Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rogue One

If the below reads with the melodrama of a fan transported by an over-active imagination and a penchant for reckless empathy, well, that's probably because I love Star Wars. And I love movies. The subtle ways cinematography and the music score and flawless acting tease out a person's emotions and make good stories become that much more dazzling, it really is movie magic.

And the magic is not just in being transported to another time and place, it's also magical how movies pound on the struggles of our times. It was hard to watch the hubbub of Jedha and hear Kassian describe fighting with the rebels for a lifetime and not draw parallels to the war and unrest in the world today. As the slow tilt towards tyranny in my own country begins to pick up speed, Rogue One has me daydreaming about what resistance looks like and how to do it ethically.

So I think I might be a pacifist? This is the influence Michael and Rebecca and Wendell Berry have had over me in my formative years . . . It was an easy bent to have when the wars my country was involved in displaced the principle of national sovereignty in the name of protecting our monetary and political interests. It was easy to say that Americans should come home when I didn't fully understand what they were doing abroad in the first place.

Pacifism is harder when you have something you think could be worth fighting for.

In Star Wars it's not as though they're even so much fighting for some greater ideal or religious freedom; it's a matter of self-preservation. At this point the Empire already has the political power; it just wants to wipe those who dissented out. So when the Alliance doesn't want to send rebels to steal Death Star plans, Jyn tells them they don't have a choice; it's futile to surrender and plead for mercy.

And so in the name of self-preservation they do a lot of sketchy things. The first time we see Kassian he's shot a source, no hesitation, just popping caps with such nonchalance that I assumed he was a bad guy. Jyn herself is a criminal, but the rebels break her out of jail so they can use her as bait to, wait a sec, kill a rebel extremist? And then kill her father, who is also a double agent? Rogue One makes an excellent showing of how coordinating a resistance is fraught with opportunity to become the thing you're fighting.

(I'll hand it to the Imperial Army; in spite of their internal political squabbles, their strong leadership keeps them organized and on-message.)

This is how I feel about a lot of activist efforts mobilizing in my area. I am very thankful of the efforts of the ACLU and AILA and other attorneys that have provided support to those affected by the "terrorist ban" executive order. I am encouraged by the demonstrations and protests and discussions I see happening in the media and in book clubs and person to person. But the discussion is sometimes not nuanced enough, not precise enough, not careful enough to pose a truly ethical challenge to an unethical administration. We have a group of extremists (or I don't even know anymore, maybe Breitbart trolls?) at Berkeley smashing windows and starting fires. We have misinformation or exaggeration of the facts floating around. We have factious silencing of diverse viewpoints from within the "resistance" itself, alienating many potential allies and undermining fundamental American values. So, you know, democracy can be a check on power but it can also be a mob unto itself. #flawedhumanproblems

I left Rogue One thinking about the allure and glamour and horror of war; the bravery, the self-sacrifice, the purposefulness, the loss. I don't believe that a civil war is coming to our country, but I see in Rogue One the appeal of giving up everything to be the resistance, and with that appeal is also the danger that our conscience becomes obscured.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Threat of Opposition

Here is where I would like us to get as a culture, to a place where we can cease to see disagreement and opposition as threatening. 

I know that's a lot to ask; didn't Anakin strangle Padme because they wanted fundamentally different things for the Republic?

So, not being threatened by disagreement from people who oppose your ideas takes some trust that they're not going to Force Choke you if they get the chance, and that is absolutely hard.

However, I think it's better for our democracy and our sense of humanity if we can normalize that trust in our culture and give regular disagreement-driven dialogue a chance. 

This is what I loved about Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren appearing together on one show talking about the issues. Granted, it was utterly fruitless. No one changed their minds and fans of either media personality emerged convinced their side at pwned the convo. But whatever the reaction of their followers, those two individuals proved it is possible to disagree with someone over deeply emotional and value-laden issues and still be relatively blasé about it. Blasé in a good way. 

A friend of mine flipped out when she found out I believe Genesis is literal and historical. She wasn't sure she could have a close personal relationship with someone who so denied logic and science, things that to her are fundamental and non-negotiable. (For the record, I too am a fan of science and logic, but my roommate's experiences lead her to conclude they are incompatible with a literal reading of Genesis. And I disagree, but I see why she would conclude as such, and thus I do not find her perspective threatening.)

To her credit, she has since calmed down and decided that our friendship is not nullified by my crazy beliefs, but this interaction was illustrative for me of just how difficult it is to agree to disagree when the stakes are so high. 

Another friend of mine is in denial that behaviors I label as sexist are indeed a bad thing. I shared a whole spectrum of experiences I've had--being patronized in the workplace, being felt up at bars, being let off easy during traffic stops--but for each anecdote the response was the same: "It's all in your head." Or, "That's not sexism, that's life." This was difficult for me to hear, especially because I don't consider myself a passive victim. How can someone who claims to care about you also say to your that your perspective is fabricated and that you deserve the bad things that happen to you? 

But don't you know it, that person is still my friend. No, we're not as close any more, but I am also acutely aware that while there are experiences which have brought my friend to a perspective that is hostile to my own perspective, he is still a person. Though he does not appreciate that his perspective diminishes my humanity, he is still himself a human, a work in progress, an image bearer. It's not easy to have grace and trust in these disagreements, but it's worth it if it keeps both of us humble.

And I should offer the caveat that I don't necessarily believe it is a good and desirable thing for ALL people to seek harmony with those who deny their identity. I see the pain caused to my gay friends by families that tell them, "We love you but we don't support you." I feel deep offense when acquaintances express support for anti-miscegenation laws or the dissolution of native governments. I get that for many people those relationships may not be worth it. 

But I am also inspired by generations of black folks who have worked inside a system that was not structured for them, and who labored alongside ignorant white folks that did not care about their struggles, but spoke out or sought progress that their humanity would not be ignored. And when white feminists weren't there for civil rights, women of color were still there for feminism. There is so much power in that magnanimity. And there's a lot more common ground up for grabs than we realize.

Maybe I've gotten a bit astray from my original point, because in all reality, for most in my circle, the conservative/liberal friction is not one of identity but of ideology. My peeps are mostly white, middle-class, evangelical, and millennials. No one is telling that cohort that their identities don't matter. So disagreements of ideology, of liberal versus conservative, are considerably easier, to my mind. And maybe I'm a naive moderate for saying so, but I don't think conservativism and liberalism are always mutually exclusive. A car needs both gas and breaks. Americans need both freedom and equality. Our country needs both fiscal responsibility and a social safety net. 

So if I can find it in my heart to move past the misguided rhetoric, warped statistics, cherrypicked anecdotes, and fundamentally different values of the other side, I can appreciate that there must be another way to get a long. Self-righteousness is a terrible poison, and interaction through disagreement bring the antidote of humility.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

I don't want to despair (because in my Jesus I always have hope).
I don't want to condone (because where there has been wrongdoing there must be justice).
I don't want to minimize (because my own isolation from the problem does not excuse me from caring about those who are indeed affected).
I don't want to dramatize (because premature alarm levies its own form of damage upon the public conscience).

But truth be told maybe things are both worse than I think but better than I deserve.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Last First Day

A wave of anxiety overtook me last night, I'm sorry to say. I was (am!) nervous about what tomorrow would bring, my last first day of school. Will I sit for a few minutes in the completely wrong classroom? Will I get cold called and not know the answer? Or will I talk too much and get labeled a gunner? (Will I ever stop worrying about such trifling things?)

But there is the thrill of it, too. I learned so many interesting things in just the first hour of my day! Did you know, for example, that until just this past summer, the federal government had a monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes? That's right, the DEA controls a federally owned and operated facility at Ole Miss that grows, processes, and sells cannabis. Weird, right?

When this semester is through, I know that I will miss study sessions at Boston Common Coffee Co (with it's splatter-paint artwork featuring images like a cartoon unicorn-wolf hybrid with its ribs showing and the outline of Rhode Island), and looking out from the fifth floor commons over he Park Street Church steeple and the State House's golden dome, and eating that amazing combination of pickle and rye grilled cheese from the Sargent caf. I will miss being part of an academic community, for all its warts and bruises.

But I know that I will not miss having to juggle work and school and clinic, I will not miss completing meandering writing assignments and 24-hour finals, I will not miss this weird tension I still feel sometimes between wanting to be thought a smartypants by my peers and wanting to just keep my head down and get my work done. I will not miss the panic of seeing someone walk into the classroom wearing a suit and wondering what interviews are happening that I am not participating in. I will not miss FAFSA.

Law school has been so different from undergrad, and I know I will miss it less, but change is a'coming, and that's always its own thing.