morgan_dhu: (Default)

I want to talk about something that troubles me greatly.

Why do so many white Western people keep insisting that all Muslims actively disavow the actions of a small number of religious fanatics who want to see the world in flames, when we don't ask the same thing of all Christians? Is it because we believe that Muslims are somehow different from us, that they are inherently more likely to choose and approve of violence? That they need to prove they are not bloodthirsty savages who delight in killing and creating chaos? Because that's what this demand looks like to me.

I have heard people say that Islam is a religion of misogyny and violence, but you know something? I've read both the Bible and the Qu'ran (admittedly, both in translation) and they really aren't much different on those counts. Both have passages that speak to love and peace and compassion, both have passages that seem to counsel violence and intolerance and revenge. Yes, in recent years we have seen much violence done in the name of Islam, but we are also living in a world in which much violence was, and continues to be, done in the name of Christianity.

I've heard people say that Muslims are barbaric and uncivilised, but I've studied history and I know that based on every measure of culture and enlightenment that I know of, by art and law and government and the creation of civil, caring societies, Muslim peoples have not been any less civilised, less cultured, less humane, than other groups of people.

Are we saying, then, that Muslims as a whole are not quite like the rest of us, that they do not feel empathy, compassion, horror and love they way we do? That they lack the breadth of emotions that we have? That they are not quite as human as we are, and hence we expect them not to feel as we do when a tragedy occurs?

What does it say about us, that it is so easy for us to think of others as not just different, but inferior? Perhaps it is we white Western people who lack empathy, compassion, breadth of feeling. We certainly have a long history of being unable to feel empathy toward those who are not white and Western. Maybe it's time for us to become more civilised, more humane, more human.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

Nothing makes the folks at the top happier than to see two groups on the bottom fighting each other rather than working together to challenge the whole notion of there being a top and a bottom. It's a technique that has been used for millennia as a means of social control. Foster mistrust, hate, competition for the scarce resource of attention from the people at the top, any kind of discord, any way of keeping natural allies apart, and it's a lot easier to stay in power, to maintain the status quo.

This means that the primarily white, primarily straight elite in the US right now - who almost lost Proposition 8 in California - are rubbing their hands in glee as supporters of equal marriage rights - who almost won Proposition 8 - start lining up to blame black voters for the loss. Because throwing blame around is going to make coalition work between the two groups so much more difficult, and that serves no one but the people who want to "give away" as little of their power as possible to either group.

It benefits the people in power - who have been using people on the religious right as shock troops - to stir up homophobia among racial minorities. It benefits those same people to encourage queer people to direct their frustration and righteous anger against racial minorities. It's divide and conquer, divide and rule - for the people in control.

And if you play that game as a member of a marginalised group, it means you lose.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

As Canadians consider whether we want to extend our involvement in the NATO military mission in Afghanistan for another two years, and possibly longer, it may be instructive for us to consider the words of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) on just what's happening with the mission so many of us think is all about restoring peace, security and democracy to Afghanistan. In a communique entitled "The US and Her Fundamentalist Stooges are the Main Human Rights Violators in Afghanistan," issued December 10, 2007 (Universal Human Rights Day), RAWA states, among other things, that:
After about seven years, there is no peace, human rights, democracy and reconstruction in Afghanistan. On the contrary, the destitution and suffering of our people has doubled everyday. Our people, and even our unfortunate children, fall victim to the Jehadis’ infighting (Baghlan incident), the Taliban’s untargeted blasts and the US/NATO’s non-stop bombardments. The Northern Alliance blood-suckers, who are part of Karzai’s team and have key government posts, continue to be the main and the most serious obstacle towards the establishment of peace and democracy in Afghanistan. The existence of tens of illegal private security companies run by these mafia bands are enough to realize their sinister intentions and the danger they pose.

Human rights violations, crime, and corruption have reached their peak, so much so that Mr. Karzai is forced to make friendly pleas to the ministers and members of the parliament, asking them to “keep some limits”! Accusations about women being raped in prisons were so numerous that even a pro-warlord woman in the parliament had no choice but to acknowledge them.
Of course, RAWA spent years trying to get the world to pay attention to what the Taliban was doing to the Afghan people, particularly the women, and no one really thought anything about it until Americans were attacked by some people, primarily Saudi Arabians, who had some tenuous connections with the Taliban. At which time the West responded by bombing the Afghan people, who couldn't even be "bombed into the stone age" because decades of invasions and civil collapse had already done that for them - and claiming that it wasn't just revenge, it was for women's rights. Remember all those pretty speeches about schools for girls and getting rid of burqas?

So I'm thinking that no one's going to pay much attention now when RAWA tries to tell us that we're doing exactly the same thing that the Taliban, and the warlords, and the Russians, were doing before. Because it's never really about the people, especially the women, and what they think, need or want.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

Yes, you.

You're probably reading this.

Just in case you had any doubts, yes I am a socialist, a queer, a radical, a subversive, an activist, an environmentalist, a bleeding-heart tree-hugger, altogether the sort of person you don't want in your country.

I disapprove heartily of almost every piece of foreign policy your governemnt has ever adopted, beginning with the Monroe Doctrine (you maybe thought we hadn't noticed your attempts to annex Canada back in the good old days?) and working up to preemptive strikes and invasions.

I also think you have the worst record of civil rights abuses of any developed country, and I rather suspect you do much worse than a good many developing countries, too. (And that's saying a lot, because most developed countries, including my own, have some pretty serious problems in this regard.)

Your internal social and economic policies look pretty much like a disaster to me, but that's up to your citizens to deal with, I'll just boo and hiss from the sidelines on that one.

But don't worry, I have no intentions of risking my health, life and liberty by visiting your country, at least not while the current dictatorship is in power. Yes, I know that if all your master's plans work out properly, that's going to be a very long time.

So just go fuck yourself, OK?

Thanks, and have a nice day.


morgan_dhu: (Default)

This is an interesting glimpse into the way hard-core conservatives think. What kinds of books would you expect find on a list of the most dangerous books of the 19th and 20th centuries - both the top ten most dangerous, and the "honourable mentions"? Well, a lot of the books are what you'd expect, if you stop to think about it.

I can understand the presence of The Communist Manifesto, Quotations from Chairman Mao and Das Kapital - Western conservatives tend to be capitalists and classists, and anything that posits an alternative way of organising economic and social systems is going to be alarming.

I can understand the presence of The Feminist Mystique and The Second Sex, too. More shaking up of the status quo, scary stuff for people who don't want to lose one iota of power.

And of course, Charles Darwin is doubly honoured, with both The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man identified as dangerous books. Ooh, evolution, that's really evil stuff.

It's a fascinating list. But what really caught my attention was the commentary for two of the books in the top ten. First, John Dewey's Democracy and Education. What, you may ask, was so dangerous about this book? Well, aside from the fact that Dewey was a "'progressive' philosopher and leading advocate for secular humanism" (watch out for humanists, they might try to get you to treat people like, well, people), Dewey also "encouraged the teaching of thinking 'skills'." Oh, what a dangerous thing it is, to teach people to think.

And then there's the interesting case of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. What did Nietzsche say that our fine conservative scholars found so dangerous? Why, he "argued that men are driven by an amoral “Will to Power,” and that superior men will sweep aside religiously inspired moral rules, which he deemed as artificial as any other moral rules, to craft whatever rules would help them dominate the world around them."

Can anyone think of some people who've been doing a lot of this sweeping aside of moral rules to make new ones that would help them dominate the world around them? Anyone?

I thought you could.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

As a Canadian, I have been watching the current American electoral process very closely, for reasons that should be obvious. As former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, in speaking about the Canada-U.S. relationship, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” The elephant is doing a lot more than twitching and grunting these days, and no longer seems all that friendly and even-tempered, so it is, I believe, even more important for the mouse to pay close attention, not just to what the elephant is doing, but to anything that can shed some light on why the elephant is doing it.

In this context, I have lately been hearing a great deal about George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor of cognitive linguistics who has made a considerable study of the language of politics. He has been getting a fair amount of media time of late with his discussions of framing in political language. (For anyone who has missed this, here is an interview with Lakoff that discusses framing.)

Lakoff has also theorised that much political thought in the United States is influenced by the “Nation as Family” metaphor, in which both liberals and conservatives see the nation as a family, with the government as the parent and the citizens as children. One of the results of thinking about politics within this metaphorical framework is that personal and family values, goals and morality are mapped onto the policies and actions of the state.

Lakoff observes that, while both liberals and conservatives use this metaphor, they rely on two different models of the family, which he calls the strict father model and the nurturant parent model; therefore, the two main political constituencies in the U.S. see the nation as two very different kinds of families – which in turn means that they have different expectations of the policies and actions of their governments.

Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones — those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant — and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, "spoil" people by giving them things they haven't earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it.

Full article here.

This leads me to the recently published book Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values. by Michael Adams.

Personal bias disclaimer here )

Adams argues, based on more than a decade of research into social values in the United States, that there is a growing trend towards an acceptance of both traditional patriarchal authority and hierarchical social structures in the United States today.

One of the most striking items we have been tracking during the past decade addresses Americans’ orientation to traditional patriarchal authority. In 1992, 1996 and 2000, we asked Americans to strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, “The father of the family must be master in his own house.”

In 1992, 42 percent of Americans agreed (either strongly or somewhat) with this statement. The number seemed high at the time (1992 wasn’t so very long ago), but we hadn’t, as they say, seen nothing yet. Support for the Father-knows-best credo was actually on the rise. In 1996, 44 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, and in 2000, a full 49 percent of our sample – almost half the population – agreed that Dad should be boss; this is in spite of the frontal assault on patriarchal authority waged by Homer Simpson and Bill Clinton during the 1990s.

This growing acceptance of traditional patriarchal authority is truly remarkable – and seriously divergent with the patterns in other advanced industrial nations. But it is not only patriarchal authority that is enjoying increased acceptance among many Americans. When we asked Americans in 1996 whether it was better for one leader to make decisions in a group or whether leadership should be more fluid, 31 percent agreed with the more hierarchical position that a single leader should call the shots. In 2000, the proportion agreeing with the hierarchical model had shot up seven points to 38 percent. These Americans were becoming more and more willing to fall in line and do what the boss tells them to do, and this was before their president and commander-in-chief began to rally them for a post-9/11 war on terrorism.

Here, then, is the link between Lakoff and Adams – Lakoff suggests that conservatives in America see the nation/family in terms of a strict father who disciplines his citizen/children into his model of self-reliant individualism, and punishes those who fail to achieve this goal, and Adams presents evidence supporting the view that an increasing number of Americans find the “strict father” family model to be comfortable – and perhaps even comforting. I do not argue a causal link here – it is impossible to say, given the available data, if the observed increase in the acceptance of patriarchy and hierarchy is supporting a move toward the political right in America, or is merely documenting shifts in social values resulting from an overall trend to the right that is also reflected in political ideology and policy.

However, if both the theory and the research do in fact reflect the reality of American politics and society, then the current rightist administration under Bush may not be an aberration, but a real reflection of where American society, and the United States as a sovereign entity, is headed. And if this is so, then it may also suggest that those in the U.S. seeking to counter this trend may need to focus on not only on political action, but also on social movements such as the feminist movement to influence the values that may well be feeding the march to the right.

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