Profitable and Harmful Fear

I-5_north_approaching_I-10_east_split-_long_viewDo you remember when a few people suggested that Obama would crown himself dictator, run for a third term, confiscate all of the guns, etc., etc.? Now that the primaries and caucuses for the election of his successor are virtually complete, those fears seem to have dissipated, replaced with new fears, of course. And stoking fear happens across the political spectrum. Someone is taking away our opportunities (whether identified as immigrants or the superrich). Someone is trying to take away our vote (whether a particular party or campaign, SuperPACs or legislators through redistricting and new voting requirements). If the other party (whichever is other within the conversation) comes to power, they will take away vital rights (reproductive choice, second amendment, privacy, etc.). We are repeatedly told to be afraid. With all the talk of fear, it appears that the freedoms and quality of life in the United States hang by a thread.

And yet, if we step back and think about it, our way of life is not as tenuous as some would lead us to believe. The horrific shooting in Orlando this past weekend is both tragic and scary, fanning our common fears of mass violence, especially among communities who feel targeted. While people discuss various aspects of the shooting and propose potential policies that might prevent it (depending on which cause they emphasize; homophobia, religious zealotry, access to guns, mental illness, . . . ), we need to remember that we are more likely to die in a traffic accident (as the signboard counts of YTD fatalities remind us) than in a mass shooting, yet that fear is not as visceral. Continue reading “Profitable and Harmful Fear”

The Privilege of Being Unremarkable

Merrick_Garland_speaks_at_his_Supreme_Court_nomination_with_President_ObamaThe reporting surrounding President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland as Supreme Court justice both reveals and complicates the concept of privilege in an intriguing manner. Many of the articles, such as this Politico piece, were notable for what they refrain from stating, that he is a white male. This contrasts with the emphasis on ethnicity and gender in earlier pieces about those being considered for the position, such as Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Judge Sri Srinivasan. After the Garland nomination announcement, one article noted Garland’s judicial experience and legal training and specified how he would not add diversity to the Supreme Court. The article continued, referencing Justice Sonya Sotomayor as Latina and Srinivasan as both Hindu and Asian-American. The choice not to relate Garland’s racial, ethnic, and gender identifications reflects the privilege of a white male in the United States. Continue reading “The Privilege of Being Unremarkable”

Speaking Strategically About Religion

Large_chess_setOver the last week, many have written about the labeling of ISIS as religious or not, as Islamic or not, both in response to last week’s summit on violent extremism and the recent Atlantic article on ISIS. Defending his administration’s refusal to label ISIS/ISIL as Islamic radicalism or extremism or a religious terrorist group, Obama asserted that he wanted to avoid connecting Islam with groups such as ISIS for strategic reasons, because he does not want to reinforce their self-descriptions that frame the conflict as religious and their ideology as true Islam. Rather than rehashing arguments about ISIS, the question that interests me is the role of strategic notions embedded in all discussions employing labels (really any words) to describe oneself or some other. In many respects, any description reflects particular moves in the chess game that is human society. Continue reading “Speaking Strategically About Religion”