If you decide to make the sky fall

9 10 2014

I am not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I am not Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain, Taoist, Bahá’í, Wiccan, Yazidi, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Sikh, or any sort of pagan or animist.

I am not spiritual, and believe in neither demons nor angels nor supernatural vibes of any sort.

I am agnostic, which means I lack knowledge, along with faith and belief. I do not know if none, one, some, or all of the above traditions holds any or the entirety of truth. I do not know if some other tradition holds any portion of truth.

And I’m all right with that. I call myself a “doubter”, and that doubt works for me.

I’m also all right with others who have do have faith in some tradition or another, and, contra Hitchens, do not believe that “religion poisons everything”.

Or should I say, that religion uniquely poisons everything. I think religion is a powerful human invention and thus, like any powerful human invention, may poison its adherents or the course of events, but not that it necessarily or always does so.

It is also possible that religion (l.a.p.h.i.), may serve as an antidote to other invented poisons.

All of which is a rather long prologue to a rather convoluted post on the rather convoluted topic of the role of Islam in the world today, viz., is it uniquely bad in its effects on co-religionists and non-co’s alike?

There is today far more violence among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims than there is in other world religions*. This doesn’t discount other intra- and inter-religious violence or aggression, nor other less-deadly forms of intolerance, but given conflicts across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s pretty clear that there are. . . issues in Islam.

Are these issues unique to Islam? A little trip through history points to “no”, and had pundits existed in the 16th century, they may have raised similar questions about the aggressiveness and intolerance of Christianity.

Are these issues endemic to Islam? Whatever the violent history of Christianity, it’s mostly not violent today*, which leads some to note that aggression is therefore not an essential part of Christianity. Can Islam work its violence out of its system as Christianity has, or is supremacism and aggression so interwoven in its scripture and traditions that it cannot transform itself as Christianity has?

Trick questions!

Christianity is a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation which has sometimes been violent, sometime intolerant, sometimes triumphalist, and other times, not. That Christianity is currently not at the center of strife in the world* does not mean that its aggressiveness has been bred out of its system. It’s sidelined, but extirpated? Eh.

Islam is also a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation, and thus like Christianity, can find within that complex support for both aggression and tolerance. It is thus difficult to determine whether any one strand within is always and forever at the center of what it needs to be Muslim.

So, why trick questions? Because what counts as essential has been and is contested in history, and what must be interpreted in this way today may be interpreted in that way tomorrow. That is the condition of all human inventions.

None of this is to shield Islam or any other tradition (or human invention) from criticism, and that there may exist no absolute and eternal standards of how to treat one another doesn’t mean one can’t construct and apply our own provisional and worldly standards.

Which is a rather convoluted way to say: of course Islam may be criticized, as should be those who find in Islam justification for horrid acts.

That Muslims are not unique in their religious—or ideological—justifications is also no barrier to criticism: your mom probably pointed out to you long ago that “everyone else is doing it!” is no excuse for your own bad behavior.

One last turn around: If you’re going to go after an entire religious belief system and its effects on adherents and non-adherents alike, then fer-cryin’-out-loud, look at the entire belief system, not just at what you don’t like.

Is there poison in Islam? Yes. But that doesn’t mean Islam is all and only poison.

Or maybe it is. It’s possibly that after thorough study one might conclude nothing good has ever or will ever come from Islam—or any religion.

But I kinda doubt it.


*Crucial caveat: people living in countries having bombs recently dropped on them by Christians might contest this notion of Christianity as not-aggressive.

h/t for link to Sullivan, and this entire damned post was set off by the Maher-Harris-Affleck kerfuffle


It’s not going to stop, so just give up

18 02 2009

At what point does one give up? And what reasons for such up-giving?

This is (for this post) a political and intellectual question, rather than an existential one: At what point does one give up engaging across the political spectrum?

Hm, actually, it’s even narrower than that: At what point do I stop reading someone with whom I often disagree?

And what if the reason is that I don’t think this blogger is as thoughtful as I thought s/he was? What if I think s/he’s not as smart as I thought she was?

I’m a snob—that’s not the issue. No, huh, I guess one more refinement: How do I figure out if my weariness/irritation with a blogger is due to political differences or intellectual ones?

There are all kinds of blogs and books and magazines I don’t read because I think they’re stupid, and I’m not bothered by that. (See snob comment, above.) I’m interested in argument, and if all a blogger can do is impugn, malign, sputter, and/or channel the Party Line, then I won’t be interested—I’ll be bored. It’s not about agreement or disagreement, but engagement.

But what of those cases in which disagreement and a suspicion of thoughtlessness are tangled? Giving up on a leftist blogger doesn’t bother me, because the reason for such abandonment is clear: this person bores me. If I stop reading a rightist, however, I have to wonder if it’s because I’m too close-minded to deal with the argument.

I think it’s important to read outside of my political zone, not only to keep myself sharp, but to remind myself that those on the other side are smart, have good arguments, and are almost certainly not allies of Satan. Yes, I might get irritated or even yell at the post as I’m scrolling through or responding to it, but as long as I’m challenged, such irritation strikes me as reasonable—we do disagree, after all.

What if, however, the argument in the post is unreasonable, such that no reasonable response is possible? I get that that’s going to happen on occasion or with certain issues (the blogging equivalent of ‘oh, that Harry, you know how he gets’), but there are times I wonder if  the blogger doesn’t get that s/he’s posting a shitty argument.

Such as, the blogger sets Standard A for her side, Standard B for all those not on her side—and refuses to recognize the double standard. When he refers to evidence in support of his position, but ignores counter-evidence. When she deliberately distorts the positions of the other side, and complains when her own words are pulled out of shape. When he throws a bomb into the argument, then points at others for fanning the flames. Or, as she’s tossing that bomb, sighs that she’s soooo tired of dealing with explosions.

I’m only occasi0nally bothered by such strategies among political actors and campaigners—the point is to win, not to persuade. And while there’s a hell of a lot of unfairness in politics, mainly having to do with unequal access, there’s no such thing as (legal) unfairness among candidates. If you can’t handle the other side’s (mis)representations of your views, then get out. Strife and campaigns go together, so prepare not only to be bloodied, but to bloody. That’s how you deal with unfairness: You fight back.

But at the level of argumentation, where the point (arguably!) is to persuade, you can’t fuck with the rhetoric. Or, you can, but only at risk of being called a fuck-er.

Okay, so where does all this lead, vis-a-vis the not-so-thoughtful opposition? How do decide if the problem is with the thoughtlessness or the oppositional-ness?

I guess I provided myself with my own answer: when the person is fucking with the rhetoric. But even that doesn’t always help, not least because there are also fundamental differences at play. I might think she’s skewing the grid, but from her perspective, the lines are all straight. She’s not cheating—I just don’t get it. And I want to get it.

Dammit. I don’t know my way around this.

I’ll keep reading, I guess, until I can’t. How’s that for a set standard?

God, cops, and, oh, God and cops

8 01 2009

He wouldn’t shake my hand. He said something about ‘respect,’ but it wasn’t clear if he were asking me to respect his wish not to shake my hand, or if he were demonstrating respect for me by not shaking my hand.

I smiled and said ‘Okay’, but, hmmmm, not so okay.

No hand shaking because he’s a man and I’m a woman. A dick, and I get a handshake. No dick, no shake.

So what’s the big deal? He showed me the apartment, didn’t he? He wasn’t unkind or unwilling to deal with me: he simply didn’t want our hands to touch. Different standards of personal boundaries, that’s all.

And on one level, that’s true. I like handshakes, but hugs, not so much. And I certainly don’t want someone feeling me up by way of introduction. Boundaries and preferences.

Perhaps had he not mumbled ‘respect.’ Again, it’s entirely possible that he was demonstrating his respect for me—but I don’t think so. When a man fears my hand, simply because it’s a female hand, I don’t respect that fear. No, I’m not going to force someone to shake my hand—duh, boundaries—but respect that fear of a female touch? Nope.

Oh, but this was about his religion, his relationship to God, and had nothing to do with me. Except that I was there, and I wasn’t feeling particularly respected.

So what do you do in these situations, where respect for the other seems to require a disrespect for oneself? Is there an equitable behavioral solution?

So we don’t shake hands. Perhaps that’s the best we can do.


How many people have been ‘justifiably’ killed by police—i.e., how many victims of disputed deaths (i.e., clearly those not immediately involved in criminal violence) have had their demands for justice unheard because the police were able to claim self-defense—before the advent of mobile technology?

What would have happened to the police officers on trial in the Sean Bell shooting in NYC had someone had video of the events that night? Would anyone have taken Michael Mineo (allegedly injured and sodomized by police in Brooklyn subway station) seriously had video not surfaced which corroborated at least part of his claim against the police? What about what happened to Christopher Long, the Critical Mass bicyclist in Union Square who was charged with assaulting an officer—only to have those charges withdrawn after video clearly showed the officer assaulting the bicyclist? What about all those Republican National Convention protesters freed after film footage effectively erased police justifications for those arrests?

And now, Oscar Grant, the young man shot to death by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police New Year’s day. Would there be a vigorous investigation absent the cell phone video of the shooting? And what of allegations that BART officials sought (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to confiscate any images of the shooting? And police claims that Grant was not cuffed while he was shot—while witnesses dispute this? Perhaps it was an accident, perhaps the officer didn’t mean to shoot Grant. But what the hell was he doing drawing his weapon on an unarmed man on the ground? (And what does it mean for the supposed professionalism of police forces if they kill citizens accidentally?)

I’m not necessarily a fan of the deployment of recording technologies in the public realm. I like my privacy, and while appearing in public does, of course, mean just that—appearing—I think of myself as ‘passing through’: I get to come and go. Recording techs freeze that passage, making permanent what I have always assumed evanescent.

And closed-captioned television (CCTV) as deployed by police and security forces? Nuh-uh. Yes, it’s supposed to make us all safer, help the police catch the bad guys, serve as a deterrent, and hey, it just might. But who the hell is in charge of those nifty CCTV cameras? Who controls that footage? Who decides who has access to it, what is kept, and what is deleted? Is CCTV for the public’s protection—or the police’s?

Still. Video techs in the hands of individual citizens may aid in just the kind open subversion of the security state ideology that’s needed. And no, I don’t think the US is a police state (cf. the bit, below, on Shirin Ebadi and Iran) but the security state ideology, which demands that all other values bow before the shield, is corrosive of an open society. The notion that anything goes as long as one is made secure may—may—make us citizens safer from one another, but it sure as hell doesn’t make us any safer from those security forces.

And it sure as hell doesn’t have anything to do with justice.

Justice does need security, and citizens in an open society need a competent—repeat, competent—police force. Citizens with video techs can’t make the  police more competent, but they can at least expose incompetence—and worse.


Shirin Ebadi, kick-ass activist, is coming under even more pressure from the Iranian government.

According to the LA Times, young thugs from the Basiji Militia, which has connections to the Revolutionary Guard, attacked Ebadi’s home and shouted ‘Death to the pen-pushing mercenary.’

(An aside: Death to the pen-pushing mercenary? Really? That’s the best they could do?)

Police were called, did nothing.

Ah, the security state. . . .


Hamas is full of shit, and shits. They’re totalitarian gangsters, providing much-needed basic services to the Palestinians of Gaza in return for using ‘their people’ as shields in their war against Israel.

Hamas leaders may call themselves freedom fighters or the resistance or martyrs for God, but what do they have to offer those they seek to liberate but a more correct (i.e., non-Jewish, non-Israeli) violence, a more correct oppression? They’re mobsters, performing the same ‘services’ for Gazans that Italian, Irish, Russian, Chinese, etc., organized crime syndicates have done for their immigrant communities.

Remember the scene which opens the first Godfather? ‘I believe in America’, the man tells Don Corleone, before he goes on to beg for help in seeking vengeance for his daughter’s rape. The police can do nothing; could the Don help? The man is berated: why didn’t you come to us first? But the Don will help, in exchange for a favor. . . .

The analogy is inexact, but it works well enough: in the absence of trust in the legal authorities, one will turn to whatever enforcers are available. And in the absence of any countervailing authority, those enforcers are as likely to subjugate as protect—will subjugate in the course of protecting—their communities. It’s an illicit version of the security ideology, mirroring claims of the necessity of violence and the suppression of dissent.

So Hamas is a Palestinian mob. Hell, it’s worse than a regular mob, not least because it directly endangers Palestinian civilians by firing rockets and weapons from within civilian areas. Hamas knows Israel will retaliate, will shell and bomb and shoot into neighborhoods and schools and homes and kill Palestinian civilians—deaths which can then be blamed on Israel. But Hamas, too, is at fault.

Note that I say ‘too.’ The Israeli government knows exactly what Hamas is doing, and they point repeatedly to evidence of Hamas’s tactics. But this hardly absolves Israel of responsibility for civilian deaths. To state that ‘Hamas fires rockets at civilians on purpose, and we do so only incidentally’ doesn’t quite wash in the face of hundreds of Palestinian dead and thousands wounded. How many times can you say ‘Oops, sorry’? Or ‘Sorry, but. . .’? No, Palestinian civilians matter as little to the Israelis as they do to Hamas.

I have read (and heard on the radio) a number of comments by Gazans blaming Hamas for the destruction, but that hardly means they love Israel. They are a hostage population, used and abandoned.

So what the hell to do? Even if Israel manages to weaken or even destroy Hamas, then what? What happens to the people of Gaza? To the blockade of the territory and immobilization of the people? What about the Occupied Territories and Jerusalem? There are still the competing claims to the land, competing claims for justice, for security. There is still the intransigence and hostility of most of Israel’s neighboring states.

What a fucking mess. So the Israeli Defense Force wins by pounding Hamas and Hamas wins if it survives the pounding and everyone else loses. Death all around.

. . . . ‘Yes, but whose deaths matter more?’


A re-thought on God, hands, and respect: Opponents of same-sex marriage complain that advocates are trying to force respect for these marriages, and running over any concerns over the sacred nature of matrimony and the moral and social disorder indicated by open same-sex relationships.

I guess I get their distress. To respect same-sex relationships is to disrespect their own beliefs, and themselves. Why should respect only run one way?

Again, in cases where respect for A requires disrespect for B, tolerance may the best one can hope for. I don’t respect your beliefs, and you don’t respect mine, but we’ll recognize that each gets to retain her beliefs.

The difficulty with marriage, of course, is that it involves the law—another discussion. And I don’t want any laws on the proferring or withholding of hands.

Respect yourself

23 12 2008

I’d eat pie with Rick Warren. Yeah, I verbally smacked him around yesterday, so maybe he wouldn’t want to share a slice with me, but, as I’ve mentioned before, I think pie is a fine chaser to argument.

To move a bit further out on the spectrum, were Pat Robertson or President Ahmadinejad or Archbiship Akinola to invite me to dinner, I’d go and have at it. (Not that I’m sitting by the phone, waiting for these gents to call. . . .) Fascist, Klan member, Stalinist, misogynist—why not? We’d have either a thoughtful discussion, or I’d get my licks in; regardless, I’d learn something.

But I wouldn’t invite any of these folks into my home.  The public is the place in which to engage others whose views are not your own: this is precisely why the notion of ‘the public’ is so important to a pluralistic society. But private or personal places are just as important to this society, as a place to which we may retreat, and be among our own kind (however one’s ‘kind’ is defined). Discriminatory behavior in the public sphere is rightly curtailed, and even certain prejudicial expressions may justly be disdained in, say, the courthouse or workplace.

But of course we ought to be able to discriminate in intimate matters. Not every person I run into is (or wants to be) my friend, and the ability to work well with someone hardly requires that I engage in deeply personal conversations or hang out at the beach with that person. I like some things and dislike others, and when I’m feeling particularly low or high I want to spend that time with those who are more or less in sync with me. Yeah, we’ll have our disagreements, but we’ll also share some basic values. I don’t mind keeping my guard up, but I also greatly appreciate the chance to relax that guard.

Why am I chewing through all of this again? True, tsuris with Pastor Rick set off this latest round of mental mastication, but any excuse to gnaw away at the concept of tolerance. (Here ends the dental metaphor.)

And it helps, again, to refine different dimensions of tolerance. Personal tolerance is perhaps a matter more of  one’s ethos—how does one live with oneself—than a question of politics or justice, or how one lives and shares power with others. (Okay, that’s a little dodgy, but can you see the distinction I’m trying to make, that how we think about personal matters differs from how think about public ones?)

So on to the public: Tolerance among equals is a worthy goal, and necessary to a healthy politics. This hardly implies agreement and comity: partisans may shriek at or ignore one another, but as long as no side attempts to push the other outside of the law or the practice of politics or society, it’s fine. Such tolerance may arise solely from the calculation that one lacks the authority to shove the others around, but, again, absent such shoving, this form of tolerance is not only unproblematic, but praiseworthy.

Tolerance among unequals is problematic, and implies a kind of right of dominion by those who profess such tolerance. This is where debates about minority (be they ethnic, linguistic, sexual, or religious) rights come into play: Those who oppose the claims of minorities to live both as minorities and as equals arrogate to themselves the position to determine the worth of those minorities. In other words, the dominant decide the status of the dominated. Thus, when someone in that superior position states that she ‘tolerates’ the minority, she simultaneously reinforces [the status of] her own superiority and the ability [such a status allows her] to dominate, to set the boundaries for, the minority. The minority does not get to determine its own status, which is instead contingent upon the sufferances of the superior. Tolerance, in this scenario, is less to be welcomed than feared.

Feared: too strong a word. No, this  form of tolerance ought instead to be treated skeptically, tested, and exposed for what it is. Given that such actions are at least possible under a regime of dominance-tolerance, it is preferable to condemnation and repression.

And one should push against this kind of tolerance. Hannah Arendt in The Jewish Writings and Steven Biko in his speeches and writings (I’m still trying to get hold of a copy of Black Consciousness) made substantially similar points: it is not enough to be told we can enter society if we leave behind a constituting element of our humanity. For Arendt (following the 19th c author Bernard Lazare), the notion that she is only allowed to be a citizen, a human being, if she is willing to discard her Jewishness is unacceptable—and she criticizes those Jews who make such a bargain. Why should I accept that I am less than human as I am? she asks. Biko, too, was unapologetically black: it was not a defect to be overcome, nor a sickness to be diagnosed—and treated—by (violently) oppressive whites. He was a threat to South Africa’s apartheid regime because he would not accept the lie at the center of that regime: that a black person was a lesser human being.

Twenty-first century America is not 19th century or pre-WWII Europe, nor is it apartheid-era South Africa. But Lazare and Arendt and Biko’s message is centrally important to any social justice movement: do not let the dominant define who you are.

So (to wind this a very long way back around) it’s important to confront Rick Warren and others who make similar arguments about the basis of their version of tolerance. Of course, such confrontation with their words is also a confrontation with their status, so it is unsurprising that he and others who argue against equality for GLBT folk react with such furious self-pity: We’re not only dissenting, we’re not apologizing for that dissent.

We’re no longer respecting their authority, but asserting our own.

Some of my best friends are. . .

21 12 2008

Rick Warren loves gay people.  Most people know I have many gay friends. I’ve eaten dinner in gay homes. No church has probably done more for people with AIDS than Saddleback Church. Kay and I have given millions of dollars out of Purpose Driven Life helping people who got AIDS through gay relationships. So they can’t accuse me of homophobia.

(A gay home? What the hell is that? Is everything all, you know, queer inside?)

And Rod Dreher of CrunchyCon lets it be known, just before he starts screeching about Nazi/Stalinist/intolerant/militant gay activists, that a former roommate of his is gay, that by golly he has friends who are gay.

No, Pastor Warren and Mr. Dreher are absolutely tolerant of the gays. No, it’s those nasty militant gays who are the intolerant ones, the ones who throw around terms like ‘bigot’ and ‘homophobe’ and yell at those who seek to keep the sodomites in their rightful place.

And the whole marriage thing? Let’s let the good pastor explain his opposition to gay marriage: I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

Now that’s tolerance! Comparing same-sex marriage to incest, pedophilia, and polygamy! But hey, he at least said he wasn’t so much opposed to California’s domestic partnership laws which grant hospital visitation rights or allow anyone to name anyone else an insurance beneficiary. Although I don’t know that he’s said anything about advancing a domestic partnership agenda in other states. . . .

The problem, Mr. Warren believes, is that gays don’t seek, um, equality (can’t quite say that word, can ya, Pastor?), but ‘approval’: Much of this debate is not really about civil rights, but a desire for approval. The fact that 70% of blacks supported Prop 8 shows they don’t believe it is a civil rights issue. Gays in California already have their rights. What they desire is approval and validation from those who disagree with them, and they are willing to force it by law if necessary. Any disapproval is quickly labeled “hate speech. Imagine if we held that standard in every other disagreement Americans have? There would be no free speech. That’s why, on the traditional marriage side, many saw Prop 8 as a free speech issue: Don’t force me to validate a lifestyle I disagree with. It is not the same as marriage.” And many saw the Teacher’s Union contribution of $3 million against Prop 8, as a effort to insure that children would be taught to approve what most parents disapprove of.

Ooookaaaaay. ‘Force by law’? Damned, um, straight. Disapprove of me all you like, just as you can disapprove of divorce; just leave me my laws on equal marriage and divorce.

And if you can’t handle having someone label your speech hateful, tough shit. You want to be able to rip on your preferred opponents without anyone calling you out on that ripping—who doesn’t? But someone calling your speech hateful hardly impedes your rights to such speech. Yeah, I know, too many people think ‘hate speech’ should be outlawed (a terrible, terrible idea), but has it been? Have you been arrested crossing the state lines into Massachusetts or Connecticut, Mr. Warren?

Somehow I’ve managed to put up with terms like femi-nazi and traitor, and I’m nobody. I’d rather not be compared to the Gestapo, but I hardly think my rights have been lessened by the moron who’d called me that.You, you big, powerful man, you, you shouldn’t have a problem dealing with a few sissies, should you? (I mean, without hiding behind those African-American voters who supported Prop 8. Because majorities are never wrong about rights for minorities, especially if some of those majority members are minorities in other contexts—right?) If not, well, don’t worry: hurt feelings do not equal fewer rights.

So can the talk about the scary, child-indoctrinating queers. Oh, wait, did I as a citizen just shred your rights as a citizen to blather about incestuous, pedophiliac, polygamous gays?

And how intolerant is it of me to call you intolerant? Am I threatening your rights by stating that if tolerance is to mean anything beyond ‘I won’t kill you,’ then those who profess to tolerate Others deserve to be smacked verbally for unloading such nonsense as ‘I care about gay people’ or ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ while in the next breath explaining why queers shouldn’t marry or adopt kids, or why the demand for equal treatment under the law is somehow out of line or, gasp, militant.

Militant gay activists. Jeez, that sounds familiar. Militant unionists. Militant black activists. Militant feminists. The gall of us, refusing to accept our inferior status!

I don’t have a gun. I don’t want to shoot you or blow you up. I’m just not willing to go to the back of the line because of the discomfort I cause to your delicate moral sensibilities.

[All quotes courtesy of a transcript of a recent interview, as well as updates, posted on BeliefNet; emphases in the original.]

A coda: I’m not crazy about the term bisexual. It’s not that it’s inaccurate, any more than homosexual or heterosexual is, but that it sticks too close—hell, it is—the technical definition of a form of sexual orientation. Hets get ‘straight’, and homos get ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ (along with a bunch of other happy and not-so-happy designations), but bis? We get. . . bi. Blech.

I prefer ‘ambi-sexual’, as in ‘both, around’ (thanks Webster’s!). Ya still got the ‘bi’, but it’s rounded out, more lyrical. Plus, fretful person that I am, I like the proximity to other ambis, as in ‘ambiguous’ or ‘ambivalent’.

Bi? No, ‘ambi’. Works for me.

Yesterday, once more

7 10 2008

Lucretia, as usual, is forcing me to sharpen my thoughts in response to her own perspicacious observations.

So: the varieties of tolerance. I’ve been focussing on political tolerance, tolerance among citizens, and tolerance among strangers. The first might be a kind of structural or constitutional tolerance; the second, for those who move within a particular political or constitutional tolerance; and the third, for those about whom one knows little, and for which no relationship of even the minimal constitutional type is necessarily defined.

I haven’t said much about this third type, mainly because I’ve been preoccupied with the political and there’s nothing particularly political about this. Still a brief: A certain defensive wariness may be apt when among this last group, insofar as the encounters may happen ‘outside of the law’ (e.g., a deserted street or minimally populated area, with no obvious authority present), as it were. That these encounters may be ‘lawless’, however, doesn’t mean they have to be violent or aggressive or even threatening: One may wish only to move through or around strangers, and however much the strangers may eye one another, each nonetheless decides to leave the other alone. (This might be considered a literal ‘toleration of existence’, and a necessary precondition for politics.)

Perhaps somewhere in there should be tolerance of acquaintances (feel free to offer a better term): These are the people we work with or see regularly or engage in genial conversation, even if we wouldn’t invite them into our home and they wouldn’t invite us into their home. We might like one another ‘well enough’ or find each other ‘interesting’ or ‘worth talking to’, but wouldn’t, really, call a friend. Someone you know, kinda, and are satisfied with that.

Anyway, what poked at me from Lucretia’s comment was about the personal side of toleration. I noted that I wouldn’t be friends with someone who merely tolerated me, but Lucretia adds some shading to this statement:

As for wanting more than tolerance from my friends – maybe. I’m finding as I get older that I am more tolerant than I thought I could be. I can be friends with someone even if there are one or two things about them I really don’t like or even actively disapprove of, because they have other qualities that shine brighter, and because everyone has faults and blind spots, including me. But I agree, that if a person only tolerates something that I feel is the very core of my being, it’s going to be much harder to feel close to that person, and trust them.

I was getting at more the ‘very core of my being’ aspect, as opposed to the ‘I’ll put up with’ or ‘I’ll overlook this’ aspect of tolerance. My sense of not wanting to be friends with someone who merely tolerated me arises both out of a desire for dignity and from not wanting to feed my occasionally raging neuroses. Why hang out with someone who doesn’t think you’re, basically, okay to hang out with? Why do that to yourself?

But Lucretia’s right: Ain’t none of us perfect, so even dear friends are going to irritate us (and vice versa). What then to do? Nothin’. Let it pass. Be glad for the friendship, be glad the other person is as flawed as you, be glad you don’t have to be perfect to have a friend or be a friend.

When I was younger I used to say ‘I don’t judge.’ Hah! I judged all the time, but since I didn’t want to be judgmental, I wasn’t honest about it. As a result, I was never able to reflect on those judgments; they were unconsidered. Now I know I judge all the time, but I also let a hell of a lot more judgments go. So X is always late and Y never calls, but I know that, and I still want to be around them. So I set aside time for X and I’m the one who calls Y. At some point, I decided not to moralize these behaviors. Yeah, it’d be nice if X were prompt and Y could pick up the phone, but so what: the people matter more than the irks. (And I’m glad that goes both ways.)

Yeah, sometimes the irks overwhelm the people, and it becomes difficult to remain friends. And sometimes things just change so radically you have to reconsider everything. (I’m thinking of my friendship with someone who moved her Christian faith from the periphery to the center of her life. Another post, perhaps.) But at that point I think the issue is less a matter of tolerance and more a matter of compatibility.

Huh. Perhaps the distinction should be between tolerance of persons (which is not somethings friends do to one another) and tolerance of acts (which friends, citizens, and strangers may allow).

Does this help, or am I just fucking it all up again?

Sandra at the beach

5 10 2008

There were some interesting comments about ‘tolerance’ in the Fray at XX Factor (Slate.com), in response to posts by Abby Collard (Oct 3) and EJ Graff (Oct 4). Neither Collard nor Graff thought tolerance was sufficient; Collard wrote that

Tolerance is widely accepted as an admirable virtue, but it still feels cheap to me. Essentially what Palin is saying is that she puts up with homosexual couples. There’s no approval there, no acceptance, just respectful disregard. The difference between “tolerance” and “acceptance” is like the difference between looking the other way and actively supporting something. Her tolerant speech doesn’t mean she supports, or even approves of, homosexuality. It means she just doesn’t act out against it.

Well, yeah. And maybe that’s all that can be expected from someone who thinks there’s something wrong with homosexuality. A number of Fraysters echoed Collard & Graff’s unhappiness with the tolerance, but Wren W noted that, given all of our differences, tolerance may be the best we can get. Although I disagree with a number of the opinions Wren expresses in her (his?) comment, I think she’s right that those who despair of tolerance do so because they seek something more: approval and acceptance (which is what Collard wrote, above).

So. Those of us who are pro-queer or are queer want those who are not to accept and approve of LGBT folk. This is not unreasonable. But it may be unreasonable to expect those opposed to accept and approve. Yes, we should act to expand acceptance, but that we have to act ought to signal that not everyone does approve of homo-, bi-, and transsexuality. Hell, until very recently it was quite acceptable to denounce gays and lesbians as contemptible perverts. What does Sarah Palin really believe, in her hockey-lovin’ heart? I don’t care—but I sure as hell do care about her behavior, that she not ‘act out against’ gays and lesbians. I prefer politicians who are pro-gay rights, but I’ll take a ‘tolerant’ politician over a hateful one any day.

Now, this is all complicated somewhat by the fact that Palin is an elected official, and a candidate for even higher office. She is in a position of ‘power over’, so a discussion of what she as a politician tolerates is a different matter than what a fellow citizen, who is my equal, tolerates. Still, there are two similarities:

One, I have low expectations of accord amongst a mixed crowd. I see us as working our way ‘up’ to tolerance, rather than falling ‘down’ to it. In other words, I begin from a position of conflict rather than comity.

Two, while I may accept that tolerance is the most I can expect from strangers, I wouldn’t be friends with someone who merely tolerated me. That is, in moving through the world, it is enough for others to tolerate me, to not act against me, but with friends, more is expected.

That, after all, is why they’re friends: Because I can expect more.

Yes, there’s more to be said. But this was worth a quick hit.