Sunday, November 25, 2012

I sacrifice my vengeance

I spent my Out Day running around with my first-born instead of writing (I don't like to use the word "blogging" or "blogger"... it sounds like a character on a kids' show that reminds you to always use a tissue).  So, it's almost 1 a.m. and I'm still deliberating what to write about yesterday.  Then a stray facebook (which I was on only to gain inspiration) mention got me thinking about this... a fragment of a poem I wrote in an Ambien haze:

I sacrifice my vengeance
on the alter of my humanity.
Peace comes
not from the sacrifice of a life,
but the sacrifice of a death.

I'm still not happy with it as a poem (too much abstraction) but I can't think of saying this any other way.  Conflicts like the Israel-Palestine wars are too specific to take on, so take this in the abstract and apply it as you understand it, at need.

I saw a fascinating segment on 60 Minutes last Sunday discussing the innate morals of infants.  Studying both older children and babies as young as 3 months, the researchers found that even infants showed instincts for both goodness and justice, as well prejudice against "others" and other less flattering emotions.  The conclusion is that each one of us is both angel and demon, and it takes guidance to overcome our lesser emotions.

One of the things I found particularly interesting was how babies defined "others."  In the experiment, they offered the baby two kinds of snacks, and then had two puppets mimic eating each of the snacks.  A little later, with the snacks removed, the same two puppets were reintroduced to the baby and, almost categorically, the baby reached for whichever puppet "liked" the same snack.  Such a random criteria for establishing a bond.  It made me think of another study I can only loosely reference that showed racial prejudice in infants. 

What seems clearer now is that the prejudice would probably not be present (or as present?) in an infant who was exposed to a greater variety of ethnicities, particularly in a positive tone, since birth.  Many colored and shaped faces would simply be an attribute of baby's tribe.  If baby's tribe only spoke one language, on the other hand, then people who spoke some other language could easily be identified as not of baby's tribe.  And while it is sad to know that infants think very harshly of those "others," it is encouraging to know that this is easily overcome by guiding the child towards empathy.

We humans are far, far more alike than unalike, and there is so much opportunity to show children (and, we all wish, adults) how that "other" person is really just like us.  Prick me, and I shall bleed.  Or... meme me, and I shall like.

I've always been a bit of an emotional tuning fork, but lately I have become so hyper-empathetic that I cannot watch most television programing.  I know... that's not such a bad thing.  But the only "safe" channels seem to be HGTV and the Food Network, and there is only so much "House Hunters" and "Next Iron Chef" I can take.  The alternative, though, is bleeding along with Israelis and the Palestinians, and the parents of the missing kid, and the Pakistani boy who's mother was killed by a drone attack.  Because they are all my tribe.  And they're all me. 

So how can I hate or condemn another without hating me?  How can I justify war when every child is my child?  How could I avenge a wrong without destroying everything I care about?

At some point, vengeance must die.  It will never solve, it will never satisfy.  It is a baser emotion and we can overcome it.  That is when we earn our humanity.

...And that will have to stand for now.  No edits.  Night-night.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Of Food Stamps and Smart Phones (Part 1?)

Okay, today (being yesterday, actually) turned out to be a mostly "in" day since I am still with cold and I didn't think it would be good of me to loiter over-long among otherwise healthy coffeehouse patrons.  So, it is now 1:05 a.m. on Sunday and I am just getting something in to make all of you happy.

In other words, I'm tweaking the margins, chugging the caffeine (metaphorically), and bullshitting my way to the requisite number of pages.  Then I'll run a spell-check, take a cat nap, and turn in my first draft as my final.

The topic of today's paper - I mean, post - is an observation: The most cost-efficient way to get people off social services is to stop bullying people who receive social services.

Last month (October) was anti-bullying month (among other things), and it occurred to me that all the memes going around Facebook about people who have food stamps and iPhones are just another form of bullying.  All of the rhetoric during the campaign - and, sadly, post-campaign - about poor people just wanting handouts is bullying.  It's bullying in the form of propaganda.  It's also an insidious form of racism (I can back that up, but it'll have to wait for another blog). 

And what we know about bullying is that kids (and adults) who are bullied, tend to not do well.  We know that they do not perform as well in school (or work).  We know that bullied kids make sick adults, both physically and mentally.  We can easily see how kids who are belittled for being poor - either directly by their peers, or indirectly by the politicians and pundits - those kids are less likely to make it to graduation and, if they do, are likely to have worse grades than their non-poor, non-bullied peers.  This means they are at a disadvantage moving on in higher education.  So, if they do worse in school, then their income potential is lessened.  A downer for the economy.  And their poor health becomes a greater cost to the system, as well, by their increased need for medical intervention, as well as the greater likelihood that they'll be in need of government assistance to cover the payments.

And what of the adults?  It's the same story.  They miss work, their performance suffers.  They don't have the equivalent energy of their non-poor, non-bullied peers.  They do not advance.

There are numerous scenarios under which a person could be receiving government assistance of some kind or other.  The lie, the propaganda, is that it is ultimately due to some moral failing on the part of the person receiving it...  I could expound, but in the interest of me getting some sleep - any humanly decent amount of sleep - I'm going to have to rein it in for tonight.

My point is that we have allowed the discussion to become a question of whether or not people deserve their financial hardships and, therefore, whether or not they should be helped. The discussion has been turned into one of tax rates, not wage rates.  When low-wage jobs are brought up at all, the discussion turns to how to get a different job, and not to ensuring that even low-wage jobs pay for your real costs of living.  The discussion stays scrupulously away from asking ourselves how we accept such a thing as the working poor.

The bottom line is that people under the psychological stress of this rhetorical shaming (among all their other stresses) do not do as well and, therefore, we all do not fare as well.  Their potentials are blunted, their costs are increased, their lives, in so many ways, diminished.  If we were to rally around these people - and their smart phones and their bad choices - and encouraged them, instead of beating them down, then we would see a return on our investment.  An investment of nothing but our good will and our understanding of the reality - of the math - as it is and not how it is being sold to us, would yield a great return.  How much?  I don't know, I'm tired.  Go ask those Freakonomics guys.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The (Not Coming-) Out Day Blog

I realized as soon as I chose this title that I should really, really clarify the meaning and intent of this blog thingy.  To be clear, I am not gay.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I just happen to be straight.  Okay?  Okay.

I am a stay-at-home mom of two beautiful boys and, unlike after my first, I have not gone back to working on my husband's days off after my second maternity leave.  I just have a terrible availability to work around, and I think that I'm probably too exhausted to handle going back to work anyway.  However, there is definitely a benefit to taking a mental baby break, and to doing something somewhat fulfilling or productive... and to letting daddy deal with it...  So, today is the day of the week that I get the hell out of the house.  Hence: "out day."

As to the intent of putting yet another blog on this clogged internet, well, why the hell not?  I'm tired of killing comment threads with my excessively considered opinions.  If you want a quality answer to your half-baked hyperbole, you can get yourself over here and have things spelled out for ya.

Topics shall likely include parent-related stuff (probably to much), social issues (and isn't anything that affects us a "social" issue?), political dissertations (no! we're just getting out of the last electoral ordeal!), scientific stuff (in the form of links to pretty pictures), and (brace yourself...) religion.  Or, a combination thereof.  There may also be poetry.

You have been warned.