Goblin King

The word is going around: David Bowie had sex with a 14-year-old girl.

Sometimes it’s put more forcefully: Bowie was a child abuser.

Others don’t think so (including the woman in question): It was consensual! “Who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to David Bowie?” (A direct quote.)

The best piece I’ve seen so far is this one, which boils down to this line: “We want to be inspired be wonderful people, and to condemn the human excrement who do terrible things. We’re not comfortable with how grubby it is, here in the grey areas.”

Always the gray areas. Continue reading

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Put the Hammer Down

On October 19, 2014, an advertisement ran in the Los Angeles Times (on pg. A4). It stated that an “apparition” of the Virgin Mary had revealed that Pope Paul VI was replaced with “an impostor pope” leading to the “destructive Vatican II reforms.” The ad then showed two pictures of Pope Paul, one labeled “Pope Paul VI,” the other “The impostor (1975-1978) created by highly skilled plastic surgeons.” Never mind the fact that Vatican II ended in 1965, and never mind the fact that the pictures are obviously of the same man, just at different ages. It’s a ludicrous story—but one that someone clearly believes, whole-heartedly, as it gives them a reason to avoid change.

I wouldn’t mention this at all, except that the ad struck me as remarkably parallel to something else going on right now: “GamerGate.”

If you’re unfamiliar with GamerGate, you’re a fortunate soul, but it’s a real problem that needs attention, because it shows how determined people are to Keep Things The Same, and how willing they are to threaten people to get their way. Continue reading

A Flying Fable

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a mountainous kingdom where people loved to fly. It was a national passion. Most anyone who dared went flying, because it was a highly dangerous activity in the old days, leading to many crashes, injuries, and deaths. But because the mountains were separated by treacherous ravines and raging rivers, flying also served a vital purpose: it made it possible to get from one part of the kingdom to another. But generally, those who went flying went because flying is a wonderful thing.

Because flying was so dangerous, and because so many families were left shaken or broken by the deaths of members in flying accidents, the leading priests of the kingdom decided that it was against God’s will to go flying—except under certain circumstances. If one had to fly, the priests pronounced, it had to be done properly: a specific and legitimate destination in mind, not flying for sheer pleasure, and for legitimate, non-pleasurable reasons; a limit on the number of times someone flew in life, and with whom; legal documents such as wills and inheritance squared away in advance, and official oversight obtained; and all consequences to be accepted, whatever they might be.

Some of the priests had decided that flying for fun was against God’s will, and so it needed to be controlled; others had come to the conclusion that flying needed to be controlled, and so decided it was against God’s will. Whichever way it began, however, it came to the same thing, and it was written down accordingly.

Time went on, and, since humans are clever, ways of flying more safely were invented, and then more ways still. As the gear improved, more and more people began flying not just to get around, but for the sheer joy of it. Since many more people were flying now, there were more accidents, but if done well, flying was increasingly safe. It became commonplace—to the point where if someone flew only for business, or not at all, they were considered quite old-fashioned.

The priests who had pronounced on flying in the old days were long gone, of course, but their written words remained, and their priestly successors were numerous and vocal. Not a few, seeing that the danger had passed, began to drop their objections to flying, or looked the other way, or even outright encouraged some limited forms of pleasure-flights.

Others, however, objected strenuously. They pointed out that flying for pleasure was time wasted and resources squandered. They pointed out that flying for pleasure decreased the significance of business flights. And most of all they pointed to the holy writings, which said plainly that flying was only to be done under certain circumstances, and certainly not just for the fun of it.

As flying became more and more common, this latter group of priests grew more forceful in condemning it—and in a fascinating wrinkle, they objected with increasing rage to the safety gear which had made flying less dangerous. Every time someone invented a new flying safety device, these particular priests denounced it vigorously, on the grounds that it would encourage more people to fly. And whenever anyone offered classes on flying safety, oh, how these priests would howl!

Flying was still inherently risky, of course. There were always unexpected updrafts and so forth. But as the risk dropped closer and closer to zero, flying for fun simply became the norm.

Still, certain priests kept protesting. If anyone ever suggested to them that their rules were now totally archaic, and had been written in reaction to a situation that no longer existed, they vehemently denied that the laws of their God had ever had anything to do with safety. The law had always been that way, they said, and always would be: God’s will was God’s will.

And while they were wrong about “it’s always been that way,” they might have been right about “God’s will.” Who can discern the mind of God?

But one thing is certain: flying is fun. And it really has always been that way, and it really always will be.

Draw your own conclusions.

What I Mean When I Say Compassion

This one is about definitions. This is how I define respect, how I define compassion, how I define the old Quaker injunction to “Walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in every one.” And since it’s me writing this, we start with a story.

When I was in high school, there was a student named April who was developmentally disabled, with the conversational ability and habits of a seven-year-old, though she was older than I was. She was always cheerful, always smiling. On two separate occasions, I happened to see two different people interacting with April in similar ways. Both times April was brightly telling the other person about her day, or what she was headed off to do next. The difference, however, is what stands out. Continue reading

A Game that People Play

There’s a furor on the internet recently about women and video games. This is an old shouting match (I can’t call it a dialogue) but the latest flare-up began when Anita Sarkeesian, a blogger who runs Feminist Frequency, launched a project called “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” planning to analyze stereotypes of women in games (sidekick, damsel in distress, and of course the most common, “background decoration”). She organized a Kickstarter fundraising drive to fund the video series she’d planned. This brought her to the internet’s attention, and soon she was being harassed. By harassment I mean: Sarkeesian’s feminist videos were accused of being “terrorism.” 5,000 mostly-negative comments were left on her YouTube video. Her Kickstarter site was hacked to prevent people from accessing it and donating to the project. People sent Sarkeesian images of men raping her. Someone designed a game where players could “punch” Sarkeesian’s face, resulting in black eyes and bleeding. And someone else posted her phone number and home address online.

It’s hard to pinpoint motivations for such behavior, but the general tenor seems to be that if women should even hint that the female characters in games might leave something to be desired… if women point out the instances of Male Gaze objectification in most games and Patriarchal Bargains among the exceptions… then the appropriate response is to shout her down, harass her, and intimidate her until she shuts up.

Now I’m going to talk about Ultimate Frisbee! Continue reading

People

Here’s a simple exercise:

When you’re out in the world, look around you. See who else is out and about. Then call them what they are: people. Practice naming them as people.

It helps if you start out by ignoring everything you know about them. First to go should be appearance. Nice clothes or shabby? Doesn’t matter. Different skin, different hair, different eyes? Forget them. Young, old? Irrelevant. Ugly or attractive? Not a factor. Male or female? Beside the point.

It’s hard, truly hard. (I said it was a simple exercise, not an easy one. This is why we have to practice it every time we go outside.) Society has trained us to place people in categories, boxes really, which is why it’s so important to practice getting away from that. Because people are not boxes and do not conform to our expectations. When I see a black man, I don’t always think “criminal/dangerous” — but I have thought that, in the past. This despite the fact that such a snap judgment is a) ridiculous and b) goes against everything I’ve been taught by my parents and my faith. Society insinuates its lessons, despite all counter-instruction. I’m getting better. Even as I frequently manage to dissociate “black” from “criminal,” however, my brain still performs the snap categorization that permits such a false and discriminatory judgment in the first place: when I as a white man see a black man, my brain says, “black man.” When I see another white man, though, my brain says, “man.” Until I can change that, I am still racist.

Note that even just “man” puts people in boxes, though. The oldest divide in the human race is between male and female, a split we now know does not have a clear line, but a split regardless. Here I fight not just my socialization but my genes (and hormones!), for my brain has a deep predisposition to focus on young attractive women. Women, however, are far more than objects to look at, and far more than sexual targets to be desired.

Possibly the most important if least-frequent label to remove is “annoyance.” People bother me a lot, talking when I’d prefer silence, intruding on my time when I’m hurrying, interrupting the tasks I’ve set myself. They cut in front of me, they block my way, and (when traffic is involved) they may even hazard my health or life. Seeing those people as people is perhaps the most urgent part, because to see them as people may head off conflict. Harboring anger or resentment for someone permits our minds to denigrate, disrespect, and ultimately dehumanize someone who is, after all, a relative, no matter how distant. Dehumnanization is what permits all forms of violence, mental or emotional or physical. In fact one might say that to see someone as a problem or an annoyance is the first act of violence. Everyone who looks at another with anger has already punched that other in the face.

So I strive to pull back from all the labels I place on the people around me, and only call them “people,” nothing more specific. “Person,” I tell myself. “People. Person. Attractive person.” (I haven’t perfected my technique yet.) “People. Person. People. People. People.”

That’s the first step, pushing through the mass of labels and boxes and preconceptions to the point where you recognize human as human. This first step then enables the next. Once you have trained yourself to set aside all that you see of the people around you, appearance and action, then you need to remind yourself of what you can’t see, but is definitely there: hopes. Fears. Dreams. Love. Anger. Joy. Wisdom. Mistakes. History. A future. In short, all the stuff that makes a soul a soul, all that makes you, you and me, me — it makes them, them.

Look. Call them people. Fold up your boxes and put them away. Remember what you don’t see. Then take the last step, and love these your neighbors as you love yourself.

Forgive Us

For over a century, women in this country had no real legal rights, except perhaps as widows. They had no right to vote, no right to own property while married, no right to a divorce except in cases of adultery, no right to even a modicum of control over their own bodies. That last was not a comment about abortion: women were denied access to information about controlling their fertility. Not abortions, not condoms, just pamphlets. Such information was declared “obscene” by the Comstock Laws, and Federal officials would routinely search the mail and seize educational material on human sexuality. The lack of control would go even further, as spousal abuse was not considered a crime and rape would generally be blamed on the victim.

For over a century, African Americans could be killed with impunity in this country. They could be lynched for talking back to a white man, whistling at a white woman, owning a gun, or trying to vote. As local law enforcement usually organized the lynch mobs, blacks had no legal recourse or protection (State and Federal officials ignored the problem). Nor was this an exclusively southern phenomenon. The north and west had “sundown towns,” so called because the rules were simple: blacks could come into town during the day to work or do business, but had to be beyond the city limits by sundown, or face arrest or worse. Lynchings the country over were family affairs for whites, an occasion for a picnic and taking photographs. They were so solidly entrenched in the American culture that Franklin Roosevelt could not get an anti-lynching law passed in the heyday of the New Deal.

For nearly two centuries, gays and lesbians in this country were effectively persecuted. Sodomy was a felony. Just being at a gay bar could get you arrested for public indecency. If a gay man got arrested, he could expect to be beaten by the police (who would he complain to?) and have his name published in the newspapers, unless he could bribe his way out of it. If his name was printed up he could expect to lose his job, his friends, even his family.

Lesbians could expect all of the above as well; they would also be raped.

Things are better now, of course. Teachers can’t get in trouble for teaching about sex, just for teaching anything other than abstinence-only birth control. Blacks can’t get lynched by the police, just shot by them. Gays and lesbians can’t get beaten by the police, just by the general population. Continue reading