November 13, 2016

Anti-intellectualism cracks its knuckles and steps out of the shadows

Recently, a local online news source reported that California colleges affirmed their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Along with this, the local JC offered a 2 1/2 hour session this Monday as a "safe space" for students, faculty, staff, and others to gather and discuss their concerns.

This is exactly the role a community college should play. Colleges are places for expanding horizons, learning new things, and discussing different opinions. I think it's great that DVC is offering this. I hope students and others of all backgrounds attend and listen at least.

Then I read the comments on the article above. And on the facebook post of the article.

Most were mean-spirited attacks on the idea of a "safe space."

Liberals, please, quell your fears! You will likely still be able to receive welfare. You will likely still be able to live in your parent’s basements.
Oh goody! A communtiy college cry-in!
OK, now everyone just remember the upside here. These snowflakes, will never be able to hold a job. So the rest of us will be able to get and keep one regardless of their whining.
Bed-wetters and save space kids the election's over if you don't know what the hell happened take a civics class and learn something about how things work in our government if you're confused. ......
I embrace diversity. I frequent Taco Bell and Panda Express.
Ok cupcakes. Dont forget your safety pins
And on and on it went. This is in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the bluest regions of the country. I can't imagine the commentary in deeply red areas. Those who tried to defend the colleges were, of course, attacked for being libtards.

What I saw most among these comments, besides the frequent references to special snowflakes and bedwetting, was an undeniable undercurrent of anti-intellectualism. Aggressive anti-intellectualism. A sense that if you go to college, you're weak and worthless.

This is Trump's America. Where ignorance and whiteness are to be celebrated, and knowledge and diversity are to be ridiculed. Where a white thug with a mohawk and camo pants feels like a success by insulting college kids. I know these white thugs won't show up at the discussion, either to share their feelings or to cause trouble. They're just punks posting shit online. And it's their right to do so.

But this is not the direction America should go. If we don't fight against this surge of white power and anti-intellectualism now, we're going to slip deeper into a dark future.

November 12, 2016

Yes, I realize you are not Archie Bunker. You're still racist.

People who voted for Trump are screaming "I'm not a racist" all over the Internet. Liberal whites are saying, "Trump voters aren't racist, but Trump says racist things."

I'm saying that yes, you are racist, Trump voter.

Our popular understanding of racism is a white hood and a burning cross lighting up a dark lawn. Or a white guy with a buzz-cut shouting spittle and venom at young black students getting off a school bus. Or a white kid fire-bombing a black church.

Our popular understanding of racism is Archie Bunker, a caricature spewing derogatory epithets so profoundly ridiculous that it becomes comedy.

Trump is Archie Bunker. Trump voters are not.

But Archie Bunker racism is not the racism I'm talking about. Racism is insidious and subtle. It is the undertow that drags us out to sea with a silent stealth until we can't make it back to shore no matter how hard we swim. It's the soft-foam mattress that feels so comfortable but is slowly killing us with cancerous chemicals. Racism is inside, and it's impossible for the racist to see or sense.

Trump supporters, I've noticed, use phrases like "I love people of all races."

I want them to stop saying that. I want them to say instead, "People of all races are equal to me. Children of all races are equal to my children."

Because racism isn't about your failure to love. Racism is about your failure to accept someone as an equal.

White Americans, especially Trump Americans, do not understand that they are members of a white culture. They consider themselves simply "Americans" or just normal people. Black people have culture. Native Americans have culture. Hispanics have culture. Asians have culture. But not me; I'm just a normal person, a normal American. I have American culture.

They think of America like they think of Disney World--there's Disney World, and within there's Epcot where all the other cultures can be viewed, interacted with, enjoyed, and learned from. They are neatly contained, well presented, and well behaved. But they're kept in their place. No need for them to be integrated into the rest of the park, which has always been perfectly fine.

This is how racism manifests in America. As long as other cultures are securely contained, well behaved, and not interfering with "my way of life," then we white people love them. We love all of them.

But that's not equality. That's exclusion. We allow other races into white culture if they act, sound, and dress white. And that's what Trump voters are really saying. "We exclude you unless you act, sound, and look like us. Because we are America, and you are something less." This is racism. Classism. Sexism. Religious discrimination. At its core it is exclusionary.

November 10, 2016

Build a bridge, or build a wall? Public works projects in the age of regression

On the second dawn of the Age of Regression, I am still struggling with a friend's suggestion that now is the time for me to "build bridges to the people who voted for Trump."

They feel forgotten. Left behind. Unheard. Their election of Trump was not, he said, a vote for misogyny or racism or trickle-down. It was a scream of frustration with the Establishment.

But it's impossible to build a bridge to someone who is busy building a wall. Their vote for Trump wasn't just a scream of frustration that needs to be heard by lefty liberals like me. Their vote for Trump was a vote for regression. It was a vote against diversity. A vote against globalization. A vote against women's empowerment.

As a straight white cis male from an educated middle-class background, I have all the advantages in the USA. All the advantages. This is true no matter where I live. Apart from those places no one of any background wants to walk at night, I can travel anywhere without fear of discrimination, without fear of being profiled by police, without fear of being raped, without fear of being assaulted for my gender identity or sexual orientation. I could probably find some kind of work anywhere, at least enough to get by.

In theory, I should be eager to reach out to these downtrodden rural Americans, to hear their story, to extend an olive branch and really understand why they hurt so much that they could elect a narcissistic con man who is no more qualified to be President than I am.

But I won't. The people who voted for Trump spent the last eight years fighting progress tooth and nail. They never wanted a black President, and when they got one they rejected him. They rejected his ideas and his attempts at collaboration and his compromises. They rejected diversification then, and the election of Trump is their crowning victory in this fight they've waged for eight years.

I read a great opinion piece on America's problem with women today in the New York Times. Then I read the first comment, which essentially said that liberals like me have it all wrong. The comment included this:

American (sic) are for the most part practical common sense people. We welcome the idea of a multi-cultural melting pot, and we welcome the best ideas other cultures have to offer.
Sounds great, and it's entirely true. Up to a point.

Middle America, the salt of the Earth, the practical common sense people who work their land and don't want government interference... these people, they do welcome diversity. But they welcome it like they welcome it in their television and movies.

Diversity is welcome as long as it's a secondary character in the white male narrative.

Diversity is welcome as a witty sidekick, or as a friend there always ready to lend a hand.

Diversity is welcome as a vehicle for allegory, a way for the white main character to learn something.

Diversity is welcome as a provider of ideas and cultural curiosity.

But diversity is not welcome as an equal. Not in middle America. Not where practical common sense Trump voters work the land and decry government interference.

I can already feel the hashtags swelling up: #NotAllTrumpVoters, #NotAllWhites, #NotAllMen.

But you'll get no sympathy from me. If you voted for Trump, you didn't just scream in frustration about an economic malaise covering rural America. You didn't just protest against a societal trend of liberals forcing you to change your ways of life. You were never really that concerned about emails or charitable foundations.

You voted for regression. You voted for suppression of women. You voted for suppression of minorities. You voted to persecute people based on their chosen faith. You voted to cut yourselves off from a changing world. Maybe fifty years ago that could work. But the internet exists, and walls can't hold out ideas or culture. Your only path forward is to open your mind and learn to live as equals with other people. Your privilege is being eroded by time, just as mountains flatten over eons.

Build a bridge? That's not worth my time because you don't want a bridge. You want a wall. I'm just trying to decide if I should spend the next four years trying to tear down your wall, or helping you build it higher and thicker from this side.

May 24, 2016

We all had a bunny named Cutie at one point

This is not a blog post about how heinous and atrocious the bigoted, fearful, anti-humanist religious right is in America. There's enough said about that, and their moral wrongness is self evident.

Today I read that the EU has condemned HB 2 for violating a UN treaty that the US signed on to in 1966. In response, the North Carolina governor's office quipped that "we relinquished our adherence to the British crown and European powers over 200 years ago," and another North Carolina Republican said that Democrats want to "install European socialist policies ... that are an affront to the common sense traditions of North Carolina and America."

Shortly after I read that piece, I walked by an essay one of my wife's younger writing students had written. It started
My bunny Cutie is very important to me, and in this essay I will tell you why my bunny Cutie is very important to me.
The handwriting looped with cheerful swoops and innocent smoothness. It wasn't hurried. There was no anger or bitterness in this kid's writing. It was simply a happy exposition on how much they loved their cute little bunny.

I try hard to remember that at some point in our lives, all of us (or nearly so) had a cute little bunny named Cutie, and that we all loved that cute little bunny.

I'll willing to bet that even people as cynical and hate-filled as NC Governor Pat McRory once had his own version of a pet bunny Cutie.

I wondered, as I thought about the two pieces of writing I had just read, how an innocent child who has a little bunny named Cutie, becomes trained into a person who thinks it's not only okay to discriminate against another individual, but to demonize a whole class of people and whip up hatred and fear about them. What skews that all-loving, all-accepting little soul into a prejudiced, bigoted zealot?

I think if everyone forgot about genitals, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, religious choice, and everything else, and if we all thought of each other as once being a little kid who had a bunny named Cutie, the world would be a far, far better place.

Even Governor McCrory appears to love animals. I wonder why he can't love people anymore.

March 6, 2016

Five truths about online charity auctions in the workplace

Recently my second blog post on CSR Wire hit the internet. It's a sum-up of a few things I've learned about running an online auction for charitable purposes.

I hate online auctions. They generate more risk than money, take a ton of time and effort to build and maintain, and get people into a lather about the most inane things. I have spoken to a few workplace giving managers who said they successfully killed their online auctions. I will have to learn how they did it.

Read it here:
The things I've learned from running our online auction

January 22, 2016

Six things I learned from five NaNoWriMo wins and one loss

I've published a number of books, none of which was written during NaNoWriMo. I have "won" NaNo five times, most recently this past November. That means that five different times, I wrote 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. None of those has been published.

This year, my November total was 62,000 words. Today I'll write the final few paragraphs of the rough draft of that story, totaling out around 77,000 words, and I will not be publishing this book. That doesn't mean it was a waste of time, though. I learned some important things about myself, my writing process, and writing in general.

As I look back at the nine novels I've written in the past decade-plus, here are the top six things I've learned. Your mileage may vary, but there's truth in these lessons for every writer.

1. It is possible
My first NaNoWriMo, in 2005, taught me that I could actually complete a novel-length manuscript. It was brutal after the first week. By mid month I hated the story, hated the characters, felt a little lost in the plot. But I kept with it because I'd never written a complete novel before. 2005 taught me I could, if only I kept focused on daily goals and the idea of the ultimate product.

2. It never gets easier
I expected my second NaNoWriMo, the very next year, to be a breeze. After all, if I'd done it once. I could do it again. How charmingly naïve I was! That November was brutal. I wrote more than the previous year, but neither the story nor the writing were as good as before. And there was nothing easy about this year, my 9th novel and 5th NaNoWriMo. Every day requires discipline, hard work, focus. Even producing this year's very mediocre manuscript was brutal.

3. It's okay to quit
One year I managed about 12,000 words on a NaNo novel before quitting mid month. I hated quitting at the time. I always hate quitting. That year, I knew the story actually stunk, the book had no future, and I was only writing to try to get a NaNo Winner badge. To me, that was no longer a worthy goal, not when I had another story brewing in my mind that I really wanted to write. (That idea eventually turned into Semper.) Quitting NaNo that year allowed me to grow more than finishing the crappy novel would have.

4. A cheering section helps
Part of NaNo's strength is belonging to a community of people all struggling through the same brutal schedule toward a shared goal. Cheering each other on, meeting other writers--these things help when writing gets hard. This is true for me even when I'm writing on a more reasonable pace. Having a couple of trusted friends or critique partners to keep tabs on me and occasionally offer validation stokes the fading embers back into a blaze when necessary.

5. Crap makes for good fertilizer
After that first win in 2005, I waited six months and then read that novel back. I didn't hate it nearly as much as I had while writing it. In fact, it had a lot of promise. This year, I started with an idea and characters I loved. Somewhere along the way, in striving for word count and just to pound out the draft, my writing got weak. The characters got predictable. The plot became linear and shallow. It's crap. But crap can make great fertilizer, and the sheer effort of completing the story has enriched the original idea and deepened it to the point were I can build something really good from it, eventually.

6. This is not a race
When I slow down and take a year to write a first draft, that draft is nearly complete. By that I mean it includes subtle foreshadowing, rich symbolism, clever echoes and intricate interconnections, and characters that have some depth. It still needs revision, but it doesn't need to be thrown out and rewritten. When I write fast, I get what amounts to 70,000 words of detailed plot summary. This novel I'm finishing today has little foreshadowing, a whif of symbolism, some intricacy that happened mostly by accident, and characters whose depth rarely makes it to the page.

And I think that's the key: a gripping story in a complete fictional world with intricate politics and deep-seated social issues is there in my mind. It took NaNoWrimo to help me see that world and work through its details, but it will take me a year to put that world, that story, and those characters onto the page so a reader can see them the way that I do.