standing up by backing down

standing up by backing down

I’ve found over the past two years that I have grown less interested in political confrontation.  I still have the appetite and every now and then I’ll write angrily about something or the other, but maybe I’ve finally learned how meaningless it is.

Cause the truth is, any time anyone comes out swingin’ hard in favor of a particular political philosophy – even when they’re totally right and are making tons of good points – everyone just puts their fingers in their ears and says ‘nananana’ till whoever it it shuts up and goes away.  Nobody wants to hear it.  They pick out the stuff that confirms their priors and they ignore anything they don’t have answers for.

Arguing politics is a pointless endeavor.  There are so many better uses of my time.  Like alphabetizing cans of soup in my cupboard or maybe watching paint dry.

But still.  I believe in the idea that people who can stand up, should stand up.  For whatever reason, God granted me an ability to string a couple words together that is slightly better than average, a memory that lasts longer than a news cycle, and I occasionally have a few moments of time I can scrape together now and then to write something.   A lot of people don’t have that ability, or the luxury of time for political agitation.  They’re just people whose talents lay in different areas than mine do, doing the best they can.  They know what they think but they can’t always express why they think the way they do.  They count on others to carry the philosophical torch for them.

I believe that for those of us on the right, even just slightly right like I am, if those who can stand up, don’t, then there will be no one there to speak for, and even protect the innocent people who are just trying to live their life.  They don’t want to fight any more than I do, they don’t want to argue, they just want to be left alone and not demonized and maybe show up to vote every few years or so.  Most of the people on the right tend to fall into this camp.  They don’t want to agitate, they don’t want to organize. They don’t want to make waves, they just want to live their life.  They need people to carry the conservative torch for them so they can continue doing just that.

I want to do my part but at the same time, it feels useless to do my part.

And yet…and yet.

I remember one time I saw Lynne Cheney, Dick Cheney’s wife, on The Daily Show back when Jon Stewart was still hosting it, and she brought along a doll of Dick Cheney dressed up like Darth Vader, and the joke was that Republicans really ARE evil, yukyukyukyuk – and that they’re shamelessly proud of it.


It sometimes feels to me like the strategy of the Republican Party since the first Bush administration if not maybe even longer, was to play the role of the bumblin’ bad guys in some sort of elaborate 3D chess match, in which it’s been predetermined that the right shall eventually lose.  All that is left is the hope that lefties will let the more powerful conservatives exist a little longer once the Glorious Socialist Dawn breaks.  No pushback, no making the philosophical or economic case for conservatism, just a flopsy, mopsy rollover for a tummy scrub by any liberal mouthpiece no matter how odious or wrong they are.

I don’t know why this is, but I have a theory.  Freddie deBoer writes about the idea that on some gut level, many perceive it as more important to have position within one’s own movement than to see your movement succeed – even at the COST of seeing your movement succeed.  Even though Freddie is a liberal and was making a case for liberals, I find that many conservatives – the most powerful, even – appear to have placed higher premium upon jockeying for social cred not only among their fellow conservatives, but among powerful liberals, than actually trying to achieve anything for the conservative movement.   The most powerful, well-known conservatives in existence have been actively refusing to challenge liberal orthodoxy for decades not only because they don’t want to risk social censure from their fellow conservatives, but because they don’t want to be criticized by LIBERALS.

We can sit around and discuss why this is, because it’s fascinating.  I could even try to write a piece about the history of it all, but luckily for me Varad Mehta already did it way better than I could.  Long story short, a whole lot of pretty darn important Republicans left fighting for conservativism behind em long, long ago, ceding point after point in the Culture War to the Left after putting up only the lamest, weakest, most inept of token fights (just enough to placate the evangelicals, LOL).  And they did this because they were never conservatives anyway, preferring instead to play the part of center-leftists in a 2 party system…”Leftie and Leftier”…as long as it kept them walking the Halls of Power and getting invites onto The Daily Show.

Please clap.

Too many powerful Republicans are more worried about looking good for their fellows – and by fellows, they mean “popular political figures and celebrities, including a goodly number of liberals”…not you, and not me – than in doing what it takes to win.  Well, that’s not me.  I want to win, and if I can’t win (which I probably can’t) at the least I want to force a compromise that will at the least preserve SOME elements of conservatism.  In fact I think that it’s imperative for the greater good of everyone, that conservatives if not win outright, at least push back as hard as we can against the liberal movement – which up till quite recently was ascending pretty much without opposition.

Thanks, Mitt.

How do we do that??  How do we conservatives make inroads NOT with each other but with the other guys?  How do we score political ground against liberals when they, and sadly too many of us like Lynne Cheney, have been steeped in the idea of conservatives as Inhuman Bad Guy for the better part of my lifetime?

Freddie DeBoer believed that what liberals needed was more internal critics.  While I agree with him there because liberals have such massive blind spots they may as well be Mr. Magoo, I don’t think that’s what conservatives need.  Conservatives have so many internal critics that it’s sometimes hard for outsiders to understand what is even holding us all together in a single movement.

Conservatives need something different.

This past week CNN ran a story about the Jayme Closs kidnapping.  “Murder, kidnapping, and escape in RURAL America”  the headline screamed.  Can you imagine the outrage if CNN had run that headline about an urban kidnapping?  Making it sound like murder and kidnapping was somehow inherently part of the setting in which it occurred?  The very next week there was woman abducted in a bar and held prisoner for a couple days in a city before she escaped, and it had none of the same dog whistle-y type headlines as the Closs kidnapping did.  In fact, when I tried to look the second abduction up the very next day to include a link for this article, I couldn’t even find it anywhere on CNN.  They were still covering the Closs abduction and plastering pictures of the perpetrator (whose appearance confirms just about every liberal stereotype you can possibly imagine about the sort of people who live in Middle America) everywhere.

This is one of the ways that liberals are winning the culture war.

They’re pigeonholing conservative and/or Red State Americans into the Bad Guy slot not only on The Daily Show but on the everyday show that is our regular life.  We’re weird, we’re creepy, we’re pervs, we’re molesters, we’re racists, we’re judgmental prudes, we’re troglodytes, we hate poor people, we hate cities, we’re unevolved reactionary monsters and we deserve to die.  (yes that’s right we are somehow both simultaneously sex-obsessed perverted child molesters and also super uptight sexually-repressed prudes)

A lot of conservatives want to respond in kind (and let’s be honest here, historically some of these techniques of demonizing an opponent have been utilized by conservatives) and while at times I can’t totally blame them, I don’t want to win that way.  I don’t WANT to live in a world where a stranger is NOT a friend you haven’t met yet, but is instead guilty of unspeakable horrors until proven innocent.  I do not believe that voting for someone with an R instead of a D beside their name on an election ballot makes someone a monster and I don’t believe the reverse is true, either.  I believe that humans are walking bundles of contradictions, that none of us are fully good nor fully evil, that even the “bad” among us are redeemable, and I want to believe the best in everyone I come across.

I guess it’s just the liberal in me.

But again, what can we do?  Real people?  You and me and that guy over there?  Should we blanket social media with long diatribes invoking Bill Buckley or Ayn Rand?  Repost the Sockdolager essay or I, Pencil or maybe don a 3 corner hat and stand on a street corner and hand out small versions of the US Constitution?

Yeah.  All those things have worked out pretty well for us so far.

I didn’t get to be a conservative overnight.  It took time.  A LOT of time.  What started me on the path to where I am today was simply noticing “some of these things I believe do not make any sense given other truths I’ve learned about the world.”  And those things I noticed were NOT always or even usually in the political arena.  They were in real life and they were things that happened in movies and tv shows and books that reflected real life.  I had to have an entire paradigm shift based on real world observation before I realized wow ok it is just plain stupid to hand over scads of power to a bunch of politicians and trust them not to misuse it, because people are not good guys and bad guys, we’re fallible guys and self-interested guys.  I honestly learned far more about the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism from fiction at least to start out with than I did from reading The Federalist Papers or whatever.

We are barking up the wrong tree with the lectures and the diatribes and the appeals to the Founding Fathers, my con chums.  We are barking up the wrong tree prattling about history and natural rights.  And let me tell you why.  It isn’t because lectures and diatribes are off-putting, even though they are, hugely.  It’s not that.

This past week or so I’ve been…fortunate, I guess you could say, although as someone who is not super interested in political confrontation, it doesn’t feel like good fortune LOL…to have the opportunity to interact with some decent and thoughtful liberals who are, well, not sympathetic but at least open to hearing some of my opinions.  And so they’ve listened to me, very politely, very considerately, with what seems to me to be a legitimate desire to understand.

They listened.  They really did.  They just didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

Up until this week I have truly believed that liberals completely misunderstanding and misrepresenting where conservatives were coming from had to be some kind of an act.   I figured they were just playing dumb, feigning ignorance out of political motivations.  But I have to say that after this week I’m really starting to doubt my previous conclusion.  Liberals, even the decent ones not prone to hyperbole and exaggeration, really DO think conservatives are insane evil bad guys like Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort.  And it’s easy for them to believe that because they don’t understand where we’re coming from, like seriously, at all, because they don’t know anything about us other than what they’ve been told by people who do not have either of our best interests at heart.

Liberals’ vision of conservatives is like this twisted version of the blind men and the elephant where one liberal wise man feels a tail that’s made of racism and another feels an ear that’s made up of hyperjudgmental church ladies and they go out and tell people that’s what conservatism is, even though they only ever felt this tiny terrible part of it.  They don’t see anything else, they certainly don’t see everything else.  They don’t see a living entity at all, they see this isolated fraction (and they don’t even see it, because they’re blind men; they just poke at it with their fingers for a minute or two).  Based on this momentary inspection of a couple of very small and unimportant parts of the conservative movement, they assume they now fully understand the whole.

The author David Foster Wallace once gave a famous speech in which he relayed this story:  A couple of young fish are out for a swim one beautiful morning and they happen to pass an old grizzled fish swimming in the opposite direction.  “Good morning boys,” the old fish says with a grin, “How’s the water?”  The two young fish nod politely and keep swimming.  Once they’re out of hearing range, one of them turns to the other and asks, “What the heck is water?”

We don’t see what we’re in when we’re in it.  The waters of our philosophy are transparent to us.  It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort to learn to see what we’re swimming in.  Think of how tough it is to explain to a small child about air – it’s all around us, all the time, but you can’t see it and you can’t feel it even though you’re sucking it down your lungholes and it’s keeping you alive.  In order to get a child to learn the nature of air, first you have to prove to them that air even exists (and no, I’m not comparing liberals to children, ok?)

Conservatives have something of an advantage in this regard.  We perceive the water, at least a little bit.  Conservatives navigate in a largely liberal world – liberals are in charge of the school system, the media, Hollywood, a lot of government agencies, a fair number of religious organizations, and the tech industry.  As such, these organizations are flooding the world with liberal philosophical water constantly.  Since conservatives are not of it, it’s easier for us to see that.  Now, liberals would argue against this notion but that’s because they don’t see the water.  We don’t see what we’re in when we’re in it.  It’s hard for them to see because it’s the medium we navigate through all the time and if you feel comfortable in that medium, you can’t see it unless you really try.  Liberal water is invisible to most people like conservative water was probably invisible to most people living in Middle America in 1952.  Things were they way they were because that’s the way they were and if you tried to tell them they didn’t have to be that way they not only wouldn’tve agreed, they wouldn’t have even understood what you were talking about.

What the heck is water, anyway?

The job of conservatives is to explain to fish about water and it’s impossible unless we can get them to accept that their water exists and has a certain nature to it.  We can’t assume they see and understand the water the way we do, because they don’t.  It’s their water and they’re comfortable in it and we don’t see what we’re in, when we’re in it.  So making arguments to liberals about any particular characteristics of this water before we’ve convinced them it even exists are useless.  We’re trying to describe something that is to them, invisible.  And making arguments assuming they are swimming in conservative water instead, is worse than useless.  You can’t make an argument to them based on how great things were in 1952 because they don’t think things WERE great in 1952.  You can’t make an argument to them invoking the Founding Fathers because they hate the Founding Fathers.  (and they have sound and sensible reasons underlying both those opinions.) These arguments accomplish nothing and in fact often stir animosity because it gives liberals more data points regarding the tail of an elephant, rather than encouraging them to see the whole animal.

In my marriage, I tend to be a person who never complains until I’ve gotten furious about something.  When I try to explain why it is I’m so upset, I often end up feeling like an idiot because the straw that broke the camel’s back is seemingly small, even petty if it had been taken in isolation.  My husband will roll his eyes and add it to his file of “times Kristin overreacted” – but I’m not overreacting.  My anger was fully justified, it was just that in the past, I’d been underreacting, so any reaction at all feels like an overreaction.  The reason why I feel the way I do is because of a series of true wrongs and legitimate grievances that occurred over time, that I, in a desire to keep the peace, didn’t bring up at the moment they occurred.  Any one of them, taken alone, seems minor, like a nothingburger.  But when you’re handed enough nothingbacondoublecheeseburgers to choke down, even just a nothingslider begins to look like a volley fired in a bigger war.  It’s tough to explain that to the person throwing burgers at your face when you haven’t been pointing it out to them all along.  They don’t even remember most of it and it didn’t seem like a big deal anyway, because you didn’t say anything at the time.  It appears to them like you’re making mountains out of molehills, like you’re the one playing dirty.

Conservatives pounce.  That’s what liberals see.  Us pouncing for what appears to them to be no reason whatsoever because Republicans in leadership for the last 30 years have been playing the part of Darth Vader and we said nothing at that time.  During that last 30 years the rest of us were busy working and raising our families and not only did we not want to fight, we didn’t want to hold our leaderships accountable for fighting badly on our behalf.  And the chickens have come home to roost.  A whole lot of people who came of age during that time know nothing of us other than the story they were told, that we’re Darth-freaking-Vader and proud of it.  We have a lot of ground to make up before liberals begin to realize that we pounce because we feel we have reason to and not because we are faceless maniacal villains dressed in black who hate everything that is pure and good.  That is their worldview, it’s the water they’re swimming in.  Them good, us bad.  It’s because it’s the only thing many of them have ever heard about conservatives, and we didn’t say anything to disabuse them of the notion.

We all have a set of assumptions that are the foundation for our politics.  These assumptions largely don’t come from dry political tomes or the rhetoric of politicians.  They come from everyday experiences and even fictional ones because fiction is a way to allow others to get inside the heads of other people and see where they’re coming from.  Political philosophies appeal to us because they fit into our worldview, because they set nicely upon the foundation of experience that life has already laid.

We cannot talk politics with liberals until we’ve convinced them that we are not the bad guys in a cartoonish morality play, any more than you can build a castle on a foundation of sand.  And the way to convince them is NOT to blab historical factoids and poli-sci philosophy at them because they’ll just put their fingers in their ears and say “nananana” till we shut up and go away.  Instead we must forge connections and regain the trust that was squandered by Republican politicians and pundits thinking they were playing some sort of game with Jon Stewart for social brownie points, and that everyone was in on the joke.  Game over, man, game over!  Dudes and dudettes, these people actually think we’re Darth Vader!  We need to demonstrate to liberals that we are human beings with life experiences that have led us to conclude certain things that are different than the certain things their life experiences have led them to concluded, so that we become more than just a disembodied elephant’s tail of racists to them.

My goal, in doing what I do, wasting time hollering into the abyss, is first and foremost to rehumanize conservatives as the thinking, feeling, goodhearted, sometimes-even-wise people that we are and pushing back on the stereotypes.  I have found cracking jokes into the abyss to be far more effective than hollering.  I have found writing about apolitical things like romance novels and tv shows and Batman does far more to accomplish my goals of making liberal people understand where I’m coming from than droning on and on about states’ rights ever could.  Because there are so many things that inform our politics that are not at all political, and in these arenas, people are still receptive to our messaging.  These things, people immediately don’t drown out.  Conservatives, we’ve got to reconnect with our liberal counterparts via our shared human experience and build a new foundation for our society together, before it’s too late.

Some of you guys don’t make this easy for me, conservative peeps.  And I get it, I do.  I understand why you’re so prickly and mean sometimes.  I know why some of you take delight in confirming the worst stereotypes of conservatives.  When you feel under assault, when you feel attacked and dehumanized and belittled, it’s only natural to lash out and the best way to lash out is to say things you know are guaranteed to get under another person’s skin, to pay back in kind the offense you feel you’ve received.  But we can’t expect liberals to see things our way because they don’t see the water.  You’re asking them to do something that is impossible for them, to believe in something they truly cannot see and getting angry with them that they don’t.  They’re clueless like my husband when I lose my temper with him over something that seems to him to be minor and meaningless when really I’ve lost my temper over the 999 minor and meaningless things he’d done over the past 6 months and I just didn’t say anything those times.  Lashing out without purpose, in a fury over things that other people really truly do not see or remember, does not accomplish anything other than making us look insane.

Conservatives pounce.

The best path forward is to stop responding in anger, turn every cheek in our body and then some, and focus instead on making connections in as many ways as we can.  There is a whole world out there aside from politics and even though a good many people are trying to politicize even the most benign things in the name of divisiveness, we don’t have to accept that.  Make friends, form bonds, find some sort of common ground.  Share your life and listen to others tell you about theirs.  Share the things you love with your enemies, you might be surprised to find they love them too.  Instead of lecturing each other, laugh together.  Write and talk about other things than politics once in a while, even if those things seem silly, like sandwiches and superheroes and short stories.  It isn’t pointless.  By engaging with those who see you as an enemy, you may make a friend, or at the least, become a person to them where before you were a Sith Lord.  In the long run you’re laying a foundation for an effective method of persuasion based on common experience, one that is based upon the waters we’re both swimming in.

It is far more productive a use of time to spread a conservative worldview  – or at least tolerance for that worldview – through kindness and camaraderie rather relying upon heated political debates and philosophical preaching that falls on deaf ears.

To save conservatism, stop pouncing and be a friend.  That’s what I’m trying to do, anyway.

a rock and a hard place

a rock and a hard place

In the media recently I read of a plan to encourage Uber drivers to spot victims of sex trafficking.

While some of the advice given was sound (watching for bruises, fear, controlling behavior from the people a woman is with) a lot of it crossed a line into slut shaming.  Looking for scantily clad women, unprofessionally dressed, wearing too much makeup, and being too talkative/flirtatious were all supposed signs of sex trafficking.

This is obviously outrageous.  If a woman goes out in public dressed like a whore and acts like a whore it doesn’t make her a whore.  And even if she is a whore, she should still be treated like a human being.  Her status as a sex worker doesn’t mean she requires the “help” of a nosy Uber driver.  If a woman is not showing active signs of being in serious trouble, butt the eff out, yo.  As some may recall, I’m of the opinion that it’s a woman’s business if she’d like to trade on her sexual favors for personal benefit.

Men are confused right now about women and sex.  I have sympathy.  Because on the one hand women, including me myself, often point out that it can be scary to be a woman in the world, that men sometimes put women into positions in which they feel a sense of discomfort or outright fear over seemingly mundane interactions.  Guys feel like they can’t flirt, can’t ask a woman for her number, can’t even ask her if soy milk is better than almond in the grocery store, without getting called a rapist, practically.

And we have some things to answer for in that regard, ladies, we surely do.  We’re conflating WAY too much and we need to do better both to be less oversensitive and more empathetic to male concerns.  Because if decent guys can’t even approach us without getting their dicks whacked with the indiscriminate hammer of social justice, demanding they have no reaction whatsoever even as we’re parading around in front of them wearing come-hither expressions and even more come-hither-y clothing, well, that’s a pretty awful position for us to put them into.  We women shouldn’t both perpetually whet the appetite without offering a reasonable chance – not of success, of course, but a reasonable chance of being treated like a human instead of a horny sewer rat.  Men should to be able to approach women they’re interested in without fear that they’ll be destroyed in perpetuity, having their names added to “bad men” lists for trying to reach out to a woman they like, who they thought maybe liked them in return. *

It’s just not a nice thing to do (and nor is it safe for us to do that, because at least some of those guys are not decent guys; bad guys are not vampires, they don’t wait for an invitation.) Pretending that we women are soooo delicate and fragile that we’re destroyed over being asked out when we didn’t wanna be or by clumsy unwanted passes that are easily shut down and that men are usually way more embarrassed about than we are, be is ridiculous nonsense that’s setting the cause of feminism back decades if not a century.  And doing it while we screech “girl power” and prattle on about how tough and strong we are is straight up bullshittery.

Men are confused ostensibly because me saying “women should be able to ride in a Uber dressed like a slut” and “men need to be more aware of the reality that men can frighten women even in non-sexual situations” at the same time seems from their perspectives, an awful lot like me giving women a pass – saying we should be able to act however we want and men just have to suck it up, avert their eyes, and pray not to get a boner like a 12 year old in gym class.  Worse, they can’t even ask us out because we’re too delicate.

I’m quite sure it seems to men like women want to eat their cake and have it too sometimes.

But these things really are not the same at all.  These two beliefs can coexist and if one sets aside their 27 piece set of matching baggage to take a look at them without larger cultural demons whispering into their ears, it’s pretty obvious IMVVVVVVHO.

I think it’s ok to occasionally gently remind men that their very physical size and presence can be threatening to women.  I honestly think men sometimes forget that is the case.  They’re used to being in their own bodies and navigating the world in a certain way, so what feels normal and natural to them may be upsetting, even frightening, to another, smaller person who happens to be nearby.  It’s ok to remind men that some women actually have been assaulted or abused in the past and are even more sensitive to size differences and personal space than the average woman is.  It doesn’t mean we’re indiscriminately calling you rapists to issue this reminder, it just means that maybe it’s worth thinking about now and then.  Because you ARE bigger and stronger than us and sexual assault IS an actual thing that happens far too often.  After all, people give warnings about not standing under trees in lightning storms and getting hit by lightning happens way less than sexual assault does.  It’s not personal, guys.

It’s also ok to say that women should have the right to go where they wanna go, do what they wanna do, and dress how they wanna dress without inviting being narced on big mouthed Uber drivers.  I mean really, are we at the point already in our society where this drive to “protect women” is manifesting itself ALREADY as a prohibition not only women’s sexual freedom, but their clothing?  It’s been like a year of #metoo, I was hoping it would take at least 10 till this happened.  At this rate we’ll be in burkas before 2020.

If you, my masculine friend, can accept those two things, I will lay the following two things on the table:

It should be ok to occasionally, delicately, tactfully, and graciously point out to women that some of the stuff they’re #metooing about involves minor and unintentional gaffes by otherwise decent men who meant well and innocently mistook kindness for romantic interest. (SOME of the stuff!!!  Use your best judgement, of course, and if a woman says she felt uncomfortable in a situation, please respect that). Some women want to both be able to exploit their sexuality to the fullest extent while still playing the victim card whenever it suits their personal agenda.  Sadly, I think this has devolved in a troubling number of cases into a saga wherein rich and/or cute guys get away with just this side of anything while ugly and/or poor guys are getting a rape whistle blown for bumping into a woman on a subway.

It’s also ok to occasionally point out (without being tarred and feathered for it) that while women should of course be able to dress and act however they want, there are real world consequences to doing so.  The way one ornaments their body particularly for females, is a method of non-verbal communication.  And unlike many subtle forms of non-verbal communication (frowny faces, crossed arms, sighing) the clothing we choose speaks very loudly and clearly and the messages we send may not be the ones we intend to.  Social disapproval, judgement, and unwanted attention from men (even otherwise decent men) are the natural consequences of sending mixed messages about one’s sexual availability.   It’s kind of like the “men need to be more aware of the physicality of their bodies” argument.  Maybejustmaybe women need to be more aware as well, and no one ever taught most of us about that.  We were taught about not wearing white after Labor Day and not mixing red and purple and not wearing socks with sandals, but I never once read in Seventeen that I might be sending a non-verbal invitation for male attention by wearing provocative clothing at inappropriate times.

(Aside, I would also point out that many men love – even feel entitled to – women dressing in a sexually suggestive, non-modest way.  Indeed, a good many men pressure women in a variety of ways to dress immodestly even when the women themselves would prefer not to.  But that’s a very complex issue best investigated in another post.)

These four things are all equally obvious to me.  Yet I often feel pressure as a woman to put my head down and embrace this in-between position that’s the worst of all worlds from my perspective – favoring every aspect of the misunderstanding before us that benefits men.  The default position ends up being that men have the unquestioned right to go through life without ever considering how their physical presence affects women, yet women need to guard how they dress and behave always.  Men “deserve” women who keep themselves up and fix themselves up however the man sees fit, and yet men are owed sex no matter their own appearance or level of personal cleanliness.  Women should put up and shut up with minor #metoo offenses and even not so minor ones.  I do at times feel that men go through the world wanting to define the terms of every male-female conflict in whatever way most behooves them.  #yepallmen

Believe it or not, women are not these coldly calculating entities that are plotting and scheming to inflame male sensibilities by dressing like sluts and then denying deserving men sex out of sheer spite.  That’s a fiction.  If such women exist, I certainly don’t know any.  Women dress up because we want to look cute and that’s really pretty much the whole entire thought process involved.  And at the same time, yeah ok most men are not Harvey Weinstein.  But some of them are, and some of them are worse, and that’s an important distinction.

I look around and see women being held responsible for supposed stereotypical behavior that no woman actually does while men say again and again “well not all men do this thing that actually quite a few men totally did, feel sorry for me”.  While I do feel sorry for them, truly (as a conservative person I know it sux to be always held accountable for things you didn’t do) at the same time it feels like this huge terrible double standard.  Women are not only all held accountable for things other women did (let’s be honest, at least some women are cockteases and some don’t put out that much and others have cheated on guys and gotten pregnant without permission and made men pay child support for kids that weren’t even theirs and all manner of scumbaggery) we’re held accountable for things that are totally made up, like that we’re out to provoke men so we can turn them down and laugh.  Even as the same time men demand a pass from us even considering they could potentially do things that really quite a lot of other men actually did.

What it boils down to is this – I simply do not believe that men are that dumb.  I wrote a big long thing about that concept but long story short, I think a fair number of men embrace stupidity as a defense when in reality they just want to do what they want to do whenever and however.  And a healthy chunk of men get off on doing stuff to women that women don’t like.  A healthy chunk more don’t get off on it, but do feel entitled to push the envelope as far as they can – bullying, manipulating, guilt-tripping – women into sexual situations that they don’t want to be in or into agreeing to sexual experiences they have no interest in.  And that is yuck.

If you sit next to a woman on an empty bus in such a way that she cannot leave without climbing over you and start demanding her phone number, uncool.  If you’re asking a woman out and ignoring her body language ~regardless of how she is dressed~, uncool.  If you corner a woman anywhere and continue talking to her if she seems uninterested, even if you’re in public, uncool.  These things aren’t sexual assault.  Of course they’re not.  And it’s wrong that some women have tried to conflate the two.  It’s wrong that men are made to feel like they can’t do anything right and are getting mixed messages from society and from women at large.  But they are still yuck!

Please, if you would be so kind, my dudes, please keep in mind that women feel uncomfortable in situations men don’t, because sexual assault happens and most of us are tinier than most of you.  It’s not because we’re playing games, it’s not because we’re being meanies and snickering over withholding things from you that you desire, like our time and attention and our phone numbers.  It’s because we’re scared, and we all have reason to be.  Some of us have more reason to be than others.

Sexual assault is by any reasonable metric a worse thing to endure than feeling a little butthurt over gender stereotypes.  Stereotypes suck, but they’re words, and I’m told words don’t really hurt like sticks and stones and unwelcome gropes.

Thus, it’s not only ok, but a necessity for some of us girl-type-people to push back on that now and then, even if it reduces my “cool chick factor” by some percent.   Even if it makes my conservative man buds scratch their heads.  That’s why I keep the “Feminist” in my name even though a lot of people take umbrage at a conservative feminist.  I’m a woman and I advocate for women and my needs/wants/hopes/desires and other womens’ needs/wants/hopes/desires do not always mesh identically with the needs/wants/hopes/desires of men, utterly aside from political stuff.  At times women, even supercool conservative women, need to advocate for a position of gender-based reality that transcends inexact political definitions.

Because with so many things, the extremes on both ends are ridiculous and incorrect and the truth is somewhere in between.

* At least till such a point in time as women become more accustomed to, and comfortable with, the idea of being pursuers rather than the pursued.  Personally I’m not there yet.






fear and loathing

fear and loathing

The question on the table is this – what are conservatives so afraid of?

My concern regarding the direction the liberal movement is headed is a theme I’ve harped on a lot recently. I believe that fear of the left is the primary driving force underlying conservatism right now (quibbles over tariffs and Ayn Rand kinda take a back seat to existential angst) and when I’ve said this, several people have blinked at me curiously and wondered why. I decided it’s too big a question for me to try and answer in a comments section or a tweet in between making my children lunch and walking the dog and doing the laundry. It deserves a slow and thoughtful response, not a rushed one. It deserves a thinkpiece.

So here we go. Thinkpiece powers, activate!

People – the blinky ones – claim to want specifics. They expect, and some even demand, specifics from me, specific instances to support my claim that conservatives are scared of liberals and further, that they have valid reason to be.  

The trouble is, I don’t think that understanding and empathy is really the driving force behind this request. I think these people want specifics so they can disprove what I’m saying. Because by and large, that has been my experience, arguing with liberals. They ask for specifics and examples so they can trap me into arguments about namby pamby details instead of listening to what I’m really trying to say.  (Indeed, I suspect this is why a good many commenters on my fave site Ordinary often engage in drawn-out exchanges where no one will commit to a position, instead trading bizarre cryptic statements and non-committal Socratic-Method-y questions back and forth until I lose interest and stop reading.) These requests for specifics are not made in good faith, not to further understanding, but to mock, diminish, and belittle my examples so they can undermine my case, even if only in their own minds. They demand specifics only so they can assure themselves that I am crazy or overly sensitive or rabidly partisan.

I am none of those things, so I’m going to vault over the pit of punji sticks entirely and decline. I refuse to give specifics because I refuse to get sucked into an argument about specifics. Instead, I humbly request that any liberals who are reading this, take a look around and using that famed liberal empathy, try to put yourself in the shoes of a conservative – even someone only just barely the smallest bit conservative like me – and imagine how YOU would feel if you were us. And if you really really can’t do that, really can’t conjure up even a drop of empathy, think about that, consider what THAT means. A person who you actually kind of know, if only just a little, is standing in front of you saying “I am scared of the people you’re associating yourself with” and you cannot find any reason other than misguided paranoia at best, outright lies at worst. A person who you actually kind of know is asking for your compassion and understanding and you are demanding specifics not so you can better understand them, but so you can debunk their claims. A person you actually kind of know is trying to share their experience with you but you really cannot find any common ground, cannot conjure any sympathy or empathy for millions of your fellow human beings and so have written them off as liars or lunatics. Suffice it to say I have a firm belief based on my own personal experience and observation that many if not most conservative people in America today are scared of the left for what I consider to be entirely valid reasons. And the few who aren’t are so complicit in the system as it is that they may as well be of the left themselves.

What am I so afraid of? Not specific instances, but in generic terms?

I believe that humans are flawed and imperfect, capable of both incredible good and incredible evil. Humans are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak. Despite this, I like people. I enjoy them. I am one myself, I’m occasionally surprised to recall. I’m neither cynic nor a curmudgeon and I remain ever optimistic and hopeful that we’re going to get this silly misunderstanding worked out between us.*  

I’m brimming over with tolerance and camaraderie for my fellow humans of all walks of life, ethnicities, religions, and creeds. My level of cheer on a good day is Pollyanna and on a bad day is Little Orphan Annie. Regardless of whether we agree all the time, I like you and I like talking to you. I treasure our friendship. In the interest of full disclosure, a couple of you I could probably do without, but I don’t HATE you, not even a little.

But delusional I am not. Historically, the human story has been one of horrifying violence and cruelty. If there’s a Bad Thing you can envision, some human somewhere has done it already and lots of others are thinking about doing it right this very minute. Even without the human awfulness factor coming into play, life is hard and will always BE hard because the world itself is out to kill you. Mother Nature is sending cold temperatures and wild animals and solar radiation and bees and starvation and bacteria at you from every direction. Gravity in the wrong place at the wrong time can kill you. Even your own body can kill you (take my word for it, my own body is attacking itself remorselessly even as we speak.)

And yet despite people being these fundamentally depraved, inherently awful critters, despite the very universe itself plotting your demise, humanity is on a trajectory towards better. Things started off terrible in this ol’ world and were terrible for quite some time, but only just recently things have gotten fantastically, unimaginably better. Not only would Og the Caveman be blown away by our world as it is, even people born just a generation ago would be amazed by the lives we are blessed to have. The poorest Americans have a better quality of life than the richest Americans two hundred, one hundred, even just 50 years ago. Thomas Jefferson’s wife died of mastitis. Calvin Coolidge’s son died from a blister on his foot. John and Jackie Kennedy lost a premature son who would have lived had he been born today. By any metric short of perfection, humans who are alive right here right now, even in the worst of situations, are the absolute luckiest sons of bitches who have ever lived. Just because we have painkillers, if for no other reason.

I have a client who is about 20 years younger than me. She told me her grandfather was a professional bicycle racer. Like, he literally made a living racing bicycles. My grandfather rode a horse to school. His feet were deformed because his shoes didn’t fit him as a child and he probably couldn’t have ridden a bike if he wanted to. His younger brother died of the Spanish flu and he himself nearly died in a blizzard – saved only by that trusty horse, believe it or not.  

This happened in 20 years’ time.

America is so fucking awesome it is mind boggling. Modernity is so fucking awesome it is mind boggling. We have freedom and video streaming on demand. Everything is like Disneyland and Christmastime all rolled into one. I have a tiny computer I carry with me everywhere. I have five children and none of them died. In my fridge I have Dr. Pepper which is my favorite food in the whole wide world.  A can of liquid sugar is my favorite food in the world and I can have it whenever I want to. America gave us those things.

So what am I so afraid of?  

I’m afraid you people are going to mess it up.  

Remember the thing where people are capable both of incredible good and incredible evil? Well, the biggest danger of humanity lies in the fact that most incredible evil has been done by those who believe themselves to be doing incredible good. No one ever rode out on a pogrom in the middle of the night thinking that they were the bad guys and they were going out to get innocent victims. They believe they are going out to get the bad people and that all actions are justified because good needs to conquer evil.  

I have come to believe that there’s a culture war going on  – a real one, not the Kabuki theater that Democrats and Republicans have played at since the turn of the 20th century – and conservatives have been unwittingly drafted to play the bad guys. (Gee, thanks, Republican milquetoasts, for taking part in this sham so you could have the illusion of political power for a little while longer.) In this culture war, conservatives are allegedly Darth Vader, the Nazis, Panem, Lord Voldemort, and the Handmaid’s Tale villains all rolled into one. I personally believe that this culture war is obvious and self-evident and that liberals, even liberals I really really like a super whole lot, to some extent buy into the concept. They are the good guys, they are the future, that the right and proper final evolution of human culture will look exactly like what they envision the perfect society should look like, and in order for this beautiful day to dawn, conservatives have to go.

In short, liberals believe they believe they are not only good, but immune from evil. Because they believe they ARE good – not just a person who is good, but that they actually ARE Good, that liberal people are the human embodiment of Good Itself.  They believe their vision of the future represents what an ideal human culture should look like, they believe that they know how to get to that ideal culture that they envision and they believe that I am standing in their way.  Liberals believe that I AM Evil and they are not only immune from evil, but that they are Good.

How can this story have a happy ending – at least for me?

I see signs – and again, I don’t think these signs are anything less than fully obvious – that forces are in motion to turn conservatives into a despised minority (if they aren’t one already, which I’m not entirely sure that they aren’t). Historically speaking, things don’t go well for the despised minority, especially when the despised minority is perceived to have wealth or privilege that they don’t deserve and that others believe they deserve more. People have been murdered for wearing eyeglasses or owning old books (I will be doubly dead) based on this toxic idea. And yeah maybe you’re right, maybe this won’t happen tomorrow. I’ll grant you that. But I don’t worry just for myself, but for my children, who also wear glasses and even read books on occasion, when I force them to by confiscating their video games. Maybe these changes won’t happen in our lifetime, but if this myth where conservative people are the root of all evil continues to spread unchecked, it will happen eventually. Because humans are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak.

I have a dear friend who’s a truly wonderful person. She’s so fabulous that she adopted an HIV positive orphan from the Ukraine and when she found out that the little one had a best friend at the orphanage, she adopted a second HIV-positive Ukrainian orphan so they could stay together. She’s an amazing, amazing person; I admire her so much. But she has stated openly and repeatedly that she would not help Christians if they were being persecuted unless it was first demonstrated “they weren’t hurting anyone with their beliefs any more”. She would not take action to prevent people, human people, from being persecuted unless they changed their beliefs to be in line with hers. Not their actions, their BELIEFS. She is an otherwise supremely excellent person (better than me, for sure) and yet she has stated this viewpoint repeatedly, thoroughly, and with crystal clarity. I did not mistake her; in fact I asked her to clarify her position, and she did. Many other equally good people I know agreed with her, applauded her. Many other equally good people I know expressed similar sentiments on multiple occasions.

This is not normal.

This was years before Trump. Harsh and vicious liberal rhetoric is not caused by people being upset over Trump. Trump was caused by harsh and vicious liberal rhetoric.

Scratch that, because it ISN’T liberal. The core beliefs I thought being a liberal entailed, the concepts I embraced when I was 14 years old and first starting to understand politics, the philosophies that I’ve spent 35 years studying, the stuff I still fully believe in to this very day that keeps me from being a Republican, are gone. Belief in free speech and free religion and free assembly. Belief in the rights of an individual to live the way they want and love who they want and to control their own body even when you don’t like how they live or who they love or what they put into their body. Tolerance, true tolerance (fun fact, tolerance is NOT just tolerating people you like and agree with). Understanding that there are no good people or evil people, that we’re all products of our DNA and environments and all human action needs to be viewed in that light, with compassion and empathy. Trying to understand people’s behavior based on our commonalities as humans rather than our differences as tribes. Those things are gone.

When I call liberalism on the telephone looking for those things it’s all like “New Line, Who Dis?”.

 What liberalism was is dead and what has replaced it is not only ugly, it is utterly, completely and totally illiberal. Liberalism used to be about nurturing the best impulses human beings have and understanding that sometimes it’s hard to nurture our fine impulses since we’re all selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even good folks have a nasty Puritan streak. So we need to codify our finest impulses into incorruptible laws and well-designed systems rather than relying upon fine impulses. The liberal movement in 2019 is not only playing to the worst, very worst impulses that human beings have, it also appears wants to tear down legal protections and cultural touchstones that stand in the way of that agenda. And the good and awesome liberals out there are snoring at the wheel, dreaming of Burning Man or maybe visiting Austin, not even seeming to realize that the vision we once shared is gone. What you guys are supporting and voting for now is something entirely different that I really don’t believe you actually want.

Please wake up. Wake up!! Because you are so much better than this. You are the reason I’ve been proud to identify as a liberal for all these years. You are the reason I spent years begging and pleading and cajoling my fellow libertarians not to get too chummy with conservatives because our natural allies were liberals. You are better than what you’re becoming and you have to stop it because you’re the only ones who have the power to do it and you have to act fast because now is the only time it can be stopped. By the time these things are underway, it is too late to stop them. You may think I’m wrong and paranoid but this is the part of the movie where the crazy old scientist no one wants to listen to is saying “You have got to stop injecting that adorable baby gorilla with HGH, testosterone, and radioactive waste because it’s only going to get bigger.”

I am afraid you people are going to mess it up.

And setting the threat of actual violence aside, because I know you don’t believe that could happen, that the adorable baby gorilla you cradle so lovingly in your arms could never possibly grow up and be worse than Dick Cheney. Set it aside for now and focus on the practical elements instead. The reason I am an economic conservative is because I believe that free markets (and just for the record, what we have now is very far from a free market economy; I don’t like our present economy any better than you do) really truly are better for everyone than managed economies. I believe free market economies create more opportunities for women, minorities, and the poor than managed economies. I believe free market economies create exponentially more wealth for exponentially more people even though it isn’t “fairly” distributed. Managed economies are like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, giving over power to a handful of corrupted businessmen and bureaucrats who are going to be just as self-interested as ever they were, because humans are inherently self-interested. I believe that moving towards a socialist, managed economy will bring about less freedom, less prosperity, less technological innovation, less access to health care and other necessities than a free market could bring. It will also make the poor poorer in the end, because I believe, strongly, with every fiber of my being that a rising tide really does raise all boats. I believe even more so that a minimum basic income will serve to simply create a permanent underclass from which people like me, barely hanging onto the lower middle class with the very tips of my fingernails, will never be able to emerge.

You’re going to kill what has provided me, an Actual Poor Person, with a lifestyle that the richest man on the planet a hundred years ago could only dream of, as surely as the greedy farmer in the story killed the goose who laid the golden eggs.

And you’re going to do it because things aren’t perfect, aren’t equal, aren’t fair.  They’re more perfect than ever, more equal than ever, and fairer than ever, but they aren’t as perfect, equal, and fair as you imagine they could be if only you were allowed to run the world. Funny thing is, speaking as an Actual Poor Person, I don’t care about “fair.” I don’t care about “inequality” and nor should you. If we are all better off than we would be otherwise, what does it matter if Paris Hilton has too much money and I don’t have quite enough? Because I assure you, even in a socialist paradise, there will still be Paris Hiltons gadding about, there will still be inequality, because all systems are run by people and people are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak. Collectivism has failed everywhere it’s been tried because people are selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak. The socialism you claim to want is only going to protect the rich at the expense of the rest of us. The freedom that has given me the ability to run my own life and own my own body inasmuch as I can, will vanish and others – the king or the prefect or the Politburo will be making essential decisions for me.

Same as it ever was.  

Utopia is not an option.  There is no ending where the bad conservatives are eradicated and the glorious socialist future of humankind dawns bright and free of trouble.  Because even in the glorious socialist future you’re still gonna be surrounded by people, selfish, tribalistic, xenophobic, superior, mean-spirited, and even the good ones have a nasty Puritan streak.  

Even the liberal ones do.

*But I’m still holding onto that case of Chef Boyardee ravioli in my cupboard just in case.   

Intersectionality is impossible

Intersectionality is impossible

Or, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

I wrote a recent piece about Sarah Sanders in which I took Jimmy Kimmel to task for saying she was doomed to live in a craft store (in a sexist way).  Someone was annoyed that I didn’t include a mention of boys who crochet/embroider in my piece about the grossness of men using domestic words to insult powerful women.  (The piece was not about crafting and it was not about men, either; it was about a type of specific abuse that is heaped onto powerful women.)

I wrote a very damn fine piece about Wonder Woman in which I complained that we were valuing pretend comic book characters so much that real women who lived real lives were being overlooked, even forgotten.  Someone was annoyed because I didn’t give adequate representation to women who don’t fit a certain gender stereotype growing up.  (An untrue charge, and I didn’t fit that gender stereotype growing up either, but the piece wasn’t about that and if I’d stopped in the middle to go into a diatribe about gender stereotypes, my piece would have completely sucked.)

I wrote a piece about Fifty Shades of Grey through the lens of having endured a controlling relationship and was attacked in the comments for not being sensitive enough to the concerns of people who are into BDSM (Sadly, I am not making this up, and had I paused in the middle to add several paragraphs about how Fifty Shades is not representative of the “healthy” attitudes of BDSM participants – if I thought that BDSM attitudes were healthy, which I don’t – again, it would have totally ruined the flow of the piece.)

It seems that nowadays people seem to want to demand that every viewpoint takes into account every other viewpoint before it can be publicly shared.  Regardless of how terrible a piece of writing that consisted of 80% disclaimers and 20% actual content would be, writers are supposed to give a shout out to every minority group out there every time they write anything.  Maybe this would be ok if there was some sort of set limit on the amount of victim groups that existed, but they invent new ones every day, it seems, and we’re supposed to give equal credence to them all.  (The BDSM guy felt fully justified playing his victim card to bitch at a woman who actually had experienced abusive behavior.)

And you know what I say to all that – SHUT THE EFF UP.

Because you know the one group who seems to get it in the rear every time – regular plain old everyday women.  Women are supposed to be sensitive to everyone’s needs.  That’s the expectation here.  That is the demand.  Our needs are supposed to be sublimated to everyone else’s on pretty much every conceivable basis.  If we’re thin or pretty or rich or traditionally feminine or straight or were cheerleaders growing up or even if we are none of those things and are simply average and are willing to admit we’re not suffering every moment of every day, we are told time and again that our experiences don’t matter due to our “privilege”.  We haven’t suffered enough to have an opinion.  We should prioritize the needs of people who are less privileged than we are, even though “privilege” oftentimes carries with it an entirely different set of problems and we’ve simply suffered in a different set of ways.

Our experiences have meaning and value too and we have the right to express them WITHOUT YOUR INPUT – without the shaming, the calling out, the attempts at emotional blackmail and public humiliation – even if you think we have it like, so totally way easier than you.  Because quite frankly, you don’t know shit about my experience as a woman like me if you are NOT a woman like me.  Assume nothing about what I think and feel.

Regular plain old everyday women are not allowed to talk about what it means to be a regular plain old everyday woman without including a shout out every possible unhappiness that any other of the 8 billion people on Planet Earth may have encountered.  My experience as a victim of psychological manipulation was to at least one person, not good enough – I should have taken his feelings as a MALE BDSM fan into account when I wrote an essay about my own personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  Complaining about sexist treatment of Sarah Sanders at the hands of men should not be allowed because some boys like to crochet.  You see, ladies, we are supposed to sublimate ourselves EVEN TO MEN because the men’s rights movement is just another group of a-holes trying to get their piece of the victimhood pie.

There’s not even a WORD for us any more.  That’s why I have to use 5 words to describe who and what we are.  Regular plain old everyday women.  We’re being told that women have penises and XY chromosomes, that women don’t have periods or have babies or breastfeed, that basically any biological or cultural definition previously used to describe us does no longer apply.  We’re being told that being a woman amounts to some sort of dress-up club that anyone can join.  And you know what, maybe that’s all true, I have no problem with trans people.  I’ll say again, very very clearly – I have no problem with trans people.  You do you.  But WHAT ABOUT ME?  What about my daughter, my mother, my sister?  Who are we?  What is the word for a woman who was born with two X chromosomes, specifically?   Black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, straight, lesbian – what is the word for those of us human beings who were born with two X chromosomes?

There isn’t one that hasn’t been co-opted by someone else.  There isn’t one that somebody or another doesn’t find problematic.


And the reason why we are the ones being erased is because we regular plain old everyday women are, at our very core, pretty freaking nice.  We don’t WANT to hurt anyone’s feelings.  We want to make everyone happy and make sure everyone is included but folks keep coming up with more and more people to include and our place at the table has shrunk away to nothing.  And no one is advocating for us.  No one will advocate for us.  They’ll only take up more and more of our space until they’ve taken everything like a humongous jerk manspreading himself all over the subway.  There will be no space left for regular plain old everyday women.  All this despite the fact that regular plain old everyday women have endured, historically, and still endure an awful lot of BS and abuse and the world keeps coming up with new ways to heap BS and abuse onto us.

If I write something and I haven’t represented you in this thing I’ve written, well, maybe-just-maybe I am not writing for you or about you, mmmkay?  Maybe-just-maybe I am writing for human beings who happen to have a life experience fairly close to my own.  Or maybe-just-maybe I think my life experience is somehow unique or interesting or informative even to others who DON’T have that life experience.  Whatever.  If you don’t relate to what I say, if you think I’ve forgotten something or excluded someone, then by all means write your own piece that better represents your version of the world and relays your own human experience.  I am writing about my unique experience and I do this because I believe it may be helpful or interesting to others in some way.

Personally, I love reading about people with different lives than me.  I love reading about what their lives are like, and pondering the many ways we are different and the many ways we are the same.  I would NEV-VER, and I mean NEVER, want to horn in on someone else relaying a story of their life to tell them “Well achtually, I couldn’t help but notice, you didn’t talk about ME, like AT ALL, and I was wondering when you were going to get to the part that was about me?”  First of all because it’s incredibly rude to do that, but secondly because it would put a damper on the story they were telling!  If I stopped them in the middle of their story to demand they pause to tell MY story, that would end up being a pretty lousy narrative, now wouldn’t it??

There is NO WAY that any given thinkpiece or memoir or coming-of-age tale can possibly include a shout out to every marginalized group.  There just isn’t.  Intersectionality is impossible, at least the way they’re asking us to do it.  Understanding and compassion isn’t enough anymore, we have to be vocal cheerleaders for everyone else’s oppression.  But every person cannot carry the banner of representation for every other person constantly.  There’s not enough hours in the day and not only that, it makes for bad writing (isn’t there enough of that in the world already?)

I’m wasting my time scribbling things because I want to communicate some ideas for and to other women that I don’t see anyone else communicating right now.  I want to offer a vision of a different and better feminism because I believe it is of critical import for the good of other women like me, to do so.  Because I don’t think regular plain old everyday women deserve to be erased, to continue being put last by every other person on Planet Earth and that really does seem to be the endgame of some of this intersectionality jazz.  Erasure.

Women have a right to exist and communicate our experiences to one another without being constantly interrupted by people who want to steal our spotlight.   I’m gonna keep exercising my rights and fighting for the rights of other women as long as I can.

Because this vision of intersectionality is impossible unless it comes at the expense of somebody, and maybe for once, it could be somebody other than women footing the bill.


Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

I’ve gotten to wondering lately if fiction could be having a negative effect on how we perceive one another.

We’re fortunate to live in a fiction-rich time. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that human beings have never consumed as much fiction as they are consuming right here and now. Overall I think this is a good thing; I not only love fiction myself (both reading and writing it) but I also think fiction can serve as a window into the minds of other people. Fiction allows us to understand the thoughts, emotions, and actions of others in a deeper way than just trying to sympathize with theoretical people in a theoretical way.  

But just because some of something is good for us, doesn’t mean more is necessarily better.  A person can overdose on vitamins or even water.  And just because something nourishes us in one form, doesn’t mean all its forms it will be equally beneficial. Our prehistoric ancestors ate some grass seeds we now call wheat, but modern farmers have bred it so much that the proteins in it now cause some people celiac disease.  As technology has grown we process this wheat so highly that it’s become devoid of nutrients and fiber – eating too much refined white flour may cut short our lifespan even if we tolerate wheat perfectly.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Much of what passes for fiction nowadays is not the healthy and nutritious whole grain wheat of our ancestors, chewy and filling, taking a long time to digest. Our modern fiction is highly refined and processed. It tastes delicious and it’s all too easy to overindulge.

And it is EVERYWHERE, in everyone’s face constantly. We read books and watch tv and listen to music and play video games and all of it has a narrative arc. We even communicate with each other using a constant stream of fictional metaphors.  Darmok at Tenagra is no joke – try to communicate with someone without either of you using the occasional pop- or classic- culture reference. It’s next to impossible.

At no point in human history have human beings ever consumed so much fiction, and a lot of what we consume is the equivalent of Little Debbie Snack Cakes.

My son, who’s also a writer, gave me a gag gift for Christmas this year.  It was a book about scriptwriting called “Save The Cat”.  It’s basically a set of directions on how to take a sack of delicious whole grain fiction and grind it into sugary, easily digestible pap. It’s not much of a leap to say that “Save The Cat” is at least partially responsible for the grist mill of mediocrity that Hollywood has become the last decade or so.

One of the elements of the “Save The Cat” approach to storytelling is the idea of a catalyst.  A catalyst is a triggering event that causes a character to take action or change. Walter White’s catalyst is getting cancer. Luke Skywalker’s catalyst is seeing a recording of Princess Leia. Buffy becomes the chosen one.  Harry Potter gets a letter from Hogwarts.  You get it. The idea of the catalyst is ascendant in fiction right now.

Some might call a catalyst character development, but I’m not sure it really is.  Because the catalyst appears to have a lot more to do with plot than character. For John Wick, his catalyst is of course the bad guys killing his dog. John Wick’s character transformation, on the other hand, actually appears to have happened before the movie ever started – he fell in love and decided to get out of the bad guy biz. That is a character transformation. Him going on a killing spree is the result of a plot device – the catalyst.

So I believe a catalyst and a character transformation are two different things entirely. Walter White does experience a character transformation, sure.  But it isn’t because he has cancer, it’s because his choices after finding out he has cancer strip away the veneer of a kindly teacher to reveal the bad guy who was always there all along. The catalyst starts the action of the plot, it doesn’t determine a character’s arc.  

Except for when it does.

One of the most popular genres (I’m aware this is not a genre, exactly, but I’ll gladly misuse the term if you agree to forgive me for it) of fiction currently is “The Backstory”.  You know what I mean – you take a well-known character and retrofit a story about an event in their past that will, in one fell swoop, explain why they are the way they are.  In Backstories, the catalyst IS a character transformation.  One minute, a character is one way, but then something happens, usually something bad, and they change into a different character entirely.      

Certainly we’ve all had transformative moments in our life, but I find the idea that any one moment, a day, a week, a month, even an entire childhood could COMPLETELY explain and predict a person’s future behavior to be utter nonsense. I just don’t believe that a single traumatic event (and I’ve had my share, so this is not a position of ignorance) turns a good person into an evil one. In fact, I’ve seen a fair few people with every privilege who’ve never suffered a trauma who are total a-holes.  I don’t believe that humans are a computer program and as such, one bad entry corrupts the database irrevocably. I believe in free will and in redemption and forgiveness and the power of love and I will never stop believing in those things.

There’s a new Joker movie coming out which has been rumored to reveal the Joker’s backstory. I find this concept both mindnumbingly boring for me as a viewer, and as a writer, ridiculous. Because I don’t WANT to know the Joker’s backstory. It’s scarier and by far more interesting not to know. After all, as one reviewer of The Dark Knight theorized, maybe nothing happened to the Joker. Maybe he was just a guy who concluded that rules and morality didn’t matter so much. I like that take much better. Whether something bad happened to him or not, the Joker is the Joker because he decided to become the Joker. That alone makes him a terrifying figure – and also sets him apart from Batman, who was supposedly created by the trauma of his parents’ murder. 

Giving the Joker some relatable backstory about a rough childhood and a traumatic event that transformed him actually diminishes the narrative punch of the character, because the Joker is the fictional embodiment of people using free will to sow seeds of chaos and to undermine the social order. If he has some deep underlying psychological reason for doing so, if it’s really not his decision, if he was subject to forces beyond his control, rather than asking an interesting question about the consequences of free will, doesn’t that completely undermine the notion of free will all together? And worse, doesn’t having a bad guy who can’t control himself undermine the concept of redemption? If someone chooses evil, they can choose good and be redeemed. But a flawed computer program running amok? Batman may as well kill the Joker like a mad dog, because there could be no saving him anyway. There’s little room for redemption and forgiveness in a story where every bad guy has a reason why he is the way he is.

It’s not only bad guys who get the backstory treatment. One of the most infuriating backstories for me was that of Ned Flanders, the kindly Christian neighbor of the Simpsons. He was one of the few non-hypocritical Christian characters on tv and as someone who has always been treated very well by Christian friends and neighbors, his character rang very true to me. But eventually the Backstory Brigade came along, and Ned was revealed to only be nice because his parents had been beatniks whose lax parenting caused Little Neddy to be warped. So they took him to a psychologist who warped him even more. Ned Flanders was only ever good because he had repressed his anger since childhood. Ned Flanders was only ever good because he was a broken and warped person. I mean, I don’t even know what to do with that – surely the writers of the Simpsons cannot be saying that an unusually nice person is unusually nice only because they’re mentally ill, can they?

I guess so, because they did.

So if the Joker is only bad because something bad happened to him, and Ned Flanders is good because something bad happened to him, then haven’t the words “good” and “bad” lost all meaning? How can any of us be held responsible for being bad, or given credit for being good, if all we are is conscienceless computer programs easily corrupted by a traumatic childhood? If we have no free will to begin with, how can evil even BE evil, and how can good even be good? If we’re broken irrevocably when we’re damaged, and we’re all damaged eventually in some way or the other, then how can anyone be a better person. How can anyone ever be redeemed or forgiven? 

It seems a toxic message, or at the very least, a confusing one. And yet we the viewers are downing works of fiction containing this messaging one after the other just like we’re eating a can of Pringles or something.  

We live in a time of Internet mobs running amok. I personally find Internet mobs deeply troubling even when I agree with their overall premise. Because Internet mobs invariably compress the actions of complicated and flawed humans – humans who get tired and sick and angry and sad and impulsive and drunk and have PMS sometimes speaking from extensive personal experience – into a single moment in time. Rather than grant even the slightest credit for the many wonderful things a person done and who they are 99.99% of the time, Internet mobs punish a person for an impulsive action (often undertaken at a personal low point) in perpetuity, in every arena of their life. People who have successfully worked for companies for years get fired for Tweets that took them 10 seconds to write. People lose their livelihoods over offhand remarks that a particular of group of people don’t happen to agree with even if the majority of everyone else doesn’t have a problem with it.

And while this may be me looking for patterns in chaos as I am wont to do, I’m wondering if our steady diet of highly refined fiction has anything to do with it.  Maybe we’ve seen one too many Jokers turned from a person to a monster in one fell traumatic swoop and we’ve seen too many Flanders who are only good because they’re warped, to believe in redemption and forgiveness any more. Maybe we’re looking around us and not seeing human beings with free will who made a mistake and can make different choices in the future. Maybe we’re looking around and seeing the Joker in each other, forever broken, permanently warped, our faces stretched in identical horrible grins. The second a Flanders falls, even if s/he’s been a Flanders every second of every hour of every minute of every day up till then, we cannot take a chance on forgiving, on waiting to see if they’ll be redeemed. They need to be either stuck into Arkham or run out of town on a rail. Because once you go black, you never go back.

Here’s the part of my piece where if I was following the mindset of “Save The Cat” I would unfurl some grand plan to solve this problem I just totally made up. So what would I do about it, anyway?  I would do precisely nothin’. I’d not do a thing. You can’t unring a bell. Marshall McLuhan, I ain’t. Not every problem needs a solution. I’m sure people’s brains were affected in unexpected ways when the Internet was invented and TV was invented and radio and dime store novels and Shakespeare plays and this chain runs all the way back to the first cave paintings probably. Technology affects people in many ways, some of which are negative, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace it.

But I do think it’s something worth thinking about.  

We’re doing an experiment, trying something that’s never been done before in history.  We’re immersing ourselves in massive amounts of fiction from birth till death.  Not challenging, thoughtful, wise fiction, either. We’re lying on the couch, wallowing in our own crapulence, stuffing our faces with lazy, cheap, white flour fiction. It seems within the realm of possible to me that it could have a psychological impact. Can I change it, no, and I wouldn’t try, but it seems worthy of consideration, and maybe even a little pushback against those who see every person they meet as a potential Joker.

Personally, I prefer to define myself by my successes, not by my traumas and my failures. I screw up, I get screwed over, but I pick myself up and start all over again, a little wiser for the experience. That’s part of being human instead of a fictional character. We try our best and get it wrong a lot, but there’s always room for improvement.

Our story arc is messy, there are no neat and pretty bows that our lives are tied into at the end of the story. But this is true for everyone.  So lower the bar, expect imperfection, disperse the mob, and quit seeing people as either flawless paragons of virtue or irredeemably fallen villains. Life is not a tv show and it’s not a comic book.