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This morning, when I first opened my eyes, I found that I had a heaviness in my chest. I started crying. Not a hard sobbing. Just lying there vaguely aware of tears welling up in my eyes. It’s not secret that I’m under treatment for depression, but this didn’t feel like the depression I’ve been experiencing for the past several years.

I’m pretty sure I’m not racist. I say “pretty sure” rather than “absolutely not” because I’m aware enough to know I’ve grown up in a racist society and we don’t ever entirely transcend our own time and place. However, I do believe that there are no significant biological differences among people of different races. In fact, I believe that the concept of race has no grounding in biology. Therefore, differences in social status and behavior are entirely a product of the environment.

Am I xenophobic? That’s almost laughable since I run the risk of being called a xenophile.

Am I culturally biased? That’s a far more complicated question. To start, I would have to have a firm idea of what constitutes a good society. I am tempted to answer that that would be the society that allows for the greatest degree of human flourishing and the least suffering. However, flourishing is an unsatisfactorily vague term. I don’t think there is any culture that is perfect, which has all the answers. In so far as any culture that is in existence today could be said to be a successful culture, no culture is without any value. That said, I am not a cultural relativist. I terms of particulars, I think some ways of organizing human society are better than others.

I think that there are no gods, spirits, or other immaterial beings, great or small. Therefore, the least human suffering based on the supposed desires of non-existent beings can be said to be an unqualified ill.

Last week, I was very quick to put up a post that said, “Je suis Charlie.” It would turn out that I was on the wrong side of the overall consensus. I had read, or more accurately seen, Charlie Hebdo a handful of times in the past. When I put up that statement, I did not mean that I endorsed everything that had ever been printed in that magazine, nor did I think that was what anyone else mean. I recalled that immediately after the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, Le Monde published an editorial that said, “Nous sommes tous américains.” I did not take that to mean that the editors of that paper had endorsed everything the United States had ever done or ever would do, or that they were suddenly enamored of every aspect of American culture. I did not feel at the time that “Je suis Charlie” meant that I personally endorsed every cartoon they had ever published. In my mind, I supported their right to speak their mind without fear of violence.

I have mentioned that I have had nightmares in the wake of the assassinations. The day before, I had drawn a cartoon. It seems so long ago now, but you may remember an incident in which a woman tossed a handbag holding a gun in a shopping cart with her two-year old. The child took out the gun and shot his mother. Her father-in-law objected to the characterization of the woman as irresponsible. He said that she had not simply tossed the gun into any old purse but a purse with a special compartment. I did not know what this meant, so I looked it up. It turns out that these purses are designed for easy access. This made the action of the dead woman seem all the more irresponsible to me. So, I drew this:

concealed carry2Yes, there really are models with crosses on them.

The night of the killings of the cartoonists, I went to sleep. I dreamed I was lying in bed. I heard someone at my door trying to get in. However, the chain was on the door and after several attempts the person went away. Then I went downstairs and exited my apartment building. Standing in front of my building was a stocky middle-aged white man in wearing khaki pants and vest and holding a rifle, like someone ready to go on a safari. Somehow, I understood him to be a gun rights activist. As I walked out of my door, he shot me in the chest. I woke up.

Are there such things as universal human rights and is free speech one of them? I won’t accept the word racist, but am I an imperialist for believing that there are and it is? I don’t know anymore, but this much I do know…

I feel lucky to have been born in one of the wealthiest regions of one of the wealthiest countries during an era of widely shared prosperity. I have gone out dancing till dawn, have had lots of good sex with lots of men, I have had plenty of good things to eat, all in all, I think I was damned lucky about when and where I was born. I would not want to have been born into the world the killers would like to create. Am I wrong to feel this way? Am I culturally biased? Maybe, but I do feel this way. No matter how many times people tell me I’m racist, I still feel this way. Am I racist to be glad to have fucked, to be glad to have danced? Is wanting to dance and fuck and draw and paint and sing a reasonable basis for choosing one culture over another?

It is clear that I have never been on the right politically. Within the past week, however, I’ve found myself at odds with people on the left. I feel extremely alone. Politics is not something that can happen alone.

I just feel weary and lonely.

The best way out of this seems to me to be to stop concerning myself with politics. I’ll keep writing if I find something else to write about.

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After several dislocations during the previous decade, I was finally back in New York City. When I left New York, I had been living in Chelsea, a few doors down from a neighborhood bar called Peter McManus. Not being much of a barfly, I’d only gone there on occasion, but I passed it every day and recalled it as a comfortable enough place.

New York had changed dramatically in the intervening years. A friend of a friend of a friend was playing in a band at Arlene’s Grocery. It was a weird experience walking into the place and suddenly seeing a group of people I’d known when I was still in my late teens and hadn’t seen for twenty years. I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer. A man I thought was cute twenty years earlier sat down next to me and said, “Long time, no see.”

“I hear you’re married and living in the East Village,” I said.

“Divorced and living in Alphabet City,” he responded without much cheer. He held his hands up and mimed hanging of the edge of a cliff. “But I’m still on the island.”

“I’m less than a block away from being off the island myself.”

“Still on the island” summed up a lot about how New York had changed in the intervening years. New York had become colder, harsher, meaner, more of a Hobbesian nightmare than it had ever been during the eighties. If that’s not the image people have, it’s because it’s not only history that’s written by the winners. Journalism is too. Those people who make the t.v. shows and the movies, winners all. The two of us sitting at the bar that night weren’t slated to be winners. We probably knew it in our hearts even then, but we were still clinging to the life raft, to the past, to Manhattan.

Shortly after moving back to New York, a friend came to visit. He looked out my window. “One more block and you’d be in the East River.”

“Fuck, man, you’re in Brooklyn.”

It wasn’t only New York that had changed. A couple of years earlier, when I’d first returned to the U.S. I felt that I came back to a different country than the one I’d left. I’d been homesick and wanted nothing more than to go home and I’d been greeted with a culture shock I didn’t expect.

The radical politics of my youth, which I had come to question long before I left New York, seemed completely, utterly futile in the face of the growing conservatism of the country, a country that had grown more conservative even as Bill Clinton was president. Friends and acquaintances who disdained mainstream politics suddenly struck me as cutting off their noses to spite their faces. If I felt alienated from politics, the answer I felt was to get more involved, at the local level, the party level. I went down to city hall and changed my voter registration from independent to Democrat.

Although the 2004 elections were over a year away, candidates for the democratic nomination were beginning to declare themselves. I went online and researched each of them. I saw that Howard Dean was scheduled to speak at a venue on the Lower East Side. A day or two later, I signed up to volunteer.

In order to get on the ballot for the democratic nomination in New York State a candidate needs to get thousands of signatures. I was with a group of other Dean volunteers when they were talking about mounting a big petitioning effort.

“Where are we meeting,” I asked.

“At McManus.” Someone responded.

“The bar?”

Everyone groaned and rolled their eyes. “You’re new to politics, huh?” McManus, I would soon find out, was the largest, oldest and most storied Democratic club in New York City, a leftover from when the corrupt Tammany Hall Democratic machine ruled New York in the nineteenth century.

A day or two later, I went down to the Hell’s Kitchen club on the west side near the theater district. There was a good turnout with a lot of people I hadn’t yet met. We teamed up in pairs, grabbed clipboards holding official green forms and fanned out across Midtown. I’d already done this with another woman during the day a week earlier out in Brooklyn. Now it was evening. A light freezing drizzle did not look encouraging for standing out on a street corner trying to get passersby in Manhattan to sign a petition. My partner was a petite, dark woman, about ten years my junior, whose name I no longer recall. We placed ourselves on a corner near Manhattan Plaza, a housing project for performing artists. It was dark and cold, and, as the night wore on, boring. As people passed by we called out, “Are you a registered Democrat?”

As the evening progressed, the number of people on the street increased with what appeared to be an after dinner crowed. Despite the heavy foot traffic, we got fewer and fewer signatures. The darkness and the weather seemed to make everyone walk more and more quickly. My partner told me that I was doing a bad job, approaching people who were obviously not Democrats.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

At that moment, a middle-aged couple who looked like the very image of well-fed Wasp prosperity were walking down the avenue in our direction. The man wore a camel colored coat that looked expensive even a block away. The woman wore fur. “Well,” my partner said, “I would bet anything that those two are Republicans!”

I stood at attention waiting for them to come within earshot.

“You’re wasting your time.”

“Are you a Democrat?” I called out.

The man came to a sudden halt and a broad smile covered his face, “Why, yes I am!”

“Would you like to sign a petition to get Howard Dean on the ballot.”

He smiled even more broadly, “Yes, I would!”

He took the clip board, lifted the pen, wrote his name and hesitated before the space for his address. “Honey,” he said, turning to his wife, “where are we registered to vote? The Hamptons or the East Side.”

“The East Side, darling.”

He finished writing his name and handed the petition to his wife. As his wife signed, the man in the camel colored coat shook our hands enthusiastically saying how it was so nice to meet us.

“It’s lonely being a Democrat.”

We tried not to laugh until they were out of earshot. Then we counted the number of signatures we’d gotten. As the drizzle turned to freezing rain, we decided it was time to get out of the cold.

When I first started this blog, I said I was going to post everyday, which I have more or less done. As I explained it back then, if I only posted when I thought I had something to say that was interesting or valuable to other people, after half-a-dozen posts this would quickly become another zombie blog. So, I more or less accepted that it’s okay to be me in public, even when I’m not feeling especially witty or clever, or even strong. This isn’t a c.v. I’m not trying to impress anyone.

One of the lousy things about having had a clinical depressive episode, is that you no longer feel blue for more than a day or so without worrying whether or not you’re falling back into a depression. I’m still having the emotional fallout over the online near-argument that I wrote about yesterday. I moved away from New York City a few years ago and I don’t really have much of a life down here, which is one of the reasons I have the time to blog so much in the first place. Perhaps it would have been just as bad had I stayed in New York. Ironically, my closest friend fell into a bad depression about a decade ago. What happens when people get depressed is that they become protective of their own emotions. When they feel that there’s something that could trigger a bad episode they withdraw. So, he’s not always available when I need to talk, even if he’d like to be. My next closest friend lives in Germany and he also suffers from depression. In his case, he hasn’t had a bad episode in years and he’s much more stable. Yet, he too can be unreliable. If I write and tell him it’s urgent, he’ll write back, but I know it will take a toll on him emotionally and I try not to do it too often. I just did it last week, so I’m resisting the urge to cry on his shoulder so soon again.

I’ve always been an intellectually engaged person, with a particular interest in what we can broadly call current events, and, yes, when I read about things I acquire facts and form opinions.

Some people enjoy fights. I don’t. I never did. Even when I was emotionally healthy I didn’t enjoy it. It’s probably one of the things that has kept me from being more engaged in the issues I care about. It’s even worse now. Like my two depressed friends, I need to protect myself emotionally. I can’t put myself in a place where something might occur that will trigger a depression. If you haven’t been depressed, you won’t understand and you’ll think it’s melodramatic. If you have, you know that it’s a matter of survival. So I find myself continually plumbing the depths of my emotions, asking myself, “Are we in too deep yet?”

Perhaps if I had been less intellectual in the first place, less ethical, less of a, frankly, a prig, this might be less of an issue. One of my sister’s first clients when she started working with the intellectually disabled was a former engineer who had suffered from a closed head injury. She said working with him was far harder than working with people who had been born developmentally disabled. He was angry. He lacked the coping skills that someone who was born that way would have had. He could no longer do the things he used to enjoy. His hobbies and past times were no longer within his grasp and he didn’t have any new ones.

So, if you’re an emotionally vulnerable person, do you stop ever disagreeing? If someone lies, do you just smile and nod? Should I turn this into yet one more blog about recipes and cute cats?

In the past, I’ve wondered why so many internet atheists are so damned contentious. Back when I used to frequent Atheist Nexus, another woman who had also been raised in an irreligious environment and I had a private conversation about that. My guess is that if you don’t enjoy arguing, you just smile and nod. I think there are tons of secret non-believers out there who don’t have the wherewithal to have that particular fight.

Although I never enjoyed it, I once had the wherewithal for issues important to me. I’m no longer sure I do. What to do?

Sometimes, I intentionally don’t tag my posts because I don’t want to attract trolls.

Worse, sometimes I don’t write about certain subjects.

A young man holding a piece of paper which reads: I am proud to be an atheis.

From Maryam Nazmazie:

Since 22 year old Imad Iddine Habib founded the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco (the first public atheist organisation in a country with Islam as the state religion), he has received numerous threats.

Morocco’s High Council of Ulemas (the highest government religious institution headed by the King) issued a fatwa decreeing the death penalty for Moroccans who leave Islam. Currently, under Morocco’s penal code, those who “impede or prevent worship” face imprisonment and fines.

The threats continue to escalate. Recently, Imad’s father has been interrogated by the secret service. He was told to tell Imad to stop his activities and that this would be the “last warning before they react”. Imad’s registered address has also been raided by security forces.

There is also a page in support of Imad at the website of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain where you can add your name in support. There will be a day of solidarity with Imad on May 15th.

Two benches facing one another inside an outdoor structure made of rough hewn logs.Researchers now think that polyandry, a woman marrying more than one man, was a more common social system than previously thought. From The Atlantic: When Taking Multiple Husbands Makes Sense.

For people who are interested in the more theoretical ideas having to do with liberalism, there’s an interesting debate going on in South Africa right now about whether or not the concept of ubuntu is compatible with liberalism. Why Ubuntu Is a Liberal Value: @zilevandamme; What’s Behind Liberalism’s Unseemly Attack on Ubuntu: The Modular Man ; Liberalism, the Democratic Alliance and Identity: Synapses

In the New York Review of Books, Russell Baker discusses how the resurgence of wildlife in North America has been caused by our changing attitudes towards nature and has, in return, changed our attitudes.

I have decided to request to join the Atheist Blogroll. I probably won’t be posting on that particular subject especially often, but I think it’s a good idea to identify myself as an atheist just to get across the notion that we exist, we’re pretty diverse and we’re interested in a whole lot of things. It’s important to let people know that people who don’t believe in the existence of any gods consist of more than just a handful of authors and active members of the atheist blogosphere. Since I’m not a former Christian, I won’t be spending much, if any, time criticizing that religion. Although, I haven’t been put on their blogroll yet, I can’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be, so I went ahead and posted the badge in the right hand column. The link will take you to a list of blogs maintained by atheists. Since you don’t have to write about atheism, you just have to be an atheist, I think it’s a good idea for people who post about a variety of things to think about joining.

Again, if anyone wants to share links of interesting things they’ve come across recently, please feel free to post them in the comments.

I came across this Atlantic article, The Lonely Existence of Mel Feit, Men’s-Rights Advocate, via Skepchick. Stephanie Fairyington describes her first meeting with a group from the National Center for Men:

My entrance is met with restrained courtesy—and a perceptible cloud of suspicion. Why, they must wonder, would I, a lesbian feminist, want to break bread at their masculinist table? As cautiously as I tread their terrain and as much as I disagree with most of their politics, I believe that some of their views are in the interest of feminism.

A feminist like the writer, I, too, have some sympathy with the arguments put forth by  men’s rights groups. Perhaps I don’t have the instinctive negative reaction that some feminists do towards the men’s rights groups because I was first exposed to it at sixteen by an economics professor who was also vocally a feminist himself. Consequently, it was first presented to me in the context of a more general search for just and equitable treatment for both sexes. Many feminists have long maintained that gender equality would be beneficial for most men as well. Fairyington quotes Amanda Marcotte as saying, “There is already a movement for people of both genders who want to end stifling gender roles: It’s called feminism.” However, feminists, who have often been highly sensitive to the language we use and the implied meaning of words, should be able to see that, while feminism may imply a more liberating role for men, the word itself does not explicitly include them.

But I wonder if feminism’s assumption that being male necessarily situates men at an advantage makes it harder for feminism to address the struggles unique to men. By diminishing male-specific challenges, feminists fail to recognize that women’s progress hinges on understanding that antiquated standards of masculinity hurt both sexes and are linked to men’s unstable relationship with the family.

Although I’m highly aware of the fact that feminism addresses ways in which women are put at a disadvantage, there’s a tendency to ignore the implied corollary, that men therefore benefit from advantages. This dovetails somewhat into my discomfort with the use of the word privilege. (Although, let me be clear I have no problem with the concept.) Is the lack of a disadvantage necessarily an advantage?

A parking lot in a blizzard in New York City late at night.In the mid-eighties, I moved to New York City, the place I had wanted to be ever since I was a small child. At the time, the city was wracked by racial tension. It’s something that no longer seems to exist in the public imagination, sandwiched between the radical movements of the sixties and New York’s rehabilitation as a playground for the rich. New York just past its nadir, the city called “ungovernable” during Ed Koch‘s tenure as mayor, is vividly remembered by those who lived there, a period dramatically rendered by Tom Wolfe in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. Robert David Jaffee summarized some of the incidents from that period. (h/t swilliamsjd )

New York City endured a spate of hate crimes in the 1980s, beginning with the case of Michael Stewart, the subway graffiti artist, who by most accounts died from asphyxiation after the police got him in a chokehold. Many other incidents followed, from the shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly black woman, suffering from health problems, who was killed by police in her Bronx apartment after she allegedly brandished a knife; to subway gunman Bernard Goetz’s clash with a group of black teens; to the rape and beating of a Central Park jogger; to Howard Beach, where several African-Americans, whose car had broken down, wandered into a white neighborhood before one was beaten senseless and another chased to his death on the Belt Parkway; to the Tawana Brawley hoax, in which a young black woman claimed that white men spread feces over her and raped her, though no evidence of penetration existed, and she had made up a similar story not long before. (links mine – fojap)

I remember well, all those incidents. At the time, I was living with a man who read the tabloids, The Post, The Daily News and Newsday. I read The Times. Between the two of us, our apartment was filled with newspapers. Shortly after leaving him, I remember clearly reading about the Crown Heights Riots and feeling conflicted.

The riots began on August 19, 1991, after the child of Guyanese immigrants was accidentally struck and killed by an automobile in the motorcade of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The riot unleashed simmering tensions of the Crown Heights’ black community against the Orthodox Jewish community. In its wake, several Jews were seriously injured; one Orthodox Jewish man, Yankel Rosenbaum, was killed; and a non-Jewish man, allegedly mistaken by rioters for a Jew, was killed by a group of African-American men. (Wikipedia: Crown Heights riot)

The local papers and conversations at work or among friends were filled with opinions. One theme seemed to come up again and again: Who had suffered more throughout history, African-Americans or Jews. I was neither African-American nor Jewish, yet I was a New Yorker. Something inside me rebelled at the thought that suffering should be compared in this way.  It stuck me as a perversion of a leftist vision of the world that puts so much emphasis on the oppressed and oppressors. Previously, I had heard conservatives sneer about “victimization.” I should be clear that I don’t accept their disdain of discussing oppression or injustice. The relief of injustice is a moral imperative. However, the Crown Heights Riot was the final incident that caused me to distance myself from a leftist perception of events. With two sets of victims, two sets of oppressors, the left had, at that time, nothing to offer to make sense of what was happening.

It would be another year before the word “kyriarchy” would be coined.

Returning to men’s rights, several of the men in the group Fairyington met, although it should be noted not Mel Feit himself, believe that feminists are their opponents. It would be nice if there was a men’s movement that did not have so many members who see themselves as in opposition to the women’s movement.