Overthinking, Over-Moralizing… Perhaps we already learned what we need to know
I mentioned in my last blog post how after years of considering myself a far-left liberal, that I’m starting to think of myself more as a moderate. But just like the Suzanne Vega song, I still find myself “Left of Center.”
One of my reasons for considering myself more of a moderate is how the Left seems to have moved further to the extreme over the past few years. I know this is part of a larger trend of division and movement to the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum. While I’d like to blame this all on Trump’s rhetoric of divisiveness, this divisiveness was already evident in the Democratic Party during the whole Hillary – Bernie debate before Trump “won” the Whitehouse.
Another reason for my shift to moderate has to do with a whole overthinking / over-moralizing trend that seems to shape Democratic opinion these days. While I think having a good set of ethics is a positive thing, I feel like we tend to take things that are good ideas about ethics and morality and take them to an extreme.
If all this overthinking and over-moralizing is turning me off as someone who has considered myself extremely liberal on social issues for a couple of decades, then I can only imagine the backlash these things are causing among Americans who are even more moderate-leaning than myself.
I was recently reading a post where someone was debating whether it was okay for male artists and photographers to profit from photos and art featuring sexy women – examples included replicating World War II era pin-ups and so forth. In some cases, the talk wasn’t even about real life women, but about cartoon art of women. There was the usual talk about whether objectification was okay, but the post devolved into blanket assumptions that men are profiting off women’s oppression, whether sexy art is okay so long as the artist (or the viewer) has “pure” intentions that relate entirely to aesthetics and historical value (heaven forbid there should be a sexual element to such art), whether maybe some art is okay so long as it’s “body positive” art depicting “fat” women, and maybe sexy art is okay if it depicts people of color or is done by someone who is LGBTQ.
Ugghh… besides making blanket assumptions that women are automatically victims and sexuality is automatically bad, it’s so much overthinking and over-moralizing. It’s honestly the same kind of debate that is going on about sex workers. Maybe I have a bias, as I’ve done male beefcake and swimsuit type photography for fun and profit in the past, but I’m just going to cut to the chase and say that I think as long as whatever arrangement made between the artist and model (regardless of gender, color, orientation, size, or background) is consensual and no one was forced to do anything they didn’t want to do, then what business is it of anyone else. That’s my complete moral and ethical stance on the topic. Yes, I know there are power differentials in society, but I also know there are a number of women and men who make money being models and they do it because they want to, not because they are forced to. Some do it because the need to make money. Others do it because they like doing it or because they want their good looks and sexuality validated. The same things apply to sex workers. If you think modeling is bad, don’t do it. If you think profiting off sexy art is bad, don’t do it. If you think sex work is wrong, don’t do it. At the same time, don’t start trying to dictate what is right or wrong for other people.
The #MeToo movement is another one of those ideas that in principle I’m on board with, but in practice I keep finding myself disturbed by the extremes some people take it to. It’s the part where some people don’t seem to be making distinctions between bad judgement and actual crime. It’s where every come on from someone you’re not interested in is sexual harassment. It’s where we’re digging up incidents from people’s distant past and holding them to today’s morals (the same applies to recent blackface scandals). For me, it’s one thing if someone has a recent or continuous history of harassment or assault, but totally another if someone made mistakes in their past and have learned from them or otherwise moved past them. It’s also disturbing to me that people’s careers are ended because of simple insinuations that have not been proven or disproven in the court of law (or other investigative body).
I do get that many women (and men) have endured sexual assault, and that is a bad thing. I get that many women (and men) get harassed and ogled in demeaning ways, and that’s also a bad thing. I get that some women (and men) get hit on a lot more than others, and while that may be an inconvenience to them, I don’t think it’s criminal or immoral. I also get that many women were so hurt or embarrassed by a situation that they weren’t willing to talk or press charges at the time. Talking now can give a sense of justice and closure. At the same time, I’m turned off by the vindictiveness and mob mentality that seems to show itself so frequently in the #MeToo movement. In spite of all the emotional harm these situations bring to victims, I still think the unfortunate burden is to prove the accused is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. That’s how our legal system works, and it works that way to spare innocent people from vindictiveness and mob mentality, and to spare the guilty from mob justice.
Some fringes of the Liberal left are becoming so puritanical that I’m beginning to think we all just need to start wearing head coverings, veils, and bulky clothing that hides our shape and almost every inch of skin, like the women of some religions do. But that would be cultural appropriation which is another thing I have trouble wrapping my head around.
I think that it’s inevitable that cultures are going to influence each other, especially if they overlap or exist very close to each other. I don’t think that all forms of cultural appropriation are bad. I think some of these things might better be labeled “cultural synergy”. It’s like that old commercial where someone eating a chocolate bar and someone eating peanut butter run into each other…. “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.” The next thing you know, you’ve got peanut butter cups… mmm! Cultural appropriation synergy brought us southwest grills, food truck fusion items, Taco Bell, Hawaiian shirts, Zen Buddhism, and eclectic Paganism.
I do think there are cases where cultural appropriation is bad, but as with all things we of the liberal persuasion seem to be taking our moral quandaries to the absurd extremes. I think there’s a difference between being inspired by a culture that is not our own on the one hand, and being demeaning or offensive on the other. I remember reading a story a while back about an American woman who wore a traditional Japanese inspired dress, and she was lambasted for cultural appropriation even though I think she wore it because she was inspired by the fashion of the culture and not because she intended to be patronizing. In Pagan circles, folks are starting to discourage folks not of Native American descent from using sage for smudging and purification because that’s a Native American thing and not what the Europeans used. That may be so, and if you’re a strict reconstructionist you definitely want to use whatever your ancestors did. On the other hand, if you’re eclectic Pagan, why not use what works and what is readily available. When folks in the past moved to new lands, they often had to substitute indigenous herbs for those they were accustomed to from their own land.
I think there are some things where we do need to draw the line on cultural appropriation. These include using demeaning caricatures of people from any culture, gender, orientation, or background for logos, mascots, art, and so forth. Goodbye Frito Bandito, Mammie and Sambo statues, black face, and so on. I’m not sure these are exactly what we mean these days by cultural appropriation, but they’re definitely something left behind in days past.
I believe some things are sacred in various cultures and religions. That’s a more sensitive area for most, but I really look at intent here. If someone profanes something that is sacred by making it mundane, that’s demeaning. As a Pagan, I also draw the line at just plugging deities that aren’t your own from different cultures into spells and rituals without offering the proper respect and background research on those deities. That’s disrespectful to the deities, not necessarily the culture they came from. On the other hand, if someone has a sincere interest in a deity, spiritual path, or spiritual practice that isn’t directly related to their ancestors, I think the sincere interest outweighs ancestry. Also, who knows, maybe you belonged to that religion or culture in a past life, or maybe there’s some other spiritual reason you’re drawn to it.
I know even in the LGBTQ community we feel like things have been appropriated from us – awesome dance music, leather culture, metrosexual fashion sense, rainbows, and drag brunches. I think in most cases we should take this as flattery and a sign of progress and greater social acceptance rather than be affronted by it. On the other hand, I’d condemn politicians who use LGBTQ symbols and events to gain LGBTQ votes, but then vote against LGBTQ issues. I’d also opt to out any anti-gay politician who is caught in a gay sex scandal, the same as I would for any other politician caught doing anything majorly hypocritical. I also draw a line on commercialism of gay culture by straight culture, and I’d apply that standard to any other culture commercialized by another. While I know many LGBTQ folks are offended when a straight celebrity “teases” at homosexuality, I’m okay with it as long as they really do support LGBTQ issues and LGBTQ people in real life. By the way, I’m totally willing to give out my personal number to any male celebrity who wants to call me up and tease me personally. Please read this Nick Jonas, Zac Efron, and Channing Tatum.
I think we should also be more outraged by the opposite of culture appropriation. I’m not sure what the term is or would be, but this is where mainstream culture, privileged culture, or dominant culture imposes its values and ways onto a smaller, less-privileged, or marginalized culture. It’s those Christian missionaries (past and present) who go into indigenous areas and destroy the culture and beliefs by trying to make the people more Christian. It’s those – whoever they might be – who are trying to make LGBTQ culture more sexless and straight-washed rather than those who are trying to make mainstream culture more gay and more sex-positive. It’s all those trying to assimilate all those other cultures into the mainstream culture and values rather than respecting those cultures where they are.
I’m going to leave this post with one final thought. Yesterday, I was browsing through my Facebook feed when I saw a meme aimed at all this current political divisiveness. It said something to the effect of “So many people have gotten so wrapped up in whether they are Democrat or Republican, that they forgot how to be decent.” It stuck with me and reminded me of a book I once read called “Everything I needed to learn, I learned in kindergarten.” In a nutshell the book suggested, “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Wonder… Goldfish… hamsters… and white mice… all die. So do we. Remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.” After suggesting these life lessons, the author goes on to suggest, “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds clear and true and firm.”
Anyway, if people in both parties (and everyone else) lived by these principles, we’d be living in a much better world.