For every #metoo …

Intellectually, I’ve known that life is different for women. I know that I can do simple things without fear, like go running by myself, get drunk at a bar, or (mostly) speak my mind to male work colleagues and superiors and not worry about repercussions. And I’ve coasted on “knowing” that.

After all, I don’t rape women. Or withhold promotions from them. Not all men, amiright?

Nearly every woman I know on social media can say #metoo. And, with the topic competing with everything else going on, it could very well be all women and I just missed their posts because football players did something that made our president mad or something. Which means that, statistically, there’s no possible way that it’s just one or two Bad Guys here or there. Nearly every man, including myself, has some role in these stories.

There are two possibilities here. Either:

a) Men aren’t taught what sexual harassment and assault are ( … burden of proof is on men by this point, so doubtful).

b) Men are giving ourselves way too much latitude – as in, “OK, I did that one thing once, but it was one time, and I didn’t do something worse, so I’m not a Bad Guy.”

I’m absolutely certain the answer is b. Not that we shouldn’t continue to teach men and boys (and, really, everyone) what consent actually looks like and how much of a better time it makes for everyone. But, every woman? Every woman in the free, Internet-using world has a #metoo story? Every woman has been sexually assaulted or harassed?

Education isn’t enough. It’s time for a reckoning. Men need to take accountability for their actions and reconsider their past. We need to start our own “Me, too” campaign (but not #metoo, that’s taken). As in, every man is most likely part of the problem? Me, too.

I’ll start. My past could be better.

In high school, I thought it would be funny to decorate the girls’ dressing room before a play with bananas, apples, and oranges “playfully arranged” to look like full dick and ball sets. Complete with frosted tips – y’know, because jizm. If they saw it as just a prank, great.

But, what if they thought they had to “go along with it?” Nobody wants to seem difficult or get a cast member in trouble. Did I get a pass because it was more important to start the play on time?

I did not have permission to go into their dressing room. My intent was for the room to be empty, but what if I walked in on someone getting changed? No one was in the room, but does that make me less of a bad guy?

What if someone was going through something even worse (e.g., abuse), and I just reminded them of it because I think dicks and balls and cum are funny? Or somehow made this hypothetical abuser seem normal, that “all guys are like this,” so it’s not a big deal? I’ll probably never know if that was the case, but considering the possibility doesn’t make me feel like I’m much better than some other Bad Guy.

I also catcalled women on at least one occasion during college on a friends’ front stoop into an alley people used as a shortcut all the time. It seemed funny to me. Maybe it was funny to my friends, or maybe they weren’t going to call me on it if it bothered them because who wants to make trouble, right? I wasn’t going to do anything to these women, but how the fuck were they supposed to know that?

I hate what I did. I hate that I thought it was funny – at the time and some years later. And I hate that it’s not until much later that I see where I contributed to someone’s #metoo. It’s not that I didn’t “intellectually know” that these things were wrong – it’s that I gave myself a pass because, c’mon, it’s not like I raped somebody.

As multiple writers have pointed out this week, “it’s not like I raped somebody” is the laziest benchmark for being a decent person. We all easily determine, every day, who sucks at driving long before they kill someone. Usually, they just have to cut us off or run a red light. And we didn’t have to wait for every child in the ‘70s to be staked to the ground before deciding that lawn darts were a bad idea.

Men need a better benchmark for ourselves, especially when it may not even be true – did we get consent every time we went under the shirt? Maybe? Or did she put up with it because she wasn’t supposed to be alone in the house with a boy or drinking, which she’d have to admit to if she said anything?

And, we need to be better friends to our fellow men. Letting shit like this slide isn’t good friendship, isn’t good for men or women, and is how we ended up with an entire of generation of women saying #metoo. If we want to pretend that men haven’t learned what is and isn’t acceptable behavior by now, then it is our duty to refresh that lesson when our brothers forget it.

Intellectually “knowing” or being woke (bruh) isn’t enough. I’ve been in meetings where women in similar positions or sometimes higher were interrupted. Or, once they walked out of the room, their ideas were ignored at best or derided by the boys’ club. I always advocate for my peers, but that doesn’t erase a time I failed to speak up in the past. Or, as evidenced above, a shitty thing I did.

My point isn’t to make up for anything. I can’t undo that; we can’t undo everything we’ve done to women to this point. But it won’t get better for women unless we stop pretending what we did was OK or “not that bad.” We need to pledge to do better, be better, and raise our next generation to do the same from the very beginning.

For every #metoo, there’s a man who did it. Women aren’t assaulted; someone assaults them. Women aren’t harassed; someone harasses them. Women aren’t listened to; we’re not listening to them.

We need to own our part in this. Me, too.

The language of collaborators

It's taken less than 24 hours for the expected spin about the Nazi invasion of Charlottesville, Va. from parties who, at the very least, depend on white supremacist votes — including our nation's president. That spin? That even though only one side showed up in fake uniforms with long rifles and ran over the other side, this is somehow everyone's fault.

You hear this often during elections, especially the last election, that "both sides are bad, so …" It's a way for people making terrible decisions to distance themselves from the repercussions of said decisions by making themselves feel like it's an impossible choice. But, more insidiously, it allows them to capitalize on decent people's overwhelming urge to give others the benefit of the doubt, avoid conflict, and move on.

Let's be clear here: nobody asked for Nazis, the Klan, and more cowardly strains of "white separatists" to come to Charlottesville. The people of that town voted, deciding they didn't want racists' monuments in their public square anymore, and racists took it upon themselves to travel there, intimidate, and — once things went predictably bad — commit an act of terror straight out of ISIS' playbook.

(It's probably also worth mentioning that the alleged attacker fulfilled many a "Blue Lives Matters" supporters' bucket lists by running over people who support Black Lives Matter in the street.)

And yet, here we are, once again hearing the accusation that, somehow, the victims of violent racists are in some way responsible. That these normally peaceful advocates of genocide, forced relocation, and upholding bogus notions of racial purity through violence meant well, but, gosh darn it, somebody interrupted white men while they were speaking by torchlight.

We shouldn't be surprised. This has been the tactic of American racists for at least 160 years, stemming back to Bleeding Kansas.

If you don't remember Bleeding Kansas from history class, it's part of the five minute intro to two straight weeks of studying the Civil War. Basically, in 1854, Kansas was applying to be a state. At that time, states chose whether they would be free or slave states, which mattered a lot to slave states who worried about losing representational dominance in Congress.

When it looked like the people of Kansas were going to vote to be a free state, slave holders and complicit racists invaded Kansas. They left home to wage unspeakable terror on someone else in their own state … and yet, like the Civil War itself, slaveholder sympathizers successfully turned the conversation into one about "perspective." That, at some point, people in Kansas fought back, so really, aren't both sides to blame at least a little?

And good and decent people fall for it every time, appealing to the "better angels of our nature" for all the good that did for Lincoln.

That's why we need to remember Charlottesville, learn from it, and stop repeating this mistake of forcing victims to shoulder some of the blame for violence perpetrated against them.

And recognize that anyone who tries to make this argument, or still pretend that liberals made up the very real threat of the "Alt-Right," they are nothing less than modern day collaborators.

Playing at war

Some time around 1988? ’89? Anyway, at the tail end of the ’80s during Ronald Reagan’s third term, I and the other kids on my street in the San Antonio suburbs went to war. We formed armies based on existing affiliations and began an agreed upon build up.

My Mexican friends and I two doors down started building a fort because they always had lumber and I had a hammer and saw. This mighty construction effort consisted of stacking the lumber, halfway sawing through some pieces before getting tired, and hammering a few nails in because, hey, we had a hammer.

The girls, being wise, built bows and arrows out of sticks and shiny metallic elastic that never quite worked as advertised. As they practiced, they more threw the arrows throw a hoop more than knocked and let fly.

The white boys, however, already had all they needed and combined their mighty stockpiles of Rambo-themed camouflage and toy guns. I don’t remember if the war was their idea, but they had certainly prepared for it their entire young lives, parading around with their weapons since time immemorial.

After so many days or weeks of buildup, the white boys launched their attack on our fort. I wound up on top of our “ramparts” as my next door neighbor swung his heavy wooden and metal rifle at my legs.

It’s important to note that, unlike today’s brightly-colored plastic Nerf guns, toy guns back then were heavy, made of wood and metal, with only a plastic orange cap at the end to distinguish them from the real thing.

So, with no weapon of my own, I kicked him in the face.

All guns dropped. All whoops and ululations ceased as kids evaluated just how much trouble they were in based on proximity to the crying kid in a headband. And then they all scattered, leaving their bawling MIA to slowly cry his way home.

I don’t remember how severely my parents punished me, but I know I took a lot of heat for it. So it goes, though.

That time I wrote about Mike Rowe and he responded

So, Wednesday a week ago, I wrote a Take it from Snee column on SeriouslyGuys about a Mike Rowe post about whether he, as a celebrity, should recommend people vote. He declined to do so, and I took offense at the way he described the right to vote, the process to be ready to vote, and the idea that any actor using his or her celebrity to encourage people to vote were either (a) misguided but well-intentioned or (b) only doing it to win votes for their candidate without having to actually defend their own choice.

As someone who writes for a living, but not often enough on the stuff I want to do, I seized on that anger to write what seemed funny: what if Mike Rowe, of all people, was being a snob?

And so, I pulled full quotes of what he actually said, and then I recontextualized them. I “indigninantly” explained what I heard in his arguments.

For example: did Mike compare telling anyone to vote to giving anyone the gun that lots of people responsibly own but also was used to shoot 21 kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Yes, he did:

However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?

Casting a ballot is not so different.

Mike could’ve chosen any gun to represent the exercise of our Second Amendment rights. He specifically chose the currently most controversial one in America. That’s symbolism, and I inferred from it a sense that we need to control who we do and don’t encourage to vote, like in Mike’s response when he asked me:

Forget about the apathetic and the willfully ignorant – what about the racists and the homophobes? The religious zealots? What about the tax-cheats and the wife-beaters? Do we really want to encourage bullies to vote? What about KKK enthusiasts? NAMBLA sympathizers? What about those who call for “more dead cops?” Can you think of no one who should maybe stay home on election day?

That’s quite a list of miscreants, deplorables even. But, I’ll get into that a little farther. I’m still sorting out where I quoted Mike correctly and where I went too far in my own head.

Did he say voters treating the election like American Idol was how we got our two major presidential candidates this year? Yes, he did:

Look at our current candidates. No one appears to like either one of them. Their approval ratings are at record lows. It’s not about who you like more, it’s about who you hate less. Sure, we can blame the media, the system, and the candidates themselves, but let’s be honest – Donald and Hillary are there because we put them there. The electorate has tolerated the intolerable. We’ve treated this entire process like the final episode of American Idol. What did we expect?

Did he say that this is election was settled by stupid people because stupid people watch American Idol? No, I inferred it because his main argument about voting is literacy, and reality television is the typical punching bag of people arguing that the American people are becoming overall dumber a la Idiocracy. But, Mike didn’t say anyone was stupid.

Did he say people should read certain books to be intellectually ready to choose to vote? Yes, he did:

Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature, and economic theory. Start with “Economics in One Lesson.” Then try Keynes. Then Hayek. Then Marx. Then Hegel. Develop a worldview that you can articulate as well as defend. Test your theory with people who disagree with you. Debate. Argue. Adjust your philosophy as necessary. Then, when the next election comes around, cast a vote for the candidate whose worldview seems most in line with your own.

Did he say that these were just examples of the kind of reading that can inform a populace prior to an election, and that there are other types of reading that prepare a person to cast a vote? No, he didn’t.

He also didn’t recommend reading news sources, candidate’s web sites, or government pages explaining referendums on ballots and how that kind of reading might be more important right before an election than Marx or Hegel until his later response. But, you know what? I didn’t either.

And it was pretty clear that we both meant to say it, even though neither of us did. And that’s where I was wrong and why I owed Mike an apology: I choose to describe his omission as malice and yet did not hold myself accountable for the same thingI accused him of a darker meaning behind his words that, on rereading both his original piece and his rebuttal, wasn’t there.

For example: did Mike say he wanted to reinstate constitutionally banned literacy tests? No, he absolutely didn’t. He only hopes, like most of us (including me), that people do read and take their right to vote seriously when they exercise it.

I made the leap to the slippery slope argument I often hear behind other people’s “we shouldn’t let stupid people vote, breed, etc.” arguments — an argument that I read in many comments that claim to agree with Mike. In almost every case “stupid” equals “person I disagree with politically,” “libtard” and “fascist” alike.

To those commenters: I suggest that you also reread Mike’s posts and pretty much everything else he’s written. If Mike is only hoping people choose wisely for themselves whether or not to vote, and you as a commenter agree with this, then it seems antithetical to then argue for measures that take that choice away.

You know, like what I originally accused him of. Which is why we’re all here today. And also why I’m responding on my own web site and not on SeriouslyGuys, a comedy blog: because this is a serious issue that deserves open words not designed around a punchline. (Also because there are two other writers on SeriouslyGuys whose work is worth reading without being interrupted by my mistakes.)

Fundamentally, I agree with Mike that it is always better if more people read, and that the benefits of reading extend beyond learning to voting, discourse, and politics. I mean, what writer wouldn’t encourage people to read?

I disagree with Mike, however, that one may only suggest reading and then consider voting — that voting is so serious that it’s better to let people decide maybe, eventually, should they decide to read books about economics. And I also disagree with the idea that everyone else, especially actors like Leo and, yes, Mike, should stay out of it.

I’ll break my disagreement up into two pieces.

1. Voting is serious, but not as dangerous as using a gun for politics.

Voting is serious and important, but exercising your Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth Amendment rights is not analogous to exercising your Second Amendment rights — handing anyone a ballot is not handing them an AR-15. And that’s precisely what the Founders intended when they established voting as the means of selecting most offices of leadership.

After just fighting a war to win legislative representation, they knew that ballots are infinitely better than bullets. They’re safer, nobody except maybe Edgar Allen Poe dies, and because the losing side was not shot, they can work on their arguments and try again next year.

And we know that early Americans thought this way because, when Thomas Jefferson (yes, I know who he is) won the 1800 presidential election, his defeat of the incumbent Federalist Party and establishment of a government controlled by the Democratic-Republican Party was hailed as the “Revolution of 1800.” Why hailed? Because nobody had to die for it to happen.

So, voting isn’t analogous to our 2nd Amendment right. It’s analogous to our First Amendment rights. And while we all wish more people would read before exercising those rights, I don’t face a moral conundrum over whether it’s safe or polite to encourage people to speak, write, worship, or associate as they choose. I feel safe about recommending voting to anyone for the same reason. Especially to people I disagree with.

So, yes, I believe that accidentally encouraging racists and homophobes, religious zealots, tax-cheats, wife-beaters, bullies, KKK enthusiasts, NAMBLA sympathizers, and those who call for “more dead cops” is a perfectly acceptable risk to making a blanket encouragement to vote. Because if all of those people outnumber decent Americans who stayed home on election day, then Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the least of our problems.

As for worrying about accidentally telling uninformed people to pull the lever …

2. People don’t read (or vote) without an interest.

Again, while I want everyone to read and vote, I don’t think political interest happens in that order. Or at least people don’t read books on economics before they decide whether or not to vote.

Instead, I find it easier to believe that deciding to vote first is more likely to send people to Amazon. Without that interest in selecting a leader, nobody need ever read a book on economics, history, politics, or biographies of our leaders. And I find, anecdotally anyway, that most people without that interest won’t, even if they are more than intelligent enough to do so.

And that’s why I disagree with Mike’s “read first, then decide” approach. It can potentially discourage people from taking the first step to read the kind of books that shape a more informed citizenry (“Why read Kynes if I know I’m not voting?”), even though that is not Mike’s intent. In a perfect world, people would seek those works out without prompting. But, it’s not a perfect world; it’s a democracy.

As Mike pointed out in his response, Trump won his primary with a 62 percent higher voting turnout, while Clinton won hers with a 21 percent lower turnout. While Mike thinks this mean turnout doesn’t matter when unlikeable candidates win, he’s still missing the larger picture. In total, 61 million votes were cast in the 2016 primary for somebody. That’s out of at least 219 million eligible voters, of which some 146 million are registered. Trump might have won with higher numbers of voters than last year, but who cares when apparently 73 percent of people who could vote didn’t.

I’m pretty sure 73 percent of voters aren’t in NAMBLA or unread, so I ‘m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and tell them they should probably vote. They should read, too, of course. But, considering that 86 percent of American adults can read, encouraging them shouldn’t be too hard.

So long as we let people slide when they self-select political illiteracy and uninvolvement, our elections will continue to be decided by only half the eligible population voting. And, in my admittedly rosy view of the American people, I believe that our country makes its worst decisions when the votes of a few hyper-interested cranks aren’t drowned out by the overwhelming majority of common sense.

But, that’s a pretty minor disagreement that I blew way out of proportion. I threw nuance and civility out of the window to make deep-cutting accusations and jokes: that’s on me, not only because Mike didn’t deserve those accusations, but I failed my own argument, too. Mike has never in thought or deed demonstrated that he’s an elitist or supports disenfranchisement or oligarchy. Just as I have never advocated not reading.

I’m glad that Mike Rowe both rebutted my ill-conceived piece and accepted my sincerely offered apology on Wednesday. This experience will shape how I write both comedy and commentary on the future. And, hopefully, we can all look at it as an opportunity to let communication and kindness trump anger and points-scoring in future elections. Which I hope everyone will vote in.

And finally, why write this now after saying I had dropped it? Because Mike asked me some questions, and it would be rude not to respond to him. As for my response to other commentors, that was a freebie.

Your Week in Seriously Times: Nov. 11 – 17, 2012

Maybe we could give them a Dakota. We’ve got two, and we’re barely using either.

Deodorant candy, secession, chemically-induced fidelity, Channing Tatum, outdoor sex, and Einstein’s great big brain — just five of the many secrets to a successful relationship. Also, they’re the topics on SeriouslyGuys this week. Here’s the recap:

  • Thanks to a company making an edible deodorant, you can now eat your way to a fatter, better smelling you. (Nov. 12, 2012)
  • The South may rise again, so long as the President reads the web site his intern set up and allows them to do it. Look away, look away, nothing of substance to see here. (Nov. 13, 2012)
  • The secret to male fidelity might be the hormone that causes breastfeeding, but it’s always tougher to pick up chicks when you’re lactating. (Nov. 14, 2012)
  • Take it from Snee: Channing Tatum is only the latest of a long line of sexy men to steal my prize from me, but that doesn’t mean I hate him any less. (Nov. 14, 2012)
  • Italy loves soccer so much that they upheld punishing the only couple that found something better to do than watch it. (Nov. 15, 2012)
  • Hey, baby. Wanna see what I can do to your black hole with my throbbing prefrontal cortex? (Nov. 16, 2012)