Damm Americans!

 Posted by on 14 April 2015 at 11:00 am  Culture
Apr 142015
 

Lately, I’ve been reading some cross-cultural comparisons — meaning, comparing contemporary American culture to various other cultures of the world — in preparation for my upcoming ATLOSCon talk on the role of philosophy in life. Such comparisons help illuminate the hidden assumptions and dispositions which influence the effect of philosophic principles on a person’s life.

I thought that I’d share this delightfully cantankerous gem: 17 Cultural Clashes This European Had in America. Here’s a bit:

3. SMILES MEAN NOTHING

When I meet Americans abroad, one of their biggest complaints are along the lines of “nobody smiles on Prague’s trams!” “That waitress was so rude to me! She didn’t even smile!”

Goddamnit America – I have the opposite complaint for you. You guys smile way too much. It’s annoying! How can you tell when someone means it? And why the hell would a stranger doing a crossword puzzle on public transport want to look giddy?

When people smile in Europe it means something. For example, because Germans don’t go around looking like an American toothpaste commercial when I was with them and they smiled, it lit up the room – you know it’s genuine and you can’t help but smile back, because you are genuinely happy. You’ve shared a joke, or a funny story or you are in love etc.

But all the time? When you smile all the time in public it means nothing. Apparently a smile releases endorphins, but if your face is stuck that way I’m sure your dreams of a natural high will fade soon. I’d rather focus on trying to make my life better and have reasons to smile than lie to myself and the world.

Despite how surely I sound in this post, because complaining is the theme of the article, the fact that I vent when I mean it, means that when you see me happy you know I’m truly happy. And that is indeed a lot of the time :) But not all of it!

As someone who smiles even more than the average American… I can’t help but laugh!

Apr 082015
 

An overweight woman in an innocent moment at the gym became an object of laughter and derision on the internet. Her story — What it’s like to be laughed at on the Internet — is painful and heartbreaking and worth reading. Here’s a bit:

It’s not just the fat-bashing that hurts. Or the humiliation, the shaming, this last safe societal prejudice. All that is bad, of course. What really hurts, though, is how much the boys who took that photo of me “doing it wrong”—and the thousands of people who see it—will never know.

They’ll never know how experiences just like this began dividing me—early—from my body. That the taunts of “fatty” and “blubber” and “lardass” when I was 6 made me stand at my bedroom window and wonder if it was a long enough way down to the ground; that when the kids at lunch poked my stomach with pencils to see if I’d deflate, I honestly wished I would, with a long, satisfying “sssssss”; that by the time Ms. Gleby was leading my entire sixth grade Phys Ed class in laughing at me, I no longer had a body at all. I was a floating head, and I was determined to think of my physical form as a brick that I had to suffer the inconvenience of dragging around. My body wasn’t me. It was despicable. It was nothing.

The people who laugh at this picture won’t know that every jeer, every “mooooo,” and every “sorry, no fatties” made me more and more successful at being bodiless.

And they won’t know how scary it’s been to decide to maybe make a different choice.

They’ll never know what came before that treadmill-sitting moment: 80 minutes of aerobic exercise. They’ll never know how long it took me to feel worthy of motion, worthy of joining a gym, how long it took me to decide that moving actually felt good, and then the discovery that this was the way to reunite my floating head with the rest of me, to feel my body at its most basic, a biochemical machine that supports me. That’s what I am on a treadmill. That’s what bodies are. They are not appearance. They are purpose. It’s so hard—irrationally hard—to remember that. The world makes it hard to remember.

Hear, hear.

Devaluing Marriage

 Posted by on 21 January 2015 at 10:00 am  Business, Conservatism, Culture, GLBT, Love/Sex, Marriage
Jan 212015
 

This news doesn’t surprise me… but I wish I’d predicted it! From Once, Same-Sex Couples Couldn’t Wed; Now, Some Employers Say They Must:

Until recently, same-sex couples could not legally marry. Now, some are finding they must wed if they want to keep their partner’s job-based health insurance and other benefits.

With same-sex marriage now legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia, some employers that formerly covered domestic partners say they will require marriage licenses for workers who want those perks.

“We’re bringing our benefits in line, making them consistent with what we do for everyone else,” said Ray McConville, a spokesman for Verizon, which notified non-union employees in July that domestic partners in states where same-sex marriage is legal must wed if they want to qualify for such benefits.

Employers making the changes say that since couples now have the legal right to marry, they no longer need to provide an alternative. Such rule changes could also apply to opposite-sex partners covered under domestic partner arrangements.

The news doesn’t surprise me because it confirms my long-held view that companies offering benefits to unmarried people living together was largely a way to provide benefits to same-sex couples. And that’s part of why I think that conservatives have done more to devalue marriage than anyone else in recent decades. By opposing gay marriage, they encouraged people to view living together as basically the same as marriage. But… it’s not.

If you want to know why I think that, take a listen to this question about the value of marriage from the 17 February 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. The question asked:

What is the value of marriage? How is it different from living with a romantic partner in a committed relationship? Is marriage only a legal matter? Or does it have some personal or social benefit?

You can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:

For more details, check out the question’s archive page. The full episode – where I answered questions on the value of marriage, antibiotic resistance in a free society, concern for attractiveness to others, semi-automatic handguns versus revolvers, and more – is available as a podcast too.

Progress of Black America?

 Posted by on 1 December 2014 at 2:00 pm  Culture, Racism
Dec 012014
 

I didn’t find much of interest in this interview with Chris Rock, but this bit is quite interesting:

So, to say Obama [as the first black president] is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

That strikes me as substantially correct, as far as racism goes.

Progress!

 Posted by on 28 October 2014 at 2:00 pm  Culture, Law, Marriage
Oct 282014
 

This XKCD graph on the legal recognition and social acceptance of interacial marriage versus gay marriage is fascinating.

As the alt text says, “People often say that same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 60s. But in terms of public opinion, same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 90s, when it had already been legal nationwide for 30 years.”

And… HOLY *%@*!&*, a majority of people disapproved of interracial marriage until the mid 1990s? Sometimes, it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come as a culture in my own lifetime.

Americans Taste Exotic Asian Food

 Posted by on 25 August 2014 at 2:00 pm  Culture, Food, Funny
Aug 252014
 

This is hysterical — Americans Taste Exotic Asian Food:

When Traditions Go Awry

 Posted by on 31 July 2014 at 11:00 am  Culture, Sports
Jul 312014
 

This article on the tradition of a golfer who gets a hole-in-one buying drinks for buddies (if not the whole club) — Why Golfers Buy Hole In One Insurance — is quite fascinating. Because of the cost involved, the tradition has given rise to insurance against seeming good luck. But it’s also a bit sad:

Other golfers admit to fearing the wrath of a spouse if they treat the clubhouse, and therefore having agreed with golfing buddies to slip away quietly without telling the clubhouse if anyone scores a hole in one. It’s a rather sad result of the tradition — instead of celebrating a hole in one like the once in a lifetime accomplishment that it is (the odds of getting a hole in one, very roughly, are 12,500 to 1 for an amateur and 7,500 to 1 for a professional), it pushes golfers to slink away like they crashed a golf cart in a sand trap.

If your cultural traditions transform a fabulous bit of good luck into a financial calamity… it’s time to change those traditions!

Jun 122014
 

Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers:

In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam.

Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.

More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.

That — and the abuse, neglect, and ostracism suffered by these children detailed in the article — is a painful reminder of the evil of stigmatizing children born out of wedlock. Speaking generally, raising children is difficult and demanding work — mentally, emotionally, and financially. I see the value of bearing and raising children within the stability and support of a family — particularly in less wealthy cultures where women don’t have the resources or capacity to raise and support a child on their own. Yet that’s a far cry from demanding that any pregnant woman marry her sperm donor, regardless of his suitability as a husband. And it’s light years away from subjecting innocent children to the torture of abandonment, neglect, abuse, ostracism, and perhaps death because their life is the result of religious sin.

This is one of the many ways in which western culture is so much better than it was, even just 100 years ago. I don’t want to go back!

Update: The burial location wasn’t a septic tank, as this Forbes article explains, but instead a kind of mass grave:

Today the Irish Times has published a reader’s letter that has further undercut the story. Finbar McCormick, a professor of geography at Queen’s University Belfast, sharply admonished the media for describing the children’s last resting place as a septic tank. He added: “The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many part of Europe.

“In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries…..Such tombs are still used extensively in Mediterranean countries. I recently saw such structures being constructed in a churchyard in Croatia. The shaft was made of concrete blocks, plastered internally and roofed with large concrete slabs.

That’s all well and good, but not really essential to the point that I’m making about the story. Honestly, I don’t care too much about how the dead bodies were treated: I care about how living people — pregnant girls, mothers, and children — were treated. That’s not under dispute.

“If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say”

 Posted by on 10 June 2014 at 7:00 pm  Culture, Funny
Jun 102014
 

If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say:

Paul says this stuff to me all the time! :-)

The Power of Speaking Out

 Posted by on 10 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Bullying, Culture, Ethics, Racism
Jan 102014
 

Paul sent me this video, knowing that I’d like it. He was right!

Update: I just fixed the video, so that it works now!

I love to see people speaking out against such racist bullying, even when remaining silent would be the easier course. Bullies are cowards at heart. They’ll almost always back down in face of firm opposition, which is part of why it’s so important to say that they’re wrong, clearly and openly. Also, speaking out against a bully helps the victims: they don’t feel alone and under attack from all sides. That’s why I liked the first woman most of all: her immediate focus was to protect the victim from these vicious comments by letting her know that she rejected the bully’s racism.

Videos like this one give me hope for the future of American culture. Americans are concerned about justice — and many will not stand idly by while another person is unjustly victimized. We just need to figure out how to reach them with rational principles in ways that make sense to them.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha