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Can’t anti-racism be color-blind?

Maybe it’s the philosopher in me, but I don’t see how any argument against racism that depends on color to make its point is valuable in the long run.  If the goal is to end racism, which I hope it is, then shouldn’t we be engaged in activities and rhetoric that de-emphasize skin color (etc.) as a valid reason to make political (and by extension certain types of personal) decisions?

[Edit: If you're reading this on PD.com, you may want to head over to the mirror-post on my LJ to read the huge glut of awesome and thoughtful commentary it provoked there.  I got a lot out of it, and thank you to everyone who participated/is participating!]

I’d like to give one example, with the understanding that there is a whole can of worms here that has to do with re-balancing and re-distributing privilege, which I’m deliberately not getting into (for now).  My current thoughts, and this example, stem from this interesting “definition of racism”, from this post “Racism 101 for Clueless White People“.  The emphasis is all theirs; I’ve added nothing.

3. Make sure you understand the definitions of the terms that are going to be used. The first thing you really need to understand is that the definition of racism that you probably have (which is the colloquial definition: “racism is prejudice against someone based on their skin color or ethnicity”) is NOT the definition that’s commonly used in anti-racist circles.The definition used in anti-racist circles is the accepted sociological definition (which is commonly used in academic research, and has been used for more than a decade now): “racism is prejudice plus power”. What this means, in easy language:

A. Anyone can hold “racial prejudice” — that is, they can carry positive or negative stereotypes of others based on racial characteristics. For example, a white person thinking all Asians are smart, or all black people are criminals; or a Chinese person thinking Japanese people are untrustworthy; or what-have-you. ANYONE, of any race, can have racial prejudices.

B. People of any race can commit acts of violence, mistreatment, ostracizing, etc., based on their racial prejudices. A black kid can beat up a white kid because he doesn’t like white kids. An Indian person can refuse to associate with Asians. Whatever, you get the idea.

C. However, to be racist (rather than simply prejudiced) requires having institutional power. In North America, white people have the institutional power. In large part we head the corporations; we make up the largest proportion of lawmakers and judges; we have the money; we make the decisions. In short, we control the systems that matter. “White” is presented as normal, the default. Because we have institutional power, when we think differently about people based on their race or act on our racial prejudices, we are being racist. Only white people can be racist, because only white people have institutional power.

D. People of color can be prejudiced, but they cannot be racist, because they don’t have the institutional power. (However, some people refer to intra-PoC prejudice as “lateral racism”. You may also hear the term “colorism”, which refers to lighter-skinned PoC being prejudiced toward darker-skinned PoC.) However, that situation can be different in other countries; for example, a Japanese person in Japan can be racist against others, because the Japanese have the institutional power there. But in North America, Japanese people can’t be racist because they don’t hold the institutional power.

E. If you’re in an area of your city/state/province that is predominantly populated by PoC and, as a white person, you get harassed because of your skin color, it’s still not racism, even though you’re in a PoC-dominated area. The fact is, even though they’re the majority population in that area, they still lack the institutional power. They don’t have their own special PoC-dominated police force for that area. They don’t have their own special PoC-dominated courts in that area. The state/province and national media are still not dominated by PoC. Even though they have a large population in that particular area, they still lack the institutional power overall.

F. So that’s the definition of racism that you’re likely to encounter. If you start talking about “reverse racism” you’re going to either get insulted or laughed at, because it isn’t possible under that definition; PoC don’t have the power in North America, so by definition, they can’t be racist. Crying “reverse racism!” is like waving a Clueless White Person Badge around.

G. If you go into an anti-racist discussion and start trying to claim the colloquial definition that “racism is simply viewing or treating others differently based on race”, you’re going to get a negative reaction. Stick to “racism = prejudice + power”. Anti-racists aren’t going to take it well if you wander in halfway through the debate and start trying to make them abide by your definition rather than the commonly accepted “prejudice + power”. Imagine if everyone in a classroom was chatting about a particular subject and then someone walked in and said, “No! You’re all doing it wrong! The REAL definition is ABC and I don’t care that all the rest of you think it’s XYZ!” — do you think that would go over well? Of course it wouldn’t; the newcomer would be considered rude. (Also, making an appeal to Dictionary.com is not going to work. Pointing out that the colloquial definition is how Webster’s Dictionary defines racism is not going to make anti-racists suddenly say, “Wow, you know what? You’re right! I never realized it, but now that Webster’s has backed you up, I see that you’re totally right and racism really is just judging people based on their skin color!” Actually, they may say that, but they’d be saying it sarcastically.)

H. I’m under the impression there are a number of different reasons why anti-racists use the sociological definition as versus the colloquial one, but the major reason I’m aware of is that anti-racists aren’t just focusing on individual acts of racism; they’re looking at racism as an entrenched system that pervades every layer of our society. The colloquial definition reduces racism to an individual level; the sociological definition focuses on the systemic level. The systemic level is actually more important, because even as individual/obvious acts of racism become less socially acceptable, the systemic effects of institutionalized racism continue to work quietly, efficiently, and powerfully. Think of it like a body; it’s easy to find a cancerous lesion on the skin and remove it, and then you’d look like you were cancer-free. But even as you looked fine on the surface, the real cancer would be inside your body, spreading from lymph node to lymph node, and invading your bones and organs. Individual and overt acts of racism are the lesions on the surface; the invisible cancer is the systemic racism. Unless you’re addressing the underlying disease, eradicating surface symptoms isn’t going to accomplish much. But that’s enough about the definition of racism for now; let’s continue.  (Full post here.)

I’m completely in agreement that CWP need a guide like this (it’s awesome, and the rest is worth a read); it’s absolutely true that there’s a tendency of (mostly)-well-meaning whites to wander into race-relevant situations and start a conversation that either a) completely misses the point or b) demands that everyone please educate them right now ok I’m waaaaaaitiiiinnnng…  So hell yes, more things written to educate whites about racism and how to talk about it, absolutely. Awesome.  I’m also quite okay with the idea that “this is the definition we use, so don’t barge in demanding a new one or trying to change ours” — but there’s a fine line between that, and demanding that no-one (especially no pesky outsiders) challenge your ideas, and across that line I will not follow.

*REVERSE COWGIRL*

But this excerpt in particular addresses something that, to most (educated) anti-racists is an occasional case or a non-issue, but which to me is not:  I’m referring to the white person stuck in a (yes I’m calling it a) “reverse racism” scenario who wants some acknowledgment from PoC that their (people of color’s) behavior (individually and as the heads of institutions) in that case isn’t okay either.

And it’s not, of course.  I think the idea of “anti-racism” is that racism isn’t okay in principle, right?  No matter who’s doing it?  But there are genuinely people who use definitions like this, that categorically deny the possibility of racism against white people, to excuse behavior that does qualify as racist under this definition. You literally get an argument that goes “racism is prejudice plus power, unless it’s prejudice against and power over white people, in which case it’s not.”

Of course, the answer to that statement is often given as “but that never happens”.  And maybe it’s easier for me to spot how making color a part of the formulation of racism is problematic, because I’ve seen the prejudice-plus-power of a non-white population in effect.  I personally know more than a few people who, growing up as whites in Detroit, experienced continuous exposure to a kind of ostracization and mistreatment that can only be called “Jim-Crow-like”.  I’m not talking about being called “honky” or feeling uncomfortable walking around at night. I’m talking about a whole childhood (sometimes longer) of not being served in restaurants, not being permitted to apply for public assistance and scholarships because you’re the wrong color, being harassed in school by kids and adults alike; of being openly taught that your race is inferior and bad and you’re inferior and bad because of it, and forced to “act dangerous” and constantly live in fear for your safety because you “don’t belong” and you might be blamed or punished for anything perceived as being the fault of your race.  Any time a person of color experiences that kind of oppression, we encourage each other to call it out, to call it racism.  And while it’s certainly FAR less common, and not in keeping with the habits of our country as a whole, to have it happen to white people, I fail to see what good comes from denying the harm it causes when it does.

The point of being anti-racism isn’t to be anti-white (I hope); it’s to be anti-institutionally-supported-prejudice.  At least, that’s why I’m in.

According to this article, which certainly boasts more authority on the topic than I do, living the way some white kids in Detroit have is not being a victim of racism.  Those kids, who grew up a minority in a situation where the majority feels justified in (and is capable of) openly and systemically mistreating people of the “wrong race”, may forever be shut out of any discussion of what it’s like to be a victim of racism…because they’re the wrong color. Yeah, the irony on that one stings a little.  But according to this article and others (many of which are taught in Detroit schools), “reverse racism” is impossible, because “racism” as a technical term here refers only to cases involving prejudice AND institutional power, and moreover (here’s where I think the problem lies), “institutional power” is defined as NATIONAL power.

*INSTITUTIONS AND THE REAL WORLD*

It’s true, by that definition, that whites have the institutional power in the U.S.  It’s also true that the majority of politicians and cops in Michigan are white.  But it’s not true that white privilege operates in a place like Detroit the same way it does in New York or Dallas or Boston.  And while there are probably other places — small towns maybe, or other cities or parts of them, where non-white power-structures have built up and become racist, Detroit makes a good and powerful example of how it can happen, and happen here, right in the middle of the good-ol’ nonthreatening midwest.

Detroit isn’t a “diverse” city — it’s a heavily-segregated, almost-entirely-black city.   (That’s not to say it isn’t affected by the institutional power of white-dominated things nearby; obviously such arrangements are complicated.  But it IS possible to grow up there and be mostly, or entirely, under the control of institutions dominated by blacks, which is all the sociological definition of “racism” requires, I think.)  My white friends who grew up there were often one of less than ten white kids in all-black schools, taught by black teachers and run by black administrators, under a school board that was almost entirely black, overseen by a majority-black city council and a black mayor, enforced by a largely black police force in a place mostly ignored by white media and even the white politicians of our own state.  (If that seems outrageous to you, it should:  Segregation in the 21st century is not pretty, and Detroit has somehow gone from being the cradle of Civil Rights to the drainage-ditch of post-modern segregation.  Yuck.)  But somehow, the fact that it’s a poor white kid being tromped on by an entire cityful of angry and prejudiced people is supposed to save them, or ameliorate their pain and fear and the other negative effects of the treatment they received. Why?  Is their whiteness supposed to comfort them, or shield them?

Tell me, when you were ten or twelve or fifteen, how much good did the adults and institutions fifty miles away do you?  In a poor, neglected neighborhood that everybody’s either afraid of or disgusted by, how does the “national media” help you?  How much does it do for you in real life, that most of the people on TV are white like you?  (Other than to make you feel like a totally crappy specimen, of course.)  And to what degree should we, those of us interested in standing up against racism, ignore or push away the victims who were, or are, caught up in such a situation?

I’m not saying that Detroit is some kind of racial otherword, but I do think it serves as a powerful example to raise good questions about where “institutional power” is really located. When you’re a kid in a city, does the fact that the state governor is white protect you from the effects of prejudice-plus-power racism?  Is it those effects on you, and people like you, or the overall balance of state power that matters? When you’re afraid in school and none of the teachers will stand up for you and everyone wants to beat you up if you try to date anyone who’s not one of the two girls of your race in the whole school and you know the cops wouldn’t do anything about it….when your school hires speakers to come talk about how bad white people are and you’re squirming in the audience, is it not racism because you’re white and whites have the institutional power at the state and federal level?

Racism is about what happens to people, in their neighborhoods and schools and workplaces and lives, and not just “entire groups of people, nation-wide”.  That’s one of those generalities that ends up hurting everyone, I think.  The real world, at ground-level, is where a systemic problem like racism starts…and stops.  Racism is about power, and not just prejudice.  But one city, and one neighborhood, is certainly not the same as all others when it comes to the balance of power.   Maybe there IS a welfare program, and a federal law that says that you’re allowed to apply for it — but we understand the harm when the white people working the counter “lose” your application because you’re black; why can’t we understand that in places like Detroit, the reverse happens, and that it’s just as harmful and wrong when it does?

On top of that, children, who are arguably worse affected by all of this (considering the educational and psychological damage, which I should add is quite definitely present in the “white kids from Detroit” I still know), usually don’t have the option to leave even their neighborhoods, so if the north-east side, for example, is black-controlled and using that institutional power to back up its prejudice against whites, then I think it’s inarguable that what those kids experience is racism.  Any definition of racism that categorically denies someone’s experiences, and the effects those experiences have, simply because “they’re white” is just not okay with me. If racism is wrong, it’s because it’s wrong for any human beings to treat any human beings that way.

…Somebody’s going to ask if I feel this way, or if it’s easier for me to feel this way, because I’m white.  Obviously my “white guilt” gets a little soothing when I think about things like “reverse racism”; that’s a fact of psychology.  I’m aware of this, and I’m just as incapable of taking off my skin as everyone else, so it’ll have to remain an open question.  But I can say that I’m also a woman, and that I genuinely feel the same way about male victims of rape as I do about white victims of racism:  They exist, and they are genuine victims, and they don’t function as evidence against the overwhelming reality of the problem (of racism-against-PoCs, or rape-against-women).  They–the “backwards” or unusual cases–are good reminders, I think, for the crusaders, to help them remember that it’s the crime they’re up against and out to defeat; not the group that mostly comprises the perpetrators.  (If it were the perpetrators, then we would just be the “other side” in the same stupid war that’s been going on for millennia, and not really about solving anything at all.  I, and I think others, are interested in solving racism, not lobbing stones back at the “white side”.)  Victims of “reverse” rape or racism deserve support and protection because rape is wrong just like racism is wrong, and it’s crucial, if we’re going to make any headway in alleviating the actual problems, to stand by our principles no matter who the victim is. I really do feel that way.  So maybe that helps.

(A sidenote:  Isn’t it, I wonder, monumentally stupid for the anti-racist movement to ignore or de-legitimize these rare people who have an amazing and valuable point of view to offer?  They’re white, and they’ve experienced systemic racism firsthand!  That may make them seem scary to those of us who are either only white, or only victims of racism (much like feminists and men tend to get uncomfortable around men who’ve experienced rape, I’ve noticed), but let’s get over the fear that the existence of a few of these people somehow damages or lessens our point about the rest of the country — it doesn’t. And lest you wonder, all of the “reverse-victims” that I know are not only rabidly anti-racism, but far better than most white people–including me–at spotting where institutional racism comes into play.  Moreover, they know firsthand that racism is bad for everyone, that even those “with privilege” aren’t safe from its negative effects.  They could be amazingly helpful to the movement, I think, were they not being excluded from it.)

*WORKING TOGETHER*

I’m not, overall, in disagreement with the definition of racism given here, or how it’s presented. I see that it’s intended to address political racism, the kind that affects whole groups, and not just the prejudices and assholery of a given person or small group.  That’s valid.   I know that the “reverse racism doesn’t exist” argument is mostly intended to stop whites who would try to use reverse-cases as a reason to not work on solving the problem of racism-against-PoCs, and while I agree that those people need to be slapped answered, I don’t think shutting the door on all victims of racism who happen to be white is the way to do it.

I also don’t think we need to rewrite or make major changes to anti-racism so that we can focus on the tiny minority of whites in America that suffers from the “reverse” variety; it would be enough just to include them as real but non-standard victims, and to do a little walking-the-walk, by treating them the same as other victims in spite of how uncomfortable their color makes us feel.  Regarding that,  I have some suggestions I’d like to make, which perhaps others have already made, but here they are anyway:

1) Let’s re-think what “institutional power” is, and how it affects real people. One police station, one school and one court, working together, especially in an isolated or ignored area, can wield incredible power over the lives of families and individuals, and saying “they could leave” is short-sighted and victim-blaming.  Some racism happens on a federal level; some doesn’t.  And the feds can’t (and/or won’t) rescue citizens (even white citizens) who are trapped by localized racist institutions, so just because the feds are your color doesn’t guarantee you 100% protection from institutionalized racism.  Regardless of their color, individuals and families deserve protecting from prejudiced institutions and systematic oppression.  Representation in Washington is important, but it alone doesn’t solve the problem on the ground in a million different neighborhoods.

2)  Anti-racists need to be very, very careful about excluding any group by race from their definitions and discussions, even if that race is white. While it makes sense to be proactive and on-the-lookout for defensiveness and redirection from whites who either don’t understand privilege and real, institutional racism or have motives for derailing discussions about it, it doesn’t make sense to get so wrapped up in colors that you lose track of what racism is really about:  A powerful negative effect on groups of people, caused by irrational prejudiced ostracization and abuse from other, powered, groups of people.  In the pure sense, racism can happen wherever there are two races and one is in power, even if the colors involved are green and purple (or bellies-with-stars and bellies without!) — and it’s the racist behavior of people and groups of people that we’re fighting here, right?  Nor should it shock us that racism against white people in a majority-controlled non-white area is not only possible, it happens.  Why is that surprising?  People — human beings, regardless of color — tend to be ignorant racist assholes if not properly educated. We know this.  People who claim to be anti-racist but who can ignore the plight of some victims of racism because they’re white are, um, missing the point I think.

3)  If we’re going to define racism in such a way that excludes “individual and small-group prejudices and assholery”, that’s fine I guess, but then can’t we have another word, or a sub-term, that does include that concept? Often I&SGP&A (whether against whites or people of color) is the clearest direct experience of anything like racism that whites know they have, so to cut it out of the conversation entirely — to say “that doesn’t count, moving on” — does encourage whites to disengage from the discussion, not because they’re dickheads but because you’ve removed the aspect that they have the most direct and emotionally-compelling knowledge of.  That was their way in to understanding bigger, more subtle racism, so why slam that door?  I would very much like to see anti-racists taking more of an inclusive angle on individual prejudice & assholery, something along the lines of “Yes, it’s terrible when that happens.  And just imagine the damage a court system run by people who think that way can do!  For example…”

4)  Let’s not forget that whites are a very very important part of the discussion here, okay? It’s analogous to men and rape.  The party responsible, as a group, for the atrocity under discussion doesn’t like discussing it; and their victims don’t want to sit down and have heart-to-hearts with them either.  Everybody’s hurt and angry and understandably so.  But there is no healing a rift without cross-boundary cooperation.  The only way for women to prevent rape, or people of color to prevent racism, is to get down on the ground and talk openly and honestly with the other side.  (Well, the other way would be to segregate fully — whether by race or gender is a fun question — and then we can all stay enemies and stay out of each others’ way.  But we’re assuming that nobody reading this is pro-segregation; I’m certainly not.)

If we want to get along, we have to talk to each other, to the victims and the bad guys and the people who don’t understand and the people who don’t want to understand, and that means that yes, Virginia, it IS important how your anti-racism rhetoric makes white people feel.  Sorry.

(Thanks for reading!  -PD)

August 25, 2009   6 Comments

Paths of Drool

Do you not just LOVE that feeling when you’ve hit a clear path?  It may not be obvious where it goes, but every few steps you find another rare feather or insistently-yelling crow, letting you know you’re definitely going in the right direction, wherever that leads.

On Sunday I was practicing piano, which is next to a bookshelf mostly occupied by books that aren’t mine.  Some of the ones at eye-level are about conflict resolution, something I’ve never taken much of an interest in.  In the middle of trying to hammer the eff’d up timing from the middle of Bolero into my fingers and brain, something went off and I found myself holding one of those books, a slim, totally boring-looking volume on a method called “consensus”.

I opened it and over the next few hours, read the entire thing.  Couldn’t stop.

And it wasn’t some tour-de-force of writing or anything.  It was just that suddenly I found myself sucked into this topic — non-litigative, cooperative conflict resolution — and feeling like it was the entire missing piece I’ve been looking for, the whole time I’ve been pondering what the heck to do with a career that can’t remain “foreclosure counselor” forever and can’t rely on philosophy or fiction or taiji to put food on the table, but needs to leave room for all of those.

I’ve been studying mediation for only about 24 hours now, but all along the way there’ve been these feathers, these birds.  Cool phrases I need to keep, like “escape fire”, and awesome articles about insight (and all that can be extrapolated from here about intuition), like this one:

Many continue to believe that the manifestation of insight is a largely subjective occurrence that is mysterious and idiosyncratic, and unique to the personality of an individual practitioner. It is not thought to be easily susceptible to formal training and many courses and programs relegate the study of insight into the art of practice, not science. Now there is the strong beginning of that science.

Lehrer’s article describes the current work of Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University. Studying the brain, he observed that the left hemisphere appears to be responsible for the functional denoting, or storing the primary meaning of a word or act, while the right brain deals with connotation, the emotional charge of the word or act. The brain, he observes, needs both functions to effectively “see the forest and the trees.” (p. 41). Interestingly, the emergence of insight can be inhibited by a pre-occupation with the denoting function; asking people to explain their thought processes logically. Termed “verbal overshadowing,” insistence on analysis shifts the brain functioning to the left hemisphere, ignoring the more subtle associations coming from the right hemisphere.

I think I’m calling it my “birthday present from the Universe”. ;)

February 23, 2009   1 Comment

Ack! Infodump!

HELP – DROWNING IN TABS – SEND SPARE BRAIN IMMEDIATELY

Here’s the goods!  (Maybe one of these days I’ll start doing this part more regularly, yah?)

-  Great stuff from WikiHow; my favorites are How to Define a Problem, and How to Create an Abundance Mentality.  It’s amazing how well a short article can handle a relatively abstract mental concept, I’m discovering.

-  The Working Group on Extreme Inequality (quite a find in itself) has a great piece on Auto Executive Compensation, which is quite eye-opening in light of the money they want to avoid completely trashing Michigan’s economy (at least).  The long and short of it?  US Auto Execs don’t make very much compared to, say, US banking execs.  But all US executives are racking up orders of magnitude more money than foreign executives, thanks to our clever lack of wage parity laws.  So one GM executive made $10.2 million in the same fiscal year that the top 32 executives at Toyota (including the CEO) made less than $20 million, BONUSES INCLUDED.

Oh yeah, but it’s the Union’s fault that they’re going out of business now, you know.  ::facepalm::

Anybody who finds that interesting will probably also like at least following the thinking in this Treehugger piece on three possible New-Deal-Like ideas to jumpstart the U.S. economy by building spiffy high-speed rail lines all over the place (not to mention solving the problem of how revolting air travel has become).  Say what you like about the New Deal, but those railroads are still a huge economic benefit today…

-  This is just cool, if you do Xmas presents:  Pangea Organics has gift sets packed in boxes that are not only biodegradable, but will grow into a spruce tree if you plant them.  Yup, open the gift, get the spiffy hippie-soap and stuff out, then soak the box and grow a tree out of it!  Big bonuses for creative thinking on that one.

-  In other hippie news, I found a neat site for people in the city who, like me, are seriously eyeballing the option of raising chickens.  It’s generally pretty badly written (seriously, "you’re here because you’ve been bit by the chicken bug"??  you make it sound like a parasite!), but the info is pretty darn helpful overall.

-  And there’s a weirdo in Michigan doing some downright disturbing face-paintings.  Not that I’m too surprised (though I am a bit surprised at the "self-described drag queen and born-again Christian" bit…wut??).  Looks like it takes talent, though!

"The End of Wall Street" is a really, really, really good article about the recent Crash.  I wish it didn’t end where it did — I want to know more! — but it was probably the best read on the topic I’ve seen so far.

-  Also, in the area of Things You Probably Didn’t Realize Would Be Interesting, the Book Design Review has a page up with their favorite designs of the year…and I have to admit, it was pretty fascinating to page through, and some of them are really, really cool.  If you know nothing about book design, this is a really fun way to burn five minutes.  ;)

Lastly, if none of that was weird enough for you…THIS IS REAL:

EEEEK, right?  How long do you think before some crazy religious nut donates Fetus Cookies for a bake sale near you?  (Thanks, again, to Cake Wrecks for the image.)

Whew!  Now that I’m not staring at fifty tabs, maybe I can get back to work!
 

December 3, 2008   Comments Off

Pure information is indistinguishable from random insanity. Really!

The process of working my way into grad school has begun.  It could take less than a year, or less than a decade, or more than a decade, or maybe I’ll be one of those crazy old people working in the bookstore who never got admitted to the program.  Don’t care, really, because I can honestly say the process itself is worth it.  On the other hand, wouldn’t I make a badass PhD?

I love Ann Arbor.  Not only is it probably the best city in Michigan, but it’s really odd (and yet somehow fitting) that Michigan, home of one of the worst cities ever, is also home of one of the best — AA was voted Best College Town in the USA quite a few times, and being there it’s not hard to see why.  I’m gradually moving my way there, oddly enough — grew up south of D-town, moved to D-town, now I live northwest of D-town, about halfway between where I grew up and where I’m heading.  Funny!

I now live with my best friend, who’s been my best friend for a decade without ever having shared even a state with me since the first three months we knew each other.  It’s weird to take someone so entrenchedly long-distance and plant them into your house!  Things are going very well, but it’s a big change.

The reason we moved in together like this, or the biggest reason anyway, was to Change The World.  Now we need to figure out what that means — turns out that a decade of conversations didn’t even clear up whether we meant Change THE World or Change OUR World.  I’m playing a video game right now where the objective is to change two worlds, which just seems ridiculously perfect, considering.

What do you want to change? 

Me, I’m a believer in "there is no spoon" — the only real change happens by changing yourself.  But that still leaves me wondering what the purpose of the lifelong project my friend and I are engaged in is…do we change ourselves such that we change the world for ourselves and our family, or is the actual goal a bigger one?

I’ve made some big personal changes lately, and am making more as we speak…some of it is to Bend The Spoon; some is just to keep my sanity somewhat intact in this crazy place and time.  I never realized when I was younger how big a part of adult life is caught up in Sanity Management, but it’s true — what’s scary is how true it is for people who don’t know they’re doing it, too.  Sometimes I think that more grownups would be happier with themselves if they realized how much of what they’re doing is for Sanity Management purposes…for one thing, they’d probably realize that they could be doing a better job.  But it’s hard to do a job right when you’re not aware you’re doing it!

(Funny — I just wrote "Sanctity Management"…and maybe that’s a part of it too.)

Most of us have vices that we don’t realize are our way of dulling the pain caused by something fundamentally wrong with our lives … I just finally got the courage to give up a big one last week.  And now, it’s not living without my vice that’s hard (that’s been surprisingly easy), it’s living without that protective gear on … things are louder, clearer, higher and lower, and I can no longer pretend I don’t see them or feel them.  Still, I decided that it’s better to die of exposure to reality than to live forever wrapped in blankets.  Without your protective gear, the world is big, layered, haunted, meaningful and magical — you know what I mean, because we’re all born without that gear and we all experience the world that way as kids.  Moments take lifetimes, emotions are grenades, everything matters and yet everything also flies out of your hands so quickly; it’s only insulated by the blankets that anything can really linger.  I dunno.  Maybe I’m full of it … but it’s not bad stuff to be full of!

I guess that’s all for now.  I have no idea where this site is going, so for those of you who still read it, hang in there and I’m sure eventually it’ll cook into something — cake, quiche, mud pie, who knows? — but with any luck and a little help from the Great One, hopefully it’ll be a tasty something.  Sleep continues, but I just feel like I ran out of things to say about it — if you’re here for polyphasic information, it’s all here (follow the links on the right or buy the book (thankyou!)), but I’m not sure I’ll be adding to it any time soon.  I’d say it’s because I bore easily, but two solid years is hardly being flaky, is it?  Anyway it’s an interesting topic and I’m sure I’ll come back to it.

Happy Spoonday!

November 28, 2008   Comments Off

Attack of the Politically-Killer Tomatoes

I bet you didn’t see this coming: The Food Issue (NY Times)

Excerpt:

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food.

Since [Nixon's administration], federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

…It’s an excellent, BIG article on all the issues impacted by and connected to food production, including health care reform, climate change, and economic inequality. 

Expect more on the topic from me, as starting next year I’ll be a bona fide gardener, growing hopefully more than enough for my household in what used to be my lawn — what will soon be my massive permaculture garden.  (See How to Make A Forest Garden and Food Not Lawns if you want more background on what that means.)

I’m becoming quite convinced that this kind of gardening is going to be a HUGE metric for successful living in any kind of non-dystopian future; and that by doing it now, we’re not only offering our support to the environment and to smaller, simpler living; but literally, making a revolutionary statement about the future of our society.  Read the article and you’ll start to understand why, in addition to spades and gloves and trowels, I’m buying myself a black armband to garden in. 

October 21, 2008   2 Comments

The Exceptional Diatribe

Okay, this falls under DO NOT MISS THIS OR I WILL COME TO YOUR HOME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND FORCE-FEED YOU PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES.

You guys know about TED, right? Only the smartest people talking about the smartest, most relevant things ever, collected in free video online. I’ve never, ever seen a TED video that didn’t pop my eyes and drop my jaw and change something about my thinking forever.

Today, I have to recommend this one, which literally made me stand up and cheer. James Howard Kunstler, who will impress the crap out of you, gives this amazing talk about urban design and suburban sprawl — in fact, he re-names the benevolent-sounding “sprawl” with what is now one of my favorite phrases ever: “Techgnosis Externality Clusterfuck”.

If that’s not a band name, it needs to be.

NOW WATCH.

And you people I know that are into architecture and community design had better take notes!!

Other fantastic quotes from this 15-minute long gem include:

“No amount or combination of alternative fuels is going to allow us to continue doing what we’re doing” –amen, brother, it’s about darn time somebody popped the “we’re gonna be magically rescued” bubble–

and

“‘Consumers’ are different than ‘Citizens’. ‘Consumers’ do not have obligations, duties and responsibilities to their fellow human beings…” –thank you, words have power and the word “consumer” is doing things to us that we need to keep our eyes on–

AH, it’s just amazing stuff. I need to check out more TED videos! You’d think the fact that the few I’ve seen were fanfreakingtastic would be enough, but apparently I’m hard to motivate lately.

(This is so true, actually — I’ve been like some pissed-off bear stuck in a snowdrift the last week or two. But last night I cracked a book and saw a page that changed my whole outlook, and today will be different, however incrementally. Already is, actually. …It’s not rare for a book to be my savior, but it does impress me every time one does it.)

Lastly, thanks SO MUCH to benchilada for posting that video. If you’re not reading his blog, this is only a teeny slice of what you’re missing out on!

May 22, 2008   2 Comments

Running to Stand Still

Waugh, the future is intimidating!

Being a metaphysics student at the moment, I can address the question of why something that doesn’t exist can be intimidating, or be anything, probably most efficiently using Yablo:  The future is an existential metaphor and I’m only scaring myself.  And doing quite an efficient job without its help.

I used to be all gung-ho about big changes, I really did.  Perhaps more than most:  I was an active Discordian, proud neophile, professional down-and-dirty flake.  I undertook huge changes, personal psychological and physical, with as little fear as I could manage, and what I couldn’t eradicate I ignored, an offering for Eris.  I had mottos like "Either Extreme is Fine" and "Stagnation is Satan".  (Hey, I didn’t say I was eloquent about it.  This was my teens and early twenties — hardly eloquent times of life!)

Er, that was before my whole life fell apart, quite without my permission, almost exactly four years ago.  That was pretty seriously not fun, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I might not have survived it without the huge amounts of help and support I had.  I’ve worked quite hard to rebuild things now, and the thought of another major upheaval(s) is causing me some pretty spiky issues.  Every time I think about getting a new job (which I could have to at any time, thank you Michigan economy), picking a degree program (I’m so intimidated by that choice that I’m pretty much planning on throwing my coins to the wind and taking whatever lands in my pocket), or in general confronting the future at all, I get sick to my stomach.

So I’m attempting to take some good advice from Eastern philosophy.  To paraphrase one of the Buddhas:  "What, at this moment, is lacking?"  The future is almost always impossible to "handle", because it’s in your head, and your head (especially my head) builds a hell of a monster out of it.  But you don’t have to handle the future.  The only thing you ever have to deal with, get through or be okay with is right now. 

It is one of the great mysteries of humanity, in my view, why it’s so incredibly hard for us to separate out this moment and pay attention to it.  A moment is such a small, simple thing.  No education necessary to grasp it; no tricks needed to see it.  But focusing on it is simply beyond most people…especially ones who’re obsessing about being terrified of the future.

January 31, 2008   1 Comment

Suffering For Coolness

So, vacation came and raped my schedule.  And was, I should add, totally worth it.  I got to hang out with some friends I don’t see nearly often enough, and make some new ones besides that are well nigh blindingly cool.  (Seriously.  I don’t mean to brag, because lord knows I don’t know why I run into and end up knowing these jaw-droppingly cool people, but wow.  Just…wow.) 

As with many good vacations, bad habits were formed:  I got used to stellar food, professionally-mixed drinks in the evenings, and smoke-breaks (I quit years ago, but I bring fake ("herbal") cigarettes with me when I visit smokers, to stave off temptation — they’ve no nicotene, but I always get used to taking breaks to smoke them anyway) ~ but, again, completely worth it.

Funny thing is, usually on vacations I sleep a boatload at least once; this time I didn’t.  I was only there a few days and a lot was going on (plus I had asinine amounts of homework to keep up on), so I slept 3, 4.5 and 6 hours at night, taking whatever naps I could during the day .  Which wasn’t many — two max, I think.  And on Flight Out Day, I didn’t get any naps.

And Lo, I Was Wasted.

I got home yesterday and went to bed early — 10 p.m., hoping for 6 hours to cover me until 4 a.m. and leave me somewhat not-zombied at work — but it was not to be.  I got woken up twice, effectively nuking any positive effects of the sleep I did get, and wow, was I a zombie today.  A cranky, pissy, nasty zombie with a half-inch of rotting fuse left.  …Good things can actually come from that, though, in an office.  I don’t think Dumb As Rocks Secretary will be screwing up my phone messages anymore.  ;)

BUT, I have progressively felt better after every nap today.  This is interesting, because I’ve never fallen that far off-schedule and tried to recover with just (on-schedule) naps, without the benefit of a longer sleep to stave off the zombiness.  It’s good to know it works, even if it isn’t much fun.

…And now I’m realizing that the cool-as-shit guy I met who knows how to mix drinks really was being awesome and mixing them extra-light for me, because, lacking any cool bartender-types here, I’ve gone and substituted the drink I’d gotten used to with a full glass of wine, and now I can’t feel my nose.  *sigh*

(Fun fact about me:  I can type a near-flawless 100 WPM no matter how drunk I am.  It’s a stupid superpower, but hey, take what you got, right?)

But I should note, before I stagger off to watch movies and play with my new chainmail supplies (yes, one of my ridiculously cool friends makes chainmail, and is really good at it and is now teaching me), that this vacation was also a gathering of people involved in the Haven project, and wow, we got a lot done, all being in one room like that.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, considering how insanely perfect our backgrounds and interests are for a project like this, and the fact that I’m probably the dumbest person in that group by 20 IQ points.  But it was amazing, and I really think we’ve got a fantastic idea going here, and now I can’t wait to get more done on it and I’m really wishing I didn’t have all this schoolwork taking up my time…argh!  Somebody talk me out of Uberman!

Oyasuminasai!

pd

January 29, 2008   2 Comments

Stuff and the Five-To-One Yay Ratio

proof of genetic feasibility

proof of genetic feasibility

YAY for 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays!  The perfect time to write stuff I’ve been wanting to write all week.

Actually, I don’t technically "have" the time to write right now, either, but due to the (seemingly endless) restrictions on what I can do while the rest of my very packed-in household is sleeping, I can’t do any of things I should be doing, which means I sort of have to do what I want to be doing!  OH THE AGONY!

(I almost wrote "OH THE ANTIGONE!"  You can tell that writing that horrid pseudo-Greek epic poem for class really broke my head.  Regarding said poem, you can read it on my LJ if you’re sick in the head and desirous of the pain of horrible, horrible poetry; I sure as hell am not putting it up here!)

What should I be doing, you may wonder?  Okay, here’s a list by way of slice-of-life insight into the entirely unenigmatic selfhood of yours truly:

*  Find materials needed by loan officer by Monday (HOUSE!  ALMOST HOUSE YAAAAAY!)

*  Clean printheads on #%$@ing Epson that froze up on me

*  Use clean printer to print off templates and guidelines for Research Project for class

*  Go to library (not open yet, o’course) and get book to review for other class’ final

(NOTE:  Both class finals due July 25.  House conveniently must close by July 27.  MY BRAIN HURTS.)

*  Finish laundry & attempt some general organizing of piles ‘o books, etc.

*  (Later today, marathon Taiji class, then long drive to pick up kid)

*  If possible, do more of the concept work on the SortaChurch I’m being asked to, well, conceptualize, for a project you will all hear a LOT more about in the future, called "Haven".  Haven is an intentional community in the works, very very cool ideas, and one of the things it needs is a totally nondenominational — as in, not even preferential to religion over non-religion — church-type structure.  To my eternal flattery, the group decided that I was the best person to figure out what such a building should be like.  And funnily enough, it’s something I’d been thinking about for years, so it’s just a matter of writing it all down.  I’ll post it when it’s done, probably.  In fact…::adds the "Haven" tag in anticipation of further posts on this fascinating topic::

And, ummm, if I get lucky, that’s all that’s on the platter for today.  Most of it, as you can see, is downright impossible in a situation where, if I lean back too far in my computer chair, I bump my sleeping husband’s feet.  Thankfully he’s a coma-like sleeper, heh.

Oh, and I forgot to mention — he has some sleeping problems (frequent bouts of insomnia and/or tossing and turning and not sleeping well), and I’ve convinced him to try a biphasic schedule to attempt to combat them.  I sugested biphasic because he doesn’t sleep well for some large chunk of the night, and then gets tired in the early evening; a long secondary nap and 4-5 hour core seemed like just the thing.   He says he’ll try it once this stupid month is over!  (I also want to get him to write a bit on what it’s been like to live with a polyphasic sleeper in close quarters for a year, but I’m a little worried about what he might say… ;)

Okay, though, I do have to confess one thing about this month:  The weather has been phenomenal, especially over the last week.  It’s been nice and summer-warm (but not scorching) in the sun, with a stiff cool breeze going all day, and stunningly beautiful blue skies with fluffy clouds.  Brisk and bracing at night.  If you’d asked me when I was seven what the weather in Heaven was like, I’d have said it was just like this!

Nice weather makes up for a lot, at least with me. 

So do banana crisps, which I just found an abandoned quarter-bag of in the "pantry".  Yay!  (I don’t get it.  I hate bananas, as a general rule, but I love banana chips & crisps.  …Oh, wait, I get it now!  It’s because I’m a freak.  ;)

Sooo…yay food, yay weather, boo school, yay naps, yay Haven, yay house.  A FIVE-TO-ONE YAY RATIO!  Wow, I’m doing lots better than I’d thought.

Hope all you crazy anonymous people from all over the world are doing just as well!

 

July 14, 2007   Comments Off