Censorship vs Banning

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I feel a little sorry for Mark Zuckerberg these days.

Wait, what? Mark Zuckerberg, the emotionless guy whose Facebook has a creepy knowledge of what I’ve just shopped for? Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook was one of the tools the Russians used to post fake news and interfere with our election?

Yep, that Mark Zuckerberg.

Whatever you may think of Facebook, I do think they’re trying. I’m just not sure they’re going about it the right way. I saw an article recently in which Facebook had banned certain individuals considered dangerous: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, InfoWars publisher Alex Jones, and right-wing agitator and human worm Milo Yiannopoulos. They say these people promote violence and hate.

Some people would applaud this move.

I’m not sure I do. And that makes me feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg, because, despite his efforts, I still am not happy with what Facebook is doing about this issue.

Please understand, I hate everything that these men stand for and I have no desire to ever read another thing that they have written. And the thought of them whipping their supporters up into some kind of violent frenzy makes me sick.

I feel the same way when I see marchers waving a Confederate flag here in Charleston, South Carolina, where the flag means hate and slavery and ugliness to many, if not most, of us here. Or when I see footage of neo-Nazis. It all makes me sick; I don’t want these horrible people (and no, there are NOT nice people on both sides!) to have a platform. I just want them to go crawl back beneath whatever slime-covered rock released them in the first place.

But.

As I was reading about the whole Facebook thing, I saw a quote from Milo Yiannopoulos. Now, this is the guy who supports white supremacy, who was named grand marshal of Boston’s stupid Straight Pride Parade, and who has written in support of pedophilia. So, I’m not likely to listen to anything this guy has to say.

But this was his quote:

“Censorship doesn’t stop at the fringes. You’re next.”

And, shockingly, I found myself nodding in agreement with Milo Yiannopoulos, of all people.

Because, as much as I hate everything he stands for, I love the First Amendment. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press.

Since so many probably have not read the Constitution since civics class, let me refresh your memory. The First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Nothing in there about whether the speech or the peaceable assembly is worthy, or disturbing, or even disgusting.

There’s been a whole lot of press lately about colleges and universities dis-inviting controversial figures from speeches. Believe it or not, there’s a database of the people who have been disinvited. There have been 13 so far this year. And, according to the database, the dis-invites have come predominantly from the Left – seven to two, with five of the other disinvites being apolitical because of criminal conduct or some other reason.

But a recent think piece did an analysis of where the most suppression is coming from and college students are still big advocates of free speech. It’s the older people who are more likely to want intervention to stop speech that offends.

I am one of those older people.

And that made me wonder if the very best reaction to the next offensive demonstration is to just ignore it. Old-fashioned shunning. They want attention? Don’t give it to them. Don’t cover it in the media, don’t counter-demonstrate, just ignore.

And maybe that’s the approach Facebook and other social media should take. If we ignore the hate speech, if we refuse to be provoked by the provocations, if we treat these people the same way we would treat a toddler about to melt down into tantrum – by de-escalation – do we strip them of their power?

Getting back to that quote that caught my attention.

If society shifts to the authoritarian more than it has, and my views that everyone should have rights, regardless of sexuality, gender, race or whatever – what if that view becomes the controversial one? Do I really want them to shut me up?

 

Listen to the companion podcast, Keep it Juicy! 

 

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Everybody Lies

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Everybody lies.

That’s not me talking, that’s science.

I read an article by data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz about data he tracked on google searches. Now, you can lie to your friends and you can lie to a survey-taker – and people do, all the time. But you can’t lie to google. By your searches, ye shall know them.

So, way back in 1950, researchers asked people in Denver whether they voted, whether they gave to charity, and whether they had a library card. The researchers already had this data, so they knew the truth already. But guess what happened when they asked Denver folks about this stuff? You guessed it. They lied. They were WAY more smart, generous and involved in their survey answers than they were in real life.

And guess what. They’re still lying. Everyone is.

They lie about sex. Ask any researcher and they will tell you that the number of times people have sex is WAY less frequent than they boast about in surveys.

But even more chilling, they lie about things like prejudice. Seth looked at data from Google searches and aggregated them into some interesting conclusions about people.

Google reveals that people search for things like, “Why are black people rude?” and “Why are Jews – or Muslims – or lots of other races – evil?”

The researcher also says that Google tells us a bit about our attitudes on gender. Like the searches about boys had to do with whether someone’s kid was smart or not. The searches about young girls? They had to do with her appearance, like “Is my daughter overweight.”

Kind of depressing.

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Hurricane Season

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Happy Hurricane Season.

We are still reeling from Harvey, remembering the anniversary of Katrina, and looking over our shoulder at Irma.

Hurricane season. The time of year when many of us get to gamble about whether to stay or whether to leave, whether to be foolish or brave. Time to face that, no matter how much we hate our neighbor, it just may be his generosity that pulls us out of the flood.

I’ve been doing a lot of hating on my neighbors lately.

Not necessarily my literal neighbors – although the 3 am revelers get special curses – but my metaphorical neighbors who proudly and defiantly still support the other guy.

I have even more special curses for them and for their stupidity. Why they would vote for someone who bragged about grabbing pussies, who clearly and demonstrably lied every time he opened his mouth, is beyond me. No time to talk to people that stupid.

I don’t suffer fools well.

When I was in public relations, I had a client – let’s just say they were concerned with mental health – that never wanted to use language that they called “blaming and shaming.”

I got where they were coming from – those who had mental health issues had enough to deal with without stigmatizing language. So, I carefully wrote language that talked about “people with mental health challenges” as opposed to “schizophrenics.” It is the kind of language that has come up with the tongue-twisting “differently-abled” instead of “disabled” or “handicapped.”

And, while I wrote this stuff – they were the client, they paid the bills – I secretly sneered. In real life, I’m all about the blame and shame.

Call a spade a spade. Idiots are idiots, and life’s too short.

But here’s what I see on Facebook:

–people on BOTH sides spreading fake news

–people on BOTH sides getting angry about things that don’t matter (okay, admittedly bad optics, but does it really matter that Melania wore heels to Harvey? Really?)

–people on BOTH sides slinging insults (Libtard, Trumptard, etc.) and just not listening.

And, I get it. Yes, call a spade a spade. A racist is a racist is a racist. It shouldn’t matter why.

Except, it does. Because just shaming and blaming does nothing to change things. It’s not like a racist is going to see my scorn, slap his head in dismay, and realize that he has been mistaken his whole life.

And, I realize that I have the white privilege to just scorn something that doesn’t affect me personally.

Still…

That client liked to change my language from using, “but” to using “and.”

“Different things can co-exist,” she used to say.

People can vote their self-interest AND still sacrifice to save others during a hurricane. People can have a fundamentally different mind-set AND still be lovable.

So, it’s hurricane season.

Maybe it’s time to wash away all the shit we’ve been wading in since November. To pull our neighbors out of the flood of invective. To hold out a hand and say, “Hi, I’m differently politically-abled than you are. Want a seat in my boat?”

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Leave the Gun AND the Cannoli – Grab a Book

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We are all so very angry today.

If you’re not for us, you’re a-gin’ us.

We are all so righteous and we are angry that the “other” cannot concede our obviously correct point of view that we spew vitriol on social media and to our friends.

Stupid President (either the current or the past, depending on where you stand). Stupid Congress. Stupid Bigot, Stupid Racist, Stupid Sexist, and Stupid Snowflake Liberal.

The truth is, we are as unable to see others’ truth, as they are to see ours.

This kind of anger and frustration leads some to pick up a pen, others to pick up a gun.

The solution might be to read a good book.

A 2006 study cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article says that psychologists in Toronto found a connection between reading fiction and being more sensitive to others.

For people who read fiction (and it seems that it had to be fiction) that transported them – the kind of transport that jolts you when the book ends and you find yourself back in your room – there was an increased ability to see the world through others’ eyes.

Another study three years later reproduced the study but stripped away variables like age, gender, stress or loneliness, and English fluency. They found that fiction readers had higher levels of empathy (and, interestingly, better social networks in real life).

A later study in 2013 refined the findings down to genre – literary fiction that requires the reader to figure out characters’ motivations using more subtle cues had the most empathy. It seems that trying to figure out what the flawed protagonist is going to do next is good practice for trying to read our fellow humans.

A much-loved quote from the movie, “The Godfather,” is to “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” While I love pastries, we might all be better off if we “Leave the gun AND the cannoli. Pick up a book.”

 

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March On!

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The older I get, the more this rule applies: there has to be a really good reason to put myself in the position of too few bathroom facilities. PortaPotties count, but barely. A corollary to that is that there has to be a really good reason to be friggin’ cold, even though the cold certainly makes the PortaPotties less odorous.

So, you might think those are the reasons I’m not joining the Women’s March on Washington.

And you would be partly right.

But as one who joined the Million Mom March against gun violence only to see gun deaths increase with the years, I am done with marches.

If someone could prove that I could save a life by marching, I’d be on it.

But I worked in D.C. and I put in my time with Congressmen. I was a press secretary for two Congressmen and I may sound jaded, but I can tell you, marches count for nada. They are good optics but they don’t change policy. I can’t name one politician who saw a big march, hit his or her forehead, and said, “Eureka! I’ve been blind, but now I see!”

The Tea Party had great optics – mostly white people in patriot costumes with flags urging the government not to tread on them. They co-opted, and some would say perverted, patriotism and they made for great TV. But it wasn’t until the little worm Ted Cruz stopped government in its tracks with a filibuster that included a reading of “Green Eggs & Ham,” that anyone realized the Tea Party had a little bit of political heft. When the Tea Partiers marched, they were easily dismissed as crackpots.

Don’t get me wrong: I completely support the cause behind this women’s march. I do not want to see women’s health and women’s rights rolled back to some mythical Leave it to Beaver days. I do not believe that the only love that is valid is that between someone born male and someone born female. And I know that immigrants made this country diverse and strong, not weak.

So, march on, sisters and brothers. I just won’t be there.

Rather than marching, I will be working quietly – and not so quietly – in the background. I’ll be signing up for some political committees because I think change starts local. I’ll be sending money to the organizations likely to be gutted by a Trump presidency.

I will be hanging out in places that are warm and have bathrooms – and I will be inviting any gender to use whichever bathroom works. Because, the Halls of Power? They’re warm and they have bathrooms. And they are where real change happens.

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AME Anniversary: Making Charleston My Home

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(ED NOTE: The following blog first appeared in Charleston Skirt Magazine at http://bit.ly/1W1bZM5).

I moved to Charleston in 2013 without knowing a soul here other than my husband. I wondered whether the city would ever feel like home.

But people were kind and they would take the time to have coffee or even dinner with me. I didn’t mind that I was the one to do the asking every time, even if it stung my pride just a little. After all, I was the one trying to find new friends; the others already had their circles and, while they didn’t exclude me, they had no reason to think of me as they planned outings, either.

I loved Charleston, but was it home?

Visits back to the DC area where old friends and neighbors lived were always visits “home” for me.

And then June 17, 2015, not even a five-minute walk from my house, the unthinkable happened.

Peaceable people mown down by an angry, bitter young man with easy access to a gun.

Footage of faces both grieving and numb right there – right there! – where I’d stood to watch the many silly parades Charleston loves to hold. The curb where I’d stood with my leashed dogs watching decorated cars and costumed people strut past for Christmas, and St. Patricks’s Day, and Martin Luther King Day.

A New York newspaper called me right away and asked whether I could use my proximity to interview people. They would hire me, they would pay me well, to bring Charleston’s story to the world.

“I can’t,” I told them. “I’m not from here. I don’t know enough to know who to call, what to ask, that won’t increase the hurt.”

My home, but not my home.

The next days, after the police told us it was safe to go outside again, that the armed gunman wasn’t in our neighborhood and on the loose anymore, strangers on the streets spoke to me and I to them.

“You okay? You doing all right?”

Black and white, speaking with the tentative tenderness that a married couple shows after the kind of vicious fight that could have taken down the whole marriage. On Marion Square. Up and down Calhoun, in and out of King Street stores.

“You okay? You all right?”

We were the same, those people and I. They were my family. The tenderness I felt was for them, it was for the city. It was the tenderness I felt for my home.

Charleston, my home.

 

 

STANDING TO GRIEVE IN CHARLESTON

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(reprinted from Charleston GRIT)

I live in Charleston and I love Charleston, but as a relative newcomer, I feel like maybe I have no standing to feel the grief and outrage that I do.

I live midway between the Mother Emanuel AME Church and the neighborhood where little Tyreik Gadsden was left paralyzed after being caught in crossfire. The night of the church shootings, our telephone rang with a message from the police: stay inside. All night, a helicopter crosshatched our street with a searchlight.

I watched television helplessly as black men formed prayer circles outside of the church, their pain so raw that I felt it through the TV screen. And I grieved with them.

I am not a native Charlestonian, I am not black, heck, I don’t even go to church. No one’s going to seek my quote on this tragedy because it isn’t really MY tragedy.

And yet. Tonight, one night after the shooting, a police car lit up and raced past my house, heading into Tyreik Gadsden territory. I heard sirens and my skin twitched the way a horse’s does when a sandfly lands. Because suddenly, whatever tragedy was happening “over there” was mine too.

During the vigil last night as we walked from one church to Mother Emanuel, a neighbor said she had asked the pastor, “Why here?” and said she was not comforted by his answer: “Why not?” She was trying to understand the meaning. But maybe that vigil of black and white, young and old, was the meaning.

Whether or not I have standing, I will be standing – next to the mourners, arm in arm with those who stand vigil and show unity, behind those who lost family members and the first responders who will never erase the images they encountered.

Because despite the rage, despite the hatred, despite those who might shrug off my comforting hand because I could never understand, I’m joining Charleston – suddenly and irrevocably my home and not just where I live – in standing for the strength of love over hate.

Photo Credit: Ferris Kaplan

Photo Credit: Ferris Kaplan