Thursday, August 17, 2017

What's Antifa? And Other Musings.

As I've been sifting through and processing the events from Charlottesville this past weekend, I've found myself wondering about the violent counter-protesters, the ones who gave Trump the opening to spew his "both sides are bad" bull$#!%.  Scanning through right-wing viewpoints (difficult, but important for me), I kept reading about Antifa, the "violent militant far left group" who "threw punches" and caused problems. 

I had never heard of Antifa (which doesn't mean much. I haven't heard of a lot of things), so I had to look it up. (The link is to Wikipedia, but after reading several varied sources, I felt like the wikipedia page did a pretty good job of summing it up.)  Perhaps one of the most helpful tidbits was learning that Antifa is short for Anti-facists. That seems important.  Shouldn't that be a good way to describe all of us?

I admire another aspect of the mission of Antifa--constantly confronting neo-nazis and white supremacists everywhere, with one underlying belief being that a small group of neo-nazis has the power to grow into a large one (see: history), and so every appearance or action ought to be met head on.

I believe in the power of protest, too, and not just the stand-behind-the-barricade-and-hold-your-signs kind. Sometimes protest has to inconvenience people. The sit-ins of the 60s were a huge inconvenience for lunch-counter owners and their patrons.  Blocking a street may be super aggravating to the person who wants to get through so he can get to the movies on time, but it's nothing compared to the inconvenience faced by those who are systemically mistreated and oppressed.  Of course, lots of folks are far too selfish and unaware of their own privilege to realize that, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Still, I'm not ready to throw over the whole governmental system just yet. Anarchy stresses me out. I prefer to believe in justice and liberty for all as values we should continue to work towards.

MLK preached non-violence, but when you think about the reason, it's chilling.  He believed that a peaceful protester being humiliated, harassed, and even beaten, was going to make the racist look like the bad guy. When that action was directed at children, the racist looked even worse. Let the racists condemn themselves with their own actions! Great! But don't the process, those peaceful protesters--including children--were humiliated, harassed, beaten, and sometimes killed. 

Being a peaceful protester is dangerous work.  Ask Heather Heyer. Oh wait. We can't.

So maybe Antifa has a point. Maybe sometimes you have to throw a punch. Or a rock. Or light a fire.  Or maybe not.  But it's a lot easier to condemn the use of violence from a comfortable couch in a comfortable livingroom in a position of safety and privilege.

Even before doing any research, of course, it was clear that Trump's "both sides are bad" rhetoric is bullbull$#!%.  It diminishes the importance and danger of the entire situation, and it gives credibility to the white supremacists. We can't do that.  That's not an option.

As a teacher, I'm discouraged from bringing my political beliefs into the classroom. In a course that uses world events as a textbook, that can be challenging, but I work very hard to present multiple viewpoints from conservative to liberal. I understand that I should not be telling my students what to think.  My job is to help them learn how to think. So I don't tell my students whom I vote for. I don't generally share my position on most local or national issues, like bear-baiting or the legalization of marijuana.

But as I look at the current state of things in the United States, I can't look at white supremacists and neo-nazis and say, "well, they're entitled to their own opinions."  I mean, yes I can.  Free country, and all that. But though they are entitled to their own opinion, I can't keep quiet about mine in this case--my opinion that there is no superior race, that whites are not targets of discrimination just like blacks, Jews, Muslims, women, transgendered folks, etc.  That systemic racism doesn't exist. 

Sometimes I just have to call bull$#!%. 

Supporting equal rights for all is not taking a side. Speaking out against those who hate is not taking a side. Reflecting on my own implicit biases and the rewards of privilege I didn't even realize I had and asking students to do the same is not wrong. It's doing what is right.

This essay, What Trump Gets Wrong About Antifa, helped me clear my head about the issue of violence from both sides. And it also sums up my initial thoughts about Antifa. 

So now that I, like roughly a zillion other people, have written my thoughts about the state of things, where does that leave me? What are my next steps?

Well, this will surely impact my teaching this fall.

And here are just a few resources for taking more action (thank you to my Facebook friends for sharing these and other resources).

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide (from the Southern Poverty Law Center)

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston

Charlottesville organizers ask you to take these 8 actions

Sunday, July 23, 2017

On the Subject of Hyperbole in Public Discourse...or...I'm So Angry I Could Punch You in the Nose

Recently, Representative Hamann, a legislator from Maine, said some pretty egregious things about the president.  In response, lots o' folks (Republicans) have called for Rep. Hamann's resignation. Here are a couple of snippets from the article:
Maine Republicans were furious over the post by Rep. Scott M. Hamann and called on House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, to take action against him. Some, including Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage, said Hamann should resign.

Demi Kouzounas, chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party, issued a statement calling Hamann “unhinged and dangerous.”

I'm so tired of hyperbole.

The trouble started with hyperbole. The lawmaker said in his ill-mannered Facebook post,
“Trump is a half term president, at most, especially if I ever get within 10 feet of that [vulgar term].” 
This, of course, is not true.  Rep. Scott Hamman is not going to kill the president if he finds himself within ten feet of him.  He's just not.

It is also hyperbole when Chairwoman Kouzounas calls the legislator "unhinged and dangerous."

Please. That is ridiculous.

Everyone is being ridiculous. (Uh oh.  Now I'm using hyperbole. Apparently it's catchy, like a disease.)

During the recent Maine budget crisis, when we descended into an actual government shut-down, both sides of the aisle used the exact same hyperbolic language to point out the flaws of the other side. Representative Stacy Guerin, a Republican, posted on Facebook
"The Democrats are holding the state hostage over an increase in the lodging tax that they do not even need to balance the budget."  
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, a Democrat, blamed the Republicans, calling them, 
hostage-takers that have shut the state down because they don’t know what it’s like to be a working-class person who needs these paychecks.” 
I certainly understand the metaphor here, but the word "hostage" is so...loaded. It's a crime to take someone hostage. So each side is calling the other side criminal.  This is not what we mean when we say we must find common ground.

Should anyone read this post, he or she might be tempted to explain why his or her side was right in this case—why the opposition really were being bullies or hypocrites, that it rather was like a hostage situation.  But that is not my point.  I'm trying to get my head around the concept of public discourse, and how the hyperbolic language being used creates even vaster (more vast?) divides between those with opposing viewpoints.

Hyperbole is also a pretty standard form of click-bate when we are scrolling through our favorite social media outlets. Consider these headlines:
If only all of these hyperbolic statements were true! We'd be done with that pesky Trump staffer, done with Islamophobia, and done with body shamers. Wouldn't that be swell?  But of course Mark Hamill, the woman at the Ariana Grande concert, and Russell Crowe can really only do so much, especially with a measly 140 characters.  

Unfortunately, our country's Chief Hyperbolite (I don't think that's a word, but it should be) is also our Commander in Chief. And while it's pretty clear to see that Mark Hamill, Russell Crowe, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity, and even that gal at the Arianna Grande concert have done zero actual shutting down with their tweets, it seems that Trump's are somehow more effective.

It's true that to some degree, reporters pick and choose what to report. Many a person has felt misrepresented by the media. Quotes are provided out of context, certain language creates a spin, details are arranged in just such a it's not surprising that the president might feel...disappointed...with his portrayal in the news.

Still, the president labeling every news story or agency that presents him unfavorably as "fake" is taking a toll on our country. My brother, while awaiting his ride at a hotel in western Illinois, found himself in the presence of a quantity of Trump supporters.  They were bemoaning the terrible treatment of Donald Trump by the news media (rather than the terrible treatment of this country by the president), which prompted my brother to write:
The idea that the BBC, the NY Times, the Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, The New Yorker, Le Monde, Le Figaro, The LA Times, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the Boston Globe, the CBC, Opera News, NPR, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Highlights for Children, Animal Planet, Teen Vogue, Vogue, British Vogue, Vogue Knitting, HuffPo, Reuters, the Associated Press, Cat Fancy, and Cooking Light are all having meetings at which they coordinate their efforts to make up mean things about DJT and his merry band of flesh-eating wraiths makes me want to knock their heads together until they shatter and release a flock of cuckoos.
Perhaps my brother, too, has a flair for the hyperbolic. He isn't really likely to bash peoples' heads together. I feel reasonably certain.

But maybe when Trump calls the news media "fake," that isn't so much hyperbole as it is lying.

After all, hyperbole is defined as, "exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally."   Hyperbole is supposed to be obviously untrue.  Yet Trump wants us to believe what he is saying about the media. And many people do believe him [See cuckoos for brains, above].  But as my brother pointed out (in an admittedly hyperbolic fashion), it is impossible that all of the media are colluding (!) to make up stories about Trump.

Hyperbole is a favorite tool of satirists, employed often by the likes of those who work for The Onion and by Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker* and by my brother.

Regarding his inappropriate comments towards the president, Rep. Scott Hamman  stated in his public apology,
“My intent, when I wrote [the post], was in fact to critique and criticize the increasing presence of this language over the last couple of years. The words were grotesque and inexcusably vulgar, terms that are too prevalent in the rhetorical lexicon of contemporary American politics.”
Hamman was going for satire. He was intentionally using parody and hyperbole to snipe at an old friend on Facebook, and now he has been removed from his legislative committees for words that were not intended to be taken literally, words used in intended exaggeration for effect, a.k.a. hyperbole.

It is interesting to note here that Governor Paul LePage of Maine has not been removed from anything, though it wasn't all that long ago that he expressed his desire to shoot Representative Drew Gattine from the Maine legislature between the eyes.  In the governor's own words,
“When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825. And we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be [Alexander] Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”
And this was after leaving an expletive-laden voice message on Rep.  Gattine's voicemail, in which he also said, "I'm after you."

But...LePage is being hyperbolic, right? No one really thinks he is truly after Rep. Gattine. (Wait—lets ask Rep. Gattine and his family.)  If he were, he would have faced some consequences, right?

So was it hyperbole or not? He never said it was. But it seems we've brushed it off as idle talk, as exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally.

Was Gattine's charge that LePage is racist also hyperbole?

I believe it was a charge leveled seriously, and and we ought to discuss it seriously, but we can't, because the opposing sides have already walked their ten paces and are prepared to turn and fire.

(Or am I being hyperbolic?)

Perhaps my problem is not with hyperbole, per say. I'm a fan of satire, after all. The problem is with hyperbolic statements intended to be perceived as truths. Or taken as such by unwise readers or listeners.

Or when the utterer cries Hyperbole! after the fact, after he or she is already in hot water, hyperbole becomes a scapegoat, which does not suit it one bit.

And I believe the governor (and the president, for that matter) gets away with this because hyperbolic statements are everywhere now. We think in excesses and extremes, which makes communication among people with different viewpoints literally** impossible.

*If you click on the Borowitz link, you'll see the title "Satire from the Borowitz Report" at the top of the page. I'm pretty sure this used to just read "From the Borowitz Report." And in case readers don't know what satire means, they've added the sub-title "Not the news." I guess The New Yorker didn't want anyone to think Borowitz was writing real news, which is probably wise of them, considering the state of our nation.

**And I do mean literally in a literal way, not a figurative way, as it is so frequently used. But that's a lament for another day.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Social Media Time Out

Facebook for me is usually a happy place.

I've managed to surround my digital self with lots and lots of like-minded individuals, and so my Facebook world tends to run towards liberal ideas, cat videos, and teacher-loving puns.

When people post about all the negativity they see on social media, I think, Ha! Not me! Will you just look at this adorable puppy going sledding?

I also have friends who don't do Facebook.  They avoid it for entirely reasonable reasons:
"I just know I'd get sucked in and never get anything done."
"I'm not comfortable with putting myself out there on the internet so much."
And I think, I hear you, but I'm pretty good about not getting lost in Facebook land, and I understand the privacy stuff so I'm pretty well protected.  Plus I never publish anything too personal.

And so, periodically throughout my day, I take a spin through the latest info on my Facebook wall.  (Do we still call it a wall on Facebook?  Or is it a feed like Twitter?)

Speaking of Twitter, I've got one of those accounts, too, though I use it a lot less.

But since the election....oh the election.

The election broke my heart.  I, like many, many others, walked around in a fog for days and days, and often, when I wasn't staring blankly off into the distance, I was staring at my phone.  My Facebook World was mourning too, and I was glad to have the company.

And then the article sharing started.  "The President Elect did What?"

And before I knew it, I'd spent too many minutes to count chasing stories down rabbit holes, only to emerge more miserable and foggy than ever.  I wasn't finding solace.  I was finding heartache, anger, and dismay.

My husband kept saying, "maybe you need to take a break" when I'd look up from my screen all weepy or shell-shocked.

As Inauguration Day and the Women's March on Washington neared, I made a big decision: I needed a Social Media Time Out.

The last straw snapped when I cruised through Trump's Twitter Feed.  When he didn't include an apostrophe where he should have, I nearly sobbed.  It wasn't so much the missing apostrophe, of course, but that's what tipped the balance.

I've been grumbling a lot lately about a lot of things: no time for reading for pleasure or exercising, no time to just relax, and I've been blaming it on work, which has indeed been busy.  I've had more essays to grade than ever this year due to my combination of classes and student numbers.

But I began to wonder just how much time I was wasting with my "quick peeks" at Facebook, etc.

So I decided I had to be part of my online community for the Inauguration, and then I was eager to see the turnout for the Women's Marches all around the world.  I'm glad I made these decisions, as I could cry in the company of my electronic friends on Friday, and then "LIKE" a million posts on Saturday showing the strength of women around the world--and also the awesomeness of their signage.  Take that, you nasty old apostrophe abuser!

Woo. Ok.  So ast night I checked Facebook for the last time, and I'm going to take a break for a while now.  Probably not forever, but until I break some bad habits, at least.

By midday today, on Day 1 of my Social Media Block-Out, I had reached for my phone, thumb extended toward the little blue square, at least six times.  So I removed the shortcut from my home screen.

I'm a bit alarmed at how often I reach for it.

Instead, when the urge strikes me, I think of what else I could be doing: playing music, reading a book (I'm taking a break from my online news outlets too.  I've probably spent countless hours on articles that I could have spent on novels.  I haven't read much fiction at all lately.), doing some stretches.  I even downloaded a meditation app.  My friends who know me well know that that is a crazytown move for me.  I don't meditate.  Like, ever.

So here I go.  We'll see if this break has the effect of freeing up time for healthier pursuits, both mental and physical.

And lest you fear that I'm putting my head in the sand at a time when we should be extra vigilant, please note, I will still listen to the news on my rides to and from work.  That will be enough for now.

Maybe I'll even blog again.  Seems I stopped when school hit.

If we're friends on FB, I'm sure I'll be along again sometime to see you there.  But I can be reached in an abundance of other ways if you need me.  Until later, Friends.