The Difference Between Racism and Discrimination

Part of the reason I have this blog is to write down my thoughts on random things. It’s kind of like a time-capsule: if anything ever happened to me I’d want people to read this and know who I was, disjointed thinking and all. In that spirit, today I’m on the topic of racism.

I caught this post on an OM re-blog. The original post discusses how reverse racism is impossible as applied to white people. Because this is a post that discusses my current thoughts on racism, I ask that people reading this read the whole thing before commenting here or elsewhere. I commented on the original post, but I received no word back on whether or not I should link to her post. Nevertheless, this conversation on racism, discrimination, and race in general is an important one to have in the U.S.

My understanding of the original post.
As I took the author’s points, the general sentiment was that white people are taking and assimilating aspects of non-white culture for themselves. The latest thing to be taken? Being subjected to racism. By printed quotes of terms and certain statements, the author suggests that white people cannot be subjected to racism. This is because “people of color do not hold the institutional power that makes racism a systemic force and that we, non-white people, are incapable of oppressing anyone[.]” See post supra.

Naturally, this idea and other sentiments like it generated the usual backlash of people saying that white people can experience racism, other people apologizing for white people, and people agreeing carte blanche with the author. The array of comments was not terribly surprising. I live in the South, and discussions on race have all the commented points discussed. These are the products of talking heads, canned debates, and all the classical rhetoric on race that is great for soundbites but terrible for meaning. Another problem in the discussion on race, I think, but I shall have to leave that thought for now.

There is a sense of frustration I found in the original post, and rightfully so. The sentiments expressed not only refer to people not analyzing the situation based on the parameters the author supplied, but also that the idea of white people experiencing racism is not even a refutation of her point. Granted, as I pointed out, that according to her definition that white people could be victims of racism. However, any error on the author’s part is simply the product of an over application and does not totally negate her point.

To be clear: in the U.S., due to how our institutions still work, white people do not experience racism. White people can experience discrimination in the U.S., but an institutional bias is something that I currently can find no evidence for. Claiming otherwise distracts from the dialogue everyone in this country needs to have.

The difference between racism and discrimination.
I know what I said is a loaded statement for white people. I’ve been subjected on more than one occasion to discrimination from black people. What I’m talking about goes further than discrimination. Racism, as the link I posted suggests, is not just discrimination. It’s an institutional affair. Sometimes racism is conflated with discrimination, and the whole subject is so emotionally charged that people are willing to get angry about it before they think about what’s getting said.

One time at one of my old jobs, I was told, “All you white people look the same.” This was out loud, in front of a bunch of people. I didn’t like what was said, but I laughed it off anyways. The statement itself was designed to get me angry, and I didn’t feel particularly keen on getting butthurt about it. At the end of the day, I knew I could go home and not give two shits about what words were uttered. In other situations, the same reasoning applied. I had that luxury because I didn’t have to put up with additional bias in the entertainment I consume, the friends I have, the advertising I see, the police that patrol my street, or my neighbors.

My eyes were opened a little wider after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. I lived a few towns over when it happened. I saw news reports that followed, and one of the curious things was I saw black people talking out about how they were afraid. They were afraid of white people because of what happened to Mr. Martin. They were afraid because similar unreported things like that have happened in the past.

I’ve never owned a gun in my life. The news reports shocked me. After thinking about it, I realized that what got me the most was that their fears were reasonable. Some white guy goes batshit in a neighborhood miles away because he saw a black kid and had his gun with him. How were they to know I wasn’t like that guy? How were they to know any white person wasn’t like that guy? My mind wanted to come up with some distinguishing reason, some argument that could differentiate me from people who were trigger-happy.

And I couldn’t.

This is because, no matter how often white people want to admit it, there is some institutional fear left in our community. It’s what helped Mr. Zimmerman pull that trigger; it’s what helped the police officer in Ferguson choose shooting his weapon instead of assessing the situation. Oh, and the threats of rioting? Yeah, that’s another play on an institutionalized fear that has no basis in reality.

Discrimination is awful, and no one should ever be subjected to it. But people can speak out against discrimination. It’s even illegal. Individuals can discriminate, and they can be identified and disagreed with.

Racism, though, still hides in the fabric of our society. And because it hides there, it’s not easy to talk about and rid ourselves of it. It doesn’t even require people to be aware that they use the fruits of racist institutions to keep them running. All it does is exist, quietly dehumanizing other classes of people while the dominant one is oblivious.

Only by owning up to what racism is can people start dealing with it.
A lot of white people I know of would not do anything openly racist. These same people wouldn’t even privately do anything racist. When the accusations of racism fly, they get hit with them too and get indignant. Of course this is expected when people are misunderstood.

However, it pales in comparison to being misunderstood when one is charged with a crime.

My point is that misunderstanding abounds in the context of race. With both sides screaming at each other, it’s no wonder that nothing meaningful happens. White people are too butt-hurt to realize that how our economic, social, and legal system is stacked against minority groups. And minority groups are too butt-hurt to realize that white people are trying to do the right thing. White people need to admit that they are messing up, and they need to know how they are messing up. Minority people need to admit that white people are not consciously utilizing racist institutions, and they need to know that there are white people who are more than willing to get on board if they can get pointed in the right direction.

By its very nature, the racism left in the U.S. is that which is not easily found and destroyed. Discrimination, though, is not the same thing. Sometimes the two terms are conflated, but in the interests of everyone, we should think first before reacting. Let’s think about what we say so we can start putting this horseshit behind us once and for all. More importantly, for those of us who are younger than 40: our ancestors ended slavery with a civil war, our parents did what they could to end segregation, so let’s do our part and silence the echoes of both.

Some concepts I didn’t reach.
I’m not going to jump full tilt into the specifics of racism (i.e., income disparity, legal disparity, etc.) in this post. There were some other issues raised in the original post that deserve extra comment and discussion, but this post is already getting longer than I anticipated. Rather, I just wanted to throw out a slightly more thorough response to the post that spawned this. Like issues relating to feminism, I want to do more research so I can at least pretend to know what I’m talking about. What’s important now I wanted to describe my current thoughts on the subject, to define where I am starting so I know where I need to travel.

Behind the Labels

A couple of months ago I tried to articulate why I mercilessly slaughter the English language and capitalize words like “Atheist” and “Atheism.” At the time it was the product of one of my first posts. I would write about Christians and atheists in one sentence and it would just seem to be giving one group of people more deference than the other. Since one of my personal goals is to treat people fairly, I thought capitalizing words relating to “Atheism” would help do the trick. This whole process has been a product of the peculiarities of the English language, English grammar, and my own efforts at trying to be impartial.

I think I’m going to modify how I capitalize things slightly in an ongoing effort to promote deference and respect in my own writing.

What strange things about English have to do with this.
English is a language that relies on word order, punctuation, conjugations of the verbs “to be” and “to have,” and special rules in order to convey meaning. I’ve dabbled a little bit in Spanish, French, German, and Latin, and English does something that is different than all of these. Part of these peculiarities result from how English is rooted in Germanic but had an overhaul in 1066 due to the introduction of vast amounts of French. The result is a language that is very adaptable to new concepts (yes, even better than Latin).

Where it is deficient, in my opinion, is in capitalization. Capitalization in English is governed by rules of grammar. Using capital letters signifies the start of a new sentence, designates specific places that are different from other common nouns, and it implies respect in certain instances (like capitalizing “God” and His pronouns). Proper nouns are also capitalized; this is another way of showing some kind of deference to the uniqueness of certain things.

If I followed the rules of English grammar to the letter and spirit of its rules, atheists and atheism would look different than Christians and Christianity. People who ascribe to atheism would not be grammatically different than those who ascribe to satanism. Hinduism gets a capital letter (not just because it started this sentence), but agnosticism gets lowercase treatment. What’s worse is that the justification for this state of being is that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Wicca are all “specific” belief systems while atheism and agnosticism are generalized.

It ignores that people are there using these beliefs to their advantage in whatever walk of life they follow.

I still have unintentionally bad grammar. What follows is the intentional side of things.
What I want to do now is capitalize words that are labels for people. I think I’m going to refrain from improperly capitalizing ideas. The net result of this is that I’ll try to show respect for Atheists, but atheism gets its proper lowercase treatment. I’ll still follow grammatical conventions and capitalize Christianity, though, mostly because I’m trying to keep my breaking of the English language to an intentional minimum. And yes, I’ll still capitalize “God” because it is shorthand for indicating the idea that Christians think of as their source for divinity. It’s also somewhat of a peace offering: I’ll show respect, but I’m going to demand it too.

Why I’m wasting so many words on these ideas is that I want to remember that there is a human being behind every label. Even Racists are people, though I abhor the ideas they often promote. Misogynists are also people, even though there is no objective reason for their distrust of women. Diminishing the label by extension diminishes the person holding that label. Drawing more attention to the label allows for more focus to be placed on that label. Note that while it draws attention, it doesn’t mean that one should automatically adopt the label. All it means is that one is talking to another person, and not just the idea.

I want to show that while it is okay to disagree with people, it is not okay to marginalize them. It’ll be more difficult for me to call Racists backwards, unintelligent people when I have to capitalize the label. Instead, I’ll have to think more carefully about what words I use. Sometimes I might even feel prompted to ask why people of different labels have their beliefs instead of just hitting them with a broad brush.

Similarly, keeping the lowercase treatment for the ideas shows the difference between people and the ideas they hold. For misogyny, I can denounce that with as much pejorative language as I can muster. Seeing a difference between Racists and racism will indicate the people that need to be addressed respectfully and the idea that should not exist in a just society.

Capitalizing words that refer to people, for me, is a small effort at trying to balance how the English language treats humanity. We carelessly use labels for people without fully thinking about the ramifications of that label or how others perceive it. Behind every label is a person with ideas, hopes, and dreams of their own. I want to fully recognize this, and govern myself accordingly.

The Feelings I Collect

Yesterday I read this awesome post by Jack Sutter over at “Heart of a Lunatic.” Immediately I identified with it. My mind is always focused on my own imperfections and anxieties; to quiet them I have to achieve perfection in whatever it is I set my mind to. Whatever I did I threw my entire being into it, and when it was done I was satisfied only until the next project was ahead of me.

I also went to a therapy appointment. During my discussion with my therapist, I realized that I was doing the same thing I did before: I threw myself into “getting better.” Over the past several months I’ve scrutinized my thoughts, actions, and goals in life. Obsession quickly took things to examining the slightest details of my thinking to attempt to produce usable results in my therapy.

The problem here is that I still am no closer to figuring myself out than I was when I started.

I want to say I’ve made progress, but I have no evidence to back that assertion up.
Sure, I’m on meds and in therapy. I’ve got this blog where I can put my thoughts out in public to make sure I don’t change them. There are fewer places for my depressive self to hide, or at least I thought that.

However, I’ve lied to myself for two decades. Some of them might be familiar. “My problems aren’t so bad; other people have it worse.” “Nobody wants to be around me because I make them miserable.” “Whatever is wrong, it is my fault.” “I handed these problems to God; I need to ignore them now.” “I don’t really hate myself. I need to die because that is the rational thing to do.”

That last one is the one I have the most trouble with. I can’t deal with it effectively because my mind, for whatever reason, does not recall happy memories with ease. Once I was asked what my favorite childhood memory was. It took me three days to remember one. In the meantime, I came across almost every time I was embarrassed, ridiculed, miserable, angry, or inconsolably sad. It reminds me of a song by Nine Inch Nails, “The Collector”:

This imbalance means that I can readily identify situations that will make me angry at myself, but I cannot find situations that pull me out of it. It’s irrational, I know. Saying it and hearing it do nothing to mitigate the terror and anguish I feel at my own mind.

What I do to cope isn’t helping.
Until now I’ve realized that coping isn’t the same as dealing with myself. What I do: my humor, distracting myself, and taking little bouts of time to reassert my calm outward demeanor only hide the turmoil I feel. There is still the nagging voice that demands I don’t tell anyone about what I go through. It still wants me dead. And I still feel its pull.

Masking the problem only allows other parts of it to assert itself to keep triggering depressive episodes. What I mean by this is that I can delude myself into thinking I’ve made progress, and then all I need is a minor setback or something done imperfectly and I’m back to raging inside. I never start anything with confidence; at best I start with a feeling of neutrality and go downward from there.

The obvious question now becomes: why am I not dealing with my emotions? The short answer is I do not know how.

The longer answer is that I am afraid of what I will find. You see, my entire life has been a grievous effort at controlling how I feel. My normal feelings of sadness, anger, and helplessness became persistent, and over time the people around me kept repeating that they didn’t want to hear it anymore. Because of that, I realized nobody cared. From that point, I kept my own inadequacies to myself. I wasn’t very good at it at first, and I fought a lot at school.

But then I got better at it. Hiding how I felt became so common that it was simply how I dealt with things. I was so good at it I could get shitfaced off a case of beer and still not let people know I hated myself for [insert reason here].

Over the years, the things I did to improve myself: my Bachelor’s degree, going to law school, getting my J.D. with honors, passing the Florida Bar Exam, all of these things made me feel good for a day at most. Then I immediately went back to looking for the next challenge to face. And since I hadn’t surpassed that challenge I didn’t even know existed yet, I was an immediate failure.

How does a person take personal victory and habitually turn it into defeat?
By always focusing on the abysmal failures in my life. I remember more about how bad I felt when I got a pink slip in the fourth grade than how good it felt to get my law license.

It physically hurts to type those words.

I wish there was an easy way to control how I think. To just change my point of view to find the positive instead of the negative. There isn’t one I found yet. Since it’s irrational, and I know that it’s irrational, it drives me up the wall trying to come up with a solution. And every time I’m rebuffed, there’s my depressive self waiting to kick me while I’m down.

An Unchanging Gospel

I got into a recent comment exchange with another blogger about something, and I remarked that there are things that Christians can be opposed to that Atheists would oppose too – one example is infringing upon human rights. The response I got informed me that an Atheist’s opposition isn’t as good as a Christian’s because a Christian’s morality is unchanging, based on the King James Bible only. Atheists aren’t great advocates for morality because their views can be modified based on new evidence.

The things one can find on the Internet these days.
Interestingly, this morning I read the latest post by Neil Carter over at “Godless in Dixie.” From what I understand, the Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”) had a committee meeting recently to “disfellowship” (that’s an effective excommunication for any Catholics and Lutherans reading this) one of its churches in California. The historical significance of this is that this is the first time they couldn’t wait to do this with the entire convention present.

What did this church do that was so terrible it got an historical Nerf bat? Apparently the pastor said it was okay to be gay. He changed his stance when his son came out to him, opting for acceptance instead of denouncing his son as a sinner. However, he didn’t try to make his church follow his change in belief. Rather, he left a vote to the deacons and as a result some of the church agrees with the pastor, some disagree with the pastor, and others are holding no view whatsoever. The church remains intact as of this writing.

Another captivating facet of this is that Hemant Mehta over at “The Friendly Atheist” reported that the SBC isn’t doing this because of homophobia or hatred towards gays. They love gay people and want them to repent of their sinful nature, whatever that means (and for those people who never had faith, it can mean a lot of different things). The bottom line here as reported in the articles I’m linking: that church got kicked out because it changed long standing doctrine.

This is why we can’t have nice things.
The steadfastness of the Gospel is one of the reported strengths of having a Christian faith. Beliefs, customs, social norms all come and go, but the Bible stays the same. Because it stays the same, its veracity is allegedly more trustworthy than new ideas or other ideas that conflict with it. That it was written by different people and yet supports other parts is such a great indicator that it was inspired by the Divine rather than by people trying to preserve customs.

Precisely because of this steadfastness changes to church doctrine are met with such hostility. While Southern Baptists are supposed to have mostly autonomous churches, I am not surprised by their actions. In the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (“LCMS”), where I was brought up, a pastor was suspended for violating church doctrine and praying with members of other faiths. More recently, the LCMS president asked for an apology from a pastor who prayed in an interfaith vigil for the victims of Newtown.

What this has in common is that organizations of churches exert control over member congregations through fellowship and structural rules. These rules get used to keep people in line. Allegedly this is done to promote the longevity and unchanging truth of the Gospel.

The Gospel isn’t as unchanging as one might think.
At the largest levels, there have been major society shifts in popular Christian belief over the years. Charles over at “My Journey” wrote about three things that have changed over the years and now require apologist defenses: slavery, misogyny, and genocide. Good Christians owned slaves as recently as 160 years ago. Good Christians could demand women perform inferior roles in the Church and are barred from service in other ways – this one is still ongoing for Catholics and some Lutheran organizations. Good Christians could go and conquer other non-Christian nations because they don’t have the same respect for life and dignity as recently as 140 years ago.

Nowadays, if a Christian said these things are morally fine there would be serious doubts as to his or her faith. This is rightly so, since most Christians (like everyone else) have developed a sense of what is right and wrong over the years. But my point is that this sense of morality has changed. In other words: a Christian of three hundred years ago would probably condemn the morality of a Christian today. And a Christian today could condemn right back.

All this illustrates is that it isn’t the Bible that sponsors the moral outrage of the SBC at a church for showing compassion, or the LCMS for demanding apology for showing human concern. It’s actually group perception of the Bible that matters most. In fifty years when (hopefully) homosexual couples will have full marital rights everywhere and be no more controversial in public than any other couple, people will look back on this whole debacle and think of the outrageous conduct of a few prudes sitting in committee. They will be lumped in with other people who tried justifying segregation on religious grounds, misogyny on religious grounds, and dehumanizing non-Christians on religious grounds.

A changing Gospel isn’t such a bad thing.
Being more honest about recognizing that Christianity’s view of the Gospel changes isn’t such an awful thing. It will allow Christians to adopt new views more readily and reduce the friction of treating people with respect and dignity. Certainly it would give church organizations reason to stop and think before acting publicly against a church that disagrees on one point of faith among many.

Of course, as an Atheist, I do have my reasons for pointing all of this out. I think that by accepting the nature of a Gospel in flux, Christians will have fewer reasons to marginalize people who share my views on deities. I also find it disturbing that Christians will forsake some commands just to reinforce others. That’s not the biggest point I wanted to make.

This whole event is an example of why secular reasoning is more stable and reasonable than knee-jerk reaction based on religious teachings.

Next time I get confronted with the idea that the Gospel is a stalwart bastion of morality, I will have this and other things to point out how it changes just like other schools of thought. I will not begrudge others their sense of morality, but I certainly will try to remind people that it isn’t superior to others’ morality.

Making Disclaimers

I see it a lot online, and I’ve even done it myself: offering a disclaimer to what I’m writing. Making disclaimers is one way to clarify what one says ahead of time so that it doesn’t get misinterpreted. When does making a disclaimer become a self-serving attempt to avoid getting called out on the weakness of one’s position? This is a particularly troublesome thought for me, as it calls into question many other values I hold with regards to holding conversations on sensitive issues.

The main value I’m talking about is giving people the benefit of the doubt with regards to what they say. In other words, when I read others’ posts on subjects where I disagree, I should make assumptions about what they say that benefit their position rather than detract from it. Doing this leads to engaging a person on his or her best foot rather than by surreptitiously ending a discussion because a term is invalid. As it promotes conversation, I’ve always felt that giving these assumptions is something I should almost never violate.

Dishonest disclaimers abuse this principle in the worst way imaginable. They are lies told to avoid being held accountable for the words one utters. A ready example of what I mean is when someone might say, “I have friends of X race” before or after telling a racist joke. Just because one has friends that could qualify as the butt of the joke doesn’t negate its awful nature. Yet somehow people are supposed to excuse its inhumanity because of unnamed friends.

How do I tell the difference?
I’m beginning to think that dishonest disclaimers share one common trait: but for the disclaimer, there is nothing else that indicates the disclaimer is truthful.

Putting it another way: if the disclaimer wasn’t there, nobody would have a single clue the speaker was trying to be nice.

This sounds simple and efficient, so I like it. What I don’t like is how I can’t see what it means in common use. Oftentimes people who are clever enough to put a dishonest disclaimer out there are also clever enough to mask their assertions in euphemisms and idioms. One great example that I want to get to eventually is David Barton’s series on the Founding Fathers. He doesn’t out and out say secular thought is completely evil and devoid of human decency, but he sure as hell implies the shit out of it.

At this point, it becomes somewhat like bean-counting. To ferret out that a disclaimer is false might require more trouble than it’s actually worth. Going to that trouble is counter-productive, especially when there are nicer people to engage and learn from.

I can tell the difference now. So what?
The main justification I have for at least attempting to engage these things is because they can be used to excuse hateful speech. Speech like this needs to be dealt with because it dehumanizes people. And dehumanizing people is never okay (one of the few absolute moral statements you’ll hear from me).

Maybe I should just throw out a comment when I see disclaimers like this that I don’t believe them. I should also include why I don’t believe them to give the author a chance to retract or modify his or her statement. If the author persists that the disclaimer is valid, I think it would be fair to demand something extra.

Mostly, I don’t think people should be able to hide behind false disclaimers. I’d rather deal with someone who is open about his or her dim view of people than someone who tries to half-heartedly cover up that same view. This principle also should apply to me especially since I am interested in learning, I do not know everything, and too often I am unaware of my erroneous thinking. I don’t want people to think my disclaimers are dishonest, so I should be challenged on them if people think the thoughts I write do not support it.

It keeps me honest, and that is precious to me.

One. Hundred. Posts.

Periods make for more dramatic titles, don’t they? I went to add another post today and it said this one is going to be my one hundredth post on this little blog of mine. Surprised at how many words I’ve typed and posts I’ve written, I felt like today should be more introspective than I want to be.

So right now I’d like to take stock in these here 100 posts and approximately 100,000 words I’ve written.

Wow. I’m spewing out a lot of nonsense.
I shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve thrown out this volume of productivity (while neglecting the novel I’m writing and failing at finding an agent for my completed Sci-Fi novel). For thirty-two years of my life I thought that internalizing what was going on in this batshit crazy head of mine was the Right Thing(TM) to do. When I started, I just realized that I was an Atheist, that my depression was still out of control, and that I needed an outlet because my life depends on it.

Of course, I’m not saying this to be dramatic; I have internalized wanting to kill myself for so long that I began to think it was normal. Certainly I was becoming so used to the idea that I didn’t even feel bad when I thought about it. Getting it out in the open, and realizing that there are plenty of people who suffer from their own tortuous mental illnesses has made me cognizant of how wrong I was to keep my problems hidden.

Taking all that time, pain, and energy and focusing it onto the Internet has been exhausting, but I’m beginning to see results.

Mental health results.
I’m certainly getting to a point where I can function in small ways. Hopefully this will improve to the point where I can reclaim some semblance of normality for myself. Aware that my problems don’t just lie with depression, I feel strong enough now to unravel this ball of personal demons and not be afraid of what I will find.

That being said, I also am coming to terms that I will never be “cured.” In that regards, calling mental illness an illness is a bit of a misnomer. Illness, for whatever it’s worth, implies a cure or a process that will lead to a life without illness. Some people have problems that can be dealt with permanently, and I do wish those people the best in their recovery. But a lot of us that have chronic problems seem to be left on the outskirts of life, only to look in at the happiness of others and wish we can have the same.

I know now that I can have my happiness, even though it is fleeting. Knowing that I’m going to lose any happy thoughts I find should make me treasure those I grasp when I can. So many people have said things in my Internet travels these past months that have made me happy, thankful, laugh, cry, and shout in triumph at their victories. Those places are places I need to go when my mood is darkest; quiet places that can exult with empathy at the good fortune of others.

Having realized that, I know now that I should always endeavor to create those places of respite on my own and invite others to stay for as long as they can. The world is a screaming orb of chaos and fear at times; my illness has awakened in me the knowledge that any attempt that is successful in the slightest degree is worth all the effort one can muster. In my successful attempts, I am humbled by others’ thoughts and gratitude. In my failed attempts, I need to learn to produce better results next time.

Writing results.
I’ve also surpassed my expectations at blog writing. Originally I thought posting twice a week would be a monstrous chore. When I could handle three posts a week, I thought I hit my limits of productivity. Now I’m posting six or seven times a week, about a thousand words a pop, and I’m having to edit these words less and less. It is my goal to be able to order my thoughts in a post while devoting as little time to it as possible.

On my novel writing, I’ve picked that up again too. However, I’m still in a bit of a rut because I’m having to delete large chunks of writing to change the plot to where I need it to go. Originally I thought I’ve only written a few thousand words in this time. What I’ve realized now is that I’ve written closer to 30 thousand words or so, and deleted about 25 thousand so far. But the process is coming along smoothly, if not as fast as I’d like it to be. I am determined to finish, and finish I shall.

With regards to finding an agent, I’m still sending out query letters. One day an agent will read what I’ve got and will send me an email back. Hopefully that will be soon. If not, I need to keep trying.

Community results.
Most importantly is the community of people that I have found here on WordPress. People here have been generally welcoming. Sure, I’ve had my disagreements with people, but on the whole those disagreements have made me evaluate who I want to be and get rid of that which holds me back. I am genuinely excited that people who don’t see eye-to-eye with me on important issues value me enough to still show up and tell me I’m wrong.

But I am also deeply indebted to everyone who has read what drivel I’ve posted. Whether it’s gotten a like, comment, follow, reblog, or vehement denunciation, knowing that other people read what I write and don’t immediate collapse from revulsion is a boost to my confidence. This community, though not one with faces and names and lives close in space to mine, still is a great place filled with great people.

Thank you everyone, from the bottom of my heart.
You’ve helped me in ways I can’t even find the words to express in this post. For whatever time I have, I will always remember this, and I shall do whatever I can to repay the kindness shown to me.

Give yourselves a pat on the back. Y’all have earned it.

Abortion: Respecting the Choices and Lives of Others

I wanted to do something about politics today, and as luck would have it I think I’ll do something more about abortion. There’s a previous post I made a while back talking about how “pro-choice” and “pro-life” positions don’t do much for women having to go through this agonizing decision. I didn’t get very far into the actual ramifications of such a decision. Two blogs I follow have made two great posts, making headway into the abortion issue (“My Journey – Questions and Observations of a Skeptic” and “Dripping Faucet 522″). I’ve read both posts and wanted to comment, but they’d take up oodles of space. While I disagree in their reasoning (and really, it’s me being nitpicky), I do think that these points illustrate the many different values that abortion touches on.

Standard abortion discussion disclaimer.
I am a white, heterosexual man in his early thirties. I have no children. For those who believe any of these traits disqualifies my opinions I express below, please feel free to stop reading if you like.

Furthermore, I am not here to second guess any woman who has decided to abort a fetus or carry her child to term. This is an agonizing decision, made under time constraints. As of my previous post, I still haven’t met any woman who has actually expressed a desire to want to make a decision like this. Like my previous post, I am writing as if a hypothetical woman has asked me for my opinion on this matter.

Finally, my position on abortion is that it is a choice that society should influence away from abortion through providing better choices to women. In short, abortion right now is a necessary procedure for women. But it is one I’d like to see go the way of trepanning.

My understanding of the post on “My Journey” and my take on it.
The central point to the post, as I understood it, is whether or not the fetus is a person. If this developing creature is a human being, it deserves all the rights and privileges as one. If not, then there is no meaningful obstruction to abortion. Bottom line: the central issue is whether a fetus is a person.

While that issue is important to ancillary values, I would respectfully disagree that it is the central issue. As some of the people commenting noted, it ignores the life of the woman involved. And that’s what makes abortion such a prickly and frustrating issue: even assuming the fetus is a person, there are two lives at stake. Valuing one over the other is callous to the losing party. Sadly, right now there are few options women have to make a decision they can be fully happy with, and the burden is placed on them to make such decisions quickly and as clinically as possible.

Right now the realities of the current situation (in the U.S. at least) is that because women are the life upon which so much rests, they should have the right to make decisions regarding how these things go. Such a setup might not be considered ideal by some, but it is the fairest, most equitable one we can manage at the time being. Anything less than giving the woman a choice here would result not only unfair control over women’s bodies, it would lead to unfairly imposing obligations on them as well.

My understanding of the post on “Dripping Faucet” and my take on it.
In this post, I think the main focus is on whether there is a responsibility of a woman to bring her child to term. This view essentially assumes the fetus is treated as a person, and asks instead on whether there is a duty of the mother to at least carry the human life into the world.

While this view does make some interesting points, this analogy falls short in cases where the woman did not willingly become pregnant (through any thousands of scenarios where this happens). To impose a duty would unfairly burden a woman who took reasonable steps to ensure she acted with due care. Even in other situations, to impose a duty would force a woman to a course of action that has many more consequences than bringing a life into this world.

What I’d like to add to this discussion.
My disagreements with Charles and DF522 center around the issue of the current lack of empowerment women have with regards to pregnancy and child-rearing (an issue brought up in Charles’s post and alluded to in DF522’s post). The issues of whether a fetus is a person or what duties are owed are never the sole issues involved. Women are forced to raise a child without support if they are unmarried and cannot prove the identity of the father. Women are responsible for getting pre-natal and other medical care when bringing the child to term. Women undergo drastic changes to their body as they move farther along in their pregnancy.

As such, I would like to repeat my earlier thought: women need more and better choices, not second-guessing and defamation. There are plenty of reasons for and against carrying a child to term, and I think for people who do not like abortion as a procedure we should look to support more desirable alternatives to abortion. This means we should discuss benefits/problems of adoption, medical care that can increase fetus life expectancy, and legal policies that give men more of an obligation and a duty in raising a child.

One final thing: I also read some sentiments expressing that men shouldn’t have a say in whether or not women should get an abortion. Even my disclaimer above references this vague notion. With regards to having a determinative opinion on whether a woman should go through with a pregnancy, I would agree that the woman’s word should be final. But these rights involve legal implications to get and protect them. As a result, male opinions on abortion are critical to the so-called debate. We are needed to vote for candidates that will reflect views that protect the rights of women. Therefore, even if our opinions shouldn’t be active with regards to control over one’s body, they’ll be necessary to keep the decision with women.

Ultimately I want to respect the reasoned choices of others. As someone who wants to call himself a Humanist, I can do no less. I would like to thank Charles and Dripping Faucet 522 for writing two great posts. And I would like to thank everyone who is taking part in this needed conversation.

Healthy Relationships Shouldn’t Be Illegal

Okay, the title is a little bit of clickbaiting. What’s worse is that it’s not entirely untrue. The idealist in me wants to live in a world where people aren’t judged by who they’re intimate with. Especially since it’s none of my business, and I don’t even want it to be my business.

I should say that most consensual sex isn’t illegal.
This would be more accurate. It does bring to mind when I read Lawrence v. Texas in law school (those who want the text of the opinion, click here). For those who don’t want to click on the pages I took hours (read: seconds) to find and link, the case involved two people arrested and convicted on sodomy charges in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) overruled the conviction, holding that criminalizing consensual sex violates due process of law. This is a win for LGBTQ rights, right?

Not according to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and half my class. Despite that it made it wrong for states to arrest and convict people for engaging in consensual same-sex activity, SCOTUS didn’t go as far as it could have. That’s because there’s the Equal Protection Clause, and it’s the biggest way to ensure equal rights for people based on sexual orientation (or any other category of people, for that matter).

This is a BIG deal.

Recently SCOTUS took up the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) in United States v. Windsor, and invalidated it on due process grounds too. Now, you’d think that having laws that favor one class of people over another would involve a counter-argument that has the words “equal” and “protection” in it, but doing it with due process means that SCOTUS can invalidate these laws without having to make them invalid everywhere.

The difference, then, is that due process is a scalpel, and the Equal Protection Clause would get rid of the unfair treatment everywhere. And this is why it’s such a big deal to people who favor equal rights with regards to marriage. Sadly, the current posture of things in the U.S. is that some States can legalize same-sex marriages, others do civil unions, and more still are trying to legislate against same-sex marriages (Florida, for example, has a constitutional definition against recognizing same-sex marriage. See Fla. Const., Art. I, ยง 27 here).

Good things about recognizing same-sex marriage.
If you can’t tell by now, I support same-sex marriage. There are plenty of reasons to do so, and some even involve helping out in other controversial subject areas. Most of all, there aren’t any secular reasons against same-sex marriage that I could find that wouldn’t also make heterosexual marriage a bad thing too.

Perhaps the best reason to allow same-sex marriages is that it creates additional stable family support systems for adopting children and raising healthy new members of society. These additional units will decrease the number of children in foster care and increase overall adoption rates. For people who would like to see a decrease in abortion rates, making it where adoption is more preferable to abortion is a great reason to support same-sex marriages.

Another reason same-sex marriages are great is because the rights of married spouses allow people to make informed decisions about medical care for their partners. Currently if a same-sex couple isn’t married, doctors may have to rely on estranged family members to talk about patient care. Meanwhile, the person who knows the most about the loved one in hospital is getting ignored and told nothing. For efficiency’s, humanity’s, and even Pete’s sake (for those that think he’s there), marriage should be legal.

A third reason same-sex marriages should be legal throughout the U.S. is that it does not change a person’s personal definition of marriage. All it does is allow couples who love each other to hold property together, make important life decisions should the other become incapacitated, and live their lives with the happiness that others have. For people who feel that marriage can only happen in the eyes of a deity, this will not change that view. These people are going to be in a relationship regardless of what anyone says.

Dealing with some counter-arguments.
This is an issue where predominant argument against supporting it is religious in nature. Homosexuality is considered a sin, an abomination before God, and it will make people go to Hell. As I hinted at above, supporting gay marriage doesn’t have to affect one’s personal views. One can still believe marriage is only blessed by a deity, and other people can get licenses to be normal people. In short: there is a difference between a legal recognition of a relationship and a religious recognition of one.

Furthermore, I couldn’t find any data suggesting homosexual couples were more abusive, less financially stable, bigoted, violent, or maladjusted than heterosexual couples. There’s no data that supports that gay couples raise broken children. For people who think that heterosexual couples are somehow superior to that of homosexual ones, that claim is not supported by anything a Google search could provide. I think this silence speaks volumes.

Finally, for those who want to grant “civil unions” as a compromise, that’s really a state-by-state basis. I am against such arrangements if marriage can be obtained because we tried separate but equal once with regards to segregation, and it was just as wrong then as it would be now. Giving people something “like” marriage isn’t giving them a chance to pursue their own meaningful life; it’s giving them a cheap knock-off. But if people in a given state feel that it’s okay, I can’t and won’t stop you from settling that for yourselves.

Conclusions about this issue.
I hope that I’ve challenged people to think differently about same-sex marriages. Yes they’re legal in some places, and I am happy to see that States are using their power to do the right thing to actually do the right thing. But gay marriage isn’t legal everywhere, and until that happens the issue needs to be raised.

One caveat I will say to all of this, though. Ideally the Constitution will recognize same-sex marriages across state lines, though this issue hasn’t been raised yet with SCOTUS(to my knowledge). Right now, then, there isn’t full equal rights, but if same-sex couples can get a valid marriage license then they will have the same access to rights. It’s a small consolation for people who just want to live their lives as they see fit, but this silver lining will have to hold this cloud together.

Finally, homosexual relationships are just as healthy as heterosexual ones can be. Despite the differences in attraction and preference, we are all human beings trying to be decent people. Because there is no evidence suggesting one form of relationship is superior to the other, there is no support for denying one group full and equal rights.