Friday, July 29, 2016

Further thoughts about "real" men...

In a recent post I did some speculating about socially constructed identities. I've been thinking about such stuff off and on since then and something occurred to me that was right in front of me but also quite invisible.

I recently ran across a graphic that triggered some of my thoughts about this "real man" stuff.

What's nifty about this graphic is that it addresses veganism as well as the socially constructed notion of "real men".

It seems to me that applying the adjective "real" to a living being is often a clue that you're dealing with a socially constructed phenomenon.

Weirdly enough, back in 2010, I wrote a little about John Wayne, who is looked up to (especially by many older white men) as exemplifying the essence of a "real man" and it turns out that some aspects of the image versus the actual reality are rather different.

One way to think of the idea of "socially constructed" is that it means something that was made up by humans (usually white men) and that it was made up because those folks (again, usually white men) thought it benefited them or it promoted some notion that was positive for them or upheld their power in some way. (P.S. I'm not so much picking on white men so much as I'm pointing to the reality that U.S. culture or western European culture has (and is) essentially controlled by white men both currently and for all the centuries since its inception. Which, by the way, we're encouraged to not notice or see because that would serve to make that control not invisible...and that might mess up the control.)

Now that I consider if further...maybe it's a good idea to always realize that whenever the "real" adjective is stuck in front of a reference to a living being that's a signal that the opposite is probably the case. "Real" doesn't have anything to do with the essence of a has to do with how well or skillfully they're enacting a script or playing a role...and that script or role is socially constructed.

In other words, if "real" is stuck in front of a word used to designate an Earthling it almost invariably means "skillfully fake". It tells us that we're dealing with with ways of behaving that are made up or artificial (socially constructed).

Hence..."real man" signals "fake or artificial man" or "person performing a man act". Judith Butler (a philosopher and gender theorist) takes this idea further in her thinking. She maintains that all gender roles are constructed (made up) by societies...her term is that gender roles are "performed".

Here's a quote from a website that writes about Judith Butler's thinking about gender roles:
 Butler underscores gender's constructed nature in order to fight for the rights of oppressed identities, those identities that do not conform to the artificial—though strictly enforced—rules that govern normative heterosexuality. If those rules are not natural or essential, Butler argues, then they do not have any claim to justice or necessity. Since those rules are historical and rely on their continual citation or enactment by subjects, then they can also be challenged and changed through alternative performative acts. As Butler puts it, "If the 'reality' of gender is constituted by the performance itself, then there is no recourse to an essential and unrealized 'sex' or 'gender' which gender performances ostensibly express" ("Performative" 278). For this reason, "the transvestite's gender is as fully real as anyone whose performance complies with social expectations" ("Performative" 278).  

She's arguing that ways of "performing" the roles of "man" or "woman" are rules that are imposed on us by others (via history and convention) and she doesn't need the adjective "real" to signal that they are artificial or fake or made up.

Thinking about all this was (is) rather mind blowing for me...and interesting...very interesting. "Performing" gender...considering that notion expands your ways of conceptualizing this stuff, eh?

Just to further complicate your might want to consider how (at least here in the U.S). it's not possible to realistically consider the roles of "woman" or "man" without also considering other socially constructed notions like "race".

Kimberle Crenshaw notes this in her writings about intersectionality. She points out that gender roles and race (among other factors) are not separate and mutually exclusive but rather that they overlap and always occur together. Hmmm....

Once you start pulling some notions apart, like "woman" or "man", and looking at them in detail...what might seem simple and easily understood rapidly becomes amazingly complex and much more difficult to comprehend.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

This image

is a variant of one that I used about a year ago in this post. I like this new image better in that it provides much more information.

The image I used earlier only had the information presented in the first two panels...the image above expands and elaborates. Equality seems to be a marginal improvement on reality...equity is definitely an improvement on both reality and equality but the ultimate goal for all is liberation. Here liberation means that the 'norm' is absent artificially maintained barriers or obstructions for everyone.

This image is a rich condensation of a large amount of information and I suspect it will continue to trigger thinking for me for some time to come. Maybe it will work that way for you too.

One other thing I wanted to share in this post is a link to a bit of writing and information gathering I stumbled across recently from an unusual source. The author of this blog post is a self-described religious conservative and a white guy. His post is a huge compilation of factual information about white privilege and systemic racism. I've printed it out for study...and it came to an astonishing 18 pages. Mr. Tucker did some serious and useful work in terms of gathering this data and putting it into a structured format for use.

I like that he ended it by asking: 

So… Who are you today? In the face of today’s injustice, which all of the above just barely even begins to describe, are you being today the kind of person that would have opposed slavery, the Holocaust, Jim Crow, and Apartheid back then?     
It was cool for me to see that I wasn't the only one who had thought about things in those terms. It was almost six years ago that I wrote a post about time travel and a thought experiment.

I was writing that post focused on the horrors of speciesism while suffering severely from the obliviousness of whiteness. All I can do about that is regret it and note that I struggle against that obliviousness and think (hope?)  it has decreased somewhat. I plan on printing out that earlier post and going through it in detail in order to rectify the errors in it as an aid to my comprehension. In the meantime, I apologize for and regret the warpings and distorting and misleading analogizing and obliviousness in it.

One part of it caught my attention though and I believe the thought I was expressing to be about as true as anything can be.
There is a curious thing about life, each of us in our own time of living can be faced with significant moral questions.  Great injustices and horrors occur on a seemingly perpetual basis.  We often ignore or deny or seek obliviousness to these occurrences, nevertheless, they exist.  You can pretend they don’t…but pretense does not magically make them disappear nor does it absolve you and your actions or your failure to act. 
It's weird to me that I could write about obliviousness then...all the that time...I was, in ways large and small, engaged in being oblivious to the ongoing oppressions of racism and sexism and heteronormativity and ableism and ageism and and and. (and I have no doubt that, in various ways, I continue to be oblivious)

Just when you think you've figured something find there is still yet more to become aware of and to comprehend.

It seems to be that one of our ongoing tasks as living beings is to struggle to comprehend and resist injustice and no small part of that struggle is to comprehend...because if we don't comprehend then we can't know what to resist and struggle against and if we suffer from obliviousness then we often engage in opposing one sort of oppression while recreating other oppression(s).

And...each of matter when we live...if we live in societies that normalize and support oppression then we will be presented with a version of "reality" that, in both large and small ways, explains and upholds and conceals that oppression as being "normal" and "just the way it is".

Jeez...what a pain in the kabooka. It would be nice to have the default to be non-oppression...but that's not what we have right now.

I'm convinced that part of the task of living, for humans anyway (especially white humans but also for all humans), is to ceaselessly struggle to accurately identify and struggle against oppression. Which means...we have plenty of work that remains to be done.

And the real kicker is...that unless you're actively engaged in struggling to comprehend and to resist (and I include myself)...then you're being complicit in the ongoing manifestations of oppression. There is no sideline...there is no "neutral". As much as we want to...we can't go hide under the bed and be "innocent". Our legacy from our ancestors is pervasive structural oppressions and our task is to dismantle those structures. We white folks (especially) can thank our ancestors for that.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

I got a hoot...

out of this graphic. It humorously summarizes the absolute necessity of examining the focus of and the origin of "knowledge", especially knowledge that has to do with the behavior of living beings.

Like most white people here in the U.S. I grew up being carefully cultivated to believe the notion that "objectivity" was the standard by which to evaluate "knowledge".

Over the past couple of years (weirdly enough, I had reservations about this "objectivity" notion for a number of years, I just didn't have any coherent frame for my reservations) my learning journey has taught me to be very aware that I'm probably being duped whenever the "objectivity" rubric is invoked for knowledges or comprehensions having to do with the behavior of human beings...or all Earthlings for that matter.

Now, whenever I hear the "objective" meme applied to information or knowledge about humans and/or human behavior (or any Earthling) I'm aware that I'm probably being exposed to stuff that is generated by white people (usually white men) and that stuff is probably justifying or upholding the frameworks of oppression associated with race, sex and heteronormativity and class and ability and species and and and.

It's an effective and insidious shtick and one that has kept me rather off-balance for decades. No doubt I'm still off-balance, but hopefully not so much as I used to be.

If you're interested in finding your way out of the dismal swamp of "objectivity" you can start no better place than by reading James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me. It's a good place to start cracking open the box of incomprehension and distortions (about history)  that we're all exposed to by the media and by the institutions here in the U.S.

Once you've developed a little taste of understanding that we're all drenched in slanted information that masquerades as "truth" and "history" and "objectivity" then you might want to start listening to the voices of marginalized folks. The reason for doing that is the sad truth that those who belong to subordinated groups in frameworks of dominance/subordination tend to be more aware of what's going on than do those who belong to the dominating groups (in part because they simply have to be in order to survive).

Here's a link to a reading list that can assist. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an excellent writer and thinker and he believes all of these books are worthy of attention. If I was only going to recommend one author off of the many on this list...I would urge you to read James Baldwin...also watch the video that's offered that shows a debate featuring Mr. Baldwin. He is a treasure beyond measure.

For those reading this post who are vegan and struggle with grasping what any of this has to do with veganism...consider this...if you wanted to wrap your mind around the enormity of the reality (horror) of "factory farming" would you listen to those who created and run such obscenities or would you 'listen' to the victims?

You also might think about the fact that every major societal institution here in the U.S. (education, government, business, the media, healthcare, etc) is now and always has been controlled by white other words...those with the power (white men) have made things in this country be the way they are.

Also notice that every "reform" that appears to benefit those with less power (ending human slavery, women having the vote, ending legal segregation, protection for people of color voting, etc) has only happened after much struggle (civil war even) by those who were victimized by and/or resisted and opposed oppression. In other words, those in power (white men) only agreed, grudgingly and with great resistance to implement any "improvement".

When have those in power in this country...white men...ever said hey...this sucks for lots of folks and for lots of reasons...let's fix it....without having their feet held to the fire by the victims of oppression and those who objected to oppression? Never, as far as I can grasp it. Therefore...why would you ever look to those in power for knowledge and/or understanding regarding what's going on?

Make sense?

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Heartland Rabbit Rescue offers refuge to more than 100 rabbits...there are also other Earthlings who call Heartland home. That includes several donkeys and several ducks and a small horse with a really really big spirit named Midnight.

He has a damaged/broken rear leg (ankle area) that is going to require some expensive surgery to fuse the joint so that he can have pain relief and be able to put weight on that leg. The prognosis is good for him if he has the part...because he's not a full sized horse. Smaller is better sometimes.

The figure I've heard is anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 dollars but that's a guess...whatever it is going to be it is huge. Jeannie and Brad, the founder/director of Heartland and her husband, contribute most of the ongoing expenses (along with the help of supporters/contributors) of caring for all the residents of the sanctuary but this amount is beyond their capabilities.

Please help.

You can donate by going here and chipping in or you can go to the donation page on Heartland's website. (Note: Heartland supports and encourages living a compassionate vegan lifestyle.)

Thank you. Midnight is a very special Earthling...and...he's vegan.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A 4th of July Holiday?

If you've taken the time to learn about the Declaration of Independence...the adoption of which is what this holiday is supposed to will be aware that these words are part of that document:
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
I don't believe any "celebration" should be devoted to such a racist travesty. Neither, as you can see from the image below, did Audre Lorde.

The fact that many of the wealthy white men responsible for writing this declaration were also people who enslaved human beings accounts for the repugnance expressed by the statement of Audre Lorde.

Since this document refers to Indigenous peoples as "merciless Indian Savages" it would be more appropriate for anyone who actually ascribes to the "liberty and justice for all" notion to view this day as one of national shame.

I used the image below in my last is woefully appropriate to use it again here to give a salute to anyone who uses this day to reflect on the difference between cultural conditioning (including "holiday" celebrations) and factual information.

If you are engaged in the struggle to align your beliefs with facts...thank you. Your efforts are cause for celebration.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Images with info...

I've run across a few images recently that pack quite a bit of information into a compact form.
This first image is a handy guide to visualize how most western European based cultures implement the hierarchical ugliness of groups of humans oppressing other groups of humans. The image identifies oppressor groups and target groups. If you wanted this image to reflect the oppression that's countered by veganism you could add a panel to the top called humans with species in the middle strip and then animals in the lower could also do something similar if you wanted to show environmental oppression.

Two of the myths that work to keep these oppressions invisible to us (especially here in the U.S.) are 'individualism' and 'meritocracy'. The notion that your effort will allow you to achieve anything you want and the notion that those who are "on top" get there because of their merit and/or effort are two deceptive fictions that work to obscure our awareness that groups we are assigned to are pretty much the biggest factors that determine our experiences in life.

By the way, one other thing you can glean from the above image is to be able to identify which group members (on average, there will be exceptions) accurately comprehend things. In other words...the more power any group possesses the less accurate folks that belong to those groups understandings (or beliefs) will be (again, this is on average)

This next image makes me smile for a number of reasons.

I suspect that you know from your own life experiences that people who work at re-calibrating their beliefs upon encountering credible information that contradicts those beliefs are exceedingly rare. Most work at ignoring and/or denying such information instead of struggling with changing their beliefs. One strategy that's often used to avoid modifying beliefs is to attack and/or reject the messenger who brings (or points out) contradicting information. It's almost as if we would rather believe erroneous things than to do the work of modifying our beliefs to more closely correspond to accuracy. That's sort of spooky when you think about it.

For me, doing this sort of changing is really difficult, I've often failed at it...but sometimes I've managed to do it. I've also found that many/most people struggle with this sort of thing. That's why it is a good idea to be rather tentative about how strongly you embrace beliefs, especially those that aren't based on reliable and credible facts...and even then you would be wise to be aware that you may encounter information that requires you to do a re-evaluation of a belief.  

This last image has to do with a big part of why beliefs are rarely changed when we encounter information that contradicts's unpleasant and uncomfortable and even painful. The image uses the phrase "unlearning oppressive behaviors" which would include changing the beliefs that uphold or support those behaviors.

One of the clues that can really be useful that we may be encountering information that contradicts something erroneous (or oppressive) that we've learned guessed it...feeling uncomfortable. Which...may also be a signal that we may be in the presence of something that we very much need to learn. Is it the case that we might need to move toward that which bothers or upsets us instead of away from it? Hmmm....

Friday, June 24, 2016

Strange things can happen..

...when you decide to go poking around into notions of socially constructed phenomena such as identities. This can get really weird really fast because these areas deal with thinking about how we build our notions of who we are and how we are.

What you say? I'm just me and that's who I am.

Not so being you didn't just "happen"...nor did me being me...or anyone else for that matter. Who I am or who I believe myself to be came about as a result of a negotiation (an ongoing negotiation that continues throughout the lifespan) between our inner experiential world and that big bad outer world that we all swim in. How we think we are versus how the world out there tells us we have to be (in order to be considered acceptable or ok or "normal"). You didn't think all that stuff just "happened" did you?

By negotiation I mean stuff inside us encountering stuff outside of us and our figuring out how to navigate and exist and balance our inner desires and preferences and conceptualizations with the outer pressures and conceptualizations that we're all subjected to.

For instance, a couple of the clusters of stuff we all encounter in U.S. culture comes to us via those ways of being that have to do with which racial identity we're assigned and which gender identity we're assigned. Those are pretty much handed to us and we (generally) don't have much choice in the matter. What we have to figure out is how to reconcile them (somehow) with how we feel or perceive ourselves to be and with how to operate in the world in such a way that we can, sort of, be ourselves within those gender and racial roles that we're stuck with.

I'm mostly wrestling with gender identity here...not that other aspects of being (race, for instance) aren't powerful and always present...but here I'm sort of ignoring (because I'm not smart enough to try to think about all of it all at the same time, but all of it at the same time is how it happens) other elements and focusing on gender role or identity.

If you don't think you're handed a gender role and pretty much forced (by forced I mean that if you try to ignore that role or violate that role you will face some fearsome consequences) to adhere to it then...if you're gendered as a male...try this experiment. Go buy yourself some dresses and/or skirts and...changing nothing else about yourself...start trying to wear those articles of clothing and go through your daily routines out there in the going to work and such. Watch what happens...I betcha you'll find all kinds of pressures being applied to you to knock it off. Folks will probably start behaving very differently around you and they are also likely to dramatically change their perceptions of you...mostly not for the better either. You might lose your job, your might have physical violence directed toward you. People get really really excited about this stuff...some to the point of being willing to harm you if you make them too nervous or upset their expectations. 

We all get messages about how to "perform" our gender identity/role from birth onward...all the time and in all kinds of ways. And...often (probably always in some way or other) there is a mixture of race and gender messages directed towards us. Here's one graphic I found that theoretically is "universal" in terms of a message about being a "real" man but it actually is racial too. Why is it racial...well...some groups of folks don't generally have as much body hair (Native Americans for instance) as others but this graphic implies being a "real" man means having lots of facial hair.

See what I mean? The fact is I have little facial hair and absolutely no chest hair...which means I'm not a "real" man...right? According to the message in the graphic I'm not a "real" man. To me, that's silly. But...silly or not...stuff like this is astonishingly powerful and consequential. If you don't believe me, and your gender role is male...go ahead and try the experiment I mentioned before and see what happens. Actually...don't...because you might get hurt and I wouldn't want that to happen. Do a thought experiment instead...imagine wearing a skirt and imagine the reactions you might get. That's safer.

I've been thinking about all this stuff for some time now...actually I've been thinking about the gender stuff for a long time. Partially because of what I did professionally...back when I was doing professional stuff. I did psychotherapy for a long time and I quickly realized that you really can't do psychotherapy very well if you buy into the "real" man crap very strongly because "real" men are expected to be rather stupid about emotions and feelings and such. are not going to be very skilled at psychotherapy if you're ignorant about feelings.

One of my first encounters with this awareness was having it pointed out to me that men have a much harder time learning the skills of psychotherapy than do women...because...women are much more familiar with and much more practiced at dealing with feelings than are men.

Guys have much more to learn...initially anyway...than do women. It isn't that guys can't learn the necessary's just that they have to make much bigger and more encompassing changes than do women mainly because of the messages they've gotten about what/how to be a "real" man. Men often have to learn to adjust/modify their notions about gender identity in addition to learning new skills in order to become a half-way competent psychotherapist...women much less often have to adjust their gender identity notions when learning these skills.

What's become much more apparent to me about this "man" stuff over the past couple of years as I've wrestled with living vegan and with struggling with the implicit racial biases that my culture has taught me is that...much akin to how "whiteness" has mostly to do with being oppressive so does "man" stuff have to do mostly with being oppressive. What a bunch of crap...jeez.

Consider this graphic. Agree with that?

Sounds pretty snazzy, eh? Five years ago I probably would have seen this and thought...hey...good stuff. Now...not so much. Think about it...It's all very well if you're a member of a dominant or powerful group and there's little risk associated with your being honest and straightforward...but...what if you're not a member of a dominant group. What if, for example, you were Jewish and living in Germany in 1943...would you run out and tell the Gestapo that you were Jewish? Because you're being a "real" man and you are being honest and you don't want to be a "coward"?

I really had never connected all this "honesty" stuff with oppression but it actually has a tremendous amount to do with who has power and who doesn't. It seems to be that the more social power you possess then the fewer negatives there potentially are for being "honest". Maybe it has almost nothing to do with being a "man" but has much more to do with power. Hmmm.

That statement in the graphic...which is presenting itself as a universal sort of thing is actually profoundly influenced by assignment to a  racial group and by what's going on in the context of the society that someone lives in than it has to do with a "universal" truth. 

If a situation is that you will be killed if you're honest but you might live if you are deceitful...and (let's say) your deceit harms no one...then you're a "coward" if you lie? Gimme a break...that's deplorably simple minded and shallow...and seriously misleading. 

Don't misunderstand...I suspect honesty is probably a good thing...I value it...but...the consequences for engaging in honesty are thoroughly intertwined with your social identity and with your society and what is going on in that society at a particular time. Any thoughts about "honesty" that ignores those factors and just holds out "honesty" as a universal sort of value that applies to everyone (or "real" men) the same way, in all circumstances and at all times, is sort of goofy. It's much more complex and convoluted than the graphic suggests.

What does being a "real" man have to do with being vegan? Based on my own experience both personally and's my impression that women who live vegan far outnumber men who are vegan. By a big guess would be at least 5 women are vegan for every 1 man who is vegan. Presuming that ratio is semi-accurate...why the big difference? Think about some of the messages that we get about how to be a "real"'re supposed to be tough, strong, stupid about feelings, willing to ignore others in order to get what you want and on and on and on.

Read Carol Adams book to learn more about the weird mixing that our culture engages in regarding being vegan and sexual identity.

Being vegan is very much intertwined with many of the messages that we get about how to be a "real" man...and most of those messages about being "real" men ooch us in the direction of not living vegan.

This social construction stuff is a heck of a lot more complex than you might think. I'm glimpsing, somewhat, that maybe most, if not all, of these socially constructed positions and identities have much more to do with power than they have to do with any "difference".

I've just touched on a few aspects of it can think about your own experiences of how you've navigated your sexual identity and I suspect you'll quickly see that there's very little of it that's straight forward and uncomplicated...and you might notice that it has much more to do with power than you've previously thought.

Note: I've written as if there are only two sexual identities...that's what our culture tells us anyway...I'm quite aware that's false...the gender binary stuff is part of the wacky way oppressive cultures work. I know it's much more complicated than the way I've presented it here so please excuse my omissions and/or failures at being accurate. This stuff is very very complex.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

I will miss him.

He was unfailingly pleasant and polite...always welcoming to humans and also courteous and gentle with his bond mate and brother Speckles.

Walter J. was one of the first bunnies I became acquainted with when I started visiting Heartland Rabbit Rescue on a regular basis...that's been around 7 years I'd known Walter for a long time.

He died some days back and I miss him. He was a very special bunny (as they all are) and he was one of those kind of Earthlings that just made you smile when you saw him.

Baby Walter J.

Jeannie, the director of Heartland, posted this picture of a young Walter J. on her facebook page and it shows a little of (as well as a photo can) the essence of this beautiful and special bunny.  Mother Earth is lessened by his loss...bye Walter J.

I miss you and thank you for having been here and for being you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Voting with women of color...

is a modest change that I can and will make. It is so simple and so obvious that I'm still rather flummoxed at my failure to consider it before now.

Maybe the obviousness of it exemplifies the way invisibility works because it anyway...seems incredibly apparent to me. I've never seen it presented anywhere else...maybe it was and I missed it...but it seems incredibly important...and easy...and way under publicized as a path for white men who are anti-racist and anti-misogynist. 

This little graphic I saw perfectly illustrates a fact that has been obvious to me for a long long time and that I've struggled with and worried over how to counter it.

Yup...the figure on the far right drives most of the human caused harm and horror that afflicts mother Earth. And...I'm one of the group represented by that figure.

What can I do to counter some of this awful truth?

Well...I can do the work necessary to determine who or what women of color support in any election and make sure I cast my vote in accordance with their wishes.

Zip one act I opt out of using my vote to support white privilege and male privilege.

I realize this is a small thing...and I realize that at times it might be problematic (for instance the preferences of women of color might run counter to what I perceive to be the best stance for Earthings who aren't human beings) but...all in all...this seems to me to be an obvious...and just...thing to do. It sure beats the heck out of not doing this.

Why didn't I think of this before now? Jeez.

One sad and almost funny thing happened when I shared this notion in a facebook group I belong to that's ostensibly devoted to countering racism. A male (I think he's racialized as white...but I'm not certain) saw my suggestion and told me that if I really understood white supremacy and misogyny then I wouldn't need any poll to tell me what women of color preferred...I would just "know" and that polls were oppressive and misleading anyway. thing I've become thoroughly convinced of over the past couple of years is that we're all subjected to relentless social conditioning that supports both white supremacy and male supremacy (as well as human supremacy) and that stuff is incredibly effective at screwing up perceptions and understandings and comprehensions. At least it has played hell with mine. So...I don't trust my own judgement in many situations...especially those involving race and sex...hence my desire to look at some external reference like a poll or something.

His assertion that polls are flawed is likely true in many judgement is just as suspect and also and probably more so. I've seen many polls where the preferences of women of color have run counter to the preferences of the majority...especially they have often run counter to the preferences of white people...therefore...I will use them (because I don't have anything better) as a proxy for my judgement.

I refuse to fall into the trap of thinking I "know" what women of color prefer.

I fear that the man who pooh poohed my idea of using polls is way over estimating the excellence of his judgement if he thinks he "knows" what women of color prefer in an election (notwithstanding his racial uniform). I fear he is obliviously asserting male privilege that's he's been relentlessly socialized to support. 

He's not a woman of color nor am I and it seems really really dubious that a man "knowing" what women of color prefer where that knowing runs counter to what a (reputable) poll suggests is (to me anyway) an exercise of male privilege via the absurd meme of "I know what women want" of "I know what's best for women". I don't have that kind of perceptiveness and I am fairly sure he doesn't either. Maybe he does...if so more power to him but I definitely do not so I will look to informational sources outside of myself.

Obviously aligning my vote with women of color is only one thing I can do to counter or resist oppression...there's lots more for me to's a step in the direction of lending support to those who are far as I can see it does not recreate oppression elsewhere. Good stuff.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Recreating oppression

I've become aware that one of the major factors that perpetuates the operation of oppression in societies is how incredibly often well intentioned people who believe they are advocating for an oppressed group...will...inadvertently or carelessly or obliviously (or un somethingly)  engage in activities that are harmful or oppressive to some other group. The various campaigns that PETA has engaged in over the years is an obvious example of this narrow obliviousness of caring or of comprehension.

I've been guilty (and probably will be again in the future, sigh) of this sort of warped lack of almost appears as if we believe that if our intentions and/or goals are good or desirable or "pure" then somehow whatever path we take to move toward those ends is automatically exempt from being harmful or dubious or undesirable.

If my intentions or goals are pure or good...then I can do no wrong in pursuit of them. When I write it looks goofy as hell...but...all you have to do is look around and see instances of this type flawed detachment driving behavior occurring all over the place both currently and historically

Come to think of it...that sort of disconnect between saying and doing may be a core foundational organizing principle of this nation. We are taught to go into a reverential swoon at the words "All men are created equal" while ignoring that these words were written and promoted by white men who were diligently engaged in murdering and stealing land from the original human inhabitants of the North American continent and also engaging in the practices of human enslavement. While their words were inspiring...their behavior was appalling.

They seemed to have good intentions and's just ignore their actual behavior.

Here's one source that documents that 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence enslaved human beings...not to mention their support of and participation in an ongoing war of conquest and theft against the original human inhabitants of this continent. 

That's almost 75% of those who avowed that "all men are created equal" were saying this while enslaving human beings. And yet...we're taught to almost deify these white men...these "founding fathers"...we're taught to revere people based on what they say....not what they do. That's our "heritage". 

I've written in various posts in this blog about my adventures in trying to advocate for veganism without being disrespectful or oppressive toward other beings. I've personally experienced the blowback that can occur when triggering white anxieties about "goodness". Instead of struggling to comprehend what was happening, some "good" white vegans summarily dismissed me from a vegan group.

White fragility is a very real and powerful dynamic that pervades U.S. culture. And...when it's triggered...really ugly things can happen. (A philosophy professor, Cori Wong, suggested that maybe there's an epistemology of ignorance associated with each system (or "ism") of oppression. I think she might be right and I suspect there is also a "fragility" syndrome associated with each system of oppression. Much more work needs to be done in enhancing understanding about these sorts of phenomena.)

It almost seems like we sort of believe that pursuing "good" in one area means it's impossible for us to behave horridly in pursuit of that "good". And...any suggestion that our pursuit of a "good" might be being done badly or poorly is occasion for outrage and indignation instead of a signal for time to do lots of thinking and contemplating. Here in the U.S. we seem (white people anyway) to be firmly committed to talking one way and behaving in another way.

This whole weirdness of recreating oppression while endeavoring to interrupt it deeply perplexes me. Not that I think there's some mythical place or way of being wherein someone can exist in pure "innocence" or anything...but...jeez. Way way too often efforts to prevent or interrupt or reduce oppression magically morphs into recreating oppression in some other form or fashion. Ought not our goal to be stop or resist oppression without engaging in oppression against other victims?

Maybe we have big problems doing that not by accident but rather because we're carefully taught to be unaware of this sort of process?

So very often the recreation of oppression is absolutely unnecessary and avoidable...with some (sometimes easy but sometimes difficult) thought and consideration. But...that fact seems invisible to us. 

For those of us who've been immersed in the 'white' viewpoint and have benefited from that set of systemic operations...struggling to opt out of it can be difficult and is also true that clarity of comprehension often entails much effort and difficulty no matter what the task or goal might be.

Here's one set of observations that seem very important if I'm interested in opposing harm without recreating harm. I have some thoughts about the main principle involved here (those with power not having the standing to indicate what's not oppressive) that I'll elaborate more on in another post.
These observations seem pretty straight forward...but...they reference a way of understanding oppression that I had never thought seriously and deeply about. In retrospect...and...part of the reason I had never thought about it was because my culture absolutely doesn't encourage me to pay attention to these factors.

In fact, my culture tends to punish anyone who tries to implement these sorts of ways of comprehending and behaving. Demonizing and/or blaming the victim(s) of oppression seems to be a core feature of American society...especially if interrupting and/or ameliorating that oppression entails a re-evaluation of what's considered to be "normal". Wikipedia's entry on victim blaming contains this assertion:  "Victim blaming is common around the world, especially in cultures where it is socially acceptable and advised to treat certain groups of people as lesser."

Note that "socially acceptable and advised" is just another way of saying "normal". Victim blaming is common in cultures where some groups are viewed as "lesser"...and...where other groups are viewed as dominant or "superior".

If I slap your face...I'm not the one who get's to decide whether the slap hurt you or not...that's your call...not mine. Jeez. That's not hard to understand but I have to admit...depressingly...that looking at things from that viewpoint simply eluded me way way too often. The breadth of my obliviousness staggers me at times. 

When I look at the kind of messaging that goes on in U.S. society...I realize that we are definitely not taught to think that all. Indeed...we are encouraged to believe if we say the right words...and/or belong to a dominant group...then if our behavior is deplorable or atrocious it should be ignored and/or defended.

What kind of bizarre crap is that?  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Narratives and power...

I've seen some interesting graphics online over the past few months...some that mesh well with some of the thoughts I've expressed here.

The statement above touches on something...power...that is complex and important. The story of another person is just another way of saying the narrative about another person and the last post on this blog was about narratives.

Ms. Adichie references power and power tends to be a factor that is often entangled with narratives or stories that we are familiar with. Often the narratives...or stories...that become seen as "normal" or "true" or as "common sense" achieved that status not because of some intrinsic excellence or profound truth in that narrative/story but because whomever (a group, etc) was promoting or believed that narrative had the power to impose it on others and to impose the labeling of it as "truth" or "normal" and also had the power to suppress or deny other perspectives or narratives.

Conceivably, stories or narratives could come to be accepted as "true" or "normal" or whatever because groups or those with differing stories shared those stories and examined the differences or variances between narrative versions and either came to a consensus story that all agreed upon or came to see differences that were valid or accurate and agreed that various versions of a story had different truths or accuracies depending on which group was telling a story or being identified or referred to by a story or narrative.

In other is conceivable for a society to employ narratives that are not imposed by power but rather are shared and mutually agreed upon by all groups in a society.

That's not difficult to understand, I don't think. In my last post I referenced the idea of someone looking at a statue from the front and someone else looking at a statue from the rear. Each have different stories or narratives about how the statue looks. Each have some truth in their stories or narratives.

A more well known variant of this notion is the story of the encountering of an elephant and the various comprehendings based on what aspect of the elephant that is encountered.

It's a very different thing though whether the "accepted" or "normal" or "common sense" story about what the statue...or like is one where the differences between the various viewpoints (stories or narratives about the statue or elephant) were noted and examined and melded into a story that took all perspectives into account or...if the viewers of the statue/elephant differed greatly in power and the viewer with the power simply imposed their view and defined it as "normal" or "common sense" and rejected and demeaned any other view or experience of the statue/elephant.

We all swim in a sea of historically created meanings...and many...if not most...of those meanings are partial and incomplete but...often those who originated these meanings had the power to override all other perspectives and presented their limited viewpoints as complete and as "reality" or "normal" or "common sense"...and to label differing viewpoints as "deviant" or "untrue" or as "pushing an agenda". We can struggle to comprehend things as fully as possible or we can opt to ignore and/or deny aspects of reality in order to bolster or cling to our stories or narratives.

Is it not better to risk confusion and disorientation (for a time, anyway) in order to more fully grasp or apprehend truths or reality than it is to wipe out or deny or destroy viewpoints or perspectives that differ from what we thought was true?

Grappling with all this is confusing and difficult (for me) the same time it is also exciting and exhilarating. For an instance of a situation where competing narratives clashed with one another you can go read this post I recently wrote.

Often the temptation is powerful to simply squelch or ignore a narrative that doesn't fit with the dominant one...but...doing so means risking wiping out or ignoring part of the truths or facts of reality. That seems exceedingly dangerous and harmful to me. And...incredibly disrespectful of those who might have a different experience of the "elephant of reality" than I might have or that I have been told was complete and true.

It seems to come down to deciding whether to deny aspects of reality...and try to cope with the results of that denial or to struggle to comprehend and accept all of reality that you can...and try to cope with the results of that comprehending and accepting. Hmmm....


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thinking about narratives...

The last piece posted here had to do with "pushing agendas". The "aha" experience elaborated on in that writing continues to come into my awareness again and again....and again.

One of the links I furnished went to a page that provided some information about something called the "master" narrative. In part, that page reads:
The Master Narrative is generally described as the colonially-derived story of events, emphasizing European perspectives. In contrast, the Counter Narrative offers accounts of history from diverse perspectives, with a critical examination of the widely accepted, colonially-derived story. Reading or writing counter-narratives is part of a process of de-colonizing, or dismantling and questioning the histories that are regularly read, repeated, and studied in mainstream education.
Sometimes this "master" narrative is also called the dominant narrative or discourse.

In other words...stories (narratives) that we tell ourselves to "explain" the U.S. (and pretty much everything else) are derived, in part, from mainstream (public school) education. Another take on this idea of master narratives can be found in this interview that Bill Moyers conducted with Toni Morrison a few years ago. Ms. Morrison says, in response to a question about what constitutes the master narrative:

....It’s white male life. The Master Narrative is whatever ideological script that is being imposed by the people in authority on everybody else: The Master Fiction . . . history. It has a certain point of view. So when those little girls see that the most prized gift they can receive at Christmas time is this little white doll, that’s the Master Narrative speaking: ...
The master narrative(s) here in the U.S. is/are told (almost exclusively) from the viewpoint of a white male (although that's never ever made explicit or overt) but that viewpoint is presented as though that is (or should be) everyone's viewpoint or perspective. What is implied is that the viewpoint of the master narrative should be your viewpoint too...or at least it should be if you're a right thinking and sensible and 'normal' person...unless you're "pushing an agenda".

A white guy...his experience is universal...right?
Above is a photo of a white man...he's well dressed, friendly appearing, what the heck...his viewpoint is everyone's viewpoint...right? His experience of society and school and work and and and...that's the way it is for everyone...or so we're subtly and persistently encouraged to believe.

But...we're never told outright that his way of seeing things and experiencing life is what we're being ooched toward believing or accepting as universal. And...we're encouraged to believe that if our experience isn't like his...well...that's because there's something wrong with us. Maybe we're not trying hard enough or we're not smart enough or we're deficient or warped in some way or other.

I'm still struggling to get a good feel or comprehension for what is meant when folks talk or write about narratives...there are master narratives and counter narratives...and various terms are used by different folks that refer to aspects or features of these narratives. Therefore, I'm working to stay open about what is meant by all this. Right now I'm tentatively operating off the definition that narratives are stories people in a society use to explain events and history and identities (e.g. what it means to be a "man" and such) to themselves.

For example, Joe Feagin...a sociologist who writes about these notions regarding race...uses a term he calls a racial-frame to describe narratives that 'explain' race and factors associated with race. He references a white racial frame and a black counter frame...he also writes about counter frames associated with different racial groups. My presumption is that he's meaning something like a master narrative when he writes about the white racial frame and counter narrative when he refers to, for example, the Native American counter frame and other counter frames. I especially liked his writing about how the liberty and justice frame is distorted by white people. 

It has been transforming for me to move to a way of thinking that takes into account the unspoken fact that most all originators of widely disseminated stories about the U.S. are created by white men. And...those stories...purposely or not...pretty much tend to uphold the notions that the experiences of white men are the experiences everyone has...or should have...and the ways of experiencing or understanding things should be from the viewpoint...or position of...a white guy.

When I write all that out it seems ludicrous...and yet...frighteningly enough...that's pretty much the way I wandered through my life. What's more terrifying...that's the way most people I've known perceive things. It's really rather embarrassing. I owe everyone and myself an apology for being so clueless. Good grief. 

The links in the paragraph about the racial frames go to different posts on the personal blog of Julian Abagond. One of the steps I took to work at breaking out of the fog of whiteness that the U.S. zeitgeist encourages is to find writers who have different lived life experiences than that of a white guy. I find most of Mr. Abagond's writing to be cogent and understandable and seriously informative. I also pay very close attention to the writings of Breeze Harper and Aph Ko and Syl Ko. There are a number of other online authors I follow but these folks probably are definitely among my main ones right now.

I've read a multitude of articles by academics and non-academics, I've also read a large number of books by authors of who aren't raced as white and who occupy various positions on the spectrum of sexual identities and behaviors. The social world of human beings is much much much more complex and different than that which is encompassed by the main or master narratives here in the U.S.

If you are/were like me...I'm reluctant to say it...but say it I must...then you are probably (like me) pretty clueless and oblivious about many, if not most, things to do with the social aspects of human beings...and lots of things really. We're much more often taught how to not think than how to think. That's one of the prime tools those in power use to hold onto their power.

It's almost as if there's a 200 piece orchestra playing a composition but when I was a child I was carefully taught to listen only to the woodwinds and told that the complete experience of the composition being played could be understood and appreciated by listening only to those instruments and...even worse...the rest of the orchestra was superfluous and inferior to the woodwinds and if any part of the orchestra sounded different than those woodwinds...well...those other instruments were just "pushing an agenda" and probably didn't know what in hell they were doing. I bought into these absurdities...mostly...not quite all the way...but way too much.

I was re-reading Marylyn Frye's excellent little book titled: The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. In one of the essays she offered the story of two people, one looking at a statue from in front of it and one looking at that same statue from the back. Their positions are different, hence what they see is different even though they are looking at the same statue. It's a nice reminder that position impacts what you're able to see. You can find this little book for a very low price from a used book dealer and I highly recommend it.

The idea of dominant narratives or discourses is pointing out that the story of what the statue is like is often determined not by what's actually there (the statue) but by which viewer of the statue has the most power and can thereby squelch or disregard what might be seen by different viewers who are not in the same position as the viewer with the power.

That's why it is critical to become familiar with information and viewpoints from folks who don't have social identities or positions (race, gender, age, sexual orientation, social class, etc.) that are the same as those who have power. Like Toni Morrison noted...if you don't do some'll simply end up believing that everything is as it seems from the perspective of a white male. And that will make you rather ignorant and oblivious to much of what's real in a society and in the world itself. you can easily see...that sort of narrow perspective doesn't work out too well for most of us...or for mother Earth.



Friday, May 13, 2016

Cuteness updated..

In an earlier post I wrote a bit about how an unexpected jump in the population of a rescue can create problems in care. The jump I wrote about was a rescued mother bunny giving birth to a bunch of babies.

It is amazing to experience the strength of the feelings that this instance baby bunnies can evoke in we human animals.

In the first picture from that post, right in front, you can see a little baby, covered with light grey fur, sleeping peacefully.

Here's that baby, just a few weeks older:

She (we think her sex is female but it is difficult to be certain because she's so young) is simply exquisite. As are all of the babies. Most of them are delighted to see a human because that means head rubs and food and oohs and aahs.

I said to the director of Heartland Rabbit Rescue recently that it really is almost impossible to stay in a down mood around bunnies. Especially baby bunnies...their excellence can simply overwhelm sadness or depression. If you want to elevate your mood...go volunteer and spend time around Earthlings who aren't human. That experience will likely cause a bad mood to evaporate. Helping is usually much more fun than medication.

Support your local sanctuaries and rescues. Please.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Pushing an agenda?

Recently I had one of those smile making experiences that are unexpected and rare...and greatly appreciated. They're like gifts and I've learned to take them as such and just enjoy them.

I was reading someone's post over on a site called Medium. I have been poking around there recently and have happened onto a number of writings that were thought provoking...and sometimes more than that.

While reading that particular essay...not too attentively I have to admit because the topic just didn't grab me, I ran across the phrase "pushing an agenda" and bang...I've seen that phrase numerous times elsewhere but…for some reason this time when I read it an ‘aha' moment occurred with me. After savoring my 'aha" a little I gave thanks to the author.
For the first time, I wholly grasped that whatever is thrown out as “normal” or usual or natural is “pushing an agenda” too…it just doesn't make it clear that it is doing so. This notion that something is “just normal” often invisiblizes the agenda being pushed (and thereby enhances its influence by insulating itself against objection). Pretty sneaky.

I say realized for the first isn't that I didn't have all the elements of grasping this nor that I had never understood this is, though, that for the first time I fully comprehended the insidious misdirection involved in anything being presented as "normal" that is socially constructed. "Normal" or "just natural" or "that's the way it is"  is "pushing an agenda" too but without acknowledging that's what it's doing.

Look at the image below...notice the unwritten message that indicates a "pro-gun agenda" is the norm (a socially constructed one) and that it isn't being "pushed". It just is...or it's just "common sense" or it's just...well...normal and anything that resists it is "pushing an agenda". Often the most effective messages are the unspoken or unwritten ones...the ones we fill in with our minds and because they are created, by us virtually out of our conscious awareness, they thereby often escape being interrogated or examined by our critical thinking.  

Socially constructed? What's that, you ask? Here's a brief definition taken from the wikipedia entry about social constructionism:
A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event. In that respect, a social construct as an idea would be widely accepted as natural by the society, but may or may not represent a reality shared by those outside the society, and would be an "invention or artifice of that society".

You can read the wikipedia article, or you can read something even more verbose here or you can read a fairly accessible article by Ta-Nehisi Coates about this sort of thing regarding race here. There's also a very easily digested bit of writing...with helpful images...about the social construction of race here.

You can think about it this way...if the meaning of something is socially constructed...then it is stuff that people make up. Things that are socially constructed as "normal" generally are notions that are made up by and serve the interests or the agenda of the dominant group(s) in a society. Mr. Coates might put it...stuff people make up as "normal" only requires folks with guns needing a reason (often unspoken or unwritten) for how they think or act. In other words..."normal" is mostly defined by the group with power...that "normal" is structured to serve the interests of that group and if you have little power...tough noogies for you. Saying we live in a capitalistic, patriarchal, white supremacist society means that wealthy white men have most of the power and generally define what is considered to be "normal" for the rest of us. (note too that power, ultimately, in a white supremacist structure usually is enforced by violence)

It may be that the “just normal” conceptualization of something is in place because of unconscious or out of awareness factors (socialization) but that doesn't mean that some agenda isn't being pushed…it just means (or suggests) that if someone didn't consciously know the origin of why they were saying or doing something, or the impact of it, then somehow they aren't responsible for it and/or subject to being called out about it. It's sort of that intent vs. impact thingee.

In essence…when someone or something gets characterized as objectionable or invalid because of “pushing an agenda”…it's usually because what is being said or written isn't hiding behind the cloak of invisibility. It isn't pretending to be "just normal" and therefore viewpoint and/or agenda free and it's usually countering the dominant group's agenda.

Objecting to obliviousness that's in place because of out of awareness socialization often elicits the “pushing an agenda” attempt at squelching it.
So...anytime you want to engage your thinker...and not be an unwitting supporter of the status quo (i.e., the interests of the dominant group) then whenever you hear or see written some accusation that someone or some group is "pushing an agenda"...make sure you take a look at who's making the accusation and examine just what their agenda is...because they will undoubtedly have one. But...they'll often not be openly and clearly admitting that they do so especially if they're invoking the "normal" trope. And...sadly...they may be oblivious to it themselves. (see the white guy in the image above)

Alarm bells should automatically ring for you whenever you hear the phrase "pushing an agenda". It's almost invariably a notification that someone is trying to negatively paint a narrative (think of narrative as a story) because it is in opposition to some other narrative (that first story or narrative is usually what is known as the 'master' narrative).

There's a powerful proverb attributed to various peoples in Africa that beautifully sums up much about the theme of this post.

One version of the African proverb goes something like this: "Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."

"Pushing an agenda" is a signal that there are at least two stories (narratives) being told and those narratives (stories) differ from one another. "Pushing an agenda" is an excellent indicator that it is time to figure out what each of those stories are because you can't evaluate them until you know them.

Don't be suckered into automatically dismissing some narrative that is described as "pushing an agenda". Instead realize that it is time to do some work toward comprehending and understanding what the first story is and then clarify the story that is disputing or differing from that first story.

It could be that the "pushing an agenda" phrase is a manifestation of what is called the Semmelweis reflex. Ignatz Semmelweis was a fellow that I accidentally learned about years ago and the tragedy of his life stuck with me.

It is amazing to me that…for some reason...these perspectives regarding "pushing an agenda" hadn't snapped into clarity before. It just goes to show that the phrase "live and learn" often references truth. I'm still churning all this around so any thoughts would be welcome.

Friday, April 29, 2016


is sometimes problematic.

Babies are cute. But cuteness is just one of the words that are applicable to situations wherein a sanctuary or rescue steps in to provide a safe haven for a refugee from human cruelty or neglect...and...the "saved" animal is pregnant. Troubling is another word that applies too.

Especially (but not only) in those instances where the usual outcome of reproduction for an Earthling is giving birth to (or hatching) multiple babies at one time.

Is that not a picture that elicits "ooohs" and "aaaaws"? Sure it is. Babies do that, doesn't much matter which species...babies are cuties. Big heads, helpless, you name the factor...they all seem to pull strong and caring feelings out of us when we see, hear, touch and smell them.

Notice though...that's not just one baby...that's a bunch of babies...11 in all to be exact. Two shown in the photo above were unable to survive so...from an original birthing of 14 babies (3 of whom were deceased at birth) there are now 9 surviving and thriving baby bunnies at Heartland Rabbit Rescue.

That's about a 10% increase in the population at the rescue...just from one birthing event. There are now (or soon will be) needs for living areas for 9 more bunnies, medical needs (including costs for spaying or neutering), social needs (head rubs from humans, opportunities to explore outside, etc), exercise needs...and on and on.

Heartland took in a pregnant bunny who was facing death at a local municipal facility...often though...rescue one pregnant bunny and poof...a population explosion happens.

Suddenly more of everything is required of the humans who work to care for the bunnies. And...there's a decreased capacity to step in and rescue a bunny who's in a precarious situation out there away from the sanctuary...because...there's no room or ability to care new residents.

Please do your part to help out your local rescue or sanctuary. Every one of them faces situations, at times, like this. Volunteer, spay or neuter the animal who lives with you, donate your time or your money to those organizations who try to help the abandoned or the neglected.

Because those rescues never know when they're going to find themselves having a massive increase in the demands placed on them...just because of cuteness events like that group shown in the photos. If you can, contact Heartland and send them a donation...please do so...or help out your local sanctuaries/rescues. Because cuteness happens...and cuteness also means care is needed...and care can be expensive. 

Live your part to help out your fellow Earthlings by supporting rescue/sanctuary organizations. And...please please spay or neuter any Earthlings you live with and help your local organizations with their costs for preventing pregnancies in their residents.