Category Archives: News

The Myth Fights Back

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Zimmerman stalked Martin in silence, a menacing, alarming presence with ill will. He does not seem to have given any thought to how he appeared. It may even be likely that he intended to appear threatening, as posturing men with defensive mindsets often do.

He was a man in possession of a flashlight that didn’t work, a metaphor for the self-illuminating insights that he never had.

All of his preparations were aimed at having the edge in a fight. He worked his body regularly for this purpose with MMA training three times a week. He didn’t just work out to be fit, he worked to beat an opponent in a fist fight.

He legally carried a handgun loaded with hollow point bullets. Warning shots, incapacitating shots were not part of his vocabulary, not an option in his arsenal.

Zimmerman was a man fighting for his life before he ever drove down that street or left his car that night.

All of his preparations were for this moment. He showed no concern for avoiding or preventing a fight.

Across the country, many white people have been cheated or lied to or harmed in some way by another person but never by a young black man. And yet those same white people are still afraid of young black men, more than of any other group.

When Mel Gibson barked out his famous curse, “I hope you get raped by a pack of n*ggers!” – he was expressing his own worst fears, not an actual realistic threat. His target of intimidation was in more danger of being raped by Mel Gibson. There was no feral pack of other-race men imminently circling, about to attack her. It was a myth in his over-wrought mind.

Before the Civil War, southern gentlemen couldn’t stop talking about how scary the black men were. Controlling these mental threats required maximum posturing, intimidation, and force. No public punishment was ever too severe. Those white men lived in fear that someday their advantage might be reversed. Just as Zimmerman, armed and dangerous, was living in fear.

Being pursued, Trayvon Martin knew that George Zimmerman was up to no good and that he himself had done nothing wrong. If Martin had run away Zimmerman would have held him in contempt as another “asshole” who got away. Zimmerman didn’t want him to get away.

In the grip of the myth Zimmerman knew that the young man he pursued was up to no good and had surely done something wrong. He chased him because to his mind Martin was running away, and getting away.

Myths are part of the culture of a country. In the south, fear of the overwhelming number of slaves hardened into a myth that rationalized southern fear and violence.

In such a fear myth, increasing numbers of the feared only inflate the myth. Even positive encounters with black people seem to reinforce the myth, exceptions that may well be considered proof of the rule.

Out in the national conversation held on Twitter, fear of the myth has been palpable this week. Even such a highly visible demonstration of the injustice of the myth as Trayvon Martin’s death still reinforces the fear of the myth.

How do we integrate a myth with reality when the myth is impervious and resistant to reality?

The myth fights back.

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Living for Babies

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It can get weird listening to liberals and conservatives talk past each other. Misunderstandings lead to frustrations and then the decibel levels rise.

Conservatives, who have been in full counterrevolution reactionary mode lately, have learned that ideas expressed in provocative language can trigger passions among their members.

Liberals struggle with the contradictions that they sense in the emotional terms used by conservatives.

Perhaps nowhere is the confusion more tangible than in the conflict between those who call themselves “pro-life” and those who call themselves “pro-choice.” Often, it seems to pro-choice advocates, the pro-life legalized abortion opponents are also in favor of death dealing in the form of the death penalty, of war, and of torture. Moreover, pro-lifers seem to show little concern for the life and health of women and children.

Liberals are further confused when they see that the people who most loudly profess anguish that unborn babies are being “murdered” are often the same people who are against provision of birth control and who want abstinence to be taught in schools in place of sex education, despite growing evidence linking abstinence focused education with higher pregnancy rates. If abortion is murder and the goal is to reduce abortions then these things are counter-productive since sex education and birth control reduce abortion rates.

Pro-choice advocates say they are actually seeking to reduce abortions through sex education and birth control and so they object when pro-lifers describe them as “pro-abortion.” Why would anyone be for abortion, they ask.

It doesn’t help when legislators then seek to define “personhood” as beginning at conception on the premise that life begins at conception. Biologically speaking, eggs and sperm are just as alive as zygotes and embryos; there is never a moment during the reproductive process when the components are not alive.

But all of these seeming contradictions dissolve if the goal of pro-lifers is instead described as birth rather than life. Opposition to sex education is pro-birth. Restriction of birth control and abortion is pro-birth. The death penalty, war, and torture become unrelated issues. Poverty and quality of life, physical and emotional health are irrelevant to a pro-birth position. Gay marriage becomes a relevant issue as a threat to birth because gays would no longer be forced into a traditional marriage where they would be more likely to reproduce.

As for soaring rates of single motherhood, a pontificating Rick Santorum or a ranting Rush Limbaugh see single mothers as being to blame for making themselves available to men without a publicly blessed commitment. Men are supposed to couple with every fertile female available to them, that is their job. The female’s job is to be fertile and to carry and care for the resulting babies. Making sure that she has sufficient resources is her problem to solve. The pro-birth position is unconcerned on her behalf.

In this sense, the members of the pro-life movement are nothing less than the modern guardians of fertility, a firmly entrenched and primeval instinct in the human psyche. Once upon a time virgin females were sacrificed to appease this instinct, a clear incentive for young females to couple-up, and fast.

For these reasons clarity will be enhanced if we recognize that the pro-life movement should instead be referred to as the pro-birth movement. Then people have a better chance of talking about the actual issues instead of feeling baffled by the other side’s positions. Neither side is primarily for or against abortion (or life) per-se because abortion is not the real issue. The real issue is birth.

In the end it may come down to this: Some of us want to be married. Some of us don’t. Some of us want to have babies. Some of us don’t want a baby right now, or maybe not ever. And some of us want to force everyone else to marry and produce babies, all other considerations be damned. Whatever side that we find ourselves on, let’s call it what it is and allow our arguments to stand on their own merits.

Because true freedom and liberty require and deserve honesty and clarity.

Image: “too many babies” by Djuliet, on Flickr

12 Ways To Tell If Your College Is An Indoctrination Mill.

Cult directions

Did Your College Indoctrinate You? Share Your Stories!

On Thursday, Rick Santorum warned us that colleges and universities are “indoctrination mills” that turn the faithful into the faithless. He cited a thought reformation rate of 62 percent.

With a rate this high, we must all know at least one person who lost their faith in college! The indoctrination techniques that are being used in this broad-based conspiracy must be serious psychological tactics, the kind of tactics used by cults.

Therefore, I’m looking for anecdotes of college/university indoctrination or attempts at indoctrination. As a helpful guide, I went to HowStuffWorks.com for some insight on what the cults do. If colleges and universities are using these same techniques, I think this could be a good place to find clues that may indicate that you or someone you know were indoctrinated while in college. I’ve adapted the following list from the HowStuffWorks.com article, staying as close to the article’s descriptions as I could.

12 WAYS THAT YOUR COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY MAY HAVE INDOCTRINATED YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW

1. If you (or someone you know) were tricked into going to college and committing to a lifestyle that you didn’t understand, were misled about the true expectations of the college, and had your consciousness altered by the college through meditation, chanting, or drug use, you may have been indoctrinated.

2. If the college cut you off from the outside world or did not allow you to have unsupervised contact with the outside world, kept you from talking to other new recruits, and told you that outsiders are dangerous and wrong, you may have been indoctrinated.

3. If the college demanded absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission and systematically destroyed your sense of self, you may have been indoctrinated.

4. If the college controlled every minute of your waking time, allowing you no free time to think or analyze, you may have been indoctrinated.

5. If the college told you what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep and did not allow you to make any decisions, you may have been indoctrinated.

6. If the college devalued and criticized your special talents; if it punished doubts, assertiveness, or remaining ties to the outside world through criticism, guilt, and alienation; if it made you feel evil for asking questions; you may have been indoctrinated.

7. If the college kept you hungry, sleepy, off-balance and confused, you may have been indoctrinated.

8. If the college pressured you to publicly confess sins and then viciously ridiculed you for being evil but accepted you back when you acknowledged devotion to the college as the only path to salvation, you may have been indoctrinated.

9. If you feel like your only family is the college and you have nowhere else to go, you may have been indoctrinated.

10. If you can only access necessities through the college and you are denied food, water, social interaction, a toilet*, and protection from the outside world if you misbehave, you may have been indoctrinated.

11. If you believe you will face eternal damnation if you leave the college, you may have been indoctrinated.

12. If you thought you could leave the college but you never did because college is the only place that feels safe and leaving just feels wrong and you are still experiencing these indoctrinating tactics because indoctrination never ends but you’ve accepted this as normal – it’s too late, you’ve been indoctrinated.

I hope this list is helpful. Personally I have not experienced any of these things but perhaps I somehow escaped it!

If you have an indoctrination story, please share. If we are to save ourselves, our children and our country from indoctrination, we will need to have some idea of what the experience might be like.

*HowStuffWorks.com didn’t mention a toilet. I added that part because any college that would deny necessities like food and water would surely also deny a toilet. I think.

Image: Cult directions by kevin dooley, on Flickr

Armed and Parenting

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An informal scan of the Internet last weekend suggested that a whole lotta American parents have had it up to here!

A visibly frustrated dad who’d had his feelings stung by a secret Facebook post from his teen daughter had decided to teach her a lesson by shooting her laptop. He made a video of the lecture and subsequent laptop execution by firing squad of one.

The thing went viral and millions watched. Judging by the comments there was much applause and approval, so much approval that an unscientific survey garnered 74% thumbs up from about 93,000 respondents.

As usual with a quickyfix, there were unintended consequences – the police came to his door with a social worker, he’s gotten unwanted attention, people are harassing him on the Internet, and who knows what his employer thinks.

It doesn’t matter. Millions of frustrated American parents seemed to love his quickyfix approach.

Lacking any kind of formal parenting training, pressed to the limit by the demands of modern lifestyles, many parents fall back to an easy show of force over thoughtful consideration of what the child really needs, virtually guaranteeing that their problems will be temporarily driven into the shadows only to reemerge when the quickyfix breaks down.

Our society looks to formal education for driving, personal finance, and even to some degree for gun handling, but to suggest parenting classes can be considered an insult. And that’s too bad because our parents are frustrated and our kids deserve better.

It was All Too Complicated for Anyone to Understand, Ctd

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‘Never invest in a business you cannot understand.’ – Warren Buffet

Over-Simplified Solution, meet Over-Complicated Problem.

Marketers have known this forever. The key to selling a solution is to create a problem for it to solve. Hence, the mundane everyday realities of being human: dandruff flakes, under-arm odor, imperfect teeth, are portrayed as monstrous things that could get you shunned. No one will date you, mate you, hire you. You could be voted off the island. The quality of your character is as nothing compared to these superficialities. If you suffer from anything that may impair your attractiveness, you must correct this problem now, if it takes the last cent you have! Even if you have to access credit and take out a 2nd mortgage on your home.

After all, the solutions to these suddenly enormous problems are so simple. It’s merely a matter of money.

In the buildup to the financial crisis, the simple solution for the risk-averse and fudiciarily responsible was the Triple A rating. Any bond with such a rating was certified gold. No further investigation would be necessary. Behind the rating on a mortgage-backed bond was a world of complicated calculations. The truth of the bonds would not yield to any but the most dogged, possibly emotionally disordered, financial detective with weeks or months to spend digging.

Almost no one bothered.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet has famously advised to never invest in anything that you don’t understand.

Thousands (millions?) of investors substituted ratings for understanding, having no idea that the ratings agencies didn’t understand either.

The bonds appear to have been designed that way.

Image from Flickr commons – Professor Phillips and his machine to model an open economy

In Praise of the Witness

Penn State students
According to an article in Time magazine, “In recent decades, rates of sexual abuse have actually plunged. Child molestation by casual acquaintances and sexual abuse by caregivers decreased 61% from 1992 to 2009, according to the Crimes against Children Research Center
 at the University of New Hampshire.”

The researchers credit awareness, prevention, and prosecution. People and organizations are more vigilant than they used to be.

Vigilance creates real and significant results, a 61% decrease from 1992 to 2009.

That means fewer victims. Less pain. Less trauma. Fewer ruined lives and ruined careers.

All because victims and their families/advocates/witnesses/supporters have stepped forward and said, “This is what happened to me” or “this is what I saw/heard.”

Cases of abuse have plunged because people spoke up. By speaking up, they helped prevent others from becoming victims.

In spite of the pressure to stay silent, some people stepped up. In spite of knowing that others would call them liars, question their character or say that they were asking for it somehow, would judge the way they’ve lived their lives, would slander them and their families, criticize them for making noise about it, criticize them for waiting so long to say something, or for not saying enough, or for saying too much. In spite of knowing that speaking up would have negative effects on their lives in the short-run and in the long. In spite of knowing that they would be accused of having ulterior motives for speaking up, would be accused of trying to hurt the abuser for their own gain. In spite of knowing that everything would change.

That’s Courage.

Think about the grown men in the Penn State case who were faced with this kind of discomfort and backed off. They decided that the victims didn’t need help. They decided that it couldn’t have been so bad, that the abuser was one of them and so they “had his back” and would keep it between themselves. They decided to tell the abuser not to make them uncomfortable by doing it in their own territory and they decided to look away and pretend that if they didn’t see it then it meant that he had stopped.

Think about how easy and normal it is to have that response when faced with something so personally uncomfortable. Think about how easy it is to identify with the nice but authoritative abuser and be sympathetic and maybe even forgiving because he’s so darn human and just made a mistake.

Abusers can be so nice! If they are in a position of authority people look up to them. They can be charismatic, jovial, funny, generous, gregarious, and friendly. They can look so innocent, yet assertive. They are likable, empathetic, and kind. They might even have candy but that would be the least of their offerings. Praise, sympathy, belonging and approval can be so much sweeter than candy.

Serial abusers are usually surrounded by people who have experienced all of these things and think the abuser is wonderful.

Sometimes people step forward and speak up. It might make you uncomfortable but remember that where there is one victim there may be many more, both in the past and in the future. Remember that the friendlier you feel toward the accused the more you need to guard against refusing to hear the witness. Remember how hard it is to speak up. Remember how easy it is to disbelieve the speaker.

Remember that turning away may mean future victims.

The Dangerous Group

The young man squinted hard at the lines in front of him. He’d been asked to match a line to another line of the same length. He could see very clearly which it was. There shouldn’t be any doubt.

But the other young men who were seated at the table with him were unanimous. And they had, all of them, chosen the wrong line.

Pressed for an answer the young man went along with the group, knowing their answer was wrong.

To him, agreeing with the group was more important than the truth, was more right than fact.

Soloman Asch, the psychologist that led the experiment, found similar results in group after group. With nothing tangible at risk and no persuasion at all most subjects were willing to let a group of unarmed, nonthreatening strangers prevail at least once.

Questioned later, many of the subjects indicated that they’d feared the ridicule of the group. Some seemed to have even convinced themselves that the group must be right and they themselves wrong.

Conformity studies such as this one seek to observe the level of need of the individual to fit in with a group, but what about the group? What is there to fear from a group and why?

The answer is that groups do have the power to enforce their collective will on an individual, through punishment if necessary, regardless of the rationality, or lack of rationality, of the demand.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), the United States military policy formally repealed today, represents nothing so much as the power of a group to force its own version of reality upon dissenting individuals. Non-conforming service members faced the threat of losing their jobs and their homes, the companionship of their local friends, and were vulnerable to blackmail, perpetuating a threat to national security.

LGBT U.S. military personnel have now gained the right to claim their own thoughts and feelings about sexuality.

The unspoken and well supported fear of the group by individuals is another matter.