A well-placed word can change the world

“And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.”
–Terry Pratchett

If I learned absolutely nothing else in high school English (disclaimer: I learned a lot in high school English), I DID learn that words have meaning and thus the potential to shape the world. I haven’t always applied this knowledge for good, but it’s always been in the back of my head.

Thus I have to look askance at President Trump’s tweet of June 19th, quoted below:

There is a lot of interesting rhetoric going on in this tweet, but the specific bit I would like to call your attention to is in the second sentence, where he writes the phrase “pour into and infest our Country”. The verb “infest” is commonly used to describe vermin, such as insects and rats. However, Trump is not using it to talk about vermin, he is using it to talk about people. To employ such a verb against people is language that is used to dehumanize people and see them as subhuman. As time goes on, if a certain segment of humanity is seen as subhuman (or not human at all), one may find oneself willing to let them die — or worse, killing them outright.

In short, it is the beginning of a call to genocide. Nazis reduced Jews to vermin, as well, and Hutus reduced Tutsis to ‘trees’ and ‘cockroaches’ in the Rwandan genocide. Both language choices made it easier for the former party to not see the latter party as human when it came time to kill them.

The above is an example of Nazi propaganda. This one is rendered in Polish and aimed at Polish Christians. It reads, very simply: “Jews are lice; they cause typhus.” This is another point to the word ‘infest’. We exterminate vermin because they are a health hazard to human beings, and people shouldn’t be looking at this things, and instead should look for useful things like reviews of supplements from HealthyUSA and other things. Also, the other verb in that phrase, ‘pour into’ has connotations of things that just keep coming, almost like ants. Hmm.

What the Nazis did, what the Hutus did, and what Trump is doing here is called eliminationist language, and it’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to turn a human being into a lesser creature or an object, ever. Once you start thinking this way, once you accept this worldview, it’s not hard to leap from one set of humans to another, forgetting their humanity and eventually your own.

I don’t care if you think Donald Trump is the best thing since Sputnik, this sort of language is attempting to create a worldview. We’ve seen what lies at the other end of that worldview — suffering, violence, death, and cold, callous indifference. Don’t ever go there.

[This essay was adapted and expanded from a Facebook post I made earlier this week. Also, if you liked this post — or even if you didn’t — you might like my post “On Patriotism“.]

Image header: CC-BY-20 Steve Johnson; Poster image courtesy United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On Patriotism

I don’t like to talk much about politics in public places, and none is more public than my blog. Even though I have a disclaimer, I’m searching for a job and there’s some worries that if I disclose my political beliefs, it might cost me a job. But I can’t write about this subject without saying it. I’m left of center and a Democrat. There are reasons for these stances, but I don’t want to get too deep in those weeds right now.

Anyway. I want to say that I’m tired of the insinuation that because I’m on the left side of the political system, I cannot be a patriot. Even more offensive are the ones that say that I’m not a “real American”, when I can trace my roots to the Mayflower or, in another direction, the Bering Land Bridge. I’ve had ancestors on this soil long before this country existed. Telling me I’m not a “real American” because of my political stance simply ticks me off.

I am a patriot. I love this country. I’m proud to be an American, just as I’m proud to be a Californian. I still attempt to hit the high notes in the Star Spangled Banner. I’ll admit I loved poking through the airplanes the Air Force and the Navy would bring to the airshow, and cheer as the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds went through their paces.

From the beginning, we were a beacon of new ideas. The French Revolution — the call of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité — has its roots in the American revolution. A fledgling nation, trying an entirely new way of governing, became an inspiration for people around the world.

Where I depart from those who say that they are patriots is that I am capable of understanding that (gasp) America isn’t perfect. For all the good this country has brought into the world, there are ways in which we have completely failed. The stain of slavery is woven into our founding documents, and the resulting treatment of African-Americans to this day perpetuates that great sin. There’s the internment camps of World War II, taking American citizens and putting them behind barbed wire for no other reason than that they were ethnically Japanese, assuming that none of them were actually American. There is the way we’ve treated Native Americans, the ones that were here first. And last, don’t forget the numerous governments around the world that we’ve destabilized or outright overthrew. We have brought light to the world, but we have also brought hideous darkness.

No nation — no person — stands at the pinnacle of perfection. Even heroes have feet of clay. The United States is no exception in this matter. We’ve done amazing good across the world; we’ve perpetuated some dark deeds. How can I be a patriot and think this way? Very simple:

“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

Senator Carl Schurz ended a speech on the Senate floor in response to Senator Matthew Carpenter’s use of the first half of the phrase. But the phrase has a kernel of truth that connects to something I was taught in therapy. I learned about the juxtaposition of two important thoughts: “I am good enough.” and “I can be better”. While those thoughts seem to be contradictory, there is truth. I am good enough, but I can always strive to be better.

I feel the same about my country. The United States is good enough, even great. But she can strive to be better — we can strive to be better, because the United States is the sum of all of us. Such is the nature of a republic.

I prefer to think of it as a thoughtful and nuanced patriotism, as opposed to simple “Love it or leave it!” rhetoric. But I am just as much a patriot as any right-winger, and I am not going to give ground simply because I happen to be on the lefty side of politics.

Grimly and Without Joy

The 2015 Hugo nominations have come out.

Normally this is a great moment of satisfaction for me. I usually have not read all the nominees on the slate, so it’s like getting a Christmas present from my fellow science fiction geeks. Hugo nominations are generally so broad that what percolates up from the mass hive mind are usually stories that I don’t mind giving a bit of time to read and compare against each other. Most of the time, I find something interesting in this.

This process only works if it’s a true random percolation, though. The last few years, though, there has been a campaign called the Sad Puppies that suggests that the Hugo award is too liberal and too invested in identity politics, thus choosing works that are turgid and uninteresting instead of stories full of spaceships and laser guns and manly men, I suppose.

Now the first year of this slate, it fell under the radar. The second year, they managed to get a few works on the ballot — works I read, and in some cases, enjoyed. Were they truly Hugo-worthy? No, not as much as other things on the ballot, but with one exception, I didn’t mind reading them.

This wasn’t enough, I suppose. This year, the Sad Puppies managed to put together a slate. Not just one or two works in a category — that wasn’t enough. This was enough to disrupt the random percolation of works to the point where whole categories of the Hugo awards are dominated by this slate — and I wonder what I’m missing that would have risen to the level of a Hugo nomination in any other year. (I suppose I’ll find out when the long list comes out — it’ll be harder to dig up the works, but I might have to read them.)

I’ll read the works. I take my duty as a Hugo voter seriously, and I will rate the works as I see fit. I may end up ranking No Award above them all if I don’t feel any of the works nominated rises to the level of a Hugo in my opinion. It’s the best I can do in a situation I am obviously not happy about.

But I feel as if something I enjoyed has become a grim, thankless task. Politics is never far from any human endeavor, but this year, it feels like it’s all politics. Because here’s the part I elided around: part of the reason for this slate is that certain folks thought the Hugo wasn’t conservative enough.

Now I’ll freely admit, I’m not exactly conservative in my politics. I went to Berkeley, after all. But everything I was taught both in my deeply conservative home town and in liberal Berkeley is that you treat people with courtesy and respect, no matter where they’re from or what they look like. Do I always live up to this? I’m a human being, I’d be lying if I said I did. But it’s a good yardstick to work from.

There are people nominated this year that seem, from my vantage point, to go against this yardstick. Their words are, at best, ill-conceived, and at worst, vile hatred of anybody not like themselves. Bigotry and misogyny are rampant. Is this truly the best science fiction has to offer? I don’t think so, but apparently I’m wrong.

There’s a saying that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. And while I’m not going to just toss every work on the Sad Puppies slate out without actually looking at them first — see the above about treating my duty seriously — I can understand why others would be tempted to do just that.

But it means this year’s reading will be done grimly and without joy.

I’ll probably have more to say about this in the future, as I start to read, but this will do for now.

We will never surrender.

This is simply awesome (although my Republican friends might not think so…):

(Hat tip to Steve Benen over at Political Animal for the link.)

A bottle of pills [extended healthcare rant, part 2]

[Alright, this is a bit long, but do me the favor of reading it through, okay?]

There’s a bottle of pills sitting on my bookcase. Every night, I swallow one. Although I try not to overdo it because I don’t want to get addicted, I found this article https://firststepbh.com/blog/broward-county-inundated-opioid-addiction-treatment-cases/ to learn how to prevent and combat drug addiction.

I asked once at the pharmacy how much it would cost me to fill the script. Their response was eighty dollars for a month’s supply. It could be worse. The last time I asked the same question, the particular script didn’t have a generic, and the answer was somewhere slightly north of two hundred dollars.

I suppose I’m a lucky duck in the sense that I’ve got some form of health insurance, as much as that health insurance is Medicaid (although that’s a frakking joke here in the State of California, let me tell you). And the reason I qualify for Medicaid? Well, because my income is low enough that I’m on disability. And why am I on disability? That’s what the bottle of pills is supposed to address, although you can also find other nutrition supplements at sites like reportshealthcare.com/.

You see, some of you know this, but a lot of you don’t. I’m bipolar. (Not to mention the other chronic medical conditions I have, but those complicate the situation, so let’s stay right here.) I’m lucky, if one can call it lucky to have a mental illness, that I’ve got the slightly less serious form, which doesn’t involve the complete detachment from the world that a full-blown manic state can cause.

Of course, the sudden chasms are all the much worse for it. I’m prone, especially when I’m not being good about taking my medications, of falling into a deep and horrible chasm from which there is no escape. The whole world goes dark and grey, like a fog so thick that I begin to think that I’m the only person in the world. I seriously contemplate ending it all, to stop being a worthless sack of meat that nobody particularly cares about. I can barely get out of bed, let alone do all the things the world requires of me. I start shying away from people, because if they knew, it might contaminate them and I couldn’t live with that. If I had to interact with the world, I’d put on a brave face, keep my head down, and try my best to act normal as much as every word is difficult and every step is agonizing and I’m doing my best not to break down and start crying or screaming. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Did I mention I fell into this hole in the last semester of both my undergraduate and graduate programs, and it was only sheer luck that saved my hide in both cases?

It’s an awful place to be, and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And it took us forever to find a pill that would keep me from falling into that dark place. The one I’m on now seems to be doing okay, although it doesn’t take away the intrusive thoughts that everybody’s looking at me and either rooting for me to fail or doesn’t care if I did. I deal with that the best that I can, and there are days that are better than the others.

Enough so that I’ve gotten a job. It’s only part-time. And in this country, being part-time (or being a contractor) means that the company doesn’t have to give you health benefits. Well, okay, that’s fine at the moment, my income is not high enough for me to move completely off SSI. So I still qualify for the little bit of help this country grudgingly gives to its poor.

And the amount of money I make is, quite frankly, unsustainable. The car payment doesn’t help, of course, but I needed a reliable car. And, you know, while my parents are great and awesome and wonderful people, I need to get out of here. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I’m nearly thirty-one and still living with my parents.

So I’m looking for a full-time job, which is difficult at the best of times, because I have to find a job that provides health care. Which means stringing together a couple part-time jobs or doing contract work is out of the question. Also, being at my job, if they raise the money I make an hour while keeping me part-time, at some point I’ll cross the income threshold for SSI.

And when that happens, that eighty dollar bottle of pills that’s my link to sanity, let alone the doctor to prescribe it, ends up being too much to afford. And then bang, I fall back into that hole that I’ve worked so goddamned hard to climb out of, get to the point where I can’t keep the job, and et voila, I end up back on SSI and I get to start over. That is, if I even qualify for it on the second fall.

So here I am, trapped. I’d like to do contract work. It’s more suited to my skill set and it means that I can keep my own hours, which is a good thing because I’m a night owl and run naturally on a noon to 3 AM clock. But I can’t do that, because I can’t afford to take a job that doesn’t come with benefits. Which leaves me caught nicely in a catch-22, where any attempt to make my situation better ends up, in all probability, making it worse. (Not to mention that this just feeds that little anxious voice in the back of my head: “See, they’re all rooting for you to fail!”)

Which makes me see red when I see the rhetoric that ‘all people on welfare are lazy.’ Are they lazy, or are they just trapped?

And this is just in relation to the bipolar. I’m not even bringing in the other medical conditions I’ve got, that’ll probably end up killing me. I know nobody makes it out alive, but, if you want the honest truth, most days I don’t think I’m going to make it to fifty.

…and this came out a hell of a lot rawer than I expected it to be, so be gentle.