Monday, August 29, 2016

Trigger Warnings and Campus Free Speech

As a dedicated liberal, proponent of free speech, and one concerned with the emotional as well as the intellectual well being of young people, I support the U. of Chicago's recent letter to incoming freshman, informing them that the university does not officially support trigger warnings or limits on free speech on its campus. Limits on free speech on campus are a mistake. Ugly ideas don't last because they're spoken. They last because they go un debated. Limits on free speech are also a cover for ugly ideas (especially antisemitism, ever popular on both the left and right.)

I also do avidly support dedicating resources to empowering students through support groups and promoting social understanding, even if I don't support furthering the entrenchment of 'identity politics,' which Balkanizes both the academy and our culture at large. This means that I believe that 'safe spaces' and 'trigger warnings' have a real place--e.g., students who feel marginalized or vulnerable deserve to be seen and heard by those whom they trust, and to find respite from haters, in times and places set aside for those purposes--but not where they've been over-extended in ways that impinge on free speech in the classroom or public arena. As a teacher, I would use what people call 'trigger warnings,' but perhaps not in every instance in which some students would be offended, on principle, by their absence, and I'd pushback on a MANDATE to use them. Long before we called prefatory remarks on hard subjects 'trigger warnings' (a useful phrase) we made them, out of consideration for the inexperienced, or the young, or the vulnerable. Such consideration--formally called a 'trigger warning' or not--is indeed part of good teaching. My objection is that mandating and defining trigger warnings in the classroom does a disservice to students, leading them possibly to believe they may crumble into dust, if somehow a trigger warning has gone unspoken. I would NEVER show images of the Holocaust or present-day Syria, or discuss lynchings or rape, without extensive prefatory comment, but I would also never tolerate being indicted by classroom observers if reference to such things cropped up, without warning, in the course of discussion. I see real abuse in embracing formal requirements for 'trigger warnings.' Trigger warnings are NOT in themselves censorship (I agree with proponents on this) but MANDATED trigger warnings are a lever for it.

Finally, I do not believe that exercising one's unlimited right to free speech is always appropriate and is, in some private and social settings, exceedingly unkind. Does one have a right to it? Sure. But should the elderly lady on the metro have to listen to teenagers curse loudly between stops, as I recently witnessed? I'm fascinated that we seem not only to be debating free speech and (mandated) trigger warnings but also that we're apparently struggling to articulate what constitutes civil interpersonal behavior. Have we devolved into such an atomized social reality that we can't separate 'being polite' or 'respectful' from infringement on our own civil rights? And yet, are we so delicate that we fear that strong disagreement from others will dissolve our own selfhood? Should we insist on exercising the right to be the loudest voice in the room whenever we want, while also insisting that we're being unfairly hurt, if anyone else raises their voice? Do we not think still that sometimes it's as useful to listen as to speak?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

In My Wanderings...

...I have hitchhiked through the West Bank without incident. When I lived on a sailboat in the Out Islands of the Bahamas, another sailer gave me his spare oil pump (for free) when mine failed. Bicycling in Nova Scotia, I knocked on the door of an unfinished house that was not yet opened as a B&B and spent the evening eating and drinking brandy with the owners. On Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, I walked into a town and knocked on the door of a house in front of which a handmade sign that read "chicken." I sat in the kitchen while the older woman defrosted a chicken and fried it. After a day wandering noisy and dusty Cairo, I walked into a lovely building on the Nile (that looked public) only to discover it was a private club. They let me stay and served me coffee and pastry. I have sailed, walked, bicycled, hitchhiked, motorcycled, and driven just barely enough to know the world is not a bad place.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

WARNING: Politics Ahead....

WARNING: POLITICAL POST (in which I may confuse minds looking for tweet-friendly nuggets)

I break with the left on four issues: international trade, GMOs, Israel, and the military and political role of the USA in the world, in which we must actively engage as both partner and leader. International trade hurts some industries while seeming to help the economy as a whole, and must be pursued with an eye to protecting and/or retraining workers as needed. GMOs may have risks but I find arguments for them to be unempirical and overblown (I do remain open to the debate, though). Israel has a right to exist and I find arguments against Zionism to be straight-up antisemitic (no other national movement in the world is decried by the American left); that Israel's Prime Minister, Netanyahu, may destroy international and US support for Israel through his arrogant and criminal disregard for the co-equal right of the Palestinians to their own state, breaks my heart and enrages me, but the left too often doesn't appear able to hold two thoughts--rage at Israel's government and acceptance of Israel as a state--at once. Our mistakes as military and political leader are real and deadly, and the most recent Republican administration did its best to erase our moral, legal, and political legitimacy in world affairs--for which George Bush, Jr. will go down in history as maybe the worst US President ever--but the world is a dangerous place and it looks to the US for partnership and, at times, leadership.

In every other way I can think of, I'm pretty damned left. I agree with Bernie Sanders' principles on just about every domestic economic and social issue. I'm what some evidently would call a "left libertarian," with a still-healthy respect for the role of government in furthering the American project, which requires furthering the civil and human rights and economic prospects of all its citizens. I may go further than Bernie on the subject of racial injustice in America: I believe that American blacks have a right to policies that may be called "reparations" for the history of slavery and institutionalized racism (e.g., in redlining and access to education). I also believe that we need aggressive policies--e.g., a well-funded infrastructure rebuilding program, free access to higher education, affordable health care--for all citizens.

Where do you stand?

(Please share your views. If you attack me in the thread, your comment will be deleted. If you say anything vitriolic or overly rhetorical, your comment will be deleted. Please feel free to state your principles in broad--but not overly broad--terms. I want to be able to see the chain of reason you might pursue if going further in depth.) Also please feel free to utterly ignore this post!

Democracy is a contact sport, but let's not make it a blood sport.

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Hitler Card

I must admit Trump is challenging me: he is so outside of acceptable moral, ethical, and political norms, that I think a vote for him is a stunning admission of moral and intellectual muddle-headedness, at best, and outright, sociopathic contempt for humanity, at worst. I won't say that Trump is comparable to the Hitler we know from WWII, but he is almost comparable to the Hiter of the Weimar and Brown Shirts: he says things that are not only outlandish, but also intensely violent, and he tells us he is going to do things that are intensely violent and illegal, e.g., round up Muslims, torture FAMILIES of SUSPECTED terrorists, revive military use of torture, threaten the press (e.g., WAPO) etc. (AND probably support Putin's expansionist aims in eastern Europe), and we have absolutely no reason to believe he WON'T do these things. People thought Hitler would moderate when he became Chancellor. That didn't happen. Trump is uniquely dangerous.

[That Trump appeals mostly to uneducated poor and working class voters DOES and SHOULD make us mindful of the extent to which American politics and American Finance has failed poor and working families, and we must respect the cry of frustration and pain that is articulated in a bumper sticker or vote for Trump. We must correct our politics and financial structures so those people are not left behind; but, the plight of the poor and working class is an explanation, not an excuse. Trump is worse that the disease--and to most people, I hope and believe, this is obvious. I do believe that Hillary Clinton will win this election in a landslide; that she'll probably take nearly every state in the union. But, if I'm wrong, we're going to have some explaining to do, to our children.]

(I don't often pull out the Hitler card.)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

My Next Appearance:

Just So We're On the Same Page...

To be clear: I consider a vote for Donald Trump to be beyond the bounds of an acceptable diversity of opinion: I will never look at you the same way again, if you vote for him. I might talk to you about something other than politics but I will never trust you again.

(I did not feel this way about a vote for Bush Jr., Bush Sr., Romney, McCain, Dole, Reagan, Perot, or Nader. None of those candidates were 'unAmerican'--even though I believe Bush, Jr. to be the worst president in our history, he still wants an America we all recognize--but Trump is unAmerican.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thank you, Donald Trump

This is why I'm thankful for Donald Trump: he is the reminder we need that "it can happen here." Irrationality, bigotry, and some contemporary form of Fascism can be embraced by any people, any where, we are not immune. President Trump wouldn't hesitate to torture civilians, create internment camps, or start wars for the sole purpose of maintaining personal power. So, I'm not 'embarrassed' by Trump. In a way, I'm relieved. He's a good reminder that our darkest potentials are indeed always active.

Let's Talk Politics Wherever We Can!

What would be worse than all of this political hoop-de-do on FB and other social media? 


"Democracy is not a spectator sport," said President Obama, tonight. FB and other social media are places where we can go to hash it out. We're making arguments here, sometimes crudely, sometimes only implicitly, usually inefficiently, but we're--collectively, in aggregate--making arguments. Yes, most of us are mostly confined to our 'bubbles,' but within those bubbles, all the back-and-forth, lost tempers, repeated memes, and frequent silliness eventually clarify our values and our positions; and, sometimes, the bubble isn't hermetically sealed, so that a debate with someone outside of it ensues. That has happened on my own fb wall a bit, though due to my own shortcomings (I totally freak'n lost patience with 'Bernie or Bust people,' for instance), not as much as I'd like. But, that's ok. This is the agora, the public square, the soapbox in Tompkins Square Park on which one bedraggled prophet after another rants, and eventually enlightens us.

Keep it up, folks. Democracy is a contact sport.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Condolences to my GOP friends

RE: the GOP Convention: please forgive me, but I'm so definitely savoring delicious retributive (possibly premature) schadenfreude. I don't think Democratic secret operatives could have done more to destroy it than these feckless egomaniacs on the podium.

I actually do feel badly--quite badly--for my reasonable GOP friends who are cringing at this sorry spectacle. There's a real place in our political discourse and market place for 'traditional values,' belief in individual responsibility, and fiscal restraint, and I hope these values find a more reasonable voice, in coming years. BUT, the contemporary GOP has sold both the country and its own party a con, and I can't help enjoy seeing the reductio ad absurdum of its decades-long strategies of obstructionism and vilification of politics unfold.

Burning Man

I've come to realize that pursuing acting is, for me, as much about burning away inessentials from my character as it is about working as an actor. I've failed more than I've succeeded. I've struggled with envy of friends' successes even as I've also been happy for them. I've struggled to make sense of my experiences in audition rooms where the work has gone well but didn't lead to employment. I've been mystified by professional betrayals as well as grateful for lasting collaborations. And, through everything, I've yearned to 'succeed', as much as I've wanted to do good work.

But, by now, not 'succeeding'--in the way I thought was necessary not only to my happiness, but to being ME--has, in my increasing age, revealed that it's just not that important: 'success', in the way I've framed it, was mere gilding, weird metaphysical bling with which to adorn my social persona, a persona that's also frequently strained by my attempts to APPEAR 'successful' in hope of one day deserving actually becoming successful. Yearning for 'success' has distracted me from many joys (as well as from the actual work) and blurred my focus both in my own eyes and in the eyes of others. People see us yearn for what we think we don't already have and know to be careful around that.

Pursuing acting as a career has been my walking meditation, my therapy, my test of assumptions, by challenge to self and authority, my exorcism of demons, my comeuppance, my ritual humiliation, my rediscovery of verities, my barking up the wrong tree, my restoration, my fight with opinion, my way to model ethics, my symposium, my taking power from the characters I've played, my "no" to self hate, my "yes" to community, my "fuck you" to quiescence, my stance, my stubbornness, by desperation for approval, my restlessness, my means to change, my bargain with a devil, my voice, my teacher, my complex-ification, my polyphony, my road to something much other than I expected, my impossible and curious and unreasonable means to burning away everything that means nothing.

We all have our way. Somehow, this is part of mine.