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.

As far as I’m concerned, this election was mostly about whether or not to tax soda

Soda-TaxBoth Berkeley and San Francisco had ballot propositions this year regarding whether to institute a tax on soda (and many juices). The tax, at least in Berkeley, is only a cent per ounce, so the cost isn’t that high. And the proposition clearly riled up some huge corporations because every house has gotten fliers about this, and I hear ads about it on the radio constantly. Seriously, if I was to judge by my radio, there were only three election issues in California this year: a) the soda tax; b) a silly proposition requiring mandatory drug-testing for doctors; and c) a school superintendent’s race somewhere in the South Bay (between some guy named Turlock and another guy named someone else–did you know that Timothy Turlock has never been a classroom teacher and that the last time he ran a school district, it went bankrupt or something like that? Or maybe it was the other guy who was bad? I forget).

In my own life, I’m pretty anti-soda. I used to drink copious quantities of it, but I haven’t touched any in about three years. There’s something about it that is, quite frankly, a bit addictive. Soda-drinking does not obey the dictates of hunger. No one was ever hungry for soda. And soda-thirst cannot be satiated. Many people (myself included) are capable of drinking many sodas in a day. Mankind was not meant to consume food that was so sweet! (On the other hand, I am not a scientist. And I don’t know if science is as convinced on the health risks of soda as the public seems to think it is. But for the sake of this post, let’s assume that drinking soda is, actually, in some way worse than, for instance, drinking milk.)

But, on the other hand, there is something awfully paternalistic about this tax. It would be one thing if we as a people were like, “We drink too much soda. Soda is bad. Soda should be taxed.”

But is that what these ballot propositions are about? Or are they about one group of people telling another: “You drink too much soda. Soda is bad for you, and this soda drinking of yours needs to be discouraged.”

I think it’s more the latter than the former. Of course, eventually what happens in these cases is that the nannies brainwash the children. That’s why cigarette smokers often support increased restrictions on smoking. They’re ashamed of their habit, so they punish themselves.

I don’t know. When you’re dealing with broad, societal problems, you have to use policy mechanisms like taxes in order to discourage or encourage behavior. However, I hate the way these policies get transformed into personal imperatives. I feel as though taxes like these are only going to contribute to a world where people who drink soda are considered bad and people who eschew it are considered good. We already have enough of that with weight issues, and it’s disgusting. But it seems impossible to say “soda drinking should be discouraged” without also saying “people who drink soda are doing something that is wrong.” I guess maybe our mythos could be, “People who drink soda are paying a tax that exculpates them from the act: since societal costs have now been internalized in the cost of the product, people can drink it with a clear conscience,” but somehow I don’t think that’s the message that’s getting through.

Life continues to be a thing that I am living

This is a photo that came up when I searched for 'gentry.' It is the country music duo Montgomery Gentry. They're actually one of my favorite groups. I've listened to "Some People Change" roughly 200 times, according to my iTunes.
This is a photo that came up when I searched for ‘gentry.’ It is the country music duo Montgomery Gentry. They’re actually one of my favorite groups. I’ve listened to “Some People Change” roughly 200 times, according to my iTunes.

Got so dull that I engaged in volunteer work today. Yes, I volunteered at an anti-gentification non-profit. I was going to drive people to a city council meeting, but then it turned out that they didn’t need any extra cars, so I just took their new volunteer orientation instead. I wouldn’t mention it, except that helping people in any capacity (particularly political activism) is so out of character for me that it deserves mention. But gentrification appears to be the hot-button topic that people care about in the Bay Area nowadays, so what the heck?

At the initial meeting for this organization (at least I think it was for this organization…I am really not sure how all these nonprofits are interconnected), someone asked me why I was there, and I said, “Well, my friend invited me, and I didn’t have anything to do today” (It was Sunday night), and she laughed and said, “That’s funny. You’re funny.”

But I wasn’t joking. I’ve reached a stage in my life where I am doing atypical things just to combat boredom.

Speaking of gentrification, I just sealed the deal on an apartment in Berkeley. It is an amazing apartment. I am already in love with it. I am sure that over the next few years I will slowly grow to disdain it, but for now I am still in the honeymoon period.

I’m also slowly making my way through a new novel. I refuse to get excited about it, though. So many other books have collapsed on me that I’m not gonna believe this one is gonna get finished until I’m at least halfway through.

Despite the overall tone of this blog post, life is pretty good. I’m really glad to be back here in the Bay. It’s a strange place. Aside from college, I’ve really only lived here for eighteen months, but I feel really at home here. And I’ve gotten a pretty panoramic view of it over these past three months: I spent a month in Oakland; six weeks in SF; and now I’m on my second week in Mountain View (for those not in the know, SF and Oakland are about fifteen miles apart, and Mountain View is forty miles from both of them).

Do Americans really _want_ more leisure time?

Source: CNN
Source: CNN

Yesterday, I was linked to this marvelous interview with David Graeber (who’s an intellectual associated with Occupy and the anti-globalization movement). In it, he talks about the decline in demands for more leisure time:

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the great divisions between anarcho-syndicalist unions, and socialist unions, was that the latter were always asking for higher wages, and the anarchists were asking for less hours. That’s why the anarchists were so entangled in struggles for the eight-hour day. It’s as if the socialists were essentially buying into the notion that work is a virtue, and consumerism is good, but it should all be managed democratically, while the anarchists were saying, no, the whole deal—that we work more and more for more and more stuff—is rotten from the get-go.

I’ve wondered about this a lot. There doesn’t seem any obvious reason why our economy is organized in such a fashion that everyone has to work so many hours. But, for some reason that’s not only the way it is, that’s also the way people have accepted it should be. You see people agitating for a better social safety net, but you rarely see them agitating for a shorter workweek. Even the existing labor protections re: work-weeks are kind of a joke. There are so many jobs in the US (like computer programmer) which don’t pay overtime even though they don’t really fit into the exempt categories.

Somehow, on a spiritual level, our relation to work and leisure has changed. I think there is an extent to which people actually require work–even meaningless work–in order to provide their lives with purpose. You see this when writers go on vacation or take time off from their day jobs; they’re confronted by an open expanse of time and find it impossible to make any progress at all. When you have so much free time, you’re forced to confront questions of value: What is worth my time? What is worth doing? Why should I do this instead of something else? What does all this effort mean?

But when you work for someone else, all of those value questions are taken away from you. And while you hate the lack of autonomy, there’s also something pleasurable in being freed from the need to confront questions that are, fundamentally, unanswerable.

In his interview, Graeber addresses the other main source of meaning that our society accepts: altruism.

Most people in America accept that it’s worthwhile: a) try to make money;  and b) try to help other people. That’s why people who try to find some meaning within the working world often try to find it within ‘helping’ professions (the stereotype is the Wall Street person who drops out to join a nonprofit)

And, as Graeber, notes that’s why those professions are so poorly remunerated. People actually want to do them.

However, his notion–redefining ‘work’ as being that which helps others–doesn’t actually solve the leisure problem. It merely shifts it around. So now instead of working sixty hours a week to make value for your corporate overlord, you’re doing it to make value for your school or your nonprofit overlord.

People don’t really want leisure, per se. Instead, they want something in their life that is more meaningful than the work that they are given. But I think that once upon a time, people thought that they could use their leisure time to create their own meaning. Nowadays, I think that we implicitly believe that meaning comes from institutions.

Look at the arts. Why do so many people want to become published novelists rather than, say, accomplished letter (or email) writers? It’s because when you write a beautiful letter, then you need to accept and embrace that letter’s worth on your own. It’s something that you create for yourself (well, and one other person). Whereas when you write a novel, you only really accept its worth when it sells.

Before people can demand more leisure, we need to have some understanding of the worth of leisure. Before we can demand it, we have to desire it. I wonder right now what more leisure means to people? Does it mean more time playing video games? More time watching TV? More time driving your kids to various appointments? More time drinking in bars? All those things are fine, I guess, but it’s no surprise that Americans don’t really want more of them.

There’s something a little bit endearing about right-wing extremism

happy-go-lucky-posterPeriodically, my Facebook feed gets riled up when some ultra-rightwinger decries multiculturalism or eulogizes the antebellum South or says that Obama is going to put us all in concentration camps or engages in some other tacky political display. And then everybody will jump in there and be like, “Grr, those people are ruining America.”

Which is totally okay. I don’t support those beliefs, and those people certainly are harming America, and everyone tends to view these things through the filter of their own experience: if I’d had more negative interactions with ultra-rightwingers or with their policies, then perhaps I too would be extremely enthused about bashing them.

But I was recently watching a British movie, Happy Go Lucky (directed by Mike Leigh) that crystallized some of my mixed feelings about right-wing fanatics. In this movie, there’s an abrasive driving instructor who slowly develops a romantic attraction for his pupil, a kindergarten teacher. And this teacher also becomes somewhat fascinating with the driving instructor. She wonders what made him so uptight and abrasive and tries to probe him and figure out whether he was bullied in school.

And then he goes off on this tirade about how school is all about shoving you into a box and making you regurgitate the status quo and how if you do that then you end up successful and happy, but if you insist on thinking for yourself then you end up shunted out and miserable. And I am totally onboard with that…right up until the tirade turns into a racist rant.

I really liked the driving instructor. I admire anyone who really cares about what he does. One of the most charming parts of the movie is where he explains his teaching philosophy to the kindergarten teacher after she laughs at one of the silly mnemonics that he’s trying to make her memorize. He takes his job really seriously, and he honestly believes his instruction will save his pupils’ lives someday. This is a guy who’s schlubby and lonely, but he’s not pathetic. He’s found a way to live, and, to me, there’s something gloriously countercultural about that.

Oh, and he’s also a crazy racist who believes that the government is forcing nonwhite people to immigrate to Britain and shoving multiculturalism down peoples’ throats in order to deprive the noble British people of their heritage. And he also believes in some crazy connection between the American Government and Satanism. The Illuminati might be in there somewhere, too.

Now…are his beliefs deplorable? Yes.

But is he ruining the world?

I don’t know.

To me, it almost feels like he’s part of the solution and not part of the problem. This is a guy who’s obviously very switched on. He thinks for himself. He forges his own path in life. And he’s figured out a way to live in accordance with his own values. And, to me, that’s much more important than what you believe about immigration.

I mean, you just need to look at the medium and the message. The things that the guy says are repulsive. But the way he lives is admirable. During the five minutes per day that he talks about politics, he might be making the world a worse place, but during the whole rest of the day, he serves as an example to all the other sad, lonely, and trapped people who are searching for some way—any way—to live with integrity.

Not in love with straight women making fun of Grindr

Cannot believe how perfect this image is.
Cannot believe how perfect this image is.

Recently, a bunch of articles where women sort of poke fun at the way people behave on Grindr (a smartphone app that connects queer men who are physically close to each other at that moment).

I’m sure there are queer people who’ve linked to these articles and found them amusing. In fact, my boyfriend told me that the ‘straight women read Grindr messages aloud one’ was quite funny, so I obviously don’t speak for all queer men, but I do speak for myself, and I have to say: I don’t really find these articles to be amusing. In fact, they feel a little condescending to me. Like…women can get away with making fun of men’s foibles because they are, in many ways, bound by those foibles. But Grindr is something that actually has nothing to do with women or with their expectations, and I don’t see why they have a right to comment upon it. Or even if they do, I’m not really amused by articles that amount to: “When we judge this behavior according to our own dating standards, it seems quite ridiculous.”

Because my natural response is…well…who asked you?


P.S. Actually, I wouldn’t even be in love with queer women making fun of Grindr, but I guess that’s a bit more allowable, since queer men and women are, for now, stuck together in the unholy alliance that is the LGBTQUIA movement.

False Consciousness

This fellow was a member of the landed gentry
This fellow was a member of the landed gentry

The Bay Area is an incredibly expensive place to live, and one of the main topics of conversation there is rent and where you’re thinking about moving to. One thing that struck me when visiting the Bay Area was how concerned people were about becoming gentrifiers. It was interesting to me, because people would freely talk about how poor people in the Mission District and Oakland are being priced out of their neighborhoods by newcomers, and say things that reeked of guilt, like, “We are the problem.”

And that’s definitely one way of thinking about it. But that is such a foreign notion to me. I don’t live in a world where upper-middle-class people victimize working class people. I live in a world where we are all at the mercy of vast, impersonal economic forces. Like, people don’t move to Oakland because they want to: it’s not that great to live somewhere full of crime, where you’re a minority amongst people you distrust and who distrust you–a place that is not particularly walkable and which everywhere exhibits signs of the grossest urban decay. People don’t move to Oakland because they’ve decided it’s a better environment than San Francisco–they go there because they’ve been priced out of San Francisco. What is true for poor Hispanic people in the Mission District is also true for graduate students or someone who works at a nonprofit or as a salesperson at a tech company. San Francisco is really, really expensive.

And, sure, now Oakland is also becoming fairly expensive, but what’re you going to do? The only places where a person can afford to move in the SF Bay Area are places that’ve historically been awful. And all the places that’ve been historically awful are places that’ve historically been filled with people of color. There’s not some mystical historically-white township full of affordable housing that people are refusing to move to because it’s not hip. Even places that people sneer at (Fremont! Milpitas! [which are both majority-Asian, by the way]) are not inexpensive.

Given that, all this guilt smacks of false consciousness. People have this sense that they are the movers and shakers and they are the decision-makers even though they’re just as much at the mercy of the system as everyone else. The system might have given them a few more privileges than everyone else, but it hasn’t given them any more power.