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For years I’ve been frustrated that so many otherwise intelligent people that I’m friends with can’t seem to understand the concept of privilege. When I talk about white privilege, Christian privilege, male privilege, etc…, they come back with a rejoinder along the lines of, “I’m not privileged, I’ve worked hard for everything I have.” My reaction is to get frustrated, then to get angry and then to say something I’ll regret later. After all, I never said that they hadn’t worked hard for what they have. I also didn’t say that their life was rosy or that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. All I said was that they were privileged.

Privilege doesn’t mean that you haven’t worked hard. It doesn’t mean that your accomplishments are without value. It just means that certain barriers that exist for other people don’t exist for you.

Ophelia Benson has a great post that explains this concept succinctly. “The privilege is the absence of barriers that exist for other people.” Ophelia is always a good read. She has great insight and is more patient than I usually can manage when dealing with issues of social justice.

John Scalzi has a longer article on the same subject that explains the concept of privilege in terms that young, male gamers can understand. He’s less nice than Ophelia, but swings his analogy like a 10 lb sledge hammer and manages to hit the nail in one stroke.

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.

Be sure to read the updates as well.

Please take the time to understand the concept of privilege, before you engage in knee-jerk denial of its existence.


The New Pope

I’ve been thinking for some time about the election of Pope Francis. It may seem strange that an atheist like me is so concerned about the election of a new Pope, but not if you actually consider who the Pope is and what he signifies.

The Pope is the leader of the largest religious organization in the world, a man whose every word carries the tremendous weight of authority for the members of that organization. When the Pope embraces the virtues of compassion, mercy and love in his demeanor and expresses them in his words and actions, he is a powerful force for good in the world. When he embraces the cold and bleak philosophy of the dark ages, and uses his words and actions to divide and degrade other human beings, he is a force that undermines actual morality and ethics.

I don’t agree with Pope Francis on every issue. We’ll never agree on issues as diverse as the existence of god, the reality of miracles, the power of prayer, the suitability of women for the priesthood, the right of a woman to control her own body, and many more. Nonetheless, when he makes statements I disagree with, he does it without rancor and the appearance of hatred. Maybe its the Jesuit in him, but his words reflect deep thought and contemplation, rather than the knee-jerk habits of the reactionary.

I’m cautiously optimistic that Pope Francis will live up to the promise he’s shown thus far. His humility, compassion and piety seem authentic to me.

Talking Points Memo has a very article exploring some of the reasons I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen so far.

Here’s a video exposing the LRA.

This video exposes the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group I wrote about last October. Please watch it and share it. This man and his group are monsters, Christian terrorists who need to be stopped.

What are we fighting for?

US troops have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan for a decade. Getting rid of Osama bin Laden and punishing the Taliban for sheltering him were worthwhile goals, and I supported that action at the time. But now that we’ve caught bin Laden, why are we still there?

We’ve all heard the empty rhetoric about ensuring democracy, and we know that the Taliban was brutally oppressive towards women. We removed the Taliban. We set up a government that was supposed to protect the rights of women. We put a puppet in the presidency who was supposed to honor the new government. All of our efforts will fail – not because of our troops, and not because of the policies of our government (neither of the two administrations that oversaw the Afghanistan project). It will be for naught thanks to the backwardness of Afghan society and the dishonesty of its leader. Hamid Karzai has shown his true colors by endorsing an edict that codifies women as second class citizens.

It doesn’t matter how much effort we put into Afghanistan. We can’t force them to embrace an open and modern society, and we can’t force them not to engage in brutal oppression of half their population based on nothing more than their sex. Afghanistan should be an object lesson for all of us as to the importance of maintaining a strict separation of between church and state. Theocracy has always been a bad idea.

I’m not going to imply that the words and deeds of certain conservative blowhards and their GOP mouthpieces is the same thing as what’s happening in Afghanistan. To quote one of my favorite characters in Pulp Fiction, “Ain’t no effing ball park either.” That would be the worst sort of false equivalency imaginable. However, the words of Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum and many others in the GOP are the kind of language that undermines the status of women. Depicting women as nothing more than their reproductive system, or as nothing more than the sum of their sexual activity, is not only idiotic, demeaning and cruel, it’s also dangerous. It’s the type of rthetoric that devalues women. And devaluing women is the first step on the road to oppression.

Yes. Hamid Karzai and his ilk are worse than the GOP. But I expect more from any American than I do from third world reprobates. We’re supposed to more enlightened than they are.

Rush Limbaugh Loves Terrorists

Rush Limbaugh went on a tirade against the US aid to Uganda that will hopefully help to wipe out the Lord’s Resistance Army. I won’t link to any Limbaugh affiliated site, but here’s an excerpt from his bloviations:

Now, up until today, most Americans have never heard of the combat Lord’s Resistance Army.  And here we are at war with them.  Have you ever heard of Lord’s Resistance Army, Dawn?  How about you, Brian?  Snerdley, have you?  You never heard of Lord’s Resistance Army?  Well, proves my contention, most Americans have never heard of it, and here we are at war with them.  Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians.  It means God.  I was only kidding.  Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians.  They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan.  And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them.  That’s what the lingo means, “to help regional forces remove from the battlefield,” meaning capture or kill.

I added the boldface above to make a point.

Apparently Limbaugh doesn’t know who the LRA is. He didn’t even bother to check them out before going on a ridiculous rant. His hatred of the president is so extreme that he doesn’t care how bad the group is. All he knows is that if Obama is for it, he’s against it.

Max Fisher has an aricle explaining exactly who this group is that Limbaugh wants to protect. Follow the link to read the entire article, but here are some highlights:

  • The LRA has abducted 66,000 children.
  • It has displaced 2,000,000 adults.
  • It enslaves child soldiers.
  • It uses children as sex slaves.
  • It uses to drugs to make its soldiers more violent.
  • It has destroyed countless villages and killed thousands of children.

According one former child soldier who escaped, “We killed the old immediately, and kept the young for work.”

Apparently, Rush either doesn’t know what the frak he’s talking about, or he’s in favor of child sex slavery, forced conscription of children into a terrorist group and mass murder. With Rush it’s hard to tell. He could be in favor of all these things, so long as it’s Christian terrorists who’re perpetrating the atrocities.

Rush Limbaugh is a disgusting waste of oxygen. Those who listen to him, quote him and/or nod their heads at the dispicable things he says are no better than he is.

My Own Version of a Guide to Life

I believe I can make it even simpler than Bertran Russel did. I have only three rules to live by.

  1. Be nice to other living beings.

    All living creatures are fellow travelers on this planet. Don’t cause unnecessary harm, not even emotional harm, to other beings. Living this rule is more than simply not spitting on strangers and kicking puppies. It’s also necessary to help people out when they need it.

  2. Leave the campground in better condition than you found it.

    In this case, the campground is the planet. Earth is the only world we can know of that contains life. We should not only strive not to leave a mess behind us, but should do what we can to clean up some of the mess that was left for us.

  3. Don’t stop growing.

    You owe it to yourself to continue to grow intellectually, emotionally, ethically and morally. When you stop growing and becoming, you stagnate and begin to decay. In extreme cases, you can spread rot to those around you.

All human beings should be able to accept these guidelines, although we may argue about how to best follow them. I believe that helping those in need is best accomplished through collective action. If everyone give a little bit, we can do a lot of good. This is why I favor government action to help people. Everyone in the country gives a little, and we can do more good as 330,000,000 people working together than we can as 330,000,000 individuals. With progressive taxation, those with more resources to spare chip in more for the common good than those with fewer resources.

Bertrand Russel’s 10 Commandments

Although originally intended for teachers, I think these rules make for a pretty good guideline for how to live.

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.