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November 29, 2010

A Relative Measure of Worth

I remember back in the day often hearing friends of mine say that the only way they might do certain things that they didn’t really find attractive (befriending a gay person or someone of another race, dating beneath their class status) would be if they were paid a million dollars to do it. Sometimes, dependent upon how far fetched they were in their thinking, I would challenge them to unpack it. I began my challenge by asking if a million dollars was the benchmark for when they would do it. It was an arbitrary benchmark that they had created and they needed to truly think about the dimensions of their arbitrariness. Puzzled, they often would challenge me to take my point further, which I graciously did.

I said to them, if you would do whatever for $1,000,000 dollars, then you would do it for $500,000 thousand. Without hesitation, most of them would own up to the fact that they would. I then confronted them about the fact that if they would lower their so-called standards from a million to half a million, we could further half that half and they ultimately would still do it for a quarter of a million. After a moment or two of thought, they once again concurred. I then pointed out to them that half of a quarter million, which is $125,000 was also a great deal of money that could solve many financial woes for many people and therefore would also be enough monetary compensation to entice them to do what they had earlier stated they would only do for a million dollars. From that point on, I continued to half the amount: $125,000 down to $62,500, down to $31,250, down to $15,625, down to $7,812.50, down to $3,906.25, down to $1,953.12, down to $976.56, down to $488.28, down to $244.14, down to $122.07, down to $61.04, down to $30.52, down to $15.26, down to $7,63, down to $3.81, down to $1.91, down to $.95, etc. At some point, as I’m sure you’ve already surmised, the law of diminishing return plays a large part in forcing us to face the hypocrisy of certain aspects of our thought process and how we actually articulate some of the most ridiculous assertions that we truly have not unpacked. Can you think of any other assertions that reflect this?

What does this "relative measure of value" have to do with diversity and social justice? Well, it is the same type of logic that we often succumb to when we consider different people. What do they have to do with us? Why should we care about people that look, act, or originate from realities different from ours? Why should we care about wealthy people? Doesn’t their wealth solve all of their problems? Or must we be concerned with so-called poor people, or poverty outside of our own community, or poverty outside of our own homes, or poverty outside of ourselves? If it doesn’t affect us directly it doesn’t affect us at all, right? Wrong! Very wrong! When we aren’t enlightened enough to understand that inconsideration of others breeds inconsideration of us, when we encounter a moment where someone is doing or has done us wrong we must stop and reflect on how we may have set the table for our receipt of that wrongdoing sometime earlier. My laughing at some man disrespecting a woman I am not connected to very much can affect me. My endorsing someone ridiculing a gay person ten years ago could very well have been the foundation for my grandchild of the future one day becoming the victim of a homophobic person that is a direct descendant of the homophobes I endorsed years before. My mother was correct when she once told me that I shouldn’t laugh when people tell Polish jokes, or Jewish jokes, or Hispanic jokes, because when I walk away, they probably are telling Black jokes. However, what my mother would also impart to me was the more important fact, that when I stopped to consider my actions, what is really the case is that I know right from wrong, and the bottom line is that laughing at other people’s realities is just that, wrong.

On the other hand, taking constructive action to value people for their uniqueness is an opportunity, not a chore. Our inability to see valuing others as an opportunity, instead of a task, is not far removed from requiring a million dollars to accept a certain onerous challenge. A million dollars—in the grand scheme of things—breaks down to a whole lot less money, given the context of our need at any given moment. How logical is it to require or expect a million dollars on a Monday for something you would do for $976.56 ten days later? Does the arbitrariness of asserting a worth towards something that you would or would not do as a result of what probably is peer pressure threaten to leave us looking more like we don’t deserve a dime? As a matter of fact, if the word gets out that we are that immature and petty, perhaps it will take a million dollars for someone to want to experience us! Your thoughts???

November 8, 2010

The Predicament of So-called Predators: A Problematic Philosophy, or Mechanism to Manipulate?

A young male college student who I have had the pleasure of building an excellent rapport with during his exemplary college career dismantled my sensibilities recently when he shared with me how he was being seen around the campus by many. He vented a concern that he was being viewed and labeled as a predator because of his dating a variety of young women. Now, he wasn’t being seen as a “cheater,” because he had successfully articulated and established himself as non-monogamous. Like George Clooney, a confirmed bachelor, he thought there was no problem with him honestly having his choice of women as companions as long as everything was out in the open. Somehow though, the moniker of “player” that stereotypically gets attached to a male who determines he doesn’t want to be in a monogamous relationship isn’t being used as much on some college campuses. Like the term “whore” or the more abbreviated slang term “ho” that has been used as a mechanism to manipulate women into conforming to Judeo-Christian values, predator appears to carry similar weight and now be the preferred accusation.

The male college student then went on to share with me that some other young men who also were dating multiple women with no interest in a monogamous relationship were also being framed as predators. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. Since when did our college campuses become Nazi Germany? Granted, we could discuss until we are blue in the face whether our young men and women should be in college looking for their life partners with their education as the secondary focus, or whether they should be in college focusing on their education with their romantic life secondary. Yes, and of course there are those who are capable of finding the perfect balance with their education being nicely augmented by their romantic partnering with someone. But in any of these cases, should there be a judgment accompanying one pattern of dating behavior over another? Oh, and why is it that only the young men are being called predators?

I was once publicly called a predator myself. Actually, it was a “sexual predator” in response to a blog I once wrote for Wiley Wandering. That attempt to publicly humiliate me with such language was an inept attempt to besmirch my reputation by someone who never spoke with me one-on-one, yet somehow must have acquired quite a bit of insight into me, far beyond that of all the people who really know me. As an adult I’ve come to realize that haters hate because they lacked dates, don’t like their fate, have few things to celebrate, seldom feel great, and often just can’t relate. But young men who are honestly and unabashedly just starting to live their young lives shouldn’t’ have to deal with such stigmatization should they?

But before we put the cart too far in front of the horse, what exactly is a predator? Well, the dictionary essentially defines it as someone who preys on others. Ironically, wouldn’t the deliberate misuse of the term by a person or group make her/them the predators? After all, to deliberately attach such a problematic label to another person, knowing full well its impact, is not a gesture of kindness or consideration, unless you are of the mindset that even inconsideration is a form of consideration. And how does a young man in his early twenties prey on a young woman in her early twenties if he isn’t doing something dubious or criminal. Outwardly announcing no interest in a monogamous relationship and then at times experiencing intimacy with different women across a given weekend would make him no less a predator than it would make a whore/ho out of a woman who had multiple lovers across a period of days, right? As long as both parties are of legal consenting age, is she a predator if he is 18 and she is 24? How about if she is 19 and he is 25? Before we go too far down this road why does it change when she is 29 and he is 35? The six years difference in age should have been somewhat negligible with the 19 and 25 year old couple, especially since women mature faster than men anyway, right? As a matter of fact, is predator a term that is gender specific? Of course not, because if men can be whores/hos, then women can be predators, right? Somehow it would not seem fair if lesbians couldn’t be predators too. Okay, so then can men be predators against other men if they don’t want a monogamous gay relationship? This is confusing stuff!

Could predator be a mechanism of manipulation to control the previously framed player’s behavior, making him mindful of the negative connotation and thus self conscious of his moves? But wait, with the sexual revolution having passed and returned too many times to keep count we can’t be really thinking now that it is okay for people outside of relationships to become the moral majority, approving or disproving relative notions of promiscuity. Which is it? It was once not okay for two women to be lovers, but until some sanctioned political body sanctions the arrangement it isn’t okay for three women to be lovers? Then I need not even discuss threesomes because coming from me, a once publicly accused sexual predator it couldn’t be a philosophical conversation, but predatory posturing.

On an ideal college campus Residence Life, Fraternity & Sorority Life, Women Studies, Diversity Centers, Education and other academic departments within Humanities and Social Sciences departments, as well as student organizations are all working diligently to challenge the students to be leaders in a global society. These organizations are also, ideally, working collaboratively to make sure that all their students are being academically enriched by one another so as to better ensure the best academic experience, right? So, how does it happen that we can challenge our students to not buy into the hype associated with the privilege that accompanies the facilitation of able bodies, non-egalitarian gender bias, irrational racism, self serving socio-economic class consciousness, and heterosexism/homophobia, and yet want to take them to task when they don’t conform to a socially constructed dating ritual? As a Black person I find it difficult to become comfortable turning a blind eye to Black people who are biased towards other races but ready to scream bloody murder at the racism they experience. As a heterosexual I find it difficult to identify myself as “straight” when I know to many it may imply that members of the GLBT community are “crooked,” or in essence, “deviant.” And I wonder how it must be for women who have worked so hard for egalitarian status to then sit and watch other women, many of whom carry varying societal scars inflicted by men and who have come to understand the power they have in unfounded accusations against men, play their language games with veiled but nonetheless dubious messages that cloak a covert double standard simply because as a once oppressed group without a voice, everyone is overcompensating to now hear theirs.

Is the reason these young men are now being called and framed as predators simply because the terms player, whore/ho were ineffective in inducing conformity? What’s the next term that will be used to curtail their activities? Let’s see, womanizers already been used. Oh, I know, how about “single?”