An Example of Reductio ad Absurdum

Twitter has been very good to me today. The question…

…and its answer.

(Click on the image in the tweet above to embiggen it.)

At the Crossroads of Male Dominance: Leila Hatami and Elliot Rodger

This past Friday I read an article about Leila Hatami, an Iranian actress who shared an entirely chaste bit of cheek kissing with an elderly French gentleman at the Cannes Film Festival. This article would never have been written but for the fact that some people in her native country are calling for her to be flogged for her transgression against what passes for law and decency in Iran. I was so angered at reading the article I immediately busted out three tweets about it. Later that day when Al Jazeera posted news of Hatami’s apology, my anger wasn’t cooled.

Fast forward to Saturday and Twitter, along with the rest of the nearby Internet, goes positively apeshit over the latest American mass shooting, perpetrated by Elliot Rodger. The tweets were coming across my feed at such a furious pace that I felt it best not to post but rather read and absorb the event. I did managed to post one tweet during the frenzy, in response to Kim Moore:

The tweet doesn’t bear much relation to where I’m about to take this post. (Or does it?)

Further ruminating on Elliot Rodger along with the lingering anger over Leila Hatami’s situation prompted a realization that these two events are not unrelated. In Iran, legal and religious strictures which have their origin in male dominance manifest as an environment in which women must clothe themselves and behave within a set of constraints intended to preserve them as, “symbol[s] of chastity and innocence.” In the US, the price women pay for freedom from such laws is the alternative expression of male dominance that permits men to view women as sex objects, slut-shame women when they fail to conform to ever-shifting behavioral expectations, and, as in the Elliot Rodger case, produce one of a small number of outcomes worse than fifty lashes.

We are all of us, all over the world, living under a collection of delusions which share the same modus operandi, only differing as to cultural methods of expression. People are to be classified, not seen as human but as componentry in systems of oppression. When Leila Hatami failed to conform to her society’s expectations in even the most seemingly trivial way, she was made to apologize. Her apology may not be enough. When women failed to conform to Elliot Rodger’s expectations of what was his due, no apology would have stopped him from dealing death to as many as he could put his sights on.

If you who are reading this happen to be a woman, and find yourself in the peculiar position of being willing to take some advice from this heterosexual white American male, try this: Don’t apologize.

Edited to add: It’s one week later, June 1, 2014, and I get some unintended postscript help from Mohammed Ali Jinnah, via Haroon Ullah:

On My Admiration For Anthony Bourdain

I noted elsewhere recently that my writing of this post would be made even easier by virtue of the acceptance speech Anthony Bourdain made upon having received a “Voices of Courage and Conscience” award from the Muslim Public Affairs Council for his work on the episode of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown where he and his crew film, talk and eat in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Maysoon Zayid wrote an excellent post about the episode which may operate as a primer for anyone who hasn’t viewed it.

Though I’ve yet to read any of Bourdain’s books I’ve been following him on television since A Cook’s Tour and have never failed to enjoy his work. But up until the end of season two of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations I thought of Bourdain as just another travelling gourmand who happened to have a personality like well-worn alcohol-soaked sandpaper. This fairly inconsequential assessment would change dramatically with the airing of the Beirut special.

Bourdain and crew went to Beirut to film the usual fare for No Reservations when Israel launched attacks on Lebanon in response to rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah. Beirut locked down and the No Reservations team found themselves with nothing to film. But nothing to film became a much more important something to film. Instead of packing up and getting out as quickly as possible, they filmed their flight from Beirut and along the way captured footage of the duress people live under when war is a very real part of life and always too near at hand: a feature of existence utterly unfamiliar to the lives of the typical No Reservations viewer. The seizure of that opportunity to tell a different kind of story, to reveal something so common to some people yet so alien to others, raised my opinion of Bourdain and his production company to a new degree of admiration and respect.

Given the Beirut episode of No Reservations, the Parts Unknown episode in Palestine came as no surprise to me insofar as its content was concerned. Even so, the episode is well deserving of the recognition it has garnered, and continues to be one of the best episodes of television of any sort I’ve ever seen.

The key here, though, remains Bourdain himself. I’ve long thought it must require a considerable ego to be a public personality of any sort, and Bourdain has made remarks concerning notions that his television career may constitute a monument to his. Yes, an ego is required to do what he does. Yes, Bourdain can be abrasive in his expression of some opinions. But to make an assessment of Bourdain purely a matter of ego is to miss the essential and sincere humility he displays when in the presence of those who don’t merely lack his good fortune, but lack the good fortune to live lives free of war, poverty, contempt and disregard. (The acceptance speech video above serves as an example.) And though Bourdain’s journalism may seem soft compared to more conventional—or more adversarial—content, it’s precisely this soft journalism, this elevation and expansion of what might otherwise be the typical, possibly tawdry, two-minute human interest story tacked onto the end of the nightly news, that can be some of the most important and revealing journalism about the human condition.

I have no award to give Anthony Bourdain. He’s already got my respect. I think that will be good enough.

Addendum, 16 July 2014: Gaza has been under attack by Israel for several days and the latest news is four children were killed by an Israeli attack in what has every appearance of being an entirely unprovoked murder. We’ve also seen celebrities tweet support for Palestine only to delete those tweets moments later. It’s with this in mind that I present, once again, Anthony Bourdain:

Addendum, 21 July 2014: Anthony Bourdain, interviewed by John Little at Blogs of War.

Do Some Gun Control Laws Contribute To Mass Incarceration?

I’m about to go off the deep end, so in the interest of full disclosure before proceeding to the diving board:

  • I’m a middle-aged, heterosexual white male.
  • I’m an owner of firearms, and am generally in favor of gun ownership.
  • I’m currently a member of the NRA. (My dad purchased a membership for me without asking. If he’d asked, I would’ve told him emphatically not to buy me in. Right now I’m letting my membership lapse. I should probably be more proactive in ditching that group.)

It was another perfect day on Twitter where a set of topically-related but user-unrelated tweets converged in my mind to produce a theory that borders on the conspiratorial, but seems to tie in to recent Twitter conversations and at least one book I’ve read recently. (The book, mentioned in a prior post, is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. Allow me to state again, it’s a must-read.) I’ll start with Kim Moore, who posted a series of brilliantly informative tweets about how 29 years ago Philadelphia, PA police attacked and quite literally bombed the communal home of an organization called MOVE:

Read her timeline from that tweet on for more. A good overview is also available at GlobalGrind.

Shortly thereafter Rebecca A-P posted a short series of tweets about how social and economic injustice forces young men of color into the military.

Dig hard enough and you’ll find a few replies I wrote in support of her viewpoint.

Within the last couple of hours Max Blumenthal started live-tweeting from an event where candidates in the race to be mayor of Newark, NJ are speaking. One of his tweets was:

As soon as I read this, the final puzzle piece landed and revealed a disturbing picture to me. In a nation where mass incarceration is in effect, the ruling elite don’t care about the sort of gun control that might actually reduce crime/violence. What they do want are laws which further criminalize gun possession at the level of the urban street, precisely where related policies like Stop And Frisk are focused. And that’s hardly the limit of it. Consider the story of Keith Pantaleon, an upstanding young man who, after moving to Jersey City, NJ, was unjustly arrested for the crime of legally owning a firearm while black.

Though at a philosophical level I’m opposed to the sorts of gun control President Obama and associated democrats claim to want to implement, their “failure” to advance a more robust gun control agenda in the wake of the recent school shootings now seems to me much more sinister. The excuse presented to the public of a lack of political capacity to successfully press the issue now seems not merely hypocritical, but actively complicit. The Powers That Be, whether left, right or corporate, share under the surface an agenda that does not include sensible laws relating to gun control or ownership, but does include the kind of laws that will contribute to a perpetuation of our state of mass incarceration. I’ve long thought the gun control issue was one composed largely of hyperbolic theatrics on both “sides”. I’m even more convinced of this now.

If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you’ll consider commenting. It’s not my inclination to try to sell a post, but I think it important to get feedback on this, whether affirming or challenging. (Admittedly, I would just as soon not have the traditional Internet Gun Control Debate roll through this post. I hope people will be circumspect even in disagreement, and not turn this into the usual fare.) Thanks in advance for your potential contribution.

There Are No Accidents of Birth

I caught myself using a common phrase, accident of birth, sometime during my workday on Monday, and something in my mind tripped over it. This is the good kind of mental stumbling in that it’s a cue I take to explore a concept. I’m up too late, suffering from fatigue toxin and goofing up tomorrow’s workday in advance, but I want to type this before I lose the immediacy of these thoughts.

Accident of birth is most used, I think, to express disappointment at the lack of control over the circumstances that surround us when, some sufficient time after being born, we realize we might’ve been different had we been born somewhere else, in some other time. Alternatively, there’s what happens when we talk about other people. For example, atheists who want to argue the relative “validity” of different religions may be prone to saying things like, “It’s an accident of birth that [some person] was born into [some society] and therefore was indoctrinated into [some religion].” (I happen to find this construct annoying because it implies the person who was born existed before birth and then emerged, as if randomly, wherever that person sprung out of the womb. Aren’t atheists supposed to be skeptical regarding the existence of souls?)

But this isn’t about atheism (or souls). The you that you’ve become, the I that I am, neither of those are accidents. Who you are, who I am, we, and everyone else, could only possibly exist in the moment we’re in right now. I so often think how cool it might be (if I’m in a romantic mood) were I to have lived in some other time and place, imagining myself in Classical Rome or Revolutionary France. It’s easy enough to recognize the silliness of such imaginings when contemplating what the reality of those places and times must have been like. What’s not so easy to recognize is that I could not possibly be me in either of those locations in space-time. There is no possible way I could not be a different person. Even in the preposterously unlikely event that some human who lived a thousand years ago had my exact genetic makeup, that person would not, could not in any true sense be me. He might resemble me with respect to phenotype, but his mind, his thoughts, his conscious self, would be a unique creature shaped by his world, and utterly not me. This is not to say genetics are irrelevant, though…

When these thoughts started percolating toward awareness I recalled the scene from issue #9 of Alan Moore’s Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan recognizes the value of humanity after having carefully explained to Laurie Juspeczyk how unworthy humans were of even the remotest consideration compared to the grandeur of the universe. (Both of them are on Mars and Laurie is crying in the aftermath of Manhattan’s remarkably emotionless diatribe.) At the risk of breaching Fair Use…

Dr. Manhattan: Thermodynamic miracles… events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter, until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air into goldthat is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.

Laurie Juspeczyk: But… if me, my birth, if that’s a thermodynamic miracle… I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!

Dr. Manhattan: Yes. Anybody in the world. But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forgetI forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away. Come… dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly. Dry your eyes, and let’s go home.

(Italics added to match boldfaced lettering in the original comic.)

To describe you, me or anyone else, the circumstances of our birth and the lives we lead, as mere accidents is to trivialize the stunningly improbable confluence of genes, ancestry, family, culture, geography, and every other thing I can’t think of right now, that makes each one of us a unique expression of the universe.

As only Alan Watts can say it…

Silence Is Colored: An Adventure In Twitter Debate

This afternoon on Twitter was, to put it mildly, interesting. I’ve been on the Internet since late 1994 and I think the last time I engaged in any sort of debate over any subject must’ve been in the early 2000s. Today I went down the rabbit hole of Twitter debate and I think I came out well enough. (At the very least, this rabbit hole didn’t too closely resemble Andy Dufresne’s escape from Shawshank Prison.)

It started when Max Blumenthal tweeted:

The Twitter timeline linked to in that tweet is its own rabbit hole. It’s not the one I plunged into, but ought to be read for context. After reading it myself, I replied to Max’s tweet with:

This tweet’s been favorited nine times as of this blog post, which I think is a record for me. The hashtag I made up also provides the title for this post.

The timeline from Max’s original tweet developed from there.

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On Embracing the Identity of ‘Terrorist’

This morning Jerry Coyne posted to his blog about YouTube videos containing content allegedly from Hamas TV (Hamas is either the elected government of the chunk of Palestine called Gaza or a terrorist organization, depending on who you ask) of children’s programming. Though this children’s programming resembles the sort of thing found on Western television, the nature of the content is disturbing in that, assuming the translations displayed are accurate, the fluffy, cuddly characters on the screen appear intent upon convincing small children to hate Israel and its Jewish population. (I’m heavily qualifying here because I have no means of verifying the accuracy of the subtitling.)

After reading Jerry’s post I attempted a bit of Twitter-based cross-pollenization and got the attention of Rania Khalek, who tweeted:

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