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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Years ago, a friend once said to me that I was “cursed with lucidity.”

I originally started this blog because I have notions that bounce around my head regarding politics and I thought, rather than boring my somewhat apolitical family with them, that I’d write them down. A the time, I was a slightly cranky and iconoclastic liberal, but I still fit well within the bosom of the “left-of-center” politics. I say “iconoclastic” because I had a tendency to, when in doubt, fall back on liberal principles regarding the rights of the individual, the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and so on.

I understand, now, why people become apathetic about politics. It’s not necessarily that they don’t care, or that they don’t want to care, it’s just that caring starts to seem futile. At least that’s how it feels for me.

There are a lot of disjointed things going on in my head. Pardon me if this post is not entirely coherent.

More and more, I’ve found myself at odds on issues of principle with people with whom I am normally aligned, although not always in disagreement about the supposed matter at hand. About a year or so ago, I stopped reading a writer I’d been following. I can date it if I wanted to take the time to look it up because it was about Cecil the Lion. You may very well have forgotten already. A hunter, a dentist from somewhere in the midwest, shot and killed a lion in Zimbabwe. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an incredibly big animal lover. I don’t hunt, and if I could manage to be a vegetarian for purely sentimental reasons I would. I’ve tried and I’ve failed, so I’ve resigned myself to eating meat, but in just about everything else I am a softie when it comes to animals. I especially like cats. I’m not sure I could date someone who went on safaris and hunted exotic animals. I could probably tolerate someone who hunted deer or similar animals in the U.S., but they’d probably have to keep it to themselves. Intellectually, I know there’s no consumption without killing. People who farm fruits and vegetable kill “pests.” I’ve read that some apple farmers kill deer. So, I know that my attitude towards hunting is more sentimental than anything else. I don’t like killing because I have the luxury of living in the modern world. Still, traveling from the U.S. all the way to Africa to kill lions for fun strikes me as repulsive. In other words, I find nothing sympathetic about the dentist who killed the lion.

What I disagreed with, was his trial via social media, and the threats to him that followed. I was disappointed to find that a writer I followed, who I thought was moderate and sensible, approved of this. We’re ignoring every principle of justice. Furthermore, by lashing out in an emotional way, we are not solving any problems. Hunting, as much as I may not like it myself, plays a role in maintaining the current lion population.

Once, lions were not limited to Africa.

Map showing historic distribution of lions. From Wikipedia

Zimbabwe, the country where Cecil was killed, has a lion breeding program in which regulated hunting plays a part. From CNN:

Legally hunting lions in Zimbabwe is highly regulated: it requires various permits and licenses from the client, professional hunter and hunting reserve owner. National quotas aim to ensure sustainable off-take of the species and, in western Zimbabwe, lions are only killed once they have reached a certain age to make sure they’ve had the chance to pass their genes on. As a result, lion populations in Zimbabwe are either stable or increasing.

It is also worth adding that Zimbabwe is not a wealthy country. I saw a variety of figures for average GDP per capita which ranged from $600 to $2100 in the CIA World Factbook. Average income in an article in the Washington Post in 2013 was listed as $150. The CIA World Factbook calls the unemployment rate as “unknowable,” but the most recent estimate they have from 2009 is 95%. So, remember that this lion breeding program is taking place in a country sorely pressed for resources.

To me, this is a question of prioritizing your goals and not responding emotionally. Ironically:

One of Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife reserves, the Bubye Valley Conservancy, recently announced that it was considering culling up to 200 lions as the cats have become increasingly overpopulated. The wildlife reserve said its current population of around 500 lions is unsustainable due to the dramatic decline in hunters, possibly caused by the controversy over Cecil, a lion killed near Hwange National Park last year.

Most importantly, however, mob persecution of an individual is against my ideals. It’s a matter of principles and ideals, not emotions. If it was simply emotions, I would agree with the people who were against hunting.

Some other examples where I agree with people on the topical subject at hand but disagree with them in principle concerns a, I’m not really sure what to call him… He’d probably call himself a journalist, but that’s really not what he does. His name is Milo Yiannapoulos. I just looked up his most recent piece, which is actually one of his better ones, “For Sarah Silverman: Five Times Students Got It Wrong.” Normally, he likes to troll feminists in the persona of someone who is both flamboyantly gay and flamboyantly conservative. It’s hard to know whether or not to take him seriously. In any case, as a feminist, I am usually in disagreement with him, if disagreement isn’t too serious a response to things like:

Mattel may have foisted Curvy Barbie on us at the behest of feminists, but good things can sometimes happen for bad reasons. Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way: I’m gay. The more young girls are encouraged to become fat and unattractive, the better life gets for me. Every step fat-feminism takes towards victory means another wistful glance in my direction from otherwise-straight men.

I’ve been calling myself a feminist since I was thirteen. Back then, every Toni, Diane and Harriet was not calling herself a feminist and being a feminist, if not exactly lonely, was not entirely comfortable either. Naturally, you would think that I would side with the feminists. Yet, when Yiannapoulos spoke at Rutgers, his speech was interrupted in a way that I find a little disturbing.

After the first wave of disruptions by protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” came a group of individuals smearing fake blood on themselves. Faced with counter-chants from supporters of Yiannopoulos, the protesters walked out of the event before the question and answer portion even began. This is the portion of the event which would allow people to question Yiannopoulos and share their grievances in a legitimate fashion. Apparently, the protesters who walked out didn’t want to seize this opportunity.

The description really doesn’t give you an idea of the bizarre quality of the protest.

Again, I disagree with Yiannopoulos, but I don’t want to be on the same side as those protesters. Importantly, I doubt that they changed a single person’s opinion that night. If anything, the protesters reinforced the notion that feminists don’t have reasonable arguments, but only incoherent rage. They may silence, but they do not persuade.

Importantly, among the arguments in favor of freedom of speech is not only the rights of the speaker, but also the right of the listener to hear dissenting views. I have found myself watching, with greater and greater trepidation, the support for freedom of speech which was once a mainstay on the left. I am unconvinced by the arguments equating emotional harm with physical harm and the resulting position to limit speech on that basis. This puts me in an odd position. During the past year, watching various student protests, I frequently agree with the protesters that something is offensive. I don’t believe, however, that free speech should be limited on those grounds.

This is a really long argument and I can’t address it fully here, but the attitudes of the left towards freedom of speech is yet another thing that has been making me feel alienated from the groups whom I would have considered to be allies in the past.

Feeling that people are essentially unable to hear opposing opinions, weigh their merits and come to a reasonable conclusion is anti-democratic. It is support for authoritarianism. I have always been strongly anti-authoritarian. Between an anti-feminist troll and a group of feminist authoritarians, I have to support the troll. On a personal level, that is really uncomfortable for me. It’s a matter of principle, not taste or personal affection.

Another thing that’s bugging me is the “migrant crisis” in Europe. I’m putting it in quotes because I find the word “migrant” to be too vague to be useful and the word “crisis” feels too much like the passive tense to me, something that just kind of happened without ascribing any responsibility to any actors.

Again, this puts me on the same side of people with whom I am not normally sided. I don’t have anything against immigrants in any kind of general way, but the authoritarian, high-handed, anti-democratic approach taken by European policy makers without considering the wishes of the general populace into consideration. The response to this tends to be something along the lines of, “…but …but ..but, the populace is wrong.” And if you say that, you are an authoritarian. A democrat, would take it upon themselves to convince the populace of their position.

Who are these “open borders” activists and where did they come from? Admittedly, as a U.S. citizen, I follow U.S. politics and only watch the rest of the world out of the corner of my eye. Still, who are these people? I have friends and acquaintances involved in anti-racist organizations, human rights organizations, feminism, various other causes, yet this “open borders” movement is new to me.

Backing up a little, I ask myself, if this were a little over a year ago, let’s say towards the end of 2014, and I was looking at the ongoing conflict in Syria and it was starting to dawn on me that it was going to be longer, more violent, conflict than we had assumed and there would be many displaced people, what would I do to help them? Would I do anything vaguely resembling what either the European leaders have done or what the open borders people are advocating? Have a large number of vulnerable people fleeing a war torn country expose themselves to people smugglers, robbery, rape and every type of criminal that is ready to prey on vulnerable people while them make their way across the Mediterranean, walk across Europe on foot and sleep out of doors? I wouldn’t do anything of the sort.

I would probably set up administrative centers as close to the origin of the conflict as possible. First, you’d want to make sure people are safe, not only from the conflict they are fleeing, but from the criminals such conflict inevitably attract. You’d want to make sure they got any medical care, that they were fed, housed, etc. They might need psychiatric treatment if they witnessed any violence first hand. Then, I’d imagine you’d want to perform a sort of triage. Identify people who are from especially vulnerable populations like religious and ethnic minorities. Put them in separate housing. Try to determine who will be returning at the end of the conflict and who will be remaining. I’m not saying that it would be easy. But if you wanted to help people you wouldn’t do anything resembling what has been done. That’s the part I don’t get.

One more thing, resources, resources, resources. Although the left hates to hear it, resources are limited. If you want to help people, you need to prioritize.

I’ve been weirdly fascinated by the current situation with refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented workers and the people who prey on them. If you don’t think there are criminals following in the wake of the refugees like a lion eyeing a wounded gazelle, I’m not sure what part of “they killed Piggy” you didn’t get.

The world has reached a fucked up point when I’m finding more wisdom in the website “Cracked” than in all the columnists and pundits combined. It was a piece called “Four Groups You Lose Faith in While Working for Charity,” written by a woman who works for a shelter for battered women. My sister works for a non-profit and I’m sure she’d agree with much of what is in that. Most people on the left will not be particularly surprised by number four, which is cops. But the first on the list is the battered women themselves. In order to help people, there is a necessary realism that must be found between blaming the victim and not seeing the person you’re trying to help as a complicated person with positive and negative qualities. Truly helping people involves more than giving them a smile and a hug.

Which brings me to the other question. If the muckety-mucks in Europe aren’t trying to help refugees, what the hell are they doing?

Which brings me back to open borders. I’m hesitant to address it since I haven’t read much about it yet. Still, I must confess that I am dubious. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about a book a read a long time ago called Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. It really gave me the sense of how the nation state is integral to democracy. Can democracy exist in a post-national world? I confess, I fear that a post-national world would be ruled by an elite which would be unchecked by any of the rules we have been used to. They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is only through the mechanism of nations and the laws that govern them that the people have any power at all. Without nations, I suspect we will find ourselves naked and vulnerable before the most ruthless.

One article I read about open borders appeared recently in the Atlantic. The very short post is strangely ahistorical:

Nature’s bounty is divided unevenly. Variations in wealth and income created by these differences are magnified by governments that suppress entrepreneurship and promote religious intolerance, gender discrimination, or other bigotry. Closed borders compound these injustices, cementing inequality into place and sentencing their victims to a life of penury.

It does not seem to note that we once had those very same injustices and poverty in today’s economically advanced countries. Should we have, instead of struggling for individual rights, establishing a freer environment for enterprise and a democratic government that responds to the needs of the people, moved to China?

Dammit – I just had a bill collector call and I’ve lost my train of thoughts. I am so goddam dysfunctional. I have the money, but I can’t pay it because I get anxiety when I think of it. Isn’t that insane. I’m totally wrecking a previously perfect credit score due entirely to anxiety.

This was a random thought that was going to go elsewhere in the post:

I, too, was hoping for another FDR, a class traitor with all the refinement and manners of the class he is betraying.

 

I’m such a damned mess at the moment. I should totally forget about politics and everything else. I think I’m going to have myself a good cry.

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I was reading the comments on one of Noel’s blog posts. Violet mentioned that around Easter and Christmas the doorbell might be rung by people proselytizing as many as four times in a day. More than a few people were shocked to hear it. Although that is at an extreme, I find that my own experience regarding aggressive preaching is often at odds with those of other people living in the U.S. I knew that the region in which I lived was not one of the most religious parts of the country, but when I looked it up on the internet, a map at the county level showed that much of the region is more religious than I thought. However, the map was small enough and I couldn’t see my own county, New York, on it very well.

So, I looked at a few other maps, including some that showed the most common religious group and another that showed the second most common. They were Catholicism and Judaism, which went a long way to explain why I didn’t encounter much proselytizing. Although Catholics, like all Christians, feel an obligation to “spread the word,” they don’t tend to be as aggressive about it as some Protestants. Of course, as we all know, Jews do essentially none.

So, I got curious and thought I might dig down a little deeper. I found a source that had the religious affiliations for the residents of New York City, broken down by borough. For those of you who don’t know, New York City has within it five counties. The counties correspond to the boroughs. Manhattan is New York County, Brooklyn is Kings and Staten Island is Richmond. Queens and the Bronx have the same name for both the county and the borough. I found some figures and I made up a graph because I like seeing things visually.A bubble graph showing religious affliliation in ManhattanThe source is PRRI, Public Religion Research Institute. I don’t know how accurate it is, but the numbers didn’t leave me in shock. The biggest surprise was that there appear to be so few Buddhists. At thirty percent, the largest group was the “unaffiliated.” I know that many of us are curious how many people are non-believers and it would have been nice to see this group broken down. I think you can see from the relatives sizes of the bubbles, it doesn’t feel in the least bit odd to be a non-believer in Manhattan. The source also broke down Catholicism by race. I marked it, but in the end I didn’t label it. It had the group I’m calling Protestant in separate groups, “Mainline Protestant, Black Protestant, Hispanic Protestant and Other Non-White Protestant.” I won’t even begin to get into how weird that all is. Is “other non-white” redundant? Why not just “other,” or “other race?” What about blacks who go to a “mainline” church? Also, there were several groups in the survey who weren’t numerous enough to make it to the chart, including “White Evangelical.”

Now you all know why my experience with religious people is so different than that of others who are U.S. citizens.