Political What Ifs

The problem with being a writer and reading a lot of dystopian fiction is that I keep thinking of what would happen if some of those tropes were applied to current events, particularly in the United States. There are the serious what ifs that echo history; I think you know what I’m referring to here. But then there are the sillier, tropier ones.

This tweet sums it up:

Here are a few of the things I’ve come up with. And if you ever write these things, let me know, but not right now. Reality is depressing enough as it is.

What if the hero of the story is some poor intern at the National Park Service? Her love interest would be an Environmental Protection Agency intern, and they would bond over nature and science. When they both get demoted (yes, demoted) at their internships, they get together and plot the fall of the government from within.

What if the hero has been an activist for awhile and then, just as the orange man is about to take the oath of office, jumps in and interrupts the oath? This and the resulting chaos mean the president never takes the oath of office. Then what?

What if there’s a parallel universe where Clinton is president and David Bowie and Prince and Carrie Fisher and all the other awesome celebrities who died last year are partying it up? And what if these universes are connected somehow? Instead of seeking refuge in another country, people would seek refuge in another universe. (This is going to be one of the universes in my parallel world novel. It has been decided.)

What if someone freed Melania by crawling into the exhaust pipes in Trump Tower? Or what if Barron went exploring in them?

What if humanity managed to colonize another planet and the rest of the world went there, leaving Murica to burn?

What if there’s a White House love triangle going on? Mango Man/Bannon/Spicer, anyone?

What if the zombie apocalypse happened? How would that affect how government agencies communicate? (Come on, you knew this was coming.)

What if we have to destroy all of the orange man’s horcruxes before the presidency ends? (Come on, you knew this was coming too.)

Why I rarely boycott things

If you’ve spent much time on Twitter and Facebook, you’ve probably detected a pattern. Heck, maybe you’ve been involved in it. It goes something like this:

* Some company (or one of their executives) does something objectionable. This thing can range from supporting a politician with views that don’t align with their own to donating to causes that don’t support progress to saying something in an interview.
* People call for a boycott of that company or product
* Occasionally the person or company involved will apologize
* What then?

Sometimes these boycotts are effective. But unless there’s a truly compelling reason, I can’t take part–not with a good conscience, at least. For one, I would have to know the political and social views of every single company and executive whose products I use. Looking around right now, that’s a lot: Apple, Google, Samsung, HP, NaNoWriMo, my headphones, my USB drive… And I’m not even writing this from home, where even more companies and products would stand out.

Then you get even more into the nitty gritty. I bought those headphones (and my extra phone batteries, and who knows what else) on Amazon. I don’t remember where I bought the laptop I’m typing this on, but it was surely online somewhere. My phone carrier is Verizon. I bought my laptop bag from the NaNoWriMo store, but another company likely made the physical bag. The individual parts for my devices were made by different companies, many of them overseas, possibly with worker exploitation and child labor. The apps on my devices were made by various companies, from the big ones (Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Fitbit, my bank…) to small companies and even individual developers (some of the games I’ve downloaded, for instance).

In order to boycott with a good conscience, I would have to analyze the political and social views for every single company that makes the things I use. Analzying all these views is a job in itself, one I don’t have the time or inclination for. Boycotting one maker would make me feel anxious for not knowing the views of all the companies whose products I use, not to mention some companies and executives are tight-lipped on these topics. Taking a “guilty until proven innocent” approach doesn’t work either; after all, some companies never speak out on current issues, even if their executives personally have an opinion. Life is short; I can’t just wait for it.

One answer, of course, is to boycott only when it’s practical. This is something I noticed when former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich had (personally, not on behalf of Firefox or Mozilla) donated in support of Proposition 8 in California. This tidbit got out a few years later, causing some people in my circles to stop using Firefox for this reason alone. But a lot of nontechnical folks don’t know he also created Javascript, a language that is used on almost every website (including this one). Good luck with boycotting that. The problem with this approach is that boycotts weren’t meant to be practical. One great example of this is the bus boycotts in Alabama in 1956. It definitely wasn’t practical for the boycotters to stop riding the buses; many of them walked miles to and from work (not to mention other places) for a year as a result. This is why the conservative attempts to boycott Hamilton after the election haven’t made a difference; it’s easy not to buy tickets when they’re sold out months in advance.

Here’s another question: what happens if the company or maker apologizes for their actions? It’s easy to miss the apology; after all, much of contemporary media concentrates on the breaking big stories instead of updates. Does the apology make everything okay again? Is it okay to go back to using that company’s products again if an honest apology is issued? What if an apology is issued and then five years pass with no further incidents? Is it okay to judge forever based on that one stain?

I don’t have good answers to any of these questions; if I did, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But I can’t stop you from boycotting whatever you want, so one more thing:

If you do continue to boycott companies based on their views or actions, I urge you: please don’t take your anger and frustration out on the people at the bottom of the corporate ladder. They just work there, and sometimes they don’t have other options. It’s easy to say they do; after all, they could quit and find another job, or find another publisher for their works. These actions take time and resources that could be directed elsewhere. Your actions would be better directed elsewhere too.

How I got into politics (now with more resources!)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks (and if you have, is there room for one more under there?), you probably know about the dumpster fire that has been the United States over the past couple of weeks. In my circles, this has filled my Twitter feed with even more politics than usual, as well as

Awhile back I wrote about why I’m not an activist. I originally wrote that post in July, when I was still optimistic about having the first female president of this country and hoped against hope that the electoral college wouldn’t give us the first billionaire president instead. We know how that turned out.

So what has changed since July, when I originally wrote that post?

It’s not the fact that the orange man has no political experience, or that he was selected by the electoral college despite losing the popular vote, or the part where he is technically keeping some of his campaign promises so far.

The first problem is that so many of those campaign promises were terrible to begin with, and well, I know a little bit of history. World War II was a huge fascination of mine as a teen, and it still is to this day. Given current events, I can’t stand silent and watch these atrocities, especially when they directly affect me or someone I care about. In situations like this, silence is consent.

You know how most people won’t act on something until those things are so awful that suddenly they can’t stand by ignorant anymore? That’s what happened here, both for me and lots of others around me. There’s a reason MLK expressed his disdain for the white moderate in the civil rights movement; sure, a bunch of these people probably admired the efforts of the activists, but they didn’t care enough to contribute. This attitude has returned with a vengeance with the 2016 election and aftermath. I used to be this person, but after seeing the consequences firsthand, I can’t be that person with a good conscience anymore.

This leads to another problem: there’s so much horribleness going on that it’s easy for one thing that requires a call now to get lost in the sea of news and memes and fake government agency accounts. My Twitter feed has turned into Politics Central, but the volume of my feed has made it nearly impossible to sort out what’s being voted on when or what has already been voted on in Congress.

In the interest of keeping track of all the resources I’ve found over the past few weeks and since a few folks have expressed interest in learning what I found, here are some ways to stay involved in current events without being overwhelmed by it all.

Do a Thing – This newsletter arrives on weekdays, and each newsletter featuers a cute animal plus a small action you can take to be a more engaged citizen that take less than five minutes or cost less than five dollars to complete. Not all of the actions are activist things; some of them are actions to help out the earth and beyond. If you skip a day or five, that’s okay; I know I have.

Weekly Action Checklist – This is one of the more accessible and well-rounded guides I’ve found. Even though it comes out weekly instead of daily, the weekly documents are well-written and centered around a variety of issues. You can take action on all of the issues and divide them by day or choose one or two. No matter what you do, you’re making a small difference. One thing I like about this newsletter is that it includes good news so not everything is doom and gloom.

What the Fuck Just Happened Today is a daily email newsletter summarizing the day’s political events. There’s usually a lot of material, but it is skimmable. Honestly, I’m surprised this domain wasn’t already taken.

5calls – This guide focuses on five calls to make every day and which topics to call about. My main beef with this is that it often encourages you to call people who aren’t your congresspeople, such as committee chairs and ranking members. I’m not sure how effective a call to them would be if they’re not already representing you. I also wish the site would show you all the calls to make about a particular issue at once instead of making you flip through them. Still, this site is useful in sorting out what to call about right now, as opposed to what’s still in committee.

Indivisible Guide – I read this back when it was a Google doc and finally found it again thanks to someone on the NaNoWriMo forums. While this guide focuses more on organizing local groups and getting involved in your local political scene, there are also sections on calling your congresspeople and scripts to use. Figuring out what issues those are is outside the scope of this guide, so I’d use this as a supplement with one of the other resources if you need info on what to call your representatives about right now. This guide is written by former congressional staffers who know what works to bring about change and what doesn’t.

Resistance Manual – This site is a wiki containing information on issues, phone numbers for your congresspeople, as well as more local resources as well. Information is added by users like you, so go add something for your state if that info isn’t already there!

Countable app – I haven’t used this app yet, but I know people who use and like it. It shows what issues need to be acted on right now, as well as who to call about them.

If you’re like me and you keep forgetting which issue you contacted which representative about on which day, I recommend keeping track in some way. Whether this is an activism notebook, a spreadsheet, or even a Word document, this will ensure you don’t call one senator six times about opposing Betsy DeVos and not calling anyone else about any other issue.

And finally, remember to take care of yourself as well.

Got any other resources? Send them my way! I’d love to check them out.

Why I’m not an activist

Note: I wrote this little ramble back in July 2016 and didn’t think to post it until now. As you might have guessed, a lot has changed since then. Look for a post addressing that in the next week or two.

There are a lot of issues plaguing our world today. I see it all over my Twitter feed: people talking about whatever social issue they’re passionate about, whether they’re sharing news articles on a current relevant social issue or saying that members of the majority group (whether that’s male, straight, white, able-bodied…) should shut up and listen, or saying “if you’re X, you should Y”, or whatever else goes on in social justice Twitter.

Unfortunately, sometimes that discussion turns not just to yelling about these topics, they also turn into yelling about these topics into the echo chamber that is their followers. Let’s face it, we tend to follow people who are like us, and the same applies to other people choosing who to follow online. Since we tend to follow people who are like us, we tend to see updates and news articles that reaffirm our existing beliefs instead of challenging them and making us think in different ways. When our beliefs are affirmed more, then we continue to build our firm belief system, making us less open to new ideas.

See, I don’t like this yelling. Sure, I’m not an exception to surrounding myself to people who are like me, but I also don’t like people yelling and generalizing–about any topic, not just social justice. I have my reasons: I’ve found that it’s harder to reason with people who are only yelling their views instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. And to be honest, when people are yelling, you practically have to yell back in order to get your voice heard in the conversation. I don’t like to yell my thoughts and views. When everyone’s yelling, only the very loudest get heard.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to yell in order to be heard. I don’t want to throw out generalizations just because that’s the lowest common denominator. It’s not the discussion on these issues themselves that bug me, not in the slightest. Discussion and action lead to change, and I’m glad to listen to (and occasionally contribute to) constructive discussion. When the discussion becomes destructive, that’s when I exit. It’s the call-out and dogpiling culture that has made its way around some parts of the activist and social justice community. Things like “You have no place to discuss X” or “You’re not part of this group, so your voice doesn’t matter” have no place in a constructive discussion.

Hearing things like “Ugh, men” (or white people, or straight people, or…) also grates my nerves, and these are not uncommon occurrences in the social justice community when a member of some majority group says something racist or sexist or misogynistic. This bugs me for several reasons. People who pass as the target of the comment but are not members of that group become targets, even if the speaker doesn’t intend it.

A large source of my anxiety stems from what people think of me. On the Internet, this is more magnified than ever as every tweet and blog post and status update can elicit a reaction from someone else, positive or negative. And because of the way so-called activists pile upon others for accidentally saying one thing without thinking, that causes even more anxiety for me. I don’t want to be dogpiled on just because of one comment, even after apologizing and moving on. It doesn’t matter what you say; someone is always going to find it offensive of *-ist or problematic. I know that. I just don’t want to be a target even after moving on from that.

Yes, staying in a small bubble is bad for many reasons. But sometimes bursting that bubble causes more trouble than it’s worth.

How open-minded are you?

Do you watch news on TV? Think about the number of news stations you watch. Now think of the number of sites you read news from. Unless you absolutely refuse to read from any other site, you probably read from more news sites than you watch. This is definitely the case for me. In fact, you probably also read a variety of news websites, even if you check in on certain sites only to confirm a certain point of view.

Enter Slate’s interactive test of news open-mindedness. The test uses your browsing history of certain websites that contain news to determine how open-minded you are based on the news sites you visit. There are problems with this method, namely that the method has no idea what you think of the sites you visit or how long you stayed. Nevertheless, here are my results:

Sites Visited:
Reddit (23% conservative)
CBC (Radio Canada) (46% conservative)
Salon (34% conservative)
The White House (58% conservative)
Chicago Tribune (44% conservative)
The Huffington Post (30% conservative)
Fox News (88% conservative)
CNN (54% conservative)
MSNBC (57% conservative)
At these sites, the readership is on average 48 percent conservative, 52 percent liberal

Your isolation index is -33, meaning that, on the bell curve of all readers, your news diet is 33 percentage points to the left.

I’ve visited many more news sites than these recently, so this must be a sampling. If this list and the readership are reliable, then my collection of news sites are politically balanced, which is never bad. Now to stay that way.

Oh, and that site Slate mentioned that guesses your gender based on browser history? It gave me a 6% likelihood of being female. These are tears of laughter, really.

According to Rudy Giuliani, there were no ‘domestic terror attacks’ under Bush

I enjoy a good laugh at a politician just as much as everyone else, no matter what side of the fence they’re on. When someone says that there were no “domestic terror attacks” under Bush like former NYC mayor Rudy “Not even a champion speller can get his last name right” Giuliani, you have to question their memory. And this man was a presidential candidate.

Even if he was talking post-9/11, his selective memory chose to wipe out such incidents as the anthrax scare, the shoe bomb, the Oklahoma football stadium bombing, and so many incidents that Wikipedia has them documented by year starting in 1970. We really do live in a crazy world.

And just to show you that I really will make fun of anyone in politics, Obama won’t interrupt the Lost premiere with his State of the Union address. He’ll just interrupt at the climax and say, “Imma let you finish, Sawyer, but Gilligan’s Island was the best stranded island show of all time!”

Does Christianity really need another Bible?

Conservative wiki Conservapedia has taken on a new project: translate the Bible to rid it of liberal bias. Even though there are already hundreds of translations of the Bible available for general consumption, few are in the public domain, and Conservapedia plans to use the King James Version, a public domain translation with its own biases. In fact, the wiki lists advantages to having a conservative Bible available online, among them:

this would debunk the pervasive and hurtful myth that Jesus would be a political liberal today

While this topic is debatable (though I think Jesus would be a political liberal), Conservapedia is taking the wrong approach. Creating a conservative Bible to support their hypothesis of Jesus’ non-liberal leaning is simply bad logic–one of the worst kinds of all, in fact. You can’t assume that something is true and then make up your own evidence to show that the hypothesis is true. This may not be science, but the logic still stands.

Question of the day: Does Christianity really need another translation, especially one that exists to be more of a political platform than a religious one? The religion doesn’t need this one. This is what stereotypes are made of, both of religion and politics.

I can’t help but notice that no one has started translating Revelation yet, though. That one should be fun.