USA, World

When it comes to feminism, I’m a skeptic of the skeptics

Some people on the left are a little too righteous. They are holier-than-thou, overly sensitive, and speak with a political correctness that is as nauseating as it is pretentious. In the past, I’ve written about my support for those who are trying to take back the left and redefine what it means to fight for liberal values like free expression and human rights in the 21st century. In feminist circles, this attempted take-back is perfectly exemplified by the work that Christina Hoff Sommers is doing in her quest for what she calls “factual feminism.”

Christina Hoff Sommers identifies as a feminist. She regularly cites her support for the second wave feminism of the 60s and 70s that took on male chauvinism in the workplace and in the home, and won women unprecedented control over their own bodies via legal protections for their reproductive rights. But where Hoff Sommers differs from many of the feminists of today is not over what feminism was, but over her belief about what feminism has since become.

Hoff Sommers believes that modern day feminism is built on a collection of myths that over-exaggerate the ‘oppressed’ state of women in today’s world. She believes that leading feminists, particularly on university campuses, are instilling in young women a victimhood mentality, confusing them on what misogyny actually looks like and convincing them that they are victims of injustices that do not actually exist. She believes that things like the ‘wage gap’ and the ‘glass ceiling’ are feminist farces explained not by patriarchy but by natural, biological differences that exist between the sexes and the influences that those differences have on the lives that men and women freely choose to lead. She also believes that all of this has led to an unhealthy hatred of men and boys and a neglect of the unique problems that they experience in world.

I appreciate what Christina Hoff Sommers is trying to do. In thinking about people who have challenged my worldview, she has got to be one of the more thought-provoking voices that I have recently encountered. Her factual feminism makes worthy critiques of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” “privilege checking” and “micro-aggressions.” However, after a long personal marination on the merits of her arguments, when it comes to the larger questions that she poses about the validity of modern day feminism, I’m still a skeptic of much of her skepticism.

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Hoff Sommers beef with feminism stems from a divide in the feminist field that dates back to the arrival of feminism’s third wave in the mid 1990s. This divide created two distinct branches of feminism—“equity feminism” and “gender feminism.” Hoff Sommers is the first one (although some have described her as more of a “libertarian feminist”). This means that she believes in equality of rights between men and women as well as equality of economic and social opportunity. However, when that equality of opportunity fails to translate into equality of results, Hoff Sommers hesitates to point her finger at the patriarchy. That’s because, in her mind, inequality does not necessarily indicate injustice.

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Men and women are different, and different is okay. It’s okay when competitive boys choose to play football and cooperative girls choose to be cheerleaders. It’s okay when risk-taking men choose to work dangerous jobs while nurturing women choose to keep the home and raise the children. And if these choices result in working men, on average, earning more money than working women, or men being more likely to ascend to leadership positions in businesses and government, that’s okay too. This does not mean that societal gender roles are prescribed. There will always be men and women who buck the proverbial trend, and they are and should be free to do so. However, we shouldn’t be surprised when, more often than not, those trends are widely followed.

Gender feminists disagree. It’s not that gender feminists disbelieve in biological differences between men and women. Certainly there are some anatomical differences that are difficult to ignore. What gender feminists question is the ability of biology to explain the myriad of gender-based differences that exist between the sexes in society today. More importantly, what they conclude is that many of the characteristics attributed to a certain sex are not the result of biology, but instead are created by human beings; they are social constructs.

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Biology does help to explain certain social phenomena. Perhaps evolutionary biology, for example, could help to explain why men are often seen as more independent and aggressive whereas women are viewed to be compassionate and nurturing. It does make some sense that these traits could have “evolved” in men and women after millennia of hunting and gathering, where men possessed the superior biological tools for capturing and killing animals and women the only biological tools for birthing and feeding babies. This example could also provide some insight into the evolution of the idea of men as “breadwinners” and women as “housekeepers.” Before the invention of agriculture, these roles were essentially required in order to create a nuclear family.

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However, when it comes to other gender related questions, biology provides very few answers. Does biology explain why girls like pink and boys like blue? Does biology explain why girls wear dresses and boys wear pants? Does biology explain why the girl with the shortest hair in the room still oftentimes has longer locks than the shaggiest boy? And does biology explain why centuries removed from the transcendence of our societal limitations in regards to food production and childcare, so many modern families still maintain the familial structure of our ancient ancestors? No, no, no, and no.

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Which is why I find myself questioning a lot of the arguments posed by Hoff Sommers and other like-minded thinkers. Women’s rights have come a long way, but the (socially constructed) patriarchy is still very much alive. Be it objectification, domestic abuse, and sexual violence at home, or forced coverings, arranged marriages, and female genital mutilation abroad, victimhood is not just a mentality for many women—it’s a reality.

What is more, much of Hoff Sommers’ “myth-busting” doesn’t hold water. Her attempted discrediting of the gender wage gap is a good example. The gender wage gap is a statistic that suggests that the average working woman in the United States earns about $0.79 compared to every $1.00 earned by the average working man. Hoff Sommers argues that this statistic is misleading because while it seems to indicate blatant systemic discrimination against women, deeper digging reveals the truth to be more complicated. Women are not being paid lower wages than men for doing more or less the same work—they are just doing different work. What this stat really shows, in Hoff Sommers’ opinion, is that women choose different professions, different fields of study, and oftentimes work different schedules due in part to the unique demands of pregnancy and motherhood.

What’s not clear to me is the why—why do women make these choices? Why do women so often choose to be the secretary in a male-dominated office? Why do women so often choose to stay home with the children when a man could easily do the same? Hoff Sommers would argue that these choices are due to biology—measurable differences in the brains and bodies of women that help to explain their unique preferences. Gender feminists, on the other hand, would argue that they are the result of social constructs—societal expectations placed upon women that influence them both directly and indirectly to make the career choices that they ultimately make.

And I tend to agree with the gender feminists. It’s not that there is anything wrong with being a secretary or a stay-at-home mom. A secretary is an incredibly important person in most offices and who better to raise a kid than their own loving mother. What is wrong is when women take these roles not because they want to, but because they feel like they’re supposed to—like it is their place as a woman to serve the man and keep his home or like they are incapable of doing jobs more often occupied by their male superiors. And even though there are endless examples of strong, independent women currently occupying positions of power and prestige, I think that anybody who pays even the slightest attention to the world around them could admit that we as a society still send some pretty strong messages to boys and girls about what they are supposed to be.

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It’s also important to note that feminism is not just for girls. For every girl that likes to play football, solve math problems, and get buzz cuts, there is a boy who likes to read love stories, carry a purse, and cry. Feminism is also for any person who identifies as anything other than heterosexual or cisgender. Feminism is about people being able to fully be the unique human being that they are in spite of whatever gender roles society attempts to ascribe upon them. By the way, this also means that if a young girl happens to like pink, pretty dresses, and Barbie dolls, she should not be labeled as a victim of the patriarchy. Feminism should be for her too.

Hoff Sommers’ voice deserves inclusion in feminist conversations. She’s a conservative intellectual that, if nothing else, certainly helps to counterbalance the extremist tendencies of some feminists on the far left and give interested people like myself something to think about. But when it comes to her attempt to dispel feminist myths and rein in the regressive elements of modern day feminism, I think that at the end of day, she is the one who sounds like the regressive.

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Religion, World

Islam & the Regressive Left

Throughout my adult life, I have always thought of myself as a social justice advocate—someone who stands up for individual human rights regardless of race, gender, or country of origin. Someone who advocates for equity and equality in all the places that they are lacking, and challenges the systems and structures that help to keep those inequities and inequalities in place.

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Likewise, throughout my adult life, I have always thought of myself as a secularist— someone who not only rejects religion, but views it as a social ill, as something that contributes to the destruction of humanity and/or that oftentimes limits peoples’ ability to reach their full human potential.

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For someone like myself who likes to hang out on the political left, these characteristics are not all that uncommon. Lately, however, I have felt these two identities coming into conflict, like there’s some sort of irreconcilable contradiction that is manifesting between secularism and social justice.   Nowhere has this distinction been clearer than in my struggles around the issue of Islamic extremism.

The simple use of that terminology is illustrative in-and-of-itself of the intellectual dilemma I’ve been facing. Acknowledging the fact that Islamic extremism is a real thing and a real problem in the 21st century is something that can alienate one from mainstream leftist conversation. Certainly the world’s foremost leftist leader, Barack Obama, has been hesitant to use such language in his discourse no matter how many times he has encountered “that” type of terrorism during his two terms as president.

However, I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that most of the cases of international terrorism seem to be associated with a particular religion. Between groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram, Islam is undoubtedly the modern leader in the production of sectarian violence. And although such a statement can earn one the title of Islamophobe or racist, very unleftist titles indeed, I still believe that statement to be undeniably true.

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Recently, however, I had a minor breakthrough—an intellectual encounter that helped me to reconcile my two leftist personas. The breakthrough is incomplete in the sense that I’m still wrestling with a lot of it, still searching for an ideological nook that feels right for me, but in the mean time, it has at least lent me a place to put my proverbial feet up.

That encounter took place during a listen to my latest favorite podcast, Waking Up with Sam Harris. The episode, entitled “Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue,” features a conversation between renowned free-thinker Sam Harris and former radical Islamist turned activist-reformer Maajid Nawaz, a Pakistani Muslim seeking to turn back the tide of Islamic extremism through the promotion of a secular Islam and a peaceful interpretation of the Quran.

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It’s an enlightening and thought-provoking conversation that really should be listened to in its entirety for anyone interested in such topics, but as it pertains to my personal dilemma—the want for validation as a social justice secularist—my epiphany was mostly the result of an introduction to new terminology, specifically a term that seemed to describe the mode of thought that was needlessly driving a stake between my two otherwise fairly compatible mindsets. This mode of thought, a mode of thought I now know I reject, is derived from an unofficial group that Nawaz calls the “regressive left.”

The “regressive left” is a term that Nawaz coined to describe well-meaning liberals who, in the interest of social justice and multiculturalism, provide unintended support to highly illiberal beliefs and practices. In regards to Islam, Nawaz uses the term to refer to people who reject criticisms of the Islamic religion in the name of cultural sensitivity and tolerance, but in the process, fail to confront many of the problems that are prominent in the Muslim world at this particular moment in time.

These problems include not only terrorism and jihad, but also issues surrounding freedom of speech, religion, and press, as well as the rights of women, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities. While the defense of such rights and liberties should be top liberal priorities, regressive leftists have attempted to redefine the hierarchal organization of leftist values. This reshuffling has placed a dangerous form of culturally-relativist tolerance on top, a tolerance that oftentimes comes at the expense of defending the rights and liberties above.

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An example: If one were to criticize the forced covering experienced by many women in the Muslim world via the niqab or burqa, a regressive leftist may be more likely to defend Islamic culture than to defend those women oppressed by it.

Another example: If one were to make reference to the problem of Islamic terrorism, a regressive leftist may be more likely to push back against what they perceive to be an unenlightened generalization of Muslims than they would be to sympathize with the victims of such terroristic acts, the vast majority of whom are Muslims themselves.

Nawaz uses the the term “regressive” to imply a contrast with the “progressive” views that are usually associated with the political left, views that seek to advance the common cause of humanity through the espousal of Enlightenment ideals like liberty, equality, and natural human rights. These ideals are thought to be universal principles that transcend the borders that divide us, ideals that are merited to every earthly individual regardless of religion or culture. But in their attempt to embody the principles of multicultural sensitivity, Nawaz argues that regressive leftists are actually working against that “progress,” sometimes to the point where it is actually “regressing.”

What is more, Nawaz also argues, that the ideology of regressive leftists is so backwardly focused on the evasion of racism, that it actually embodies a form of racism itself. In what he calls “the racism of low expectations,” Nawaz describes how the refusal to acknowledge some of the pervasive ills in Islamic culture is representative of the “low expectations” these regressive leftists are sometimes projecting on minority populations, a projection that to many Muslims seems paternalistic and insulting. It suggests that because Muslims are “minorities,” because they are “oppressed,” they should not be held accountable to the same moral standards or expectations that regressive leftists would likely place on, say, white Christians. It would be the equivalent of a teacher such as myself having lower learning or behavioral expectations for my students of color due to the fact that they are “poor,” “disadvantaged,” and in need of the hope and advocacy that only a white liberal like myself can provide.

At this point I would like to say that I have no doubts that Islamophobia is indeed a real thing, and that many critics of Islam do indeed evoke racist rhetoric in making their criticisms, Donald Trump being a perfect example. I also have no illusions about the significant role that U.S. foreign policy has played, both presently and historically, in helping to create and/or exacerbate many of the problems that the Islamic world is suffering. I sometimes wonder if Islamic extremism would even be such a global threat if Western imperialism hadn’t done such a great job creating the perfect conditions for radicalization. All that being said, I do think that the doctrine of Islam is worthy of criticism, that religion is to blame for much of the suffering experienced in the Islamic world, and that our ability to make such criticisms has been limited by the regressive leftists and PC police who have been attempting to hijack the social justice movement for their own misguided endeavors.

The irony is that regressive leftists do not defend all religions from their secularist critics. When secularists go after Christianity for its attacks on a woman’s right to choose or a gay person’s right to marry, regressive leftists are on the sidelines cheering them on.   However, when secularists go after Islam, oftentimes for many of the same reasons that they go after Christianity, the regressive leftists shift their emphasis from universal rights to multicultural tolerance, even when the latter is directly jeopardizing the former.

I sympathize with those leftists who claim that such critiques of Islam can and do lead to harmful stereotypes of Muslims, and would argue that any criticisms of Islam should be made with only the utmost consideration of language and nuance. However, I would also make an important distinction between criticizing Islam as a set of ideas, versus criticizing Muslims as a homogenous group of people. The former is okay. The latter is not. Islam is an ideology that should be no more immune from criticism than Christianity, communism, or conservatism.   It is a set of ideas that people believe in, not a fixed trait like race, gender, or sexual orientation. And when people do it correctly, criticisms of Islam should never be confused with criticisms of Muslims as individuals. No individual Muslim should be held accountable for beliefs that they do no own and deeds that they did not sow.

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Moving forward, that is how all these conversations should be framed—not as a war on Muslims or a war on Islam, but a war on ideas—ideas that are harmful to humans. This war can only be fought in the arena of conversation, through free and open competition in the marketplace of ideas, where hopefully the good ideas defeat the bad ones. That, unfortunately, is becoming increasingly harder to do with regressive leftists, who will often curl up into their social justice shells out of refusal to engage in dialogue with “racists” and “bigots.” This is no way to defeat harmful ideas, nor the real human suffering that those ideas inflict on human beings—on Christians, on Muslims, on secularists, on everyone. But if we can’t even talk about it, how the hell are we ever going to actually do anything?

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I think that the world would be a better place without Islam. I think that the world would be a better place without religion. And I think that the world would be a better place without the regressive left. Of course, none of those things are going to happen. That’s why I am thankful for people like Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris, for their courage to take part in difficult conversations, for their willingness to speak honestly despite its repercussions, for their push back against ideas that are harmful to humanity, for challenging their listeners to think harder and do better, and for helping to reassure people like me that social justice and secularism are still compatible missions.

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Podcast Plug: Listen to Sam and Maajid’s conversation in full to hear more intellectually stimulating discussion of this issue and others including:

  • The concentric circles of Islamic identities
  • Maajid’s mission of peaceful reform
  • The role of religious motivation in Islamic terrorism
  • And much more super thought-provoking stuff!!!

Like me, you will not agree with everything you hear, but you will be given plenty to wrestle with.

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Immigration, Military, Politics, Race, Religion, USA, World

Thinking through Paris

Paris fucked me up. It was one of those events that seemed to have me reconsidering nearly everything I thought I believed—what I believed about people, what I believed about politics…It threw me into a state of mental disequilibrium so profound that a week-and-change later, I still haven’t really settled back into the post-Paris me. In that sense, this post is a thinking-through, a consideration of the clusterfuck that was last week’s events and the tangled mess of causes and consequences that connect to it, in hopes of finding equilibrium again.

When I first caught wind of the attacks, the radio man was being very cautious about the details he was releasing, but I remember knowing one detail of the attacks right away without anyone needing to tell me: the attackers were radical Islamists.

I didn’t want to be right about that. Upon confirming what I already knew on the World Wide Web, I took to Twitter, and aside from the Parisians directly affected by the attacks, there isn’t any people for whom I felt more pity than the Muslims from around the world who felt compelled to tweet out their opposition to these atrocities lest they be labeled as terrorists themselves.

But the Islamic question is upon us again, and I don’t know where I stand. I know for sure that the vast, vast, vast majority of the world’s Muslims are peaceful people who should not have to explain themselves nor apologize for the actions of these crazy, ISIS assholes. But I also think that thinkers like Sam Harris have a point when they say things like the religion of Islam “has a unique problem at this moment in history.”

When I try to reconcile these ideas in my own head, I find myself trying to differentiate between Muslims as people and Islam as a set of ideas. I don’t agree with any sweeping generalizations that people make about Muslim people, but I do think that you can criticize the religion of Islam, and certain radical Muslims, without being a bigot. As an atheist, I criticize Christianity all the time, and no one ever bigotizes me for it. I also have a life crammed full of Christians who are way better people than I am, people that I love and adore, despite my opposition to the theology they subscribe to. And just like it’s unintellectual to suggest that all Muslims are terrorists, I also find it unintellectual when President Obama and other liberals go out of their way to avoid using the word Islamic to describe the self-described Islamic terrorists they are describing.

But as far as doctrine goes, is Islam really any more violent than a religion like Christianity? The Quran is certainly violent, and Jesus was a peaceful dude, but the god of the Old Testament was a homicidal maniac who indiscriminately killed all those who failed to appease his capricious demands. Furthermore, Christianity experienced millennia of war and violence before it found the relative peaceful epoch that many Christians experience today.

That’s why a big part of me also believes that the violence associated with Islam is less about the religion and more about the places where people who subscribe to that religion happen to live, places where people are generally much more politically and economically disempowered than their Christian brethren in the Western World. Any religion can be radicalized, but radicalization is more likely in certain places than in others, places like war-torn Syria and Iraq or occupied countries like Palestine and Afghanistan.

And then I ask myself what the world would look like if the tables were turned—if Muslims around the world experienced the relative prosperity and stability of Christians today, and Christians the impoverished and violent dystopias of so many Muslims. What it would look like if Islamic countries controlled the UN and the IMF and the Christians nations were still recovering from decades of colonialism and imperialism. How much more vulnerable would Christians be to the radical wings of their own religion, groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan? Certainly there’s no shortage of things like racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia in the Christian world as it is. How much worse would it be if they were thrown into the desperate and dire circumstances known by so many Muslims, if they really had something to be angry about?

Yet most Muslims aren’t angry. They’re just scared. Scared of the same lunatics that shot up the city of Paris ten days ago. And that’s why they’re running.

Which leads to the questions surrounding the world refugee crisis, questions about the number of refugees we in the United States should accept, questions about the vetting process refugees should be subjected to in order to gain admission.

While I’ve been appalled by many of the racist arguments equating refugees to terrorists, I have to admit that some of those arguments contain a small but significant dose of truth: the more refugees that the United States accepts and the more lenient the vetting process, the more likely it is that that process will be exploited by people who wish to do the United States harm.

I really think that’s undeniable. It doesn’t mean that refugees are terrorists. Refugees are refugees. It does mean, however, that terrorism is a problem in the world, a problem that often comes from the same places as the refugees do, and that those terrorists are not above the exploitation of humanitarian compassion. If you want to make an argument for refugee acceptance, I think that’s a reality that you have to come to terms with.

I do acknowledge that reality, but I also don’t think that it has to dictate our response to our fellow human beings in crisis. I whole-heartedly agree with the overused mantra that to deny refugees based on fears of terrorism would be letting the terrorists win. More importantly, it would be letting the refugees lose, and that would be unacceptable.

Sometimes in discussions like these, the tone seems to take an us-and-them mentality.  “It will put us in danger if we take them in.”  “How are we going to help their people if we can’t even help our own people?”   Fair points, but for me, those words carry little weight when I’m looking at images like these. When I look at these pictures, I don’t see Syrians. I don’t see Muslims. I don’t see us or them. I just see children—children who desperately need a world to do the right thing in spite of any potential consequences.

And while this decision should not be a political one, it does present the United States with a tremendous opportunity to begin reforming its image in the Muslim world. By taking in tens-of-thousands of Muslims (and many non-Muslims) in need, the United States not only provides an essential service to humanity, it also simultaneously delivers a big “fuck you” to radical Islamists everywhere, demonstrating our unwillingness to let their terroristic threats dictate the way that we care for our Muslim brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings in need.

And after the Paris attacks, it is clear that we in the Western World need a reminder of who our fellow human beings are. The outpouring of sympathy for Paris was, in my opinion, beautiful. Changing your Facebook profile picture or retweeting #PrayForParis could be seen as pretty meaningless gestures, but I love the idea of the world coming together across borders and oceans to show support and offer hope, to send prayers and positive energy to a city and a people who desperately need them. No one should be made to feel bad for clicking with their hearts.

But there is something that we should feel bad about, and that is what Paris revealed about who we choose to grieve for.

I remember having this thought while watching the news coverage of Paris two Friday’s ago, but in hindsight, I didn’t know shit about Beirut or Baghdad either, and a week-and-a-half later, it’s still not those attacks that I’m “thinking through.” Black Lives Matter is usually something discussed in relation to domestic issues inside the United States, but Paris made it clear that there is a definite discrepancy in the way that we values the lives of white people compared with those of black and brown people in the rest of the world as well.

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And what about the response? What does France and its allies do to “strike back” at ISIS? It scared me when my gut-reaction to this question was eerily similar to Trump’s idea of “bomb the shit out of them,” the kind of balls-over-brains thinking that helped to create ISIS in the first place. Looking at recent history, military intervention seems to do way more to create terrorism than it ever does to eliminate it. That being said, while I hope our world leaders won’t be making such decisions with their collective gut, I can see why military intervention, in this case, might be called for.

What I know I don’t want is to see some sort of unilateral Western intervention composed of France, the States, and other Western allies. I think critics of intervention are right when they say that this is exactly what ISIS wants, a war on Islam by the West, the ultimate tool to galvanize support among the enlisted and provide additional propaganda for recruitment to ensure that their fucked-up brand of backwards hate will only continue to grow. The West can’t solve this problem alone, no matter how many bombs or drones they drop. This is a worldwide problem, and it needs a worldwide solution.

Perhaps most important to this worldwide solution is the support needed from the Muslim world, the collaborative effort from countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to take out a group that should be considered an enemy to all Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, and any other group that considers themselves a part of humanity. Furthermore, it will take cooperation between West and East, between Western Europe and North America and China and Russia, and a dramatic departure from the Machiavellian, balance-of-power bullshit that has defined the conflict thus far. And while a united effort of this magnitude could easily wipe the wanna-be caliphate off the face of the fucking planet, history also tells us that this kind of humanitarian-driven, united effort has zero chance of happening.

And that’s what makes this situation so impossible. That’s why nearly two weeks removed from the Paris attacks I still have no idea what the fuck to think or what the fuck to do. It makes me want to eternally avoid the likes of MPR and CNN and forever hide within the comfortable confines of KFAN and the WWE.

But thinking about these things is the least we can do. Thinking about what we can do in our lives to fight back against ignorance and hatred. Thinking about those who are less fortunate than us, and what we can do to make their existence on this planet a little more tolerable. Thinking about how we can be the best human beings we are capable of being, and inspire others to realize their full human potential as well. And continuing to remember that it is easier to be the ones tasked with thinking about these horrible events, than it is to be the ones tasked with feeling them.

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History, Immigration, World

Historical Consciousness and the Global Immigration Crisis

In my world history class, one of the most important skills that I try to cultivate in my students is the skill of “historical consciousness.” I define historical consciousness as being able to see the present through the lenses of the past, to see today as a creation of yesterday. Current events, I tell them, do not fall from the sky. They are culminations and continuations of historical narratives. To understand those events currently happening, you need to know their stories. You need to use your historical consciousness.

Unfortunately, if you watch the news, I don’t think this is a skill that is modeled very well by the lame-stream media. News is framed in nothing but the now, and while the now is the most pertinent component of any news story, you cannot fully understand that now–where it came from or what to do with it–without some historical contextualization. To try and do otherwise leads to false conclusions about the problem at hand, and worse, flawed solutions proposed to fix it. Exhibit A: Immigration.

Immigration is the “A” news topic in the world right now. The horrendous stories coming out of Europe are rightfully receiving the majority of the media’s attention, but immigration on our own southern border has been a hot topic at both of the Republican presidential debates, and our own border crisis ain’t over either.

Voices on the issues vary widely on both sides of the Atlantic. There are those who are sympathetic to the plight of the refugees and those who see them as unwanted intruders. There are those who want to build the refugees a pathway to citizenship and those who want to build walls. But within this chorus of voices, one voice that I personally have had difficulty hearing is the voice of history. What are the historic roots of the sectarian wars in Syria in Iraq?  Of the political and economic disaster that is large parts of Africa?  Of the violence and corruption that defines so much of Latin American governance?  If you read the history books, a large part of the answer is us.

You cannot talk about the immigration crises around the world today without talking about the imperial and colonial legacy from which these crises stem. The dramatic differences that define quality of life between the world of white Europeans and the world of black and brown Latinos, Africans, and Middle Easterners did not come to be by accident–they came to be under a relationship of dominance, the former dominating the latter. It is this relationship that helped to create the political and economic instability the latter group is currently suffering, and the poverty, oppression, and war that they are currently fleeing.

What is more, the relative wealth and comfort experienced by so many living in Europe and the U.S. today is not just the result of living in a country that has never been colonized–it is the direct result of that country’s historic role as colonizer.

Europe and the States were built on the backs of slave labor, both at home and abroad. They were built with the resources of the “third world”–their gold, their silver, their rubber, their copper.   Sometimes these resources were funneled through corrupt dictatorships that the colonizers helped to install. Sometimes they were just stolen outright. And while colonization has come to an end, colonizer countries continue to benefit from the exploitation of their old empires today. Look no further than the “Made in ________” marking on your sneakers and electronic goods for proof of this discomforting reality. The comfort and luxury in what has come to be known as the “developed” world has always and still continues to depend on the “developing” world’s exploitation and misery.

When talking about immigration, I like the way that one writer puts it: “The empires are striking back.” They are fleeing what colonialism and imperialism created, and seeking to take back that which was taken from them generations ago. But increased compassion and understanding of the refugee plight does not reduce the complexity of the problem.

I was listening to NPR a few days ago when a French official said something to the tune of, “To close our doors is to watch migrants literally die on our doorstep, but to leave our doors wide open is to ignore reality.” And reality is real. To open the gates to everyone is not a solution that will help anyone. The settling of said refugees needs to be organized and evenly distributed so that both the refugees and those taking them not only simply survive, but prosper. That said, I have no idea how the fuck to make that happen.

This is a mess, and there are no easy solutions. All the refugees can’t and won’t be saved. The 2,500+ whom have already perished trying to cross the Mediterranean will surely be joined by more of their Afghani, Syrian, Somali and Nigerian brethren before the calendar year expires. The death count at the world’s second deadliest border will continue to pile up as well, along with the countless others who will die from the very conditions that drive people northwards in the first place.

There are commendations to be made. European countries like Germany and Sweden should be commended for the numbers they are taking in. Those in the United States pushing for amnesty and easier pathways to citizenship should be commended for the battles they are fighting. Perhaps most importantly of all, any genuine form of humanitarian and/or economic aid that is delivered to these countries in crisis in hopes of helping to make them not such horrible places to live should be commended, as this is perhaps the one true action that addresses the root of the problem. However, what need not be forgotten is that, while these actions are often framed as altruistic deeds of the benevolent, they could just as easily be framed as the fulfillment of a moral duty–a responsibility to rectify the inequality that exists between those who benefit from a colonial legacy and those who suffer from it.

And I think that is the most important thing to keep in mind. When talking about the conundrum that is the global immigration crisis, we need to think about where this crisis comes from–the historical factors that helped to create the dreadful situations experienced by those seeking refuge. Using our historical consciousness to think about immigration may not necessarily generate solutions to some of those toughest questions, but it can help us to avoid some of the horrible solutions proposed by the people who aren’t using theirs.

“Go back home,” doesn’t solve anything. The huge-concentration of Mexican-Americans living in states like Arizona and New Mexico actually are living in what historically was the home of Mexican people up until 150 years ago when the States took it from them in the dubious Mexican-American war. I’m sure Iraqis and Libyans would love to go back home. Maybe if it wasn’t for the non-stop cycle of violence and political chaos, largely perpetrated by foreign invaders, they would have never left.

At the end of the day, this is just a sad, sad situation. I don’t think that even the staunchest conservative blowhard lacks sympathy for the situation of these international refugees. When they say things like, “We’d love to help everybody. We just can’t,” I really think that they are right. We can’t help everybody. That’s just true. However, in light of history, I don’t think that that reality absolves us of our responsibility to try.

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Military, Politics, USA, World

Nuts Over Nukes

Nuclear weapons have been in the news a lot in recent weeks, but one story that has flown under the radar is the nearly trillion-dollar weapons upgrade to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This “modernization” has been proposed not by the hawkish Republicans of the House and Senate, but by Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning president Barack Obama.

The funding and carrying-out of the upgrade will not happen in one fell swoop. It is a process scheduled to take place over the next three decades, as the U.S. aims to convert its aging Cold War stockpile into a modern 21st century nuclear force. Nevertheless, the nearly trillion dollar price tag is a concerning one, especially for those of us already frustrated with the amount of money our government currently spends every year protecting our “freedom” and promoting “democracy” in the world.

The U.S. spends more on defense than any other country, and it’s not even close. In fact, in 2014, the U.S. spent more money on defense than the next seven highest spenders combined. Yes, that means that if you add up the total defense spending of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India, and Germany, it still falls $9 billion short of the guns, bombs, planes, and tanks built and bought by the U.S.

Domestically, this adds up to 18% of total spending, that is, if you solely focus on mandatory spending. If you focus on discretionary spending, which more truly reflects how our government spends its money, the total rises to 57%. That means that the United States spends nearly 33% more dollars on its military than it spends on EVERYTHING ELSE.

But we are talking about nuclear weapons here, an area that even with a trillion dollar increase will not exceed 5% of total U.S. defense spending in the coming decades. And perhaps this is what is most concerning of all: the fact that even as we dump another trillion dollars into a weapons system whose only function is massive annihilation of humanity, it will barely manage to register a blip on the defensive-spending radar.

It is also important to note the political and historic backdrop in which this proposed upgrade is taking place. The United States along with several other nations just put the finishing touches on what’s being heralded as a historic “peace” deal with Iran, a deal that aims to prevent Iran from even having the technological capability to develop a nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, most Congressional Republicans, and even some Democrats, still view the agreement as far too weak, and want to see language that cripples and controls Iran even further. I wonder what Iranians think about the U.S.’s expansion of it’s own already gigantic nuclear weapons program while simultaneously limiting the comparatively tiny program of Iran, a program that explicitly has never had a motive other than energy production?

Of course, the fear is that should Iran have the ability to develop such a weapon, the crazy, Islamic bastards would probably use the bomb to rain fire on all their sworn enemies. However, if history were to have its say, which it should, it would tell us that if anyone were crazy enough to use such a devastating weapon, it would most likely be the only country that has ever used it before. Of course that country is the United States of America, a nation who exactly 70 years ago last week, dropped two atomic bombs on the country of Japan killing more than 200,000 people (the vast majority of whom were civilians.)

Mixed international signals aside, the spending part of this issue is a domestic one, and while a trillion dollars is a lot of money, the fact that it fails to make up even 5% of total military spending has left lawmakers searching for other options when seeking to cut costs. This is a stupid way to think.

A trillion dollars is a trillion dollars no matter what percent it is of a whole. Maybe a few cuts here and there won’t make much of a difference in the overall numbers, but that won’t lessen the impact it could have for the communities whose families it could feed, whose sick it could heal, and for whose roads and schools it could build.

Furthermore, the idea that we need to further invest in the modernization of a program in which the only scenario where those dollars come to fruition is a nuclear war that severely compromises the ability of humans to even exist on this planet is completely and totally idiotic. Any competitive edge the United States is gaining in such a scenario is a million times mitigated by the devastating effect such a war would have on human life.

So fuck bombs. Let’s put those dollars towards people. Let’s make a real statement that we are committed to international peace and not upgrade but dismantle our nuclear weapons arsenal. Let’s show Iran that we mean business. Let’s show Japan that we are sorry. A trillion dollars worth of nuclear bombs is a trillion dollars wasted, no matter what kind of deterrent it may or may not provide. And if that deterrent is really that necessary, if the only thing that is preventing us all from blowing each other up is the fact that we might get blown up too, well then I don’t want to live in that kind of world anyway.

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