Friday, July 10, 2015

Innate rights

1. "Perhaps happier people just happen to have more sex."

Happier people do, in fact, have more sex. And that raises the obvious hope we might all be happier if we started having sex more often. What are the habits of highly happy people? Well, if sex is one of them it may be possible to make sad people happier by simply convincing them to have more sex.

Turns out that it doesn't work. Having more sex won't make you happier.

What really struck me about the study, however, was the great lengths the researchers and journalists writing about the research are willing to go to to not consider the opposite conclusion: that being happier will cause you to have more sex. You can see it in the quote above: "Perhaps happier people just happen to have more sex." But where does the "just happen to" come from?

My grandmother's generation used to say, "Some people are just determined to be unhappy". They aren't happy to be unhappy as that involves an obvious contradiction; they are determined to be unhappy. You can see how such a person would respond to the researchers request that they double the amount of sex they have: "Okay, I'll do it but I know I won't like it".

If, on the other hand, you go into sex (or exercise, or work, or reading) on the assumption that there is a reward to be had here, you will get more out of it. Being happy will get you more and better sex.
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (Matthew 25:29)

2. "Good sensible stuff"

A man I used to respect a lot more than I now do once said that about the Letter from James. There was a dismissiveness in his tone; the implication being that there was nothing in it that you couldn't figure out for yourself. In a sense, that's true. It's a collection of reminders.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and once forgets what he was like. James 1: 22-23 
Yes, you could figure it all out for yourself but you don't. That's why we need the reminders. Perhaps it takes more genius to write a series of reminders than we credit.

3. Whose culture?

Here is an interesting transcript:
If you are not Kanaka Maoli or a person from the Hawaiian Islands, you do not get to spread the message of aloha through your product because it is not yours. It is not yours for appropriation or profit or even a Rachel McAdams rom-com.**
What makes it interesting is that the words in bold and underlined aren't actually in the video it is a transcript of. There is nothing wrong with that. Janet Mock obviously had second thoughts about what she'd said and wanted to amend it. Good for her.

She explains he reasons for the addition here:
**My target of this editorial is Hollywood and mainstream media. The video piece is titled “Hollywood’s appropriation of Hawaiian culture” which is addressing an entire system that more often than not silences Native voices, rather truly includes Native voices. I am also aware that though I am centering Native Hawaiian/Kanaka Maoli voices, I do not wish to erase the presence of the people *of* Hawaii, who may not be Native, but who have contributed to local Hawaii culture which also embraces the concept of Aloha.
That's all to the good. Without the addition, her message was racially exclusionary.

Making that move, however, raises another question for you'd still want to have a way of distinguishing between those who adopt a culture in good faith and those who don't. If enough people move in, they can completely transform the culture. In fact, they almost inevitably will and a good argument could be made that has happened in Hawaii. In any case, future generations could modify completely a culture as happened in most of North American through the 1960s and 1970s. What distinguishes good adoption from bad?

ADDED: Does Hollywood "silence" native voices or does it present an alternative that most people find more attractive?

4. When your culture is for sale

I lived in Quebec City for a stretch and people there are very sensitive about who is a really from there. If you moved there permanently tomorrow, you'd be remembered as person from away for the rest of your life. Any children you might have would be thought of as not really 100 percent from there. Your grandchildren, provided the dressed, talked and acted like people from la vieille capitale, would be thought of as really from there but they might be reminded from time to time that they are descended from people from away. The same thing happens in Prince Edward Island and in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick.

What these places all have in common with one another and with Hawaii is that they see a lot of tourist traffic and their culture, as a consequence, is for sale. And it's not just for sale, it's for sale to tourists; it's for sale to people who aren't very committed to it. If you live somewhere, you can love your culture or you can hate it but, either way, you're really invested in it and you are going to develop defence mechanisms to deal with the tourists if you start getting a lot of them.

And all of that strikes me as legitimate and fair. But I suspect that the people who scream loudest about cultural appropriation are unconsciously infected with a Marxist argument. You can see its shadow in Mock's language above where she seeks to distinguish between people "who have contributed to local Hawaii culture" and those who have not. You can see the lingering traces of the Marxist distinction between workers who deserve to profit from their production and capitalists who supposedly do not.

5. The challenges or really being 

I didn't realize, when I first watched the video, that Janet Mock is a trans person. In fact, if I hadn't clicked on a link that included this fact while researching this post, I don't think I would ever had realized. It's probably the height of political incorrectness for me to even have thought this, never mind saying it, but she is the first really convincing trans person I've ever seen. Despite all the talk about Caitlyn Jenner's beauty, I'm sorry but that Vanity Fair photo is a man trying to look womanly. The same is true of Laverne Cox's photos in Time and elsewhere. But Janet Mock simply looks and sounds so womanly that it never occurs to you to think otherwise.

Just putting it that way would offend many. I can easily imagine a trans person saying to me, "I don't have to convince you that I am what I am". And yet ... if you want to be a woman or a man, even if you were born with XX or XY chromosomes, it seems to me that you have to earn it.

Now that trans people are so much more visible, I suspect that we will see an increasing number of people who will be inclined to be trans tourists. It will become just a place they visit while on vacation from their normal lives. And they will do this with varying degrees of seriousness. As I've said before, I am certain that some voyeurs are already playing at being trans so they can get into the women's change room at the pool or gym. Others will do so for reasons that aren't quite so crass and exploitive but there will be a struggle to prove legitimacy.

Ironically, I suspect that the effect of this will be to reinforce traditional gender roles. That Janet Mock is so completely convincing is a reflection of the seriousness and dedication she puts into being Janet Mock. Women with two X chromosomes will feel pressure from Janet Mock.

6. Which brings me to dignity

 There was an explosion of Internet outrage aimed at Clarence Thomas for his remarks about the dignity of slaves that, even by the low standards of Internet outrage, was appallingly ignorant. Clarence's argument was that dignity is innate and, therefore, a legal argument that dignity depends on the state being the source of the right to dignity is illegitimate. Many might disagree with that but what he said was in agreement with the beliefs the USA was founded on so to say it is ludicrous for him to make the argument is just wrong.

I agree with Thomas. Dignity comes from inside.

What he didn't say, and I would be inclined to add, that while we have a God-given right to dignity that cannot, and should not, be taken as something bestowed by the state, dignity remains something we struggle for. The founders believed that God (aka the Creator) has bestowed these rights on us and that the state is obliged to protect them or else lose it's legitimacy as a state. People can lose that struggle and do so daily. You have dignity in the same sense that you are a man or a woman and that right automatically carries responsibilities with it.

Current liberals/progressives are very keen to eliminate any sense of responsibility that goes with rights. That's why they speak of some groups as having rights and others as having privilege. To make that move is a one-way ticket to fascism.

7. Aloha

Most who invoke the term aloha do not know its true meaning. Aloha actually comes from two Hawaiian words: Alo – which means the front of a person, the part of our bodies that we share and take in people. And Ha, which is our breath. When we are in each other’s presence with the front of our bodies, we are exchanging the breath of life. That’s Aloha.
That's true and it's beautiful and good and Janet Mock is quite right to say that much use of the term tends to dilute and cheapen it. I've even seen people talk about the "spirit of Aloha" which is redundant and, as I will argue below, reduces both words to meaninglessness. 

But what the meaning of Aloha isn't is unique to Hawaii. The word is but that sense of sharing the breath of life is not. It is, in fact, exactly what Saint Paul meant when he talked about being in the spirit and not in the flesh. "Spirit" is a word that derives from breath just as "Ha" does. And that notion has been cheapened over the centuries by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. 

"Spirit" for Paul was a physical thing just as "Ha" is for Hawaiians. Ironically, Christians trying to maintain the purity of the term have literally purified it out of existence. In the mouth of a typical Christian preacher "Spirit" and "Spirituality" mean nothing at all; they turn the new testament into a particularly wordy Hallmark card. The distinction between exploitive and non-exploitive use isn't helpful here.

What could help keep life in the spirit and Aloha alive would be to really live them.
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ. It is he who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart. Ephesians 2:13

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