December 26, 2016

Tidings of comfort and joy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:23 pm by chavisory

I hope everyone is having holidays as peaceful and restoring as possible.

When I don’t know what to do or where to start, I make lists.

I was moved to start a list a few days after election day, when everything felt very fearful and uncertain…when it seemed like nothing was impossible in the worst possible way.

As I started reading a lot about how to oppose a political regime the likes of which we’ve never really experienced before, and also Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, about the necessity of hope and joy in activism, I felt like we needed a way not only to voice our opposition, but to account for what we are tangibly accomplishing in response.

Not to maintain that everything is really okay, not to worry, that it’s not as bad as it seems, or just to make ourselves feel better (although it has made me feel better).  But to concretely track our successes at holding injustice and authoritarianism at bay, to remember not only that progressive and human rights victories can, do, and are still happening, but how they happen.  Even now.

ETA:  At least twelve pretty good things have happened in the world since election day.  In particular, there have been important developments for the rights of trans and intersex people and disabled workers.

(A lesson that’s already really jumping out at me just from the list so far is that your city councils are important.)

The introductory post to Reckoning of Joy is here.  I’ve also been including some resources and guides for taking action, inspiration, and musical encouragement.

Let’s get to work in the new year?

August 16, 2016

Deprivation of privacy and other thoughts

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , at 1:03 am by chavisory

{This post is adapted from comments made elsewhere.  Also there’s profanity.}

From this post (Stop Isolating Autistic Adults and Calling it “Community-Based Housing“):

“It is dangerous to reveal private details about disabled people online—in part because it reinforces the narratives that we are burdens, people no one would miss if we just disappeared, or it tells people that it’s understandable to abuse and kill us because we are such burdens, and let’s all sympathize about what burdens our kids are.”

I want to draw attention to this quote because…in the neurodiversity and self-advocacy communities, we often draw parallels between the kind of thinking that excuses revealing personal or humiliating details about a child’s life online, or other various ways that disabled kids are treated differently from typically-developing kids, and the kind of thinking that ultimately excuses more overt abuse, dehumanization, and murder.

I think that those parallels are often true and justified.

But persistently violating someone’s privacy over time also just establishes a standard (to both that person and everyone around them) that it’s acceptable to persistently violate their privacy over time.

And that might seem like a small thing, comparatively speaking, but it is actually a harm in its own right, to set a precedent that a certain person, or that a certain kind of person, isn’t entitled to the same privacy and respect that other people are.

Teaching someone that they have no right to basic privacy is its own harm.

I think, having been at this a few years, that a lot of parents feel that drawing parallels between very common blogging practices, and (relatively) rare occurrences of murder or outrageous physical abuse, is hyperbolic and unhelpful and tars most frustrated, lonely, exhausted parents who are really trying the best they know how with too broadly incriminating a brush.

In some ways, I think that they are right. I know that the very vast majority of parent bloggers would never dream of deliberately harming their disabled children, don’t think of them as burdens who they wish would just disappear, and are horrified, not sympathetic, when abuse and murders come to light. No one has to convince me of that.

Not that I don’t think that the relationship between those things, and far more mundane mistreatment and ways of talking about autistic people isn’t real or isn’t dangerous; I think it is.

But often I think that jumping straight to the most rare and extreme consequences predictably inspires defensiveness and dismissal of what feel like ridiculous accusations, because most parents do find them unthinkable. (This isn’t a criticism of the author of this piece. This is a community-wide tendency, which in many cases is justified, and in some cases, I think, is less effective as a first line of argument.)

And what also gets lost is that these seemingly little, daily, constant violations—having physical discomfort or boundaries ignored, or having sensitive information revealed to an audience of strangers without your consent—are themselves a significant harm, even if an unintentional one. They don’t have to lead straight to overt dehumanization and murder in order to be wrong. They teach people subjected to them that they should not be able to expect the same level of consideration and respect as other people do.

Depriving someone of privacy over time—even in seemingly mundane and insignificant ways—erodes their sense of their own right to privacy over time.

That has consequences for the whole rest of a person’s life. That alone should be enough to be objectionable.

There are a couple of things I want to say about the comments on this article as well:

  1. “I am glad that you are a vocal self-advocate. I applaud your ability to do this. However, there are many who do not have a voice or are unable to convey their feelings and views. The person in the article is one. My daughter is another. And there are many, many others. So, what is your solution to help these individuals seek life opportunities?”

This is not a remotely new question, and yet people still throw this in our faces as if we’ve never heard it or thought of it before. As if we’ve never considered this, never encountered people more significantly disabled than ourselves, or even as if some of our fellow self-advocates aren’t, in fact, the very people they’re talking about, who have high support needs and can’t easily make their needs and desires understood.

As if we’re suddenly going to go “Oh, wow, we never thought of that! You’re right, some of us have more intensive needs than others, and that just undermines our whole entire belief system about the civil rights of disabled people.”

As if the self-advocacy and neurodiversity movements haven’t been answering this criticism for decades.

Parents, please, please take a little bit of time and read about the history of the disability rights movements. This discussion is not new, and some of the people who have been having it for many years have won some really important advances for people like your children. Read Jenny Morris’s Pride Against Prejudice, read about the history of isolated, planned farming communities and the Olmstead decision. Read Cal Montgomery’s “Critic of the Dawn,” and the discussions that happened here (the whole series, and all the comments, are well worth it) and here (again, all the comments).  There are a lot of instances in which we don’t want the same things, but there are a lot where we very much do, but I see people who seem to just not know the history of these issues trying to reinvent the wheel.

I have been following this very same debate since about 2004, but it has been going on for longer than I’ve been alive. Please familiarize yourself with it. You’re wondering how it’s possible that someone like your child could ever live in the community without you? Well, some of the people telling you it’s possible are the ones who have been coming up with solutions and insisting on her right to access them for a very long time.

You’re right, I’m very lucky to have the capabilities I do and relatively few support needs. I know. I’ve also come of age looking up to the activism of people who can’t speak, can’t live on their own, can’t manage their own personal care needs, who have been institutionalized or narrowly avoided institutionalization. We know that such people exist. Our positions about the housing and self-determination rights of disabled people include them. In many cases, were pioneered by them.

None of which means that solutions are easy or magical. But it really is not the case that we never thought to ask the question and it just destroys our whole position.

  1. “With us parents, it is our lifetime experience with our loved ones that gives us the right to plan their futures for when we are not there to advocate for them.”

If autistic/neurodiversity advocates were the ones saying “Because their disabilities are more severe than ours, your children deserve fewer rights to self-determination than we do. Your children don’t deserve to live in our communities, don’t deserve legal protection from wage and housing discrimination, and you should be forced to make all their decisions for them for the rest of your life…”

Parents would have a shit fit.

That would never, ever fly with you.

But we mostly aren’t the ones saying that. And it goes mostly unchallenged by non-disabled parents when other parents all but say just that in mainstream media coverage of autism and developmental disability.

Why is that?

I’m afraid I already know the answer, but I’m curious. Why is that?

July 29, 2016

I’m not addressing this to Trump supporters. I don’t think there’s anything left I can say that I haven’t been saying that will matter to you.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:34 pm by chavisory

I’m addressing this to mainstream moderates and conservatives who don’t like your options right now.  This is brief, but something that I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about how to say.

I will not ever tell someone to vote against their own conscience.  I don’t think I have that right.

But…If we were in some kind of inverted situation from that in which we find ourselves presently, in which there were no viable liberal or progressive candidate, and Trump or someone much like him were running in the general election against a more traditional conservative or Republican… Just for instance, Jeb Bush or Lindsey Graham or someone much like them…  Someone with whom I had really serious ideological disagreements, but someone who I thought had a basic core respect for the American democratic process, for Constitutional government, for civil rights… Someone who undoubtedly had the experience and temperament necessary to be President,

I would vote for that person.

Given the choice between a conservative with whom I had very deep political disagreements but who I believed, at the end of the day, had a conscience and an ability to govern, and an honest-to-God authoritarian with neither…

Not without a sense of conflict, but I’d vote for the person whose decisions on behalf of our country could even be subject to the effects of legislation, protest, advocacy, evidence, and rational debate.

Just… think about it, is all I’m asking.

June 26, 2013

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , at 5:56 pm by chavisory

It’s my birthday today.  I’m 31.  Yikes.

And I had just finished breakfast this morning, in the kitchen of a friend I’m visiting, when we got the news, just after 10:00 AM, of the Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, and shortly thereafter, Proposition 8.

I remember being a teenager, sitting at my own kitchen table, at breakfast time, in the house where I grew up, reading the news about DOMA’s passage.  I wasn’t all that attentive to what went on in politics or the world at that time, I didn’t know things I do now about my own identity, and I didn’t think I knew any gay, trans, or queer people.  I still believed some things about sexuality and morality then that I don’t anymore and am not particularly proud of to look back on.

But I remember reading about it in the morning paper and being so sad.  Something about it just profoundly didn’t sit right with me.  I couldn’t think of another instance within my own lifetime in which a law had been passed for the deliberate and express purpose of depriving a specific group of people of rights or protections.  And based on very little except the perception by the majority that they were simply the wrong kind of people, or willfully deviant–a burden which I had always felt, though for different and at the time unnameable reasons.

And no matter what I felt about homosexuality, I couldn’t believe that that was right.

It was part of a long pattern, that I identified with the wrong people in the given narrative.

I honestly didn’t think it would be so soon–though of course it’s been more than long enough for a lot of people who have suffered under the consequences of this law–that I’d get to look back on that day with a bittersweet happiness.

The world does change when people persistently stand up for what is right.  We are capable of making the world kinder and fairer.

Remind people of this day, tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, when they tell you any version of the lie that we can’t make the world safer by standing up for each other, or that it’s better to just keep your head down, fit in, and not speak up for justice or piss off anyone in authority, because the world never changes.  It’s people with a vested interest in the world never changing who keep telling that lie.

(Edit:  I hit publish on this, and then realized that I hadn’t come up with a title, but when I went back to edit one in, I thought that the date was kind of title enough.  DOMA:  1996-2013.  RIP.)

March 18, 2013

Emotional discussions

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , at 12:04 am by chavisory

Another thing that’s happened to me in a debate more than once recently is that somebody tries to belittle me out of the discussion on the grounds that I’m “over-emotional,” and therefore can’t expect to be taken seriously.

It took me a long time to learn that almost whenever someone tells you that you’re being “too emotional,” what they mean is that you are being perfectly appropriately emotional about something that they simply don’t want to have to acknowledge or think about.  That being emotional is not a disqualification from argument.  Being emotional is human.

Un-emotionality is not the equivalent of having a rational argument, or a reliable indicator that someone does.  It is not the same as having a grasp of facts or science or of the actual conditions under discussion.

Emotionality is not personal attack. Personal attack is personal attack, and while there is such a thing as lashing out gratuitously or needlessly, the sole fact of someone’s being emotional, is not it.

That someone is emotional does not mean that they have not, or are not capable, of considering their own arguments logically or rationally.

Rationality and emotionality coexist within individuals.  They are not a zero-sum quantity; they are not opposing or mutually exclusive characteristics.  Or aren’t there people who are both highly rational and highly emotional, as well as people who are both unemotional and deeply irrational?  Because an opponent displays emotion, does not invalidate the logical grounding of their argument, and isn’t an excuse from addressing the actual substance of their argument.  Emotionality itself is neither evidence nor lack of evidence.

To be emotional in argument is not the same as committing the logical fallacy of emotional argument, which is to assert that the emotional consequences, or the intensity with which something is felt, is itself evidence of the rightness or wrongness of a position.  Ironically, it is those who would invalidate a position based on the emotionality of the arguer, who are actually engaging in emotional argument—taking the position that emotionality alone invalidates a position or standing in a debate, and not the validity of the argument itself.

*****

What it probably does mean when someone is emotional is that the topic under discussion means a great deal to them.  That they’ve been affected personally by a situation, or suffered serious and personal consequences of how a problem is perceived and debated—often by people who do not know the realities of the situation as intimately as they do.

It means that somebody cares, that they’re passionate and invested.  And none of those traits precludes the ability to think productively about a problem.  Otherwise, you claim that no one who is truly, individually affected by a problem has any standing to talk about it and to be heard.  That the poor have no place in discussions of poverty, that the disabled have no place in discussions of disability rights, that racial and ethnic minorities have no place discussing racism, and gender/sexual minorities have no place discussing discrimination and bigotry against those identities—if they can’t be perfectly unemotional about it, to an arbitrary standard set by those who are not personally, directly affected by the topic at hand.

Does that sound either fair or rational?

*****

Do we really believe that any major civil rights or human rights victory, whether in a court of law or in our culture, was accomplished without emotional engagement?  The end of South African apartheid, or Jim Crow laws in the US?  The fight for women’s suffrage and enfranchisement?  The aftermath of the Stonewall riots and of Matthew Shepherd’s murder in terms of LGBT rights and acceptance?  The disability rights movement for the rights and inclusion of disabled people that preceded the passage of the ADA?

As logically grounded as all of those movements have been, they have all involved intense and even disruptive degrees of emotion.  And as certain as I am that their very emotional intensity was probably cited as a strike against their credibility at the time…who, now, would dare to say that the emotional investment of their participants should have disqualified their arguments and demands from serious consideration by the majority?

It’s an incredibly unfair standard when only those with the luxury of being able to be unemotional about a topic are granted the credibility to discuss it.  Particularly regarding the concrete consequences that the way it’s discussed has for people’s actual lives.

When someone claims that you are too emotional to be having an argument, it is they who are refusing to engage with the substance of your argument.  They are saying that the only recourse they have is to disqualify you from the debate, because they have no actual refutation to what you are saying.  And that the grounds on which they can do so are that you care too much, that you mean what you are saying.  That the problem at hand is not purely abstract or intellectual to you, but that it means something real.

October 29, 2012

What makes you think you’re safe?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:11 pm by chavisory

Playwright Doug Wright posted a Facebook status the other day that went:

I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, ‘My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.’ It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you ‘disagree’ with your candidate on these issues.

I had been thinking along those very same lines myself, with regards to the alarming pattern of statements minimizing rape and its consequences, and advocating depriving women of the option of legal abortion even in cases of rape and abuse, on the part of Republican candidates lately.

That frankly, every time I hear someone defend their Republican votes, despite that party’s deplorable stances on women’s and LGBT rights (among a host of other issues), saying “I only vote on economic issues,” what I hear is, “Your rights as a citizen and presumed equality as a human being with control over your own life and body are disposable to me, and here is exactly the amount of the tax break or economic advantage for which I would sell them.  Your worth and dignity, your rights to medical care and privacy, are for sale to the highest bidder as far as I’m concerned.”

But rationally, I know that it’s not exactly a fair accusation, because people are neither that simple nor that consistent nor that self-reflective, and really, really talented at double-think.

That people are, in fact, somehow capable of seeing absolutely no conflict between believing that they love and respect their wives, daughters, sisters, and their gay, lesbian or transgender children, friends, and coworkers–and voting for candidates whose policies directly threaten our well-being and civil rights.

I don’t understand this, but I know that it’s true.

My more vexing question for these voters is, “What on God’s green earth makes you feel safe at the hands of these people?”

Because let me tell you something:  They are not only threatening me.  They are not only threatening women, gay people, trans people, religious minorities, poor people, illegal immigrants, various demographic groups whose voting patterns they don’t like, and the societal resources that make all of our lives richer and more stable.

They are threatening you.  And they are telling you that they are.  And you keep voting for them.

How many times have we heard children who didn’t want to be bullies, but who witnessed their “friends” or ring-leaders bullying others and did nothing, talk about why they didn’t?  Because they were afraid that their “friends” would turn the ugliness on them if they stepped out of line.  And indeed, many teenage bullying victims report that this is exactly what happened.  That they were part of the clique, part of the in-group, one of the right people, until they weren’t.

When someone will do something horrible to other people, ostensibly for your sake, what they are telling you is not that they so vehemently have your best interests in mind.  What they are telling you is not that they will go to whatever practical lengths necessary, however hard-hearted they seem, to uphold the beliefs you both share.

What they are telling you is that they will do horrible things to other people.  They are telling you exactly who they are and how they treat people.

And if they will do terrible things to other people for your approval, then know exactly what they will do to you when they decide they need someone else’s approval.

I used to listen to Dr. Laura.  I was young and thought I was a conservative.  But, as a broken clock is still right twice a day, I think she said about two things that are utterly true and brilliant, and one of them was:

If they will do it with you, they will do it to you.

And when these guys talk about what they think or what they want to take away from the poor, jobless, disabled, and marginalized…and you think that doesn’t apply to you?  Ask yourself just how confident you are that you will never be one of the poor, jobless, disabled or marginalized.  (And before you decide, recall that a lot of people who thought they’d done everything right were pretty confident of this before 2008.)

This is one of those things that I grew up instinctively understanding, and am mystified by people who don’t, who I guess have just never been in a situation in which you had to know this.  I have always had to know this.

When someone threatens any vulnerable person or group of people, they are threatening me.  They are coming for me next.  They are broadcasting that this is what they do to the wrong kind of people.  (In my heart, I’ve always been one of the wrong kind of people.)  It doesn’t matter that it’s not you right now.  It’s going to be whoever they need it to be.

They’re telling you what they will do to people.  They’re telling you, on the basis of their authoritarian religious beliefs, and with no economic reasoning whatsoever, what they want to be able to do to us.

They are threatening to take away access to health care.

They are threatening to take away our rights to control over our own bodies, and to privacy of our reproductive and medical decisions.

They are threatening to invalidate marriages and families.  They are threatening to take away from children the securities intrinsic to having legally married parents.  They are threatening to turn back the clock on the progression of equal rights under the law no matter the sex of the person you love.

Even if you don’t give a damn that this is being done to women and gays, try looking out for yourself and your own self-determination for a minute.

They consider themselves uniquely justified in imposing their religious beliefs on other people’s lives.  Why do you imagine you’ll be exempt?

Why do you think you’ll be safe?

Do you seriously think that they’re just morally bankrupt enough to do this to me and the people I care about, but not to you and the people you care about?

Think again.

October 30, 2011

New and creative ways to beat up on the poor

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:04 pm by chavisory

There’s been one of those viral status updates going around Facebook for a while, and it goes like this:

Florida is the first state that will require drug testing when applying for welfare (effective July 1st)! Some people are crying this is unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional?  What, it’s okay to test people who work for a living, but not those who don’t?

My dislike for the snideness of the status aside, I dared to hoped that it was just some half-baked, unsubstantiated rumor that there were states about to start drug-testing public assistance applicants.  Or that some little bill to that effect had been introduced somewhere by some jerkface, but would never make it out of committee.

I hoped wrong.  This appeared in the Times recently:

States Adding Drug Test as Hurdle for Welfare

First, I reject the central premise that it’s okay to drug-test employees or job applicants.  I don’t think it’s okay in most circumstances.  It’s demeaning and it demonstrates a lack of basic respect of one adult for another on the part of an employer, and a presumption of ownership of your body and non-work hours.  If you give an employer no reasonable cause to suspect that your leisure activities are having a negative impact on your job performance, then what business of theirs is your private life?  The Fourth Amendment guarantees freedom from “unreasonable search and seizure.”  I don’t understand how applying for a job constitutes a reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use.

Likewise, I don’t understand how having fallen on hard times during a major economic collapse and prolonged period of high unemployment constitutes reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use.

Secondly, the purpose of requirements like these is not to keep druggies from receiving benefits, or people receiving benefits from buying drugs with your tax dollars.  Sorry, it isn’t.  It’s for states to keep their welfare rolls artificially low by deliberately intimidating eligible people away from applying in the first place.  It’s to discourage people from applying for benefits for fear of humiliation or mistreatment.

Multiply anyone’s basic, rational fear of humiliation or mistreatment in a vulnerable situation by about 15 for people with communication or cognitive disabilities.

Leading me into objection #3:  Applying for assistance to which you are legally entitled should not require surrendering basic human dignity, privacy, and rights over your own body.

Anyone who thinks it’s too easy as it is, probably hasn’t done it.

And all of this is aside from whether requirements like these would even be cost-effective, saving more money in denied benefits than they’ll cost to implement and run; or whether they’re a good idea even if they do.  My strong suspicions are probably not, and probably not.  I mean, does anyone really think that someone without adequate food or shelter is super likely to be getting effective treatment for a drug problem?

It’s easy to imagine that we have a problem with people who “just don’t want to work” beating down the door for “your tax dollars,” because woo, money for nothing! but the reality is that in every state, huge proportions of people who are eligible for public assistance programs do not access them, either from not knowing that they’re eligible, not knowing how and being too embarrassed to find out, fearing retribution in some other way if they bring their situation to the state’s attention (for instance, if some members of their household are in the country illegally), or because the application requirements are onerous or humiliating.

Why are the people whining “but I’m a taxpayer!” always the ones proposing some new and creative way to humiliate the poor?

I’m a taxpayer, and here are some of the things my tax dollars pay for: a war that I hate on a country that did nothing to us (now mercifully ending).  Airport “security” measures that have made it impossible for me to fly.  Subsidies for the production of the lowest quality food products that are making us fat and sick, for our continued unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels, and for the very same banks and corporations that ruined the economy for the rest of us.  And the now decades-long complete failure that is the War on Drugs.

So pardon me that I won’t moan about some comparatively small proportion of our tax dollars going to assist with food and living expenses for some of the most vulnerable people in one of the richest countries in the world.  There are lots of things wrong in this country; that we actually try to keep people from starving or dying on the streets isn’t one of them.

There will always be a minority of people who will abuse any system; that’s an inherent risk of a system’s existence (which of course we should try to reasonably minimize), not an excuse for the rest of us to be smug or cruel.

September 13, 2011

Reason to consider unschooling, #374

Posted in Cool kids, Marginalization, Schooling and unschooling tagged , , , at 12:29 pm by chavisory

In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying of Gay Students  (New York Times, 9/13/11)

It seems that teachers and principals in Minnesota aren’t totally, completely, 100% sure about protecting kids from bullying based on their sexuality.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

….

School officials say they are caught in the middle, while gay rights advocates say there is no middle ground on questions of basic human rights.

School officials say they are “caught in the middle.”  Between allowing students to be hounded–occasionally to death–by abuse and misinformation, and stepping in to stop it.  Somebody here missed a lesson on what it means to be an educator.

Mr. Carlson, the superintendent, agreed that bullying persists but strongly denied that the school environment is generally hostile.

I have no words.

July 23, 2011

The Christian case for marriage equality

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 11:01 pm by chavisory

Legal same-sex marriage begins tomorrow in New York, and I love that the Times ran this article (The Clergy Effort Behind Same-Sex Marriage in New York) spotlighting the efforts of members of the clergy on behalf of marriage equality, noting that it’s a common but erroneous belief that churches and religious people are polarized against the advancement of LGBT equality.  While some of the most conspicuous campaigns against equality have been waged by churches, in fact, there are religious believers working on both sides of this issue.

What makes this surprising or counterintuitive for a lot of people is a pair of major misconceptions, perpetrated largely by the preaching of the fundamentalist religious right wing, that moderate, liberal or progressive Christianity is just a watered down version of fundamentalist Christianity with weaker versions of the same beliefs; and that in supporting LGBT equal rights, we’re just capitulating to the permissive amorality of popular culture.

What we want people to understand is that we’re actually doing this because we truly believe it is right.  Not because it is easy or just happens to be popular at the moment.

We are not, as socially conservative preachers often accuse, saying we believe in equality for political expediency, to be popular, to duck uncomfortable criticism, because we’re insecure in our faith or because we don’t know all the same Bible verses from Leviticus and 1st Corinthians that they do.  We support LGBT equality, including in legal marriage, as an expression of our faith, not in spite of it.

We think that the narrative arc of the Bible is one of an ever-expanding conception of grace and compassion for our fellow humans.  It’s a story of each successive generation seeing a new reflection of God in the world and the people around them.  We don’t think that that story ended 2000 years ago, but that we’re asked by Christ constantly to see all people anew as creations of God.

I do take issue with one characterization of the debate from the article, when it says “Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes.”

Because we absolutely believe that this is an issue of morality as well.  We believe it’s immoral for the government to create second-class citizens and second-class families.  We believe it’s immoral to withhold civil rights based on sexuality just as it would be to deny those rights on the basis of race or religion.  We think that the bigotry enshrined by the Defense of Marriage Act is immoral.  We believe that to scapegoat gays for divorce, child abuse, and a host of other cultural problems is immoral.  We believe it is a moral edict of our faith to stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

We are not attempting to undermine morality, but to support a morality of compassion and respect for all of our citizens.

We believe, as Victor Hugo wrote, “to love another person is to see the face of God,” and that nothing can make that wrong.

May 18, 2011

The stupidity of torture

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:55 pm by chavisory

This is probably my most belligerent and exasperated blog post ever.  Consider yourself forewarned.

I got myself into a couple of Facebook arguments recently, in which I’m not sure how much I accomplished, and which served mainly to undermine my regard for humanity.  Apparently, after Osama bin Laden’s assassination a couple weeks ago, it was said by some on the political right that information we obtained by “harsh interrogation methods,” allowed us to find him.  And I don’t even know enough about the chain of events to judge whether it’s true or not, but it hardly matters to my opinion: if it is true, then it wasn’t worth it.  We paid too high a price in our own humanity and national honor.  I would rather never have caught him, and let him die holed up in his little fortress, than have stooped to that level, morally, to get to him.

And if it isn’t true, then the argument is even more malevolent for being a lie.

So I really don’t care whether the practice of torture allowed us to catch bin Laden.

But I’ve already learned the immensely frustrating way that apologists for torture aren’t swayed by ethical arguments, or legal ones.  There is always some end that justifies the means or legal loophole or illusory ticking time bomb.

I’ve only got one more argument:

The use of torture isn’t just weak, unconstitutional, un-American, illegal, immoral, and un-Christian. (Did I miss anything?)  It’s stupid.  It makes us as a country look brutish, and it makes its supporters look unintelligent.

It demonstrates an utter lack of foresight, of historical memory, and of imagination.  You’d have to be totally unable to imagine yourself in the place of an innocent torture victim—swept up in a dragnet in the midst of civil unrest, at the mercy of a regime desperate to quash dissent or inconvenient criticism, the resident of an invaded country whose invaders understand neither your language nor culture very well but are convinced that you must know something that they want to know.  And while it’s true, practically speaking, that you’re probably fairly safe from those circumstances here in America (for the time being, anyway), that’s only by sheer accident of birth.  It’s not by any virtue or deserving of your own that you were born here, and not in Afghanistan or Iraq, or a Canadian citizen of Syrian descent.  It’s luck of the draw.

Look back—how do we regard countries and regimes which engaged in torture?  As evil.  They all had high ideals.  They all saw their own goals as ultimately good and so justified ignoring the human implications.  But it’s their actions that reveal them for what they really were.  So how is the future going to look back on us and this sorry decade in our history?

Look forward—what we do to the world and to other people comes back to us, one way or another, over and over again.  You have to have not been paying very much attention not to have noticed this, or not been alive for very long.  Or maybe I’m just better at pattern recognition.  But we do reap what we sow.  What if America finds itself in some kind of serious danger in the future; what will it do for our chances of finding support or cooperation from other countries if they know that when push comes to shove, we’ll behave just as badly as our enemies?

It’s arrogant, and arrogance is always shortsighted and dumb.  It pretends that we know more than we can; I’ve heard the attempted excuse that we only torture people who we know are bad guys, or who we know (feel the sarcasm) have some kind of vital information but don’t want to give it up.  But our record doesn’t support this confidence.  See story of Maher Arar above, or look at the US justice system’s record of having to release people who turned out to have been wrongfully convicted of major crimes.  And those are people who’ve had a lawful trial in which all available and legally admissible evidence was supposed to have been presented.  Most of the people we’re interrogating at GITMO have not.  We’re seriously not good at realizing what we don’t know.

Anyway, sorry to sound belligerent and angry.  It’s tiring and it doesn’t make me feel good.  It’s just that I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain this stuff, and it makes me really sad.

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