I’m More Than My Politics, You’re More Than Your Politics

Political partisanship is intensifying mostly because we surround ourselves with people and tune into news sources that affirm our political philosophies. And so they harden. The technical term is “confirmation bias“. Conservative versus Liberal. Red versus Blue. Believing in American exceptionalism or not.

I’m a little weird in that liberal friends of mine marvel that I regularly engage in political discussions with conservative friends. Relationships are frayed because of political tribalism. Not just casual workplace ones, relationships with neighbors and family members.

One possible solution to this problem is to deemphasize politics by avoiding political topics, to talk about any and everything else, like Taylor Swift’s surprise new album, the weather (cloudy and 61 degrees farenheit in Olympia, WA) or the superiority of the metric system.*

But more kitten videos and fewer Trump ones is not the answer because political discussions are about power and privilege, fairness, and whether we’re going to realize our ideals, topics far too important to delegate to elected officials. Some whites who think they’re especially enlightened say, “I don’t see race, I’m colorblind.” To which most people of color say, “Must be nice, never having to think about the color of your skin, because we have to all the time.” Colorblindess is another form of white privilege.

Attempting to be apolitical is similarly flawed. Ignoring questions of power, privilege, and fairness does not make them go away. So how do we engage in policy discussions with people whose politics are so different than ours? Without losing our minds and jeopardizing our ability to live peacefully with one another?

By treating others the way we want to be treated. There are a boatload of descriptors that I’d like on my tombstone. Husband, father, friend, educator, writer among them.** I do not want to be remembered as a Liberal Democrat. “Remember Ron, yeah, he was an amazing Liberal Democrat. Really consistent on the death penalty. Always right about the social safety net. Impeccable voting record.”

And here’s the key take-away, I’m guessing that’s equally true for my Conservative Republican friends. We can go all in on specific political philosophies without our affiliations dominating our identities. We’re all humans, parents, siblings, friends, citizens, first, second, and third.

Consider a dystopian future, in say 22nd Century (dis)United States, where tombstones in cemeteries lead with deceased people’s political parties. Name, birth year, year of death, Moderate Republican. Name, birth year, year of death, Social Democrat. At times it feels like we’re headed down that path.

Social consciousness necessitates political engagement; but political engagement should not detract from multi-layered, nuanced, constantly evolving identities that begin and end with our common humanity.

*upon further thought, each of which could turn political

**I’m going to be cremated and spread liberally (not conservatively) in nature

 

 

The Diet Industry Is A Virus

A poignant takedown of the “wellness industry” by novelist Jessica Knoll who leads with this admission:

“I called this poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear ‘wellness.'”

Half way in, a story:

“I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. ‘The thing is,’ she said with a grimace, ‘you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.’

The new dietitian had a different take. ‘What a gift,’ she said, appreciatively, ‘to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?’ It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.”

Further in, the three paragraph knock out:

“The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health. Wellness influencers attract sponsorships and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by tying before and after selfies to inspiring narratives. Go from sluggish to vibrant, insecure to confident, foggy-brained to cleareyed. But when you have to deprive, punish and isolate yourself to look “good,” it is impossible to feel good. I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest.

If these wellness influencers really cared about health, they might tell you that yo-yo dieting in women may increase their risk for heart disease, according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out to a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health,yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth.

The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too. I am a thin white woman, and the shame and derision I have experienced for failing to be even thinner is nothing compared with what women in less compliant bodies bear. Wellness is a largely white, privileged enterprise catering to largely white, privileged, already thin and able-bodied women, promoting exercise only they have the time to do and Tuscan kale only they have the resources to buy.”

Make it a four paragraph technical knockout:

“We cannot push to eradicate the harassment, abuse and oppression of women while continuing to serve a system that demands we hurt ourselves to be more attractive and less threatening to men.”

Knoll’s essay is an excellent rebuttal of wellness bullshit, but she errors in suggesting men are free of body image issues and dieting abnormalities. It’s just than men who endure versions of similar struggles are not nearly as willing to talk about what Knoll powerfully lays bare. That taboo is far too strong.

What I Think I Know About The Covington, Kentucky High Schoolers

International Pressing Pausers have to be especially confused by what’s going on in the (dis)United States. I confess, I don’t fully understand what’s going on in the picture below which has prompted an intense national debate. At first glance, the central teen’s smile communicates a certain immaturity, arrogance, and disrespect for the elderly Native American in front of him.

Anyone that has worked with teens for any length of time can tell you that most are immature, some are arrogant, and a few disrespectful. So why the national outrage over one possible example from Covington, KY?

The picture probably fired up lefties because Native Americans deserve unmitigated respect for enduring centuries of oppression largely at the hands of white men. It most likely fired up conservatives because they believe the Left overreacts to any form of conservatism, thus opening themselves up to the criticism that they aren’t nearly as tolerant as they claim. Historical ignorance + a certain hypocrisy + ubiquitous social media = intense national debate.

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What I think I know about the photographed high schoolers is best explained through a short story. It’s the mid-90s, when I was a young prof at a liberal arts college in Greensboro, NC, I lead a First Year orientation mountain biking trip in West Virginia. By the end of Day One I was exasperated by the incessant immaturity of my charges. The young men in particular were crass, cliquish, and careless. Despite West Virginia’s natural beauty, I was dreading the remainder of the trip.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to have individual conservations with the participants one after another. And I was blown away by the discrepancy between their group and individual selves. One-on-one, or even two-on-one, at meals, in the jacuzzi, alone on the trail, I found them imminently likable. It was a powerful reminder of what I had forgotten about my teenage self and the hundreds of high schoolers I had taught previously. Teen males, a terribly insecure species, routinely bring out the worst in each other. The mathematical term is lowest common denominator (LCD). At it’s worst, it can contribute to a mob mentality.

When I first saw the “Covington” picture, the first thing I zeroed in on was the students in the background who were smiling and laughing at their classmate’s behavior. Classic LCD. Is susceptibility to negative peer pressure an excuse for immaturity, arrogance, disrespect; hell no, but it is reason to view the incident as more of a teachable moment than a criminal act.

Even without knowing the broader context, which is what now is being endlessly debated, the educator in me believes the teens deserve a modicum of grace. To learn about Native American history and people’s criticisms of their actions. In the expectation that if they ever find themselves in a similar situation they behave differently.

 

I Recommend

• My new personal favorite money blog—Mr. Money Mustache. MMM started in April 2011 and he’s killing it. The DIY (Do It Yourself) Colorado bicycle riding blogger writes well and employs a nice mix of confidence, humor, disgust at the status quo, and personal finance insight. His alternative approach to life is resonating with lots of readers. Recently he’s added case studies based upon readers’ lives. Check this recent one out. Favorite excerpt, “Every young adult should be able to comfortably sleep on somebody’s floor, drive an old manual-transmission car with rust holes to a concert, and eat leftover pizza for breakfast. Without complaining.”

• Groovy post by The Minimalist Mom.

• Provocative and timely essay on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and what the end of football might look like.

• “Glee is an Immoral Television Show and It’s Time to Stop Watching It.” Trenchant critique by a young, smart, prolific blogger.

• Errol Morris documentary film, Tabloid, about Joyce McKinney, an unstable woman with a criminal disposition. Sex, religion, crime, all mixed together. The one Netflix viewer who wrote, ” She does not need a movie made about her. She needs some real help” is correct. On the other hand, deviance is often interesting because it provides contrast. See Grizzly Man and Take Shelter. I found the most fascinating character to be a minor one, a British tabloid journalist whose total lack of conscience was harrowing.

• Badass video—6 minutes.