Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Thugs We're All Paying

It’s the middle of the night. A family is sleeping peacefully, all in one room together—including several children. A two-year-old sleeps nearby in a crib. Their rest doesn’t last long, though. Seemingly out of nowhere, a group of armed thugs breaks down the door. They toss a flashbang grenade—a weapon made for soldiers in combat—into the room. It lands in the toddler’s crib, seriously injuring the child, and the family can only watch in dismay as the same thugs who injured their son—maybe fatally, for all they know—carry him off. The family has done nothing to deserve any of this. They’re not even the ones the thugs came for—just an honest mistake. We blew a hole in your two-year-old, but hey, no hard feelings, right?

I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. For those who haven’t heard the story already, it’s entirely too real. The two-year-old is still in the hospital, seriously injured. The armed thugs were a SWAT team, funded by taxpayer dollars. They were searching for a relative of the family in question who they believed had made a fifty-dollar drug deal (God only knows why this requires combat weapons to deal with). The relative was not at that house. The police department’s response has simply been that they had no way of knowing there was a child there (a dubious claim, since the family says there were toys on the front yard). Even if one believes this claim, you might expect them to be fairly sure there wasn’t a child there before acquiring a no-knock warrant for the house (again, God knows why this would be necessary for some minor drug offender).

But at least it’s an isolated incident. Generally speaking, the police are obviously much more competent than this. After all, there’s no other story in the news exhibiting grotesque police brutality—except for the one about how Albuquerque police shot a homeless man. In the back. They then proceeded to shoot him with beanbags (once again, God knows why they didn’t use those non-lethal rounds before mortally injuring the man). But these are certainly just “a few bad apples,” right?

Maybe not. At the risk of sounding repetitive (as I’ve mentioned it in past blog posts), there was the widespread police brutality against the Occupy movement. More recently, the ACLU released a report condemning the increasing militarization of police forces across the nation. So occurrences like the ones earlier mentioned may be anything but isolated, then (even if those are extreme examples).

To state the glaringly obvious, this is troubling. Obviously, the fact that unarmed people are being hurt or killed by the police completely unnecessarily is horrific enough in and of itself, but the implications for the future are even more ominous. Typically, the establishment in America—which is to say the government and corporations (which are very often allied)—have stayed in power not so much through force, but through propaganda, “manufacturing consent,” to use Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s term. But we may be seeing a real departure from that. The government (or governments, more precisely) has already decided what you are and aren’t allowed to put in your body. It’s now reinforcing that message with brute force. Tactics like these make people afraid of the police. The police enforce the status quo viciously. Their enforcement makes the people afraid. Because they’re afraid, the people don’t change the status quo. The police enforce the status quo viciously. A vicious circle if there ever was one.

In 1968, outside of the Democratic National Convention, there were widespread protests, which were met with equally widespread police brutality. Hunter S. Thompson wept. Walter Cronkite, the reserved, professional news anchor the nation trusted, was so appalled that he called the Chicago police “thugs” in a live broadcast. The nation was horrified. Would that sort of reaction exist at all today? Or would we just sort of agree that it was no real surprise at this point? I know I wouldn’t be surprised.

Militarized, corrupt, unnecessarily violent police forces are not a norm that should be, or can be, accepted in a free society, or anything resembling it. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we have let the wrong people become police officers—people who abuse their power relentlessly with utter disregard for those they’re supposed to be serving. Now they’re getting the sort of weapons soldiers use in battle. This needs to be an issue at the forefront of our national dialogue. If we let it go further, we may very well surrender our chance to roll it back.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Life Lessons from Cats

As of my writing this, I’m in a house that is associated, in one way or another, with twelve cats. I’ve encountered at least a majority of these cats, and they’re about as varied as you could ask for. Some of them are skittish and won’t even let me touch them most of the time. One of them is lying around and meowing plaintively nine out of ten times I see him, never for any obvious reason. Others are friendly enough, and are usually just sort of there unless it’s the middle of the night and I have to stop them from licking dirty plates on the counter, or something like that.

And then there’s MacKenzie—this overweight, one-eyed, hobbling tomcat. In spite of being a Cyclops with a bad leg, he’s a mostly very docile, even friendly creature. But at the same time, he’s not a cat to screw around with too much. MacKenzie doesn’t get pissed off easily, but he’s got no problem letting you know when he is. One of my arms is recovering from a minor incident that proves my point.

MacKenzie doesn’t really reign over the other cats in some kind of “alpha” fashion, but he doesn’t let them get in his way. Most of the time, he just relaxes, like cats are apt to do. I haven’t seen him ever provoke another cat. But if another gets in the way of what he wants, woe be upon them. When there is food in the food bowl and MacKenzie is hungry, the food is MacKenzie’s, ipso facto. The other cats can either fight for their share or wait until he’s satisfied and have what he leaves for them. They’ve gone with the former option, from what I’ve seen.

None of the other cats I’ve seen are really at the level that they’d challenge MacKenzie, anyway. He’s got a weight advantage on all of them, and he’s pretty able to get around, bad leg or not. Plus, a lot of the other cats don’t exactly make names for themselves in terms of being assertive. MacKenzie scared one off just by looking at it. He doesn’t go out of his way to challenge the other cats, but when they try to cut in on what MacKenzie’s implicitly claimed for himself. He is the über-cat, unbound by the fears and weaknesses of his peers—Diogenes reincarnated.

Perhaps there’s something all of us could learn from MacKenzie. He has the sort of disinterest in his peers’ opinions and ability to achieve what he wants that most of us can only dream of. His desires are simple and uncorrupted—food, human companionship, relaxation. He might overindulge a bit, but he’s getting what he wants out of life. It’s worth thinking about, anyway.

Osama bin Laden's Real Goals

I’m writing this partly as a response to an article by Allen Clifton, who’s basically a mouthpiece for the Democrats. In a typically uninspired piece of drivel, he questions whether George W. Bush ended up giving Osama bin Laden “exactly what he wanted.” Clifton then goes on to list how Bush plunged us into debt, got us involved in unwinnable wars, and wrecked the economy. This, Clifton seems to sincerely believe, was exactly what bin Laden wanted all along.

If I were a right-winger, I would be writing about why the economy wasn’t Bush’s fault, Obama’s been worse on the debt, and the wars worked, or something equally vapid. But that’s not the part I take issue with. Clifton is right—Bush had a hand in destroying the economy, and he is responsible for both fouling up the war in Afghanistan and starting a completely unnecessary one in Iraq. Instead, I’d rather address the idea that Osama bin Laden’s goal all along was just to cause the United States the most damage possible.

Firstly, I want to make it clear that I’m not defending bin Laden by any means. Like just about every mass slaughter of innocent civilians (including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the terrorist attacks bin Laden orchestrated are absolutely unjustified, in my view. Furthermore, there is no doubting his religious extremism, which is a characteristic I condemn in virtually everyone. But there’s no point in distorting the truth to make Osama bin Laden look worse than he was, which is what Clifton and countless others have done.

Clifton isn’t wrong to think that Osama bin Laden wanted to cause serious harm to the United States, but he is wrong to think that bin Laden wanted to do that as an end in and of itself. There shouldn’t even be a controversy over bin Laden’s motivations by this point in time—the man himself spelled them out:

“God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers but after the situation became unbearable and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed - when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the US sixth fleet.

“In those difficult moments many emotions came over me which are hard to describe, but which produced an overwhelming feeling to reject injustice and a strong determination to punish the unjust.

“As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way [and] to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women.”

These are quotes from a speech bin Laden made, where he also compared the Patriot Act (another thing Clifton thinks he must have loved) to the tyranny of Arab rulers, and mentioned that states that don’t threaten the security of Muslims would see no threat from al-Qaeda. It should be obvious to anyone who reads the spech that bin Laden wasn’t some comic book villain who wanted to see America suffer for the sake of suffering. What he wanted was an end to the American support for persecution and oppression in the Middle East. And, truth be told, anyone who supports the actions the US government has committed in the past is in no place to condemn bin Laden. Bin Laden killed innocents because he foolishly hoped it would lead to less murder of his own people. The US government has killed innocents for far weaker reasons—Bush and Cheney killed maybe a few hundred thousand in a war for oil (and yes, I am saying Bush and Cheney are worse criminals than Osama bin Laden. If there were any justice in the world, they would be forcibly put in Iraq as humanitarian workers, to clean up the mess they made out of that country).

When we demonize people like bin Laden instead of actually looking at their motivations and seeing what we can take from them, we don’t do anyone any favors. The cruel, bloody policy we’ve continued to take in the Middle East doesn’t just murder the women and children bin Laden spoke about, it almost ensures that we will have more Osama bin Ladens, and more Americans dying in terrorist attacks committed by angry extremists who want us to feel the pain our government has put them through.

I’m sure in the minds of every “patriotic” American, this post makes me some kind of apologist for “the terrorists.” The truth is, I don’t condone terrorism regardless of whom it’s done by. The people who defend our government, on the other hand, are apologists for some of the worst acts of terrorism in human history. Bin Laden and the people who follow him decided to use our own methods against us, in some deluded hope that this would change the suffering of their people. Putting aside the morality of their actions (which I’ve made clear are actions I consider unjustifiable), they must know nothing about America to think their methods would have a chance. Our government doesn’t care how many Americans die (how else can you explain that we were led into a war that would increase the terrorist threat against us?), and Americans at this point don’t seem to be able to work up the motivation to challenge much of anything their government does. I guess Clifton’s version of history is more appealing though—that way we could justify the fact that nothing’s changed.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Gun Violence: Not a Disease, but a Symptom

Gun ownership is one of only a few issues where I would call myself something of a moderate. There’s no doubting that a lot of the people championing the “right to keep and bear arms” are absolute lunatics, and the word “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment—putting aside the issue of militias altogether—should imply that some restrictions on who can own a gun are perfectly constitutional. On the other hand, while I sympathize with their horror at the amount of gun violence in America and at the mass shootings that seem to be happening on a monthly basis, a lot of liberals are promoting both attitudes and policies that I believe are wrong-headed. There seems to be a real hostility growing on the left towards guns themselves, and a desire to see much more restrictive policies against them. Neither of those, in my view, are helpful in this situation.

Let’s discuss some facts here. The United States is the number one country in terms of gun ownership per capita. And, yes, there’s no doubt that the ready availability of guns enables the gun violence that plagues us—but in terms of violence on the whole, there doesn’t appear to be any highly convincing correlation with gun ownership. We are the number one country in terms of gun ownership, but nowhere near number one in murders per capita—furthermore, other countries that are relatively high in terms of gun ownership as well—Switzerland and Serbia, for instance—have murder rates that disproportionately lower than ours (in spite of having one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world, Switzerland has one of the lowest murder rates in the world).

Furthermore, it’s no great mystery what propels a lot of the gun violence in the United States. Based on findings by the CDC, not only are big cities the source of the vast majority of gun homicides, but “the rate of firearm homicides was higher in inner cities than in other parts of cities and higher than the murder rate of the country as a whole.” Indeed, the worst places for gun violence are places with higher levels of concentrated poverty. Furthermore, as Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson comments, “The places way above the line for gun murders, like Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Newark, St. Louis, and Chicago, all have large, very segregated black communities with a history of disinvestment, outmigration, and, except for Chicago, not big immigration in recent decades…What the Detroit's and Baltimore's of American cities also had was extremely high concentrated poverty that mapped onto race.” So the driving forces behind gun violence appear to be poverty and the ongoing racial divide in America—problems that go much deeper than the ready availability of guns.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the government can’t snap its metaphorical fingers and make guns disappear—for restrictions to work, they must be enforced. Is it really reasonable to lock someone up just for owning a gun, as would have to be done to enforce the ban on firearms that some would like to see put in place? Some people do legitimately live in dangerous neighborhoods, and may not feel safe in their own homes—should they be punished because they choose to procure a weapon for self-defense? And do we really need another excuse to put more people in our already-overcrowded prisons? Not to mention that strict anti-gun laws necessitate giving even more authority to our increasingly militarized police forces. None of these are attractive options—and none of them would solve the real problems behind our gun violence.

And then there’s the fact that an armed populace does actually have its benefits. The government couldn’t actually be overthrown, of course, but the threat of uncontrollable civil unrest can achieve a great deal—it was after the violence and disorder of the Birmingham riot, and the thought that similar riots could occur nationwide, that JFK finally voiced his support for the civil rights movement. Liberals may be inclined to write off the idea that our country is headed towards tyranny as just a paranoid fantasy from the far-right, but the fact is that we have seen our liberties eroded, not only by the government, but by the corporate sector as well. At this point, civil disorder may be the only way to change our course. We saw that the police had no problem employing brutality against the Occupy protesters—perhaps they might have thought twice if the protesters had been armed. This isn't to advocate some kind of preemptive violence, but we all should have a right to self-defense, and it probably takes an armed populace to successfully resist the police force we have today. Unfortunately, for many liberals today, the thought of people defending themselves from the police and resisting the rule of government seems to be more unnerving than the idea of people being unable to do either effectively.

While universal background checks and other basic regulations are reasonable, the real solutions to gun violence have nothing to do with stricter laws or even fewer guns. We have a serious problem in this country when it comes to poverty, and one that hits the black community especially hard. Solving that problem is what we need to devote our resources to, not enforcing some array of needlessly strict new gun laws. As for the recent mass shootings, the issue they should raise is not so much one about guns—although they do indicate thorough background checks would be a good idea—but rather about our mental health system. Not surprisingly, the perpetrators in these shootings seem to be very mentally disturbed. We should be asking not just why they were able to get guns, but why they weren’t getting treatment. People like this are dangerous with or without guns, and we need a mental health system that will deal with people this ill in a serious way, rather than just writing them a prescription for some antidepressants.

As insane as some of the people speaking against gun control are, and as well-intentioned as some of the people speaking most harshly against guns are, I can’t help but find myself falling a little closer to the first group in terms of actual policy positions. That isn’t to say I actually agree with them, though—the sale of guns does need to be regulated, and even those who take this idea too far are generally not fascists who want to disarm the populace, but well-intentioned liberals who are fed up with seeing news about gun violence so often. Those liberals are absolutely right to be fed up with it, too. It is time we do admit gun violence is a serious issue—but, as in so many cases, it is but a symptom of larger issues, and unless we devote our resources to those, the real problem goes unsolved. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Jaded Generation

When you’ve grown up with everything being wrong, it becomes hard to understand what “right” is. There’s been a lot of talk about how the Millennials, Generation Y, or whatever it’s supposed to be called, are all a bunch of vapid narcissists who are too lazy to get anywhere in the real world. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but it’s the least of this generation’s problems. We have grown up in a time where things fail to be even superficially all right. We have become adjusted to the madness that constantly happens around us, like children growing up with parents that beat them regularly for no reason. That’s what we are, in a way—the abused children of history.

The September 11 attacks happened when I was in second grade. I remember the day, though not that well. Other people my age have said they barely remember it at all. We have grown up in a world shaped by it, and we’re too young to even remember how things used to be and wish they could return that way. Not that they were by any means great before that point—far from it. But 9/11 gave an opportunity for some sinister powers to pounce, and shape the world in dangerous, ugly ways.

The invasion of Afghanistan came almost immediately after 9/11. The country was At War now, which is a big concept when you’re a second-grader. But after that war drags on for years, you begin to forget there was even a time in your life when it wasn’t going on. We’re still in Afghanistan. A lot of people my age probably barely think about it anymore. I don’t really either, for that matter. It’s How Things Are—and how they’ve been for years.

We invaded Iraq when I was in third grade. By this point, my friends and I were pretty convinced that this must constitute another World War, like the ones we knew vaguely of from school. Not quite, as it turned out. During the two World Wars, the government emphasized that sacrifices had to be made, things had to be run differently, and so on. Here we had a government essentially telling everyone to go on with their everyday lives while they handled the war business. Don’t worry—we’ll make sure you’re safe.

After Saddam Hussein was found and imprisoned, the war seemed pretty much won to me. I was confused as to why it didn’t seem to be coming to a close. But it definitely wasn’t, and eventually that became another part of How Things Are. We’re out of Iraq now—unless the government decides to launch airstrikes to quell the chaos that’s currently going on there, an ugly byproduct of our long, bloody war.

I was a freshman in high school when the economy, seemingly out of nowhere, fell to bits. It was like a second Great Depression, they were saying. But there was no New Deal—just some bailouts and a stimulus package that made sure there was still something of an economy left. The country didn’t come together to dig itself out of the new depression, didn’t unite behind any FDR-figure—just splintered into angry ultraconservative fragments decrying “socialism,” then later a failed left-wing movement trying to break the corporate stranglehold that’s only been getting worse. The economy, meanwhile, has been limping along the road to “recovery”—which means good news for Wall Street, but not much for the rest of us. The economy doesn’t serve us anymore—it’s just run by corporations, for corporations. That’s just How Things Are.

Then last summer came the revelations about the NSA. Outrageous, sure, but surprising? Not really. The government might have pretended to respect civil liberties decades ago, and kept its violations on the DL, but by this point it was pretty much expected to admit it had no regard for them. When a bill passed a few years back to give the president authority to hold anyone indefinitely, it might have seemed unnerving to people older than myself. To people my age, it was nothing surprising—the government does whatever it wants, for the sake of protecting us. Just another part of How Things Are.

And yet, I don’t think there are many people in my generation who are actually all right with all of this. We don’t really remember how things were before corporations ran everything, we were constantly at war, and the Bill of Rights was just a piece of parchment, but we have an understanding that it had to be better than this. There’s definitely a desire to move past this era and into a better one.

But that desire is all too passive in those who even have it, generally speaking. We’re used to things being out of our control, so we just sort of hope they’ll work themselves out. But that blind hope achieves nothing. We need to actually recognize that there is a potential for change—it might take drastic actions that go outside of the normal ways of getting things done, but these are the sort of circumstances that require that.

We have to remember the success of the Civil Rights Movement—a movement that secured rights for a small and hated minority of the population, against huge opposition and in stark defiance of How Things Had Been. We also have to keep in mind the sort of things that helped lead to that movement’s success. They went a lot further than passively hoping for better.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Nation of Prudes

Conventional wisdom in terms of America’s attitude toward sexuality seems to go something like this: “Back in the ‘50s, sex was kept in the bedroom and people were very reserved about even discussing it—but today, we’ve gone in the complete opposite direction, to the point that almost anything goes.” It’s no surprise to see conservatives pining for the “good old days” before the so-called Sexual Revolution, but even some progressives seem to think we may have taken “sexual openness” too far (as when The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur pondered whether Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs meant we would eventually tolerate anal sex onstage in public events).

But it’s not just inappropriate to be pondering whether we’re entering into some age of sexual amorality—it’s wrongheaded to even think we’ve achieved “sexual openness” in any meaningful fashion. Progress has been made, yes, but the progress is shockingly minimal, all things considered. The reaction to Cyrus’s performance is a good example. Her “shocking” antics included twerking and pretending to masturbate with a foam finger. The performance was classless and had no artistic merit, but are we really in an age where this is still seen as anything other than a lame grab for attention? Apparently so, since it was a very successful grab for attention.

If we think what we tolerate from performers (tolerate being used loosely) is somehow indicative of societal attitudes, we’ve learned nothing. In the ‘90s, Marilyn Manson tore up Bibles onstage and declared himself the Antichrist Superstar. The next president was an evangelical creationist committed to continuing Reagan’s legacy of fascist theocracy, to borrow Frank Zappa’s term. The fact that an anti-Christian Nietzsche-admirer enjoyed considerable record sales and put on shows around the nation did not mean that America had actually begun to realize the stupidity encompassed in a lot of fundamentalist Christian doctrines; likewise, the fact that entertainers get away with sexually charged performances is no indication that we’ve actually abandoned our long-held but utterly senseless mores about sexuality.

We still view anything sexual as “inappropriate”—we’d prefer children not even know sexuality existed. Why? Are children really going to have their minds corrupted by the very knowledge of what sex is? That doctrine sounds like something the Puritans might have believed, but is that really the attitude of twenty-first century America? In 1936, Bertrand Russell published the essay “On Sexual Ethics,” where he wrote: “When I say that children should be told about sex, I do not mean that they should be told only the bare physiological facts; they should be told whatever they wish to know.” Almost eighty years later, this idea is still unthinkable to most Americans, apparently.

But, of course, sexuality isn’t just viewed as inappropriate for children—excessive amounts can hurt adults, too, depending on who you ask. Rick Santorum ended up being a viable presidential candidate, while openly proposing a ban on pornography. That was a stance he championed, too—not one he snuck into his platform and avoided mentioning at public events. Imagine if, on the contrary, there had been a presidential who not only supported legality for porn, but argued it should be distributed as widely as possible, and publicly funded (this wouldn’t even be a completely absurd position, either—it has been theorized that easier access to porn has helped decrease the amount of rapes that occur). How far would that candidate have gotten?

And all this time, I’ve just been talking about “normal” sexuality. There are still sodomy laws on the books in several states (though they’ve been prevented from enforcing them by the Supreme Court). The military still has a ban on sodomy which it has not been prevented from enforcing. And, in spite of studies saying that it is not only harmless but even healthy, BDSM is still viewed as some kind of weird, perverted ritual for sickos by wide swaths of the population. We’re still in the process of even viewing homosexuality as acceptable, despite the obvious evidence against claims that it’s “unnatural” or “unhealthy.”

These are not the signs of a society approaching sexual amorality. These are not even the signs of a society that is sexually open, or anything like it. These are the signs of a society that continues to stubbornly cling to its puritanical views of sexuality well after they’ve stopped being even vaguely justifiable. We’re nation full of prudes, and we have to remind ourselves how prudish we are by getting outraged every once in a while about something completely inane. Rumors of our progress have been greatly exaggerated.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Saving Feminism

LATER NOTE (December 28, 2015): I have removed a criticism of Rebecca Watson over the "elevatorgate" incident, as I no longer view it as deserving of scorn. In general, my views have changed significantly since writing this post (for instance, I'm much less dismissive of the concept of rape culture), but I will leave it up for the sake of allowing what I said to stay on the record.

Let me preface this by saying that I self-identify as a feminist. I believe that women are at a significant disadvantage within the United States (where I live), and at a huge disadvantage on a global level. I think that feminism is movement with a history that is both laudable and highly impressive, and that it has been represented by some of the best minds of their respective eras.

With all of that being said, something has gone wrong—very, very wrong. While there are plenty of reasonable, well-educated feminists out there, there is also a large section of people--particularly online--who call themselves feminist but promote an ideology that real feminists would cringe at. This ideology isn't just disappointing when one considers feminism's history; it’s downright loathsome and depraved, in and of itself. Its focuses are absurd; its claims offensive; if it promotes equality, that equality comes as the equal right for all to be oppressed. This wouldn't be so troubling if it weren't for the visibility this group has gotten, and the bad reputation it's helped secure for feminism as a whole.

These feminists (or pseudo-feminists, more appropriately, seeing as their ideology is far from liberating for women or anyone else) make claims and promote ideas that are often dubious at best. Take the idea of rape culture--essentially, that rape is seen as justified if a women's clothing is provocative enough, or the like. There is no doubt that there are people with this repulsive attitude, but by and large, people recognize rape for what it is--an atrocious crime that can never be justified. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that "rape culture" is not the cause of rape--a fact these pseudo-feminists seem to forget. RAINN, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the United States, even felt obligated to rebut this idea: "While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime."

Then there’s the patently absurd, but apparently very popular, trend of these people claiming they “need feminism” for one reason or another. By their logic, they have apparently helped the mystical being “feminism” spread its wings and save them from the injustices of the world just by calling themselves feminists. I would point out to them how unlikely it would be to see Emma Goldman or Simone de Beauvoir holding a sign explaining why they “need feminism,” but I doubt a lot of these “feminists” would even know who either of those people were.

There’s also the fact that the ideology this group of people subscribes to essentially views women as perpetually victims and men as perpetually evil—not a flattering ideal for either, really. As such, plenty of statements about how society needs to teach men not to rape/abuse/disrespect women instead of teaching women to avoid such rape/abuse/disrespect, float around. Apparently, those making such statements are oblivious to the facts that 1.) not all people who rape/abuse/disrespect are men, and not all people who are raped/abused/disrespected are women, and 2.) it’s generally far more productive to teach people how to avoid falling victim to a crime, since criminals often don’t care what society tells them to do. These “feminists” are also very convinced that society imposes no standards on men in terms of body or appearance; it’s an absolute mystery why they think men can’t feel insecure when seeing what commercials and other media consider “attractive men.” (Actually, it’s not a mystery—it’s because these pseudo-feminists implicitly think women are the weaker sex—wrongly, as any true feminist would point out).

And what of the recent upticks in female genital mutilation? The oppression of women in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran? These are issues that, when one is addressing gender equality (or lack thereof), one should be sure to speak on, so what do these “feminists” have to say? Their silence is deafening. In fairness, I suppose there is some talk in pseudo-feminist circles about issues like these, but they always seem to fall into the background—examples of “Why I’m a Feminist” or the like, issues to prove the patriarchy still exists (and I agree, it does) but never issues to actually address in any meaningful way. Then again, when do these people address issues in a way you could fairly call “meaningful?”

Unlike a multitude of other people today, I don’t want to abandon feminism. I think it’s a movement that has achieved a lot, and that continues to be relevant to this day. But—regardless of whether they constitute a minority of feminists or not (and I certainly believe they are)—this sub-movement of radical feminists threatens to discredit feminism as whole by giving it a bad name. Therefore, I call upon all who are able to see through the dangerous extremism of this movement to oppose it at all turns and denounce it at all opportunities. As Noam Chomsky once said, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies.” I propose as a corollary to that, that intellectuals—in this case, anyone who understands what real feminism is—to decry all dangerous aberrations within their own movements and seek to eliminate them. Feminism has done a great deal for both women and men; it would be a shame if its legacy were ruined thanks to a hijacking by bigoted extremists.  

I don't expect to actually cause the disappearance of these people and their ideas, nor do we need to, but I do think it's important to recognize the damage they can cause. When the average person sees an article like this one, feminism itself gets a bad connotation. Part of the reason feminism has a bad reputation is because of people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, but "feminists" who really do promote misandry and false ideas play a role too. There are also plenty of well-intentioned people who may say the sort of things or believe the ideas I've talked about here, without realizing their implications. Hopefully, any that read this will understand the problems with those ideas and catchphrases. But, in a time where the people who promote such ideas get as much attention as they do--and alienate as many people as they do--it is important for the real feminists who know better to take action, and speak up when they see something wrong. 

NOTE: This post was edited from its original version. The second and third paragraphs were partly rewritten to be more accurate, and I made a brief addition in part of the second to last paragraph. The last paragraph is entirely new. These edits were made on the advice of my girlfriend. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The NSA--A Threat to the Future

I’ve talked about the NSA’s spying programs so much in private that now, when I’m actually putting my thoughts out where others can (theoretically) read them, I feel almost like I have nothing new to say—after all, the original scandal broke close to a year ago. The reason I focus on it now, though, is that newly published documents indicate that the NSA collects millions of images daily in order to run them through their facial recognition technology, thereby putting a face with the other information they have.

Theoretically, the targets are supposed to be residents of other countries (which should still be concerning to anyone who believes in protection from government intrusion), but anyone who’s communicated with a citizen and resident of another country could have their pictures swept up as well. 

This program has apparently been significantly expanded under Barack Obama, the very candidate who rode into office promising to overturn the vile legacy of George W. Bush, and his vicious disregard for the Bill of Rights. So much for that promise. We’re getting closer and closer to a government that has the ability to know virtually everything about where you are and what you do, whenever it wants. With technology advancing as it is, the idea of privacy rights could be nothing but a quaint legal fiction by the time my generation is middle-aged.

“Who cares? The government might be able to know what I do, but it’s not like it honestly matters to them. They’re not about to ship me off to Guantanamo—I’m doing nothing to piss them off.” If you think this, you’re probably right—you aren’t doing anything to attract any unwanted attention. But here’s a newsflash for you: in the most dictatorial, authoritarian states in the world, people who follow the rules have nothing to worry about. If you have no problem with anything that’s going on in the United States, then you probably shouldn’t care about the NSA, either. But if you have an objection to the growing disparity in wealth, the government’s imperialistic foreign policy, the drug war, or any of the other various issues that the Powers That Be would rather you ignore—then this news is pretty disturbing.

Back in the 1960s, when the Powers That Be were busy opposing the civil rights movement, the FBI spied on Martin Luther King, Jr.—among others—collecting whatever it could use to blackmail him, including a tape recording allegedly of him having an affair. If a King-figure were to emerge for any of the modern movements, they should expect the same treatment—worse, most likely. In case you think we’re past the point where the government fears and distrusts popular movements, you should be aware that the FBI deemed Occupy Wall Street “terrorist” in its memos and closely watched its leaders. Conceivably, that—and the widespread police brutality against the movement—could have been what led to its ultimate failure.

Social change is not always inevitable. In spite of the FBI’s ruthlessness, civil rights succeeded, but that was the only tangible achievement of the New Left. American society over the ensuing decades did not become more equitable, as figures like King would have liked, but less so. The Vietnam War dragged on, expanding into Laos and Cambodia, until Nixon ultimately deemed it a hopeless cause and threw in the towel. Since its end, the government has armed terrorists in South America, invaded countries that posed no threat, and supported brutal regimes around the world. Aside from civil rights, just about every movement we remember from the sixties failed. [Later note--I now realize my summary of the anti-Vietnam War movement's role in ending the war is horribly oversimplified and inaccurate.] Today, the movements we need to correct society’s ills barely exist. The NSA’s programs are just another part of the government’s making sure they never grow any further.

NOTE: I originally said in this post that the government could "presumably" intercept communications between US citizens with approval from the FISA Court; I have removed this as it is incorrect.