The Power of Images, Symbols, and Icons in the #Resistance

Five years ago, I crocheted something for “The Snatchel Projet” and posted about it here. (And you can see a photo of what I made.)

This is how I started the post:

What’s a “snatchel”?

Before I get to that, let me just explain that I have in my life marched in protests carrying banners with symbols proclaiming my positions on critical issues. During the wartime 70s, I sewed a gigantic “Peace” banner and hung it from a tree limb that hung over our driveway. I believe in the power of symbols. I believe that sometimes you have to get in the faces of those who refuse to hear what you’re saying.

Well, thanks to tRump, things have gotten even worse. And that’s why the Pusshat Project and the Ides of Trump postcard project are important.

Symbols are powerful. While you might not be interested in reading this book, the cover says it all. It worked in Poland.

I would love to come up with another project that uses images and symbols to further the cause of the Resistance — something that we can send to legislators (knit, crochet, draw…) and post various places that would be a shout-out of our Crone voices. I’m looking for ideas and collaborators.

How can we add our creative resources to help stem this tide of fascism that will ruin our nation for sure. Yes, there are efforts being made by those with some governmental effect.

But we have to keep giving the symbolic finger to remind those who have stolen our power to uphold our American values.

I have a problem with violent computer games

Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
No one can hear with beans in their ears.
After a while the reason appears.
They did it cause we said no.

(from The Fantasticks)

Like most folks over the age of 50, I have a problem with violent computer games, such as “Grand Theft Auto.” I’ve never played any of them, but, like many young folks, my 13 year old grandson does.

gtaOn one occasion, I look over his shoulder as his avatar – a strong, white, adult male, – climbs into his Super Sport Bugatti and sets off on a heist. The bank robbery hits a snag and he and his partner have to shoot their way out, killing the security guard. He makes it back to his virtual apartment with the designated “payout” stashed in his virtual account. He will use those earnings to buy more cars. Or maybe a helicopter or a yacht, depending on how wealthy he becomes. The graphics in this virtual world are realistic and compelling, a quantum leap in design and process from the “Space Invaders” arcade game of my generation.

“Hmpf.” I say to him. “I don’t like these killing games.”

“Grammy,” he says, with a patience that belies his age. “It’s like playing a part in a movie script. It’s fantasy. I know the difference.”

I know, and his parents know, that if he is forbidden to play, he might find a way to do it anyway, and the stress it would put on family relationships would not be worth it. The answer to this dilemma is not for the adults to say “No,” but rather to try to understand what this gaming culture is all about and how to ensure that the young players don’t internalize a wrong message.

For my home schooled grandson, well versed in morality and ethics, his gaming goal is not to kill anyone but to complete the assignment (although characters can get killed along the way). Granted, there are other gamers who get delight in escalating the violence just to see what they can get away with. That’s what I have a problem with out of a concern that they will become inured to the horrors of violence and start confusing fantasy with reality. Hundreds of contradicting studies have been done – and continue to be done – that both affirm and deny the ill effects of playing violent computer games.

The culture of my family is to try to understand where the other person is coming from before any decision is made, so my grandson has explained to his parents his approach to gaming and they have shared their concerns. It reminds me of when my 10 year old son became obsessed with comics during the time in the 1980s when many of the publications began to use illustrations with hyper-sexualized female superhero bodies. I remember having a long talk with him, expressing my feminist disapproval of such depictions of women and reminding him that it’s all fantasy.

I have embarked on a long learning curve that involves my grandson explaining how the game works, which is a complex process, on the part of the gamers, that involves planning, coordinating, and cooperating in setting up each heist. While the game program itself establishes parameters, the gamers make specific choices and have to deal with the consequences.

There are other modules that are available for GTA, my grandson tells me. His favorites are the ones in which his character is a fireman or policeman or emergency medical technician. While the scenarios for those modules can include violence, it is always because the protagonist is trying to rescue someone.

What I am learning gives me a more informed appreciation and understanding of why my otherwise non-violent teenage grandson likes to play “Grant Theft Auto.” And the conversations continue.

I see that what he is taking away from playing these games is so much more than I would have ever considered. For example, he has to budget and manage his virtual money so that he can afford to buy the new luxury items that he wants. In the process of researching cars, he has developed a knowledge of automobiles – both ordinary and classic – that is encyclopedic. He experiments with designing the appearance of his cars, playing with colors and shapes. He has forged online friendships with other players his age from around the world as they work together to develop strategies for their heists. He is honing his reading skills as he keeps up to date on understanding the evolving rules and improvements in the game.

Because he was not told “No” and instead was invited to share his gaming experiences with the family, the problem other families might have with the issue of violent computer games is not a problem for us — although I still really don’t like them. It’s probably a generational thing, as it often is with music, fashion, language, and etiquette. But I learn to appreciate it all. Like Walt Whitman, “I contain multitudes.”

Street-smart Feminism — wary vigilance and personal responsibility

I have been an admirer of controversial Camille Paglia ever since I read her books back in the “olden days,” and this interview with her has some elemental points about women and their sexuality that I think are, unfortunately, ignored by most. She says:

Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system ‘street-smart feminism’; there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.


Wary vigilance and personal responsibility as fundamental to street smart feminism
. Yes.

What I find missing from the preparation of girls/young women to deal with unwanted male attention is the absence of an understanding that sexuality is a powerful, (to use Paglia’s word) chthonic force — a primal power that they need to get to appreciate and control. Yes, males need to understand this concept as well, and while they “get it” on a subconscious level, they need to understand it intellectually as well. But that’s a whole other discussion.

For the moment, I’m focused on young women, especially teenagers, who are not guided to reach any fundamental appreciation and understanding of the power of their sexuality (over themselves and others) and so are seduced by the advertising industry to flaunt it, while staying totally unaware of the psychology of sexuality and its complex, subconscious, Dionysian impulses. Instead, they are taught to INTERNALLY deny and repress them WHILE AT THE SAME TIME EXTERNALLY ANNOUNCING THEM.

It becomes confusing to them, as well as to the males who only see the external signals.

There is a lot of education that has has to be done before what has been termed this “rape culture” can be brought under control. Because it is a matter of awareness and control — SELF AWARENESS AND SELF CONTROL on the part of each individual.

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Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

my secular blue America

Every once in a while I post something of substance. Eight years ago I posted two pieces that, unfortunately, are just as relevant today. Two years ago, I re-posted them (with some parts missing as a result of changing blog designs).

Today, I link to those old posts in case someone winds up here by searching for terms like
“the roots of American democracy”
“Christian Puritans as persecutors”
“Founding Fathers on mixing government and religion”
“Iroquois Confederacy and our Constitution”

In reverse order (because that made more sense) those old posts are:

My Blue America: Our Secular America (Part 2)

Our Securlar America: The Truth is Out There (Part 1)

And so it goes.

the builders

fort all
Now they are adding another platform to Lex’s fort, where all the the neighborhood kids seem to like to hang out.
spring builder

Under the new platform will be the old three-seater swing that used to be in the front yard, but the big snow storm over a year ago collapsed the awning and damaged the frame. But it’s good enough for kids to swing in. I bought a new one for the front yard, where I like to spend warm lazy days.

This boy and his mom, they are always building — Lego structures, learning tools, curricula, benches, closets, costumes — using tools from computer programs to circular saws. They need to make things. I guess that they get that from me, although they are much better at it, and they follow through a lot better than I do. Someday, my grandson is going to make someone a great partner; he’s only ten but he already helps with cooking, cleaning, and building.

While they build, I plant seeds and tend seedlings. This year, everything is organic. The challenge for me will be the follow-through in finding the best place for it all in the garden. We are going to do suburban farming, with teepeed beans towering between the spirea, and garlic scapes trending around the gaillardia. And marigolds popping up everywhere.

Now, all we need is some warmer weather.

And I need my knees to calm down after I aggravated my osteoarthritis dancing NIA barefoot. My new recliner is arriving on Friday, though, and relaxing in that is sure going to speed up recovery.

I’ll rest while they keep building.

lost books that need to be found

I know that at my age I could easily be misremembering, but I don’t think so.

Back in the early 1980s, I found two books that I gave to my pre-pubescent son to read.

Girls: A Book for Boys and Boys: A Book for Girls

They were the best two books for kids that I ever saw analyzing gender/sex and the physical and psychological changes of puberty in a way that supported respect for both your own and your opposite gender. Both the explanations and the illustrations were clear, honest, and age-appropriate. Together, they provided an approach to sex education that also placed a high value on each gender, encouraging understanding of the differences and appreciation of the human similarities. I eventually I gave them away to another mother, and now neither Amazon nor Google has any mention of them.

I think of these books now because of all of the discussions around the rape of the 16 year old girl by the high school football players.

My son says that he doesn’t remember reading those books, but I sure do remember sitting there and watching him read them, ready for any questions he might ask. Even though he doesn’t remember those books, the reality is that his strong respect for females can be traced, in part, back to the concepts in those books that became embedded in his subconscious.

Next month he’s participating in this, offered by Ball State University:
Gender Through Comics: A Super MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that examines how comic books can be used to explore questions of gender identity, stereotypes, and roles. This highly engaging learning experience is designed for college-age and lifelong learners. I guess that there are some things I did right as a single mom bringing up a son.

I keep thinking that kids today need those two books more than ever. But all traces of them seem to have disappeared from both the real and virtual face of this earth.

If you know any feminist parents who were raising young kids back in the 80s, please ask if they remember those books. They were published about the same time as the original Our Bodies, Ourselves.

cooperative Tuesdays

Tuesdays is Home School Co-op, where my grandson goes to learn as part of a group; where parents teach what they know best (science, language arts, history, etc.); where my daughter teaches history with an interdisciplinary, creative, and dramatic flair that includes costumes and role playing and presentations laced with the fun of technology.

So, Tuesdays is my day home alone, when I try to be cooperative and help out by doing some chores, like cleaning out the double sinks and putting dishes away from there and the dishwasher.

Other than than, my household chores are limited to my own living space. In the house at-large, my daughter does the cooking; my son-in-law does most of the cleaning. They don’t expect me do help with much of anything. But on Tuesdays, I try to cooperate a little more.

With that done, now it’s time to tackle my own laundry and clutter and bathroom. I’ve never been a great housekeeper, but never having had anyone who would cooperate with me, I had to learn to tear myself away from doing fun stuff and take care of my own necessities. Which is what I’m going to do now.

a family tradition of “orphan ornaments”

My daughter just won an Amazon gift card for submitting this true story to some website that was having a contest. I thought it is worth posting here.

My father had a tradition every Christmas — he’d “rescue” a new “orphan ornament” from some store. He’d hunt for these strange, oddly made ones that looked like mistakes (like one riding a hobby horse, but the horse was actually impaled through the little wooden elf body) and otherwise would be rejected or left behind. Like the Island of Misfit Toys. He’d get one or a few and add them to the tree. I lost my father a few years back quite suddenly and unexpectedly — the orphan ornaments came home with me and we hang them with our own son, now ten, each year — in memory of “Pa”. We honor him, and a lesson (albeit maybe accidental) on acceptance, tolerance and reaching out a hand to those who might otherwise be overlooked. Even now, as we begin our search for a family dog at different rescues, our son gravitates towards those that are listed as “still waiting” or “overlooked” for some reason, wanting to give them what they need. It’s silly, it’s sweet, and it instilled in us a way of thinking that was probably unintentional as far as his reason for getting the ornaments, but that had an effect on us nonetheless.