Speculative Arguments of Human Life

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Abortion, stem cells, western tragedies involving child fatalities – what if the lives that were to come of those would’ve found a cure for cancer?

That, my friends, is an obnoxious argument.

First let me clarify that it is indeed incredibly tragic when children become victims of murder, terrorism, or preventable accidents. It’s tragic when anyone becomes victims to those things, really, because there is always a lingering potential about what someone could possibly turn into and the self-evident right to dignity that we all should have.

But in the loss of existing, and particularly young, lives public mourning in Western societies only thinks of them in that way when it’s someone who had the privileges that made their odds more likely. Much like how the publicity of amber alerts or child tragedies is stronger when victims are white with educated white collar parents (“middle class” is an overused and thus meaningless buzz word), the lengths to which our imagination projects what could’ve been goes further for those already at an advantage. It’s probably true. The boy who died from the Boston Marathon explosions probably had the support to build up confidence and aspirations, and he had the advantages of race, gender, and possibly class to be unconsciously be preferred over others for opportunities in his future. It is incredibly sad that he died for all of these reasons.

The speculative future of lives never lived is a ridiculous concept to dwell on when you’re not on drugs, but it’s still a common rope of desperately impractical arguments that anti-abortion and anti-stem cell advocates grab onto for their cause. They don’t want to speculate on what future potential may be achieved by the people who choose not to have a child at that point in their lives because of that decision –that someone can keep going to school, or will be able to save up money to buy a home or start a business or provide better for the children they have later on. They don’t speculate on the scientific breakthroughs that can come from stem cell research. Instead they ask what scientific breakthroughs can come many decades later if that embryo becomes a human.

The same questions aren’t asked of the premature fatalities in other parts of the world, though. Syrians are already in a hopeless fucking mess. There’s no way that one of the tens of thousands who have been killed would’ve cured cancer, or, I don’t know, grown to lead a movement that could overthrow their current tyranny. The hundreds who died in a sweatshop fire in Bangladesh were only sweatshop workers. They clearly didn’t have the potential in their lives to make medical breakthroughs. What’s the best they could achieve in life? Start a union demanding that workers not get locked into a factory ablaze, that gains momentum as a labour movement and improves the quality of life and size of economy of lower tiered country?

The underlying point that I’m probably doing a terrible job of making here is that public mourning of early deaths is unequally distributed, and it exposes the systemic prejudices that makes us subconsciously value certain types of people over others. People who are already alive, and even those who have grown up with less valued accomplishments because of their circumstances of birth, have potential that we can do something about now, and preventing their deaths all over the world should be a humanitarian concern to which we pay its due attention. We can do more at home than we can abroad with solving the societal problems that perpetuate this bias – and we should do more at home because the motives in serving a role abroad are a separate systemic issue – so donating blood, or to the Red Cross, or towards the hospital bills of victims is a greater contribution to solutions than we can make to the Syrian people or Bangladeshi workers. But don’t minimize the tragedies overseas. And as the audience of the media that capitalizes on news – demand more than a line along the ticker at the bottom of the screen when hundreds of people burn to their deaths because of a complex network of systemic greed. Make empathy economically sustainable, and make it universal.

First World Problems

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People incessantly talk about the weather. It’s painfully banal and I easily get sick of such conversation. So when a coworker a moment ago sighed and said “It’s still snowing” (and yes, this is unusual weather delaying the short “spring” we get here) I was tempted to respond with something along the lines of:

“And there is still poverty and suffering across the continent of Africa as a consequence of imperialism, imposing puppet “democracy” not brought on from the grass roots of the people themselves, religion condemning practices that empower women and reduce the spread of HIV, and the idea that we have to take care of the unfortunate victims rather than approach them as equals in trading and commerce.”

But she wouldn’t get the point. Weather “happens” everywhere of some kind or another and it’s not a “first world problem” like other entitled whining. But it’s boring. You’re all boring.

All There is to Drink For – Profiling Terrorists Edition

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I turn 30 today. Happy birthday to me! I took a swig of whiskey before eating breakfast this morning because a) I officially can end my moratorium on alcohol with success accomplished; and b) a bunch of high-profile American violence took place while I was sleeping and much of the Boston area is in lockdown. Yaaaaaay.

This morning I was reading through what went on with my Twitter timeline overnight. I figured there’s no point making sense in it because a lot of it was up-to-the-second retweets and amateur reporting on what the police scanner was saying (which isn’t solid information that can explain things after the fact). I don’t get television so I didn’t turn on a 24 hour news network upon waking up. I don’t listen to the radio. I try not to get news from the sites that are the extension of 24 hour news networks because they’re generally filled with scrambled nonsense and the gun is jumped just as much with rushed headlines as it is by John King anywhere all the time. (I don’t get CNN but I do watch The Daily Show online, and that’s all I really need to see.)

I still haven’t gone into enough depth in consulting more quality, thorough news sources to get a full picture of what happened last night and everything about the suspects. I know they’re brothers. I know one of them is dead. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the one who is still alive. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two, died in a shootout with police in the wee hours last night. I don’t know how old Tamerlan was, but Dzhokhar is reported to be 19.

The names sound foreign – oooh, troublemakers. This makes for a GREAT news story. It turns out they’re Chechens. AHA! We get to racialize this issue to rile up the mob. Except, as my second favourite Western media personality of Iranian origin Reza Aslan tweeted: “Chechens are LITERALLY Caucasians. What a Fox News dilemma!”

The word “Caucasian” as referring to white people in attempt to remove “colour” out of the racial nomenclature because it refers to the Caucasus, which is an area that includes part of Russia, several other former soviet socialist republics, and even parts of Turkey and Iran. It’s not “white” as we see it today, and people from the Caucasus are easily racialized into a people of colour, ready for the broad brush to be applied in ways that hinder accessibility and acceptance. Chechens already have a terrorist reputation from their own violent history within modern Russia. It’s easy to take Caucasian names like Tsarnaev, rooted in the grey area between “Europe” and “Asia”, and make them seem sinister. This breeds xenophobia. This breeds racism.

We’ve already seen the racist knee-jerk that assumed it would be a Muslim person – like the man of Saudi origin who was accused right off the bat. When the first pictures were released they were so fuzzy, with hats shading the faces of the suspects, and a lot of talk going on was still about race – “SEE, THEY’RE WHITE” or “THEY LOOK [insert other racial category here]”. You can racialize Chechnya as being just like other predominantly Muslim regions or countries (as so many people think they’re ALL Arab – even though some of the most populous Muslim countries are non-Arab like Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia), but from the blurry photos so far, I doubt that the average person would see any difference if their last names were English, or French, or German. If you gave an Italian name a lot of people would say “Oh yeah, that guy looks Italian” and the same goes for anything Greek, Spanish, or Portugese.

Even further – it’s reported that these young men moved to the United States 10 years ago. That would’ve been when Dzhokhar was nine years old, and I’m sure we’ve all met people who moved to a Western country at that age and lost a lot of the immigrant “profile”. English would’ve been fluently adopted and the accent would probably have toned down. These men didn’t appear foreign in dress – hoodies and baseball caps. They were put through the American education system in their formative adolescence. Their immigrant status doesn’t make this terrorism any less home-grown. If they had anglicized their names in Ellis Island style to be Chuck and Tom Turner, 24 hour news networks would’ve had to do some research to come up with time filler. It wouldn’t be so easy as learning the names and then speculating like an idiot on live television. But then again, even if there was a need and opportunity to do some real journalism and come up with better information, would CNN bother? It seems so unlike their style.

Targeting for a Better Use of Time

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I’m trying in a number of ways to steer from unproductive choices in favour of healthier ones that improve me in one or more ways. As so many commentators (mostly Baby Boomers who still think they got Existence right and want to lecture young people, but I digress…) have written, our eyes are glued to screens and we are on the edge of our seats wanting tweets and soundbites that summarize larger issues seconds after something happened. The overwhelming tidal wave of speculation, opinions, and largely incorrect information about the explosions at the Boston Marathon is a good example. I kept checking Twitter in spite of knowing better. There’s no use in reading people’s opinions or diving into dialogue when the fires weren’t even put out yet (literally!) and most of what was said would rouse debate that just isn’t worth the time. Keeping up-to-the-minute on news essentially serves the purpose of either outshowmanship on information, or to get into arguments like a genuine troll.

I know that it’s not a very constructive use of time or healthy builder of character to check my phone for texts and emails and tweets every couple of minutes. I try to resist the distraction and instead take time to do things that make slow and steady, lasting differences. I’m starting to get more exercise, the sweaty cardio kind (not at a gym or under advice of a trainer, but it doesn’t hurt to jog on the spot or dance like an idiot until the sweat starts to drip to the floor). I’m trying to get on top of keeping my living space orderly. I’m trying to read more in longer stretches than five to ten minutes at a time before I check my phone again. As brain-building as puzzle games can be, they’re taking up way too much of my time, and are an inadequate refuge from real-life problem solving that depends on other people’s constructive cooperation, which is a jackpot only hit once in a blue moon.

The runners of the Boston Marathon doubtless spend much of their free time in healthy pursuits of personal growth. The spectators who go to watch on the marathon route might be more likely to have similar habits or aspirations that take their eyes off their emails in favour of exercise, and they decide to get in the moment out in the fresh air to take in the experience. This is another layer of the sad/tragic/unfortunate dimensions of the bombings at a significant occasion. Those who were physicially injured or traumatized to witness the event were there for very healthy reasons, of involvement both physical and mental. Those who proceeded to watch rushed, misreporting news or tweet usually racist speculations, or respond angrily to those things – they were less likely to be applying themselves to something so engaging and constructive.

If I seem like a hypocrite for writing something online (technically on my phone) to criticize the habit of always being online and/or on one’s phone – this is two days later, more elaborate than a tweet, and doing this on my phone means I’m not currently playing a game. And this is more of a criticism of/reinforcement for myself to live up to my goals and proclamations of not turning into an ageist stereotype. I only have two more days to righteously exclude myself from generalizations people make about today’s damn 20-somethings, after all.

Pics or You Didn’t Rape Her

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With a series of high-profile news cases of teenagers raping teenagers much of the surrounding circumstances is recorded evidence. And in similar cases teenage girls being pressured to take naked pictures of themselves that are later turned against them and they’re harassed to the point of suicide. These aren’t acts of intimacy of sexuality –they’re acts of abuse and violence that use sex as a weapon. That’s what rape and sexual exploitation are by definition, and that’s not in dispute. But for some reason, a large chunk of the population is still blind to the cultural power dynamics that perpetuate this behaviour as not just acceptable but to the benefit of rapists. Many people, most of them who would likely never commit such an act themselves, deny that in our society there is an embedded rape culture.

Girls like Rehteah Parsons, the 17 year old Nova Scotian who recently took her own life, are receiving widespread media attention as victims post-mortem. Suicide isn’t a sudden decision. It’s the last resort after looking for help, and making attempts to escape ongoing trauma. When rape or sexual manipulation are caught on camera and spread amongst the victim’s peers, the torment is not just the reminder that such a thing happened. It’s embarrassment –embarrassment because a victim is shamed into thinking if she didn’t want this to happen she shouldn’t have let this happen. It’s victim blaming and made immeasurably worse by the coulda-woulda-shoulda lecturing of the poor girls and ESPECIALLY worse by how FUNNY and JUICY and AMUSING it all is to the other children.

What makes other children react this way to visual evidence of a cruel violation of another human’s dignity? Is it “kids are cruel” as a natural part of development? Is it because “boys will be boys” and girls should know better that a horny teenager can’t keep his hands off of girls? Calling this “bullying” lumps it in with stealing lunch money and vandalizing lockers – which are disrespectful and dehumanizing and must be called out on to deter further emotional abuse –but the multiple examples at Rehteah’s level that continue to sprout out all over this continent are clearly CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR that is either ignored or condoned. They are STALKING and HARASSMENT and ASSAULT and RAPE and CHILD PORNOGRAPHY which are all VERY ILLEGAL, and yet they’re dismissed along with other mean teenage behaviour, and apologists abound to defend the perpetrators and perpetuators.

Teenagers want to have sex, and most of them are going to try. This is the excuse that pops up everywhere in public dialogue that holds victims accountable for what they should already know, and should already be prepared to avoid or defend against. But sex is turned into a measure of popularity, which makes obtaining it a matter of power, and that pushes it out of the sexual realm and into the category of violence that happens to use sex as a weapon. That’s what rape is – violence using sex (which frames it in a way much different from sex using violence). It’s the symbol of power that drives people to record these acts, and with children having easy means to do so (camera phones) and distribute widely (social media) it’s happening more and more – all being perpetuated by rape culture.

The peers who are disgusted at this treatment feel like they lack the means to change this, and that calling out on this behaviour will put them at risk. School authorities think it will make them look bad if the youth they’re educating are doing such horrible things. Parents deny that their children are doing wrong. And so there is no support or refuge from the haunting devastation except death itself.

When I was in high school there was barely a means of doing this. Digital cameras were scarce and of crappy quality, so getting photographic evidence risked going through someone else’s hands in a lab. But I was once in that position – in a photo lab, able to see the kinds of pictures people were taking – when I saw some pictures of a drunk young woman passed out at a party having her breasts pulled out of her bra and dildos being shoved in her face. The coworker of mine who was printing the photos asked for advice on what to do about it – our company reserved the right not to print photos that violated policy or decency, and we had an obligation to report what was illegal. The young woman wasn’t underage so it wasn’t child pornography. In the end, after discussing it, we decided simply not to print them. We didn’t report the photos, the person who dropped them off to be developed, or the other people in the photos committing these acts to the police because we didn’t know if it was in our place to do so. Looking back I wish I had. There wasn’t a victim blaming mentality here, but there was passive acceptance that nothing would be done about this because most people would say it’s what happens when young women get drunk around young men.

That’s one regret, from about eight years ago, that I now look back at and wish I had done something then and there. It wouldn’t have likely stopped the crime behind the Steubenville rape trial, or the systemically sanctioned abuse of Rehteah Parsons because it was just a handful of photographs taken at a university student’s party in the middle of Canada. People would’ve dismissed it as “girls/women shouldn’t get drunk” back then just as they do now. But I wish I had started to give a greater shit at an earlier time so I may have made some difference in enlightening someone to what’s very, very wrong about this behaviour. I don’t know whatever happened to that young women after these photos were taken. They were digital, so they didn’t need to be printed to be spread, and I wonder how far they got and how they changed her life decisions. That’s another consequence of these crimes – as commentators speak of the tragedy that star high school athletes now have a criminal record holding them back, nobody thinks about how big of a blow a girl’s self confidence takes when she’s abused, and how that deters her from reaching a potential that was just starting to shape itself. Even those who don’t succumb to the conscious choice of their own demise lose a substantial part of their own lives. And their loved ones lose them, their community loses them, and society loses them – and so much more.

More communication, less chance to talk

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The ubiquity of electronic social media doesn’t diminish the quality of face-to-face, genuine interactions. It makes personal conversations more necessary. With certain platforms discouraging aliases or anonymity, we need to be more mindful of who may see or hear what we say.

And so the home visit or meetup in a coffee shop becomes even more precious for all of the things boiling inside that despite the means of expressing these thoughts there is even less opportunity to do it. We have to be vague and indirect, beat around the bush…just like I’m doing here. Sigh…

Back in the Unspecified, Selectively Painted Day

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“Used to be, things were different” – or so goes a line in a commercial for mortgage services from a credit union. This bothers me. The grammar, the style, the redundancy, and the very idea get under my skin.

“Back in the day” contains the subtext that things have gone askew from an objective line of functioning society. Sometimes it’s benign, and merely plebeian commentary on the step up in advancement from one means of something to another – from LP to 8-track to cassette tape to CD to mp3. But “back in the day” can also be tsk-tsk judgment and criticisms of what’s perceived to have gone askew. Women working – “When I was growing up my mom stayed at home and took care of the house and children! Look at how degenerate society is now that women don’t stay in the home!” Men stayed in the home too. The home often doubled as a place of business – the farmhouse next to the fields, the quarters on the floor above the storefront in town, the study in the manor for the wealthier class – and women performing housework also worked as part of that business. They weren’t rigidly separated. The man didn’t drive a car from suburbs into a city to get to work, away from home, and even that stereotypical hat he would wear was only in style for so long.

But a very large chunk of the bulging population pyramid grew up in the idealized Baby Boom. The post-war years of urban sprawl and wholesome television contained many very new concepts – it was not traditional at all. It was an experiment, really. The West was on a roll, with war having rebooted the economy (albeit on borrowing money for military manufacturing jobs for women back at home) and the family model of The Good Life of automated home appliances for wives whose husbands had steady employment and whose families could be big and wholesome to rebuild the West after so many trying periods before. This didn’t last very long, but it was the world today’s talking heads grew up in, so it’s the natural state that us goddamn young people are fucking up.

But I digress. Yes, things used to be different – different from today and different from times previous to that. We see progress in past periods of history going at a fairly slow pace that we’ve accelerated to the peak of human accomplishment, and so few think about how lumped together this era will be from whatever milestone chosen – the end of WWII, the light bulb, the telephone – to whatever point an actually drastic change occurs when people of the future look back. Will anybody except for specializing historians concern themselves with the difference between kids lying on the floor watching their black-and-white television set in the 1950s and kids sitting at a desk watching YouTube videos on a computer? The most nostalgic parts of those great wholesome days are blips in reality, created by a world trying to pretend it didn’t almost destroy itself and it’s not borrowing against the future to fund present propaganda of bliss.

According to that credit union, though, things have changed so much in the world around us that only well-established community foundations like them can be trusted with your banking – even if you have to use the internet to do it.