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Standing Moderate

  • Posted on January 8, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Across the U.S., we’re being inundated with immoderate views. Recently, three men died instead of being taken into police custody. The issues are poignant: racism, police relations, recognition of authority, delegation of authority, and acceptability of subculture, to name a few. None of these issues usually appear on this blog.

I don’t write about racism or racial subcultures. But these events concern everyone, because the results of these events have included riots, public demonstrations, the assassination of police officers, and, of course, a whole lot of public commentary. Much of the latter involves individuals or organizations trying to use these “current events” to bolster their own positions by taking an immoderate stand for or against something pertaining to these tragedies.

I’ll take a stand, too. I believe people shouldn’t die because of their skin color. I believe police have a responsibility to protect themselves and others while on the job, because that is their job. I believe neither stand is the antithesis of the other.

There’s nothing extreme about my position; nonetheless, it’s controversial. One might assume that I believe the three men that died instead of being taken into police custody died because of their race. I don’t. In regards to the first two events, people came to these conclusions before the facts were made publicly available. They did so for two reasons: first, the media incited the public to believe that race was a factor in these events; and, second, people believed the claims purported in the media because they were inclined to believe them. Now that more facts have been made publicly available, the facts don’t seem to support the conclusions so many people reached directly after the incidents; yet, it’s easier for them to continue to believe in some great conspiratorial cover-up than to admit they were wrong. The truly sad and unfortunate part of this is that this country, this supposedly “free nation,” has a history of cover-ups just like the ones they suspect, so their positions aren’t implausible or even irrational. (In regards to the third incident, when you pull a gun on a police officer, you can expect to get shot—that’s what they’re trained to do!)

One might also assume that I think how the police handled these events was above reproach. I don’t. There is always room for reproach. But there is a difference between reproach and threatening their lives. There is a difference between reproach and rioting. There is most definitely a difference between reproach and assassinating random police officers. There is also a difference between reproach for its own sake and effective protests.

One person was sharing with me their take on the “die in” at the Mall of America. Yes, these people trespassed. Yes, they demonstrated on private property. Yes, it was disruptive. It was supposed to be disruptive. It was supposed to get attention. It was supposed to make the news! That’s what peaceful protest is all about!!! From everything I’ve read and everything I’ve heard, nobody got hurt, nobody was violent. They got their message across in a way we should be able to support.

Black lives matter. There’s nothing extreme about that statement. Police lives matter. There’s nothing extreme about that statement either. All lives matter. (Oddly enough, I’m told that that statement is very extreme. Go figure!)

Liberals, particularly extreme liberals, want to turn this—and have achieved some success in this regard—into a race war. Conservatives, particularly extreme conservatives, want to turn this—and have achieved some success in this regard—into a culture war. In the midst of these extremes, moderates (regardless of the way they lean) are most often silent; but, it’s not because they’re not talking, it because they’re drowned about by the loudness of the extremes.

We could all spend a lot of time pointing fingers and accomplishing nothing. For the most part, that’s what people have been doing. A riot will destroy lives and businesses, but it will go down in history and change nothing. Distorting the views of opponents, as many conservatives seem inclined to do, will create talk, sway the unwary, but will inevitably change nothing. We create change when we sit down, figure out what went wrong, and fix it.

That’s what moderates do. They try to find middle ground. They try to create solutions. They work with people who are different from them. They try to implement solutions. At least, that’s what they do when they have a chance to try.

This society that revolves so much around hits and likes and viewership doesn’t condone “moderacy.” In fact, “moderacy” isn’t even a recognized word. But immoderacy is. And that’s what we get, because that’s what bolsters ratings.

We don’t need ratings. We don’t need pundits. We don’t need riots. What we need are solutions.

Culture and Consciousness

  • Posted on November 10, 2014 at 11:21 AM

Clearly, it’s taking me longer to recover than one might think. I’m feeling much better than I have been, but if you could hear my voice you’d know first thing that I am still sick. I am still congested and still coughing quite a lot, though no longer so much and so deeply that my sides ache. What’s more obvious than that is that my voice is still recovering from a bout with laryngitis. Still, I have been “off” too long and I’m doing my best to get back to being productive. As I am starting to get back to work, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the thoughts that have been with me these past several weeks.

I’ve wanted to read James Charlton’s “Nothing About Us Without Us” for a while now, and I finally got my own copy. Currently, I’m reading five books at a time—each book covering a different subject. (This count does not include textbooks.) Don’t be too impressed, because I’m reading them all very slowly, because I’m not just reading them, I’m also reflecting upon their contents and studying them as deeply as I can. I like the eclectic nature of it, even if it means my progress is slower than it might otherwise be, because I come away with a much deeper understanding than a cursory reading would provide. Besides, sometimes the things I read from these different books click together in unexpected ways.

I hope you read my confession, because this is directly related to that post. Something that Charlton wrote on page 27 helped trigger the realization I describe in that post:

“Most people with disabilities actually come to believe that they are less normal, less capable than others. Self-pity, self-hate, shame, and other manifestations of this process are devastating for they prevent people with disabilities from knowing their real selves, their real needs, and their real capabilities and from recognizing the options they in fact have. False consciousness and alienation also obscure the source of their oppression.”

Charlton goes on to explore the meaning of consciousness, culminating (on page 29) in this:

“The point is that consciousness cannot be separated from the real world, from politics and culture. There is an important relationship between being and consciousness. Social being informs consciousness and consciousness informs being. There is mutual interplay. Consciousness is not a container that ideas and experiences are poured into. Consciousness is a process of awareness that is influenced by social conditions, chance, and innate cognition.”

I live in a culture that systemically devalues people with disabilities. I live in a caretaker culture, in which our government is expected to take care of people with a variety of disadvantages in a variety of ways that further reinforces the notion that they cannot take care of themselves. This culture is being reinforced through my “human resource management” studies, which consistently uses ablist language and caretaker ideas while purporting to support diversity.

It’s left me feeling like I’m getting it from all sides. On the one hand, I firmly believe that the “safety net” the U.S. and other “developed” nations provide is necessary and beneficial to society. Furthermore, I believe the “safety net” should be stronger than it is in the U.S. Simply put, some people fall through no (or little) fault of their own and these people “deserve” to be caught in the net. Other people fall due to their own failings and vices and, though they seem less “deserving,” it is still in the best interests of our society that these people are caught in the net. Finally, there are people who are “pushed” by our society, who have few natural chances to succeed, and need to be caught be the net. Unfortunately, the fact is that this “safety net” we’ve created often fails to catch people. But the true social crime is that we have inadequate means of helping people out of the net and back up into “regular” society.

On the other hand, I reject the paternalistic, caretaker attitude out society projects towards people who get caught by the net. (Note that these condescending attitudes are even stronger to those we’ve failed to catch in the net.) The underlying prejudice is that the people who provide the net are “better than” those who get caught in the net. Many of the existing mechanisms that are put into place to help people out of the net (or to make sure they don’t have to rely on the net at all) are just as paternalistic and condescending as the net itself, including affirmative action and the many other mechanisms that “promote diversity.” The idea here is that these people shouldn’t be treated differently; to ensure that they aren’t treated differently (because we know that they really are treated differently) we help them out of the net using “progressive” initiatives (because we know that they cannot succeed on their own). The whole system is a subtle, but powerful reinforcement of the underlying belief that the people our society casts off really are “less than” those that society embraces.

This is one of the reasons why I just can’t support Democrats. The language they use and the policies they so often create are just so patronizing that their underlying belief in inequality seems blatant to me and it’s offensive. But it’s also one of the reasons why I just can’t support Republicans, either. They’re less patronizing, but they’re also less apt to care enough to create the policies and programs that can actually help people. It’s frustrating, because neither the “safety net” nor the “hands up” need be patronizing or paternalistic. That attitude is not necessary, but it is beneficial if you’re more interested in maintaining a voter base than you are in actually helping people. The more people who are dependent on Democrats’ initiatives for basic survival the more people are likely to vote for them. And our bureaucracy often expresses both the political interests and the patronizing attitudes inherent in the system, when they’re not reinforcing them outright.

So, I’ve been struggling with my own limitations for over a month now. Not only have I been stressed beyond what I can bear, not only have I made myself quite literally ill (thrice over now), but I’ve also been imbibing this ablist garbage, while also reading two books (Charlton’s and a book about revising government) that help me to better envision how things could be. I’ve come away from this mess—rather I’m trying to climb out of this mess—feeling very weak indeed. Physically, I am weakened. More than that, I’m demoralized, because I’ve learned that I am not immune to this culture that I live in. I internalize it. When I’m strong enough, I reject it. Mentally, I reject it outright. But emotionally, when my filters and defenses are shredded, I internalize it and it sticks with me. I spew it back out in the form of self-talk that makes it harder to stand back up and get back to work. Then, I have to go back and clean the garbage out of my system by analyzing it, weighing its merits, and then discarding it once I realize (again) that it really doesn’t have any. Before all of this, I was arrogant enough to think I was immune to this garbage, because I was conscious of it. I know it is garbage, so why would I be susceptible to it! But it doesn’t work that way. Intellectually, perhaps I am immune, but how I feel is something entirely different. Sadly, I hear it, I feel it, and it hurts. When it gets its slimy tentacles tangled up inside me, it hurts more than I can bear.

The Inner Narrative

  • Posted on October 12, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I have this quirk, though I’m not sure how much this particular quirk is shared by others. I live most of my life in my own head. I’m surrounded by stimulation. Most of it is mundane and easy to navigate, so I can go about my business on auto-pilot. Inside, however, there’s a narrative going on that is quite removed from what my external body is experiencing. It’s like an advanced form of daydreaming, and I have been told that it goes along quite well with my life as a writer. I have heard other kinds of artists share similar experiences.

Maintaining a semblance of outward normalcy while keeping this inner narrative inside is a skill I learned in school. Teachers repeat things. I would guess that over two thirds of my class time (before college) was “wasted” with repeated information. I realize that most people learn better this way. But, for me, repeating information orally doesn’t really work. Either I got it the first time or I won’t get it at all. Repeating it—unless I didn’t actually hear it—doesn’t increase the chances of my consuming the information. So all this repetition left me bored

To alleviate that boredom my brain entertained itself, which it was inclined to do anyway. I learned that if I maintained the appearance of paying attention, then I’d be left to ignore the repetitions. If I slipped—smiling at something that amused me while the teacher was being serious, for example—then I would be called upon to participate. Blah. I must admit, however, that I didn’t really perfect this technique until the eighth grade—and the memory of that incident still makes me smile. Just in case anyone is under the impression that I don’t have a mischievous side.

I’m quite familiar with my own inner narrative, and I’ve adapted this skill so that I can continue my narrative while living out my rather mundane (relative to that narrative) existence.

Here’s the thing: I have three children and I know two of them are “like me” in this regard, except that neither of them has yet learned to internalize this narrative. Both Willy and Ben are as I was when I was little—sharing their inner narrative orally with anyone who will listen, whether the timing is appropriate or not. So much so that they have trouble turning it off. I can relate—I still have trouble turning it off, especially when I’m trying to fall asleep.

Then, there’s Alex. Alex is my dear boy, my conundrum. While I’m not fond of the puzzle piece as a symbol of autism, Alex is the child of mine that gives the most credence to its validity. Nobody really “gets” Alex. It’s not that we haven’t made connections with him. But there’s a part of Alex—a big part—that continues to be out of our reach. Without the communication component in place to a greater degree than it is, Alex cannot share his inner narrative with us. And, because words are something of a “foreign language” to Alex, I’m not even sure talking would empower him to share that narrative—his narrative may very well be experienced in a totally different form.

I think about Alex and puzzle pieces. It seems to me that Alex has a “language” all his own and that to communicate with us requires translation. He struggles to translate for us and we struggle to translate for ourselves. But it’s more than just the language, it’s like he has a culture all his own, too. And this is rather easy to explain: We consume language and culture by absorbing what is around us, and it shapes and influences who we become. I’m not an American because I was born an American; I’m an American because I’ve lived my entire life as an American. But Alex doesn’t absorb language and culture the same way, so he hasn’t been shaped and influenced the same way.

The question, then, is how do we bridge the gap? How do we learn to communicate with him, to share who we are with him, and to help him share who he is with us? How do we help him to his internal narrative?

The Black Balloon: A Review

  • Posted on June 4, 2010 at 2:10 AM

The Black Balloon is an award-winning Australian movie that is, on the surface, one portrayal of autism through a non-autistic brother’s point of view.

When taking The Black Balloon with that premise in mind, it’s a movie I found to be both honest and challenging.  The movie takes risks, which I like from an artistic standpoint.  It has a solid, not-too-subtle message of acceptance at its core, which I like from an advocacy standpoint.

If taken outside that premise the movie can be problematic.  This movie is biased.  Charlie, the brother with autism, is not the viewpoint character.  Nor is he the main character.  While he is not dehumanized, The Black Balloon does not tell Charlie’s story.  For some viewers that’s going to be frustrating.

At face value, Charlie seems to be “the problem” that the plot intends to solve.  Thomas, the non-autistic brother (also the viewpoint character and the main character), starts off the story seeing Charlie as the problem that needs to be solved.  This can be hard to watch.  There is violence between these brothers, which can be hard to watch.  There is violence between the parents and the children, which can be hard to watch.  Charlie’s autistic traits are emphasized to the point of stereotyping, which can be hard to watch.

But—and this is a very important but—that bias is not the movie-maker’s bias; it’s Thomas’ bias.  This movie is about transforming Thomas’ perceptions of his brother.  It’s about Thomas’ journey as he grows towards acceptance, reaches for understanding, and builds an appreciation for the person Charlie is.

If I had to classify The Black Balloon, I would not call it an “autism movie” or an “advocacy movie” or even a “prejudice movie,” though there are elements of all of that within this movie.  The Black Balloon is a coming-of-age movie, in which Thomas must come to terms with his brother as he is as part of growing up.  So, while there is stereotyping in the movie, it is because for most of the movie the viewpoint character sees his brother as his autism, not because that is how the movie-maker’s envisioned Charlie.

Another thing that makes this movie problematic is my concern that viewers who have no direct experience with autism might mistake this portrayal of one autistic character as a portrayal of autism as a whole.  Obviously no movie can do that, but that doesn’t stop people from internalizing a movie and using that movie as their basis for understanding. 

Yet, despite the hard-to-watch parts and the risks of further stereotyping, the movie resonates with me.  I have a great appreciation for the parents’ struggle to provide opportunities for both their children.  I have a great appreciation for the mistakes the parents make.  I have an appreciation for Thomas’ struggle to come to terms with his own life and all the people within it.  And I have a great appreciation for the subtle way the movie-makers showed Charlie as an outsider looking in, even within his own family.  I liked how they showed that there was a person behind the stereotype—a person who wanted very much to be included in his brother’s life and for his brother to take part in his life.

Overall, I would consider the movie to be very well-done.  It’s a story with a point, but the focus was on telling the story, not on telling the point—which is very much appropriate.