By Ryan Tibbens
Not a single word of the following article is intended to be critical of nor offensive to veterans, past or present, living or dead. This article is for civilian citizens who, particularly recently, have engaged in debates about war memorials, about Confederate allegiances, and about respecting our troops. I will play Devil's Advocate several times; I do not agree with every word I've written, but I strongly believe in asking the question.
It's the unofficial first day of summer, the first big barbecue of the year, when pools open and lawn furniture shakes off cobwebs. The only things more common than swarms of motorcycles are American flags and semi-heartfelt social media posts about remembering our fallen troops.
Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, has been celebrated, officially and otherwise, on the last Monday of May (or May 30th) since around 1868, originally commemorating those who died in the Civil War. Decoration Day was a common southern Appalachian tradition that spread across the United States after our nation's darkest years. Many Americans already observed some form of remembrance ceremony for soldiers killed in the Revolutionary War, but the Civil War truly consolidated the holiday and cemented its place in American culture. And it is worth noting that many of the biggest and most serious early celebrations took place in southern states.
Have you ever argued against statues of Confederate soldiers? I have (though usually just for the fun of participating in the debate). Given the history and purpose of the holiday, I am left with a question -- if you oppose memorials for Confederate soldiers, do you also oppose Memorial Day overall? Do you at least oppose the inclusion of men killed in the Mexican-American War or World War I or Vietnam or other wars of US aggression? What is the difference?
In my conversations on the subject, friends and students cite a few common reasons to remove Confederate statues: they represent racism and slavery, they represent unprovoked violence, they represent a losing effort, and they represent treason. In their own way, each of these reasons is fair and functional. However, if a person truly opposes celebrations based on those factors, then many wars -- and many, many soldiers -- should be excluded from Memorial Day.
Unless you are a pure statist whose political feelings are dominated by blind patriotism, you can surely identify problems with at least some US military conflicts. The Gulf of Tonkin. The USS Maine. The Wounded Knee Massacre. The Bush family's business dealings with the Bin Ladens around the time of 9/11. The Sedition Act of 1918. War crimes and pardons. Weapons of mass destruction. We could do this for a while, but you get the point. Problems exist; mistakes were made. And if you acknowledge that mistakes have been made, repeatedly, then surely you will see that many other American soldiers are guilty of sins similar to those of the Confederates. Let's look at each of the reasons.
Racism and slavery. The United States of America is a country with a long history of racism and support for slavery. The Revolutionary War yielded a racist, slave-tolerating nation. The War of 1812 did the same. The Mexican-American War attacked Hispanic Mexicans as "others" while attempting to align with and spare many White Mexicans; it also yielded new slave-holding states and territories. The Civil War was fought over slavery, but slavery was still legal in several northern states, and the Emancipation Proclamation only freed southern slaves. The Spanish-American War was supported by often-racist propaganda. The Indian wars and battles were racist to their cores. Racism has continued its influence in American geopolitics all the way through WWII in the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. If a soldier is unworthy of honor because some part of the cause is racist, then few soldiers remain to memorialize. And what of slavery? In the South just prior to the Civil War, less than 1/3 of the white population owned slaves, and of all who did, most families owned just one slave (no less terrible, though perhaps not the image most people have thanks to Roots and 12 Years a Slave and others). Most of the wealthiest and most powerful slave owners avoided battle through military surrogates and direct legislation. Furthermore, nearly 1/3 of the Confederate army was conscripted -- drafted -- and forced to fight. Slavery was terrible, and its modern repercussions are still awful, but if 1/3 of Confederate soldiers were conscripted and 2/3 owned no slaves, then is that the best reason to avoid memorializing the dead?
Unprovoked Violence. See the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, WWI, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War. See many, many other smaller fights along the way as well (and nearly all of US military involvement in Central and South America). If you only celebrate and remember soldiers who died in direct defense of the country, your holiday will be a short one.
Losing Effort. For the pure fun of arguing, this is my favorite reason people use when protesting Confederate statues. I'm not sure I've ever encountered a Confederate-supporter who also supports 'participation trophies.' When these statues are referred to as participation trophies, reactions range from quiet scorn to full rage. Then again, the South lost, so aren't Confederate monuments really just tributes and reminders about losing? That sounds like a participation trophy. Still, as much fun as this argument is, it is flawed. How many people who oppose Confederate memorials on the grounds of 'participation trophies' would make the same argument for removing the Vietnam War Memorial or Korean War Memorial? Not many (hopefully none)...
Treason. This may be the most logical reason to oppose Confederate memorials: they commemorate people who fought against the United States of America. Since the Union won, why should it tolerate celebration of those who fought against it? I don't hear much criticism of the Crazy Horse Memorial or other memorials to American Indian leaders. But that might not be entirely fair either. Is Edward Snowden and hero or traitor? Was John Brown a civil rights champion or anti-American terrorist? Was Muhammad Ali's refusal before the draft board an act of American freedom and independence or willful defiance and treason? (False dichotomies abound.) Many edgy young Americans who oppose Confederate statues claim that those men are heroes. They might also regularly speak out against the President of the United States, the legislature, the Department of Defense, and more. That kind of anti-American speech has actually been prosecutable in the past (Sedition Act of 1918 and others). Is it more important to stand with your government or with your personal obligations? If you said "personal obligations," then consider that treason is never far away. Plus, as historians so often point out, prior to the Civil War, people referred to the United States as "they" rather than "it," meaning that most citizens really saw our nation as a collection of semi-independent states, similar to the modern European Union. As such, most citizens felt a stronger allegiance to their states than their federal government, so most confederate soldiers didn't even consider their behavior truly treasonous. To be clear -- they committed treason. But so did Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Snowden and Brown, and a few dozen more Americans who at least might be heroes despite their questionable loyalties.
If it is possible to hate the sin but not the sinner, then perhaps we can hate the war but not the soldier. If we can agree that enlisted infantrymen are often used as instruments of war, then we should be able to separate degrees of guilt -- the sledge hammer is less guilty of destruction than the man swinging it. In that light, remembering and memorializing Confederate soldiers is not just acceptable, it is right. Celebrating Confederate leadership might be a different story. However, if we believe that all individual humans have the capacity to understand their circumstances, question their governments, and make their own decisions about participation in a fight, then we might be able to remove those monuments ------ but we'd need to remove a lot more than just the Confederates'.
Cognitive dissonance runs deep on Memorial Day because many Americans want to honor our troops, honor those who have sacrificed for us, but we also try not to examine their sacrifices too closely, lest we realize that their sacrifices weren't fully for "us" or that our morals conflict with the causes of some wars. Any person who can condemn Confederate memorials while defending the Vietnam War Memorial is either drowning in cognitive dissonance or knows a much more detailed, more nuanced history than I've learned.
Personally, I have no problems with Confederate monuments on battlegrounds, in museums, and at significant historical sites. Their scattering about southern capital buildings and random parks might be different, and surely the commemoration of Confederate leadership deserves more scrutiny than the simple statues that memorialize everyday Americans, the poor infantrymen that fought for their homes in the same way modern soldiers do today. If we want to have a serious and productive conversation about remembering our fallen soldiers OR about Confederate memorials, we need to more clearly identify the problems and then apply those criteria to all memorials; otherwise, cognitive dissonance wins the day.
The Confederate flag, on the other hand, well, there's no way to defend that anywhere but a battlefield, and if you find someone who does, that person doesn't understand historical context or is racist or both.
Food for thought...
by Ryan Tibbens
We're not being lazy; we're just being stupid.
In the last month, how many times have you been too 'lazy' to do something that you knew you should do? How many times have you been fully aware of the behavior you desire, but did something else? How many times did you explain that dissonance with the term 'lazy'?
Too many. Me too.
'Lazy' has become our comfortable and socially acceptable way to justify stupidity and vice. 'Lazy' means "disinclined to activity or exertion : not energetic or vigorous." It means that you didn't want to do something or couldn't muster the energy for it. But when you know that you should do something, don't you usually want to do it? Exhaustion and fatigue are excusable: they indicate that you've already dedicated yourself fully to a different endeavor. You are incapable of doing more. But if you know and believe that you should do something, and also know that you could, but you don't, what is that? That is not lazy. That is stupid.
If we were more honest about our reasons for not doing (or sometimes doing) things, if we were as quick to acknowledge stupidity as we do laziness, we would be better people. We would live more productive and meaningful lives. People say that knowledge is power, but that is not true. Knowledge creates options, and options create power. Options are powerful because they let us know what we can do. If we never take action, then our other options, and all the prerequisite knowledge, was inert and useless and stupid. In many eastern traditions, focusing on 'being' is more important than focusing on 'doing,' and while I am inclined to Taoism and Buddhism myself, I believe that enlightenment results from 'being' and 'doing' becoming one. Buddhists believe that life is suffering and that suffering results from striving, from want and desire. Taoists have a similar take, but with less suffering overall. True enlightenment is derived from synthesis of realism and idealism -- know what you actually are, and know what you should be; then work (do) so diligently that 'being' becomes 'doing' (and 'doing' becomes 'being'). A great deal of our sorrow in life results from doing things that do not jive with what we are (and from being what we are without doing what we should). You are who you are, and who you are is what you do. (And what you eat, but that's for a different essay.)
Somehow, most people believe that it is better to be lazy than stupid. We delude ourselves into believing that 'lazy' is a decision, which means we have power, which means that we could have done the other thing. But that isn't true. You can only do what you do. We think that 'stupid' is thrust upon us by the Universe, that no one chooses 'stupid.' While it is true that people rarely choose 'stupid,' it is also true that most 'lazy' is just poorly labeled 'stupid.'
I've had a general sense of this concept since my late teens, but it wasn't until I heard a throwaway line in Joe Rogan's interview of Steven Pinker that I found the words for it. Rogan asks, "Do you meditate?" And Pinker responds laughingly, "You know, I don't, but I think I should." They both laugh, and Rogan replies, "Well, you're such a smart guy. Like, why would you, why would there be anything that you think you should do that you don't do?" EUREKA. Pinker, still laughing, says, "It's a really good question, 'cause, 'cause clearly I'm not that smart."
If you are a smart person, and you know that you should do something (not could, not would), why wouldn't you do it? It is either the vice of indifference, which equates to stupidity when you are indifferent to things that benefit you; or it is stupidity, which is, well, stupid. 'Lazy' is a fine claim when we're talking about friends going out and you don't really want to go and don't see any clear reason why you should; you're too lazy (see the definition) to participate. But if you know that you should go with your friend because it is in your best interest or it will help your friend, which is also to your benefit, then you're not being lazy -- you're being stupid.
Take no offense to all that second person. It truly takes one to know one. I am as guilty of stupidity as anyone else, perhaps more. In fact, I'm morally worse than most people because I know that laziness is really just stupidity, and yet I continue to act stupidly and blame laziness. However, I've come to equate laziness in meaningful situations with stupidity, and I believe that stupidity is among the worst three human experiences (Malice, Indifference, Stupidity). I'm working on it. I know that I should be less lazy, and so I am, incrementally but steadily.
Most of us avoid stupid behaviors, or at least try to. We are, or want to be, smart. Somehow the sin of sloth has been rationalized away -- we're all just so very busy, so very tired, that we think we deserve to be lazy. Rest is important. Stillness is important. Reflection and quiet and being are important. But simply choosing not to do something that we know we should do, that is not laziness; that is stupidity.
Get back to work, dummy.
by Christian Solar | An artist and writer out of the DC area
It is disheartening to see so many people look at Joe Biden as America's sweet uncle, when time and time again he has been on the wrong side of history. Let me compare him to Bernie Sanders, his biggest 2020 Democratic rival and the candidate who, I believe, has the most progressive past. Both Biden and Bernie are going to have to fight off being dismissed because they are just ‘old white guys,’ which is the regrettable opinion of some on the left. However, I constantly hear about how Bernie is going to struggle with women and people of color and that Biden can appeal to these people. I do not know how much more wrong you could be. In 1994, Joe Biden supported the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a bill that hit the black community hard. “It doesn’t matter if they were deprived as a youth, it doesn’t matter if they had no background to [...] become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are the victims of society. [...] I don’t want to ask what made them do this. They must be taken off the street,” Biden has stated blatantly multiple times that he does not care what brought people to commit crimes, that he does not care about helping them, about trying to solve any problems.
On the other hand, Bernie Sanders asks, “How do we talk about crime when this congress this year is prepared to spend eleven times more for the military than education? When 21% of our kids dropout of high school. [...] The rate of poverty continues to grow, do you think maybe that has something to do with crime?” Here we can see that Bernie understands that many people have no way to weave themselves into the fabric of society. He understands that they were deprived as youths, and he is actively fighting to stop poverty and oppression. Bernie Sanders understood this back in the 1960s when he was marching with Martin Luther King and leading sit-ins and protests during the civil rights movement.
While Joe Biden would rather sweep these problems under the rug, Bernie Sanders is actively lifting the rug to clean. It seems many Democrats think that black people will vote for Joe Biden because he was the Vice-President to Barrack Obama, which is the political version of “I have a black friend.”
While both men eventually went on to vote for the crime bill, they did so for two very different reasons: Biden to lock up people in need of support, and Bernie to help abused women. Bernie clarified, “I have a number of serious problems with the crime bill, but one part of it that I vigorously support is the violence against women act. We urgently need the 1.8 billion dollars in this bill to combat the epidemic of violence against women on the streets and in the homes of America.” Joe Biden seems to have been aloof to issues regarding women in the 1990s: “Can you tell the committee what was the most embarrassing of all of the incidents you have alleged.”
Not traumatizing, not fear-provoking, not even uncomfortable. Joe Biden used the word “embarrassing” when questioning Anita Hill. Joe Biden insinuated that she was just embarrassed by the (alleged) sexual harassment she suffered at the hands Clarence Thomas. Biden clearly underestimated the severity of sexual harassment. This dismissive language is consistent throughout the hearings and the rest of his questions. Whether to cover his tail or out of sheer ignorance, he says, “I do apologize to the women of America if they got the wrong impression about how seriously I take the issue of sexual harassment. I must tell you, I must tell everyone else, I take sexual harassment seriously.”
Flash forward to the beginnings of the 2020 presidential race. What do we see? Bernie is appointing many women to powerful campaign positions to help fight and counteract sexual harassment and assault; this comes in response to cases of sexual harassment coming from his 2016 presidential campaign. Bernie says, “It appears that as part of our campaign, there were some women who were harassed and mistreated — I thank them from the bottom of my heart for speaking out. [...] When we talk about — and I do all the time — ending sexism and all forms of discrimination, those beliefs cannot just be words. They must be based in day-to-day reality and the work we do, and that was clearly not the case in the 2016 campaign.” These are two things that we rarely see from politicians: admitting mistakes and taking substantive action.
When we look to Biden, we see allegations of sexual harassment and generally creepy behavior and not understanding boundaries. While Bernie sounded sincere and heart broken by what happen during his campaign, Biden seemed annoyed to be asked about his own allegations: “The fact of the matter is I made it clear that if I made anyone feel uncomfortable I feel badly about that, it was never my intention.” When directly asked if he was sorry for how he acted, Biden responded, “I’m sorry that I didn’t understand more; I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I am not sorry for anything I have ever done.” His tone and attitude have not changed much from the early 90s, and it certainly does not feel like he is taking people’s concerns seriously.
Outside of Joe Biden’s lack of real support of people of color and women, we can see that Joe Biden did not support LGBT people either. Only recently in 2012 did he announce his support of gay marriage, while in 1996 he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. This is blatant discrimination against gay people, no way around it. This act prevented gay couples from receiving benefits such as favorable protection, estate tax and gift treatment, as well as other protections and services. DOMA was a huge setback in the gay rights movement, preventing gay couples from being seen as couples at all. For example, if a gay man was sick in the hospital, his partner would not be allowed to visit. This is just one example of how this bill continued the pain that was felt by the LGBT community through their fight for equal rights. In 2009, Biden said to the community at an LGBT fundraiser, "I don't blame you for your impatience." The next year, the Obama administration worked to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but Joe Biden’s direct involvement is unclear. Plus, it still took two more years for him to come out in support of gay marriage.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has supported gay rights since as far back as the early 1970s: “Let’s abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people. Let’s abolish all laws dealing with abortion, drugs, sexual behavior (adultery, homosexuality, etc.).” Back in 1983, while Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Bernie backed a Gay Pride parade and approved a resolution to make a Gay Pride Day. In 1995, when Rep. Duke Cunningham ranted about a cut of defense spending, he referenced putting “homos in the military.” Bernie proceeded to call him out despite his objection being risky, perhaps even unpopular, at the time. “You have used the word, homos in the military,’ you have insulted thousands,” he said. While he officially stated his support for gay marriage in 2009, Bernie’s status as an Ally was never in doubt.
While I understand that people change and so do their opinions, I take issue with gaslighting, and that is exactly what Joe Biden is doing. “The most progressive record of anybody running” – That title clearly goes to Bernie Sanders.
The Rational National’s video “Biden Vs. Bernie: Who’s On The Correct Side Of History?” was a major inspiration for this article. Consider it required viewing. My thanks to them.
T. (2019, March 18). Biden Vs. Bernie: Who's On The Correct Side Of History? Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeXbIt1x5KU
Bowden, J. (2019, March 16). Biden: 'I have the most progressive record of anybody running ... anybody who would run'. The Hill. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/434416-biden-on-potential-candidacy-i-have-the-most-progressive-record
Ember, S., & Martin, J. (2019, January 10). Bernie Sanders Apologizes Again to Women Who Were Mistreated in 2016 Campaign. The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/us/politics/sanders-sexism-apology.html
T. (2019, April 05). Biden Says He's Sorry, and Not Sorry. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000006447596/biden-apology-controversy.html Published by The New York Times
V. (2018, September 21). Watch The Most Outrageous Questions Senators Asked Anita Hill In 1991. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oPnd911FcM
Jacobs, J. (2018, September 20). Anita Hill’s Testimony and Other Key Moments From the Clarence Thomas Hearings. The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/us/politics/anita-hill-testimony-clarence-thomas.html
Farley, R. (2016, April 12). Bill Clinton and the 1994 Crime Bill. Factcheck.org. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.factcheck.org/2016/04/bill-clinton-and-the-1994-crime-bill/
Lee, C. E. (2016, June 26). Biden reaches out to gay community. Politico.com. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.politico.com/story/2009/06/biden-reaches-out-to-gay-community-024249
R. (2012, May 7). Joe Biden Endorses Gay Marriage. Governing.com. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.governing.com/topics/politics/Joseph-Biden-Endorses-Gay-Marriage.html
Heintz, P. (2015, June 30). 32 Years Before SCOTUS Decision, Sanders Backed Gay Pride March. Sevendaysvt.com. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2015/06/30/32-years-before-scotus-decision-sanders-backed-gay-pride-march
Frizell, S., & Moines, D. (2015, October 28). How Bernie Sanders Evolved on Gay Marriage. Time. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from http://time.com/4089946/bernie-sanders-gay-marriage/
Horowitz, J. (2015, November 27). As Gay Rights Ally, Bernie Sanders Wasn’t Always in Vanguard. The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/28/us/politics/as-gay-rights-ally-bernie-sanders-wasnt-always-in-vanguard.html
By Ryan Tibbens
I began writing this in 2014 when an Ebola outbreak shocked the world. As the illustration by Andre Carrilho (above) indicates, the major outbreak initially received intense press coverage in the industrialized world because white people, particularly a few Americans, were infected. The disease even moved inside US borders. However, thanks to a lot of hard work by the CDC, US Customs, and a handful of other organizations, threats to the United States quickly faded. As did the press coverage. Unfortunately, the outbreak actually lasted over 2.5 years, well into 2016, infected over 28,600 people, and killed 11,325 people. Because few of those affected after the initial panic were white or American or European, public interest dissolved, and the victims in Africa were left to fend for themselves. However, Ebola continues to be a problem in Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Recently, militant groups have taken to attacking hospitals and Ebola containment centers, threatening not only the lives of countless healthcare workers, but quite possibly the rest of Africa and, perhaps, the human race if containment is breached. This is the second largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history, with a death toll over 1,100 since August 2018; attacks on hospitals and health centers have wounded or killed around 100 benevolent souls. The rest of this article is from my initial draft, written in 2014, with only minor revisions.
I used to believe that broken glass and AIDS were the worst things in the world. I would remind people of their treachery all too often -- broken glass at barbecues, picnics, hikes, concerts, and wading in creeks -- AIDS at parties, bars, double dates, and the like. They used to be the worst things to me because they prevented us from enjoying the best parts of our natural lives; they discouraged us from plugging in to the world we are a part of.
Anyone who has ever dug her toes into cool, wet sand on a hot, sunny beach knows a feeling that shoes will never allow. The same goes for cool blades of green grass in June and the first toe dipped in a shady river on a hot August afternoon. Shoes are fine for snow, pointy rocks, and 120 degree asphalt, but we shouldn't need them everywhere, and broken glass forces us to be careful of our feet in even the most fun, relaxed, natural setting. The functional similarities between condoms and shoes, and the discouraging characteristics of AIDS and broken glass, should make my claims against AIDS obvious enough.
But they are not the worst anymore. If doctors, scientists, public health officials, elected leaders, and ordinary people don't act more aggressively and more immediately, Ebola will quickly make broken glass, AIDS, and even the bubonic plague look like paper cuts or the common cold.
Why? Because Ebola attacks us in a way that will lead to our fall from civilized grace. I know: calling our existence "civilized grace" is both optimistic and hyperbolic, but if we don't contain and CURE Ebola, we will look back at this violent, impersonal world like a utopian dream. We stand one genetic mutation away from destruction, but we ignore the danger so long as it stays in Africa.
You see, if it doesn't mutate and become airborne (or waterborne), Ebola will kill itself off, and it will spare only the worst among us. Unlike the more contagious measles and influenza, Ebola can't spread through air. For a person to contract Ebola, he must come in direct contact with the virus via an infected person's blood, sweat, tears, urine, feces, vomit, blood, or by linens and textiles directly touched by the victim. More rarely, humans can contract the virus from other animals, usually by hunting and eating mammals (or being bitten by a bat, as happened to a child in 2014, setting off the 2.5 year outbreak). Let's not worry about animal-contact transmission, as that may be unpreventable, at least for now. No, let us consider Ebola's human-to-human transmission, which is both homicidal and suicidal.
Despite the fact that our world is full of violence, poverty, disease, and oppression, it is also full of kind, generous, and caring people. In reality, the good outweigh the bad, and the good are usually quieter about their endeavors. If it bleeds, it leads; the most profitable news is bad news, so we hear more about the bad than good. Still, ask anyone you know -- are more of your family and friends good, caring people, or are more of them selfish, cruel people? Sure, perspective counts for a lot here, but goodness, generosity, and respect are universally desired traits and treatments. Our entire code of morality has evolved around cooperation, meaning most of us are pretty good at cooperating at least most of the time.
And there is the problem. We care for each other, and Ebola does not. We want to be cared for, and Ebola does not.
Ebola attacks our sympathy, our kindness, our nurturing spirit. It attacks both our literal and figurative hearts. A person can only contract Ebola through direct contact -- as little as a single virus can lead to fatal infection -- and 99.99% of the population will only ever contact Ebola for one reason -- to care for afflicted friends, family, and neighbors.
Ebola is worse than broken glass and AIDS because it not only discourages immersion in the natural world, but it discourages the nurturing and close-contact that bind us to each other. The kind of personal care and affection that define most of the "higher primates" will be the very traits that devolve us back into brutes. That is, if we can't stop Ebola.
Left unchecked, Ebola will kill all the good people among us. It will spare only the selfish, the unsympathetic, the folks who were never really into love, friendship, bare feet, and making love anyway. Ebola is the worst thing in the world because it will kill us for caring, and eventually it will die out because the only people left will have no hearts to attack.
By Ryan Tibbens (with additional, better text by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)
This week, a respected international organization, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, ruled that a woman can't compete in women's sports because her body naturally produces "too much" testosterone. Castor Semenya, a world class track star from South Africa, was born (and continues to be) female. However, because her body produces abnormally high levels of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, the international body has stopped her future participation in events they govern. In order to participate, she must take medication to artificially lower her testosterone to their 'acceptable' levels.
According to the court, "there can be no suggestion that Ms. Semenya (or any other female athletes in the same position as Ms. Semenya) has done anything wrong. This is not a case about cheating or wrongdoing of any sort. Ms. Semenya is not accused of breaching any rule. Her participation and success in elite female athletics is entirely beyond reproach and she has done nothing whatsoever to warrant any personal criticism."
Regardless, because of her natural characteristics, she's being punished. She must choose between taking (potentially) 'performance reducing drugs' or ceasing to compete with female athletes in major competitions. Do we ask Michael Phelps to produce more lactic acid? Giannis Antetokounmpo to reduce his wingspan? Isn't the point of professional (and international amateur) athletics to celebrate our fellow humans who have been blessed with abnormal traits and abilities? Since when do we handicap our best to make competition "fair"? "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and a handicap on a gift makes the whole world ordinary.
I now defer to the great Kurt Vonnegut, whose entertaining and prescient stories seem to gain value each day. When I first thought about Semenya's situation, I immediately thought of Harrison's. This is one of the great modern American short stories, a work that fits as well with Orwell's 1984 as current events. If you've never read "Harrison Bergeron," or if you haven't read it in years, this week seems like a good time for it. More about Semenya, common sense, and justice coming soon...
by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.
It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.
Because no one else