The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What, if anything, will we learn?

ᅠIRON MAN is coming this weekend, and all the buzz seems to be spectacular. I'm GOH at a Con in Iowa this weekend, so I'll have to check it out with some fans in Des Moine...and can't wait. I certainly read Iron Man when I was a kid. He was a superhero in the Batman mode--he created himself. But I suspect that it is easier to imagine yourself as Ironman. If you could just get that damned flying suit...

Strange synchronicity this last weekend. I was embroiled in two different controversies, using the same modes of thought, ended up accused both times of having a closed mind. One was the whole question of whether men control the world to their benefit. The other was whether 9/11 was a conspiracy. The 9/11 question came from an old friend who is VERY convinced that a small cabal of truly evil people pretty much ran the whole thing with radio-controlled planes, demolition charges, etc. And she has a vast storehouse of video clips, web pages, etc. that she feels I have to sort my way through, answering every question, in order to have an opinion.

No, I don't. I take short cuts. If I have a single question that seems really pertinent, and I can't get an answer to it, I feel no obligation to go deeper down the rabbit hole. There are infinite rabbit holes, each of which will swallow your life with time and energy. Everybody takes short cuts. i take them about some controversial topics, in public. With 9/11 the stopper for me were two questions. One had to do with the fact that her theory, well fleshed out, demanded that a little group of Europeans is running the world. I pointed out that the Chinese would be amused to hear that theory, and told her that she had one hell of a lot more respect for white people than I did. The second is that her theory demands a conspiracy involving hundreds or thousands of people. I don't believe in such things, and unless she could show me how it could be carried out by fewer people, or make me believe in gigantic utterly silent conspiracies involving thousands of engineers, airline pilots, demolition experts, military personnel, intelligence officers and on and on...I just don't buy it, no matter how much data she has piled up.

And the same thing is true on the other issue. If I say there are flying saucers, and I think there's one behind the barn, until you look at what I have behind the barn and explain it, it literally doesn't matter how many experts you produce, or pages of official debunking. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT BEHIND MY BARN? Josh sent us a link to a paper he implies deals with some of the issues I mention (My belief is that if men were in charge, they'd actually shape life to their advantage. Since I don't believe that life operates to their advantage, I have a very hard time believing they're in charge. Part of my evidence for this is the death rate, both due to natural causes, disease, hazardous occupations, and violence. Without a context to understand how this is dealt with in an explanation of men's control of the world, I reserve the right to disagree)

It was a coincidence that both of these issues, similar in their expression of a particular mode of thought I have, would be stressed during the same 2-day period. Not sure if it means anything at all, but I can feel that I developed a real need to communicate my position without offense, but also without being intimidated. I only bring this up again because Suzanne was asking why I kept talking about it.

I grant that there's been massive amounts of intelligent and honorable feminist research. As there has been massive, intelligent and honorable amounts of racial/Afrocentric research. Never have I suggested that white people needed to be familiar with it to understand race relations. All I've ever said you needed was to actually know and talk to black people, and extend them the exact same humanity you extend to members of your family, and reserve for yourself. I fail to see how playing by the same rules in both contexts is in any way disrespectful or dismissive of women or those who love them.
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I've been writing on BUZZWORD for the last few weeks. Except for the moments in which my internet gets funky, it works almost perfectly. I understand that Adobe is developing an offline version that will meld with it seamlessly. Can't wait.
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Went to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Sunday, and could only stay for about three hours. It was blistering hot. It was also smaller and less well attended than in many years past. And the frozen ices, which I've loved for twenty-five years, were smaller and of a changed formulation--they've become commercialized. I swear I could taste preservatives. Sigh. I remember John D. MacDonald complaining that whenever a good thing is created, it is mass-marketed and made a little cheaper and tackier. That may be kicking in here...
#
Jason is watching Curious George this morning, sitting next to me on the couch while I write this. I have to admit to liking the monkey quite a bit. No matter what kind of mess he makes, he always has the best of intentions, and usually ends up making the situation better.
#
Thom Hartmann did an interesting survey on his radio show. He talked to Clinton or Obama supporters and asked them to give an "elevator talk" for the opposite candidate. And in most cases, they could not. The situation really has gotten bad. I don't remember whether in pat years, given similar acrimony, a party has healed sufficiently to defeat the opposition. It's going to be interesting to watch.
#
The questions of race and gender in America regarding politics seems to me to miss something. When people look at Hillary and talk about her toughness and pugnacity, or at Obama and talk about his articulateness and transcendent nature, they are touching on this. And what I'm seeing is that the question of whether America is ready for a female president, or a black president, is missing something.

Because the people who say "yes" in both cases are, I think, actually saying
"America will vote for a man with a vagina and breasts. Or a white person with black skin." Hillary seems to believe--and she may be right--that she has to out-guy the guys to have a chance. And Obama's greatest problem relates directly to race--Reverend Wright. For comparison, if Hillary had a dear friend and mentor who had committed violence as an Abortion activist, and that association had become a major campaign issue, it would be reasonable to say that her gender had turned into a stumbling block.

In both cases, questions of her marriage, his ethnicity, etc. have dogged them. Underneath the questions, I think it's fair to say that so long as America can see her as a man with feminine genetics, or Obama as a white person who happens to have half-African features, that the fact of gender or race is irrelevant. But she isn't. And neither is he. A remarkable thing about both of them is that they DO fit the gender and/or race-neutral roles so well. The real question is: what happens when they have to deal directly with the issues that relate to these factors, and how does it affect their chances? Just a thought. I'm not sure whether it would be better for them, or the country, if the issues never came up, or if they were front-and-center from the beginning. Hey--the very same might be true for McCain and age. Three very important issues onstage simultaneously. What an election THIS is! Americans are about to learn a lot about themselves, if they pay attention.

And the question of the day is: what, if anything, do you think we'll learn?

26 comments:

Mike Ralls said...

Not much. I don't really regard elections as venues for national growth. They are political horse races, nothing more, nothing less.

Scott Masterton said...

While I beleive that a new face (gender, color etc.) will be remarkably good for the country and it's self image. I suspect that we'll learn that no matter how ready for change we think we are, the forces of homeostasis are tougher to beat than we think.

I think this election if used properly, will show the country a mirror. If you see the mirror for what it is, it is a great learning tool. If you fail to see that though...you just have more of the same.
Peace,
Scott.

Josh Jasper said...


I grant that there's been massive amounts of intelligent and honorable feminist research. As there has been massive, intelligent and honorable amounts of racial/Afrocentric research. Never have I suggested that white people needed to be familiar with it to understand race relations.


Then in that case, from whom should white people develop ideas about race relations? Other white people? Movies?

The best way I've learned about race relations in a positive way has bee sitting down and listening to what black people had to say about it. The white people I've learned form were educated by black voices. You just can't side step that and start thinking about it from only one perspective.

There are white people who talk about race relations from a white perspective who don't listen to black people, and seem to be interested in white heritage. I don't suggest listening to them to get a clear sense of race relations.

All I've ever said you needed was to actually know and talk to black people, and extend them the exact same humanity you extend to members of your family, and reserve for yourself.

Feminists have done a lot of looking at the world in terms of how men relate to women, but you're not really listening to them if you're not studying what they have to say.

If I need to talk to black people about the experiences of black people, I'd rather talk to ones who've really looked into the issue, who've got data on the topic. I make an effort to do that because there are people out there like Jeremiah Wright, who on the topic of AIDS are so badly wrong that they're doing damage by spreading misinformation. He's right on a lot of other things, but on AIDS, he's willfully ignorant.

I fail to see how playing by the same rules in both contexts is in any way disrespectful or dismissive of women or those who love them.

Steve, I certainly didn't accuse you of that. I'm not sure who you think might have, but if you're going to act as if you think someone did, you should tell people who you're talking about.

I think you're wrong about your "in charge" standard, and I think you're ignoring a lot of important data, and not even talking to people who've spent decades talking about the very thing you're talking about. I think you're being stubborn. I wonder if some of that stubbornness is the same sort o f thing I see in white men who don't want to confront racism, but I'm not saying it's a diagnosis.

I don't at all think you're intentionally being disrespectful.

Steven Barnes said...

Yes, I'm being stubborn, Josh, because I think I have a point, and a huge one that is somehow sitting in a gigantic inter-cultural schetoma. PLEASE notice that you aren't tracking what I said at all:

"Then in that case, from whom should white people develop ideas about race relations? Other white people? Movies? "

Josh, you ask this, and then just a few lines later, you quote the answer I gave, without seeming to realize I'd given the answer:

"All I've ever said you needed was to actually know and talk to black people, and extend them the exact same humanity you extend to members of your family, and reserve for yourself."
##

That's it. That was my answer. I can't imagine making it plainer. It is ALL I've ever asked. I didn't say you had to go to "experts" on black culture. Just...know black people and talk to them, and assume that they are as human as you. That is ALL I asked.
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Now, that said, for me to think I HAVE to go to feminist scholars to understand women would also make sense if I thought white people HAD to go to black scholars to understand black people. Since I don't demand the one, isn't it reasonable that I don't consider the other essential, either?

You may think I'm wrong about this, but I'm dead consistent. Why, Josh, didn't you see that that was what I've asked?
#
Sociobiologically, men ARE less important than women: you can wipe out 99% of men and the human race goes on pretty well. All I'm saying is that I think this has been internalized by every culture on this planet, to the point that people don't even see it.

Show me the specific thing I asked: someone addressing the disproportionate deaths of men without blaming men for it, and I'll take the next step. To use Steve Perry's metaphor, if I saw a prison in which the prison guards lived shorter lives than the prisoners, got no more life satisfaction, and couldn't quit their jobs...I'd think someone had pulled off a REAL master-stroke of brainwashing. That everyone, guards and cons alike, were actually prisoners, but some had been conned into believing they were guards.

Anonymous said...

I used to work with a guy who'd won a million dollars in the lottery. 700k after taxes. -His wife kept him from wasting it, to the point of keeping him working a 12$/hour job. I played the lottery while I worked with him. Never before or since; the numbers don't exactly favor you. Still, it's fun to hope.

'Why Men Rule' gives the best case I know for thinking men run things. Used to be titled 'The Inevitability of Patriarchy'. Most men lose the lottery; oh well. Still fun?

Anonymous said...

Josh: The only black currently in my phone book is my nephew's wife and I have only had one close friend who is black, but I have had a number of coworkers who were black and with whom I have had political/racial discussions with. I don't feel I learned a great deal about what being black means from these people. Primarily because most of them were well off middle class blacks. In my youth I frequently played ball with blacks in the neighborhood schoolyard. Most of them were not well off at all. I think I learned a lot more from these kids then from any of the other blacks I have associated with.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

how bout them lakers?! lol

not to interrupt the convo, but in linking your first two blog comments/sections: I would rather Captain America than Iron Man...seeing as how the Civil War arc, from CLEARLY inspired by events of 9/11. From the explosion in Stamford (I haven't read 1 - 7 in a minute, or is it 1-6) to the Superhero Registration Act. Iron Man was a disappointment, blind patriotism at best. Capn' surprised me....

As a former David Icke, Behold a Pale Horse, and unseen hand addict I think the conspiracy is the convincing of the masses that it is a conspiracy. It's all being done right in front of our eyes...

s.

Dan Moran said...

"I'm actually confused. Wasn't the whole point of the women's movement that if women gained more freedom it would be better for everyone?"

I don't know. I think it's better for everyone that women have equal rights, but I could be wrong. It wouldn't stun me any to find that, on balance, it's done men more harm than good, depending on how you want to calculate "harm." Not everything is a zero sum game in life, but some things really are, and more competition for 'X', in those cases, could be argued to be doing men harm ... not that I care.

What I'm certain about is that it's right for women to have equal rights. If I had to be convinced that I personally would benefit before I treated the people around me correctly, I'd be lowly scum, wouldn't I?

Dan Moran said...

how bout them lakers?! lol

12 more.

Anonymous said...

"Then in that case, from whom should white people develop ideas about race relations? Other white people? Movies?

"The best way I've learned about race relations in a positive way has bee sitting down and listening to what black people had to say about it."

Yeah, and the more people on more sides you listen to the more you learn. For example, I've also learned stuff about race relations by listeniong to people who are neither black nor white.

Anonymous said...

These threads left me wondering things like "how confidentially were the survey responses taken?" and "does getting less happiness from money mean getting less happiness per rupee or getting fewer rupees to be happy about?" and so on...which got me thinking about how I liked stats class...which reminded me of this: http://www.cockeyed.com/inside/howmuchinside.html

Kami said...

I've been not posting about 9/11 stuff because I'm too passionate about it. I can't see it clearly. But I have to say that one huge argument against the radio-controlled planes is this--where are the passengers who were registered on those planes? Did someone kidnap them and shoot them? (And how massively difficult would that be without tipping off air traffic controllers, leave radar trails, not to mention all the people who'd have to shut up about it ...) Did they all sign on to go to a tropical paradise and leave their families believing that they're all dead? (Could you get that many people to sign on to that?) What are the logistics of disappearing that many folk from so many walks of life, including the pilots?

Not only is this aspect of the conspiracy theory absurd, it's disrespectful to the dead and the families of the people lost in this terrible tragedy. You're basically telling them that because you don't know them personally, they and their losses don't exist. You can write them off the page just like the folks who believe that the Holocaust never happened. Shame on you.

Um, oops. Well, I'm not taking it back, but again, I have very strong feelings about this and I should say no more, especially since I'm not ready to entertain whatever the conspiracy theorists have to say in answer. If I can't listen, I shouldn't really throw this out there. But it's been on my mind a lot these past couple of days, so here it is. Thanks for reading.

Kami

Anonymous said...

What will we learn from this political mess? Nothing...absolutely freaking nothing.

That's my fear and also my belief. I offer prayers to an inattentive deity that it might be different this time.

Josh Jasper said...

Sociobiologically, men ARE less important than women: you can wipe out 99% of men and the human race goes on pretty well. All I'm saying is that I think this has been internalized by every culture on this planet, to the point that people don't even see it.

Show me the specific thing I asked: someone addressing the disproportionate deaths of men without blaming men for it, and I'll take the next step.


Who am I supposed to blame for it? Women? They're not in charge. The patriarchy is like drunk man driving a car. He may be running down other men, but he's still the one driving.

You make ask why, if men are in charge, they keep hurting themselves, and assume that being in charge in terms of gender relations is the ONLY thing. it's not. There's class, religion, and racial aspects as well. The Patriarchy is not god, Steve, it's just men having the power in relation to gender roles. No rule is out there to prevent them form hurting themselves with it.

The idea that power confers sense is wrong, and you're wrong for holding it. This is what I'm talking about when I say you're being stubborn. You've got an idea that's built on an assumption that's just not right, that a group in power always act in the self interest of that group when OTHER groups cross into the matter.

If you want to talk mortality rates, you're talking class or race, not gender. In deaths where two genders come into conflict, men kill women in an overwhelming majority. Men may kill men over another women, but it's more common that they kill each other over money or religion. We can go on to death rates of young balck men in prison vs. white men who managed to not get prison for the same crimes if you' like to have more examples of the race/class factors in mortality.

In feminism, there are class divides and race divides, Steve. Talk to a black woman who's been involved in the feminist movement, an ask her if white feminists are any more likely to have her back in race issues than white non-feminists.

Yeah, there I go again asking you to talk to people.

More later when I get into work.

Anonymous said...

Steve: While I believe the argument that the majority of men's lives are not superior to women's lives in a patriarchy, I think your argument based upon male mortality doesn't hold water. If you believe in the concept of evolution and the survival of the fittest then this would apply to societies as well as individuals. Now since one man can impregnate many women it would make sense that societies that protect women over men would have a higher survival rate, this would have to be so whichever sex was in charge.

Marty S

Josh Jasper said...

In an era where a "society" was a group of nomadic herders, a society that preserved women and allowed men to take more risks was able to get ahead further. These days, economics and science are better measures of larger nations surviving. The human race its self is more of a danger than factors like disease, and we create our own famines more than nature does.

Anonymous said...

Josh: You are correct. But evolution is a slow process. Compare the role of women in our society fifty years ago to today. Women today may still be behind men in financial and political power, but they certainly play a dramatically greater role today than fifty years ago.Even the military has a greater female component. As industrialization reduced the dependence on manpower for survival and increased the dependence on technical innovation the roles of men and women has changed. Industrialization has also resulted in huge demand for scarce resources, such as oil and has had undesirable consequences for the environment. This means overpopulation is more of a threat to society than loss of population. Hence the society adapts to encourage less population growth. Women today marry later and have fewer children. Birth control is used by almost everybody. Legal abortion becomes law of the land.
The question is for the average individual in society man or woman does this make any difference in their life. With the greater number of women in financial and political power today than fifty years ago how are we better off today than were fifty years ago.

Marty S

Steven Barnes said...

Dan:
"If I had to be convinced that I personally would benefit before I treated the people around me correctly, I'd be lowly scum, wouldn't I?"
Yep. A problem I'm having here is that I BELIEVE IT. I believe that it would be better for both. And that influences everything I see and say.
#
Josh--I didn't say that power confers sense. I assume no more than the average amount of sense I see in every creature:that to their ability, they move away from pain and toward pleasure.
And again, you ask me "who has been in control, women?" When I've said again and again that NO ONE is in control. Our biology has been in control. Physics has been. And as long as we remain unconscious (so my position goes) it will continue to be. I'm saying we have to wake up and cut this shit out if we want to survive as a species. I grasp that you seriously, passionately, and intelligently disagree with my position. But I also fear that when I speak you are hearing other people talk--that you hear "women are in charge" or "men have it worse" or "see? It's biology. I'm justified in being a sexist asshole." When I've said none of these things.

Josh Jasper said...

Marty -


The question is for the average individual in society man or woman does this make any difference in their life. With the greater number of women in financial and political power today than fifty years ago how are we better off today than were fifty years ago.


On a day to day basis, sexism and male dominance are incredibly real things. Everywhere. Yes, it's better. But post industrial revolution women's lives were worse than post industrial women's lives. That does not imply that, after the industrial revolution, womens right s movements and feminism was unnecessary.

In fact, conditions improving were what allowed for feminism as a movement to begin at all. This was during the late 1800's in the US and England. By the time of the Seneca Falls convention, womens rights were improved. But where they were then was not a reason to deny that there was an inequality. It's not reason now.

-Steve

I didn't say that power confers sense. I assume no more than the average amount of sense I see in every creature:that to their ability, they move away from pain and toward pleasure.
And again, you ask me "who has been in control, women?" When I've said again and again that NO ONE is in control.


I really do worry that your idea of no one being in charge is just a means of not confronting the enormity of the system. I'm not saying you want to be a sexist jerk. You don't. But at the same time, it's tough to admit to being part of a system that oppresses others. That's where I'm saying your blind spot is. Not that you're an asshole, just that you seem unwilling to deal with what I see as an uncomfortable truth.

It's not wanting to call the system by a bad name, because you think that implies that all of the people involved in it are instantly bad by association. They're not.

Going back to the analogy of the movies you critique, every individual writer or director who has a movie in which blacks are treated substantially differnt from whites in terms of sex lives is not a bad person. The system is bad, though. When I talk about a patriarchy, I'm talking about a system of treating women poorly, and as inferiors, preventing advancement, etc...

It's gotten better. Race relations have gotten better too. But addressing the problem does not mean saying no one is in charge. The people with the power have to stop doing the things that they're doing to keep the groups they're blocking from from getting equality.

On the level of movie goers, the shift that has to happen is that people watching the movies need to have no less of an interest in watching a black man have a sex scene than they do in watching a white man have sex.

In that sense, dismantling the patriarchy is everyone's responsibility. Men and women. But mostly men. Everyone can pass the buck and say "I'm not really sexist, must be some other guy". But even if you're not really responsible in terms of your actions, just ignoring the issue after that isn't' enough, because we're letting it happen unless we speak out about it frequently. I'm not saying you, particularly are missing a mark and are therefore a bad person. But being part of the solution goes beyond just not being an asshole.

You're probably doing things that make a difference, but being willing to talk about the things you're doing in terms of ending the patriarchy is what I'm talking about. Language is important.

B. Smith said...

What Con will you be attending and what days will you be in Des Moines? I can't believe that one slipped under my radar.

Anonymous said...

Josh: I see your reasoning now. You believe that women and men should now and always should have been treated identically. Anybody who disagrees with this is sexist. So when I say that in their historically different roles in society they have been treated differently and that some of these differences were disadvantageous to women and some were disadvantageous to men I am by definition sexist. However, until science finds a way to turn us all into hermaphrodites men and women will always be biologically different and that will always lead to some differences in the lives of men and women. This isn't sexism its facing reality.

Marty S

Josh Jasper said...

Marty - I see your reasoning now. You believe that women and men should now and always should have been treated identically.

Faking debates with people's is certainly easy if you put words in their mouths. But that has very little to do with what I've been saying. Why not create a sock puppet, put my name on it, and have a conversation with that instead, because you're clearly not interested in talking *to* me,

Anonymous said...

Josh: I am interested in talking to you. My statement reflects what I'm hearing when I read your words. If you don't believe that women and men should be treated identically or that historically they should have been treated identically. Then help me understand what differences you believe are or would have been acceptable as compared to what differences are not or were not acceptable.

Marty S

Josh Jasper said...

On a pure moral level, systems designed to give power to one class of people based on race, gender, religion or politics, and dis-empower other groups base on race, gender, etc. are by their nature bad.
Denying women the the back in 1880 was bad. People who then were in favor it it were actively keeping women from being full members of society.

But your problem is in your wording "always be treated identically". It's like you want that to be my goal. Treated identically is not the same as given equal opportunity, which is part of my goal. The main goal is in ending the patriarchy.



more later

Josh Jasper said...

Pardon me... "denying women the vote Back in 1880..."

The whole "always be treated identically" thing is a rhetorical trick. Feminism as I understand it isn't about always treating people identically, it's about men not treating women as objects to be owned, as opposed to autonomous individuals with at least the same potential for being equally smart, or competent.

Please note that when I say "men" I'm talking about the one's who're doing it, which is a sufficiently large number of them to make it noticeable to feminists, who pay attention to this sort off thing. Not all women may notice if they're being treated poorly, and some may not get poor treatment, but denying that's it's a systemic problem is not something I can agree with.

It is a systemic problem whether or not any one individual is doing it. Enough people are either doing it, denying it's a real problem, or shrugging their shoulders and saying that there's nothing to be done.

And there's a systemic effort in many parts of the media to discredit the feminist movement as a whole. Major public figures and media representatives get away with making unspecified claims about what feminism is, and never get called on what particular feminists they're talking about.

Media Matters keeps a pretty good archive

http://mediamatters.org/issues_topics/feminism

In regards to "The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too", a group blog called Alas, A Blog has some interesting writing on the topic. I don't necessary agree with all of the Alas writers, but it's a source of people who've thought about the issue a lot

http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/category/patriarchy-hurts-men-too/

So, it's not about "always be treated identically". That's not something I ever said. It's a lot more complicated that just a vague range of a lack of identical treatment.

kh said...

i need to know what happened to the assassins creed trilogy.are they coming out?or did they really get canceled?i need to know.