A WORD TO THE WISE

Polls indicate that there is a very real chance Donald Trump will be our next president.

There are millions of (mostly white) working class people voting for him, and I am reasonably sure that somewhere between half and 3/4 of those voters have either gained access to healthcare themselves since the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was passed, or have friends or family members who have gained access to healthcare since the ACA was passed.

The ACA makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny funding to customers based on pre-existing conditions or to cut off funding whenever they think it stops being cost-effective.

GOP propaganda about the ACA included a lot of nonsense about “death panels” and how Obama was going to pull the plug on your grandma and all sorts of crazy stuff. In reality – a place many Americans do not spend very much of their mental lives, unfortunately – insurance companies already had “death panels” cutting people off from funding, prematurely ending vital treatment and often prematurely ending the lives of insurance customers who had been paying monthly premiums for decades.

The ACA did not create “death panels,” the ACA banned them.

Donald Trump plans to repeal the ACA as soon as he is in office. Many Trump voters will lose access to health care and die if this happens. This is simply a fact.

Here’s the thing: if that happens – and I really hope it doesn’t, but if Trump is elected it will – people like Hillary Clinton, people like Bernie Sanders, these people will continue to fight – as they have for decades – to help Americans get access to the healthcare they need.

And while I will support them in this endeavor in any way I can, I would like to offer a word to the wise:

If Trump gets elected, and you voted for him (or for that matter if you voted for Johnson or Stein; neither of them have any actual chance of winning, and news flash, geniuses, the Libertarian party is just as ideologically opposed to the ACA as the GOP), and you or someone you know loses their health coverage…

Well first off, you’d have my sympathies.

And second, if this unfortunate eventuality occurs, and you choose to lay blame for the fact that you or someone you know can’t get healthcare at the feet of President Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or the Democrats in general…

You’d better fucking not do so within earshot (or eyeshot) of me.

Have a great day! If Trump gets elected, we Americans may not have very many great days left.

Sincerely,

Michael Nathan Walker

TO GARY JOHNSON SUPPORTERS EVERYWHERE: “GEAUX SAINTS”

If it seems like I am picking on Gary Johnson and his supporters a lot lately, well, yeah, I am. I am picking on Gary Johnson and his supporters lately. This and other such blog posts aren’t directed at any one individual, for the record, and if I didn’t feel it to be of, well, pressing importance to write things like this, I wouldn’t be writing them.

Last night, the world tuned in to the presidential debate between the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Anyone with a third grade grasp of the English language could easily see that one of those two candidates, to be blunt, knew her shit, and the other wasn’t even sure about what position he held on several issues.

Giving Trump the benefit of a (totally undeserved) doubt, let’s just say that he forgot about when he supported the Iraq war. Let’s just say he forgot about that time he claimed global warming was a sham designed by China to stifle American productivity. Let’s just give Trump the benefit of a doubt and say every bald-faced lie he told during last night’s debate was actually a series of honest mistakes.

Let’s assume he wasn’t lying. If that’s the case, Donald Trump must be suffering from a significant case of dementia or some other memory-erasing brain condition. At any rate, whether he’s a bald-faced liar or just really confused, he has no business trying to run anything, much less the greatest, most powerful nation on the planet.

If it seems like I am picking on Johnson and his supporters, well, like I said, yeah, I am. The ideological gap between the average Trump supporter and the average Clinton supporter such as myself is far too wide to even attempt to bridge. At this point, Trump could start biting the ears off of puppies on the debate stage and it wouldn’t sway a Trump voter towards Clinton.

So I am picking on you guys for a reason. I am picking on you because I think every one of you — no matter how much you personally “hate” Hillary Clinton for whatever (imaginary) reason — would agree that she is by far the better major party candidate.

That brings me to something I really want to impress upon Gary Johnson supporters, as well as Jill Stein supporters:

There is no eventuality in which anyone but Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becomes our next president. Not one.

One of those two people is going to be the next president.

I am not a sports fan, and I honestly had to look this up, but (pauses to use Google) the last Super Bowl was a contest between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos.

Never at any point after it was determined that these two teams were competing in the Super Bowl was it possible for any other team to win the Super Bowl.

“Go Panthers!” says a random person at a Super Bowl party.

“Go Broncos!” says another.

“Geaux Saints!” said nobody.

🙂

The difference here is that, neverminding the fact that the Super Bowl has no actual influence on the well-being of the country or on international politics, the people who are metaphorically shouting “Geaux Saints!” in this election are going to actually have an effect on its outcome. If this were happening at a Super Bowl party, I’d just ignore you, or possibly even join in with your cheering for a team that isn’t even actually playing — I would only be at a Super Bowl party for the beer and food, seeing as how I have zero interest in professional sports — but since this sort of cheering is going to have an actual tangible effect on the country and the world I live in, well, here I am.

Gary Johnson is not going to win this election. Gary Johnson is not going to be the next president.

Sorry to break it to you, in case you didn’t already know that.

Gary Johnson’s goal is to secure enough electoral votes to prevent Trump or Clinton from getting the minimum amount. And he very well may succeed, with your help.

What would happen then? Congress would decide whether Trump or Clinton would be president.

I am sure there is some sort of convoluted Libertarian argument as to why letting Congress pick the next president is a good thing, so feel free to expound upon that in the comments.

It’s beyond ironic that this is Johnson’s stated goal, however, considering his stance on limiting the power of the federal government: if Johnson “succeeds” in reaching his goal, the federal government will be who chooses the next President, not the people.

Libertarian philosophy is pretty wonky, honestly. In all honesty, I used to consider myself a “libertarian.” I mean, I am pro-personal freedom. Like Gary Johnson, I support the right of people to live their lives the way they want to. I support the right of people to marry anybody they damn well want to. I support decriminalization of illegal drugs. I support the right of people to do whatever the hell they want to, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else.

Here’s where libertarian thought — and the policies of Gary Johnson — start to get wonky:

Let’s start with legalized pot. Gary Johnson wants to legalize pot. Far too many people are sitting in prison for cheefing on the reefer and stuffing their faces with Cheetos. That’s not right, Gary Johnson says, and I agree with him.

Here’s what’s wonky: Gary Johnson also supports the private prisons that have government quotas to fill where these Cheeto-munching nonviolent potheads are locked up. He supports them because libertarian philosophy is pro-“free market” and because he believes that public entities like prisons are better off run by private entities that are trying to make a profit.

Gary Johnson is also pro-choice. Like me, he supports the right of any woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Like me, Gary Johnson believes that this right to choose is a matter of personal freedom, and it shouldn’t depend on the approval of anyone else.

Here’s what’s wonky: Gary Johnson does not support the federal government’s ability to tell individual states whether abortion should be legal or not. He wants to leave that sort of thing up to states, because in wonky libertarian political philosophy, individual state governments are sacrosanct and the federal government is an evil oppressor.

The same thing goes for marriage equality. The same thing goes for civil rights. Gary Johnson pays lip service to these things, but he is against the federal government enforcing these things.

He’s playing both sides of the fence, folks.

And I am gonna toss one more barb at his supporters — all of you, not just the ones I know personally — you guys are also playing both sides of the fence by supporting him.

No matter which one of the two people from last night’s debate gets elected — and it’s gonna be one of them, like it or not — you’ll get to puff your chest out and say “well I voted for Gary Johnson!” any time either one of them does something anyone doesn’t like.

One of the two viable candidates is qualified. One isn’t.

Come back to reality, people. Help us elect the qualified candidate.

Thanks for reading.

I AM A DEMOCRAT, JUST IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T FIGURED THAT OUT YET

GOP: “We should deregulate business. All these environmental restrictions are stifling profits!”

Libertarian Party: “We should deregulate business. All these environmental restrictions are stifling profits! And also, let’s legalize weed!”

GOP: “Welfare is draining public funds! Those poor people are just lazy, that’s all!”

Libertarian Party: “Welfare is draining public funds! Those poor people are just lazy, that’s all! And also, let’s legalize weed!”

GOP: “We need to end big government. All this bureaucracy is keeping us from getting anything done!”

Libertarian Party: “We need to end big government. All this bureaucracy is keeping us from getting anything done! And also, let’s legalize weed!”

GOP: “I’m sick of political correctness. Everybody is too sensitive! Freedom of speech is important…unless you’re calling me a bigot, in which case you’re being totally unfair to me, even though I have not given any consideration whatsoever to your point of view!”

Libertarian Party: “I’m sick of political correctness. Everybody is too sensitive! Freedom of speech is important…unless you’re calling me a bigot, in which case you’re being totally unfair to me, even though I have not given any consideration whatsoever to your point of view! And also, let’s legalize weed!”

GOP: “Ayn Rand is the greatest author of all time! Poor people should bow down and worship the rich!”

Libertarian Party: “Ayn Rand is the greatest author of all time! Poor people should bow down and worship the rich! And also, let’s legalize weed!”

GOP: “Government is good when it gives me money! Government is bad when when it gives other people money!”

Libertarian Party: “Government is good when it gives me money! Government is bad when it gives other people money! And also, let’s legalize weed!”

GOP: “Weed is bad!”

Libertarian Party: “Weed is b–, I mean, I like weed, and I am an individual wholly disconnected from society, and I am special and unique, and one man’s freedom ends where another’s begins, and even though my actions often hinder the freedoms of others, thus rendering the previous platitude completely and utterly moot, I will do whatever the hell I want to, to hell with the environment and society! Your freedom ends where it starts to be an annoyance to me, and if you don’t like it go fuck yourself, because freedom — MY uninhibited freedom — is all that’s important! And also, let’s legalize weed! We can make scads of money off of it! We can legalize it here in our state, with a few restrictions, of course (government is good when it helps us, remember!) and support private prisons that incarcerate out of state people who buy our quasi-legal weed in our state and take it home to smoke! We can make money selling weed to them, and make money when they get arrested for possession of it!”

GOP: “That’s genius! You Libertarians are a lot like us!”

Libertarian Party: “How dare you! We are nothing like you stuffy old codgers!”

GOP: “Whatever you say, kid. Can we at least agree that the Democrats, with all their stupid social programs that benefit the environment, the economy, international relations, veterans, LGBT people, minorities, women, public school kids, college students, teachers, and people who aren’t already wealthy, are evil monsters that hate freedom?”

Libertarian Party: “I agree! The Democrats are evil monsters that hate freedom! And also, let’s legalize weed!”

GOP: “Look, kid, if you get caught with it, your wealthy parents are just going to bail you out anyway. Why do you want to legalize weed so much? Drug laws don’t really apply to people like you to begin with.”

Libertarian Party: “…I wanna make money off of it.”

GOP: “That’s my boy!”

WOOP WOOP

There’s been a lot of talk lately about police in the USA. One recent conversation came about following the mass shooter in Dallas who targeted police officers.

And yes, the man was black, but no, he was not involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

The Dallas chief of police made the suggestion that #BlackLivesMatter protesters who were concerned about predominantly white officers policing predominantly black neighborhoods should sign up for their local police force.

This suggestion was met with mixed responses. Some people seemed to think it was a good idea. If people from specific neighborhoods became police officers in those neighborhoods, there would be more openness and dialogue between the police and the people they are obligated to serve and to protect.

I think that argument has some merit. If every neighborhood, town, and city in the country had friendly police who not only get along with the local people but also play an active role in their communities above and beyond their duties as police officers (think Mayberry, think Andy Taylor, think Barney Fife), violent conflict between the police and the public might — *might* — occur less frequently.

Not everyone agrees with that line of reasoning. Some people maintain that it is not necessarily the police per se that are the problem, the problem is the policing. Many studies have shown that wealthy neighborhoods — specifically wealthy white neighborhoods — are simply not policed the same way that poor neighborhoods — specifically poor black neighborhoods — are policed.

If people from poor black neighborhoods become police, according to people who opposed the Dallas police chief’s suggestion, that’s not solving the very real problem of disproportionate policing, it’s maintaining it.

I see the merit in this latter argument also. And this argument doesn’t rely on unrealistic ideas from classic sitcoms, to be blunt.

Before I type anything else, I would like to state unequivocally that I have nothing but respect for the many upright, honorable police men and women in our country. Taking it upon oneself — *sincerely* taking it upon oneself — to protect and serve the public and maintain law and order is one of the most noble things any American can do.

I would also like to state, however, that there are very few things in the world that I consider more vile and unforgivable than corrupt police officers. These wastes of flesh — not to mention public funds — do not protect and serve, they murder, they rape, they supply drugs to drug dealers in exchange for a cut of profits, they ruin lives as well as entire communities through their abuse of authority.

I am not making these things up, for the record. Anyone who keeps up with national news — even casually — knows all too well that this sort of thing happens quite frequently in our country.
For anyone reading this — especially upright police officers — please don’t think that I am writing about these things in an attempt to demonize all police officers or to encourage hostility towards police officers. I most certainly am not.

I am writing about these things because these things are a legitimate problem in our society. And yes, I have a few suggestions that I feel might help the situation. These suggestions would not magically fix everything, but I think they would help.

I do not mean this disrespectfully toward anyone currently employed in law enforcement, but I think a very good place to start in solving these problems would be to make it much more difficult to become a police officer.

Put simply, not everyone is cut out to be a police officer. The vast majority of people do not possess the strength of character, level-headedness, and personal skills necessary to be an effective police officer. And again, I don’t mean this disrespectfully toward anyone currently employed in law enforcement, but hardly a week goes by where there isn’t a story about a police officer shooting someone under questionable circumstances.

People who shoot first and ask questions later should not be police officers. To be sure, there are many situations that arise where it is necessary for a police officer to shoot a criminal, especially if that criminal is shooting at the police. But far too many unarmed people — unarmed *citizens* who are legally and constitutionally entitled to be not only treated fairly but also *protected and served* by the police — are shot and killed by people who should never have been given a badge and a gun in the first place.

That’s my first suggestion: make it harder to become a police officer. I am sure that there are psychological tests in place already; I say make them more intensive and thorough.

If an applicant displays tendencies toward panicking in tense situations, that applicant shouldn’t be given a gun.

If an applicant displays tendencies toward sociopathic behavior, that person should not only be denied a gun but also escorted out of city hall post-haste. Anyone who would knowingly bring harm to others for personal gain should not be given one iota of the public’s trust.

And perhaps most importantly, if an applicant displays the slightest bit of racial prejudice, that applicant should not be given a job on any police force. Police are supposed to protect and serve everyone, not just people of a certain skin color.

“Hold on,” many people may be thinking. “Not many people want to be police officers to begin with. If we make it harder to be a police officer, won’t we likely be reducing the number of police officers on duty?”

If anyone thought that, I would advise them to reevaluate my first suggestion after they read my second:

Increase pay and benefits for the police officers who make it through the more difficult screening process. Not only that, make sure that all police departments across the country are fully funded.

A big part of disproportionate policing is (arguably) a direct result of economics. Underfunded police departments all too often rely on revenue from minor offenses, and not only that (i.e. fines stemming from minor offenses), but also on fines for being unable to pay the previous fines on time. These fines — for things like minor traffic offenses — affect people from different economic strata disproportionately: for someone making minimum wage, a hundred-dollar traffic ticket is is a significant blow to their finances, and if they have to make the decision whether to pay a hundred dollars for parking in the wrong place or paying their rent, well, they are likely to use that money to pay their rent. Which leads to an increased fine, or maybe an additional criminal charge, or maybe even jail time.

For a person on a middle class salary — and I mean “middle class,” not “just above the poverty line but driving a nice car to keep up appearances” — a hundred bucks is nothing. Having to give a hundred bucks to the police department represents the difference between eating at Applebee’s next Saturday night instead of at that new upscale joint downtown that everybody at work has been talking about. It’s a minor inconvenience, I mean.

Police departments depend entirely too much on fines to generate revenue. Is my point. If they weren’t underfunded, police in poor neighborhoods would have far less incentive to hand out expensive tickets left and right to people who (often) might not even realize they are breaking the law.

Now don’t get carried away here: when I say “make sure that all police departments across the country are fully funded” I mean “fully funded” with regard to covering administrative costs, paying salaries, keeping police vehicles in working order, that sort of thing.

I do not — do *not* — mean “fully funded” with regard to police having military equipment and fancy cars and flipping tanks and things like that. Sure, fully equip and fund SWAT teams and things like that. But neighborhoods in the United States of America should not be treated as war zones. People in the USA who aren’t committing any violent crimes should have no reason to fear the police, but if a person grows up in a neighborhood that is fundamentally no different than an occupied city during wartime, they’re not likely to think of the police in a positive light.

And again, I am not — *not* — trying to demonize the police or rile up negative ideas about police in general. I am trying to help find a solution that benefits both the police and the citizens they are employed to serve and protect.

Police officers are — first and foremost — public servants. If any police officer doesn’t understand this and accept this and make this the center of their philosophy toward policing, that person has no business being a police officer.

I don’t think that’s a controversial statement.

Do you?

At the same time, if we, the citizens of our country, want to have an effective police force to serve and protect us, we should be willing to fund the police departments these officers work for, and not force them to depend of revenues from fundraising events and ridiculously expensive ticketing. They should have what they need to do their jobs and live comfortably.

I don’t think that’s a controversial statement, either.

Do you?

FREE SPEECH ADVOCACY: YER DOIN IT WRONG

Ever since I was a little kid, I have been a huge fan of the English language. I was read to quite a lot as a kid, and as a result I learned to read at a pretty early age.

There are a lot of highly literate and articulate people in my family, also, people who read quite a lot and express themselves clearly. So my fondness for English is, quite possibly, the result of not only my childhood but also the result of genetic predisposition.

I was a big fan of Mark Twain as a kid — I am still a big fan, FYI — and one of my favorite things about his writing is his use of dialect, specifically southern dialect. He often wrote the way people I grew up around talked. He was a master of not only proper American English (and yes, I realize that many people consider “proper American English” to be an oxymoron) but also of English as it was spoken by the common people.

He’s certainly not the only author who has used dialect in his (or her) writing. But he was the first author I read who used it, and seeing as how “southern dialect” is essentially my native language, well, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Mark Twain’s writing “spoke to me” as a kid.

English is an extremely malleable language. There are a wide range of accents and dialects among native English speakers, and English incorporates and absorbs foreign words and phrases into itself quite easily.

Bing thet eets fonnettick, itt ken awlsew bee undurstuud evin ef itt izunt writun propperlee.

But all joking aside, despite what my fellow native English speakers may think or believe, English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. A great many words have really weird and seemingly arbitrary spellings. And if someone learns English as a second language from, say, Canadian teachers, that person might have difficulty understanding what in the hell a person with a southern accent is saying.

When I taught ESL in Korea years ago, for example, some of my Korean coworkers couldn’t understand much of what I would say to them at first. As they got more used to my accent — and as my accent softened and transformed, temporarily, into something close to a Canadian accent (“Canadian accent” is probably the least accented accent, FYI) — they could understand me, but at first, it was difficult. They told me this after I had worked with them for quite some time.

As a sidenote, the Korean language is also phonetic — constructed with vowels and consonants and whatnot — and while it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to pronounce properly, reading the language phonetically is actually quite easy. Once you get past how different it looks from English, and once you see the pattern of how syllables are constructed, it’s not that hard to read. With only a few exceptions, Korean words are written as they are pronounced, and rules for pronunciation are pretty much constant.

English is not like that. It is absolutely brimming with weird pronunciations and weird spellings.

Such as the phrase “political correctness.” At a glance, the spelling of this phrase would seem to be obvious.

But it isn’t actually spelled the way it sounds. Here is the proper spelling of the term:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-I-N-G
O-T-H-E-R
P-E-O-P-L-E.

Weird, huh?

People who oppose “politically correct” language don’t know the proper spelling of the phrase. Don’t hold it against them, just teach them the proper spelling.

And yes, I realize Mark Twain’s writing was often the opposite of “politically correct.” But I would argue with anyone that he opposed racism and bigotry, and that his intent was to lampoon and discredit racism and bigotry, not to promote it.

Anti-PC “free speech advocates” are doing the opposite of this. They are lampooning and discrediting the victims of racism and bigotry, not the perpetrators of racism and bigotry.

And they get rrrrrreeeeeeaaaalllllly mad at you if you point that out to them.

“Freedom of speech” guarantees the right to say offensive things. Nobody disputes this.

It also guarantees the right to call someone who refuses to treat people with respect a bigot.

Some “free speech advocates” might tell you that calling someone a bigot is “silencing their voice.” What these “free speech advocates” refuse to acknowledge is that the intent — as in the only intent — behind bigoted language is to marginalize and silence people.

You can say whatever you want. You can use any vile (I like that word, 😉 ), disgusting language you want to, and nobody can stop you.

They can, however, tell you to shut the hell up. They are not “violating your right to free speech” if they do so, they are expressing their own right to free speech.

If you can’t wrap your head around that, you have no business calling yourself a “free speech advocate.”

You’re free to call yourself that, of course, but doing so is roughly equivalent to saying “I got an A in algebra in high school, so I am an expert in math.”

You have a poor understanding of the subject, is what I am saying to you.

Thank you for reading.

SEVEN PRIVILEGES I HAVE, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

I am going to attempt to explain something here today, something that is misrepresented and misunderstood in the media and by many people.

As with everything, I reserve the right to be wrong – please correct me if I am, but be prepared to bring your A-game, ha ha – and I take full responsibility for everything written here. That is to say, if any of this offends you, whoever you are, I accept that it was me who offended you, and not you being “too sensitive” or something.

I don’t get to decide for you what is and isn’t offensive. I am a strong advocate for “free speech,” and I understand that your right to free speech includes the right to be offended by what I write and express your offense however you want to.

Many people do not seem to understand this, but that’s another post, one I probably won’t write.

I am here today to briefly attempt to explain the concept of “privilege” as it applies to society in the USA today. I am not talking about another society somewhere else, I am talking about the USA.

First, I want to list the ways I am “privileged,” and explain why my being and having these things carries privilege.

Before that, if you read this in such a way that makes you think I feel guilty for being privileged in the ways I feel I am privileged, or that I am apologizing for the fact that I am privileged, that is not my intent, and to my view it would be an incorrect interpretation of this post. But interpret it however you like, I am not the boss of you, and I respect your right to free speech.

First: I am an American citizen. This fact gives me the privilege of all the freedoms and liberties that many people in the world are not given. It also gives me privilege over people living in the USA who are not citizens. It doesn’t mean I am “better” than them, it means that I have a legal status that they don’t, and by virtue of that legal status, I can do many things they can’t. I did precisely nothing whatsoever to earn this privilege; I was simply born here.

Second: I am male. Historically speaking, men have dominated most societies in the world, including society in the USA. “Sexism” was not coined as a term because men were being mistreated. And to be sure, women are much closer to complete equality nowadays, but lingering effects of decades of institutionalized sexism still exist. I am a feminist, and I will be until society is completely and totally equal with regard to how men and women are treated by it. I don’t expect to ever stop being a feminist, so don’t bother trying to talk me out of it.

Third: I am straight. That is to say, I am heterosexual. I came out of the womb liking women. I grew up liking women. I like women as an adult. With regard to feminism, I admit that it is sometimes difficult to be completely objective when I am interacting with women, at least in real life. If I find a woman attractive, sometimes things happen to me that I can’t help. My palms might sweat. My heart rate might increase. I might turn into a blubbering idiot and say something stupid. But, also with regard to feminism, I recognize that those reactions are my responsibility. If I make an idiot out of myself because an attractive woman makes me nervous, it’s not her fault I got nervous and made an idiot out of myself. But that’s sort of a tangent, I guess…with regard to privilege, my being straight prevents me from ever having to deal with any sort of harassment or hate speech or hate crimes that LGBT people often have to endure. For the record, I also support full equality regarding the right to marry whoever you damn well want to, and I also fully support the right for everyone to self-identify however they damn well want to. I don’t get to tell you who you are, and nobody else does, either.

Fourth: I am white. White people – people of European descent with white skin – are and always have been the dominant demographic with regard to race in the USA. White culture – books, movies, TV shows, style of dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. ad infinitum – is and always has been the norm in our country. I am not “apologizing” by admitting that. My basic philosophy on life – which I may have mentioned it to you at some point – is “it is what it is.” “White” is still, despite the fact that our culture is evolving and other perspectives are emerging, “normal.” It does not require any white person to feel “guilty” to acknowledge this, this is simply a fact. And yes, of course, some white people are more privileged than others. There are poor white people. Believe me, I know. I have never considered myself to be “poor” (more on this in a bit) but many people would. I know a lot of white people who grew up with more money than I did. I know a lot of white people who grew up with less. And I also know that there are many rich nonwhite people. I even know some of them personally. None of these things, however, negate the fact – the fact – that “white” has always been considered “normal” in our society. And none of those things negate the fact that we white people – no matter how much or how little money we have in the bank – benefit from that in ways that we might not even be aware of. Acknowledging that does not – despite what many talking heads will try to tell you – imply that you hate white people. I love white people. As a matter of fact, most of my favorite humans (my family) are all white. A lot of my favorite celebrities are white, a lot of my favorite musicians and actors are white, and a lot of my favorite writers are white. I am consciously (and constantly) trying to expand such lists, and to be completely honest, my reason for doing this boils down completely to selfishness and self-interest: I want to broaden my perspectives on things. I want to understand what life is like for people who aren’t me. I will never be able to completely understand, but I want to listen and I want to learn. And I realize that sometimes in order to actually listen to people with different perspectives, sometimes I just have to shut up and listen. My point of view is not necessary or needed in some conversations. Sometimes I quite simply don’t know what I am talking about. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be a nonwhite person, or a gay or transgender person. And so on. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I believe people should be treated equally no matter their demographic, but in order to do that – and I am talking mainly to my fellow straight white male people here – sometimes we just have to shut up and listen. Trust me, you will never learn anything from anyone by talking over them. This is something I have had to learn the hard way, as a matter of fact: I have been guilty of it. Not actually listening to people who aren’t just like me, I mean. And it was my loss, not theirs. They had nothing whatsoever to gain by me telling them what to think or how to act. I regret that I was too stubborn to just shut my mouth and listen.

Fifth: I grew up in a pretty stable home, and I come from a pretty stable and moderately successful family. Many people don’t have that luxury. This luxury – this privilege – was given to me. I didn’t do anything to earn it. I have benefited from the love and support of my family my entire life. That’s a privilege many people don’t enjoy. As a sidenote, one family-related privilege that I don’t have is that I never really had much of a relationship with my biological father. My parents divorced when I was around two, and my mom remarried. I was raised by her and my stepfather, whom I have been calling “daddy” my entire life. I always had a father figure, but I never really knew my actual father, as in the person whose genes formed roughly half of me in my mother’s womb. If you know or knew your father, you have a privilege – something you didn’t earn – that I don’t have and will never have. And please don’t think I hold this against you. I most certainly don’t. I am just trying to illustrate that many things we humans take for granted are things we didn’t actually earn.

Sixth: I was raised Protestant, which is the majority religion where I am from. I was never made to feel different because of my religion. That isn’t to say that this privilege – being part of yet another empowered majority – didn’t have drawbacks. I was misinformed and misled about certain scientific topics, for example. I was taught very bad things about LGBT people, things I grew up to find aren’t true at all. I am glad – infinitely glad – that I was able to mentally overcome the stupid shit I was taught in church as a child, nonetheless, my being a part of that – being part of the majority where I live – was a benefit to me at the time.

Seventh: I am not disabled or handicapped in any way. I can walk and run and jump (and do one and a half chin-ups) and do all manner of things that many people can’t. That’s right, folks: the ability to walk and run and jump is a privilege many people do not have. You didn’t earn those abilities, though it’s certainly true that you can augment those abilities through exercise and proper diet.

And anyways, I suppose seven is enough for now. There are many more, but in the interest of brevity, I will end the list at number seven.

Because if I haven’t been able to express to you what “privilege” means in social discourse by now, well, I might be wasting my time.

Thank you for reading.

THEY DON’T WANT YOU IN THEIR SAFE SPACE? YOU POOR BABY!


There’s a lot of talk about “safe spaces” nowadays on the internet. A “safe space” is somewhere that a person can go without fear of being harassed, essentially.

To be sure, some attempts at creating “safe spaces” are inappropriate. There have been a few examples of college students trying to make classes into “safe spaces” because the subject matter of the class itself makes them uncomfortable.

And to be sure, I am against this sort of “safe space” in a classroom. If the subject being studied makes a person uncomfortable, their being uncomfortable shouldn’t prevent other students from studying the subject. Most people agree on this, I am reasonably certain.

I would also venture that most people would also agree that a classroom should be free of harassment. Argumentation, yes, challenging of views, of course…but harassment really has no place in a classroom. And if a student can’t differentiate between having their views challenged and being harassed, they should leave the class.

This works both ways, however: if a person can’t challenge another person’s views without resorting to personal insults and harassment, they don’t belong in the classroom, either.

There was a fairly recent episode of South Park that dealt with the subject of “safe spaces.” It’s been cited many times by people who believe that the very concept of a “safe space” is a threat to freedom of speech, or something like that.

I saw that episode — which featured a musical number — and I laughed at it. I found it hilarious. But here’s the thing: that episode dealt with *online* “safe spaces.” Several celebrities hired one of the South Park kids (Butters, I think) to edit all criticism of them from their social media accounts, hide all negative press, etc. They wanted their online experience itself to be a “safe space.”

Which, in case you guys haven’t noticed, pretty much every social media platform has a “blocking” function. If someone is harassing you on social media, you can block them.

And, for that matter, if someone simply says something you don’t like, you can block them. Believe it or not — and I am talking mainly to the anti-“safe space” crowd here — some people actually use social media solely for socializing.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy. Why everyone doesn’t use websites designed for sharing pictures with your friends to promote political agendas and whatnot is truly a mystery. Nonetheless, some people simply want to look at pictures of their friends, read jokes, things like that.

My sarcasm in that last paragraph is also aimed at myself, definitely. I have been unfriended many times for posting too much political stuff, or blocked for saying something someone found offensive, or whatever.

But let me tell you something I have never done, something I wouldn’t do even if everyone on my friends list blocked me: I wouldn’t accuse anyone of stifling my right to free speech because they didn’t want to read my rants any more. I’d probably be aggravated, sure, but I would still be free to rant and rave about any subject I wanted to. Just because someone else doesn’t want to read it doesn’t mean my speech has been hindered.

If someone wants an online “safe space” that’s free of Michael Walker’s personal opinions, that’s their business. Personally, I prefer reading a wide variety of different opinions on things. I have a natural tendency to be argumentative, so that variety in opinion gives rise to many occasions to argue.

That’s just me, though. And if someone stops arguing the point and starts attacking me personally, I reserve the right to block them. I have only resorted to this a couple of times, and I most often unblock them after I have cooled off a little.

I don’t really view that as “creating a safe space,” I view that as removing someone from the conversation who has stopped bringing anything of value to the conversation. Any idea or opinion I publish on my Facebook page or elsewhere is up for debate. If you disagree with me on something, by all means say so.

But keep it clean, eh?

Back to the South Park episode about “safe spaces”: the “safe spaces” they were making fun of were *online* safe spaces. They weren’t really talking about “safe spaces” in real life, places people create where harassment — most often race or gender-based harassment — isn’t allowed.

I think it’s kinda silly when people talk about how these places are “attacking free speech.” I mean, prior to whichever group creating a “safe space” for themselves, the anti-“safe space” crowd didn’t have an opinion on that group at all. This group experiences harassment, they create a harassment-free environment for themselves, and all of a sudden, people who hadn’t given them a second thought are screaming “ERMAHGERD, MUH FREEDOM UH SPEECH IZ BEEIN TRAMPULLED!”

People who have no actual relation to this group at all, people who have no legitimate reason to interact with this group at all, now imagine that this small group of people who were trying to avoid being harassed are attacking their freedom of speech!

And they get online and talk about how these people are destroying freedom of speech, and they make impassioned arguments about how their freedom of speech is being stifled…

And they post articles from pundits decrying the death of free speech…

And they share offensive things just because they’re offensive, just to prove that nothing offends them, true champeens of free speech that they are…

And never once does anyone stop them.

Never once are they actually denied the right to express themselves.

Yet a small group of people — people who have been legitimately harassed and even threatened, not just online but in real life — want to make a place for themselves that is free from harassment.

Who is this actually a threat to?

Whose speech is actually being stifled?

A person shouting racial epithets?

A person making sexist comments?

A person making actual physical threats?

For reasonable people — which, in most instances, the anti-“safe space” crowd are reasonable — a group creating a real-life harassment-free “safe space” has no effect whatsoever.

None.

Nada.

Zilch.

The only way this sort of “safe space” affects you is if you were one of the people shouting racial epithets or threats or sexist comments, or whatever.

And if you were or are one of these people, guess what?

You weren’t bringing anything of value to the conversation anyway.

And now you’re “playing the victim” by pretending your freedom of speech has been stifled.

Yes, you are.

Poor you! The mean people in the safe space don’t want you to call them names anymore! Those meanies! They got sick of you threatening to hurt them because you don’t like them, and they banned you from their club!

You poor baby!

How dare they treat special little ‘ol you differently, just because you were being an asshole to them!

Poor you! All you did was shout insults and threats at them whenever they expressed an opinion! All you did was drown out their voice with ridicule and threats of physical harm!

And they don’t want you in their safe space!

They must hate free speech!

You love free speech! That’s why you were shouting insults and threats at them, stifling their free speech! Because freedom of speech is important!

Clearly you are the victim here.

Even though no tangible hindrance to your actual “freedom of speech” has been put in place…

Even though you didn’t really have an opinion on any group that created a “safe space” before they created the “safe space”…

Even though you’re still free to say whatever you want…

Clearly *you* are the victim here, O Noble Maker Funner Of Safe Spacers.

You poor thing!

 

CLINTON/SANDERS ’16

MANY DEMOCRATIC VOTERS, SIX MONTHS AGO:

“No matter what happens, guys, whoever gets nominated, we have to support them. Bashing Democrats is not productive. We shouldn’t make personal attacks on either Hillary or Bernie, and especially not on their supporters. If we do that, it pretty much guarantees that a Republican will get elected.”

 

MANY DEMOCRATIC VOTERS TODAY:

“I don’t trust Hillary! She’s in bed with Wall Street and big business!”

“Bernie is out of his mind! Look at him! That ‘wealth redistribution’ nonsense sounds good on paper, but he’s delusional if he thinks it’ll actually work!”

“Hillary is a hypocrite! She talks a good game about criminal justice reform, but her husband’s escalation of the ‘War On Drugs’ is a big reason why we need criminal justice reform in the first place! A person would have to be STUPID to think she’s changed her mind on any of that stuff!”

“Bernie simply does not have the experience to run for President. Hillary is WAY more experienced with international politics, and only an IDIOT would want Bernie Sanders representing our nation abroad!”

“HILLARY SUCKS!”

“BERNIE SUCKS!”

“HILLARY SUPPORTERS ARE PLAYING ‘IDENTITY POLITICS’!”

“BERNIE SUPPORTERS ARE BIGOTS!”

Etc., etc., etc.

 

MICHAEL NATHAN WALKER, SIX MONTHS AGO:

“It’s probably not gonna happen, but I would like to see Hillary and Bernie on the same ticket. They do have quite a few views that are pretty far apart from each other, but that sort of ideological tension would be good for the office of President and for our country in general. The GOP is obsolete, in terms of actual constructive policies, and they should be treated as such. Hillary and Bernie have differences, and they butt heads over these differences, but at least the issues they butt heads over are important issues, not like the personal attacks and reactionary nonsense the GOP butts heads with itself over.

Let’s argue over this stuff after they’re both in the White House, guys.

CLINTON/SANDERS ’16!”

 

MICHAEL NATHAN WALKER TODAY:

“It’s probably not gonna happen, but I would like to see Hillary and Bernie on the same ticket. They do have quite a few views that are pretty far apart from each other, but that sort of ideological tension would be good for the office of President and for our country in general. The GOP is obsolete, in terms of actual constructive policies, and they should be treated as such. Hillary and Bernie have differences, and they butt heads over these differences, but at least the issues they butt heads over are important issues, not like the personal attacks and reactionary nonsense the GOP butts heads with itself over.

Let’s argue over this stuff after they’re both in the White House, guys.

CLINTON/SANDERS ’16!”

DIFFERENT TYPES OF FLAGS

(This post originally appeared on my personal Facebook page as a “note,” which should be obvious to anyone who reads it, given all the references to Facebook it features. It was written in July of 2015, and it kinda sorta blurs the line between politics and philosophy, but since the subject matter was a “hot button” political issue at the time this was written, I am posting it under “politics.” — MNW)

As many of you have undoubtedly noticed, I joined a recent trend regarding my Facebook profile pic by using the rainbow gay pride flag filter thing. I’m not gay, for the record, but if anybody out there would stop being my friend if I did happen to be gay, well, guess what? You’re a shitty friend.

I applied the filter to show that I am happy about the Supreme Court’s decision regarding marriage equality. That’s why everybody who applied it to their profile pic did it.

There are several reasons I am happy about that. The main one is that I think that if two people of any gender love each other and want to commit themselves to each other through marriage they should be able to. Furthermore they should be able to without having to be secretive about it or worry about what the general public thinks about it. They should be able to be proud to walk down the street with their spouse without having to worry about being harassed by anyone. They should be able to have a nice romantic dinner at any restaurant they want to, or have a cake baked by any baker they want to, or have their picture taken by any photographer they want to.

Do you see where I am going with this? If you follow the news at all, you have undoubtedly seen several restaurateurs (well, pizza joint owners anyways) saying they wouldn’t cater gay weddings, bakers saying they wouldn’t bake cakes for gay weddings, photographers saying they wouldn’t photograph gay weddings, etc. These people justify their denial of service with a claim of “freedom of religion.” They claim that they believe it would offend the deity they worship if they were to provide these services to gay couples.

I would encourage any such person to re-examine their religious texts, and since most if not all of these people are Christians, I would encourage them to reconsider whether Jesus’ maxim of “love thy neighbor as thyself” would also apply to their LGBT neighbors. To my view it obviously does, but that’s my opinion, and ultimately that’s all any interpretation of any religious text is: opinion.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

But if that’s really and truly the religious belief of these people, I would encourage my LGBT friends and all LGBT people to simply let these people have their views. There are plenty of other business owners who don’t use religion to justify treating some people differently, and they need your business, too.

Again, that’s just my opinion. I think (hope) that that sort of bigotry will eventually die out on its own. But I may be wrong…it wouldn’t be the first time.

If you happen to support the people who want to deny service to LGBT couples based on a “religious freedom” claim, I suppose there’s nothing I can do to stop you. But I want to make something clear to you: your “freedom of religion” does not entitle you to dictate what other people do. Trying to suppress the actions of others based upon your personal religious beliefs is the opposite of “freedom of religion.” Trying to make laws based on your religion that dictate what people outside of your religion do is the opposite of “freedom of religion.” “Freedom of religion” means you get to believe anything you want, but it also means that other people get to believe anything they want. If you can’t understand that, I suggest you find a quiet spot and meditate upon it for a while.

But I went on a digression there. Another reason I am happy about the Supreme Court’s decision is that legally binding marriages ensure that when one person in the same sex couple dies, the other person will now be guaranteed to inherit the dead person’s estate. There have been cases where a gay couple lived together as a couple for years and years, then one would die, and the other would be denied all rights to the estate she or he should have rightfully inherited. I only learned about this fairly recently, when I signed a petition showing my support of marriage equality.

Anyways I am happy about that, too.

But back to flags: if anybody, straight, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, if anybody at all sees a rainbow flag hanging outside of a business, they are welcome to enter that business and patronize it. If a straight person goes in and starts preaching their hateful religious beliefs, they will likely be asked to leave, but otherwise they’re welcome.

The rainbow flag is a symbol of inclusion. As we have already noted, many businesses wish to deny services for people based on their sexual orientation. The rainbow flag means “my business doesn’t discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.” If you’re a straight person, and you’re looking for a place to eat lunch or something, and you pass by a restaurant with a rainbow flag hanging in front of it, I encourage you to go in and have lunch. See if the people there ask you whether you’re gay or ask you to leave for not being gay. I obviously can’t speak for every business owner with a rainbow flag out front, but I can almost guarantee nobody will ask you to leave.

Now let’s back up to 1967. Prior to the Supreme Court decision made then, states could ban marriage between interracial couples. And I wasn’t alive yet in 1967, but I imagine there were quite a few restaurateurs, bakers, photographers, etc. proudly displaying their bigotry by refusing services to interracial couples. And they likely justified their bigotry using their own personal interpretations of religious texts.

I don’t know if any of these business owners flew any flags — they most likely just put out crudely scrawled signs with misspelled racial epithets on them — but if these bigoted business owners were to fly a flag to signify that they didn’t cater to interracial couples, what flag could they have possibly flown?

Can you think of one?

I can. I don’t know if that flag was ever actually flown in such a context, but it would have fit pretty well.

The Confederate flag was created to signify white supremacy. This was explicitly stated by the person who designed it, and it was flown over states that seceded from the Union based on explicitly stated (and recorded) ideas of white supremacy.

During the 150 years since the Civil War ended, it has been flown by the Ku Klux Klan and many other white supremacist groups, also as a symbol of white supremacy.

And yeah, many people in the south fly the Confederate flag as a symbol of being proud of their heritage, and not as a symbol of white supremacy. And if you’re one of those people, fine, you have free speech, you can express yourself any way you want to.

But imagine this scenario: you’re white, you live in the south, you own a restaurant, you fly the Confederate flag outside your restaurant, and it’s lunchtime.

There’s a black person walking down the street, looking for a place to eat lunch. She or he sees your restaurant, and it looks nice enough, but there’s a Confederate flag hanging in front of it.

A couple doors down, there’s a competing restaurant. Their food is essentially the same as your food, and prices are also essentially the same. There’s a rainbow flag hanging in front of this restaurant.

If you were that black person — or for that matter any nonwhite person — where would you be more likely to eat lunch?

Again, I don’t presume to speak for anybody other than myself, but I know where I would have my lunch, if I were in that situation. I’m a straight white southerner, and I’d rather eat at the place with the rainbow flag.

I’m not saying the white restaurant owner in this situation would treat any nonwhite customers differently. What I am saying is that flying that flag out front might create the perception that the white restaurant owner would. Like it or not, the Confederate flag has been used time and time again as a symbol of exclusion. Time and time and time and time again.

Nobody can control how other people interpret the language and symbols they use. I couldn’t stop two or three people from unfriending me here on Facebook recently, presumably over either the rainbow profile pic or my various rants about the Confederate flag.

Am I glad those people unfriended me? Frankly, no, I am not glad. I wish the lines of dialogue were still all the way open between us here on Facebook. I wish they had stuck around long enough to read this, at least.

But I can’t control them or you (whoever you may be) or how you interpret what I write or say, or what symbols I use. All I can do is try to be as unbiased and fair as I can be. I would encourage everyone to do the same.

Have a nice one, wherever you’re having it, whoever you’re having it with.

 

11/13/99

(The following was originally posted to my personal Facebook page as a “note” on April 29, 2015, a few months before this blog was started. It was written in response to inflammatory language being used to describe people protesting several controversial legal decisions involving US citizens who were killed by police. I am reposting it here because it’s still relevant, and for ease of access. Because while I hope there will be no more incidents like the ones that inspired this post, well…let’s just say I hope I never have occasion to share this again. — MNW)

The year was 1999. The date was Saturday, November 13. I was a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The Razorback football team was playing the much more highly ranked Tennessee Volunteers at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. I had student tickets for every home game (they were sold in a little booklet before the season started, and it seems like each ticket was a dollar apiece), and even though I was fairly certain the Hogs were going to get creamed by Tennessee, I wanted to walk the couple hundred yards down to the stadium from my dorm and watch the game.

But I had a part time job, and I had to work that day. I considered blowing work off, and a couple friends encouraged me to blow it off, but I decided to go to my job and work. As I said, I figured the Hogs were going to get beaten, anyway.

So I went to work. I was a cashier at a fairly large retail store across town from the U of A campus.

But this particular Saturday, for whatever reason, there were a whole lot of cashiers scheduled to work, and nobody collecting shopping carts from the parking lot.

Maybe the cart pushers skipped work to watch the game. I dunno.

At any rate, I wasn’t on a register that afternoon and evening, I was pushing carts.

And as an aside, next time you’re at a big retail store with a huge parking lot, for the love of all that’s decent, park your flipping shopping cart in a flipping cart corral. Pushing carts is a hard enough job without having to walk all over the place collecting carts people were too flipping lazy to flipping push fifty flipping feet to a flipping cart corral. But I flipping digress.

And after a few hours of pushing carts past impatient drivers and people standing in the way for no reason and that sort of thing, I got to thinking “I took a job as a cashier. I didn’t sign up for this crap” and whatnot. And after I got off work a few hours later, sweaty and worn out from performing a job I did not sign up for, I was roundly pissed off and ready to go to bed. My only solace was that somehow the Hogs had upset Tennessee 28-24.

And so I went back to campus, parking like a half mile or so from my dorm, slogged back up the hill to Yocum Strokem, and went up to my room.

The exact details of this evening aren’t clear, but some time after I got back to the dorm, maybe even the next morning, my roommate and other friends from my wing of the dorm started telling me about the celebration I had missed out on.

After the clock ran out, after the Hogs won a game nobody expected them to win, fans rushed the field and tore down both goalposts. The goalposts were then carried to Dickson Street (an area just off campus with bars and restaurants and places like that), where they were propped up and climbed on and photographed and people just got drunk as hell and had a big ole time until the wee hours of the morning.

Me, I was sleeping in my dorm room, aching from pushing flipping shopping carts all day.

Before I get to the quasi-political point I am going to make with all this, I would like to say, unequivocally, that going to work that one Saturday is one of my biggest regrets in life. It’s one of those “if I had a time machine” moments, no doubt. I don’t hold anything against anybody who took part in those celebrations, I would have been right there with you, had I not been pushing flipping shopping carts all flipping day.

But having pushed said shopping carts in lieu of watching a football game and tearing down goalposts and carrying them off gives me a nitpicky little advantage regarding recent events that I am positive will make at least a few people mad at me:

I can say, with a totally clear conscience, that I have never participated in a riot of any sort.

Before anybody starts cussing at me, let me remind you that this was a riot I would have taken part in, had I not been pushing shopping carts on the other side of town. I don’t hold anything against anybody for having taken part in this riot; actually I am sorta jealous of the people who did.

Take away all your misty watercolor memories of those golden college years, take away how much fun you had that day, take away all that sort of stuff. What happened that Saturday in November of 1999, there in Fayetteville?

A mob of people (many of whom were intoxicated) destroyed public (or at least university) property and created a public nuisance until the wee hours of the morning.

And why? Because a football team won a football game nobody thought they would win.

Sure, nobody got killed, and I am confident at least a few people got arrested for public intox and/or being a minor in possession of alcohol; sure, there have been riots after other sporting events that caused way more damage…

But a riot is a riot. And if you find it morally acceptable for sports fans to destroy property after a sporting event (this happens when home teams win and when they lose), but somehow find rioting after controversial legal decisions and/or killing of citizens by police morally abhorrent…

Do you see my point?

I am not talking to any one person or group of people. I am talking to everyone.

And just to remind you, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, if I had a time machine, and I could go back to November 13, 1999, I would totally blow off work and probably spend the night in the drunk tank after climbing up a stolen goal post down on Dickson Street. I’m not saying anybody was wrong or immoral for taking part in that, I would have, too, if I hadn’t had to work that day.

Anyways…