Difference Matters

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I am trying another of my text books for my upcoming course tonight. This one reads better.  It also seems to be hitting some themes that I recall from my previous class of organizational communication. Let’s start with the below example:

Due to socialization, children will accept social identity categories as real and natural. Yet, they are not. Persons in power across history have constructed categories and developed hierarchies based on group characteristics.

In 1795, a German scientist named Johann Blumenbach constructed a system of racial classification that arranged people according to geographical location and physical features. He also ranked the groups in hierarchical order, placing Caucasians in the most superior position. Although scientists have since concluded that race is not related to capability, many societies in the world still adhere to various racial classification
systems because the idea of race has become essentialized. Essentialism refers to assumptions that social differences stem from intrinsic, innate, human variations unrelated to social forces. For example, so-called racial groups are viewed as if they have an “ultimate essence that transcends historical and cultural boundaries.” Thus, while we accept social identity groups as real and natural, we also perceive them as fixed (essentialized) and unchanging. However, these categories are not only artificial, but they also are subject to change. In different times and different places, categories we take for granted either did/do not exist or they were/are quite unlike the ones that we reference in the United
States in the twenty-first century. Currently, the same person identified as black in the United States may be considered white in the Dominican Republic; in the nineteenth century choices for racial designations in the United States included gradations of enslaved blacks: mulattos were one-half black, quadroons were one-quarter black, and octoroons were one-eighth black.

Allen, Brenda J. (2010-07-01). Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Page 13). Waveland Pr Inc. Kindle Edition.

While that was a long quote, I thought it was essential to illustrate the idea of essentialism, and the “normative”.constructed items gain a sense of being natural and unchanging. Getting outside that fixed frame of reference is the first step to being able to see possibilities and make real and significant changes.

I am only in the introduction, but already I feel a more even-handedness to her dealing with issues than the other book I started reading last night. I am actually interested in what she has to say, though still starting with skepticism, about white privilege, which she will explore in chapter 4 as part of a discussion of privilege. In the opening chapter she does a reasonable explanation of what privilege is:

One way to understand differences in status based on social identity is the concept of privilege. Sociologist Peggy McIntosh coined this term to refer to men’s advantages in society, based on her experiences teaching women’s
studies.
McIntosh noticed that while men in her classes were willing to concede women’s disadvantages, they were unaware of advantages they enjoyed simply because they were men. She later extended her analysis to encompass race, and she developed the concept of white privilege, which I discuss in
chapter 4.
In case you’re not familiar with this concept, one way to think about privilege is handedness. Are you right-handed or left-handed? Did you know that people used to consider being left-handed as deviant, sinister, and dangerous?
I’m left-handed, and one of my elementary teachers tried to change me to being right-handed. Of course, Ma didn’t allow that. In our society, being right-handed is the dominant expectation. Although neither of these is better than the other, we have structured society in favor of right-handed people (primarily because of numbers). And, right-handed people rarely are aware of the benefits they receive as they move around in a right-hand world. They enjoy the privilege of not knowing, until someone points it out. As a lefty, I often have awkward moments with tools, utensils, scissors, desks, and other things designed for right-handed people. And, people have told me, “Your handwriting looks good, for a lefty.” We use our right hand to pledge allegiance to the flag, to shake hands when we meet someone, and to take oaths. Right-handed people can’t avoid the benefits of being right-handed. We all inherited a system handedness that benefits some and disadvantages others.

Allen, Brenda J. (2010-07-01). Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Page 14-15). Waveland Pr Inc. Kindle Edition.

I think that is a good introduction to privilege, but it leaves out a couple of thoughts I am curious if she will address in chapter 4. First, I am a lefty, and while I have run into certain clumsy moments she mentions, I have found that, today, being part of the “non-dominant” group is actually an advantage — it means I have greater flexibility in our culture that the dominant group doesn’t have. I can do things both ways. Perhaps because being left-handed is not a visible trait that people pick up on and classify you as, this works better. But I wonder how often the “dominant” group actually has a disadvantage from being the dominant group.

And I am still trying to decide whether the word Matters in the book title is a noun, a verb, or both.

Where We Stand — which stable did you enter?

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A new year is fast approaching, and with it, a new semester of my Master’s program.  Since I don’t have time to read like I want to during the class, I try to get my textbooks ahead of time and read what I can before class, to help me immerse in the material better during the class.

I was really looking forward to this class — On international and intercultural communications — but this one text book is *really* getting me excited about this course. I didn’t realize intercultural meant class consciousness.

I’ve just read the preface and introduction, and already I all sorts of marxist agit-prop in the language that makes me know this is going to be a real exciting class. Of course, maybe somewhere in here we will actually discuss real cultures and cultural perspectives too (which is what I thought the class would be about).

Since this is going to be serious material, I thought I would start with something humorous, as well as class-conscious. After all, what class is more oppressed in our society than vegetables!

And with that to enlighten and liven up your thoughts, I turn to a quote out of the preface of the book:

Black folks with money think about class more than most people do in this society. They know that most of the white people around them believe all black people are poor, even the ones with fancy suits and tailored shirts wearing Rolex watches and carrying leather briefcases . Poverty in the white mind is always primarily black. Even though the white poor are many, living in suburbs and rural areas, they remain invisible. The black poor are everywhere, or so many white people think.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (p. 4). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

This woman’s racist comment above presumes to know so much about all poor white people and their classification of blacks.  I am glad she knows so much more about how I think than I do myself. I am sure it would shock her to know that for a large portion of the white working class and lower middle class their fear is not that of the black “poor”, but of being grouped with the White Trash that they have so recently escaped from, or are in danger of falling back into.  They have too many relatives still in that category that they would like to forget about, much like the rich black people and their poor relations she referenced earlier in the introduction.

Or how about this quote:

At the end of the day the threat of class warfare, of class struggle, is just too dangerous to face. The neat binary categories of white and black or male and female are not there when it comes to class. How will they identify the enemy. How will they know who to fear or who to challenge. They cannot see the changing face of global labor— the faces of the women and children whom transnational white supremacist capitalist patriarchy exploits at home and abroad to do dirty work for little pay. They do not speak the languages of the immigrants, male and female, who work here in the meat industry, in clothing sweat-shops, as farmworkers, as cooks and busboys, as nannies and domestic workers. Even though the conservative rich daily exploit mass media to teach them that immigrants are the threat, that welfare is the threat, they are starting to wonder about who really profits from poverty, about where the money goes. And whether they like it or not , one day they will have to face the reality: this is not a class-free society.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (p. 6). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

She is so early 2000s — doesn’t she know we live in a post-binary gender society. She has all her neat categorizations for everyone. There has to be an enemy, to be capitalist is to be a white patriarchal exploiter, etc., etc. But class consciousness doesn’t have these neat divides, these neat categories for people, and this troubles her.

At least in the introduction, where this quote comes from, she doesn’t bother to ask why that should be? Perhaps because classes are not legal or social entities that people consider themselves part of as they do families, churches, nations, companies and fraternal organizations.

But I think this last quote is perhaps the most revealing about her motivation and self-deception:

I began to write about class in an effort to clarify my own personal journey from a working-class background to the world of affluence, in an effort to be more class conscious. It has been useful to begin with class and work from there. In much of my other work, I have chosen gender or race as a starting point. I choose class now because I believe class warfare will be our nation’s fate if we do not collectively challenge classism, if we do not attend to the widening gap between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots. This class conflict is already racialized and gendered. It is already creating division and separation. If the citizens of this nation want to live in a society that is class-free, then we must first work to create an economic system that is just. To work for change, we need to know where we stand.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (pp. 8-9). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

My translation of what she is saying: If we want a class free society, we need to create an economic system that recognizes people by the class that they are in, and treats them appropriately and differently, to make them all equal.

She has moved from one economic bracket to another. But rather than see that this movement shows that class is just a construct, and can be changed, she still has this idea that she must identify with where she came from.

She and I are looking at the same thing, but our descriptions would make you wonder if we are looking at the same thing. I feel like King Tirian in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle talking to the dwarfs who refuse to be “taken in”.

“You see” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning rather than belief. their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

This is an appropriate time of year to talk of stables. Herod saw one thing in the stable, shepherds saw another, wise men a third, and Mary pondered what she saw more deeply than them all. In the simplicity and poverty three saw something grand, but it was the class-conscious one that saw the least clearly, saw a threat. Shepherds were fine to still be shepherds, wise men shared generously without thought of status, and Mary pondered, perhaps the wisest of all.

We would do well to follow the right examples from the right stable.

Snow comes to Toontown Rewritten

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Okay, something a little interesting and fun today. A Pictorial of winter scenes in Toontown Rewritten.

The original Toontown had a lot of fund holiday backgrounds for the various holidays of the year, which Rewritten is seeking to emulate, but Rewritten has also done some new things not previously seen.  Such are the scenes below from the Toon Estates, and Daisy’s Garden — covered in snow:

ttr-screenshot-Fri-Dec-26-18-23-44-2014-4832

ttr-screenshot-Fri-Dec-26-18-23-49-2014-5028 ttr-screenshot-Fri-Dec-26-18-23-54-2014-5214 ttr-screenshot-Fri-Dec-26-18-23-58-2014-5402 ttr-screenshot-Fri-Dec-26-18-37-42-2014-14394 ttr-screenshot-Fri-Dec-26-18-38-16-2014-15147

Contrasting quotes — Good intentions awry

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Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.

–Nelson Mandela

There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want, merely because you think it would be good for him.

–Robert A. Heinlein

For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

— Matthew 26:11

One of the interesting things that happens to me when viewing memes on the internet is a certain sense of dichotomy: I know exactly what reaction I am expected to have to the meme; and I know the reaction I actually have. Sometimes they are close. Way too often, being the perverse person that I am, they are far distant.

Such was my reaction to the first quote above. My reaction is to be afraid of what actions people are going to take to resolve this problem. Do-gooders who weren’t the cause of this problem — oh no, it is someone else’s fault — but they are going to be the ones to resolve it. So they are going to enforce the type of tyranny that the second quote envisions.

Through the best of intentions, people decide what government should do for people, or what should be done for people, to resolve the issue, whether poverty or something else. Then the law of unintended consequences intervenes and the result is actually something quite different.

Slavery and Apartheid were both limiting factors: they constrained people’s actions, and coerced them into modes of action. Similarly there are systems out there that constrain people and prevent their economic mobility, that encourage the perpetuation of poverty. Removing those constraints in the same way that the constraints of slavery and Apartheid were removed would be a good thing.

But it is the positive actions, things that set up new constraining structures, that I fear, and that I see have created unintended side effects that perpetuate and increase the poverty they are intended to remove, or increase the dependence of the poor upon the programs intended to remove poverty.

You cannot force a person out of poverty. You cannot force a person to do what you think is right for them. You can try, but way to often the result is resistance to your efforts. Quite often the poor do not want your help.

And what does it mean to be poor? What is the definition of poverty? I turned to Merriam-Webster Online to get a baseline definition:

Poverty

nounoften attributive \ˈpä-vər-tē\

: the state of being poor

: a lack of something

 1

a :  the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions

b :  renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property

2

:  scarcitydearth

3

a :  debility due to malnutrition

b :  lack of fertility

As you can see by these definitions, the definition of poverty can move, based on socially acceptable amounts of possessions. For example, a person in poverty today might have cable TV and a cell phone — something even the richest did not have in 1965. So Christ was correct (quote #3 above), you do have the poor with you always.  There will always be a disparity of wealth.

Sometimes, by the definition above, poverty can even be a positive thing: People in religious orders can purposefully take a vow of poverty and renounce personal material goods for the benefit of the spiritual well-being and the material and spiritual well-being of others.

We need to be careful about a great many things when trying to assist “the less fortunate”. For one thing, thinking of them as “the poor” or “the less fortunate” already creates a condescending attitude in our dealings, and throws our motivation into question. If we are doing it to be good, or to feel good about ourselves, or because we know what is best for them, beware for our motivation is wrong.

Now if we are doing something to lend someone a hand, to help them pull themselves out of a tough situation so they can set themselves on the road to improvement, that is a different story.

Too many organizations and governmental programs have encouraged the behaviors that keep people in poverty. We make it comfortable for people to live in poverty. Let’s face it, most people listed as living in poverty in the USA would count as wealthy if they lived in most of the developing nations around the world today.

People in poverty shouldn’t be comfortable — at least, they shouldn’t be comfortable because of something we or the government are doing to keep them where they are. If someone wants to live a simple life, one defined as poverty by others, they should be allowed to, if they can do it on their own.

I think of the below quotes from the movie Holiday Inn:

Linda Mason: My father was a lot like you, just a man with a family. Never amounted to much, didn’t care. But as long as he was alive, we always had plenty to eat and clothes to keep us warm.

Jim Hardy: Were you happy?

Linda Mason: Yes.

Jim Hardy: Then your father was a very successful man.

Today’s statements and statistics on poverty robs the Mr. Mason of fictional movie existence, and all the true-life people in similar circumstances, of respect and pride.

There is nothing wrong with being poor — unless you are there because you are lazy and don’t care, living off of others when you could take care of yourself.

There is nothing wrong with being poor — unless you are there because of injustice in the social structure. And no, by that last statement, I don’t mean what the people who printed the meme want me to mean.

Yes, if there are legal and social structures that prevent people from using their own efforts to advance themselves, such limits should be removed. But legal and social structures that keep you in poverty because it is more comfortable to stay there than to advance yourself, those are the true injustices facing Americans today. They keep people dependent upon the programs, and create a constituency that self perpetuates the program rather than truly eliminating poverty.

Musical trends

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We have listened to a lot of Christmas music over the past couple of months. I have performed a lot of it it too. In that time certain elements have become obvious to the current performance of Christmas music.

For one thing, in many places the performance of the traditional carols are fading away. The traditional Christmas songs continue, but the carols disappear. The items that refer to Palestine and the events there some 2000 years ago get featured less and less in the popular culture. You have to go to religious settings to see more of those.

Then there is a divide in the music into two types: those that anyone can sing, and those that only the featured artist can.

In his video “Scribbling in the Sand” Michael Card made this comment, which I think applies to the musical situation:

In my book there are two kinds of geniuses: Geniuses that you see perform and you tell yourself ‘Oh I could never do that.’ They sort of shut down your creativity. Then there are geniuses  that draw you in and fire you up to go to be creative and to write songs and to play.

Card was writing about other artists, those that inspire him to create, and those that shut him down. But I think the same could be said of performance artists, and how they encourage or discourage the music within their listeners. I hate to use the term performance artist with church musicians, but there is a definite analogy. One of my biggest concerns about modern church music is the way it discourages congregational involvement.

When people go to a concert, and buy a ticket with their money, they expect to find someone doing something better than they would normally do on their own. But that shouldn’t be so with church musicians. As a music leader you might be able to do better, but your leading should encourage the congregation to do their best, not listen to you.

Contrary to that, I have been in large congregational “worship” experiences where the music prevented singing. The music was unfollowable, and the electronics that amplified the stage isolated you from the person next to you.

My chief musical venue, besides church, is Madrigalia Bar Nonne/Carolers of Note. I think one of the things that makes the group stand out today, is not that we have a schtick and style than is so unique and unobtainable that no one would think of copying us, but that we sing things is such a well-done, traditional way, that people enjoy and want to join us in our singing.

That is more obvious in the carols, which everyone knows, but is even true with the Madrigals. One of the best parts of our time at Ren Fest doing madrigals is when members of high school or college choirs are there, and we get them to join us in singing the madrigals — and they have this revelation moment that they aren’t the only one who does and enjoys this stuff, that others do this too.

It is has been an unconscious part of my musical focus to do the simple things well, not to try to just do more and more complex things. I think I’m beginning to reference my recent blog on Musical Ratatouille. There isn’t a need for more singers offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations. What is needed is more people who can sing clearly in tune, with good vowels and a pure inflection to encourage everyone to sing, to join in the song.

Let me urge to join with me, join with us, it taking back the music for the people.

A gaze into the (energy) future

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As I write this post, in advance, on Christmas Eve, for publication on the day after Christmas, it will be interesting to see if anything has changed to negate the timeliness of the comments I am making about what I am thinking.

I wrote a blog some time ago about the dropping gasoline prices, and how the factors causing them to drop might not be ones that we should cheer about. Weak economic conditions in Europe, and the need of OPEC nations for cash continuing to pump gas when the actual strategy of the cartel should be to decrease the supply.

Since that time prices have continued to drop. Down slowly, up a few quickly, down further, back up a bit. And then it turned into a complete route — down with no ups — including a 20-cent drop in one day.

Since my original blog I have read other stories that suggested more positive possibilities for the drop. Amazingly, the US actually produces and exports more energy now that it imports. Rising prices made exploration for energy more profitable, profitable enough to explore for despite governmental regulations and roadblocks.  Free enterprise, the markets themselves sought and found a way around the blockages. It takes serious regulation and interference by government, true central planning (read sabotage) to stop the markets from doing what they intend.

By this scenario OPEC is now in a catch 22. The only way to compete against this new energy is to lower prices. Lower prices make that energy unprofitable, and turn people back to their production. Raise prices and they encourage more competition. Lower prices and they fail to raise the cash they need to keep their tyrannical regimes in power.

As I write this, before Christmas, the price of gas in $1.94 here in Kansas City.  How much further down will it go? How much further down can we take it before this “positive” sign creates other unanticipated consequences? Or by the time this comes out will there have been a serious rebound that wipes all this musing out?

One thing is for certain: definitive prognostication is a false confidence. Anything said in a fatalistic attitude, either positive or negative, is a resignation of our ability to choose and act. Dependence on government or dependence upon fate are the same fatal flaw.

If anything, the series of events that led to gas prices tumbling show that all the models in the world cannot stand up to the deliberate actions of millions of individuals. We can try to group people into classes to make them easier to understand, but the outliers will always and ultimately lay waste to the best-researched models. Those same outliers are also the ones who forge the future — the future we could never have imagined because we have never seen its brightness before.