Sunday, October 09, 2016

Know the male, yet keep to the female

Much talk over the last few days has been about male privilege, the normalization of male ownership of women's bodies, and whether sexually assaulting women is acceptable, and is just in good fun—all prompted by off-guard comments by a presidential candidate. "Locker room banter," apparently is just what men do.
I have wanted to say that, as a man, Donald Trump, with his locker room banter, does not represent me. I have long been a feminist ally. Years ago I began to loath the kind of conversations some men have when women are not present. Nonetheless, the sad truth is that "locker room banter" remains all too frequent, as we move painfully slowly out of the mire of patriarchalism. Underneath the "banter" is a continuing belief that women are less than men, playthings of men, and not to be taken seriously. Even some of the outraged comments, "I have a wife and I have a daughter," perhaps contain a hidden assumption that women are still "owned." "Banter" then becomes merely a threat to my personal property.
I am not outraged, as if Donald Trump's comments and actions come as a surprise. But, I am saddened that such deeply held prejudices still exist, and that for many, it's just "what every man does, at least if he's normal" (according to a Congressman who wants to be reelected). To be honest, I have found the last few days of public discourse quite depressing.
I have been looking for some light in the darkness, and I have found a glimmer in the ancient Daodejing. It happens that, at present in my Asian Philosophy class, we are discussing the Dao. With my students I am trying to internalize the complementarity opposites of yin and yang, finding the suggestiveness of the ancient texts helpful to get an appropriate perspective. Unlike many ancient texts, the Dao avoids overt patriarchalism. In the Dao male and female are equally valued. In fact, in parts the Dao emphasizes the female as a corrective to the blatant male dominance of ancient Chinese society. In chapter 24, it reads:
Know the male,
yet keep to the female:
receive the world in our arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be a like little child.
(Mitchell translation)
The Dao's suggestiveness invites playfulness with the text and its meaning. "Know the male," seems like a comment on much of recorded history, where the female has been hidden, secondary, and subordinate. Yet, the Dao urges us to "keep to the female," receiving "the world in our arms," a powerful image of motherly care. After eons of the dominance of yang, is it time for an assertion of yin? Having known the male for so long, is it now time to keep to the female?
Perhaps, at last, the times are changing, and the current outbursts of the alpha male are the death throes of a masculinist culture gasping for life. I truly hope so.
In Chinese, the proverb "pi ji tai lai," literally, "evil extreme, good arrives" and can be expressed:
Out of the depth of misfortune comes bliss.
At the end of Hindrance appears Advance.
(Alfred Huang translation)
 The darkest hour is just before the dawn.
Who knows but perhaps some good will follow from the truly awful mess we seem to be in.

+Ab. Andy

(Pic credit, Plate Ducks from

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The current crisis of racism and violence

Nonviolentists—I count myself as one— sit somewhere on a continuum from the "absolute pacifist" (violence can never be justified, and should never be resisted), to the "practical pacifists" (nonviolence is the norm, but violence can be used in extremity, only on rare occasions). Some are nonviolentists for religious or spiritual reasons (following a nonviolent Jesus, or the Hindu tradition of ahimsa, for example) and others for humanistic or philosophical reasons (there are justifiable reasons to conclude that violence is a moral problem, and that nonviolent solutions are on the whole better ones). Some nonviolentists see nonviolence as a political tool; others that nonviolence is a way of life, far bigger than politics. Common to all nonviolentists is the understanding that violence is humanity's deepest problem, and that the search for nonviolent solutions to disputes is a moral imperative. My own developed position is that a nonviolentist is someone who seeks to reduce the overall violence in the world. On the continuum of "absolute to practical," I tend toward the practical. While nonviolence is a useful political tool, for me, nonviolence is more a way of life—nonviolence is an end in itself, when conjoined with love is the highest and most noble human aspiration.
A reason we need nonviolentists is because of the human proclivity to reach for violence, not only as a last resort, but as a normal and usual method of problem solving and control. Even "violence as a last resort" contains a hidden assumption that if all else fails, violence will succeed. It's an easy step to ask that because violence succeeds, why reach for anything else? Nonviolentists will remind us that even the "successes" of violence are short term and limited; that violence always has unintended consequences; that violence invariably involves the innocent; and that violence means have a tendency quickly to spin out of control and produce more violence.
In the USA, we face a domestic crisis at the interface of racism and violence. (For the moment I leave aside the crises of violence overseas.) In 2016, so far 793 people have been killed by law enforcement (Guardian "The Counted"). In high profile cases in 2015 and 2016, it is clear that systemic racism is contributory to many of these deaths. I was haunted this week by the pleas of Rakeyia Scott, caught on video, with police officers not to shoot her husband, 43 year-old Keith Lamont Scott. Apparently, plain clothed officers, preparing to issue a warrant on someone else, parked their truck next to Scott's vehicle. They noticed he was rolling a marijuana "blunt." They also saw a gun (disputed by Scott's family.) They left the scene, returned with armored vests and confronted Scott. Within moments Scott was killed, his widow left grieving in unbelief. Confidence in the partiality of law enforcement is at a low ebb. Seemingly, doing anything "while black" can result is an execution. While the NRA continues its demand for Second Amendment rights to bear arms, even "open carry," to do so if you are black amounts to a death sentence, carried out not by due process, but by the instant decision of a police officer. So black citizens protest. And law enforcement responds in military style riot gear. Violence erupts, and city centers resemble war zones. Trust is broken. Fear increases. Violence escalates. Racism, barely below the surface, emerges to reveal the fault lines of US society. We are in crisis.
In 1970, philosopher Hannah Arendt published her extended essay On Violence. In part, her essay was a response to student violent protests in the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy, and the seeming failure of nonviolent protest. Why did the students turn to violence? In her answer she make distinctions between power, strength, force, authority and violence; parses out meanings, and so helps in our understanding. A failure to understand the nature of violence and power takes us into a cul-de-sac, with no way out.
In brief, Arendt suggests:
  • Power is the human ability to act in concert
  • Strength is the property inherent in an object or person in relation to other objects or people
  • Force is the energy released by physical or social movement
  • Authority is the recognition that obedience is called for without coercion or persuasion
  • Violence and power are not the same
  • Violence is instrumental in nature (no value in itself) and if used in support of power demonstrates the loss of power.
  • Violence is a crisis for power
  • Violence is a substitute for power 
If Arendt is correct, the implications for our current crisis are many. Here's a few. To equate violence with power is foolish. Increasing violence by law enforcement (even in the way police now dress for war) is a wrong strategy. Police violence demonstrates a crisis, a loss of power, and a reduction of its authority. Power belongs to the people in concert. Violence by protesters undermines the power they have in acting against injustice and systemic racism.
It's easy for me to say. I'm not in Charlotte. Members of my community have not been systematically profiled. I did not plea for my husband not be shot dead. I am not a police officer and do not face violence against me on a daily basis.
But I am a nonviolentist, and I can only think that for us to draw back from the brink will entail the difficult work of loving nonviolence to restore trust, to find justice, and to move incrementally closer to King's Beloved Community.

+Ab. Andy