Fuzzy memories

My memory for some things is awful. It’s a running joke at work, and my graduate students have teased me by admitting their strategy of coming back to me with a research idea that I dismissed weeks ago, with the hopes that I will have forgotten dismissing it, and will get excited about it the second or third time. I can’t say that this strategy hasn’t worked…largely because my memory can be pretty rotten at times. I don’t think it’s pathological, or a sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s. I think some things are salient, and stick, and others are easily dismissed, and forgotten. I also know that memories are quite flexible, and often we remember things very differently from how they actually happened. An article in Vox reminded me of this, and there are other excellent examples out there.

Fair warning, there’s a spoiler below, so if you haven’t listened to the episode of Radiolab called “Reasonable Doubt” and want to/plan to, you might not want to read below the fold just yet.

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The politics of demonization

Politics has always had an ugly side. Although we often feel like we are living through the worst of it, it has clearly been really awful at other times also. CNN had a great piece during the Trump-Clinton election showing some of the awful things candidates said about each other. The current climate includes some of this, and plenty of name calling (our President excels in this artform), but what bothers me the most isn’t the attacks between those individuals, but the blanket demonization of people who vote a certain way or another. Both sides get blame for this, but circumstances seem to be having an impact on republicans (at this moment) more than democrats. I’m not saying that things couldn’t be reversed, and democrats would be the ones to talk about here, but right now, in current politics, the republicans are worthy of some attention. Specifically, I’m talking about what’s happening in Alabama and the continued support of the GOP candidate for Senate. For the party leaders, and many of their voters, democrats are so awful, and so evil, and so wrong for the country, that they would prefer to side with Moore, in spite of all the dirt that’s been unearthed about him, than let a democrat win the seat.

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When our heroes fall

People aren’t perfect. We’re relatively safe when we idolize fictional characters, because they’re less likely to let us down, but when we idolize real people, we run the risk of being let down by their inevitable imperfection. From Bill O’Reilly to Christopher Columbus to Thomas Jefferson, people do unforgivable things, and we’re stuck trying to balance the good with the bad. What interests me is how people react when it happens.

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Disrupter in Chief

I think this is going to be another long, winding road. My thoughts are coming together in waves, and not all that organized. I may delete this opening before posting…or may just leave it here so I can watch the winding road and maybe enjoy the ride. I have a Facebook friend who I do not know in real life, and I don’t think I’ve ever met in real life. He became a Facebook friend because he maintains a pretty sizable following of Trump loyalists, and after going back and forth a few times, he asked me to join the fun. I don’t participate in the banter all that much since the start, mostly because it’s not my style (the typical response from the Trump loyalists is a meme about Hillary being ugly or something like that), and I get bored with the lack of real discussion. The folks over there seem more about winning, when I’m not there to compete. But this group has given me a window into Trump loyalists that I might not otherwise have, and I’ve made some generalizations. I know generalizations are often unwise, and I’m sure there are individuals who support Trump and do not fit this mold. Indeed, I’m not sure at all that these loyalists are representative of Trump supporters at all, so in truth I see this more as a focus group than a survey, but I’ve still seen some interesting things. Let’s start the ride.

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Sex and straw men

The outing of Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator has raised the profile of sexual harassment in a way that I hope does some good. Women are sharing their stories, and letting anybody who doesn’t already know, that harassment is a pervasive problem. I think this is all good, but I think we all need to tread carefully, and see some of the pitfalls that other similar social movements have faced. Also, as a caveat, I recognize that a white cis guy probably isn’t the best voice for this, but given that my maximum readership for any post sits at around six views, I still feel moderately comfortable using this as my diary, as a place to put some flesh on my semi-private thought skeleton. I also think I have a pretty good track record of being against sex discrimination and considering myself a feminist/equalist (see here, and here). So here goes.

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The shallowness of symbols

Kaepernick kneel

The culture war has gotten plenty of new kindling to burn in the form of a protest by a black man. In a totally non-violent, passive way, Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem. It went unnoticed for a while, but eventually got picked up and became a huge controversy. Things got even more heated this weekend after President Trump tweeted things about the kneeling (note, well after Kaepernick stopped playing), and players and owners responded. Even those who supported Trump in the past were bothered by his tweets, and stood with kneeling players to show their support for their players. Of all the things that are fascinating (and deeply troubling) about the whole thing, what I find most telling might be the deep importance of a symbol from the self-declared patriots. It’s a flag, it’s a song. And it’s not like he’s burning the flag (which itself shouldn’t be all that upsetting; the consequences for burning a flag aren’t like burning a building, right?). It’s not like he’s pissing on it, or spitting on it. He’s simply kneeling, quietly. But some are outraged (not hyperbole) by this disrespect for a symbol of America. This got me thinking if there was some symbol that I felt so strongly about, seemingly more so than the thing the symbol represents.

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The ultimate symbol of privilege

The idea of white privilege made its way into common culture over the last few years. I’ve gotten into several FaceBook spats about whether or not there’s a certain privilege associated with being white. I think the word “privilege” might put people off, and make them defensive, but when you get to the heart of the matter, it’s really about a sense that the world revolves around white americans. It’s common here in the United States to hear people say that we don’t have accents. Of course some do, but when somebody speaks and you can’t tell if they’re from the north or south or midwest of the United States, they are said to not have an accent. But they DO have an accent, and it’s easy to tell that they are from the US (or Canada). It’s that, in our self-centered world, sounding like “us” means being “normal” and not having an accent. We don’t talk about people having an American accent, like we talk about Australian or British or Hispanic accents. We see it in how we talk about food in terms of “ethnic” and “non-ethnic” also. Restaurants are classified as chinese, ethiopian, mexican, burmese, indian…and then there’s the others. Not “american,” just unclassified. All of this makes it clear that our culture, specifically white American culture, acts as if we are the “norm” and everything else is different. Not bad, but not the norm. But these are small potatoes compared to the biggest of all…

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