Fireworks

Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans! 601px-US-GreatSeal-Reverse-Lossing1856

Here’s to liberty, equality, and fraternity! Here’s to education and intellectualism! Here’s to science and reason! Here’s to truth and justice! Here’s to tolerance, multiculturalism, and diversity! Here’s to working for the public good!

Here’s to the idea that all people are created equal and have the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! Here’s to the Enlightenment!

War and Peace

Bombs exploded in Boston today. (More bombs were found and taken care of before they could go off, thankfully.) An eight-year-old boy was killed. When something like this happens, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with anxiety, fear, depression, and anger. It’s all too easy to forget about all the days when something like this doesn’t happen. And it’s tragically easy to fall into a cycle of responding to violence with more violence. Or violent rhetoric, at the very least.

But here’s what I think. The solution to events like this, and to patterns of violence and terror, is not more guns or more bombs. We need less talk of violence and revenge, less talk of killing to defend our loved ones, not more. Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association recently said,  “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And that’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Bullies need to be stood up to, but if you think you can stop violence with more violence–or even the threat of violence–you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If bravery means fighting with guns, knives, and bombs, than I’m proud to be a coward rather than a killer. If it’s naive to think we can defeat violence with nonviolence, than I’m happy to be naive.

What we need is more creativity, more compassion, more intelligence. It would be twee to suggest that we can solve all of the violence in the world with hugs and songs, and I certainly don’t believe that. But it’s bloody foolish to think you can solve violent problems with warfare. I’ll place my bets on tolerance, compassion, mercy, humor, and passive resistance. I’ll take my lessons from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, and Charlie Chaplin. I truly do believe that there is more good, more love, more peace, more construction in humanity than there is evil, hatred, violence, destruction. As Patton Oswalt wrote today, “We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.”

Priorities

Things I think are more important than military build-up, war, and invasion:

  • Keeping the poor housed and fed.
  • Providing affordable/free medical care for all citizens.
  • Making sure all public schools are well-funded and teachers are paid well.
  • Helping unemployed people find new jobs and get training the might need for new careers.
  • Making sure important government agencies that ensure the welfare of our citizens–like OSHA and the EPA–are well-funded.
  • Shoring up our infrastructure of roads, bridges, etc.
  • Building high-speed rail networks across the country.
  • Developing renewable energy resources to replace coal and oil.
  • Developing new technologies and building vehicles for space exploration.

Yes, defending our nation is important. And yes, wars are sometimes necessary. But the last war that was actually necessary ended 68 years ago. I think we spend too much on weapons and far, far too much on unnecessary wars and invasions. We should be spending more on peaceful technologies and social welfare that benefits all of our citizens.

Begging for Change

If you haven’t watched Amanda Fucking Palmer‘s TED talk, watch it right the hell now:

OK? Good. Now.

I have a whole lot of thoughts about this, not all of them potentially coherent, but I’ll try and be as sensical (you know, the opposite of nonsensical) as I can be.

I love Amanda’s talk, I find it incredibly inspirational, but I don’t think it’s all that revolutionary or new. (And I suspect she’d agree with me on this.) People have been giving their art and craft away–or exchanging it for things other than money, or just asking for handouts for support–for a long, long time. Charging money for art and craft, based on that art and craft being labor, isn’t something inherent to art and craft. It might be inherent to capitalism, but capitalism is really fucking weird, and I’m not really capitalism’s biggest fan. As Hank Green said in response to Amanda’s talk, “Why is it weird to get rich off of gifts, but normal to get rich off of exploitation of need?” Although I’ve wrestled with my own embarrassment over asking people for money, I don’t think there’s anything shameful in asking for money. There’s nothing shameful in begging. Hell, every advertisement you see on TV, every tweet an author posts that links to their book on Amazon, is a form of begging. Why is one form of begging better than another? Why is one more shameful?

Personally, I’d rather give my art and craft away, even if it means I can’t make a living solely from doing it. I’d rather find ways to let people give me money rather than find ways to make them give me money. Or as Cory Doctorow put it, I’d rather think like a dandelion. But then, the idea that my art and craft were labor that needed to be valued by money has never really appealed to me.

But of course, we live in a huge, complicated society, and if you want to go the commercial route, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that (and plenty of ways in which that path is supported and encouraged). And happily, as Amanda says in her talk, the ways in which we can exchange art and craft differently are expanding. Change is good. Variety is good.

That’s all, folks!

Playing the Free Speech Card

DC Comics has hired SF author Orson Scott Card to write a Superman digital comic. This has launched a lot of vocal protest and sparked petitions for DC to not employ Card. I’ve signed a petition and have spoken out against Card online. Why? It’s not for his views on homosexuality, abhorrent as I may find them. It’s that Card is on the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that actively works to deny equal civil rights to homosexuals. I have friends and family members who are LGBT, so NOM’s actions have a direct impact on the lives of people I care about. Card is very open about his views and his activities, so as far as I’m concerned, if DC hires him, they’re complicit in Card’s work against equal civil rights for LGBT people.

You may disagree with me. That’s fine. But in the arguments I’ve seen defending DC and Card, I’ve seen some misconceptions, so let’s get a few things straight.

The US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Absolutely. It does not, however, guarantee you a microphone and it doesn’t guarantee you freedom from the consequences of your speech. (In fact, certain kinds of speech are illegal precisely because of their effects. You can’t lie in advertisements. You can’t commit libel or slander.) Asking for DC Comics to not hire Card is not censorship. Neither is petitioning advertisers to pull their support of people like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. If the government were to silence Card (or Limbaugh or Beck), that would be censorship. But the First Amendment in no way guarantees Card be paid for what he writes, what he says, or what he does. DC–or any other business–has every right to not hire Card for his views or his actions. (Similarly, neither Rush Limbaugh nor Glenn Beck are in any way guaranteed a voice in popular media. If no one would hire them because of the things they say, that would be their tough luck. That’s not censorship, that’s a free market.)

This does not mean I advocate every company firing anyone who espouses an unpopular view. It’s not so sweeping as that. This is an individual case, and as I said, it’s not about what Card thinks or says, it’s about what he actually does. I would no more support DC hiring someone who was well-known for being active in fighting equal rights for women or people of color.

I will defend Card’s right to speak his mind with every fiber of my being. But I will not support his right to speak his mind without consequence and I will fight against him writing a character I believe embodies and supports the opposite of Card’s views. The character of Superman was created as someone who fights against oppression, bigotry, exploitation, inequality, and injustice. I expect DC Comics to live up to that, and I believe hiring Orson Scott Card goes against that legacy.

 

The Work Continues

No big surprise, but I’m very pleased with how the election turned out. Not only was Barack Obama elected for a second term, but the Democrats have a majority in the Senate, a number of women senators were elected or re-elected (including Elizabeth Warren, who I think is dynamite, and Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay female Senator), marriage rights were extended to same-sex couples in three more states, and an amendment opposing same-sex marriage was voted down in Minnesota. I don’t know what the next four years will bring, but I would like to see this election as a general repudiation of the reactionary politics of the far-right Tea Party and a sign that the U.S. is moving forward, socially and economically. The future is multiracial, multicultural, and multi-faith. I don’t see how the GOP can continue if it keeps itself the party of caucasian, socially conservative Christians.

More importantly, I don’t want to see the GOP continue forward as an obstructionist party, refusing to negotiate or give ground, working more to make the Democrats fail than to make the country as a whole succeed. I’m a democratic republican, and for a democratic republic to work, people have to work together. It’s not always going to be smooth and easy, but that’s the way it goes.

And it’s not just elected officials. Everyone on the right, the left, and in the middle has to work at this. In his victory speech last night, President Obama said,

The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

It’s not just America. Any democratic republic is messy and complicated. It requires constant work. It requires you to think about and talk about politics all the time, not just every election cycle. It requires compromise, negotiation, diplomacy, argument, debate, participation, and activism. If you want to live in a democratic republic, you have to be involved. If that seems too difficult, if politics is something you don’t want to be a part of, if you’re not willing to put the work in, life in a democratic republic may not be right for you. If you want to sit back and let other people make decisions for you, go live in a monarchy, a dictatorship, a theocracy. In a democratic republic, you have to get your hands dirty and you have to deal with people you may not like. You have to be willing to give as much as you get, to not always get your way, but to speak up and make your voice heard.

Let’s get back to work, people!

Walking on the Moon

Neil Armstrong died today.

I was born about 6 months too late to actually be around for the Apollo moon landing. My mother watched it on TV while she was pregnant with me. But the moon landing–and Neil Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”–had a powerful, profound effect on me growing up. I would look up at the night sky, look up at the moon and stars and planets, and dream of going out into space. The shuttle missions of the ’80s, even with the horrible Challenger explosion, made the human race’s expansion out into space seem inevitable.

And then NASA’s budget got reduced and reduced as the US focused more on conflict and war and less on science and exploration. It seems now like we’ll never come back from that, even after all of the fanfare of the Curiosity landing on Mars. There are “terrorists” to fight and “Axis of Evil” countries to protect ourselves from, and our politicians seem ever more directed away from peaceful science and towards big business and the military.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of world do we want to live in?” There will always be bullies and people spoiling for a fight, but that doesn’t mean we have to continually build up our military forces and escalate conflicts. From subatomic particles to the outer boundaries of our galaxy and beyond, there’s a whole universe of mysteries to explore. Who do you want to vote into office, the politician who’s looking for war or the politician interested in peace and discovery? What kind of world do you want to work towards, a world of violence and war or a world of experimentation and exploration?

Me? I want to live in a world where children look up at the night sky and dream of going out into the unknown. I want to live in a world where we build and explore and experiment, not fight and destroy. It’s a world I’m willing to work towards. I don’t think it will be easy, but I absolutely think it will be worth it.

Rest in peace, Neil Armstrong. You actually went out into the dark and touched down on another world. And you’ve inspired me–and so many others–to try to do the same.