I Might Take a Blogging Break

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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6 comments
  1. This was a long post.
    On Zimbabwe, I think they have more problems than Cecil. Last I checked, their inflation was above 3.5 million percent. Maybe the problem or the outcry is really not about Cecil but about runaway poaching in most of the parks and in this instance the person, not necessarily a poacher is known.

    On the protests in most American colleges and elsewhere. I am not sure the way they are going is the right way. Making some absurd demands that I have seen on the net. If some of them were granted, all it would do is change who the oppressor man, as Bob Marley would sing, was. It doesn’t encourage dialogue nor does it effect change.

    On the refugee problem in Europe. Maybe it is possible to set a secure place near the refugees point of origin, but where would this be? Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Armenia?
    Open door, well that is what I think happens in Africa. Though they are kept within camps in the hope their countries will return to stability.
    A friend of mine who has worked with refugees for over a decade tells me very little money actually gets to helping refugees. Most of it is used up in logistics. I think those who usually seek to be assimilated are political asylum seekers. The majority would I think want to go back home. Maybe I am naive to think they will go home.

    Lastly you ask why some countries didn’t rise to achieve economic and political freedom like US or most of Europe. I hope it is not lost on you that these countries exploited and continue to exploit some of the African countries and elsewhere. That when it has served their interests, they have bankrolled despots who care nothing about freedom or rule of law. For example the French bankrolling Mobutu and many others. When sanctions have been applied, they have usually affected the common person on the street who has nothing with the government except being unlucky to have been born in that country while these despots and their cronies stash money in Europe and other safe havens.

    I don’t have a solution to all these problems. Most are historical and may need complex solutions. Some, like the case of student protests may just require dialogue.

  2. fojap said:

    I’m afraid I was being pretty self-involved in terms of my perspective. The outcry about Cecil I was talking about was coming from people mainly in the U.S., although I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it was from Canada or Europe. Zimbabwe has many more problems than just one lion.

    Regarding the protests on colleges, I don’t entirely get what’s going on. I’m sympathetic in part, but I don’t really understand the tone and the hysteria. On the one hand, statues go up, statues come down, things get renamed, so these things can be changed. However, they don’t seem to be having the serious longer discussion about what sort of things might disqualify people. At the same time, it should be remembered that totalitarian ideologies like to rewrite history. In a new instance, I read today that at some school or another students wanted to name something after Assata Shakur, who was a member of the Black Liberation Army, a violent, anti-democratic, revolutionary Maoist group that did, indeed, kill people.

    I’m probably too cynical for my own good, but this article sums up my more optimistic notion of what it going on.

    I think I’m missing the part you’re talking about. I didn’t ask why some countries didn’t achieve economic and political freedom. At least I didn’t mean to. I’m not very knowledgeable of the details, but I was aware of the exploitation and colonialism. I was more focused on what had happened in Europe. I’m not so interested in why democracy and so on didn’t occur elsewhere, but more interested in starting with the fact that it did happen in Europe and that was, at least in part, what propelled it to being the prosperous powerful place it is today where people enjoy long life spans and generally have a pretty good live materially and also live in a stable society with a rule of law in which they are reasonably secure in their persons and property. You could say the roots of this started in the Renaissance and really took hold during the Enlightenment. Without the Enlightenment, I don’t think Europe’s scientific blossoming could have occurred. Let’s not forget part of that scientific revolution was the “green revolution” which improved farming methods and went a long way towards putting Europe on a good footing.

    What was uniting all the disparate things that were bugging me is that I feel like they all have something of an anti-democratic impulse. In the case of Cecil the lion, it’s not so much anti-democratic as not abiding by the rule of law.

    I feel like I was very lucky to grow up in a relative stable prosperous country. The left wing narrative is that we are prosperous because we stole things from other people. I don’t want to discount that, but I think it ignores a lot of what is positive in the society. These students are so angry. They just want to tear everything down. I don’t know what they think they will build in its place.

    More and more, people express a distrust of the democratic process. I find it very worrisome.

    Sorry, if I’m a bit brain dead today. I finally paid my debt, but I wound up having a major anxiety attack while doing so. It was sort of embarrassing. It was library debt and I had to pay it in person. I feel sort of wiped out. I was on a roll when I got the phone call and I only half remember where I was going.

    If you want to know why I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the European migrant crisis, you might want to look at this article: No Borders Hippies Lead Migrant Death March. Only three people died, so it wasn’t exactly a “death march.” I just don’t see where these activists have the well-being of the migrants at heart. They are using them as pawns. Who are these people and what are their goals? They’re a little scary because they obviously don’t see the migrants as human beings. They’re just using desperate and vulnerable people. It’s a little gross. But I’d like to know what their real goals are.

    You’re right about refugees not really needing that much and logistics basically being the biggest problem. I agree with you that normally refugees are kept nearby because they hope to go home as soon as possible. It makes me wonder if the world leaders think that this conflict will continue for years and years. Maybe they don’t want to say it out loud. Normally refugees don’t work in the host country and there isn’t a real effort to integrate them because, again, it’s supposed to be a short term stay. However, I know someone in the U.S. who’s been contacted about job training and placement for Syrian refugees, so who ever is coordinating it thinks they’re staying long enough for that.

    For a totally different reason, I was looking at simple shelters on the internet. I wasn’t specifically thinking of things for refugees. (Actually, I was writing a novel and I was trying to figure out what a character might be living in.) Still, shelters for refugees comprised a large part of what I saw. One thing crossed my mind. Mostly, they’re fairly basic. The need to be able to be delivered to a site and be put up easily. Cost is an issue. The average stay in a refugee camp is 12 years, but there’s a huge variation. The thing that crossed my mind is that perhaps something could be designed that could be improved and made more habitable in stages. What a person needs for a month, let’s say in the case of a natural disaster, it not what a person needs for a year, or a decade. I don’t have an image in my mind at all. Just the idea of something that could be adjusted and improved over time.

    By the way, I’m finally going to China in May. The kid is having his wedding celebration. He and his girlfriend, now wife, went to Bali and got a whole bunch of formal photos taken. I think it’s a Chinese thing to do.

    • Come through Nairobi on your return journey 🙂
      The link about the student demands was quite a shocker.
      And the refugees crisis. Crazy things people do.

  3. Unitémaritale said:

    I’ll be brief, nuance will suffer.

    I agree, some people on the left seem to have a penchant for totalitarism. I’m not sure they see it like this, though. They are just convinced they are right and good and loving. They will say things like : “Freedom of speech? But the guy is a racist bigot who hates women, we must shut him up for the greater good of all society!”. I happened to disagree with that very strongly. I stand more with Voltaire regarding freedom of speech. 🙂 I have a much bigger problem with someone deciding what can and cannot be said, than someone saying things I find repulsive.

    Coming from very humble backgrounds and now teaching in a university, I have the feeling some of my fellow workers, although self-proclaimed left-leaning persons loving the poors, like the situation just as it is, with the poors staying where they belong, poor. I’ve been called xenophobe for saying that maybe we should pay attention to the number of refugees we let in (my girlfriend is an immigrant and half the girls I’ve dated were from a different country. I’m not perfect but xenophobe? No.), right wing for mentioning that unions are not perfect (I live in a society where nearly half of the workforce is unionzied) and many other things, every time I was expressing anything going against their “beliefs”, it’s almost dogmatic. It reminded me of your friend in college who was called a racist for not idealizing blacks living in the projects of NYC by a bunch of kids “who never had a black friend in their whole life!” while he came from those projects. How to change these beliefs? I wish I knew.

    China? Sweet! “The kid”? What the …? 🙂 Where is the post that explains that?

    • fojap said:

      I didn’t mean to ignore your comment. I’ve been on something of an organizing binge.

      Regarding your comment about your girlfriend – one of my female friends used to call my ex-boyfriends “the United Nations.”

      “The kid” refers to one of my mother’s former students. I’ve mentioned him to Mak before, so I think he knew the reference. His parents were divorced and his father moved to the U.S. When he was in high school his mother felt he wasn’t applying himself and getting into trouble and she thought his father would impose a little discipline. So, he arrived in the U.S. at about the age of fourteen not knowing a word of English. My mother was a full-time teacher in his school, but not one of his teachers. She tutored him in English after school and she sort of took him under her wing in a lot of ways because he was lonely and wanted to go back to China. He calls her “my American mother.”

  4. Oh my god, I do the paying-the-bill anxiety thing so much. I have one sitting on my desk right now. Taunting me.

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