Monday, June 23, 2014

How ...

The woman stumbled, fell forward and died, baby in her arms, inches from food.

"How could that happen?" my friend asked "was there no one to help?"

I bit my tongue.

There were the aid workers with food.

There was the man with the camera, tracking on her as she left the train, hope and strength almost gone.

There were her fellows in suffering.

But it suited none of their agendas to save her from death.

All of them cheered, whether they admitted it or not, as she became a dead woman walking, as her strength gave out, as she died mere feet, almost inches, from the food that would have saved her.

They were all complicit in her death, battening on it like any undead on the blood of the living.


Years ago a friend of mine wrote a poem inspired from seeing a video where this poor woman fell dead as described above.  She was aghast that there was no one to help, and at how close the woman came to salvation.

This is my response.  So very often someone's self immolation, their death, figurative or literal, serves the agendas of others.  They hasten down a path that will consume them, and everyone they meet encourages their destruction because of the benefit they will gain from it, one way or another.

Remember that every time you see someone's life destroyed in the public sphere, in the public eye.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I was reflecting that the two times I've been warned spiritually of future pain or adversity it has been so much worse than I anticipated.  I've wondered if I could withstand another warning and have any grace or patience about it.

One of the times was when I received my patriarchal blessing.  The patriarch stopped and cried for five minutes in the midst of it.  I wrote that off as his being old and didn't believe it could really be that bad.

The other time was when we were thinking about having Courtney and we got the strong message that having a child at this time was optional because of the hardship it would cause.  I naively thought that was that the economic stress was something we could put off.  I had no idea that it related to her dying between the deaths of Jessica and Robin.

So I consider how I would react should I receive another warning that did not include a promise that I'd be able to avoid the experience or mitigate it but only told me not to get to upset about an oncoming disaster.

Guess I'm getting old when I ponder things like that.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On privileges and advantages

I recently watched the movie The Fault in Our Stars -- we saw it for family home evening and really enjoyed it.

In part of the movie the "villain" of the movie goes on a rant about the privilege position of dying children. Of course the narrator (a dying child) disputes his analysis.

But it made me think of the various discussions of privilege I've run across.  Which made me think of a discussion a friend of mine had on privilege where he linked to a Black Academic who talked of things in terms of advantages rather than privileges. I thought the discussion was brilliant and have been trying to use it since.

Some people get it.  Privilege is a class marker, a way to identify those who benefit from the existing structures.  Applied to a homeless guy on the street it seems a little out of place as he or she is one of the people being chewed up and spit out by the class structures of wealth and power and prestige that mark out society.

Advantages captures what most people who are on the down side of the power structure may have.  Every neo-Calvinist virtue someone has (wealth, beauty, ability, power, race) is an advantage.  In addition, there are some societal markers (such as sex, race, height, hair color and age) that give advantages.

Rather that spark a discussion of the oppression Olympics, a discussion of advantages sparks a realization that the literate, the athletic, the tall and the strong have advantages. Most of those do nothing by themselves, but in application, well, look at all the 5'1" pro basketball players out there ...

It helps provide a multi-dimensional look.

I tell the guy on the street he has privilege he will just look for a better place under a quieter bridge to sleep.  I talk to him about the advantages he has and he'll agree with me that he has it better than other homeless types.  He inherently rejects things that reek of class warfare benefits, he instinctively accepts things that point out where he has hope and a leg up.

It is the difference between comparing being a white man to playing the game of life on its easiest setting, and comparing being a white man to using cheat codes.

If you are a white male academic, of course, admitting privilege costs you nothing and makes you look good.   To quote:

I get that "privilege"---race, sex, gender, disability, etc---has become something of an overplayed and diluted idea in debates about social justice and activism. But it's still a super important concept. I am vexed by the resistance to it by so many who benefit from it, and at the risk of further diluting it, I offer just two observations to skeptics:
1) When you say "look, it's not my fault that I benefit from being [white, male, straight, whatever]" that's _exactly_ what we're talking about. You benefit from something you didn't choose and that you have no role in. You shouldn't be blamed, but you don't get credit. It's the basis of your unearned benefit.
2) The best part of acknowledging that you benefit from, say, straight white male privilege is that, even in acknowledging and accepting that it exists, you don't have to give it up. You get to keep it. YOU STILL GET TO BENEFIT FROM IT.
Compared to a Jewish friend of mine, who when told of the great advantage he had in life because of the "Jewish Conspiracy" kvetched to me that whoever was running it had somehow managed to forget to include him in on it.  ;)

Anyway, the idea is not mine, and I get enough negative feedback on it I'm not comfortable pointing out where I got it, but I do think that there is a lot of progress to be made by talking about advantages rather than privileges.