Lois Maxwell, Moneypenny in 16 of the James Bond movies, has died at the age of 80. I agree with Roger Moore: it would have been great for her to have been promoted to “M.” Sigh…
As the drumbeat to war in Iran grows louder, I look at two basic possibilities:
1) there are good reasons that the average American would agree with for going to war.
2) There are not.
another two possibilities:
1) we can trust the Average American to understand what is in his or her best interests.
2) We can not.
I will put my opinion out front and center, publicly:
I would be willing to trust my fellow citizens, had they the information. I feel that the only honest thing to do is to lay out my own criteria for deciding that the situation is sufficiently dire enough to launch an attack.
1) The best predictor of the future is the past. Therefore, we must assume that it will cost a minimum of half a trillion dollars and kill a million Iranian citizens. If it isn’t worth this, it isn’t worth it.
2) The possibility that the intelligence is WRONG simply cannot be overlooked. Like Dubya said: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…can’t be fooled again.” One of the vicious debates post-Iraq is whether or not the White House cherry-picked the information that went on to Congress. Whether those offering contrary opinions were shouted down, or threatened. Whether the weapons inspectors were in fact correct in their assessments of Iraqi WMD. Was Richard Clark right that Dubya wanted war from the minute he came into the office? This debate has been pretty raw. I would assume that there are many Americans who wish that Clark had come out BEFORE the invasion and said these things. I am one of them. All right then…let’s have a public debate, a public presentation of the reasoning for and against, presented by loyal Americans TO loyal Americans. Let ANYONE who has anything to say about slanted data, shaky sources, shady deals, or ANYTHING else that they would write a book or hit the talk show circuit with in the coming years come out NOW. Let Bush make a public pronouncement: that the ultimate act of patriotism is to stand up and speak. Let him vow publicly to bring the full weight of punitive action against anyone who attempts in any way to retaliate against these patriots who seek nothing more than informed, intelligent public discourse.
2-A) The only reason I can think not to do the above is that you genuinely do not believe in the intelligence and courage of the American citizen. Fine. I invite you to say this straight out, and publicly: these decisions cannot be left to the voter, or the Average American isn’t smart/good enough to sort this out. There is nothing dishonorable about thinking this. It IS dishonorable to lie about the fact that this is what you think.
This is an impossibility, and I understand that. This is, therefore, not a completely serious suggestion. I have to say it, however. In a perfect world, the only ones allowed to present or evaluate information would be those willing to swear that they do NOT believe the average Muslim is in any way morally or intellectually inferior to the average Christian or Jew.
Ideally, the best people to make and evaluate such presentations wouldn’t be Christians, Muslims, or Jews at all. They could be atheists, Buddhists, or Hindus, perhaps. The reason ties into my entire theory of perceptual lenses.
Having Christians and Jews make decisions about what should be done with Muslims is like having Muslims decide what to do with Israel. The only disagreement I can see is on the basis that Muslims are intellectually or morally inferior—or deluded—in comparison to Christians and Jews.
And can’t you see how easy it is for Christians and Jews to come to such a conclusion? They are, after all, dealing with somewhat competing metaphysical views. The average Christian ABSOLUTELY thinks that Muslims are, well, theologically inferior (and vice versa). How can I be so certain? Because I challenge you to find a single “Christian” who believes that Muslim theology is superior. Good luck. That means that the best you can get is a belief in equality of purpose and truth between the two religions. That’s the BEST you can do. That means that one single Christian who believes Christianity is superior skews the entire group. Anyone want to speculate what percentage of Christians think Christ is a greater spiritual figure than Mohammad? Any other attitude is simply contrary to human nature.
Having members of group X comment about the rights, capacities or status of group Y almost ALWAYS gets answers supportive of group X’s interests. Southern Whites in the 60’s would say blacks were perfectly happy—and not quite capable of governing themselves. White South Africans about blacks. Men about women: “why, we’re not repressing them, we’re protecting them!” Women about men: “if mothers ran the world, there would be no wars!” Straights about gays: “they’re sick, and we’re just trying to help them.” Rich people about poor people: “we produce the wealth that benefits everyone. Let us hold onto more of our money, and a rising tide lifts all boats!” Poor people about rich people: “Workers of the world unite!” And on, and on and on.
If everyone making policy, evaluating information and implementing action is of group X, you can be pretty damned certain that, no matter what they say, no matter their intent, no matter their morality, intelligence, or education, they will view the world through perceptual filters that exclude data contrary to their own self-interests, and automatically end every engagement with more territory, wealth, power, or influence than they started the game with. It is automatic, it is natural, it is about as human as breathing.
But that’s wishful thinking. There will never be a situation where we accept the judgment of those who aren’t “us,” no matter how clearly it can be demonstrated that the perceptual dice are loaded. That too is human nature.
So virtually NO ONE is gonna take the position that Muslims are on the average superior, or that Islam is superior, or that the Middle East is superior to the West, a big chunk of Americans will extend the belief in equality. And then another big chunk (anyone want to speculate on the percentages?) believe us to be superior. Which means that the average American believes us superior. Anyone want to speculate how this percentage rises among the power elite? The military? Conservative Christians? You’ve got to be kidding.
That means that you can expect the same result as if you only canvassed Muslims about America or Christianity. Wouldn’t you love to find someone stupid enough to bet with you on the odds of a bunch of conservative Muslims finding America superior to Saudi Arabia?
But I get that even though it is inevitable that if group X has the power to control group Y they will end up controlling Y’s territory, resources, and reproductive rights, there’s nothing much to be done about it. Further, the radicals within group X knows that some percentage of their population DOES consider Y to be “equal” (and boy, do they snicker about that!) and therefore will offer humanitarian and security reasons for doing what everyone wants to do: control or eliminate Y.
This is so incredibly dangerous, and it pops up whenever there is a clearly defined X and Y. And boy oh boy, do we have such a clear definition now.
So…if we can’t step outside the human perceptual system, could we at least have a public debate, with loyal members of our own government appointed to present the case for and against? Let anyone who has information come forward now instead of later?
And how about looking at everyone who was RIGHT about Iraq, and give them a special forum to present their opinions about Iran? We might not automatically agree with them, or consider their opinions golden, but wouldn’t it be the worst kind of folly to ASSUME they are wrong? And if they turned out to be right—again—for God’s sake, wouldn’t you feel foolish and used?
So…if we aren’t interested in the opinions of the rest of the world, could we at least have a conversation among Americans, and have the civil servants we hire to evaluate and gather data charged with making the case for and against publicly? Please?
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Lois Maxwell, Moneypenny in 16 of the James Bond movies, has died at the age of 80. I agree with Roger Moore: it would have been great for her to have been promoted to “M.” Sigh…
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:51 AM
Friday, September 28, 2007
A study suspect that they may have discovered how low-calorie diets extend life. Their theory is that it revs up the mitochondria, the power plants in the cells. Of course, they’re trying to isolate a drug that would enable them to imitate this effect without diet or exercise. Which is both good, inevitable, and bad. The whole pattern of people seeking “short cuts” to meditation, diet, exercise, whatever, is one of the things I love about the West, but also feeds the whole “brain in a box” syndrome that I’ve seen kill so many hearts. They say it might take five to fifty years. Meantime, if you want the effect, why not try I.F.?
Is Hollywood more racist than the rest of America? I have an opinion based on actually working and living there, and the opinion is “no.” I understand why, once one sees the negative images encoded in the films, it would be comforting to think so. But as I’ve said, very few people “grow up” in Hollywood. The scripts and executives come from all over the country. If the movies don’t appeal to the average American, the exec loses his job, and someone else comes in.
I complain about racial images in SF and publishing. So…what is it now? That Los Angeles and New York are more bigoted than the rest of America? Or creative people are somehow more bigoted? My experience has been precisely the opposite. That the reason New York and Los Angeles were destinations for black immigrants is because of increased opportunity and decreased bigotry. Were they stupid or wrong for thinking this to be true? The arts communities…ANY arts community…tends to be more integrated than the surrounding “straight” community, whether you’re talking dance, drama, poetry, painting, whatever. I just don’t believe it. If you don’t like what you see in Hollywood, my answer is that you won’t like what you see in the actual social mirror of America. Or in the actual reality of the way human beings, white, black, yellow, whatever, all over the world, do to each other in the name of tribe.
Artists color “outside the lines.” They would naturally be the first to embrace the possibility of integration. But…here’s an odd thought. If racial equality were ever actually reached, that “outside the lines” tendency might very well backfire, and one would find a GREATER amount of racism in Hollywood than America as a whole. Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone mention THAT possibility before.
For those who disagree: can you suggest a mechanism by which Hollywood executives might be expected to be more bigoted than whites of their income and power level in other cities? I’d love to hear the speculation.
Interesting how, as Jason nears control of his body functions (four out of five days he has no accidents) we see “wobbling” in some of his other behaviors. It’s as if he has a finite number of Appropriate Behavior points, and as he concentrates on one area, he lets something else slip elsewhere. But he’s definitely growing as fast as he can. We got him a bed without crib-rails, and he loves it, but the increased freedom leads to creeping in the dead of night. We have to watch him like a hawk, which is amusing in one sense, but means I have to punish him more often in another. I don’t like that. I hate conflict with the people I love…
Nicki is ending up her first week away at college. Last night, some knucklehead in her dorm hung a heavy bag from the sprinkler system, and it flooded the dorm. Big fun having a slumber party in the Community Center. Life in the big city!
What do I think about the relative importance of Conservative and Liberal position? I think that Conservatism can be the skeletal structure of a culture, its strength and solidarity. Liberality is it's muscular system, moving it into new positions, or its skin, feeling the weather and reacting to the environment. Without bones, you have movement without power. Without muscle, you have strength without motion or sensitivity. We cannot throw away the wisdom of ages, and stable value hierarchies. And we have to remember that we are driven by selfishness and fear--and must constantly seek flexible response and spiritual connection. I see one as the root, the other the branch. Neither is superior, either dies without the other. Male and Female energies, perhaps, Yang and Yin, often in deep conflict, but both are required to create the Tao.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:11 AM
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Just a couple more things that occur to me:
1) Sanchin pressure breathing. Great for developing power, but the practitioners seem to be taking an average of 5 years off their lives.
2) Power stretching/kicking. Not sure why, but the number of hip replacements among American Practitioners of Korean styles seems excessive.
3) Excessive Chinese-style stretching. Flexibility without balancing strength leads to an imbalance and destabilization of the hips. Again, not the fault of the system, but a problem seen in individual schools.
4) Excessive jogging: hip and knee and back problems.
5) Excessive yoga. This is more subjective: I've seen a kind of passivity, an excessive "Yin" quality among many man who do tons of yoga.
The point is that anything, done to excess, can be problematic.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:34 AM
So…Bill O’Reilly “Couldn’t get over the fact” that there was no difference between patrons at an upscale black restaurant in Harlem, and white restaurants in other parts of the town. And then was surprised when people considered his comment racist.
This is sad, and a perfect example of those Right-wing perceptual lenses I speak of often. I repeat again—I think that both sides of the political spectrum see the world through tinted filters, and neither side has an exclusive on accuracy—they just make mistakes in opposite directions, and tend toward different dysfunctions.
In O’Reilly’s case, the preassumption is that there WOULD be a difference between patrons, and it would seem reasonable that he assumed that difference to be on the basis of race. As people often do when they don’t want to take personal responsibility for an attitude, he then went on to say that “this is what white America doesn't know, particularly people who don't have a lot of interaction with black Americans. They think the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg." I believe that in his way, he was actually trying to say a good thing, a positive thing, to facilitate a healing.
I’ve had countless conversations with white Americans, mostly of Conservative bent, who have said similar things. One that stands out is a man who proudly considers himself to be “to the Right of Ghengis Khan” politically, a southerner of considerable education and stature. He was a university professor at one point in his life, and, in speaking to me about race relations—and he’s made it clear that he believes the basic tenants of the Bell Curve—tried to communicate the moment in his life when he began to see that black people were capable of more than his father had taught him. It seems that the smartest student this gentleman ever had was black. “And Steve,” he told me, “once you see a talking dog, you can never look at any dog the same way again.”
And I am quite certain that he meant this as a complement, that he considered this an epiphany and was sharing this with me as an attempt at honest and heart-felt communication. And was terribly confused at my attempts to explain why this was offensive.
I’m afraid that this is one of those cases where you either get it or you don’t. Do I think O’Reilly is a racist? I think that he has attitudes typical of 20th Century white Conservative Americans--that essence preceeds existence, that nature trumps nurture, and that blacks, on the average, were just a teensy bit cheated by God. Well, maybe they were given extra sports and musical ability to make up for the lack of civilization, intelligence, and civility. Maybe. But this attitude rarely comes to the surface, because of a constant century-long hammering of Political Correctness: “Racism is Wrong.”
So everyone agrees racism is wrong, even though it is still a part of the human psyche. So everyone pushes the subjective line of “bigot” just a little farther along than where they happen to be. Why, they’re not a bigot! They just notice reality. They’re just willing to say what others are too intimidated to admit.
So speaking as if it is astounding that black people would behave in a civilized fashion is merely saying that, on average, he thinks (or has in the past thought) that they don’t. And that he belongs to a community of like-minded Fox News Americans who he assumed would agree with his position, and perhaps even be enlightened by his radical news. O’Reilly more honest and sincere than I previously assumed. That kind of gaffe is only made by someone actually confused about where they are on the map. I’m sure he is angered and dismayed by the uproar.
It’s simple: if you told someone “wow! I’m surprised your son doesn’t throw like a sissy!” or “that Jew actually gave me correct change!” or “that white man can actually dance!” or “that woman was actually courageous” you are revealing your preassumptions. One can defend those assumptions, but to deny you have them is merely saying that your values are held so closely to your chest that you cannot see them.
This is the danger of political zealots, on whichever side of the spectrum they sit. They simply cannot see their own filters. Or to put it another way, they cannot hear the talking dog.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 6:59 AM
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
An honest question: we’ve discussed regime change through military action. In Iraq, it seems people are surprised that there were high civilian casualties. Fair enough. Does anyone out there know of a regime change caused by a war that didn’t have high civilian casualties? My sense of history may be off.
Watched “The Unit” last night. Third season opener. It is a threshold show for a number of reasons.
1) Dennis Haysbert is the lead (name appears first in the title)
2) He is dynamic and highly masculine.
3) As of last night, he also has slimmed down. In the first two seasons he was noticeably chunky for a television warrior. Note that every other military guy was lean and ripped. As were their wives. Note that Haysbert’s television wife is Mammy-sized. She’s slimmed down as well. Nice. Still, if you look at the opening credits, his white subordinates kiss their wives passionately, while Haysbert and wife hug each other in a spiritual, non-sexual way. Sigh.
This is important, because my definition of a successful show involves staying on the air more than two seasons. It’s made it, even if it gets canceled next week. I believe Chi McBride starred in an ensemble show—in which he was the only overweight character. Of course, Anthony Anderson stars in “K-Ville” or something, playing a tough New Orleans cop. His partner is half his size.
Man oh man. And don’t you folks dare say “it’s Hollywood.” Hah. If Hollywood is that bigoted, the rest of the country would be Nazis. Everyone knows Hollywood tilts to the Left. Hollywood executives don’t grow here—they come here from all over the country, and if their tastes don’t match the taste of the average viewing American, their careers die.
So the Unit suggests that America is becoming more accepting of a black man presented as…a man. Not safe behind fat padding. Not merely a sexless second banana. Not a spiritual guide. A guy. THAT I find very promising.
Someone misinterpreted my attitude toward Halle Berry’s interracial sexual liaisons. I get pissed at her, but know that that’s my junk. She’s just doing the best she can. And for those who point out that she’s biracial, I say that you’re being blinded by the discomfort of acknowledging your cultural advantage. Are there any biracial MALE stars who are as sexual as Berry? No. And damned sure not with white women. Vin Diesel might come closest, and he’s so light he can play an Italian. What I am angry about (other than the overall situation) is that black women don’t criticize Berry (or other black women) for sex with white men the way they criticized Denzel or Wesley on the occasions they had screen sex with white women. Back in the 70’s, in college, I had black men telling me that having sex with white women was some kind of revolutionary act (!!) but that black women shouldn’t cross the color line. I told them they were full of shit. That people should be free to find love (or lust) where they will. I know black women who will seriously contend that it is somehow BETTER for black women to date white men than black men to date or marry white women. Better for the race, they claim.
They can’t really argue with me, because I have the contrary rather than the opposite position. And if you put them across the table from a group of black men claiming the opposite right for their gender, it would simply devolve into a screaming match.
To me, it’s simple hypocrisy: everyone wants the greatest freedom and latitude for their group. I’m quite sure these women have their reasons. As black men would have theirs.
Separate and equal lies.
iPhone warning: if you don’t have a 2.0 USB port on your computer, the iPhone gets wonky while synching. And there seems to be nothing I can do about it for my old iMac. Sigh. Well, I’ve ordered a MacBook, so it will sync better there. Wish I’d known that, though.
I have been playing around with David Swenson’s ashtanga yoga “short forms” DVD over the last months, whenever I can’t make it to Bikram. I REALLY like Ashtanga (vinyasa yoga) and plan to increase the amount of it I’m doing. I need to be doing yoga three times a week. On yoga days, ALL I do is yoga. I try not to think about martial arts. Do too much M.A. and your subconscious will try to turn you into a weapon. And that’s not necessarily healthy for you, Bubba. But I find the balance between yoga and M.A./weights to be very, very nice.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:12 AM
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Found out that my corneas are too thin for Lasik surgery. Damn. Too bad.
Have a cough today, picked it up from my little Petri dish Jason. Boy oh boy, was he happy to see Tananarive when he walked through the door today. Her trip to St. Louis was a total success, and the Joplin folks apparently loved her Ragtime renditions. Very cool.
So Iran has no gay people? According to it’s president, that’s the case. Well, that says something about the value of having him speak for himself, in a public forum. You can catch him in a bare-faced lie, or detect evidence of serious delusion. I now feel perfectly comfortable assuming he’s lying and/ or deluded about anything else he says, as well.
Sigh. So what’s needed is neutral observers evaluating the Iranian potential for future mischief. Unfortunately, I smell too much similarity between the White House’s comments about Iran and what was said about Iraq. Unless neutral observers suggested that Iran was an emergency situation that HAD to be dealt with within the next 12 months, I would have no interest in trusting Bush and his people—they floundered our way into the most ghastly mistake I’ve ever seen, and I have no reason to believe that they have really learned from their mistakes.
If they’re mistakes. With every additional former member of the administration who criticizes Bush, I have a deeper and deeper, sicker feeling that as soon as Bush is out of the White House, no longer able to manipulate and threaten, there will be facts arising about the entire Iraq war that will make Watergate look like nothing at all.
My Conservative Republican readers: you are faithful, and loyal, and I think you’d be great friends and neighbors. But I honestly believe that your tendency to stand by your principles, and support your elected leaders—especially in war time—has been sorely abused. We’ll get over this, and back on track. I don’t expect any agreement on this, and I’m not offering pity.
But as more and more of you have to admit that Iraq is a misadventure of the most horrible magnitude, I’m sure you have to ask yourself if you wouldn’t have come to that conclusion sooner had the “political football” aspect of the entire situation not been so alive—much as Feminists glossed over Bill Clinton’s infidelities because they liked other aspects of his political philosophy.
I think we’ll be years healing from this.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:18 AM
W is for Writers
I wanted to use this letter to remind everyone what the core principle of all of this is—and the basic reason that I spend my time going over and over and over these ideas. Some of them are advanced, but most of them are pretty basic, and relate to that concept that I call “Lifewriting For Writers.”
The Lifewriting concept suggests that fiction contains, encoded in its most basic structure, the secret to the pattern of life itself: acceptance of responsibility, handling fear, constant effort, gathering allies and abilities, dealing with failure, faith in the unseen, and passing wisdom on to the younger generation.
Applying this to the specific craft of writing asks you to examine the ways that this pattern has operated in your own life, and integrate this wisdom, or pain, into your writing efforts. It asks you to tell the truth about your failures, fears, hopes, dreams, loves, passions, and hatreds.
The idea is that as the work can be seen as a conversation between you and the external culture, the process of working is a conversation between the different aspects of your own personality. That integrating the different “people” inside you allows you to release old pains, dissolve the ego shells intended to protect your essence, and evolve to the next level of your life. Meditation does this, as does journaling, ceremony, and the process of living itself. Writing approached this way is an act of courage and commitment on the part of the writer, and the power of our own inner drive to complete ourselves and move on can create an inner momentum to the work difficult to create through any conscious technique.
Don’t try to be clever. Seek to be honest. How do we approach honesty? My answer is to examine the accuracy of our reality maps, the lenses through which we view the world. They are clouded by self-pity, greed, fear, and ignorant acceptance of Politically Correct ideas—whether those ideas originate on the Left or the Right. How do we do this? Every philosophy has its own approach, but the one most central to Lifewriting says to commit to balance and excellence in all three aspects: Body, Career, Relationship. Why not body, mind, and spirit? Because the definition of “spiritual” varies so much as to be almost useless. Because we’ve all known supposedly “spiritual” people who were simply dreadful.
On the other hand, I’ve never met anyone who was physically fit, honestly employed, and committed to a loving relationship with his/her family who did not seem to be actually engaged with life, open to hearing truth, who did not seem to be progressing from year to year—becoming MORE of what she really is, rather than wandering further and further from reality.
You don’t have to ACHIEVE excellence in these three arenas, any more than you have to reach the North Pole to head north. You do have to commit, to admit that you want security, health, passion, love, contribution. My sense is that anyone who says they don’t is simply lying. I could be wrong about this…but more often than not, when someone claims not to care, it turned out later that they were lying through their teeth.
Look into your own life. Find your own lies. Seek to find truth. Trust me…as you head in that direction, you will stir up massive silt. Meditation, journaling, and writing can help you work through it.
That’s what Lifewriting is about: using your life as a source of writing. Using your writing to empower your life.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:00 AM
Monday, September 24, 2007
Took Nicki to UC Irvine yesterday, with mixed feelings.
Her mom Toni was
at the Monterey Jazz Festival (at our insistence), and
Tananarive was in
St. Louis speaking/performing at the Scott Joplin house.
played Ragtime at the Scott Joplin house! How’s THAT
for heuvos? So
it was me and Nicki, her boyfriend Mike, and Jason. I
was in an off
mood—some combination of stress and sadness, I guess.
I’m sure she’ll
be fine, but I’m gonna miss my little girl.
Meditations a little muddy, but that’s not surprising.
I’m working on
a whole different level of crap right now. In every way:
fitness—I’m starting to bore into new goals. The whole
BKF thing is
interesting. Man, that school caused me very real
emotional pain back
in the day. I just couldn’t handle it. Right now,
I feel just fine.
But I’m sure that the old emotions are lurking around,
even if they’re
residual memories. Have to be careful, not get too
Here’s an essay that appeared in the Philadelphia
There has been a controversy there about the racial
not Barack Obama) but King Tut. (By the way--yesterday
I heard Guliani
opine that Obama will be Hillary's running mate. Not
good idea--a little too much strangeness for
I was asked to weigh in…
The King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute will
doors Sept. 30. Throughout its four-city American
tour, the show has
attracted protesters who claimed it was downplaying
the fact that Egypt
was in Africa, downplaying Tut's African racial
roots. Protests in
Philadelphia spurred the museum to host a conference
in July on the
subject. The King Tut Action Committee of Philadelphia
declared that the
Franklin Institute had "knowingly misrepresented the
young African king
and African history, culture, and heritage to over a
The only opinion I will offer concerning Tut's
that, to judge from their official art, the Egyptians
seemed to consider
themselves a golden mixture, separate from either
sub-Saharan Africans. (That hasn't stopped Europeans
from portraying the
Egyptians _ and, indeed, Moses, Christ, and many
other non-Europeans _
as positively Western-looking. See below.)
If you disagree that Tut was black, fine. But
don't make the
mistake of thinking that black intellectuals who
claim he as are doing
anything other than what other groups have done since
the beginning of
time. The hunger of blacks to see themselves in history
is a core human
need, shared by all.
There is a cartoon by political satirist Jules
Feiffer in which
two intellectuals, one white, one black, sit across
the table from each
other. The black man says: "You have your history.
Written by white men, to promote white power. We want
our history. Black
history. Written by black men, to promote black power.
Our demand is
separate but equal lies."
I've never forgotten that cartoon. It contains a
Everyone wants to think the world revolves around
them. Many indigenous
peoples have a name for themselves that means, simply,
"the people," and
the mythology of many groups in the world suggests
that God created them
first, loves them best, and created everyone else
later ... and less.
This basic perceptual lens, powered by the
emotional need to
feel primary in the universal order, colors a gigantic
proportion of our
political, moral, and even artistic debate.
Perhaps the only racial/ethnic group in the world
denied such a
foundation of mythic history are black Americans.
Torn from their
linguistic and cultural roots, sociologically
brainwashed through 300
years of slavery and another century of Jim Crow
and de facto
segregation, we are like PCs programmed to believe
Macs are the ultimate
In 12 years of public school, I don't believe
I got the
equivalent of a single day's education on the
contributions to America
or the world from people of African descent. Every
day, almost every
hour, it was all about the greatness and primacy
of white culture,
genetics, philosophy and science. I doubt most
white people can begin to
conceive of how damaging this is _ and how hungry
the human mind and
heart are to believe "we" (whoever "we" are) are
capable of, and have
Europeans, faced with the fact that all sorts
of races (not just
their own) have produced greatness, had a nifty
solution _ simply
portray them all as "us." Europeans have produced
countless books and
films depicting Egyptians with European characteristics.
And for the
most part, archaeologists who might have known
different didn't seem to
make much of a fuss.
The image of the historical Jesus Christ is lost
in time, but
rather than depict him as he probably was _ a
Galilean Semite _ American and European paintings
and film portrayals
are rife with blue-eyed blond-haired Messiahs.
Hey, it happens everywhere. Siddhartha Gautama,
the Buddha, is
depicted as Indian in India, and Chinese in China.
EVERYONE wants to
co-opt the powerful image, to say, in essence:
"We were here. We are
here. We make a difference."
Of course, asking, "Was Tut black?" raises
the uneasy issue of
what "black" is, of how much racial heritage
The Egyptians built their four millenniums of
culture in northern Africa
and down the Nile, so the idea that they were
a blend of genetics from
(what we now call) Europe, the Near East, and
sub-Saharan Africa is
And in America, thanks to the defining prejudice
whites, "one drop" makes you black. Anyone out there
think Tut didn't
have "one drop"? I thought not. Is this an absurd
definition from a
genetic point of view? Probably. From an
anthropological point of view?
Probably. From a sociological point of view?
Certainly. Absurd or not,
it once was the law of this land, and it affected
countless lives, tore
families apart, determined lifestyles and careers
potentials. It said who could marry whom, and who
could live where.
This is the reality blacks lived with for 400
years. To tell
them now that claiming Tut as "black" on the
basis of a partial African
heritage may well be on technically "incorrect"
is all well and good--but don't you
dare think that white, or Latino, or Asian, or any
other culture in the
world acts or reacts primarily according to what
is logical, scientific,
or "correct." Human beings aren't wired up that
Take whatever intellectual position you wish
in the discussion
of Tut and his racial composition ... but then
watch the debate with
compassion. We're all in this together. We all
have been the victims,
and beneficiaries, of separate and unequal lies.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:51 AM
Sunday, September 23, 2007
“Many linguists predict that at least half of the world's 6,000 or so languages will be dead or dying by the year 2050. Languages are becoming extinct at twice the rate of endangered mammals and four times the rate of endangered birds. If this trend continues, the world of the future could be dominated by a dozen or fewer languages.”
Another sign that mankind’s ego walls are slowly dissolving. Cultures separate people, and anthropologically, you need isolation to create a truly separate culture, isolation that no longer exists. Again, I believe nations existed to serve a genuine purpose: the difficulty of communication that exceeds the speed of horseback. Once “instant” communication became possible (the telegraph) then all that’s left is thousands of years of propaganda that human beings are extremely different and alien, all caused by the ego-need to rank your own religion, political orientation, language and culture at the top. Others MIGHT be given equality, at the very best. But in our heart of hearts, I think we’re programmed to believe that if it isn’t us, its less than us. Otherwise…wouldn’t we move there? Adapt that religion or way of being? We’re programmed to move away from pain, toward pleasure.
That brings us back to Maslow (or the Chakras, of course). If survival is so primary, why do martyrs sacrifice themselves for spiritual causes? The answer that makes sense to me is that each level serves a purpose. The hunger on that level satisfied, you move on to the next. People risk their lives for sexual satisfaction. They Ignore their sexual partners to dive into their careers. They give up comfort and sexual promiscuity for love. They Risk their careers to speak out with honesty against corruption and lies. And the spiritual realm is about preparing yourself for death—grasping that everything in this world will be left behind. Some religions promise that you can take your ego with you. Some insist that you cannot, that the realm of spirit has no room for the “wealth” of this world—including individual identity. You take your pick, and take your chances.
But no matter how I look at it, I see how every human action in this world either glides along this path or is a specific contradiction to it. If a specific contradiction, one tends to see the culture disapproving of such actions, or find reproductive punishments built-in. The expression “awakening the Kundalini backwards” might be defined as obeying higher levels without anchoring yourself in the lower. For instance:
1) Abandoning your family to chase a spiritual dream
2) Developing advanced political theories without grounding yourself in actual day-to-day reality (isn’t this how Communism got its start? If I’m not mistaken, one of its core proponents let his own children die of malnutrition because he was too busy theorizing? Maslow-wise, this guy missed the bus completely, disconnecting from his own instincts to follow his intellect)
3) Allowing sexual needs to destroy emotional ties.
4) Refusing to mature sufficiently to build a career, then complaining that women aren’t attracted to your “inner being.” A bird who builds no nest shouldn’t wonder at the lack of eggs.
I could go on and on. Sting singing, so long ago, that “the Russians love their children too” encouraged us to see the commonality of man. I am obsessive about this, partially because without this point of view, I would have been like the bigots who directly or indirectly controlled the culture I grew up in—and I refused to be like them.
I just can’t grow up on war movies in which throwing yourself on a live grenade to save your buddies…or a suicidal charge on a machine gun nest is seen as great courage, but Kamakazi pilots or suicide bombers are seen as “cowards.” What? Or hear politicians soberly assessing “collateral damage” as an unfortunate side-product of war, and see them as utterly, completely different from those who actually target civilians to terrorize a population and break its will. To me, the same grim and ghastly continuum.
No, I genuinely see the commonality, and believe that the differences are caused by a thousand thousand different views of the same mountain. And as we climb the mountain together, the view of the lowlands is increasingly similar, and those who climb, from whatever direction they do, will understand what those who live in the lowlands rarely do.
Now, it will serve those of political bent to have the lowlanders believe they are all very different from one another: one of the easiest ways to keep people from evaluating your worth is to convince them that you are protecting them from an “other.”
And boy oh boy, will people make excuses for their “leaders.” I remember several biographers “justifying” or “explaining” George Wallace’s racist rants on the basis that “oh, he was just being political. He swore he’d never be `out-niggered’ by his opponents again.”
What? They said this as if it makes him more human, more admirable. Heck, he wasn’t a bigot, he just used bigotry to assume power. I want to vomit. To be an actual bigot means to see the world through a lens that says “this” group is better than “that” group. That’s your core programming and conditioning. Frankly, I don’t blame people for having such poison in their system…although I applaud when they can throw it over. But you’re telling me this man DIDN’T BELIEVE IT, and still used it? Still made the lives of millions of innocent people hell, just to gain power? To me, this is a thousand times worse. To me, such a person has a reservation in the lowest circle of hell.
It serves those who hunger for power to convince us that the “Others” whoever they are, are in some way critically different, unimaginably alien, essentially…inferior. We can only convert them, control them, or kill them. We certainly cannot listen and see if they have actual grievances, oh no. That would be admitting that we aren’t perfect.
Frankly, in terms of governments falling, or becoming less important, one very real possibility I see is in essence a “Rollerball” world—corporations becoming more powerful than geopolitical governments. They’re wealthy, they’re immortal, they live to increase their market share and answer to no direct human morality. From their own perspective, selling cigarettes to children, or exploding cars to consumers, makes perfect sense. Why should they care about individuals? I figure they have about the “awareness” of simple multi-celled organisms right now.
But wow, I know people who believe in “free market” and “the power of capitalism” to a degree that NO ONE I know believes in governmental power. Seen as organisms, it is to the advantage of corporations to have human beings believe that they are the only answer. Privatize schools, health care, the military? Sure, why not! The biggest problem is that the people who prate about this don’t have what I would consider a logical attitude, that the power of corporations can grow until it balances X percent of the power of political organizations. They seem to have more of the “shrink government until you can drown it in the bathtub” attitude. And if corporations are these simple multi-celled organisms (each with as many cells as there are human beings working for or investing in them) then they have only blind hunger, are operating at the very lowest levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy, concerned only with survival and growth and hunger.
And what exactly do you expect to balance them? And if they aren’t in balance, well…life will be great for those who invested in them, or are in the top 20% of their employees. But I wouldn’t want to be in the bottom 80%.
I haven’t looked deeply into the “Jena Six” situation. From what I see, if the races were reversed, I wouldn’t think that a charge of attempted murder would be appropriate. Five or six kids kicked another kid while he was down. Aggravated assault, I’d think. A terrible thing, worthy of prosecution. But attempted murder? Really? The prosecutor called tennis shoes “deadly weapons.” Having trained to kick both in bare feet and tennis shoes, I can say that it’s the feet themselves that either are or are not deadly weapons. Hitting someone with tennis shoes without feet in them don’t hurt much.
Is there a racial component in this? Absolutely. Hell, the entire context is poisoned, and it’s a lie to pretend otherwise. Hanging a noose from a tree is a clear attempt to intimidate, based upon racial history. As someone whose mother told him stories of black men dangling from trees while whites giggled, I can promise you that there is no comparable threat one can make to whites in this country…except maybe threatening a woman with gang rape, or a gay man with bashing. It was designed to trigger fear, which is what it did. The next months at that school were apparently tense, and there were numerous fights and conflicts. This sounds like the worst of them, but the kid was released after two hours of medical treatment. His attackers should be in jail or juvie. But attempted murder? That sentence, by an all-white jury, begs me to ask the question: would I believe they would be as swift to bring down an identical verdict if the races were reversed? How about if the jury was all-black? Of course, I doubt if in the entire history of this country, any white person has ever been tried by an all-black jury.
I guess the final thought is that we have a crime here, a terrible crime, but the intent was not to kill him but to kick his ass thoroughly.
Of course, I may not be seeing something…like I said, the entire context of race in America is poisoned. After 400 years, we only really started processing those toxins about forty years ago. This shit takes time. Can anybody name a wound that takes less time to heal than it took to inflict?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:50 PM
Friday, September 21, 2007
I saw "The Brave One" last week, and was favorably
impressed. But I can also understand how someone
might accuse it of simply being a feminist version
of "Death Wish" or an upscale rendition of "Ms. 45."
While true in a sense, both criticisms would be, in
my mind, missing the point.
I received an email on the subject from a lady friend
who has, herself, been the victim of violence. She
was greatly moved, experienced the sense of
emotional dissociation that Jodie Foster's character
experienced after her savage mugging. I have
known enough people who have suffered violence
to understand the frustration with the justice
system that can boil over into self-destructive acts
...or a need for cathartic entertainment.
Personally, I love violence in film--if it is integrated
into the story, if it is motivated, if the characters
react like real human beings, at least within the
context of the story world. I love intensity, and
what it does to human beings. And I have enough
personal demons that watching teenage campers
dumped into the meat grinder...or soldiers
battling across a war-torn landscape, or giant
rubber monsters trashing Tokyo, or scar-faced
crime-lords wiping out their competitors...all
this stuff can be great entertainment, done right.
Of course, it can also be done very, very wrong.
There can be a thin line between telling a grim
fairy tale, and exploiting (for instance) male
fear of a woman's power. Or women's fear of
male power. Or racial tensions. Or class
distinctions. I've seen some loathsome things
in film, and most of it comes from viewing
human beings as objects to be torn rather
than human beings with hopes, needs, and
Almost any human interaction is legitimate to
investigate in film and fiction. But forget that
your characters have feelings, and you subject
your audience to a charnel-house tour with
nothing to offer but screams and special
effects. There is an audience for such films,
but do you really want to play to them?
What you CAN do is explore fear and its
influence on relationships. Revenge and its
role in society. Anger and the way it destroys
the heart. Guilt and the way it shatters the
soul. And on, and on.
But always reference your work back to your
own feelings and experiences. We've all had
powerful negative emotions and experiences.
How did it affect you? Really? Take THAT
and put it on the page or the screen, and you
have the core of something real. Build on
that, and you have a work of art, limited only
by the power of your craft.
Craft you can learn. Honesty, you have to
work out for yourself.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:14 AM
About now, I wish I'd make "O for Overstructure"
because then I could have balanced things out
with "U." As it is, I'll have to touch on both, so
you might want to think of this as "U is for
You might want to think of this as the Yin and
Yang of storytelling, or the Male and Female of
it. "Understructure" movies and novels are
those dealing with the internal world of the
characters, their emotions and feelings and
subjective experiences. "Overstructure" films
deal with actions, objective incident, and
sweeping event. I'd suggest that you go to
Variety.com and take a look at the top box
office films. Currently, I see MAYBE one
(probably) heavily understructured film,
"Becoming Jane," which I believe deals with
the life of author Jane Austin. Most of what
you see there is Overstructure, or a balance
between the two. "Transformers" is almost
pure event, with barely enough human
emotion to hold the special effects sequences
together. "Bourne Ultimatum" is actually
decently balanced, because the entire thrust
of this spy film is the search for personal
identity and meaning.
The conclusion we can draw is that most
films are "Overstructure," if for no other
reason than that external events are far
easier to film. They are photographable
acts, by definition, while understructure
is really far easier to pull off in the novel,
where the internal monologues of the
characters can be endlessly explored.
The best, and most successful films are
those balancing spectacle and emotion,
and I would suggest that in your own
creative projects you look deeply into
this, seek the external image that expresses
the internal states, and the emotions that
justify the external actions.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:12 AM
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I got the following email this morning, from a friend who has suffered personal violence. She speaks of her reaction to the Jodie Foster film "The Brave One." Some reviewers got it, some didn't. I very clearly understand the sense of shock when violence comes into our lives. I got the movie, and why Foster was attracted to it. It is a revenge film with a soul. If not perfect, it is disturbingly well-done, with only occassional lapses into B-movie territory. Here, with all identifications removed, is this lady's comment.
"It is astonishing, numbing, to find that inside you is a stranger. A sleepless, restless stranger who keeps walking, keeps eating, keeps living." (said by Erica Bain in The Brave One)
We went to see Jodie Foster's new movie, The Brave One, last weekend. I haven't stopped thinking about it since. It was not what I expected. A vigilante move. Guns and violence. The violence in most films just leaves me numb. This film left me raw. It was both riveting and terribly difficult for me to watch. I rarely cry these days. At movies even less. This one had me sobbing at one point. It's not a tear-jerker movie. But it managed to hit me in a place I live.
I have rarely seen the experience of being the survivor of an assault that captured anything close to how I feel about it. This did. Want to know where I live? See it. There but for the grace ... of family and friends... am I. It is her isolation in the midst of the shattering pain and fear that drives Foster's character in the film to kill. I know the urge. I think it is the people who love me who made, and continue to make, the difference. They keep the rage from becoming all consuming.
Despite the title, this film is about alienation, not bravery. One of the amazing aspects of this film is the way it shows how such a trauma can rob the person of the sense of self. She becomes, in her words, “another person — a stranger to the person you once were.”
People thought of me as "fearless" before the event. I used to have no understanding of those "pitiful" people who were so terrorized by an event that they couldn't leave their home. Then I got to know the experience at the gut level. I am better now. Better but not returned to the person I was. There is a moment in the film that used mood and camera as well as Foster's amazing acting talent to really capture the way that fear can force you into isolation.
Another point in the film that made me cry out as if struck was a near direct quote for things I have said. "I miss who I was with him." I believe that one of the reasons I do better when my son is home is that I like who I am when I am with him. When he leaves, it is always a kind of small death of the self I prefer to be.
One aspect that the move glosses over is that most people damaged as badly as this character was will never be healthy again. Hard to move on when you are always in pain. They skip over what would have been months, if not years, of physical therapy and continuing health issues. The film focuses entirely on the psychology losses.
A part of me had hoped I would find a way back to at least most of who I used to be. Part of my grief - rage and sadness - is accepting that will never happen. Though I have problems with some part of the movie, this is one I had to agree with. Such experiences change who we are. The question is how to be that changed person. The character in the film doesn't find that. I sometimes wonder if I have.
I know that one of the ways I am working through my own issues is through the fiction I write. Recovery from assault is actually a common theme in many of the novels I have written in the last year. The characters find that horrible things can happen and you can still find a way to live a meaningful life. Sometimes I believe it. Other times, I remember this is fiction. I know that writing the characters' triumphs over such tragedies does bring me a large measure of comfort and relief from my own pain, both psychological and physical. It may not be perfect. It is a hell of a lot better than taking massive doses of pain killers or other medications (done that) or going around hunting down strangers who deserve to die.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:36 AM
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Understand something—anything I say here (or any of you guys say, as well) is colored by my own perceptual lenses, which are formed by my beliefs and values. My underlying belief: the vast majority of human beings are pretty much the same. And living and social systems tend to evolve toward greater levels of complexity.
I never said that progress (if that’s what it is) toward a world without Nations (as we understand them today) is a good thing, or that it would be smooth and continuous and uninterrupted. Much to the contrary, I’d say hell, no, it won’t be smooth. The breakdown of “artificial” states (colonial) as opposed to more organic (created by agreements or even conflicts between groups of genetically or culturally similar people) will not “create” conflict, but will release the potential energy of conflict that was tamped down by the oppressive force. My belief? There might very well be slaughters and internecine conflict. But after the most warlike have killed each other off, the peacemakers will have their chance, and evolution continues.
By the way: I think that Conservatives, in the main, tend to concentrate on what is different between A and B, while Liberals tend to concentrate on what is similar. Neither approach is correct. Both need to be factored in, and most sane and functioning people can move between both modes. An excess of either is toxic.
With the disclaimer that I KNOW my perceptions are skewed by my beliefs, here are the major reasons I think that Nations are evolving toward a world-wide network where “the difference between America and Japan will be about the same as the difference between New York and California” in four or five generations:
1) communication. Language creates barriers. With the advent of translated web pages and automatic translation across phone and computer lines, this is shifting.
2) Communication. Instant communication around the world makes a vast difference. Hard to convince voters that your enemies eat babies when they can pick up the cell phone and call a friend in wherever and get their own opinion.
3) Travel. Nations are geopolitical entities. When travel between nations is as rapid as travel between towns used to be, the flow of cultural and genetic information flows rapidly.
4) Intermarriage. As “White” “Black” and “Asian” start melting into shades of brown, those specific barriers lower. Exogamy is a simple fact of human existence—which is why authoritarian states have to pass laws against it.
5) Religion. The more people can discuss the differences between their religions, the less likely they are to kill each other over them. This goes back to communication—the more communication, the less violence.
6) Time. The younger folks tend to bond to the youth of other cultures, and ignore the barriers their parents took for granted. Of course, they themselves get more rigid as they get older. This may or may not be a good thing, but it is certainly consistent. Those who grew up thinking of America as a fortress against the world are going to have fits with the “one world” idea. It won’t be up to you, or your children. It’s 21st-22nd Century kids who grow up listening to African Jazz, watching Anime, and back-packing through Europe who will make the decisions.
7) The real test is your answer to the question: do you believe, at the fundamental level, that we are all the same? Or do you believe that, at fundamental levels, we are very different. Note that either point of view selects some information and deletes or de-emphasizes others. I am willing to state my own position clearly and for the record: I believe that the roots of Maslow’s Heirarchy are the same for everyone, all human cultures and probably most animals as well: survival, reproduction, sexuality, power. The further UP you go (emotions equaling relationship patterns, power equaling forms of government, communication equaling language, intellect equaling reality maps, etc.) the more “different” people get. Religion is one of the worst, because the “faith” aspect of all religions indicates things which, by the very nature of consciousness and existence, cannot be “proven.” But people tuck their fear of death away here, and become rigid as hell.
And this is another place where I think Conservatives and Liberals vary. Conservatives, in my experience, see two different people behaving in different ways, and assume there is a difference in the basic nature of those two people. Liberals look at those same people, behaving in different ways, and think that there is something different about the contexts in which they find themselves—in other words, it’s the software, not the hardware.
While most people come down in the middle on these, I think its not unfair to suggest that this is the broad strokes of the situation. Therefore, for those on the Right, as you see different nations, I think it is tempting to believe that the differences are created by differences in the people. Whereas on the Left, I think you almost inevitably come to the opinion (note that I didn’t say “conclusion,” which might imply accuracy) that those differences are the result of historical or environmental differences.
Add to this the fact that high-testosterone males tend to think in terms of high walls, while estrogen-types might be said to think in terms of open doors. This, I think, explains the problem with racism among cops—it’s perfectly natural for such Alpha types to think “Us versus Them.” And furthermore, at the lower levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy, it’s even healthier. And when I say “lower” I don’t mean “less than.” The roots of a tree are not less important than its leaves.
But once those basic needs are satisfied, we automatically evolve toward more complex and subtle interests and perceptions, including those of unity and Oneness. A percentage of folks will always hold powerfully to the “us versus them.” Most warrior-types I have known tend more toward this than the general population, for instance. They are not “wrong.” In fact, we are only safe because some of our best and brightest think this way.
But I believe we make social progress because of those who have the luxury of standing on the warriors’ shoulders and seeing the possibility of peace and commonality. “Segregation Yesterday, Segregation Today, Segregation Forever” used to be the rallying cry not of radical racists, but responsible representatives of the people, elected to high office. The level of racial intermixing we see today would have been incomprehensible to them, or to a typical 19th century American white or black.
It will not be uninterrupted. There will be plenty of backsliding. But meanwhile, I can use my Visa card all over the world without inquiring as to exchange rates. Exchange emails almost instantly with people in Africa and Europe and Asia. Learn about the lives and customs of people in other countries in their own words, not just filtered through the perceptions of educators and politicians. Visit anywhere in the world at speeds that boggle living grandparents, and for a percentage of my income so low it is absurd. Buy products made everywhere. Watch films and listen to music made everywhere. Watch people of all races and creeds marrying and strutting the streets with their little brown children.
“Nations” have only existed for a couple of thousand years. There's nothing natural or permanent about the concept. They were just the progression from family to village to tribe to state to nation, in a world in which a week on horseback took you to the edge of the map. Do you really think that nations are the end of the progression?
Can't you just hear the patriarch of a family saying "I won't join the village"? The headman of a village saying "I won't join the clan"? The head of a clan saying "we'll never be part of a state"? The leader of a state saying "Uhh-uhh, no Nation for me!" And now nations saying "No one world." And the all=Earth Federation will be FURIOUS at the idea of joining the Galactic Federation...
it is to laugh.
Saying that “things seem more fractured now than twenty years ago” brings a big fat “so what?” Tell me that over a period of generations, centuries or Millennia and maybe you’ve got something. But to me, all primitive (a little political incorrectness, anyone) societies are pretty much the same. As they evolve, they become more different, but the roots stay the same. My guess is that as individuals have more and more right of self-expression, movement, thought, communication and self-determination, societies will begin to look more and more similar, once again. The ONLY way this could not be true is if different groups of human beings are, at their core, quite different indeed. And then, of course, we are right back to a Nature-Nurture argument.
Unless you believe that there are some gigantic differences between human beings, it’s all a done deal. But don’t worry—you won’t have to live to see it. None of us will. But that’s where I think it’s going, and there isn’t a living thing any of us can do to stop it—any more than your liver can tell your legs where to walk.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 12:20 PM
"I think I've been comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with ignoring what other people wanted me to be and being what I wanted (on some level anyway) me to be. But what about you? Do you think removing yourself to a peer vacuum has a dramatic change on most people? Allowing them to better be who they want to be?"
Certainly my opinion. Part of the reason I wanted to move away from Los Angeles 15 years ago was the belief that I would never know who I was unless I separated context from content.
The argument about a "strong man" and an artificial nation can ABSOLUTELY be applied to various African colonial states. And if, for instance, in South Africa the vote had been offered to any black African who, say, had a bachelor's degree...and then made the road to getting such a degree smooth and open for anyone with the ability to earn one, I would have believed that that society would evolve into something perfectly fine, over generations. But the maintenance of power in such a colonial situation demands the infantilization and brainwashing of the populace. Just as there were disadvantages to the end of segregation: black neighborhoods which at one time had vertical integration (doctors, lawyers and gardeners lived in the same neighborhoods) were destroyed when the higher-income blacks had the ability to move away. The neighborhoods often collapsed. Did that mean that integration was bad? No, it means that when you perform an operation to remove shrapnel, the patient bleeds.
Having an outside oppressor draw national boundaries through centuries-old tribal lines creates the potential for vast havoc. Combine this with the standard tactic of playing one group against another means that, if the oppressor ever leaves, blood will run in the streets. Thus, the oppressive force gets to take credit for "stopping" a situation that they themselves created! It is my believe that life tends to organize itself at higher and higher levels of complexity. That the EU--in its current form, or some future form, is simply the destiny of Europe, just as some kind of world-wide unity is inevitable for mankind. Maybe not in our generation, but that as soon as people start trading and talkign to each other, marrying each other's children, they discover they have far more in common than they thought. Nations, in my mind, are dinosaurs and I would expect that in four or five generations the difference between America and say Japan won't be much more than the current difference between California and New York.
When I say that absolutist positions are the root cause of wars, I meant that a strongly held position, combined with the belief that it not only MUST BE TRUTH but that that truth is self-evident, is the root cause of war. So, no, this is not an absolutist position on my part. I neither think it "must be true" nor than others must know it's true unless they are stupid. It is an opinion I think valid, but I know I could well be wrong.
Back to Iraq: IF it was created by the British (and I'm too lazy to check Wikipedia this morning) then there is a very good chance that it was created not because the people living within that territory had common interests, but because it fit the economic or political needs of the Brits. Remove them, and there is nothing organic holding it together, and no real reason for those people to cling to an artificial construct that had nothing to do with their self-interest. Human beings have been struggling to join together for a very long time. People fight, make up, take each other's territory, marry across tribal lines, form societies. They don't need us. Africa didn't need Europe to conquer it--trade relations would have accomplished the same advances, in time. Iraq doesn't need America, and I think there is a kind of bizarre reverse-racist condescension in thinking they do. It's a bit of the "White Man's Burden" thinking. I'm quite sure that every group in history that has ever expanded its borders or economic influence has thought this a "good thing." The cute trick is to say "it's a good thing for the other guy...even if he doesn't want it." Wow. Once you have that attitude, you could justify breaking into a neighbor's house because you don't like the way he slaps his kids. Kill daddy, then demand that the family pay you for the unrequested killing. Once you believe you are right, and have such privilege, any level of greed can be justified. There is ALWAYS a justification for doing what you wanted to do anyway.
Be very, very careful of self-interest masquerading as altruism.
Are liberals more likely than conservatives to think that Iraq "can't handle" demcracy? That might be accurate. But I haven't heard them saying that Iraqis are incapable of it, just that the social institutions that permit democracy can't be created at will, under pressure, during an occupation. In drawing a parallel with Japan, they point out that Japan was infinitely more internally integrated and unified. Every Japanese considered themselves related to the Emperor. When the Emperor told the Japanese people to surrender and submit to occupation, the internal, hierarchical structure was shaken, but held. But Japan, created by centuries of INTERNAL war, is different from a nation created by EXTERNAL pressure. Japanese were being dominated by other Japanese. In my experience, people accept domination by those who look like them much more sanguinely than they do domination by "others." And that is something that those "others" seem to have a terrible time understandign. Why? I think it's because EVERYONE thinks that they're they best, and closest to God. So if we dominate someone, hey, shouldn't they be grateful? I mean, we're the wonderful, golden people! They should suck up our culture, buy our products, work for us at our rates, worship our god, and be happy to let us screw their women. Shouldn't they..?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:25 AM
Watching Christina Aguilara singing with Tony Bennett on the Emmys, one week after Britney’s disastrous go on the VMA, I was reminded that a few years back, when Madonna kissed both of them onstage, all anyone could talk about was the fact that Britney and Madonna kissed. Everyone forgot about Christina. She was literally cropped out of photographs. Wow! Britney…
And I thought: Christina is going to win this one. She’s got the real talent. Britney couldn’t dance, could barely sing. All she had going for her was that she had this “sexiest virgin in the world” act, and a perfect body, which she was delighted to show off at any opportunity.
Welll…she doesn’t have either of those any more. And without Madonna’s chameleon-like ability to reinvent herself, all that remains was her talent. Having the poor taste to appear in a very revealing two-piece, just as she invited people to approve of her former body, she is inviting people to criticize her now. All she had to do was wear a one-piece outfit (without those spray-on ab shadows! Did you notice the disorienting difference between her front and side views?)
Sorry, but whoever is advising this troubled young lady isn’t doing their job. Considering the product she was initially selling, I blame her mother. Didn’t anyone realize this road had a bumpy ending?
But Christina sounded GREAT. Lady has serious, serious skills.
The subject of three “disadvantaged” groups came up in a letter from Dan: Gays, Women, Blacks. Dan, who put in serious time in a women’s shelter, was of the opinion that women seem to him to have the worst deal. Watching the flood of abused women, I can understand his impression. I suggested to him that my own opinion on the subject (“who has it worse?”) isn’t trustworthy—everyone skews data to fit their own position. But there IS a way to determine the truth, I think. After all, a person can be all three, right?
So…every time you meet someone who is at least two of the three (black female, gay black, gay female, or gay black female), if it is possible, inquire about it. Which aspect of your life has given you the most trouble? Caused you the most pain or disadvantage?
Simply tally the results. If readers of this blog would perform this simple experiment when possible and report back, we could try a straw poll.
I can tell you what results I’ve gotten from a very small sample of respondants: Gay is more problematic than female. Black is more problematic than gay. A response I’ve heard several times is that black women don’t join the women’s movement much because they feel they experience the same racism there that they experience with white men. And I’ve had black gays tell me they chose not to live in highly or exclusively gay neighborhoods for the same reason: that in essence, they would rather be gay in a black neighborhood than black in a gay neighborhood. But this is an admittedly small sample. Those seriously interested in the truth, I suggest you go out and gather data.
But my guess is that a lot of people who THINK they want to know the truth will never ask the question, even of people they know well.
Had fun working out with the BKF the last few weeks. The technical stuff is relatively easy, and I’m adapting to the pure fitness aspects. (Again, knocking off a hundred pushups and situps ain’t as easy as it was when I was 20, but the old body is figuring it out…)
Here’s a question for you that I ask clients, friends, and students often: what would you dare to do, if you knew you could not fail?
So often, we hold ourselves back, allowing fear or “reasonable thinking” to stop us. I’ve had people literally tell me that my dreams are too large. That I’m just setting myself up for heartbreak. You know what? I can deal with heartbreak. What I can’t deal with is the sense that I haven’t done my best. Haven’t tried my hardest. Haven’t emptied myself out. When I go to bed at night, I like to feel like I’ve got little left, that I need those hours of sleep for recharge. That if God will grant me the strength for another day, I’ll hit it HARD.
Last week, I lectured a group of tyro screenwriters, and they asked me where I got my energy and passion. I said that it comes from the sense that today, this day, is the last day of my life. That I will never write again, love again, work out again. That I go to bed prepared to die. That attitude leaves little room for lollygagging (although I suppose gagging my lolly from time to time has its joys…) or complaining. What you see in this blog is about all the complaining about life I do. The rest of the day is kicking my own ass as much as possible…and then having all the fun I can.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:19 AM
Monday, September 17, 2007
11) If you want to know why I think wars are damned near inevitable, here’s an experiment for you. Check the last posting, below. Note how many times I stated that my point was NOT whether a person supported or criticized the Iraq action. It was whether a person was not only convinced that they were “correct” but that their “correctness” was SELF-EVIDENT. That there was no way to disagree with them without being a fool or a knave. Please study the replies below, and notice how rare it was for anyone to address my point, or do anything other than insist that they were right, and that that rightness was…ah…self-evident.
a. To say that you are correct is one thing. But when you take the position that the other party has to be an idiot, blind, or ignorant to disagree with you, you create a separate layer of problem. NOW the two of you will fight over the insult before you can ever examine the logical or factual content of your argument. People die in bar-fights, road-rage incidents, and wars every god-damned day, not because one or the other was “right” or “wrong” but because the opinion was wrapped in the kind of certainty that just doesn’t exist outside artificial systems of logic. Within “arithmetic”, 1+1=2 pretty much absolutely. Within the rules of chess, a pawn can only turn into a queen if it reaches the last row. But when you try to apply that level of certainty to the real world. All you reveal is your own rigidity…and, I think fear.
Fear of being wrong forces people into absolutist positions. For instance, a good person who supported the Iraq invasion “for the good of the Iraqis” now has to deal with the possibility that many of the reasons for invading were wrong, and that the death toll approaches the number of Iraqis Saddam was accused of killing. In other words—by the time we leave, WE may have been responsible for more death and destruction than the monster we removed. No person of morals could look at this possibility without flinching. One hears very little consideration of this from the Right. It’s all “the number can’t be that high” and “even if it is, we were right.” Fine. But combine that with “and the fact that we are right is self-evident” suggests a very troubling psychological wound, akin to someone who, as I’ve suggested before, is sitting at a poker table having lost the mortgage, disbelieving that one more hand won’t even the damage. Just one more hand. Loan me the college fund, will you..?
It is the certainty that the position is self-evident that is a gigantic chunk of the problem. It makes it impossible to believe that those who fight against us might not have good reasons for doing so. I mean, its OBVIOUS that America is the good guy! Only an idiot could believe we have anything but righteous reasons for being there! NO ONE could believe that we installed a puppet government, or are there for oil, or that religious zealots are influencing our decisions.
Again, I’m not saying that ANY of the above positions are true. But to think that no one could believe them is, I think, a grotesque misunderstanding of human nature. It seems that I can understand how an intelligent person might believe the world is flat better than some can understand how an Arab might believe that America is on the Jihad for the Middle East.
And note how many times the explanation for a given position is supported by complex data and preassumptions that those who gather, interpret and publish it are all honest brokers. While this may be true, look at the way Americans on the Left and Right mistrust each other now. That mistrust is built into the human mind, once stress becomes strain. The NORMAL thing is to assume the other guys are villains. It is relatively atypical to look beyond this simplistic, two-dimensional us-themism (which is responsible for all racism, sexism, and so forth) and see the world from the other's position. I think that the unspoken fear must be that "If I see the world from his position, and he becomes an empathetic human being, I won't be able to kill him. And if killing is necessary to protect my family, my family will die. So I'll just see him as a villain." There's an element of truth in this. It IS harder to kill if you perceive the inwardness of another. The pale side of this tendency is that you can't turn it on and off, and it operates at the level of unconscious competence--at the same time that it reinforces your deep sense of certainty. And the further you go down that road, the more of your ego you've invested, the harder it gets to admit that you ever could have been wrong.
I've seen too many cases where someone's ego was willing to destroy their body or relationship rather than admit to wrong-headedness, and suffer ego-death. Not for a second do I assume that a group ego would not destroy the world before admitting similar wrong.
Materials under pressure become rigid. Stress numbs you and conceals its own presence. Be very, very careful.
The American who believes that Arabs KNOW we want only freedom and peace for Iraq can only believe that those who fight against us are blood-crazed maniacs. And if you can’t see the difference between believing America wants freedom for Iraq…and believing that this is self-evident…then in my respectful opinion, you are stuck in the exact same kind of mental stress loop which, if you were on the other end of this, creates suicide bombers.
Watch the replies to this, please. See if anyone can get out of the “I’m right and it’s obvious” loop. God, I really hope they can. It would give me more hope for our future.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:49 AM
Friday, September 14, 2007
“Remember what your original question was: you were asking why, if Al-Qaeda and its fellow travellers rationally knew that they were doing us less harm in Iraq than they would do in America, they'd nevertheless choose to pour their resources into fighting in Iraq. In point of fact, that does seem to be what they're doing, so the choices are:
1. Carrying out a terrorist campaign that's actually killing far more Muslims than Americans, for some reason, is actually a bright idea.”
The majority of fighters in Iraq are not, to my knowledge Al Queda. They are Iraqis locked in civil war, and Muslims who believe America is an aggressor in the region, and look to drive us out. Of course, there is Al Queda as well.
2. Waging a guerilla war that is actually a disincentive for George Bush, the neocons, the Republican Party, and the U.S. military to just walk away from Iraq, or even draw down their troop levels, is actually a bright idea.
That assumes that those fighting all think that Americans have good intentions, or that Bush has any intention to leave. Hell, there is no reason for them to trust us more than we trust them. EVERYONE demonizes “the other.” It would be perfectly reasonable for many of them to think we want oil. Americans were TOLD that Iraqi oil would pay for the invasion. What possible reason would they have for believing we’re such nice people that we’d just waltz in and out? Is it really reasonable to expect people to extend such benefit of the doubt?
2. Generally, pouring vast amounts of emotional, economic, and political energy into tearing a country apart rather than allowing it to be reconstructed peacefully is a really, really bright idea.
Once again, you’re assuming THEY believe that’s our intent. Whoa. Really? I’m not saying they’re right, but do you really not see how easy it would be for them to believe we’re there to grab oil? And if they did, wouldn’t they want to help their neighbors? If Iraq invaded America, wouldn’t we pray Mexico and Canada would help? It doesn’t matter if you think our intentions were blissful and saintly—do you really expect THEM to believe it? Even if they are?
You know what? I give up. OK, they're all brilliant ideas. But is there any other adjective besides "stupid" that one might use for all this? "Differently intelligenced", maybe?
How about this:
1) they don’t trust us any more than we trust them/
2) As there were no WMDs, I’d bet anything they think that we never believed they were there at all—that it was a naked power grab.
3) Al Queda is there because we’re there. Our men there are low-hanging fruit.
4) My opinion? The attacks of 9/11 required virtually no resources—just a brilliant concept, and people willing to die. That strategy would work exactly one time. Our intelligence, security and police forces are very very good, and staffed by people who are very very serious. Al Queda is pretty much a broke-dick, incapable of mounting any operations against us in our homeland at all. Yes, Iraq siphons off some energy—but even if it hadn’t, I doubt they could have mounted much more than a couple of car bombs. Was stopping that worth four thousand Americans, a Million Iraqis, and a trillion dollars? Really?
5) Our presence in Iraq is giving Al Queda the best recruitment poster Bin Laden could want. The very last thing he wants is for us to pull out. He wants us to stay there, and unite the Arab world thereby. Bush played exactly, precisely, perversely, into the bastard’s hands.
6) Sun Tsu said, a thousand or so years ago: “There are battles it is not worth winning.” In my mind, Iraq is one of them. We have the need to be secure. We should seek out and kill our enemies. But this battle, in this way, is a perfect example of using a hammer to fix a cracked bottle. Right intent, completely wrong tool. Bush let Bin Laden pick the battle, and the battle field. Walking away from this one isn’t losing, it’s refusing to fight the fight your enemy is salivating to trap you in.
7) As for whether Iraq would be worse off if we left—there is intelligent reason for disagreement here. I don’t know, and neither do you.
8) As for how to best withdraw our troops safely, I don’t know, but I don’t trust George Bush as commander in chief to make those decisions. I believe the man to be incompetent.
9) As for whether there are forces within our culture and country that profit by our remaining there, separate from the publicly stated goals: remember what Eisenhower said as he left office. Where there are gigantic profits, don’t you dare believe there aren’t people willing to lie and manipulate and kill to make them. Remember the tobacco industry, for Christ’s sake. And those forces would be perfectly happy to play on the fear and patriotism of good Americans to keep it going.
10) And remember oil. We run on energy. Oil is energy. And I believe that it would be utterly absurd to think that Oil had NOTHING to do with our decision to invade Iraq—just as it would be naïve to think it was the ONLY motivation. And the gap between “nothing” and “only” is a moral abyss I fear we will be generations recovering from.
I woke up at 3:30 this morning with my mind buzzing (might have been that Mountain Dew smoothie I had on Cheat Day, rather than any intellectual breakthrough, though...) about the core of what I'm trying to say. I'm going to try to get closer to my position, and hope that this communicates.
The flaw in your logic, from my point of view, is NOT your belief that we are in the right, and on the side of the angels in this matter. It is your apparent belief that our righteousness is SELF-EVIDENT. That, in essence, no one who disagrees that America is in Iraq for righteous reasons could be anything but a knave, a fool, or blind. Want my test for the wisdom of this attitude? Apply the following: what is the opposite of my point of view, and could I have a reasonable conversation with that person?
In other words, the opposite of your point of view is that America is in Iraq for EVIL, VENAL reasons, and that this is equally self-evident. And that no one who disagrees with this could be anything other than a knave, a fool, or blind. And you know what? You and such a person could do nothing other than kill each other. My point of view? I believe that the average American who supports the war has positive, valid reasons for so doing...but that there is room for honest disagreement about those goals and intents. And I promise you I could sit down at the bargaining table with someone with the opposite of my attitude, and we could find peace.
This attitude is separate from the specific contexts and applications. Let's look at some other arenas where such a "I believe X, it is self-evident, and if you disagree you must be a knave, a fool, or blind" attitude can be found.
GLOBAL WARMING. "It is obvious Global warming exists. Anyone who disagrees is a greedy planet-raper, or stupid" of "It is obvious Global warming doesn't exist. Anyone who disagrees is an environmental wacko, or on the government research money-train."
GENDER RELATIONS. "Men are evil and violent and the cause of the wars. Anyone who disagrees is a sexist pig, or brain-washed." "Women are less intelligent and capable, and need men to make their decisions for them."
RACE RELATIONS. "Whites are intrinsically evil and corrupt." "Blacks are intrinsically more criminal, and less intelligent."
And on and on. In any of these cases, when you grasp that the opposite of your position would make it impossible to have reasoned discourse, I would suggest that you take a very careful look. In my experience, it is nothing but fear that we might be wrong that makes us so inflexible in our belief that we are right--and that that "right-ness" is self evident. I believe I have more reason to believe whites are evil than you have to believe that Muslims are somehow less logical or further from the divine. And all of my life (and I mean literally ALL), I've had whites trying to convince me to side with whites against blacks ("you're not like the rest of them, Steve.") and blacks against whites ("you write about it, Steve! How can you not see it? They fantasize about raping our women and killing our men. They warp the very language we speak to make us feel ugly and inferior. They steal everything good in history and claim it for their own. How can you not believe they are Satanic?") I kid you not.
And I have never been seduced by it, no matter how comforting such a system of belief might have been. It is too damned easy. Everybody plays that game. I refuse to use the same tools my enemy uses. I won't play his game.
Remember: I'm not saying you're wrong that America is right. That is another discussion. I'm saying you're wrong that it is SELF-EVIDENT, or "obvious" that we are right. Hell, there is disagreement among AMERICANS whether we should be there or not, whether we are there for positive motivations or not, whether our influence there is a good thing or not. Do you not see how much easier it would be for Arabs to see the dark side of our intent? Do you really believe that 100% of the people motivating the war, or profiting by it, are on the side of the angels? Really? If not, what percentage could be venal, hateful assholes? Isn't it at least the same 5-15% we've pretty much believed are assholes in general? At best? Can't you see that if you had been born an Arab Muslim, with the same tendency to believe that you were not only right, but that it was OBVIOUS TO ALL that you were right, that you might be sympathetic to the view that America is the Great Satan? That the leaders of America, who publicly profess (and often seem to privately mock) a belief that their religion and Prophet are wrong might...just MIGHT not have the best of intent? Can they point to casualty figures as high as those we suffered? If they were just as certain that they were right, and we were wrong, can you not see that an intelligent Arab Muslim might well come to the conclusion that America is the most dangerous foe Islam has?
If you can't see that, you will never understand racists, sexists, Libertarians, Liberals, Conservatives, or anyone else who not only believes in their cause but believes that the other side MUST know they're right, and that therefore the other side are knaves or fools or blind...and you and the one on the other side can do nothing save kill each other.
And it will be up to me, and people who remember that they might be wrong, and that the mountain looks different from the other side--even though it's the same mountain--to try to make peace.
I sincerely hope that nothing I've said here offends you. I believe you to be a good and intelligent and well-intended man, a patriot and a sincere human being. I speak of the universal human tendency to believe that we are right, and that our position is self-evident, and that if you disagree with me, you must be a fool or a knave, or blind. No. If you disagree with me, you are human.
Is it heads? Is it tails? To a microbe on the surface of the coin, it must be self-evident which it is. Only to someone who can stand back, unattached to the results, can you see the truth: it is a quarter. And only with an accurate map can you ever get where you are going. The alternative is war to the knife, and all our children die.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:45 PM
I made the comment that it was unlikely that Islamic fanatics don’t know we want to lure them to a useless location to engage with us, and that we wouldn’t be likely to accomplish anything useful thereby. A reply was offered that such people are driven by emotion (true) and not operating with clarity. A blanket reply: anytime your strategy depends on your opponent being stupid, you’re in trouble. The natural human tendency is to think that “we” are smarter than “them.” Everybody does it. It’s my observation that that approach is almost always wrong.
I’ve reluctantly decided on an approach with my “Old Friend” who just got out of jail. After speaking with him, to my horror, I realized that he is still rationalizing what he did. Poor, poor bastard. It is clear that he cannot wrap his mind around how far from the rest of humanity he has slid. How deeply and profoundly he is lying—to himself. Even naked self-interest would show him that he can’t maintain such a delusion without warping the rest of his reality. And even if he’s right, and the rest of society is wrong, he is setting himself up for disaster. He’s not strong enough to stand against that avalanche of contrary opinion.
Yes, I think it’s heart-breakingly sad. For instance, he wants me to believe that 1) this 13-year old girl loved him. And 2) that she was and is some kind of super-genius.
Really? Super-genius? Did she know that what they were doing was hellacioiusly illegal, and would destroy his life? Then she couldn’t have loved him much, now could she? What we have here (in James Cameron’s words from Terminator II) is a delusional architecture so fragile that it will not survive contact with the real world. My friend isn’t going to make it. He believes so desperately that if I just understood how lonely he was after his divorce, I would see his position. If only I knew, I’d behave the same way.
Dear God. Lonnie Athens, quoted in the fantastic “Why They Kill” talks about stages of criminality, and how the final stage is an internalization of a core reference group’s attitudes. My friend is right there. He has to believe that, why, ANYONE would do what he did, given the same pressures. Right? Right? Wrong.
And yet, I’m not psychologically set up to “abandon” someone who has ever touched my heart. This is my own damage. But I tore myself apart 12 years ago in an eerily similar situation, and I won’t do it again. So what I will do, as soon as I can get my shit together, is write him a letter, explaining my position. I will tell him that I fear for his soul, and am not in a position to help him unless and until he does two things:
1) Gets a steady job.
2) Lets go of his obsession with being “right” about what he did. He must make full confession, and show genuine contrition.
Given those two things, he would, for the first time in his life, be a genuine adult, and a responsible human being. I can’t help him get there. But if he can find the strength to get there himself, I can help him move on from that platform.
I’ll give him my email address, and web site. People can always reach me.
And then…I will delete him from my address book, and delete the emails that gave me his. I never want to hear from him again, unless he has had an epiphany. I will pray for my friend. But I have miles to go before I sleep. Too much to do, too many people to help. I can’t waste even another erg of effort of moment of time on someone who is, frankly, doomed. Unless he finds grace.
I will pray for my friend. God damn, this is hard.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 7:12 AM
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Love to look like this at 72. Hell, I’d like to look like that NOW.
Saw “3:10 To Yuma” yesterday. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale star in the best Western since “The Outlaw Josie Wales.” (Yes, I can well understand someone feeling that “Unforgiven” is better, and more recent. But there’s a rather unfortunate bit of Sacrificial Negro business that keeps me from really embracing that one…) The plot is simplicity itself. A small-time rancher, desperate for money and redemption, helps escort a bad, bad outlaw to the titular train for incarceration. The bad man’s gang (led by a spectacularly evil Ben Foster) wants to spring him. Crowe is the Devil himself, folks: sexy, intelligent, vicious, insinuating, corruptive, sly…and horrifically empathetic. Christian Bale (if you haven’t seen his turn in “The Machinist” you have missed one of the great, queasy acting performances of all time. Jeeze!) is perfect as the rancher up against astounding odds. This is simply a terrific Western. An “A.”
Personally, I think the Western went into a slump because of Sergio Leone. Leone, in films like “A FistFull of Dollars” de-mystified the west, made it dirty and grimy and amoral in a way American films never had. No clear-cut good or bad guys. America was (and to a degree is) going through a re-assessment of itself, a struggle for its own soul. The friendly rot at the core of Leone’s work made a mockery of the cowboys and Indians mentality, and it probably wasn’t until “Silverado” that anyone even began to put that kind of “fun” western back together again. And that film was about 1/3 comedy, 1/3 comforting cliché. But fun.
Last night, I watched the last half of “Perfect Stranger”, the Halle Berry/Bruce Willis suspenser. At the movie theater, I saw a poster for a film with Berry and Benicio Del Toro. I said something nasty about Berry that I really didn’t mean. In a very real way, I am happy for her that she has made it all the way to being white. The contrast between what SHE had to do to get her Oscar, and what Denzel had to do, in the same year, couldn’t make my point much clearer. She had to screw the white guy executing her Evil Black Man husband. Denzel had to get shot down like a dog in the street. I think that it was Hattie McDanial who was criticized for playing maids. “Hell, honey,” she is said to have answered. “If I hadn’t played one, I would have been one.” So Halle has found that by making herself sexually available exclusively to white males in her movies, she can get a “halo effect” that allows her to function at a higher level financially than her more talented (if no more beautiful. Human females just don’t get more attractive than Halle) sisters. All right.
But what disturbs and disappoints me is that I’d hoped that women were more sensitive and honest than men. Of course, I was a teenager when I hoped that, but it still hurt to have my youthful naiveté thrown in my face. I remember clearly that when Denzel or Wesley had sex with white women, black women threw a fit. There were letters in magazines and newspapers, and it was the talk of talk TV about whether this was a race betrayal. But I have never, not once, heard Halle criticized for doing far worse—whereas Denzel or Wesley might have boffed a white woman once in a while, Halle has had NOTHING but white men for years now, and black women give her a pass. Not a whisper. Can anyone send me a link to an article written by a black woman on the subject?
Actually, that’s not quite true. In “Perfect Stranger” she has sex with a boyfriend (Gary Dourdan from “CSI”) who is black. I was hoping to report that this was in some way ameliorative of the problem I’ve spoken of so repetitively. But there are some REAL oddnesses in the scene.
1) you can barely see his face. The scene begins with them coming in through the front door, in shadow. We’ve never met this guy, and I could barely make him out at all. Tananarive said: “hey, isn’t that the guy from CSI”?
2) Their clothes are on. I’m not saying that there should have been nudity, but there was no tittilation at all, and the entire scene was shadowed.
3) They were standing up, and screwing against furniture. As has often been noted, when you see this, it is a sign that the relationship is painful, and that the filmmaker disapproves.
4) The entire scene is viewed from the perspective of a white man who is in love with her. Wow. The metaphor is pretty blatant, don’t you think.
5) He has no last name, but is called only “Cameron”
This is bad enough. But worse still, there is a later scene where we finally do see his face in clear light. And in this scene, it is revealed that he has totally betrayed their relationship. She kicks him out. The trope? Once again, sex with black man is animalistic, impersonal, meaningful only viewed through white eyes, and doomed, and equals pain.
And don’t any of you dare believe that “that’s Hollywood.” Filmmakers in Hollywood come from all over the country. And they survive only if they can appeal to the tastes of filmgoers all over the country. This is America. It is the world. And if I seem to eager to extend humanity to odd and violent groups, remember that I also refuse to label this behavior as some aberration exclusive to white males—which wouldn’t be irrational, however much I may disagree with it. This is what it is to be human, and have the power to shape the images fed to others.
Everyone tries to bend reality to make themselves look like the most important, moral, and beautiful and beloved of God.
Oh. The “Hate Crime” controversy—the poor woman who was kidnapped and raped and abused. Should her kidnappers be charged with a hate crime? Not in my opinion. They have those bastards on enough counts to put them away for life. In my mind, the “Hate Crime” designation exists to ensure that local reluctance to prosecute (truly egregious in the 60’s) would allow Federal prosecution. I note that everyone I’ve ever heard complain about it is a member of the majority: white, heterosexual, Christian. Usually male. In other words, someone with no intuitive grasp of what it is like to be surrounded by a majority with 5-15% of that majority being hostile. No grasp at all. And maybe Right-Wingers and Libertarians are right in some abstract sense that the Federal government needs to stay out of State business. But my perception is that this is an hypocrisy: that when it serves their purpose, anyone will accept and encourage help from wherever they can get it to increase their own wealth and safety. And then act pious along the “them black folks should have just moved to another state!” level I find so loathsome.
But in this particular case, I don’t think the Feds are necessary. These scum are caught.
Last week, I watched “All That Jazz,” the Bob Fosse movie that changed my life when I saw it back in the day. If you haven’t seen this insanely brilliant film, do. It tells the semi-autobiographical story of Joe Gideon, genius director and dance choreographer and serial philanderer. Like Prince and Clive Barker, his genius arises from a tortured tug-of-war between sexuality and spirit, and the hole in his psyche simply gushes gold. And he is on the road to self-destruction I kid you not.
I watched this musical horror film with my mouth hanging open, and left the theater in a daze. I’d seen a stark reality: the upper levels of human performance are most often reached by monomaniacal focus that, unchecked, can rip apart the rest of your life. I was committed to being the very best I could be, but I also didn’t want to destroy myself. What to do?
Out of this, I came to one of the smartest decisions of my life, and its colored everything I do: I decided to be obsessive about being balanced. I literally can’t go a single day without telling my loved ones I love them. Working on my writing. And exercising. I CAN’T. There is nothing healthy about this obsession…except that it’s healthy as hell. If I had the same level of focus on almost anything else, it would have killed me, or they would have locked me up, and I’m not kidding even a little bit.
“All That Jazz” saved my life. See it.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:17 AM