What I Learned About Accepting It

This week was the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, so NPR affiliate KCRW in Los Angeles did a call-in retrospective of the spectrum of reactions people had to the election and to Trump’s Presidency thus far.  Most of the callers recounted their feelings of shock, sadness, disappointment and so on, but I just rolled my eyes, remembering that I feared he could actually win all throughout the campaign season.  How did I know?  For me it wasn’t hard to tell if you knew the state of the country as I see it.  Heck, I was reminded of that when I joined a live tweet for last weekend’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead:

Though The Walking Dead is on its surface a show about killing zombies, I’m a fan because to me it’s really about human nature, and what people do in situations that are bleak.  The best episodes to me are about character, and the show is so popular that doing its broadcast, fans get on Twitter and “tweet” out their reactions to each episode in real time.  This season the show features what I see as a  moral dilemma, as the survivors of the zombie apocalypse find themselves at war with another group of extremely savage and violent survivors.  As the main characters fight their battles, they find themselves struggling with whether it’s better to kill those who have or tried to kill them in the past, or to show mercy.  I believe that mercy means realizing that when put into a desperate situation, people will do desperate things to survive but are ultimately still people, and thus possible to rehabilitate.  I feel that our civilization itself argues for this, and I see it in our criminal justice system: I think we as a society believe that it’s better to give people a chance than it is to take revenge, hence “innocent until proven guilty,” hence states in the US without a death penalty, hence even our prison industrial complex, unfortunately.  I thought the Walking Dead’s fans were like me, but through the live tweet I realized that to the vast majority of them, it’s just an eye for an eye, kill or be killed, if you kill my dog I will slay your cat, and I believe that kind of thinking is what gave us Donald Trump too.  That’s why I felt the election would go as it did.

If there is one thing I see and hear consistently in all of Trump’s speeches and his supporters words it’s anger.  I feel that many of his supporters are barely-educated lowbrows whose only answer to everything is to hit somebody, like a child might.  To me they seem to value machismo a lot too, which is what I gathered from the bulk of the tweets of the Walking Dead’s fans also. Growing up all over this country has led me to believe that there are a lot of these people like this, so when they encounter a storyline in which there is a clear “bad guy” on the Walking Dead, they understand only one kind of reaction as valid:  Hit him.  Kill him.  So while I’d always believed that because Walking Dead has earned a decent amount of critical acclaim its audience was more sophisticated, the live tweet forced me to  accept the obvious: The Walking Dead is a popular show about killing zombies, so its audience would naturally reflect popular opinion, the same opinions that got us Trump.

In my life I’ve gotten tons of advice that later turned out not to work as intended: be honest.  Be yourself.  Do well in school.  Dreams do come true.  In every case, I had to adjust what I was taught to fit reality as I knew it.  While this has allowed me to survive and even thrive, at the end of the day, I feel that the world is a certain way, and while you can re-frame it to cope, when the rubber meets the road, it is what it is.  We are the culture of the quarterback and the prom queen.  Cheaters prosper all the time.  Bad things happen to good people on a regular basis, and as my therapist taught me, what is “good” anyway?  Most importantly, our culture, the same culture that loves the Walking Dead but doesn’t understand higher forms of morality, voted for and elected the guy that reflected their sensibilities.  Regardless of whether we like it, that’s reality too, and I believe that the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can deal.

I realize how cynical that sounds, but I honestly believe it’s realism, not cynicism.  In the French philosopher Voltaire’s 18th century satire Candide, he muses that in the final analysis, we as individuals have the greatest amount of control over our immediate sphere – our family, our house, our neighborhood; perhaps our town.  I always took that to mean that we do the best we can with anything above and beyond ourselves, but we ultimately are most directly responsible for our own experience of life.  In Candide, awful things happen to the main characters constantly, but they adjust and keep going because that’s really the most that they can possibly do.  This is how I live my life too.  If I can influence somebody who might vote for Trump I do, but I recognize that I might not be able to.  At the same time, Trump moves people so much more than I possibly could, so I feel that I have to prepare to live in the world that I get, regardless of whether it’s going my way.  I feel that what helps me to do that best is to recognize and accept the fundamental truth that we live in a country full of people that love and support Trump, but that not everybody did. and they won the election.  Though The Walking Dead’s live tweet suggests there are a lot of them, the goal of those of us who aren’t should be to come together, “find our tribe” as others have put it, and work toward making the best life – in our immediate sphere – that we possibly can. I feel that at the end of the day, it won’t matter what those who disagree with us are doing.  They can kill all of the innocent people they want, we will stop them if we have to, and not do the same because we believe that’s what’s best for us.  As long as we acknowledge that they exist but decide and live by what’s right for us, I believe that we truly can all get along.  Denying what’s so however, or abdicating our ability to make things better for ourselves seems to me to be just a recipe for misery and conflict, and I refuse to live that way.  Even in a world full of people who would elect Donald Trump.

Donald.Trump As Negan

 

What I Learned About Letting It Slide

I believe that we as a society have come to let misogynistic behavior slide, to the point that men don’t even know what the true definition of rape is. And I think that’s asking for trouble.

Of the many stories that have revolted me with respect to super film producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassment, one that bothered me a lot was my favorite NPR show Marketplace’s recounting of how Hollywood talent agencies routinely sent attractive young actresses to meet with Weinstein for years, knowing full well what his reputation was.  The idea that for years my favorite industry in California would treat the young hopefuls arriving in my favorite city trying to be famous (as I did) like lambs ripe for slaughter disgusts me in ways I can’t possibly describe.  One of my favorite things that happened in California though was that I’ve become a bit of a feminist within the last year or two, and in that spirit, anything that harms women always shakes me up.  This one in particular reminds me too much of the way my mother was married off to my boorish oaf of a father in the name of religious and cultural duty.  The talent agents in question were motivated by staying on then well-regarded Weinstein’s good side, so like common pimps, they sent him women and the entertainment industry looked the other way.  Boggles the mind.

Marketplace joins a chorus of people asking how this could happen.  This morning I was reminded of the answer.  Anybody who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan of KTLA in Los Angeles, the news station that had my donor and I on following my kidney transplant so we could help raise money for Lupus LA. When I was earning my paralegal certificate, I became friendly with one of their morning anchors via Twitter, and he even met me when I visited Los Angeles, making me a die-hard KTLA viewer.  KTLA covered the Weinstein story extensively, in no small part I’m sure because it was playing out practically in their back yard.  Yet in spite of all that, KTLA’s notoriously foot-in-mouth weather man Henry DiCarlo decided to drool over Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander’s model fiancee Kate Upton, and as usual, everybody let it slide.

Here’s the thing: do I seriously think Henry DiCarlo is a sleaze and would-be rapist?  No.  What I think however, is that by letting this kind of thing go on, KTLA normalizes “guy talk,” which I believe is a slippery slope to normalizing deviant, and even criminal behavior.  I know he’s not the first, but I’d like to use this entry to explain why I doubt he’ll  be the last at this rate, because I believe we have come to let this kind of misogynistic behavior slide, to the point that men don’t even know what the true definition of rape is.  And I think that’s asking for trouble.

Remember what our President Donald Trump’s explanation for bragging about being able to grab women’s crotches due to his fame was?  He called it “locker room talk.”  I believe that as long as we use “boys will be boys” explanations for what is ultimately abusive behavior, we minimize and start accepting it.  How many times have rapists used “she led me on” as an excuse for having committed the act?  How many times have women internalized and blamed themselves for having been assaulted?  A friend of mine was raped, and told me that afterwards she “never should have said [her attacker] was cute.”  Does calling a man cute warrant violence against her?

As I said, I’m new to feminism, but for those of you still uninitiated, here are some basic rules for guys and others that I’ve learned from mainstream feminists that has served me well thus far:

1 – Never comment on a woman’s appearance unless you have a relationship with her, in which case comment more, and favorably.  This one not only has kept me out or trouble, but has worked surprisingly well in other ways.  I have found that we as men get shaken up, even fearful when we find ourselves sexually attracted to someone, causing us to make conversational flubs, at best making us look stupid, and at worst, creeping the girl out.  I have found however that if I can turn this emotional response into an intellectual one, wracking my brain to find something to talk to the girl in question about that has nothing to do with her appearance, it forces me to listen as well as look.  If she’s wearing a uniform of some kind, I can strike up a conversation about that, or if I like her earrings or some clothing item, I can compliment her on that safely.  If she responds, I have to listen to her response to continue the conversation, and in doing so she might like me back, or I may just realize we have nothing in common or she’s otherwise not worth my time.  Either way, the focus stays on who she is, not what she looks like, and nobody gets hurt.

2 – Sex is only consensual if both parties are actively giving consent.  This is where I feel many people fail in the definition of rape.  If one starts having sex and the other person lets it slide, that’s rape.  If one person changes their mind in the process of intimacy, it’s again rape.  If it’s a quid pro quo situation, where she has sex in exchange for something, that’s rape too.  This means that a “pity screw” (trying to keep it clean here) is also technically rape, as are many scenes in adult films if the girl never actually gives consent.  This also means no implied consent, no “she led me on,” no “she was asking for it – look at the way she’s dressed!”  Women’s appearance does not equal consent.  She has to clearly give it.

3 – She does not know you or the thought process going on in your head.  This I learned from the feminist critic Arthur Chu.  I have found that many socially awkward men pine obsessively about some particular girl, get up the courage to approach her, don’t get the response they want, and then turn into misogynists, because they somehow believe there’s a pattern of injustice and rejection against them.  The thing is, in life people don’t know what’s going on in your head, and the woman who rejects a guy today usually has nothing to do with the other women who’ve failed to accept him in the past.  Treating women according to a process that exists entirely in one’s own head is not only unfair but unrealistic.  If she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know what you’ve been through, and thus couldn’t even possibly be sympathetic if she normally would, and thus undeserving of your mistreatment.

4 – Violence against women will hurt not just her, but any children a man might have.  I am living proof.  My father’s abuse of my mother left me emotionally stunted, and no matter how hard I try, I often feel like I will never overcome that.  My self-esteem is irrationally low, and my many achievements have thus never made me into the person I feel I should be.  The good news is that it has given me the ability to be self-critical (to a fault, but I’m working on that), something I find that many men lack, and thus can’t deal with all of the above.

5 – “Pick Up” and “Pick Up Artists” don’t have the answers, because they ignore the fact that women have agency.  I will confess, after breaking up with my first serious girlfriend, I tried my hand at being a “Pick Up Artist,” one of those sleazy guys who think they can seduce women, as described in Neil Strauss’s (still) classic semi-autobiographical book The Game.  Pick Up, and its accompanying “Seduction Community” remain popular I think because as one honest pick-up artist put it to me, “guys want sex so badly, but the only thing standing between them and it is the girl.”  As a result, I’ve found that gullible men spend thousands of dollars trying to teach themselves how to say and do all the right things to get women into bed, not realizing that they could do everything exactly as the rules of Pick Up dictate and she could still say no, or do everything incorrectly and still succeed just because the girl likes him.  At best, I believe Pick Up can give men the confidence to talk to more women the way Dumbo‘s “magic feather” convinced him he could fly.  At worst, I fear it could get them close, but in frustration based on #3 (because let’s face it, knowing and using learned and canned techniques is a totally individualistic mental process) turn them into rapists.  As long as women have agency, I have found that there is no “magic bullet” to romance (and if your answer to that is, “that’s just because you failed to get it right,” I’ll add that in my experience, things that require circular justifications – like pyramid schemes – are inherently flawed).  I believe the most Pick Up can do for you is just facilitate your trial-and-error process, and I’ve found that you don’t need a guide to do that.

After Uber’s issues, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and now Harvey Weinstein, I think it’s pretty clear that women fed up with being second class citizens in this country are not going to let it slide anymore.  Why should anybody care, besides the obvious?  In the Middle East, people got sick of letting it slide years ago, and gave us the Arab Spring.  For many, that meant a chance to make real and lasting positive change by any means necessary.  For people like Muammar Gaddafi?  Not so much.

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Rules from an actual woman

The psychology of letting it slide

 

 

What I Learned About Fear Itself

A close friend of mine recently put an extra property of hers up on Airbnb, and I’ll admit it, I got SCARED.

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You see, my friend is an itty bitty thing, single, lives alone, and yeah, I’ll admit, there’s some sexism on my part built in too.  Sure it’s a good idea.  Sure she could use the extra income.  Sure she’s smart and can handle just about anything.  But in the back of my mind I kept thinking: what if something happens to her?

That fear haunted my mind throughout the week that her tenants moved in, despite the fact that they weren’t staying long, and nothing about them seemed shady.  The thing is we live in a society where people kill their children, where terrorists and crazy people murder dozens of strangers, where there’s a rape culture – every negative thing about modern life raced through my mind: she’s a woman, she’s all alone, and frankly, you can’t trust anyone out there, right?

Then I watched “What Would You Do?” on ABC.  You know the show, right?  Reporter John Quiñones sets up hidden cameras in public places, and then gets actors to pretend to be in difficult situations around unsuspecting “regular” people.  For example, there’d be like a man berating his girlfriend or a parent verbally assaulting their kid, and then he records the encounter to watch what people do in these “real life” situations.  Last Friday the first story featured an Indian actor, no different from myself or anyone in my family, trying to get a passport photo taken while wearing a Muslim cap or “topee,” when another actor playing the photographer clerk gives him a hard time, clearly racially profiling him for being Muslim in front of other customers, while Quinones records how those customers react.  Situations like this naturally make me mad.  Why?  Because I have yet to meet a Muslim like the one this clerk supposedly fears.

I’ve heard the counter- argument: “well, your experience is anecdotal!  You don’t know every Muslim!”  Maybe not, but I literally have grown up all over this country: I was born in Chicago, and lived both in affluent Lincoln Park and the South suburbs.  My family then moved to Southern Illinois so that my mother, a doctor, could take a job in Carbondale, where we recently had the eclipse.  From there we moved to St. Louis, then a suburb of Flint, Michigan, before we returned to Chicago.  I earned my bachelor’s in central Illinois, then got my master’s in Syracuse, New York before moving to Southern California, where I lived in the San Fernando Valley, the west side of LA, both ghetto and affluent  parts, and finally Orange County.  Like me, my mother was compulsively social, so wherever we moved, my mother found other Muslim families and we made friends; I did the same whenever I moved.  My father came from a family of fifteen originally; my mother a family of eight.  My father came to this country in 1969, with all of his Muslim friends from India, who ultimately migrated all over the country and had families of their own, so I have countless uncles, aunts, cousins, and Muslim friends.  And like I said, of all of those people, I have yet to meet an actual terrorist or terrorist sympathizer.

I’m not big on aphorisms or “words of wisdom.”  A Professor of mine really hated “Founding Father” Ben Franklin, pointing out that Poor Richard’s Almanack was unnatural, as life is too complex and multi-faceted to be summed up into simple rules like “a penny saved is a penny earned.”  Yet watching that show, and then thinking about my reaction to my friend renting out her room suddenly made one expression crystal clear to me: there truly is nothing to fear but fear itself.

I don’t believe that the media has a Liberal or Conservative bias – I feel that as Jon Stewart suggested, it has a sensationalist bias.   Another expression that I think applies here is “if it bleeds it leads” – news organizations, particularly broadcast ones, are owned by publicly-traded Fortune 500 companies (hence the absurdity of their having a Liberal bias, in my opinion).  More than anything, they need ratings to make money, so the unusual – “man bites dog,” as another expression goes – is what they sell.  That’s why Donald Trump got so much free press when he was running for President – the networks all made a killing in ratings by covering him.  By that same token, I think stories of murders, rapes, terrorists and so on dominate the news because they’re unusual and scary, thus emotionally engaging a large audience, and ratings rise with them.  Fox News has argued that their Conservatism is why they’ve been the highest rated cable news network, but I’ve yet to see them do Fox News without reporters who look like models with skirts hiked up, angry pundits, and stories of terror around every corner – you know, the sensational.  As every critic of Fox News argues however, that stuff is questionable because it’s not reality.

So what is reality?  When I was in second grade, back in aforementioned Carbondale, I got lost in my neighborhood.  I had just moved there, and didn’t know my way around.  In fear, I approached a friendly looking guy on a riding mower, and asked him for help.  Minor kid, talking to a stranger, in direct contradiction of everything every grown-up had taught me to that point.  His response?  He asked me for my address, put me in his car and… drove me home.

He never even met my parents afterward.  Once I confirmed that we’d arrived at my house, he let me go and I never heard from him again.  Why?  Because in my experience, the vast majority of real people are decent.

The reason the people who applauded the clerk on “What Would You Do?” made me mad is because I know that in reality, only a minuscule percentage of Muslims are terrorists or have terrorist sensibilities.  Even the ones who are I only know about because I saw them on TV  – despite how devout my extended family is (they’re the Muslim equivalent of evangelical Christians, with one living near the Muslim holy land in the Middle East and everything), they wouldn’t hurt a fly.  That’s reality.  By that same token I vaguely possibly remember hearing somebody hurt by an Airbnb tenant, but the company has become extremely successful because the vast majority of people aren’t dangerous.  My friend also lives in a big city, feet away from her neighbors.  I think the likelihood that anything would happen to her, in reality, is as small as the likelihood that the next fifty Muslims you meet are potential terrorists.  Why does society go there though?  Fear.  The reality, as the saying points out, is not what we need to be afraid of – the fear is.  Why?  Because fear causes people to behave irrationally.  Fear causes people to accidentally shoot people they know or led to the blackballing of artists in the classical Hollywood out of fear of Communism creeping in through the entertainment industry.  Fear of Communism is also why the U.S. went to Vietnam and Korea, when decades later we realized that the notion of Soviet military might was just a fiction the Soviet Union created to scare us.  Fear is why terrorists attack the federal government or Western nations they’re afraid of.  Fear, I believe, is even why human beings aren’t able to connect like they once did and are so lonely these days, but that’s a topic for another journal entry.

Look, I’m not saying that the world is 100% safe – recently I heard “The People’s Court‘s” judge Marilyn Milian espouse the idea of “trust, but verify,” which is why my friend, and Airbnb themselves, screen all their renters and housing providers in advance.  Once thus verified though, I believe that it’s to your benefit to trust that the majority of the people you deal with aren’t going to be dangerous jerks, and that things are not as bad as the much-maligned media makes them seem in the name of ratings.  As long as you verify anything that makes you suspicious, I believe there really is no good reason to live in fear.

The only thing I truly believe we have to fear is fear itself, and the sooner we can learn to accept that and get over our fears, the better a chance I believe we’ll have of living in peace and handling the real threats when they do occur.  Do I believe we can accomplish that if we don’t though?

‘Fraid not.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned About Politics

Believe it or not, I thought last week started well in the world of politics.

 

Anthony Scaramucci was on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, and he and Colbert had what I thought was a mostly civil discussion.  I was honestly glad to see Scaramucci there, as glad as I was to see Tomi Lahren on The Daily Show, because there’s a part of me that always hopes that if people talk intelligently, all of the things that we fight about may actually get solved.

Unfortunately, what I learned in California is that to me, it seems like politics is not about solving problems.  It’s about “winning.”

Just as our legal system is deliberately designed to be adversarial, I believe that our political system is about scoring points and thus winning elections by making the other guy look bad.  I don’t think it’s about solving the problems politicians say they want to solve when they campaign.  If politicians actually wanted to solve problems, I feel that “compromise” wouldn’t be the dirty word that it seems to have become.  Although Stephen Colbert began the week by talking to Scaramucci, one of President Trump’s former staffers, perhaps even in the spirit of compromise or civil discussion, I felt that President Trump ended the week by trying to save face, or put another way, by trying to keep others from scoring points off him.  And I personally believe that by doing so he actually made things worse, thus confirming my feeling that Trump isn’t fit to be President.

Look, I feel that when the sides get to actually talk to each other publicly, like Colbert and Scaramucci or Lahren and Trevor Noah, it’s a good thing.  To me it allows the American voter gets a chance to hear where these people stand on important issues and ideas, particularly with respect to each other.  Ideally, I think this gives voters a chance to decide who they agree with so they can then vote accordingly.  When it’s personalized however, and just about sides scoring points against each other or the other’s party, I don’t see how anybody learns anything.  I think the focus shifts away from what people are talking about, and instead to how they – and their opponent – look saying it.  I don’t think it gets us closer to solving anything, it just forces the speaker to become defensive.  And to me this is a game that a President can’t – and shouldn’t – play.

I feel that one of the bigger differences between the President and any other politician is that he’s the President of everybody, not just his party or his voters.  He’s the President of people who hate him as well as those who love him.  Years ago Roger Ebert did a special show where he talked to then-President Clinton about his favorite movies, and when they got to Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999), Clinton said that he’d seen it, and then when Roger Ebert said someone had emailed him saying that the cynical film was what a modern generation who never went to war needed, Clinton didn’t pander to the popular film’s message to score political points with its Generation X fans.  Instead, he expressed his feeling that young people had an unrealistic view of war, and that they had more constructive outlets for their desire to act on their emotions by changing things for the better.  I never forgot that, because to me, that was a Presidential answer, one that demonstrated a concern for people who were unhappy, and that wanted to teach them to channel that negativity into something more positive.  Though Clinton was endlessly criticized, I always got the sense that he understood that the criticisms were part of the job, and that they didn’t affect him personally.  This is the same vibe I got from all of the Presidents in my lifetime up until now – that Presidents knew and accepted that people were going to take shots at them, but that this was just part of the point-scoring game.  At the end of their day, I felt past Presidents realized that their responsibility was to the American people – all of the American people.  Though they didn’t always agree with some of those people’s views, Presidents nonetheless cared about them more than they cared about scoring political or personal points.

Regardless of what you think Trump’s views on race are, the whole ugly episode after a white supremacist killed young protestor Heather Heyer struck me as the response of a man still trying to save face.  I don’t want to speculate on why he took so long to respond, but to me at best it was just negligence – being “asleep at the wheel.”  Having gotten “caught,” I feel he gave a half-hearted response out of spite for being criticized, and then when asked about it after the fact, he effectively threw a tantrum.  Like Pee Wee Herman falling off his bike and saying “I meant to do that,” I felt that Trump made up some crap about having to get all of the facts, a statement he thought he could pass off as wise or politically correct.  Then he pathetically tried to add to his “wisdom” by saying he needed to see both sides of the “issue,” not realizing that to most people, there can’t be an “issue” when it comes to the Alt-Right – they’re just bad.  Long story short, I felt that he didn’t respond when he should have because he didn’t know to, responded the way he did out of spite, and then clarified in the worst way possible to preserve his lost dignity.  All mistakes that a true American President wouldn’t, and more importantly couldn’t make in my opinion, and again, proof to me that ideology aside, he just isn’t the guy for the job.

In a politics of point-scoring, I feel that political skill, keeping your cool, and then apologizing for your mistakes (like Bill Clinton did) or making restitution somehow (like Richard Nixon did) is what makes a President a President.  Why?   Because at the end of the day, A President’s primary concern needs to be the good of the country and everybody in it.  I think that our society plays the point-scoring game because that’s the nature of the political beast, but a President has to be above that.  Trump proved to me this week that he’s not, so any discussion like Colbert-Scaramucci or Noah-Lahren is impossible.  If his track record so far is any indication, I think that this inability will ultimately cost him points, making him – as he likes to put it – a loser.