Telling the truth

Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson have argued that

“It would be nice if conservative White evangelicals called off the Culture Wars that they started and continue to aggressively pursue. It would be even nicer if liberal (and even some progressive) pundits stopped prematurely announcing the end of the Culture Wars and the demise of the Christian Right. Neither is likely to happen any time soon.”

I agree and would add that there are many challenges to this pickle we are in being resolved in a pro-human, pro-social way.

As a member of one of those groups that get trotted out in national elections, budget hearings, and government shutdowns – we all know the groups: African Americans, women, immigrants, and LGBT people – I perhaps have a somewhat greater interest in the successful resolution of these hostilities from the Right. In an effort to get my thoughts together on this situation, I have found myself dithering for weeks, maybe even months. I wanted to have a mega-theory and practical suggestions for change, but I realized just today that I am unlikely to get to this theory or agenda on my own. I guess that I have accidentally fallen into one of the traps that I believe keeps these culture wars locked into place – solo functioning sprinkled with personal punditry. Hats off to thousands of years of patriarchy, male privilege, powerlessness, and fear of the unknown! You got me.

I surrender. I am now clawing my way out of the trap, and have taken some tentative breaths of release.

Today, I have no new overarching theory, but want to move toward improved outcomes for our collapsing society using the theories and resources we already have. I could really start with almost anything as a catalyst for action, but have decided to start with the premise of truth-telling. By truth-telling, I am not referring to the in-your-face-I-hate-your-guts shouting matches so popular on social media. There are probably times and places where these are useful and possibly necessary. Instead, by truth-telling I am referring to direct communications that are in accord with fact or reality. This stands in contrast to the more modern understanding of truth as an existential aim of being true to oneself.

For me, telling truth requires vulnerability and directness that is quite unpopular in the US today. Consider the ongoing challenges to the Black Lives Matter movement. The simple early assertion by a handful of activists that Black lives do indeed matter, despite what would appear to be true from the accounts of police violence and racial profiling, has been met with anger and attempts to diminish their message. Those who need to counter the message with “All lives matter” lack sufficient vulnerability to remain silent long enough to consider the intelligence behind the Black Lives Matter movement and its very direct communications. What I mean by vulnerability is not the frequently used definition that refers to the inability of a system or person to withstand the effects of a hostile environment, as in being vulnerable to attack or invasion. Rather, I am referring to the sense of emotional vulnerability that allows us to recognize our hurts and those of others.

Queen Elizabeth IIFor many years now I have been using the metaphor of a story in becoming vulnerable. In intimate conversations, counseling sessions, or in my head, I ask, “What is this a story about?” I can only assume what another person’s back story is, but I can clearly know what my own back story is if I am honest with myself. Is what I feel is disrespect in some interaction really disrespect? Or do I have a disrespect story I carry from situation to situation? Just this past week I went somewhere to eat and was never served. When I later spoke with the apologetic manager, I told my story — I had not planned well and had come into the place way too hungry for my own good. As my blood sugar dropped I got really angry. I was leaving then, but wanted him to know about the major gaffe. I walked a block, got a granola bar and proceeded to get a meal elsewhere. My point is that I didn’t drag out some story about the place is no good and no one likes me. That particular story lost its luster by middle school.

Like emotional vulnerability, the degree of directness has long been associated with social class. I have been told by several workplace supervisors over the years that I am too direct in my communications. Indeed, there has been some truth in those critiques. However, I have been quite scrupulous in my own critiques as well and believe that there is some middle class code being used in the term direct. A couple of decades ago, I decided to experiment with something that, if it were successful for me, I would use it until it was no longer successful. The experiment is that I would let people know I am direct ahead of time, like the surgeon general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes. The directness experiment helped me land on a few favorite methods of communicating my directness to others and getting less guff for it. These include

  • I have a reputation for being quite direct.
  • May I offer you an observation?
  • If you are looking for someone who does not beat around the bush, I am your guy.
  • If I come home from lunch and discover you have let me walk around with a big piece of spinach on my teeth, I will be disappointed. Don’t you agree?
  • Be careful, this propeller might be in motion though it looks like it is standing still.
  • I am the sort of guy who, if I am on fire and there is no water around, will expect you to piss on me to save my life. May I do the same?

I completely realize that a couple of these statements may be just a bit too course for polite company, but my point is that I am not highly born and refuse to be restricted by manners that keep the relics of the gentry in place in the US. I find it offensive that beautiful photographs of Michelle Obama are labeled on Facebook as “classy.” What would be so problematic in describing her as intelligent, assertive, creative, fit, and beautiful?

This seems like a very long introduction to what will amount to a list of concerns about which a dose of truth-telling could make a big difference. Please remember, I did ask if I might offer an observation.

  • The continued involvement of the US in many wars is rooted in greed and profiteering. We preserve a very active story in the US that people in the armed forces are worth having the best equipment. Follow the money; it is not going to them.
  • The so-called gun lobby is actually a fairly small group of munitions manufacturers to which many people in congress are indebted. The money they contribute directly to campaigns is relatively small; but they are also manufacturers and give through the same dark money avenues that other manufacturers and chambers of commerce do.
  • The Pope is a monarch and continues to make decisions that are intended to preserve that monarchy. Unlike other modern monarchs like Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Francis is not a constitutional monarch. He has the power and authority in his position to do things that he refuses to do while publicly empathizing with those affected by his refusals.
  • Donald Trump is not all that different from Ronald Regan. He just looks more bizarre today than Regan did decades ago.
  • George Washington warned the nation about the two-party political system over two hundred years ago.
  • Privatizing schools is just a recent example of the wealthy working to manage supply and demand for the workforce. When they need more workers to do low paying service jobs that do not require a high school diploma, they will fight for systems that turn off the spigot to support secondary education. When they need more people in technical trades, they will enshrine them in fancy programs called STEM while defunding the humanities. They will then blame the underclass that they created for acting inhumanely to one another.
  • The move to allow gay and bisexual men to give blood if they have not had sex in 12 months is not about insuring the safety of the blood supply. It is a negotiated settlement to improve public relations for America’s Blood Centers while continuing the absurd vilification of same-sex sexual behaviors, the very same sexual behaviors in which heterosexual partners engage.
  • The continued prissiness of the Religious Right about teen sexuality has the intended consequence of perpetuating poverty in low-income families.
  • Ronald Regan’s reprehensible administration and its failed public health response to HIV disease in the early months of the disease in the US and Africa were a major cause of an epidemic getting so out of control that it led to the loss of 500,000 gay and bisexual men’s lives. When we say that the epidemic is behind us, we display an ignorance of the ongoing epidemic and its effects on a generation of young gay and bisexual men of color.

Clearly, I could continue. However, the point of this list is not to be exhaustive. It is to illustrate that we can be direct in telling truth. It is not necessarily polite, but when we fail to do so, solutions cannot be found. I got the ball rolling, how about continuing in the comments?

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