Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mattering lives

Black lives matter.  It needs to be said.  It shouldn’t, but it needs to be said.  Brown lives matter, too.  Of course.  Indigenous lives matter.  LGBTQ lives matter.  Of course.  It’s not a competition.   When someone says “Black lives matter,” and someone else responds with “All lives matter,” in theory, the counter-response should be, “Exactly!  That’s the point.”  But, really, they are missing the point, aren’t they?  And if someone responds with “White lives matter,” or “Police lives matter,” then they’re REALLY missing the point.  Not because the melanin-deficient or officers of the law DON’T have lives that matter, but because nobody is SAYING we don’t.  At least outside of the paranoid fantasies of white racists afraid of losing privilege.  Certainly, there are not massive governmental, economic and cultural institutions acting consistently and forcefully as if they don’t. The same is not true of the other categories I listed.  Police are not acting collectively as if they could casually shoot any random white person (let alone each other), and expect no serious consequences to follow.

If, when you hear someone say “Black Lives Matter,” a person from some other oppressed group responds “so do ours,” that is at least understandable.  When this reaction comes from a member of a privileged group, this is a classic “What about me?” response.  “What about me”-ism happens when an oppressed person speaks about their oppression, and a relatively privileged person feels compelled to respond with some version of, "Well, we have problems too..."  What has effectively happened is that the oppressed person has been silenced. Again. It's a way we privileged people have of telling less privileged people that only OUR voices count.

On the specific issue of murder rates, it does seem that “Black lives matter” needs special elaboration, above and beyond all the others.  I haven’t seen data on Native Americans as homicide victims, but one study I read showed that black Americans are killed at about 12 times the rate of whites.  Latinos are killed slightly more frequently (as a percentage of their numbers) than whites, but the difference is relatively small.  Still, it all depends on time and place, doesn’t it?  We’ve seen mass graves in Texas.  Massacres of immigrants in border states, by vigilantes – maybe  by Border Patrol? – are hidden in the dark of the night, and not tracked by statistics.  Even one murder inspired by racism and mindless hatred is too many.

But the mattering of lives is not just about life and death.  It is about our hopes and aspirations, the things we strive for in our short span between birth and dying, and our dreams for our posterity.  Those of us with white-skin privilege, especially if we also have some share of class, male, straight, cis-gendered privilege, easily form and sustain many expectations in these areas.  We may not achieve our dreams, but those governmental, economic, cultural institutions have not been organized to dampen our hopes.  I’m not saying nothing ever stands in our way.  That would be stupid.  But what privilege is all about is that things stand in our way less often*.  We get more encouragement, less discouragement.  We get a lot more helps along the way.  What “Black lives matter” is about is black people saying, “We want that, too.  Our dreams matter as much as yours.  We want as much chance to form them, and see them to fruition as you do.”  Until EVERYBODY, black, brown, women, LGBTQ, WHATEVER has exactly the same chance at these things as white, cis-gendered, straight men**, then BLACK LIVES MATTER.  It needs to be said.

Footnotes and afterthoughts

*Some people will object to this, because they’ve bought into the “reverse racism” bullshit, and they think the Great Society social programs actually succeeded in eliminating discrimination, have maybe even gone too far.  I won’t go into detail on that, except to say, if that is you, study the actual data, not the sound bites.  Listen to the actual life experiences of black people.  If you believe racism and discrimination have effectively ended, you’re wrong.

**I don’t explicitly include class issues in this list, because wealth disparities simply need to be eliminated.  There is no way to equalize the power distribution between rich and poor other than by eliminating poverty and wealth.

Another aside:  Not a single thought in the above is unique to me.  And I hope I don’t come off as “white-splaining”.  I’m certainly not trying to teach people of color any of the above.  But I encounter, continually, enough confusion and uncertainty about these ideas from other white people, that I thought it would be worth throwing my 2-cents-worth into the mix.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Free will

Well, these are old thoughts – I wrote this out at length on 6/22/13 – but I keep coming back to them. Some people say we lack free will, because everything we do is a determinate function of who we are and the circumstances we find ourselves in, and, further, who we are is a function of  our history, including the chance formulation of our genetic makeup.

First, I question the word “determinate”.  At the very least, I challenge the speaker to show me how to make the term operational. (Cf. Laplace’s demon 11/22/09)

But even granting, for argument, that our choices are determined, in some sense, by these things, all you are really saying is that I have a mechanism by which I make choices, and I will make the choice that the mechanism produces.  How could it be otherwise?  What would it mean to make a choice other than by some mechanism?  Some physical/chemical apparatus, presumably, but even if I believed in a divine spark, doesn’t the spark have some sort of nature?  Some process? 

If choosing, based on the dictates of my own nature, how best to respond to the circumstances I find myself in is being “unfree”, exactly who or what is it that is not free?  Am I seeking the freedom to choose something other than I want to choose?  Well, I could – if I wanted to.  (Oops…)

I  conclude that the choices are accepting what we have as free will, or accepting that the question of free will is an undefinable pseudo-question.  But this is a matter of semantics, not metaphysics.  The conclusion “we lack free will” is not one of the alternatives.