_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

30 Pieces of Silver

So, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, did she?

Exactly as predicted.

Exactly as she was encouraged to do by an outraged country.

Impressed?

Are you impressed that Jan Brewer bowed to “common sense” and “human dignity” and the US Constitution?

Are you?

Because you damned well shouldn’t be.

Brewer simply gave in to pragmatism and she deserves no credit for her moral cowardice whatsoever. None.

Brewer, along with Arizona conservatives such as John McCain who called for the veto, deserve nothing but contempt.

Brewer should have signed the bill instead of vetoing it.

That’s right.

Governor Jan Brewer should have put Arizona’s money where conservative mouths are and signed SB 1062 into law and made religious Apartheid a reality in Arizona right along with Russia and Iran.

 

And then – and then – Brewer and the ideological fanatics of her party should have been forced to live with the consequences.

 

Oh now, don’t get me wrong.

I’m sincerely glad that the people of Arizona won’t have to suffer for the bigotry of a handful of religious zealots. 

I’m relieved that sanity, for whatever reason, prevailed in the eleventh hour and that LGBT people in yet another US state won’t be relegated to even worse treatment at the hands of Evangelical Christianity.

But, Folks, look here, nothing, and I mean nothing, demonstrates the bottomless hypocrisy and the absolute moral cowardice of the religious fanatics who’ve taken over the Arizona legislature than this veto.

Nothing.

Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake urged Governor Brewer to veto SB 1062, because, according to McCain, implementation of the law would be “devastating.”

Devastating to the state. Economically.

Devastating to business. Financially.

Devastating to Republicans. Politically.

But not devastating to actual people – especially the gay ones who are apparently not John McCain’s concern.

Last Monday, conservative state senators Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs, and Steve Pierce sent a letter to Governor Brewer, asking her to veto SB 1062.

But just days before, all three joined the Arizona Senate Republican caucus in voting for the bill.

That’s right, they voted for the bill, but then asked the governor to veto it.

After Republicans passed the bill and sent it to Brewer’s office for signature, and only after the scope of the resulting national outcry became apparent, Worsley confessed to reporters. "I have not been comfortable with this for some time."  

I have not been comfortable with this for some time?

Haven’t been comfortable with this for some time?

Jesus Haploid Christ, Worsley, what the fuck?

Worsley wasn’t comfortable with it, but he went right ahead and voted for SB 1062 anyway instead of taking responsibility for his own conscience.

He knew it was wrong, but instead of standing up and forcefully speaking out and holding his own party to public account, instead of demonstrating the superior moral conviction he and those like him loudly and repeatedly claim for their religion, he just went along with it anyway.

Worsely, Driggs, and Pierce weren’t comfortable with a bill that they voted for, that would have legalized blatant religious discrimination at their own dirty hands, but they voted for it anyway?

And what were they going to do then if Brewer signed the bill into law? Live with their discomfort?

Ask yourself something: if they could live with that particular discomfort, if their religious convictions could tolerate that discomfort without damning them to Bible Hell, then why can’t they live with the discomfort of being around gay people?

McCain, Worsley, et al, are so, so utterly typical of these hypocrites.

They are leaders in a party and a religion that has done nothing but villainize LGBT people at every turn – and then, what? They’re not comfortable when that same rabid fanaticism attempts to marginalize those self-same people? 

This is so, so goddamned typical of John McCain. A man who spent his entire presidential campaign relentlessly demonizing his opponent, and then had the unmitigated gall to pretend that he wasn’t responsible when his own fanatical supporters – and his own running mate – resorted to calling Barack Obama an Arab and a Muslim and unAmerican and a subhuman mongrel in the national media and continue to do so to this very day.

McCain, Worsley, Driggs, Pierce, and Brewer are so utterly typical of this yellow-eyed breed of modern conservative fanatic – who, in the US House, voted last year to shut down the federal government, and then cried foul when they had to live with the backlash. And who, just last month, voted to shut the government down yet again … but then quietly urged Speaker John Boehner to make a deal with Democrats to increase the US debt ceiling in a clean resolution and keep America running so they didn’t have to suffer the consequences of their lunacy yet again.

These people know they are wrong.

They know it. Quod erat demonstrandum.

They know it, they absolutely know they are on the wrong side of history.

And yet they persist – just so long as they don’t have to live with the consequences.

Brewer vetoed SB 1062 for a number of reasons:

- because it could have cost Arizona the 2015 Super Bowl.

- because it could have significantly harmed Arizona’s tourist industry.

- because it could have cost Arizona business, particularly from  Marriott Hotels, Apple, American Airlines and Yelp, in addition to hundreds of conferences, seminars, and retreats.

- because it would have inevitably resulted in endless lawsuits, costing Arizona millions upon millions of dollars in litigation.

- because it would likely have cost Republicans their majority in the Arizona state government.

- because it would have negatively affected Republican prospects in the 2014 midterm national elections.

- and because it would have had an impact on the 2016 presidential race.

- and most especially since it might have directly resulted in unintended discrimination against Christians.

And so, when it came right down to it in Arizona today, rather than do what was right because it was the right thing to do, rather than strike down the bill because it would have legalized religious segregation as if Arizona was a state in Russia instead of America, Brewer at the behest of her oh so smug religion and her oh so morally superior political party vetoed SB 1062 not because it was blatantly counter to everything the United States stands for but rather because it would have cost Arizona money.

When Brewer was forced onto the global stage to very publicly choose between state sanctioned Apartheid and the almighty American dollar, not to mention political power, Brewer did the predictable thing.

She did what these people always do when forced to chose between conviction and profit.

She took the money.

So much for republicans’ vaunted ideals.

So much for the superior morality of conservative religious conviction.

The simple truth is that if these people really believed in the rightness and righteousness of their religion, they would have passed the bill and to hell with the consequences. 

Make no mistake whatsoever, Folks, if Arizona republicans could have gotten away with it, if they could have signed this bill into law and only gay people and non-Christians would have been negatively affected, they damned well would have – that was the entire point of SB 1062 in the first place.

Instead, Brewer’s veto lays bare the hypocrisy of this blighted ideology and shows it for what it really is:  hate for hate’s sake and nothing more.

Common sense, human dignity, and liberty did not prevail today in Arizona.

Right won out only because these people worship power and money far more than they love their small and hateful God.

They won’t do what’s right, but they can usually be counted on to do what is profitable.

And let that be a lesson for future battles.

 


 

Previous essay on this topic: Arizona Goddam

Friday, February 21, 2014

Arizona Goddam

 

 

Before we get started, a note about commenting: Because the subject of this post is a powerful magnet for raging insanity and screaming illiterate trollage, as are all articles dealing with religion, commenting is under tight moderation.  If you see yourself in this article and you think I’m picking on your religion and you’re put off, outraged, enraged, offended, incensed, or otherwise suffering from bunched panties as a result of what I’ve written here, if you want your witty and erudite comment to post, then I strongly caution you to adhere to the example of your prophet and, you know, not act like a raving ass  //Jim


 

As we witness hostility towards people of faith grow like never before, we must take this opportunity to speak up for religious liberty. The great news is that SB 1062  protects your right to live and work according to your faith and was passed by the Arizona legislature. This bill is now heading to Governor Jan Brewer's desk. One thing became undeniably clear as SB 1062 advanced through the legislature: opponents were not interested in an honest debate about the bill's actual provisions. Instead, they distorted and attacked the bill and its supporters at every turn. Even before the last vote was cast in the House, opponents of SB 1062 started a mass calling and email campaign into Governor Brewer's office to try to pressure her into vetoing this important bill. It is critical that the Governor hears from YOU that no one should be forced to violate their religious beliefs merely because they go to work or start a business!
      - Center For Arizona Policy Website.

 

Sir, the truth is, I talk to God all the time, and, no offense, but He never mentioned you.
      -
Phillipe Gaston, Ladyhawke, 1985

 

What would Jesus do?

You hear that question posed on a daily basis here in America.

You see it on Tee-shirts and posters and on the internet.

They present the question with a sardonic smile, Say, whadaya suppose the ol’ Savior would do?

It’s a funny thing, that question, when you think about it. 

Funny peculiar. Not funny ha ha.

Somebody asked me that yesterday, “What would Jesus do?” What would Jesus do in Arizona? Which side would he stand on? What, oh what, would Jesus do?

I mean, it sounds profound, particularly if you couch it in an admonishing tone with a single raised eyebrow, “Aaaah, same sex marriage? Gay couples? Sin! Abomination! What do you think Jesus would say? What would Jesus think of the homosexual war on religion? Tsk, tsk, yes, what would Jesus say?”

Well, okay. Sure.

Leaving aside the fact that believers always structure the question in the past tense, which is fairly odd given that the guy in question is supposed to be a living deity (and frankly, if he’s not, then who cares what he thinks? And if he is around, then why doesn’t he just come right out and say it, instead of having people guess at what he’d say?), here’s the problem: me personally? Well, I’ve got no goddamned idea what Jesus would do or what he would say.

None.

And how would I?

No, really, how the hell would I know what Jesus would say about gay marriage?

After all, Jesus, according to his followers and the only existent written documentation, is God, right? You know, Yahweh, Jehovah, King of Kings, El Supremo, the Big Cheese, The Light and The Way, all knowing, all seeing, all powerful, the divine supernatural creator of Heaven and Earth and all the chirping birdies that fly in the sky and all the little fishies that swim in the deep blue sea. According to the user’s manual, he’s omniscient and omnipotent and his mind encompasses all of creation across the depth and the width and the breadth of the entire multiverse, from before the Big Bang to the last guttering spark at the heat death of the cosmos and everything that comes in between. Right? I mean, right? Because anything less and he’s not God, or at least not God God. Right?

So, seriously, can you imagine what a mind of that vastness must be like?

I sure as shit can’t, I wouldn’t even know where to start.

And you want me to guess what God would do about gay people wanting to be treated like human beings?

I’m not even a member of his fan club, I don’t get the weekly insider newsletter, so, given the playing field, honestly, how in the pluperfect Hell could I possibly know what God would do in any given situation?

How would I have any hope whatsoever of guessing the hypothetical actions of some unfathomable, likely mythical, divine being? How would I know what a god would do, especially one who speaks in riddles and vague long outdated anecdotes about people who lived millennia ago and whose most vocal ranting raging self-appointed representatives here among the dirty unwashed of this tiny backwater hamlet lost among the vasty cosmos are, for all intents and purposes, clinically indistinguishable from the mentally ill?

What would Jesus do?

Beats me. 

Given his track record, it could be anything from wiping us all out in a giant flood to snuffing all the first born children to nuking a couple of cities to a plague of flies and poison toads to having us all wander around in the desert for a couple of decades to maybe just showing us his bare ass cheeks and lighting the bushes on fire.  I assume he’s got other tricks up the sleeve of his robe, I mean a guy like this could drop a neutron star on your head or turn off the sun as easily as he parted the sea, so, really, how would I know? Hell, I can’t even guess what my cat is going to do from one minute to the next – and God can conjure entire universes from his own mind. To a creature like that, humans and cats are basically on the same level, hell, from the perspective of such a vast, vast consciousness me and any random bacterium would be identical twins.

And you want me to read his mind?

That would be like asking the aforementioned bacterium to guess what I’d say – and the germ would have a higher probability of success.

What would Jesus do? Jesus?

It amuses me that there are people out there who actually think they know.

This God of theirs builds universes, universes. Black holes and globular clusters, whole galaxies, trillions upon trillions upon trillions of stars he fashions from nothing, he builds whole worlds with a wave of his mighty hand, conjures life from lifeless dirt … and yet – and yet – he actually gives a good Goddamn that two gay guys want to get married? 

Really?

That’s God’s big beef? That’s what he’s got to complain about. Gay people?

War. Pestilence. Famine. Murder, Rape. Graven Images. Inequality. No, no, Jesus is good with those, it’s gay people God can’t stand. 

Never mind that homosexuality is only mentioned in the Bible seven times, seven, making it pretty darn far down on the Damnation-O-Meter compared to, oh, say, hypocrisy which is condemned over and over and over and over and over again and again.  And there are hundreds of references to economic justice and the immorality of those bent to the accumulation of wealth.  And thousands, literally thousands, of words devoted to the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the poor, and the healing of the sick. 

No, no, it’s homosexuality, that’s the problem.

Never mind that Jesus himself never said a single word about it, for or against, and seriously, don’t you think he would? I mean, don’t you think he really would have given specific orders and admonishments on this subject? Don’t you think he would have laid down the law in clear and unambiguous terms, if it’s so, so very important to God and all, I mean. 

You shouldn’t have to guess what Jesus would have said, he should have said it.

And just never mind that gayness didn’t even make the final cut when it came to God’s Old Testament Top Ten – let’s see, there’s the holy day thing, and don’t murder people bit, don’t steal, don’t covet asses, don’t lip off to your folks, no graven images, no other deities … but, nope, not one single word about gay people, nothing. Well, that’s just odd. I mean, how come it’s not in the Ten Commandments of all places? Given that, right there, is where God laid down his so-called moral law and all and given that he hates gay people so much? Seems like a pretty big oversight, doesn’t it?  Seriously, don’t swear made the list, but gayness didn’t?  No graven images, no idols, but not don’t be gay?

Look, it’s not my religion, but come on. Really?

It amuses me (and by “amuses me” I mean “boggles my mind”) that there are those who actually go around thumping their fleshy chests and proclaiming with ponderous gravid certainty that their God would say this or that, that he approves of this and disapproves of that, that he loves these people and hates those people (What? God doesn’t hate gay people, you say? He loves ‘em, but he’s going to torture them in pits of fire for all eternity. But he loves them. Riiiight. There’s a word for guys like this. I’m just saying).

These people pretend insight into the supposedly unfathomably vast mind of an incomprehensible being that they claim spans not just universes but all of time and space, and then they have the unmitigated gall to act offended when somebody demands proof of such outrageous and preposterous claims.

Worse, they inevitably, every single time without fail, attempt to use this supposed insight to justify their own personal agenda of hate and fear.

In Arizona, a fanatical group of religious extremists calling themselves the Center for Arizona Policy wrote a bill called The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, officially called SB 1062, and Friday that bill passed the Arizona state senate and is now on its way to Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.

The basic gist of the law would allow Arizona businesses to legally discriminate against anybody, but in particular Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) people.

This isn’t an exaggeration or hysterical hyperbole as its supporters claim.

In fact, if the law didn’t specifically provide protection for businesses that want to discriminate based specifically on sexual orientation and religion, there wouldn’t be any reason for it in the first place.

Legalizing discrimination is the entire purpose of SB 1062, it has no other provisions.

The law clearly and unambiguously allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers based solely on sexual orientation (or suspected orientation), it specifically protects employers who deny equal pay to women based solely on their gender if they believe women are inferior on religious grounds, it allows employers to fire employees based solely on their sexual orientation or lifestyle or religion or lack of religion, and it allows individuals and businesses to renege on existing contractual obligations again based solely on sexual orientation or lifestyle or religious beliefs – just so long as they “sincerely” invoke God when they’re doing it.

This law essentially turns every private business in Arizona into holy ground and imposes Christian Dominionism on every person inside the state lines.

This law was written and promoted specifically in support of one religion, Evangelical Christian extremism, and no other.

It’s appalling ironic that the fanatics behind this new version of segregation are the very same people who fear imposition of Islamic law upon themselves, and yet they see nothing whatsoever hypocritical about forcing their own religious agenda on everybody else. As I said, their own holy book mentions homosexuality a mere handful of times, but specifically condemns their own hypocrisy and small minded bigotry over and over and over again.

Religious extremists would have you believe that SB 1062 is about protecting their rights, that they are somehow being denied their 1st Amendment Rights if they have to treat LGBT people as, well, you know, people.  And that’s exactly what they are doing, Arizona legislators specifically wrote into the law a provision that clearly and unambiguously proclaims a “person” to be a “ANY INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY OR INSTITUTION OR OTHER BUSINESS ORGANIZATION.” 

In Arizona a church is a person.

An informal religious assembly is a person.

An association is a person.

A partnership is a person.

A corporation is a person.

A business is a person. 

Unless they’re gay.  Unless they don’t subscribe to the right religion. Then they are less than human.

The bill specifically targets LGBT people, but it’s written in such a manner that it allows any form of state supported bigotry so long as that discrimination is done in the name of religion, specifically a particular form of Christianity. Specifically Evangelical Christianity.

Think I’m wrong?

You just watch how fast the Christian sponsors and supporters of this bill start screaming in outrage when a Muslim refuses their business based on their religion. 

If Governor Brewer signs this bigotry into law, you watch just how fast evangelicals backpedal when businesses start refusing them service, when employers start firing them or paying them less based solely on that little cross hanging around their necks, when the privately held cable or phone company turns off service to their church, when they can’t get seated in a restaurant or find a business that will cater their wedding.

This bill is being promoted by one religion, solely in support of one religion, solely for the benefit of one religion. Period.

Given half a chance, these same people would turn Arizona and the rest of America into Putin’s Russia, or worse, Iran. Q.E.D.

And just what would Jesus say about that?

If the same Bible that these people use as justification for their bigotry and hatred is to be believed, then Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, not one holy word.  But according to that same document, here’s what he did specifically say:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. -Matthew 6:14-15.

In the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. –Matthew 7:2-5

Then Peter came and said to Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. -Matthew 18:21-22

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions. –Mark 11:25-26

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. –Luke 6:25-37

But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:20-21

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; -I Corinthians 13:4-8

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. – I Corinthians 14:20

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. –Ephesians 4:1-3

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. -Ephesians 4:32

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. –Philippians 2:3-4

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. –Colossians 3:12-13

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. -James 2:13

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. -I Peter 3:8-9

There’s more. Much, much more of the same.

So, why is it, do you suppose, that these people are so fixated on the unspoken, unknown, unguessable words of their God, but steadfastly refuse to acknowledge or obey the very very specific written instructions of their prophet? Why must they guess at what Jesus would say, when they ignore the words he did say according to their own beliefs?

The simple hypocritical truth of the matter is this: These people demand the right to segregate themselves from those who don’t adhere to their version of the Christian faith, they seek to shun and shame those they see as sinners, and they demand this right in the name of a religion that vocally and specifically commands them to do exactly the opposite.

They’re not trying to live up to the expectations of their God, they’re only using him as an excuse to hate others.

These hypocrites are simply mad that the current laws and the Constitution of the United States force them to live up to the admonishments of their own professed beliefs.

And the truly ironic thing is that this law is not only contrary to everything the United States stands for, according to Christian doctrine it’s contrary to everything Jesus stood for as well.

 

And just what would Jesus do about that?

I suspect he’d forgive them … but then again, he has that luxury, since he obviously doesn’t live in Arizona.


 


Edit: AZ Governor Brewer vetoed SB 1062. Follow-up commentary is here.


About the title of this piece, it’s a tip of the hat to singer-songwriter, pianist, and outspoken civil rights activist Nina Simone and an homage to her Mississippi Goddam, written and performed at Carnegie Hall in 1964 following the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a black church in Birmingham that killed four young girls. Mississippi Goddam was one of the great anthems of the American Civil Rights movement.  It was banned in nearly every Southern State and universally denounced by pious bigots and devoutly religious haters across the land.

50 years later, the hateful bigots are still among us, still wrapped in the hoods and robes of their small and fearful religion, working to turn back the clock with a return to Jim Crow and Segregation. The target of their hate may be different this time around, but it’s no less vile and loathsome.  They, like those who came before them, are firmly on the wrong side of history and one day, just like their forbearers, that history will show them for what they truly are.

This week, marks what would have been Simone’s 80th birthday and her words ring as true today as they did back then.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Invisible People

 

I had to go downtown.

Okay, I didn't have to have to.

But downtown Anchorage is where the kind of burgers I like are and despite the fact that my hearing is damaged enough so the VA pays me a tidy sum for the impairment, I was pretty sure I could hear one of those tasty sandwiches calling my name.

So I had to go downtown.

You can’t ignore the voices, folks, you know how it is.

Now, naturally, it being downtown and winter, I couldn't park anywhere near the little dive I like. I found a spot half a block away and walked.

That's when I noticed him.

Sort of.

I mean, I saw him standing there, of course, out of the corner of my eye. Twenty years of anti-terrorism training and service in hostile countries, I tend to notice the people around me. So, yeah, I saw him in the crowd, he seemed a little … off, but nothing jumped out at me as anything special. And honestly, Anchorage is full of people who are a little … off. Average height. Average age. Average build. Average clothes for this time of year in Alaska, maybe a little shabbier than average but nothing you'd notice without a closer inspection. We’re all a little shabby this time of year, bundled up against the cold like big puffy marshmallow people. Average features in the usual arrangement. You know, your basic average guy. A nebbish. One of the people in the walls. Window dressing. Part of the faceless multitude that strolls the sidewalks of every city in the world.

He was standing near the crosswalk, just out of the right of way, talking energetically to invisible people and jabbing at the air like you do when you're driving home a point  - which is also pretty average. I encounter dozens of people every day who are talking to unseen friends. I see them driving down the street, in the checkout lines and coffee shops, chatting away.

Normal everyday people.

Talking to themselves.

That’s how much the world has changed in recent decades.

Up until a few years ago, you saw somebody standing on the corner carrying on an animated conversation with themselves, you’d have thought, Whoa, look at that craaaazeeee bugger, please, please don’t let the voices tell him to eat my face. I just want a sandwich, I don’t want no trouble. Please don’t eat my face, crazy man!

But, nowadays?

Suddenly everybody is wandering around talking to themselves (Also, there’s a lot more spontaneous face-eating. Coincidence? Sure. Probably nothing to worry about).

And you know, a cell phone makes good cover. I’m pretty sure that at least half of the people I see talking to themselves are really just talking to themselves and using the phone to hide that fact.

I got to the burger place.

There was a line, mostly working people from the rail-yard and the port, couple of soldiers from the base. It’s that kind of joint. A little seedy, a little sketchy, my kind of place. I like to eat in my office, so I got my sandwich to go and headed back to the truck …

… and as I waited for the crosswalk, I realized that the guy was still there.

He was in the same spot on the other side of the intersection, just off the right of way.  Still punching at the air and talking to invisible people. He’d gotten a bit louder. At first I could only hear fragments, but as I got closer things became clear.

Well, sort of.

I’m sure the people walking past figured he was talking to a earpiece hidden under his knit watch-cap. Just some working stiff from one of the local business buildings, stepped outside for a smoke maybe, talking on the phone. Nothing unusual.

Except he wasn’t.

Wasn’t on the phone, I mean.

He was babbling, a mixture of mangled bible passages and, oh hell, I don’t know, gibberish – or rather, more gibberish depending on your point of view.

This guy, well, he really was talking to invisible people.

And nobody noticed.

Because it’s nothing unusual nowadays.

Everybody talks to invisible people.

“Hey, buddy, you okay?” I asked.

He just looked right through me, still talking to an audience only he could see. His eyes were wide and shiny and red around the edges. He was high or sick or crazy or maybe all three.  He sort of shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back and didn’t acknowledge my question. Angels or demons, whoever or whatever he was talking to was more real than me. I was invisible to him.

Hey, you okay?” I asked again.

Nothing.

His clothing was a little more worn and shabby than I’d first realized. One of the city’s numerous homeless mentally ill, turned out into the cold and dark, left to deal with invisible demons on their own.

We were right up the hill from the Brother Francis shelter, likely that’s where he had come from before fetching up here.

He didn’t look dangerous. He didn’t seem likely to jump into traffic. He didn’t look like he was in any physical distress, he had a jacket and gloves and a hat. He seemed healthy enough. He just wasn’t tuned in to reality.

I moved on, there wasn’t much I could do.

I circled back in the truck, I had some vague idea that I’d call the APD and see if they’d check on him.  But he was walking down the hill with two other folks, both of which were obvious street people. They were headed slowly more or less in the direction of the shelter.

You know, the encounter bothered me in some obscure fashion, I didn’t know exactly why.  I mean I know why it should have bothered me, but if I’m going to be honest here, well, it wasn’t that.

I thought about it all afternoon.

Until it occurred to me that it’s no longer possible to easily distinguish the supposed sane from the supposedly insane. It seems these days that we’re all talking to invisible people.

And maybe that’s the whole problem.

 


Afterword:  It's a true story, it happened to me today, but it's also a metaphor for larger things. It may be the most subtle piece I've written in a long time. I'm well pleased with it // JIm

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Defensive Wounds

 

“I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”
   - J.B. Books, The Shootist, 1976

 

You ever date somebody who takes out every bad relationship they ever had on you?

Somebody, somewhere, done them wrong.

So they’ve decided to get even by making you pay?

You entered into a relationship with what you thought was a whole person, and then without warning, whammo, you get run over by the baggage train? Toot Toot POW! and you’re laying on the pavement dazed and bleeding and wondering, “what the hell?”

That ever happen to you?

It happened to me. Once or twice. Maybe three times.

Maybe four.

Okay, maybe I’m a slow learner.

Way, way back when, I dated this girl who, according to her, had been cheated on repeatedly, verbally abused, mentally abused, physically abused, disrespected, talked down to, unloving distant mom, absent dad, didn’t get a pony, yadda yadda and so on and so forth. 

According to her, all of her previous relationships were with cheating, lying scumbags.

And she was bound and determined to make me pay for each and every one of those jerks.

Needless to say, it didn’t last long, that relationship.

But it lasted way longer than it should have.

And that was my fault.

After repeatedly apologizing for all men everywhere and after pointing out, repeatedly and with greater and greater degrees of stridency, that I was not any of those guys, that I hadn’t treated her badly in any way whatsoever, I finally realized that it didn’t matter. It just didn’t matter what I said or did. It didn’t matter how many times I apologized for my gender, for all of us men, everywhere. There was no defense. Everything was an admission of guilt, because, well, I was a man and therefore guilty by association. There was no way I’d ever be anything but a punching bag for this woman. She was an emotional vampire, a voracious and insatiable taker, so committed to being miserable that she couldn’t be anything else. Misery had become a reflex with her. No amount of apologizing, no amount of patience, no amount of logic, no amount of nurture would ever be enough. She was angry and damaged and dripping pus from festering self-inflected mental wounds and she was determined to get revenge and it just didn’t matter who the target was so long as they were equipped with a penis.

She collected bad relationships like trophies in the Men Are Scum Derby and proudly displayed them to anybody who would validate her damaged worldview.

Defensive wounds. That’s what forensic pathologists call it when they find cuts and contusions on a stabbing victim’s forearms.  Defensive wounds, where they tried to ward off the blows while being hacked to death.  The emotional equivalent of that is when you find that your side of the relationship consists almost entirely of screaming, “Goddamnit! I’m not that guy! I didn’t do this to you, stop taking it out on me! I’m not that guy!” over and over.

At that point, you’ve got two options, bleed to death or walk away.

Now look, don’t get me wrong here. Some men are cheating lying scumbags and they deserve every bit of scorn and contempt heaped upon them. But I’m not that guy. Not now. Not ever.

And so I bluntly explained to her in clear and unambiguous terms that she was a fucking psycho.

I looked her in the eye and told her that it was not me, it was all her. All of it. Every damned bit of it. And that the one single constant throughout every one of her shitty terrible relationships was, wait for it, her. Her. Her. And Her. Goodbye and you’re welcome to slam the door on your way out.

Later I heard through the grapevine that I’d been added to the long, long, long list of guys who’d done her wrong – which makes me wonder about the other men on that list, and just how egregious were their offenses really?

I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

In fact, that incident changed my life.  Up to then I’d had my own string of bad relationships.  You name it, I dated it. A drunk, faithless cheaters (several), a pathological liar (no really, like clinically diagnosed and everything. And yeah, that was an adventure into crazyland), a raving hypochondriac (no, really, like clinically diagnosed by actual doctors), a nymphomaniac (not nearly as fun as it sounds, after the first week), a woman who stole my entire bank account on the way out the door, and I could go on but you get the idea.  But I stayed on, every time, until they tired of me and left.  Until that one day, that one day when the psycho women had torn me open yet again, when I’d finally had enough. When I’d finally been pushed as far as I would go and would go no further. When the light-bulb finally came on for me.

That, right there, is when I finally realized that the one constant in all of those lousy relationships was, wait for it, yep, me

And that, right there, is where I drew the line.

And, My God, talk about liberating. That’s what it is to achieve emotional maturity, liberating.

That was the moment I decided that I wouldn’t be held accountable for every jerk on the planet, that I was done with cleaning up their messes. That was the moment I stopped being an emotional punching bag for other people. That was the moment I stopped allowing myself to be held hostage to miserable damaged people bent on revenge.

And that changed everything. 

I finally, finally, understood what a healthy adult relationship was supposed to look like.

Now, I admit that I’ve only had one relationship since that moment … but so far it’s lasted more than 22 years.

 

You’ve heard me say this before, likely you’ll hear me say it again and again: You cannot, can not, reason with unreasonable people.

 

You cannot reason with people who are bound and determined to convict you of crimes somebody else committed.

You cannot reason with a lynch mob.

Saturday was my birthday.

It got me thinking about certain things, about my past, about all the people who encouraged me, but also about all of those sons of bitches who told me over and over who and what I could be, who attempted to force me into a box, who kept trying to slap a label on me and tell me who I was.

As always when I get to thinking about things, I write about it.

It’s nothing special, Saturday’s post, just your basic Hi, I’m 52 and I’m alright with that. No great insight, no pithy middle-aged wisdom, just: you get out of life what you put into it. If you let people label you, you’ll be their slave forever.

Somewhere in the middle of the post I returned to a common theme, that is: There is only one truly inalienable right and that is the right to define yourself.

Nobody can take the right to define yourself away from you, only you can decide to give it up. So don’t. And I believe that. I’m proof of it. And so are many, many others.

You can be beat on and beat down. They can take away your name. They can take away everything you own and everything you love. They can push your face into the toilet and rip out your guts day after day. They can take away your life, your liberty, and any chance at happiness, oh yes they can and there’s often not a damned thing you can do about it.  They can put you in chains. They can force their throbbing politics and their raging religion and their rampant jingoism down your throat. But inside, down where it counts, they can’t tell you who you are – unless you let them.

So don’t.

There is only one truly inalienable right that can’t be taken away by gods nor governments nor men, and that is the right to define yourself.

Gods nor government nor men.

I like that line.

As a writer, I like that line. I’m proud of it. It rings like a bell.

As a guy who spent his whole damned life ignoring those who kept trying to tell me who I am, I like that line.

Now, I often post lines from my essays, ones that I like and that I think stand well on their own, as pull-quotes on Twitter.

And that’s what I did this time, I posted:

There is only one truly inalienable right that can’t be taken away by gods or governments or men, and that is the right to define yourself.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that somebody, somewhere, will always find a way to be offended over something I said.  No matter what. I post a humorous story on Facebook, told from a male perspective (because, and try to keep up here, I’m male and that’s pretty much how I naturally see the goddamned world), and I am guaranteed to get comments about sexism because I didn’t keep it gender neutral.  I’m tired of having to unfriend people who are offended that I happen to be unapologetically endowed with a Y chromosome – and in fact, seem to think that I should have to apologize for my gender on a daily basis. I’m tired of having to unfriend these people, but I’ll keep right on doing so until they get the goddamned message that they don’t get to label me. 

Hell, it doesn’t matter what I post, it could be a picture of a fluffy kitten chasing after a butterfly among the petunias, and somebody, somewhere, will be offended.

And sure enough, somebody was.

@Stonekettle Didn't need the user icon to know you're white and male…

White and male.

Ah, yes. Of course. White and male.

Didn’t need to even look at my picture.

Because, obviously, no black woman, no Asian, no Latina, no Native American, would ever suggest that she has a right to define herself, see? Nope, just a white guy. Don’t even need to look at the picture.

We’ve never met. I don’t know this person, other than by her reputation. She for damned sure doesn’t know me. But yeah, why don’t you just lead with my race and sex? Sure, Lady, that’s not stereotyping what with your contemptuous little assumption of genderfail, oh no, not at all.

Only a white male would say something so racist and sexist as “You have the right to define yourself.”

Yes, obviously, I must be white and male. A member of the oppressor class. That’s me. Because, hey, you know what’s good for bigotry? Stereotyping!  So, on behalf of white men everywhere, allow me to apologize for every white male who ever did you wrong by being white and male.  And as a white male I hereby promise to only post pictures of fluffy kitties and selfies of me lighting myself on fire. You’re welcome.

What?

What’s that?  She didn’t really accuse me of being a misogynistic racist?

Wrong, that’s precisely what she accused me of. Didn’t need to see your picture to know you’re white and male. This woman happens to be a professional wordsmith, she knows exactly what she’s saying, it didn’t happen by accident. Oh, and just because she went with stereotyping and didn’t bother to actually read my comment in context doesn’t mean I engage in the same bad habit, I read her comments all the way back to the Super Bowl. She didn’t have a problem with the blatant in your face sexism, racism, and homophobia that flooded Twitter then. But me saying you have the right to define yourself? Yeah, that deserved a snide swipe from her majesty. 

Imagine if I’d posted a public response on Twitter that consisted of something, oh, say, like this:

Gee, I didn’t need to see your picture to know you’re an angry feminist with a chip on your shoulder.

That would be sexist, right? Just another nasty comment from misogynistic asshole.  But it’s okay for a woman to casually dismiss me as a sexist and a racist based solely on my race and gender. You can see the hypocrisy, the logical fallacy, right? I don’t have to spell it out for you.

This nonsense pisses me off.

No, wait, pissed off isn’t right, rather it immediately fills me with seething rage.

I don’t appreciate being called a racist and a sexist, particularly in public without a chance to defend myself.  And I said so in a particularly snarky comment, one that might not make much sense to the average reader but this particular woman should have no trouble understanding.

At which point a couple of folks pointed out in so many words that being white and male I have no right to be defensive about being labeled a sexist and a racist in a public forum.

Things went rapidly downhill after that and I ended up going to bed angry and pissed off and woke up angry and pissed off and today I’m still angry and pissed off about it. You goddamned right I’m pissed off about it.  [Edit] And I got more pissed off today when I started getting messages from people who got treated the same way by this very woman, and in fact by the time they’d gotten to this part of my post they’d already begun to suspect exactly who I was talking about.  Then I did some checking around, sure enough, this is her MO. Drive by, toss out a bigotry accusation. Drive on and never look back. [end edit]

So, yeah, I’m still angry about this.

And why shouldn’t I be?  Because there it is, right now, sitting there in public two days later like a turd in the punch bowl.

Two thousand people follow this woman on Twitter, and every one of them is now left with the impression that I’m just another hairy Neanderthal, grunting and scratching my ass and bonking women over the head with my club so’s I can drag them back to my cave.  Because the person who posted that comment is a famous science fiction editor for a famous science fiction publishing house who runs a famous science fiction blog, people noticed, and they retweeted her comment. But, of course, I shouldn’t be defensive about that either.

A couple of nice people offered to, what’s the word? Femsplain it to me – hopefully using simple one-syllable words and grunts so my dull ball-scratching hairy man-brain might understand.  Because, obviously, I don’t have access to, oh, say, a strong willed, confident, self-defined, professional woman who is employed at the executive level that I might, you know, have been married to for the last two decades. And who drops on me like a bag of hammers when I say something stupidly sexist.

I ended up on Twitter futilely shouting the equivalent of, “I’m not that guy! I’m not that guy!

But, of course, you are that guy. Once somebody, especially somebody in a position of authority, accuses you of bigotry in public, even though they didn’t actually bother to read what you actually wrote in the context of where you wrote it, there’s nothing you can say to defend yourself.

And I’ve been here before. Right here.

Years ago, I used to hang out on a famous science fiction writer’s blog. He always seemed like a decent and reasonable fellow and he ran his blog much the same way I run this one – a bit more free wheeling in the comments section, but we’ll come back to that in a minute. This guy was, and still is, a force in the science fiction community, which if you’re not familiar with it, is a form of fanaticism you’d have to see to believe – usually it’s a benign nerdy fanaticism, but not always. Now, I really, really, enjoyed that place. I admired that writer, I thought he had character and integrity.  And the science fiction community, well, they’re mostly a bunch of friendly harmless geeks who spent a lot of their early lives getting beat up for being bad at sports and for liking “that Buck Rogers stuff,” so they make this big deal of being open and diverse and accepting of anybody – only that’s a lie, they’re as vile and vicious as any other mob, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

One day, this writer, he posted a short bit about a group of science fiction nerds, pudgy little dweebs in ill-fitting Starfleet uniforms tucked away in some basement somewhere cranking out a fan-magazine wherein they’d expressed their opinion that smelly girls were “destroying” the science fiction genre (I’m not sure if this particular bunch were Chuck Lorre’s actual inspiration for The Big Bang Theory or not, you’d have to ask him).  This outfit actually suggested that girls be banned from science fiction conventions like Comic-Con – where it’s common practice for attractive women to dress up in comic book costumes (also, turns out there are a lot of female types who just like comic books and scifi, go figure, right?). 

Now, naturally this famous science fiction writer, being all morally superior and a force for Truth, Justice, and the American way, he was appalled and set to snarking about the situation. The gist of his post was, hey, look at how stupid these girl-hating little Klingon-heads are, let’s us point and laugh at them until they crawl away and die of shame hah hah ah hah hah ha. Which, personally, I thought was an entirely appropriate idea.

So, in the comments of this place where I felt welcome and comfortable, I made a joke.  Because, you know, the host said, hey, let’s make jokes about this nonsense. Because one of the ways to fight ignorance and intolerance is with, you know, humor.

Look, the people on that forum were supposed to be smart people. Smart people well versed in popular culture – it’s sort of their thing. These are people who carry on entire conversations in cartoon quotes.  Who speak fluent Klingon. Who pride themselves on being a cut above the knuckle-draggers, socially and intellectually. 

So, I made a joke. 

I couched it in the voice of Foghorn Leghorn, you know, the pompous loud-mouthed self-involved misogynist Rooster from the Looney Tunes cartoons:

Wait, if they ban girls from Science Fiction conventions, who, I say who, will wear the Leia Bikini? 

Now honestly, how can you not get the joke? It’s not exactly subtle. How could you possibly be offended? Especially in the context of a forum specifically about making fun of clueless jerks? It’s cartoon sexism, obvious cartoon sexism. It’s cartoon bigotry for the same reason Foghorn Leghorn is a  clueless cartoon bigot, because that kind of idiotic bigotry is so damned stupid that even a fucking child can see it. 

But not getting the joke is a habit with certain people who are reflexively offended by anything and everything and it wasn’t long before I was accused of sexism, i.e. how dare I suggest that women were only good for eye-candy at science fiction conventions?

No, no, ha ha, you’re not getting the sarcasm, I replied, see Foghorn is …

At which point other folks, mostly women, but some men whom I can only assume were trying to get laid, began to shrilly chime in that I, as a man, was not allowed to make jokes about sexism – on a forum, started by a man, that joked about sexism in science fiction. Because I was a man and thereby guilty of “male privilege.” And I was apparently attempting to “man ‘splain” my joke to a woman, which is condescending see, because, well, I’m a man.

So, to recap, apparently it’s okay to limit another’s participation based on gender in a conversation about gender, so long as that gender is male.  Which is, of course, not at all like how women were excluded from congressional conversations on reproductive rights by a roundtable of male religious leaders. It’s totally different so long as you toss in an angry contemptuous reference to my supposed privilege. See, because attacking exclusion with more exclusion isn’t a logical fallacy at all (if you’re missing the sarcasm in that last bit, I say, I say try rereading it in Foghorn Leghorn’s voice).

I watched this happen with an increasing degree of amazement and horrified frustration.

And then – and then, because the situation wasn’t already ridiculous enough – somebody decided that I must be homophobic.

Yes, that’s correct.

Homophobic.

Because, you see, apparently some men, supposedly of the gay persuasion, wear Leia Bikinis to Science Fiction conventions.

Oh, you didn’t know that?

Yeah, me neither.

You don’t see how that makes a difference anyway?

Yeah, me neither.

I protested that I hadn’t been to a convention in years and I wasn’t aware that men, supposedly gay, were wearing Star Wars bikinis at Science Fiction conventions, and that’s when I was told my ignorance was, of course, Straight White Male Privilege.

Naturally because I was white, straight, and male I was ipso facto, a racist, a sexist, and homophobic. You only had to look at my picture to see evidence of that. It’s obvious (Sort of how if you look at a picture of Trayvon Martin, you just know he’s a thug, right? Because, well, of course, you can judge a book by its cover, so long as you shout “privilege!” first). Apparently White Male Privilege is that thing where as a white male if you are unaware of something that you couldn’t possibly have any knowledge of and that has absolutely nothing to do with race or sex or any of the other bullshit labels we like to slap on each other, you’re still held to account for it anyway. Sort of like dating a crazy person. If they could have worked in anti-Semitic they could have yelled Gin! and declared victory.

Look, just to be absolutely clear here, I am not saying that privilege and inequality doesn’t exist, hell, far from it. I’m not even attempting to suggest that I, as a straight white American male, don’t benefit from that privilege, because I most certainly do. And I’ve written about it endlessly, about how it’s bullshit, about how we won’t any of us be free until we are all equal and that, right there, that was the entire point of Saturday’s post and my statement on Twitter:

There is only one truly inalienable right that can’t be taken away by gods nor governments nor men, and that is the right to define yourself.

People like Rosa Parks, she got tired of being defined by other people, so instead she chose to define herself on her own terms – no matter that it was goddamned hard. And that, that one act, changed everything. That, right there, is how the world changes.

The blog host, that famous science fiction writer, who I expected to shut this nonsense down and who spares no chance to brag about how he went to some elite fancy debating school and how he knows a logical fallacy when he sees one, instead pulled a John Boehner Birther Denial Non-Denial on me: Well, Jim, I don’t really know you and I don’t have any reason to believe you’re a sexist pig and a gay-hater, but…” and that’s all it took for his fanatical minions to pile on. Eventually the comments reached more than four hundred and it was decided that I was a sexist, a racist, a homophobe, and just an all around asshole. I gave up, there was no defense possible. Every single thing I said was proof of my bigotry. Defensive wounds. It was like being tried by the religious fanatics of the Inquisition, no matter what you say, you’re going to get burnt at the stake. I quit the forum then and there, but that wasn’t enough for them, they followed me home and continued to rain bile and vitriol on me for weeks afterward. I haven’t been back since and the only time I wouldn’t piss on this famous science fiction writer is if he was fully engulfed in flames. If we’re ever in the same room together I’m very, very likely to loosen a couple of his teeth for him.

The editor in question, the one that snidely drove past my Twitter feed on Saturday and lobbed in the bigotry bomb from her little baggage train? She’s cut right out the same self-righteous cloth. She and the famous writer are pals. These people soured me on the entire science fiction community. They are damaged people who toss about casual accusations of racism and sexism and homophobia. They have no idea whatsoever of the carnage they leave in their respective wakes, the people they casually damage and toss aside in order that they can puff up their chests and feel smugly superior, so that they can take revenge on the rest of us because somebody somewhere who happens to look like me treated them poorly.

But I learned something from them, I did.

That incident is why I won’t, will not under any circumstances, allow that kind of nonsense to go on here.  I will not allow any commenter, even the trolls, to be set upon. I’ll deal with them myself if necessary, because it’s my responsibility as your host, but I won’t allow lynch mobs. Period. This is non-negotiable. This, this incident, is the primary reason I enforce my commenting rules with an iron fist, because I’ve been on the receiving end of the torches and pitchforks and I know exactly what it feels like when the host lacks the moral courage to live up to his or her responsibilities. 

You have my word that while I might boot you off the forum for acting like a jerk, I won’t allow you to be set upon by the blood maddened mob.

And I will not, under any circumstances allow somebody else to define who and what I am.

They can choose to wallow in their own victimhood if they’re so inclined, but I refuse to accept the role of their abuser.

I am not that guy. 

I will not be shamed into apologizing for who I am. I won’t be made to feel defensive because I was born white and straight and male and in America. I won’t be lectured on it. I won’t be bullied or badgered. I won’t be made to hate myself so you can feel better about yourself. I know that I unfairly benefit from this society, I don’t need you to lecture me on it. I’ve written about equality and diversity endlessly. More I’ve busted my ass out in the real world to make it a better place. I don’t claim to be perfect, far from it in point of fact, or without bias or up on some goddamned pedestal, but I’m doing the best I can and you’re not going to get any more than that.

My post Saturday was about labels, about defining yourself, about not allowing others to define who you are and I meant what I said – which is why I will not allow this woman’s comment to go by unchallenged.

There is only one truly inalienable right that can’t be taken away by gods nor governments nor men, and that is the right to define yourself.

And yes, it’s unfairly tougher for some than for others. No kidding it’s unfair, you damned right it is. That was my entire point.

It’s tough, it is that. But, if you choose not to exercise your right, well, then that’s on you.

And you’re not going to pin it on me.

I. Am. Not. That. Guy.

 


Note: Now, I know exactly what kind of shitstorm this essay will attract. So, comment moderation is on and will remain so. I’m not going to bother to issue the usual warning. You want your comment to post? Then act like a rational adult. You mention privilege in any fashion, tread lightly. // Jim

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reflections Of A Middle-Aged Blogger

I turned 52 today.

I’m okay with that.

More than okay, actually. 

I like 52, it’s a good age for me, and honestly after two decades of military service there were days there I wasn’t sure I’d make it this far.

So, yeah, 52, like they say: it sure beats the alternative.

Stonekettle Station itself is just a bit shy of seven.  I started writing this blog the day my retirement from the US Navy was final. Seven years ago I started out like most bloggers, random gibberish and pictures of cats. And things just sort of evolved along the way into what they are now, that is to say mostly politics with a smattering of whatever else happens to catch my attention. Most of the frippery I moved onto my Facebook page where that sort of thing belongs. It took a while to sort it out, but Stonekettle Station has evolved its own unique voice (which in my head usually sounds like R. Lee Ermey channeling Captain Kirk), its own unique perspective on the strange and often bizarre world we live in, and has attracted a modest following – about 20,000 unique visitors per day at the moment on average – based solely on the strength of the writing and word of mouth.

That’s not too bad, at least from where I sit.

Blogging, successful blogging anyway, is work. Which is why so many blogs go derelict in short order.  Sometimes it’s hard work, sometimes it’s easy, but it’s work nonetheless.  Writing for an audience always is. 

What’s that?

Blogging isn’t writing?

Okay. Sure. You got me. Blogging isn’t writing writing. 

Hold that thought for a moment and do me a favor first: Start a blog. Any subject, politics, art, food, travel, sports, technology, whatever and wherever your interests lie. Keep at it. Keep at it every day. Work at the mechanics of it, not just proper grammar and structure, but also give it a voice. Build a dedicated following, attract a modest audience – I’ll set the bar low, say, 20K unique readers per day. Attract that audience based solely on the content of your posts, no gimmicks, no search engine optimization, no paid linking, no sponsorship from your employer or a large online content provider, no trolling another successful site’s audience for readers, no pictures of naked people. Just the words that you put down on the electronic page. And do it so that content touches people enough that they send you not just hate mail (you’ll get that even if you only publish pictures of fluffy kittens) but mostly fan mail, mail from grateful readers who tell you how your words spoke directly to them, made them see things in ways they hadn’t considered, brought the world into sharper focus, gave them joy and tears and hope.

Do that. Go on, I’ll wait.

And then you tell me what you call it if it’s not writing.

Personally, I don’t care what you call it, blogging, writing, screwing around on the internet. I’m not sweaty about it either way. The world turns, civilization changes, and the labels evolve as we go along. 

And I’ve just never been one much for labels. 

I’ve written about this before, in extensive detail, here: Everybody’s So Different, I haven’t Changed, and as I said in that essay, for some folks the labels are all that matters. But for me, well, they’re just words.

People have attempted to force me into a box, slap a label on me, for as long as I can remember.

When you’re young, labels matter. They’re a source of pride … or pain. They help you figure out your place in the world, at first, they give you a reference point to start from if nothing else.

Some people, many perhaps, never seem to grow out of that and they stubbornly cling to the labels that they use to define themselves – and others – long, long after those words have either lost their meaning or come to mean something else entirely. 

It seems to me that these people are never happy. 

They struggle with the restrictions of those self imposed labels, fighting to stay within the boundaries of definitions that may or may not actually describe them down inside where it really matters. Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Black, Brown, White, Red, Yellow, Old, Young, Patriot, Rich, Poor, Entitled, Oppressed, Offended, Outraged, Friend, Enemy, Fatty, Fag, Geek, Loser, Winner, for people to whom the labels matter, the edges and the definitions are sharp and distinct and not to be crossed – even if it makes them miserable.

For people to whom the labels matter, those labels define the boundaries of who they can be. They limit how high they can fly and how far they can see, and, sadly, who they must hate and who they can love.

Earlier in the week, Erin Nanasi interviewed me for the political site, Forward Progressive.  When her article first went up, she titled it: An Interview with Jim Wright, Author of the Liberal Blog “Stonekettle Station.”  The editors later changed “Liberal” to “Progressive” but I’m good either way – and, in point of fact, as I told Erin, I was enjoying the conversation generated by her use of the word “liberal.” Heck, I’d have been good with it if she’d called Stonekettle Station a conservative blog. Or Libertarian. Or Independent. It’s just a label and if different people see me in different ways, if I see myself differently at different times, well I’m good with that.

Labels matter very little to me.

Age and experience may or may not bring wisdom, but it does bring a certain perspective and from where I sit what matters is not how others see you, but how you see yourself

What matters to me are not so much the labels, but the spaces in between.

Life. Liberty. Happiness.

We Americans, we spend a lot of time in this country squabbling over rights, whether they are natural or legal, and most especially whether they come from some divine wellspring or if they are granted by government. 

Both of those positions are wrong. 

Rights, constitutional rights, enumerated rights are the privileges we grant each other, no more, no less. And this is true of every human being, American or otherwise. Every single right we enjoy, every single right we are denied, whoever and wherever we are, was granted or withheld by men.

In the United States, rights are privileges that we grant ourselves.

As proof of this statement, consider this:  each and every right you enjoy, every single one mentioned in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, can be taken away by men – and they have been at one time or another.

They are most certain not “inalienable.” Q.E.D. 

There is only one truly inalienable right, one right that can’t be taken away by gods nor governments nor men, and that is the right to define yourself.

If you limit who you are to the labels others apply to you, you’ve given up the only right that truly matters.

 

I turned 52 today. On my own terms.

It’s just another label.

Life, my friends, is how we chose to live it.