The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Resolving Dualities

Resolving Dualities

I not going to spend a lot of time digging into Obama’s legislative record right now (although I might in the future) because I just don’t have the time—if I considered myself more of a political person, I certainly would. I can tell you, however, how I came to the decision to vote for him, and then discuss the arena in which I see his capacity for what I call “resolving dualities.”

I wasn’t going to vote for a Republican. No way. I thought the way they’ve behaved over the last twelve years, from the sexual witch-hunt on Clinton to the excluding and vilifying anyone who dared disagree with them after 9/11 was simply ghastly. Unless the Republican candidate was in some way vastly superior, I could not see returning them to power—that would just embolden them, after they basically (in my mind) followed Bush off a cliff. Everything in me says the country is headed in the wrong direction. I’d rather oversteer in the other direction, then make another course correction if necessary.

The Democrats. Frankly, I kind of liked Edwards and Hillary, and saw few enough differences between their policies that I felt comfortable watching the political game play out.

Obama? I had a vested interest, obviously. Assuming I saw no huge difference in policy or capacity, I knew my tendency would be to vote for him. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have overlooked any flaws more than 1% or 2% in exchange for his skin color. But the hind brain is an odd thing, and I can’t be certain. We’re not really driven by logic.

The first time I heard him was at the DNC, when he did the “We’re not Red States or Blue States” routine. Caught my interest instantly—and the interest of America. Because the Red-Blue thing is purely conceptual, with little relevance to the actual question of how we shall live our lives. Yeah, there are those who disagree with that, but I don’t. That was like someone who sees two people arguing over whether it’s Heads or Tails, and points out that it’s actually a Quarter. The energy released during his talk was remarkable, and I got interested.

Read his autobiography, and noticed that he struggled with his ethnicity, until coming to a connection with his spiritual humanity I found remarkably mature for his age (that first memoir DREAMS FROM MY FATHER was written when he was 21. Astoundingly mature, according to Tananarive. Haven’t read that one yet.)

I liked this guy, and thought that he had found his way through a minefield that I’m still negotiating, race-wise. Like two other people: Will Smith, and Oprah. I now see three people on the cultural landscape who have apparently handled the load I struggle with. Or at least, handled that particular aspect of their lives with greater grace than I can manage. I’m REALLY interested now, because three role models gives me the minimum I need to filter out the critical path from the “noise.”

So he had the edge going into the election, because I know how difficult it is to handle that. That meant that if he could play the game as WELL as the white folks in the race, he was actually smarter than them—he had a handicap (that sack of cement I’ve mentioned) that they couldn’t see. Bigger than Hillary’s? No. I have no way to judge. However, he was starting from scratch, where she had a national organization, 100% name recognition, and the most popular living former president stumping for her. Quite a hill to climb.

And this is where I started having fun. Looking at both of their web sites, I didn’t see major policy differences, and there wasn’t enough difference in records of accomplishment to really care, and their surrogates, people who trusted and supported them, had about equal status in my eyes. No real advantage there on either side.

So I could watch the way they ran their campaigns. Frankly, I was pulling for either Hillary or Barack—I love being a part of history. No matter what happened, I was going to get that “big change” that I felt was critical, and there was NO way either of them was going to do worse than Bush.

And I say that the management of a national political campaign says a gigantic amount about management skills, and overall capacity. Not as much if you factor in nepotism—Bush’s daddy’s Rolodex on one hand, Hillary’s riding Bill’s coat-tails on the other. But I was willing to let that go and let ‘em start from even in my mind.

Obama finessed the Black-White thing beautifully, better than I’ve seen a black politician do it. He just didn’t allow it to be a part of the discussion. Note that his wife Michelle doesn’t have that to the same degree. Her “For the first time in my adult life I’m really proud of America” comment was almost certainly a reference to racial frustration and disbelief that the country would actually embrace a black candidate. Obama didn’t wallow in that. The Clintons KNEW that if they could pull him down into that discussion he would lose.

Hillary has talked over and over again about “A woman in the White House”—playing right into that duality thing. I haven’t heard him make the equivalent comment even once, although some of his surrogates have.

When the subject of Latinos came up, commentators (all of them White) talked about the antipathy between whites and blacks. Obama took the position that the “conflict” has been manufactured, distracting both sides from the real issues. From a racial POV, it was like he was saying that Whites can have Thanksgiving dinner in comfort as long as they can keep browns and blacks fighting over table scraps on the floor. He never said that exactly, but man, the half-dozen comments I’ve heard from him on the subject jumped out at me: he wasn’t getting caught in that game, either.

Every demographic: black versus white, men versus women, old versus young, rich versus poor…that the pundits said would be a barrier, he seemed to address with calls to look beyond the differences to the commonalities. And for those who think Islamic extremism is the great challenge for the 21st Century: anyone who believes this (and I sympathize with it, even if I don't consider it the HIGHEST priority problem) and simultaneously is free of the sense that Muslims or their religion are inferior must grasp that Obama's potential to bridge the divide between Christian and Muslim is absolutely unique. I mean, good Lord, it's almost as if he was custom-made for the job.

Note: NONE of this means he can actually deliver. I get that.

However…his fund raising, approaching a million donars, is apparently unprecedented, and therefore the amounts of money he’s been raising are a direct reflection of his approval and impact. And he’s run a campaign that is boggling the minds of experts, and making the feared Clinton machine look bad. You know something? People are going to say: “he didn’t win. They lost.” Yawn. That’s what ALWAYS gets said when someone embarrasses the Champ. It’s almost always the “he must not have trained” “their defence was asleep” and so forth.

The art of winning in combat is to place enough pressure on your opponent to expose their flaws…and there are ALWAYS flaws. It just isn’t easy to force them into the open. Once they’re exposed, then every bad choice and losing gamble they made looks like incompetence. Of course if they won, it would be a “bold gambit.”

I’ve been watching him bob and weave and duck and dodge--and throw hooks, jabs, and crosses. A few body blows. So far, no low blows, but I see a couple of hidden elbows, and he's probably forced some errors. Debating isn’t his strong suit, but he’s gotten better every time—his learning curve is scary steep. His ability to connect with crowds gives him an EQ that blows my mind. “Just his speechwriters”? Oh, please. He’s been talking that way since college. He obviously guides his speechwriters with an iron hand. Read his books. If you could buy that kind of eloquence, EVERY politician would have his audience fainting. It’s a joke.

I’ve watched this guy navigating the obstacles with an adroitness that frankly puts my jaw on the ground. I still don’t know what he can deliver, I really don’t. There are people who are using the “the country is more ready for a black man than a white woman” and I find that dismissive. If the same thing happened ten times, THEN you have the beginning of a statistical group. Otherwise, Obama beat Clinton. If she’d beaten him, I would have been tempted to wonder the opposite, but as long as he did well? I wouldn’t insult the electorate by assuming racism. I might well have credited the vast and powerful Clinton machine, but leaping to sexism or racism when so many millions have embraced both strikes me as self-pity of the worst kind.

I had ZERO interest in voting for Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. Zero. So I know that my racial heart-strings don’t tug all that easily. But this is different. Had he been white, I’d have been fascinated by him. But black, knowing what he’s had to overcome (and seen, all my life, the difficulty in finding whites who grasp the obstacles) does give him extra points in my mind.

So his ability to build and direct a 200-million dollar organization from scratch, and smash an established machine? Yeah, I think this guy has executive ability. More, he has the ability to inspire people to try, to believe. Now, if he’s honest, that’s great. So far, he seems more honest than 90% or more of what I see in the public arena. Smart? Blisteringly so. And flexible. That implies that he will learn faster than hell.

My guess? He’ll be an above-average president. Probably a good one. Greatness? Who the hell knows? Part of that judgment will be determined by whether you are Liberal or Conservative. So I will evaluate the quality of Liberal candidates by the judgement of other liberals, or the judgment of Conservative candidates by the judgment of other Conservatives, or averaging the approval levels overall. Otherwise, well, if you are Conservative, of COURSE you’re likely to dislike a Liberal candidate’s platform, overall, and vice versa. And since I think those differences stem from primary existential perceptual lenses rather than actual value (I know of no studies suggesting vast differences in income, education or intelligence between Conservatives and Liberals. In my mind, this means that it can’t possibly be true that one side is “right” and the other “wrong.”)

In terms of my judgment about his apparent balance, as opposed to Clinton. It is true that many women are married to cheaters. So what? Lots of people are broke, or fat. That’s simply a fact, not something that gives a pass on the issue of balance. MOST people are imbalanced, and it’s not something to aspire to. Period. So she made a compromise. Fine. That matches her values, and doesn’t match mine.

I did a fast web search for male and female relative satisfaction in life. Here’s a page with some data:

And you’ll notice that it’s pretty even, with men being happier about some things, women happier about others. On the issue of marriage, men seem to be a little happier, but not much. In other words, in life, both sides make compromises, both sides suffer, both sides benefit.
Equal rights and incomes for women? Absolutely, totally, without equivocation. Evil men with vast advantages? Bullshit.

I find the “are blacks or women more disadvantaged” argument objectionable because you can’t answer it without hallucinating that you know more about the other side than they do. Even the “Ask black women” thing I proposed doesn’t answer it for me---and frankly, about 80% of the answers I got from them said race was the biggest factor. AND I DON’T ACCEPT THAT. I discard it, because I don’t think you can come to a conclusion that doesn’t discount the experience and pain of others. Frankly, I think I’m bending over backwards to be fair here, and therefore feel perfectly comfortable playing fair arbiter and saying: if Obama beats Clinton, PLEASE don’t make this an issue of “man versus woman.” How ‘bout just two people, one of whom was ultimately more appealing? She SLAUGHTERED the other men she was running against. Doesn’t that count for anything?
The question of the day is: What is the largest prejudice you have overcome in your life?

For me, it was probably gays. It wasn’t until I was in High School and actually met some very cool gay people that I began to question the venom that I’d gotten in childhood. I’m embarrassed now to even remember the things I thought. How about you?


Anonymous said...

"What is the largest prejudice you have overcome in your life."

Not sure I've overcome it, but obesity. I try to judge everyone on their merits, regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, sex, or sexual proclivity. For me, these are all things that people had no choice about. Why discriminate against someone for something s/he could not control. However, my rejection of these types of discrimination leaves me wide open for factors that I believe people can control. With few exceptions, people can control whether or not they are obese. Given that most people can control obesity and given that obesity is bad for people on multiple levels (health, self esteem, career, richness of life) I have always struggled against a prejudice against obese people.

Steven Barnes said...

How does this prejudice manifest, might I ask?

Anonymous said...

I really started noticing Obama during the LA debate in January, when he responded to a question by saying he refused to scapegoat undocumented immigrants, arguing that the real cause of the economic distress in the 'hood is Bush's economic policies. In contrast, Clinton answered the same question by sticking to the party line, saying that it is a "real problem," evidenced by the fact that black construction workers had come up to her and complained about illegal aliens taking their jobs. You're right. His approach is to unite. Her approach is the old-fashioned divide and conquer. He comes across as "real" to me. She comes across as someone who would say whatever she needs to say in order to win.

Anonymous said...

To Kukulkan's comment, I have struggled with weight all of my life. Food addiction is just like any other addiction. It has deep-seated psychological roots and there are also physiological factors that make overcoming it difficult. You have as much "choice" in overcoming a food addiction as you have in overcoming a drug addiction. Telling an obese person to just "choose" to lose weight is like seeing some one who doesn't know how to swim fall into the pool and then yelling at them to learn how to swim and save themselves. It's more than a little cruel and ignorant.

Anonymous said...

How does my prejudice manifest? Good question. Many of my friends are or have been computer programmers, so there is a high percentage of obesity in my friends. So apparently, my prejudice does not strongly influence who I choose to be friends. In any event, I tend to think of strangers who are obese as lazy and therefore am inclined to make fewer allowances for their performance. I am less empathetic of people who are obese. It is not anything overt like calling people fat or refusing to interact with people who are obese. Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable with my own prejudice and try to be aware of it so that I can counteract it.

Anonymous #2. "Telling an obese person to just 'choose' to lose weight is like seeing some one who doesn't know how to swim fall into the pool and then yelling at them to learn how to swim and save themselves. It's more than a little cruel and ignorant."

As I stated in my original post, "I have always struggled against a prejudice against obese people." I do not accept my prejudice as acceptable, because it is not. I struggle against. And, yes, obese people can -- with a few exceptions -- lose weight. Liewise, people with drug addictions do overcome their addictions. It is hard and it requires the support of family and friends, and it requires constant commitment, but it can be done. Your comparison to someone drowning is, IMO, inappropriate. A person drowning has to overcome a lifetime of ignorance in a couple of minutes. People who are obese have years to learn the skills and behaviors that are necessary to address the issue.

I would think that this discussion regarding the ability to overcome an internal obstacle plays right into one of Steve's beliefs -- we can and should try to master ourselves (my take on things Steven has written). If that is one of the reasons you visit Steven's blog, I wish you the best of luck.

LaVeda H. Mason said...

I don't know if you read Group News Blog, but I think you'll enjoy this one about Obama:

To answer the question, the hardest prejudice that I had to overcome was realizing that I wasn't responsible for other people's problems and bad decisions.

I finally realized that my being responsible for other people's bad decisions allowed me to feel superior to the other person, which I am not.

I still struggle with this, but having had this prejudice pull me up short in the past, I just give myself some space, and figure out where my head is at before offering to help. [If I decide to... most times, it isn't warranted, or wanted.]

Anonymous said...

You say people who are obese have choice and can do something about it. But the question is for those who are genetically handicapped with respect to weight just how much sacrifice should one expect from someone to be thin. When I was 38 I was diagnosed with diabetes. I 5"9" and 238 pounds. My doctor said I had to lose weight and put me on a strict healthy diet with an appropriate daily calorie count. After six months on this diet I was down to 194 pounds a considerable improvement, but after 10 months on this diet I was still 194 pounds. My body just refused to go lower. Maybe if I had started running a couple of miles a day and took up marshal arts I could have burned up more calories and lost more weight, but I had no desire to do those things. My hobbies are reading, photography and duplicate bridge. Was I supposed to give these hobbies as well as the foods I enjoyed all in the name of meeting some weight standard. What good is living long if you don't enjoy your life. I have a sister who can eat me under the table. She loves her ice cream sundaes and has has gone through most of her life being told she was too thin. I never eat ice cream sundaes. People are born with different genetic biases, not everyone is obese simply because they are lazy anymore than they can't dunk a basketball because they are too lazy to jump high enough.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

"What is the largest prejudice you have overcome in your life?".

Oddly enough, being a US CITIZEN living as an expat in a country somewhat known as a tourist spot in it's capital city and coastal areas by a good many of the residents in my little ville that initially thought I was just another American chump with a nice disposable-income that came there to frolick with the natives while wantonly disrespecting and canoodling with the women folk as I have seen soooo many other US schmucks do. I could hardly blame them at first.

On more than a few occasions I was embarrassed and mortified by the conduct of my fellow countrymen as I could be and found myself as the local apologist for USA hubris and stupidity. Thankfully I was fluent in the lingo which smoothed things over and in time endeared me with the local ruling gentry and junta. As time twaddled along and it became apparent I was more than a tourist and there to stay things lightened up immensely to where we all hit a stride and found a pleasant working groove.

I even have an ugly American story that's quite humorous. Lets just say my ethnic background makes it easier for me to blend in with the locals much better than that of my lighter of brethren from the caucasian persuasion. I was sitting in the parque cen'tral one day next to some folks from the USA that mistook me for a local and just chatted away in typical US ignorance in a place that probably saved all year to get to just to diss the locals. Amazing.

Naturally they thought I didn't understand a word they said. As time went on a lady looking due at any moment to have a child came by and these idiots made what would become a very bad mistake. In the language of the land, the word for 'when' is much like the word for the expression 'how much?'. Instead of wanting to ask this woman 'when is your baby due?' it came out as 'how much FOR your baby?'. This was bad timing indeed as local urban legend at the time had it that people from the USA were there most illegally purchasing children. I then told them in English that they'd just made a mistake and before I had time to tell them exactly what it was the couple told me in no uncertain terms to mind my own goddamn business. Meanwhile, the pregnant lady was screaming like the dickens for the cops. OK, I'll mind my own business.

The cops arrive and they don't speak English. The couple can't speak the cops language. I spoke both, but was told to mind my own goddamn business. Fine. The cops recognized me and asked me what happened and I told them what the couple had said VERBATIM. By now handcuffs are being produced as well as requests for passports or other forms of indentifying documents. Cash, too. I just minded my own goddamn business and repeated to the couple what the cops had told me to tell them. "You're under arrest".

The couple then decided to get civil with me and asked what had just transpired and I told them that their vacation had just been extended for an indeterminate length of time at the host country's expense and they'd be visited by someone from the US Consulate before the year was out. This was in mid-February or early March if I recall correctly.

They predictably freaked. They said to me, and I quote, "BUT YOU KNOW THAT'S NOT WHAT WE MEANT!". I replied, 'How do I know that? You never gave me a chance finish correcting you, if correction was indeed what you wanted. For all I know you may have wanted me to broker the deal'. The cops then interrupted and asked me, "Did they say anything to you once they asked to buy this woman's child?". I said, 'Why yes they did as a matter of fact. I attempted to ask them what in hell they thought they were doing and was told to mind my own goddamn business'.

I was STILL minding my own goddamn business as they were cuffed and lead away protesting mightily of charges that had yet to be formalized by the local US citizen hating magistrate.

There's a moral to this somewhere but I'm stumped at the moment to provide it.

Anonymous said...

Kukukulkan, I guess I'm having a little trouble understanding you. On the one hand, you say that you know you should not be proud of your prejudice. On the other hand, you attempt to justify it by saying (incorrectly) that people have a choice not to be overweight. At best, choosing to lose weight is an extremely difficult choice to implement. If it were easy, we would not have any overweight people. Nobody wants to be fat - just as nobody wants to be physically unattractive in other ways. So, it's usually not a simple matter of being "lazy." At worst, choosing to lose weight is impossible due to psychological and health issues, such as diabetes or suffering from a reaction to child abuse. These more serious situations occur more frequently than you seem to realize. Maybe the answer is that you should do some reading in the area. Then you would realize that your assumption is incorrect, and you would no longer be conflicted.

Abel M.

Spilling Ink said...

Hey there, Steve.
Last night I helped my kids with a school report about the civil war. I am frustrated now.

Check this - they had to do reports about two battles, two 'important people', and *then* they had to do a report about a black person and also about a woman involved in the war. Okay. I get it. There are important people, there are blacks, and there are women. WTF???
This has been bothering me. Making me angry.

I'm glad blacks and women are not being excluded, but this is digging at me. Like if it were not by direction, blacks and women would not, or maybe should not, be mentioned at all. Like we are not real people, not *important*. Not as good.

Maybe I'm taking this too personally, but my head did this with it.

"Now, class... I want you to do a report on the civil war. You should mention two battles and two important people. Then I want you to do a report mentioning how space aliens were involved."


And to answer your question, I overcame my prejudice toward those who are not Christians. There was a time when I felt sorry for them and their 'barbaric' or 'misguided' beliefs. At least I *thought* I did. I was really just declining to examine what I really felt about the beliefs that had been passed down through my family. This prejudice was inauthentic and really belonged to my mother and her family. I gave it back to them. Good thing, too, since I don't really 'qualify' as a Christian. I no longer hide the Agnostic leanings that come with not really knowing all the ins and outs of the divine workings of the universe. There is probably a mass or a rosary being said for me somewhere right this moment as I type this. You know... so I won't burn in hell.
*big sigh*
*end of rant*
*going to hit the shower and think about sleep*

...dreaming of a woman or a black man in the white house... would raise eyebrows in my Christian family...
hee hee.

Anonymous said...

Abel M:

Yes, I believe that I do need to overcome my prejudice for obese people. Not the word you ascribed to my prejudice -- "overweight." Obese. The two words mean different things. I've got no prejudice with respect to people who are merely overweight, my prejudice lies with those who are grossly overweight. And no, I do not see a contradiction in believing that the vast majority of obese people have the power to lose weight and at the same time being uncomfortable with my prejudice. I have never used illegal drugs and disaprove of usage of such drugs. However, my bias against people who use illegal drugs is very minor so long as their usage does not adversely impact others. It's their choice.

"At worst, choosing to lose weight is impossible due to psychological and health issues, such as diabetes or suffering from a reaction to child abuse." I agree that for some few people, losing weight is extremely difficult or impossible without medical intervention. However, I think that this number is very low. Look at pictures of people during the Great Depression -- do you see a lot of obese people? Neither do I. From this simple observation, I draw the conclusion that most obesity is due to lifestyle. Furthermore, I have not stated that being obese is a choice. Being healthy is a choice for people predisposed to being overweight.

Marty S.
You prove the point that even those who are genetically handicapped or otherwise medically predisposed to be overweight, can choose not to be obese. Through consistent dietary choices you lost 44 pounds. Go you! You are by no means obese. I completely agree with you that quality of life is important. Is your quality of life better now that you have lost the weight? Can you do more things, play more actively with your children etc.? Of course you should not give up the hobbies that give you joy. I think, though, that you'd be surprised at the difference that even a little exercise would make in your life. I'm talking maybe 10 minutes of muscle building excercise 2 to 3 times a week. Muscle burns calories at a much higher rate than other types of tissue - so building a couple of pounds of muscle will actually help you lose weight even when you're playing bridge. Since you are male, you can build muscle much more easily than females. Do some push ups, sit ups and lunges during commercial breaks. Even if you don't do this kind of exercise, Go You! You lost 44 pounds! Go to the gym sometime and pick up one of the 45 pound plates. That is what you are not carrying around all the time.

Spilling Ink said...

The sleep thing didn't quite work out, so I'm back.

Reading all of the comments about weight is making me feel something. I haven't been very connected with any feelings lately, so I may as well put my two cents in while I have it.

I used to have a weight problem. I have never been overweight, I was anorexic. I overcame it. Even so, my heart goes out to those struggling with any problem like this, be they too heavy or too thin.

It is true that issues of childhood abuse can very drastically effect matters of eating. It is, as one commenter stated, very much like a drug addiction. The whole thing is an extremely painful situation. I think the one thing we should all remember when we look at the bodies of others, is that their bodies are telling a story. Sometimes it's a very, very painful one. While it is good and kind to wish better health for others, let us not forget to have respect for their stories. I believe we have the ability to give REAL nurturance to others when we can do this.

My body was telling a story all those years ago. No one was able to read it. Not even me. That was so painful. I used to be ashamed that I had ever been so horribly thin. I'm not ashamed anymore. I understand now. I respect my story. And to anyone who is reading this -- I respect yours, too. Read your story. Write it down. What is your body saying?

Spilling Ink said...

Here is an example of a simple way to tell the story of your body:

You can use a photo and write some captions. It's a place to start anyway. Go ahead. Let your body tell you the story.

Anonymous said...


The real point of my previous post was that just because people have a choice and make a different one than you would doesn't give you the right to look down on them and judge them. Let's get away from weight and look at a different example. You see a poor couple with six children being supported by the government. They clearly had a choice not to bring six children into the world when they couldn't even support themselves. Many people look down on such couples, but is it really right to do so. I think children are a great boon and anyone deserves as many children as they can love and cherish.

Marty S

Pagan Topologist said...

Interesting question. Ever since I was a child, I have challenged other people's prejudices regarding race, class, gender, level of education, etc. I certainly have prejudices of my own. I don't know that I have ever overcome one, however, hard as it is to admit, in the abstract. I have often admitted here to a prejudice against neocons, since I see them as simply people whose only goal in life is to cause as much pain and suffering as possible to others. I have developed a prejudice against Christians since I escaped from that religion and all the emotional harm it did to me as a child and young adult. I have a few others, but those are the big ones.


Anonymous said...

"Let's get away from weight and look at a different example. You see a poor couple with six children being supported by the government. They clearly had a choice not to bring six children into the world when they couldn't even support themselves. Many people look down on such couples, but is it really right to do so. I think children are a great boon and anyone deserves as many children as they can love and cherish."

I disagree completely. People should not only be able to love and cherish their children but take care of them too. This definitely includes being responsible for basic survival needs such as providing food and shelter. Parents should also be able to set a good example to their children, and having children that they can't support teaches offspring that they don't need to plan ahead or be responsible for their own behavior. By your logic, it is also a good thing when 30 year old single men gets 14 year old girl pregnant and then abandons her. After all, you believe that children, by definition, are a great boon. Having children can be a bad option or a good one. It depends on the circumstances.

And yes, we can judge others. We should too - but we should still be at least civil to those whose behavior or values we judge to be wrong.


Anonymous said...

Marty S:

"just because people have a choice and make a different one than you would doesn't give you the right to look down on them and judge them."

I agree that I still should judge someone on their merits even if that person makes a different choice than would I. This is why I struggle to overcome my prejudice against obesity.

I disagree with your analogy re a couple that has six children they cannot afford to feed. Becoming a parent is the most responsible thing that someone can do. By this, I mean it requires responsibility. When you say the children are being supported by the government, what you are really saying is that the couple has abdicated the most fundamental aspect of being a parent, the ability to protect and care for the child. If you cannot protect and care for a child, you should not have the child. Period. People are not clairvoyant, so the decision to have a child must be based on the facts of which you are aware. This is why I support welfare programs. Unanticipated hardships. If I, as a taxpayer, am paying for this couple's children, why shouldn't I have the right to tell them how to raise their child? After all, I have shouldered the most fundamental obligation for their children, which obligation they had no intent to shoulder. I do have a prejudice against parents that knowingly have children they cannot protect and for whom they cannot provide adequate care. We have a right to do whatever we want to ourselves. That right does not extend to ruining the lives of others. I have no prejudice with respect to the children of these irresponsible parents. But the parents themselves are irreponsible and are harming their children. These irresponsible parents put society in an impossible situation. Our society does not want to reward this irresponsible behavior, and at the same time we do not wish children to suffer for their parents' irresponsibility. As a society, we've chosen the welfare of the children over disciplining the parents. However, that does not mean we as a society condone the actions of the parents.

Anonymous said...

Is merely having opinions about other people the same thing as judging them? We can't help having opinions. It's our actions, the way we treat other people, that really counts.

Also, I think merely having an opinion is different from having a prejudice. A prejudice hurts the person who has it. It prevents you from thinking clearly. It's like you've programmed yourself to think a certain way and you can't get out of that program.

I probably do have some prejudices and I've probably overcome some but I think what right now. I have a prejudice (if you want to call it that) against extremists, either extreme liberals or extreme conservatives but I have difficulty thinking of that as a prejudice. Sure we should be tolerant and accept difference of opinion but how far to do we have to go. Must we literally tolerate everything? Everything?

By the way, I'm not the same "Lynn" who posted earlier on this thread. I guess I need to think of a nickname for myself.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I meant, "I probably do have some prejudices and I've probably overcome some but I can't think what they are right now.

Daniel Keys Moran said...


Nice pic of Obama on the court. I tell you, I heard a few weeks back he celebrated one of his primary wins by taking his Secret Service squad to the gym and playing some pickup -- I felt a rush of closeness to the guy that I've haven't felt for a politician in 20 years. A Presidential candidate who plays my game! That was pretty cool.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

... not just plays it: celebrates by playing it. It wouldn't do the guy a lick of good if he were a Republican, I'm much too far turned off Republicans right now for any personal fact to make an impact, but since I'm voting Democrat anyway ... what a nice moment that was.

Anonymous said...

Steven, Kukulkan, and others, I think Lynn #1 nailed it when she said, "While it is good and kind to wish better health for others, let us not forget to have respect for their stories." It is important to try and put oneself in the other person's shoes before judging them or even forming opinions about them. Otherwise, the judgment or opinion isn't worth very much. Until you can truly understand why that obese fellow sitting next to you has not chosen a healthier lifestyle - until you have proper respect for his story - you really don't know enough about him to judge him or have any worthwhile opinion of him. IMO.

Mario S.

Steven Barnes said...

Well said, Mario S.
Loving someone isn't the same as buying into their bullshit. Too often, people find a circle of friends who "accept them as they are" and slip into lives of quiet despair. I've watched people spiral into poverty, shattered families, and literally die because no one would tell them the truth. We all judge, in the sense of making decisions about who we will and will not accept as friends, lovers, employees, or whatever. Why do we lie about this? We have not just the right, but the RESPONSIBILITY to choose the best, healthiest, sanest mates that we can, especially if we have the intention of having children with them. I literally know women whose husbands abused their children, and they KNEW the guys were unstable when they married 'em, but felt: 'who am I to judge?"
I hate to get all Dr. Laura and shit, but who are you to judge? The mother or father of a helpless child, that's who. And if you don't seek the very best and healthiest person that you can attract, you are cheating your children because you don't have the courage to define and defend your values, and in the context of building a family, that is something very close to a sin.

Spilling Ink said...

I think we should respect the person's story AND tell them the truth. One without the other just wouldn't be very helpful. When we tell the truth while respecting the person's story (which is ALSO the truth), we respect the person's dignity. I think that is using judgement without seeming to make a blanket condemnation of a person, which would more than likely just injure them further. There is nothing wrong with using one's judgement. I hope I did not imply that. Judgement is essential to survival.

Steven Barnes said...

No, Lynn. You were fine. This is a delicate subject, and we need to be sensitive and respectful in the way we address it. There is a LOT of savagely negative internet chatter about people challenged with weight issues, and I'll be damned if I'll participate.

Steve Perry said...

The movie Thelma and Louise was, to me, fascinating. Every time they came to a place where they needed to make a choice, they made the wrong one, and eventually, they died for their mistakes.

There are things over which people have no control.
Genetics, diseases, somebody jumps a curb in a car and hits them, bam! -- their lives get changed by things beyond their ability to affect.

If you have a hormonal inbalance that cannot be resolved, a brainstem malfunction that affects your metabolism and it causes you to gain weight at the drop of a hat, that's a valid problem.

But most people who are obese don't have those problems and they do have a choice. They eat too much and they don't exercise, those are the root problems, and they get judged most often by folks who have the same choice and went the other way. It's the nature of people: If I can do it, so can you. If you don't, it's because you don't want it enough to do what's needed.

That's your choice. Everybody knows it.

If you are disciplined sort who can eat and exercise and take care of yourself, you tend to expand your philosophy onto others. Nature of the beast.

I have a friend who suffers from a chronic and incurable illness. It affects him on many levels, from his balance to his speech, and it brings with it a major depression. He has had multiple surgeries, takes a boatload of medications, and control of his malady is precarious. Not his fault, he didn't elect to develop it.

I have, for years, told him to get into yoga, tai chi, something to get ahead of the disease, for balance and flexibility, because he is losing both, and the more you have to start with, the longer you can maintain. Same thing with his speech, which has gotten worse -- there are exercises to help.

He can't seem to get past the inertia to do any of these things. Part of it is depression -- it's hard to climb a mountain when you feel too tired to put your socks on. Part of it is fear -- what if I do these things and they don't help?

In his shoes, I don't know what I'd do, but it would be my hope that I would go down swinging, throwing everything I had at it.

If you are physically fit and obese, then it seems obvious that the reason is psychological. When does a neurosis shade into a psychosis? How much is due to inertia? It's hard to say, but the fact that people will judge you for it exists in our culture and you have to deal with that.

Everybody judges everybody else for everything. Being fat makes you a bigger and easier target -- that's something everybody can see.

A lot of folks will look at you buying a dozen of Krispy Kreme's finest and assume you are going to eat them all. They will assume, on some level, that you want the doughnuts more than you want to be fit. Bad to assume stuff, but it does happen.

You can't wish it into the cornfield.

Anonymous said...

The biggest prejudice I've had to overcome would be racism. But I'm not sure I really overcame that prejudice as I was exposed to it but I never really was caught by it. My dad, some family friends, and certain extended family members would throw "n-----" around without a second thought, but I always remember knowing it was wrong. So it's not so much that I overcame it as it was that I saw through it and moved beyond it. A few months ago, I visited family in Arizona. I was pretty excited to see some family that I haven't seen forever. And I was really bummed to learn that one of my uncles was a hardcore racist. He just came out and said "I don't like black people." I think he'd be in the KKK if it were socially acceptable. His daughter married a Mexican man and he said he wished his granddaighter wasn't half Mexican. Needless to say, I lost all respect for the man and could care less if I ever saw him again. And I lost a little respect for my aunt too, as she accepts that he's that way. Ruined the second half of my vacation because we stayed with them.

Anonymous said...

After thinking about it while I have decided my biggest prejudice is against people who are slow on the uptake and poor problem solvers. In my employment years I served as an internal consultant and had to work with many people, I never had much patients for those who either couldn't or didn't want to understand what I was telling them.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

Dear Steve:

Thank you for your insight into Barack Obama and describing some of your own struggles with race in America.

I agree with you that few white Americans can fathom what it means to be African-American and dealing with racism.

The other day, I watched Vanessa Williams and Sherri Shepard in separate interviews describe their experiences growing up in predominately white neighborhoods. Both described the familiar pain of being called nigger on the school bus and constantly reminded of their otherness and supposed inferiority.

Those were such rare moments in American culture where African-Americans on two separate programs on the same day told my story. One of the things that I noticed as an adult his how even some white people who consider themselves "liberals" are willing to judge African-Americans as guilty as charged without real proof or even verifying facts.

Finally, thank you for being a science fiction writer (amongst many other aspects of your life).