On being an impure woman

Image

Vultures: those vile, wonderful custodians of the earth…

“Ah, no, he did not want May to have that kind of innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience!” – Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Kidnapping and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart recently explained why she did not try to escape her captors despite having some opportunities to do so, and her testimony is shocking. She claims that after being raped, she remembered her teacher comparing a woman who has sex before marriage to a “chewed-up piece of gum,” and this caused her terrible guilt. Smart felt that a 14-year-old Christian girl who was no longer a virgin was not worth rescuing. Though Smart’s teachers and religious parents probably had the best of intentions, it’s worth noting that they were not preaching abstinence as a practice – they were preaching the archaic, pernicious, metaphysical concept of “purity” as a measure of worth. This is the same concept that Islamic extremists exploit when they recruit female suicide bombers using rape. Purity is a barbaric idea from a time when a family had to guard a girl’s virginity for financial reasons. And like Elizabeth Smart, I learned it in school.

Sex-wise, I have one thing to say to the young: there is no purity. There is only “I choose to have sex ’round now” and “I choose not to have sex ’round now.” I consider myself an impure woman. I hated my abstinence-only sex education class so much I jumped up and yelled at the teacher. But there were more than 30 girls in that class with me, and statistically speaking, I may be the last “virgin” standing. Women are people, not paints, extracts, or pharmaceuticals.

But the idea that a person can be pure goes beyond sex. One may consider oneself racially pure, although the geneticists will laugh at that. One may obsess over the purity of one’s diet, or the cleanliness of one’s home. And what is extremism but the desire for purity of thought? You can see why I am alarmed and repelled by anyone who tries to tell me I should be pure. Tell me I should be good, conscientious, brave, scrupulous, and reasonable, but never tell me I should be pure.

I am NOT pure. I tell morbid jokes, I’ve written erotica (that you will never, ever see), I have violent thoughts about people I dislike, I think True Blood is awesome, I love meat and chocolate, and, to the horror of my friends who have good taste in music, I have danced to Kreashawn’s “Gucci Gucci.” Vices all, but my friends have pointed out that some of my virtues are highly eccentric, and thus also impure.

As Primo Levi points out in The Periodic Table, life, and possibly the universe itself, cannot function without impurities: “In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed: Fascism does not want them, forbids them, and that’s why you’re not a Fascist; it wants everybody to be the same, and you are not. But immaculate virtue does not exist either, or if it exists it is detestable.” This is a scientific fact. Without entropy physics collapses; without genetic mutations biology collapses. Everyone knows about how an oyster needs grit to make a pearl. And those creepy, revolting vultures in the Audubon print? Ecosystems falter without them, as the Indians learned when they accidentally decimated their vulture population with pesticides.

When you’re down and out, your politicking friends will make you miserable

Image

In some situations, having a lot of liberal friends is a blessing. When you come out of the closet, for example, or when you’re learning to eat vegetarian, or when you’re looking for some quality roach (or so I’ve heard.)

But if you’re a young person struggling to make a life for yourself, your liberal friends will be there, indirectly suggesting that the system is poised to crush your dreams and you should probably just lie down and die.

Me: I finally have the confidence to send in my college application. I know I’m 21, but I’m sure I’ll be thankful for the extra maturity I’ve gained.

Them: Do you know what they’re doing to student loans and pell grants in Washington? This is the worst possible time to go to college. You’re going to get fucked up the ass, as the following ten blog posts and eleven New York Times articles prove.

Me: I only decided to go to college instead of trade school because my scientific interests require it. I’m interested in chemistry, microbiology, genetics, bioengineering, and bioinformatics. I think I would stand a better chance of paying back my student loans than many people.

Them: Bioengineering?! Do you want to work for Monsanto?! You fool! Talk about forfeiting any chance of a meaningful and moral existence.

Me: But it’s not all about the bottom line – I want to do what I love. My engagement with science has brought me out of a dark time in my life. It makes me happy.

Them: The world is full of horror and oppression. If something’s making you happy then something’s wrong with you.

And so on. For people so sympathetic to the poor, my liberal friends sure have no clue how to talk to a poor kid. I would provide anecdotes of my conservative friends for contrast, but I don’t have any friends to the right of John McCain. I lost them all last year when I had to use food stamps for awhile (I’m bad at keeping stuff like that a secret.) A high school pal told me outright that I was a thief and that she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. A family friend was posting really ugly, hurtful Tea Party stuff about poor people on Facebook, to the point at which I e-mailed her about it. She said that she didn’t judge my family because we were “the good kind” of welfare recipients. After some gentle digging, I discovered that “the good kind” was a coded reference to the color of our skin. Jesus.

If you’re two paychecks away and nervous about layoffs, my advice would be to accumulate some moderate and/or apathetic friends just in case you crash and burn. When you’re on the skids, you need emotional support, not somebody’s agenda.

What everyone misses about the “welfare state”

Mikulov_Bismarck_l_0002Karl_Marx

The 24-hour news channels tell us that Americans can have one of two opinions about federal and state aid to the poor:

“A society is judged by how it treats its most unfortunate members, so it only makes sense that our government is compassionate enough to provide for its citizens, and that liberal politicians are compassionate enough to propose extending these kinds of programs further.”

or

“The welfare state is a misguided attempt to help the poor at the expense if society’s more productive members. It drives up tax rates and makes people permanently dependent on the government, so it should be abolished or restricted.”

The interesting thing is that these arguments are founded on the same assumption. They start from the idea that the welfare state is about compassion and niceness and bleeding hearts bleeding everywhere, and the controversy concerns whether or not the system works. This is why conservatives propose private charity as an alternative to the welfare state: they think that food stamps represent the bureaucratization of the charitable impulse.

This is wrong.

Food stamps weren’t invented because letting millions of people go hungry is immoral – they were invented because letting millions of people go hungry is dangerous. The welfare state is an apparatus the government uses to protect itself and the interests of its most powerful citizens. Wal-Mart employees who qualify for food stamps and medicaid are not going to strike. Unemployed people who receive unemployment are not going to roar into the streets for 1848-style bread riots.

It may surprise you that Otto von Bismarck was the first statesman to try universal healthcare. Otto von Bismarck was such a warm ‘n’ fuzzy progressive, said no one ever. In truth, the Iron Chancellor was a relentless pragmatist who knew that throwing Germany’s lower classes the occasional bone was the key to keeping the power for himself, his kaiser, and the bourgeoisie. This would later resurface as the logic of the Marshall Plan, where the United States sent boatloads of money to European countries after WWII to keep them from going communist.

I anticipate the objections: “But how would welfare prevent communism? Bill O’Reilly says welfare is communism!” Except it’s not. If you want to know what is and isn’t communism, you go to the experts. Let’s see what Karl Marx has to say about liberal reformers:

“A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society…To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems…The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat…This Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economical relations, could be of any advantage to them…Bourgeois Socialism attains adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech.” – The Communist Manifesto

Not a ringing endorsement. Of course Marx dislikes the welfare state – the welfare state prevents history from taking the course actual communists want it to take.

Hunger is the handmaiden of revolution. Kill hunger and the revolution will die. The welfare state was dreamed up in the 19th century because rich people saw what happened to Marie Antoinette. It keeps rich people alive just as surely as it keeps those poor little ghetto babies alive, so rich people need to pay their taxes and shut up.

I support pigeons of color

3196497543_407e1b96d9

This is a pigeon. A PIGEON, people!

Why is it that a white dove pigeon is a symbol of world peace, love, life transitions, and religious renewal, while a pigeon of any other color morph is a “flying rat”? I’d say it was a kind of pigeon racism, if I didn’t know that it’s just people being ignorant of taxonomy.

I like pigeons, no matter what their color or propensity to poop. I think they’re goofy and fun. I want to have a release of ALL different kinds of homing pigeons at my (hypothetical) wedding.  It would be totally contrarian and unique and awesome, and I could frame it as a tribute to the multicolored pigeons beloved of scientists from Charles Darwin to Nikola Tesla, as well as the heroic messenger pigeons of the First World War.

As for white doves pigeons being a religious symbol, I say that if the Lord God made them all, He clearly intended them to have the greenish-blue wild type color morph.

547216_d1b2792ea4e8a019bf4c5c6bf553d515_large

Peace!

I can’t say the N word (and that’s more than okay with me)

Image

It has come to my attention that pale-phenotyope Americans may not use the N word, while dark-phenotype Americans may use the N word as frequently as they wish. It has also come to my attention that many pale-phenotype Americans resent this. It’s so arbitrary, they think, either none of us should be able to say that word, or all of us should be able to say that word.

Certain pale-phenotype Americans give themselves hypertension over the fact that control of this word no longer lies with them. I will allow that the rules governing the use of the N word can be quite complicated and have proved great fodder for comedians like Chris Rock and Louis C.K., but the fact of the matter is that these rules are less arbitrary than most of what’s in America’s unwritten codes of etiquette. Ask an American why some people can use the N word and others can’t, and you’ll get an explanation. It may not be the best explanation in the world, but it will prove that someone along the line put actual thought into the rules governing the use of the N word. The same is not true of other, seemingly more simple social rules, such as “Stare at people’s eyeballs when you’re talking to them” and “Don’t eat peas off your knife.” Why do we rub our germy hands together when we first meet, rather than bowing in the more rational Eastern manner? Nobody can explain this to me. My eleventh grade teacher couldn’t explain it to me, and she was trained in explaining social rules to people with autism spectrum disorders.

As a pale-phenotype American, I have to pick my battles. I don’t see any reason to fight for my right to use a racial slur. If I’m going to get angry about anything race-related, it’s the fact that dark-phenotype people in my neighborhood are discriminated against in employment, put in secretly segregated schools, unfairly targeted by traffic cops, and looked down on in society because of their phenotype. Sometimes political correctness is a synonym for common decency.

Final note: I don’t think schools should ban The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn for this reason. Huck Finn is a brilliant, fun, influential novel, and any halfway decent English teacher can use it as an opportunity to host a constructive conversation about the use of racial slurs.