Thought of the Day: Fun With Sponsorships

I spotted this plaque beneath a flower arrangement in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Someone appears to have set up a fund to continually provide fresh flowers for the lobby area, which is really nice.

Though I cannot help but wonder just how generous I would have to be with my floral fund in order to convince them to post a plaque beneath my flower arrangement that reads:

THESE FRESH FLOWERS ARE THE CONTINUING GIFT OF SATAN

Thought of the Day: The Sharing Economy

What is this “sharing economy” they keep talking about? Airbnb? Uber? Are these people sharing their homes? Are they sharing their cars? No, they are renting them. And that’s an important distinction.

Look, I’m all for making money any way you can, as long as it’s legal. And I often stay in Airbnbs when I travel. But words matter, so let’s be honest with how we describe things.

There is nothing unique about what these people are doing. It’s simply an extension of the traditional economy, the sales and rental economy, in which individuals are trying to monetize everything they can. The only thing really unusual about what they are doing is that they’ve figured out a way to avoid regulations that ensure customer safety and fair business practices.

So, please, stop pretending that these businesses are special or revolutionary. What they are doing is as old as the oldest profession. Yes, I’m talking about prostitution. While I’m sure the disciples of this so-called “sharing economy” would reject the comparison, prostitution is basically Airbnbing your body, if you are working in a brothel, or Ubering your body, if you are working the streets. And that’s not exactly sharing, is it?

Thought of the Day: America First

I get the whole America First thing. Especially for politicians, because we elect them (or, in some cases, the Electoral College elects them, despite the actual vote of the people) to represent us, and our needs.

But my loyalty, first and foremost, is to the human race. I may have been born in America, but I was also born on Earth, which makes me just as much a citizen of the world. And while I appreciate the need to take care of and support my fellow countrymen here in the United States, my ultimate loyalty is to my greater community, that of humanity.

To better understand the America First mindset, let’s take a moment to follow the logic of placing the interests of your country above the interests of mankind. Why do people believe in putting the interests of America before those of the rest of the world? Because they feel like they have more in common with their fellow countrymen than they do with people from afar, which is only natural.

However, by that logic, shouldn’t they then be putting the interests of their state or province above the interests of the nation as a whole, because they have even more in common with them than they do with people in other states? In fact, we have already seen this to some degree, with the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (though they are quickly learning the folly of their own thinking).

Of course, the logical progression would then dictate that they should put the interests of their local city or town above the interests of their state. After all, these are their neighbors, their local community, people with whom they are likely to have the most in common, people they may know and care about.

Fundamentally, what this line of thinking comes down to is putting their own personal interests above everyone else’s. For America Firsters, their home – like their nation – must come first, so they put their interests above even their neighbors’ interests. Ultimately, America First is nothing more than “Me First.” Which is why it’s no surprise that Trump is the posterchild for this sort of selfish thinking, bolstered by a base of people who use false patriotism to mask their self-serving worldview.

These people claim to care about America, but they really only care about themselves…their own little version of what they think America should be. You see it time and time again. They refuse to make a small sacrifice even if it will benefit the greater good, whether helping fellow Americans or everyone around the world.

Climate change is a great example. America is a leader in energy consumption, waste production, and pollution emissions. Yet we also have the means to significantly reduce all of those things but cannot achieve a consensus to do so. Why? Because our nation is filled with people (enough to put Trump in the White House) who are too lazy or too selfish to use less energy, eat less red meat, recycle, etc. despite the fact that such small steps, when done collectively, can have a massive impact – creating a safer, healthier, and wealthier world for everyone’s children, including their own.

And what really galls me is that so many of these America First types call themselves Christians. Would Jesus build walls to protect his disciples while the rest of humanity struggles and suffers outside? No, he was more of an Earth First sort of guy, quite famously putting the interests of all mankind ahead of his own personal interests. Perhaps we should all try to be a little more like him.

Personally, even though I am an atheist, I am an Earth First sort of guy, just like Jesus. And, again, I have never understood why more people, especially those who call themselves Christians, don’t follow his Earth First example. According to your holy scriptures, he died for our sins (not just the sins of Nazarenes, Galileans, or Judeans – but everyone’s sins). And yet, again, you won’t even separate your recyclables? You won’t reduce your carbon footprint, conserve energy, minimize pollution, make the world a better place for your children…and the rest of mankind? For those of us blessed with the opportunity to live in America, these are fairly small sacrifices to make compared to what Jesus would do for you.

And, yes, I understand the whole concept of the nation state, and it certainly made more sense when the world seemed a little smaller. But as I have noted in an earlier post, so many of today’s problems are problems that we all face together, as a species, regardless of our artificial borders and barriers.

For example, there’s the aforementioned challenge of climate change. Oh, wait, you America Firsters are pretending that global warming doesn’t exist because the politicians you support have their pockets stuffed with petroleum-soaked cash from Big Oil lobbyists. OK, fair enough. But the money you think you are saving by not addressing this challenge is a mere drop in the gradually warming ocean compared to what you are going to end up (and already are) spending to combat the growing impacts of climate change, such as the melting of the polar ice, rising sea levels, intensifying storms, failing crops, etc. (not to mention the money you are leaving on the table by not investing in becoming the global leader in green technology, which would surely have enriched the American economy for decades to come).

There’s also the energy crisis, with the eventual exhaustion of fossil fuels, all of which contribute to global warming – and many of which are produced by nations that use the profits to support terrorism. Oh, I forgot, those special interest groups own your politicians, so you have to conveniently look the other way…again. Keep driving that smoke-belching, gas-guzzling Mercedes G-class while your neighbor’s kids are shipped off to defend someone else’s oil fields.

What about social and economic inequities, as the population of have-nots exponentially outgrows the haves, who happen to be getting exponentially richer? You may be able to ignore that for now, but the walls you build today won’t be able to protect your children.

What about overpopulation, which is set to make food security and access to clean water two of the greatest challenges of this century? Again, you can’t build walls high enough to escape those consequences.

And what about health concerns, whether we are talking about plagues that don’t respect borders or simply the need for new antibiotics? Yeah, now you are getting a little worried, aren’t you?

Finally, your favorite…terrorism. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this is a global threat that isolationist policies cannot prevent, right?

These, of course, are precisely the kinds of challenges the United Nations is working to address. And whether or not you choose to acknowledge all or any of them because they don’t jive with your political or religious beliefs doesn’t make them any less of a threat.

Like it or not, the one thing we all have in common – everyone on the planet – is that we are all citizens of the world. So, rather than just focusing on what’s best for America (and be honest, we’re really talking about what’s best for ourselves), we should also be focusing on what’s best for mankind. Because, with challenges like these, we’re all in this together. If we don’t tackle these global problems together, there won’t be any borders to defend – or anyone left to defend them.

 

Thought of the Day: Cultural Appropriation

Basketball bores the shit out of me. But I have to tip my hat, assuming that is something distinct to my own culture and not some vile act of appropriation which will garner me condemnation from some other culture who has laid claim to hat tipping, to Jeremy Lin. Lin is a basketball player from California whose parents immigrated from Taiwan. And this season he took to the courts sporting some fairly ridiculous-looking dreadlocks.

Kenyon Martin, a retired basketball player who was born in Michigan and raised in Dallas, made headlines when he called out Lin for his new hairstyle, accusing him of “cultural appropriation.” Apparently, adopting styles that one group of people has claimed as its own is a bad thing. Which seems odd to me, because I’d think a group of people who have endured a history of abuse and oppression would actually take some comfort and perhaps even a little pride in what Martin claims is Lin’s desire to be a part of that group. I would think that Martin would celebrate the fact that Lin and others are openly embracing what they feel are traits distinct to his culture.

Lin certainly touched on this point in his initial response, noting that both players are members of racial minorities and suggesting that “…the more we appreciate each other’s cultures, the more we influence mainstream society.” He also astutely called out Martin’s hypocrisy, pointing out that Martin has Chinese tattoo’s. Clearly Martin had no problem appropriating Lin’s culture, yet was quite upset when Lin apparently appropriated his.

As the debate played out publicly, few have acknowledged the racist undertones in Martin’s remarks. For example, he referred to Lin as “this boy” and “these people.” Imagine the outcry if Lin had referred to Martin in such terms? It makes me wonder if David Duke should be angry with Martin for his cultural appropriation of terms deeply rooted in white Southern racist culture?

It’s also important to note that Lin is not a racist, and therefore his adoption of a hairstyle that’s widely considered to be a “black hairstyle” is not meant to mock or offend. This is not a case of a Klansman who is spending $50 a month in tanning salon so his skin can look less white. Lin plays in the National Basketball Association, where 74 percent of his colleagues are black. He has been surrounded by blacks and black culture for most of his life. And getting dreadlocks is evidence of how much he has positively embraced that culture.

For his part, Lin penned an insightful piece about his journey to dreads. Clearly his intent was to sport a hairstyle that was popular among his teammates and friends. Which reinforces my belief that anyone who supports black culture should celebrate Lin’s decision to get dreads as a positive affirmation of that culture (if indeed that’s what dreads represent, but more on that in a moment).

First, let’s acknowledge that hair is more than just hair in black culture. The afro has been seen as a black-positive hairstyle, much like dreadlocks, because it’s seen as more “natural.” Conversely, straight and smooth hair, often artificially created through a nasty-ass process known as “relaxing” it, has been seen as Uncle Tomish, trying to emulate white culture. And if you are unfamiliar with all of this, I highly recommend watching Chris Rock’s documentary on the subject.

But back to dreadlocks, their origins, and what they may or may not represent. This hairstyle was made popular by Jamaicans, specifically the Rastafarians, which leaves me wondering if Martin’s family comes from Jamaica. If not, then shouldn’t he be apologizing to Jamaicans – or at least the Rastafarians – for cultural appropriation? And to that end, why hasn’t Martin called-out other basketball players who are guilty of cultural appropriation, being non-Jamaicans who have appropriated the dreadlock hairstyle from Jamaican culture, such as Chris Bosh, Marquis Daniels, Kenneth Faried, Brain Grant, Latrell Sprewell, and Etan Thomas? Has he held his tongue because they are black? And, if so, does that make Martin a racist?

Of course, I have no way of knowing whether or not any of those aforementioned basketball players are third- or fourth-generation descendants from Jamaica, or perhaps Rastafarians, in which case the hairstyle would indeed be a part of their cultural heritage. Which raises the question of how much of a connection does one need to a particular culture to justify their alleged appropriation? And since science tells us we are all descendants from Africa, doesn’t that make this whole discussion kind of silly?

I don’t understand cultural appropriation. For starters, what specifically defines a culture? And what about distinctions within what’s presumed to be a distinct culture? Are there not cultural distinctions between black Americans, black Africans, and black Caribbeans? And, if so, are they allowed to borrow freely from one another simply because of the level a melanin in their skin?

Is there a white culture? And if so, are there things that non-whites are not allowed to appropriate from it? For example, should black women be allowed to straighten their hair, dye it blond, or wear wigs that achieve the same affect, given that those hairstyles are more traditionally associated with white culture? Should there be an outcry against blacks who wear Timberland boots and North Face jackets, both of which were initially popularized by whites?

Making these kinds of distinctions can get very confusing for those who complain about cultural appropriation. For example, is a white person not allowed to use a touch-tone phone, caller I.D. and call waiting because they were invented by a black woman? And is a black person then not allowed to use any phone because it was invented by a bunch of white guys, one of whom went on to create the lab in which the aforementioned black woman made her inventions? And would the latter fact negate her inventions because they were made in a lab created by white culture?

Given the world we live in, where cultures have been living together for ages, what makes something truly unique to a given culture? Koreans are believed to have invented pants, so does that mean the rest of us are appropriating Korean culture when we wear them? Should we apologize for our pants?

What makes such things distinct to one culture and not another? Is it because someone from that culture created them, or because someone from that culture borrowed it from another and then popularized it through their own culture? And who do you need to ask permission from before you “appropriate” something? Is it simply a question of acknowledging its origins and respecting them? If so, what exactly constitutes acknowledgement and respect?

Finally, is this really about culture, or is it about race? Are these claims of cultural appropriation nothing more than a backlash against years of deep-seated racism, or a way to reinforce racial stereotypes? Are they intended to be a form of cultural racism, or is that just an unpleasant byproduct of trying to hold onto cultural identity on an increasingly assimilating world?

As you can see, I have a lot of questions about cultural appropriation. And there don’t seem to be a lot of clear answers to any of them. But perhaps the most poignant question of all is whether or not we want to be drawing more lines between one another.

I, for one, have seen far too much racism, hatred, and bigotry in my lifetime – based on everything from race, religion, culture, and nationality. And it mystifies me why anyone, particularly someone who has likely endured a lifetime of overt and institutional oppression, would want to foster more of that in our society by trying to use something as simple as a hairstyle to build even more boundaries between us.