Tag Archives: right

What Does St. Augustine Have to Do With Social Justice?

“[. . .] where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.”

Those lines are from “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”, by 18th century poet Thomas Gray. Now we both know the origins of the phrase; you’re welcome. There’s a reason those three words I bolded have survived and become a part of our cultural lexicon when the man who wrote them, and even the fact that they come from a poem to begin with, have long since faded away: we all know what it’s like to learn something we wish we hadn’t.

Kind of like when that image of what appeared to be a pink boa constrictor began circulating around the internet a couple of years back-

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-and many people, when they found out what it was, said they would never eat another chicken nugget again. Which, let’s be real, can’t be a resolution that most of them ended up sticking with.

It’s easy to continue hitting up our dietary habits when it comes to Gray’s words; after all, don’t we eat every single day? Anyone who has seen the documentary Food Inc. may come out of it with the hot piece of trivia that corn makes its way into almost every item of food in American grocery stores, but the real question is whether or not they continue purchasing and consuming meat that has, in all likelihood, been produced by a factory farm. Continue reading

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Eight Things I Learned in Indonesia

A little over a year ago I spent four months in Indonesia. I didn’t really travel across the country, at least not in the way you would expect during that much time abroad. Instead I had the great privilege to live in Indonesia, and see it from the inside. It’s hard to put to words all that I learned, and impossible to do justice to the people I met and the experiences I had. Here is my attempt to share are a few things I learned while I was travelling.

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1) Hospitality

The first notable quality of almost every Indonesian I encountered, and especially of my host family, was their hospitality. Within 12 hours of arriving my concept of generosity and hospitality had been put to shame. My hosts not only shared their home, they shared their family, lives, and friends with me. I was adopted into their social circle, taken for day- or week-long trips by their friends while I was there. I was honoured to be one of the first people to greet the family’s first grandson alongside the immediate family.

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2) Hijabs aren’t scary

This is a fairly potent topic these days so I won’t comment too much. Over half the women on Java wear hijabs, a head covering worn by Muslim women. When I asked why they wore them, all the women I asked answered with “I wear it because I choose to.” I began to recognize beauty and comfort in these headdresses, as well as freedom of expression. These women were neither ashamed nor pious in their religion, it was simply a part of their life.

DSCI0470 Continue reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Caucus

Today marks the start of voting in the Iowa Caucus, a crucial stage in the great and bloody pageant that is our Democratic process. And while the tallied results will doubtlessly dominate the news over the next days (until the  New Hampshire caucus steals the spotlight) it should be remembered that, while important, the results are far from deterministic. Plenty of presidential hopefuls have won here only to ultimately lose the nomination. All of which is to simply say that we will not (I repeat, not) be making any foolhardy attempts at predicting the outcome here.

That’s not our job.

What we will be doing is- now that the dust has finally started to settle- is count up the casualties and figure out what the numbers say about us.

The Head & The Heartless

As of the writing of this post, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders are neck and neck for the hearts and minds of their devotees in the Hawkeye state. And that alone should be of note, seeing as how a year ago Hillary’s nomination was being treated as a given, with some even dubbing the primaries more of a “coronation” than a contest.

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Which is probably less pleasing to some than others…

Why It’s A Good Thing:

Look, it’s no secret that yours truly is an avowed Leftist. And as such, I’m still not entirely certain what to make of Bernie Sanders. Part of me, of course, wants to like the guy. I do want to see Universal Healthcare, free higher education, drug legalization, and the like. I don’t want the massive, bloated, intrusive pseudo-socialism of Scandinavia. There’s a lot that goes into it, and maybe we can explore that another time, but for the here and now, I’m just happy that it’s a conversation we can even have.

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If you had told me, just a couple years ago, that a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist would have a significant chance at a major nomination and the presidency, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here we are, and for better or ill, we’re the people that have to deal with that. The issues of the working class, of income inequality, of the failures of run-of-the-mill liberalism- these have all found their way to the forefront of our national dialogue and they cannot be dismissed. Even if Sanders fails to clinch the nomination (and that’s still very up in the air), his supporters and sympathizers will certainly not go quietly into the night. From here on out the Democrats (and ostensibly, any major candidate) are going to have to address the increasingly vocal demands for a more equal society.

That, and I love that the eternally smug former Secretary-o’-State is being forced to actually work for this nomination.

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We can probably cover my distaste for this person at a different time…

Continue reading

Clarifying Charlie Hebdo

Let’s face it- there’s no way to avoid this topic. At this point, I don’t know that there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said in the past few days. What I’d like to do, if I can’t offer anything new, is at least offer some clarity. Here are the facts, folks:

On the 7th of this month Sayeed and Shareef Kouachi attacked satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for running cartoons deemed “insulting to Islam”. The Kouachi brothers, armed with AK-47s, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher, killed 12 individuals- most of them magazine staff and cartoonists- in addition to wounding several others. Two days later the Kouachis would be killed by French police after a protracted siege in a warehouse. Other suspects involved in the attack are currently being hunted down.

Since the 7th, we’ve seen an outpouring of indignant outrage over the killings, as well as solidarity marches, both for France and for freedom of speech. Despite the near universal solidarity behind Charlie Hebdo, a myriad of differing conclusions have been voiced in the past few days- some good, some bad, and many missing the point entirely (in spite of genuinely good intentions). Let me try to address a few of these below.

Not All Muslims Are Terrorists/Not All Terrorists Are Muslim

…But I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

At this point, parroting that line is starting to feel almost patronizing. It’s an obvious truth, and it shouldn’t need me to defend it. There are millions upon millions of Muslims in the world, the vast majority of whom want nothing more than to live their lives in peace- among them, Ahmed Merabet, a police officer and the first of the Kouachis victims. Whether the infamous 9/11 attacks (in which American Muslim Mohammad Hamdani died attempting to rescue people from the North Tower) or the thousands of Muslim Arabs and Kurds fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Muslims shouldn’t have to be “rescued”. From Abdul Haji to Aitazaz Hassan Bangash to Malala Yousafzai– there are just as many heroic actions from Muslims as their are heinous ones.

But this is, again, obvious to anyone actually interested. I don’t know that there’s anybody out there who hasn’t already made up their mind about it (for better or for worse). Continue reading

Freedom Socialist Party Offers $13 An Hour (This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things)

We’ve already talked about Kshama Sawant. Elected to Seattle’s city council in 2013, Sawant’s victory marked one of the greatest comebacks in American socialism- or at least, Americans’ openness to socialism- in a long time. While her endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders resulted in snide “I told ya so’s” from the radical left (for whom happiness is counterrevolutionary), everything was going relatively well. An open Marxist had been elected without the sky falling and in spite of the griping of its opponents, the $15 an hour minimum wage in the city of SeaTac appears to be promoting growth, rather than stifling it.

And then this happened:

Socialists Push For $20 Minimum Wage But Won’t Pay Workers That Much

…Yeah. Continue reading

Beyond Good and Evil

Act 2, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the titular character declare that “there is no good or evil, but thinking makes it so.” Years later, this same sentiment would be echoed by Milton’s Lucifer in Paradise Lost, vowing “The mind is its own place, and itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Moral ambiguity, in case you haven’t caught the drift, is the subject of today’s post. Our culture is becoming increasingly saturated with concepts and figures embodying this general rejection of our traditional measures of what right and wrong is. Jump back twenty years, and the definition of a bad guy would be fairly straightforward. A bad guy breaks the law. A bad guy hurts people. A bad guy lies. A bad guy uses people.

Today, all those things would describe five minutes of screen time with Breaking Bad’s Walter White…

Or Sin City’s John Hartigan…

Or The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes…

Or even any of these guys…

And lest anyone think that women are excluded from this mentality…

Now this isn’t the first time we’ve had a run of morally questionable heroes/antiheroes dominating popular culture. If I were to describe tough, unflappable, characters struggling against each other for their own ends and agendas, often in contradiction of the law- you’d probably assume I was talking about characters from some film noir piece.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Throw a mass of people in an economic depression with no end in sight, mix in distrust of the powers that be, add cynicism in regards to any progress or change, and when else can you expect but a tacit respect for the handful of people who do manage to carve themselves out a living. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, “right and wrong” doesn’t quite seem so relevant as “effective or not.” When you feel helpless and voiceless, chances are anyone whose managed to be independent and powerful is going to be attractive- be he/she a suave criminal, a cunning businessman, a shrewd politician (à la Game of Thrones), or even just an all-around tough guy (see Sons of Anarchy).

And we’re not just talking about TV shows here.

Who are the good guys and bad guys in Inception?

Think about it- exactly which characters were representing the side of justice, truth, and freedom? Or Killing Them Softly? The Godfather SeriesThe Big Lebowski?

Our heroes today aren’t crusaders, they’re survivors. They’re those who manage to carve out a slice for themselves in spite of law, society, and conventional morality. “Good and evil” simply aren’t relevant.

And y’know what? I’m not hear to pass judgement on any of that.

There’s strong arguments to be made on all sides for whether or not this is a good or a bad thing or, to put it into morally ambiguous terms, a productive or a destructive thing. There’s even a strong case to be made for the “morally ambiguous” characters on TV and in the movies still never straying too far from anything truly socially unacceptable. Alternatively, you could (and I would) potentially argue that the moral system we had before all this wasn’t actually all that moral to begin with.

And what about the issue of cultural plurality in our ever-shrinking world? When what is right according to my moral code wrong according to yours, how do we proceed? Do we try to find some sort of umbrella system to keep us from fighting each other? Maybe we should declare moral anarchy and simply duke it all out based on the strength of our convictions. Certainly Nietzsche would approve of that.

All that’s to say that the issue’s complicated.

I don’t know, Michael Cera gif, I don’t know…

Speaking for myself, it is nice to see some kind of conviction, even if I don’t agree with the cause at hand. There’s a case to be made for apathy being the pinnacle of all evil. In a world where the greatest battles the average person (or rather, Westerner) faces are over such petty, empty things as getting a dinner order right or having to wait in line, seeing any kind of drive makes for a nice change. As with so much in this past year, it might not be great, but it’s a start.

The Good, The Bad, and The Evil

In an early Shame Day post I called a particularly reprehensible political lobby “what cancer would look like if it were a social movement.” While I continue to stand by that statement (this group was pulling the exact same ploy against Muslims that Middle Ages Christians used against Jews), a commenter did assert that I had gone too far, stating “as wicked or wrong as you think these people are, they remain human beings.”

It’s got me back to thinking on a subject that’s long held my interest- namely the issue of evil. You’d think it’d be pretty straight forward- right is right and wrong is wrong- but let me get right into an example.

Was this guy evil?

No question. Hitler and his followers aren’t simply evil- they’re the go-to example of evil. They’re our baseline for evil. Everything vile and nefarious is measured against either Hitler or the Nazis.

So what about this guy?

Columbus’s long-list of achievements (discovering America not being one of them) read more or less as a chronicle of genocide, slavery, and theft. It’s well known, certainly at this point, that Columbus was a greedy, narcissistic, tyrannical, and corrupt man. Even with streets, cities, a holiday, and even an asteroid commemorating him, surely we can all agree that this guy was evil. Not on the level of Nazi Germany, but still indisputably evil.

But what about him?

Yep, that’s Thomas Jefferson. President.  Founding Father. Author of the Declaration of Independence.

Slave owner.

Not just a slave owner, but an abusive one- carrying on an affair with one of his slaves (that slave also being his wife’s half-sister), getting her pregnant multiple times, and then promptly allowing his own children to spend the rest of their lives as slaves.

Pretty depraved, eh? If I did any one of these things, I’d be called out as a first-rate ******* (and rightly so). I’d be called evil, and that would be telling it like it is.

But let’s move on.

Is this guy evil?

That’s J. Edgar Hoover, founder of the FBI, which he oversaw with about the same leadership you’d expect from some Stone Age self-proclaimed god-king. Hoover was an egoistical, jealous, paranoid man who used the FBI to advance his own political agenda. In addition to all of this, Hoover was a rabid racist, and struggled long and hard against the Civil Rights movement, targeting MLK Jr. in particular, as well as spearheading a campaign to undermine the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Would you call this guy evil?

Ok, what about them?

Yes, the average American family (not pictured above), or heck, even just the average American? Our money goes to supporting companies that use sweatshop labor. Our money goes to supporting companies that recklessly destroy the environment. Our money goes to supporting corporations that push objectifying ads (especially, but not exclusively, in regards to women).

Our taxes go to supporting dictatorial regimes (such as former Egyptian president Mubarak), racist and apartheid states (such as Israel), and even states that utilize child soldiers.

Where does that put us?

Now all of that is simply to illustrate the apparent complexity of the issue. Evil is evil, yes, but pinning down exactly who is and isn’t evil becomes a little more complex once we look at someone other than the Nazis. Jefferson was instrumental not only to the founding of this nation, but to the establishment and perpetuation of the core concepts of democracy and human rights- even to the point where Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose ancestors Jefferson owned– wound up quoting him in his iconic I Have a Dream speech.

Likewise, there’s the issue with the average American. Almost none of us would actually be able to manage a sweatshop, or put an assault rifle in a twelve-year old’s hands, at least, not in person. Despite this, our economy is built on the backs of Bangladeshi kids working for twenty-five cents an our. Our security (we are told) is predicated on us coordinated with nations whose human rights records are drenched in blood (*Cough*China*Cough*Saudi Arabia*Cough*Columbia*Cough*). The vast majority of us either don’t know or don’t care; not enough to raise a voice in protest, anyhow. Again, what does that make us? We might not be ourselves actively implementing imperialism and violence and despotism, but we still do rake in the rewards and howl for more.

We could try arguing innocence by virtue of not being the ones pulling the trigger on any of this, but the truth that history has taught us over and over is that simple knowledge of an injustice creates moral culpability. To ignore injustice equates with committing injustice. We simply can’t escape it.

Not without risk of being hunted down by zealously religious Irishmen…

And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe we can’t be so picky about where we draw the line between right and wrong. Maybe the answer is sweeping judgment. That’s not meant to be some fire and brimstone-esque statement, that’s simply a fact of the matter. You’re not good and evil only when you embark on a mission of genocide- you’re a participant in a viciously evil system until such a time as you act otherwise. You’re part of the problem until you’re part of the solution.

That’s not to say that you have to be flawless. You’re not going to be able to do that (neither am I, for that matter)- in part because we’re human, and in part because the world we live in simply isn’t going to cooperate. But people, we can at least try. I don’t think making an effort to not totally **** up the planet and all that’s in it is really all that much to ask, do you?