Nov 14, 2016

False Equivalences, and The Deals You've Made

Let's talk a bit about something which will become very important for the next few years.

Imagine two men, we'll call them Ted and Bob.

Ted punches Bob. Then Bob punches Ted back. Ted insists that Bob had no right to hit him, and that Bob is just as bad as him.

This is a false equivalence. The argument that similar actions, undertaken in different circumstances and with different context, have the same impact and justification.

Our example is highly simplified, but it should get the point across. Bob was reacting to having been assaulted. He was defending himself, and letting Ted know that he wouldn't allow a further assault to continue.

So when we see protests against the Trump presidency, in the light of the rise in racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic attacks taking place, and those protests are decried as being "just as bad as the other side," that is also a false equivalence.

These protests show us rage. Yes, they're marching through the streets. Yes, they're disrupting traffic. Yes, they're burning flags and effigies. But this rage is not based on hate.

It is based on fear.

Fear that basic human rights might be taken away. Fear that alt-right extremists have been emboldened by a president-elect whose rhetoric supports their beliefs. Fear of people being targeted by those same extremists, or by people who would never consider themselves racist or sexist or homophobic, but who have had their own fears stoked by lies, misinformation, and a cultural bias against those who are different.

And this fear is not unfounded. It has happened. It keeps happening. Internment camps during World War II. The fact that more Native Americans are killed by police than any other demographic. Slavery. Segregation. There are people alive who would have seen "Whites" and "Blacks" drinking fountains, swimming pools, seating areas. Who would have witnessed, or experienced, the consequences when those rules were broken.

Now I'm not going to deny that the protests and other outbursts against Trump will leave some damage. And I'm not going to condone kicking and stomping on someone while they lie on the ground, no matter if they voted for Trump or not.

But what I will say, is that there is a difference between violence committed out of hate, and violence committed out of fear or the instinct to protect someone.

So before you judge people based on a 30-second video clip, stop and ask yourself what you're not seeing. What happened before the recording? Was there anything the camera missed? Think about history, and the times we've been here before, and what so many people are afraid will happen.

If you're white, straight, and cisgender, then whether you like it or not, you've benefited all your life from a system built for you. Even more so if you're a man. And that system is now poised, on both sides of the Atlantic, to be turned against anyone who's not like you. And not for the first time.

You have no idea what it's like to live in that kind of fear. By voting for Trump, or any figure who builds their campaign on promises to harm minorities, regardless of the justification, then you've cut a deal. You've traded their safety for the promises made to you. That means it's on you to hold your elected leaders responsible. And it's on you to prove, by your actions and not your words, that you are not a danger to those minorities.

I guess what I'm saying is that, as always, I don't condone people resorting so easily to violence. But this time, I can damn sure understand why they do.

Nov 9, 2016

I Have a Voice, and I Swear to Use It

It's the last straw, isn't it? 2016. A year so twisted and cruel that will go down in history as The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And now Donald J. Trump has been elected president of the United States. It's like a bad joke, or the set-up for some evil alternate timeline.

This year, personally, has been pretty good for me. I've felt reinvigorated and supported in my career by friends and family. I feel strong again. And I'm going to put that to use.

Let's break it down. A president has maybe 6 months in office to carry out their goals before the mid-term elections and the focus turns to holding on to the House, Congress, and the Senate. After that it's all about either re-election or making sure the party has enough support to get the new guy in.

Remember that many Republicans want nothing to do with Trump. They hate what he's done to the party. They can be pressed to oppose his most damaging actions. Deals can be made to shut Trump and his cronies down. Republicans can be convinced they will lose votes for continuing to support him. Democrats can appropriate Republican tactics and support by pushing against federal involvement in state matters where that involvement will take away peoples' rights. The fight isn't over. It's just started.

6 months. 180 days where Trump will be at his most dangerous.

And he's already flipped on his views on Hilary Clinton. Essentially his first act as President Elect was to thank Clinton for her service to the country. This is a far from "lock her up" and "Crooked Hilary." This is not a man of conviction. This is a man who will say and do whatever he wants, so long as it feeds his ego or makes him money, with a track record of breaking promises. He can be pressured. He can be steered away from at least some of the harm he has vowed to inflict.

This is a time for foundation-level work. A time to fight back on a direct level. A time to fight the bigotry and scaremongering that Trump used to win. A time to fight the same lies and prejudice that allowed the Brexit vote to win. A time to fight the greed and white supremacy that leaves unarmed Native Americans standing down a militarised police force, that leaves unarmed black people dead in the street while a cop holds a smoking gun. A time to fight the hatred and ignorance that lets people spread fearmongering lies about trans people trying to get into bathrooms to commit rape, while allowing a rapist to become their leader.

Zero tolerance on sexism. Zero tolerance on racist jokes. Zero tolerance on homophobia and transphobia. I am fortunate enough to not be among the marginlised in this. So I have a responsibility to add my voice to theirs. And this, I swear to do. I will not tolerate any prejudice. I may hurt some feelings from now on, but hurt feelings don't compare to lives being destroyed.

Yesterday I talked about stories. Well the best way I have to frame these events is still to look for the story. I've seen people wonder how to tell their children what's happened. How to explain that someone who is the living antithesis of every moral lesson we have, can become the president of what was supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sometimes the villain wins.

But just for a little while. Because when the villain wins, it just means there are more heroes coming to save the day.

Like I said before: Be a hero, even if it's just for one person. Because every life protected matters.

For my part, I'll be here. If anyone needs someone to talk to, if they're scared or angry. I'll help you in any way I can.

And I will write. I will tell stories where the villain rises, and the hero stands up to fight back. Stories, music, and art are going to become such important weapons now. I will not allow bigotry and hate to go unanswered. I will make my voice heard, and let others' voices be heard, too.

Let's show the world that monsters can be beaten.

Nov 8, 2016

US Presidential Election - A Storyteller's View

Early voting has been going on for a while now, but today's the day the majority of American voters will make their choice. I said on Facebook this morning that I haven't been so attentive to a vote since Ireland voted on equal marriage. And like that vote, I've been vocal about my belief that Donald Trump is the worst possible candidate for the position. My views on Hilary Clinton have shifted over time, from the common "lesser of two evils" opinion, all the way to know believing she is genuinely the most qualified candidate for the last several decades.

Note, I still think she's a typical politician, and I don't generally like politicians. I think she'll do a good job, but she's no Obama. She's no hero.

And that's what I want to talk about here. Not get into a political debate, but to talk about heroes and villains. And why we seek them out, even where they can't be found.

Storytelling is my best trait. It's my calling; the thing I was put on this Earth to do. So I've trained myself to watch how narratives unfold, and I like to think I've become quite good at it.

Human beings crave story. Like music, story is an intrinsic part of human nature. I'm aware of only a single tribe, of only 310-350 members, that tells no stories, and that appears tied to the limits of their language.

So when we have a decision to make, we instinctively look for the story; the hero and the villain.

Conservative voices insist that they want to protect, or resurrect, a certain way of life. But consider that all too often, that goal seems undeniably tied not to providing or protecting something, but denying people something they need. Suffrage. Marriage equality. Civil rights. There are certain issues you can debate and try to figure out the right way to solve, but consider how certain attitudes are depicted in stories.

You see, stories have long served as a way to understand our place in the world, and as tools to guide people towards a better future and a better way to live.

My friend Shevaun Frasier posted about this subject on Facebook.

There is a reason why the alt-right, ultra-conservative viewpoint isn't expressed by today's heroes.

Despite having grown up in the 1920s and 1930s, Captain America doesn't object to black people and white people using the same swimming pool, drinking fountain, or sharing a seat on a bus. Despite being an alien from a highly advanced world, Superman doesn't judge someone for their religion. Nor does Thor, who is literal proof that the notion of a single god is wrong. Batman doesn't judge people because of their gender, or whether they're attracted to people of the same gender. Iron Man doesn't stand idly by while his company's weapons are used to kill innocent people. They give of themselves, sacrificing their wellbeing to protect those who can't protect themselves. They make sure people can live freely.

Because they're the good guys.

And there's a reason why the Red Skull is a supremacist. Why Biff Tannen and his gang use racial slurs and try to commit rape. Why William Stryker abducts children who were born different and locks them up in cages.

Because people like that are the bad guys.

We're not supposed to want to be like them. We're supposed to want to be like the good guys.

It's easy to assume you're rooting for the hero, to get swept up in the frenzy. But perhaps its time to stop hinging such important decisions on the search for a hero who'll solve all your problems for you. Because sometimes there is no hero. But you can bet any time people are scared, or suffering, somewhere there'll be a villain eager to profit from that.

Look at your candidates, your elected officials, your leaders, and listen to the language they use. Ignore what the other side says about them for a moment. Look at their goals. The promises they make. The way they treat people and speak about the people who most need help. Now take their words and apply them to the villain of any story you like. Do they fit? Could you see that character saying those things?

If so, you might just be rooting for the villain.