More Divided Than Ever?

I keep hearing about how we are more divided than ever. Unless somebody can present some serious studies to prove this, I am not buying it. I don’t think most people are any more divided than they were before. As a child, I remember folks using the n-word at school. Gay insults were common enough that child-me thought they were normal. As a young adult, I remember being physically threatened by a coworker for protesting the Iraq War. Years later, I remember arguing about a coworker calling Muslims “rag-heads” after the 9/11 attack. Raging debates on conservative vs liberal, copyright vs piracy, religion vs equal rights, gun control, welfare, healthcare, etc. For as long as I can remember, people have fought about politics and human behavior.

You shouldn’t rely on my experiences. You can look at plenty of old footage of terrible things that were done to civil rights protesters. You can look at records of nasty American political campaigns as early as Jefferson vs Adams. You can look at the partisan divide where Newt Gingrich was cheating on his wife while hypocritically spending millions of tax dollars pursuing Bill Clinton for doing the same. There was, of course, the Civil War. Slavery vs abolitionists. The Trail of Tears. Prohibition, Japanese internment, McCarthyism, Nixon’s impeachment, the Vietnam war, the Drug War, etc.

What I think seems “different” to people is that it felt like we were making progress. We were at least moving forward towards equality and justice. Civil rights were still growing. Even if you might feel that Obama fell short of your dreams, his election was a leap born of a thousand other steps. Even conservative judges like Kennedy were budging on gay rights.

And then the Republicans put Trump in place, and the same partisan votes that have been around forever elected him. I don’t think most people are any more divided than they were. I think old-fashioned partisan crap meant that Republicans largely blindly voted for a really bad guy to be President. And they have been gerrymandering the system for their side for so long that (like Bush) their guy won, despite losing the popular election by 3 million or so votes.

And now he is in power, and putting other bad people in power throughout the government. And the alt-right, which has always been there under one name or another, feels empowered. And if the majority of folks, who are still the same partisan people they have always been, don’t wake up, and see what they have done… then the extremists might just carry the day.

I have read before that supposedly the American Revolution was 1/3rd pro-Revolution, 1/3rd pro-England, and 1/3rd staying “neutral” while it happened. I have seen similar claims for Germany, before the Nazis ascended. If those are accurate then maybe we remain equally divided even in bad times – not more divided.

You can look at Trump’s support numbers and see that faction is in place as usual. Assuming you are not a pro-Trump supporter, then where are you? Pro-resistance, or staying neutral?

MADD moment

It seems to me that we may be headed towards a MADD moment in regards to gun violence. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980 by a mother angry that her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Over its 37 year history, the group is said to have reduced drunk driving by half.

Whether you are angry about gun deaths or not, it is clear that a lot of people are. Students are protesting, from rallying in front of NRA offices to lying on the ground outside the White House. Mothers are organizing, including those who put together the Women’s March. Teachers are organizing. Walkouts and marches are being planned. This may be a tipping point. Whether you think they are effective or not, laws may change.

If you are strongly pro-gun, and see that a MADD moment is in the making, you might consider what changes you are actually okay seeing enacted. Some politicians are going to propose distracting band-aids that do nothing. Others are going to propose strict controls that you won’t like. Even the founder of MADD left the organization, saying that it had become neo-prohibitionist when she meant it to deal with drunk driving rather than alcohol.

People are mad. They are pushing for change. Children are tired of being targeted. The new generation may push even harder than ever before. You can push back, like you always have. Or maybe, you can think about what changes you think might actually help prevent gun violence without taking away whatever gun rights you think you should have. Instead of mocking “common sense” ideas, perhaps propose ideas that you are willing to see implemented. This may be a MADD moment for gun violence. Don’t underestimate the power of angry moms or marching students.

 

On Repeat

One of the things that I sometimes think about is the effect of really negative things on the internet. Unlike things said aloud, in the offline world, such things are not said just once, and then left to human memory to blur or lose. They are repeated every time somebody encounters them online. Over, and over. And over.

People say the internet never forgets. I don’t think that is a 100% valid experience. A file or data entry might become obscured by time, and uncollected by backups and scrapes, eventually disappear from view at least, whether it still lies in computer memory somewhere or not.

Nevertheless, there can be a strongly enhanced degree of persistence. And worse, a massively enhanced degree of repetition. If you insult somebody, your insult is repeated every time it is reread, forever.

Unless it is removed. As noted, “removed” might not be absolute. However, the internet is full of things. The fewer places a negative post appears, the more obscure it is, the fewer times it is likely to be encountered. If it is removed quickly enough, perhaps no audience will ever actually experience it. Even if it remains in a database, a moderator may never read it.

Okay, but history is important, too. We learn from history. At least we should learn from history. Is a personal attack on the internet a good piece of history? Is it beneficial to keep broadcasting over and over, forever?

Do you really want somebody to remain exactly the person they were when they posted that terrible thing 10 years ago? Or do you hope that they will change for the better?

Even if they do change for the better, what about that post, made before the change? How many more times should it attack somebody with the frozen in time stance from when it was written?

 

Like A Girl

As I currently do on as many Saturdays as possible, I hiked Stone Mountain today. During my regular trips, I often overhear the conversations of fellow hikers. Mostly, it is chatter that doesn’t do much to engage my interest. Sometimes I catch clever comments or amusing exchanges. On this occasion, I encountered a family who was cruising across the mountain, towards the visitor center at the top. Two young children raced ahead of their adult entourage, competing for speed. A little girl called out to her brother, “You are so slow, like a girl.” I paused to watch them. Again she called out to him, “You are being slow, like a girl.”

Having read an article relatively recently that suggested that this sort of thing was bad, I started thinking that maybe I should say something. As the article suggested, I was thinking that little girls shouldn’t grow up thinking that there was something wrong with being “like a girl.” This seemed like one of those rare times maybe I could make a difference by saying something. I was nervous though. Who wants to hear feedback from a stranger? Nonetheless, I determined that I would say something to the parents.

I circled back, and approached the group of adults accompanying the kids. The two kids hurried onwards to the visitor center, and I thought that maybe I could say something to the adults about the situation. As I got close to the group of adults, I wasn’t sure who to address, so I tried to speak to them as a group. “I overheard her say ‘You are slow like a girl’ and I was thinking that she should know that some girls are really fast.”

Basically, the group ignored me and continued walking. Having decided to intervene, and getting past my nervousness about doing so, I wasn’t about to stop now. I addressed the one person who slowed down a bit. Apparently the kids’ mother. “I heard her say ‘You are slow like a girl’ – shouldn’t she know that plenty of girls are fast?”

There it was. The mother stopped, and gave me her full attention. I prepared myself for an angry parent, upset that I was trying to give them parenting advice from some stupid internet article. I was ready to explain that I was just trying to help.

“She said turtle,” the mother informed me. Oh, I thought. “She is just trying to get under his skin,” the mother finished. And there it was. I overheard a conversation that wasn’t my business, and I misread it. I brought my own prejudices to the table, and heard what my own experience had programmed me to hear. The little girl was just comparing her brother to a turtle. She was engaging in smack talk, and I was the one who didn’t understand.

 

Computer Age Postal Service

A petition to the White House:

Please publicly recommend to Congress that they exercise their Constitutional power [from Article 1 Section 8] “to establish Post Offices and post Roads” to create a United States Postal Service infrastructure which also offers the de facto post of the information age: email and the internet.

The precise nature of this would surely evolve over time, as our communication technology continues to advance, but it might begin with adding such things as wireless internet service broadcast from every post office and sorting center, etc.

As with the physical mail already carried by the post office, this would not prevent private enterprise from competing with our national postal service. It would, however, guarantee a baseline of postal service worthy of Americans in the digital age.

Mr. Tambourine Man

When I was a little kid, at some point or other I feel like my dad expressed the idea to me that he thought it would be cool to have Mr. Tambourine Man, by Bob Dylan, as his funeral music, when such a day finally came. My father is a devout Buddhist, however, and either I was mistaken or the years have changed his mind. Nowadays, he imagines something more fitting to his faith, which I have trouble remembering and should obviously ask about again.

However, the potentially mistaken idea I somehow inherited or created remains with me. I have already discussed this with my sister, previously, when we had one of those morbid yet personal talks about what we would want to happen if we passed away. Realistically, I will not care what anybody does once I am dead, because I will be dead and beyond all sensation of what physical happenstances surround my corpse. I believe that funerals are for the living, and not for the dead. Their purpose is to bring some sense of peace to those who survive the dead.

Nonetheless, I believe that many people derive a sense of peace from trying to create the funeral they imagine their loved one would want. As such, I hope that family members looking for such solace can look to the song by Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man, for funeral music for me. I also hope they will honor my organ donor request, as expressed on my drivers license and in my will. Additionally, I hope they will respect my desire that they pay as absolutely little as possible to dispose of my remains and yet satisfy their own emotional needs for putting me to rest.