Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Setting Something Straight

I had never really heard of Brendan Eich until this past week or two.  Well, I might have heard of him before, but I don't remember it, and I wouldn't have generally known who he is until the past week or two.  Eich has, though, been in the news the past couple of weeks in conjunction with his resignation as CEO of Mozilla.  In short, he resigned under pressure stemming from his contribution to efforts to pass Proposition 8 in California and his stance regarding that proposition.  Proposition 8 would have encoded into law a definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Some folks have expressed worry about what's happening to Eich (such as here, here, and here), concerned about how pressuring Eich may represent a sort of an antidemocratic totalitarianism that fails to live up to the diversity of opinions that ought to be celebrated within the kinds of free and open dialogue and practice needed for functioning democracy.  To some degree, I understand the concern.  As I have indicated before on this blog, I have significant concerns about the power of organizations -- particularly organizations as employers -- to punish people based on those folks' expressions of their opinions.  Meanwhile, I have serious concerns about the content of Prop 8 and the kinds of arguments that were made in favor of it.  Still, I think I could work with folks -- and I'm sure that I do -- who supported Prop 8 and legislation like it, and, though I find their reasoning seriously misguided, I might be able to understand how well-meaning  people may have thought they should have supported Prop 8.  Heck, particularly given the kind of homophobic culture in which I grew up, I likely myself -- as liberal as I was even then -- might have seen some merit in some of those arguments a couple of decades ago.

Yet, even in saying that, two points warrant mention.  First, I am straight.  As such, I have the luxury of knowing that Prop 8 and legislation like it would have not significantly directly affected my choices and rights.  So, when I say I could work with folks who support Prop 8, I also wouldn't have to go to work every day knowing these people want to deny me rights, opportunities, and frankly my humanity.  If I was not straight, that would not be the case.  At the end of January and beginning of February, I was honored to take part in BGSU Firelands' staging of the play 8, which depicts elements of the trial that overturned Proposition 8 after California voters voted the proposition into law.  The play is worth seeing if you can get a chance to do so.  In particular, among other things, it demonstrates the serious deficiencies in the arguments in favor of Prop 8, and it shows some of the dehumanizing and very real damaging elements of Prop 8 and legislation like it.

And those damaging elements of Prop 8, then, get to the other point worth mentioning.  As I see folks expressing concern about how Eich's resignation demonstrates a kind of thought control limiting freedom of expression and opinion in ways that oppress, discriminate, and work against democracy, let's not forget to apply those same concerns to Prop 8.  Prop 8 literally sought to do exactly that ... and more.  It sought to encode in law a particular view of marriage, along with a concomitant view of sexuality, and thus criminalize -- or at the very least legally and socially delegitimize -- practices that expressed alternatives to that particular view.  As such, Prop 8 was the thought police, and it was also the action police.  It was oppressive, it was discriminatory, and it worked against the kinds of free and open dialogue and practice that a democracy would ask of us.

So, when I see and hear arguments about how folks such as Eich are being oppressed and not tolerated in a way that a tolerant society should tolerate them, I'm very apt to call bull shit.  Prop 8 was intolerant, oppressive, and frankly heinous.  Legislation like it is too.  When your opinion is support for legislation that seeks to encode into law your own view so that others have to follow your view, even though following other views would not limit or incur upon the rights of others, then this is not simply the matter of opinion that many defenders of Eich and others who have expressed support for legislation like Prop 8 try to claim.  Their opinion is not simply their opinion; it's an opinion based on forcing others to conform to their opinion.

In the end, maybe Eich's resignation wasn't the proper course of action here.  I really don't know, and I don't know enough about the situation to state an opinion.  But I do know that Eich's opinion on Prop 8 embodied the same kinds of things that his defenders are claiming about the pressure that influenced Eich's resignation.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Madness

No, by my title I'm not referring to the British band best remembered for their song "Our House," though that's worth a listen.

Rather, I'm referring to the fact that today the NCAA men's basketball tournament begins.  For nearly 25 years, this has been one of my most favorite days of the year, and I'm not alone.  For folks who follow men's college basketball, the prospect of a full day's worth of basketball beginning just after noon Eastern time and ending more than 12 hours later, followed by another day of the same thing, filled with dramatic games, incredible upsets, and season-ending competition is delightfully entertaining.  That's exactly how I've felt over the past decade and a half, and it's how I want to feel today.

However, like my choice to give up college football in 2012, I've decided this season to give up men's college basketball.  I think there is a very legitimate place for men's basketball on college campuses.  Basketball can be a very enjoyable game to watch and/or to play, and it can be played on an intercollegiate level in a very reasonable way that is conducive to community development while not requiring an amount of resources that burdens the institution.

Yet, particularly after writing my most recent book chapter, I've come to feel that men's college basketball occupies too much of an unreasonable position at enough institutions.  At many institutions, men's college basketball asks for an inordinate amount of resources and often commands an inordinate amount of influence.  So, while I have remained peripherally informed about men's college basketball this season, I have generally chosen not to watch or follow the sport.  At times, this has been difficult.  Over the past two weeks in particular I wanted very strongly to turn on numerous conference tournament games.  However, but for seeing a few moments here and there, I refrained, and I will be doing the same today and throughout the NCAA men's tournament.  While in past years I would fill out not only an NCAA men's basketball bracket, but also an NIT bracket, a CBI bracket, and a CIT bracket, this year I have done none of them.  While in past years, I would have turned my television (or the CBS Sports website) on around noon on Thursday and sought to have men's basketball on whenever I could that day and the following three days, this year I will not be watching.  While in past years, I would have been thrilled that my major conference team of choice -- Michigan State -- is a favorite (even President Obama picked them), this year, as hard as it will be, I will not be monitoring their games, and I will know only peripherally how they have done.

Meanwhile, women's basketball typically shares a facility with men's basketball at colleges and universities, and thus it might be part of the same problem as the men's game, given that the resources devoted to basketball arenas constitutes a major part of what I see as the problem. I feel confident, though, that with a very few possible exceptions (and even then, given the types of media coverage and exposure, these don't really appear to be exceptions) women's basketball is not driving the inordinacy of athletics' influence and use of resources at colleges and universities.  So, I will find the pleasure that I usually derive from men's basketball in women's basketball (which I like better anyway).  I have filled out my bracket and entered a couple pools for the NCAA women's basketball tournament.  I will, when possible, be putting the women's NCAA tournament on my television or computer.  And though I am disappointed that my favorite team -- Bowling Green -- barely missed the NCAA tournament, I will follow along as best I can as the Falcons play in the Women's NIT, starting with a home game against High Point in Bowling Green tonight.

As for men's basketball, like football, perhaps it can reenter my life some day, and I don't think men's basketball has as many obstacles as football does to do so.  For the time being, though, the most salient "March madness" would seem to be the madness of the resources and influence that men's basketball receives, and that's a madness in which I do not care to participate.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Diversity vs. Division

I did not watch the Super Bowl this past weekend. I can honestly say that I haven't seen a moment of the game -- not even a highlight of the game shown afterward. So, I didn't know about Coca Cola's "America the Beautiful" commercial until folks started to talk about it after the game ended. When I heard about it, I watched the commercial.

Predictably, a number of folks took to places such as Twitter to voice displeasure that parts of "America the Beautiful" were sung in languages other than English during the commercial. Fortunately, it appears that even more people called out the English-only folks for the problematic aspects of what they were saying.  Perhaps just as predictably, a number of political pundits, including Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and Glenn Beck, voiced their opposition to the commercial.  Among these, Beck suggested that the commercial was divisive because it set up a dichotomy in which either one is in favor of particular immigration policies or one is racist.

Honestly, though the immigration reading of the commercial is certainly there to be had, I hadn't even connected the commercial to immigration until I read Beck's comments.  To me, it came across as a commercial that reflected the diversity of cultures -- and with that the diversity of languages -- that constitute the United States of America and have constituted the country since before it even became a country.  We are not a country of one language, and democracy would compel us not to be a country of one language, for reasons I have explained before on this blog.  As I explained in that blog post, there are elements of racism built into English-only perspectives and policies.  The kind of diversity represented in having "America the Beautiful" sung in multiple languages can help to facilitate unity rather than divisiveness within democracy because it represents inclusion of multiple voices and the multiplicity of perspectives that those voices represent.

When I hear folks such as Beck argue that the Coke commercial is divisive, it rings as the same tone as what I heard from Beck's fellow conservative commentator, Sean Hannity, this summer when he responded to President Obama's speech about the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin verdict.  I was travelling by car on the day that Obama made that speech, and as I was flipping through radio stations, I heard Hannity say that Obama had a chance to promote unity but that Obama's comments had been divisive.  Yet, when I subsequently listened to Obama's speech, it seemed to reflect quite the opposite of what Hannity said.  Obama attempted to address and incorporate both the perspectives of those who were disappointed in the verdict and the perspectives of those who agreed with the verdict.  Similarly, Obama's comments attempted to address and incorporate the perspectives of many African-American communities who felt that the case reflected histories of failures of U.S. institutions to provide justice to African Americans as well as the perspectives of other communities, such as many white communities, who felt that the verdict represented a system of justice working effectively.  The ability to address and incorporate alternate and even opposing perspectives is fundamental to a functioning democracy, yet the likes of Hannity were dissatisfied because Obama's comments included not only their perspectives, but also perspectives different from theirs.  Hannity's comments thus reflect an exclusionary perspective that works against democracy, and the suggestion that portraying multiple languages in connection with U.S. identity is divisive does the same.

In the end, comments such as Hannity's about Obama's speech and Beck's about Coca Cola's commercial reinforce the power of privilege.  They call for unity built around privilege, wherein oppressed folks are asked to conform to an empowered culture and its perspectives.  I say this recognizing that neither the Obama administration nor the Coca Cola company is some kind of pure defender of social justice and democracy.  Far from it.  Indeed, incorporation of surface-level diversity can often serve as a kind of smoke screen that hides deeper forms of oppression.  In the case of Coca Cola, we might argue that the incorporation of multiple languages and cultures serves a kind of colonizing interest, hailing various folks to become consumers of this transnational company's products and thus increasing the company's global influence and power without real attention to the political, economic, and social conditions of need of the folks whom the company is hailing.

Yet, the kinds of comments about the incorporation of diverse perspectives offered by the likes of Hannity and Beck not only don't serve as a necessary resistance to such transnational influence and power; they advocate a form of colonization themselves, asserting the power of particular cultures and perspectives to dominate others.  As my wife very eloquently put it, diversity does not equal division.  She's right, and while that doesn't mean that Coke is an exemplar of standing for democracy, the sentiment of Coke's Super Bowl commercial does reflect democracy in action in a way that the commercial's detractors fail to do.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rethinking How We Think About Government

One of the most prominent themes in contemporary political discourse is the less government/more government dichotomy.  Calls for less government, particularly coming from conservative voices (though also, it should be noted, constituting a significant element of liberal discourse as well) feature significantly in U.S. political discussions.  Last night, President Obama, predictably, referenced the theme in his State of the Union address when he said, "For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It's an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people."

This question came up in a course that I taught last summer when someone, in asking about this in connection with a particular issue, sought to verify an understanding that folks on the right tend to be for less government and folks on the left tend to be for more government.  I don't blame the person for this characterization.  It's a common shorthand for understanding positions, and even my very first thought was to agree.  Yet, in the end, I didn't agree, and we talked about that.  Ultimately, I argued – and I seek to argue here – that that dichotomy is erroneous.  As someone who defines himself quite heavily on the political left, I am not for "more government," as that shorthand would suggest, nor am I for "less government."  I am for, and I expressed it this way last summer, "more effective government." 

On the one hand, "more effective government" can refer to the idea that the size of what tends to be called "government" – i.e., the official political institutions of the state – doesn't matter as much as the degree to which that "government" functions effectively.  I think lots of folks, regardless of how they lean politically, tend to agree with that.  They want government to function well to serve the needs it is purporting to serve.   However, there is a deeper level here that can easily translate into "more government" because it can tend to translate to more official political processes and institutions, though that phrase is a misnomer. 

On that deeper level, I ask that we rethink how we think about the word "government."  In asking this, I suggest that we recognize that no matter what, we are governed.  Even if we developed an official political system built on anarchy – i.e., a system with no official rules for practice – we would be governed.  In that case, we would be governed by the practices that unofficially develop as the ways of doing things in society.  If that meant that the very powerful could wield that power however they wish because there would be no official way to stop them, then the ways they wielded their power would set the rules for how we are governed.  Indeed, this is part of the concern about what is called "deregulation" in contemporary politics in connection with corporatization.  If the result of less official state-defined regulations means more freedom for corporations to do as they wish, then we may have less "government" in the official state capacity, but we are no less governed.  Rather, we are then governed by the rules and practices set forth by those corporations, and insofar as those corporations do not and need not build their practices on democratic processes that seek to allow for multiplicities of voices and constituencies to be heard – the kinds of democratic practices wherein, for instance, employees have significant say over their working conditions and customers have some recourse when sold unfit products and services – then we have little say in how we are governed unless we are among the elite groups that determine the rules and practices that govern us.  (Of course, this leaves aside for the moment that corporations need official state government to exist because they cannot exist with government charters that allow them to do so. Though, even if we de-chartered corporations, with rolled-back official state government there would be little to nothing to keep organizations from imposing their wills.)

The term "deregulation" itself suffers this very problem.  We hear all the time about deregulation, by which people mean less official state regulation, but ultimately this does not deregulate anything.  Rather, it transfers the power to determine who regulates from the state to organizations outside the state.  So, when we "deregulate" business, it means not that people aren't regulated, but that businesses do the regulating of us.  And while that might sound good – i.e., the sentiment that organizations and people get to regulate themselves – that is not how that works.  Rather, it means that those with power within organizations get more say in regulating the rest of us because they have more power to determine and construct organizational practices.  (This is, of course, unless businesses are organized in egalitarian ways that limit individuals’ power, but without official state rules that would call for such structures, it’s hard to see how the organizationally empowered would generally create such structures, and history tends to tell us that they don’t do so.)

That, then, gets back to the heart of the problem that goes along with the less government/more government dichotomy.  Many folks look at how our official state "government" works and see that the wealthy and powerful exert too much influence, and I think those folks are correct to voice concern about that.  Indeed, many on the political left and the political right would agree on that regard.  Yet, the standard "conservative" answers of removing all kinds of official state processes, institutions, and functions is faulty because in its current manifestations, it simply transfers how the wealthy and powerful exert that influence from through the official state to around – or, perhaps better expressed as "in absence of" – the state.  In this regard these conservative voices do as they typically do -- they identify a legitimate problem but then propose solutions that don't really address the depth of the problem.  Meanwhile, the standard "liberal" answers of reforming the official state processes also fail to address the depth of the problem because, in the end, at best, they do only a little to make those processes more egalitarian, and they often simply increase the bureaucratization of those processes, which of course, then leads to a legitimate judgment of having created ineffective "more government."

I would, then, propose that we rethink our use and understanding of the word "government."  "Government" is not simply the official state institutions and process.  It is, rather, the state of human relations as they influence our behaviors.  We will always be governed, even if it's in the most informal sense.  The question is, then, how we might ensure that there is equity in the ability of individuals to be heard and cultures to be expressed – with all of them being meaningfully considered – within the system by which we are governed, as formal or informal as that might be.  So, the question here is not the size of government – i.e., whether government is "big" or "small" – but the process of government – i.e., whether government effectively provides for, reflects, and protects the diversity of human practices and perspectives that it represents.  At least for me, this leads to an interest in official government that is built out of providing for the expression, consideration, and protection of a diversity of perspectives because it seems that in unofficial government, practices need not account for that, as the empowered can impose their will without much sanction or contestation.  Yes, what I propose sounds like "more government," and in at least some ways it would seem that it may very well mean more official government, but really it's not any more or less real government; rather, it's more or less official government, with an emphasis on "more effective government," recognizing that unofficial government often means government that is ineffective in meeting and protecting people's interests.  And when I look at it that way, the "liberal" voices in this country don't do enough to address the problem, while the "conservative" voices lead us away from what would address the problem.

Perhaps there are ways to conceptualize more effective government in conjunction with less official government.  Though in my current understanding those do not align, I'm certainly open to seeing ways that they could.  However, we as a society can't have that conversation until we overcome the more government/less government dichotomy, and in conjunction with that we recognize that even in what tends to be called "less government" we are indeed just as governed, and thus, we need to examine how that government would work.  In our contemporary political discourse, that isn't happening.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Hypothetical 2014 MLB Hall of Fame Ballot

Results for this year's round of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame balloting are due to be announced on Wednesday (January 8).  I don't have a ballot for the Hall of Fame, but every year I take a few moments on this blog to indicate what I would do if I did have the ballot.  Each year, I suggest the same refrain:  The limitation of voting for only 10 players is insufficient because I would vote for more than 10, and so I indicate what I would do if I could vote for more than 10. This year is no different.  Indeed, because the ballot is so stacked, this year exacerbates that very problem.

With that in mind, if I had the ability to vote for Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame, and if I could vote for as many players as I wished, I would vote for 24 players.  That would include all 17 players who are holdovers from last year, and for an explanation of my reasoning on those 17 players, see last year's blog post.  That list of players includes (in alphabetical order) Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker.

Of the individuals new to the ballot this year, four to me are no-brainers:  Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas.  All of them have Hall-of-Fame numbers that stack up well against their peers, both their contemporary peers and their historical peers.  Mike Mussina is very close to that list as well, though his career does suffer a little when compared against the other four.  So, he would elicit a brief second thought, but in the end I find that he remains quite worthy of the Hall of Fame.  Those five bring my list to 22 players.

The remaining two players whom I would add are Moises Alou and Luis Gonzalez. 

I need to admit that Luis Gonzalez was, for years, my favorite major-league baseball player, so I have to try to account for a bias that would come with my consideration of his candidacy.  Still with over 2500 hits, over 350 homeruns, a ranking of number 15 on the all-time list for doubles, and a famous game-winning hit to win a World Series, Gonzalez stacks up quite nicely against other players whom I deem worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Moises Alou falls behind Luis Gonzalez in most major statistical categories (the major exception is batting average), and in the end it makes him a much more marginally electable candidate.  However, with a .303 lifetime average, 332 homeruns, and 2,134 hits, I find Alou just worthy enough to merit election.  So, he would be the last person to make my unlimited ballot.

I would also give serious consideration to Ray Durham and Kenny Rogers.  For Durham, having over 2,000 hits as a second basemen is a positive aspect of his candidacy, but with a lifetime .277 batting average and nothing else that particularly distinguishes him, he doesn't quite make it.  Rogers had over 200 wins, finishing with 219, which works in his favor, but with an ERA of 4.27 and nothing else that particularly distinguishes him either, like Durham, Rogers misses the cut.

I would give a little extra consideration to Hideo Nomo because of his success in Japan before his career in the United States as well as the significance of his move to the U.S.  However, in the end, with a won-loss record of 123-109 and a 4.24 ERA, he didn't quite do enough in the U.S. to make my ballot.

Meanwhile, while I looked at the careers of Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Greg Gagne, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Paul Lo Duca, Richie Sexson, J. T. Snow, and Mike Timlin, all fall well short of making my ballot.

In the end, then, I have 24 players on this ballot for whom I would wish to vote.  Since the ballot only allows for 10 names, when forced to narrow the list down, I don't know how I ever would.  I can very painfully and extremely reluctantly narrow it to 14 (Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Glavine, Kent, Maddux, McGriff, McGwire, Palmeiro, Piazza, Raines, Sosa, and Thomas), and there isn't a single name on that list that I can see worth cutting.  (I suppose if pushed enough I would take off McGriff, Bagwell, Raines, and McGwire to get to 10, but that would be extremely painful and worrisome to do so.)  Given the trouble I have with this, I can imagine that the real voters are having significant difficulties, and in the end some potentially deserving candidates may fall off the ballot forever by not getting at least 5 percent of the votes.  To a significant degree, though, as a group the voters have brought this on themselves by keeping folks on the ballot who could have been voted in on previous ballots. 

Perhaps this all shows how much of a farce the whole thing might be -- declaring some individuals worthy of merit and others not, and then adding in all kinds of judgments about performance-enhancement.  And maybe it's worth not even doing this exercise on my blog any longer.  I guess I have a year to consider that option, so as Brooklyn Dodgers fans would have said in a different capacity, I will "wait 'til next year ..."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I’d Rather A&E Hadn’t Ducked the Issue

So, in the last couple of days we’ve witnessed arguments from various sides after the suspension of Phil Robertson from the A&E television show Duck Dynasty following a set of remarks he made about sexuality (and, by the way, let’s not forget the deeply problematic things Robertson said in regard to race as well.)

I don’t regularly watch Duck Dynasty.  I don’t care much for most reality television, and the little bit of Duck Dynasty that I have seen reconfirmed the reasons I don’t watch reality television shows.  Additionally, what I have seen in terms of the marketing of the show and the use of the show by its fans suggests that I don’t align personally or ideologically with a significant amount of what the show represents.

As part of that, I don’t agree with Phil Robertson’s characterization of sexuality.  The more I have studied and learned about sexuality, the more complex and nuanced position I have developed of it; the more I have come to see that ideas suggesting heterosexuality is natural are socially, historically, and politically constructed; and the more I have come to see the value of a society celebrating a diversity of sexual identities and forms of expression.  Phil Robertson’s position on sexuality does not suggest that he has truly spent time learning about sexuality.  Still, he can think and say what he wants; that would seem to be part of democracy.

Yet, his views contain significantly contestable, if not downright flawed, elements to them, and if he is going to voice them publicly, then he should be prepared for public response.  Indeed, what would seem consistent with democracy is that various views enter into dialogue with one another in a deliberative fashion.  And, with that in mind, I would caution folks (particularly, though not exclusively, on the liberal political side) who are offering arguments in support of A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson.  These arguments do have a correct point in combatting other arguments that use the language of rights.  Technically, Robertson’s rights have not been violated.  The government has not sanctioned him for what he said. His right to say it has been maintained.  Rather, an organization with which he works has exercised its right to suspend its working relationship with him because of the comment.  Simply put, A&E made a decision regarding their affiliation with Robertson after he said what he did.

Yet, here is where I would caution those who not only make, but also defend that distinction (like here).  Consider the world we are creating when organizations have this kind of power.  Actually, more to the point, consider the world we are perpetuating since organizations already do have this power.  On this particular issue, perhaps one may disagree strongly with what Robertson said, and thus one may find A&E’s decision more acceptable.  Imagine, though, if this were a situation in which you said something that an organization with which you are affiliated found objectionable or controversial, and you were dismissed or suspended because of it.  Indeed, consider what’s going on in higher education in Kansas over a tenured professor posting online something deemed objectionable.  Additionally, consider that most of us do not have the amount of financial resources that Robertson has, meaning this kind of action would have a much more significant and devastating effect on our lives.  Again, we’re not talking technically about the right to express these things or not, but we are talking about how freedom of expression can be impeded by the power that organizations have and wield.  I’m thus concerned with arguments justifying A&E’s actions based on their right to act in what they perceive as their own interests.

Meanwhile, arguments defending Robertson (particularly, though not exclusively, on the conservative political side) have their own set of problems.  I’ll use Glenn Beck as an example here.  He equates what A&E has done to fascism, and indeed, the connection may have some value.  However, his articulation of the connection is sorely lacking, namely because if there is fascism here, that fascism is fueled by the same system that he himself arduously defends – a capitalist, market-based economic system.  In capitalism, organizations seek to make profit, and they make decisions based on appealing to customers, not on the basis of what necessarily promotes greater freedom of expression or democracy.  Sometimes those objectives may align, but often they do not.  The example of A&E’s decision regarding Phil Robertson is right in line with the capitalist system Beck and many other conservatives who are complaining about Robertson’s treatment vehemently defend.  In an effort to manage their public image so that they might remain profitable, A&E has made a decision about their association with Robertson.  A&E is not the root of the fascism here, and neither are GLAAD or the gay rights movements.  Both have, quite conservatively in this case, worked within the market system.  GLAAD pressured A&E with threat of losing business; A&E responded in an effort to maintain business.  If there’s fascism here, we find it in the capitalist system in which these organizations work.  If Beck is really that concerned about free speech and fascism, he ought to examine much more fully his own commitment to capitalism.

Meanwhile, let’s remember here that many of the same conservative folks arguing that the treatment of Phil Robertson is an impediment on free expression of views on sexuality are the same folks who actually do advocate a system that limits free expression of views on sexuality on the level of rights.  They oppose many efforts to provide for and protect the rights of folks who do not identify as heterosexual.  This includes opposing gay marriage but also goes much further than that to include many other political positions such as opposition to anti-discrimination efforts in areas such as housing, healthcare, and employment.  Again, if these folks are so committed to free expression, they ought to consider much more fully how their own political commitments regarding sexuality work against free expression and democracy.

In the end, I don’t find A&E’s decision regarding Robertson to be too consistent with a society that seeks democracy.  I think a much more effective way of handling this would be to place Robertson into a position in which he has to confront folks who hold opposing opinions and who identify differently from him in terms of sexually.  (This is the kind of thing that caused me to see greater value in what Russell Brand represents, because it’s exactly what he did with members of the Westboro Baptist Church.)  If Robertson wishes to voice his views publicly, then democracy would have him confront opposing views.  A&E could facilitate that by making that confrontation happen – and by confrontation, I mean not in a violent and uncivil way, but in a nonviolent, empathetic way that makes Robertson have to come into contact, dialogue, and work with individuals whose views oppose his and whose sexualities differ from his.  Perhaps we could all learn something, and I think various sides of the political aisle appear to have much to learn.  Heck, for that matter, I’m sure I do too, and the opportunity to learn that would be the kind of thing that might get me interested enough to watch Duck Dynasty.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Losing College Football

As I write this blog post, the football team of my employer and first alma mater, Bowling Green State University, is beginning its Mid-American Conference championship contest against Northern Illinois University.  Meanwhile, tomorrow, the football teams of my other two alma maters – Michigan State University and Arizona State University – will play in the Big Ten and Pac-12 Championship games, respectively.  In previous years – before the 2012 college football season – this would have been a really exciting weekend for me, as I would have been able to see all three of my alma maters – and by virtue of that, the three teams I most rooted for in college football – play for conference championships.  I’m pretty sure that’s never been the case before, and it’s certainly never been the case with them playing at such high levels, particularly Michigan State, which is 11-1 heading into its contest against Ohio State.

Of course, if you’ve read this blog in the past, you know that this isn’t like years before 2012 because in 2012 I gave up college football.  So, I will be watching none of these games, and I will be rooting for none of these teams.  Subconsciously, I can still feel some internal rooting, and I can still feel the urge to watch, which is telling.  It means that I would like to watch these games and root for my teams.  Indeed, that I even know the situations in which these teams find themselves demonstrates that even though I’m not watching college football, I’m still following news of it enough to be aware of what’s generally happening.  And that’s true.  I do occasionally read news about it or look at standings or rankings.  It’s still hard not to watch sometimes.  And that’s unfortunate because I think there can be a place for football at college – though I am leaving aside important questions about the violence of the game in saying that – and if football had what I felt was an appropriate place in the organizational structure, I probably would still watch and pay more attention.  But right now, I can’t, and interestingly enough, a significant juxtaposition today demonstrates exactly why I have and maintain that commitment.

Today, several hours before BGSU’s football game kicked off, the Board of Trustees of the university held one of their regular meetings.  Over 100 faculty members attended the meeting holding signs and silently protesting the cutting of more than 30 faculty (on top of cuts of more than 70 faculty positions last May) on which the university has recently acted, effective this coming May.  More faculty members would have filled the room, but reports indicate that police officers had been stationed at the entrance and denied further admission of peacefully demonstrating faculty to the open-to-the-public meeting.

The juxtaposition here is that, amid budgetary concerns, while the university continues to pour money into a football program that costs university stakeholders money every year, the university’s administration cuts faculty to save money.  While administrators have claimed that this will not affect education at BGSU, I’m not alone in having a very hard time trying to figure out how the loss of more than 100 faculty lines (and even if we accept the university’s counterclaim about the addition of around 36 new tenure-track positions between last year and this year, we’re still at around 70 faculty lines lost) won’t affect education at the university. That just seems mathematically and logistically impossible. 

The university continues to prioritize football over faculty (and the education of the students whom those faculty teach), and that, to me, is not consistent with the mission of an educational institution.  If the situation differed, if football wasn’t outweighing faculty as it is, and if we didn’t have to choose one over the other, I would be much more willing to support the football team like I did before 2012.  But the university is making choices, and they’re putting me and other stakeholders into the position of having to making choices as well.  I’m simply not going to choose football over my colleagues and the education of the students who attend the place that I work and that I went to school.  So, as much as I find myself wanting to watch and follow football again, I can’t.  Whether they win or lose tonight’s football game, BGSU has already lost too much this football season.  And they’re not alone among colleges and universities.