Friday, June 15, 2007

Anonymous Comments, the Trouble with Ipods, and the Glorious Return of Lost on Twin Earth

I've been offline since Tuesday, and so missed the relative flurry of activity brought about by an anonymous comment.

After long lamentations about the rise of the MP3 killing the long lost art of making an album (you know, a collection of songs that fit nicely together, occasionally even strung together by some unifying concept), I finally bit the technological bullet and got an Ipod. I'm always a little late to jump on a bandwagon, but now that I'm on it, I'm on, baby!

I've been copying all of my cds into ITunes on my Mac, and synching them onto my Ipod. This has been delirious fun. Adam and I have carefully perused my music library looking for the best cds for the maiden voyage. The first selections span our favorites in pop, rock, indie, punk, metal, jazz, world, and classical, according to the "genre" guide on the Ipod - though I've got to say that the best music transcends any handy label you might affix to it.

Anyway, we've been picking the cds together, and then putting them onto the Mac together, giving me a great chance to teach him a little bit about music. The problem is, evidently we got a bit too excited and did too much at once. Right in the middle of loading Lyle Lovett's Joshua Judges Ruth, the optical drive gave out - the first problem our Mac's had. So I took it into our local Mac store for them to replace the optical drive - still under warranty, thank God. Problem is, they don't have any in stock, but they should get one tomorrow. That was Tuesday.

Wednesday, no word from them yet, I gave them a call. Drive still isn't in, but they should have my computer back to me safe by Thursday afternoon at the latest.

Thursday evening, still no word, so I call them again. Sorry, the drive still hasn't shown up. They don't know what the delay is, but it should be in any moment, and they're convinced my computer will be back in my hands, good as new, by mid-day Friday.

A couple hours ago I just couldn't wait any longer. I called again. Still no optical drive. So they finally suggest that I take my computer back, and they'll call as soon as the drive comes in. When it comes in, I can bring the machine back to them, and they'll install the new optical drive. Great idea, so now I'm finally back.

Now I've got something like 52 (OK, not quite that many, but you the idea) new emails in my inbox, including the relative flurry of activity from this blog. I'll get to that in a minute. First, however, I have to announce the glorious return of Lost on Twin Earth, my friend Brian's prodigal blog. I know that there was great lamentation (and one hell of a reader contest) when Brian shut it down last November. Evidently Brian's had a change of heart. So give him a visit and crap in his cereal.

Speaking of crapping in cereal, we've had a few anonymous comments lately, including two real gems. The first, an attack on my verbosity, isn't worth responding to. Style is a subjective thing. Some people don't like mine. I've got no problem with that, though I've got to wonder why people waste precious time reading bad writing. Life's too short for that.

The second comment, however, merits some mention. For those who haven't seen it, it reads:

You are obsessed with homosexuality. You have written about it a lot. Is this revealing? Are you gay? Tell the truth.

While I was offline, Tom, my musical twin (and comment pit bull, it turns out) called to tell me about it, and about his response. Since then, the anonymous commenter has apparently apologized. I say "apparently" because the trouble with anonymous comments is you can't tell who left them. It may be that the apology has come from the same person who left the offending comment, but there is no way to know that.

I'm less interested in the comment or the apology than I am in how the comment informs our ethical reflection. In connecting my concern that gays and lesbians receive fair treatment and equal rights with my own sexual orientation, the comment implies that our moral concern is reflexively self-interested. That is, that we assume that we have moral obligations only to those with whom we have some connection, or who remind us of ourselves. That we are interested only in the rights of groups to which we can claim some membership.

While the comment made this claim both starkly and crudely, it is a claim made in various subtle forms. The cynics among us operate with this basic assumption. What's in it for me? Where do I fit in? As Tom so aptly put it, this kind of thinking leads to certain absurdities, like - parroting the questioning of my sexual orientation - "asking white people who marched in the civil rights movement if they're black."

What would make a white person campaign for the rights of blacks? What would make a straight person campaign for the rights of gays? What motivates some of us to step beyond the categories that define us, to fight for groups in which we will never participate?

There are several possible answers to these questions. Ultimately, I believe that we are all interconnected and interrelated, and that the fate of any of us impacts us all. I am never truly free until all people are free, and so I work hard for the freedom of all oppressed people. As I wrote in my as-yet-unpublished paper "Resistance as Reconciliation: A Critique of Cone's Theology of Black Liberation" (yes, I turned my blog-posts on Cone into an academic paper!):

White racism is... "antimoral," not just because it harms the direct victims (blacks, and other ethnic minorities), but also because it literally disintegrates the racist, separating their essential nature from their actual or existential nature. Motivated by fear of the other and a craving to cling to the privilege of power, the racist... contradicts, as Tillich would say, their own self-realization. To put it more plainly, God does not will for any of us to be oppressors, and so oppression is not a part of our essential nature. As such, oppressors themselves are victims of their oppressing, because in oppressing others they deny themselves the opportunity to be properly grounded in God.

That applies to the oppression of gays and lesbians as well. As so, desiring to be grounded in God, and realizing that my own fate is connected to the fate of all others, I resist homophobia in myself, and call others to resist it as well.

But I'm glad that the comment was left, because it gave me a great chance to laugh. I'm secure enough in my sexuality not to be offended by someone who implies that I might be gay. And, it gave my wife a good laugh, too. She was with me when I finally got around to checking me email, and - to use my grandmother's phrase - "got tickled" when she saw that.

However, these anonymous comments are forcing me to reconsider my comment policy. I've allowed anonymous comments for the entire lifetime of this blog, because I don't want people to have to sign up for Blogger accounts just to leave comments here. However, most of my non-Blogger commenters have the good sense to identify themselves in the comments they leave. This latest batch, however, have been entirely anonymous. Total anonymity removes many social checks on anti-social behavior. If this continues, I'll have to stop allowing anonymous comments.

If you are an anonymous commenter on this blog, please have the decency to identify yourself somehow in your comment, so that when people wish to respond to you they'll be able to call you something other than just "anonymous," and so that we will be able to distinguish between the various persons commenting under the name "anonymous."

Damned if that wasn't the longest bit of rambling I've written. Guess I'd better end it now!

Check out Lost on Twin Earth!!!


Brian said...

Supergracias for the shout-out, Sandman. Good to be back, actually, although I forgot just what a time-waster blogging really is.

Brian Beech said...

God does not will for any of us to be oppressors, and so oppression is not a part of our essential nature. I'm curious - not in a combative "I've got you!" way, but more in a "how does this fit with what you believe (or what I perceive you believe". It seems to me that you believe we cannot understand God, so to say He does and does not will us to be something is just human conjecture and beyond our comprehension. So, to say He does not want us to oppress people would fit in as opinion. And, when you look at the Bible (which I try to do cause I'm a literalist (yes, the dangerous kind that believes it is the Word of God :) )) take Joshua chapter 10, when Joshua is conquering nations - wouldn't that be a form of oppression? And God fought with Joshua. So, I think Biblically speaking, it would be wrong to say that God does not will for any to oppress. No, I'm not for oppression and not trying to justify it, but I wondered how that statement fit with the Bible and fit with what I perceive to be your view.

Also, I found it funny that the anonymous comment "this kind of thinking leads to certain absurdities, like - parroting the questioning of my sexual orientation". Much like the many people who state that if you're against homosexuality its because you're really trying to hide your own tendencies. Funny that when that kind of statement is made the other way it is absurd.

Just interested in your thoughts, I've been super busy, so if I don't reply to whatever comment you leave; forgive me. I'm more interested in your response than a debate anyway.

Sandalstraps said...

Brian Beech,

I can't get to everything in your comment, though I will say (as you know) that I find literalism troublling for just the reason you identify - that it leads us to place God in morally untennable situations. We'll have to, however, have that discussion in a venue better suited for it.

I think that homophobia can be a form of self-hatred. There are many closeted gays - some preachers, as a few recent high profile cases show - who speak out loudly against homosexuality. Their hate-filled rhetoric may stem from either a deep-seated loathing of themselves or from a desire not to be found out.

However, to move from that to something like "if you speak out against homosexuality you must be a closeted gay" is absurd and stupid. There may be more evidence that homophobic people are secretly gay than that tolerant people are secretly gay, but neither tolerance nor homophobia makes one gay. As Tom put it, being gay makes one gay.

As for how I reconcile an absolute statement concerning God's will (God does not will for any of us to be oppressors...) with my concept of divine mystery, that is a much, much longer discussion. For hints as to how I do that, see my series on black theology - especially the posts on James Cone. That was the backround material for a very long paper on Cone's Theology of Black Liberation. Standing behind it is the entire "liberation theology" tradition, which is difficult to describe in a brief comment.

Ultimately, however, you're right - God can't be both entirely mysterious and described in some absolute term. My assumption that God does not will oppression rests ultimately not on some claim to absolute knowledge concerning God, but rather on the fierce hope that God is not a moral reprobate. If God wills oppression, then we're all, to put it bluntly, screwed, living in a cruel world with no morality save the morality of power; and with God holding a monopoly on such power. I refuse to believe in such a state of affairs.

Incidentally, I look at the Bible, too. The question of how one interprets the Bible or of what one believes about the Bible has no bearing on whether or not one looks at the Bible.

crystal said...

I was accused of being a lesbian for the same reasons - sigh.

Hope your Mac gets well. Mine has held up for 4 years without mishap.

btw, I mentioned your past post about Bible interpretation on my blog, with link - hope that's ok.

Sandalstraps said...


It's always OK for you to link to my stuff, if you think people will find it helpful. Thanks for asking.

Brian Beech said...

Incidentally, I look at the Bible, too. The question of how one interprets the Bible or of what one believes about the Bible has no bearing on whether or not one looks at the Bible. ----- after reading my comment again, it does sound like that...I wasn't trying to insinuate that you don't look at the Bible... forgive the miscommunication. ;)

There may be more evidence that homophobic people are secretly gay than that tolerant people are secretly gay --- this too goes against the way Tom so eloquently put it... "being gay makes one gay"

just for the record, I don't question your sexuality (nor care about it) --(hope that doesn't sound mean, it just doesn't effect me). And welcome to Ipod life! I love that world.

Monk-In-Training said...

Wow, what a great blog! I am going to have to hang out here some.

I recall (being of advanced age) in the early 70's when I was speaking out for justice for oppressed people of color, being called a not very nice name common in the South. It said (if I can say it delicately) that I "loved" those people.

Now, certainly Jesus loved those people more than I, but that name was meant as a pejorative, not a positive thing at all.

That is when I learned that lesson you spoke of here about how that we assume that we have moral obligations only to those with whom we have some connection, or who remind us of ourselves. That we are interested only in the rights of groups to which we can claim some membership

Isn't it amazing how Jesus reached out to those past His own group? This gentile is so glad He did!

† Post Tenebras Lux
After the darkness the light

Liam said...

Yeah, I've had a couple of nasty anonymous comments. It's upsetting, but I think most people understand how pathetic and cowardly an anonymous attack is.

I recently got an Ipod shuffle recently, and have already got a good selection of my cd collection on my Itunes. I have it load songs randomly, and it's very fun to see what's coming up next. Charlie Parker? Nick Cave? Flamenco? Gregorian chant? Some cheesy 80's pop song that I don't have to feel bad about liking anymore? The Clash? Palestrina? Schubert? Bulgarian folk music?

I'm looking forward to checking out Brian's blog again.

Amy said...

I've gotten some of those same questions myself recently - though not in an attacking way - in person, as I was discussing recent developments in my home presbytery. My (internal) reaction was more along the lines of... "I was at the immigration rally the other day. Do you want to see my proof of citizenship?"
And, welcome back Brian. I look forward to reading what you have to say.
MIT - I was reading "Blood Done Signed My Name" the other day, and the minister highlighted was branded with the epithet to which you are alluding. His response was "I guess your right. I do at least try to love everybody." I think that's quite clever and cuts to the heart of it.
Have a blessed day!