Outlander | 1x01 | Sassenach
They should have been ridiculous. And perhaps they were. Parading in circles on top of a hill. But the hairs on the back of my neck prickled at the sight. And some small voice inside warned me, I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was an unwelcome voyeur to something ancient and powerful.
For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
― Thomas More, Utopia
Every year, I try to do at least two things with my students at least once. First, I make a point of addressing them as “philosophers” – a bit cheesy, but hopefully it encourages active learning.
Secondly, I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”
A bit harsh? Perhaps, but philosophy teachers owe it to our students to teach them how to construct and defend an argument – and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible.
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.
For the first couple of days, almost all of the status updates expressing anger and grief about yet another extrajudicial killing of an unarmed black boy, the news articles about the militarized police altercations with community members and the horrifying pictures of his dead body on the city concrete were posted by people of color. Outpourings of rage and demands for justice were voiced by black people, Latinos, Asian Americans, Arab American Muslims. But posts by white people were few at first and those that I saw were posted mostly by my white activist or academic friends who are committed to putting themselves on the frontlines of any conversation about racial or economic injustice in America. And almost nothing, silence practically, by the majority of my nonactivist, nonacademic white friends—those same people who gleefully jumped on the bandwagon to dump buckets of ice over their heads to raise money for ALS and those same people who immediately wrote heartfelt messages about reaching out to loved ones suffering from depression following the suicide of the extraordinary Robin Williams, may he rest in peace. But an unarmed black teenager minding his own business walking down the street in broad daylight gets harassed and murdered by a white police officer and those same people seem to have nothing urgent to say about pervasive, systemic, deadly racism in America?
They have nothing to say?
Why? The simplest explanation is because Facebook is, well, Facebook. It’s not the New York Times or a town hall meeting or the current events class at your high school. It’s the internet playground for sharing cat videos, cheeky status updates about the joys and tribulations of living with toddlers, and humble bragging about your fabulous European vacation. Some people don’t think Facebook is the forum for serious conversations. Okay, that’s fine if you fall into that category and your wall is nothing but rainbows and happy talk about how much you love your life.
However, I think the explanation is more complex and mirrors the silence of many people that I witness in real life. A lot of white people aren’t speaking out publicly against the killing of Michael Brown because they don’t see a space for themselves to engage meaningfully in the conversation so that they can move to action against racism. It’s not so much that they have nothing to say but rather they don’t see an opportunity being opened up for them to say something or to do something that matters. Or they might not be sure what to say or how to do it. They might have a hard time seeing a role for themselves in the fight against racism because they aren’t racist, they don’t feel that racism affects them or their loved ones personally, they worry that talking about race and differences between cultures might make things worse, or they think they rarely see overt racism at play in their everyday lives. And, sometimes, they are afraid. There’s a real fear of saying the wrong thing even if the intention is pure, of being alienated socially and economically from other white people for standing in solidarity with black people, or of putting one’s self in harm’s way, whether the harm be physical or psychological. I’m not saying those aren’t valid fears but I am challenging white people to consider carefully whether failing to speak out or act because of those fears is justified when white silence and inaction mean the oppression and death of black people.
Growing up, my mother was militant about my hair. It always had to be long and it could never be a crazy color. I can’t complain, it was really her only strict request of me. Since I’ve been in charge of my own hair, she threatens my life every time I go to the hairdresser. I know she’s terrified I’ll do something crazy or chop it off. I’ve thought about it, but I don’t think my face or my hair would work being short. Hair’s too curly, face not suited for short hair.
I got my hair cut for the first time in 2 years today. It was down to my butt and in need of a little TLC. My mom panicked when I told her I was getting a pixie cut and was texting me through my appointment.
So she’s probably not going to appreciate the faux bob picture I just sent her…
(I only cut off 6 inches or so and added layers. It’s still 1/3rd down my back.)
I’m a bit neurotic.
Things seem to stick with me and bother me more than other people. Often I will write something to snap me out of it and it usually works. But when the thing that bothers me is all over the internet, it’s hard to move on from it.
I wrote the post on the ice bucket challenge the other day at the height of the wave of people speaking out against having to do it. Now, it’s moved on to the backlash against the backlash, typical of any viral trend. To me, the people who have the need to speak out to criticize those of us who are choosing not to do it seem unnecessarily harsh and it’s sent me into another “Am I a bad person?” spiral of self-doubt.
Yes, I am ashamed that I let this invade my thoughts.
But while I was cleaning today, I think I figured out WHY it’s bugging me so much. It’s definitely not the cause itself, I think it is wonderful that so much has been raised. For me, it’s a majority of the people who are doing it and then vehemently defending it.
This could just be the type of people I am seeing on Facebook so I can only speak for my own observations here. But most of the people who are doing the ice bucket challenge are, well… kind of crappy in normal, everyday life. These are the same people who are posting memes like “Why do I have to press one for English?” or “Work hard, those on welfare depend on you” or saying racist things about the president or railing against unions or being angry over the Casey Anthony case while not giving a shit about Trayvon Martin… amongst other ignorant crap.
I’m sorry, but I have a hard time believing that these types really care about their fellow man when they show so little regard for anyone’s welfare at any other time. I have a hard time believing that they care about anything that’s not the trend at the moment. I have a hard time believing that if they weren’t posting a video of themselves, they would’ve donated money just by seeing a link on Facebook. THAT’S my issue with it, deep down.
Take, for instance, the situation I saw on my cousin’s status last week. She posted her opinion about how she thought it was more of a ploy for people to show off than raise money. Now, my cousin is someone who walks to raise money for cancer a few times a year. Her aunt (on her other side of the family) snippily commented saying how this was really no different than the walks that she does every year and I found that to be extremely insulting. My cousin raises money without it having to be a trend, she’s been doing it for years and this person comes in and tells her off for having a reasonable opinion? It’s that sense of pride that I hate, that you’re better because you did something more visible once. Charity should be a thing that you do as much as possible for other people, not something you do to get attention or have people look at you as a kinder person, specially when you’re not willing to dole out kindness on a daily basis.
I probably shouldn’t have to say that obviously this doesn’t apply to all people, because I know that there are plenty of people out there who genuinely want to donate to a cause. Look at someone like my best friend, who did it but didn’t tag anyone and donated to a charity of her choice. I think that that’s pretty amazing. I see other people who are doing it who actually mean what they say but it’s hard to get behind it when I know that for most, it’s going to be the only kindness they show until the next trend comes along.