Speech Strumpet

Freedom of speech is quite the whore. It is to be used by anybody and for whatever purpose, even ill-fated ones. Lies and truths are welcomed all the same, because that cheap wench is open like a casserole at a garden party: anybody can stick their tongue in and have a lick.

And, like any sexy call girl, it is usually the object of jealousy from people that don't fully grasp how these things work. You've seen it happen: one party has an opinion and uses freedom of speech to tell the world about it; a second party comes along that disagrees with that opinion, and also uses it to tell the world about its disagreement; then the first party wants to take away the freedom from the second party, as if it should belong only to one. Like a gambling man in love with last night's hooker: he should have known that he's not the only customer worthy of her loving embrace.

Freedom of speech is a prostitute that can be used free of charge by anyone. To think that its usage depends of the circumstances, is hypocritically postulating that only certain opinions are allowed to spend the night with it. Unfortunately for those opinions, and fortunately for the rest, every opinion gets the same sticky turn as everybody else.

Homophobic creationists, holocaust deniers, biased scholars arguing why we should relieve tax burden from billionaires, and lobby-paid pundits talking about how a war will bring peace, are exactly the same in the semen-painted face of our beloved harlot as scientists talking about evolution, and civil-rights defenders.

Why? Because when it comes to being free to speak my mind, it doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong or crude. It's my speech, and I have the right to speak it whenever, wherever, however I want, regardless of its veracity or prudence. Don't worry, though. There'll be quite a lot of other people that will call me out if they think I'm wrong, and they'll do it by banging that same open-legged trollop in much the same way I did.

It's a free market of speech, and like most free markets, it has the ability to balance itself out. Why not trust it will? Why is it that whenever a lie is provided as a fact in a public setting, a big outcry always roars to censor the liar? If I didn't know any better, I would think that people are not only jealous of somebody else caressing their courtesan, but that they have a sadistic itch that needs to be scratched. That the people are drawn to the idea of forcing our legal system, supposedly unbiased, to silence very specific ideologies. Like a choke ball forced into a victim's mouth, providing terrible precedence for any future bearer of an unpopular opinion. And, worse yet, it's counter-productive: the liar can masochistically welcome the censorship-choke-ball, making it easy for him to pose as a martyr, causing more attention to his lie.

A more elegant and, frankly, more effective way is entrenched in the bosom of that same old tart called freedom of speech: if somebody tells a lie publicly, provide the world a verifiable truth to counter it. When an alternative is brought forward that is more convincing than the lie (either by form or content), people will flock away from it eventually. And whoever stays behind with the lie, are masochists that will never change their mind anyway.

Like everybody else, you are free to shove your speech right up the freedom-lubricated rectum of that libido-packed fille de joie, to tell the world how reality really is... according to you... And if somebody else has a different perspective than you: just pull out, wipe yourself, and let them take their turn. It'll be yours again soon enough.

As a wise imp once said, "When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say."

Charity

Glossing over the Facebook status and/or Twitter posts of various people I'm following, the ones that center around "Restoring Faith in Humanity" always catch my eye.

You know the ones: about a someone helping the homeless, or about that guy that has always brought flowers to her wife for the last half-century, or about that lady that picked the little puppy in the side of the street.

They're all great, and most, if not all, bring a tear to my eye. Specially the ones that are posted by someone that is NOT the person that did the deed. Why? Because it implies that they did it completely selflessly.

For example, one of my favorites is the one about a guy leaving a note and a $50 bill to another guy after hearing him breaking up with his girlfriend. The money was intended to be broken into $1 bills so that the guy could go to a strip club and cheer up. From afar it could be taken as obnoxious and disgusting, but, from the point of view of the note-leaver, this was actually pretty cool of him. I think it's safe to assume that a strip club is the way that he gets over break ups and he wanted to help his neighbor out. Even more so, the fact that he left a note implies that both guys weren't really that close, so this guy wound up technically helping out a complete stranger (in his own way).

There's this thing though about these stories that always bugs me: he signed the note. Why would he do that? Everything was beautiful about this story: the guy was sad, and here comes somebody that wants to help out, which is great by its own, but also "Faith in Humanity is Restored" as now he knows that there is at least one person that cares about him... who lives in apartment 3F.

See, that's the bit that bites out the selflessness of the whole thing. It wasn't completely selfless, the guy took with him the feeling of "being a good guy" and the knowledge that somebody knows it. That is to say, the guy got something out of it, breaking the selflessness.

"Look at me, look at how I'm helping people out." The act is not really done to help people, it's for somebody to feel good about his- or herself.

Don't get me wrong: it's a great incentive to do something good for others. And even better, because whenever those acts are carried out, the benefited party feels as though they "owe" the good-doer. But, in these cases, it can be stated, very honestly, that the favor in itself was the reward. The good-doer feels good about his- or herself; that's what he/she took away from the deed, so nobody owes anything.

My issue here is when it's not honest from this point of view; when the good-doer feels as though what he/she has done is completely selfless when in reality it's not:

"I helped this puppy out of the water. Aren't I such a selfless person?"

Why are you recording yourself doing it?

"I gave so much food to charity. I'm so selfless."

Why are you signing your name in the charity's register and letting people take your picture while you're doing it?

"I'm walking this marathon to raise money for Cancer. Selflessness is my middle name."

Isn't just donating the money directly to the charity a faster way to raise money for it? Why are YOU running? How is running even connected to Cancer? Aren't you just running so people know that YOU are a great person?

And don't get me started about that "raising awareness" argument: donating the money to do a marketing campaign is much easier and hits the target right in the center to achieve that. The marathon is to celebrate YOU, not the charity.

Disclosure: I need to thank Doug Stanhope for this last bit, from whom I basically stole it from. This argument was stuck in my head for so long, and he eloquently formed it in his last comedy special, Beer Hall Putsch. Enjoy:

Still, though, if we need to use the common flaw of vanity of humans for something good, I guess making them feel as a "selfless good person" as their share of the selfless deed seems like a good patch for now, even if they aren't aware of the hypocrisy that it involves. It IS better than doing nothing, which is, sadly, its only virtue. Well, that, and that these stories are "feel-good" entertainment for a lazy Friday afternoon.

Old Criticisms

I find myself bothered when it comes to criticism. Well, not the abstract concept of criticism, but when people do it. Actually, I think I'm mainly bothered by people, period; but that's a whole other story.

With the recent surgence of remakes of classic science fiction movies, it has dawned on me that we humans tend to not be easily satisfied (if it is at all possible).

For example, fictional characters, when being remade, are usually criticized for being "too new": the new Khan didn't quote Moby Dick like the original did, Superman shouldn't kill because the original didn't, the new Spiderman is too nerdy and socially awkward from the original, and Uncle Ben didn't say the classic quote of power and responsibility.

[By the way: the original Khan Moby Dick's quotes were cute but ultimately made the Ahab comparison too on the nose and made me lose interest in the character; Superman does kill Zod and the two other kryptonians in the comics and is considered canon (Superman #22); Peter Parker was nerdy as hell, but we didn't realize it because we ourselves were nerds; the power and responsibility quote is not originally from Uncle Ben, it is said by the narrator (Amazing Fantasy #15).]

This situation is beautifully presented when it comes to Star Trek movies. There's this generally accepted rule that the even-numbered films (Wrath of Khan, Nemesis, etc.) outperform the odd-numbered ones (Search for Spock, Final Frontier, etc.). So, when people start describing something as "too new", it implies that they are comparing it to supposedly better things in the good old days. My question here is: which things are they comparing them to? Mathematically speaking, half of the things they are comparing them to are regarded as crap.

We can take this further if we then consider that those characters, in other circumstances, were criticized for being "too old": Superman Returns was too boring as there's nothing new on the character; every self-respecting Spiderman fan hated the Maguire movies because they didn't add anything to the character; the new Spiderman sucked because it's the same old story.

[By the way: Superman Returns puts Kal-El in an emotional journey having Louis' boyfriend be a good dad to his own kid, something rarely seen in the comics; the Maguire movies turned out to be the gold standard when the Garfield one came out by those same self-respecting Spiderman fans.]

So, apparently, we want things to stay the essentially the same, but have a fresh perspective on the subject matter. Sadly, this contradiction also goes for "too depressing but not too cheerful", "too violent but not too bland", and "too intense but not too indifferent".

If we want something to get better, the first thing it requires is that its faults are pointed out, and satisfaction should only be an option until it gets better. I would be all for it if it were that. This, however, is not a step to get something better, but a vehicle with which pseudo-opinions are presented as a type of evidence of an intellect that craves being acknowledged and regarded as edgy and non-mainstream. I would call it pedantry, but it would require that those opinions were well-founded, but this is rarely the case.

If you don't like something, fine, but at least have the balls to be true to yourself and know that the reason you don't like something is not because it is "too this" or "too that", it is because there is nothing that is going to beat your past. You know, the past, when you were young and energetic and everything that was good in your life happened. These types of criticisms are not objective thoughts of the present, they are subjective feelings of the past.

I drink a glass of milk after a meal and love the smell of burning wood. I'm aware that these are things I like because they have a subconscious weight on my feelings, and I let them flow through, but I don't expect everybody to regard these things as enjoyable.

I didn't like the Dragonball movie or the Last Airbender movie because they presented a reality that was too far away from what I like of those characters. However, they are not "too new" nor "too old" nor "too violent" nor "too bland", it's just that I, me, myself, didn't like them. I am the problem. The movie and I are far away from each other, but the movie is already made and can't be changed, so I am the one that is too far away. If I didn't like the movie, the problem is not the movie, the problem is me.

Answering "why didn't I like this movie?" instead of "why did this movie sucked?" provides much more interesting answers and, at the very least, makes for a much more interesting conversation when discussing the movie with other people that have a different opinion than me. Saying "the movie didn't show the character as it should have" is a statement that is really implying "the character I like is the one I knew when I was 5; this movie didn't portray that, so I didn't like it". Hell, even "there is this concept of the character in my head that no movie has shown, and this wasn't the exception" is a more amusing topic of conversation and, not to mention, it has the rarely quality of being true.

Bully

My name is Caleb, and I was bullied... heavily. I was beat up, called a "puto" (fag), "marica" (pussy), "culebra" (snake; because I was skinny), I was publicly ridiculed because of my good grades (which can really screw up a kid's priorities), and thrown into trash cans making me feel, literally, like trash. I can still smell the rotten banana in my face.

I was bullied. So, to the parents that are going to read this and don't like it and are going to defend themselves with saying that I don't have children, that I don't know what I'm talking about, to those parents I say, "I was bullied. In this regard, I know your children better than you. In this regard, you don't know what you're talking about."

Words can hurt more than punches (believe you me). "Standing up to the bully" for many parents means to punch back or insult back. It doesn't work, it just escalates it into other kinds of violence. What it really does is to create bullies from the bullied, and I know, I was one too. It was thought as the "natural order of things": you get beat up by stronger kids, so you beat up the weaker than you. It doesn't work, it just feeds itself.

The problem with all of this is that it is thought that the solution can be brought from outside the home: the school should be a safe haven for kids from violence, punish bullies from saying "bad or offensive words" (like faggot or pussy, as if they wouldn't make up another word with the same sentiment behind it), bring in the police if necessary.

What about the parents? The usual is to not even bring up the concept of talking to the bully's parents because "most of them won't care". My answer is "fine, then don't". Although, for the record, it may be possible to make a case that raising a kid to be violent is a type of child abuse. Still, my point when asking that question is not about the bully's parents, I'm talking about the bullied's parents.

The reason why I'm still here, not having committed suicide (which I thought of, a lot), is because of my mom. She ripped it out of me one day, when I came back from school after getting beat up (which I usually hid because of shame). Bullies are smart, they will hit you in places that are difficult to notice scars or bruises. Once she forced me to confess (she knew when I was hiding something, still does) and saw what was done to me, she didn't call the principal, she didn't call the other kid's parents, she talked to me, and what she told me became the prologue to my fight against bullying: "They didn't do this because you did something wrong, and it was because there is something wrong with them."

That completely turned the whole ordeal around for me. It wasn't instantaneous, it took a while to wrap my head around it (years even), but the prime feeling that I used to feel for them shifted from anger/hate to sympathy. I tried to find out what was happening to each of them, to get a backstory of why they were so angry, and every time I was put in front of their anger I knew why it was happening. I didn't say a word in the beginning, but almost at the end of junior high, I started to speak up. Not in an insulting manner, but as an offering "I know why you're doing this. If it makes you feel better, go ahead."

Radical I know, but that sentiment was disarming, even to the point that a couple of times I made friends that way. Not "lets go to the movies together" type of friends, but more of the type of "I won't call you 'culebra' anymore", which, given the circumstances, was a step up.

With one bully and me in the principal office, I was making up a story of why I had scars in my neck ("these aren't scars, I just had an itch"). The bully at first thought that I was making it up for the sake of not tattling (which would've meant more hurt after for me). The principal knew I was lying, and asked me if I was sure that's what happened, and after I said "I don't want him to get in trouble because of a silly misunderstanding" his face changed. He knew I meant "trouble" as in "get beat up by his dad". His face remained changed the rest of my stay in that school.

When one bully (one of the harshest) was being considered for expulsion from the school, the principal and some teachers came to our group and asked our opinion. When my turn came to speak I said that "He has friends in this class that make him happy." (alluring to the fact that he wasn't happy at his house) The principal responded that I was one of the persons that he most aggravated. I responded "I didn't say I was one of them. But, he's still a classmate." Coincidentally, when he was let back into the school, he avoided me. Again, a step up from the routine.

It wasn't easy, and, sometimes, even brought more hurt than good, but my parents were always there to talk it over (which we did, a lot), always watching that I wasn't getting too hurt, and always telling me that they were proud of the sentiment I had behind of what I was doing. It made me a better person, I think, and brought me closer to my parents as well as my classmates (at least, some of them). It made me realize that the "bully" was not a criminal that we should lock away and forget, but only a troubled kid that I could help, if only a little.

I think this is the way to tackle the "bullying problem": yes, with the parents, but with all of them (both the bully's and bullied's). The school is not somewhere you just drop your kids and having them returned as complete human beings. If you think that the school is a safe haven for anything, you're giving too much credit to its capabilities. The teachers provide knowledge and, sometimes, inspiration; the curriculum, some structure; the cafeteria, bad food. Other than that, it is up to the kids and their parents to get along. There are going to be bullies throughout the child's life, and making him a victim will only come back to bite him in the ass in the long run. So, I propose to use the situation as a learning opportunity for sympathy towards somebody that really needs it; to not to "stand up to the bully", but "stand up with the bully". I bet it'll be the best lesson your kid will ever learn from school.

Lets not be Dicks

There is a very interesting thread going about in Reddit.com, where the original poster proposed a little exercise. Think about a topic in which you have a really good grasp on and have decided your position on; now write an argument about the opposing position.

I remember this being a common exercise in Debate Team (yes, I was part of one of those; are you seriously surprised?), and one that at first was very frustrating. Then, when I got the hang of it, it was fun to get to know the 'other side', as if I was a spy infiltrating the enemy, getting intelligence to overthrow a brutal dictatorship. However, that ability came with another frustrating edge: indecision.

At the moment that I stepped over that line, and wondered about arguments that I knew were wrong, after a while of hearing them and empathizing with their proponents, I usually wound up not knowing what to believe, what to think. And a lot of the current controversies (in politics, society, economy, etc.) are usually textbook examples of how opposing views have sound arguments. This is probably the reason why there are so many zealots out there: is far easier (and frankly, much better for one's sanity) to go to an extreme view of a topic, not hear the other side, and stay there.

I grew up with a moderately-conservative family; Christian in its core, but definitely not one of those Jesus-is-coming-next-weekend-so-you-need-to-repent-now, batshit crazy kinds. Like in any other family, we had discussions; we still do. But, the difference with my family is that we relish them. We love to talk about things, and try to make the other person admit "you might have a point there"; not precisely win the discussion, just make the other side come a little bit to our side. However, there are some topics that are still considered taboo in the Rascon household (my parents still consider themselves Christian after all): sexuality, existence of Jesus, and, the all-time favorite, abortion.

This topic has been the bread-and-butter of many Debate Competitions, and it has been beaten to the ground to the point that you are guaranteed to hear a sufferable groan of at least one team member when it is proposed to be debated. The reason for this is, of course, that both sides, like it or not, make good points. Now, now, I know what you're thinking, and I'm pretty sure it's one of the following:

Life begins at conception. Abortion is murder, clean and simple.
Or
You don't have any right to dictate what I can do with my body.

Did I oversimplify? Most definitely. And that's the problem: it's not a simple topic.

 

Pro-choice's view: Life is still something that is very difficult to define. It moves and breathes? So does my urine bladder. The presence of DNA? Cancer cells have it. Potential for life? A carbon clump also has it.

So to use that not-at-all-defined argument as a way of heavily stepping over the corporal jurisdiction of someone that is very much alive and well is, pardon the pun, overkill, and a dangerous precedent for futures lawmakers. What about if the mother's life is at stake? What if there is a severe disease that is going to give more suffering in the long run? What if the parents are not ready to provide the right financial/emotional care? Pro-lifers usually think about the 'life' being taken away, not the 'quality of life' which is as important. And if the 'potentiality' of life is being provided as argument, so does the 'potentiality of a bad/good life'.

 

(Take a breath.)

 

Pro-life's view: If life doesn't begin at conception, when does it begin? Where do you cross the line of imposing your corporal jurisdiction over the life of another person? The fetus does turn into a person at some point, and beyond that point, stating "it's my body, I can do what I want with it" doesn't hold when there's another person's body inside of you: it isn't just your body anymore. And killing as part of your birth control plan is borderline sociopathic.

And this also can cause a dangerous precedent for future lawmakers. If it is accepted to end a pregnancy based on whatever the woman wants, would it be fine to end the pregnancy over the matter of, say, the fetus' gender (because she wanted a boy instead of a girl)? Or because the fetus' father is someone other than the woman's partner? Or because at the last minute (literally, when she's about to give birth) she decided she didn't want to be a mother anymore?

 

I hear you say "there's always adoption!" That's a whole other subject, really. How good will the foster parents be? How good will the orphanage take care of the infant in the mean time? And even if these cases were all optimal, the pregnancy will still need to be carried through, which is the central point of the topic.

I admit using a bit of reduction ad absurdum (aka. the Slippery Slope tactic) in the arguments above, but my point is that the topic isn't simple, and both sides have important and sound points to be considered.

Is difficult to deny, however, that really the main point here is: where do you draw the line? At what point does the potentiality of life trump the woman's corporal jurisdiction? It's hard to say, but what is clear is that any answer to that question would imply some sort of compromise from both sides. And I'd like to weigh in on one:

If the question is hard to answer, why not stick to something that we can agree on? If the process is going to happen (even if it's "morally wrong", people are still going to do it, legal or not), why not do it in a way in which the fetus will not feel pain? So regardless if it's murder or not, at least lets not make the fetus (whatever you think it is) not suffer in the process. I know that this subtopic is also very debated, and there isn't a consensus there either (big surprise), and it should be put in lower priority if the health of the mother is at stake. But, it's a good step forward, from both sides, to comply that, whatever happens to the fetus, at least lets not be dicks about it. And this is what I think the whole point of "listening to the other side" boils down to.

Yes, stepping over that line is frustrating (I can only imagine the comments that this post is going to get), and makes you constantly doubt your own arguments over and over. But it also sometimes provides a nice way to step forward. Sometimes it makes people come a little bit to your side. Sometimes it makes you feel like less of a dick. And that's worth the effort.