Browsing the archives for the Social Issues category.


It May Be Early to Call It a Pattern, but …

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blogging, Social Issues

Three apparently unrelated news stories are tied together by one factor. The news stories are:

  1. Rachel Dolezal and her attempt at race reassignment;
  2. Ariel Bradley, the “ISIS bride” from Tennessee who has gone all-in for jihad; and
  3. This week’s murder of five family members in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, allegedly by the oldest son.

The common factor is that the principles of these stories were all  home-schooled by parents who were tightly controlling and kept their children isolated from mainstream culture.

A few days ago Amanda Marcotte wrote an article that tied together the similarities between Dolezal and Bradley. They both were raised in such isolation, by rabidly controlling parents, that when they approached adulthood they either were compelled to invent new identities for themselves or create identities out of whole cloth that separated them from their upbringing. Marcotte writes,

BuzzFeed pieced together the 29-year-old Bradley’s story through conversations with her friends and a brief interview with her mother. Her friend Robert Parker says that Bradley was raised by a fundamentalist mother who was intent on keeping “her away from materials that would make her question Christianity.” Not only was Bradley homeschooled; she didn’t even learn to read until she was a preteen.

Bradley started rebelling against her parents in adolescence and spent her teens and early adulthood drifting from one identity to another, according to her friends. “It was like, when I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim,” one friend explained. “As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in, so if she meets a guy that’s an atheist then she’s an atheist, falls into that for a year.”’

Having not been allowed to become herself as she was growing up, she had to take a persona where she could find one.

I found Dolezal a bit baffling until I read about her upbringing by hyper-conservative Christian home schoolers who were also white supremacists. And who also adopted black children while being white supremacists. What little information has come to light makes the Dolezal family sound like a house of horrors. My guess is that adopting a black persona was a highly elaborate coping strategy for Dolezal. She wasn’t trying to perpetrate a hoax as much as she was deceiving herself as a way to distance herself from her upbringing. Or somehow work through her upbringing. Or both.

We don’t yet know if the Bever family of Broken Arrow were religious fundamentalists, but the neighbors are saying that the parents barely let the children out of the house.

While the community was left shocked by the brutal violence, the neighbor tells PEOPLE that something hasn’t seemed right with that family for a long time.

“They’re very reclusive,” the neighbor says. “The kids don’t come out of the house.”

She adds: “It’s a very big house, but I’ve only ever seen a boy once and they’ve been here for many, many years. We only really knew they had kids because they have a pool and there are toys outside. But they don’t come out.”

The neighbor says the kids were homeschooled by a married couple who kept the children “on a very short leash.”

“It’s weird because they’re old enough to drive,” she says of the detained brothers, “but I’ve never seen them. And I’ve never seen a friend come to the house at all.”

She continues: “They never open the blinds. The windows are never open.

“It’s very scary.”

We don’t know for certain that the oldest son Robert Bever and possibly another son, both now in custody, really did stab and axe their parents, two younger brothers and a sister. I will try to keep track as more information comes out. But it’s past time we needed to pay attention to the “home schooling” movement and take care it’s not fostering and perpetrating physical and psychological abuse.

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A Tale of Two Churches

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Religion, Social Issues

The shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC that left nine dead is at the top of the news this morning, as it should be. The Guardian seems to be doing the best job of updating What We Know So Far. Allegedly the shooter is a 21-year-old white kid named Dylann Storm Roof. We’ll soon learn that he was mentally ill and not a racist (she said, facetiously).

One of those killed, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was also a South Carolina state senator with a long history of public service. After the shooting death of Walter L. Scott by a white police officer in North Charleston, the Reverent Pinckney had led a rally against gun violence.

No More Mr. Nice Blog has a representative selection of responses from Fox News viewers, in which we learn that the real villains here are Al Sharpton, Al Sharpton, Al Sharpton, Rachel Dolezal, the racist (and anti-Semitic) president and liberal media, legislators who turn churches into gun-free zones, and, of course, gay people.” Well, that goes without saying.

At Salon, Chauncy DeVega wants to know “Where are the white fathers in the white home?” Heh.

I predict we’ll soon learn that young Mr. Roof is a big fan of right-wing media and a regular consumer of right-wing hate speech. This revelation will be followed by shrieks of outrage from the Right, because libruhls are trying to censor them. The South Carolina state legislature will respond by making it legal to open carry firearms in churches, if it isn’t legal already. Then this will all be shoved under the rug.

The other church in the title of this post is the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, which is on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. The Church was built on the site said to be where Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish. It has been severely damaged by arsonists. No persons were seriously injured.

Was this done by deranged Palestinians or Jesus-hating jihadists? Apparently not; those arrested for the crime are yeshiva students, who left a note about false idols being smashed. These alleged arsonists live on the West Bank and are being defended by a right-wing organization. Israeli officials condemned the act. However,

The Catholic Church in Israel told Haaretz that they saw this attack as a continuation of the aggression against holy Christian sites over the last few years, which it said the Israeli government and authorities have failed to deal with accordingly. A report on the matter has been given to the Vatican, the sources said.

So are the good American wingnut Christians going to rise up and condemn Israel for not aggressively dealing with anti-Christian terrorists who are not Muslim? I’m not holding my breath.

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Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner, and Identity

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Social Issues, Women's Issues

Rachel Dolezal was born a white woman but has been passing for black for some time, apparently by darkening her skin and getting aggressive perms. She became president of the Spokane NAACP and a spokesperson for the African American community in Spokane, which I understand is small. Now a lot of people are really pissed at Dolezal for passing herself off as something she wasn’t.

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, has been surgically made over so that Jenner can live as a woman instead of a man. Many of us have been defending her. I’m of the “it doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg” school of thought on this, frankly. If being a woman makes Jenner happy, I don’t have a problem with the gender reassignment.

So is this inconsistent? Not exactly. I wouldn’t choose Jenner to represent women’s interests or to become head of NOW. The life experiences of trans women are not the life experiences of biological women. Trans women have never had to deal with menstrual cramps or leaks. Pregnancy, childbirth, abortions, miscarriages — or avoiding those things — are huge parts of a biological woman’s life but are not on the transgendered’s radar. Have they ever had to find a place to nurse a hungry baby away from home? How about the joys of menopause? And then there’s the fact that someone who has lived into adulthood as a man is unlikely to have lived with the constant putdowns and sleights, socially and professionally, that all women experience. They may experience those things after the reassignment, but they didn’t have to grow up with them and have to struggle to not let it define them.

A few days ago in the New York Times, Elinor Burkett wrote an op ed arguing that transgendered women are threatening to derail progress for biological women. I was unaware of some of the stuff that has been going on —

…it’s growing harder to avoid asking pointed questions about the frequent attacks by some trans leaders on women’s right to define ourselves, our discourse and our bodies. After all, the trans movement isn’t simply echoing African-Americans, Chicanos, gays or women by demanding an end to the violence and discrimination, and to be treated with a full measure of respect. It’s demanding that women reconceptualize ourselves.

In January 2014, the actress Martha Plimpton, an abortion-rights advocate, sent out a tweet about a benefit for Texas abortion funding called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas.” Suddenly, she was swamped by criticism for using the word “vagina.” “Given the constant genital policing, you can’t expect trans folks to feel included by an event title focused on a policed, binary genital,” responded @DrJaneChi.

WHEN Ms. Plimpton explained that she would continue to say “vagina” — and why shouldn’t she, given that without a vagina, there is no pregnancy or abortion? — her feed overflowed anew with indignation, Michelle Goldberg reported in The Nation. “So you’re really committed to doubling down on using a term that you’ve been told many times is exclusionary & harmful?” asked one blogger. Ms. Plimpton became, to use the new trans insult, a terf, which stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist.”

In January, Project: Theatre at Mount Holyoke College, a self-described liberal arts college for women, canceled a performance of Eve Ensler’s iconic feminist play “The Vagina Monologues” because it offered an “extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” explained Erin Murphy, the student group’s chairwoman.

Let me get this right: The word “vagina” is exclusionary and offers an extremely narrow perspective on womanhood, so the 3.5 billion of us who have vaginas, along with the trans people who want them, should describe ours with the politically correct terminology trans activists are pushing on us: “front hole” or “internal genitalia”?

Even the word “woman” has come under assault by some of the very people who claim the right to be considered women. The hashtags #StandWithTexasWomen, popularized after Wendy Davis, then a state senator, attempted to filibuster the Texas Legislature to prevent passage of a draconian anti-abortion law, and #WeTrustWomen, are also under attack since they, too, are exclusionary.

“Abortion rights and reproductive justice is not a women’s issue,” wrote Emmett Stoffer, one of many self-described transgender persons to blog on the topic. It is “a uterus owner’s issue.” Mr. Stoffer was referring to the possibility that a woman who is taking hormones or undergoing surgery to become a man, or who does not identify as a woman, can still have a uterus, become pregnant and need an abortion.

Let me repeat that last one –

“Abortion rights and reproductive justice is not a women’s issue,” wrote Emmett Stoffer, one of many self-described transgender persons to blog on the topic. It is “a uterus owner’s issue.”

You see the problem. Seems to me some of the trans ladies may have lost their penises but not their sense of privilege. Now they’re mansplaining to us what womanhood is.

I also agree with Burkett that a lot of trans women seem to have embraced some aspects of the feminine mystique that Betty Friedan raised hell about back in 1964. No, dears, let’s not go backward now.

So, while I have no problem with people choosing to live with a different gender identity than they one they were born with, it has to be said that they are not fully biological women and they have not had the life experiences of fully biological women. Therefore, they don’t get to define womanhood or decide what issues are important to biological women. They need, in short, to STFU about what’s important to women or what words women are allowed to use to discuss their own bodies. End of discussion. If that makes me a “terf,” bite me.

Burkett also said,

Imagine the reaction if a young white man suddenly declared that he was trapped in the wrong body and, after using chemicals to change his skin pigmentation and crocheting his hair into twists, expected to be embraced by the black community.

And that brings us back to Dolezal. I’d be curious to know if she could have gotten away with the charade in a less white part of the country; Mississippi, say, instead of Spokane. She wouldn’t have had the same life experiences as someone born black, and genuinely intimate experience is hard to fake.

Without knowing Dolezal’s motivations or how her head is wired it’s hard to know what was going on, but it seems to me that if her interest in African-American well-being were genuine she would have respected the African-American experience enough to not try to fake being one in order to take leadership roles. That’s what strikes me as odd. I could see that someone white might fall in love with black culture and come to admire the unique beauty of African American women and want to copy that, but Dolezal went far beyond that.

The whole identity issue is a tricky thing. From a Buddhist perspective, things like race and gender are just temporary conditions, empty of self-nature. They are not who we are. However, they do have a big impact on how we live our lives, so we can’t very well ignore them.

Wanting to be something other than what one is comes under the heading of bhava tanha, “craving to be” or “craving to become.” It’s a particularly nasty sort of craving that has a lot to do with why people get stuck in samsara. And note that the craving itself is the problem; one can desire to be something good, like a nun or a heart surgeon, and it’s still a problem, especially if it’s more about enhancing one’s status than living on behalf of others. As soon as we think in terms of what we want to be, and not just what we hope to do, we’re in trouble.

So this whole issue of changing gender or race or anything else about oneself has a great many facets — biological, cultural, social, and spiritual — that we’re not really discussing, and which people need to consider and work out for themselves. In short, it’s complicated.

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Appeals Court Reinstates Same-Sex Marriage Bans

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Family Issues, Social Issues, Supreme Court, The Constitution

Yesterday a federal appeals court in Cincinnati reversed lower-court decisions that voided same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

I believe this is the first genuine break in the streak of court decisions that have struck down same-sex marriage bans. Just yesterday I ran into a list of 22 states in which either federal courts or state supreme courts had voided such bans. The site Freedom to Marry keeps an updated account of where marriage equality stands in the states. Same-sex marriage currently is legal in 32 states, and courts had cleared the way for marriage equality in several other states.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog has the most detailed account of yesterday’s decision, by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, I’ve seen so far. The primary difference between yesterday’s decisions and the previous ones is that the Sixth Circuit upheld the states’ sovereignty on matters of marriage, and said federal courts had no bearing to countermand a state decision on marriage. The Sixth also said there is no right to marry. And this sets up an interesting contrast in legal thought.

As I understand it, some of the judges who have struck down the bans view marriage as a right of U.S. citizens that states cannot infringe. Others (see especially Judge Richard Poster’s very readable argument) basically say that the states’ reasons for banning same-sex marriage are irrational and blatantly discriminatory. Judge Posner wrote,

To return to where we started in this opinion, more than unsupported conjecture that same-sex marriage will harm heterosexual marriage or children or any other valid and important interest of a state is necessary to justify discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

As we have been at pains to explain, the grounds advanced by Indiana and Wisconsin for their discriminatory policies are not only conjectural; they are totally implausible.

The Sixth Circuit decision directly disagrees with Posner on some points. Posner said that “tradition” per se carries no weight, that delaying to change laws because there may be some unforeseen bad consequence to the law is not a valid excuse, and that there is no evidence children are harmed by being raised by same-sex parents. The Sixth apparently disagrees with all of those points, saying the states have a legitimate role in protecting children and that states have a right to “wait and see’ what happens elsewhere before enacting a change themselves. Also unlike Posner, the Sixth denied there was any evidence the law was based on animus to homosexuals.

Of course not. And jokes involving the President and watermelons are not racist. Sure.

Lyle Denniston writes that the Sixth also denies that homosexuals are a “discrete class deserving of special constitutional protection as historic targets of discrimination.”

The most obviously flimsy part of this decision is that it also denies that states have any obligation to recognize same-sex marriages of other states, which seems to me to fly right in the face of the Full Faith and Credit clause of Article IV Section 1.

Several articles today say that this decision almost certainly sets up a Supreme Court test. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had already said awhile back that if the Sixth upheld the bans, bring it on, dudes. Well, not those exact words. How the Court might decide is uncertain, especially after the U.S. v. Windsor decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (5-4, Usual Suspects with Kennedy swinging toward the liberals). I can see Justice Roberts having to decide which outcome would stir up the bigger hornets’ nest.

Update: Kenneth Jost, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetwon, rips the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision apart, and says the badly argued decision may prove to be a “blessing in disguise” for advocates of marriage equality.

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What We Don’t See

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abortion, big picture stuff, Social Issues, Women's Issues

Of all the conceits common to humankind possibly the most insidious is that any of us are entirely rational. And often the most irrational people are those who brag about how rational they are.

Even if a person’s basic reasoning skills are sound, the outcome of his reasoning nearly always will be imperfect. That’s because nearly all of us “live” within limited conceptual frameworks that filter and sort information in artificial ways. The way we conceptually interface with reality is based partly on our own experience and partly on how we are culturally conditioned to understand things.  And most of us are blind to this, because if we and everyone we know is artificially filtering and sorting information in pretty much the same way, we assume our understanding of reality is the only possible one.

(I wrote quite a lot about this in my book, by the way, explaining the way our limited conceptual frameworks have impacted religion and have largely rendered it ridiculous, but it doesn’t have to be that way.)

Breaking out of the conceptual box we live in usually takes some extraordinary experience — and often a shocking one — to see that we’re living in an artificial world and that the “real” one outside the limits of our awareness is largely alien to us. And most of us amble through life without ever having that experience.

Even though few of us ever perceive that we’re living inside a conceptual box, if we run into people whose conceptual boxes are very different from ours we think those people just don’t understand the real world (meaning our “real world”). I could define maturity, even wisdom, as the ability to appreciate  and respect that other people’s “worlds” are just as valid as ours even if they are wildly different. I wrote a few years ago,

My view is that everything we think comes from a complex of psychological discriminations and impulses, little of which have anything to do with “logic.” The way we understand ourselves and the world begins to be shaped from the moment we’re born and continues to be shaped by the culture we grow up and live in. In other words, all of our understandings are biased. This is pervasive and inescapable. Often the difference between “logical” and “empathic” people is that an “empathic” person has at least a dim appreciation of his own biases, whereas a “logical” person is utterly oblivious to them. …

… Our conscious, cognitive understandings of things are based on internalized models of what we’ve been conditioned to believe is “normal.” We may be able to articulate our ideas and perceptions in a coolly logical way, but the process by which we arrive at our ideas and perception is “complex, unconscious and emotional.” This is always true, whether we want to admit it or not. …

… Generally being “fair” is not losing one’s biases, but perceiving one’s biases as biases. If you recognize your biases as biases, you are in a position to overrule them as the facts dictate. But if you are so unconscious of yourself that you don’t recognize your biases as biases, then your “thinking” generally amounts to casting around for support for your biases. Then you put the biases and the cobbled-together “support” together and call it “reason.”

And this takes me to what we don’t see. I’ve written before about the “default norm” syndrome, also called the invisible baseline fallacy, which in our culture means white maledom is the default norm, and perspectives and experiences that deviate from those common to white men are not respected as legitimate. If you are a woman or racial minority in this country you have bumped into this iron wall of assumption many times, but the iron wall is invisible to a lot of white men. Not all, thank goodness.

This is basically the same thing that people are calling “male privilege” or “white privilege,” although I don’t like those terms. The degree to which one’s assumptions, biases and experiences are “privileged” depends on a complex of factors that include health or physical condition, class, and wealth. A white male lower-income paraplegic is considerably less “privileged” than the Koch brothers, for example. As wealth inequality becomes more extreme a whole lot of white people are being left behind to a degree I believe is unprecedented in American history, and I assure you most of these people don’t feel all that “privileged.”

Money is privilege. People who have always been financially comfortable have no idea how much lack of money can be an obstacle to basic functionality in our society. The poor are taxed in myriad ways, from paying higher bank account fees on their meager balances — causing the very poor to not use banks at all, but then one must use check cashing services that also take a bite. Without a car you take public transportation, which eats a lot more time out of your day. And if you don’t have money for a bus you simply don’t go anywhere out of walking distance, which puts a huge limit on your job opportunities. Those left out of Medicaid expansion still have limited access to health care, and chronic, debilitating conditions often go untreated. Poor parents often are caught in the day care trap — they aren’t paid enough to afford reliable day care, but without that it’s hard to hold a job at all. So one is perpetually making seat-of-the-pants arrangements with people to watch the children, and then worrying if the kids are safe. Etc. etc. Many conveniences people with money take for granted are not available to the poor, and the inconveniences pile up and make day-to-day life an exhausting exercise in barely coping.

And then it is assumed the poor can’t get ahead because they are lazy. And it is just about impossible to explain the problem to someone who has been cocooned from it. It’s not part of his, or her, experience; therefore, it isn’t “real.”

As a woman I am sometimes surprised at how much even liberal men are oblivious to the extreme misogyny that still lingers in our culture. I wrote earlier this year,

Even those of us who have never experienced physical assault have experienced sexual intimidation, belittling and humiliation, aimed at us only because of our gender. And most of the time we put up with it, because what else can we do? Confronting some sexist bozo could turn an unpleasant situation into something genuinely dangerous. So how has the political Right responded to #YesAllWomen? Mostly with more belittling. Charles Cooke at NRO, for example, dismisses the social media phenomenon as “groupthink.” We women can’t possibly know our own experiences, apparently, and simply imagine misogyny because we’ve read about it.

Especially to conservatives, problems that middle- and upper-income white men rarely if ever encounter are not “real” issues worthy of being addressed by society or government, but are exceptions that the individuals affected must take care of on their own. The fact that these issues may impact all of us, directly or indirectly, and that the cause may be widespread cultural and institutional bias that upper-income whites feed on a daily basis, is invisible to them.  And you can’t explain it to them. No amount of real-world data or well-constructed logic makes dent in the iron wall. If it doesn’t conform to the conceptual box they live in, it can’t be true.

This is why it is good to have diversity of experience represented in decision-making bodies such as governments, for example. White men like to tell themselves they can make decisions that affect everybody else just fine because they will apply reason. But their reason is based on biased perspectives that fail to take many things into account. Publius provides a good example here — many rape laws used to require a woman to show she had resisted an assault to prove she had not consented. But this is a male-centric view. A woman understands that if she is being assaulted by a violent man much stronger than she is, her only hope of surviving may be in not resisting. (I remember a bitter joke from many years ago that the only woman almost certain to win a rape case is a dead nun.)

And don’t get me started on reproductive issues. Just a few days ago I was told I was too emotional because I passionately disagreed that abortion must be criminalized. Naturally it was a man, who will never be pregnant, who said this. Yes it’s easier to be emotionally detached from a issue when it’s not personal, and when the real-world experiences and consequences of that issue are merely hypothetical. It’s easier to be emotionally detached when you’re behind the iron wall.

Michael Brown is being buried today. If his killing, and what we’ve learned about Ferguson, hasn’t given us a clear picture of the evils and pervasiveness of institutional racism I don’t know what else will. Yet just last week I encountered a forum populated largely by white men who couldn’t understand why people are always going on about race. Why is race such a big deal? Isn’t it  all about making white men feel guilty?

But I certainly don’t give a rodent’s posterior whether anybody feels guilty. Guilt doesn’t so much as butter toast. Our country is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, in part because our institutions, especially government, increasingly reflect the views of only the most sheltered and privileged among us. And it is increasingly unresponsive to everyone else. And, weirdly, a big chunk of the population being left behind still clings to the cognitive biases that support policies that are hurting them.  Their collective conceptual frameworks are not adjusting; they still can’t see past the iron wall.

See also: Andrew O’Hehir, “White Privilege: An Insidious Virus That’s Eating America from Within.”

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Impulse and Ideology

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conservatism, firearms, Religion, Social Issues, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Some guy at MSNBC argues that it makes “little sense” to call Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Las Vegas shooters, “right-wing extremists.”

He said right-wing extremists typically focus their anger on federal authorities, not local law enforcement officers like these.

“They weren’t the ATF, they weren’t the FBI. They couldn’t be seen as the representatives of a repressive government,” Levin told NBC News. “There are some militia group members who believe that the only valid authority is at the county sheriff level. In fact, many right-wing extremists love the police. They feel kinship to local law enforcement.”

So we’re just supposed to ignore the white supremacist literature, the shooters’ attempt to join the crew at the Bundy ranch and the “don’t tread on me” flag.

I wrote in my first post about the Las Vegas shooting that I doubted the shooters were working with the Bundy crew, who have decided only the federal government is evil. But the remarks at MSNBC reflect a basic misunderstanding of the connection between ideology/belief, whether political or religious, and violence.

This is something I spend a lot of time on in My Book, Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World, because I think understanding this connection and how it functions is critical to dealing not only with our ongoing domestic violence problem but also with understanding religious violence around the world.

My thinking on this issue is very much influenced by Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. Very simply, Haidt makes a strong argument that our moral choices — including the choice to be violent — and our political and religious beliefs are rooted deeply in the subconscious. We are born pre-wired to interface with the world in particular ways, and this pre-wiring disposes us to leaning left or right, say, or determines whether we are likely to be dogmatists or open-minded. And, of course, the way we perceive, interpret and experience ourselves and the world also is very much influenced by cultural and other conditioning.

As we meander through our lives and bump into myriad phenomena, including religious and political beliefs and moral issues, all of this pre-wiring and conditioning and whatnot clanking around in our psyches churns up emotional responses. These include feelings of comfort and discomfort. We naturally want to affirm those things that make us feel good while denouncing the stuff that frightens or disgusts us. We then call on our rational minds to craft a narrative that justifies our feelings. These narratives are merged into our primary narrative, or personal myth, which is the ongoing story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the events in our lives might mean.

Another factor is what Buddhists call “mental formations,” or our states of mind, which can become habitual. This (in part) refers to the way some people tend to easily become defensive and critical, while others in the same situations are understanding and accepting. This also speaks to our basic orientation toward the world and whether we feel integrated with it or estranged from it.

By the time we are adults this wiring/conditioning “stuff” has become extremely complicated, and I doubt any two human beings who ever lived have identical inner stuff. But it’s important to understand that, ultimately, we are drawn to our beliefs and ideologies because of the stuff, not because it appeals to our rational mind. For this reason, what an ideology or political position represents to an individual on a subconscious or even metaphorical level is more critical than intellectual consistency.

This is what the guy on MSNBC doesn’t get. From their own words and actions, it’s obvious that right-wing anti-government rhetoric and the Bundy ranch drama resonated deeply with Jerad and Amanda Miller and represented something enormously significant to them, even if how they understood the “movement” differed in some particulars from most of the rest of the Bundyites.

More crudely, they wanted to kill police because they wanted to kill police, and in their minds the militia anti-government movement gave them permission, and even made killing police a righteous and praiseworthy act. They weren’t being logical, no. But does anyone seriously think the crew in the desert pretending to be at war with the federal government got there because of logic?

This is why the “he did it because of mental illness” excuse for Elliot Rodger didn’t fly for me. Crazy is a continuum, and we’re all on that continuum. None of us are entirely rational. Everyone feels a violent impulse now and then. But except for those who are demonstrably psychotic, we are capable of choosing to not act on those impulses. And Rodger was not psychotic. His writing was ordered and organized, even if the ideas he expressed were outrageous. This means he was rational enough to choose to not do what he did, as were the Millers. They all knew perfectly well they were breaking laws. Had they lived, it’s enormously unlikely they would have gotten off on an insanity plea.

But what Rodger and the Millers had in common was that they had seduced themselves into believing that their impulses were righteous and justified. And this is where public rhetoric and hate-group subcultures really do get people killed. Within the misnamed “men’s rights” subculture, talk of violating and killing women meets with social approval. Women as a class are perceived as evil and dangerous; violence against women is therefore justified, even heroic. Likewise, the right-wing anti-government rhetoric permeating American society can make killing government officials seem justified, even if some are a little hazy about the distinction between state and federal government officials.

I don’t think extremist right-wingers are inherently more prone to violence than extremist left-wingers. But at this moment in American history, the “extremist” Left is the fringe of the fringe, and it is absent from mass media. I’m not even sure it has much in the way of an internet presence. The applicable political spectrum here goes from a liberal/progressive Left that is well within the mainstream of American political traditions to a Right that stretches deeply into the tin-foil-hat section of the Twilight Zone.

And while you can find individuals on the Left expressing violent impulses, on the Right it’s not just individuals; it’s major media personalities and politicians serving in high-level state and federal offices. It’s coming from positions of authority, in other words.

This is why public rhetoric has consequences (see, for example, Paul Waldman, “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?“). We’ve been having this conversation since Columbine, and the hate-speakers on the Right simply refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the ongoing right-wing domestic violence. I have no solution to this impasse. I fear it will have to get worse before it can get better.

But this is why splitting hairs over whether the Millers were truly “right-wing extremists” because they killed local cops instead of federal BLM agents is stupid.

I’m seeing the same misunderstanding among western “Buddhalogists” in academia. There is a faction of western religious studies professors who are combing through Buddhist doctrines to find the “cause” of the Buddhist violence against Muslims in Burma, and some other places. And they are “finding” it by misinterpreting scriptures and even projecting meaning into scriptures that just plain isn’t there; I walked through an example of this in My Book.

The plain fact is that the violence violates everything the Buddha taught. The impulse is not coming from Buddhist teachings, but from racism and jingoism, and it’s being fueled by political expedience. “Buddhism” is not just a religion to the majority in Burma; it’s part of their ethnic and national identity. And a faction of monks has been cranking out rhetoric that justifies violence as “defending Buddhism.” So in spite of what it teaches, Buddhism has become a symbolic permission slip for violence in Burma.

And weirdly, in America, “patriotism” has become a symbolic permission slip for sedition. Looking for logical reasons for this is a fool’s errand.

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Under the Crazy Rug

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Social Issues, Women's Issues

We’re now well into the “whose fault is it, anyway” phase of our standard post-shooting process, including our usual do-si-do over gun control versus gun rights. You know how that one goes.

A wrinkle in the Isla Vista shootings is that the alleged perp, Elliot Rodger, appears to have been deeply into the online “Men’s Rights” culture, which I think of as the He-Man Women Hater’s Club. Women are “targets” or “game” to this crew, although it would be wrong to say that they speak of women the same way a duck hunter speaks of mallards. Duck hunters are not seething with resentment of mallards. Duck hunters do not imagine that mallards are ruining their lives or plotting against them out of sheer inbred evil.

So on the one hand there are articles by Katie McDonough blaming “toxic male entitlement” and one by Amanda Hess calling out online “pick up” culture.

The counter-argument is expressed in a comment to McDonough’s article:

So if society were more respectful of women this would not have happened?

Misogyny played no role in this, mental illness did. Instead of addressing that issue, that is so clear you can see it from space. You turn it into a soap box for your favourite agenda.

Basically you are saying, misogyny turned this perfectly normal kid into a killer.

Wrong, mental illness did.

The problem with the “mental illness” theory is that there’s no indication the shooter was psychotic. Maladjusted, yes. A walking catalog of personality disorders, no doubt. Badly socialized, certainly. But he was not “insane.” He didn’t believe he was being controlled by Alpha Waves from Mars. He was capable of knowing right from wrong. Had he lived, he would have been fit to stand trial.

So, to all those who would sweep any motivation for the shootings under the crazy rug — I don’t think so.

The “Men’s Rights” culture really is a toxic soup of misogyny, and as with many online cultures there’s a tendency for participants to push each other into becoming more and more extreme. If Rodger was “mentally ill” so are a lot of the other jerks who write stuff like this:

I’m trying to think of ways our enemies will come after us because of this, but if anything, we’re the solution to this sort of murder rampage. This is the society that progressives wanted, where women are fully able to choose the top 10% of alpha males while shaming masculinity, leaving beta males with modest resources in the dust. Of course they will simply push a ban on guns, but this wholly neglects the cause. Seven people died because this guy couldn’t get laid, at the same time the Federal government is pursuing kangaroo courts to kick men out of college for “rape” that doesn’t need to be proved in a court of law. How can they not see this connection?

Society gave beta males a bargain—they work hard with the expectation of a wife and family. That bargain no longer exists so we can’t be surprised when one loses his mind and starts shooting. At the very least, prostitution should be legalized as a release valve. If the killer had access to some high quality hookers for $150 a pop, it would have given him some meaning.

This is an in-group culture that encourages the sexual objectification of women while also nurturing a fanatical grievance against them. In my book I argue that the combination of “holy cause” and “fanatical grievance” is at the root of most mass violence in the world. I’m not sure about the holy cause part, but these guys have got the fanatical grievance in spades.

This is a culture that not only winks at misogyny; it’s also one that makes oppressing women seem heroic. A guy who can somehow demean women is scoring one for the team. Of course, other men, the ones who get along with women, are resented as well.

If you combine that toxic culture with someone with a personality or socialization disorder, anything is possible. And I suspect most of these guys have personality or socialization disorders, or they wouldn’t be drawn to the culture. And their online interaction sets up a feedback loop that makes them all worse. I don’t think most of them will become mass murderers, but that’s only because most of them aren’t suicidal. If they weren’t concerned about repercussions they would be very dangerous, indeed.

See also Steve M.

Update: See also Strangely Blogged.

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Because Martyrdom Feels So Good

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Social Issues

Via Ed Kilgore (“The South and the Cult of Phony Victimhood“) see Jelani Cobb, “Melissa Harris-Perry and the Contrition Complex.” Excellent stuff.

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Life Expectancy of Poorly Educated White Women Drops a Lot

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Social Issues

Apparently there has been a significant decline in life expectancy of poor white women who dropped out of high school. In the past 18 years they have lost 5 years of life expectancy. They now have a lower life expectancy than African American women who have dropped out of high school. In many ways the article is frustrating, but here’s the meat of it:

The journal Health Affairs reported the five-year drop in August. The article’s lead author, Jay Olshansky, who studies human longevity at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a team of researchers looked at death rates for different groups from 1990 to 2008. White men without high-school diplomas had lost three years of life expectancy, but it was the decline for women like Crystal that made the study news. Previous studies had shown that the least-educated whites began dying younger in the 2000s, but only by about a year. Olshansky and his colleagues did something the other studies hadn’t: They isolated high-school dropouts and measured their outcomes instead of lumping them in with high-school graduates who did not go to college.

The last time researchers found a change of this magnitude, Russian men had lost seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when they began drinking more and taking on other risky behaviors. Although women generally outlive men in the U.S., such a large decline in the average age of death, from almost 79 to a little more than 73, suggests that an increasing number of women are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. “We actually don’t know the exact reasons why it’s happened,” Olshansky says. “I wish we did.”

One factor the article barely mentions is access to health care. That’s the first thing I wanted to know — do these women have access to health care? It’s unlikely they’ll find jobs with benefits, so are they on Medicaid? The article doesn’t say. Duh.

The “example” the article focuses on, a morbidly obese woman who died at 38 of natural causes, had been told by a doctor that she was diabetic, and she was “waiting to get medicine.” How long had she been waiting? What was the holdup? See what I mean by frustrating?

I also wanted to know if there was a difference between women in this demographic who lived in cities/suburbs and those who lived in rural areas. It’s so much easier to become really isolated if you live in rural America.

The story focuses on a family in northern Arkansas. I know the area slightly, and it’s not much different from where I grew up. The girls who get pregnant in high school drop out and spend the rest of their lives taking care of children and maybe a neglectful husband or a succession of boyfriends, and no one takes care of them. Often the family/community support that sustained their grandmothers is pretty much gone. If there is any part of our population that constitutes a canary in a coal mine, it’s them.

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The Man Problem

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firearms, Social Issues

At Salon, a fellow named Joe Scott points out that many of our domestic mass shooters begin their shooting spree by killing their mothers or another female family member — a wife, a sister. He says,

On a practical level, these female victims represent potential barriers to commission of the crime—people who could talk down the perpetrator, contact authorities, or otherwise interfere. In the mind of the killer, these women also may have posed a symbolic barrier to a conscious or subconscious self-image as the perpetually wronged party, a man with No Other Options, the prodigal avenger called to teach the world a drastic lesson.

Unfortunately, whether racking up points for piles of bodies in a videogame or assassinating terrorists with drones, to kill in the West is to win. And in order to win, on some level, regardless of biological sex, a person must purge barriers to winning by suppressing characteristics perceived as culturally feminine: softness and gentleness, submission and openness, sympathy, mercy, or hesitation.

You know: Shoot first and ask questions later. Make my day. Don’t be a pussy.

The private killing of particular women who could stand in the way of multiple public murders embodies an extreme and ultimately violent suppression of any force, internal or external, that might temper or “domesticate” the code of take-no-prisoners cowboy manliness.

The pattern doesn’t always hold true, but IMO he’s onto something. It strikes me a number of these guys still lived with their mothers or female family members, or were still dependent on them in some way, and that dominant female was the first person he shot.

Adolescent girls famously go through a Hate Mother phase that sometimes leads them to self-destructive behavior, like anorexia, running away or getting pregnant. But if they survive adolescence, they usually get over it. Too many men drag themselves through their whole lives with Mother Issues, and they usually transfer their resentments onto wives. Indeed, show me a guy who is chronically angry and abusive toward his wife and I’ll show you a guy who never worked through his issues with his mother.

Reminded me of something I wrote about ten years ago —

A few years ago, following the publication of Robert Bly’s visionary book Iron John (Addison-Wesley, 1990), there was a men’s movement. The men’s movement started out with progressive intentions but was soon taken over by various troglodytes and misogynists and flamed out. I want to go back to early men’s movement lit for a minute, though, because what it originally tried to do was a very worthwhile thing that still needs doing. It is also essential to seeing what lies beneath our current political landscape.

In Iron John, Robert Bly tried to reconnect manhood with nature and civilization — with building and creation and husbandry instead of destruction, war, and waste. Bly used fairy-tale metaphors to describe a way for males to grow into a mature manhood rather than remain stuck in the perpetual adolescence that passes for “manhood” in our culture, currently represented by “The Man Show” on cable television.

Bly’s premise (picked up from Joseph Campbell) is that in our culture boys grow up lacking contact with men. Therefore, they are uninitiated into true manhood, and beneath their bravado — often subconsciously — they are fearful and insecure. This in turn causes men to be prone to violence and fearful of intimacy. (Iron John was a revelation because a man was saying this; however, nearly any woman over the age of 40 will tell you the same thing.)

The faux masculinity celebrated by our culture equates violence with strength and power with potency. It is a rogue thing that does not honor the principles of civilization or the processes of governance. Like most John Wayne characters, or Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, following the rules is for girls and sissies. Why bother with a justice system when you’ve got a gun?

Now, consider the meatballs who participated in the recent Gun Appreciation Day. Does that fit, or what?

What’s connecting with me today is that many of the mass shooters as well as the 2nd Amendment absolutist who equate disarmament with castration are products of the same social pathology. They are not opposites (good guys/bad guys) at all, but variations on the same theme.

What say you?

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