Tag Archives: political

Beyond Human: The Heaven’s Gate Cult, Transhumanism, and Me

A selfie with one of the Heaven’s Gate (post-mass suicide) photos, as shown in John R. Hall’s excellent 2000 study on new religious movements, Apocalypse Observed.

[Originally published on Disability Intersections on  March 21, 2014.]

Heaven’s Gate was an American UFO religious Millenarian group based in San Diego, California, founded in the early 1970s and led by Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997) and Bonnie Nettles (1927–1985). On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was an alien space craft following the Comet Hale–Bopp, which was then at its brightest.

–From Wikipedia’s entry on Heaven’s Gate (content warning on link for description of suicide and photos)

I’ve been fascinated with the Heaven’s Gate cult ever since I saw–as an 11 year-old–a huge photograph of the members’ dead bodies, apparently peacefully posed on bunkbeds,  on the front page of my local paper, under the rather alarmist headline (and all-caps) headline HOUSE OF HORROR. As I picked up bits and pieces of information on the group that the news media breathlessly reported throughout April and May of 1997, I began to wonder if the “house of horror” headline was overblown; yes, these folks had committed mass suicide, but they had also found people to whom they could relate and live with peacefully (albeit in a fringe religious group). Was that so horrifying? To most people–and to the media–it seemed like the answer was a resounding yes.

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Biden v. Ryan 2012: Everett Maroon and Annaham Liveblog it All

Join Everett Maroon and yours truly right here at Hamblog TONIGHT, starting at 6 PM PST, as we liveblog the VP debates! s.e. is traveling this week, but we’re hoping that ou will be able to pop in at some point. We shall see!


EDIT:
Since I was unable to get the plugin to do very much, we’re liveblogging at this ain’t livin’.

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5 Things People Need to Stop Saying About Unemployment

I have a confession to make: I am one of the millions of people in this country who has struggled to find work, particularly in the past year. I have a Master’s degree that I obtained fairly recently, but like many people I am still stuck in the weird “qualified but unqualified” limbo that seems to be common amongst a number of job seekers in the U.S. I do have a part-time contract job that pays pretty well and that I enjoy, but I am still far from my goal of “finding a paying job with benefits that isn’t going to make me collapse in an exhausted heap at the end of the day, thereby making my health problems worse.” This may seem like a highly specific goal, and it is, but I have my reasons for it, mostly having to do with disability-related things (with which many readers of my blog will be familiar!). If that shakes up your image of entitled and whiny Gen-Y kids who just don’t understand that life isn’t fair, you may want to read on.

I know putting this on a public blog is risky, more so because there are employers out there who do things like specify that the unemployed need not apply to their open positions (WTF?). I am also, however inadvertently, inviting internet tough folks to clog up my comments section with “well-meaning” crap nuggets of advice about how I am Doing It Wrong with regards to looking for employment. I probably won’t publish those comments, though–not because I am “against free speech,” but because I have had EVERY THOUGHT you could possibly throw at me about those exact topics. Really.

So, in no particular order, here are five things that people need to stop saying about unemployment and/or to unemployed and underemployed people. Because seriously, it is getting old.

“Well, I was unemployed once, and I got through it.” [May come with a barrage of unsolicited advice on How to Find a Job that would have worked 15-20 years ago.]  I notice that this one is commonly used by Baby Boomers who may or may not just want people who can’t find jobs–particularly young people–to shut up. The youth unemployment rate in this country is incredibly high, and although I don’t want to be all MY GENERATION HAS IT THE WORST–because goodness knows that older people have to deal with ageism on the job market in a particularly insidious way, regardless of how much career experience they have–this piece of advice rings quite hollow after a while. We know you’re only trying to help us during a difficult time, but here’s how you could actually help us Gen-Xers and Millennials out: Know when to stop talking, or stop typing if you just need to comment on an article online.

And if we resist your “advice,” it’s not because we’re being rude or obstinate for no reason, or because we hate you. It’s because many of us have more than enough to deal with right now. Maybe we don’t want to think about how much it sucks to be un(der)employed right now, because we think about that all the time. Maybe we already spend untold hours on cover letters, targeted resumes, networking, and all of the things that we’re supposed to do in order to get a job. Many of us are doing all of these things (and more!) as it is. Empathy: Try it sometime!

“Maybe you shouldn’t have gotten a degree in Women’s Studies/English/Art History, then!” Sure, let me queue up my time machine, go back eight years to my first term of undergrad, and pick a STEM major! Never mind that I would be terrible at one of those. I had the audacity–as do many people–to pick a field that I was, and am, actually pretty good at, and that I enjoyed. I EVEN GOT A MASTER’S DEGREE IN IT, so clearly I am just a waste of space because of my stupid, useless degree.

Had I been a STEM major in college, I probably would have caused something like this to happen–which would have given me an entirely different set of problems.

I know people love to rain down the hate on Humanities majors for their lack of “practicality” for what the market demands, and my guess is that people in the so-called “soft sciences” such as Psychology and Sociology get a lot of this as well. And sometimes there are other obstacles to going into STEM fields, as this wonderful comment at Ask a Manager details. I would add that while you’re busy prattling away in comments fields about your amazing Electrical Engineering degree, we’re the ones who are doing some pretty important things that you don’t see. Who do you think writes that snappy content for your company’s website? Who do you think edits your memos, corrects the grammar and spelling of your scientific papers, or turns your vague and already-kinda-been-there ideas about web 2.0 into viable social media plans? If it weren’t for “creative” types in the arts and humanities (from a variety of majors), where the hell do you think all of your entertainment would come from?

Poster for the 2012 film "The Avengers"

The guy who wrote and directed this total flop got a “useless” degree in Film.

Where do you think media criticism comes from? Journalism, opinion pieces, magazines on a huge variety of topics (including tech, business and science)? Blog posts that you pretend not to read at work? Books? And yes, weird academic papers that almost no one reads, like my B.A. thesis on the Heaven’s Gate cult? (That last one may weaken my argument a bit, but still.) I can hear the cries of indignation now: ZOMG HOW COULD YOU HAVE WRITTEN SOMETHING SO USELESS? Here’s how: I know how to put sentences together and shape a bunch of those sentences into paragraphs that expand upon a substantial and cohesive argument, keep momentum going throughout long-term projects (even when the end seems as faraway as a spaceship containing friendly aliens that will welcome your earthly soul to their peaceful home planet after a short ride through the galaxy), and read, summarize and analyze a variety of materials from different forms of media critically. Useless.

“Just think POSITIVE!” Okay, Captain the-Sun-Shines-Out-of-Our-Behinds. Perennial awesome person/journalist Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an entire book about this trend, and as I covered in my review of Bright Sided, she is much better at building an argument against “positive thinking” than I am, because I tend to get super wordy when this topic comes up. Because it is that goddamned infuriating, particularly when applied to a HUGE PROBLEM like mass unemployment that is closely intertwined with structural failures. With the positive thinking crowd, we see the mistake of depicting individual actions as the determining factor of whether someone will succeed or fail, even though that is not really how it works. If “just trying” positive thinking and affirmations alone could get me a job, I would have SO MANY JOBS, because I have tried it and the job of my dreams did not exactly appear from the heavens fully-formed.

“You can’t go get a job at McDonald’s/in retail? You must think you’re too good for those kinds of jobs.” Not exactly; there are so many people who need work right now that even temping, retail and yes, McDonald’s are not magical employment panaceas–there was, for example, that widely-reported story about old Mickey D’s receiving one million job applications for 62,000 job openings. Take a moment and think about those odds for a bit.

As for being “too good” for certain jobs: If, say, Sephora offered me a job tomorrow, I would probably take it because I need a job and am interested in makeup (and yes, I have applied to work there). It’s not that I think I’m too good for those kinds of gigs; it’s basic math, because a whole heck of a lot of people need work right now. Also, there is a little thing called being “overqualified,” which pretty much means that Sephora might not want a sales associate with a Master’s degree, much less a Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies. Admittedly, the notion of a Women’s Studies nerd selling cosmetics and beauty products is pretty hilarious, but that seems a bit more suited for Alan Ball’s next black comedy series than for real life.

“You need to try harder to find any job that will take you.” Certainly, there are some good tips out there that job-seekers can follow to improve their candidacy for some positions (I quite like Ask a Manager’s many posts on searching for jobs). However, the continued emphasis on individual actions in the face of some pretty intense structural odds is extremely troubling, particularly because capitalism is a system that is designed to give a lot of privileges, legs-up and such to a relative few, while the rest of us are stuck being told that we need to think positive, try harder, and generally keep running on the rat wheel until our hard work rewards us, too–often while facing stagnant wages, non-existent health benefits, and/or unpaid internships cleverly marketed as “work experience” that will supposedly look great on your resume.

Those of us who can’t find work, or enough work, are always to blame somehow: too little education, too much education in a “useless” field, too little time devoted to networking and volunteering, too little pressure on ourselves to look positive, confident and not bitter to employers even in the face of seemingly endless rejection; we have the wrong outfit, wrong resume, wrong cover letter, wrong work experience, wrong attitude.

And once you get a paying job, there is zero guarantee that it will pay a living wage; recent statistics, furthermore, point to the chilling fact that less than half of all jobs in the U.S. currently pay over $35,000 per year. How ’bout that “invisible hand of the market” holding people down instead of taking care of everything, like some said it would? Whee, capitalism! Unfortunately, the response in comments sections all around the internet is usually something to the effect of “Who gives a shit about poor people, right…they should take responsibility and get off welfare! The wealth of the top 10% will trickle down, because Reganomics works! I’m not [middle/lower/working] class, so I don’t need to care about them.” often with a piping-hot side of “OMG ILLEGALS ARE TAKING OUR JOBBBBBBBS.”

Mitt Romney giving the thumbs-up.

In the time it took me to write the above paragraph, Mitt Romney most likely made more money than I will ever see in my lifetime. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

Being unemployed/underemployed sucks, and you most likely know someone who is in that situation. For the love of Cthulhu, please re-think what you say to your friends, relatives, and fellow internet denizens who are going through this. If it happens to you—and I hope it does not—you will be glad that you stopped saying jerky things and generally acting like an ass to people who really don’t deserve it.

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Blast From the Past: The Secret (and how much I loathe it)

[Introductory note: This was originally published on my old blog on March 10, 2007; because I am nothing if not a complete and total buzzkill, I think it’s worth re-archiving here, particularly since “new age” thought has a pretty strong foothold in Western–and particularly North American–culture. This sort of magical thinking still has a strong grip in many folks’ consciousness, even given the recent economic downturn; maybe I’m just naive, but I find the fact that some people can still be all ~*POSITIVE THINKING*~ and/or YOU GET BACK WHAT YOU PUT OUT even amidst widespread economic chaos and a brutal job market extremely surprising, and pretty sad.

Then again, realistic thinking has never been America’s strong suit, particularly amongst the privileged classes. The following post has been slightly edited for clarity. I have since written quite a bit on “positive thinking” as a means of social control, mostly at FWD: The Negative Side of Positive Thinking; Book Review: Bright-Sided; Just. For more information about precisely how harmful “positive thinking” can be when taken to the extreme, I highly recommend this blog post by Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine, which covers the Kim Tinkham case in detail (content warning for discussion of cancer).]

I just watched the latest and supposedly “greatest” in the self-help/marketing peoples’ insecurities back to them market, The Secret.

I sort of want that 90 minutes back. Now, before people start jumping on me and calling me negative, skeptical, bitchy, et cetera, let me assure you: I am, indeed, all three of those things. I tried to watch The Secret with an open mind. I really, truly did. But, I have to say, besides some of the stuff about visualization*–which I have thought of as a powerful tool for a while, and, at times, it has absolutely worked for me–I simply was unable to get on The Secret bandwagon.

I don’t know what it was that made me so hostile to the entire thing. Was it the overproduced “dramatic” re-enactments, some of which look very familiar to even a casual viewer of the History Channel? Was it “Dr.” Joe Vitale, Metaphysician,** who contends that ALL of the bad circumstances in your life come to you because of, well, you and your horrible, horrible negative thoughts? Was it Lisa Nichols, who was one of four women interviewed (out of 16-17 people) and one of two people of color interviewed? (She seemed to be the most sincere out of all of the “Teachers” interviewed, which endeared her to me quite a bit.) Was it the many shots of people from Other Lands, smiling and laughing, and getting fawned over by the “Teachers” due to their “natural” ability to Make Do With What They Have? Was it the completely oxymoronic focus on using The Secret to gain material things, money and houses (focused on after the many shots of our friends from other lands)? Was it the bizarre assumption that everyone watching the video wants the same damn things? Eeeek!

Then I reread this fantastic article, which outlines some of the problems with The Secret, and how Oprah, unfortunately, has basically adopted it as her credo and is trying to get her viewers to do the same. If it works for her, great. However, one thing that has bothered me about Oprah’s unquestioning acceptance of The Secret is this: It reinforces the great American trope of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. AKA: If Oprah/some disadvantaged person has become successful, then you can, too! All you have to do is think positive thoughts!

There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. I’m all for thinking good thoughts, but it is the denial of reality and various systems of oppression that make this position worse. Racism, for example, is one thing that is consistently denied as to its very existence. I have news for you, folks: Racism still very much exists. I can certainly create a non-racist America in my own mind (and let me tell you, it is awesome), but to see it in front of me is going to take some major societal changes. And it’s the same with sexism. And homophobia. And ableism, and classism, and all of that other fun stuff. “Creating your own reality” only goes so far–eventually, you will run into a structure that is bigger than you, and oftentimes, these structures are oppressive and hurtful to many people. I’m sorry if that sounds “negative,” but it is true for a lot of us. Not many people can conveniently ignore these structures in order to “think positive.”

Bad things are going to happen. Bad feelings happen. That is part of life. One of the Noble Truths of Buddhism, after all, says that life is full of suffering. Of course it is, even though it is also full of Great Things. To deny this is to deny an actual, authentic life. And I have to say, I feel sorry for anyone who shies away from feeling the full spectrum of emotions because they think that “negative thoughts will attract bad things,” (one of the claims espoused in The Secret). Yes, negative thoughts suck. They make us feel bad. But trying to be aggressively “happy” is not only potentially dangerous, it’s Pollyanna-esque and annoying.

[*Visualization, however, is one tool that I really, really like, mostly because it forces me to use my imagination and is quite fun. It’s nothing new, however; various self-help gurus have been promoting this tool for years. Even if it doesn’t work, it’s still fun, and, unlike some of the professional bullies who harangue you for an hour and a half in The Secret, it (most likely) won’t make you feel bad about yourself.]

**I kid you not; this was listed as his actual professional title during the video. When I grow up, I wanna be a Metaphysician!

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Quick Signal Boost: BADD 2011

I haven’t been able to put together a post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) this year due to other commitments, but be sure to go check out the list of this year’s posts, compiled by Goldfish at Diary of a Goldfish. As with other years, I am sure that there will be many excellent and thought-provoking posts!

I’ve contributed to BADD in the past, so now may be as good a time as any to drop some links: a poem, a bingo card, the first bingo card (cross-posted at FWD; not for BADD, but perhaps necessary for context of card #2).

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Hidden costs: On Lilith Fair and subtle exclusion

HEY LADIES AND THE FOLKS WHO LOVE THEM, REMEMBER LILITH FAIR? I certainly do, as I once had visions of attending it — visions which, like the proverbial sugar plums-dancing-in-childrens’-heads-come-December, did not materialize. Now that I think about it, this probably ended up being a good thing.

Well, the women’s music festival that isn’t that other one (and Lilith Fair, to its credit, does not have exclusion policies based on what gender an individual was assigned at birth) is back and it is BIGGER THAN EVER. It is going to be in my neck of the woods (the venue, however, happens to be about two hours away from where I live) rather soon, and it is going to be stopping at a pretty large outdoor arena that also happens to be built on a landfill.

As will quickly become apparent, I’m not a huge fan of Lilith Fair; I have some highly specific problems with it which, gasp, are not all about the music! With regards to the actual music, I don’t want to just throw my hands up from my keyboard and be all UGH SOME OF THE ARTISTS ARE SOOO TERRIBLE AND BORING NEENER NEENER. I used to rely on that sort of argument with some frequency, and, let me tell you, not doing that is so much more exciting, because it means that I can write long-ass posts on things that I find problematic in some ways (and, often, not completely without merit) instead of going THIS TOTALLY SUCKS WHY WOULD ANYONE LISTEN TO IT BAH and having that be the end of my opinion. I also don’t think that wholesale boringness, or totally sucking, or being the musical equivalent of Grocery Outlet (in which you think you are getting a good deal, but really you are just buying close-to-expiration-date food items — and, for God’s sake, be careful with those reduced-price dairy products!), is the case with many of these artists. I may not be a fan of, say, Norah Jones, but I can acknowledge that she is very good at what she does; she has struck a chord with folks for a reason that may, actually, be deeper than the popular music industry’s tendency to latch onto a trend and push it until it becomes the peat moss in the ground of modern music.

Here’s one big issue I have with Lilith Fair, in terms of social inclusion: Despite its attempts at “diversity” in its most recent incarnation, the roster of performers for 2010 is still fairly…white. And middle-class — just look at the ticket prices, for one thing. And, presumably, able-bodied. And, tangentially: if Sarah McLaughlan were diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome or something, you KNOW she would be all over raising awareness of that condition like hippies on a drum circle, perhaps appearing in a high-profile ad campaign of some kind. She is great with that kind of “raising awareness” stuff — see, for example, her tear-inducing recent ads for the ASPCA. While I do have problems with the whole “raising awareness” activism/charity model for a lot of things — including for PWDs and people with chronic illnesses/health conditions — overall, I respect Sarah immensely for her activist work, my own issues with the charity model of activism aside.

However: even if some of the artists whose music I actually enjoy (Erykah Badu, Sia, Janelle Monae, or Gossip, for example) were going to be on the roster for the day that the Lilith caravan-slash-sleek tour bus makes a stop at the legendary Landfill Amphitheater, I still would not go. Because the roster would still seem, to me, pretty white, middle-class, and abled — and, more crucially, it seems made for that exact kind of audience.  It is, ultimately, a kind of weird “elitism” that masquerades as Lilith Fair’s (promoted) status as a Music Festival For All Women.

I do think that this sort of “elitism” that Lilith Fair is promoting is almost painfully subtle. It is made for an audience that can, first and foremost, afford to be there —  Lilith Fair offers several ticket packages, from the nosebleed $36 lawn tickets to $756 for something called the “Diamond Package.” I am one of those people who usually gets nosebleed tickets, because most of the time, that is the only thing that I can afford. Of course, only a small percentage of concertgoers will probably buy the “Diamond Package” tickets; more folks will buy the less-expensive tickets. But even with the “lower end” tickets, one must still purchase them and, in all likelihood, pay for a bunch of things like processing fees and all that, which of course ups the prices of even the “inexpensive” tickets. If you can afford to pay those “convenience fees,” you’re good.

If you can’t, or if the fees put you off of buying even the “reasonably priced” tickets, the festival may not look so reasonably-priced after all. For some (middle-class) folks, getting concert tickets may not be that big of a deal, but what happens to those folks who aren’t middle class, and may have to do things like take time off of work to go to this festival? There are also probably many hidden costs that I am not considering here, such as transportation. Simply put, the cost(s) of going to a “diverse” and “inclusive” festival that unproblematically presents itself as For All Women can add up to way more than the ticket price.

The ability question is also worth considering in-depth; as far as I know, Lilith Fair does not specify any policies or instructions on its website for people with disabilities who may need special seating or other accommodations. This is problematic for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that the message seems to be, in the words of my friend and awesome FWD co-blogger Anna, that people with disabilities “don’t exist.” In Lilith Fair’s super-woman-power-goddess universe, women with disabilities are left out, thereby not exactly contributing to LF’s supposed standing as a music festival For All Women. If you are leaving women with disabilities out, you are leaving some women out of your musical utopia. Certainly, accessibility policies will vary from venue to venue, but because LF is so huge and is of such note, I believe its coordinators have a responsibility to reach out to people who have, traditionally, been ignored, left out and/or forgotten about by major music festivals — and that group includes people — women — with disabilities.

If Lilith Fair wants to be truly radical and different, it will take steps toward being for a wide variety of women, and people, instead of simply promoting itself as such. There is a huge difference between presenting an event or group as being For All Women and actually taking steps toward real inclusion. So, Lilith Fair coordinators, what are your policies on wheelchair accessibility? Interpreters for the hard-of-hearing? Seats for people who can’t do the “standing room only” thing because of chronic pain or mobility issues? These, of course, are just a few questions about accessibility; there are many, many more facets of accessibility that I have not mentioned here.

One final note: Before anyone accuses me of “not supporting women musicians” because of my issues with Lilith Fair, my fannishness and support of many women musicians is fairly well-documented — among them Tori Amos, Alanis Morrissette, Nina Simone, Jesse Sykes, and many, many others — so that argument will not fly with me. In my view, the whole “you’re not supporting women musicians if you have issues with Lilith Fair!” is the penguin of arguments about women musicians — it may be cute and kinda funny at times, but it cannot fly. And in my view, neither can Lilith Fair’s consistent trumpeting of itself as For All Women, when it still has so far to go.

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BADD 2010: “Exhibition”

For Blogging Against Disablism Day this year, I thought I’d share a poem that I wrote a while ago that I haven’t shared until now. I was going to turn it into a spoken-word piece but never got around to it. Better late than never, I suppose.

Exhibition

On my side
side/ways
eyes brain neck
spinning along with
everything else
and I haven’t even been drinking

this is not a workout
and yet, I am sweating
the body over (re)acts
does not know quite how to
respond
and I wish I
could say to
every non-believer, every “skeptic”

everyone who’s ever asked:
what’s wrong with you
why do you walk like that
is something the matter with your foot
what is it
why aren’t you getting better
why isn’t your attitude more positive
why can’t you

almost always accompanied
by one of these:
at least you can walk
at least you’re smart, so you can deal with this
at least you’re not homeless
or starving
or living in a Third World country
you’re luckier than most
how bad could your pain be?
just take some aspirin
stop complaining
why
why
why

for every
you should take vitamins
just work through your pain
I have pain, too
you’re too young to have something
like that
why are you so bitchy
that I hear
I smile a little bit, inside

because: someday
many of these people
will also know
pain

but for now
this is my reality
and I wish you could see it
feel it
for only a minute
and then maybe you’d
think before you
talk at me
or offer meaningless platitudes

every word that exits your mouth

random stranger,
friend of a friend,
asshole on the street who tells me to smile
because it can’t be that bad
every word
means less to me
than I do to you

I’m not your vehicle for
public service
I am not to be used
to show the world

what a great “liberal,” progressive kind person you are
or to be subjected to
your pity
masked as concern
so please step out of
my way
once I can stand, that is
for now—lucky for you
I am confined to vertigo
In my own carpeted purgatory

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