Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Some Of You Are Half Right
But most of you are completely wrong.
I've watched from afar as many NFL players have decided that kneeling during the singing of the National Anthem is an appropriate way to protest racial inequality in America.
I've also watched as many people have criticized these players for choosing this specific form and forum for their protest; labeling it unpatriotic and disrespectful... and in the process dredging up all kinds of patriotic bonafides to bolster their viewpoint, such as distinguished military service, holding public office, hailing from a hard-working immigrant family, etc..
The problem is that none of this could remotely be called a debate since, by definition, a debate is a formal discussion on a particular topic in which opposing arguments are put forward. So far I haven't seen opposing arguments or discussions of any kind.
What I have seen is the positioning of opposing agendas, ad hominem attacks and straw man statements that have everything to do with whether this particular kind of protest is legitimate or potentially effective, and nothing to do with what the players are actually protesting!
So let's cut through the noise and make a little order, shall we?
First, so long as it doesn't involve violence or incitement, any sort of protest is legitimate and legal in the US. I'm sure some budding legal scholar will present an exception to the point I have just made, but be assured, it will be as unhelpful as it is irrelevant.
Effective protest takes place in the public square employing the loudest, most visible means at the disposal of the protesters. To do otherwise would be pointless. That is why public figures - actors, athletes, politicians and others in the public eye - are often the ones selected to give voice to words and gestures of protest.
True, they are public figures because of things that are nearly always unrelated to whatever cause they are protesting or supporting with their momentary celebrity. But the last time I checked, there was no rule in public debate against drafting prominent spokespeople to give voice to causes that are less well known.
Next, the whole, "I (my brother, father, uncle, etc.), served in the military, and I say kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner is disrespectful, treasonous behavior!" crap has to stop. I'm a veteran and I can assure you that my status as a veteran lends my voice no more weight than someone who didn't serve, and gives me no special privileges to arbitrate what kinds of protest are appropriate.
By the same token, while celebrities are chosen for their visibility to give voice to various causes, their celebrity does not automatically make them right any more than my car having a louder horn gives me the legal right of way.
It is up to the listener/viewer to weigh the message - not the messenger! - and decide for themselves what is right or wrong. And it is only through thousands and millions of free citizens of a free, open democracy weighing the message and reaching their own individual conclusions that some semblance of consensus for the terms and scope of the actual debate can emerge.
The national anthem, kneeling players, flag-waving veterans, etc., are not the debate. They are the protest. What emerges (or is supposed to emerge), after the protest is the debate.
And that is what is completely absent from the town squares and public spaces in the US today: Legitimate, intellectually honest debate.
People seem to be so terrified of actual debate that they will shame and denigrate anyone with an opposing opinion so as not to have to refute what they are saying. Do you realize how toxic and anti-democratic that is when ideas and opinions are silenced and nullified by calling the person giving them voice a pariah?
I'm not a big American football fan, but I can't deny the visibility of the players on game day, or the effectiveness of the timing of their protest during the playing of national anthem. If they (or political activists behind the scenes), use the gridiron to draw attention to a real or perceived injustice... that is legitimate protest, and you can't deny that it is hard to ignore.
But by the same token, those with equally visible positions who Tweet criticism of the protesters actions are also protesting. The problem is they are protesting completely different things. They aren't talking to one another. They aren't engaging in an exchange of ideas. And they certainly aren't engaging in debate!
Sadly, none of this is new, or even unique to the US. Public protest around the world has been reduced to the level of ancient warfare, with the two sides refusing to even face one another and simply trying to subdue the 'enemy' by lobbing flaming boulders over the ramparts with catapults.
Those rhetorical boulders are the outrage-filled rants that I see day in and day out on the Facebook feeds of people who I used to think of as reasonable; the people engaged in shamelessly virtue signalling and threatening to unfriend anyone who doesn't immediately denounce the last offensive statement or action of their perceived opponents.
Grow up, people! Protest is offensive!!! That is why it works. It ignores the norms (note, not laws), of civilized society. Social norms stigmatize raising one's voice, giving offense and/or causing discomfort to one's neighbor. Protest deliberately flies in the face of those norms. If it didn't, nobody would notice the protesters, or by extension the thing they are protesting!
The NFL players who are kneeling in protest know they are being deliberately offensive and disrespectful. For proof one need only look at Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Panthers which was played in London. Many of the players knelt during the playing of the American anthem, but all stood during the playing of the British anthem. They were making it clear that their protest was aimed at an American audience (even though the UK has its own problems with race relations), and was not meant to give offense to the host nation that had no ability to correct the injustice being protested by the players.
So please get down off your high horses about the mode, forum and channels being used by protesters. Protest is unsettling and offensive. If doesn't unsettle or offend someone, it isn't a protest... it's a pep-rally.
The irony that seems to be lost on virtually everyone is that there is almost no disagreement about the thing the players are protesting. Seriously! If you are the odd duck who is actually in favor of discrimination, police brutality or racial injustice, please feel free to tell us all why. Otherwise, it may surprise you to discover that we are almost all on the same side of this particular protest. The protest, not the debate.
What remains to be debated, however, is how to set about correcting the things that set the protests in motion. And so far, I see almost none of my otherwise reasonable friends stepping up with positions or ideas on how to do that.
In my humble opinion, if you are broadcasting emotional, hate-filled vitriol from your little Facebook soapbox without even touching on the issues that are actually up for debate, you are simply out of order... and you are wrong.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Alone With The Dishes
[I wrote this essay back in 2004 to describe the mental preparation I go through between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. I haven't been able to improve upon it. Yet.]
One gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes. Zahava does her fair share of the dishes, as do the kids. But for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.
So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.
For me, they are like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to far more people than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.
But such a party comes with a price to pay.
Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing, aghast, in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.
What was I thinking?
Every horizontal surface is stacked high with dirty glasses and dishes.
Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch.
The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers), seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.
Linen napkins sit balled on (and under), chairs... and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists abandoned them.
On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem, well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in an orderly fashion.
Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never be clean again.
But then I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim), and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping house that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered.
And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem... surmountable.
Several circuits of the house bring more dirty wine, whiskey, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first one there on the counter.
Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of hot soapy water.
As the sink fills, I designate other places for dishes and for cups and for saucers -each to each -all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water sighing under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.
And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me). Nothing getting washed just yet. Just making the insurmountable seem... surmountable.
Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.
With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane; not one iota cleaner, mind you... but the illusion of order has begun to emerge from the chaos.
Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove and counter to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are returned to their shelves… each gesture creating a bit of space… and again, that comforting suggestion of emerging order.
And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet. But the insurmountable beginning to seem… surmountable.
I stand now in the spiritual doorway between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… and too much indulgence.
But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable.
As I stand listening to the soft ahhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am almost ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Thoughts on Time
Time is a theme that weighs heavy on my mind this time of year. The following are a couple of thoughts (from others) that I had wanted to print out and share with my family over Rosh HaShannah.
Except that time got away from me before the holiday started, and I kinda forgot. I'm Captain Paradox, and my superpower is 'irony'.
"Instead of saying, "I don't have time", try saying, "It's not a priority" and see how that feels. Often that's a perfectly adequate explanation. "I have time to iron my sheets but I don't want to... so it isn't a priority". But other situations are harder; try these: "I'm not going to edit your resume, sweetie, because it isn't a priority". "I don't go to the doctor because my health isn't a priority". If those phrases (and others like them), don't sit well, that's sort of the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don't like how we are spending an hour, we can change our priorities. "
Laura Vanderkam (slight paraphrasing by me)
Here's another one:
"The infinite possibilities each day holds should stagger the mind. The sheer number of experiences I could have is uncountable, breathtaking, and I'm sitting here refreshing my inbox.
We live trapped in loops, reliving a few days over and over, and we envision only a handful of paths laid out ahead of us. We see the same things each day, we respond the same way, we think the same thoughts, each day a slight variation on the last, every moment smoothly following the gentle curves of societal norms. We act like if we just get through today, tomorrow our dreams will come back to us.
And no, I don't have all the answers. I don't know how to jolt myself into seeing what each moment could become. But I do know one thing: the solution doesn't involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of someday easing my fit into a mold. It doesn't involve tempering my life to better fit someone's expectations. It doesn't involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up."
Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame)