Monthly Archives: January 2018

As Our Worlds Turn: Fake News, Real Life & Other Fables

“We should be called homo narrans, Storytelling Man, not homo sapiens. We spend our lives spinning narratives about everything, from how the universe began to why we were late for work. We make sense out of the reality we live in by making stories about it. Mind, I didn’t write “making up” but “making.” A narrative is not by definition a fiction, though we love that kind of story as well.

Arnold Lakhovsky, The Conversation (circa 1935)

“We’re so immersed in our story-telling, we rarely acknowledge our dependence on it, or we think we use it just as a convenience. But despite our insistence that we are a reasoning creature, it is narrative we rely on to make sense out of virtually everything, even our most abstract scientific ideas….”

My latest in Eclectica. Read more: http://www.eclectica.org/v22n1/hubschman_salon.html

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It’s All about Freedom. Isn’t it?

It seems to boil down to this:

One side says, we have a constitutional right, a guaranteed freedom to own firearms. The occasional mass killings that occur are the regrettable price we pay for that freedom.

The other side says, I have a right to privacy, freedom from unconstitutional government surveillance. If that means we are less secure as a result, that is the price we pay for that freedom.

Trade-offs. If you want freedom, you must endure a certain degree of risk. Benjamin Franklin said those who relinquish their freedoms for the sake of greater security will have neither. One side quotes Franklin, the other cites the necessity for prudence, that this is a world more dangerous than Franklin ever dreamed of.By Michael E. Cumpston (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Freedom versus security is not a conflict resolvable by argument. It’s a matter of preference. No other nation I know of asserts as much freedom as does America in our constitution. The British, from whom we claim much of our law and political tradition, certainly does not. You dare not say or publish there what you may here without second thought. In many continental nations you may not deny certain aspects of history. Some of us think such restrictions are excessive, that, in our own case, pulling down statues of Confederate Civil War heroes goes too far. Others say those public displays are an insult to the very reasons that war was fought at such great cost to the nation.

Liberal or Conservative, we tailor our opinions about freedom to our own experiences. I would think some residents of Sandy Hook where so many schoolchildren were slain by a teenager armed with assault weapons might now favor more gun control than they did previously. And if a large-scale terrorist attack like 9/11 were to occur again, plenty of those who refuse to accept the government’s maintaining records of our telephone conversations and online activity would also see things differently.

Asserting freedoms is easy when it’s just a matter of mouthing a political bias. It’s another matter after we’ve watched what can happen as a result of those freedoms. Not to mention the difficulty involved in obtaining the facts with regard to the risks involved. Over the last ten years on average there have been about 56 deaths each year in the US from lawn mower accidents. 29 people died as the result of gun-wielding toddlers. 2 died as a result of Islamic terrorism. But the deadly lawn mower and bloodthirsty toddler don’t get much airtime on the evening news. We pick and choose our monsters, or rather they are chosen for us.

The gun lobby resists attempts to screen potential gun buyers more effectively, a reasonable policy it would seem for at least reducing the number of victims to insane gun owners. But any abridgment of a freedom, they would argue, is an assault on the freedom in principle. Others maintain that any intrusion into our private lives by the government unless sanctioned as necessary by a well-informed judge strikes at the heart of the Fourth Amendment.

Are both sides right? Is neither? Is the issue even resolvable, or is it a perennial source of contention that we must endure as a consequence of the constitution we have and the way we interpret it? The pendulum of freedom seems to swing one way, then the other. The period just before and after we entered the first world war was surely a low ebb for political freedom in this country, when any expression of disagreement with the president’s war propaganda could land you in jail. Other times the interpretation of our constitutional rights was at high tide and seemed permanently guaranteed.

By Photograph by Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States - Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60924631

The Supreme Court guarantees racial apartheid in one generation, denounces it in another. In every case the court takes up it’s supposedly the constitution that decides the matter, not the justices’ personal preferences. But members of the Supreme Court are not just men and women, they are political animals. And even if that doesn’t translate into obvious ideological bias, each has her or his own ideas of right and wrong and what’s in the nation’s best interest (or in some cases, his or her own). No definitive, permanent agreed constitution is possible given the fact of human nature, just inevitable argument about what a written document means and how literally it should be taken. Even the oldest religions have altered the content and interpretation of their dogmas over the centuries as the result of changing circumstances and personnel.

As is the case with so much else about democracy, it’s the worst of political systems — except for all the others. At least, it could be the best if we truly participated and could make our voices heard. Loss of representation by our elected bodies for what the majorities of the population want is the true crisis of our time. Assaults on our constitutional liberties are just instances of what such loss of representation can mean.

The Freedom to Be Harvey: Why We Tolerate Sexual Predation and Mass Killings

Does the US constitution ensure our freedoms even if those freedoms may occasionally cost the lives of others? Is sexual predation also about freedom, albeit of a different sort?

Numerous women came forward last year to say they were victims of acts of sexual aggression perpetrated by the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Similar allegations have been made against the sitting president, and a new charge surfaces almost every day against one or another male in the public eye.

Meanwhile, mass shootings by lone gunmen have become as predictable as the change of seasons. Each time one occurs we react with shock and horror and the usual debate about gun control is raised and then fades away. When recently an especially egregious slaughter occurred, 58 people with scores wounded at a concert in Las Vegas, we went through the usual ritual of trauma and grief with more calls for stiffer legislation on one side and the blockage of any such effort on the other. Statue_in_Minute_Man_National_Historical_Park

But this time I heard something that caught my attention that may help explain our inaction about both gun violence and sexual predation. The World Service of the BBC in covering the shooting in Las Vegas interviewed some Americans about what they thought. Along with expressions of outrage at our lax gun laws and the countervailing insistence on our constitutional right to “bear arms,” the reporter came upon one man who calmly stated that incidents like the one that had just taken place in Nevada were deplorable but that the occasional shedding of blood was the price we pay for this precious freedom we enjoy under the constitution.

That honest statement may help explain both our unwillingness to change our attitudes toward both the possession of weapons capable of mass murder and sexual assault. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone who’s in favor of the freest interpretation of the Second Amendment is also a sexual predator. The correspondence between the two attitudes lies in our willingness to make a trade-off between security from gun violence/male predation and our “freedom” as Americans and/or males.

Freedom, as Orlando Paterson has pointed out in his classic work on the subject, is not just the absence of constraint. It can also mean the ability and the legal right to constrain. It was a freedom of the slaveholder to own other human beings while also enjoying the freedom not to ever be a slave himself. Sexual predation is freedom in this second sense, specifically male sexual freedom or power. We tolerate it for different reasons than we do gun ownership but with a similar reluctance to question its basis.

The British actress Emma Thompson stated in an interview she gave following the Weinstein revelations that virtually every fifteen-year-old girl has already been groped on a crowded train or otherwise sexually abused. But without a sense of license to exert their sexual privilege if only anonymously on a crowded train, males would not behave as they do. Society, male-dominated and male-protective, gives them the permission to gratify their sexual urges, and it does so from a very early age.

If, for whatever the reason, we choose to let things remain as they are it’s because not enough of us are willing to tip the balance between containing sexual predation and gun violence and the sacrifice of our (mostly male) freedom such restrictions would entail. For a similar reason we don’t care to acknowledge the modern economic and social disenfranchisement African Americans have endured under modern federal, state and local government policy over the last hundred years, as documented by Richard Rothstein in The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – and then face up to the substantial efforts required to make amends. Such a recognition would mean supporting a substantial national program to make up for those disenfranchisements, and that would entail a diminishment of white freedom – i.e., white economic and social preeminence.

So, we will likely go on enduring the occasional shedding of blood that gun-holder frankly accepts, along with recurrent tales of men in high places abusing women (preferring not to look at the daily abuses that take place right under our noses) as well as the next entirely predictable instance of an unarmed African American being killed by a policeman without cause. We will not acknowledge why we endure them: our refusal to tolerate any restriction on a constitutional liberty however dangerous, our protection of male dominance, the privileges we enjoy as whites. To act otherwise just wouldn’t be American.