Monday, July 17, 2006

Typing (and Thinking) out Loud Part II

In the last Typing (and Thinking) out Loud thread, Nanette observed something 'weird' while writing about bell hooks's conclusion that "This means that the world we have most intimately known, the world in which we feel "safe" (even if such feelings are based on illusions), must be radically changed. Perhaps it is the knowledge that everyone must change, not just those who we label enemies or oppressors, that has so far served to check our revolutionary impulses." ( bell hooks, From Margin to Centre 166).

Nanette said:

You know how sometimes you hear a word or a phrase that you've probably heard thousands of times in your life, but at that particular point in time it just sounds... weird? Like it's a new thing, and maybe doesn't belong there. This happened to me yesterday when reading an article and having it say "human rights organizations say... ".

Human rights organizations. Care for the children charities. Anti poverty/feed the poor organizations.

Don't those just seem... well, weird? Why, at this point in time... or really, at any point in time, should we need huge, international organizations that have to lobby for human rights? Or beg for food to feed people? It doesn't usually seem weird though, it seems like well... that's how things are supposed to be. After all, someone has to do it. Right? But it all seems backwards.

Yes. I think it does seem backwards. I think we've come to take some things that we shouldn't have as 'natural', 'inevitable', 'that's just how it is.' Human nature.

When one is told 'but that's just naturally how it is,' I think it can be useful to take a long hard look at who benefits and who does not benefit from that particular natural state. And how? Because asking those questions might lead us to wonder whether 'it' -- whatever the 'it' may be -- is in fact an intractable 'state of nature' or whether it is instead no more than a 'state of affairs' that just happens to be wearing a convincing disguise.

So. What are the 'it's' you would like to make unnatural? Why? And where would you begin?

As a postscript, I just wanted to say 'welcome' to everyone who has come here to write over this last week. It's good to see you here, albeit not always under the easiest of circumstances and certainly in far from the happiest of times.


Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

If I had a magic wand, I would start with human rights, because if the human rights of every human are respected, just about everything else falls into place!

7/18/2006 1:41 pm  
Blogger NLinStPaul said...

I will be very interested in this discussion. Due to some interesting events that happened yesterday, I might be in search of a new career. For 15 years I've been the director of a small non-profit working with troubled kids. With all the equivocation I can muster, I will say that I just might have reached the end of what I have to offer there. And my two requirements for what might be next are: (1) I have to earn enough money to feed, clothe and house myself and (2) I have to do something that allows me to put my values and principles to work in the world. Other than that - I'm open. So I'll be spending a lot of time thinking about my "it." Now that I've opened myself to this possibility, I'll come back and talk about that "it" as my thinking develops.

7/18/2006 2:16 pm  
Blogger Kel said...

The Earth produces enough food to feed every single person on the planet and yet people still die of starvation.

Why? They can't afford food!

A totally man made construct where pieces of paper entitle one access to the Earth's produce.

Certain people, and I am one of them as I'm sure are most readers of this blog, enjoy a certain lifestyle simply because we were lucky enough not to born in Sierra Leonne, where life expectancy is around 42.

The world is, indeed, "weird". But the people who most profit from the way it currently works control most of the media and have defined people who have questioned this abnormality as "unpatriotic".

7/18/2006 9:07 pm  
Blogger Nanette said...

Ductape, I agree. So often we seem to think (or it seems to be implied) that human rights are a luxury. That as long as they don't get in the way of this or that... profit, development, resources etc, etc, that maybe a few rights can be afforded.

Completely backwards but, in general, completely accepted.

kel, you are so right... "a totally man made construct". Which is actually encouraging, because what one person (or many) builds up, another person (or many) can pull down.

7/18/2006 10:05 pm  
Blogger Nanette said...

NL, I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on "it" as it develops.

Not long after 9/11 I read a couple of stories of how recent graduates were opting to go into 'doing good to do well' type businesses/organizations instead of straight into the money race. Now, mind you, some of this was due to the glut in the market of business administration and such graduates, but also part of it was a desire to *do* something to change the world as we know it.

Not surprisingly, if there was followup on those people it was very low key. A more dangerous (to corporatism) trend would be difficult to imagine.

I also am thinking of something like that, though. In fact, I'm fixing to build something like that (mostly online) but with no budget and while I'm doing other stuff, so that leaves the 'feeding, clothing and housing" out. For now.

With human rights organizations and non profit organizations, as wonderful as they are, part of the weirdness comes from the fact that they are, and apparently are expected to be, perpetual. There will be no end to the need for them, and indeed, many can't even catch up there is so much to do. Two steps forward, ten steps back. At least that's how it often appears to me.

Anyway, much to discuss on this and related organizations, and "accepted" situations. I look forward to continuing.

Oh, and I think I will be answering your leadership post over in Man Eegee's "breaking free from the cycle of war" post, in a day or so (I am boycotting "internet time") as I've thought of a couple of things in relation to that article and your thoughts.

7/18/2006 10:18 pm  
Blogger dove said...

Hi Kel,
"This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. "

I miss Douglas Adams.

And I think 'unpatriotic' is one of those labels best worn with pride on one's lapel.

7/19/2006 12:15 am  
Blogger Nanette said...

Another thing I wish is that I knew how to read Arabic. Or Persian. I really don't like that many people's words are filtered through other people, and sometimes through yet more people still (such as reporters or editors) before they even reach a wider world.

I was reading an article today, by George Will, and another 'weird' word came up - often!... "extremist". What does that mean and to whom? And why is it only applied to some?

Mind you, I have major issues with cultures that oppress women and people in general, no matter in whose name they do it in, but there is so much that seems to be at issue, and I, like many, am easily directed one way or the other because I have no direct knowledge of either the culture or the language.

One of my first friends online, from about 1994 - well before 9/11, was a young Muslim man in India. We met up through a pen pal place, and corresponded for years... I got to know (sort of) his wife, who was Hindu, and the troubles they went through because of that on both sides of their families and when they had their first child and all this stuff. As I am not religious, his religion was only an offhand part of the conversation usually... "well, what about this?" "oh, well this is this and this". "Oh okay, now back to saving the world." His wife definitely had opinions of her own, worked as a flight attendant, and in general was a partner in the relationship, not an ornament. We sort of lost contact when he moved to Dubai and got very busy, although we still keep each other updated on email addresses and major changes.

I had other friends and acquaintances who were Muslim as well, of both sexes, online. For a more brief period of time tho.

Anyway, what all this is in aid of is, I think that my reaction to 9/11 and other events was based on the fact that "a Muslim" wasn't some scary, nebulous person seen in a video, but was my friend Hashim. And his wife and my other friends. There was just no connection at all between what some few were accused of doing, and who my friends were.

Okay, so on to my point, before this becomes a book. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the Will article that struck me:

"But there also is democratic movement toward extremism. America's intervention was supposed to democratize Iraq, which, by benign infection, would transform the region. Early on in the Iraq occupation, Rice argued that democratic institutions do not just spring from a hospitable political culture, they also can help create such a culture. Perhaps.

But elections have transformed Hamas into the government of the Palestinian territories, and elections have turned Hezbollah into a significant faction in Lebanon's parliament, from which it operates as a state within the state. And as a possible harbinger of future horrors, last year's elections gave the Muslim Brotherhood 19 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament. "

And what went through my mind when reading that is the Shaw quote from dove's earlier post (which if you haven't read yet, you should):

“What we want is not music for the people, but bread for the people, rest for the people, immunity from robbery and scorn for the people, hope for them, enjoyment, equal respect and consideration, life and aspiration, instead of drudgery and despair. When we get that I imagine the people will make tolerable music for themselves, even if all Beethoven’s scores perish in the interim.”

So, I guess my question is... Mandela was also considered a terrorist... still is, by some on the right wing. So, who are these people really, and are they being elected because they promise bread for the people, rest for the people (and so on) or because people want to live under Sharia law or because people hate the US and Israel and they will fight them or... well, one can go on and on.

7/19/2006 1:28 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Yes, Mandela was considered a terrorist, and I assume still considered one by the current US Vice President. But few Americans think it through: let's see, who else does Cheney consider a terrorist? :)

And putting a human face onto whatever group one is supposed to hate is the best, and probably the only real monkey wrench that can be thrust into those nasty works.

The Koran says that God made us different tribes that we might know each other, and to me, it is a matter of common sense that this is the natural behavior - I have learned so much, and my life has been so enriched, by people from so many tribes!

I have never known an ethnic group that did not have something good for me to eat, some music for me to listen to, art for me to admire, interesting ideas to discuss.

By the way, I pimped this thread a little bit today in a comment to a dedicated peace activist, but I did not mention names or post links, I just thought it might be a discussion she will enjoy, and make a valuable contribution to.

All this is to say, that the natural course of events is not for tribes to fight, for man to hate his brother, like the popular song says, it must be carefully taught. And carefully fomented, and cultivated.

Little children will play together without these distinctions, and once grown, will live peacefully with his fellow man unless someone comes along and makes a concerted effort to get him to do otherwise. Thus the Enemy is not the man from another tribe, the woman who has a different opinion, but the modern day version of Ugg the maker of fine stone axes, who comes to your house every day telling you that the tribe on the other side of the river is saying bad things about your sisters, your children, and has insulted your god.

Of course, to fight him, you will need a fine stone axe...

7/19/2006 2:18 am  
Blogger dove said...

I was thinking more about what I'd like to make 'unnatural.' A little piece of paper: it's not where I'd stop, but in the absence of a magic wand, it is where I might begin.

Birth certificates. Why does one need a certificate to be born? Well, I suppose technically it's a certificate for being born. Sort of like for completing a fun run or something. Except. What earthly purpose does it serve?

Several I think: it's the way that the State gets its hook into those newborns it wants (and increasingly, in states like Ireland , there are newborns that are unwanted because they are the children of non-nationals, because they are the offspring of that 3% of us who did not stay put.

And as the foregoing suggests, that little piece of paper is a means of assigning privilege: it confers (or denies) a right -- and there's an unnatural phrase if ever I saw one -- to live in a particular part of the world. And that's a right generally refused to those people not born on that particular little patch of earth and/or without parents in possession of similar little pieces of paper. And if it is conferred, it is only grudgingly and after a protracted bureaucratic whine, of the kind that a overtired, bored and hungry toddler who, having been dragged about a dusty museum of medieval iconography for three hours (where one was allowed to touch absolutely nothing and there was no cafe let alone one with children's meals and menus on which to scribble) and then confronted unexpectedly with learning about the 'wonderful world of sharing your chocolates' for the very first time ever would justly be ashamed. Consider the length of the sentence an index of the protractedness.

And what are the little pieces of paper that one gets if one endures this lengthy hissy fit? Naturalisation papers. A little piece of paper to make you natural.
Made of pure and wholesome ingredients. Just like the spray on hair. Because you weren't 'natural' before.

And this -- this little piece of paper -- that divides us from each other, that says 'unlike them, you are allowed to live here' is something we are told we should be proud of?

That little piece of paper: that's where I'd start.

7/19/2006 8:24 am  
Blogger dove said...

nlinstpaul, like Nanette, I'm really looking forward to hearing how your thinking on your 'its' develops.

Nanette and DTF,
Oddly enough, my current reading is a book called As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade . It's a scathing look at U.K. arms dealing under New Labour. Despite its grim subject matter, it's a book that has made me laugh, albeit the same kind of laughter that I imagine Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal elicited when first published.

7/19/2006 8:48 am  
Blogger NLinStPaul said...

I don't think I have had any profound revelations on my "it" yet, but some musings. And if you will give me a moment that might turn out to be a tangent for the rest of you, I'd like to try to put them into words.

Running a non-profit to accomplish anything in the community is an uphill battle. And two things, both related to each other, are the main problem. You use up so much of your time trying to find funding and dealing with the loss of funding, that its hard to ever roll that rock you're pushing on up the hill. So, it always feels like you're using bandaids to stop a gushing wound. Then, if your funders don't see you changing the world with the minimal dollars they give you, they question your efforts.

The people in the community who are the philanthropists, are bone weary of being overwhelmed all the time with requests for support. And most folks don't really want to hear you talk about the issue you are trying to tackle because of this, or because they think you're only promoting your own self-interest because we've all become so desperate for funding.

And I have some AMAZING people I work with, and they barely make enough money to get by on. One thing that really affected me yesterday is that I heard a talk by the conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. He said that a starting violinist makes about $92,000 a year!! Now, I do support the arts, and I know they are under attack in our state of current affairs. But that's three times what most of the people at our organzation make after several years of experience!!! I just can't help but question the values we are exhibiting in saying that someone who has learned the craft of playing a violin is paid 3 times as much as someone who has learned the craft of reaching out to a troubled youth and their family to help them learn how to heal. I know its just one example in many, but it is my world today.

Sorry for all the negativity, but I'm just at the beginning of my process. And that means identifying the problem. I'm not the "victim" type, so I'll move on.

One last thing, if you want to respond to me - feel free to call me Nancy. I know that crazy blog name I chose a couple of years ago is hard to type.

7/19/2006 1:53 pm  
Blogger NLinStPaul said...

Sorry to go on and on here, but as I read my last comment, it seemed to jive so well with the concept kel brought up about the role that this paper product we call money plays in the process.

And yet, there is work to be done RIGHT NOW. And the people who do it need to be able to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families. Otherwise they'll find themselves as another person in need. So, where do you go with this?

7/19/2006 2:09 pm  
Anonymous supersoling said...

please don't apologize for writing your thoughts out. I, for one, greatly enjoy what you write. I only wish I had more time today to read and participate here. The reason for leaving now being those little green pieces of paper that we all seem to spend so much time chasing down :o)

7/19/2006 3:36 pm  
Blogger NLinStPaul said...

OK, I think I'm getting there. I just had a revelation this morning and I'd like to share my "it" with all of you right away.

At the non-profit I work for, we developed a vision statement a few years ago. Here it is: "We see a world where every young person will have many opportunities to succeed in life."

We follow that up with a mission statement : "We work with families and the community to re-direct youth who are starting to get in trouble at home, at school and with the law."

So we spend all of our time trying to do the best with can with the resources we have to address the mission statement. Meanwhile, that "vision thing" sits on the shelf collecting dust.

So, I'm thinking right now about spending time getting people together in my community to begin a dialogue on what it would mean if we really wanted to give EVERY young person Many opportunities to succeed in life.

I just talked with a co-worker of mine about this and his response is that we haven't had a national vision in a long time. The American Dream has turned into a statement of greed. I'm not ready to take this to a national or international level at this moment. But, what if we really wanted to give every young person many opportunities to succeed in life? What would we do differently if that was our vision.

I'm ready to roll!!

7/19/2006 5:11 pm  
Anonymous scribe said...

I jsut have to step in here with a original quote I heard the other day in Nancy's own voice. She was talking about her work and her staff, and said..

"There is greatness going on right now!"

It seems a fitting response to what you are doing right now too, Nancy.

7/19/2006 7:13 pm  
Blogger dove said...

Let me enthusiastically second supersoling, Nancy and do a bit of ‘going on’ myself.

What you've said about the inglorious and perpetual scrabble for funding and the weariness of people who are in a position to give is all too familiar, albeit from a different place and a different context. And there are so many problems, all of them pressing, all of them desperate, all of them having the potential to blight lives or claim them outright if not addressed right now, right this very instant. So how does one prioritise? What does one do first? Who does one try drag out of the waves and onto the beach? (Bearing in mind that the person doing the dragging in one context may be the draggee in another)

It creates a bizarre situation where small organisations with overlapping interests – organisations that should be allies in other words – are instead pitted against each other, competing for scarce resources. Except that in fact, as Kel pointed out, the resources aren’t scarce at all, it’s just the ‘available’ resources that are scarce. And that one might euphemistically term a ‘distribution problem.’ Or – as you do – a question of misplaced priorities.

(And despite having been a violinist myself a long time ago, whose paid work even included playing with orchestras, I would wholeheartedly second your observation that the craft of violin playing, at least in the times and places we now inhabit, is nowhere even close to the top of the list of skills that we should put a premium on. In a world where things had gone less badly wrong, perhaps it wouldn’t be as outrageous, but certainly not in the here and now.)

But digressions aside, it makes it very difficult for organisations to trust each other, I think. And I’m damn sure that it makes it difficult for people to trust each other, for broadly similar reasons.

I’m doing my best to avoid the s-word.

So, how does one prioritise then? And if – despite having even perhaps agreed overall goals – it’s still not possible to agree on immediate priorities, what would it take to accomplish the more modest goal of bringing ourselves out of competition with each other?

Much of this is at a tangent to what you wrote I think, but for whatever reason – maybe earlier conversations Nanette and I have been having – it came to mind.

p.s. scribe-- spectacular writing!

7/19/2006 8:09 pm  
Blogger spiderleaf said...

I would like the following to be unnatural:

7/19/2006 11:16 pm  

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