Hiatus

Every once in a while it feels like my life is a word-a-day calendar writ large and realized. All the definitions of one particular word are eating at me today.

For my purposes, blogging has lost much of its gloss relevance. Despite the community of wonderful people that colemining has brought into my life, in this current-world-reality I feel like I’m simultaneously shouting in the wilderness and preaching to the choir, while the credulous, disingenuous and banally evil (and you know I use that word with caution) types run amok, spreading lies and hatred and ignorance as far as the reach of their followers permits.

I can’t rightly remember (without going back and checking) the last time I wrote something to share. There was, for a time, some continuity here. In the few lines I’ve written already, I hear echoes of past posts – reinforcing the idea that I’m ad nauseam-ing myself – and anyone who stops in for a visit – with the same old-same old.

An ever-deepening societal lack of attention span and the rise of vlogging and podcasting have made my long-winded comprehensive discussions even more obsolete than they were when I started using the blog-as-platform, way back in the dark ages of the internet. Since the ‘long read’ remains my go-to for hashing out thoughts and commentary, it’s been hard to justify the time and energy spent writing in an environment that seems geared to those who favour sound-bites and unsupported (unsupportable?) generalities as a means of communication.

So: 1. a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

Much of my academic career involved working with literary documents – and their historical development – from Late Antiquity. My Master’s research focused on a theoretical ‘document’ – Quelle or ‘Q-Source’ –  posited to be the origin of the ‘authentic’ sayings of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. My Doctoral dissertation was about a gnostic apocalypse from Nag Hammadi – most of which is the opposite of ‘extant’. I spent a whole lot of time in my early adulthood filling in blanks and making things up, albeit in a reasoned, educated way.

From that perspective, it is fair to say that my years in higher education were spent dealing in hypotheticals – a fact that engages and irritates me all at the same time. I enjoy puzzles – and finding and assembling information in a manner that follows the rules of logic and rationality has always been one of the great joys of my life. Still, it was always at the back of my mind that we, as historians of ancient and biblical religions, were making up a lot of stuff and perpetuating foci on stories and histories that should, perhaps, be set aside in favour of study of those things that directly impact the world-as-it-is, rather than the world-as-it-was millennia ago.

That trend of thought has caused some existential angst. I love that stuff – and appreciate that I was privileged enough to study and teach it for as long as I did. I will continue to insist on its value for those who have the interest and wherewithal to investigate the ultimate origins of stuff that people still use as guideposts to living in the world – and the search for human meaning that lies at the heart of those guideposts.

But, if we’re really honest, and if living our lives in the glare of constant media – social and otherwise – has taught us anything, it’s that there aren’t many people who are interested in examining history and literature as means of understanding the world around them. Don’t get me wrong – lots of people love citing literature that dates back to Bronze Age nomadic desert peoples, but there is a complete lack of awareness that such pre/proscriptions for living are anachronistic in the 21st century.

The failure of education and critical examination that has brought us to this place in history is a symptom of the fact that we aren’t interested in learning about our recent history and taking warning from its messages. We, in the West, tend to insist in the rightness of ‘our way’ without having first-clue about the path that got us to this supposed-cohesion of social practices and policies.

I am an historian, but I have discovered lacunae in my own awareness of modern history as I witness the events and movements unfolding around us. I am attempting to rectify this, currently, by reading about the rise of Nazism and other totalitarian regimes, experiential Holocaust literature, Jim Crow laws and their application, and the history of the destruction of indigenous cultures around the world – including those that happened (and persist) in my own backyard.

2. a missing part; lacuna.

But even with my self-assigned syllabus of compulsory readings, figuring out where I fit in the discussions we need to be having about the social and cultural anomie that is the epidemic causality of the rise of the alt-right and a generalized shift to rampant ‘othering’ has been difficult for me. I don’t like the shouting. The abuse, and the trolls, and the cognitive dissonance that make up the majority of the ‘discourse’ that’s happening right now leave me feeling disconnected and voiceless.

Chris Stedman, an American atheist whose work I’ve come to know through his Twitter feed, has written an important reflection on his place in the noisome and fraught discussions, and issued a call to arms, of sorts, to those seeking more moderate and humanistic approaches to addressing the myriad issues that come at us all, from all angles, on any given day.

His article echoes the concerns I’ve been feeling as an ‘out’ atheist who uses, however occasionally, various internet forums to express thoughts and passing insights. I have been attacked by supporters of a particular UofT psychology professor, been told that my Twitter feed is ‘unbearably smug’ (or was it ‘insufferable’? either way…) by white males whose ad hominem  ‘arguments’ I choose to ignore, had followers of any number of religions and/or ideologies predict my ultimate fate – both in this world and the one they see as coming…

I don’t feed trolls. If people are willing to engage in informed dialectic, I’m all for discussing the truth or falsehood of opinions. Abuse will not be dignified with any sort of response. That’s why the ‘block’ function was created – and why irrational, raging comments should be deleted. Sorting the chaff from the potential wheat is usually time-consuming and soul-crushing, and is viewed, by some, as ignoring ‘both sides’ of a given subject.  I defend my refusal to strike back at – or acknowledge – the rantings of the confirmation-biased as being an exercise in futility. I’m done trying to fix stupid unexamined bigotry.

But Stedman’s summary point, ‘the difficult truth spotlighted by both Spencer’s atheism and the silence of other atheists is that, despite the late Christopher Hitchens’s infamous proclamation that “religion poisons everything,” religion was never the problem. It was always something more complicated. Something uglier, more primal, more deeply human. Something the internet, with all the good it can foster, often facilitates. Until atheists and humanists confront this Something head on, we will continue to struggle with people like Spencer who embody an atheism that got rid of the gods but put white men in their place’, speaks to our current social and political reality, and is strongly resonant with the direction of my own thoughts, lately.

I have spent my adult life studying religions – and the people who create those religions and use them to further social and political ideologies. That they are caught up – inextricably – in anachronistic, misogynistic, racist, separatist (I could continue listing ‘ists’ indefinitely) narratives is tautology. Which doesn’t mean that dismissive, offensive name-calling, by ‘young white men in particular—who feel disconnected, marginalized, and misunderstood (and are seeking) a sense of identity, belonging, and purpose’, should be getting all the ‘atheist airtime’.

It is trying, to say the least, to find a place – as a woman, an atheist, an academic – in an environment that is increasingly hostile to all of those things.

But middle grounds – that examine history and apply its lessons to the progressive and evolved ideals that people are standing for (in movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, #NeverAgain… the list grows, daily) are finding voices and filling in the spaces between the extremes that divide and conquer us.

3. any gap or opening.

Stedman’s renewed commitment to activism – from a starting point that, in many ways, mirrors my own – has suggested an opening – and, perhaps, a new direction. As frustrating as demoralizing as it is to scream into the (seeming) abyss of ignorance and self-serving rhetoric, the answer to our systemic issues cannot lie in the hiatus of history. We have permitted constructed lacunae – repeated by our elected leaders (and those who weren’t, actually, elected), the media, and by anyone/everyone with access to the internet – to drive our collective narratives for too long.

It is not enough to push unthinkingly for change. As Stedman notes, we need to be asking difficult questions about the cultures of our movements, eradicating dogmatism and anger-driven reactionary messaging that adds fuel to the fires of intentionally-conceived divisions. In doing so, we all – atheist and otherwise – ‘have the chance to offer a robust, humanistic alternative… that affirms the worth and dignity of all people to an increasingly secular generation.’ 

Those are gaps worth bridging.

 

 

 

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Monstering and #MeToo

With Hallowe’en just around the corner, it seems like an appropriate time to address something that has been bugging me for some time now. It’s a phenomenological extension of the ‘othering’ that is epidemic in the current climate of nativism and exclusionary rhetoric – things that have no basis in anything other than artificial constructs and institutions of power that belong in the past.

How’s about we stop calling people monsters?  Denying the humanness (detestable as that humanness might be) of actions while criticizing behaviours and/or worldviews abrogates the responsibility for those acts/beliefs. Attaching a supernatural element to the inimical suggests an inability to ensure its cessation.

Monsters are, by definition, MONSTROUS. Created (in our mythologies) by nature, by humans, by gods, to be inhuman scapegoats for all those crimes that we just can’t seem to acknowledge that we – us people – are capable of committing.

There has been a lot of monstering happening over the last week.

#MeToo is a powerful indicator of much that is broken in our societal system(s). The evidence – as presented by people who have been marginalized by our institutions and traditions – is reaching critical mass as we speak up and refuse to accept old adages about boys-being-boys while still being slut-shamed for having the audacity to wear whatever we want, when-and-wherever we want to wear such things.

The number of women responding through social media and identifying themselves with the hashtag started by Alyssa Milano (ETA – apparently the hashtag and movement was created – quite some time ago – by Tarana Burke) doesn’t – sadly – surprise me. Nor – again, sadly – do the instances of men leaping to condemn, using the same, tired, gaslighting that persists on university campuses, in workplaces, on city streets, and in darkened bedrooms during house parties. Everywhere, really.

That women experience harassment and assault on an ongoing basis is tautology. #AllofUs might be a better hashtag – if we’re trying to demonstrate the ubiquity of the issue. But that gets us into grey-areas of negation of the primary message (comparable to the offensive inanity of cries of ‘all lives matter’ when discussing systemic inequity and imbalance), and the primary message is important. Institutionalized abuse is not something that will be tolerated anymore.

Every #MeToo is representative of a lived experience – one that affected the humanity of the woman who experienced the abuse and/or assault. And each hashtag is deserving of respect and sensitivity to that personal – yet also universal – ordeal.

I applaud the awareness campaign – and the rapidity and comprehensiveness with which it has spread – yet I question the efficacy of the social media movement (of any such social media movement, really) since it sings, mainly, to the choir, while permitting the uneducable trolls to spread their vitriol, per usual.

Especially when we classify the humans (and let’s be real, here. We are, mainly, discussing men) as ‘monsters’, denying their culpability in mistreating their fellow-human beings.

We keep doing that.

As an example, since November of last year I’ve seen myriad and multiplying posts, essays and articles claiming that the IMPOTUS is a ‘monster’ for ignoring the circumstantial realities of the citizens over whom he claims leadership.

He is not a monster. He is an abhorrent and immoral and detestable human, who seeks nothing but the furtherance of his own selfish desires. A poor excuse for a human, to be sure, but denying his humanity serves no purpose in any discourse that will help to disempower him and his ilk.

Externalizing evil – and separating those who do evil from the rest of us – is the absolute best way to ensure that evil is allowed to continue. I’ve spent most of my adult life playing Devil’s Advocate (literally. It’s the premise of my forever-in-progress-novel, in fact) on this point.

I will defend to my dying day the assertion that the worst of the manymany crimes committed by the institutionalization of Xianity lies in the development of a supernatural entity designed to displace human responsibility for all the terrible crimes we commit against other humans.

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that the Xians didn’t invent the concept, but man, did they run with it. Those early Fathers and Apologists had a whole lot of internalized darkness that needed external repositioning. SMDH.

Falsehood, assault, mistreatment, inequality and inequity – all these things are human behaviours linked to human-created concepts of power and privilege that are being brought to light in significant ways through media that were un-dreamt of even a decade ago. This illumination deserves and requires immediate action, but we cannot construct new modalities for our social interactions if we cling to archaic personifications and flippant descriptions that permit the evasion of knowing responsibility by those who choose to engage in behaviours that are anathema to progressive society.

If we don’t change our language, we permit the continuation of narratives that allow people who act in opposition to those ideals that we know demonstrate the right and proper ways of interacting and cohabiting on this planet to continue to abuse the privilege we, collectively, refuse to revoke.

Men are already aware of the magnitude of the problem. They are the problem. Do NOT ‘not all men’, me, here. The power imbalance lies now, as it has historically, in favour of the male of the species. That is one of the artificial constructs that we must keep working to change.

#MeToo, and other comparable awareness campaigns, are not about beings with supernatural or superhuman abilities. Abusers are not monsters. They are people – with, presumably, the ability to learn and grow and progress, developmentally, beyond a state that permits (and, too often, celebrates) abusive and anti-social behaviour as it is directed against their fellow-humans – regardless of gender.

Do they need numbers pointed out to them – through the impersonality of the social media screen – to understand the extent of the damage that is still being caused? Are those who enjoy the benefits of institutionalized power – and the permitted violations of other people supported by those institutions – likely to give any weight to the experiences of those who participate and identify themselves through campaigns like this one?

I’m not sure my faith in humanity runs quite that deep.

But. #MeToo is a powerful illustration and empowering acknowledgement of the problem, if nothing else.

Societal permissions are not going to change unless and until we stop vilifying the perpetrators as creatures outside of the parameters of humanity. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be vilified. All people who abuse their power (putative or realized) and behave in ways that negatively impact those around them must be held accountable for their actions.

But we need to check and define our terms. Language is, itself, powerful, and the words we use impact the ways in which we interact with the world. Labelling heinous human behaviours as ‘monstrous’ may make us, on some level, feel better about our own humanity and what that might mean – separating us from those who act in ways that seem incomprehensible and egregious – but it imparts a sense of invincibility, imbuing pathetic abusers with more dominion than is warranted, while attaching a strong sense of inevitability to their actions that is both deplorable and entirely unsupportable. No actions are inevitable. Anti-social behaviours are preventable.

Calling atrocious humans ‘monsters’ makes them seem inexorable and impossible to beat back. They are not. Progressive evolution and education – and the discussion that can come out of effective and affecting social media campaigns – necessitates the putting away of childish stories about supernatural entities that ameliorate all those bad actions which illustrate the dark corners of our shared humanity.

Unless and until we truly understand and inculcate the reality that we are perpetuating a status quo that continues to support the abuse of our fellow humans as some sort of unfortunate but inevitable side-effect of maintaining a standard of living in the pursuit of some nebulous, exclusionary, materialistic dream (American or otherwise), nothing will change.

People that engage in destructive and anti-social behaviours are not monsters. They are humans. Bad humans, but humans none the less. We can fight against the wrongs perpetrated by other humans. It is our responsibility to do so. Acting in concert and tearing down the structures that permit the continuance of such unchecked behaviours is the only way to invalidate that which is monstrous in our societies. Part of that tearing down requires a definition of our terms.

We are collectively responsible for the monstrous people who walk among us. In order to call to accountability and punishment those who have been permitted to abuse others the rest of us need to ensure that the conditions that nurtured such behaviours and attitudes are irrevocably destroyed.

That said, #MeToo. Too many times to count – yet each indelible occurrence lives on with me, integrated into my brain and body and impacting the ways in which I interact with others.

#MeToo – because I am a woman, and because I live in this world that humans have created – one that supports the continued ascendency of anachronistic constructs that place men above women, people of one skin colour over others, humans from some parts of the world over those who live in our own hometowns.

And one that permitted the election, by humans, of an admitted sexual predator to one of the highest leadership roles on the planet. As important it is to talk about the rampancy of abuse and assault in general (as spurred by revelations, long-ignored, out of Hollywood), we need to address the fact that the IMPOTUS was elected with full knowledge that he committed those same crimes.

Removing him from office and revoking his entitlement and heretofore un-checked privilege is the best way to make manifest the comprehension of the message that has been spreading through social media over the past few days. With the din of cognitive dissonance growing ever-deafening, it might be the only way to do so.