Tag Archives: society

Putting your best click forward

The quote kind of says it all, doesn’t it?  There are days when the sheer mass of dumb zipping gap-mouthed through cyberspace makes one long for the days when the reach of a person’s stupidity could be contained to his immediate family and circle of friends (or, if he was a politician, to his discouraged constituency).  For a sobering majority, Internet access has emboldened us to act like the digital equivalent of a chimpanzee flinging his diaper against the wall.  I suppose certain individuals can be so incredibly lonely and frustrated that negative attention can provide a temporary relief from the emptiness – that someone acknowledged their existence, even if it was solely with four-letter words.  Trying to picture oneself in that position, one tends to wonder why it wouldn’t be more productive and ultimately satisfying to seek positive reinforcement?  Wiccans believe in the principle that whatever you put out into the world you get back threefold – accepting that as a starting point, does the aforementioned chimpanzee relish the prospect of three times the volume of excrement flying back at him?

It’s been observed that in the 21st Century we are all living two lives:  our “real” life and our digital one.  Employers are keen to evaluate the online activity of potential hires as an equal measure of a person’s character (if a promising, experienced and brilliantly-credentialed candidate interviews well but spends his nights harassing celebrities on Twitter, is that someone you want as a representative of your company?)  I don’t see the distinction in how we should act in one or the other.  We are both – why do we want to be a jackass in one of them?  The digital life gives you the chance to create a strong identity for yourself, particularly since we are all much wittier when we have the chance to think about what we’re typing before we post it.  The digital life must be lived consciously, and as a result lets you simply be, free of the hesitations, embarrassments, second-guessing and split-second gaffes that can accompany real-life interactions.  You can be clearer, more erudite, more thoughtful and more engaging.  You have a clean slate, especially when you choose to be anonymous.  My blogging friend East Bay Writer doesn’t post her name or any details of who she is, and tales of her workplace are related with clever pseudonyms.  You’d think that without the burden of identity, she has license to be as brutally snarky as she wants, cutting enemies down left and right and railing against the world with little fear of consequence.  But she doesn’t.  She still crafts a thoughtful, engaging and positive persona, and readers respond to this positivity in kind.  Blogging pals Tele, Samir, Pat and Evan use their real names like I do but still, like EBW, remain true to the goal of creating a positive online identity.  Contrast this approach to that of any number of anonymous Internet trolls who opt for the darker path and then think about who you’d rather spend time with – I guarantee it won’t take longer than a second to decide.

Our society has come to measure success in decibels, resulting in a level of discourse that makes Beavis and Butt-head look like Rhodes scholars in comparison.  The example being set by many of those in the spotlight is that you need not be correct, learned or even particularly interesting, so long as you can yell insults at just the right moment.  Naturally, people who don’t have nationally syndicated television shows want a piece of this action too, even if it’s as “trollguy69” on an obscure message board devoted to the third season of Stargate: Atlantis.  The trouble is, a flurry of “LOL” responses are the most fleeting of acclaim, forgotten the instant they are posted, and certainly not anything you can build on.  Ideas resonate and linger; background noise is just that.  Given the option I’d rather try to put something out there that raises the bar, even if it’s to a limited audience, and even if I’m occasionally just wrong.  If people are going to hate my guts for what I have to say, I’d rather they hate me for a reasonable point I articulated with intelligence instead of being able to dismiss me because my grammar was all over the map or I mistook a basic fact of existence (otherwise known as the “OMG Lord of the Rings is a total rip-off of Harry Potter!!!” fail).

The world simply would not function if the level of idiocy represented in the digital space was an accurate measure of the intellectual capacity of our entire species.  Somehow the trains still manage to run on time and people still live healthy, productive lives.  The only conclusion one can draw is that what we see online is certain people acting out of character, indulging their id for some unfathomable sense of gratification.  What is somewhat reassuring is that in the grand scheme the Internet is still a technological baby, and accordingly, we tend to act like babies on it.  Eventually what amused us as babies is embarrassing to us as teens and positively unthinkable as adults.  We will grow, and graduate, and get better at using it to advance our collective humanity.  Isn’t it preferable to be one of the ones leading the way?  Nothing to LMAO about that.

The last good fight

“Well sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world” – Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska”

“Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’  I agree with the second part.” – William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), Seven

“Nothing baffles the schemes of evil people so much as the calm composure of great souls”Comte de Mirabeau

Warren Kinsella is a former advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and continues to assist the Liberal Party of Ontario during its election campaigns – to put him in West Wing terms, he’s a wartime consigliere.  I read his blog frequently and don’t always agree with him (not to sound like the Dos Equis guy here) but respect him for several reasons:  one of which is that he says liberals should always be full-throated go-for-the-gut liberals, and another is that he believes in the nobility of always fighting for what is important.  (He is the lone liberal voice on Canada’s pathetic Fox News clone Sun News Network, which gives you a sense of his willingness to take the fight to the enemy’s turf.)  The other day he posited that he thought the human race was evil and beyond redemption.  He cited the examples of the Syrian massacre and a particular website which offers video of disturbing violent acts (which I’m not going to link to for obvious reasons).  Clearly, if you want to go down that route, there are thousands of examples more.  It’s one of those arguments that you’ll always find more evidence to support if you need it – like “politicians are corrupt,” “democracy doesn’t work” or “Jersey Shore is a blight on society.”

I don’t subscribe to this thinking, because it’s the easy way out.  (And in fairness to the usually spunky Warren, he could have just been having a bad day or been thinking about the world his kids are growing up in.)  To me, it’s throwing up your hands and surrendering before you even strap on the first shin pad.  It’s saying that principles do not matter, values are not important and attempting to live a civilized, moral life is futile.  It’s looking at the world’s douchebags living high off the hog and wondering why the hell we’re trying so hard not to be them, with the idea that our way is better for the soul, when we’re getting screwed by the universe anyway while they reap the rewards.  Like the worker ant who dutifully and nobly carries food back to the colony day after day only to be scorched to death one sunny afternoon by a smirking brat with a magnifying glass.  But it’s ground that I don’t believe the human race as a whole can afford to concede.  It’s not a world I want to live in.  Indeed, it’s not a world that would live very long.

On Star Trek and its successors, you’d often find the crew visiting planets where everyone wore the same outfit and shared the same opinion.  Absent was the dichotomy that defines humanity – the extremes of light and dark and good and evil that share contradictory space inside the soul.  The same heart that loves one hates another; the same species that cherishes beauty creates ugliness.  But it’s important not to forget that despite the increasing societal obsession with what is worst about us (fostered by media companies trying to scare you into buying things you don’t need), we have truly done some remarkable things in our relatively short time in the cosmos.  We have forged incredible works of art, literature, music.  We have crafted a society of laws and good governance.  We have cured devastating illnesses and been able to shift the focus of our existence from mere survival to the enrichment of our spirit and of our collective consciousness.  We have even taken the tiniest of baby steps away from our world into the endless realm of possibility that lies beyond.  Why, when looking at this evidence, should we continue to base our opinion of ourselves on the abysses rather than the apexes?  Are we really no better than the very worst of us?  Are we all hovering forever on a tipping point of evil, just one fragile breath away from unleashing our inner Hitler?

No goddamn way.  Call it what you will – even dare to call it faith.  But to say humanity is evil and beyond redemption is to admit I am evil and beyond redemption.  And I am better than that.  I know I am.  I know we all are.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece criticizing the conservative moguls funding attack ads against the President of the United States.  I submitted it to The Huffington Post and was surprised that they liked it enough to feature it prominently on their Politics page.  The response was quite staggering, with what I’d say was probably a 3 to 1 ratio of comments supporting what I had to say versus condemning it.  And the ones who condemned it certainly didn’t mince words.  But I don’t regret writing the piece.  It was something that I felt needed to be said, and a lot of people agreed with me.  (Interestingly enough, not that I can claim any responsibility, an article subsequently appeared in Politico where these right-wing sugar daddies are now complaining that they are being picked on, apparently forgetting that one of the tenets of free speech is the right of everyone else to tell you you’re being a dick when you say something they don’t like.)  I’ve accepted that I’ll never be a billionaire or wield the kind of influence over the masses that some really awful people do.  But my voice will always be my own, and that is something that cannot be purchased from anybody else.  And I will continue to use it to advocate the world I want to see, the world I know we can attain, with every single breath, until I can no longer speak.  It’s like that wonderful poem from The Grey:  “Once more into the fray, into the last good fight I’ll ever know.”

The bastards will not grind me down.

I can’t worry about gay marriage; I’m too focused on my own

There is a first-season episode of The West Wing in which a pollster played by John de Lancie advises President Bartlet that he can sew up re-election by supporting a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning, as the numbers indicate that a vast majority of Americans are in favour of such an amendment.  Faced with the prospect of a gut-wrenching policy flip-flop to the dark side, the news is dispiriting to Bartlet’s staff, until another number-cruncher (Marlee Matlin) gives them her figures on how little the issue is of importance to the average voter, and that the total number of people whose vote would actually be swayed on flag-burning alone is insignificant.

This exchange was at the forefront of my mind as I read about President Obama’s announcement of his support for same-sex marriage yesterday.  The people who are so tyrannically obsessed with this issue that their vote hinges on it (the Santorums of the world) were never going to support the president anyway, even if he announced he was cutting taxes on the rich to 0%, declaring Planned Parenthood enemy combatants and appointing Pat Robertson Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  In strictly political terms, the president has lost nothing, energized the liberal base that first elected him, and forced his presumptive opponent into defending bigotry.

All in simply doing the right thing.

I can’t pretend to understand the fervour that drives certain elements of the conservative religious population to spend so much time, energy and money in attacking the LGBT community; I haven’t been to a regular church service since I was nine, and even then it wasn’t exactly one of these old-time fire-and-brimstone parishes either.  Like the lily-livered liberal latte-sipping literati atheist that I am, I believe in treating others as I would like to be treated, and that the consensual relationships of two adults, straight or gay, are none of my damn business.  Frankly, even if I were of the abhorrent mindset to want to dictate to other human beings how they should be permitted to love each other, I don’t know where I’d find a spare moment.  I’m busy working on my own relationship.  I’d say my plain old man-woman marriage is generally a happy one, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t constant effort.  I simply don’t have the time to worry about anyone else’s.

When we think about the complexity of love, its many twists and turns and ups and downs, and its perpetual evolution and change as two people try for decades on end to figure out how to share their lives with each other, it is a difficult enough road without having elements of society, even family, castigating you at every turn – looking askance at the two of you as you walk down the street holding hands, or whispering sarcasm out of earshot as you share a kiss in a tender moment in the park on a sunny afternoon, or smirking smugly after you’ve had a fight.  Love is a journey to be explored, a discovery awaiting each of us as we wind our way through life, and each of us deserves the chance to find and experience the love that we long for.  Who we love forms our identity, and asking our LGBT brothers and sisters to turn away from their natural feelings is like asking them to disconnect part of their soul – condemning them to a slow death of the spirit.  No one deserves that, and I cannot believe it’s what any truly loving god or goddess would desire for their creation.  Nor does the evidence indicate that a broad societal acceptance of same-sex marriage will bring forth any of the apocalyptic visions foretold by the dubious media soothsayers who adore citing nonsensical “slippery slope” arguments such as the forthcoming rise of man-dog, woman-horse, boy-tractor and girl-Cayman Islands holding corporation marriage.

A friend posted on her Facebook status yesterday that she was disappointed in the dearth of common courtesy these days, in the almost complete absence of “please” and “thank you” in our daily interactions.  Whether it’s the economy, sunspots, Mayan prophecies or too much Fox News, the world of 2012 seems stalked, like Winnie the Pooh, by a persistent little thundercloud.  Gloom and a general unpleasantness are humanity’s dominant tone.  I can’t help but wonder if we are obsessing too much over other people’s lives and failing to attend to our own, to the root causes of why we are so unhappy, why our own relationships are struggling.  A man who spews homophobic invective is clearly not smiles and sunshine deep inside, and rather than blaming the same-sex marriage boogeyman for his woes, he needs to take a good, long look at what is lacking in his own soul, at why, instead of trying to make a positive contribution to the world, he simply be hatin’.  What is so wrong with his own marriage, his own life, that he turns that loathing outwards instead of confronting it.  For hatred will not heal self-neglect.

We only make our marriages better by never taking them for granted, and by ensuring that our marriage, and ours alone, is our singular passion.  Our LGBT friends should be able to enjoy the same challenge, the rewards and even the pitfalls that may come with it.  That, I think, is how one preserves the sacred institution of marriage – by making our own an example of the best that it can be, not fretting fruitlessly over whether other people can or can’t get married to the person they love.  It would seem, based on his announcement, that President Obama feels the same way.

To be or not to be… hopeful

“If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.” – Margaret Thatcher (great line regardless of whether you supported her or not)

We have a conscious choice to make when we start writing anything, whether to be positive or negative.  Given the near infinite flexibility of words to create a specific tonality, even one phrase out of place, one ill-timed sarcastic barb, can radically alter the message we are trying to send.  If one tends toward the cynical, toward an overwhelming frustration with the way of the world and humanity’s seeming unwillingness to get its collective act together, keeping an upbeat theme is that much harder.  Throwing up one’s hands and then crapping phonetically over everything that rubs you the wrong way is the escape valve for the bitter, the apathetic and the cowardly.  One can liken optimism somewhat to the idea of faith, in the steadfast committal to believe in something in spite of physical evidence to the contrary.  Human beings are tremendously flawed creatures capable of doing terrible, unspeakable things to each other, but do I want to live my entire life resigned to accepting the limits of our collective potential being defined by the worst of us?  Must we always be forced to play in the dirt by those who choose to wallow there?

Criticism is a word with almost universally negative connotations, because in the age of the Internet, where “coolguy69” can dump polemics of visceral hatred (usually not phrased or even spelled as eloquently) on websites and message boards around the world and skulk back to his mother’s basement free of the responsibility of standing behind his words, we’ve forgotten that the point of criticism is, fundamentally, to offer suggestions for improvement.  Snark gets noticed – when dealing with attention spans so overwhelmed by sheer volume of input they’ve been reduced to microseconds, the quick jab with the blade garners the headline and the retweet, instead of the drawn-out approach of reason and thoughtful consideration and counterpoint.  We then pat ourselves on the back for what clever smartasses we are, forgetting in our momentary endorphin glow as the clicks and likes add up, that we are contributing nothing, advancing nothing, signifying nothing.  It is as Shakespeare so cannily observed 400 years ago, a tale told by an idiot – and deserving of no further consideration.

I don’t want to be that guy.  I don’t want to be the hipster loudmouth at the party who sips his appletini while he pontificates upon the downfall of Western civilization, throwing in handy Cliffs Notes references to Albert Camus and the collected works of Francois Truffaut while he constructs a dizzying, grand unifying thesis of how the human obsession with reality television and Facebook is merely foreshadowing the zombie apocalypse.  Instead, I want to be the optimist.  And that’s easier than you might think, because the evidence is everywhere.  For every Joseph Kony in the world there are a hundred million good, decent, honest people, working hard, raising families, treating friends, neighbors and strangers alike with the respect and tolerance we should all merit by the mere fact of our existence.  Not easy to remember when the Konys suck up all the news coverage, which is why sniping at the big bad universe is always the quicker, more seductive path – the dark side of the op-ed.  When discourse has become so polarized, left and right so implacably divorced and compromise an archaic concession of the ideologically weak, is it not morally better to try and calm the waters – to try and point towards better days ahead – instead of stirring them further?  Sighing and sneering won’t get us to the future that I continue to hope for in moments when I behold the wonders of nature, the possibilities of human achievement, and the smile of a child.

I don’t have a problem putting my name and photograph alongside my words, because I’m of the belief that if you wouldn’t carve it in concrete on your front porch, you shouldn’t publish it online.  I can do that comfortably because I am proud that I have chosen, as the old song says, to accentuate the positive, and if I’m to be criticized for what I’ve written, I can take it, secure in the knowledge that I’ve given my best.  It’s difficult at times; I get frustrated, even downright pissed off at a lot of what goes on out there, and many first drafts full of ugly vitriol have gone into the digital bin when I have stopped, taken a breath and asked myself what good it would do.  That’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.  Are we doing any good with our words?  If not, then why are we bothering to write them?

To the other half of the sky

As International Women’s Day dawns, one cannot help but look back on the events of the last few days, the last few weeks, even the last few years as arguably the antithesis of everything this day is meant to represent.  It is almost as if, societally, we are seeing a hard return swing of the pendulum, a pushback by the men of the world against the leaps forward made by women over the last hundred years – in some ways an all too predictable accompaniment to the collective freak-out over the uncertainty of the future and the resulting rise of right-wing extremism in mainstream thought.  Neanderthal legislators in several states are ramming through draconian measures forcing women to submit to invasive medical procedures prior to being able to legally terminate a pregnancy.  Even the basic freedom to use contraception is under threat, with the gargantuan gasbag of the airwaves, Rush Limbaugh, suggesting that women who use it are asking for subsidized promiscuity.  Fortunately he’s been subjected to a massive backlash because of his remarks, but it’s distressing that the political climate has become so anti-woman that he felt he could say something like that in the first place – it’s from the same line of thought that allowed the President of Afghanistan to pass a resolution declaring men to be fundamentally more important than women.  Some might ask what the hell has happened lately, but the question goes deeper than that.  It strikes at the very heart of our entire civilization, and the basic fact that men simply cannot understand women – and what they can’t understand, they try to control.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian features among its many hilarious scenes a bit where the People’s Front of Judea adopts a resolution that one of its male members can have the right to have babies, despite having no womb – “Where’s the fetus gonna gestate?  In a box?”  The fellow at the center of the bit opines that his interest in women comes from his desire to be one – in a way, a basic expression of men’s inability to figure women out.  Pagan beliefs speak of woman as the triple goddess – the mother, the maiden and the crone, a holy trinity of complexity, a balanced equation of purity, maturity, wisdom, emotion and above all, beauty.  Try explaining that to the guys at the bar on a Saturday night in single syllable words using visual aids and pie charts while the game’s on.  And let me know how it turns out.

There is no way to understand a woman other than being one yourself, and that drives men absolutely bonkers.   Women have a power over men that is inscrutable to men as well as infuriating, because we pride ourselves on our ability to remain in control at all times, indomitable masters of our domain – one glimpse of a beautiful woman walking by and that all goes out the window.  Men’s measurement of their lives, their virility, their achievements, their status, is directly related to how much attention it garners them from women; what women think of them.  Advertisers understand this, which is why you can put the world’s most useless white elephant in the hands of a woman in a bikini and sales will explode.  And it’s why the most confident man turns to an insecure pile of jelly if a woman for whom he feels desire isn’t interested.  His very existence as a man of importance is threatened.  Men don’t like giving up that control to anyone.  To paraphrase Yoda, insecurity then turns to fear, fear turns to anger, anger turns to hate.

Women are insulted, humiliated, shunned, subjugated, beaten, violated, harassed, dismissed and even murdered because men can’t accept that they are different and special – perhaps, in what is man’s deepest, darkest fear, more special or indeed, better than them.  And men have perfected this pattern over thousands of years to the point where women think it’s their fault.  They are made to feel inadequate, to hate their bodies, to crave a fantasy ideal of physical and emotional perfection that is so utterly foreign to what it truly means to be a woman – because that is what a man thinks they should be.  A powerful, intelligent and confident woman – the actual ideal, at least from this man’s admittedly limited perspective – is dismissed as a harpy, a harridan, or a bitch, and sadly still in many countries, put to death.  Every woman held back from achieving her potential is another notch in man’s ever-lengthening belt of oppression, and every time a woman fails in any way because of a man’s bruised ego, we should all be utterly ashamed of ourselves.  Our collective human potential for greatness will never be achieved until every last one of us, man and woman, is permitted to be who they are, utterly free of the archaic constraints of a patriarchal society that men fail to realize holds them back as much as it keeps women down.  In the end, men don’t need to understand women, they just need to accept them – and let them be who they are.  Despite traditional expectation, we might just find that we enjoy the results.