The charismatic and visionary far right leader who we’ve yet to see…

Someone shared this FB post on my feed, so I spent the morning reading pro-trump Facebook groups, and it was definitely a little frightening. Trump still has a huge amount of support, because for these people it’s not about taxes or healthcare, it’s about taking America back. From the liberals, from the muslims, from the illegals, from the gays and transgenders.

I don’t really see the appeal of these ideas myself, but that’s probably because I don’t really have a country to take back. However, these people were constantly writing stuff like, “Kill the illegals” or “kill the muslims” and I don’t think they were 100% serious, but I do think that if their President came to them and was like, “Hey, the only solution is for you to pick up a gun and actually go out and kill the Muslims” then maybe they’d do it!

Reading these groups, I was actually afraid. Like, I was afraid that I’d do something to tip them off to my presence, and that they’d target me personally. These people are no joke. And the above-linked FB post is right: they’re here to stay. They weren’t created by Trump, and they’re not going to go away when or if he loses. There is going to be a large, authoritarian, far-right bloc of the American population, and there is a frighteningly large chance that they will usher in a totalitarian dictatorship within our lifetimes.

Democracy is really fragile, particularly within the confines of our specific system of strong executive power. And given that the military and the police are likely to be in the far right than against it, you can easily see the circumstances under which a charismatic and visionary President might tweet, “Hey, the Senate is trying to depose me, why don’t you stop them.” Maybe the military will act to stop him and maybe they want. What’s clear is that once a person like that gains the levers of power, he’s not going to give them up easily.

I’m not certain that Trump is that leader (though I’m also not certain he isn’t), but that leader will arise within our lifetime. And if he wins a Presidential election, then we’re all doomed.

I understand why most white men believe, on some level, that they’re disadvantaged (but I don’t agree)

clip_image002-4.jpgWas reading the Harper’s article on the women of the alt-right, and I was like, wow, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if this fascism stuff catches on in a bigger way. I don’t mean the outright Nazi stuff. I think most people will ignore that bitter core to the belief, but I do think that more and more the alt right is gonna learn (maybe with female influence?) to wrap that bitter core in a sweet, chocolate coating of racial resentment.

The reason they’ll be successful is that most white men believe, all else equal, that they are at a disadvantage when compared to women and people of color. I think this is a common belief in red states and rural areas and amongst less-educated people and Republicans and Fox News watchers, but, honestly, it’s scarcely less common in blue states and cities and amongst people with graduate degrees who listen to NPR. Here in San Francisco, I am fairly certain that if I were to sidle up to most white men and say, “You know what? The pendulum has swung too far, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s hard for a white guy to get a promotion,” they’d be like, “You know what? You’ve got a point.”

And the thing is, many of them would be cool with this state of affairs! They’d be like, “You know what? It’s fine. We’ve benefited from so many hundred years of oppression. It’s time for other people to catch up. So white guys will tread water, or even fall behind, for a little while, and women and ethnic minorities will have their time in the sun.”

 

There is this idea out there that, all else equal, non-white people have an advantage when it comes to hiring. Even liberal white people will be like, well, because of racial disparities and unequal distribution of wealth, not all people have the same opportunities, so at any given level it’s hard to find black people who meet the qualifications of a job, BUT if a black person reaches that level, then he or she will have an advantage over an equally qualified white person. Many men also believe something similar is true for a woman.

And I totally understand where this idea comes from. It’s what you hear on the news all the time. And it’s not just Fox News. If you listen to NPR, you’ll hear all about how there’s a need for diversity. You’ll hear CEOs and other decision makers and leaders telling you how desperately they want to hire diverse candidates. People will constantly be telling you that what they want is diversity, diversity, diversity.

So I don’t think you’re racist if you think (all else equal) non-white people have an advantage. I think this is a totally rational belief that is a reasonable response to the information you have been given. And I think it’s easier to have this belief when you’re not particularly successful.

For instance, I do think that men have an advantage over women in YA publishing. And yet I am certain that some men in YA believe the opposite: they think that because YA is a field dominated by women and by female readers, women have the advantage over men.

That too is a rational belief: if I look at bestseller lists, it’s all women. And my own career hasn’t taken off. Given that, it’d be sort of galling if somebody came up to me, as more than one person has, and said, “You’ll do fine in YA, you’re a man.”

And sometimes, when I read articles where best-selling authors complain about the sexism or racism they’ve experienced, I’m still like, welp, but it didn’t stop you from topping the charts, did it? I know it’s wrong, but it IS annoying to hear successful people complain about how tough they’ve had it (on the other hand, if they don’t complain, then who will? Because when unsuccessful people complain, it just gets chalked up to sour grapes).

So I get it. I totally get it. White guys, don’t worry, I’m not saying you’re racist just because you think you’re not gonna get the job simply because you’re a white guy.

These are two diametrically opposed beliefs: the belief that prejudice is still empowering traditionally-empowered groups; and the belief that affirmative action has leveled the playing field such that, all else equal, minorities now have the advantage. And yet it is very difficult, through one’s own experience, particularly if somebody is from a traditionally-empowered group, to tell which one is true.

But…I tend to come down on the side that traditional mechanisms of prejudice ARE still in ascendance, and that decision makers’ verbal commitment to diversity tends to break down precisely at the moment when they might actually need to make decisions to support it.

For instance, I first encountered these opinions in my MFA program. Our faculty was entirely white. Not a single non-white person on the permanent staff (this is still true, so far as I know), and yet whenever the white students discussed nonwhite students they’d be like, “Oh yeah, she’s certain to get a teaching job, because she’s black.”

Meanwhile, during the following three years, the program hired FIVE new professors. All were white, four were white men. Each time, the hiring committee was like, “We made an effort to find the best candidates. We really wanted a diverse hire. But the best person turned out to be so-and-so.”

And I realized something: the idea of affirmative action is itself a tool of racial oppression. The notion that nonwhite people find it easy to get jobs and get promoted means, paradoxically, that it’s seen as an act of moral courage to hire a white person. Because there is so much “pressure” to hire non-white people, hiring committees find themselves being like, “Welp, he’s a white guy, but I guess we can overlook that because he made such a good impression!”

In this way, the feeling of beleaguerment that white guys seem to have is itself turned into a tool for oppressing other people. And the thing is…that feeling seems to me to be so unnecessary. I mean I know some people are reading this blog post, and their hackles are going up, and they’re being like, “Here’s another person blaming white guys for the world’s troubles.”

And I mean in some sense I am, but I’m also not blaming any one specific white guy. It’s really not about specific white guys. It’s about systems. Like, even those guys with the tiki torches in Charlottesville: they’re not responsible for this system. They’re merely cogs within it, just the same as all the rest of us.

Even the word ‘system’ is maybe the wrong one, because I also don’t believe it’s in any sense mechanical or intelligent or organized. All we have here is a bunch of free-floating ideas that evolve and are perpetuated through something akin to evolution. And the ideas that tend to survive are the ones which modify individual behavior in a manner that perpetuates themselves. And this idea–the notion that white guys are, all else equal, at a disadvantage (which is a slightly different idea, I’ll note, than the idea that white guys are not in charge, overall, or that they’re not the most powerful group)–has perpetuated itself precisely because it gives white guys a reason for hiring more white guys! It has perpetuated itself because at the moment when you’re considering hiring a non-white person, you can tell yourself, well, actually, out of this slate of candidates, it’s the white guy who’s going to have the most trouble finding a job–the others are fine, they’ll land on their feet–so I’m going to hire Eric or Andrew or James or David. And as a result of this notion, more white guys land in positions of power and, thus, are able to spread this idea to their students, colleagues, and employees.

Now I’m sure that after reading my take, lots of people will be like, but…a white guy really DOES have to be twice as good as a non-white or female candidate in order to succeed. To which I’m like…okay, again, I don’t think that is a per se unreasonable belief to have. (I define a “per se unreasonable belief” as something so self-evidently false that I refuse to even argue about it, like the notion that black people are genetically inferior).

But maybe just look around? Is that really true? Because people talk so much shit about affirmative action, and yet I’ve noticed the opposite: non-white people and women who’re in positions of power tend to be way more organized and competent than white colleagues who hold equivalent positions. Furthermore, when hiring committees are offered a choice between a white guy and someone else, they will usually pick the white guy.

And that’s the end of the blog post.

“I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m glad it’s not my job to figure it out.”

Over pride weekend, I was at a brunch where we began discussing, as happened at pride brunches around the country, the numerous reasons why Hillary lost.

To be honest, this is not something I have a huge opinion about. It does seem like Hillary could’ve done better, but it also seems like something of a moral hazard question. Like, if a few states had swung the other way, we wouldn’t be having this talk at all. Like do you guys remember 2008? Where they were more or less even in the polls until the economy crashed in September? And afterward all the talk was about what an amazing politician Obama was?

He was definitely an amazing politician, but would he have become president if AIG hadn’t gone bankrupt? I dunno. But if he’d lost the story would’ve been different. And why should it be? Why should the presence or absence of calamity change the story?

So the truth is I don’t know why Hillary lost. I’m not convinced it was Russia. I don’t know that it was the Comey letter. It may’ve been voter suppression: it’s hard for me to say!

Lately I’ve been falling back more and more on “I don’t know.” And that’s because oftentimes it’s the only honest answer you can give. Like there’re plenty of people out there who talk in these slippery slope arguments. They’re like, well, doesn’t America need an immigration policy? Can America just have open borders? Should people just flood in and be able to work without any controls?

Many of my friends would have answers for these questions. I don’t. As far as I can see,  open borders aren’t on the table, so why argue about them, unless it’s for the sake of arguing? I have my moral opinions, which is that it’s inhumane to deport people who’ve made their lives in this country and who have, often, been good and decent citizens. In many cases they’ve even paid taxes! And that’s oftentimes all I really need!

Or people are like: how do we stop police from killing black people?

Shit, I don’t know! I know that I would really very much like it to stop. I feel like it’s not really my job to provide detailed policy proposals to make this happen: it’s only my job to be part of a constituency that’s in favor of change.

I do think that running a government and creating laws is a pretty complicated job. There is a role for technocrats and wonks and centrists. The job of the political process is to set priorities. Politicians cannot decide what’re the most important things to be done; they rely on elections to agglomerate the voice of the people. But once they know what people want, it’s their job to figure out how to do that shit.

The downside, unfortunately, is that people oftentimes want some pretty messed-up stuff! Like since November 8th, people have been saying, “We’re gonna stop Donald Trump this way” or “Don’t let Donald Trump do that stuff” or “Make sure Washington knows that this shit isn’t normal!”

But, err, didn’t we have an eighteen month long election whose entire point was figuring out what exactly it is that Americans care about? And apparently Americans really care about immigration! It completely baffles me, honestly, but then again I am a brown person. Americans really care about repealing Obamacare. Probably because they think it mostly benefits brown people. They really care about building a wall. They really care about banning muslims. You can spin the election however you want, but it’s pretty clear that Americans care about that shit.

And this time around you can’t even say that the election got bought by establishment interests, because it wasn’t. You think the establishment cares about immigration? No way, they have no problem with open borders. This nativism is entirely a grass-roots thing.

In this case, the political process worked. It told our government exactly what the American people want from it. What they want is horrifying and stupid, but I don’t think the government is going to ignore it. Just like in the UK, the government could’ve ignored the Brexit vote, but they didn’t. It’s like, they had a vote on Brexit: the people spoke; they said what they wanted. That’s the system. It sucks.

Our system has judicial review. The courts are doing their best to block Trump. That’s pretty good. Thumbs up to the founding fathers. But other than that, what is there to do? All the calling your senators and congresspeople in the world isn’t gonna change the fact that we just had an election that was fought on exactly these issues, and our side lost.

So what comes next? Well…I don’t really know.

I’ve just been so goddamn depressed about President Trump

Sorry my posting has been sporadic. I’ve just been so depressed about Trump. It’s really odd, I started off feeling relatively okay, and then I got more and more unhappy. My fiancé is out of town this weekend, and I was like I can’t be alone, so I made a spur of the moment trip to LA to see my old roommate, and now I’m here until Wednesday.

Ummmmmmmmmm I’ve been reading a bunch of Anthony Trollope. Right now I’m reading the fourth of his political novels, Phineas Redux, which is also a direct sequel to the second book, Phineas Finn. It’s nice to read about a political system that is genteel and functions relatively well, although it’s hard for me to believe that the running of the effing British Empire could’ve possibly been as smooth and genteel as is portrayed here. I mean, one of these parties, the Tory party, wasn’t even legal in the UK until pretty late in the 18th century. Surely there’s gotta be a hangover from that shit.

 

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