Merican AF: The Five Reminders I Received Driving Behind A Chevy Truck

While driving down the street in my quaint little suburban neighborhood, I noticed a raised 4×4 Chevy truck in front of me displaying a license plate that read, “Merican AF.”

For those of you who may not be in on the lingo, it was shorthand for, “American As Fuck.”

Ahhhh, good ole Chevy and apple pies.

As one who is intrigued with language, I cannot help but deconstruct not only the intent of this license plate moniker, but also the more general implications it reflects in an increasingly divided political landscape.

I understand the “Merican” title over the traditional “American” as originating from George W. Bush and his quirky Texan, “rednecky” pronunciation of the word. It has since come to reflect a very deep, patriotic, non-nonsense association with middle America and its love of Budweiser, bullets, and border walls. Just as AF is replacing the adverb “very,” the Merica replacement is the dropping of the A in America; and, voila, we now have America on steroids. Let’s face it, to state that you are “Very American,” just doesn’t pack the patriotic punch that, “Merican AF,” lands.

So much for my deconstruction. So what are the implications in the larger sense and why did this license plate create such a negative reaction within me?

My first reaction was to stereotype the shit out of this person- of which I caught myself and now try to practice a more critical and reasonable reaction.

Why did I react this way? What was the trigger? I am confused AF.

Since when does expressing love and commitment to country must mean you are a psycho right wing nut with a very limited education…albeit when communicated in a vernacular that would arguably warrant just a wee bit of patriotic overindulgence?

Is it not ok to “love” your country and not be thrown in with dangerous nationalists?

Or to be “progressive” demands that we “hate” America? Since when? Why?

(BTW…I really despise the word “love” to describe a relationship with anything other than a person. So I do not “love” this country, nor my house, cell phone, my precious Nilla wafers or even the computer I am writing on at this moment. Nothing personal, though I believe “love” should be between people, not things or ideas).

The following are the five reminders and lessons that Chevy truck caused within me that day.

  1. It reminded me that to hold an impartial or moderate view in terms of “loving” country is becoming increasingly rare. There is an ever growing divide between those who might think America is a corrupt, unfair, capitalist piece of greedy shit country, say the Occupy Wall Street crowd, versus those who think it can do no wrong and is the greatest country on God’s green earth. You know, the Merica AF crowd. Is there room in the middle? Cannot I believe something more nuanced along the lines that America has some absolutely wonderful virtues as well as some insidious history and practices? Do I have to fully buy into one or the other?
  2. It reminded me that human beings are just creatures searching for meaning…some kind of meaning. Many find this meaning through religion, relationships, volunteer work, and, yes, some find meaning in national identity. I am not one to find meaning in national identity and do believe it can have some damaging effects (check this out) yet is it not better for some to find meaning in national identity over something much more dangerous and sinister…like gangs or drugs for example?
  3. It was a stark reminder of the growing gap between liberals and conservatives. In my nearly 55 years of life, it would seem the conservative side is not moving all that much further right as the liberal leaners are moving at light speed toward the further left. I do remember a day when “normal” citizens (both left and right) could display an American flag and not be considered the radical right. That said, I still believe the Pledge of Allegiance is just weird…but that is a different topic for a different day.
  4. It served to remind me that I do live smack in the middle of a very blue, left coast, Southern California bubble. Perhaps nothing reminded me of this more than the last election from which I am still in shock. It reminded me that all of us live in a self-created bubble in which the contents are conveniently aligned with our preferred worldview. My guess is the Merican AF dude has so bought into the American Patriotic ethos that even if–by any political standards–the United States does something horrendous, his filters and bubble would prevent him from acknowledging it at any critical level. Every single one of us lives in a bubble. Some just prefer not to admit it.
  5. It reminded me that one could be patriotic for either all the right or wrong reasons. Patriotism run amok can turn very quickly into ugly nationalism in which we believe all those who are not American are somehow inferior or in some sense not worthy human beings. It can have us believing that some countries are “shitholes” and America is the gold standard. On the other hand, a certain amount of positive adherence and loyalty to a country is really necessary for it to survive. If we all hated this country there would be no one or reason to defend it…and, for some, they might consider that a good thing –I do not.

I really like to think I have no dog in the political fight. I would rather affirm or negate individual ideas over general political ideologies. Which might explain why some very close to me believe I am a raging right winger while still others believe my left liberalism is off the charts.

And I think this schism is good thing as it reflects a non-partisan take on ideology.

It is amazing the thoughts that can be conjured up simply by driving behind a Chevy.

That damn license plate has me reflective…AF.

 

Communication And Death: What To Say, What Not To Say And How To Say It

Death. Such an uncomfortable subject. I have previously made the observation that if the issue of pornography is the leader in the, “There is nothing else we engage in more that we talk about less,” category; in that same vein I would observe that the issue of death is the absolute leader in the, “There is nothing else that every single one of us without exception is  going to do that we prefer to deny and not talk about,” category.

Most of my life I have been most definitely part of this denial crowd.

I have always had a very remote relationship with death as I’ve never lost anyone terribly close to me. When my mother passed away last October, I experienced first-hand just how deeply uncomfortable and awkward most people are with the subject. When friends, colleagues and acquaintances would come in contact with me -or deliberately not come in contact with me- after her passing, I noticed an array of reactions in how to approach this morbid subject.

As a speech geek in both life and death, it was interesting to examine words and communication patterns in the context of bereavement. And less you think my observations are the invent of some rogue Comms guy and his personal opinions, not really. There is a lot of existing literature on the subject.

I noticed the reactions basically fit into three categories.

  1. The “Just Say Nothing About It Ever” group.
  2. The “Say Way Too Much” group.
  3. The appropriate, “Just Say Enough” group.

I realize everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating condolences to a grieving person.  That said, I do believe in some overarching principles that will certainly assist me in dealing with the subject for the grieving others who cross my path in the future. I thank you for allowing me to share these with you as I hope you may find them useful at some point as well.

The first group is just weird, but I totally get it. When you know someone has lost a loved one and choose NEVER to broach the subject demonstrates deep communication incompetence. The several friends and colleagues I have who, to this day, have never uttered a word about it is, well, highly inappropriate…but, again, I get it. I believe it speaks far more about the person’s level of discomfort and awkwardness than it does any lack of sympathy, empathy or concern. Perhaps it is not surprising that all of these people, in my experience, were male. Yet let’s not bag on the men and champion the women just yet, as, in fact, women were almost exclusively at fault in the second category, the “Say Way Too Much” crowd.

This second group felt the need to go beyond the necessary, “Sorry for your loss,” and offer some form of philosophy, certainly with good and loving intentions, to counsel you as you grieve. Some of these philosophies included:

  • Everything happens for a reason.” I wrote an entire blog about this one!
  • She is in a better place.” Unless all parties share identical eschatological positions, like above, this can be highly offensive.
  • It is now time to really embrace life and love ones.” I could not have figured that one out on my own?
  • I know how you are feeling.” Such hubris. None of us can ever get inside someone’s else’s head to know feelings. Presumptuous.
  • At least the death was quick.” Let the bereaved person discover any potential silver-linings for them self.

The point? One’s grieving is not about you or your philosophies -keep those little gems to yourself. It is all about them…don’t let yourself get in the way of a good condolencing (my word….you’re welcome).

The final category of “Just Say Enough,” certainly constituted the great majority of people. The key: Nothing fancy, flowery or eloquent is necessary. Perhaps saying, “I am sorry for your loss,” is trite, it is trite for a reason. It works. If one were to follow up the sentence with anything else at all, it should focus solely on the other person, as in, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do.” If there is going to be an extended conversation it needs to be motivated and instigated by the grieving person, not you. Pending my relationship with the individual, the time, place and even, to a large degree, my mood, I may or may not have conversed further.

As I conclude this short blog concerning appropriate ways to converse with grieving persons, I am reminded about a conversation I had with one of our Crafton math professors, Sherri Wilson, shortly after my mom’s passing.

Sherri and I have shared the same office hallway for the better part of my 12 years at Crafton. We are cordial and friendly with each other though not at all close -I mean she does teach math after all, yeech. The first time Sherri saw me after my mother’s death she came, knocked on my door and, quite appropriately and confidently, shared her condolences. What struck me about the conversation with Sherri was two-fold: First her personal self-confidence and security to boldly share her condolences was, as I have come to find out, rare and unusual; and, second, the look of genuine concern in her eye. This look could not be fake or construed…it was the real deal.

Sherri did not say anything magical or fancy, just the basics. Yet after I had my very brief conversation with her, I felt a little better. Why? Another human being, whom I do not know all that well, cared. I expect my family and closed loved ones to care, yet to feel this loving kindness from one outside of my “tribe” was so encouraging.

Death is undoubtedly awkward. Yet since we live in a world in which EVERYONE dies, perhaps it is high time we learn how to become effectively conversant within this context.

Thanks Sherri.

Scared Of Groupthink? #Metoo. I Need A Day Of Absence

Not a lot truly scares me. By nature I am not an alarmist nor a dystopian critic of modern culture. I love change, in particular technological innovation.

However, there is an oft occurring social phenomenon that scares the living hell out of me. A phenomenon that transcends any particular political, religious, socio-economic, gender, or ideological lines.

It is called Groupthink.

Groupthink is defined a number of different ways, each with particular nuances. Psychology Today defines it as occurring when, “a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.

ANY group is susceptible to Groupthink no matter how worthy the cause or how much integrity a group and its objectives possess. Of course depending on the cause, size and nature of the group, Groupthink can cause varying amounts of social damage and leave innocent people permanently scarred or worse.

In certain rare contexts, Groupthink is a necessary component to achieving successful outcomes. The military, for example, is an authoritarian dictatorship, of sorts, in which free and independent thought would do nothing to move forward its militaristic objectives. However, outside of organizations that need unquestioning loyalty and adherence to function effectively, Groupthink is rarely a positive aspect of any social movement.

Yes, I could play the Hitler and his Third Reich card to exemplify the worst of all Groupthinks in history, albeit acknowledging so much of Groupthink does not have such disastrous and widespread results. Whenever I experience any group or movement that frowns upon those who might question the merits -or even minor aspects of the movement- to the extent that those who do so are considered part of the problem, my Groupthink antenna goes off the charts.

Enter #metoo. I could go on and on about the wonderful merits of this movement. Any movement that is going to right a centuries long wrong of sexual harassment and wrong doing while contributing to end the institutional oppressive power of the powerful, is a movement I support. However, I would encourage any supporter of any movement not to lose sight of the potential pitfalls and cautions that must accompany such a movement without fear of repercussions or accusations of being part of the problem.

I have been warned not to speak out against the movement period -after all, I am admittedly a white, “privileged” male.

And, believe it or not, I completely understand this objection. There is a time to speak up and a time to shut up and listen. There is a time to act and a time to be passive and wait. I understand that any group needs their day in court, as it were. However, if we encourage the voice of caution and negation to be repressed, we are creating a firestorm of potentially far greater unintended social injustice consequences.

If we encourage any movement that discourages the staunchly undemocratic notion of “guilty until proven innocent,” and if we jump to believe accusers regardless of any potential contrary evidence, our culture is in a world of hurt as ANY person is potentially the victim of a media-induced witch hunt that has never, and will never, serve humanity well.

I am not interested in HER truth or HIS truth -I am interested in THE truth.

Be it the actual witch hunts in the 1600’s, the aforementioned Third Reich, the horrific Communist hunt called McCarthyism, ie. the Red Scare in the 1950’s, drinking the cool-aid in the Jonestown jungle of Guyana, the MacMartin Preschool fiasco (google it) or a Duke LaCrosse team accused of gang rape in the early 2000’s, it absolutely AMAZES me that normally rational and reasonable human beings can turn on a dime and be part of a mob whose core doctrine is guilty until proven innocent. And, in some cases, when proven innocent, still remain guilty in the eyes of the Groupthink faithful.

We must not only WANT dissenting voices contributing to any movement, we must realize they are absolutely ESSENTIAL in creating an environment that is interested in what is right, moral and rational.

And so I conclude with another unfortunate Groupthink fiasco that has resulted in a misguided vilification of a professor at the “progressive” Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. However, whether you believe the accusations against the professor as misguided or not, based on the horrific Groupthink behavior of the mob of students at Evergreen, we shall never know with certainty since Groupthink discourages a rational dialectical approach to truth.

Nutshell: Biology Professor Brett Weinstein refused to join a movement that required and/or strongly encouraged all the white faculty professors leave the college for a day in support of the traditional school observance of a “Day of Absence,” in which traditionally minority black students optionally left the campus. A new school president switched the skin color of those who left the college to observe this day -whose goal is keeping the issue of institutional racism in the campus cultural narrative alive and well.

Professor Weinstein apparently had no problem with any group that engaged in a voluntary activity, one in which folks would remove themselves from the campus in the name of social justice; however he did have a problem with forcing someone to remove themselves from campus based soley on race, thus he stayed and refused to leave.

As a man of Jewish descent, one cannot blame him for being reminded of the atrocious precedent of selecting a group for a deportation, of sorts, based on race.

Agree with him? Disagree with him? Either way, that is not the point.

Just Youtube, “Weinstein Evergreen College Students” (or better yet hit this link) or something of the like, and you will find Groupthink in full engagement. You will find Professor Wienstein pleading with the mobbing students to engage in a rationale and reasonable dialectic to address the core issues for discussion. The response of the Groupthinking students was to shout down the professor with a series of profanities and insults, screaming at him while refusing the professor’s invitation of healthy dialogue.

Really? This is higher education? This is critical thinking? Since when does refusing to listen to an opposing argument constitute education? It is the antithesis. In fact, it is the epitome of ignorance.

Professor Weinstein was eventually forced to resign his position.

History teaches us that the human being has a hard-wiring to embrace a Groupthinking mob mentality with little to no prompting when the confluence of the correct contextual factors come into play. Perhaps it gives us a renewed sense of personal meaning or fulfills our basic human desire to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves…in a very quick and convenient way.

It may even appeal to our baser and darker instincts to delight in watching the pain and suffering of others (google “Stanley Milgram” kids).

No matter the reason, I do believe Groupthink could eventually be the root cause of the end of humanity as we know it; not today, tomorrow or even this century, yet, in any case, when we fail to question and go against the prevailing notions of what appears to be right and just, we all eventually end up the victims.

Not a lot truly scares me. Groupthink does. As it should all of us.

Christmas 2017: Not Much Has Changed

The following is a blog entry I wrote in December of 2014. Each December I like to revisit and repost this Christmas blog that explains my thoughts on the holiday.

How have my thoughts and opinions changed since this writing? Not much. I still pretty much agree with everything I wrote in 2014, when then a young and spry 51 year-old. I suppose the only difference is that today I am far more apathetic toward the whole holiday. Today I would not waste the time writing the blog as there are a host of other issues that concern me (up next: #metoo). All the Christmas bullshit used to really bother me…not so much anymore. I choose not to give the holiday any salience in my life.

Enjoy and…MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Now that Christmas is over I feel free to write the blog I have felt compelled to write the entire month of December –though did not do so because I did not want to rain on anyone’s Christmas parade and harp on the negative– and then subsequently be called what I have been labeled for many years, “Scrooge,” followed with an insulting, “bah humbug.”

Our family does not celebrate Christmas–nor Chanukah, Kwanza nor any other kind of December holiday. No lights, no tree, no manger scene, no Santa, no presents, and, above all, no stress –and I love it. So what is the point in writing this blog? I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could. Yet, since I get the question all the time by perplexed and surprised people as to why we do not acknowledge this holiday, I will now put my sentiments in written form and when asked the question in the future, I can simply point to my blog.

In my last entry, I explained how we are like seeds in the fields of culture and it becomes very difficult to objectively be critical of that which is literally a part of us. For many, there is no cultural practice more ingrained into our personal and collective psyche than Christmas –to question it is ludicrous and so iconoclastic as to be completely off the critical thinking table. Christmas is the untouchable sacred cow of the masses, I realize this. So, that said, I encourage you to hear my 5 reasons for not celebrating Christmas with an open mind. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, rather, at the very least, promote understanding that there are legitimate and beneficial reasons for not observing the holiday –and perhaps take it easy on those of us who choose the Christmas avoidance route and understand we are not awful people, ie. Scrooge.

1. Christmas is great for the economy though very dangerous for the soul.

I believe we all would agree that for the great majority Christmas is about gift giving. At its face, gift giving is a wonderful and edifying practice that nourishes the soul. Yet when we culturally mandate compulsory gift giving, it sucks the spirit and heart right out of the practice; frenzied, tit-for-tat gift exchanges zap any genuine life right out of the otherwise healthy custom.  Our shopping malls turn into crowded, soulless bastions of bargain shoppers robotically hunting for the best deals after they have fought tirelessly for a parking spot –only to typically purchase crap that no one really needs. But, hey, this comes from a guy who believes a part of his soul dies every time he waits in line at a Wal-Mart. I love meaningful and relevant gift giving, yet it means so much more when it comes at unexpected times, motivated by none other than love. I realize not every activity in life will feed the soul, though it is important to avoid activities that will drain it.

2. It goes against the goal of living an emotionally balanced and healthy life.

Things are never as good, or bad, as we think they are.  Perhaps I am only speaking from personal experience, though I have found that whenever we get too emotionally high we can expect a crash landing into the emotional lows of life shortly thereafter.  If we were to compare holidays to drugs, Christmas would be the crystal meth…on steroids. “The most wonderful time of the year” is frequently the emotional peak time of the year for many.  I do not blame Christmas and the holidays for depression (contrary to popular belief, depression and suicide rates are not higher during the holiday season; they are highest in Spring time) rather I am suggesting it certainly does not help those of us in the quest of living a life void of major high/low swings. Observing the Christmas holiday contributes to a ‘bipolaresque’ type of up-and-down existence as it embodies the manic stage -at least it did for me.

3. It sends the wrong message to children.

I believe we all know this and acknowledge it -we even make movies about this phenomenon, I am thinking “Jingle All They Way” among others. Like the insane person who never learns from her mistake, we continue to engage in creating spoiled, entitled and materialistic children, instructing them to write letters explaining everything they want to a fictional figure. Can I be blunt? That is just plain fucked up. Why are we messing with our children’s minds in such a way? Is this not a mild form of abuse? I realize culture is so ingrained in us that it is often difficult to be critical of it, yet if one can stand back and objectively observe this practice, just for a moment, it is just wrong; I, for one, do not want to perpetuate this practice. The practice of Christmas teaches children that, above all, we are soulless consumers first and foremost.  When will the consumerist madness stop? We buy things we do not need for the things we do not need. Christmas teaches children we should strive for what we want –not what we need. Christmas has become much more a venture capitalist holiday than a spiritual one.

4. The entire Christmas narrative of Santa, elves, the North Pole, etc…is a lie.

no-christmas-yetMost theological scholars would even agree that December 25 is not the birth date of Jesus. Please understand that I am all for cultural myth and ritual. Totally. Myth plays an important part in the process of understanding ourselves and the human condition…but call it for what it is, MYTH. Can anyone explain why we take a perfectly healthy tree, cut it down and bring it into our house?  I didn’t think so. What is the lesson from myth we can learn from this practice? In the case of Christmas, we blatantly lie about the whole thing. I told our children from the moment they could understand my words that Santa is a lie…that simple. People can go to jail for lying yet we encourage it toward our most vulnerable and gullible of society…and for what reason? I am all down for lies that might protect someone from hurt, yet we perpetually, albeit innocently and with good intentions, lie with the outcome of creating false expectations as we set children up for disappointment at some level.

5. It trivializes and demeans Christian-based religious faiths.

When I used to be a pastor many moons ago, I despised Christmas (which may explain, in part, why I was such a shitty pastor) much more than I do now –presently, I essentially just forget about it altogether.  I could never speak for, or on behalf of God, Jesus, Tom Cruise, Mohammed, or any other deity-like figure, yet, something inside me believes even Jesus himself would condemn the practice of Christmas –for all the ethical reasons I have mentioned.

I collect Jesus junk. Thus far I have Jesus duct tape, a Jesus action figure, Jesus T-shirts, socks, etc… I do this as a reminder how our culture has taken that which is to be sacred, revered and honored and morphed these entities into unholy and profane trivial commodities. Christmas, as we practice it today, trivializes the holiness and reverence of a religion’s most sacred event.  I used to find this disturbing yet today I find this more amusing -as these things act as a constant reminder of the culture I am dealing with on a daily basis.

So these are the five reasons why I choose not to celebrate Christmas. Agree with me or not, I have arrived at these conclusions through analysis and reasoned observation. In fact, I am quite certain many of you agree with me –at least in part on some things. Then, why is it when someone asks me about Christmas and I explain these things, I am then insulted for my calculated decision? Scrooge was not calculated, he was just an asshole. Contrary to some people’s opinion, I am not an asshole. I choose not to partake in the, what I respectfully believe to be, irrational, materialistic, unspiritual endeavor and I get questioned? Our culture has done a really good job of creating this illusion –to the point that the free thinking ones, not taken in by the smoke and mirrors of the holiday, get criticized for their sane and logical conclusions. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could, but please do not disparage those of us who do not see this holiday as you might see it.

I am very proud to proclaim we have raised four very strong, independent, passionate and free thinking children who all have a very different take on Christmas today. They not only survived an, essentially, Christmas-less upbringing, they have thrived. We all live life to the very fullest.

I guess I just rained on the Christmas parade. Not to worry. You have nearly an entire year to recover.

Everything Happens

About a month ago I started to write a blog concerning my strong dislike of the philosophical worldview that, “everything happens for a reason.” Included in my dislike are other such implications of some grand master plan imposed by a mysterious being who orchestrates both wonderful acts of love and horrid atrocities; in other words, providence. I stopped writing the blog because it was drawing out such anger and angst within me that I realized such an emotional reaction was much more indicative of something far deeper within me that needed to be addressed in my own psyche.

Perhaps it was stirring my own self-loathing that I once used to subscribe to this belief as taught to me by those who I thought knew better than I on such matters. I realize I still hold resentment toward those who would be bestow such providential propaganda, as well as toward myself for actually buying it. In classic argumentation, claiming providence is both a fallacy of an “appeal to ignorance” (as one cannot prove it did not happen for a reason therefore it supposedly did) as well as “argumentum ad verecundiam,” aka, an “appeal to authority,” as one can never challenge the authoritative source (read: god) behind the one who makes everything happen for a reason. It is a fallacial argument one cannot win.

To be clear, in writing that still unpublished blog, I realized that I have no issue with one who subscribes to such a belief system, that is their business, rather it is when that belief is imposed without discretion on others, particularly in times of grief, that troubles me so greatly. I find it both incredibly insulting and arrogant beyond explanation; it is like telling a Jew or Muslim not to worry because their deceased loved one is now in the arms of the baby Jesus. It is the flippant public spouting of a personal worldview without regard for the enormous troubling implications it holds.

As I will address a bit later, even if everything does happen for a reason, we could never possibly know what that reason is in the grand scheme of things, so what is the point?

This is hubris to the fullest extent of the law.

So fast forward just a few days later when my 84 year-old, seemingly quite healthy, mom suddenly passes away. It has now been about 26 days since her passing and I have been inundated with cards, gifts and condolences of all varieties, for which I am extremely grateful. More now than ever I can certainly understand why we humans have a propensity for creating belief systems that help us deal with the pain of a loved one passing, as it hurts like nothing else; yet I hold firmly that whatever it is we choose to believe –be it Heaven, Hell, Nothing, White Lights, Spirit Beings, Purgatory or Pittsburgh, it will never change what is.

Yes, the power of belief can be quite strong as illusions can provide the human mind great emotional comfort and solace, yet one cannot believe something into being. Whether one chooses to believe in a god or not, does not change the fact if there is a god or not. Heaven, hell, nothingness…same thing.

Back in the days of yore when I was a pastor and provided spiritual guidance for a living, I held very similar views. Even in the days of my strongest adherence to particular theological belief systems, I realized what I believed was of very little value to what really is. It was this theological and belief flexibility (and not taking myself too seriously) that was the primary root of my ultimate abandoning of the ministry and finding much deeper and greater satisfaction in spreading the gospel of communication and instructing people how to question…everything.

Praise Socrates and pass the plate of uncertainty.

Do I believe my mom’s passing happened for a reason? Do I believe I will see her again one day in some spiritual way, shape or form? The answer is very straightforward: How would I know? How could I know? If it did happen “for a reason” I have no way of knowing what that reason might be so why would I waste my time trying to figure out the un-figureoutable? (I think you can begin to see why I was such a shitty pastor.)

Does this mean I do not have faith? No, it does not. My faith is my business and what my faith is or is not should have no bearing whatsoever on what another’s faith is or is not.

I actually find great peace and comfort in uncertainty. A belief in uncertainty holds out for the possibility and hope that things could be far greater than my faith would have me believe…or worse, I guess. Life is a perpetual anticipation of finding out what is behind doors 1, 2, or 3. Sure, we may get zonked, but we could also get a brand new caaaaaaar.

Perhaps my anger toward the “everything happens for a reason” blowhards was a rhythmic foreshadowing from the universe in emotional preparation for the impending death to come….or not. How could I know? I cannot know, so I can never make such a claim, for then that would have happened for a reason. And in the 26 days since her passing, not one person of the dozens upon dozens of well-wishers has even remotely implied she passed “for a reason.”

Thank you.

So I conclude with the message I have been “preaching” for decades. In the last few weeks one of the very few things I DO know is the power of love, namely loving relationships. I have felt a new license in life to freely and unabashedly love as well as to receive the love of those around me; to tell those around me that I love them; to share tears and hugs; to express thoughts and feelings that typically go unstated when things are “normal.” It has been a tremendously freeing experience. The naked emotional vulnerability brought about by the sting of death serves to let my egotistical guard down and lean on the loving connections I have with family and friends.

I preach the gospel of love. Whether you are a Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew or Gentile, we can KNOW love. We can be sure of it. To be the most loving Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew or Gentile is the certain path towards true contentment. Love destroys the need to determine whether or not “everything happens for a reason.”

Let’s just say things happen…and love makes them bearable.

Temporalcentrism or Temporocentrism: Either Way, It’s “Time” To Stop

Ethnocentrism:

  1. Sociology: The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture.
  2. A tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own.

Temporalcentrism:

  1. Sociology: The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own period of history as the most enlightened and all previous cultures are judged through its lens;
  2. A tendency to view alien and historical groups or cultures from the prejudicial perspective of one’s own time period.

Most people are familiar with the concept of ethnocentrism and understand it to be a negative and unwanted social practice.

In 2017 I find a much more troubling phenomena taking place that causes me concern -which is a close cousin to ethnocentrism. I call this growing practice “temporalcentrism,” in which we believe in the inherent superiority of our time in history, over all others, while believing all of history must be evaluated through the lens of contemporary prejudices and practices.

Well, so much for thinking I had an original thought. I have never formally heard this term so I did a quick online search only to find that:

“Temporocentrism” is the temporal equivalent of ethnocentrism…Applying the context of ethnocentrism to a chronological vantage point, then, temporocentrism is the belief, whether consciously held or unconsciously, that one’s own time is more important than the past or future. Individuals with a temporocentric perspective judge historical events on the basis of contemporary standards rather than in their own context, often resulting in fallacy.

It is akin to harshly criticizing a washboard and clothesline because they are not yet a washer and dryer or an abacus because it had not yet evolved into a computer.

Bad idea kids.

I am not suggesting that those who practice temporalcentrism (not to be confused with “tempuracentrism,” the belief that all foods should be deep fried…sorry) find contemporary society a utopia with no problems…they do. What I am suggesting is the notion that the “enlightened” norms and ethics of the day far surpass those of yesterday, is, well, temporalcentric (I like my spelling better).

Why is temporalcentrism a dangerous idea?

  • It unnecessarily belittles and shames periods of history and historical figures in an unfair and uncritical light without context.
  • It gives us an unrealistic sense of the superiority of current day values and attitudes.
  • It breeds both ignorance and arrogance resulting in fallacial thinking.

Temporalcentrism unnecessarily belittles and shames historical figures and periods of history.

Let us look at temporalcentrism through the lens of slavery and American history. Please understand what I am saying here. I believe the concept of slavery is humanity at its worst. It is evil, disgusting, sad, horrid, atrocious and shameful. Which is why this temporalcentric 2017 blogger has a very difficult time understanding how it has been a practice of humanity since prehistoric times. Yet historians inform us that, “Slavery dates back to prehistoric times and was apparently modeled on the domestication of animals. From the earliest periods of recorded history, slavery was found in the world’s most “advanced” regions. The earliest civilizations–along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, the Nile in Egypt, the Indus Valley of India, and China’s Yangtze River Valley–had slavery. The earliest known system of laws, the Hammurabi Code, recognized slavery.”

To believe slavery commenced as a human practice in America circa 1619 is misguided as that began a new period in slavery, the western slave trade. Slavery was not a uniquely American practice as American forefathers were following a generally accepted human practice since recorded world history.

I am in no way, shape or form suggesting American forefathers were entirely blameless in regards to perpetuating slave practices; what I am suggesting is, in attempt to rid myself of temporalcentrism, to consider that the strong and ever-present global practice of slavery at the very least provides some explanation and context as to why otherwise noble men of character could own slaves.

I would rather attempt to reach understanding before the application of shaming. That said, perhaps we could tone down our idolatrous praise of our forefathers (when visiting Washington DC some years back I was sickened to learn that the mural painted in the rotunda of the nation’s capital depicts the “Deification of George Washington,” ugh) and simply understand them for who these very human men were and we cannot discount them as products of their cultural contexts in that assessment.

When certain norms and ethics are woven so deeply into the fabric of society not only are such decisions to abide by them both unconscious and automatic, they are expected as it is the norm many were birthed into. In the case of women’s suffrage, for a women to vote and usurp a man’s authority was generally as horrid and wrong in 1800 as much as they are championed and embraced in 2017. As the wise fictitious filmmaker Christof stated in one of my favorite films, “The Truman Show,” we simply accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.

Norms, ethics, and social practices change over time and to completely and entirely judge one’s moral character in a completely different era, through different time periods, is like saying the model T was a shitty car because it lacked seat belts and air bags.

If one does not bother to closely examine the overall social, political, religious, technological, sociological, psychological contexts of any given point in history, one will never understand it. Perhaps it is just convenient and, well, lazy, to throw all of history under the bus because it does not align with our contemporary thought forms and practices.

Temporalcentrism gives us an unrealistic sense of the superiority of current day values and attitudes.

Let me put it this way: If we are now an enlightened and evolved culture, we must now be doing everything “right,” right? Wrong. How do I know this? Look back in history and we see practices that we cannot remotely fathom today…what would make us think our contemporary society is any different?

In a hundred years, what will society look back at us and wonder what in they hell were they thinking? Could it be factory farming? GMO’s? Gasoline powered cars? The consumption of mass amounts of fast food? Eating animals? Our current media practice of guilty until proven innocent? Trump? Traditional marriage? Gender? Separate bathrooms for men and women? Heteronormativity? Political correctness run amok? Our addiction to entertainment? Hell, I could not tell you what they will look back at and scratch their heads; or else I would stop or start doing whatever it may be, yet, I can tell you with relative certainty that they will look back at us and scratch their heads, or worse, shame our vile and ignorant generation over such matters that we currently barely take note.

Temporalcentrism breeds both ignorance and arrogance.

Ignorance because temporalcentrism turns a blind eye to contemporary practices that are so pervasive they are invisible to the mainstream of society, and, arrogant to think that current thought trends and practices are the end all, be all of progress…that we have somehow arrived.

Temporalcentrists can be so smug.

Enter the idea of anachronisms, which is something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time. Can we judge the entirety of human history through the lens of 2017? We could, yet then we would be missing out on the process of human evolution and thought, how and why people behave or believe the way they do and what one’s beliefs informs us of certain periods of time in history.

Would I have preferred misogyny and slavery, among other atrocities, never existed? Of course, but they did. And since they did, it only behooves us to study such phenomena and ask what were the confluences of social factors that resulted in these horrors? What was the justification? How could such tragic institutions exist at such a widespread and acceptable level that some contend still strongly exists? What was the recipe for its demise? How do we commit as a society to ensuring such things never happen again?

Perhaps the greatest temporalcentric queston of all time is Hitler’s Germany: How the hell did god-fearing, family loving men and women turn into mass murders? We must escape contemporary thought patterns and social constructs to even begin to answer that question and attempt to recreate the basic contextual historical understanding to ensure it never happens again.

I, for one, want to watch and learn from the evolution of change. If we continue to evaluate history through the norms and assumptions of contemporary culture, we will be blinded by these contemporary norms and we will lose our ability to be self-reflective and critical. We ought to be in the state of continually challenging and questioning our contemporary norms and practices, not judging the entirety of human history through them.

Twin Sirens hide in the sea of history, tempting those seeking to understand and appreciate the past onto the reefs of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. These twin dangers are temporocentrism and ethnocentrism. Temporocentrism is the belief that your times are the best of all possible times. All other times are thus inferior. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your culture is the best of all possible cultures. All other cultures are thus inferior. Temporocentrism and ethnocentrism unite to cause individuals and cultures to judge all other individuals and cultures by the “superior” standards of their current culture. This leads to a total lack of perspective when dealing with past and / or foreign cultures and a resultant misunderstanding and misappreciation of them. Temporocentrism and ethnocentrism tempt moderns into unjustified criticisms of the peoples of the past.”

 

I could not have said it better myself.

 

 

Is Higher Education A Thing Of The Past?

I am a community college Associate Professor of Communication Studies. I absolutely love teaching as much as any human being can love their vocation. This is not to say there are aspects to my job I do not particularly care for (use your imagination….yet it begins with “admin” and ends with “inistrative,” with the word “bullshit” at the end). Yet when it comes to the act of pure teaching itself, I am the proverbial pig in slop; I absolutely love to instruct…it is my sanity and, for lack of a better term, my safe and comfy space in an existential world.

However, not everyone in 2017 is down with the notion of “higher education,” be it in the form of community college or the four-year university. I hear arguments that we now have the world wide web with all the information in the universe available to us with the click of a mouse. Why go to a classroom to hear information that we can easily and readily retrieve from our home computer? You cannot seriously suggest that college is for everybody, right? Wrong.

Perhaps Winston Churchill had the answer many decades ago. “I love to learn,” he stated, “but I’m not always willing to be taught.”

Enter Higher Education.

Many of us need the formal accountability a higher educational institution provides to receive instruction in an effective manner. For those highly motivated self-starters who need only their own engine to get motivated, good for you. Yet I would contend that learning in community is nearly always superior to the autodidact approach even if you are one who prefers to be self-taught.

Yes, I am a college instructor and somewhat biased in my perception of the the need for higher education in contemporary society. However I would contend it is my belief in the system that drives my desire to teach rather than my desire to teach drives my belief in the system. After all, I am a product of the community college system as it literally provided me with all the tools and skills necessary to lead a functional and productive life –at a time in my life that I did not know the definition of the words tools and skills.

Therefore I offer you my five most compelling reasons to believe, support and engage in higher education, primarily at the community college level, in 2017.

Community College provides hope of direction for the directionally challenged. I am absolutely convinced that a college degree is not the right path for everybody; yet I am also concurrently convinced that some college courses are wholly beneficial to nearly everybody. Who would not benefit from a public speaking or interpersonal communication course in which you learn how to communicate more effectively in all your life endeavors? Who would not benefit from a basic skills English or Math course as all of us will practice these skills consistently throughout our life? If you are vocationally minded, how about a radiology or a welding course? Community College allows one to take courses to enhance their life skills while figuring out what direction life needs to take them.

Community College and the University are sacred learning spaces committed to the ideals of seeking answers, critiquing information while wholly committed to developing cultural literacy. Cultures need single-minded institutions to foster and preserve important social values. We need places committed to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. We need institutions committed to constantly asking the question, “Why?” If we did not have these bastions of intellectual pursuits, who would carry this much needed torch in society? We need institutions committed to carrying on the best interests of society: Academic institutions committed to behavioral and hard sciences; elected bodies committed to political governance; agricultural industries committed to food sourcing; medical institutions committed to warding off disease; civil liberties groups to ensure power does not go rogue, and the list goes on. We need single-minded institutions wholly committed to uphold the integrity of fundamental social necessities.

Community College is a place accepting all individuals who are now ready to learn…and even those who not quite sure. I recently instructed one of my public speaking classes that there should be no safer place on the planet to admit not knowing something or being wrong more than a college classroom. After I made this proclamation, a new college student, Samuel, mentioned that this is a far different cry from high school.  “If we confessed to know knowing something in class,” said Samuel, “We would be berated and yelled at because it was likely something we should already have known as it was probably taught to us the previous year.”

I mentioned to Samuel that if one did not learn it the previous year it was because they were not yet ready, for any endless variety of reasons. The universe knows I was not ready for much in terms of learning my senior year in high school.

The Buddhist saying comes to mind, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Readiness. Are all my community college students ready? No. And some may never be ready. Yet in my experience community college has been both the fertile ground for those seeking if they are now ready and for those who are indeed ready. And I always prefer to be the teacher who simply appears when the wonderful confluence of readiness meets educational opportunity. It is a feeling like no other.

College graduates simply earn more money over a lifetime. One of my favorite economists, Steve Levitt from the University of Chicago and of Freakonomics fame:

The best way I think an economist thinks about the value of education is he or she tries to figure out how the market rewards it and what other benefits come with it. And one thing is clear: The market puts a tremendous reward on education. So the best estimates that the economists currently have are that each extra year of education that you get is worth about maybe an eight percent increment to your earnings each year for the rest of your life. So it turns out for most people buying a lot of education, or at least for the average person let me say, buying a lot of education is a really good deal.

If you are indeed one of the few with no college education and a fantastic salary in a profession you love, good for you! Yet have the astute wherewithal to realize you and others like you are outliers, that you are not part of the norm. Most of us need the traditional route of formal higher education.

If you are a college graduate in a less than desireable job with a less than desireable salary, take heed, the day is young. A college degree is a stark contrast from the Wonka golden ticket, it is more the ace-in-the-hole when the opportunity you create, arises.

A college degree, like other challenging endeavors, develops character and says much more about you than it does about your knowledge base. I often explain to my classes that the single greatest predictor if one will stay in a marriage or get divorced is a college education. From Albert Mohler:

When it comes to divorce and marriage, America is increasingly divided along class and educational lines. Even as divorce in general has declined since the 1970s, what sociologist Steven Martin calls a “divorce divide” has also been growing between those with college degrees and those without (a distinction that also often translates to differences in income). The figures are quite striking: College-educated Americans have seen their divorce rates drop by about 30% since the early 1980s, whereas Americans without college degrees have seen their divorce rates increase by about 6%.

And why? What are the skills and characteristics needed to survive a marriage? Hmmmm…how about all the same skills needed to obtain a college degree? Patience, perseverance, self-motivation, determination, both deference when needed and assertiveness if called for, compromise, and, of course, what we have been hearing since kindergarten, the need to play well with others even when you really do not want to.

Yes a college degree will likely earn one more money over a lifetime, yet, more importantly, it will make one’s lifetime all the more worth living. Perhaps the single greatest gift higher education offers its students is humility; as higher education should shed light and reveal all in the world that we do not know over the little we do know.

Let me reiterate, a college degree is not for everyone. Yet certainly college courses can be helpful to everyone at some level.

So whether you are former community college attendees Walt Disney, Ross Perot, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Queen Latifah or even Tom Hanks who stated that, “Community College made me who I am today,” you are in good company as a current community college student or future student.

It is 2017 and we need higher education opportunities as much as ever. And let this pig in slop continue to do his thing.

 

Joel Osteen: Wealth, Ethics And Personal Responsibility

I realize the following numbers are suspect and not to be entirely trusted, so when I read that Houston’s Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Osteen’s books and tours take in about 55 million dollars annually, he possesses a personal net worth of over 40 million dollars, and lives in a 17,000 square foot mansion worth over 10 million, I realize those numbers may not be true. However, even if these numbers are cut in half, I think we can all agree they are very high and he is a wealthy man by nearly anyone’s standard.

Joel Osteen is rich by means of providing support and inspiration to thousands of people through his interpretation of a religious text. So when he was recently accused of not opening his humongous church to victims of Hurricane Harvey quickly enough, he became an easy and desirable punching bag, facts be damned.

My simple question is this: Why would a very smart, public relations expert not want to capitalize on this golden “opportunity?” If he turned away victims he would certainly be turning away potential future customers. Say what you will about his message, though his marketing skills are unparalleled and second to none.

I believe we are attacking the man for entirely different reasons.

Joel and his posh wife, Victoria, are no strangers to controversy. No need to get into the nature of these controversies here, just go ahead and google away. As you search, realize the great majority of people are not interested in the details of the Hurricane Harvey incident or other Osteen controversies -we are far more interested in expressing our displeasure towards those who become filthy rich through the manipulation of religion and will seek out any opportunity to lash out and take down one who does.

Any chance to take a good hard swing at one who becomes wealthy through preaching about the benefits of giving -to them- in the name of Jesus Christ- will be thrown down. Thus, whatever your thoughts on Joel Osteen, realize he is just the latest poster child for what most people perceive is wrong about the roles of money and religion in society. It is not him specifically with whom most have an issue, rather it is what he represents.

Yet has Joel Osteen done anything illegal? Is he legally bound to open his church to flood victims at first raindrop? Is he breaking the law by becoming rich? Does he have the legal right to be a two-faced asshole should he choose to do so? No (as far as we know as of this writing), no, no and yes.

I personally am not a fan of Joel Osteen. I do not care for him as he comes across as excessively phony and insincere to me. I do not buy into his religion, his style, his message or anything else about him.

So what? Does it matter what I think of him? I am clearly not within his demographic.

If we have a problem with Joel Osteen for whatever reason- personal distaste, perceived moral bankruptcy, philosophical differences, insincerity, etc. that is not on him. Look no further than those who support him and contribute to his lavish empire. No one is putting a gun to his follower’s heads to demand they give their hard earned money to him or buy his latest book.

If his supporters truly believe he was guilty of turning a blind eye towards those in need, he and his empire will feel the repercussions of that neglect. The market will bear itself out as it were. My, or any other outsider’s criticism is unnecessary and serves no purpose.

And just what gives us the right to play moral authority for another’s life? Why should we demand someone else be more charitable and kind with their personal assets or assets of which they have control? If you believe Osteen to be a self-centered narcissist who does not reach out to those in need, don’t buy his latest book, don’t send him money, don’t watch his television shows. And while you are at it, go ahead and practice what you believe Osteen to not be practicing, kindness and charity. Have you sent money to Hurricane Harvey relief? Have you donated your time and efforts?

If so, good for you! If not, shut up.

It is so much easier to criticize others for lacking kindness than to actually practice it for our self.

If one wants to argue that churches are tax exempt therefore subject to certain expectations of philanthropic duty, I would argue it would be this tax exempt status that should be challenged and changed.

Yes, Joel Osteen is very rich through the preaching of a type of feel good philosophy extracted from bits and pieces of the bible. And if that ain’t your thang, then don’t preach a type of feel good philosophy extracted from bits and pieces of the bible or listen to those who do.

He most certainly is guilty of successfully reaching an obvious market for what he is selling.

If I am going to be critical of anyone, it will be directed towards those that cause harm, oppression and cruelty toward others. Like it or not, disagree with it or not, it is fact that Osteen provides hope and happiness to thousands of people on a daily basis. Not exactly the type of person that will be the object of my personal ire.

So as I read story after story of the lying hypocrite named Joel Osteen, I realize this only represents a much more fundamental issue stemming from a basic widespread belief that the act of receiving money in the name of religion to become rich is morally wrong.

To which I would respond that should you subscribe to this belief, as I do, then do not receive money in the name of religion to be become rich nor give to those who are tying.

I am not.

Yet I support the rights of those imperfect individuals who do.

Creepy Guy Part II: A Progressive Female Feminist Perspective

I would like to depart from the normal expression of my thoughts and hand the blog over to my oldest daughter, Rosie, a resident of London and passionate civil rights advocate. Rosie kindly gave me permission to post her impassioned private response to my latest blog entry concerning creepy guys. I received A LOT of feedback from this blog in many forms –conversations, emails, formal written responses, yet, in all, I believe her response strikes to the core of the issue that must be shared.

First, a few things to give some context:

  • In spite of the fact the primary intent of the blog was either poorly communicated or misunderstood, with said intent being the use of all generalized terms that tend to classify large groups of people in general, unproductive and stereotypical fashion, she does strike at the more troubling deeper societal concern: Patriarchal power and practice that many believe necessitates the need to identify the “creepy guy;” which, upon reflection, is a gravely more important issue than the stance one takes on the use of the word creep.
  • Secondly, it is important to note the “conversation” she refers to me having -it never happened -it was a facebook post, stating the creepiness of all older men, which was mistaken for a conversation. In reality, I never responded to the “facebooker” at all; yet Rosie’s points are still very well taken and appreciated.
  • Lastly, if you want to hear an EXCELLENT podcast from an expert on fear, Gavin de Becker, and in particular the fear women experience on a daily basis, this is a must listen. Quite frankly, as I come to a better understanding of this fear and educate myself, it simultaneously makes me both very sad and very angry. I so appreciate those like Rosie who can assertively state their point of view and better inform the rest of us all the while not taking shit from anyone. I wish we had more like her.

So sit back and allow my girl to unpack on her pops…

I just want to unpack my thoughts after I read your blog, so I’m not directly attacking your post or you as a writer at all, but it was a trigger for me, and these are the thoughts that I want to express after reading it. 

A woman told you about her experiences of unwanted sexual attention from men and you centered it on you. With privilege, sometimes what we need to do is listen.

As women, from the time we are sexualized in the eyes of society we experience ‘creepy’ men daily in the form of microaggressions. We are primed from our early teens to behave in ways that make us innately respond with non-aggression (out of fear) and de-escalate. This is basically instinct for most women.

This is from a well written piece on de-escalation, and how men can struggle to understand it: “Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore. We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation.”

But it doesn’t have to be as explicit as a threat. It can be a look, a comment, a smirk. The microaggressions women experience on a daily basis contribute to the institutionalised construct of patriarchy. Without the sexualization of women on the very micro of levels, the patriarchy wouldn’t exist. Think of sexism like building blocks, the first block is the ‘creepy’ look a man gives you that makes you feel unsafe, the next block is the slap on the ass, the next the threat when you rejected his date invitation, the next is the missed promotion and wage gap, so on and so forth until you have every element that contributes to the marginalization of women. When we are addressing institutions like sexism, every block must crumble, including the smallest of microaggressions, and women need to platform their voice and not de-escalate. We must feel safe to voice when we are receiving unwanted sexual attention from men, because this is beneficial for the macro. However, the trigger for most men is Not me! I’m not creepy! I’m not the problem!

Women do not owe you anything. Women are entitled to think someone is creepy. I know you would have not viewed this conversation as a big deal, but when a woman is telling you of her experiences of unwanted sexual attention, instead of victimizing yourself and tone-policing her (or language-policing in this instance), listen. It’s not about you – and the usage of the word creepy is not on our radar. We have other things to worry about (like smashing the patriarchy!)

Being ‘politically correct’ (or the preferred word, intersectional) is hard, and it’s not easy. The past year especially I’ve spent unpacking my privilege, my whiteness, and how that has affected my perceptions and experiences in every single aspect of my life. When a person of color says something that I view as attacking, and my first instinct is to defend myself (I’m not racist! I’m not the problem here! Not all white people! White people have struggles too you know!) and center it on myself because as white people that is what is taught and what is accepted our entire lives – that our experiences are more important and worthy of a voice (thus it’s an easy mode to default back on – and because you know how stubborn I am anyway). When in fact, the most valuable thing we can learn is “I hear you.” We need to start breaking those building blocks and learn to be an ally with even the most mundane of conversations. But it’s not easy because it’s so damn uncomfortable and tempting to go back to our default response – especially as we get older and think our worldviews are correct and solidified and that we have the right to shout the loudest. 

Sexism and racism are societal constructs. None of us want to consider that we might be sexist or racists on an individual level, but we must accept we have been brought up in a white supremacist patriarchy and we have innate privilege (white women do not hold male privilege as we don’t stand to benefit from the institution of patriarchy, but we hold white privilege, and this dynamic of power is strong). White people have always had a platform for their voices to be heard, white males particularly. I really love your writing, but I think it can be a little toxic when you are using your platform in a way that’s projecting males as ‘victims.’ There are other posts (on police and people of color) that were also difficult for me to read. We must always be unpacking our worldviews and how they are evolving and changing within the scope of intersectionality and feminism, in a personal and a communications context. I learned about privilege and intersectionality in my Intercultural Coms class – I’m really grateful my professor introduced that curriculum as it started to emerge academically, but I have so much more learning to do. We are all learning and we are all trying to do better; we all CAN do better and it starts with listening and with conversations and blog posts and so on.  

Here’s a really great article on being a ‘responsible’ devil’s advocate, I really recommend it: https://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2013/08/10/how-to-be-a-responsible-devils-advocate/

And here’s the de-escalation article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-kelly/the-thing-all-women-do-you-dont-know-about_b_8630416.html

Anyway, that has OBVIOUSLY digressed away from your blog post, which I am not attacking, but stuff I have wanted to share for a while, that you don’t have to take on board (and it’s fine if you don’t want to) but I wanted to unpack with you. 

I’m honored. Thank you.

I’m A Creep. I’m A Weirdo. What The Hell Am I Blogging Here?

Creepy: Having or causing a creeping sensation of the skin, as from horror or fear.

As I have written about previously, it seems we prefer to relegate specific negative descriptions of people to specific genders. For example, men are assholes while women are crazy. When it comes to the creep, it seems we as a society reserve this, what I consider a vague and ambiguous term, nearly exclusively for men.

So today I explore the idea of being creepy while examining just what it means to be labeled a creep.

I first began thinking about the whole “creepy guy” thing when a former colleague of mine; a very sharp, well-educated and progressive minded woman -whom I consider a friend- made the observation on social media that all “older” men are creeps. She wrote that she had a series of episodes when older men made untoward comments and advances on her…therefore concluding that all older men must follow this same profile.

Which, of course, would make the likes of Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, hell, even George Clooney, some of the creepiest among us as decades separate the ages of their younger lovers, but I digress…

I really expected much more from an educated person and, of course, as the target demographic of this stereotype you cannot blame me for being a bit on the defensive, right?

Now, a year later or so, I just read a wonderful blog entry by a female friend of mine, Jean Franzblau, of Cuddle Sanctuary fame, ironically entitled, “In Defense of Creepy Men,” which dusted off the creepy male milieu topic once again in my mind. This very short and readable blog entry -an entry that I would strongly recommend you take a moment to read- refers to the idea that often times certain behavioral signals are frequently interpreted as creepy, when, in fact, they come from a much different place.

Jean wrote:

I hadn’t thought much about creepy men before…I thought that a creepy man was creepy all of the time. What I learned is that a person can come off as creepy because in that moment he feels awkward. I googled “I’m afraid she’ll think I’m creepy” and got over 19 million results. In Jon Anthony’s article, Why Girls Think You’re Creepy, he explains that creepiness is “much more of a ‘vibe,’ than it is a look.” It comes from a lack of confidence and the need for validation from others.

But wait. A lack of confidence? I feel that sometimes. A need for validation from others? I’ve certainly had experience with that, too. I had no idea I had so much in common with creepy men!

As Jean so artfully demonstrates, it is imperative that we take an educated and critical look at behaviors and make reasonable judgments based on the individual, not the stereotype.

Referring to one as a creep is, at best, just lazy thinking or, at worst, passing terrible judgment onto a man who, among other things, may lack certain social skills or possesses physical traits of which he has no or little control.

So just what are these behaviors women believe to be creepy?

I really wanted to dive into the creepy deep end so I did a little bit of research.

Creepiness is all about not being able to figure out whether there is a threat,” said Frank McAndrew, Professor of Psychology at Knox College and author of a study on creepiness. As I have already mentioned, he asserts that men may be seen as creepier than women because they’re perceived as more menacing.

As a result of this study, creepy traits and behaviors include:

  • Standing too close to someone
  • Smiling peculiarly
  • Talking too much about a topic, especially sex
  • Laughing at inappropriate times
  • Not letting someone out of conversation
  • Displaying unwanted sexual interest
  • Asking to take pictures of people
  • Displaying too much or too little emotion
  • Having bulging eyes
  • Having long fingers
  • Having pasty skin
  • Having greasy hair
  • Having dark eye bags
  • Wearing dirty or weird clothes
  • Licking lips

Creepy? It seems to me that any behavior/trait that we do not understand can simply get thrown into the creepy pile. Any one of these traits and behaviors, perhaps sans the sex stuff, can be the result of any number of legitimate conditions. And if man is too sexual? Tell him to STFU and you are not interested. Rather than throwing him under the creep bus assert some much needed boundaries.

And here is what I am NOT saying: There are no such men that exhibit these traits who have malicious intention. Of course some do. There are some people we should absolutely be concerned about when certain signals demand it. My concern is that we have only two options when pondering one’s creepiness, a legitimate concern or an illegitimate one.  A legitimate concern rests in the human propensity to sense fear and danger in the environment due to REAL threats. While recently having lunch in a family bar and grill, a man walked past and the hair on the back of my neck immediately stood on end and I sensed fear. I could not even see his face from my angle, only noticed it was a sleight Caucasian man, probably a bit older than myself, with a cowboy hat and rodeo-like gait. Long story short: My inclinations were correct as he was shortly kicked out of the restaurant for inappropriate words toward a waitress.

However, and this is my primary concern and the one that drives the central idea of this blog, as human beings we have a disposition towards tribalism and when a person, behavior, thought form or new idea enters our life that transgresses our tribal norm, we typically have the same response: Danger. Rather than deal with the nuances of this “danger,” we dismiss it all as creepy and move forward, or, perhaps more aptly, backward.

“But wait Jimmy, you sensed creepy and your perception turned out to be correct.” Yes, yet my inclination was not based on a different type of person (an older white male, just like me), behavior (walked normally), thought form or new idea (we never even talked); it was a purely vibe-filled, guttural like, instinctual reaction of which I had no immediate control. My then rational side can then conclude that rather than calling this guy a creep, he is more likely an alcoholic that needs to check himself into a 12 step. Sensing danger can be our friend, jumping to irrational stereotypes can be our foe.

I would never want to suggest to stymie one’s perceptual antenna of fear, rather make certain this fear comes from an authentic place and not an irrational one.

As I write the word creep I realize the utter mystery and ambiguity of the term itself. We can describe one as a liar, cheat, nice, friendly, mean, loud, quiet, inappropriate, etc…based on a very particular set of behaviors that may lead you to one of the these descriptive conclusions. Yet to define one as “creepy” there are no set and definitive identifiable behaviors that provide a direct correlation to creepy.

Just like all stereotypes, it seems we like to throw the creep term around when we are too lazy to make more nuanced and accurate assessments of human behavior, only to then make rash and ignorant judgments on an entire segment of society because they appear weird to us…which is really just a self-justified form of xenophobia.

In the day and age of political correctness, an age in which we are constantly changing our terminologies in order not to offend, extending olive branches out to traditionally disenfranchised communities and building an overall culture of acceptance, it seems we are fine with liberally throwing out a label to a demographic of individuals who may have exhibited a particular behavior that we can freely and lazily now refer to as creepy simply because we do not understand it, without so much as a bat of the eye from the society.

Defensive much? Yep. As an older, straight, and “privileged” white male it is not often that my demo is the victim of stereotyping, thus it feels a bit odd and disconcerting. However, it concurrently reminds me of the shortfalls of stereotypical thinking that tears culture apart and how I need to be more sensitive to this shortcut way of thinking in my own life.

So, kids, next time you see or feel the vibe of a creep, think again. Perhaps the person suffers from a diagnosis (ie. Aspergers, alcoholism, autism, stuttering, shyness) of which you know nothing about or you are just reacting in fear as you try to make sense of your world.

It’s 2017 and I think it is high time we retire the creepy term in with the faggot, nigger, wop, kike and retard. At one point and time we called all of these once disenfranchised groups creepy as well.

We should know better.