My San Francisco voter guide to all local elections and propositions

VBM-SLOGAN-LOGO2012_revised.pngOkay, so this is my first election voting in San Francisco, and something I’d known, but hadn’t quite appreciated, was that this state’s tradition of having a shit-ton of referenda on the ballot, both at the state and local measure, makes voting here unbelievably complicated.

This is because almost every ballot measure is backed by some special interest group, and almost all are more than they appear to be on the surface. In fact, a ballot measure that is what it appears to be is actually the exception to the rule. For that reason I spent an inordinate amount of time chasing down the real story behind (many) of our ballot initiatives, and I feel like that information should be put to good use somehow.

Of note here is that I am a ballot initiative minimalist. I think that they tend to do more harm than good over time, and that one of the reasons CA is such a clusterfuck is because people passed a lot of ballot initiatives that sounded good at the time but ultimately had a bunch of perverse incentives (and secret special interest giveaways). So unless I was positive that the ballot was necessary and non-pernicious, I voted against it.

With that, here are my votes.

President: Hillary

Senate: Kamala Harris — she’d be the first person of South Asian descent (and only the second person of African-American descent) to sit in the Senate. Yes, I voted here mostly along racial lines.

House: Nancy Pelosi, duh

State Senate: Jane Kim. As supervisor here in SF, she backed the law that allowed me to move in with my fiancé.

District Supervisor (not relevant unless you live in my part of SF): Joshua Arce. The other candidate, Hillary Ronen, supports clearing the homeless encampments nearby, and I am strongly opposed to this. For me, it is a moral issue that’s of major importance, and Arce is on the right side here.

Judge: Phil Henderson. Was hard to chase down info about the candidates, but Henderson is gay and black, which seems like something we could use on the bench.

School Board, Bart Board, Community College Board: I had absolutely no idea how to vote here, so I didn’t. Also, the Community College Board has ZERO power.

State-Level Ballot Initiatives

  • 51 – NO – This is a $9 bn bond measure for rebuilding schools. The governor opposes this on the grounds that it would increase disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods. This is because the money from the bonds will go to school districts that can match it through local funds. Poor districts–the ones that can’t put up money of their own–would get less money. I see no reason why the state should go into debt to help wealthy districts renovate their schools. If they want money, they are capable of passing bond measures of their own. This measure is also being supported by contractors and developers who hope to get a piece of the construction money.
  • 52 – YES – This is a really difficult measure to understand. It’s a tax on hospitals that the hospitals themselves support. A FB friend, Matthew Gunn, explained it to me. The state of CA was leaving billions in federal matching funds on the table, so the hospitals ginned up this tax in order to contribute to the Medical system, knowing that they’d get the money back (doubled) because of the federal funds. This measure would make the tax permanent and would also permanently secure the revenues, making sure they always go into MediCal. It’s a bit shady, and it’s obviously something supported by a special interest (hospitals), but since it will cost the state nothing, I voted for it.
  • 53 – NO – Right now, revenue bonds, which are bonds which could only be paid back with the fees and tolls from a specific project, do not need statewide ballot approval. This measure would require ballot approval for all revenue bonds over $2 bn. I voted against it because this measure was entirely funded by a wealthy farmer in Stockton who brought it forward for unclear personal reasons (though perhaps it was to scuttle a major water project).
  • 54 – NO – Seems good on the surface. It will require the legislature to publish all potential bills online and wait 72 hours before passing them. This is another bill funded entirely by one person, billionaire Charles Munger, and to me it seems a problem in search of a solution. It also has the potential to harm the legislative process, because bills would be subject to judicial challenge if any part of them, even  a comma, had changed in the 72 hours prior to passage.
  • 55 – YES – Extends a tax increase on people earning more than 250k, with the money going to schools.
  • 56 – NO – Proposition to triple the current cigarette tax by putting a $2 tax on a pack of cigarettes. This was the vote that caused me the most internal debate. I see the argument for passing it. This isn’t a tax that’s designed to collect revenue. It’s a tax designed to stamp out smoking. But in the end, I can’t support a tax which is this regressive. It is a majority of the populace passing a tax they know they will not need to pay. A tax whose burden will fall on a small, poorer, less healthy minority. Further, it’s a tax on a substance that minority is addicted to, and which most of them will be unable to quit. I don’t think I could look into the eyes of a poor, sick person and tell them, “You are harming this country, and therefore you deserve to pay more.” Plus, I honestly don’t see that as being true. Smoking is a personal choice, and in my opinion this tax goes beyond protecting the body politic and veers into the territory of regulating peoples’ personal decisions. Furthermore, California already has the second lowest smoking rate in the country, and it seems likely that simple generational change will eventually bring it even lower.
  • 57 – YES – Proposition to reduce number of juveniles tried as adults and to make more nonviolent offenders eligible for parole.
  • 58 – YES – Proposition designed to, basically, repeal a 20 year old racist proposition that banned bilingual education in schools.
  • 59 – NO – Idiotic proposition that would require California’s elected officials to introduce and support a measure to amend the constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision. If you want your elected officials to do something in the US congress, write them a letter, or elect someone who believes in your opinion. But you cannot bypass this country’s legislative process by mandating, through a state ballot referendum, that we support a particular law. (EDIT: A friend, Mark, pointed out that this is actually a non-binding resolution, so it’s basically just a way for people to express their disagreement with Citizen’s United. Okay, that was a research fail on my part, and if I’d known that I’d probably have voted YES. Unfortunately, after going through dozens of these, you get ballot fatigue.)
  • 60 – NO – mandating the use of condoms in adult films. This is a measure introduced by anti-porn activists in order to drive the porn industry out of California.
  • 61 – NO – Requires that Medi-Cal refuse to purchase drugs at a price higher than that paid by the federal Veterans Affair’s Administration. This is the most expensive ballot proposition fight in US history. The drug companies spent $100 million to fight it. Nonetheless, I must reluctantly side with them, because the ballot initiative is stupid. The buying and pricing of drugs is too delicate a matter to be decided through a blunt measure like this. You’re talking about thousands of drugs, coming from dozens of manufacturers. Furthermore, you’re relying on the drug companies to themselves cooperate. What happens if even one drug company refuses to sell to you at that price? CA would then be legally barred from purchasing that drug at all. At that point, people start to die, because they can no longer get the drugs they need. Since MediCal is a health system that supports the poor and indigent, you also face the unsavory prospect of the people of California deciding to gamble with the lives of poor people. There are too many unknowns here, and I can’t support it. If MediCal wants lower prices, they should negotiate, just the way the VA does.
  • 62 – YES – This measure would repeal the death penalty, which I’d support no matter what. But the system is particularly dysfunctional here in CA, where he have 950 people on death row, but haven’t executed anyone in the last decade.
  • 63 – YES – Background checks for ammunition sales
  • 64 – YES – Legalization of marijuana. This is probably going to pass, which is insane. America’s largest state is going to legalize marijuana.
  • 65 – NO – Measure supported by the plastic bag industry in order to muddy waters re: the fees on plastic grocery bags.
  • 66 – NO – Measure put on ballot by death penalty proponents. Measure would make it easier to execute people. Gross.
  • 67 – YES – This measure was also put on the ballot by the plastic bag industry, but in this case, they want you to vote NO, because this is a referendum on a law that was already passed by the legislature. A NO vote would repeal the law.

Local Ballot Initiatives (Oh no, we are not even HALF done, my little chickadees)

  • A – YES – School bonds. Money to rebuild and renovate our schools. Here we have a community footing the bill for its own improvement, and I support that.
  • B – YES – Tax to support the City College of SF.
  • C – YES – Affordable housing project
  • D – NO – This is just another slap fight between the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, and I don’t think the Supervisors have made a strong case as to why they should get more power to determine who makes vacancy appointments. Also, this would mean more special elections, and after this election I don’t want to vote in another election ever again.
  • E – NO – Would create a $19 million dollar annual obligation, for the city, to maintain its sidewalk trees. I oppose any ballot props that allocate money without providing revenue for them.
  • F – YES – Allow 16 year olds to vote in local elections. Seems cool and fun, I’m for it, even though I don’t know how legal it’d be?
  • G – YES – Create commission to provide oversight of police. Not sure how effective it’ll be, but the SFPD is a mess and definitely needs more oversight.
  • H – NO – Creates an office of the public advocate, designed to go around and discover problems and then publicize them. Seems kind of meh to me. The office would have zero power. Isn’t this exactly why we have a board of supervisors?
  • I – NO – Funding for seniors and adults with disabilities. Like E, it would create an unfunded obligation to set aside millions each year for this purpose. I don’t think budgeting should be handled by referendum like this. Our city needs to be free to change and reallocate funding in accordance with differing circumstances.
  • J and K – YES – These measures are designed (J) to increase funding for MUNI by (K) raising the sales tax. Also made me think a little bit, because the sales tax is inherently regressive, but ultimately I’m in favor of higher taxes, so I voted for it.
  • L – NO – Another fight btwn Mayor and Board, this time over who can appoint members to the SFMTA board. Again I side with the Mayor on this.
  • M – NO – Same as above, but now with a new Housing and Development commission. Just more bureacracy. Pass.
  • N – YES – Allow non-citizens to vote in School Board elections, if they have kids enrolled in SFUSD schools. Seems fine to me, though of doubtful Constitutionality.
  • O – YES – This would allow a development in Hunter’s Point to proceed more quickly. The development has already been fully studied and argued out. I don’t see why it shouldn’t proceed faster, rather than slower.
  • P – NO – Measure designed to throttle affordable housing projects by requiring they have a minimum of three bidders.
  • Q – NO NO NO NO NO NO A THOUSAND TIMES NO!!!! – This is the single issue I feel most strongly about. Many of these homeless encampments are within a half mile of me. I pass them all the time. I don’t think they are more dangerous or dirty than having homeless people sleeping completely rough. Rather the opposite, I think they’re evidence of ownership and a stake in the community. Many homeless people are native San Franciscans and have lived here far longer than I have. Many were evicted because of gentrification. I do not want to see the sight, in 2017, of police sweeping up and down my streets and evicting these people again. They’re my neighbors, and neighbors shouldn’t tear down each others’ houses. I don’t know why other people don’t see it this way. Maybe it’s because I’m in India, where slum shanties have a long and proud history (and can often be quite nice and valuable). I don’t think a slum shanty is great, but if that’s what people have, why should we take that away?
  • R – NO – Establishes a neighborhood crime unit. Why? To stop car break-ins? Police force allocations should be determined by the Police Chief, not by ballot referenda.
  • S – NO – Allocates funding from Hotel Tax. Again, I think funds should be allocated by legislators and the mayor, according to circumstances and our evolving needs.
  • T – YES – Restricts gifts from lobbyists
  • U – NO – Would raise income limits on who qualifies for affordable housing. Does nothing to solve housing crisis. It would just create more applicants for the same number of units.
  • V – YES – Tax on sugary beverages. The soda industry has spent like $60 billion trying to defeat this. I am sympathetic to the “No” position since, like the cigarette tax, this is a sin tax. Nonetheless, I’m voting for it, because I think there is something deeply wrong with the way we eat, and I think that in many cases this pattern, including the sugariness of our drinks, has been created through government subsidies that created perverse incentives. Further, soda is less addictive than nicotine, and nobody’s identity is defined by soda, so I don’t feel, the way I did with the cigarette tax, that we are victimizing a minority.
  • W – YES – Raises transfer taxes on properties over $5 million. Hey, if they have that much money, they should pay.
  • X – NO – Would require developments to provide accommodations if they’re eliminating certain kinds of uses for space. I couldn’t quite understand who would be the winners and losers here, so I voted against it, particularly since it’s not housing related.

Bart Bond Issue

  • YES – This is a bond issue to raise money for the BART. Seems like they need the money, so I voted for it.

Is anyone offended by the phrase ‘witch hunt’?

witch-hunt-imageThe other day I used the term ‘witch hunt,’ and afterwards I was like, huh, I wonder if anyone is offended by this phrase?

I know that there are other such phrases that offend people. I’ve heard pushback with regards to “trail of tears” and “death march.” And, of course, if you use “lynch” or “lynching” to refer to anything other than the extra-judicial execution of a person, for a perceived crime, by a mob, then you’re just asking to get called out (or ‘called in’ as my friends are saying now).

I’ve never heard of anyone taking offense to ‘witch hunt,’ and my hasty googling revealed nothing, but it’s certainly something that a person could, conceivably, find offensive. Like, the world has witches. They often perceive themselves to be a persecuted religious minority. Talking about how there’s “The internet is staging a witch hunt to find people who misuse the term ‘witch hunt,'” might possibly be very offensive to someone.

I think that all these social justice conversations don’t really work unless you believe people about the depth and enormity of their pain. Sometimes it’s hard for me to do that, since I’m only really offended by terms that are already consensus not-okay. For instance, calling something “gay.” Offensive. But the number of times I’ve heard someone say that since becoming an adult is very small. I’m not really on the cutting edge of taking offense at terms. But I do make an effort to believe people. So if someone were to chime in and be like. “never say ‘witch hunt’ ever again!” then I would probably make an attempt. There’d have to be a few reminders, though. I’ve been trying for years to stop saying ‘lame’ and have yet to quite manage it. If once in my life someone in real life had been like, “Rahul, it really hurts me when you say that,” then the experience probably would’ve been so scarring that I’d have never said it again. But since at the moment this is a taboo that, for me, exists only as a result of conversation on the Internet, there’s something vaguely unreal about it.

Although, actually, maybe I don’t say ‘lame’ on the internet? At least I’m not seeing any hits for it on my blog. So maybe there’s a certain amount of code-switching going on. I don’t say the word on the internet, where I know there’s a chance someone will give me shit for it, even though I do say it in real life.

The biggest difference between radicals and progressives is that radicals distrust the power of the state

g-cvr-111002-oaklandPortProtests-824p.grid-8x2I’ll never be a radical. My upbringing was too affluent, and my social circles are too steeped in power. You can’t be a radical when you have more to lose from the overturning of the system than you have to gain from it.

But in Oakland and Berkeley it’s impossible to avoid spending time with radicals, and I find them to be really interesting. Like all progressive-type people, I was raised with a distrust of radicals. Progressives believe in a neat coloring-within-the-lines view of social justice. The struggle for gay marriage is a perfect example of a progressive social movement: highly educated people and well-funded organizations that carefully used the ballot box and the court system in order to enact social change.

Radicals are different. They’re less organized. Less coherent in their plans and their appeals. Progressives are always complaining that radicals, whether it’s Occupy or Black Lives Matter, have no platform and no concrete set of demands, and no matter how much the two groups talk to each other, they can never make each other understand.

Progressive: “What do you want?”
Radicals: “To overthrow the system.”
Progressive: “Okay, yeah, but what laws and government programs do you want.”
Radical: “The end to entrenched systems by which a small part of the American population is able to perpetuate its control, year after year, over all the major institutions in American life.”
Progressives: “Okay, yeah…so…some kind of redistribution of wealth? And student loan forgiveness? And an end to three-strikes laws?”
Radical: “Yeah…all of that. Plus also that think about ending the entrenched system…”

I think progressives find it hard to understand that radicals genuinely want to live under a very different social system. They see this one as corrupt, and, to a large extent, they see progressive programs as a means by which the existing system perpetuates itself. Redistribution of wealth is fine, but when that redistribution is accomplished through a massive government program, then it becomes a sword that can be used, as was the case with welfare programs, to break up families or to keep people in servile situations. Or they can be implemented selectively, as was the case with Federal mortgage loan guarantees, so that white people benefit and nonwhite people don’t, with the end result being a world where black people, in particular, have no part in this nation’s largest source of middle-class wealth

I find that this comes up quite often in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco with regards to our rent control laws. These laws are not economically or politically efficient. They provide benefits indiscriminately, so that it’s possible for tech people earning 100+k to live in $500 rooms or $1200 apartments. And they don’t take money from the richest–the millionaires and billionaires–they take it from small landlords. Not poor people, obviously, but not the largest sources of wealth amongst us. Furthermore, they distort the housing market, reducing the number of free units. And they reduce the amount of political will for increasing the amount of housing stock, since long-time tenants who are protected by rent-control tend to also exhibit some of the same not-in-my-backyard sentiment towards new construction that we normally associate with landlords.

And progressives know this. They say that rent control isn’t the answer. The answer is an increase in low-income housing and an expansion of Section 8 housing vouchers. They say the solution is more and better development, and more and better public transportation, so that people who live farther from town can still commute in an efficient way.

And because radicals keep advocating for an expansion in rent control, progressives shake their heads over how unsophisticated these radicals are.

But what they don’t understand is that radicals don’t trust their social programs. Radicals don’t even trust rent control laws, not really. They know that rent control is something you can only assert by going to the courts. But rent control laws tend to be enacted through ballot initiative, and they tend to be simple and easy to understand rights. And once the law is passed, rent control isn’t something that can be taken or given away by a bureacrat. it’s not something that can be applied selectively, or that can be slowly stripped away. It’s a right. Radicals might not trust the system, but when they deal with it, they prefer to have rights that are simple and well-enshrined. If a bureacrat denies you a Section 8 voucher, what do you do? Who do you go to? How do you fight the housing authority? But if a landlord claims your unit isn’t rent-controlled, then you can sue his ass. That’s the difference between a government program and a right. Radicals like to fight and they know how to fight and they tend to support programs that privilege the fighters.

Is there any way for male YA writers to combat the sexism in our field? (even as that sexism puts money in our pockets)

mysteryfacepennamepseudonymJust read an extremely revealing post by an author who decided to submit her manuscript to publishers and agents under a male pseudonym. She writes:

“I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.”

This struck home for me. As a male author working in a 90+% female field, I’ve often felt like I benefited from unconscious gender bias. There’s just something about the reception that my book got from publishers…something about the reception I’ve gotten from other YA writers. I’m obviously not a star, and I probably won’t ever be, but I feel like my gender made my journey easier. Which is something I’ve simply learned to accept (this isn’t going to be one of those wallowing in guilt posts).

However, I have been thinking a little bit (especially over the last few days, for some reason) about how I can make it better. The situation in YA, thought, is different, in many ways, from the situation in my other genre–science fiction. There, women seem relatively underrepresented, and it feels like the most conscious thing to do is to just seek out and praise female voices.

But I still don’t know what to do in the YA field. It’s difficult, actually, since the number of men in the YA field is so small that even with the dramatic sexism, there’s still much room for women to flourish. Maybe 10% of YA authors are men, but we get 40% of the awards and bestseller slots. That’s unfair. It’s a systematic disadvantage for female authors. But at the same time, because there ARE so many female writers in the YA field, it means that there are also a lot of female bestsellers and awards winners, and that makes it hard to point to any specific book and be like, “This is the disenfranchised book. This is the one that should’ve been a bestseller.” (Although if I was to point to any, it would be Susan Juby’s The Truth Commission. Her book is so good and so similar, in many ways, to mine, that if mine is a hit where hers wasn’t, then I feel like we’ll have learned something…)

In the science fiction world, a friend, Tempest, recently issued a call for authors to stop reading white men. But I’m not sure that is as well warranted for the YA field, because the demographics of kid-lit mean that you end up reading a lot of books by women. In fact, although I’ve made zero additional effort to read books by women, I just did a quick count and found that 18 out of the 23 children’s books I read in the last eighteen months were by women. That’s 78%. As such, it’s hard to say that what I need to do is to concentrate more on works by women.

(Although I will note that out of the books I’ve read in the last year that I’ve raved about–The Truth Commission,  Siobhan Vivian’s The List, Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now and Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Storyonly 50% were by women. Furthermore, out of that group, the ones by males were already outstanding critical and commercial successes, while the ones by women required a little more searching to unearth. So I don’t know, maybe the solution is to read zero men).

Anyway, I am at a loss. It honestly feels like what’s needed are systematic procedures to encourage gender-blind reading by agents and publishers. At the very least, agents (whether they’re male or female) who are concerned about reducing gender bias ought to write in their guidelines that they don’t want cover letters and bylines to contain any information that might reveal the gender of the author. On the other hand, that’s a policy that would entail considerable financial risk for the agent because if it’s true that male writers are vastly more likely to be bestsellers, then it makes sense for an agent to try to catch as many men as they can. Still, this can’t be an intractable problem. There’s got to be something that can be done.

The one-step rule for who you’re allowed to be angry at over the internet

141103155408-male-silhouette-horizontal-large-galleryPeople all the time talk about what terrible shape this nation is in, but I actually think that if you just look at the twitter-sphere, you can see how much progress we’ve made. Like, do you remember how there used to be a time when rich white straight men were the enemy? Like, that was it. If you weren’t a rich white straight man, you were oppressed.

It’s not like that anymore. For the radical left, the standard for ‘enemy’ has now expanded such that everyone who’s only one step removed from rich, white, straight, and male is now ALSO the enemy!

(Note here that I am only talking about whether people on the far left feel comfortable being outraged over these peoples’ actions. For people in the center and on the right, criteria for outrage have always been different)

Rich, white, straight woman? Enemy! (Justine Sacco)

Rich, nonwhite, straight man? ENEMY!!! (Michael Vick)

Rich, white, queer man? Totes the enemy! (Just google ‘rich white gay man’)

Non-rich white straight man? They’re the enemiest enemies around. (Donglegate)

We truly do live in a magnificent new era.

Actually, there are some indications that we’ve even made some progress towards a TWO-step rule. George Zimmerman was both non-white and non-rich, and he’s definitely the enemy. And Ani Difranco is a female and queer, and she was also at the center of a controversy recently. This is still a murky area where you have to decide on a case-by-case basis, but I think I’ve seen a fair amount of evidence that it’s okay to be outraged, on the internet, about something said by an upper-class queer white woman.

Three steps, though, is definitely not alright. Requires Hate is non-white, female, and queer, and support for her is still pretty ubiquitous amongst activist-types within the science fiction and fantasy world.

Gay marriage

I’m happy about it. Marriage equality is a good thing. There are some ambivalent feelings about it in the LGBT community, I know. Like, it’s great that queer people can get married, but it also feels icky that this is the major victory, since it’s basically all about queer people assimilating and becoming more like straight people. (Whereas, for instance, a national law against employment discrimination or a national program to help LGBT homeless youth would be something that felt a little bit more like a celebration of queer peoples’ right to choose.)

On the other hand, I don’t even know if I experience that ambivalence. There is a powerful conservative streak that runs through my own psyche. Not conservative on a political level, but conservative in an older sense. Conservative as in wary of change. In America, minority groups fight for the right to assimilate, and then they do. It is our pattern as a nation. People are free to be different, and to pursue their own ways of life, but this country does not make it easy. There is a powerful conformity pressure here.

The American dream enshrines both individualism and its opposite. Individuality is celebrated, but it’s also punished. Maybe you can’t have one without the other. If we weren’t a society that looked down upon abnormal people, then we couldn’t be a society which celebrated abnormal people who succeed. Perhaps what it comes down to is that we hate anything that is incomplete or uncertain or unfinished. America only accepted queer people once they were able to present a shiny, happy picture of themselves as committed, monogamous, All-American couples who wanted nothing more than to marry. Whereas the larger acceptance–the acceptance of that which is anarchic or inchoate–is, I think, going to be a long time in coming.gay-older-couple1

Whenever I feel tempted to comment about stuff, I try to remind myself that for some people these issues are deadly real

Red_Sunset_by_Mariposita1I am a serious person. I am well educated. I am articulate. I have many thoughts and opinions about things. Today, for instance, I had a very good conversation with a friend of mine (Danielle) wherein I made what I thought were some very salient and interesting points on the comparison between transracial and transgender identities (the conversation spurred by Rachel Dolezal’s story being juxtaposed with Caitlyn Jenner). I think there is nothing wrong with discussing these things or having opinions about them, and I encourage people to do so.

In fact, the having of opinions was so enjoyable that I even considered writing up those thoughts in the form of a pithy Facebook status or blog post. It is even possible (though unlikely) that this blog post would’ve been a valuable contribution to the internet’s discussions on this topic. But when it came to the point of actually putting fingers to keys, I felt exhausted by the whole prospect. Because the truth of the matter is that whenever you write about identity questions, you’re writing about stuff that is serious business for a lot of people. They often are beaten and harassed because of these questions. They suffer financial and career loss. They suffer discrimination and shunning by both friends and family. And I wouldn’t want to write any comment that wasn’t respectful of that reality. Not because I’m afraid of people leaping on me and saying that I am very very wrong (although partially because of that), but also because it wouldn’t feel right. I’d rather just find some other person’s comment and link to it, so that’s what I’ll do.

This is another reason that I didn’t like living in DC. There was too much gossip and too much shop-talk about issues that were deadly important. Living in the Bay Area is much better, since all the talk is about the tech sector, and, say whatever else you want about it, but the tech sector strikes me as something that’s just important enough to blather on about. It’s important, don’t me wrong. But it’s not deadly important.

I write novels about Indian-American people

Tempest Bradford posted, on Facebook, a link to this blog post:

One famous example [of white people believing that whiteness should be the default in television] is SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age author Mathew Klickstein’s comment about current Nickelodeon show Sanjay and Craig: “That show is awkward because there’s actually no reason for that character to be Indian,” as if a character needs a particular reason to justify a lack of whiteness. Klickstein goes on to state that characters should only deviate from whiteness if the show is about ethnicity: “I think that it does the culture a disservice. If I were Indian or Jewish, for example, and watched something where the characters are Jewish or supposed to be, and if it’s not specific to that, then I start to wonder, ‘Why are they doing this?’ It becomes blackface.” Because, obviously, everything Indian or Jewish people do relates specifically to that identity. I don’t blog: I JEWBLOG. I don’t sleep: I JEWSLEEP. I don’t have adventures: I have JEWVENTURES. And if your work includes Indian or Jewish people, but is not specifically about being Indian or Jewish, it’s racist. Yeah, OK. ::eyeroll::

This resonated with me.

For a long time, I only wrote stories about white people. I was like, I am an American, I can write about white people and about Indians, and I don’t mind writing about Indians, but I’ll do it when I have a reason.

Then, mostly as a result of people complaining about race on the Internet, I changed my position. I decided that from now on my protagonists would be Indian-American unless there was a reason for them not to be. Yeah. Nothing more to say about it really. My protagonists don’t have anything universal to say about Indian-American-ness. Nor do I see myself as inspiring other Indians or providing an example to them. I don’t know if the world needs my Indian protagonists. I have no opinion on that. However, I’m Indian. And there’s no reason why the protags of my stories shouldn’t be Indian. For me, Indian is the default.

All my life, I’ve believed the same things that my friends and family have believed

sheepAll over the internet, people are always like, “Stand up for what you BELIEVE in and make sure that those other people with those other beliefs don’t dominate the discourse!”

And I agree with that, I suppose. I have beliefs. I think they’re right. I think other people should believe in them too. However, whenever people talk about their political or moral beliefs online, it always carries this whiff of moral superiority. As in, I am better than you all because I see clearly on this matter.

However, I don’t know about all the other people in the world, but I, personally, hold what’re pretty much the standard beliefs for a person of my race, class, location, occupational category, and social circle. And I know that is the case, because my beliefs have actually changed over time just as the prevailing beliefs amongst my friends have changed. For instance, when I first heard the term, i thought that “white privilege” was pretty stupid, whereas now I’ve come to terms with it. However, I think I’ve recently noticed the term going out of vogue, which means soon enough I’ll be down on it again.

I see nothing wrong with that. As I said, I have ‘reasons’ for my beliefs. I can more or less support them if I was to argue about them. But those reasons are actually post-facto rationalizations. In reality, I’m pretty that I more-or-less believe whatever the people around me believe, and if the beliefs of the people around me were to change, then so would my rationalizations. Like if everyone around me was to become an anti-Semite, then I’m sure I’d find some way to convince myself that the Jews were evil.*

On the one hand, this is actually a very solid argument for speaking up about your beliefs, because in doing so uou change the general perception as to what’s an acceptable belief. And that in turn means more sheep will sign onto it. But, on the other hand, it makes the whole concept of political debate seem a little distasteful, because, at it’s core, it’s more of a conflict between social groups than it is a debate over issues.

(Although an exception, I suppose, would be when a person or a group of people genuinely does have some opinion that’s at odds with the rest of their caste. But for me that is rarely the case.)

*Whenever people read of experiments like this, in which social pressure caused people to give in and give obviously incorrect answers to simple tests, they’re always like, “And this is why it’s so important to be independent thinkers!” But that’s not the right lesson to take away. The right lesson is that there is an intense conformity pressure in the human mind, and that this pressure exist inside all of us. And that if 75% of people will give incorrect answers when subjected to social pressure with regards to questions of fact, then when the social pressure is about some matter of ideology or policy, then it seems almost certain that the vast majority of us would probably alter our opinions.

Is it okay not to have opinions on things?

Was reading this post, by Ferrett, where he writes about not really knowing the reality behind things. His article is in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks (which is something I still know zero about), but I read it in response to the latest tempest-in-a-teapot controversy in the YA world, which was the Stacey Jay Kickstarter thing (author tries to kickstart sequel to book series after publisher drops her; fans object to the framing of her kickstarter and subsequently harass her).

I first heard about the SJ thing yesterday (I think?) but what was weird about it was that my Twitter feed was full of people decrying the fans for harassing her, but I simply could not find any harassing tweets. Like, I knew they must exist somewhere, but Twitter is not a very good interface, and it’s hard to find tweets from the past, and my skills just weren’t up to it. So until someone linked to that storify (the one I’ve linked to), I had zero idea what the harassment actually consisted of or how severe it was: all I had was reaction.

And I piled on there too and added my own two cents and was like, “Yeah, harassing authors because you dislike the terms of their Kickstarters is bad” but in the back of my mind, I felt like I didn’t really know the whole story and that there was a chance I’d be embarrassed.

That’s why I usually don’t opine on political-type things. Because I either don’t know the whole story, or I only know the story because my friends have told me the story, which means that what I think is pretty much the same as what everyone around me thinks. In general, I get a bit exhausted of all the political “me too” on social networks. It’s particularly comical when every single post in my FB feed is about something, and then someone posts, “Why is everybody so silent about…[that thing].”

I mean, I guess I understand. We all view different Internets. My feed is different from everybody else’s. And our feeds are an aggregation of what each individual person we follow thinks is a worthwhile thing to put out into the world. But doesn’t that explain lots of perceived silence, too? Like, I don’t speak out on things because I feel like they’re taken care of. But probably I have followers for whom my voice would be the only one that’s talking about…something. Some issue of major political import. And now they are sadly uninformed, just because I assumed everyone already knew about…that…err…that thing.