So here's what I thought was eye-opening, mind-opening and/or heart-opening on the Internet this month. Interestingly, as I look at these posts as a group, I see a thread running through all of them of false dichotomies: the idea that a thing or person must be either A or B, that there is no such thing as C-- and D? Well, that's just silly.
Of Boys and Girls (Good and Rotten) and Climbing Trees at Word of a Woman explores the thinking behind the parable that says girls are like apples on a tree waiting for a boy to come and pick them:
Funny, he says the “good” girls just need to be patient and wait for a brave boy who is willing to climb the tree to the top for them. Forget about whether or not the girls they have judged as being “rotten” and “easy” are actually awesome too. Or whether or not the ones they have judged as “good” and worthy are actually either. “Good” girls he says should wait for a boy to give them validation and approval. Thanks, but no thanks. Instead, perhaps we should teach ALL the girls that they are not some boy’s prize for being brave and not slumming it with a “rotten” girl. They are not an object to be possessed. Their value is not determined by whether boys think they are “good” or “rotten” but rather on the fact that they bear the image of God him/herself. Perhaps we should teach the girls not to compare themselves to each other and judge one another. Perhaps we should teach the girls to love themselves and each other.The post shows that parables like this one, rooted in and growing out of patriarchy, use a false dichotomy: either you're a good girl, or a bad girl. But this post, The Impetus of Patriarchy by Greg Hahn at This Brother, shows that patriarchy also uses a false dichotomy for guys: either you're a real man, or you're not, and "real" manliness means having power over women:
You have to be “considered fully creditable as a man”. And the unspoken understanding of many is that you don’t just get that from having X and Y chromosomes and reaching adulthood. You have to earn your manhood, so as to be seen manly by those around you. If you can feel it, all the better, but in the very least you need to be seen that way. . .
And if that’s true, that is ultimately what drives patriarchy: Men living in the pain of not “being the man”, which is believed to be “displaying power to exert control over one’s self and one’s world.” . . .
Apparently the only difference that Piper can see and articulate is that men lead, women follow. So John Piper’s masculinity is inseparably linked to his authority and leadership of women. . . .
I believe that fueling the reluctance to change or to even look deeply into the issue of male/female equality is, in the heart of many men, fear.
Often people think it’s about selfishness or control, and sometimes it is. But I don’t think most guys in the church are like that. It’s usually not a case that they’re bad men. Quite the contrary, most Christian guys just want to live their life, raise their kids and grandkids, serve the Lord and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end. But many men, even the strongest ones, have a deep and abiding fear of not measuring up. (Emphases in original)
I think a similar fear motivates people often times towards "America can do no wrong" patriotism. It's another false dichotomy: this time about what it means to love America. I think President Obama really got to the heart of the problem in his speech Remarks by the President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches on the White House website.
The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon. (Applause.)
It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s America.
Roger E. Olsen at his blog of the same name, addresses the human weakness at the heart of the attitude behind the kind of patriotism the President was pushing back against. Olsen's post The Sin of Tribalism defines the us-vs-them, we're-in-and-you're-out mentality as fundamentally un-Christian:
“Tribalism,” however appears when a community closes its ranks around an illusion of superiority and excludes others for the purpose of increasing feelings of superiority. A tribe invents “badges” or emblems of superiority that to outsiders are totally illusory. Tribes rarely recognize themselves as tribal in this sense; members really do think they are superior to outsiders. Outsiders, however, recognize that the badges of superiority are false—unless they want in. . . .
Tribalism is sin—from a Christian point of view.
Jesus confronted tribalism among the Jewish leaders of his day. Some of them claimed that they were especially favored by God only because they were children of Abraham. The Apostle Paul also confronted that attitude. But the point for Christians is not to point a finger at any group guilty of tribalism but to examine ourselves. . . .
A wise and mature person is one who is aware of tribalism and resists it. That’s true whether the person is Christian or not. A wise and mature person, Christian or not, holds himself or herself aloof from the rituals of tribalism even when forced by necessity to be present.
And in You Can Count Me Out of Atheist Tribalism, Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism fights the same human tendency in non-Christians:
To put it simply, atheists who are quick to blame terrorism committed by Muslim individuals on Islam and just as quick to excuse atheism from any role in atrocities committed by atheists are using a glaring double standard. . . .
On some level I think I understand what’s going on here. A number of prominent atheists frequently point to religious atrocities and human rights abuses in order to argue that religion is dangerous and that we should work toward its elimination. When Christians or other religious believers respond by pointing to atrocities committed by atheists like Stalin, these atheists can’t respond with “Yes, and we think that’s bad too,” because their argument is that lack of religion is superior to religion, and examples like Stalin make it clear that a belief in a deity is not a required condition for mass murder or oppression. And so they have to find a way to explain away Stalin’s atrocities as not truly a result of his atheism.
I didn’t leave one tribe, with its demonization of other groups and tribes, ample use of the No True Scotsman fallacy, and insistence on valuing in-group loyalty above all else, to join another tribe doing the exact same thing.
Another false dichotomy shows up in these two posts about racism and why it's so hard for us as white people to see it or even be willing to look for it in ourselves. Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out About Race by Sam Adler-Bell at Alternet explains:
For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not "doing."
In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.
The good/bad binary is also what leads to the very unhelpful phenomenon of un-friending on Facebook.If we see racists as only those bad people over there, and never ourselves, we can feel superior (tribalism again). But seeing racists as those bad people over there also renders it impossible for us to to humble ourselves and admit that we just might be participating in racism unaware. It's just too shameful and horrible for us to face. So says Understanding the Racial Empathy Gap: the Power of Narratives by Judy Wu Dominick at her blog of the same name.
One of the things the Civil Rights Movement managed to do was inject a keen sense of shame into white America’s collective conscience over its institutionalized abuse of African Americans. It marked a significant turning point in the nation’s history. In the beginning, when shame produced an appropriate acknowledgement of injustice and a desire to make things right, it led to cultural shifts and new legislation that effectively released African Americans from the stranglehold of the Jim Crow era.
The tricky thing about shame, though, is that it’s a toxic, identity- and value-threatening emotion. and when it’s not processed in a thoroughly redemptive way, it can actually lead to a recycling of our sins instead of a healthy and restorative repentance. . . .
So a new shame-based, reactive narrative set in: Forget the past. We are not racists. We are anti-racists. And we are colorblind. This new narrative unwittingly undermined progress even as progress was being made. First, it imposed a willful forgetfulness on one of the nation’s most traumatic and formative experiences, which desperately required thoughtful, collective, and public debriefing, not consignment to cold storage. Second, it introduced taboo-like sensibilities into the very act of dialoguing about race and ethnicity, which, instead of being helpful, has proven to be very damaging for blacks and other non-whites who wish to have their distinctives recognized, validated, and celebrated alongside those of whites, rather than denied and left unacknowledged.
Folks, this kind of either-or thinking isn't helping any of us. I'd like to suggest that we start seeing not just A or B as possibilities, but also A and B, and C, and even D. Who knows, maybe we'll get all the way to accepting and acknowledging Z someday!
And if we do, it will be partly because of the kind of brave people who said these things online this month.