Category Archives: conflicting beliefs

Civic engagement civilly undertaken

The runup to Scotland’s Devolution vote last month included, on this American side of the Pond, an opportunity to witness how civic engagement “over there” could be undertaken with both interest (a voter turnout of about 84%) and social media discussion among those of different stands in which the stand, rather than the shouting power of each discussant, tended to dominate. During the same time period, the case of the peremptory retraction of a signed and sealed tenure position at the University of Illinois-Urbana erupted in what amounted to blazes of emotionally supercharged shouting in the same social media venues. The UIU event, in terms of  no emotional holds barred appeals to human tendencies other than reason, was itself relatively tame when contrasted with daily troll outbursts, putatively addressing a vast swath of concerns, on local news sites all over the US.

Civic engagement, American-style, seems to come in decibels, while, in at least one other place, civil discourse flows from and to the ear and the brain before emerging  as sound walls through the mouth. Civility has that interesting capacity to keep the argument focused on what makes the argument important, while our fractious, post-Puritanical emotional outbursts reduce whatever discourse might have been  to the byproduct of cinders heaped on the quieter, slower speaker.

Yes, post-Puritanical: thererin lies the rub. While we have spent the past 250, 75, 50, and even 10 years outgrowing the rigid demands the Puritan culture winners hardwired into our civic building, we seem to have grown an increasingly untrammeled bulge of emotion-makes-right in the muscle we put to engaging with our civic interests. Instead of building toward community, we seem bent on building away from accepting diversity in member opinion. While anger at injustice can be a good and powerful engine toward unifying for change, we don’t limit ourselves to choosing when to anger for change’s sake and when to blast for the apparent delight of outyelling others. The end result isn’t civic engagement. It’s civil distress.

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Stasis and movement

The time has come to relocate–again. For most of my life, relocation has happened with the frequency Others expect to spend attending levels of scholarship:  high school, university, graduate school–only repeated to that disappearance point on the horizon. Three years at this address, five years at that, four and then less than one at another. Sometimes the moves have been within the municipal limits of one place or another (three addresses across six years in a Boston outskirt community; three across a dozen years in a tiny city demarcating Alameda County, CA’s northern border) and, more often, between coasts (Pittsburgh to LA, for three; followed by LA to Boston; followed by Boston to LA for a year before heading north to Oakland; some years later, across North America to Nova Scotia).

As we all age, those whom I know shed any shyness about interpreting how my moves are either about them or about my personality being deficient. The very longest of time friends don’t–they have become acclimated to where they themselves are geographically and in no doubt that our relationships outlast any address at which I might be located. It’s the ones I think of as “midlife gold” who seem most concerned with identifying me as fools gold: 20 years of friendship and she leaves [again] replacing their expectation that I go along and get along. Nothing I seem able to say brings our viewpoints closer: at our age, you hit the road again and you’re a bounder, not someone to look forward to returning.

And, for me, that is the sadness: the friends who cannot imagine that I’ll return (as I have demonstrated more frequesntly than any of them).  And, given the ages my friends (and I) are getting to see and be,  maybe they know somethng (intuitively) that escapes me: that there won’t be time (for them, for me) to get back.

I’m not them and so I press on: the shore–and whatever it is that promises succor from a friend–behind me only for now, with my every expectation of flipping back, through the waves, and seeing their faces clearly again…in a couple, four years.

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Just accept the interruption

A friend of mine has a 20+ year approach to technology’s sometimes mysterious snafus that includes large dollops of worry, outrage, and insistence that the explanation be both forthcoming and parsible in spite of his lack of both techpertise and underlying tech interest. While he was working in an institution with a relatively large and skill nuanced IT staff, disasters like lost connectivity, nonworking passwords (as opposed to forgotten ones), and awkward software updates were handled by his walking away from the situation after placing a phone call for help. However, he’s on his own now and, after a few years of simply ignoring glitches until they became intractable mires, he’s learned to call for troubleshooting help and follow the steps his provider, his equipment vendor, or I (depending on the specific bump) suggest.

However, when the “fix” doesn’t immediately work and yet smooth working order seems to be restored after a (usually brief) lapse of time during which he knows no further adjustments have been made, his demand for law and order sends him into new bouts of need to have the unparsible parsed.

Yesterday I hit upon a successful solution to that post-snafu catastrophyzing. And it startles me completely: I reached into my conversational bag of analogies and went 19th century.

His hardwired internet connection had ceased, although his home wifi was working fine. He had called his provider and worked through their coached steps to no effect. He then called his hardware company’s troubleshooters and worked through the steps provided by that coach, still to no effect. He got mad, abandoned all for a trip to his local, returned and found all in working order. Simply not acceptable! He phoned me to share his arguments about the unnatural order such “self healing technology” suggests.

“Imagine, ” I suggested, “that it’s 1888. You are walking along a country road next to your horse, the two of you just footing along companionably, your hand lightly resting on his harness. Suddenly, he stops abruptly,  jerks his head, and stamps the hoof closest to your own foot, missing it, but giving you a moment’s turn. You let go of the harness and he runs off just a small way, and then parks himself, refusing to budge, even to nibble the apple you offer. You check for fly bites, a sting site, a rock caught between shoe and hoof. Nothing. You eat the apple and by the time you finish it, your pal the horse gives you a nuzzle and is willing to set off along the road with you again. And so you do. “

“The horse is now fine?” my friend asks quietly.

“Yup, and you’ll never know what set him off. And it doesn’t matter. All is in working order, and you even got a snack before you two got home.”

“Got it.”

Well, we’ll see, in the long run. For now, though, it would seem a horse story can address tech anxiety like no tech logic ever has.

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Ducks rely on webbed feet

Pundits eager to push specific areas of concern ahead on the back of Saturday’s news from UC Santa Barbara represent a varied range: pro- and anti-gun reliance; feminism and humanism; mental health and criminal justice. More to the point, the pundit audience–willing as well as passive, seems in want of having this one story be “theirs,” the essential take away from the event.

While Michael Moore declared himself unable to “respond”, the rain of assertions and opinions about which specific detail of the event requires “everyone’s” attention is playing out as a cultural battle bigger than any of the specified issues. The non-witness news-fed focus on their own reflection of the important, the urgent, and thereby miss the fact that culture is, like life, a web of interdependencies:

  • Firearms intrinsically relate to mental health and to crime
  • Feminism intrinsically attaches to societal expressions of humanity
  • Nothing is alone in its primacy

We can broach societal problems in order–sometimes and some problems–but does that really recognize that the ordering is an artifice contrived to comfort and help us to believe in our power to change others as well as ourselves? Where does a healthy society start? How can we move beyond finding reflections of a cause with which we feel connected to connecting to a reality that is the basis of cause-identification?

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Filed under American cultures, conflicting beliefs

Are civil discourse skills teachable?

This has become the season for big news sites to announce the alterations of their editorial policies, shelving public comment capacity (a defining characteristic of online news reporting, essentially a blogging actvity, over paper publication). The arguments put forth are all of a theme:

  • Regret at the loss of access for democratic discussion, as well as some factual correction
  • Announcing that trolls’ egregious expressions–racist virulence, ad hominem arguments, threats against other commenters as well as the original writer(s)–can most effectively be silenced by silencing all

I see another trend as related: the stories this graduation season of controversial public figures, having been invited to provide university commencement addresses then having the invitation retracted when the graduands vote against listening to whatever they might have to offer on this (future) occasion.

Demonstrative actions, including protesting public policy and political stands, and arguing against expression with responding expression are valuable and essential to a healthy society. Instead, we have evidence of our culture lurching toward censoring interchange because we seem to be over valuing the modulation of all behavior over correcting bad behavior, and closing off potential articulation lest it sound disagreeable.

Is civil discourse so all or nothing that we can’t engage in practice, in allowing good and bad models to exist, stand–or fall–to critique, open minds to possibilities each of us alone is too limited to imagine? How can we re-engage in the practice of debate?

Islands don’t choose their stream.

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Bumper sticker questions

“Do you ever really know when your philosophy assignment is due?” the parked car asks me. It’s a question that I’ve outgrown: there haven’t been philosophy assignments in my life for 35 years…although certainly I continue to have a related task to consider: “Do I know when my philosophy is as complete as this life–for me, the only life I get–allows?” It’s a question about acknowledging limits, about keeping Self from overgrowing into a selfish life.

“Take time to smell the roses,” which I can’t remember seeing on a bumper in decades, is the text my friend Issukee (her nom de web) adopted as her personal summation six or eight car bumpers ago. “Well behaved women never made history,” another assertion rather than a question, still floats on Subarus and Toyotas in this proto-feminist town, and is the self satisfied mantra of other friends who want the mantle of history maker more than the challenge of finding ways to make the present habitable to as many as their pairs of arms can reach (Tip: arms joined with other arms hold more of the world; when Self is subordinated to Sorge, history no longer leads as raison d’etre).

Questions move me to become more. Statements, in the manner of bumper sticker proclamation formulations, suggest the Outside Evaluator holds an upper hand that will be qick to sweep me off the map.

And so it is in my relationships as well. Assumptions are walls; questions invite the use of windows that open outside and in–showing more than already is, shedding light. To ask is to continue to live, to discover the boundaries where history hasn’t yet been “made” and the scent of roses calls as a possibility.


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Parental development issues

Reading this post in  The Daily Dot this am, my own misreading of one sentence reminded me of a little publicized detail some data mining of library challenges/cries-for-bannings reveal.

First, my misreading: “One Facebook commenter assures the trans community that ‘if Ms. Klug had been assigned to high school, where the students are at better ages to understand,’ the parents would not have complained,” my hapless brain initially rendereded: “One Facebook commenter assures the trans community that ‘if Ms. Klug had been assigned to high school, where the parents are at better ages to understand,’ the parents would not have complained.”

Which brought to my mind (besides the nearly hourly reminder I send myself to read more carefully) the patterns discernible in the list of annually challenged titles published by ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom: parents, guardians and other “caregivers” appear to have the least tolerance for youthful intellectual freedom when said youth are at any of three specific developmental stages that, intererstingly, are tied directly to asserting independence from those same caregivers. Picture books, such as Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, appeal to 4-year-olds who threaten to be aging out of tolerating 24 hour/day care provider oversight/interference–and might even have gone so far as to suggest they like the relative diversity of their friends/daycare buddies/neighboring families at least as well as the family that claims them as their own and provides the life that these experiences with those Other people allow. Next balloon on the reader audience age spectrum to warrant challenges by guardian adults encompasses those appealing to 11-year-olds (Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret may serve as a title many here can recognize), kids who just so happen to be entering that early adolescent development phase when they–horrors!–begin to prioritize peers above family members for their preferred social cohort. Next up: later adolescence, 16ish, an age synonymous in NA with drivers licensing, school sponsored dances that go til midnight, pairing up (ooo, we know what THAT can mean), and, not coincidentally, maturing analylitical capacity that prompts the reading of such undesirable texts as Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

So, folks, it would seem that we have been going about this all wrong: we don’t need to protect kids from human diversity, from their own identity formation (including gender identification, sexual orientation, and whatever else each of us finds a necessary adjunct of who-the-hell-we-believe-ourselves-to-be-most-usness). It’s the fear and loathing of adults threatened by losing their personal power over their kids’ dependency we need to address.

Full disclosure: As a parent, I once told my–coincidentally then 11-year-old–to not explore some information independently. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he woke his parents to bring the news of the World Trade Towers bombing-by-passenger-jets, news he’d garnered when waking to the radio he had set to rouse himself with the morning news. Later that day, I had to travel, or chose to continue with my already made plans to travel, away from home for the night and he was well angry/fearful about my going then. And I told him to not watch television news, where I knew the morning’s multiple violences were being reviewed endlessly. (Ours was a home in which television news wasn’t watched as a matter of course, so my edict was demonstrably alerting to him in that fashion as well). Being a relatively respectful child, he did not turn on any television. Instead he hied himself off to the public library where he, with his trusty library card, got himself online to view the news on CNN via the Internet.  Which led to my only moment of real outrage–not at him, but rather at the library staff member who recognized him and challenged him as to whether he had his parents’ approval to be viewing the news and then alerted me to his so doing. So, instead of sinking further into the slough of Sisyphean innocence protection, I instead wound up annoyed with a coworker for attempting to abrogate someone’s intellectual access and with trespassing on a library user’s privacy. Fortunately for said coworker and for myself, I kept these belated annoyances to myself.

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