Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Pitiless Nature of Ideology

As I mentioned here, I believe ideologies can blind us. I also consider them dangerous. Consider Kiuku's Post About Separatism at Feminist Critics. It has the pretense of insight, study and reasoning, but not the substance. It leans on a cursory understanding of Evolutionary Psychology, claiming men are biologically unnecessary, and that men naturally use violence to compensate for this. All to a repugnant purpose, and the comment discussion reveals some merciless proposals for its implementation.

I stand by the comment I made:
No, men aren’t necessary. Neither are gays, jews, blacks, whites etc. As technology progresses women won’t be necessary either - cloning and artificial wombs will suffice quite nicely. In fact people aren’t necessary either - the universe will continue along quite well without us.

Separatism - from all who are unnecessary? Separatism - from men because of their intrinsic evil? To paraphrase Orwell - there are some things that are so completely and obviously wrong, that only intellectuals can believe them. This is as clear an example as I’ve ever seen.

I'm glad I refrained from being drawn into a toxic discussion. But I am following it. Kiuku, the Separatist, is painstakingly going though all the comments from the (largely male) "sentient beings" - the unnecessary ones. And everyone is engaging in pointless arguments, treating the post with a respect it doesn't deserve.

BTW - I don't see this as at all representative of Feminism - most feminists are reasonable, caring, intelligent people. I consider it hate speech of a particularly dangerous sort, but as I said in this post, better to have it exposed than suppressed

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When Narratives Collide With Reality

Thanks to A Typical Joe for helping me learn an important lesson.

I wrote earlier on the interesting phenomena of the Folsom Street Fair poster controversy. I maintained then, and still maintain, that the fair organizers chose that poster for its religious implications. I agreed with Andrew Sullivan that it was just cheap blasphemy, and I felt that the fair organizers welcomed the bigoted reaction they got.

So I was convinced by this that there were some members of the San Fransisco gay community (even though the FSF is not, strictly-speaking, a gay event) that did things that were deliberately intended to provoke bigoted reactions from religious conservatives.

And this story seemed to reinforce my views. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, dressed in clown outfits, attend mass. I see the videotape, see the outrageous getup, and the archbishop's hesitation before giving them communion.

I watch Bill O'Reilly on the topic, and I'm as upset as he is by what I see as mockery of the Eucharist.

So I felt I knew what was going on - the Sister's attending a regular Sunday Mass, and having themselves videotaped, hoping to record the scene of anti-gay Catholic bigotry they provoke. Sunday Mass as a stage for some political theatre. I summarized my view in a comment on Joe's blog:

I know the Sisters do charitable work, but I have a problem with this stunt. I’m considering the people who went there to celebrate Sunday mass, and found themselves cast into an unwilling role in a videotaped political drama. I don’t think that is fair.

My suspicion is that the Sisters did it because they wanted to provoke a bigoted reaction. I’m sure Catholics could go to gay bars, order a few beers, and start saying the rosary, and that might provoke a similar reaction. In general, I think if we want tolerant society, it is best to refrain from things like this, and allow different types of people some space to be themselves.

Except I was as wrong as I could be, because the story doesn't fit the narrative I had imposed on it. One of the Sisters wrote a note to Joe, saying:

The video was actually shot by a right-wing, very homophobic group based in San Jose, CA called Quo Domine. They filmed in secret and then sent the tape to other right wing blogs like “Americans for Truth” and to Fox News.

Their intention was to create a controversy that would perpetuate the right-wing attack on “San Francisco values.”

The group has attacked Most Holy Redeemer parish in the past, because they vehemently oppose the church’s open ministry to queer people, whom they believe are living in sin and should repent. The group holds a fundamentalist inspired vision of the Church that does not welcome diversity.

The sisters who attended that day did so because they, like others in the Castro-neighbourhood parish, genuinely wanted to welcome the bishop on his first pastoral visit and because they wanted to remind him that this was a gay-affirming parish.

The Sisters were attending mass in a gay-welcoming parish, called Most Holy Redeemer. They are certainly no strangers to the parish - they've even run "Revival Bingo" events at the parish! The Archbishop was - to his credit - reaching out of his comfort zone in visiting a somewhat divergent parish in his diocese. The video was shot not by the Sisters, but by a conservative religious group, named Quamdiu Domine. That group doesn't like the idea of a gay-inclusive parish, and wanted to embarrass not the Sisters but the archbishop. And when the story was presented, he caved under the pressure.

And this is even more interesting. The group, Quamdiu Domine, that filmed the video has a link on this page to what they claim is a parish bulletin that has a note from one of the Sisters - Delta Goodhand. The note thanks the Archbishop for coming to say mass. Again, the group is outraged that the Sisters participate so easily in the parish. You can see Delta's note on the bottom left of the bulletin PDF on this page. But when you go to the parish website, and look at the same bulletin (10/14/07) - downloadable from this page - there is no such note. There is a "save the date" notice in the archived parish bulletin in the same place where the Quamdiu Domine version has the note from Sister Delta. So either the parish is going back and rewriting history, or the conservative group is doctoring parish bulletins.

Clearly I have too much time on my hands!

I'm still no fan of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and I'm certainly no fan of Quamdiu Domine. Nevertheless, I learned an important lesson: the world is far more complex than the stories we tell ourselves.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Men and our Babies

I'm a man that loves babies!

I started thinking about men and babies back when I was reading the Male Privileges Checklist, and saw privilege number 11

If I have children and provide primary care for them, I'll be praised for extraordinary parenting if I'm even marginally competent.

And this advice to a prospective father, found in the comment thread in a post by Hugo Schwyzer:

BTW, your job as long as she’s breastfeeding, which takes six to eight hours a day for the first several months or longer, is to change all diapers when you’re home and especially to balance the nighttime drain on her by getting up and getting the baby, changing it, bringing it to her in bed and delivering it back to the crib. That’s the best advice we got before our first daughter was born. You’ll still get way more sleep than she will and her resentment level will be way down.

Woman and babies just seem to go together quite naturally. We have a certain iconic view of the mother and child bond, and properly so, for there is great beauty there. A mother holding a baby seems a natural and almost holy thing. I think of all the iconography around Mary and the infant Jesus.

I consider myself fortunate because I discovered the joy of caring for babies when I was a teenager, when I needed to care for my brother's son. He was a difficult baby that suffered from terrible colic, but I learned to deal with him. I listened to his screams, fed him, changed his diapers, got puked on, and paced endlessly with him so he could sleep. My ability to deal patiently with his sometimes unpredictable moods because a source of pride in me, and I think I formed a somewhat different anticipation of fatherhood than some men have. Sure, I pictured taking my future son to his first ballgame, and teaching a future daughter to ride her bike. But I also wondered what it would feel like to hold and feed a baby that wasn't just a friend’s baby, or a relative's baby. But a baby of my own! What would that feel like?

So I’ve always felt comfortable and adept at dealing with babies. My children are grown now, and I miss that "baby fix". It is pretty well established that infants need lots of physical closeness and warmth to develop properly. I've heard that some hospitals that treat infants in long term care, recognizing that nurses don't have the time to sit and rock them for hours, allow volunteers to come in and do it. I'm not certain of that, but I recall hearing of it, and I remember considering it. But it never got further than a brief wish. Somehow I was certain that all such volunteers would be woman, and I'd be considered weird.

Men and babies just don’t seem to go together. I know when I was outside with my own children and they started fussing, guys would look at me and seem to smirk. I sensed a certain relief on their part in not having to deal with it themselves, and sometimes a certain dismissive contempt of me for being in that position. Woman would offer advice, and sometimes say even say "Do you want me to try and settle him down?" We're just not expected to be good with infants, and I don’t think this attitude serves anyone.

The belief that we somehow lack the basic skills and disposition to deal with babies is foolish. As generals, we can sort out the logistics of an amphibious landing, but we can't juggle an infant's nap and feeding schedule, or negotiate getting them into a car seat with their baggage? As cops we can safely disable a violent, psychotic person, but we can't be trusted to tolerate the shrill screams of a newborn? As EMTs we can carefully extract the wounded from a horrible car wreck, but we somehow lack the delicacy needed to cradle an infant in our arms? We can work double shifts at a factory, or burn the midnight oil getting a big project done by the deadline, but we can't handle a few weeks or months of sleepless nights?

I'm not looking at this as another one of those ideological arguments over something that is really just an act of love. To me it's not really about being helpful, or being fair, or being equal, or graciously giving mom a break from the stress. It is about men getting a direct and immediate feeling of fatherhood by caring for our babies - right from the very beginning.

My wife very much wanted to breastfeed, but for various reasons it didn't work out. And part of me was glad, because in those long ago nights when I struggled out of bed listening to the screams of my first child, my daughter, I discovered myself as a father. I learned the need for patience. I learned humility, because I knew that in the eyes of this tiny person - who I loved more than my own life - I was but a dim, faceless shadow. I learned that the true measure of strength and love is the willingness to commit totally to a forever one-sided relationship.

She would continue screaming on my shoulder as the bottle warmed, and not until we sat in the rocker, and she began pulling nourishment from the nipple, did she quiet. And such a quiet! Just the faint sounds of faraway traffic. Just the sound and rhythm of her gulping, and the way she slows down and relaxes once the panic of her immediate need recedes. No longer drinking desperately, she can drink with ease, and with pleasure.

And then the miracle happens, because - as she continues to drink - her eyes open and they roll towards me. She looks not at my eyes but through my eyes, with a fixed, unblinking gaze that Mellville described as "feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence."

Once she is sated, I lift her and form the bone and muscle of my shoulder into a cove for her slumber. She sleeps, and I remain awake. The warmth of her small body blankets me with peace, and with completeness. She drifts back to that unknowing place where infant souls dwell. And as I rock her my thoughts return to my world. A world of plans and responsibilities, of things I need to do tomorrow, and things I’ll need to face years from now. Of inner doubts and now suddenly sharpened fears, because I am charged with a most precious and most undeserved gift.

I know as I rock her in the night that the world outside is the same as it has always been - but my view of it shifts and reforms itself with each sway of the rocker. My world is newly built upon the foundation of her faint breath. I am a man with a mission. I am forever her hostage; on my shoulder rests the full, fearsome weight of her. And bear her I shall.