Dissent and freedom of speech

The post-September 11th era for me seems to be the testing ground for the durability of the freedom of speech and the press in my short lifetime. There are others who have written extensively and more eloquently than I ever could on the subject, so I will simply offer a lesson drawn from one of many examples of my own experience and observations.

When I spent time with some friends at an event to protest the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001, opponents of our protest had things like this to say: “You know, our soldiers are fighting overseas to protect your right to do what you’re doing!”

The lesson to be drawn from this appears to be a simple one: be happy to have the freedom of speech; just don’t exercise it.

I dreamt of Bad Religion and Taco Bell

Bad Religion and Taco BellI remember that shortly after Bad Religion had signed to Atlantic Records years ago, I had a dream (a nightmare, really) that Bad Religion had started doing Taco Bell commercials. I don’t think I could have imagined anything more upsetting to me at the time.

Being a unique victim

I feel our collective inability to understand and cooperate with each other comes from, at least in part, the belief that each of us is some kind of victim and that the injustice acted upon us is somehow unique to other injustices — the feeling that by not being me, no one else can relate to my pain.

There are plenty of examples. If you accept Peter Novick’s assertion in The Holocaust in American Life, American Jews have been able to politicize the Holocaust, implying (either subtly or overtly) that their suffering has been unique within the human experience. American blacks have also politicized their centuries of injustice, characterizing their history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, their struggle to gain the most basic civil rights, and simple racial discrimination, as somehow unique. Women have also been unique victims who have suffered second-class status and the denial of basic civil rights, whether at the voting booth, the workplace or in the womb. The list can go on and on (the poor, the “whatever”-challenged, other racial minorities, homosexuals, etc).

I am not denying the injustice suffered by any of these groups. Who could? Anyone with the slightest understanding of history has to acknowledge past wrongs and understand their impact on current situations.

Through our effort to correct historical wrongs, however, we seem to have created a new and unlikely victim for our times: the white man. He appears to have lost power at home, in the university admission process, the job market, the workplace, and in his genitals. Men (particularly white men) have had their dominance attacked so furiously (though not necessarily successfully), that many need a pill to even get it up now.

My personal interpretation of this turn of events is this: white men grew too comfortable having all of the power, are now having to share some of that power and do not like it one bit. Now, despite the tongue-in-cheek spirit of my writing, I cannot totally fail to acknowledge their feelings. I believe that victimization comes from the inside-out — you are only a victim if you feel like one. White men all over this country have come to feel like victims — and who can blame them when you look at it from their point of view? Do I really feel sorry for them? Okay, no, not really, but I think I can see where they’re coming from.

Too much of this politicized victimization has little to do with justice or equality in my mind. Instead, I believe we are motivated by self-preservation and the desire for dominance. The reality is more nuanced than this, of course, but I believe these to be the key components.

If we want to promote fairness, we need to be willing to understand others from their point of view — to learn that our experience is a shared one, in which we all suffer or thrive together. In doing so, we will be able to conduct a more productive dialogue in which, instead of improving our lives at the expense others, we can learn to appreciate and exchange our values. We will be able to embrace the fundamental values of others as our own, because, deep inside, they were ours all along.

Elected officals and accountability

I believe that people, for the most part, will listen to those they work for. This tendency is based on the mostly correct assumption that listening to your boss will provide you benefits in the way that you will continue to have a job and enjoy things that cause you to enjoy your job even more.

I believe this also applies to elected officials. Those who are inactive in civic life typically hold the belief that elected officials do not represent the wishes of the people. I would re-state the problem as simply being that elected officials listen to their bosses: people who finance their campaigns and work to make sure they are re-elected. These people are arguably a minority, but a powerful one. If one accepts the existence of an unrepresented majority, I would argue that they have the power to be the boss of elected officials.

You can call your officials, write them letters, send them faxes, attend their consituency events, and most importantly, vote for or against them. People will generally listen to those to whom they will be held accountable. If we want elected officials to be accountable to us, they must be told in clear fashion, they will be held accountable. It involves a sacrifice in time, energy, and even money, but I believe it is worth it. Elected officials are some of the hardest working people I can think of. I would like them to work for me.

Public service

I agree with those who believe that public service is one of the most honorable things a person can do in life. Aside from the gratification one can receive from working towards the common good, it is also an opportunity for complainers to put their money where their mouth is. If complainers feel they are so smart, have all the answers, and can do a better job, why not do it themselves?

If I had a career path, I’d probably change it.

Re-thinking golden showers

Golden showerI have recently learned from a program on Arirang TV that lower-class Korean women in pre-modern times (and currently in some remote areas) maintained beautiful skin by washing their faces every night with their own urine (women with money would wipe their faces with sesame oil and honey). Apparently modern dermatologists have verified the scientific validity of this seemingly disgusting practice. As it turns out, urea helps retain moisture in dry, chapped skin.

So if I happen to urinate on your face, keep in mind it’s not an act of violence but skincare. Let ‘er rip!

Fashion magazines

Why the hell do we pay for fashion magazines? Don’t advertisements make up, like, ninety-percent of the content? I know magazines are very expensive to produce and that advertisers are the only reason why these things are able to be printed in the first place, but, honestly, should we feel good about paying five bucks to look at a bunch of ads — ads that compel us to buy more stuff? That’s just weird.