In summer of 2008, I took an Ethics of Information class. Our final project was a paper on the topic of our choice.
I wanted to look at what I saw as the New Third World – the way on-line information about us could and was possibly already being used to exploit us, make our lives worse, keep us from getting jobs, bank loans and or other essential and quality-of-life goods. The haves got the good stuff, the rest of us would unknowingly become citizens of a borderless Third World nation.
My response is to post my paper here for anyone to read, learn from and possibly follow up on and extend. It’s long, but it may be one of the most important things I’ve written. I haven’t updated it, but would be interested in feedback from anyone brave enough to get through it. (It’s not written in academ-ese; my prof said she wanted my own voice.)
This morning, I woke up to the Facebook village and Twittesphere going nuts over what happened when Vice-President Elect Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton” last night.
My first thought was “Geez! If I’d known becoming vice president would have helped me get ‘Hamilton’ tickets, I would have applied for the job.”
But who am I kidding? There’s no question that my political leanings, vagina and average looks would have completely disqualified me from consideration.
On a more serious note, there were a couple of FB posts calling what the cast did “rude and out of line.”
My question, voiced to those posters, was this: When would they have been able to have that kind of access and opportunity to be heard? And that doesn’t just go for the cast of “Hamilton,” who, once the makeup and costumes are off, are just ordinary working Joes and Janes like the rest of us.
Their 90-second address, delivered by Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, was a respectfully-delivered request. He spoke to the fear and anxiety many people are feeling about their well-being and that of people they love and care about. He refused to let the audience boo Mr. Pence.
It was a heartfelt speech, a request for reassurance in a situation where it is becoming increasingly apparent that reassurance is needed.
From all I’m seeing, the Trump/Pence administration is going to do everything it can to limit access to anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they believe in or want to do. This includes the press, which they seem to want to keep in the dark as much as possible. That scares the you-know-what out of a lot of us.
So Friday was a singular chance to be heard, and the cast seized its moment.
I’ve been seizing display space at the library, and, because of it was able, yesterday, to seize my own “be heard” moment.
The morning after the election, I cleared out my “He said/She said” display. This (below) is what I put in its place.
Then, this past Wednesday, one of my favorite recent reads, Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” received the National Book Award. So Thursday, I made a display. It was an Oprah’s Book Club picture, so I didn’t think she’d mind me borrowing this 2004 shot of her looking extremely happy (she was giving away cars). On Friday, a woman came in looking for the book. I felt just like Oprah when I handed it to her. I also seized the opportunity to recommend “Underground Airlines” by Ben Winters and “The Sellout,” by Paul Beatty, which just won the Man Booker Prize.
I hope that woman likes the book and comes back for the others, but even if she doesn’t, seizing a moment to share something valuable is a valuable thing to do.
So go out there and seize your chance to be heard. In the face of uncertainty, a little love and reassurance (in many forms, including between the covers of a good book) can go a long way.
Kudos to the “Hamilton” crew for showing us how to do it with grace and dignity.
Dear American Muslims and others feeling unsettled by the possibility of no longer being safe in your own country:
There is no delicate way to say what I am about to say, so I am just going to say two things that have been running through my mind since Tuesday night.
I am so sorry for what you are all going through. My heart is with you.
You now understand, in a way more visceral than any Jew of my generation, the reason for the creation of a Jewish homeland – which, although originally posited for anywhere available, ended up as the State of Israel in the Middle East.
Regarding the current state of Israel, its prime minister, its issues around settlements and all the other complications and messy realities of statecraft and daily life, please set it aside for purposes of this discussion. Not because those aren’t valid topics for conversation – they absolutely are – but because it’s not the issue I’m addressing here.
In 70 CE, the Romans dispersed most (not all, but pretty much all but the equivalent of a tiny rural village’s worth) of the country’s Jews. From then until 1948, we were an itinerant crew, depending on the hospitality and governmental vagaries of the countries to which we managed to hie ourselves.
It’s not a happy history. There’s a joke that so many Jewish kids played violin because you could pick one up and run when you got kicked out of whatever country you were living in. Jews got really good at languages, because they had to learn so many. When we were allowed to live in a place, we were often made to keep to a restricted part of town, and wear visible clothing that marked us as different. (Note: It was a thing WAY before Nazi Germany.)
My lifetime has been a period of what is best described as a golden age for Jews. I live in a country where, for the most part, we’ve been pretty welcome. (Exceptions exist, but again, not the issue I’m addressing here.)
Some of that is due to what happened in 1948, when the Jews got what no generation for more than 1,000 years had had – a place of our own, a country of refuge in which we would never be “other.” A country where national holidays would be our holidays, our shared culture and religious observance would be the norm and not the exception, where we could raise our babies and care for our elders without having to explain what “kosher” entails. Most of all, it was a country where we never wondered when a mob would burn our neighborhood, round us up and run us out of town, arrest and/or kill us.
Everything else aside, it’s a terrible thing to feel unsettled in your own home, whether that means the space on the furniture-filled side of your front door or the space beyond it, the public space.
I live in the United States because my grandparents fled Russia and Ukraine. I don’t want my country to be a place where those of us who are different are made to feel “less than.”
That said, I’m not gonna lie. Knowing what – and that – my forebears sacrificed to try and create a place that would take me and mine in without question gives me a sense of place and security.
It requires something else too. Because of my history, I have an obligation to do as much to ensure the physical, emotional and moral safety of those around me. Whatever happens over the next four years, for better or worse, I’ve got your backs. We’re in this together.
Fifty days ago, I made an election display at the library. There’s so much crazy flying around and libraries are supposed to be safe havens. I wanted my display to do two things:
Provide a way to give people access to digestible and genuine information about the candidates.
Remind us all that at least this phase of the crazy would come to an end.
So every day since I built it, I’ve been pulling a sheet off the countdown calendar and adding a one thing a day from each candidate’s Twitter feed. It’s been pretty satisfying to see people reading them. (One day a man actually took one home! I just printed a new one and put it up in the old one’s place.)
I wish I was more enthusiastic about this election, but at this point I am secretly wishing for one last presidential debate. In a dog park, with both candidates dressed in gender-appropriate versions of Lady Gaga’s meat dress.
The election has at least given me a chance to put together my first blog post for the library. It’s a playlist menu for election night parties. (Click here to read it, and special thanks to Amelia for editing/formatting.) Every song has some tie to a presidential candidate or election, and I am especially pleased to have included Patrick Sky and Timbuk 3, a couple of brilliant and un/underappreciated acts.
The good, the bad and the groping
The display and playlist were two high points of my election season. The low point was the Donald Trump/Billy Bush tape. Had it been Donald Trump, reality star, gleefully explaining how unwanted sexual contact with women was part of the standard “Fame Privilege” package, you wouldn’t be reading what I am about to write. But Donald Trump, a man who could potentially be representing me to the rest of the world?
So here I am, speaking up about the eighth grade classmate who, when our English teacher sent the two of us and six other boys to the auditorium to check on something connected to the class play, took advantage of an opportunity to come up behind as we stood on the stage, pin me against him and grab my breasts to settle the question of whether what was under my shirt was actual breast tissue or the paper kind. (Being a well-endowed middle school kid is no picnic.) I never told anyone then. I was too ashamed, thinking it was somehow my fault.
I’ve seen him at three reunions, most recently last summer. It made me kind of sick to watch him talk and laugh with female classmates as if he hadn’t a care in the world. It also made me kind of mad at myself for not being comfortable enough to confront him. He can’t change his past any more than I can mine, but it would be nice to hear him express some genuine remorse.
That said, I’m a realist, so unless I do grow a pair and confront him, it’s probably not gonna happen.
I’m with her, he’s with him, we’re good
Speaking of reality, that tape didn’t bother a lot of the people voting for Donald J. I don’t get it. I didn’t get it before that either, but after, I really didn’t. So I phoned a friend I’ll call Dave (because that’s his name). His social media feed is filled with anti-Obama and pro-Trump memes.
We went from kindergarten through sixth grade together. He was one of the cutest and nicest boys in school, and he’s still adorable and kind. He and his wife have two married sons, a crop of grandchildren and three rescued dogs. On one of my recent trips home, we hung out with Grandkid 1 at their house; I’m looking forward to our next get-together.
I wanted to have a conversation with a Trump supporter that wouldn’t turn into some sort of horrible bashing session on either side, so I asked Dave if he’d be okay with us talking about it and me writing some of what he said. Which he was.
So here, for people voting for Hillary Clinton and befuddled as to why someone would vote for Donald Trump, are some reasons.
Bush/Gore was a turning point. He was a registered Democrat until then. Now, he’s Independent.
He hasn’t seen his life improve significantly over the past eight years. “I can call myself middle class but what I do know is that I’m paying twice the health care I used to pay. I have it through work, but what I used to pay pre-Obama care and what I’m paying now, it’s doubled.”
He knows someone who worked in close proximity to Bill and Hillary Clinton during Bill’s presidency, and was not impressed by what he heard regarding her personal conduct.
Memes aside, Dave isn’t thrilled with Donald Trump either. “He’s an arrogant asshole, there’s no doubt about it, but if I have to pick between the two I’ll pick him.”
We both wondered, and agreed about whether we can look to our leaders anymore for the kind of character, honesty and assurance we expect of someone hoping to become president.
Whatever your politics, if you can vote in this election, make a considered decision. Then get yourself to the polls (if you haven’t voted already), and strap yourself in. The next four years are going to be an interesting ride.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).