re-Occupying the Cabaret-short version

[a longer version of this post will appear on SBC]

I wanted to make a decision about an old blog site. Then I ran across something that reminded me of why I began it in the first place.

Bill Schwarz recently wrote:

When we shut up online, as Buddhists, in the context of people talking about Buddhism on the internet, we do more harm than we do in speaking about our respective practices. In the dharma center, the norm of minding your own business in this regard is perhaps a good idea. I am of the opinion that it is a bad idea for Buddhism online. I believe that we need to occupy this space, instead of conceding it to those who are here for commercial interests.

He had a little more to say than that. But it sparked or re-sparked a few ideas.

image

Over the past month or so I’ve been considering re-starting my old blog Smiling Buddha Cabaret. I stopped writing there almost a year ago for a bunch of reasons. Then I started this blog and the political one called Memeo. Now I want to keep this one for more personal and mostly non-Buddhist related stuff and that political one going since they provide a certain focus for topics that I have interest in.

On this one there have been a couple of posts that would have been better on the SBC site. More along the lines of the theme there.

A thing that has been kind of mystifying me is that people keep subscribing to that old blog even though there hasn’t been a post there in many months. As well the readership of it is currently higher than this one and my political one combined, again even though I don’t write anything there. That’s kind of odd.image

It’s just sitting there. Rather derelict. Not even squatters have moved in. That’s a bit of a thorn. A perfectly usable space going to waste, passersby looking for something to happen there, the owner an absentee landlord just letting it fall to ruin. OK, it’s my social responsibility to do something with it. Otherwise I might get some protesters outside. Better to keep them inside, in the comments section where I can keep an eye on them.  {image:Salvador Dali-Cabaret Scene}

It just so happens I also have a bunch of posts in the queue that seem to fit better there than here and I really do want to finish them. And since I’ve renewed my interest in performance and slam poetry I just might put some of that on YouTube and stick it there as well.

So tighten up your corset and put your fishnet stockings back on because the Cabaret is opening soon.

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It’s a Joke!

Someone I know on Facebook wrote something in their status a couple of weeks ago that I took great exception to. It was a little story. I’m going to include a redacted version here because it was too vile for me to feel comfortable reproducing completely.

A study has revealed that the kind of face a woman finds attractive on a man can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle.

For example: if she is ovulating, she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features. However, if she is menstruating or menopausal, she tends to be more attracted to a man with [redacted because of extreme violence some of it of a sexual nature]

No further studies are expected on this subject.

When I read this the first time my response was WTF?

One commenter, a man, responded first:

This is very disturbing.

Then I made several comments. [of course] A summary, for they were long ones:

Why do you want to perpetuate this ridiculous stereotype? Do you hate men? Do you hate women?

On Twitter a couple of weeks ago there was a meme going around which was #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend (Reasons to beat your girlfriend) A lot of guys put some really nasty shit there. Much of it related to women and their hormones. A lot more people objected to not only the hashtag itself but the vile content. Some guys said "It’s just a joke"…

Violence is not a fucking joke. Portraying women as hysterical out of control maniacs is not a joke. Men and women have enough problems trying to understand each other without people reinforcing the problems and exaggerating things… this is just vile. If you have some issues deal with them…don’t make it worse for women and men who are trying to overcome that with this kind of joke.  If this is what passes for humor among your Mafia Wars crowd or other friends then maybe you ought to examine the company you are keeping.

The original poster had written BTW, in response to the first comments that objected to the content:

IT’S A JOKE!!!

Screamed at the reader in big bold ALL CAPS!!! Which got the response:

Would it be a joke if a woman was being described as being violated in that fashion? It’s a joke doesn’t cut it an an excuse.

That resulted in an unpleasant personal message to the effect that I should have kept my comments to myself and if I couldn’t then at least sent them privately even though the item was posted publicly. Then I was unfriended. And blocked. And this person, who happens to be a close relative, has not communicated with me since.

Interestingly though, the posting was removed and an apology to everyone still in the loop was posted instead. OK.

This kind of thing is a fairly common occurrence. Places like Facebook have rape joke groups/pages and Twitter hash tags often have this kind of material. On the Facebook issue, Violet Blue has written a post Facebook Finally Removes Its Pro-Rape Pages.

Sexual violence can be directed at women or men, although a far larger amount is directed at women. It’s just distasteful at it’s mildest and offensive and incitement to criminal activity in the more extreme cases.

A lot of it has to do with gender stereotyping. Here’s another example from the beloved [I’m going to color all snark a puky green] online publication Elephant Journal Are Women Mentally Ill? [link is to the Google cache version because of the paywall-you can find all their stuff in that cache BTW without having to let your browser touch their actual website] The article is an attempt at humor, I am supposing, since I can’t find any other reason why anyone would want to write something like that. I’m not going to get into specific critiques of EJ articles much any more as that could potentially become a full time job and the pushback tends to be a irrational mess of irrelevant ad hominems and other non sequiturs. Mindful insults I suppose.

There was another piece there about “Yoga for Black People”, ostensibly a joke or attempt at humor of some sort as well. That particular piece came along with public humiliation for those that questioned, no matter how politely, the wisdom of such postings.  Nathan at Dangerous Harvests summed the situation up nicely in the post Elephant Journal’s Got Issues and the comments are equally interesting. But I don’t want to dwell on these specific situations when this trend is becoming ever more common.

The trend I mean is one of diminishment of others [and sometimes one’s self] for the sake of humor followed by a dismissal of their hurt.

The It’s a Joke Rationalization

Humor has a lot of uses in society. Humor is useful for illuminating many of the uncomfortable aspects of our society without seeming to be critical or dour and to avoid directly offending an audience. Professionals like George Carlin and Chris Rock do this very well. But since it is mainly described as entertainment, contrasted with “serious” work, there is also the tendency to attempt to justify pretty much anything as humor in order to give it a pass rather than serious examination.

From another perspective humor is an effective means to normalize and continue social stratification, exclusionary behavior and oppression. It very much depends upon who is making the joke and who is the target of the joke. Power relations play into that.

This also has a long history wherein those labeled “Other” become the butt of jokes involving stereotypes. The powerful, in whatever capacity are often deemed more acceptable targets since they often have means to silence/ignore their critics in some form or another. The humor at their expense does not endanger their positions or security or well-being. The marginalized however have a different and somewhat diminished degree of protection in this regard. They do not often either have the power to silence nor do they often even have the power to respond with a similar level of social impact. Yet with the label of “just a joke” we are conditioned to laugh and dismiss commentary of this nature. It is generally meant in the latter case to disguise hostility and enforce existing power relations. Those who do not go along become similarly marginalized. This is the same sort of social mechanism as the average bully uses to bolster their position and security. A thin disguise indeed.

Shame and guilt are very strong motivators for social behavior. Humor when directed at the more powerful is about shame and guilt for behaviors that diminish others who are less powerful. It is a form of social address that has been invoked for centuries. That’s why the political comic genius of a George Carlin still contains strong messages. The court jester was tolerated and the member’s of the king’s court laughed at his mockery of royal power for exactly the same reasons. It is a social leveling mechanism in these kinds of instances.

Now I have personally used this sort of shaming humor, generally in the form of snark, in a response to organizations/publications/individuals in positions of power. Deliberately. And I will no doubt use it again in a situation where I am speaking from a position of a)defense b)against a relatively powerful corporate entity c)marginalization d) injustice or wherever there is a justifiable power differential in play that diminishes the less powerful.

In other instances, where the target is one of lesser social power there is no social leveling going on but a reinforcement of hierarchy and status quo power positioning. I won’t personally go there (no matter how tempting) and will, if I have the energy, challenge that which does. In that instance, humor and accusations of lack of appreciation for a particular form of humor are used as a way to shame, silence or misdirect people so that they don’t question or challenge what the joke actually means or what effect it has in a larger context.

In that case those who seek to induce a sense of shame or guilt in others by using such humor and attacking those who don’t go along, are attempting to control the behavior. When one questions or objects to an offensive joke some people are quick to remark that you are being overly sensitive, weak, negative, ruining the community, too serious or lacking a sense of fun or a sense of humor in general. 

Most people don’t want to be written off as the overly serious, stuck up person who can’t take a joke. Why are you getting so upset? It’s just a joke! This is the threat of social ostracism and marginalization. It means “If you don’t go along you’re out of the club.” According to the psychologist Maslow (hierarchy of needs) a sense of belonging is a significant human need in order to have a fulfilled life. To have this sense threatened is a powerful psychological motivator.

In another psychological way there is something satisfying about transgressing boundaries. It reinforces a sense of autonomy. The edge, which is where boundaries are transgressed, has an excitement to it that is hard to resist. There is something that feels a little like courage or bravery to go against the grain. Whether it actually is courage or something else depends a great deal on the variables of the situation.

The biggest variable relates to the issue of power relations. It does not take courage to  mock others who are at the same or lesser social level than one’s self. That’s pretty easy since the weight of an institution, a crowd or other forms of heavy social capital are not even needed and may even be on one’s side in those instances. In that case it is something else, most likely fake bravado disguising insecurity or actual lack of courage to look at the more powerful rather than the less powerful. Any oaf can squash ants but not many want to look within for the resources to challenge that which is larger. Lots of reasons why that happens. Then again there are a few who don’t see a difference as long they are not on the receiving end. Perpetual perpetrators who cry victim if they are called on it. Or in it for the lulz, as popular parlance would have it. Either way the type of empathetic insensitivity, often accompanied by grossly exaggerated and distorted personal sensitivity that comes with that kind of terrain is too mind boggling to get into. [AKA Troll motivation 101]

Moving on.

Here’s an interesting piece that appeared recently on Scientific American blogs, The Joke Isn’t Funny—It’s Harmful. The author is voicing criticism of another blog piece that appeared on the site Nature, in which a lot of stereotypical gender behavior is used in an attempt at humor. That happens every day but it doesn’t generally happen on internationally known science based websites. So there was controversy.

The author does a good job of outlining the concept of stereotype threat and how it affects individuals and groups in terms of social advantage and disadvantage. You can read that for yourself at the link but one point that is brought up in the comments is the idea that these sorts of “jokes” are somehow validated by science, that is women are by way of evolution less rational, particularly regarding certain social behaviors.

A stereotype is a social instrument to validate those in positions of power and privilege. People become conditioned by social means which appears to validate stereotypes but this does not provide factual or provable means of demonstrable proof. Some women may themselves say they become “insane” due to hormonal changes. This does not mean it’s a scientific fact, only that upon encountering the stereotype long enough it becomes inculcated as a behavioral pseudo-explanation. Sort of like religion and its “The devil made me do it.” Pure bullshit based on pop cultural reinforcements.

It’s the same kind of “argument” (though it’s not even worthy of that term) as “men are “natural” providers/athletes/fathers/leaders/lovers/mathematicians etc or white people are more “naturally” rational/accountable/responsible/etc.

These are all culturally defined/conditioned/sanctioned/emphasized/learned behaviors. There is no universal human gene for “leadership” just as there is none for “shopping ability” despite what some “evolutionary psychologists” might postulate-and that is all they can do is postulate because they haven’t proven a damn thing with their status quo reinforcing theories. (tempting to go into the tangent of so-called “alpha” behavior, as in “alpha-male” or “alpha-bitch”[notice the dehumanization when the colloquial “alpha” term is applied to the female?] as that’s equally as culture-bound, learned and fully bogus, but I’ll save that for later)

There’s the difference between a truism/stereotype and a demonstrable factual explanation. This gets into all kinds of things like logical fallacies and rationalizations used as fact. The Colbert truthiness factor abounds.

Buy your exotic baby here

imageThis image is somewhat controversial if not outrightly offensive to many people. I understand the sentiment behind the creation of the image though. I once referred to the celebrity types who insist on adopting a plethora of multicultural children as collecting tokens on an anthropological charm bracelet…[Poverty Porn, Dilettante Charity and a Holiday in Cambodia]

I do understand the desire to want to help a child in a desperate scenario. And I do know personally, people who have successfully adopted internationally, mostly from China. The children are healthy, happy and accomplishing much in loving homes.

In some cases there may be a genuine desire to bring children into their lives and truly care for them. That is likely the majority of cases. However, in others…the mommy or daddy dearest syndrome takes over where children become props for outrageously huge egos and to validate certain public or social presentations.

There has been a trend historically of dominant cultures co-opting the children of those they dominate.

I got in a conversation on Google+ with John Pappas on this issue, particularly in reference to Haiti. He wrote:

It is and has been for awhile a very commonplace practice. The idea is that there is an opportunity to pull people from the brink of damnation to the good word via tragedy. The same thing was prominent at “Indian” school in the American West. It is considered an act of civilizing.

The point especially regarding “civilizing” lies at the heart of the colonialist mindset.

Canada had a horrific history of residential schools where children were basically kidnapped from their communities and locked up in Catholic run schools that abused several entire generations. It was not historically however, popular to adopt the children into individual families.

Residential schools mostly run by the Catholic church have a history around the world. In India, at present, for example, at the town of Mussoorie where I had been living for quite a few years there are numerous schools run by that church. They are private boarding schools that are very prestigious. One notes in marriage ads in the newspapers, for example, a request or description that girls be or are “convented” which means having graduated from a convent school, that is one run by nuns. Convent schools exist in most major cities. The cost runs around 50,000 rupees per year just to attend-about $1300 not including boarding costs, uniforms, school trips, sports fees and a lot of miscellaneous other charges. These schools are often seen as the epitome of Western style education. Many politicians have graduated from them.

I do wonder if the reason for their continued success in India is due to the strict rules that prohibit foreigners from adopting Indian children. In other countries where these residential schools have flourished changes in both adoption rules and social trends that have allowed or disbarred foreign or interracial adoptions have led to a demise of these schools. It’s a correlation that I note but can’t find any research to indicate a causal element.

This whole notion of civilizing developed further with the crisis in Haiti, when hard core evangelical Christians began adopting Haitian children in order to proselytize and enlarge the congregation…even going to the point of attempting to kidnap them. No doubt the social capital they would gain for being “good” Christians in their current environment is that important. Couple of stories on that here Americans Charged with Haiti Child Kidnap, Kidnapping or Caring? Missionaries in Haiti Tried to Take Children to U.S. After Earthquake and The Evangelical Adoption Crusade. Another interesting thing to note on this is the concomitant rise of both Christian based home-schooling and of private evangelical Christian schools many of which have expanded enough to include a boarding facility.  These two trends are also on the rise in secular education. In some cases the private/boarding school function is meant to bring economic relief or increased revenues. Secular example Boarding School Goes Back to the Future: Public School Develops Boarding Program.

John wrote of his personal experience in encountering some Christians on the mission to influence foreign students in a student exchange program. He wrote:

In conversation with some local “Good Christians” they explained what an opportunity exchange student programs presented then in proselytizing the “good word.” They currently have two children from Japan for a year. Church twice a week and bible study. School out here gets out early on Wednesday for Bible School.

I was lucky enough to tutor these children after-school and learned that they were not Christian and found the whole church thing very annoying but seen as a necessarily evil to the exchange program.

One sees this in India as well where Anglican and other protestant churches are setting up after school tutoring programs in order to entice students and their parents into participating in religious activities. Many of the poorer people will come, not only for the tutoring but also for gifts that are handed out which include Christmas and Easter food hampers, books-which include bibles and other religious material and clothing collected during clothing drives. Implicit in all of these activities is a pressure to appear at church services and proselytize to other family members and neighbors.

Is that preferable to foreign adoptions? It’s all rather arrogant, ethnocentric and colonialist.

In terms of secular interracial and cross-cultural adoptions I have a mixed opinion. If adoption leads to a denial or disparagement of a child’s ethnic or cultural origins then obviously it is not in the best interest of the child to be involved in such an arrangement. They will always feel as if who they are and where they have come from is somehow not good enough.

Where I do see good quality parenting, with the child being wholly respected and accepted and especially coming from a situation which has very little by way of support for their developmental success and where there is little ability for local people to provide homes then it strikes me as a beneficial thing.

Unfortunately the mechanisms in place to do such thorough scrutinizing and filtering are not very well developed in many cases. And sometimes they are prone to corruption such as bribery.

There are many stories of foreign born children adopted only to be abused, abandoned or even murdered. Check out the Wikipedia List of International Adoption Scandals or look up foreign adoption abuse and you’ll find over 58 million references in Google.

This whole area of international, interracial and cross-cultural adoption really needs serious scrutiny.

Children are not accessories.

Where is Suffering?

There’s a lot of these witnessing retreats going on where the bourgeoisie pay substantial amounts to be with suffering, whether that be located on the homeless streets, at Auschwitz, in Rwanda or elsewhere.

This to me turns the extraordinary suffering of people into a circus. The spectacle of suffering.

The purpose seems to be to assuage some kind of privileged guilt. You can’t buy that. Give your money to a refugee organization and your time to a literacy campaign.

Suffering does not have special locations and events.

The most profound suffering is silent, silenced and unknown by most around it.

I Am Now Officially Ordained…

…at the Universal Life Church. Official date of ordination 09/11/11. Hallelujah…

I’ll make you a believer…

I just have to come up with $49.99 for my monastery credential package which includes:

  • 11 certificates (Wedding, Renewal of Marriage, Affirmation of Love, House Blessing, Baptism and Commitment) *contains multiple
  • 1 Minister Window decal
  • 1 Press Pass [That could come in handy]
  • 1 ULC Parking Hanger
  • 1 Hard copy of your official Ordination Credential
  • 1 Wallet ID card
  • Your choice of Clergy Badge, and sample services.

….a $75 dollar value. That’s a good deal hmmm.

I decided to add a religious title to the mix for a few bucks more. I will now be called Emissary…just like Cisko in StarTrek DS9.  I thought to go for “Princess” or “Revelator” but the first is perhaps a little frivolous and the second a little too heavy, unless I want to restrict myself to Depeche Mode songs for services. Which may not be too bad at all.

 

I’m not joking. I can marry y’all now. [At least in some jurisdictions. Others would require a registration with local authorities.]

Here’s a replica something like the certificate.

We are all children of the same universe…seems to be the motto. Can’t argue with that.

There are only two tenets of the ULC: to promote freedom of religion and to do that which is right and within the law.

I can generally abide by that-at least as much as any of my fellow ministers.

Speaking of which,  I am in good company in this particular church.

Some of my fellow ordinees include:

  • Glenn Beck
  • Richard Branson
  • Kathy Griffin
  • Mae West
  • Goldie Hawn
  • John Waters
  • Alanis Morisette
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Hunter S. Thompson
  • Hugh Hefner
  • Abbie Hoffman
  • John Lennon
  • Courtney Love

So can you imagine the kind of services that could be held with these folks. I also think that Joey, on Friends, got this Internet minister credential so he could marry Monica and Chandler. There you go. Totally official.

Got nothing to do on a Saturday night? You too can join this illustrious crew. Just click the link above and fill out the form. It’s free. Takes about 45 seconds. The only thing that costs is the paperwork, if you even want to get it. And it’s pretty cheap.

Now I just need to set up a non-profit religious foundation and I’m ready to go!

I am available for private parties if you can afford it. Gotta get building the flock.

 

Your own personal jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there

Feeling unknown
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
Ill make you a believer

Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

Your own personal jesus…

Feeling unknown
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
Ill make you a believer
I will deliver

You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal jesus
Reach out and touch faith