Sunday, August 30, 2015

A permissive culture

Mix Bakeshop
12oz Soy Mocha
Veggie Tartine-thingy?

My boys are 3 and 5 years-old.  We were coloring once, and I grabbed my 3 year-old's paper to show him how he could draw something with white crayon, then use a colored crayon to reveal the image.  He kept saying, "No Mommy, that's my paper!"  I kept saying, "I'm just going to show you something cool..."  He kept saying "No!" but I did it anyway.  When I was done, he looked at me with furious, weepy eyes and said, "I'm so mad at you, Mommy!  You did not have my consent to color on my paper!"  Though I did not intend to teach them this lesson this way, this is how I learned that, not only did they know the word "consent," they knew exactly what it meant.

I took the moment, then, to acknowledge that he was absolutely right, that I should have respected the "No."  We use this phrase a lot now - "Respect the No" - and refer back to this incident whenever they need to be reminded about respecting boundaries.  I also make a point of not using the word "consent" interchangeably with "permission."  For example, if they were trying to use their gadgets when it wasn't Gadget Time, I would say that they did not have permission to use their gadgets, because their gadgets belong to them (under parental regulations), not to me.  But if they wanted to use my phone, I might grant them my consent to use my phone - under the terms I specify - because the phone is mine, first and foremost.

I offer up a lot of vocabulary that I don't expect them to understand right away or to remember.  (Last night, I asked Ovi to say the word "ergo" because he was demonstrating such a sound use of deductive reasoning as to why Mommy had to tuck him in instead of Daddy).  Some would argue that they are too young and that I'm just going to make them feel bad about themselves for not understanding these big words and ideas, which could end up being counter-productive.  But if I never gave them the opportunity to learn these things, I would never know that they had the ability to understand them.

Further, these kinds of concepts make a difference, right now, in how they play with other kids.  We were at a play area at a McDonald's yesterday (McDonald's: who could give as many fucks about vegetarians as they give itty-bitty cherry tomatoes in their " garden salad"), and we might as well have been the only parents in there, given the way the other kids behaved.  I'm all for hanging back and seeing if the kids can work things out on their own, but just about every other parent in there was completely checked out.  And it showed.  Older kids shrieked (and it fucking echoed!) and jumped around dangerously on the equipment.  They ran into smaller kids, intimidated them off of things they were playing with, showed zero concern for anyone.  And they were never called on it, even at the times the parents actually looked up from their cheeseburgers or their smartphones.

Let it be known that, if your child has become a hazard, I will intervene.  I can't change all the effects of your lack of parenting - not your laissez faire parenting style, but your lack of basic intervention on behalf of your child and others - but I will inform your child that their behavior is not okay.  Somebody has to.  Because what kind of person is your child going to grow up to be if they never receive any kind of push-back?  How old will they be when you decide they're old enough to understand that they should respect other people?  How effective will that message be, by then?  And how well will they understand that concept of "consent" in their sexual relationships, down the road, if they are never taught to respect other people at the most basic level, from the very beginning?

I wrote, a long time ago, in my "Know Your Audience" blog, that the most attractive thing to a predator is opportunity.  And opportunity is not just a dark alley or an unattended drink.  Opportunity is a permissive culture.  A permissive culture is one that does not hold aggressors accountable for their actions.  A permissive culture ignores, denies, or diminishes the magnitude of the crime, or blames the victim of the crime for being a victim.

A little boy knocks over a little girl's blocks.  "Boys will be boys."  No punishment.  No lesson on boundaries.  No questions to the boy like, how do you think that feels? how would you feel if they were your blocks?

A big boy is acquitted of raping a big girl.  "She was a big girl - she should have done a better job of making it clear that she didn't want to get raped."  No punishment.  No lessons learned.  Save, don't be a girl.

A person of color is stopped by police because __________ and is killed by police because __________.  "They must have been doing something or they wouldn't have been stopped, the officer wouldn't have shot."  Innocence of the officer is presumed.  Guilt, by the dead, is assumed.  No consequence for the shooter.  No other cause sought.  No lesson learned.

A non-white person, American or not, is detained - stolen, disappeared - for the entire life of their child, from infancy to graduation... or is killed... by an American soldier.  "They must have been a terrorist, or helping terrorists."  I have read the entire Declaration of Human Rights.  If any country but America had perpetrated indefinite detention and invasion of a sovereign nation without clear, demonstrable cause, they would have been held accountable.

No.  Lessons.  Learned.

This is what a permissive culture does.  Even in the face of innumerable and obvious wrongs, it will not even say that something might not be right.  And that is how it creates the monsters out of the innocents.  I don't think every soldier or police officer or college guy, or even the thoughtless little boys of the world, are evil.  I deeply respect the sacrifice, and the dangers, that our soldiers and our officers take on.  But we can't afford to pretend that there isn't a strong trend of race-driven violence and abuse being perpetrated or protected by our heroes, our champions.  And we can't pretend that sex-based stereotypes don't lead to the subjugation and abuse of women, and the LGBT community.

And don't think that those Lone Gunmen - our very real and present American terrorists - are actually alone.  In his ear - in his, almost categorically, white, male ear - are words of fear.  Every scared, white male, warning about the dirty "other" or the "liberated" woman or the black helicopter government, and bemoaning his loss of security and dominance.  And in his hand, is the fear-mongering gun lobby.  No matter how many gun owners support reasonable reform, they are somehow drowned out by the most loud and fearful and moneyed.  And the crime is permitted to go on.

It is not only the victims who have been wronged by this culture of permissiveness, though they have, unarguably, suffered most because of it.  It is also these wayward villains who have been wronged.  Some people are just fucked up, I'm not going to sugar-coat it.  And every one of them, who has perpetrated any of these many abuses, must be held accountable.  But we have to be held accountable for our contribution to these crimes.  We must let ourselves be uncomfortable and face what Is.  And in every instance, when we see even the smallest infractions, we must push back.

Even when we're not sure what to say, even when we're a little scared and we don't want to antagonize someone, even when we don't think it's our place, even when it's not our racist uncle, even when it's not our kid - we have to say, "That's not okay."  Somebody has to, or they will never learn how not to be the monster.

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