Friday, November 11, 2016

Using Compassion to Guide Your Action after this Election


There have been, now, a couple days to process the shock of the election. I think it's clear that, no matter which side you are on, shock was the first and most dominant sensation of the night. For me, and many others, it was a tragic shock: a sign that our country has turned to a hateful, vindictive little man who embodies the worst attributes of privilege to be our leader. And in the immediate aftermath, and in the days leading up to the event, my world filled with people who feel they are in a different country than the one they were in last year: the veil has been lifted and xenophobic, racial, and religious hatred are now on full display.

But for the most part, this is untrue. And while I support many of the calls for action that I've heard and seen, I thin that we can be most productive if we take a breath here and try and see things as they are before proceeding.

Don't Operate from Fear; Fear Got Us Here

A lot of people look around and think that Trump was elected because of hate. It's easy to imagine why; the dude has been yelling hateful and hurtful things about individuals and groups of people for the last 18 months (or 50 years, depending on when you started paying attention). His lack of basic human decency has been seen as strength by many who are sick of "political correctness" and the news media has been quick to jump on stories where the president-elect's behavior has seemed to validate the impulse to spread racism, sexism, and bullying. 

I want to take some of this apart here and examine it for what it more likely. Walking through this with me might make you bristle a little bit because we have a tendency to reject the dissonance we feel when our basic assumptions are being challenged. I urge you to stay with me to the end and reject me there, if you'd like, but I'm hoping to point us in a productive direction.

The first to conquering your fear of this situation is the realization that Trump wasn't elected by a majority of your fellow countrymen.
 So if you're afraid everyone around you is full of this hate, you're wrong about at least that. This wasn't a country-wide embracing of Trump values. 

But I want to take that a step further. I don't think that they 25.5% of people who voted for Trump voted for Hate. You can criticize their complacence in the face of hate, and that's fair, but I want to show you that it wasn't the hate that they embraced. They didn't vote for him because of his hateful rhetoric, but in spite of it.

Those Red states that put in for Trump are full of people who have watched their lifestyles disappear. They have seen the middle class erode, watched as the powerful union production jobs that their parents had turned into retail jobs, if that. In the meantime, they've felt left behind by a political system that pokes a lot of fun at them and gives them a lot of lip service. For an in-depth discussion about this, in particular, read this outstanding article from Cracked.com.  There is real purchase in making the promise that you're going to bring those strong production jobs back. Are they really coming back? No. That's not likely at all.

The voters put their vote in for the person who was standing up for those jobs, in particular. It was fear of their disappearing lifestyle that drove them to it, not hate of the outside world. There is a fair amount of ignorance of the outside world, that's true. Much of what they know about urban life comes from the media and the media shows what has attention-grabbing content--and it's often scary.

What I'm saying is this: They are in economic turmoil. They are scared, not hateful--those two things are often hard to tell apart. Taken to its extreme, look at Hitler's rise to power. The people of Germany were not full of hate, they were full of fear. This fear was redirected very effectively, yes, but when examining the values of your neighbor who voted for Trump, you might want to start with fear instead of hate.

The Misunderstanding of Political Correctness

Now, it's important to note that Donald Trump's exposed behavior during the campaign would have lost you a job at any company in America.  If you talked the way he talked at Chipotle, you'd be walking out of there that day. Heck, Billy Bush lost his job just by being party to Trump's sexist rant, while he still maintains his status as president-elect. This is a shame, and this is unbelievable. 

Yet many people wrote it off as him "just being politically incorrect." This term "political correctness" is very unfortunate. Coined at a time when the powerful majority was beginning to treat others more like people, this comes across as an expedient to soften the blow for people who can't stand the truth. A much better word for it is "Civility." But there are many people who see the language of inclusion as a shackle that people have to wear. While I don't defend this point of view--any reasonable amount of critical thinking should lead you to the conclusion that you shouldn't be a jerk and alienate people from your message--you should realize that at least many in the Baby Boomer generation are fatigued "PC Culture" and that the umbrella of this term has widened to the point where it encompasses very broad bounds.

Trump's behavior went far beyond backlash against PC Culture--it went far into the territory of ignorance, xenophobia, and hate. But that wide umbrella-definition of PC allowed people a pathway to writing-off disturbing speech as simply irreverent. The news media helped this by constantly sharing the opposing points of view, often unsupported, and many pundits reinterpreted his behavior over and over, offering excuse after excuse.



Of course, this didn't change what he said. But this changed how people felt about it. What the talking heads on TV did was address the dissonance people were feeling and offer an antidote to that dissonance. People had already made up their minds that they were voting for Trump, and what they needed was outside justification to allow their inner dissonance to be nullified. Understand that this doesn't make sense from a logical point of view, but from an inner-emotional point of view, and that is the operating center for most of our decision making.

A New Justification for Hate

Probably not. There have been tons of hateful acts, including attacks, hateful symbols painted on public places, and the yelling of racial and religious epitaphs at people done in the name of Trump. Is Trump, by being president, going to justify the spread of hate? The answer is, probably only to people who were going to spread hate anyway. These aren't new hateful acts being bread by a hateful demagogue (at least I don't think so yet), but this is two different factors: 1) the borrowing of language, and 2) hype.

Young people, especially, are great at taking new language and making it a justification for what they are already experiencing. College students borrow the language of "trigger warnings" to justify the avoidance of dissonant feelings. I've heard of a student complaint where they argued that a certain teacher was too "triggering" due to what was considered an unfair grade on an assignment. But what a "trigger" is and isn't has deep psychological definitions. One, for example, doesn't have PTSD after a sad event; trauma is different than sadness and has a separate and specific definition. But the buzz of triggers allows people to co-opt the language and use it for the ends that they've already embraced.

So I don't think Trump will justify bullying, racism, or hatred--he will simply contextualize it for people who are already bullies, racists, or hateful. It offers a context, but it doesn't necessarily spread the feeling.

The second part is that the media is quick to publicize acts that are contextualized so. The media gives us a distorted mirror--often helpful and informative, but often just frightening. Scary things sell, plain and simple. 

Stop Living in an Alternate Reality--Be Where You Are

Be prepared for hard times. Remember that the hard times you've been through have served as practice for getting through these hard times. And these hard times will give you the practice for the next time. But there is no point in ignoring where we are. And if the worst-case scenarios are right, and you are one of the vulnerable ones in the upcoming policy changes, you still have to deal with it. I'm sorry about that, and there are a lot of things that I'm worried about--a lot of things--but ignoring it won't get us out of the situation.

The truth is, not everyone makes it through hard times. But remember that not everyone made it through the last hard times that you might not have felt. There are a lot of people in this country with a lot of different hopes and fears. Waves have crests and troughs, folks. We have to go through them all. Something my family always says, a phrase borrowed from a video game, "You can't flee this fight!" 

Look down at your feet. Those feet, right now, are where and when you are. Whenever you need to be reminded, look at them again, take a couple breaths. You are anchored here and here is the only place where you can deal with things--not in your head, where and when your feet are. Heads lie to us about different times--past and future--and different possibilities that didn't and won't happen. But your feet don't lie.

A Call to Action

Before taking action, we need to understand our parameters. Do I think you should take action against a demagogue? Yes, of course. But I strongly advise you to do your homework to understand what is going on. If you walk into this with the assumption that the sky is falling, you're not likely to get far. And even worse, your actions will likely be driven by the same fear that got us here and will be knee-jerks instead of calculations. Whatever action you take, it should be intelligent and calculated.

Another direction I have to urge you is the direction of inclusion. We are angry for feeling outcast from the dominant political force and his points of view. Lets not make the same mistake. If we mistake the voters as A) most of the population, and B) embracing hate, we will not be inclusive of their actual, legitimate concerns. We will strengthen their resolve to go in the direction of a substance-less fool who says the right things in the right tone of voice.

The action we take--whatever it is--should be driven by compassion. I'd rather you felt sorry for the people who embraced Trump than remained fearful or hateful of them. People didn't come out to vote in the numbers that were expected partially because their concerns were brushed off and the brushing off of the the other candidate made people feel outcast as well, or strengthened their feeling of being left behind.

To me, the biggest mistake we can make is to bristle. We have a tendency to lash out at each other on social media and fall into the name-calling that we despise. We jump to conclusions about each other. There has been a huge tendency to use broad generalizations to write-off what someone else has to say. This is mainly because we don't like the dissonance of hearing another point of view. You don't have to accept that point of view, but being closing your ears to it and attacking the point of view doesn't get you very far. It just pushes them in the opposite direction. Understanding their point of view with an open mind and open heart is the only logical path towards unity. These are easy words to say when you're the winner--harder words to say when you've lost.

Embrace the challenge. Make a plan. Share your plan. And regardless of which side you stand on, help and make our world better. As long as the divide exists and cooperation isn't expected, anything can be done without the consent of the other side. Is that how we want to live?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Classic Novels Retitled as Clickbait--Number 2 Will Blow Your Mind!

We all know that no one reads anymore. Well, they do, but they read short, punchy articles designed to titillate, enrage, or stroke the ego while they sit on the toilet looking at their phones. However, as someone who pushes reading on the public, professionally, and as someone who writes books and hopes people might take to reading again, I have done the hard work of making Literature relevant again with these clickbait titles. In fact, I've taken the liberty of linking these titles to places where they can be purchased. Since my readership is so high, I'm pretty sure the folks at Amazon will be sending me a nice big check as a thank-you.

1. A White Boy stumbles across a Runaway Slave. His Reaction is Perfect!



2. A Man takes a Job on a Whaling Ship. What he thinks of the Captain will Blow Your Mind. 


3. A Tornado Sweeps Away a Girls House. Where it Takes her is Surprising!



4. A Man Survives the Bombing of Dresden. What He Has to Say About it is Hilarious!



5. Member of the One Percent is visited by three ghosts. What he learns from the third one is amazing.

 

6. THIS man think humans should have freedom of choice. God's reaction is a bit overboard. 

 

7. A Man with a Severe Learning Disability and his Friend are Looking for Work. The Kind of Animal They would like to Raise is Puzzling. 

 

Well, my work here is done! This alone probably did more for reading then my 14 years as a professor! You're welcome, progeny. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Inane Rambling of Rankin/Bass' "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is without a doubt the most asinine and repulsive Christmas special available to the imagination. It is the purest example of how the technological advancements of the 20th Century outpaced common sense and storytelling. By 1970, Rankin/Bass had a successful formula for holiday television specials; get an aged celebrity to narrate an animated story based on a Christmas song. Rudolph, Frosty, and The Little Drummer Boy all got the Rankin/Bass treatment. Most of these were stop-motion mini-movies--some simply cartoons--and they all have a place in our modern holiday celebration (many more have hardly been seen, of course. Who of us have seen "The Cricket on the Hearth," "Mouse on the Mayflower" [narrated by Tennessee Ernie Ford!],  or "The First Christmas"?). But it's 1970's Christmas special that I want to examine.

How absurd can a show be?

Fred Astaire is a postal worker who takes a break in the woods to frolic around answering Santa's mail for him, addressing the disembodied voices of the children who sent the mail and the woodland creatures who couldn't stay away from the road and are too petrified of the crazy man to do anything but humor him.

He chooses to answer questions regarding Santa's origins and, evidently, he has no fucking clue what Santa's story is. But that doesn't stop

Let's pretend, for a second, that Santa Claus is an new subject for you. You might be excited about the chance to learn a little about the guy.

This isn't the place to do it. According to Fred, Santa was a foundling left on the doorstep of the most ridonkulous bad-guy of all time, the Burgermeister Meisterburger. He's a second-rate Boris (of Boris and Natasha, yo) who hates everything. He rules over a town--evidently the only town in the world--and is some sort of kingish-mayor-guy. He rejects the baby, sending it to die in the forest. Pretty messed up. He's rescued by animals. He's rescued by the Winter Warlock. So now there are two badguys. And he's taken to a little house full of silly little men in red coats. This family that raises him gets him to love toy making and wearing red cloaks. Boom. Origin explained.

The forest animals teach him everything else about being Santa. That is, they teach him how to laugh. I'm sorry, not the forest animals, but the seals. Because they sound like ho-ho-ho, right? No. No they don't.

Anyway, you get the picture. The Burgermeister outlaws toys, Santa makes and delivers them, the Winter Warlock turns into a good guy, and the reindeer fly. It's just that any kid could have come up with better explanations. Let's take a look at those explanations.

Outlandish and Lazy Explanations
  • How did he get his name? He had a necklace with that name on when he was found.
  • Why does he make toys? Because the family that found him makes toys.
  • How did he get his laugh? Seals.
  • Where did he get his coat? His adoptive mom gave it to him.
  • Why stockings? Because "how clean your stockings are" is the only thing that matters in Sombertown, thus they are always hanging them up by the fire.
  • How does he spy on children? A monster living in the woods showed him how to make a magic snowball that shows him what kids are doing.
  • Why does he go down chimneys? A penguin told him to when a door was locked once. It was fun.
  • Why do the reindeer fly? That monster from the woods gave him magic beans.
  • Why Christmas? Because it's the most magical night of the year (many kids feel that this is a chicken/egg situation)
  • Why does he have a beard? Because he grew one.

There are more, but you get the idea. This is pure lazy. If there is some element of the Santa narrative that you've ever wondered about, he was either born that way or a ridiculous warlock/flibbertygibbet gave him the magic ability to deal with it. The lazy storytelling doesn't stop there. The heartless and frightening Burgermeister who chases Santa throughout the entire story never does come around and turn good thanks to love or Christmas or anything, it's just that,  "Well, you see, the Burgermeisters eventually fell out of power."

I would have been dropped from my college had I shown such sucky storytelling abilities.

The Songs

Again, Rankin/Bass really gets me with the poor song choices.  This is a Christmas movie and you'd think that once in a while the songs might deal with that subject. After all, the darn show is named after a Christmas song! But no!

Most memorable of the songs is probably the one where the Winter Warlock turns good. This song starts out as a metaphor for taking babysteps to change your direction in life, but eventually, as the video illustrates, the metaphor takes over the song and instead of learning how to behave, the Winter Warlock is actually learning how to walk like a baby!


The least memorable song is the one that Jessica (the future Mrs. Claus) sings. It's a psychedelic head trip where the girl learns through love (and possibly, drugs) that authority sucks and toys rule.

Aside from the titular song, there is nothing mentioning Christmas. I see this as a hugely missed opportunity.


Conclusions

Rankin/Bass made their money much the same way Micheal Bay does today: taking source material with a built-in audience and lazily throwing together interesting visuals that suck people in. We watch it because watching the same show every years somehow musters feelings of childhood and nostalgia.

But besides, the final message is a good one. It's a lot of fun to watch. I just wish they had put a little more into it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Skeleton in the Closet--An Alternative to Elf on the Shelf

I get that modern-day parenting favors positive reinforcement. In most instances, I like it, too. But let's face
it: Elf on the Shelf features an artistically boring little jerk that has a far-from-positive message. We like to interpret it positively, and I love Santa Claus, myself, but this Elf brings police-state images to the holiday.

So, let's be honest! We've all been craving a return of Krampus, and the Internet Age has brought his awareness worldwide. If you haven't yet heard, Krampus is the Alpine opposite of Santa. A messenger of Satan, he takes children who have misbehaved for the year away. Some say he takes them to Hell, some say he drowns them in a washtub. Either way, parents win.

This year, instead of "Elf on the Shelf," try Krampus' own, "Skeleton in the Closet!" Moritory, Krampus' minion, will spy on your children and make damn sure that they behave!





The Skeleton in the Closet starts off in your child's closet on the first day. They open the door, say, looking for a dress, and find that it's that time of year again! Time to get your act in order so a washtub-toting madman doesn't drown you!










Soon, you find dozens of great ways to remind your kids to behave! Are they getting too excited about gifts piling up under the tree? You'd better remind them that they may not live long enough to open them.













Holiday stories are so heartwarming and positive these days. Let your kids know that the world is heartless and unforgiving, just like Krampus!










One of your kids just not getting it? Visions of sugar plumbs still dancing in their heads? Interrupt their slumber with horror and dread!  Let Moritory keep them on the path of the meek and mild. This year's wish list can be all about SURVIVAL!










If you enjoyed post, consider getting my new book, Danger at Donner Pass, for your kid for Christmas. Besides being about cannibalism, it's also about a skeleton named Moritory and living through the night!