Deconstruction part 1

A couple weeks ago a woman I love and admire very much posted this article. I enjoy reading her thoughts as we occupy very different space on the political spectrum but I respect her process and recognize we start with very different core values. I was shocked and dismayed however, that this piece spoke to her and she saw it as a logical piece of work.

In order to work through my own response and provide a coherent rebuttal I have written this deconstruction.

The italics denote my analysis (also as a ‘trained persuader’) of how he is presenting his ‘case’ in a less-than-straightforward manner and is instead appealing to fear, manipulative tactics, and dog whistle politics to garner support. I have linked to the most obvious and relevant logical fallacies at the end of each for those more interested in arming themselves against lazy analysis and argumentation.

I have also included a more straightforward response, engaging directly with the points afterwards.

We have deep divisions in this country that must be resolved if we are to move forward. It is important that we be honest and straightforward when discussing them. Disagreement in itself is not bad, but how we present it, how we engage with it, and how we resolve it should be the focus of our democratic project if we are ever to ‘make America great again.’

 

 

SA: As a trained persuader, I’m seeing a dangerous situation forming that I assume is invisible to most of you.

He gives himself authority and then makes a statement implying that alternative analysis is because we are not as experienced or intelligent as him.

Logic Fallacy: appeal to authority: You said that because an authority thinks something, it must therefore be true. 

Response: I am also a trained persuader, and have spent a lot of time teaching others to persuade. Lesson number one is that every persuader should rely on one’s argument, logic, analysis, and evidence, not personal history or accolades.

 

 

SA: The setup is that during the presidential campaign Trump’s critics accused him of being Hitler(ish) and they were sure other citizens would see it too, thus preventing this alleged monster from taking office. They were wrong. The alleged monster took office.

Characterizing history as a setup is in itself a setup. This construct is a classic tool of projection, usually employed to manipulate or gaslight. By eliding these two sentences he implies ‘wrongness’ about two ideas when in fact we were only wrong about one.

 Logical Fallacy: composition/division: You assumed that one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it; or that the whole must apply to its parts. 

Response: I think he is a monster. I think someone who is sexually predatory and sees women as objects is not a good person. I think someone who uses disproportionate power to refuse payment to small businesses that employ others after the work has been completed to be lacking in morals. I think those are rational and reasonable beliefs based on history, evidence and empirically-based facts. I also think he won according to the rules of the game. I was wrong and I am not ashamed to admit it. I believed that mocking those less powerful, demeaning and threatening violence, and demonstrating an unwillingness to learn important information to effectively execute the office of president would effectively disqualify him in the minds of the majority in all states. It did not, and he won the electoral college fairly, which in our system is the only measure that matters. He was legitimately elected president. He is still a monster, and now the monster is currently the most powerful person in the world. I’m not sorry I believed the goodness of people, just disappointed in where we got to.

 

 

SA: Now you have literally millions of citizens in the United States who were either right about Trump being the next Hitler, and we will see that behavior emerge from him soon, or they are complete morons. That’s a trigger for cognitive dissonance.

This is a deeply problematic dichotomy which bears examination.

Logical Fallacy: black-or-white: You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise. 

Response: This is reductive, inflammatory, and disingenuous. Targeting a specific religion and taking away their basic civil liberties as a precursor to making them second-class citizens is exactly how Hitler began. I am in no way saying that he is or will become Hitler, what I am saying is that to imply that behavior might emerge is to whitewash a pretty shocking 10 days of American history. This is definitional gaslighting.

For the record: I have been called a moron before. I have called myself moronic often and sometimes I am. Here’s the thing: I LOVE being wrong. I love it because it means I’ve learned something or the world changed a little from what I expected. I would love to be wrong in this instance. But, how DJT has behaved since taking office terrifies me as much as it disappoints. It is even more shocking the blasé acceptance of a clear double standard when evaluating the behavior of this president.  I believe in the power of this country and I genuinely hoped that the weight of that office would impress on him the duties he signed up to execute but he is not a leader. He isn’t quite Hitler (yet), he is certainly no Lincoln.

In a society that is stretched to breaking point, crying for leadership of any kind, divided by contempt and misunderstanding, he made it demonstrably worse. When tensions are high, and it is important to be the best example of us, instead of creating coalitions, or finding words that heal our divisions, we spend our days at the mercy of his whims and based on how he reacts to the television he watches instead of reading briefings on military operations.

 

SA: The science says these frightened folks will start interpreting all they see as Hitler behavior no matter how ridiculous it might seem to the objective observer.

This is an appeal to authority without the opportunity to interrogate that source which is problematic as a foundation for equal discourse. He names ‘The science’, without citation, a critical element of rational debate founded on an empirical basis. He invites those who agree with him into his camp of ‘objective observers’, thereby implying that only subjective observers would see something different and they are ‘ridiculous’. This sentence is analogous to historical statements that lay the foundation for repression of dissent.

Logical Fallacy: tu quoque: You avoided having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser – you answered criticism with criticism.

Response: I don’t think the analogies to history are completely ridiculous, (neither does this german historian) although I believe we are approaching hysteria on a number of levels across the spectrum. I would caution that inflammatory pieces like this are more likely to make that occur. I think having contempt for the other side makes all of that worse.

 

SA: And sure enough, we are seeing that. To be fair, Trump made it easy this week with his temporary immigration ban. If you assume Trump is Hitler, that fits with your hypothesis. But of course it also fits the hypothesis that he’s just doing his job.  We’re all seeing what we expect to see.

This is classic dog-whistle. Depending on the position you occupy in society this statement will mean widely different things. ‘That’ in the first sentence is deliberately vague. Appealing to rationality in the face of confirmation bias would be a more convincing argument if this article was balanced. This dichotomy is also problematic.

 Logical Fallacy: no true scotsman: You made what could be called an appeal to purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws of your argument.

Response: ‘Temporary immigration ban’ deeply underestimates the impact of this policy on both micro and macro levels. We have already seen innocents denied access to medical care, to loved ones, to studies, and jobs and lives. I can attest that being held in limbo is a special kind of torture and is not an incidental issue to each person impacted. On the macro level, it does not improve security at home, and increases our risks abroad. It offends many allies, and undermines principles that have been sacred to our country since it’s founding. I don’t assume Trump is Hitler. I’m watching carefully to see what kind of leader and president he will be. I also don’t believe he is doing his job. His job is to lead the whole country, the people who agree with him and the people who don’t. For every negative comparison to Obama I will reply: Obama didn’t marginalize, Obama didn’t belittle, Obama didn’t ignore. Obama was not perfect, be he took seriously the job of serving and representing every single citizen of this country and in less than a week DJT has confirmed the hypothesis that he has no intention of doing the same. He has not brought us together. He has not improved our security. He has not improved our standing abroad. He has brought the federal government into conflict with state and local jurisdictions. He has supported the undoing of our health provisions with no alternative, and vowed to save taxpayers a whole 30 dollars a year by eliminating programs demonstrated to lift up those most in need, and the programs that support the foundations of our ongoing experiment with democracy. He has gotten into bed with Pharma and he has shored up the gates to the swamp while filling the pond with ‘gators.

 

SA: But lately I get the feeling that Trump’s critics have evolved from expecting Trump to be Hitler to preferring it. Obviously they don’t prefer it in a conscious way. But the alternative to Trump becoming Hitler is that they have to live out the rest of their lives as confirmed morons.

This is abusive. This is the equivalent of ‘She asked for it.’ Because she was drunk, or didn’t do the dishes or a million other excuses. Claiming to have insight into the mind and psyche of a group for which you clearly demonstrate contempt is a difficult argument to support. 

Fallacy: Gaslighting

Logical Fallacy: strawman: You misrepresented someone’s argument to make it easier to attack. 

Response: Are you kidding me? I think I have a pretty good handle on my own emotions and desires, thanks. Who the heck are you to assume you know me better than I know myself? How arrogant do you have to be to think that is a subject on which you are more well versed than I? Also, more generally, why would anyone WANT him to be Hitler? Unless we all have a massive death-wish? More likely that this a psychological projection. There is a lot of that going around.

You can keep calling me a moron, but it doesn’t change my ability to observe the world rationally, to gather information from a variety of sources, to check my own assumptions and biases and still conclude that he is a terrible president with dangerous instincts and ill-informed actions. I don’t work within your reductive confines, and I am happy to admit when I am wrong without shame. I’d rather be wrong sometimes and learn than be close-minded and not consider new information as it arises.

 

SA: No one wants to be a confirmed moron. And certainly not after announcing their Trump opinions in public and demonstrating in the streets. It would be a total embarrassment for the anti-Trumpers to learn that Trump is just trying to do a good job for America. It’s a threat to their egos. A big one.

Admitting we are wrong is hard, its why ‘trained persuaders’ often set up the conversation in such a way they can avoid that possibility altogether. Again, ascribing a reaction to the other side that there is no basis for but allows him to characterize the other side as petty, small and ego-driven.

Logical Fallacy: ad hominem: You attacked your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.

Response: I wouldn’t have been embarrassed if Trump had done a good job. I would have been relieved. After the last three weeks I can say that either he isn’t trying to do a good job for all Americans (an important note), or he is REALLY bad at it. I am proud to be American, and want us to be the best we can. I remember when truth, honor, integrity and justice were our national values. We had a historical narrative of helping up those behind us, and standing up for those in need. I miss those days, and wish we could get them back. I want us all to grow again, to return to the days of optimism and productivity, but I don’t want to do that by shutting the doors and pulling the ladder up behind us. We must be honest about where we are, where we’ve been, and what we are each willing to do to begin again to make our shared home better.

I learned in corporate life that there are three kinds of approaches to doing a job: spend your time and energy working to BE really good at your job; spend your time and energy working to LOOK GOOD at your job; spend your time and energy working to MAKE OTHERS LOOK BAD so you can look good in comparison. I know who I respected most and who I wanted to be in that list. I know who was driven by ego.

 

SA: And this gets me to my point. When millions of Americans want the same thing, and they want it badly, the odds of it happening go way up. You can call it the power of positive thinking. It is also the principle behind affirmations. When humans focus on a desired future, events start to conspire to make it happen.

I’m not talking about any new-age magic. I’m talking about ordinary people doing ordinary things to turn Trump into an actual Hitler. For example, if protesters start getting violent, you could expect forceful reactions eventually. And that makes Trump look more like Hitler.

Saying that ‘this is the point’ re embeds the idea that the previous statements were all neutral ground-work and that this is the only argument he is making when in fact the framing and phrasing of this piece has been making a point since the first sentence. In this construction DJT is untouchable. If Trump acts like Hitler it is only in response to my protest, removing the only means I have to speak up if he does act like Hitler, and undermining any argument I might make before I begin.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise.

Response: If Trump ‘turns into an actual Hitler’ it will be because he made a choice to do so. I would be interested to hear what Jews and Gypsies, and homosexuals, and public intellectuals did to ‘create’ Hitler. The reality is that DJT has moved towards propaganda and repression from day one. Firing the Attorney General for defending the Constitution should make that pretty clear. Our system is designed for loyalty to the founding documents codified through history and custom for a relatively short period of time. I don’t believe the Framers had an idea for ‘alternative facts’ but Websters seems to have a pretty strong definition of what a ‘fact’ is, and it’s pretty concrete.

This reverse logic is what is causing me cognitive dissonance. Most history and social science would agree that increasing repression on those protesting doesn’t tend to do so well. Ask F. W. de Klerk. Protesters usually do so because they have been disenfranchised from traditional democratic mechanisms (like being purged from voter rolls, undue burdens for registration and/ or voting lines 6 hours long) There is ample evidence of that in myriad ways for many of the people who are speaking out. Many of the others are allies- using their privilege and positions to support the ideology that everyone’s voice should be heard.

 

SA: I can think of dozens of ways the protesters could cause the thing they are trying to prevent. In other words, they can wish it into reality even though it is the very thing they are protesting. In the 3rd dimension of persuasion, the protesters need to be proven right, and they will do whatever it takes to make that happen. So you might see the protesters inadvertently create the police state they fear.

Giving the protestors total responsibility while DJT attempts to steal total power is problematic. This construction implies that the future hinges on protestors alone, thereby avoiding the potential that DJT could also prevent this. In fact, each side has autonomous actors, and the reality is that one has much more power than the other. The only person with the power to create a police state is DJT and his administration. He could also choose not to.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise. 

Response: This may be a radical idea, but I think we should judge DJT against the actions of previous presidents and our highest expectations for a leader. We have had protests (quiet virulent ones) in the past and we have never needed to resort to the kinds of repression that DJT is implying. Democracy means our leader must convince a majority of the populace, they should not coerce, that is the purview of authoritarians.

Again, this is a largely manipulative and abusive construction. This is the logic that says a woman didn’t fight hard enough, or contain herself enough, and if she had just stayed in line she would not have been raped or abused or disenfranchised. I personally think we should tell those committing crimes that they should not do so, instead of teaching already-threatened groups that they must always fear. We should tell boys ‘just don’t rape people, ever’ and we should tell DJT ‘there is no justification for a police-state in the United States, ever.’

 

SA: If you are looking for the tells that this dangerous situation is developing, notice how excited/happy the Trump critics seem to be – while angry at the same time – that Trump’s immigration ban fits their belief system. If you see people who are simply afraid of Trump, they are probably harmless. But the people who are excited about any Hitler-analogy-behavior by Trump might be leading the country to a police state without knowing it. So watch for that.

This is a contradictory statement, again, seemingly to blame protestors for potential future aggression by those against whom they protest. This is another version of divide to conquer.

Logical Fallacy: the texas sharpshooter: You cherry-picked a data cluster to suit your argument, or found a pattern to fit a presumption.

Response: This is the exact kind of argument used to justify repressive measures by an authoritarian state.

 

 

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When the beacon of justice goes out, what will we use to light our way? 

shepard-equal-humanity-greaterthanfearForeword:

I originally wrote the story below in the innocent days of August 2016. Its hard to believe how much hope I had then, and what a contrast I feel now.

For those friends who caution restraint, even in linguistics, who believe that an erosion of civil rights has not yet begun, I ask that you attempt empathy for me, even if you can’t for those currently in the same limbo at airports around the country.

Each one of the detained has a life, a social network, goals, and loved ones waiting for them at home. The vast majority are students and doctors, parents and neighbors, co-workers and friends. We already have a rigorous vetting process for all applications to this country that is proven to be as effective as possible. This type of thing has never happened before, despite claims to the contrary. This policy does not increase security, but threatens our partnerships in conflict regions and is a death sentence to families that risked their lives to support our interests.

I am a deeply privileged white woman with resources of many kinds to help me through my own experience. Please recognize that without all the help I had, my refused entry would have been emotionally crushing and life-altering. Delay of even one more day in my case would have meant an entire year lost because I would have been too far behind to catch up.

I do believe that in times of peace and stability it is helpful to adapt your attitude to hand out happy, but this is not that time. This time our integrity is under threat. This is not a bureaucratic error. Foundational elements of our political system are under threat and ‘not minding’ is not an option.

If you feel this story in any way might help someone understand the human cost of a refused entry, please share. We are all human, we all feel joy and pain and loss. We have come too far to return to tribalism and hatred and outright violence.

The most white supremacist thought to which I have ever been immediately attuned was in the stress of the situation described below. I was in the deportation lounge thinking ‘Can’t they see I’m not a terrorist?’ My second though was ‘wow, that was pretty racist. What does a terrorist look like? Why can’t she look like you?’ I didn’t know until I had that thought how shocking it is to realize you were racist all along. The shame of that self-reflection is not easy to bear and is terrifying to share publicly. Both feelings inform how important it is to share this story. It is critical that we are all a little more reflective, a little more honest, with ourselves and with our fellow citizens.

Any shame I feel is outweighed by the hope that in sharing I might help one person to see a little more clearly. Hopefully some of this speaks to you.

 

The secret to a charmed life is making all the green lights… and not minding the red ones

This popped into my head on a sunny September afternoon while waiting in traffic at an intersection I used to breeze through in SE Portland.

I was considering my helplessness, stuck in Portland while the rest of my graduate classmates were moving in, finding books, meeting each other and beginning class. That was all continuing on the other side of the world while I was waiting for a light, and waiting for my whole life at the same time.

I was supposed to be in London, and I was here, waiting for the British civil service to decide if I was going to be allowed back, if I could live and study in the UK, a place I was pretty sure was integral to my whole future. Looking back, I suppose there was an issue I was a security risk. I thought I was a normal 20 something, just wanting to go back to school. I didn’t think that my constant international travel looked suspicious, although I should have known better after all that time traveling to weird destinations. Student tickets aren’t usually the means of constant global circumnavigation

It started like all my other trips. I packed, printed documents, double checked lists and said my goodbyes. From the moment I stepped on the plane I was on my way to a new chapter of life, expectant, nervous, a little jittery with my soundtrack plugged firmly in my ears.

I hit the immigration hall out of the gate. I was excited to be there and I knew this drill. A lifetime of international travel and I thought I knew it all. Little did I know I had only ever seen one side of that system.

I strode confidently up to the podium, my passport and a print-out of my invitation letter proudly displayed. I tried to keep the conversation short and polite, my goal was to get out of the airport and on the train asap. I guessed I could be in my room in 2 hours, max. My head was already at Paddington station, looking for a taxi.

I was drawn back to the podium by a question “Where is your visa?”

I was confused. They were supposed to stamp that. That is how most visas worked for American passport holders (outside China, at least.) My two previous student visas had been granted that way.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Isn’t that what we’re doing? Did I forget to give you my letter?”

(Always be polite when traveling, it costs nothing and is much more effective)

“I’m sorry, I’ll be right back”

I was left standing alone at the podium while others streamed by me. I had never had this perspective before, I was always the streaming, moving quickly through barriers with a smile and a quick polite word. It was disorienting, to suddenly know something is different and off, but not understand what exactly is happening. I was told to take a seat and wait. My original timeline was now very off and I was very much present in only this moment.

Flights land at Heathrow from all over the world, passengers enter the UK from 3 international terminals. That year 68 million passengers passed through their doors.

After I had been sitting for 20 minutes, a flight landed from Lagos. About half of the African passengers were detained for health screenings. I considered how lucky I was. Mine was probably a simple misunderstanding, his was being born in the wrong place. I was scared but grateful for the reminder to take deep breaths and choose happy.

I was not allowed in that day. I was refused entry, detained and treated suspiciously by a group I had previously barely noticed. I was fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. I was in a windowless room with a payphone useless to me. It was early Sunday morning GMT, who would be available? Could anyone help? I sat with the other Americans who had made my same mistake. For some it had been a gamble, for some a genuine misunderstanding. There was a quorum of about 5-6 students, constantly shifting, but always about the same size. There was a woman who had been at a conference and couldn’t give up her passport long enough to get the visa. She was kind in telling me to give up hope immediately, but I was still naïve enough to be unable to comply.

There was a VERY highly strung gentleman from New York who kept us informed of the events he was currently missing at his college on an hourly basis, in between lamenting how miserable this situation was. Now was the coach to meet him, now was the welcome drinks, now was the meeting with his advisor. Maybe he could just buy a cheap ticket to Denmark or Amsterdam, and stay a few days. It is the only time in my life I have ever genuinely thought ‘you are killing my zen, man’

I was trying not to panic and so had not begun to focus on how this knot would be unraveled. I kept thinking that when they understood how the mistake happened, and that I was unaware of a rule change, there would be some accommodation.  There was a singular unwillingness to do anything other than process us and send us home to deal with their colleagues in another branch of UKBA.

We went down to the arrivals hall to collect my bags, including the extra I had brought and paid for. I was quickly learning what it was to be accompanied everywhere, treated as a suspect.

My luggage was searched thoroughly in the otherwise empty entry hall as other passengers sailed through ‘nothing to declare’ and searchd again in front of the entire flight I was put on to get me home as quickly as possible. I had a short chance to call my parents to tell them to expect me. I was escorted with 3 guards, all at least a head taller than I was, the most unlikely international menace you had ever seen. They walked either side and behind me, to the van with the cage in the back and from the cage to the secure departure area where they checked my bags again. My rational mind knew it was a shaming mechanism: how could I have any contraband when the bags had been in their possession since they last searched them? The rest of me was mostly numb. The female guard, taking pity, gave me the chance to pull 2 things from my checked bags- a clean shirt and a stuffed dog who was my most constant companion.

And there I was. In seat 47G, on my way to another 30 hour journey back home to figure out what came next. I flew to Dallas, was met and given a hotel room, woke in darkness to the ringing of the wake-up call and stumbled onto a plane to O’Hare, more grief from TSA, probably because I was a mess and easy. Finally, I arrived back where I started, 72 hours later. My parents had hugs and plans and we had a mad rush for the first 3 days while I got a new passport (a whole other story) and sent all the paperwork to the consulate. Apparently, they aren’t kidding when they say ‘check all immigration requirements’ because those suckers change! As an undergrad I needed a letter, as a postgrad (and post 9/11 and 7/7) one needed a bank account, and a letter, and a whole form, and additional photos. We sent everything they asked and called everyone we knew who might be able to help. And then we waited.

The thing that people misunderstand about government, is that there are lots of parts and they function very differently. The civil service is a job for life. It’s a slow but steady rise, as long as you do your job, don’t make trouble, and are good at the tasks assigned you, its possible to have a wonderful life, and contribute to society. People in the civil service are the balance to politics. They keep the trains running, and the security at borders well, but they are also impervious to changing or breaking the rules. They are annoyed by people trying to circumvent a system and they are careful and thorough. All of which meant I was totally helpless, waiting at that light. Hoping a stranger would read my application, including the statement of why I made the mistake I did and got sent back. There was nothing I could do, no levers to pull.

The only option was to wait at that light, and wait for that civil servant and trust that I would be on time where I was going, and that things would work out ok. The only thing I could do was try to not mind the waiting. To decide that there was a reason that things happen and I’m not always in control.

Sometimes we hit all the green lights, and some days there are more red ones. The way to ensure we have a charmed life either way is to make sure to hit all the greens, or just to choose… not to mind the red ones.

 

Afterward:

I was able to have hope because I trusted the system, and I have faith in something higher. I still believe there is an order to the universe, but our system is in trouble. It is imperative that we fight on, using whatever tools we can, until we see green lights for everyone again.

 

 

Remember the Night Rainbow

I feel compelled to write
My sister told me to, but
More importantly
I have words that need to come out, feelings that have only festered inside, without outlet.

How should one respond when attempting love, one is met largely with contempt?
And worse, how does one react when that contempt is not really for you, just spurred by you, and the ambition you demonstrate, pointing out constructed flaws?
How do you report a theft to the police, when the gifts were originally given? Only the contempt making acts of love into things stolen.

I feel a shallow shadow of revenge porn, the violence is not in the shame of nudity, or stranger’s appropriation and comment
The violence is the turn
The gift given in love, or adventure or shared excitement- made into something so ugly it cannot be contained

How did I wrong you? Why did you wrong me?
Why are you so unwilling to own even your own actions?
Because my father owned more than yours? Because my drive was insatiable, and not for you?

Your cowardice, in asking me to pay the price for your insecurity and betrayal, in every way possible is unfathomable.
Money
Friends
Innocence
Hope
Trust
Partnership
Love

You married my namesake, perhaps we were just off in the rhythm, you were meant to find her, I happened to be in the way
I don’t want to find another you however. I want to move beyond that. I want someone who doesn’t need to make me small to feel bigger.
I thought you were an honourable gentleman. I thought honour was a universal; accessible by all. You made me fear it was a bastion of elitism. Is that true? Or was the crime limited to you and your peculiar deficits?

I worked so hard not to see your faults, to believe the best. You made my optimism into foolishness; another day, another week, another month. And how many years were stolen?
Or lost

The worst recrimination of course is for myself: why didn’t I see you for who and what you are? Why did I continue to invest? Why did I think that was all I deserved?

And you remain,
Oblivious
which is the worst crime of all

How to argue with people on the internet

2016-01-23 20.36.21I have been struggling quite a bit as the election and the aftermath have unfolded. Since losing my mum I’ve made a consistent, deliberate effort to connect with her side of the family and they are almost universally Mormon, Republican and old-school Conservative. This election has been hard to navigate when to speak up and when to stay quiet, who will listen and when it isn’t valuable to pursue. I love these people, especially these women, and I am so grateful for the ways they have welcomed and accommodated me. At the same time, we disagree profoundly about so many things. We come from the same place and yet we have taken such different paths across multiple generations. Remaining in connection is important to me and yet… it can be hard. I know that any conversation we have is visible to wider communities and reflects on us both.

Where I come from is this:

This country (and the world) has had problems that we have used band aids and smokescreens to avoid solving. My liberal-bias-side would say that in the 1960s the world evolved and there is a group who doesn’t want it to be that way. They find the changes (dare I say ‘evolution’) threatening for lots of reasons and are unwilling to compromise what they feel are core identity issues. But, being fair, I think there are also some good points buried in what they are saying too. Globalization has been displacing, diversity is difficult to navigate at times, and we have not supported our entire community to reap the benefits of ever-increasing-productivity.

I had the opportunity to witness a Mormon ward and although it was closed and ideologically driven, it was also the most committed, supportive community I have ever witnessed. In many ways it was a time warp to when we lived in communities close enough that our neighbors helped care for the ill and the less fortunate. It was also a beautiful thing. I think we have all had some situation when we didn’t want to face reality, or when we believed a good thing was under threat. We rarely think about the fact that even the space to contemplate ‘I don’t want it this way’ is a privilege.

Trump voters (and Brexit voters) are insecure enough (across economic, social and psychological measures) that they don’t have the capacity (or believe they don’t) to adapt to a post-structural order. That is my generous interpretation. All of these things don’t make their beliefs and narratives ok with my value-system, but it does allow me a higher level of empathy with their suffering and their attachment to their position.

In terms of approach:

I remember my first debate training ‘aha’ moment. I was 19 at the time with no formal training so I had a slightly different (read less effective) approach to argument. It was like a Klaxon bell for me. Nick Bibby taught me that in a real debate you will never be able to convince the other side, you can only hope to convince the audience. Your opponent is spending all their energy on trying to prove you wrong, regardless, so they are not particularly open to saying ‘oh, I guess I was wrong’. I’ve learned over time that if you believe you are in a fight to win you have no brain-space to contemplate anything other than how ‘they’ might be wrong.

My friend Ross K Allan is special because he is rare. He’s nuts (and he thinks I am), but he is open to the possibility he might be wrong and enjoys the argument as much to learn as to win. There are only a few people in the world who really enjoy arguing for sport and to find someone who loves the activity and disagrees almost entirely with the things that inform my personal ideology is only one of the ways I am lucky. When we were both at the LSE we had coffee and argued for fun for hours and never cared who ‘won.’ Another friend joined us once and immediately moved the goal-posts so he could ‘win.’ He never joined an argument again. I know how much privilege went into those afternoons of arguing and how much generosity I owe to anyone who hasn’t had the time to hone those skills.

I start from the premise that the other side is not ignorant or dumb (it is not my job to educate them), but instead that we have different core values. I use the information provided from previous interactions, or from the conversation itself to decide if that person is open to alternative information, and/or views. I state my views as simply as I can, accounting for their context/ language and use things that are easily googled for evidence. I try to respect what they come back with to the greatest extent possible and with the most generosity I can afford. If they are open, I pursue the conversation, if they are not, I invest less, but don’t dismiss them.

At the point when they become angry, hateful, or dismissive I’m happy to walk away from the conversation without needing to leave judgement and almost always happy to leave the door open if they want to re-engage. Examples can be seen both on this blog and on my Facebook page.

I always, ALWAYS try to take the high road, mostly so when I look back I feel good about my actions. I don’t think the important thing is how they respond to me, but how I respond to them, and what I can learn from the situation; about them, about me, about the world in which we co-habitate.

I try to use as much nuance in our interactions as I can, including using public or private communication, timing (if I see red I wait until I’m calm again to respond), directed or undirected comments. I respond and point out inconsistency or flaws to other’s posts, but I try to be positive as much as possible in my own. If I know I will hurt someone’s feelings or upset them, depending on how important they are to me, I will try to soften that blow or remind them that despite our disagreement, we still have areas in common. I’m happy to drop a topic if requested and don’t need someone to justify why. I try to stress things to balance where I call them out because it is hard to be wrong and everyone has pride. I think about our common links and the impact of our dialogue on the wider group. I choose when to engage in debate pretty carefully and practice observing in new spaces or if I am unsure of the majority opinion of a group. I check in with myself often.

Our advanced state of capitalism, poor education system, and marketing sophistication combined with a history that many don’t know and common narratives that are often simulacra (papering over previous generations of suffering), all contribute to a fully divided American polity. I know that it is my own privilege that lets me pass back and forth, even while my gender disenfranchises me in many places. This allows me to see both sides in many discussions.

I try to bring love, and hope and clarity as much as possible because I think fear, division and blame are the real dangers of our current political direction. I think these issues have been festering for centuries (or longer); our constitution has our original, unresolved, race-debate enshrined in its text. We amended the document (with a civil war) but the emotional labor to fully knit us together has never been done. Instead, there are regularly figures who exploit these tensions for their own gain. Exploitation for personal gain is not rare or unique, it is also buried in our national narrative.

Discerning what is a topic for rational discussion and what is a matter of emotion or faith is important to know where your valuable energy is worthy of use. Also helpful to know which battles are important (ones with large audiences who might be open to alternative ideas) and which are not (you and a douche in a coffee shop or supermarket queue with no one else around.)

It is a hard boundary to know how much to be kind to others during a period of ‘awakening’ and how much one’s kindness is used to help an intransigent avoid dealing with real issues. This is where reversing the burden of proof can be helpful. Instead of trying to prove them wrong, I ask them questions to make them support their racist point, or critique from a meta perspective (gently) things like lack of evidence, an assertion with no argumentation, poor sources of citation, etc. My goal is not to prove them wrong, but to engage in a Socratic dialogue to help them see my point. It could easily be argued that I am using my own privilege of intelligence and education to marginalize them, but I try to be aware of that and use it as much as possible to increase my own capacity for patience and empathy.

I try to remain engaged in the debate and avoid it ever being about a person. ‘I’ statements help, and remaining on issue (including steering back that direction) are helpful in that.

My mum used to say “the way in is usually a question but it’s rarely ‘have you thought of this?'”

I’ll usually follow a conversation through one cycle of dismissal, vitriol or ad hominem attacks and then I’ll let it drop. The point is more to plant seeds than to win battles. Change takes a long time, and Inception is a great strategy for large societal shifts.

Many people disengage or attack because they know they can’t win and it’s a way of avoidance. I won’t let them get away with that, but I won’t be mean about it either. Humility is important to me, and so I also remind myself that everyone has something to teach me, albeit sometimes it’s more about them as an object or a catalyst.

All of this is grounded in HUGE time devoted to doing my personal work and remaining balanced and grounded intrinsically.

This is meaningful to me: “People don’t want to be immediately dismissed because they might have a view that you consider wrong or even vile; they want to feel heard. And once that happens, it’s a lot easier for them to make mental space to understand other people’s problems.” (http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/11/15/13595508/racism-trump-research-study)

It does take time, and stupid amounts of emotional labor. I think an unwillingness to do one’s own emotional labor is at root for a lot of this current aggression. In traditional Western societies, women do emotional labor and men fight the wars. Feminism has spent 50+ years attempting to upend this dichotomy. It is threatening and messy and complicated and scary when those simple binaries don’t exist. That is the root of much social conflict that I see today. Binaries always include and exclude and currently those inclusions, exclusions and boundaries are all under dispute.

I think honesty and deliberation are important personally and in relationship and the sensationalism of our media and the schism created by so much diversity so densely packed is both a new conflict and the same war we have been fighting since agrarian times. Intersectionality helps, but also just being candid about one’s own limitations, perspectives and biases.

So many people are scared for so many reasons. I have always marveled at things like the stock market and sovereignty as both are premised on a slightly unfathomably large group just agreeing to a concept, or having confidence in a system. It is all governed by how a huge number of people feel.

Politics is about power, but more importantly it is about people, relationship and community. Most people follow the law because it is the law, not because they will be punished if they don’t. People want to get along with others and fighting always must end at some point.

I spent a lot of time at the LSE thinking about the continuum between coercion and convincing. I understand the Realist drive to coercion and I agree there are many gangsters out there. But to believe in democracy is to believe that the power of more people, applied deliberatively and with love, can make the tide rise for all boats. US history is a mix of both gangsters and idealists and we must acknowledge both to be able to move forward.

The more someone pushes my buttons, the more I realize I have something important I can learn from them. Sometimes I also realize its ok to just take a break.

A constant source of comfort for me is the thoughtful, intersectional, feminist responses I see from young people around the world, and especially my peers from the debating community. International competitive debate has changed drastically since I was an undergrad. When I started competing I was a member of the most patriarchal, misogynist, xenophobic, chauvinist society you could imagine. When I got to international competition I thought it would be better but I took on the job of Women’s officer after a Women’s Forum that was… underwhelming in nature. No discussion of systemic inequality that impacted women and other marginalized group’s chances of doing well in the competition. The sea-change from then to now is amazing and was a series of tiny steps over almost 15 years.

My first act as Women’s Officer to WUDCouncil was to introduce an equity officer. I received so many concerns that first year, but only a portion were about gender equity and a great number about religion, accent, LGBTQ issues and access. We introduced the equity officer to better serve the needs of the whole community. That was a first step but it would be a further four years before Org Com had an equity team with any actual power. Those were a difficult and often impotent four years of constant battles large and small. It was worth it. This week I have had exquisite joy as the LSESU Open announced its equity team directly after announcing the CA team. It isn’t perfect, but it’s SO much better than it was and that gives me hope. We each impact a few people deeply, but if they are improved by it, and impact a few more people, those ripples can really make a difference.

If a single person sees my words and examines one belief more carefully then I consider my efforts valuable. I may be tilting at windmills still, but hope for greater understanding and more nuanced resolution is ultimately the only real strategy I have.

Emotional labor for my Trump-Voting loved ones

It was my mother, as it is almost always the mother, who kissed my hurts, and taught me slowly the secrets she learned:

That feminism is asking for equality.
That equality doesn’t mean displacement.
That if we communicate clearly there is often more than one way to share an orange.
That I am enough as I am, and Louis IV invented rules of etiquette to keep his court busy.
That hearing my own voice, deep from my own soul, will always point the right direction. Continue reading

Please consider carefully

I feel compelled to write this because I am genuinely confused by something and it scares me. I have enjoyed debating friends on the other side of the political spectrum for well over a decade now.

I have always appreciated that we have different core values, or assumptions about people, groups and social drivers, but that we are united in a cause of contemplation, and finding the best solutions to make the world a better place for everyone.

After spending as much time as I have trying to find the other side of an argument, I can honestly say that I’m usually able to see and respect my opponent and the arguments they pose.

This is why I am confused:

I know that every friend I have, despite the ways in which we disagree, demonstrates integrity, commitment, and compassion. I know that you are kind and good people who practice respect to every individual you encounter regardless of gender, color, socio-economics, disability, sexual orientation, religion or even the dreaded apple/ android divide.

You believe in two sides to an argument and honest and direct engagement. You believe in the value of discussing issues with respect and tolerance. I would be shocked to hear you insult someone based on how they look, or how they pray, or how they struggle.

I know that you are leaders and hold yourself to high standards. So I honestly don’t understand why you aren’t fighting harder for the soul of your party and your side. You had a fringe group get really loud in a crowded field and yell to victory someone who demonstrates none of your best qualities, and undermines so many of your important arguments. Your candidate is openly bigoted, dishonest and corrupt. This is the foundation of his candidacy.

I like the idea of smaller government at times, I see how values around security can outweigh those of justice at times. But it terrifies me that we would further reduce a shoestring government, and empower our military and police, while simultaneously installing in our highest office a man who takes advantage of every loop-hole and exploits every person he can, who has already expressed a disregard for the checks and balances of our system. You could understand that the exploited would be in favor of more regulation given the way that his tactics are being celebrated as ‘good business’, and worse, ‘good leadership.’  That isn’t good business, it’s straight up exploitation.

I see the value of regulatory bodies when faced with someone who has no concept of enduring truth (or truth of any kind), has such little compunction being deliberately inflammatory for his own gain, and clearly doesn’t respect any laws or regulations if they curb his quest for more power. How will he enforce laws when he regularly disobeys them?

My side is terrified of gangsters like that, and see government as the best way to curb that kind of excess. You’ve repeatedly told me that there are other corrections for behavior like that, and that people are good-hearted and fair. But your party has chosen the biggest and most offensive gangster of our time and is anointing him king because they don’t like his opponent. He is currently under investigation for a number of crimes ranging from sketchy business and financial dealings to sexual assault of a child, his opponent has been cleared from every investigation against her.  Have we really stopped trusting all of our civil organizations? Do we have so little faith in our institutions and our fellow citizens? Have we left all reason and historical context behind?

This country is great because of our democracy AND our diversity. The experiment of the US was an inspiration around the world, and with the constant course corrections intended by the Framers, we have evolved so far beyond where we started. We all agree we still have a lot of work to do.

I have to ask, although I expect no response: All things being equal, are you really going to choose to install as the head of the most powerful military the world has ever seen someone who respects tyrants and not diversity? Who has no integrity and thinks facts and data are not important to the ability to govern? Are our families and future safe when the person who commits their lives to conflict can’t even rise above tiny hand jokes?  Do you believe that over the next four years he would be able to accomplish some of your goals, move the country closer to your ideals? Do you believe the economy, the environment, our education system, our infrastructure, our global security and social relations within the polity will be improved?

You are a member of a party because it represents your views, when it doesn’t, you have a responsibility to try to change that party, or seek an alternative. If a third party candidate is closer to your value-set, vote for them. But don’t vote for the guy who wears your jersey just because you want the win. The win in this case is such a loss for all of us, please, think carefully before you choose.

As a woman I am scared. I am beyond privileged that my gender is the only thing I have to really worry about. I am scared for my friends of color, of different sexual orientation, who carry any marker that isn’t white, cis-male, economically well-off and heteronormative. I am scared for their safety, scared for their mental health, scared for the environment in which their children will come of age.

You are all leaders, and good people, and some of the most intelligent people I know. You have a difficult choice in front of you; support your traditional side and the people who look like you, or choose your conscience, doing the right thing, but knowing your party will lose. Perhaps take as consolation the fact that the likely winner has skirted the political center for decades and demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle to move the country forward. The ability to compromise and evolve your thinking should not be demonized.

This is not Brexit, there is no argument on the other side. A denial or denigration of democracy is for keeps. If we don’t have a strong grasp of indisputable facts how can we even begin to understand where we disagree? How can we believe Trump will serve the public when so much of his life has been spent taking advantage of others? How will he bring together a deeply segregated polity when he himself is so deliberately divisive?

We are a divided country, with systemic and structural problems that need to be addressed right now. They are complicated problems that require difficult solutions and we have procrastinated for too long. I’m not asking you to vote for anyone, just to consider carefully before you give your very precious ballot to a bully who simplifies issues by denying their existence and like a ADHD puppy just moves on to the next thing. ‘Blizzard of lies’ is the best description I’ve heard about this election so far and it isn’t hard to identify the cloud causing the storm. I’ve never wished so much for a transferable vote system so we can see why people are choosing and how our priorities play out.

In the 1930s my grandfather, newly emigrated from Germany, was happy to be safe in this country even while he despaired for his family and friends suffering under the increasing strain of Fascism in Germany. My father grew up, secure in the belief that we would never forget and it would never happen again, I believed that too.

This is why I am now so confused and so scared. Edmund Burke once wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I don’t believe Trump is evil, but I think the rapid descent into white supremacy, fear, blame and lies is the greatest threat our democracy has seen in my lifetime. I’m terrified we will see and do nothing. I see so many leaders in the Republican party jumping on a bandwagon with someone I know they can’t respect, it scares me for the future of our entire political system.

I know we often have different core values that inform our choices, but fear, blame and post-truth politics are not values, or usually drivers of good decisions. This is why I want to ask, as a friend and fellow citizen, to please consider your choice carefully. Please discuss candidly and honestly with the people you know and vote for the person you believe is best equipped to govern the whole country. Please listen carefully to what Trump actually says during this debate about how he will help us improve our future. Weigh it against what you already know and what you find valuable. Decide how accurate or likely his plans are and the specifics of the policies he has in mind. If, after all that, you still believe he is the best person for the job, then vote for him. If not, vote for someone else. It doesn’t have to be Hillary, but don’t just go along this time. The consequences are too important.

Trust

IMG_0024There are people in this world who will save your life

Who throw a lifeline if you are drowning, not caring that the rope will bind you

Who are generous, or loving, or thoughtful, or driven, and say ‘yes’ when you ask for help

 

Saying ‘yes’ saves at least one life every day but saying ‘no’ is so much easier when one is tired

Saying ‘yes’ inspires hope, and a renewed demonstration of commitment;

to each other, to the process, to ourselves

 

There is electricity in these ties that connect us, and healing

Acceptance is a powerful thing; generosity and kindness

A willingness to be wrong, to be vulnerable, to be open

 

The courage to risk, the confidence to fall, the heart to begin again

Life is a hard thing at times, there are monsters in the deep

And sometimes light is hard to come by

 

So we leave signposts, and whisper to the trees as we pass

Breadcrumbs for both me and the birds

if they eat the bread then surely they will sing my way home