Sunday, September 25, 2011

Zero Population Is the Answer?

Recently, when I told a friend that I wanted three or four children, I was brought up short by her immediate question: "Why?"

No one had ever directly asked me that before. I suppose many feel it's too personal a topic, meddling in another person's familial choices. Also, I suspect that to my family and in the church I attend, three children sounds like a reasonable or even modest number. After all, it's half the number my parents had.

But my friend with the question was expressing concern for the environmental destruction and lack of resources around the world. Her solution, in part, was lessening the children because she sees a direct causal link between human numbers and the horrors of ecological havoc and third-world poverty.

So, is overpopulation destroying our world? From an ecological perspective, absolutely not. From an anthropocentric perspective? Maybe, but indirectly and it doesn't have to. Lemme explain.

Today, humankind simply does not have the power to do irrevocable harm to the natural world. Even if we wanted to. Even if we doubled the output of car and factory pollution spewing into the air, dumped twice the amount of toxins into lakes and oceans, and poisoned the soils and watersheds far more than we presently do, nature would survive. In fact, even if we detonated our combined nuclear arsenals all at once, nature would trundle along oblivious (as all non-sentient forces do). Don't believe me? Visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for yourself. Or look at another example, the Korean Demilitarized Zone. This one-time no man's land, pitted and scarred by war, now having been left alone for decades due to a frosty standoff is a 160-miles-long accidental nature preserve. Nature is resilient, far more than we give "her" credit for. We can bloody her nose, but if we were to all die tomorrow, she would reclaim our cities, dismantle them, fill them with flora and fauna, and feed our bodily nutrients to her spawn.

What people mean when they say we hurt mother nature is that we damage small parts of her. Through deliberate overhunting and habitat destruction or thoughtless use of poisons and pollution, we can outright annihilate some species. And that should be of concern to anthropocentric people. In other words, to all of us. While it's true that extinction is natural, Professor Will Steffen estimates that current extinction levels are at 100 to 1000 times the normal level. Make no mistake, I deplore species extinction. I believe it to be literally evil. We are not waging war against nature so much as we are committing genocide. But nature will weather even this. It's not the first extinction event natural life has overcome. It's the sixth.

Others worry about climate change. And we should. The science is in; the earth is heating up. Most likely cause? Human activity. But this too isn't much of a problem to nature. The world is actually much cooler today than it normally is. Presently, we're in a short interglacial phase of an Ice Age. (Or, we were until very recently). That means that even if the earth really heats up, it's nothing our world hasn't experienced before.

So, if nature will recover just fine no matter what we do, why should we be concerned? Because it's our own hide at stake. We're just one species on this planet, a species adapted to live in specific conditions. If we're responsible for climate change, all we're really doing is making life more difficult for ourselves. Modern humans, whether you believe in evolution, creationism, intelligent design, or panspermia, were designed to live on a colder planet. Today's average surface temperature is 59 degrees. How would we fare in a world where it's ten degrees warmer than it is now? The earth's most extreme climate change in prehistory, the PETM, gives us clues, possibly a worst case scenario: Coastal flooding. Jet stream reversal. Ocean acidification and anoxia (oxygen-depleted seas). Mass extinction of 35-50 percent of species. That's a bleak future, one we'd be hard pressed to live in. Even if we could survive such conditions, we'd probably not possess the same creatures comforts. Welcome to the post-Apocalypse.

So even if we're not all tree-hugging hippies, most would admit that humanity's survival and well-being are fairly important.

And if I thought that having more than two children contributed to a bleaker future, I'd cease and desist all baby-making activities immediately. But, for me, the following equation does not compute: Fewer Humans = Future Utopia.

One day in class, my students and I were analyzing an essay called "Lifeboat Ethics." In it, Garrett Hardin argues that the earth is not a vast spaceship with limited resources we must share, as some had argued, but a stretch of ocean with a single lifeboat atop. The raft represents the world's privileged nations. There are also a number of people treading water, each one a less developed country. Hardin's idea is that it is impossible, and detrimental, to welcome all into the lifeboat. It's swamped. Everyone drowns. The horror, the horror.

Neither can we invite only a select few of the world's poor in the lifeboat. Which few do we select? And where does that leave the other 90% of the poor countries? In other words, Hardin imagined a world that had already maxed out its ability to sustain the current population. And he wrote his essay in 1974, when the world had three billion fewer people.

Hardin's argument has several subtle flaws. For starters, it is profoundly nationalistic, even xenophobic. He endorses closed borders and a cessation of international aid of any type. That should naturally keep the poorer populations in check, he claims. For some reason unbeknownst to me, an American's life is more valuable than a Mexican's life because of an imaginary line some dead guys drew on a map long before any of us were born. Given that logic, it beats me why he's concerned about even other Americans.

And his lifeboat metaphor is full of holes as well. He assumes, for some reason, that the privileged nations hold all the resources quite naturally. Apparently he forgot that our gold is from Africa, our oil from the Middle East, our silk from Asia, and 15 percent of our food imported from abroad. In one way or another, many of the resources in our raft actually belong to the people in the water. Either we traded or stole them away. If countries actually kept what the land gave them, Peru, South Africa, and Russia would have the most silver, gold, and diamonds respectively. Brazil would have the most drinkable water. China the most cotton T-shirts. And the U.S. would only win in wheat and corn. (However, China and the U.S. win in every category, if we look at resources consumed.) Slimmer pickins' at the grocery store, but at least we wouldn't starve.

Furthermore, he completely ignores renewable resources. These are those that cannot be saved up, but wash over us with every wave and beat down at us from dawn till dusk. As long as the sun shines, the earth has energy. Let's focus on the cruse of oil which is everlastingly available, instead of the oil and coal that is fleeting.

Instead, Hardin suggests we have fewer kids. That's our problem, he says. Smaller families, the number of people treading water drops, and then everyone can climb aboard the lifeboat and share the bounty. If a smaller population were the answer, we would just have to look back in time, before 1974 even, to get a glimpse of this utopia. It's estimated that the global population reached one billion in 1805. Any poverty then? Yup. Millions of destitutes. 200 million on the planet in 1 AD. Poverty then? "Ye have the poor always with you." Ancient Greece. Babylon. It seems that in every age, poverty haunts our steps. All along the way, we rationalize our self-centeredness by convincing ourselves there is not enough for everyone to have a fair share. It is my belief that our ecological and socioeconomic problems are not causally linked to overpopulation, but to our own inhumanity.

Greed, ignorance, mismanagement, shortsightedness. These are the environmental killers, the misanthropic characteristics of humankind that threaten us all.

What's my solution? In part, I'm going to go raise some kids who live sustainable, simple, charitable lives.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why Mormons Vote Republican

A significant majority of U.S. Mormons vote Republican and tend politically conservative. In fact, we are the most Republican-voting religion in the country, beating even evangelical protestants. It's surprising, given that ours is a faith with no official political affiliation.

To be forthright, I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Neither really represent my political views. So, in a way, I wish for a third party (not Libertarian) and look on in wonder at those who find either one a good political platform. But more on that later.

Now I want to address the question that keeps spinning through my mind: Why are most Mormons Republican?

It's not like on their surface one is evil and the other righteous. Certainly politicians and candidates from both sides can demonstrate unchristian behavior. The high road is universally the road less taken. Furthermore, one could argue that both parties have their good moral stances. Democrats want to reduce poverty, fund research, promote equality and champion civil rights. They struggle to give power to marginalized minorities and the forgotten.

On the other side, Republicans exalt in personal liberties and are often unflagging patriots. Most are people of family and faith. They want to eliminate corruption and waste in government.

Democrats are forward-looking visionaries; Republicans revere the bold beginnings of this country. And both sides (barring any conspiracy theories) want more jobs, better schools, domestic security, safe streets, clean air and water, and personal rights.

After thinking about it for some time I came up with a theory that sheds some light on the decision most Mormons have come to. It revolves around this question: Shall we force morality onto the people (Democrats) or are they moral deep down and it'll come out if we let them govern themselves (Republicans)?

This theory requires a little Mormonism 101 to make it clear. Mormons believe that our spirits did not wink into existence at birth, but that we lived a premortal life with God, an existence that now we cannot remember. We chose mortality to prove we would obey God on nothing more than faith. But along came Satan--yeah, he lived there too--and said he would force everyone to be good. Conversely, God and Jesus' plan would allow us to freely choose good or evil.

How does this translate into politics? Democrats want to pass laws that make us good: Hate crime laws. "Wealth transfer" laws. Gun control laws. Gay marriage laws. Civil rights laws. Equal opportunity. Tuition grants. US AID. Republicans want to keep government out of our lives and schools. They champion personal liberties to the point that government looks very bad. Given that, I guess it's easier to equate forced goodwill with the devil and freedom to choose with Jesus.

This simple view isn't always accurate though. Republicans want fiscal freedom but often come down hard on controversial moral issues like abortion and sex ed. Both try to legislate morality. It's just that Republicans rhetorically emphasize personal freedom more than Democrats. Freedom to do whatever the heck I want.

Am I right? half-right? Anyone have any other ideas? Stay tuned: A few more blog posts on politics coming your way.

Monday, July 25, 2011

30-Year-Old Virgin

(Not to worry, nothing too personal or explicit here.)

I was married just three months shy of my thirtieth birthday. Up until that time, I was a virgin. Intentionally, I might add.

By modern standards, I’m odd. Those who would call me “old-fashioned,” however, are dead wrong. I, and others like me, am abnormal by any generation’s standards.

According to one study conducted by researcher Lawrence Finer, ninety-five percent of all Americans (male and female) have had sexual relations before marriage. And the rate is the same today as it was in the 1940s. “Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades,” says Finer.

So why did I go against the grain, accepting this most unusual mission to stay celibate before marriage? Religion is a likely answer. True, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of our mantras is “complete chastity before marriage, complete fidelity afterwards.” And it turns out that with nearly all Americans having sex before marriage, we really are a peculiar people.

Sometimes we don’t know how bizarre we seem. I know a friend who sat down to eat lunch with his colleagues at law school one day when the topic turned to religion. They knew he wasn’t married, so when he iterated the church’s sexual standard, their jaws gaped.

“Wait. Are you telling me you’re a virgin?” My friend had never been called a virgin before, so, though guilty as charged, he felt equally surprised. Not missing a beat, he declared in his most help-me-I’m-so-backwards voice, “Yup, I’m a virgin!”

Methinks you're being too self-congratulatory, some might say. Hardly, just lucky. Lucky enough to be raised in a religion where I learned abstinence before I knew all the additional non-doctrinal reasons. See, the doctrine handed down to me from my church is just one facet of my decision. What makes up the rest I will attempt to explain.

It has to do with a word which men pretend they don’t know the definition of: vulnerability. Sexual intimacy lays bare more than our skins. Dr. Gray of Mars and Venus fame explains that “during lovemaking men receive a unique opportunity to feel and connect with their emotions. […] It is not that men need sex just for physiological reasons, but also to restore their emotional wholeness” (Brotherson, 93-94). While, for a guy, I’m fairly attuned to my emotions, even I have found there’s a smidgen of truth to what Gray claims. Lovemaking makes men feel love(d).

At least it should.

But if lovemaking fosters this emotional connectivity, what’s bad about premarital sex? Others are asking this very question. Says anthropologist George Murdock, “the sexual laxity current among our youth is admittedly an unlovely phenomenon from an esthetic point of view, I see no grounds, however, for regarding it as socially dangerous. It is probably here to stay, since the principal props of the older morality have disappeared with the advent of contraception and the scientific mastery of venereal infection.” Unlovely phenomenon? Most think not. But the rest of his statement seems to match popular opinion.

As reported by Time magazine, Murdoch gives five benefits of young folks having sex: “1) less guilt, hence less psychoneurosis; 2) an approved outlet for sexual vigor when it is at its height; 3) establishment of normal heterosexual habits; 4) understanding of the role of sex—‘Relief from sexual frustration is a very inadequate motive for marriage’; 5) prevention of marriage between sexual incompatibles.” With all these advantages, why would anyone go through all the hassle (and “psychoneurosis”) of waiting?

Well, my initial response is that we shouldn’t wait any longer than necessary. As soon as one finds a guy or girl who makes said person happy, stop dreaming and get married. Don’t worry about the money; nobody has enough. Yes, Mr. Darcy is fictional, and so are all those supermodels. Alas, I know it’s more complicated than that. Nearly thirty years old, I was a walking “menace to society” by Mormon standards. It’s a literal miracle every time two people find each, both fall in love at the same time, and to the same profundity. I had a list. A long one. Of qualities I was looking for in a woman. I know, I know. (Lucky for me, my wife is that list incarnate.)

But why wait at all? In fact, why not try different people on for size? Sleep around to learn preferences? Cohabitate before marriage to preempt divorce?

Because it doesn’t work. Despite what modern media tells us, sex is not all steam and passion; it’s not a fireworks show. Unless they mean it’s your heart and gut and soul bursting up there.

Imagine if one of our vital organs were external: the heart—not the cutesy valentine, the actual human heart; ten beating ounces of delicate muscle tissue. Imagine it could be given to a partner for safekeeping. This external heart is what keeps our emotions healthy and alive. Symbiotic, it thrives only in another person’s hands. (I’m not saying that all sexual relationships are like this, just that they should be.) A person wouldn’t want to give his heart to a negligent or careless partner. Someone with rough or dirty hands would be an unlikely candidate. Anybody with a history of dropping it whenever something else more interesting chances by he would also scratch off the list. As a married man, I can only imagine how terrifying it would be to have sex in a non-committal relationship or with a complete stranger, especially after reading that researchers MJ Stebleton and JH Rothenberger found that over half of American college students, male and female, felt that a partner had lied to them in order to have sex. Kind of like playing "hot potato" until somebody drops it and I’m left to wonder why love hurts so much. Surely, it’s no game.

Then again, some are no doubt thinking I’m taking sex much too seriously. Sex is fun, they say. Romantic. It’s a blast. It’s liberating. Nirvana. Ecstasy. I’ve heard this before; we all have. But if it’s like ecstasy, I fear we’re buying it over- and under-the-counter, off the streets and even stealing it. We’re a sex-saturated but still sex-starved society; look at the red herring ads, the sex scandals and it’s obvious.

And like addicts, we ignore the crushing biological realities. Medical researcher James Trussell claims almost half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unwanted, running up to $5 billion in medical costs a year. And no matter a person’s stance, the annual 42 million abortions seems wasteful on some level, economically or morally (Speidel, par. 1). CCASA reports that one in six American women have been raped or narrowly escaped it. AVERT estimates that forty percent of American teenage girls who have had sex have a sexually-transmitted infection. Three billion people worldwide suffer from a curable STD. My wife works for the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health where one of their advertising campaigns asks viewers to imagine when they sleep with a partner that they also sleep with all that partner’s previous partners. A sobering thought, and true when it comes to transitive disease. These are the multitudinous side-effects to our sexual buzzes.

Okay, a young person says, so I’ll practice safe sex and make sure it’s consensual. Still, premarital sex is not without disadvantages.

What if I said that if we wait, it will be even better? I know, patience runs counter our society, our culture, our biological makeup, one could argue.

Like the kids in the above video hilariously depict, some of us want to dally with sex, trying to fudge the line between waiting and sneaking a bite or two. But if a person can really hold off until marriage, it actually will be better. Better than receiving another marshmallow even. Not only have researchers reached the oft-cited conclusion that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced, but a new study shows that couples who wait to have sex until their wedding night are happier and have more satisfying sex. That’s right. Unpracticed and awkward, they’re experiencing better sex.

According to USA Today, over two-thirds of married couples polled in 2005 cohabitated beforehand. (Again, I find myself in the minority.) Remember, the prelude to cohabitation is premarital sex. In fact, it seems to be the only criterion in some cases. I was shocked to find that sharing a bedroom sorta just happens sometimes. The article explains that many couples “end up spending more and more time together until finally all the stuff gets moved into one person’s place.” First comes sex, then come on over, then comes marriage (usually to appease one of the partners or his or her parents), then comes the baby carriage. With such poor family planning, no wonder the divorce rate is over fifty percent.

What’s especially devastating is when one partner sees cohabitation as meaningful while the other sees it as merely convenient. The USA Today article continues, “In focus groups, women perceive cohabitation as a step before marriage to that partner, whereas men are tending to see cohabitation as something to do before you make a commitment.” The other emotional repercussions are far more serious. Married? According to sociologist Linda Waite, the chance of physical abuse is five percent. Living together? It increases threefold. Cohabitating couples also tend to sleep around more, make less money, and abandon children more frequently. These all are among the most stressful and emotionally-debilitating events in domesticity. Talk about taking one’s heart in one’s hands.

Inversely, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, couples who wait to have sex until the wedding night “rated sexual quality 15 percent higher than people who had premarital sex, relationship stability as 22 percent higher, and satisfaction with their relationships 20 percent higher.” Furthermore, they also reported happier relationships overall, beating out even those who “became sexually active later in their relationships but before marriage.” I know what some must be thinking. It’s because, like my wife and I, these couples were religious, right? Actually, the study found the same results regardless of religious activity or affiliation.

Perhaps this just proves the old maxim: Good things come to those who wait, whatever their reasons. Now who'd like an extra marshmallow?

But if the statistics prove anything, many who read this have already had premarital sex. So it may sound to them like the benefits of waiting to have sex until marriage are unattainable. While some good has slipped away, I'm a firm believer that people who profoundly change their behavior gain most of those advantages back. C. S. Lewis agrees: “I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on." In psychology, behavior change therapy is real. Together counselors and patients identify the destructive or risky behaviors in their life, then reorient their worldview, making small, specific, attainable goals to retrain the patient. The field of public health does the same on the community level. Either way, it's a self-motivated reengineering of the heart, mind, and guts of a person, and has definite results.

There are some common pitfalls of changing behavior. Trying to simply stop isn't effective. It needs to be replaced by positive actions. For example, "I'm not going to sleep with my exes anymore" is a hopeless resolution unless the man or woman takes up something to fill those lonely or dull hours. Also, people making goals get mired in vagueness. "I'm going to be more committed to my partner" isn't as effective as "On Thursday night this week, I'm going to ask my partner whether marriage is in our future." And in an abusive relationship, the only thing a person can do is get out. People shouldn't rely on their own ability to control the situation. If he's throwing punches or she's throwing vases, if insults are being hurled every night, the relationship is already out of control. And finally, if someone won't commit and the other person wants to, is that couple really compatible? Will the other person come around, eventually? Sometimes change can only occur in changing the context of one's life. If a woman keeps finding lowlife boyfriends in bars, she could stop going to bars and try some other way of meeting people. A person can change, once they stop trying to micro-manage their lives, making sex into a coping mechanism.

There's another pernicious myth that people cannot control themselves at all, that sex is such a basic need that it will express itself in one way or another. Today, people most commonly cite the Catholic priest molestation scandal as evidence. While I'm not sure lifelong celibacy is healthy, celibacy while deciding on a marriage partner is not psychologically self-damaging. In fact, most researchers agree that between the emotionally insecure and the emotionally healthy, the former are more likely to have premarital and extramarital sex. The can't-control-ourselves argument puts the cart before the horse. Furthermore, some argue (though the jury is still out) that pre- and extramarital sex actually lead to emotional instability, especially when the relationship falls apart or the dull pace of living sets in. As a result, some go from one bad sexual partner to another without stopping for breath.

In any case, those who have not waited until marriage can begin now with small reasonable goals. Those who are already married can pledge complete fidelity to their spouse. Both groups can succeed, if they can stand standing out.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Music Taught Me

Proof that reading comments on YouTube isn't always a waste of time:

"Lady Gaga taught me its ok to be different.
Ke$ha taught me to be myself and not care what anyone else thinks.
Bruno Mars taught me to do anything for that one person I love.
Eminem taught me that life is hard but you can make it through.
Taylor Swift taught me not every guy is going to treat me right.
Michael Jackson taught me to always love the people around me.
Music taught me how to live.

BUT, most importantly, Rebecca Black taught me the days of the week."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Southern Virginia University

With any luck I'll be in Buena Vista, Virginia teaching this fall semester. Here's why:

Following a very specific prompting I received in Sunday School about a month ago, I sent a letter of inquiry to SVU asking about openings in their English department. They had no job offerings listed on their website, so I knew this was a long shot. Nevertheless, I followed that impression.

About two weeks later, an associate professor down there wrote back asking to meet and wondering when I might make it down to Virginia. It's a three-and-a-half-hour drive, but my parents live not too far from there.

So we made a vacation out of it. I scheduled an interview for the Friday before Memorial Day, reserved a campsite for that same night, and called my parents to say we wanted to visit.

Donning my best bright-orange tie (Heather recommends wearing orange to a job interview since it helps you stand out), we made good time with miraculously no traffic. The interview went really well. And I began to be excited about the university. Small class sizes. Small town feel. Breathtaking location. Beautiful old buildings. Dedicated LDS students. Great faculty who don't put on airs like some other schools.

We then went to Peaks of Otter. Having come straight from an interview, I set up the tent and bought firewood in my Sunday best. It rained most of the night but we still got a fire going and ate some tin foil burritos. Though we got a little wet, it was all worth it when the next morning we went on the most beautiful trail I've ever seen. The mist enhanced the beauty. I've been on hikes with more majestic views, but nothing like this:

We spent the rest of the weekend with my family, playing games and spending time at the lake.

When all was said and done, we drove home and waited. I started to wonder after I didn't hear from my contact for a week and a half. But last night he sent me an e-mail saying I had three courses if I still wanted them. We're still trying to make sure it would work. Heather needs to keep her job in some fashion. But provided that pans out, we may bid a fond farewell to D.C. and start a new chapter in our life.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Younger All the Time

This article on the reason why Mormons delay marriage was interesting and certainly hits a nerve with a whole lot of people. The vitriol it generated is prolific. But I think it misses the mark yet again. The whole American population is changing, not just Mormons. And it's more about economy than it is about society.

Once American companies learned that Filipinos, Cambodians, and others will do the work for a pittance versus what they have to pay Americans at least minimum wage to do, jobs were exported. So, the 65% of the population working in factories had to find work in services or management. As soon as factories closed, people needed to reinvent themselves and went to college. College enrollment is higher than ever before. Then things became competitive because all the erstwhile manufacturers went into services and management, or at least their kids did. Today even lawyers compete for work, when they used to be guaranteed a good job after law school. It's because now we have 15% of the population in factories and the rest in all those jobs that require higher education. So, young adults have to strive for even higher education before we can bring in any real income at all. Even those who intensly dislike school consider a master's degree to get an edge on the competition.

So, combine that national trend with Mormonism. In a religion that teaches self-reliance, it's no wonder men and women are trying to gain a financial foothold before committing to an eternal relationship where they need to provide more than money, but also time, talents, and everything. While women are taught to get a degree in a world where divorce is a real possibility, men are still taught that they are to win the bread even when the rest of the world has a two-year head start on them.

But, when it comes down to it, that isn't really the issue either. It's that the American economy has real effects on American culture. It is delaying maturity. Thirty is the new twenty. Because they don't have economic resources, young adults are living with their parents well into their twenties. For some, it's mostly summers and vacations, anytime colleges close. Or, more commonly, Mormon young adults use their parents as an economic crutch when times are bad. Many move home or accept money from parents just until they can find real work. (I have.) This postpones maturity. Twenty-one-year-olds don't feel like adults. Society and economic reality have taught them they aren't. It used to be people were adults and on their own as soon as they graduated high school. Now people don't even decide what they want to do with their lives until the third or fourth year of college, if then. And then it'll take at least a few more years before they're earning enough income to pay rent and food for two mouths. I don't think a person is totally psychologically matured until he or she has direction, focus, and reinforcement, despite any urging to grow up. Sometimes, that's only from a real job where a person feels he or she contributes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Muslim Culture"

This is in response to my friend Carl's post of two weeks ago. I couldn't fit it in the comment field on his site (go figure), so I've posted it here on my blog:

When a quarter of a million Egyptians demand their Allah-given right to freedom and democracy, I can't help but feel love for them. Surely, with democracies rising out of the Middle East, one can feel hopeful for the future of Muslim nations.

So, I’d like to address a few of your minor points and then I’ll tackle the major one.

First of all, you suggest that we need to “get over colonialism.” It’s important to make a few distinctions here because a statement like that can inflame instead of inspire. One way that statement could be misinterpreted is that it suggests we forget colonialism ever happened. Disastrous. If there’s one good reason to study the horrible atrocities of our collective histories, it’s so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Another misinterpretation might give license to today’s superpowers to feel superior to the nations and minorities upon whose backs they made their fortunes. It would be dishonest to not give credit where credit is due. Black Americans contributed more labor to the building of this country than anyone can estimate, not to mention their contributions to our collective culture, language, music, dance, literature, etc. etc. etc. ‘Getting over colonialism’ cannot mean feeling proud that we (white Westerners) did it all or are solely responsible for the prominent position our society has in today’s world.

But if you mean we need to start the process of forgiving each other for past atrocities, I agree, mostly because we will never progress as a human race if half of us harbor rancor toward the other half of our own species. Isn’t that a little like racism?

And, you’re right, white Christian men don’t hold the monopoly on oppression; it should be decried wherever found and whoever is committing it. But even a cursory look at the last few thousand years of history will show that white Westerners had the power to oppress other peoples more often than other cultures, and we often wielded that power to disastrous effects. I think it’s a human tendency we have to want to lord over another. But for whatever reason, white Westerners had more opportunity to be world-class jerks and we need to own up to the fact that that’s not very enlightened behavior.

Another point I wanted to address is the conflation of the terms “Islam” and “Arab.” The former is a religion with 1.57 billion adherents. The latter is an ethnic group of about 300 million worldwide. There are radical cultural differences between a Muslim from Saudi Arabia and one from Indonesia or Canada. There is no pope or a uniform agenda. One cannot simply condense an entire religion into one culture. The differences between, say, Russian Orthodox Christians and Latter-day Saints demonstrate that culture and religion should not be confused. So, when Hirsi Ali talks about “Muslim culture” (213), frankly it’s ridiculous.

Furthermore, your claim that we need to “integrate Muslim immigrants into western societies” implies that all American Muslims are Arab immigrants. In fact, fully one-third of American Muslims were born here. And more American Muslims are of South Asian and African descent than Arab, which constitute only one quarter of their numbers. Another quarter consists of African Americans. And is education the untried answer? Your post fails to mention that American Muslims are more educated and affluent than the national average.

Now, if you mean to say that we need to help Arab immigrants assimilate to American culture, well, that’s another thing. If you are saying that Western culture is superior to Arab culture, that changes things quite a bit. I still don’t really agree, but I think that’s the real claim you’re making.

As a side note, you mention female genital mutilation. As you say, FGM is not part of Islam. The Qur’an never mentions it. This is not a religious practice, but a cultural one. It isn’t endemic only to Muslim nations either. Furthermore, changes are already in the works (most notably in Iraq right now) that will illegalize it in some of these nations that traditionally have practiced it. Female oppression seemed tightly wedded to Western culture for at least two millennia, but we’re a little better now. I’d much rather let Islam survive unmolested (but encouraged) to realize for themselves there is a better way. That leads to the question of best how to do that. How can we influence the culture of a people that live thousands of miles away? Well, social media seems to have some effect.

Finally, I don’t know if anyone can make a judgment call about an entire culture and its superiority to another. We just don’t have that kind of objectivity. There may be aspects of another culture that are clearly disadvantageous. But there are aspects of mine that are pure evil too: the pervasiveness of pornography, for example. Our own culture, even traditional culture, is not all that perfect. Elder Scott affirms this when he wrote on rooting out unhealthy cultural norms, “I have found how difficult it is as I work to overcome some of my own incorrect traditions.”

When I think about Western culture, I don’t see us as the bastion of enlightenment. I wonder what you would think of Western culture in the Middle Ages. Or even more recently. One hundred and fifty years ago we condoned slavery. One hundred years ago women could not vote in this country. Fifty years ago minority groups still fought for equality. If we are enlightened, we only caught on recently. If certain cultures that happen to be mostly Muslim need a few years to make the difficult, bewildering step into a new cultural awakening, I’m willing to let them work it out, encouraging all along the way.

My fiancée works in the field of social change in the Middle East. Her company’s tactic is to use the culture and religion already in place to effect change. For instance, they might point out that FGM is never condoned in the Qur’an, that birth control is actually acceptable. I like this kind of work, for its effectiveness and its respect for the good in every culture. You say you don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater for Western culture. Let’s give all people that same opportunity.

With recent events, it seems change in the Middle East, some that should sound very familiar to enlightened Westerners, gives me great hope for the future of Islam. This from an op ed piece in today’s New York Times: “The narrative about how Arab countries are inhospitable for democracy, how the Arab world is incompatible with modernity — that has been shattered by the courage and vision of so many Tunisians and Egyptians.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Have You Heard?

Because I haven't! And in case you haven't heard either, on a random Thursday afternoon in September and over the course of ten minutes I lost all the hearing in my right ear.

One would think I'd be distressed, but I carried on with the sudden disability for nearly 24 hours acting as if nothing had happened before my roommate rightly suggested that I just might be insane for not seeking immediate medical attention. But two ear cleanings, an upswing in my zinc intake, a three-week dose of steroids, four doctor's appointments, and almost as many months later, and I am no closer to finding a cure for this sudden hearing loss.

The specialist said it's probably inner ear nerve damage, possibly caused by a non-malignant tumor. So, no, it's not earwax. I'd be thrilled if it were.

How has this affected my life? Not too much actually. I've long since grown accostumed to the tinnitus, though it did give me headaches the first week or so. I'm getting used to sitting on the right side of the person with whom I want to speak. And if it's particularly noisy in my house late at night I can just bury my good ear in my pillow and sleep blissfully.

My major discomfort is at big parties. I smile and nod. I'm thrilled to see everyone, but engaging in conversation amdist a lot of background noise is like trying to tune into a radio station by turning a tiny dial with oven mitts on.

Still, it's made me thankful for the hearing I do have. I'm also very grateful to all those who have prayed and fasted on my behalf, to my audiologist friend who looked at my ears for free, to a certain someone who drove me to doctor's appointments even though I nearly made her miss one of her best friends' wedding, and God for giving me my hearing in the first place and leaving all my other senses intact. I mean, I would've prefered he taken half my sense of smell instead, but thank goodness it wasn't an eye!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Metro

I spend five and a half hours a week on the metro train. This video is more true than you'd think:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Election Day

Because of the recent election and a few recent conversations I've had with family members, I decided to clearly state my opinions on matters of politics. The websites of those running for office inspired my format here. While I may seem to declare my opinion with certainty here, on some of these issues I'm still trying to weigh and consider:

Abortion: Legal only in cases of rape, incest, when the life of the woman is threatened, or when the baby has severe defects that would make its survival outside the womb impossible. I understand that any system like this rests on the honesty of the woman seeking the abortion and is near impossible to enforce, but it's the only policy that reflects my personal views.

Affirmative Action: No, but in education some additional consideration to first-generation college applicants, regardless of race.

Capital Punishment: No


Economy: No more government bailouts—-in my opinion, they are ineffective in bringing an end to the recession, not to mention costly.

Education: Steer away from standardized tests; instead, increase teacher’s salaries to make the job more competitive, attracting young professionals to this ailing market.

Environment: I support the expansion of public transportation, the reduction of industrial pollutants, the pursuit of cleaner forms of energy, and the preservation of American wildernesses.

Gun policy: Keep guns legal, but regulated.

Immigration: I imagine a system of fewer restriction, one not based on quota by foreign country. We should set illegal immigrants already living in the United States, especially those with dependents, on a path to citizenship.

Health Care: Universal health care run by local or individual state governments.

Iraq War: I'm saddened that we invaded because of faulty intelligence and desire a swift return of government and military control to the Iraqis.

Marijuana: Maintain its illegality, but mete out lighter sentences for possession.

Prison: Refocus on rehabilitation, not punishment; lower recidivism rate, not maximum sentencing.

Space program: Renewed funding; eventual goal being a manned mission to Mars.

Taxes: An across-the-board taxation of income (take-home pay).

Torture: No

War in Afghanistan: I support it as a war to end Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and bring justice to the individuals and organization responsible for 9/11.