In the past week, two famous people died by suicide. This is not the first, nor the last time that a celebrity will take his or her own life. As humans, in our culture, we feel sad about this. When it is a celebrity, we feel sad because we feel a connection to celebrities, and it is as if we lost somebody we knew, even if we didn’t really know the person. For some celebrities, especially those who are still making music or art or film or theater, we feel a justified loss because we know that we lost the chance to ever hear a new song by Prince, or see (or own) a new design by Kate Spade, or learn about a new fascinating place by Anthony Bourdain. It seems reasonable to be sad about that, even if it’s not the loss of somebody who is in our real lives. Suicide is complicated though, and I have very mixed feelings about it, and my thoughts aren’t entirely consistent with each other, but like other things I write about, I find it a bit cathartic to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and try to flesh things out a bit. The relative anonymity, and low volume traffic of this site of mine helps bring out the honesty too. Here goes…
I spend a lot of time writing about politics, thinking about politics, and conversing about politics in person and on social media. I am liberal in my approach to most things, and I almost always prefer the candidate from the democratic party over the candidate from the republican party. The things I write about, and comment about on social media, have a pretty clear left lean to them. Even if you don’t know me, and haven’t read anything else I’ve ever written, you would probably guess that I’m pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-immigration, pro-universal health care coverage, I support safety net programs to help those in need, and I am against tax cuts for the rich. I fit the identity in many ways. You’d be wrong to guess that I was vegan (I love to eat, and love to eat a variety of foods, including meat), and you’d be wrong if you guessed that I was against agricultural innovations like GMOs. But here’s what got me thinking about the topic of this post: I don’t feel the need to hide it when I disagree with the democratic party, or when I disagree with something said by a politician that I otherwise support. I also don’t feel the need to hide it when I agree with something said by a politician that I otherwise loathe. That doesn’t seem like it should be shocking to anybody, but I’m not sure that it’s the norm.
I’m a stickler for using the “right” words for things. I’m sure I get it wrong myself, especially when speaking, but I try. There are a few things that I find particularly bothersome (perhaps because of their widespread use). Students I mentor have to deal with my routine correction of them, and they often pick the “incorrect” usage just to tease me, which is fun, but the poor usage bothers me when it’s not an attempt at humor. This is, admittedly, pedantic in some respects, but I think it matters, and I’ll explain why, after describing some of these nuisances.
I saw this on a friend’s FB thread this morning and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Not because I hadn’t considered the premise before; I’m familiar with Dunning-Kruger. I was struck by the inability to decide which is better. Not that we can help or determine which defines us better. We are either full of doubt or confident, and I’m quite sure that it’s not always aligned with intelligence (I know plenty of people who I consider very intelligent who at least appear to have no doubt whatsoever, and I know a few people who I don’t think of as very intelligent who are plagued by doubt). But, given these two options, in a false dichotomous kind of world, which is better?
I am pleased that the gun debate continues in the United States. I am saddened that it takes the killing of children in school to reignite it from time to time, and wish it would continue without any tragic events. I think we’re making a fundamental mistake in the approach though, much like the mistake many make when talking about curing cancer. There is not one cancer, there are many cancers. An effective treatment for one type of cancer may have no effect on another. Likewise, there are many issues related to gun safety, and what might prevent injury or deaths caused by one of those issues could be quite different from what is needed to prevent harm from another. But when somebody proposes something that might help one cause, it is dismissed because it won’t help all causes, so we end up talking past each other. I think recognizing that is an important step forward.
Immigration is a hot topic today. The blending with racism and nationalism is hard for me to ignore, and it’s interesting to watch the rationalization that people use to avoid confronting their own racist views and implicit xenophobia. This kind of thing takes several forms, each revealing. On the whole, I’m pleased that people struggle to rationalize this, because it shows me that they see racism/xenophobia as a bad thing, and don’t want to think of themselves that way. I wrote about this earlier; the relevant quote was “I know that most people don’t want to be racist. I know that most people get angry when somebody calls them a racist. That’s good. It tells me that they and I share the belief that racism is bad. That makes me happy, and I’m glad we agree that being a racist is not a good thing to be.” But that doesn’t make it go away. We need more. We need to see it out in the open, so we can end it in ourselves if we truly do not want to be racist. Immigration and our views on this is a good place for this exercise, so let’s spend some time looking at a couple of issues, and what people have said about immigration policy that may reveal some not-so-kind, but correctable, views.
Trump said an awful thing. Although he denies it, several sources have confirmed that, in a closed-door meeting about immigration policy, he asked, “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” People went nuts, with good reason, but I think the focus has been wrong. This is cross-posted from my FaceBook, word for word (except this paragraph of introduction).