The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, September 28, 2009

Facebook Healings

In a relationship, each partner has to work to understand the language of their partner. Two people can have the same intent, but have different definitions and charges to words and behavior: note our current argument about health care. I think that the majority of each side wants the minimum number of people to die due to poor or absent care. The disagreement about how this can be achieved, how much of our communal resources should be allotted to this, and the role of government in this is being debated fiercely, and not always honestly...and this shows the depth of feeling involved.

How much more so in the struggles within our daily lives? The classic instance is the man who works day and night to provide security and safety for his family. By his definition, this is love. While the wife wants to HEAR HIM SAY IT. By her definition, anything else is just noise. So two people can actually love each other dearly, but be incapable of making genuine connection. It can be tragic. Emails I've gotten from people on both sides of the UHC debate suggest that the intents are largely the same--but the preferred methodology varies greatly. There are, of course, freeloaders on one side and selfish bastards on the other, and partisans on both who just want to win for the sake of winning. And many in the middle who are afraid of the status quo, or of change. And this is where the lack of effective dialogue is tragic.


Over the last couple of years, I've noticed that my past is catching up with me. Or I'm passing up with it. I'm encountering friends, lovers, old teachers from my 20's, people with whom I had broken communication or fouled heart-lines. And that stuff is slowly, surely getting disentangled. My very first girlfriend found me on Facebook. And we've been able to talk about those days, and what we both did right and wrong together. Damned if that isn't useful, a glimpse into my process, and a prediction of future issues.

Have any of you ever had a conversation with an old flame that helped you understand your current relationships?


So Roman Polanski finally got arrested. I can't wait to hear his lawyers claim that thirty years of exile is as bad as incarceration, and that he should therefore be pardoned. What a crock. Thirty years of champagne, getting laid by women, jetting around to the greatest cities in Europe, making movies, laughing with friends...the inability to come to America simply doesn't strike me as the worst punishment in the world.

And the former victim pleads for clemancy? Probably because she was an active partner, yeah. But society says she she doesn't have the right to decide that. And her current opinion is irrelevant: he would be incarcerated to protect OTHER children, not her. And not to "teach Polanski a lesson." Nope. Right now he's the very poster child for how to break the law and get away with it, in plain sight. I've met too many girls who had sex inappropriately young, and it seems to me that a disproportionate percentage of them were seriously screwed up emotionally, and had real relationship issues later.

Some people say, "well, this isn't fair! If she had been a boy, and Polanski had been a famous female director, no one would do anything but give him a Thumbs Up." Well, that's not true, while it is true that FEWER people would complain. And that gets down to a question of whether it is legitimate to consider boys and girls to have different needs for protection. You know my side of this: I find it impossible to believe that females, who must put a gigantic investment of time and energy for every child, would not be wired up to process sexual data differently from males, who, in comparison, invest a fraction. Nature would be indescriminate indeed if males and females reacted to sex the same. I know of no society, anywhere in the world, at any period of time, in which females were expected to be more sexually experienced than males. So, yeah, we tend to grin if a 16 year old boy has sex with the sexy housewife or teacher. And grimace if the 16 year old baby sitter has sex with the hunky husband or swim coach. It isn't "fair", but it isn't unfair, either. Just protecting the species, to me.


It is tendencies like this that blossom into full-blown social restrictions, reinforced by the power players of both genders. As I've said, men manipulate women with fear, women manipulate men with guilt, and the war goes on. Most men and women love the opposite gender, but there are genuine haters out there, and they queer the deal the same way the serious political partisans do--especially when they lie and hide their venom behind mainstream political rhetoric.

Racially, it cracks me up when someone talks about racism, and their political opponents will squeal: "Oh! So you're saying America is a racist nation?" And then go off into all the things America has done to heal this divide.

It is so absurd for people to use this ploy. Worse is: "Oh, so you're saying white people are evil racists?" To me, the person asking this question is in real danger of actually being that thing. Why? Because it doesn't seem to occur to any of them that the problem is in a human tendency. Their natural assumption is that people MUST mean that whites are actually worse. Or, even if someone says that, that that is the issue to be debated: Are blacks or whites more racist? Because that's the way they think: it HAS to be one or the other. Either white people are the best, or the worst. It can't be that human beings are wired up that way, and we have to be conscious to prevent these tendencies from poisoning our lives. Any more that it could be true that men and women are each wired to think that THEIR view of life, relationships, or whatever is the "right" one, and that the other gender is somehow defective. Or that it is natural, and healthy, for countries to consider themselves Great. Those who believe in American Exceptionalism are participating in a great human past-time. As long as they grant that EVERYONE feels this way about their countries, they get the joke, and it's all in good, serious fun. But the minute you think "I feel this way! And if you don't agree you're a fool or a knave"--you are part of the problem, rather than the solution.

Insofar as racism: I think we are programmed to feel more comfortable with "our own" and the fastest distinction is race or gender. Experience, programming or deep self reflection can change this, but I think it lingers. And those slight tendencies, multiplied across population or power inequities can create horrific effects, especially when good people turn a blind eye to the excesses of their lunatic fringe...which has happened in national, racial, and gender politics to a nauseating degree.

It can be combatted, but I think the easiest way to combat it is to have friends of the "other" group. Do I have Conservative friends with whom I have polite disagreement? Do I privately think they are crazy for having different opinions?

Do I have female friends with whom I can discuss relationships and gender issues? Do I privately think they're crazy for having different opinions? How about different thought patterns? Tananarive, for instance, has a trait I've seen far more frequently among women than men: she talks in suspensive sentences, postponing the object for clause after clause, and sometimes sentence after sentence, as if working from the outside in. It drives me crazy, but it used to drive me crazier. Now I just see it as a difference, and accept it. It still irritates me, but I just shake my head and realize that some of my communication styles must be equally bothersome to her.

Do I have white friends with whom I discuss history, and race relations, and psychological theory regarding blacks and whites in America? You betcha, and it's enriched my life immeasureably. And if I found myself considering some of their attitudes unconsciously racist ("those people in the inner city must love living in squalor." "The crime statistics speak for themselves" That's great, but unless they also take the position that the social structures were damaged by racism, it got REALLY easy to corner them into admitting that they think that innate differences are responsible for these problems. It's actually fun to corner them, and to watch their faces as they realize I understand what they are really saying. And they are so surprised that, deep down, I don't agree. I, of course, am a different breed, and their acceptance of me is proof they aren't racists. Of course. What fun.

This is a fight we have to continue. Having friends in your circle who differ with you while still holding your respect are critical in keeping yourself from falling into the very oldest Primate trap: we rule, you drool, now stand there while I fling poo from the top of the tree. And pretend I did nothing at all.


Scott said...

My ex-GF had a similar tendency to Tananarive, though she willingly learned a new approach when I asked, her, specifically, to "answer, then explain." Several paragraphs of explanation are far less annoying after the answer instead of before it.

Steve, do you attribute your repeated arithmetic error to unconscious racism? It seems unlikely to me - I tend to see error before malice - but I'm curious about your view of it. Your previous response seemed defensive; couldn't tell whether you were being defensive about innumeracy or racism, though.

Steve Perry said...

Roman Polanski likes 'em young. The girl he was busted for having sex with was thirteen, and the circumstances were apparently that he took her to Jack Nicholson's house, plied her with champagne and Quaaludes, and raped her.

How willing she was or wasn't to go along, she was thirteen.

After he realized he was apt to get more time than the deal his lawyers and the judge had worked he, he fled the country and was welcomed to France, where such May-December romances are not so frowned upon.

He had a relationship with Nastassja Kinski beginning when she was fifteen years old.

There are plenty of older men who like younger women, but there's a line and Polanski stepped over it. However much genius he has as a movie director -- and c'mon, all you need to see is Chinatown to prove that -- that doesn't get him a free pass to romp in the fields of puberty.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Polanski's court transcript.

She kept saying no. And he'd given her champagne and part of a quaalude. It was rape.

I'm a little twitchy about age of consent laws because sometimes underage people do consent to sex, and it isn't necessarily a bad idea,but this isn't just statutary rape, it's rape.

I'm inclined to take Samantha Gailey at her word-- it's not that she was an active participant, it's that she doesn't want to go over it all in detail again.


In re underage sex in general: I've seen more than one account like this, though the others have involved older teenagers. It's typically someone who's been abused, and who says that a consensual sexual relationship was very much the best thing in their life at the time. In some cases, it's what made life worth living.

Since these are people who were abused, they're likely to have serious problems in their lives, but this doesn't mean underage sex made things worse, and perhaps their word should be taken that their lives were better for it.

Steven Barnes said...

Unless someone was to point out, say, all the arithmetic errors I've made in the past year, and note that I make more of them when the error disadvantages white people in some way, I'd simply attribute it to error. The "defensiveness" was because it seemed you were pointing out a relatively irrelevant error (it didn't change the actual point of the discussion) as a way to deflect the conversation. If there is a three-fold increase in death threats, my mislabeling it "400%" is certainly an error, and you certainly didn't acknowledge the seriousness of my point. If I said, "your baby's blue blanket is on fire!" would you say: "it's actually aquamarine"? Or acknowledge that your baby is in horrible danger? Was that racism on your part? Or is mathematical precision the highest value in your life? Just wondering.

Scott said...

"Unless someone was to point out, say, all the arithmetic errors I've made in the past year, and note that I make more of them when the error disadvantages white people in some way, I'd simply attribute it to error."


I'd say the difference between a threefold increase and a fivefold increase is not irrelevant, actually.

"If I said, "your baby's blue blanket is on fire!" would you say: "it's actually aquamarine"?"

No; I might try to distinguish between smoke and fire, though.

"Or acknowledge that your baby is in horrible danger?"

If you were telling the truth about it being on fire, that would be very important to me. Since we're discussing smoke (threats) rather than fire, your analogy seems flawed.

"Was that racism on your part?"

No, more a concern for understanding the magnitude of the problem. I didn't expect our first black president to get fewer death threats than the white guys, did you? A 200% increase is smaller than I predicted; I'm glad to be wrong.

"Or is mathematical precision the highest value in your life?"

A higher value than the lives of politicians (quite low), or even racial equality (higher), to be sure, albeit not the highest.

Marty S said...

Scott: I read many articles that use statistics to prove the author's point. I guesstimate that over 60% misinterpret the data or use incorrectly gathered data. These are important problems with the math. If you pick on math errors that don't really affect the point you become the boy who cried wolf when you have an important point.

Scott said...

I'd say it did affect the point, Marty; that the increase in threats is *far* less than Steve unintentionally exaggerated. And sure, I just saw an ObamaNation/Abomination bumper sticker while driving to lunch (posted next to the If You Can Read This Then You're In Range bumper sticker on the Ford F-150; yep, Austin really is in Texas); I'm not suggesting that kooks aren't upset about President Barack Hussein Obama; rather that the boy who cried wolf is the guy who doubles the problem, not the one who notes the error.

Anonymous said...

What I'd really like to see if we are going to evaluate racism as a factor in the threats to Obama is a comparison, per capita, of the threats for the last ten presidents or so, not just one.

Seems there were some statements made here awhile back (comments, not blog) basically alledging that conservatives are a lot more violence prone then liberals towards dissenters. If that's the case then how much is ideology based and how much is racial? (And yes there is a certain crossover here in that conservatives are more likly to be racist and racist are more likly to be conservative but to equate the two is just plain silly).

I am absolutly certain that there ARE racially motivated haters out there. I don't happen to travel in those social circles so I really have no idea what the number is.

The real motivation here is to hit the point that finding A cause for an increase doesn't mean you've found THE cause.

Besides, 58.2% of all statistics are made up anyway.