Search

A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

Tag

human rights

Fuck That (Reparations)

Saw a link to this essay claiming that it was going to jumpstart a movement as grand as the gay rights movement. It claims that “America will never be whole” as long as it holds this debt to the poor black man, compounded with over 435 years of interest.

Well fuck that! The entire fucking globe has shat on my kind for centuries, nay millenia! The Ancient Jews of Before Christ were bartering my kind for livestock, punishing our rapists with our hand in marriage, throwing us to the wolves to save their hairy stank asses from getting rammed instead. And Jesus didn’t exactly fix things. Modern Christians flog us endlessly for Original Sin, accuse us of murder for trying to control our own bodies, guilt us out of life and liberty with sad images of our neglected children. We are the cause of our enemies’ moral failings and we must give up our faces and our identities in order to protect them from punishment.

The fucking President of the United States is a fucking Black Motherfucking Sausage Swinger.

But who is calling for our reparations?

Advertisements

Woman — the Ultimate in Unvalued

Years ago as a teenager in the Christian Church, not so long after puberty struck, I asked my community, “How do I know that God loves women as much as he loves men?” The answers I received were profoundly depressing:

  • God gave a woman the honor of giving birth to his son.
  • Women are the more beautiful sex.
  • Women are naturally more pure than men.

The first response said to me that the value in a woman is entirely contained within her uterus. The second told me that women are not useful for anything. The third told me that if I sinned, more specifically if I were sexually active, then I was more to blame than a man because my nature made me naturally less susceptible to temptation. What terrible messages to send to a confused and lonely teenager!

Today, almost twenty years later, the messages I receive about womanhood are no less depressing. Consider this video documentary on “People with questionable genders.”

Where are the women here? They are absent. They are hidden. They exist like ghosts, only as references to give context to another problem that some men face: gender dysmorphia. According to this documentary, only men are faced with the difficulty of living in a society that rejects them and only men are given the choice to live false lives or to actualize themselves.

It is not politically correct to criticize transsexuals. However, it seems to me rather naive to say that a transwoman and born woman are the same. The former was born into a life of privilege and chose to reject it. The latter was never given the choice. It is rather similar to comparing a monk and a beggar. The former chooses his poverty in exchange for actualization of himself. The latter, on the other hand,  has no flag of moral victory to wave in the face of his enemies.

Once, years ago, I was discussing with a male acquaintance of mine. He bemoaned the freedom that women had to dress as men without repercussion, but that men were considered gay or somehow deficient in their masculinity if they did so. Clearly, I said to him, this difference arises from the fact that a woman is considered an inferior being. It is natural for her to want to emulate masculinity whereas a man who rejects his gender has no justification and therefore deserves the ridicule. Our philosophical discussion ended there. Most men are uncomfortable when their privilege is pointed out to them.

 

 

Perspective

Living in Japan has taught me many things. The most difficult lesson I am having at the moment is understanding how Japanese people can work six to seven days a week for weeks on end, and know the exact number of holidays they’ve taken year to date at any day of the year. I have two acquaintances here with whom I have discussed this point. Both were quite enlightening.

One man works for an interior renovation company as a project manager. He can easily work for three weeks without a day off, and they are mostly ten hour days. I still do not understand how this is possible. When, for example, does a person on this schedule do their laundry? This is in a country where letting your laundry pile up for more than two days is considered bad hygiene, and dryers are luxury items. When we met I learned that he loves surfing and used to live near the beach before moving for his job. His dream is to become employed by a boutique sports wear shop on the shore where he can surf every morning for an hour or two before work. To me, this sounds like a small dream, but to him it is immeasurable personal freedom.

Since we met he told me he has started to rethink his life and his priorities. He wants this job, but he does not know how to acquire it. Japanese are not particularly good at controlling their own destinies. Generally, they are a very passive people. Recently he lamented to me that he would like to quit his current job, but there are no other available options to go to. I said to him, “why don’t you just take a few ‘sick’ days without quitting?” I figured if he gets caught, he wanted to quit anyway and maybe he’ll get some unemployment or something. I feel like this was a very American suggestion. “Ah! What an idea? I never thought of that,” he says to me.  “You really gave me a new perspective!”

The second man works for a local branch of a large sports equipment company (what can I say? I like sports). He is an hourly employee, which is considered “part time” in Japan. The shop closes at seven in the evening and one night I received a message from him “Done for the day!” It was 10:30 pm. He gets one day off per week and on that day he works part time as a mechanic. I said he works too much. He said I work too little. I told him the French consider a 35-hour work week to be excessive. He said Japan is not a country where you can live working less. At this last point, my mind started spinning.

As an economist I am keenly aware of the role of boundaries in our lives. Sometimes the boundary is money, as in we have to meet our budget or else we can’t pay off our mortgage. Sometimes the boundary is very personal and very rigid, like our innate attention span. Sometimes the boundary is imposed upon us by organizations that seem more mechanical than human, like the boundary between on-the-clock and off-the-clock. Boundaries can be comforting, such as when we set a boundary for how much risk we are willing to tolerate in our lives, and then stay safely inside it. But they can also be suffocating, such as when the boss thinks that an acceptable boundary between work and personal life is having access to your social media profile, e-mail and cell phone number, but promising not to misuse them. Boundaries can also control our ability to make good decisions by changing the context of the choices that we make. Japan, I argue, has a problem with boundaries.

As a member of the modern world with access to the internet, you have undoubtedly been told that the wealth available to the average citizen of the United States is greater than that of King Louis XIV, or some other similar claim of modern affluence. Undoubtedly you were told this by some charitable organization hoping for just two dollars a month to save some children from starving, or else you were told by some authority figure who wanted to impress upon you the need to work more and play less. Perhaps when you heard this claim, you thought to yourself, “if I am so rich, then why is my life so difficult?” Indeed, this is a difficult question to answer unless you are accustomed to thinking about how boundaries influence our welfare.

Let us take a moment to think back. Decades, indeed centuries ago, when the sun went down the world went to sleep. Even the lowliest peasant on a Midieval fief was sent home at the end of the day because the fuel to light the fields was simply not worth the expense. Come industrialization, not only did we have the ability to work long, grueling hours, but we also had the technology to make it profitable. From industrialization we moved to telecommunications. Now, even when the work day ended, our bosses could still find us in our homes and return us to work. From telecommunications we went to the current situation of live feeds and mobile computers so light and small that they fit in our pocket, and which are more powerful than the clunky desktop pieces we shared among an entire family barely twenty years ago. From the perspective of the economy, this is a massive increase in productive capacity and it is part of the reason why we are so affluent today. However, all this technology has created a difficult situation for employer and employee relationships.

Years ago, in fact only one generation ago, when you left the job, you stayed off duty until your shift started the next day. It was simply too difficult or else too cost ineffective for your boss to expect you to be productive in any capacity when you were not physically on site. Even jobs that relied on computers (or typewriters, as it were) stayed in the office since many people did not own the necessary equipment to take their work home with them. This placed a boundary on the daily productive capacity of each employee, which in turn restricted overall profits as well as individual wages. Today, however, the ability to take work home with us has reached through to almost every kind of job. Today, if we want to stop working, we have to provide a reason to stop where before the reason was clear: that it’s simply impossible to work more.

The technology that has allowed us to choose when and where we work has essentially created a conflict between employer and employee that clearly favors the employer. Now every employee must appeal for the privilege to stop working. If it is possible to work, why wouldn’t you? seems to be the logic that every company employs. Unfortunately because the power is never balanced between boss and worker, the worker loses ground. It is impossible to say to one’s boss “I simply don’t want to work this much,” without risking one’s job. The truth is that over time, technology has eroded the natural boundary between work and personal life and the individual is simply not equipped socially to reinstate it.

My friends do not work six to eight days a week because Japan is a country where it is impossible to live working less than six days a week. In fact Japan is a country where it is possible to live working every waking hour, and even some sleeping hours. That’s why my friend’s lives are so difficult. In Japan it is even more difficult to assert yourself to your superiors than it is in the western world. This is because Japan has a very well established social hierarchy and sense of obligation. The employer should take care of his employees’ every physical needs right up to subsidizing their rent and work meals, and in return the employees must dedicate their lives to their employers. It is almost as if the Samurai live on with karoshi (literally “death by over work”) replacing seppuku as the means of preserving honor.

Japan is not the only country that is slowly destroying its people through over work. Americans are well on their way there, too. To see this we need only look at the billions of dollars wasted on medicating chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and depression. Unfortunately this outcome is inevitable. The powerful will always take advantage of the weak, and there is an inherent power imbalance in our market system. All hope is not lost, however. We may not be able to control the infrastructure of our society, or be able to tell our bosses that they are crossing the line, but we can appreciate each other on a personal level. We can love our friends and celebrate their lives — lives lived fully, and completely, with work and with play and with love and with responsibility. In doing so we will lessen the moral burden of leaving an organization that abuses us. If we know we have the support of our friends in making decisions that improve our lives holistically, then even if it means risking our jobs, we can turn around and assert our own personal boundaries on the people who seek to use us up for their profits.

It may never happen that, as a society, our right to happiness and leisure is officially recognized. Even if we do everything in our power to protect our happiness and the happiness of those we love, it may always be true that the weaker in spirit will not be protected and will further contribute to a system that consumes where it should be providing. However, even if our numbers are too small to “make a difference,” there is still enough affluence in our society that even if we were to live perpetually at the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder, we would still have enough to live and live happily if only we could remember to keep that happiness precious.

In the end, I suppose it is all about perspective. We have a choice between selling our souls for affluence, or building affluence out of pure spirit. It can be done. It’s scary, though. We are not taught to be alive or to be happy and many of us simply assume that if we just do the “right” things happiness will fall on us. But, no. You have to make your happy. If you take the perspective that the world exists as resources to build happiness, as compared to the perspective of you exist to “succeed” and are only entitled to whatever happiness you can fit into the margins of that success, then you will find that happiness. As an economist I am meant to study the world as it operates in the presence of scarcity, but I don’t think we live with scarcity. I think we live with abundance, if only we were brave enough to reach out and take it.

I keep Coming Back to Sex

It is a reality I am slowly coming to accept: I am addicted to sex.

But I am not addicted in the traditional way, rather more philosophically so. As the international AIDS activist and specialist on Arab sexuality Shereen El Feki said,

“If you want to know a people, you start by looking inside their bedrooms”

And really, I think Ms. Feki is on to something here. Sex is freedom and freedom is empowerment over our own lives and our own destinies. What that means is that sex threatens, or enforces, the power others have over us.

So I keep coming back to sex because I love life and sex is life. Two people having sex can create new life, but they can also emblazon the spark of their own lives. Never have I met a happy person with a dissatisfying sex life. Likewise I have never met a person with bedroom troubles who was happy in every other aspect of their lives or their own self image.

Because sex is so intimate, it is frightening and thrilling to share with another person. However, the individual who is willing to face that fear and all of its consequences in order to reap its profound benefits is able to face their fears outside the bedroom as well. Such an individual is difficult to control, and that is why sex is freedom.

Friends

Visiting my home town for the first time since moving abroad, I got the opportunity to meet with many of my good friends. There was a conference in town — the biggest annual conference in my field — so my mind has been spinning hard at the philosophical level, too. I want to share a few of the life revelations that came to me while spending time with these awesome people.

The first came to me while sitting at one of the fancy designer gourmet restaurants that my city is famous for. My friend, who until recently made her living making lattes and bagels, had come into possession of a gift card and we were determined to milk it for every penny. Our waiter was an absolutely stunning young white man with a backside that threatened the seam of his trousers in a most irresistible fashion. He had movie-star stubble and perfectly shaped eyebrows. Obviously, he was gay.

Towards the end of our meal, I noticed another stunning silhouette. This man was tall and slender and his white shirt nearly glowed against his ebony skin. He was dark, clearly an immigrant and mesmerizingly beautiful. My friend caught me staring and I explained that I simply wanted to know if the view from the front was as good as from behind. Then, as he turned, it dawned on me how incredibly surreal the situation was. Black men? Working in a gourmet fanssy shmanssy restaurant? Sure, he and his colleague were just bus boys, but they were visible in an upscale establishment. Surely this was a sign of social progress.

Alas, no, my friend explained to me. The white gay many was the waiter and the two black men of unidentifiable sexual orientation were bus boys, so clearly the oppression of the black man continues. What followed was a very short and very tense argument between my friend and I. She is a passionate advocate for social justice. I am a passionate advocate for personal happiness. To my friend, all that was visible was the still present discrimination against a social minority. What I saw was a pair of immigrants who happened to be of a similar physical description to a long oppressed social class doing their job in full view of the posh and snobby social majority that is the consumer base of that restaurant. I saw change towards a better world and my friend saw only the vast divide between what is and what could be.

She got angry with me, I think, for being happy. To my friend unless we are all equal there is injustice and injustice is unforgivable. I said to her, “It’s progress! It’s ok to celebrate progress even if there is still a long way to go. Celebrating a little bit of progress is not ceding the victory.” While I was busy feeling proud of myself for having produced one of those lines that, if I ever became famous, would be spun through the inter-memes for generations to come, my friend was busy seething. There are many things that I could say in justifying my position. I believe in rewarding people for doing things right, even if they are still a little, or even a lot wrong. Mostly this is because I have attempted to teach weasels how to do tricks, but also because I believe in being happy. Social justice is a far off goal, if achievable at all. Why would we choose to be angry for our whole lives over the inability to achieve a distant and difficult goal when we could be happy for every miniscule step we make in the right direction? I am not sure. My friend is not an idiot, so I’m sure she has a good reason. I simply cannot fathom it.

Later in my trip I managed to catch up with another friend of mine who is also a wonderful person, but whose life strategies differ from mine on some really raw points. She is stupidly happily married for some ten years or so now. That fact by itself means that we have a lot of divide to bridge in order to be friends, but she is also actively non judgmental of others (of herself, perhaps she is less forgiving), which means that having a big divide on any subject isn’t really a big deal. In the last year or so she has been making serious efforts towards overcoming some of her own personal demons and today, after being abroad for three months, I got to see the first glimmer of progress.

In a short two-hour dinner she dropped so many life revelations on me that I doubt I could list them all if I tried. One, however, stuck out in my mind on account of it being a wholly new perspective for me, and also on account of it being about sex. The vast majority of people, she said, are extremely uncomfortable with sex. Even the “sluts” of the world with partners numbering in the three digits have difficulty with the word “clitoris.” We also talked about a close friend of hers who recently shared a meme, “All a girl ever really wants is one boy to prove they are not all the same.” Later that night as I dosed fitfully in my still present jetlag, I remembered a friend of mine from the men’s forum Measurection. He once lamented that his life’s dream is for someone to look at his naked body and declare his penis to be “hung like a horse,” or something to that effect. As the three thoughts brewed in the background of my red-lining mind, a realization of my own simmered to the top.

I believe that everyone harbors shame. To some extent we all have shame about the physical bodies were are confined to and about the entity that we call our selves. We seek affirmation of our own identity in the love and affection of a partner, but doing so requires vulnerability. We cannot achieve that affirmation without exposing what it is in us that we are ashamed of, and when the partner we choose denies us, they only reaffirm the shame we already carried. Sex is a beautiful and powerful tool to circumvent our existential fears and achieve the total acceptance we crave. What many people don’t know about orgasms is that the truly spectacular ones can only be achieved when the ego is banished from our consciousness, leaving just the raw mindless truth of who we are behind to experience the moment unhindered. It is no wonder, then, that the majority of people in this world are uncomfortable with sex, or that they place as much value as they do on their own social prowess. I guess, in a way, it is also little wonder why I love the topic so much. If you teach some one how to have truly awesome sex, I think it’s impossible for the rest of their lives to remain stagnant and unfulfilled.

On Life, Politics, and the “Right” Thing to Do

Not so long ago I canceled my facebook account. It was election season, and it was also job market season, which meant that I was stressed out to the max trying to prepare my job market applications, and every day when I checked my facebook updates, a ton of my friends had posted nasty, inflammatory, snarky memes about the “other side” of the political spectrum. I happen to be very close with people on both ends, and both radical ends to boot, so facebook had essentially become a war zone with fire coming in from all directions. The academic in me could not just ignore them, or let bygones be bygones, but had to compulsively correct their facts, point out their lack of facts, or elucidate the non-factual subconscious messages that their favorite political advertisements were attempting to force feed us. Before too long I decided I had had enough and canceled my account entirely.

https://www.clarklittlephotography.com/gallery/gallery/MainGallery/Marlin.jpg
The beauty amidst the waves

Later, when the political dust was settling, a gay rights activist friend of mine said to me that even though it felt like a war zone, and even though he felt like the United States of America was still waging war on the humanity of its citizens, he contented himself to know that no matter how bad it is now, we are still better than we were twenty, fifty, or even a hundred years ago. I said to him, “I’m not so sure. Today we wage a war on homosexuality. It is a public war on a private aspect of our lives. My friend,” I said, “one hundred years ago we did not have the notion of ‘being gay’, we just had men and women who went about their daily lives, marrying the people they were supposed to marry, and carrying on their private romantic affairs with whomever they saw fit, quietly, secretly, discretely, just like they’ve been doing for millennia.” At this point, he cocks a digital eyebrow at me. Am I saying that there is no point in waging this war? That gays and lesbians have invented this tyranny purely for political attention? Of course not. But every generation will have its struggle. The world is constantly changing. What is an offense today, is a non-issue of yesterday, and indeed a non-issue of our future.

There are, in my opinion, two ways of viewing the world which were highlighted by my conversation with my friend. One way is to view our universe as if on a path stretching from a single point in history to an infinitely distant horizon. We exist on a single point on this path, and we can look ahead of us and look behind. Perhaps our point is not as good as some other point, so we strive to bring the two closer. Maybe we are successful, maybe we are not. In our forever quest for existential comfort, we might think to ourselves that justice is about moving our world closer to that better point on the horizon. Knowing that we in our finititude can never reach that point, we seek contentment in knowing that we moved ever so infinitessimally closer.

There is another way to view our world. It is possible that we exist in an infinite cycle of beginnings, middles and ends; with every beginning marking the end of something else. In this view, everything changes, but then it means that everything stays the same. There is a peace to be had in knowing that we exist as if in an ocean, with the waves providing a never ending rise and fall to our experience. Our struggles for justice can then be viewed not as a desperate and futile attempt for the shore, but as the necessary churning of our arms and legs in the waves that keeps our heads above the water. Whether we aim for the shore, knowing that we will drown long before we reach it, or we allow ourselves to simply float on the waves, we must nevertheless exist inside the water. The difference is that in this second view of the world, we see the waves for what they are: water moving up and down around us, instead of an obstacle separating us from an unattainable goal.

When I explained this second view of the world to my friend, he wondered aloud to me the natural question: If the universe exists in a constant flux, then where is there reason to ever attempt to improve it? The reason, I explained to him, is that every night we must go to sleep, and in those moments before unconsciousness takes us, we must face the reality of who we are. It is right to love our fellow humans. In loving one another, we enhance our own sense of humanity and we bring brightness into our own lives. It is not a question of whether or not we change the world, but whether or not we direct our intentions towards greater happiness. The contentment in our struggle must, therefore, not come from the realization of the goal, but the realization of the struggle itself. Just as the racial inhumanities of the sixties seemed to be coming to a conclusion, the sexual inhumanities of my generation seem to reach a head. The struggle never ends. The victory never arrives. The beauty, however, of the cycle is that at every moment we have the opportunity to realize in ourselves the struggle between the easy and the just. This, I told my friend, is the only source of true comfort.

The Tyranny of the Binary

I recently mentioned the Tyranny of the Binary and how it forces people to conform along rigid male/female and gay/straight dichotomies in ways that do not reflect human diversity.

In reading the top featured article today on BoingBoing.net, I came across this quote in a section discussing the difficulty of describing the sexual orientation of people who are attracted to trans men and trans women. I am a huge fan of free expression of sexuality, and of sex in general, but sometimes I feel as if the non-straight, gender queer population is inventing enemies that were never there.

Well, I guess it’s unfair to say it’s the queers who are doing it, the straight mainstreams are doing it, too. Homosexuality and gender queer…iality have been a part of humanity for as long, or even longer, than history. It’s just that it wasn’t so important to our identity that we had to name it. The Greeks* didn’t think of themselves as gay, they just went around banging adolescent boys. They still got married, they still made babies, they just didn’t go around screaming “Hey! Pay attention to me! I’m not gonna let you categorize me no matter how many words you invent!”

I understand that it’s a hot topic today: the conservative mainstream found a label that they can use to oppress people and make themselves feel more important, or self-righteous, and the people who are actually being oppressed don’t want to be under that label. But the thing is, it’s not the label that’s oppressing you, it’s the mainstream conservatives who hold power. I know you have to scream loudly in order to be heard in today’s political chaos, but I would respect you a lot more if you’d pick your battles with foes you can conquer: like fighting the media vs. fighting the English language.

*The “Greeks” were men. According to them and according to historians, women aren’t important enough to warrant mention.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑