Reflections, thoughts, writing on Monday and Tuesday, September 3rd and 4th, Labor Day and the day after, 2007
Reflections and responses on August 28, 2007 (I wrote the following last Tuesday)
So, to pick-up the story today, it is late summer/early fall and my friends and I start talking with some girls at Century II Park in downtown Wichita. The girls attended new and powerful Saturday evening worship service called BASIC, an acronym for Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Some might say that God uses everything to draw us in. I thought the girls were cute and I was driven by my adolescent sexual enthrallment to listen politely and follow them off to a church service.
My buddies and I visited BASIC one Saturday night. That night began a slow process that resulted in a radical change in my thinking and life. Over the next several weeks I became a committed Christian, a believer.
Believer: n. One who believes. Believe: v. –tr. 1. To accept as true or real. 2. To credit with veracity. –intr. 1. To have firm faith, especially religious faith. 2. To have faith, confidence, or trust. 3. To have confidence in the truth or value of something. 4. To have an opinion; Think.
BASIC was one of those special, one-off-a-kind episodes. There is a summary of the story of BASIC on the website of the Church of the Savior in Wichita, Kansas, the church that grew directly out of this unique meeting of young people. I attended BASIC regularly for the next couple years.
Labor Day, 2007
I am not going to talk about Labor Day except to mention that it is the symbolic legacy of an important period in American social life, a period that resulted in the creation of new labor laws and the reformation of existing of labor laws in this Nation to produce a more just labor situation for American workers.
Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American academic imprisoned for months in Iran who I wrote about on August 21st following her release on bail was permitted to leave the country and rejoin her family Sunday. This shows that pressure from people and nations around the world helps political prisoners secure their freedom. It also indicates, contrary to the views of some, that Iran is a nation whose leadership can be negotiated with and good results will come of it. But the work is not over.
Iran has charged three other Iranian-Americans with spying: Parnaz Azima, a journalist for Radio Farda which is funded by the U.S.; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant working for the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute; and Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. Shakeri and Tajbakhsh are in prison and Azima is out on bail but barred from leaving the country.
It is a week away. 7 days away and President Bush and his top national security advisers made a surprise visit to Iraq. I guess a pure military assessment was out of the question from the beginning. Bush’s visit with Gen. David Petraeus today, a week before the American commander is scheduled to deliver his assessment of the situation in Iraq, begs the question of the independence of this upcoming report. I still have hope that there will be good, objective data in the report. It also sounds like the British are beginning their withdrawal.
On August 31st, 2007 Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas signed an executive order that instructs state agencies to develop diversity management programs. With this politically courageous order the State of Kansas moves in the right direction. Kudos to Sebelius.
Just a bit from the web
Apparently this is part of an address given at a meeting the American Psychological Association in San Francisco on August 24, 2007. There are some important perspectives discussed in these opening lines. Important to me is what Baumeister alludes to about the purpose of culture and the system and, also, . This lecture is located at the following web address:
Is There Anything Good About Men?
Roy F. Baumeister
You’re probably thinking that a talk called “Is there anything good about men” will be a short talk! Recent writings have not had much good to say about men. Titles like Men Are Not Cost Effective speak for themselves. Maureen Dowd’s book was called Are Men Necessary? and although she never gave an explicit answer, anyone reading the book knows her answer was no. Louann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain, introduces itself by saying, “Men, get ready to experience brain envy.” Imagine a book advertising itself by saying that women will soon be envying the superior male brain!
Nor are these isolated examples. Alice Eagly’s research has compiled mountains of data on the stereotypes people have about men and women, which the researchers summarized as “The WAW effect.” WAW stands for “Women Are Wonderful.” Both men and women hold much more favorable views of women than of men. Almost everybody likes women better than men. I certainly do.
My purpose in this talk is not to try to balance this out by praising men, though along the way I will have various positive things to say about both genders. The question of whether there’s anything good about men is only my point of departure. The tentative title of the book I’m writing is “How culture exploits men,” but even that for me is the lead-in to grand questions about how culture shapes action. In that context, what’s good about men means what men are good for, from the perspective of the system.
Hence this is not about the “battle of the sexes,” and in fact I think one unfortunate legacy of feminism has been the idea that men and women are basically enemies. I shall suggest, instead, that most often men and women have been partners, supporting each other rather than exploiting or manipulating each other.
Nor is this about trying to argue that men should be regarded as victims. I detest the whole idea of competing to be victims. And I’m certainly not denying that culture has exploited women. But rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.
Also I think it’s best to avoid value judgments as much as possible. They have made discussion of gender politics very difficult and sensitive, thereby warping the play of ideas. I have no conclusions to present about what’s good or bad or how the world should change. In fact my own theory is built around tradeoffs, so that whenever there is something good it is tied to something else that is bad, and they balance out.
I don’t want to be on anybody’s side. Gender warriors please go home.
Men on Top
When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually “How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.
Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.
The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.
I remember BASIC as one of those special, one-off-a-kind episodes. There is a nice and very brief history of BASIC on the website of the Church of the Savior located in Wichita, Kansas. The Church of the Savior grew directly out of this unique meeting of young people.
BASIC was a young, energetic, joyful paean to Jesus Christ and was the place where I believed—I meet Jesus and made a commitment to him, to follow him wherever that, or he, led me. BASIC also pointed me to the bible and to Christianity. Christianity would be the idea that guided my life and thinking for the next 15 years or so before taking a back seat (maybe as a back seat driver?) for about 15 years, reemerging in the drivers seat during the last year.
Now, I didn’t convert to Christianity at some moment in 1971. I already believed in Jesus. I grew-up Catholic. That is not to say I had a conscious and reflective Christianity. I did not. In retrospect it seems to me that I had implicitly accepted the possibility that Christianity might be true before I went to BASIC. That was the inheritance of my Catholic childhood. I had not reflected on Christianity and rejected it so much as forgot it.
What I was doing at that time was reading Walden, National Geographic, and fishing and hunting magazines. And I believed in truth and justice. Ecology was the thing. Living in the woods. Living off the land. Euell Gibbons and Henry David Thoreau were my guides.