Life Matters Journal has a new piece by an atheist who attended Reason Rally 2016. It includes her reflections on attending an event where it is assumed everyone is pro-choice because, well, logic, science, and reason. Her main takeaways are that many people don’t know the science, those that do know the science are willing to discriminate, and there is a religious nature to pro-choice adherents. It’s an interesting piece that you can read here. She writes,
For some reason though many of the same people who claim to trust only hard scientific evidence are willing to deny these basic biological truths in order to continue supporting the violence of abortion.
There is no reason for the secular community to be as pro-choice as they are; in fact as lovers of logic and reason it would only make sense for more atheists to be pro-life. I fear that the reason the pro-choice side is so successful with nonreligious people is partially that pro-lifers have marketed ourselves as a fundamentally religious/Christian movement.
I’ve written about pro-life atheists before. I think, in general, the pro-life movement hasn’t found a way to balance the fact that many pro-lifers are religious, but a lot of the hearts and minds they need to change are not. Thankfully atheist and agnostic voices have been getting stronger in the community, like at Secular Pro-Life. I say thankfully because, even though I am Mormon, I’ve always been more swayed by, or felt more comfortable sharing, logical and scientific arguments. In policy decisions I think those arguments can reach more people. Any movement that has science and ethics on its side should not be afraid to use those benefits.
This article takes an interdisciplinary approach toward a Mormon theology of work. Walker Wright argues that Adam’s earliest calling in “the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen 2:15 KJV) implies that work is part of man’s original purpose. He then examines a diverse amount of ancient prophecies and their use of Edenic imagery to describe the world to come, thus echoing and expanding Adam’s first duty. This is further supported by various eschatological descriptions in the scriptures that speak not only of a world of restoration, joy, and peace, but one of work as well. Wright also reviews Mormon concepts of Zion and eternal progression, establishing the sacred nature of work within Latter-day Saint theology. Finally, he utilizes research from management and organizational sciences to make evident the value of work in achieving human happiness and flourishing.
A couple months ago, I wrote a post for Times & Seasons on the personal meaning of the Atonement. I boiled it down to one major message: I’m worth something. I rest this largely on the evangelical favorite John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In an ancient world full of mischievous, flawed, and often indifferent gods, the idea of deity sacrificing on behalf of mortals (not the other way around) could be seen as somewhat jarring. As New Testament scholar Craig Keener explains,
Although John’s portrait of divine love expressed self-sacrificially is a distinctly Christian concept, it would not have been completely unintelligible to his non-Christian contemporaries. Traditional Platonism associated love with desire, hence would not associate it with deity. Most Greek religion was based more on barter and obligation than on a personal concern of deities for human welfare. Homer’s epic tradition had long provided a picture of mortals specially loved by various deities, but these were particular mortals and not humanity as a whole or all individual suppliants to the deity. Further, deities in the Iliad have favorite mortals, debating back and forth who should be allowed to kill whom. But they do not knowingly, willingly sacrifice themselves (though some like Ares and Artemis are wounded against their will); Hera and others back down when threatened by Zeus, and even limit their battles with one another on account of mortals (cf. Il. 21.377–380). Achilles complains that the deities have destined sorrow for mortals yet have no sorrow of their own (Il. 24.525–526). By this period, however, popular Hellenistic religion was shifting away from traditional cults toward personal experience, bringing more to the fore a deity’s patronal concern for his or her clients. Thus a few deities, especially the motherly Demeter and Isis, are portrayed as loving deities. Jewish tradition often stresses God’s abundant, special love toward the righteous or Israel…John, however, emphasizes not only God’s special love for the chosen community (e.g., 17:23), but for the world (cf. 1 John 2:2; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9)…[I]n Johannine theology God’s love for the “world” represents his love for all humanity…[T]hat God gave his Son for the world indicates the value he placed on the world.
I was pleased to hear Elder Ashton in his April 1973 talk echo this important truth. After relaying a story in which he helped a friend reach his wedding in the midst of a Utah snowstorm, Elder Ashton shares,
My friend—we will call him Bill—expressed his deep gratitude with, “Thank you very much for all you did to make our wedding possible. I don’t understand
why you went to all this trouble to help me. Really, I’m nobody.”
I am sure Bill meant his comment to be a most sincere compliment, but I responded to it firmly, but I hope kindly, with, “Bill, I have never helped a ‘nobody’ in my life. In the kingdom of our Heavenly Father no man is a ‘nobody.’”
…I am certain our Heavenly Father is displeased when we refer to ourselves as “nobody.” How fair are we when we classify ourselves a “nobody”? How fair are we to our families? How fair are we to our God?
We do ourselves a great injustice when we allow ourselves, through tragedy, misfortune, challenge, discouragement, or whatever the earthly situation, to so identify ourselves. No matter how or where we find ourselves, we cannot with any justification label ourselves “nobody.”
As children of God we are somebody. He will build us, mold us, and magnify us if we will but hold our heads up, our arms out, and walk with him. What a great blessing to be created in his image and know of our true potential in and through him! What a great blessing to know that in his strength we can do all things!
According to Elder Ashton, “”I am nobody” is a destructive philosophy. It is a tool of the deceiver.” Perhaps even worse is the labeling of others as “nobody”:
Sometimes mankind is prone to identify the stranger or the unknown as a nobody. Often this is done for self-convenience and an unwillingness to listen. Countless numbers today reject Joseph Smith and his message because they will not accept a 14-year-old “nobody.” Others turn away from eternal restored truths available today because they will not accept a 19-year-old elder or a 21-year-old lady missionary or a neighbor down the street because they are “nobody,” so they may suppose. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons our Savior Jesus Christ was rejected and crucified was because in the eyes of the world he was blindly viewed as a “nobody,” humbly born in a manger, an advocate of such strange doctrine as “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”
Commenting on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Elder Ashton remarks,
Please weigh the impact of the father’s response once more. He saw the son coming; he ran to him; he kissed him; he placed his best robe on him; he killed the fatted calf; and they made merry together. This self-declared “nobody” was his son; he was “dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
In the father’s joy he also taught well his older, bewildered son that he too was someone. “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” Contemplate, if you will, the death—yes, even the eternal proportions—of “all that I have is thine.” I declare with all the strength I possess that we have a Heavenly Father who claims and loves all of us regardless of where our steps have taken us. You are his son and you are his daughter, and he loves you.
Do not allow yourself to be self-condemning. Avoid discouragement. Teach yourself correct principles and govern yourself with honor. Appropriately involve yourself in helping others. As we develop proper self-image in ourself and others, I promise you the “nobody” attitude will completely disappear. Ever remember wherever you are today within the sound of my voice that you are someone.
This flies in the face of some LDS interpretations in which the prodigal son “loses his inheritance”and, while “forgiven,” will likely only merit a lower kingdom. This fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of the parable. As New Testament scholar Arland Hultgren notes,
What is so striking in [the father’s] dealings with each of the sons is that he extends unconditional love prior to repentance–indeed, even apart from repentance on the part of either son. To be sure, the younger son comes home (but that does not in itself indicate repentance…), and he makes a fine speech that sounds like repentance. But the twin facts that (1) he knows he can go home and (2) the father runs and embraces him before any speech is even allowed — these two points illustrate the father’s love as unconditional prior to –indeed, apart from — repentance. And with the unconditional love is total forgiveness. In the case of the older brother, in spite of his contemptuous comments to his father and about his brother, the father assures him that all he has belongs to him still. There is no need for the son to apologize for his harsh words to the father. According to the father, the bond between them has not been severed. The attitude of the father toward his sons is not determined by their character, but his.
I wanted to address Ashton’s talk prior to that of Elder Simpson largely because I think the two work well together, but work best when read in reverse order. Elder Simpson focused on Christian living; on the lifestyle that should come about when you recognize that there are no “nobodies.” He reminds us of the Savior’s love for each and every one of us:
It has been truthfully said that the Savior is even more concerned for our success here in mortality than we ourselves are, the reason being, of course, that he has greater capacity for concern and love than do we mortals. He also has a superior knowledge of the gospel plan and man’s potential in God’s divine, eternal scheme. As stated by one prophet, God’s work and glory is achieved through our attainment of immortality and eternal life. (See Moses 1:39.)
He then lays out how we tap into this potential:
Before the foundations of this earth were laid, a glorious decision was made allowing you and me to be our brother’s keeper. By faith and service we would be able to achieve a degree of glory in the hereafter suited to our Christlike efforts and our Christlike attainments.
Adversity, heartache, bitter disappointment, grievous transgression, and disability are but a few of the obstacles that beset the inhabitants of this world. Few, if any, escape. None would have to linger in despair for long, however, if man could just bring himself to heed that one great teaching recorded in the 25th chapter of Matthew.
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:35–36.)
Then the righteous answered, stating that not once had they found him hungry or thirsty or a stranger; and then the Savior’s classic teaching: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)
This requires not merely monetary concerns. One of the plagues of modern American political ideologies is that both have incomplete theories of the poor and afflicted. One side simply throws money at a problem, while the other wants to rely wholly on incentives and self-reliance. Yet, Elder Simpson recognizes a more complete approach:
Every success story of the past year has been the result of special effort on the part of people who cared. They cared enough to give some time and to be sincere and compassionate; in other words, to follow the great example set by the Savior. The only joy that is comparable with the joy of the one receiving the help is the glow that seems to emanate from the one who has given so unselfishly of his time and strength to quietly help someone in need. The Savior did not seem to be so much involved in giving money. You will remember that his gifts were in the form of personal attention, in performing an administration, and in sharing the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, it was the Savior who said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. …” (John 14:27.) We could add to peace the gift of love, the gift of immortality, the gift of eternal life, the gift of understanding, the gift of compassion, the gift of eternal justice. All of these gifts are beyond monetary consideration and could well be our gift to someone sometime, if we weren’t “too busy.”
…No man can become “perfect in Christ” without a deep, abiding, and sincere concern for his fellow beings. This example…from James [2:15-16] cites physical needs. However, there are also emotional problems about us in every direction. Loneliness and discouragement, for example, are two of Satan’s most effective tools against us.
If this life’s effort is to be justified, then there should be a major and continuing attempt to justify or, in other words, to conform our actions with the example of the Master. The central theme of his mortal span was purely and simply serving those about him. He fulfilled an eternal truth which should be a part of your life and my life. “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27.)
If our life’s effort is to be sanctified or, in other words, ratified by the standards of eternal truth, then our actions must be in harmony with the sanctifying principles of the gospel, which most certainly includes sincere concern for others and a concerted effort to alleviate their problems.
The Friday morning session of the April 1973 General Conference had a remarkably clear trajectory over the course of its five talks: a smooth change of focus from the leaders to the “nobodies” of the Church.
President Harold B. Lee began, in Strengthen the Stakes of Zion, by stating that “the greatest of all the underlying reasons for the strength of this church is that those who keep the commandments of God are 100 percent behind the leadership of this church.” Following that talk. Elder Theodore M. Tuttle (in What is a Living Prophet?) observed that:
It is an easy thing to believe in the dead prophets. Many people do. For some mysterious reason there is an aura of credibility about them. It is not so with the prophet who lives among us, who must meet life’s everyday challenges. But it is a great thing to believe in the living prophets. Our salvation is contingent upon our belief in a living prophet and adherence to his word. He alone has the right to revelation for the whole Church. His words, above those of any other man, ought to be esteemed and considered by the Church as well as by the world. One day this truth will be understood.
And finally, continuing the theme of emphasizing leaders but shifting more to the concerns of the rank and file members, Elder L. Tom Perry described (in Consider Your Ways) how he had:
watched [the leaders] armed with the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, taking on enormous work loads at an age when most men would be confined to rocking chairs, and engaging in strenuous travel schedules with great enthusiasm to be anxiously engaged in building the kingdom of God. Then by observation, the realization has come to me that this great Spirit that blesses them in their activities is not a special gift to them alone, but is available to all mankind if they will but be partakers and earnestly seek it and be humbly guided by it. [emphasis added]
Emphasis on leadership within the Church is not my favorite doctrine nor my favorite cultural aspect of Mormonism. I have never been a very good follower. That is, to a great extent, why I set out on the General Conference Odyssey to begin with: to offset my innate contrarian personality. But I do appreciate the necessity of leaders for the institutional Church and—more than that—the unique Mormon theology that works to combat (to the extent that we pay attention to it) humanity’s innate fixation on hero worship and hierarchy.
Revisiting the talks I quote just now, President Lee’s discussion of a leader’s role is unconventional:
The great responsibility that the leaders and teachers in the Church have is to persuade, to direct aright, that the commandments of Almighty God will be so lived as to prevent the individual from falling into the trap of the evil one who would persuade him not to believe in God and not to follow the leadership of the Church.
Emphasizing persuasion (rather than obedience or command or compulsion) is more than just a softening of the traditional ideas of authoritarian leadership, it radically shifts the obligation away from followers and on to leaders. This is a profoundly service-oriented model of leadership.
Elder Tuttle had a similar sentiment, writing that it is the “right and responsibility of the prophets to counsel the Saints” (emphasis added). I believe that within the Mormon emphasis on leadership and conformity there is also a kernel of subversion. To lead, within the Church, is not the same thing as what we typically expect from leadership in business, or in government, or in the military.
And so we come to the last two talks of this session. In “Go, and Do Thou Likewise”, Elder Robert L. Simpson makes two points that further deepen the Mormon idea of leadership. First, referring to the greatest leader, he writes that “the Savior is even more concerned for our success here in mortality than we ourselves are.” This an echo of the uniquely Mormon teaching that God’s work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The kind of leadership that President Lee described—a leadership of calling and enticing rather than commanding and compelling—is God’s own form of leadership.
Elder Simpson goes farther, however. Not only is there a connection (service) between leadership of Christ and the leadership that our prophets and apostles strive for, but all of us are engaged in this same program. This isn’t some kind of exclusive responsibility of formal leaders. The difference between someone with a formal leadership calling and someone without one is a difference of degree, not of kind. Thus, “Before the foundations of this earth were laid, a glorious decision was made allowing you and me to be our brother’s keeper.” In other words: we’re all responsible for influencing (for good or ill) each other, and formal leadership within the Church hierarchy is just one specialized example of the general concept of interdependent influence.
According to Elder Simpson, the most important thing is not some kind of abstract leadership of organizations, but rather concrete concern for singular individuals. Thus: “No man can become “perfect in Christ” without a deep, abiding, and sincere concern for his fellow beings,” and finally:
There are those who associate high calling in the Church with guaranteed rights to the blessings of heaven, but I wish to declare without reservation that the ultimate judgment for every man will be on the simplest terms, and most certainly on what each has done to bless other people in a quiet, unassuming way.
All of this prepares the way for the final talk of the session, In His Strength by Marvin J. Ashton. Elder Ashton begins with a story about all the trouble he and many other people went through to help Bill get married on time despite an impending blizzard. Bill said thank you to Elder Ashton and added, “I don’t understand why you went to all this trouble to help me. Really, I’m nobody.”
Elder Ashton’s reply was both stern and loving: “Bill, I have never helped a ‘nobody’ in my life. In the kingdom of our Heavenly Father no man is a ‘nobody.’” Elder Ashton went on:
I am certain our Heavenly Father is displeased when we refer to ourselves as “nobody.” How fair are we when we classify ourselves a “nobody”? How fair are we to our families? How fair are we to our God?
And then he stated flatly:
I declare with all the strength I possess that we have a Heavenly Father who claims and loves all of us regardless of where our steps have taken us. You are his son and you are his daughter, and he loves you.
In this way, Elder Ashton has completed the shift from an emphasis on formal leadership in the beginning of the talk to the fundamental concerns of Christian religion at the end: love of individual sous, each of which has great worth in the sight of God:
God help us to realize that one of our greatest responsibilities and privileges is to lift a self-labeled “nobody” to a “somebody,” who is wanted, needed, and desirable.
My unease with hierarchy and authority is not the kind of thing that will evaporate in a day, a month, or even a year. In fact, there are aspects of that unease that should not disappear, because the conventional model of hierarchy and authority is one of inequality and coercion. The work I am engaged in is disentangling the counterfeit, worldly model of leadership from the true model of leadership in the kingdom.
This is tricky work, because the true model of leadership is something that you will never see reflected perfectly in any of our leaders here on Earth. As much as we might love and respect the Lord’s chosen leaders, they are mortals just like us, striving in their flawed way towards an ideal that can’t be reached in this life. But—through the example of the Savior and through the teachings of prophets—we can catch glimpses of that ideal.
Positive psychology has really taken off over the years and psychologist Martin Seligman’s Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being is an excellent summary of its findings. Seligman identifies several elements of well-being, including (1) happiness and life satisfaction, (2) engagement, (3) meaning, and (4) accomplishment. A huge factor in all of this is positive relationships. As Seligman notes, “When asked what, in two words or fewer, positive psychology is about, Christopher Peterson, one of its founders, said, ‘Other people‘” (pg. 51). Throughout the book Seligman provides exercises that can help boost positive emotions. He also discusses a couple case studies of positive psychology interventions in both schools and the military, both of which improved the well-being of students and soldiers alike. Finally, he delves into the power of grit, optimism, post-traumatic growth, and values vs. ethics. Overall, an enlightening read.
Check out his lecture at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce below:
With the recent shooting in Orlando, gun control is once again a hot topic. We’ve discussed gun control here at Difficult Run a number of times. As a non-gun owner, I’ve never taken too much interest in the debate. There have been some major literature reviews (including two bythe National Academy of Sciences, one by the CDC, and one by the Department of Justice) on the effects of gun control over the years, all of which found no conclusive evidence that gun control laws reduce gun violence. Yet, other studies have found that regulation can indeed help curb gun violence. And then there are larger trends to consider. As noted by NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof in a previous post, “The number of guns in America has increased by more than 50 percent since 1993, and in that same period the gun homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half.” In fact, according to the FBI and Bureau of Justice statistics, homicide rates are the lowest they’ve been since 1958.
Pro-gun groups point out that rates of gun ownership tend to be highest in rural, sparsely populated states, where crime rates are low. By the same token, over the past two decades, as the number of guns in America has risen sharply, crime rates have fallen. Yet even as the number of guns in America has grown, the share of households with a gun has dropped steadily. Research published in 2000 by Mark Duggan of the University of Chicago concluded that the homicide rate had been falling in tandem with the proportion of households where guns were kept. What’s more, the homicide rate was falling with a lag, suggesting that reduced gun ownership was causing the decline, and was not simply a side-effect of a falling crime rate.
Other studies have reached similar conclusions. An analysis published in 2014, for example, using detailed county-level data assembled by the National Research Council, a government-funded body, suggested that laws that allow people to carry weapons are associated with a substantial rise in the incidence of assaults with a firearm. It also found evidence that such laws might also lead to increases in other crimes, like rape and robbery. A recent survey of 130 studies concluded that strict gun-control laws do indeed reduce deaths caused by firearms.
This last survey mentioned is a brand new international study. As reported by Vox,
A recently released study, published in the February issue of Epidemiologic Reviews, seeks to resolve this problem. It systematically reviewed the evidence from around the world on gun laws and gun violence, looking to see if the best studies come to similar conclusions. It is the first such study to look at the international research in this way.
The authors are careful to note that their findings do not conclusively prove that gun restrictions reduce gun deaths. However, they did find a compelling trend whereby new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership tended to be followed by a decline in gun deaths.
…Santaella-Tenorio’s study (co-authored with Columbia professors Magdalena Cerdá and Sandro Galea, as well as the University of North Carolina’s Andrés Villaveces) examined roughly 130 studies that had been conducted in 10 different countries. Each of those 130 studies had looked at some specific change in gun laws and its effect on homicide and/or suicide rates. Most of those 130 studies looked at law changes in the developed world, such as the US, Australia, and Austria. A few looked at gun laws in developing countries, specifically Brazil and South Africa.
The major findings:
“First, and most importantly, that gun violence declined after countries pass a raft of gun laws at the same time: “The simultaneous implementation of laws targeting multiple firearms restrictions is associated with reductions in firearm deaths,” the study finds.”
“[B]ackground checks and rules on storage, reduced specific kinds of gun deaths. “Laws restricting the purchase of (e.g., background checks) and access to (e.g., safer storage) firearms,” they write, “are also associated with lower rates of intimate partner homicides and firearm unintentional deaths in children, respectively.””
“Generally speaking, there’s strong consensus that restricting access to guns tends to reduce gun deaths [in the United States].”
According to Vox, “Santaella-Tenorio was insistent that he and his colleagues have not “proven” that gun laws reduce violence. The data, he says, is simply too complicated, and the analyses too primitive, to come to such a hard conclusion.”
Disentangling firearm deaths from categories like total homicide is a tricky matter and more research to do just that is needed. There are some real concerns when it comes to enacting certain kinds of regulations on firearms, including the targeting of minorities (much like the War on Drugs). And then, of course, there are the legal matters. But not all gun control is created equal. To quote Kristof again, “In short, let’s get smarter. Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works. If the left can drop the sanctimony, and the right can drop the obstructionism, if instead of wrestling with each other we can grapple with the evidence, we can save thousands of lives a year.”
“Venezuela,” reported The Washington Post, “has become a failed state.” Evidence places the blame at the feet of Hugo Chavez and his socialist policies. Yet, what have journalists over the last few years been saying about the country and its president? One post sums it up nicely:
Venezuela is collapsing, with the New York Timesdescribing it as “uncharted territory” for a semi-developed country to be so deep in economic disaster that its hospitals, schools, power plants, and basic services are simply shutting down. So it’s a good time to reflect on the media’s previous glowing Venezuela stories. In 2013, Salon praised “Hugo Chavez’ Economic Miracle, saying that “[Chavez’s] full-throated advocacy of socialism and redistributionism at once represented a fundamental critique of neoliberal economics, and also delivered some indisputably positive results” (h/t Ciphergoth). And the Guardian wrote that “Sorry, Venezuela Haters: This Economy Is Not The Greece Of Latin America. Prediction is hard, and I was willing to forgive eg the pundits who were wrong about the Trump nomination. But I am less willing to forgive here, because the thesis of these articles wasn’t just that they were right, but that the only reason everyone else didn’t admit they were right was neoliberalism and bad intentions. Psychologizing other people instead of arguing with them should take a really high burden of proof, and Salon and Guardian didn’t meet it. Muggeridge, thou should be living at this hour…
One writer over at HumanProgress described the journalist praise for Venezuela as nothing more than “mind-bending stupidity.” Inspired by these examples, economist Scott Sumner sought out how journalists had similarly “explained away the abysmal failure of statism in Greece”:
Back in 2008, when I did research on neoliberalism in developing countries, I found that Greece was the least neoliberal economy in the developed world, according to a variety of metrics. Note that at this time Greece was booming, so this was not a question of people who liked neoliberalism calling Greece statist just because they wanted to peg that tag on a failed system. Indeed I was surprised that Greece did so well until 2008, despite being so amazingly un-neoliberal.
Of course we all know what happened next. The world discovered that the Greek boom was funded by unsustainable foreign borrowing, and that the Greek government lied about how much they had borrowed. When the huge debts were exposed, Greece had to sharply curtail its borrowing. Even worse, the eurozone crisis pushed Greek into recession. Greece is now widely seen as the worst economy in the developed world, with major structural problems.
So I wondered how the left would explain the failure of statism in Greece, and decided to google “Greece crisis neoliberalism” expecting to find lots of articles about how Greece needed to move in a more neoliberal direction, like the northern European economies, in order to recover from its statist nightmare. What I found was the exact opposite:
Notice any familiar sources? (Hint: the first hit and the second to last hit.) And despite the evidence mentioned above that found Greece to be very illiberal, all of these sources are blaming Greece’s non-existent neoliberalism for its demise. Sumner concludes,
To be clear, there are many countries that are a mix of free markets and statism, and hence there can be honest differences as to which characteristics are the most salient. But at the extremes, reasonable people should not disagree. There is no plausible argument that Hong Kong’s success is in any way a success story for statism, and there is no plausible argument that Greece’s failure has anything to do with neoliberalism. To suggest otherwise is to engage in The Big Lie.
Understand your conversations aren’t happening in a vacuum; silent victims are listening to you.
Sometimes I want to talk to people about “rape culture.” I’m putting “rape culture” in quotes because the people I most want to talk to about this often recoil at the phrase. If there was another shorthand phrase I knew to describe this situation, I’d use it, but I don’t know of any.
For clarification, when I say “rape culture” I do not mean a culture that is totally chill with violently forcing people to have sex. I mean a culture that minimizes the seriousness of sexual harassment and assault in myriad ways, most of them not purposeful but still very impactful. The cumulative effect is that far too many women have not only been sexually assaulted but—and for me this is a crucial point—they feel unable to do anything about it or even tell anyone.
(Before I continue, please note that in this post I talk exclusively about male rapists and female victims because I am talking about my personal experiences. However it’s important to understand that men are also assaulted and they also struggle to talk about it.)
I feel very strongly about this issue. I probably feel more strongly about this issue than any other social or political topic, by a lot. And that’s because, for me, this is very personal.
When I talk about “rape culture,” I’m not trying to have a political conversation or a policy debate. I’m not trying to establish whether liberals are on witch hunts or conservatives hate women or feminists hate men or whatever else. I don’t care how you feel about your ideological opposition. If I’m trying to talk to you about “rape culture,” this is what I’m trying to say:
I’ve been assaulted. It traumatized me for a long time, and it was even worse than it needed to be because I didn’t think I could tell anybody. When I eventually did tell someone, someone I trusted and loved, he told me he was disappointed in me. I felt humiliated and ashamed, and I really wished I hadn’t told him. I didn’t tell anyone else for a very long time. And I suffered for it.
And many women I love have been assaulted. It’s not my place to share their stories, but the bottom line is this: of all the women I’m closest to, more of them have been assaulted than haven’t. Many of them didn’t talk about it with anyone for a long time. And they’ve suffered for it too.
If I had just walked up to you and told you that, would your first response be “How do you know your loved ones aren’t lying to you? How do I know you’re not lying to me? Women lie sometimes. We should be talking about that.”
The women I know who don’t go public with their stories fear they won’t be believed, fear they’ll be blamed, or fear there will be reprisals against them. And I can’t reassure them that wouldn’t happen, because, from what I’ve seen, that is usually what happens. Even in the more obviously criminal situations, I couldn’t get them to tell the police. Often they won’t even tell their social circles. The men who do these things just go on with their lives, in many cases going on to assault more women who also won’t say anything. My heart breaks for those future women, who I can’t save. It breaks for my friends, who got no justice or relief.
Before this post, I’ve only told a handful of people that this has happened to me. It’s not something I want to think about, and it’s not something I want to be defined by. But I’ve decided to write about it because I’m tired of having this conversation as if we’re discussing “them”—other women, not present, who have gone through this and what it may or not be like for them and how they may or may not react to the way we discuss this. We’re not talking about “them,” we’re talking about me. We’re talking about my family and friends. And, in all likelihood, we’re talking about your family and friends too. For countless people, this is not an abstract discussion; this is our lives.
The more vocal I am about how seriously I take this, the more women end up telling me their stories. They trust me to believe them, and they also trust me not to tell anyone. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, because I want to tell everyone. I want people to understand how common this is.
In one of my friend’s cases, I knew the guy. I fantasized about walking up to him and punching him in the face. But she didn’t want me to say anything to anyone. So when I saw the guy, I had to just act like nothing had happened. Everyone acts like nothing has happened. I wonder if he even thought about it again. She was intimidated about leaving her house, she would cry when she got home, she would make extra sure her door was locked—and he doesn’t even have to think about it again.
When I think about how many women I know—personally—who have not only been preyed on, but then shamed or intimidated into silence, I feel overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with sorrow and I’m overwhelmed with rage. I feel rage at men who take whatever they want with no real concern about repercussions, and I feel rage to know they’re right not to worry. I feel rage at a society that’s quick to find reasons not to take my friends’ stories seriously, not to face how common this is. I feel rage at myself that I can’t do anything besides listen and grieve.
And you know what else? If you’re the person who can’t have even one conversation about this without saying “what if she’s lying?” – I feel rage at you.
You think because you’re not physically attacking anyone, because you’re “just asking questions,” that you’re not a part of this—that you’re innocent. You are not innocent. Every time you talk about this publicly or in groups, odds are good that someone who’s been through it is listening. She’s hearing your suspicion and condemnation, and she’s deciding she’s much better off never telling anyone. If no one knows, no one can call her a liar, man-hater, idiot, or slut. No one can use one of the most painful parts of her life to hurt her all over again. But she’s also a lot less likely to get the help she needs. And the guy who attacked her is free to go attack someone else.
And you. You who think we don’t talk enough about false accusations, who think we don’t consider how scary it is for men to hook up with women they don’t know, who think a man assaults an unconscious woman hidden behind a dumpster because of a “hook-up mentality”–you’re a part of this. Where do you think “culture” comes from? Each time you talk about sexual assault, you’re contributing to a culture of some type. You might be contributing to a culture of support, compassion, a desire to understand. But if you’re contributing to a culture of suspicion and blame, that’s on you. She hears you, and she’s shutting up, and that is on you. So I feel rage at you too.
When I talk about “rape culture” I’m not advocating for a political party or policy or position. I’m not calling for a ban on any ideas or any topics of conversations. Talk about false accusations, talk about drunken regret, talk about whatever you want. Just understand your conversations aren’t happening in a vacuum; silent victims are listening to you.
So when I talk about “rape culture,” that’ s what I’m trying to make clear. I want you to recognize that none of us are observing this from the outside; we’re all involved. Everyone who talks about this—and everyone who refuses to talk about it—is a part of this. We are all a part of this. And all I really want is for you to think about which part you’re playing.
As I was writing this post, I learned that author and speaker John Bradshaw passed away just this last month. A bit of personal history: I’ve been going to therapy on and off for the last few years. As I learned more about shame and its debilitating effects, I sought out sources on shame from both my therapist and friends who were also professional therapists. One of these sources was Brené Brown’s work, which I’ve written about here before. But the very first resource given to me was a lecture by John Bradshaw on shame and addiction. Despite his somewhat folksy, almost Southern Baptist-like way of speaking, the ideas he presented were illuminating and paradigm shifting.
I finally got around to finishing his popular book Healing the Shame That Binds You. “As a state of being shame takes over one’s whole identity,” writes Bradshaw. “To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, that one is defective as a human being. Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing” (pg. xvii). This toxic shame leads to perfectionism, compulsion, addiction, co-dependency, etc. Bradshaw gets into the nitty-gritty, discussing sensitive topics from violence to incest (both emotional and physical). The book is an emotionally difficult, but powerful read.
You can see Bradshaw’s PBS presentation on shame below.
Yo-Yo Ma is one of the best and most popular cellists in the world. With the brand new documentary The Music of Strangers out this month (from the same creators of the incredible 20 Feet From Stardom), Ma sat down with Harvard Business Review for an enlightening interview in the June 2016 issue. Here are some of his insights on:
Fruitful collaboration: “Two words: ego management. It’s easy to get locked into “in my world” or “this is the way I see it,” so you have to move your brain to a different time or structure. If you were nine years old and suddenly went to a new environment, yes, you would make comparisons, but your mind would still be in a somewhat spongelike state, as opposed to a judging one. It’s absorption versus critical thinking.”
Collaborators: “First I look for generosity; second, mutual respect and admiration. You might do something incredibly well, but if you’re a schmuck, if I don’t think we’d enjoy having dinner together, it’s not a complicated decision.”
Risk: “Bobby McFerrin, a one-man orchestra and improviser, once asked me, “What are you doing that’s interesting?” Inherent in that question is the assumption that you can do a lot that isn’t interesting. All great music is the result of successful invention…If you deliberately limit your experiences, your reporting will be limited.”
Practice: “[B]e tactilely engaged in engineering a solution, translating it to physical sound in physical space in the most efficient way, moving your fingers, arms, and body to elicit that which is in your head. That kind of practicing is deeply fulfilling. It’s not emergency practicing. It’s more like information becomes knowledge becomes love. The final achievement is to say, “I truly love this, and I have enough mastery to be able to share that love with someone else.””
Performance: “You have a responsibility, one, to know what the narrative is and make sure you’re telling the story and people are receiving it, and two, if anything impedes the narrative, to fix the problem.”
Avoiding burnout: “By retooling goals.” (I’ll let you read the entire paragraph is see how he has done this over the decades.)
Being a leader: “I just see myself as a human being trying to play my part. I am happy to share what I know and to work with people and be part of a movement in the arts and sciences, humanities, and technology that uses great thinking and invention to solve intractable social problems. But I don’t see myself as much of a leader. I don’t like to make pronouncements.”
Travel (life?) tips: “Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. When the inevitable delays happen, when something horrible goes on, just go into neutral and choose the high road. The other way never helps. Always go to the next time zone, and always carry on everything you need.”