melanoman: (Default)
{cross posted from my OKC Journal}

No, the comma is not a typo. Read on.

There are a lot of people who like to use the word "values" when putting on an air of moral superiority. I've noticed that these values seem to be purely abstract, and am starting to suspect that the values crowd couldn't name those values if they tried.

Or perhaps they are to scared to name the values because they would find that the bigoted, hateful messages they try to justify with the word "values" don't line up with any values at all.

Maybe they don't list the values because bigotry and hatred was what they valued in the first place. Maybe they are just trying to dress that bigotry up as something wholesome. I don't approve of that sort of cross-dressing.

They also like to talk about what is traditional. Take the words "under God" in the Pledge or the words "in God we trust" on the currency. These words all got added in the last 50 years. The long and proud tradition of this country was based on the separation of Church and state. In fact, the separation clause is the very first right in the bill of rights.

An angry mob in fear of the Communist Menace littered those words all over. They obscured the beautiful words "E pluribus unum" to replace them with religious dogma out of fear and other base motivations. "One from many" is the tradition. The other is a Johny-come-lately interloper.

I assert that the activist right has abandoned tradition and values alike.

My challenge to the right is simple. List your values specifically for all to see. You may not make reference to tradition unless you go all the way to the source of the tradition.

My challenge to the left and elsewhere is the same. Shout your values out and be specific. Name the traditions that are important to you.

A lot of this post is written from a US-centric perspective, but I welcome the global audience as well.

Once you have made your lists, ask yourself if the values you listed actually support the arguments you attach to the word "values." If not, you have been using the abstraction to lie to yourself and/or others.
melanoman: (Default)
I saw this post thanks to [personal profile] stoneself and it got me thinking.

Last night my kids and I hosted a gathering of friends for some social boardgames. I didn't have to think twice about the cost of dinner out, even though I haven't worked more than part time at what amount to volunteer wages in over a year. My children have never known poverty and I hope they never do.

My own experience with poverty began when I was three years old and my father was shot nine times. He and the man who shot him had been in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam Conflict, but my father had already received his Honorable Discharge, so this was not considered a military-related injury, even though my father's assailant was suffering from PTSD-like symptoms. No one was particularly surprised that the man had snapped and turned violent, but most were perplexed the my father was the victim. Much later I'd discover that he had a list of everyone who had ever been in command of him in the military, however briefly, and had an arsenal compiled to execute his lunatic mission with. As far as I can tell, he couldn't manage to get at any of his targets higher on the list because they were affluent and tended to work in secure areas.

After being denied VA benefits, with most of our finances consumed by the rehabilitation process as my father relearned to walk, with my mother spending a huge fraction of her time providing the rehab services we couldn't afford, poverty became a tangible thing. Sometimes a benefactor would bring us a casserole, and that would be our food for several days.

Without that charity, I expect that my brain development might have been stunted, so I wouldn't have enjoyed the kind of IQ that produced the scholarships that got me into the University where I learned the skills and met the friends that got me the jobs that I made my fortune with. The chain seems horribly fragile after seeing how quickly one can slip into desperate circumstances.

The post that stirred this was all about compassion and paying things forward. That's wonderful, but it isn't what I'm focused on right now. When I was working at Sun back in the good times just before Java came out that would be followed by the incredibly, unbelievably great times after we pushed it out the door and rode the dot-com boom, I met someone who was a Stanford graduate. (Don't worry, this isn't going to be a Cal-Stanford bashing) He knew I was on the UCBerkeley fencing team in college and was bragging about how Stanford dominated Cal in the sport even though Cal was a larger school. I made a comment about how expensive fencing was, and how most students at Cal couldn't afford to be on the team. I wouldn't have been able to without my scholarship. I was working 24 hrs per week and carrying 18-21 units per semester as it was.

His response astounded me. He went into a dissertation about how the students really could afford it if it was a priority. He made a comparison of how their annual USFA dues and such weren't any more than a single payment on a Nissan 300SX (or whatever the letters were on that car).

I didn't argue with him, which was unusual for me back then on any topic. I was too busy wrapping my head around his assumption that everyone had cars, and that scraping up money for dues was just a matter of priorities. He didn't even see that the TIME to practice for fencing instead of working full time on top of a full time class load was more of an expense than the nominal fees. What mostly stuck me is that he SINCERELY believed and/or was oblivious to these things. Poverty just wasn't a part of his worldview.

Before that, I had sort of assumed that wealthy people were selfish and hateful when they said terrible things about the poor. This was the first time I understood that these people were profoundly ignorant and started to believe they could be educated. Over time, I've shaded that position with the experience of several people who had selfish hatefulness in earnest to go along with that ignorance, but the core insight for me goes back to that one conversation.

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