato in the first place, but there -is- a certain kind of mindset who doesn’t believe the things that they believe because they think those things are true. They don’t care if they’re true. They believe them because it signals group identity and belonging. Those are potent human drives, and make it costly and difficult to give up, when all they get in exchange for abandoning the orthodoxies that make them socially acceptable at home is a more accurate understanding of the world. People joke that “if loving PeanutButterCups is wrong, I don’t want to be right!” but in so many parts of life, that’s not a joke. It’s how we’re wired. Be aware of that, mechanically, in judging people based on willingness to “leave the cave.” The cost is steep, and Plato called it. Doesn’t mean it isn’t still the smarter nobler thing to do. I’ve met my share of people who see facts in very tribal terms. They’re less concerned with being right than being Accepted. These are the same people, incidentally, who balk at ideas like Political Correctness, which they define as having to pretend you believe differently than you do, to avoid social censure. For them, what you believe, and what you say you believe, is about staying out of trouble with the tribe, not Being Right. Accuracy just isn’t as important as fitting in and avoiding the shame-feelings of being challenged. Take that into account, too, when dealing with strangers. Not everybody actually wants to be right, if being right would cost them, socially. Cowardice? Yes. But it’s prevalent enough we might have to write it up as human nature and forgive at least the emotions underlying it. It’s hard to accept facts, if those facts make you buck your tribal orthodoxy, when our tribes are ideological, and our identities and webs of social bonds are all derived from what we profess to believe. This stuff is hard, and compassion in the course of helping people be their best is cheap, especially if you’re coming from the privileged place they are. When we fall down on the job of educating each other, we’re leaving it to people with way more skin in the game, and way less access to compassion on the subject from a life of dealing with a whole lot worse things that day than we are, on top of what everybody deals with.

Basic Mediocre Human – guest post by author Joseph Brassey

If you’re in a position of relative privilege, you can prosper under fascism. You can live a decent, normal life. You can love your family, go to work, collect your paycheck, and exist in a relatively prosperous state of anonymous comfort.

You just have to be perfectly fine with people being disappeared, with people of less privilege being disenfranchised, taken away. Killed. What do you care? They’re other people. Shouldn’t have spoken up, rocked the boat, made waves, made yourself a target to people who don’t like it when a toe wanders out of line.

And hey, maybe that’s you. You’ve dealt with your share of shit, and you just want to be left alone. Why do everyone else’s problems have to be yours? Why are you responsible? All you want to do is survive and mind yourself and your own. That’s understandable, right?

Well yeah, sure. It’s completely understandable. Intuitively within the psychological grasp of basically everyone whose ever lived.

Which is precisely why it happens. Over and over. Because when your highest aspiration in life is the base human desire to keep breathing, to reproduce, to live a basic life uncomplicated by the difficulties of others? That’s the world you get.

And maybe it’s what you want. How could anyone call you actively evil for that? And maybe you’re not.

But you’re not good, either. Because being a good person requires more than the basics. It requires pro-activity. Good is not a passive state. It has to be earned, maintained, cultivated. It requires active action in the interests of people other than yourself. This is the case regardless of the times, or the risks that are assumed by taking action.

If this basic existence is all you want, and you’re willing to shrug off all the shit that’s done to shield and protect it for you? You might not be evil, but you’ve no claim to any sort of moral high ground. You’re the epitome of Basic Human.

Unremarkable.
Uninspiring.
Unexceptional.

Rather pathetic, honestly. And to be frank, I’m fine with that. You do you. I don’t control your existence and I have no aspirations to do so.

But I–and others–are going to be candid about what you are, and when you raise a voice in irritation at being labeled as morally inconsequential, and undeserving of the label of Morally Upstanding Person, nobody is taking you seriously. You don’t get to aspire to ethical and moral mediocrity and enjoy the status of those who’ve decided that there are worthier aspirations in this world than Basic Human.

And if that **bothers** you? If this post **Upsets** you? If you’re furious with me?

Good.

Do better.

Or not. But the choice is yours.

“ALL” Americans

Let me start by saying:

I would be a lot more willing to take you seriously, – Mr. “Why are you singling women out? Can’t you just say ‘Treat-All-PeopleWithRespect?’ Why are you making it sexist??” – if you were half as interested in making sure the issue of people Not Being Currently Being Treated With Equal Respect, were treated better, as you are in making sure nobody stands up for them in language that makes you uncomfortable.
That now having been said, we can take my own feelings out of the way and focus on the mechanisms that led to somebody needing to say it in the first place.  This may seem like a small thing to point at, but it highlights a major linguistic divide between a particular segment of specifically lower-class RightWorld citizens and the rest of the country, that REALLY upsets them, and sits at the root of their assertions that “The Left Are The Real Racists!!”
There’s a fascinating social history that got them there, and they’re not making a disingenuous argument. That is to say, they believe what they’re saying is true. It’s not a ploy. Their ideas on how issues of race and sex and gender should be discussed is one of the deepest sources of their resentment of both the political Left in America, and every demographic it protects and is composed of. I want to talk a little bit about its shape and origins today, because this seems to be a thing most on the Left don’t understand about the people who push back against them when they talk about problems faced by distinct American demographics in specific terms. i.e. problems specific to women or particular minority groups.
We saw it briefly – and had a moment where the conversation might have been productive, had it had longer to breathe – in the BlackLives VS AllLives conversation. Your “All Lives” people came up through a cultural prism where they were taught that talking about race was racist, talking about sex was sexist, and talking about problems was divisive. Thanksgiving Dinner Rules. Don’t rock the boat, “Don’t Point Fingers,” and use the inclusive language of the early 80’s, “All People” rather than “These Specific People,” etc etc. The parents of the people you’re talking to, learned that it wasn’t ok to tell ethnic jokes anymore, because it wasn’t politically correct. They learned it wasn’t ok to use the names they called minorities, anymore, because those words weren’t politically correct. They learned you couldn’t treat women differently than men anymore, minorities different than whites anymore, because it wasn’t politically correct. In order to be a good American, they were taught, you had to pretend everybody was the same – talk like they were all the same – “whether it was true or not” because doing otherwise would get you in trouble with all the uppity sensitive people.
This was the prism, the paradigm, under which the parents of the people you’re hearing this pushback from, were taught not to be racist sexist dickbags anymore. And they said, “Ok, I’m not a bad person. I’m ok with all this newfangled Equal-ness. It may not be true but it’s the egalitarian generous thing to pretend anyway. The American thing.” And so a new ethos was born – a way of explaining to themselves why the old things were bad and the new things were ok, that sounded virtuous, rather than corrective of a fault. “This is AMERICA. With Liberty and Justice for ALL. EVERYBODY. ALL MEANS ALL.” And they embraced the -language- of inclusivity.
You could express the rules they signed on for under a simple unspoken agreement.
“We can all stop talking about racism and civil rights, and feminism, and all this radical stuff, if we stop using discriminatory or racially-charged language, and when somebody DOES use racially-charged language, we agree it’s ok to treat them like they’ve done something wrong. It’ll be a political scandal now if a southern politician drops the N-Word in public. And in exchange, you’ll leave well enough alone and stop trying to change the country.”
We all agreed to say ALL instead of “divisively” acknowledging the racial and gender inequalities baked into America.
It was a cease-fire, not a peace settlement. A detente.
And things still sucked for minorities and women and anybody unfortunate enough to not be 1950’s nuclear family material… but we all got to agree that lynchings and segregation and OVERT voter suppression and most racial slurs and really obvious cases of rape (“forcible?”) were wrong and shouldn’t happen and should be punished when perpetrators were caught with a preponderance of proof.
But time moved on, the dust settled, and what we were left with was a country that got to think of itself as more Just, without actually fixing all that much. It got to think of itself as more United, without actually uniting all that much. You see the problem now, I think.
The ceasefire acted as a de-facto ban on solving any actual problems faced by minorities of any kind, in exchange for things like (subtly-suppressed) Voting Rights and TechnicallyDesegratedSchools.
Things like Segregation didn’t go away, they just found new language and justifications to hide behind, since nothing could be labeled for what it actually was, without violating the unwritten rule that Good Americans Don’t Talk About Race. Not for minorities, and not against. We just pretend.
The next generation chafed from both sides of that equation. One was raised resenting the political correctness that prohibited them from “telling it like it is” (meaning that minorities are different from whites and aren’t really equal) and he other was raised resenting the social taboo against admitting things like housing policies, education, voting rights, hiring, college admittance, etc etc were still deeply invested in promoting and sustaining a race-disparate status-quo that preferenced whites over minorities in a hundred subtle-but-relevant ways.
So the RightWorld media ecosystem bitched endlessly and stoked resentments over not being able to say the things it used to be ok to, on the grounds that the things it used to be ok to say were Truth The Left Is Censoring Us From Speaking, and the Grassroots Left fought every way it could, at the margins, for things like affirmative action to rebalance outcomes where it could. Resentment flourished. Because after all, they were breaking the rules. They were talking about race like it was a thing. “Why do THEY get to talk about race and not ME??” the racists whined, and everybody in the middle, who wasn’t thinking of them that way, said, “Huh, y’know, you’re right. That’s CENSORSHIP.”
Then the political Left did something unthinkable. They elected a charismatic black man who talked (Extremely Gently) but openly, about race and sexual discrimination. He didn’t couch every statement in “ALL”-based rhetoric when unarmed black men were shot by police. People were in the streets to protest unequal policing. And the fight was back on.
When you hear people who sound insane on youtube comment threads saying, “President Obama Divided The Country,” this is what they’re pointing to. He ACKNOWLEDGED the divides out loud, even leaving aside the fact that for some people, electing a black man to the highest office in the land looked like the height of affirmative action, since they couldn’t imagine a black man getting there on his own merits, and affirmative action had always struck that segment of the populace as a violation of the “we don’t talk about race in America” rule.
2008 was the shot heard ’round the country, that the ceasefire was over, and he Left was cheating by still advancing the needle of racial equality, while the racist elements of the Right just had to stay still and just let them “take over the country.”
‘What if all these people who won’t pay lip service to the “ALL-Lives” narrative don’t actually value our lives at all?’ they fretted. ‘What if they’re not interested in coexistence after all?’
And so we come to today, where any language that specifically mentions the plight of one group or another, is a loud clarion signal to large segments of the public who grew up in this particular segment of RightWorld language/culture that the person speaking is a hopelessly lost ideologically partisan radical who can’t leave well enough alone and doesn’t respect the country. (because if they did, they wouldn’t want to divide it by making everything about race and gender and embarrass it by dwelling on its few remaining faults, “after RealAmericans ™ have compromised So Far Already.”)
They want you to stop talking about the problems, because it brings shame-feelings for things they didn’t cause, and breaks the rule where we don’t try to move the needle on equality any FURTHER than the civil rights act did.
They want you to stop talking about specific groups that suffer specific things, because it breaks the rule where we don’t talk about race. They may balk about political correctness, but they’re VERY DEVOTED to maintaining it, if the alternative is talking openly about the problems of specific race and gender combinations and the problems that they face that other groups don’t.
But most of all, they want you to stop talking in general, so they can continue thinking things are just fine the way they are. It absolves them of the moral obligation to be upset about problems, if they can deny problems exist. This sounds petty, but it’s a deeply human motive that anybody honest can relate to. If you got to live in a world where you never had to see or hear or think about the sharp edges of inequality, you’d be tempted, too. It’s a hard thing to give up on the best of days. If you add to that that large sections of the American Right behave like an HonorCulture, where shame is worse than physical injury and worth drawing blood over… Imagine how it feels to be told that the world you get to think is Noble and Just is actually riddled with injustice, inequality, and strife you don’t need to see because you’re on the benefitting end of social systems designed to preference your race and sex… BUT YOU ALSO BELIEVE DEEPLY IN EQUALITY. (you just need to believe it already exists and has since the civil rights act, case-closed, rather than believing in the Creation and Promotion of a true equality that would match the current paint-job) That’s a very high hurdle of shame to leap, with no incentive at hand to do so, when you could just decide the messenger is a seditious asshole who’s dividing the country, doesn’t understand American Equality and gets off on getting offended about things for fun.
So while I have no solutions and no answers to offer you, I hope you come away from reading this with a better understanding of the shape of the miscommunication that’s occurring.  What you do with knowing that, is up to you.  I wish you better luck than I’ve typically had, in helping people feel safe acknowledging the challenges that remain, if America should ever hope to live up to its ideals – the ideals some people are deeply emotionally invested in believing that we already live up to, as we are, to avoid shame.

MicroTransaction

Dear Fellow Comfortable White Dude on the Internet,

I see you there, using words like Trigger and MicroAggression as the fodder for your jokes.  Words that you probably only heard about on Limbaugh or your LibertyMemes/FuckTheLibtardz facebook group.  I can’t really blame you for what you think these words probably mean, based on the context you first came across them in.  There are whole corners of the RightWorld media ecosystem built on taking social science concepts from the academic left, and portraying them as absurdly as they can, so nobody outside the left’s devoted camps will even know what the words mean.  I can’t save you from those places, or the people there who’d rather keep you ignorant and smug so you keep voting for their guys.  Google can do that, but we tend to only listen to our tribes.  You’re making me look bad.  You’re making Us look bad.  So what I can do for you, is explain, one ComfortableWhiteDudeOnTheInternet to another, where your working definition has it wrong, so you can sound less like an ass when you make jokes.  I owe you that.

So I want to talk a little bit today about the concept of the MicroAggression.  I bring it up mostly because I see it universally mocked, mostly by ComfortableWhiteDudes like me.  Like most humor, there’s the kind that’s funny because it really gets to the heart of something that’s ludicrous, and there’s the kind that people only think is funny if they don’t understand the thing they’re laughing at very well.  This is that second kind of thing, most of the time.  The kind that just makes the dude making the joke seem out of touch and… well, kinda provincial.

I have a kind of moral weak spot for hearing people mock things they only think they understand.  It gets that old Orcish temper up.  And so instead of showing strangers some good ol’fashioned MACRO aggression, I feel like the kinder course would be to just explain better, what they must’ve had explained badly, or not-at-all, the first time they encountered the idea.

This one is tricky, for Americans especially.  We do a lot of toughness-posturing here, and so it’s hard to find a spot where grown men can relate to any talk of being afraid.  So let me talk about my own experience, and how my totally-safe-but-annoying routine from a couple years ago, might work differently if I lived in different shoes.

Years ago, when I was first starting out in my career, I used to pick up shifts taking yearbook portraits for a company called McGrath studios.  They serviced mostly Ivy League colleges, and so the clientele was what you might describe as high-maintenance, on a charitable day.  I’d get a schedule of where to be and when, but on the job site I was left all on my own.  The company and its support staff were all two states away, and most of them had never been out on a job.  They like to say ‘Yes’ a lot, to just about any request that a school made.  Most days, we’d see something like 12 or 13 people.  Heavy days went upwards of 40.  Still, I had enough time, those days, to keep up, so long as nothing went too wrong.  Now, I was one of their best shooters, by the numbers, clearing tons of sits each day.  And like I said, on-average, only 12 or 13 would show up.  So you would think this was a pretty easy gig.  Here’s the downside.  Sometimes, without any real warning, we’d get slammed.  Like mobbed.  Like 87 people in a line, when you know there’s not time for 40 in the day.  People who, if they had to wait a couple minutes, would melt down.  This happened 6 or 7 times in every year, and every time, just out of nowhere.  These were days from hell, where you just did your best and spent the whole time knowing, since you didn’t keep up with the line, there was a chance you’d lose your job, or lose the company the account, all because whoever said ‘Yes’ back at the office to sign so many kids up, would leave you there holding the bag, and not own up.

And so a job that should’ve felt pretty great, had one really dark spot.  But here’s the thing.  That spot was -DARK- and as it turns out, humans have evolved this trick, where we anticipate the future, based on awful past events.  We weight the awful ones more heavily, because the consequences of not seeing one coming are much steeper than the consequences of not anticipating, say, surprise birthday cake.  Only one person has ever died from that, and that was ruled an accident.  Don’t ask me how I know.

But let’s jump back into the story.  Flashing forward by two years, here’s your favorite Orc – he’s sitting at his station, setting up.  I think it was at Harvard Business Graduate School.  He’s been here twice before, and both times, he got slammed by angry rude entitled mobs who made him feel worse than hot trash.  And there’s this tightness in his chest, and now his stomach.  Yeah.  My first panic attack.  People were smiling, having tea, two tables over from mine.  There was a dancing club recruiting down the hall.  It was the safest, chillest, Muzak-est environment, and all the -DARK- had got under my skin.  Something informed the parts of my brain in charge of whether or not to panic, that this was, indeed, the time.  This didn’t stop.  I started dreading going to work.  I’d wake up worrying every day, that it had been a while, so this might be the day.  Even on normal days of 12 or 13 kids, there was the knowledge that this might turn south without warning, when 27 kids who’d all been given the same time slot by the office, wandered in and demanded their appointment be the one I honored.  These things happened.  All the time.  Or enough, anyway, that any day, they might.  That was enough.

Here’s why I mention this.

There are groups of people in this country who experience things we don’t.  Groups whose histories hold way way darker things than busy days.  The kind of dark where if you’re part of them, you get raised on stories where failing to anticipate what innocent-ish thing might signal danger on the wind could cost your life or leave you in the hospital.  But you don’t need those stories, because you know someone.  Everyone like you knows a different someone who’s suffered something people shouldn’t have to – stuff that doesn’t happen to people like you or me unless we go out of our way to earn it.  This stuff can happen to all kinds of people that aren’t us, for infractions as small as failing to read the room for threats and get out fast enough.

In our world – in our safe protected bubble – you’ve gotta fuck up pretty bad to earn a beating.  For some groups – groups as near to you as the nearest woman – learning to read strangers for intent is the difference between safety and danger.  And the number of false-positives is staggering.  Every Day.  It has to be, because the consequences of FAILING to spot danger in a comment, gesture, facial expression, socially-charged word, etc etc, are astronomically high, and the consequences of reading danger where there isn’t any, are trivially low.  You might come off as cold, or unfriendly if you’re wrong.  If you’re right, it saves your life.  Welcome to a whole other way of navigating the world.

And the world’s not THAT dangerous, on average.  Just like most of my days working in the Ivy’s were a breeze.  But that’s surprisingly inconsequential when the -DARKNESS- that might happen is That Dark, and comes with as little warning as somebody using a word in public that signals they don’t think too highly of your kind.  Most of the time, even those people are harmless.  They just use a word that really dangerous people Also Happen To Use.  But eventually, with the yearbook pictures, even two kids coming in with appointment cards signaling they’d both been given the same time, could make me sweat.  Involuntarily Sweat.  My body was responding without my say-so, to what -IT- knew might mean my day might be about to become unbearable again.  And the stakes there were, “too many kids in line and getting yelled at.”  Imagine if the stakes were life and death, possibly rape, or just hello.  Brain Stems Don’t Take Chances.  We’re not evolved for that.  They live in the worst-case because most of the genes that didn’t respond that way belonged to mammals who got eaten before they ever got to mate and be passed on.

So, MicroAggressions.  What they are, are subtle cues that you’re unwelcome, or that someone might be hostile, secretly.  From overheard ethnic slurs, to guys driving past yelling out car windows something you can’t quite hear but MIGHT mean trouble, to groups of men moving purposefully in your direction in the parking lot, who MIGHT just be on the way to their own car, but also this might be when you die, horribly, for looking too gay in the wrong neighborhood, or maybe they’ve decided that your gender presentation isn’t appropriate for their world and you need a beating, or maybe you’re wearing something they’ve objectified into a signal of sexual availability and they’re drunk, or maybe they think because of your skin color you’re about to steal your car instead of putting your key in the door and drive away.  The list goes on.  Your life is hard, but there are calculations you don’t have to make, about what most people intend or think of you.  People like you and me don’t get stabbed in bars because somebody thinks wearing a dress when you have an M on your birth certificate deserves a death sentence, because we’re not wearing dresses in bars.  That ugly only shows itself to its intended victims.  To the rest of us, it just looks like inert human background-noise.

MicroAggressions are hints.  Hints we’ve never needed to learn to pick up on.  Iceberg tips poking out of the social water, that might mean nothing… unless this is the one time in a hundred that they do.

My point in bringing all this up is that the next time there’s a word you only think you understand, and you feel tempted to decide somebody’s ‘soft’ for using it?  You might think twice.  You know a tiny slice of life, and thank the Lord, a very good one, for all that its dark bits still feel bad enough to count.  But you’re only making an ass of yourself when you run your mouth about Triggers and MicroAggressions from the comfort of your couch.  It just reveals how small a world you’ve seen.  Just, food for thought…

Why Not Read The… Oh. Right.

Another day, another shooting. This time at YouTube HQ. Someone joked that the perpetrator was a youtube comment thread come to life. It felt in poor taste, but in a way, it wasn’t wrong. Say what you want about access to firearms or mental health screening, or bullying, or any number of other factors that we can file under “stuff that frustrated people who just want this to stop” grasp at like straws.
 
But we have a problem.
 
And we don’t know what it is. We all have theories, some of which are good, and some of which are cop-outs. But the truth is, we don’t know why we’ve become more violent in this particular way. Anyone who tells you that we do, is full of someone else’s Kool-Aide and can safely be ignored. It’s not their fault. This is upsetting and it’s hard to blame anyone for seeking public validation for a pet theory that makes the world feel safer and more comprehensible in the face of what seems like no end of news stories about people shooting up schools, movie theaters, and workplaces.
 
We rarely take these people alive, so we almost never get the satisfaction – or the closure – of finding out why they thought they were doing it and what they were hoping to accomplish. That gets under our skin too, and helps to foster an environment where, in the ambiguity, truth is reduced to a matter of confirmation-bias-flattering opinion and a rush to make sure no one blames anything we feel is under unfair, undue, threat of losing-face.
 
On days like this, it might not be the worst idea to ask why YouTube comment threads are so vicious. Why our news sites are so viciously dismissive of TheOther. Why our politicians can find an audience large enough to catapult their careers into office on little more than demonizing other people who live in the same country.
 
We have a problem.
 
I don’t claim to know what that problem is. Not really. Only some of the symptoms other people have already done great work sorting out. But we have one. And it’s big enough that now and then, somebody who’s not smart enough or hopeful enough, strong enough or self-fulfilled enough, brave enough or kind enough or stable enough to navigate the world that we create culturally, financially, and spiritually, can’t handle it, and we get another day like today. This is unique to our time and place. This is unique to our culture. And we’re too busy fitting it to narratives that feel self-reinforcive to really wonder why.

The Invisible Participation Trophy

Here’s the thing with a lot of kinds of social Privilege. You hear the word and you expect, “Privileges are good. They must FEEL good.” But the thing is, that’s not how being spoiled works. It mostly just makes you unhappy. You get a bunch of good things other people don’t get, but think about every spoiled kid you’ve ever met. Do they notice or appreciate that they have it better than other people? They don’t. The material advantages they have over other kids just become their expectation, and something that, if it ever stopped, would cause them some alarm. Human nature is, we learn really quickly what to expect from the world – we set a Normal and we only pay attention when the Normal is violated.

When it’s violated in an unexpectedly nice way, we feel gratitude or pleasure. But when, say, we find a place where our opinion is unwelcome, where most living human people would say, “That’s nothing new, it’s just one of those places/times/situations where my opinion isn’t welcome,” a person who’s enjoyed a lot of the social privileges that I have, feels ALARM. Something is WRONG. The world is not behaving right. Someone is breaching social rules by telling me to Stop Feeling So Certain My Contribution Is Wanted. People like me, when it’s explained that their discomfort is a result of being culturally spoiled to assume a degree of, say, omnipresent welcome in a conversation, don’t understand that their discomfort is a downstream consequence of the violation of the privileges they’ve come to expect. We say, “I don’t have that. I don’t have privileges. That argument is bullshit. Most of the time I just feel like people are being unfair to me.” But it’s the same feeling – the same mechanism – as the first Christmas a kid who’s used to spending all day opening new toys, gets a couple pairs of socks and just a toy or two, instead. He feels alarmed. He feels cheated.

We all know this guy from comment threads. Sometimes this guy is us. Sometimes this guy is me. Sometimes this guy gets pushback. Our unsolicited-comment-thread-er just got what most people get when they butt into a stranger’s conversation with a dissenting opinion, but being welcome everywhere else, in ways that most other kinds of people aren’t, has made him expect that he should get to have a say here. He saw someone saying things he didn’t like. They owe him a platform to raise an objection to their premise, and if they don’t show him the respect of letting it stand unchallenged like he’s used to, they must be jerks, or thin-skinned, or “cultural marxists” unable to handle dissenting opinions. It won’t even occur to people who grew up like me, in an America that generally DID tolerate and even welcome anything we had to say, anywhere we wanted to say it, that we might be doing something extremely rude by butting in. Not the people telling us our behavior is unacceptable.

Us.

We’re the ones the world has spoiled and, like spoiled kids, it’s not -really- our faults, at least not entirely, not until they get old enough to decide their spoiled-ness is their right. But our expectation of universal welcome in every conversation, or the world’s being unfair to us, is 100% strange, and most other living humans don’t receive or expect that. We didn’t spoil ourselves, but finding out we’ve been spoiled and it’s making us behave like assholes without knowing it, has only one responsible answer – notice. Spoiled can be cured, and that cure is a lot more comfortable when it’s self-administered than when the world has to drive the point home itself.

Allwhite By Me

White Supremacy isn’t all cross-burnings and white hoods.

Most days it’s just that general unease you might feel, seeing an all black cast in a movie and thinking that’s exclusionary or weird, and leaving it at that, without then also realizing that every Other move you’ve seen this month with an all white cast didn’t strike you that way. It just seemed “normal.”

The idea of a cultural Normal where faces from nonwhite races are novel, incidental, rare, or only ever seen among a predominantly white backdrop, going unquestioned and unnoticed is a symptom of the assumptions about the world that white supremacy has managed to infiltrate our heads with.

The first step to getting clean is noticing it’s even there.

The Blue Scare

Democratic Socialism says that we can do better for each other, together, than we can for ourselves, individually.
It’s premised on the basic understanding that the capacity to coordinate our efforts is what makes our species capable of the extraordinary. We’re able to build social structures to negate weaknesses that would otherwise be crippling and allow everyone to contribute to their actual potential, rather than leaving each individual member of the species to fend for itself. This doesn’t sound like much, but without this willingness to help each other, we would have lost Stephen Hawking effectively at 22 or 23, long before he made his contributions to the species – contributions more far-reaching and significant than those of anyone we’ll likely ever meet, ourselves. Picture a world that that says it doesn’t matter what you have to offer, if you can’t also hold down a job and pay your rent. In a world of individuals, organized around mammalian self-interest, a nonverbal man who can’t walk on his own just looks like a burden to society, rather than one of its most valuable contributors. We don’t get those contributions if we don’t foster and shield people who need a little help to do the daily stuff.
Democratic Socialism is nothing short of the idea that overlooked, overlook-able, people have value. That people who could help us all, sometimes fall down and need a hand back up, and that by covering each other’s weaknesses, we get to benefit from each other’s strengths, without everyone also having to be a great farmer, a great fighter, a great thinker, a great hunter, or a great organizer, all at once, just to stay alive and have a chance to contribute to their civilization. It’s not some radical redistributionist endeavor. It’s the idea that helping strangers isn’t bleeding-heart altruism, it’s an investment in the talent and potential they might have. I chip in toward your cancer treatment today, you’re alive to chip in toward the salary of the paramedic who pulls me from my car accident next year.
This requires courage. There’ll always be a dumb animal hindbrain in our heads, saying “But what if somebody takes advantage of you??”  Fuck it. Let ’em. No investment is without risks. But you don’t see people walking away from 401K’s and Mutual Funds and market participation because sometimes they lose money, sometimes traders are crooked, and sometimes investment banks don’t act in good faith. That’s because while investments have an element of risk, no reward has ever been without risk either. If we want diseases cured, peace of mind in old age, safe streets, space exploration, secure borders – none of that comes without pooling our resources toward the common good and looking out for our most vulnerable members as if all of them might be the next genius with something to contribute to the world, if we showed them a little courage and faith upfront.
So outgrow “Taxation is Theft.”
That’s as out of touch with ModernMonetaryTheory as it is shortsighted and cowardly. Embrace instead the ethos of an investor in your country. You get no returns from the “First National Bank Of Jimmy’s Mattress.” Not when pooling our resources leads to space, no fear of cancer, and a world where everybody gets a chance.