The Recipe for a Shooter

On June 14th, 2017, James T. Hodgkinson walked into a baseball field where the Republican congressional baseball team was practicing and opened fire.  In the end 6 people had been injured and the shooter was killed by law enforcement on the scene in a shootout.  It should be no surprise that this is a situation that can easily be made political.  This was not a random act of terrorism.  The intent was to attack members of the GOP, and the shooter knew who would be at the baseball diamond that day, and the political views of this shooter were that of a “liberal”.

Given the growing unreasonableness on the left, such as the suppression of free speech on university campuses and even outbreaks of violence, it might be easy to say that conservatives are under attack by liberals and that we must increasingly become concerned about liberals.  If we look at the trends of mass shootings over the past 10 years I think we can easily see that this is not a partisan problem.  This is just another of many mass shootings in this country.  Another act of terror of the many that go through our news cycle, where nothing gets done.  But if we want to look at direct response to shootings that were politically based, when Gabby Giffords was shot, nothing was done legislatively because of that incident so it doesn’t seem likely anything will change now.  However, this administration hasn’t been terribly predictable so who knows?

When the name of the shooter was identified, knowing that he shot at Republican politicians, I was immediately interested in who the man was, because I was worried that his political views would be on the democratic side and that in the face of our current administration this might spell trouble for other liberals.  I imagine it is similar to the feeling a good law abiding Muslim must feel when a shooting happens.  Hoping the shooter isn’t a follower of Islam.  My Google search brought me to his Facebook profile.  This was literally a minute after his name had been released by the news.  I immediately saw that he was a Bernie supporter and was anti-Trump and naturally I groaned.  Several posts were public as is typical on any profile that shares stories.  What happened next was something I did not expect.  People began commenting on those posts.  Within a minute, hundreds of comments had been made with the larger proportion of those comments being insults hurled at the shooter.  The ugliness of humanity laid bare before me, and it was painful to see watch some meaningless rage.  One might argue that had this rage been directed to the actual shooter, maybe we could somehow have sympathy for such actions, but the shooter was dead.  The only people that could possible see this was family.  The anger could only hurt people who were only guilty of knowing the shooter.  No information about his family supporting him had been reported.  He could have been divorced, estranged, hated by them.  Perhaps they knew the man he once was and were simply saddened by the whole situation.  They were perhaps as appalled as anyone else at what Mr. Hodgkinson had done, and were simply grieving at the death of a man they thought they knew, or once knew.  I don’t understand people.  Unless a shooter actually killed somebody that I loved, I can’t imagine myself feeling enough rage to do the equivalent of “spitting on his grave”.

But I then reflected on my initial reactions to the shooting.  They were none too virtuous either.  Worried about how my “group” might be perceived in the future.  And yes even the thought of the irony of Republicans against gun laws, paying some penance for their views floated through my brain.  I am not proud of it, but perhaps this is what we’ve become in a society full of these incidents.  Of course, it’s also natural to have such thoughts, but what actions you take are, in the end, more important.  Despite my thoughts I did not get angry and lash out at anybody.  No shame or mocking.  This is a serious and sad incident and that is the most important position we should take on this matter. And as I saw comment after comment pour out I knew there was something important to be learned here, and wanted to take a few days to collect some thoughts and see what that might be.  I am not sure I’ve completely figured it out, but unfortunately I can’t help but worry that things aren’t going to get better here in the U.S. anytime soon.

CNN laid out quite distinctly all his liberal viewpoints, and that he was anti-GOP, and frustrated by the corruption and income inequality in this country.  The entire laundry list describes most people I know in my life who would never do something like this.  And yes, of course you never know, but I can at least say that probabilistically 99% of the people I know will not do something like this.  When we say that shooters like Dylann Roof are racist and that’s why he did what he did, or that Mr. Hodgkinson was a liberal or Bernie supporter and that’s why he did what he did, is this a fair thing to say?  I don’t believe so.  It ignores the many people who share similar views but don’t do these types of things.  We know John Lennon’s shooter was inspired by Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, but we know that millions of schoolchildren have read the book and certainly had no murderous thoughts because of the book.  The first thing that we have to be honest about, if we truly hope to lessen violent crimes like this in our culture, is that people who do these kinds of things are the confluence of more than one factor.  For any one behavior or trait, or any one environmental influence that you find in the shooter, you will find no solution to what makes somebody do this.  In the population of people that represent any one behavior or influence you will find far more non-killers than killers.

I should point out that there is one trait that all these acts of terrorism have in common.  The killer is male.  Yet of course we will still find far more males who aren’t killers, but it should at least make us ponder, what is it about being male through nature or nurture that increases the odds that they will become a perpetrator of these types of mass shootings?

One of the main points to come out about the shooter is his domestic abuse charge.  Why would someone like this be able to legally own firearms?  I’d like to look at this from two perspectives.  On one hand, it’s easy for everyone to get up in arms about a domestic abuser having a gun, given how often women are the target of incidents with firearms, this should be a no-brainer.  And maybe it is, although there are apparently some loopholes as discussed in the Slate article I just linked, but here is the problem:  he was never convicted.  This matters.  It must.  If we simply start denying people rights based on charges, then the rule of law has no value.

On the other hand, women know all too well about this kind of abuse.  It is very difficult to get a conviction for domestic violence.  What happens if your abuser threatens worse if you report them?  What happens if you do report them thinking, well they will be behind bars so I’ll be okay.  But what happens if you report it, but the cop doesn’t take you seriously?  Or the justice system fails you?  In reading about Mr. Hodgkinson’s domestic abuse case (it was against a daughter and a friend of the daughter), the case seemed a bit strange.  Though charged, he was never convicted because the victims never appeared in court?  Why would this be?  Perhaps they knew his temper.  Perhaps he threatened them. These are all likely scenarios and so the question then becomes, how do we deal with this type of person.  If we believe that evidence is still necessary for conviction, how do we get more people to come forward about their abusers?  How do we protect those victims adequately during and after their case, win or lose?  This is a problem we’ve been trying to tackle for years and there has been some progress, but not enough.  The progress that has been made has been a result of the rise of feminism.  Yes you may actually have to become a feminist if you want to make the situation better for those who experience domestic abuse.  And just because I am sure somebody reading this might say men are the victims of domestic abuse too, I shall freely admit that, yes, this is true.  But that doesn’t mean believing in gender equality is going to make you forget about male victims.  In fact, fighting gender stereotypes that oppress women actually makes things better for men.  Narrow definitions of masculinity and femininity also play into why a lot of men don’t get believed when they say they are victims of abuse.

Finally, we can’t ignore the role mental health plays when it comes to these types of incidences.  In reading about the shooter, beyond the domestic violence incidences, it is clear that he has a history of anger problems.  Anger has been linked recently to gun violence (link is an article that links to the peer-reviewed study but is only the abstract).  From the article:

“Swanson believes that it could be more effective to, instead of looking at mental health history, look at a prospective gun buyer’s record of misdemeanor convictions that could indicate impulsive, explosive and violent behavior.”

The paper also has a somewhat alarming graphic about men who experience excessive anger and gun ownership.

This is only one study and hopefully more research will be done in this area.  It seems also relevant then to ask, where does the shooter’s anger stem from?  Something in his childhood?  Is it some chemical imbalance in his body?  Is too much anger a mental health issue?  I would say yes, but there are a lot of people out there who get angry.  Like many things, any emotional reaction you find exists on a spectrum among people.  We could easily find someone out there who has anger problems but not quite as much as Mr. Hodgkinson, and some people with a little more.  Where do we draw the line and say, “this amount of anger is unhealthy, this amount of anger is healthy?”  And isn’t it more on how we act on that anger?  The study points again to convictions, but if there are none what then? How else might we learn about anger issues?  There are still stigmas for receiving treatment for any type of emotional struggle we are going through are still strong, especially for men.  In our society being aggressive and angry is valued for a man.  Such stereotypes imply that if you were to get help you would be seen as weak and less masculine.  Also, many people think of mental illness as only some condition you are born with or as something serious like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or dementia.  Things like anxiety, depression, anger are things people think we should always be able to control.  Unfortunately, this is not the case and excessive bouts of these things, even if it is temporary within your lifetime can lead to some pretty unhealthy outcomes.

So far, I don’t think I’ve said much new, but I guess one of the other facets of this incidents that inspired me to write this post was to look at the political activism of Mr. Hodgkinson.  Here is a person who has been active politically for some time.  He was a local business owner, was constantly engaged in various political causes.  Signing petitions, getting others to sign.  He was wrote opinion pieces to his local paper.  He volunteered for political campaigns.  Despite his anger problems, here is a man who, at least for a solid portion of his life, tried to solve the problems in society through engagement with people and the system on a non-violent platform.  I’ll quote once again from Sam Harris, because I think these words are very poignant here “…all we have is conversation…you have conversation and violence.  That’s how we can influence one another.  When things really matter and words are insufficient, people show up with guns. That’s the way things are.”  The end of Mr. Hodgkinson’s life are indicative of a man who was suffering mentally.  He was living out of a van, he looked like he was homeless.  Had sold most of his things just to move to D.C.  These aren’t the normal decisions someone makes and at the age of 66, it seems likely that there was at least some brain deterioration going on.  But here was a man who believed strongly about the world not being right, and he wanted to make it right.  And for many years he engaged in that activity non-violently.  Maybe he wasn’t the best representative for his cause, but he also wasn’t wrong.  There has been growing income inequality, the government is corrupt and colluding with the top 1%, and poverty increases in this country.  These are good things to get angry about.  Here is a man who tried for much of his life to use words, and I couldn’t help but thinking of the Sam Harris quote.  The causes the shooter was fighting for really matter, for many of us it feels like words ARE insufficient, and here we have someone showing up with a gun.

I am not trying to make this man seem like some sort of hero, but it made me wonder, given that this was clearly an attack on a political party, what is the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary?  Numbers and organization?  I think the collective population, regardless of their beliefs, can feel helpless as words seem ineffectual in influencing change.  There are so many people in this world and the weight of it is enormous given the rate we can receive information about all the terrible things happening in it.  It’s more weight than our evolution prepared us for, and as one person it can easily feel like the only way to make an impact in it is to really get noticed.  And violence gets you noticed.  Mr. Hodgkinson has far more people thinking about him then he ever did being involved in politics throughout his life.  So when you have anger issues, problems with gun laws, problems with domestic abuse, a patriarchal society, a corrupt government that doesn’t respond to the people, increasing poverty, how many more people like Mr. Hodgkinson will pop out of the woodwork?  Can we stop them all?  Perhaps this is a commonality among all of these types of shooters.  A desire to be impactful in a world that feels unchangeable or a world that is changing with the feeling that it’s leaving you behind.  Either way, the amount of women doing these things is so negligible that it seems worth asking the question why men seem more susceptible to this type of behavior.

There are no easy answers here, and it’s time we stopped pretending there were.  One’s politics and religion certainly play a role, but so many other things do as well.  Let’s not aim for simple correlations and blame that solve nothing.  We know there are societies where this isn’t as big of a problem.  We are NOT helpless when we work together to build something better.  Change, however, does not happen overnight.  It takes patience and perseverance.  I still hold hope that we can find that change through conversation instead of violence, but I won’t lie and say that a worry that violence will continue to rise grows in the back of my mind.  As I think about all those people hurling out rage on Mr. Hodgkinson’s Facebook page, I wonder which angry person is the next to become violent.  Which one of those angry people has a gun, and with the right confluence of factors is the next one to use it.  For all my talk about conversation, I worry that not enough people are listening anymore.

Syrian Refugee Crisis Nearly Solves Homelessness in the U.S., Again

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Omran Dagneesh who nearly solved homelessness in America

Washington, D.C. – Last week, the bombing of Aleppo, Syria caused social media in the U.S. to surge with evanescent concern for their over 500,000 homeless people.  Experts are saying that the plight of Syrians has been one of the best tragedies for getting people to feign interest over the increasingly prevalent problem of homelessness in the U.S.  One of the more moving scenes from last week’s bombing was the vacant expression on the face of a young boy, Omran Dagneesh, who was pulled from the rubble in the aftermath and bolstered vast amounts of fleeting sympathy for homeless people.  Once his wounds had been tended to, reporters had a chance to speak to him about his reactions to the near end of homelessness in the
U.S.  “Of course,” remarked the traumatized young boy, “I am pleased that my town, my neighbors, could all be bombed so that people in America could demonstrate momentary outrage at the terrible homelessness problem.  I mean it’s the most powerful economy of any country on Earth so I was glad that bricks and cement could bury me like that so that people could seem to care for homeless people, even if just for a day.”

Omran Dagneesh’s father echoed his son’s joy at being part of the short-lived concern for homeless people in the U.S.  “I only wish,” said the smiling father whose life was recently destroyed, “that we could have shown pictures of the other children, particularly the ones that died.  Oh and my neighbor who was pregnant and whose unborn baby was killed in her womb.  I’m certain that concern for homelessness could have trended on Facebook in the U.S. in a much more significant way.”

But social media experts say last week’s wave of false concern was small in comparison to last year’s overwhelming spurious concern for the homeless.  Reporters asked Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg whether this was true. “There is no doubt that when millions of Syrians were desperately fleeing the deteriorated conditions in Syria last year, the concern for homeless people was so great that it almost felt tangible.”  Zuckerberg added, “not tangible enough to do anything, but boy you really felt liked homelessness would be over soon.”

Long time Facebook user David Olsen of Battlecreek, MI remembers the time well.  “I don’t know what came over me,” reflected Olsen, “as I saw so many articles being posted about taking in all these Syrians who were completely destitute and in need of help, I suddenly become aware of all those who were destitute and in need of help, and thought about our own homeless.  Unfortunately, I was too busy reminding everybody about them to donate any money or volunteer any time to actually help them.  But you know it really felt good to get the information out.  When news about the Syrians disappeared from my newsfeed, it was like the homeless problem disappeared as well. Problem essentialy solved.”

Other Facebook users like Shirley Potter of Enid, OK however had a difficult time showing overall temporary care for homelessness.  “In general I think homeless people just need to pull themselves off their bootstraps,” said a resolute Potter, “but I am very pro-military, and when I found out that many of our vets were homeless as I learned about how much help the Syrians needed, I was able to join the chorus of people with transient sympathy for homeless people.”

To get the opinion of those who were at the receiving end of this ersatz concern, reporters asked homeless man Barton Kirby how he felt.  Kirby however was too moved to respond by the fact that in 12  years nobody had asked him his name and also that reporters didn’t spit at him.

mcconnellAt the political end of the spectrum Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answered numerous questions from reporters at a press conference last week.  “Ultimately as a nation we can only act like we care for so many things at once, and we simply don’t have the resources to be helping Syrians with so many homeless people about,” exclaimed the senator from the nation that spends a higher percentage of their GDP on health care than any other developed nation.  “Currently we lead all developed nations in the category of child homelessness.  This problem isn’t going to go away unless we really get exposed to some long term suffering of the Syrian people so we can generate some solid and temporary concern for the homeless.”  The senator then added “We also have other problems we need to pay lip service to.  There are our veterans.” asserted the senator from the country that spends more per capita on defense than any other nation over 30 million people, and still has homeless veterans and veterans without proper physical and mental health care after their service. “We also have many people unemployed,” declared the senator, part of a congress whose work to pass jobs bills has been dwarfed by the over 60 times they tried to repeal the ACA, “so you see we have our hands full with all these other things we pretend are important, and can’t possibly help Syrian refugees.  And we’d like to thank the media for exposing the issues the good people of Syria face so we can continue this very moral and serious façade of being too busy working on our own problems to help others.”

Some detractors say that ultimately helping people is really more about the political and popular will to do so, but Dave Olsen disagrees.  “The only way we can solve homelessness through mock empathy is if we remain vigilant to stories about the suffering of the Syrian people.  I, along with many others on social media, are working together as a community to make sure that the Syrians never get helped while inspiring us to keep talking, but not actually doing anything, about the very important topic of homelessness.”

Racism Thwarted Thanks to Social Media

Former Racist Ellen Degeneres
Former Racist Ellen Degeneres

Burbank, CA – Thanks to a cadre of people on Twitter Monday, racist Ellen Degeneres was thwarted from spreading her divisive, white privilege message to the world when she tweeted herself riding on the back of world’s fastest man Usain Bolt.  People who had gone nearly minutes without being outraged by something quickly piled a dung heap of shame on the unsuspecting Degeneres forcing her to cry and immediately become a better person.

Professional shamer Lindsay Telson told reporters in an interview Wednesday that she was glad she could be one the first to strike shame into the heart of the unsuspecting comedienne. “Some people might have looked at the picture and taken time to consider what it was really trying to say, but I’ve become really good at spotting racism having used Twitter for many years now.”  When asked whether she was still going to continue to fight, a weary but resolute Telson responded “Racism requires all the vigilance that social media can muster.  That’s why I follow so many entertainers and people of import not only on Twitter, but Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.  People look up to them, and if I can be the first to call them out on their racism I know that such attitudes will soon disappear.  Fighting complex and long time problems like racism 140 characters at a time is such a satisfying feeling.  Also,” added Telson, “you get more people favoriting your tweets and more followers.  So you can fight racism together.”

Long time shamer Randy Loeffler, who also helped shame Ellen, said shaming is a lot more in depth.  “You see,” said a thoughtful Loeffler, “good shaming isn’t just about being first it’s about the level of outrage you display or how piercing your comment is to the person you are trying to shame.  That’s really how you get people to favorite your tweet and follow you.  I’m not saying being quick doesn’t matter, but I feel shaming is more nuanced.”  Reporters took the opportunity to further question the experienced shamer to understand the shaming community better, “I’m not really fond of the term shamer.  I mean it’s true, but I think of myself as more of the social police.  We’re a community you know.  In fact in my area we started a Facebook group called Outrage Outreach.  Not a great name, but the person who thought of it was shamed appropriately.  It’s nice to get a chance to get together in real life with fellow shamers.  We don’t get to talk much to each other, but every once in a while we’re sitting at the table looking at our phones, somebody will call out something shameworthy that a celebrity has posted and we’ll all get on it.  It’s a lot of fun, being outraged together and in person.”

But shamer Destiny Carter painted a more complex and discordant view of the shaming community.  “First,” said a serious Carter, “shaming can be exhausting.  You might start with shaming a celebrity, but then some people will support that celebrity’s racist tweet, and then you have to start shaming the supporters too then they shame you back.  And it’s like there’s this bond you know because you clearly both like shaming, but you’re at odds.”  Carter then became pensive before adding, “Personally I have found it hard to find good friends among my fellow shamers.  One time I went out with one of them on a date.  We didn’t talk much, but we I liked the fact that we were getting really outraged, so we had sex.  But when actually talking after sex, while our phones recharged, it turned out that we felt very vulnerable and uncomfortable getting to know each other as people.  The outrage that brought us together was gone. So I tweeted him the next day that I had fun, but that I didn’t think we should go out anymore.  He got upset and tried to fat shame me because of his concerns to stop obesity and this forced me to shame him back to stop misogyny.  I am sure he’s a better person now as a result of it.  I don’t know…I had to block him when he started to slut shame me.”

To get a better perspective on shaming on social media, this reporter talked to Dr. Leonard Orville at Cornell University  who said that social media has really led to a lot of healing in the U.S. today.  “I don’t want to be too bold in my prediction, but I think that if we are able to maintain this level of shaming, by the year 2025 problems like racism will be a thing of the past.  So many celebrities, athletes, politicians, and just regular everyday people are being shamed into a more egalitarian mindset and society is being mended at an alarming rate as a result.  Hold on…is that a dreamcatcher on your tie?  That’s cultural appropriation.  Let me get my phone to take a picture.”

A Letter to Bernie Sanders

Dear Bernie,

First, I hope you don’t mind me calling you Bernie.  You have from the start of your campaign felt like one of us.  Something no other candidate has been able to pull off.  So many presidential candidates seem so out of touch with the large majority of the population, and so the first thing I want to thank you for is being is so accessible to so many of us.  Hell, you even flew coach.  At the age of 42 I find that exhausting and I’m not doing the intense amount of traveling and campaigning that you were. This is just one of the many things I have to thank you for in this letter.

I want to thank you for running a brilliant campaign.  You used social media in a way that no other candidate has done before. To communicate with young people and get them excited about politics (as they should be) is important.  I also know it was a way to get attention that the corporate media wasn’t going to give you.  I imagine the excitement you could have generated in this nation if you had been given similar exposure as your democratic running mate and the progress that could have been made if you were elected.  You certainly deserved it and exposed the fact that the media isn’t trying to respond to the will of the people, but trying to bend the will of the people towards their narrative.

I want to thank you for running a clean campaign.  You made it clear right from the beginning that you had a message and that you wanted to talk about the issues.  You didn’t attack your opponents with meaningless minutia, but gave fair and substantive criticism of their political positions, policies and plans. It’s easy to get disappointed by the election process when it seems like slinging mud at each other is something that has to be done if you want to get elected.  When it seems like pandering has to be part of the process.  You generated so much support by being an honest politician and simply talking about the problems that you would have to face for the job you hoped to be elected for.  I hope that you will be an inspiration for politicians in the future, because we quite simply need more who run their campaign the way you have.

I want to thank you for not using a SuperPAC.  The marriage between big business and government has to end and you lived that message during your campaign.  You depended on support from the people, the unions fighting for the people, and you did amazingly well.  The fact that you gained so much support and won so many hearts without playing by the rules that so many politicians today feel they have to play by gives me some hope for the future of this nation.  You are the only candidate who took the term “public servant” to heart, instead of being the “corporate pawn.”

By not being bought, I want to thank you for always having the courage of your convictions.  You have a long history of political consistency.  This is rare in of itself, and I am sure you had many advisers suggesting that you waver from that in order to get elected.  Even close friends might have suggested that, just knowing the good you could do if elected, but you took the high road and trusted that if being true to yourself got you this far, it might even get you to the highest office of the nation.  Whether we like or dislike a candidate we deserve a group of people to vote for who are exactly who they appear to be.  Gandhi famously said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  You seem to have always lived by that creed.  I am so grateful for that, because I simply thought that candidates like you didn’t exist anymore.

That face. The kind he’d give to the media when they were asking pointless questions. 🙂

Finally, I want to thank you for changing the conversation.  You were substantive and intelligent when talking about the issues.   It may be that there are different or even better solutions to our problems but you never backed down from an honest conversation about them.  You changed the conversation from one that was divisive to one that was inclusive.  You talked in red states.  You talked at Liberty University.  You avoided talking about religion, which has no business being in our political system, but more importantly, because you knew that regardless of one’s individual beliefs we must focus on our common aims than our differences.  We must realize that there is more that binds us than separates us.  You showed political courage even when you didn’t have to for the simple reason that you wanted to suture the tear that seems to be worsening and threatens to move the people of this nation further apart.  You genuinely want to help all citizens of this country, you care about the oppressed, the marginalized, and the unlucky.  You demonstrated so much compassion and integrity.  We sink or swim together and you seem to be the only one who really gets that.

My heart is broken that you didn’t win.  However, my heart is lightened by what you accomplished in this primary.  When a virtuous and honest man comes to the fore it forces a lot of people to ask questions about their own character and so I hope that even if you can’t be president, the greater thing you accomplished was that you created a better political climate going forward.  We need that combination of empathy and courage from the men and woman who want to be political leaders in our country going forward.  Thank you for being an example for those who follow you.

Sincerely,
Swarn Gill

Women in the Man Cave

I was at the gym the other day and there are a number of TV’s there and as is often the case ESPN Sports Center was on.  I couldn’t help but notice the difference between the male and female anchors.  The females standing in there skirts or dresses, never below knee length, always wearing heels.  In fact one anchor, Nicole Briscoe, was recently complimented with “respect for being pregnant while also wearing heels”.  Alternatively, the men were well dressed and looking comfortable.  It is of course a massive double standard and sports isn’t the only place where such a double standard exists, but I couldn’t help but thinking even if we have a standard of beauty that we say we want to appear on TV such a standard is not evenly applied to men.   Men aren’t forced to wear tight fitting clothes, clothes that actually might be restrictive or uncomfortable.  When you look at the the bios of all the ESPN staff, anchors, reporters and columnists, you can see through these many pages a trend in the women all being fairly attractive and reasonably young unless they are a very famous former player.  What’s clear is that when you look at the men there is no similar standard.  While they all may be required to be smartly dressed the standard deviation in age, height, and, in my estimation, attractiveness is far greater.  Women must fit a narrow mold, while men are allowed to represent the diversity of body shapes, facial features, ages, and levels of balding.

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Yes those heels probably are uncomfortable. Pregnant or not.

More disturbingly than this is the level of vitriol that often women face who are involved with sports writing and sports reporting.  I recently posted this video on Facebook but I thought it was important enough to post on my blog as well, because I think it’s important that we be vigilant about counteractive the horrible comments these women received.  This video was hard to watch, and that’s what tells me that it might be worth it for a lot of people to watch it.  The comments these women received reminded me a lot of the type of comments that Anita Sarkeesian has received by trying to introduce a more balanced female perspective into the video game world.  It seems to me that sports are still seen as a male domain, and intruding on that domain has costs to women who try to do so.  If you aren’t pretty to look at, you shouldn’t be there.  And if you try to be more than just a pretty face, like have a mind, then you are going to be sorry.  This seems to be the overall message.  Just anecdotally I tried to look at a couple of the female profiles on twitter to see I could see additional evidence, and what I found is that horrible comments, like the ones in the video happen but are rare.  However, what you also see are plenty of comments objectifying the reporter/anchor.  Comments about how hot she is, or her legs, and as you can imagine worse at times.

I try to focus on the progress that has been made and try to remain hopeful.  Double standards are getting less in the music and entertainment industry.  Sports for women are gaining more popularity and more air time.  I try to remind myself that 20 years ago, seeing a female at all reporting or as an anchor on a sports show was unheard of unless it was a sport which actually involved women.  There seems to be these last bastions of maleness in our culture which is being fought against with all the misogynistic vitriol they can muster.  Some might argue that it is the internet that allows these people to express such horrible words in a largely anonymous fashion, and maybe that’s true to a certain extent, but it also exposes such behavior as well.  I have a hard time believing that such attitudes are a function of the internet, but rather just a larger forum of expression for attitudes that already existed.  This video reminds us that even if we aren’t saying the words to someone’s face they still have the same impact, and I also hope that this video reminds men to pay attention.  These men had an extremely hard time saying these things to the women, and it is likely that they aren’t the type of men who say such things, but they can be part of the solution which is to call out such despicable and hurtful behavior.  Not to be chivalrous or to gain favor with an attractive sports personality on, but simply because it is the right thing to do.  Do it equitably, to all women who are trying to make a living doing something they enjoy, whether it is on social media or a night out with the boys.  And maybe you won’t change any minds, but to be apathetic to such attitudes towards women is the same as compliance in my opinion.  And even if it is only words, we all know what a short road from words to cari_champion_espn_by_lowerrider-d8ry2f0actions there is.  I’m not saying twitter attacks are always the best way to combat these attitudes, but I encourage men to take up the mantle of fighting these attitudes in a manner that seems most effective to them.  At the same time maybe we can also change the standards by which women are placed into these roles.  So it’s not just about what they wear and how pretty they are, but by their passion and knowledge for sports (or whatever subject they are passionate about).  Perhaps if we only want a woman on TV for her pretty face and tight clothing, is it any wonder that so many men only see them as being valuable for such superficial qualities?

The Shame Spiral

Shame is the topic today.  I’ve decided though that I want practice being more creative with my writing.  While I enjoy writing out my thoughts in essay form, and many of you have been kind of enough to appreciate it as well, variety is the spice of life, and I need to practice more variety of expression.  Especially I still have this dream of one day writing some sort of work of fiction, and so I need to practice wordcraft and storytelling more.  And I venture it to such an area, I risk making myself more vulnerable as I express a part of myself I am less confidence in my ability to express.  The connection between vulnerability and shame was brought to my attention this week through a wonderful TED talk. This culture of shaming,

especially through social media has been on my mind a lot over the past year or so, since I saw an excellent interview on the Daily Show with Jon Ronson.  An article on the book he has published is here.  So I shall let the talk and the article do the intellectual speaking for me, and I will instead put forth this poem on the subject.  In my head this poetry would be expressed as a rap, or rather a dialogue between two rappers.  In my head are a lot of the songs from the musical Hamilton which I am sure had somewhat of influence on my mode of expression. lol  Also, fear not, in my head I also know I have the least amount of street cred to be rapping.  🙂

I’m not a lynch mob, I’m just here all alone,
Reading about all the things that I don’t condone,
Concerning people whom I’ve never really known,
Shaming bad people from behind my telephone

You’re fat, you’re ugly, and you’re a fool,
You’re so fucking dumb, didn’t you go to school?
Are you even dimly aware of the newest rule?
Exposing what you are, makes me look cool.

You see, I’ve made the world a better place,
By showing all the planet your true face,
I got no time to check the facts of your case,
Because, I’ll fall behind in this shaming race.

Each like I get invigorates me,
And helps me hide my vulnerability,
I don’t make mistakes, you want empathy?
You see I’m only one person, just let me be.

A million views, the shares have swirled,
Full of mocking laughter, insults hurled,
I’m a link in this chain of shame that’s unfurled,
A virtual crowd to crush someone else’s world

Do you like what I said, do you feel remorse,
Do you feel bad enough to correct your course?
I scream and scream until my voice is hoarse,
Shame is my game, I’m a dangerous force.

But what if you’ve not made anything better?
Addicted to shaming, bound by a fetter,
Just another follower, you’re no jet-setter,
Passing judgment on others letter by letter

Shame never informs, has little to tell,
Gives you nothing to build, and nothing to sell,
There’s no way it will ever serve you well,
Don’t be a part of that shaming carousel.

Was that 8 second verdict more than it seemed?
Shame them to goodness, is that what you schemed?
They’d learn their lesson, is this what you dreamed?
Whose soul did you think would be redeemed?

You’ve put a hole in the soul of those that you shame,
Anger, isolation, depression just fan the flame,
Of violence and hurt, now you’re partly to blame,
Should you make a mistake, do you deserve the same?

We need to focus on things that make us whole,
Don’t stride to divide, and stop being a troll,
Kindness and charity, let that be your goal,
Be a model of compassion, let that be your role

So you see with such ease we’re blinded to the pain,
That we cause for momentary emotional gain,
In a world filled with hurt it’s so hard to stay sane,
But shaming doesn’t help, we’ve got to refrain

I speak from experience, I know how you feel,
To stare at the screen, wondering what’s real,
Forsaking personal growth for mass appeal,
But what part of the heart do you think we reveal?

Oppose what is wrong, but don’t dehumanize,
Know your own imperfections, try to empathize,
Keep on yearning for learning and you’ll grow to be wise,
Add joy to the world and watch your spirit rise

 

Social Media, Fear, Change and Love

It has been a rough past few days.  Even though I thought I had thinned my social media friends to a group of more reasonable people, you still end up seeing the most ridiculous comments come up under friends’ threads in regards to the Syrian refugee situation.  And still there are others that you feel obligated to keep as friends, but at this point I just feel like I can’t do it anymore.  While I feel that it is important to not isolate myself intellectually, what I see through social media does not present me with intellectual diversity, only differing opinions.  Opinions not based on any evidence, but simply fear and rhetoric.  Is it important for me to know that such viewpoints exist?  Sure.  But I know they exist now, and I think it’s time to be done with it.  Let’s face it.  Social media just isn’t the place to change anybody’s mind.  There was one person whose opinion I influenced in my entire 7 years or so on Facebook.  I remember it fondly.  It was a beautiful moment.  Perhaps I hoped I could relive that moment again somehow, but either I’m utterly awful and changing people’s mind, or social media just isn’t the place to do it.  Or maybe it’s both.  Either way the result is the same.  My sanity and well-being is more important, because being bombarded with the kind of people there are out there just drains me of my strength. And I’m not talking about ISIS.  I expect evil to exist, but I also expect us to fight that anyway we can.  Not just with guns, but with the most powerful weapon we have against hate and that is compassion and love.  And I just don’t see enough of it right now.

A lot of the impetus for this e-mail came from reading an article this morning here about fear.  Something I knew, but I reminder of how fruitless the battle is on social media is no matter how many studies or facts you post, ultimately what you are fighting is fear.  People who don’t want Syrian refugees are afraid.  Whether that fear is unfounded or not, this is the culture we live in.  Politicians (especially on the GOP side) and the media love to make people afraid.  People who are afraid are easier to control, the less likely they are to think critically, and the less likely they are to use reason to get them out of that state of fear.  I must ask myself the question then if engaging someone in an issue directly isn’t working, how do I make people less afraid?  I can find no way to easily do that on social media, so I’ve decided that ultimately maybe it’s better that if social media is going to be relaxing and enjoyable than I just need to make it a community that I want to be in.  I’ve thought about dropping Facebook altogether, but with family far and wide, and good friends I want to stay in touch with I know that’s not realistic, but maybe it’s my own weakness, or maybe it’s just age, but I can’t keep getting bombarded with bigotry and hatred every time a tragic event happens and we have the compassionate reaction continues to get treated as the worst idea ever.

To those of you who are afraid.  I wish I could take that fear away.  I wish I could help you realize that statistically, the real things you should be afraid of in this world have nothing do with refugees fleeing for their lives, black people, or gay people.  I wish I could convince you that nobody is coming for your guns, nobody is persecuting you for being Christian, nobody is turning your children autistic or trying to poison you with vaccines, and the anthropogenic climate change is a real problem and not a liberal agenda by scientists.  I wish I could convince you that most people really do want to help you and that most people want to simply enjoy the same feelings of freedom and safety that you have even if you do live in too much fear to really enjoy the life you’ve been given.

Many of you who live in fear, live in a land of what ifs.    I wish I could ask you to ask a different set of what ifs too.  What if things actually get better if we help people?  What if by embracing the unknown it becomes known and we aren’t so afraid anymore?  What if instead of creating more enemies, you gain more friends.  What if defeating an enemy is actually done through compassion than hate?  What if those people who you dehumanize are not that different from you?  What if the difference in whether the outcome of a situation is good or bad, depends mostly on your attitude and that you can make things better simply facing a situation with courage, love, and humility, instead of running and hiding?  And since history teaches that empires often crumble, what I really wish is that you seriously sit down and ask the question what if that destitute Syrian refugee who once had all the comfort in the world but who is destitute, scared and has lost friends, family, and love ones was you?  Really think about it.  Really think about what kindness would mean to you at that point.  Really think about how desperate you might be to even have a remote chance of feeding your children.

And finally to those whose concern for the homeless and impoverished in our own nation have come to the fore.  Assuming you are not just making excuses, then bravo.  We have a lot of people who suffer here too.  We have growing income inequality, a shrinking middle class.  We have a high cost of tuition that prevents many people from getting educated unless they start off life in a great deal of debt.  We have a lack of sex education, we have a lack of social support for families who need more maternity and paternity leave.  We have disparity in public education K-12, and many states that lack funding, accurate historical textbooks, and are forced to not teach strongly supported scientific theories like evolution, the big bang and anthropogenic climate change.  We have a corrupt political system that favors money over serving the people.  We have incarcerated far too much of our population for minor crimes, and a tilted justice system against minorities that prevent them achieving the equal status that law guarantees them.  We have spent vast sums of money on foreign wars that haven’t seemed to make us feel any safer, and have most likely bred more harm in the world than we have helped.  And if this compassion that is overflowing in your heart for your fellow man or woman here in the U.S. I encourage to fight for it every day, not just on days where we talk about Syrian refugees being let into the country.  I encourage you to always be politically active and vote for those people who can bring about the change we need to help our own people.  I even have a presidential candidate just for you. 🙂

You live in a country that over time has helped many impoverished people from other countries.  You have helped women, blacks, and LGBT’s become more equal and gain more freedom.  These are all things to be proud of.  Compassion requires perseverance as well, so don’t ever think you are done.