Friday, November 10, 2017

Liberal Values

I have some thoughts about an interview with Jonathan Haidt on the moral values of liberals and conservatives. His episode of the podcast On Being was entitled “The Psychology of Self-Righteousness.” See (10/19/17 podcast).

He and other researchers used a standardized test to separate liberals from conservatives. Then they asked liberal people to take the test as if they were conservative, and vice versa. What grabbed my attention was that conservatives are a whole lot better than liberals at putting themselves in the other side’s shoes. As a card-carrying liberal, I was shocked and offended. Aren’t we at least as smart as conservatives?

Haidt said in the podcast that people who study the bases of morality generally recognize five major values: kindness, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity or purity.

All five values are recognized in most human societies that have been studied. The prevailing theory is that they evolved along with humans because they give us the ability to form stable groups involving more than a single family, groups whose members cooperate with each other to feed, shelter, and defend themselves. These abilities meant that more of us survived, so natural selection promoted people using these values.

As time passed, some of these values lost their allure to some people. In cultures that are western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic, the rights of individuals are held at least as strongly as values that support group identity. In particular, while kindness and fairness remain valued among liberals and conservatives alike, liberals do not join conservatives in placing equal value on loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

One theory about this difference is that liberals hold a sixth value – liberty or freedom. As a result, we abhor oppression by anyone. While conservatives value loyalty against betrayal, authority against subversion, and sanctity against degradation, liberals fear these values as the basis of racism, misogyny, and authoritarianism.

It seems to me that conservatives place limited value on liberty. As far as I can tell, they value liberty only in the sense that they don’t want the government to keep them from getting as rich as possible or from oppressing others. For example, conservatives resist regulations to bar banks from making risky bets with depositors’ money. Also, some Christians argue that their religious liberty gives them the right to discriminate against LGBT people, and to impose their own rules about abortion and contraception on all women, whether Christian or not. I think that most liberals recognize the right of groups to set standards for their own adherents, but not to impose them on outsiders.

To return to the original question, I think we liberals are bad at putting ourselves in the mindset of conservatives because we don’t share their respect for the values of authority, loyalty, and sanctity. We don’t just fail to understand these other values, we actively reject them as leading to oppression.

Perhaps we liberals can appreciate the values of authority, loyalty, and sanctity (or at least understand them enough to hold civil conversations with conservatives) if we temper them with the principles of liberty and freedom.

Placing final authority in a single human leader strikes us liberals as opening the door to tyranny.  We believe that the checks and balances created in our Constitution are necessary defenses against authoritarianism. Perhaps we can recognize that we value authority in the rule of law, even if we reject rule by a single infallible leader.

Loyalty to America First can lead us to ignore our duties as human beings to people of other nations who have come to make their lives in America. We are a nation of immigrants; even the First Nations migrated here from other lands. Fear of immigrants comes from viewing our country as a lifeboat that will capsize if too many board. But America is more like a potluck supper. The more people come, the more food they bring, and the more varied foods there are for us all. Perhaps we liberals can appreciate loyalty to our country until it tramples on the rights of real or suspected immigrants.

Those who value sanctity often pass laws to impose rules derived from a particular view of God. Such laws infringe the First Amendment rights of all of us to worship in our own way. Most religions encourage their adherents to behave with kindness and fairness. Perhaps we liberals can recognize the value in all religions without letting any one of them run roughshod over the rights of those who subscribe to a different religion or to none.

Anyway, that’s what I hope. If more liberals can recognize that the values held by conservatives go beyond self-serving hypocrisy, we can hold civil conversations with them, and perhaps even accomplish some of what we can agree that our country needs.

Friday, September 1, 2017

My Mysterious Watch

Some 20 years ago, I bought a Seiko quartz watch at Costco. It kept better time than the Timexes and Bulovas that preceded it. And I've worn it every day since. I have worn it so thoroughly that I needed to take it at least twice to a jeweler to have scratches sanded off the crystal.

About a week ago, I was shocked to realize that it was running 10 minutes behind the actual time. When the battery has run down in the past, the watch slows down and stops over the course of a day or so. That was a bit weird, but I dutifully went out and bought it a new battery.

A few days later, I discovered that it was 40 minutes behind. So it wasn't the battery. I decided that two decades of service may have been all that the watch had to give, and ordered a new watch online. I ordered another Seiko quartz, but one with more contrast between the colors of the face and hands, And, I happened to notice after choosing it, it runs on solar power.

About three weeks ago, I bought a bracelet of iridescent hematite beads. I rarely wear jewelry, but the beads so mesmerized me that I wore the bracelet every day - mostly on my right wrist. However, for a couple of hours most days, I wear a brace on that wrist, and have been moving the bracelet to my left wrist after I noticed how uncomfortable it was under the brace, and so I could still see the bracelet.

This morning I picked up the bracelet and it brought a political button up with it. I hadn't realized that the beads were magnetic. Had the magnets slowed my watch while I was wearing the bracelet on the same wrist? And if so, did this damage the watch permanently? I hit the Google, and the answers seem to be 'yes' and 'no,' respectively. So I took the bracelet off and put the watch back on. So far, so good. But I don't plan to return the new watch when it arrives. Improved readability and no need for batteries are worth the investment.

We Ran Them Out of Town and Had A Party

Last Saturday the Patriot Prayer people had planned to put on a right-wing rally in San Francisco, at Chrissy Field. Despite the violence at the previous marches in Charlottesville, the Federal government granted them a permit. So it was up to the SF government to prevent violence. They fenced in the field and announced that helmets, shields, and sticks that could be used as weapons would not be allowed in. Meanwhile, SF dog owners were planning to 'decorate' the field with dog poo to make it uninviting.

I joined the Jewish Bar Association's Adopt a Nazi campaign, by donating money to the Southern Poverty Law Center (which studies and counters hate groups) on behalf of each of the 300 anticipated rally-goers. The campaign raised more than $160,000.

At the last minute, the Patriots cancelled the rally and announced a press conference to be held in Alamo Square Park. Since that is City property, SF simply closed the park. As it turned out, only counter-demonstrators showed up, and the police escorted them as they marched to join other counter-demonstrators in the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, and in front of City Hall, where speeches and signs gave way to yoga classes and dancing.

Meanwhile, two friends and I joined hundreds of other counter-protestors making our own statement against hate and discrimination, by forming a heart-shaped human banner at Ocean Beach.

The Patriots finally announced that they would hold a press conference later that day in Pacifica, a small town down the coast from SF. In short, we showed those right-wing instigators of violence that we had no room for their kind in San Francisco. We ran them clear out of town without a single injury or drop of blood!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Freedoms are Fragile

Freedoms are fragile.
Slavery ends and voting rights are enacted,
but people of color are subjected to
voter suppression, mass incarceration,
and shootings by police.

Freedoms are fragile.
Women win the vote,
become judges, governors, Senators,
but cannot win the White House.

Freedoms are fragile.
Homosexual celebrities and
transsexuals come out,
but gays and transwomen
are tortured and killed,
here and abroad.

Freedoms are fragile.
Marriage equality becomes
the law of the land.
But court clerks and business people
claim their faith gives them 
the right to discriminate against us.

Let's get real.
Fragile freedoms must be won
again and again.

Marching Out of the Closet

In the early years of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, marching in the Gay Freedom Day parade was a serious commitment. If we were seen marching with a gay group in public, we could lose friends, family, or our job. Most of us were in the closet then, because no laws kept us from being beaten up, fired, institutionalized, or thrown onto the streets for the crime/sin/sickness of being gay.

But three gay men had founded Sha'ar Zahav in 1977, so we could have a safe place to meet with one another -- where we could be who we were as sexual and spiritual beings, and find family who accept us as we are. Even then, some members had so much to lose that we knew them only under pseudonyms. Our circle of safety did not extend beyond our doors.

Prized Possession

As a little girl, I wasn't interested in traditional, dress-up dolls. By the time I started to notice Barbie, I saw myself as too old to bother with her. Now I realize that being a butch lesbian may have lessened my interest in doll dresses.

But I had a troll doll that was dearer to me than life. I distinctly remember having misplaced it once in the large room where we (roughly seven-year-old) children gathered for drama lessons. My agony over its loss brought everything to a halt as we all looked in every corner and under everyone's belongings. I think it was hiding behind an opened door, between the door and the wall. Sighs and shouts of relief could probably be heard in the next county.

I never lost it again. It accompanied me across the country and as I ping-ponged from Northern California to Southern California and back again.

I think it was during my junior high years that I bought a pattern for troll doll clothes, and made two little jackets out of felt. By that time, I had acquired a second troll. The first one had long straight black hair, and the other had shorter, frizzy magenta hair. Neither of them has, to this day, a name or even a gender. But both have a place of honor on my bookshelves.

At around the same time, I carved a copy of a troll doll out of a fat, cylindrical candle. I don't have the carving any more. I probably gave it to whomever I was crushing on at the time.

Why am I so attached to a funny looking androgynous sprite with short limbs and big ears? Clearly, I identified with it. I myself am short, androgynous, and not conventionally pretty. And I have hair of impressive straightness, which is the only thing about me that is straight. The only troll attribute I lack is big ears. So, when my troll alter ego went missing all those years ago, it was like I had misplaced a part of myself.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Launch Party

Sunday April 9, 2017, was my first public reading from my self-published book Tales of A Seeker. I reserved a medium-sized room at my synagogue, ordered a batch of food to be delivered there, and posted an invitation on my Facebook page, the synagogue's Facebook group, the Koffee Klatch Facebook group, and the Barbary Coast Recorder Orchestra Facebook group. I also sent personal email invites directly to a dozen or so friends.

Nine people actually came, and I was thrilled to greet each one. They listened politely as I read a medium-length assortment of pieces. Even though I had written a short introduction and framing comments in a separate document, I made a point of reading the actual pieces of the book from the paperback copy of the book - to demonstrate that readers would find exactly what I was reading in their very own copy of the book.

There were questions and comments, and applause. One guest read aloud a snippet of the book whose humor had become apparent to her only on her second reading.

Although I thought they'd be the least interesting pieces, my sermons were asked for and appreciated. One guest asked how many of them I had preserved, perhaps thinking they might suffice for a separate book or pamphlet.

One friend pointed out that very few people actually get their writings into published form, and asked how I felt about my achievement. I said, "Proud, and moved to tears."