Tag Archives: Civil Responsibility

Radical Transformation

I hold Duff McKagan entirely responsible for this text.

Okay, that’s not quite accurate–he inspires part of my ramblings today, but not all of them. And, hell, it’s not like anyone reading these pages could possibly find the above comment surprising. So, Duff, thank you for providing the board from which I will now gracefully leap, or be shoved, as it turned out.

Last week, for those who don’t (shame on you) keep up with Duff’s various blogs, Duff jokingly proposed (see, yes, I got the joke) a new political ticket: McKagan/Novoselic in a post in which he speculated on some of the current failures in American politics, politicians in general being the most central to these failures.  Krist (the Novoselic mentioned above, should you be wondering), responded with a fantastic takedown of the American public and the need for “we the people” to become “more personally invested” in the entirety of the political process.  Duff then responded in kind.

Got that?

For what it is worth, I agree with both–sort of.  I do think that personal investment and radical transformations are significant and necessary.  Even though my last adventure on the matter rather blew up in my face.  A small, if rather vocal minority, advocated for radical change and were summarily rejected, often in rather vicious ways.  In the end, many of us either stepped down or outright left the church.  Two factions existed, they could not come together, and one gave up the fight.

Do I see a correlation with the current Health Care Reform Bill?  Yes, I do.  In this case, a vocal majority advocates for change but spend a great deal of effort hoping for a better majority.  As my husband often reminds the kids, better is often the enemy of good.  Hell, any one who has ever attempted  a dissertation might agree–there are two types after all: finished and brilliant.

And those categories tend to be mutually exclusive.

Yesterday, I ended my membership at the aforementioned church. That I was struggling with the direction of the church is nothing new to anyone here, and it is true that I resigned my leadership positions in December.  My foot has been out the door for some time.  What changed this week, though, had little to do with the church theology and politics, at least I think so.  What happened was gossip.

Now, I’ve been pondering right speech of late any way in preparation for Lent (I was rather leaning on it as a theme), particularly after reading A.J. Jacobs’ delightful The Year of Living Biblically, which, sadly, I don’t have in front of me right now.  He notes in the course of the year that the need to think carefully before speaking becomes a concern of his almost to the point of obsession (the sections on honesty are just wonderful).  At what point do we abandon honesty necessarily?  What needs to be said?  Will it help or hurt the world for me to speak this particular act?

In the midst of all of this, I was reading slacktivist (granted, I am always reading Fred’s blog, it seems.  Really, I do have a life.  I promise) and this comment struck me:

The authors do a commendably thorough job of debunking and refuting Warnke’s claims. Their earnest, devout perspective makes that debunking even more thorough as it requires them to take agonizing pains to avoid bearing false witness or a lack of charity. You’ll rarely encounter muckraking conducted with such sorrowful reluctance or such genuine lamentation over every bit of dirty laundry uncovered.

And he’s right.  I read those articles and several more besides, as the writers at Cornerstone dismantled Warnke’s stories and others who helped to propagate the hysteria that has come to be known as the Satanic Panic.  Utter commitment to honesty and charity, even whist pointing out the myriad ways in which Warnke lied.

And then Tuesday happened.

I mentioned a few weeks ago (and the events I mentioned are largely why I’ve not been writing as much as I should) that several events had occurred in my life–big ones–but not ones that were mine to share, though they directly affect me.  I pondered laying all the stories out at the time, but it felt unjust.  And, truth be told, it still feels like it would be, so please bear with my vague references for a moment.  On Tuesday, it was relayed to me that one of those events had been shared with a party who had no particular need to know the situation.  The sharer of the story was a church member (who, I’ve no idea, given how few people I’ve told) and the sharee (?) was someone who has been troublesome in my life.

Again, suffice to say that the information was inappropriately shared.  At a time when I desperately needed sanctuary–and I was trying to seek it at the church, in my own small ways–a member of the church took it upon him or herself to tell the story to someone who not only was not a part of the tale but is also someone who I emphatically do not trust.

I wonder if the layers of conversation about gossip and right speech were to prepare me for a response to this mess.

Cue the Duff blogs:  Krist’s remarks in response to Duff made me think more about right speech–and right action.  I can sit back and complain about the ways in which I feel wronged or sad, or I can attempt action.  I can be that change, rather than simply hoping for it.

In other words, did the rugs get pulled because there is a transformation that I need to recognize and have allowed myself not to see?  Have I not been personally invested enough in something I need to pay more heed to?

I’m not quite at a point of action, though I did a damn fine job of running yesterday–maintaining a lovely 7:00 minute mile on the quarter-mile repeats. (Note to self: running fast–yes, this is fast for me–does not suck.  In fact, it rocks).  I am though at the point of consideration–seeking more examples of right speech (clearly, I don’t ever want to–even inadvertently–do this to someone else) and change.

I think, though, the notion of radical transformations will be my Lenten reading.  I’m also going to fast this time–I’m not buying any new books (this is HUGE for me, really) and I’m not going to eat meat during Lent, just to change up my meal structures for a while…see what happens.

I’m looking for book suggestions on this theme–any are welcome.  I’ll be blogging on the readings (and probably kvetching about the fast) throughout Lent.  I’m definitely going to include some political readings (I generally do, this is nothing surprising), but I’d really like to encounter some that deal with transformations of process, not just idea-worship (which I excel at already).

Okay, I promised to write on Beautiful matters, rather than just Disease ones, so to sum up the beautiful here:

  • Political dialogues by favorite bassists who are also willing to think and explore possibilities (what is not to love, really?)
  • Lenten readings
  • A chance to create, rather than receive, sanctuary
  • Running.  Running fast, in particular. Next race is at the end of the month.  Woot!

And while this last is clearly about addiction, it is also quite beautiful:

  • This Sunday will be 365 days

Responsibility and Accountability

Stupidly, I’ve been following the comments on various sites as the news about Roman Polanski’s arrest.  And, boy howdy, do I mean that it was stupid.

As a refresher:  Polanski was arrested as he entered Switzerland on his way to receive a film award; that was this week.  31 years ago, he fled the US after pleading guilty to the statutory rape of a then 13-year-old girl, whose name has subsequently been released.  Now, mind you, the facts of the rape are not really at issue here:  he plied a 13-year-old with champagne and Quaaludes and then raped her.   The victim has stated that “her liaison with Polanski had not been consensual, and he would “not take no for an answer”” (BBC).  More detail here.

Got that?

See, one of the common memes associated with this case (and, oh heck, let’s stay with the BBC, shall we?) is reflected in this remark:

In most countries not even murderers can be prosecuted after more than 30 years. This was 31 years ago and was consensual sex. This is ridiculous.
Helmut Wuensche

Let’s unpack this shall we, beginning with the reality that the victim has stated in no uncertain terms that it was NOT consensual.  Even aside from her clarifications in the matter, please consider that she was 13, in the presence of a filmmaker whose photography of the girl was though (by her mother) to be a route to film stardom, and she was drugged.  Forgive me for being thick here, but what in this, exactly, is not rape?  He had the power, in age, likely size, and prestige, and, lest this be lost in translation, he drugged her.

Polanski pleaded guilty 31 years ago to the charge of statutory rape, and while I don’t think that this particular charge accurately reflects the case, he did plead guilty and was subsequently held for 42 days undergoing psychiatric evaluation.  Then, for reasons that escape me, he was allowed to leave the country prior to sentencing.   He never returned to the U.S. for sentencing, and he has actively avoided visiting any country (the UK included) that was likely to arrest and/or extradite him to the U.S.

The other memes, besides the “consensual” nature, is that

1) It’s been so long, just let him go on with his life.

2) Even the victim says he shouldn’t be jailed.  What she said was that she thought that he should have been given a sentence of time served (the 42 days) at the time.  Now, it happened that I disagree with this assessment.  13.  Drugged by famous photographer.  She also clarified that she was calling “for the case to finally be dismissed, saying it “causes harm to me, my husband and children”” (BBC). I imagine that having it come up time and again does cause her much harm, and for that, along with the rape itself, I grieve for her.

3) The one that makes me most batty:  Let’s go with Andrew’s assessment, shall we:

there is no justification for Polanksi – one of the greatest film directors of our time – to be treated in this manner. Let him go!


Yes, folks, that’s the final analysis by so many commenters: Leave him alone because he’s a great artist.  And, FWIW, I agree with the assessment of his filmmaking; however, I do not believe that this absolves him of his responsibilities in the matter, either.   I’m saddened that the groundswell is not about responsibility, but about things entirely extraneous to the case.

Kieran, over at Crooked Timber, calls out Robert Harris, Anne Applebaum, and others, who believe that 76-year-old Polanski has suffered enough, saying in lovely, dripping sarcasm:

See, you or I might think that not going back to the U.S. or U.K. is an action Polanski took in order to make sure that, having raped a minor and fled the country, he would not be rearrested. But you or I would be wrong. In fact these are punishments that Polanski has suffered. But tiens, it was a long time ago. Puritanical Americans simply do not have the enlightened attitude toward wine at the dinner table, quaaludes, and child rape that the Europeans do.


Yeah, just leave him alone because he’s old and he’s “suffered” and he’s, like, a really good filmmaker.

Did I mention, *sigh*, yet?

The right, ethical, and reasonable thing for a great artist, as with anyone, is to acknowledge and accept responsibility. Which leads me to a non-Polanski reading suggestion.  At Shakesville, Quixote posted what I found to be an intriguing analysis of accountability.  Take a gander at it.

I started reading Karen Armstrong’s A Case for God this weekend, and I was struck by her rendering of early religion as action, rather than passive belief.  And I really like that notion–as much as I support a critical approach to religion, as with most things, I’m really enthusiastic over the notion of active belief.   Which makes me think that I need to even more critically consider the means by which I can live responsibility and accountability (expecting and acting myself and expecting of others) every single day.  Perhaps a groundswell or so of us expecting such and acting as such will produce change.


Edited to add:  Another FWIW, if indeed the plea agreement said no jail time (*banghead*), then I am, while horrified, in agreement that it should be upheld, so long as Polanski fulfilled the obligations of the plea.  That said, part of that plea agreement should have been that he show up for sentencing (it seems to me)–yes, perhaps a formality, but if part of the agreement, then he should be held to it and should show up, even if it ends with “time-served.”

Responsibility, Compassion, Justice…and the Shopping Cart

In his 1845 The Conditions of the Working Class, Friedrich Engels observes that Londoners have devolved from a cohesive society into individuals; that change, he notes, is most notable on the city streets, where Londoners fail to even make eye contact with one another. Such apathy, passivity, and ignorance about one’s fellow human tends to breed, I would argue—following Engels, injustice because they allow us to pretend that we have the right to more because we are inherently better than the other guy. In order to seek justice, we must recognize one another not only as individual humans (compassion), but as members of a society (responsibility). And today’s society is pretty big; it includes, as Thomas Friedman points out in his The Lexus and the Olive Tree, a web of nation-states, international markets, and individuals. Necessary changes are, consequently, generational, not immediate. Indeed, therein lies the problem for many of us—justice has rather limited opportunities for instant gratification.

So I offer a small place to start. Whether you call them buggies, carts, baskets, or another regionally associated name that I have not run across, you may have noticed their unfortunate inability to get themselves safely out of the parking lot. Instead, they run with the changing winds across the lots and, often, into a car. Carts are, indeed, a restless and untrustworthy lot.

The easy fix is to put them away when you finish. Oh, but what about the other guy? You know who I mean, right? He or she drives a car better than your own and appears far more entertained by the Blackberry-in-palm than concerned for the safety of the cars that remain in the lot after he or she departs the scene. Put that cart away too, maybe without the silent slandering of the person who did not do so. Corral getting full because the carts are pushed in willy-nilly? Give two minutes of your time to straighten them out, so all comers will have space. You could save someone a significant dent in his or her car.

How does putting a shopping cart away change the world? Alone, it might not, but putting away mine is an acknowledgment of my responsibility: I borrowed the cart and am now returning it to ensure that someone else has access and that said ill-controlled cart will not be marauding about the parking lot. Taking on the responsibility of someone else’s cart, especially if done without judgment (oh, the challenge), is an act of compassion—both for the person who may have gotten a life-changing phone call (how are we to know, after all?) and the people whose cars cannot protect themselves from wind-driven carts.

Each act of responsibility and compassion moves us toward justice, which seeks to treat all of humankind equally, irrespective of place in a given power structure. Justice erodes abusive hierarchies that rely on violence, stratification, and collective passivity. So, be active—do something—even something as apparently insignificant as putting away shopping carts. Then, do something else–perhaps in support of equal rights, voter access, funding for the mentally ill, sustainable farming, direct trade, or any number of other “big ticket” world changing/justice-seeking movements. Or, find other small places to work. Wherever your ethics lead you, start somewhere and develop the habits of responsibility, compassion, and justice.

As one of my heroes recently asked about himself, am I being “too hippie” in thinking we can change the world? I don’t think so, but his remark made me wonder something. What does hippie mean now, and when did it become synonymous with something unreachable or, often, negative?