One of the things that I have come to appreciate since becoming at least conversationally fluent in Spanish, is just how fascinating the notion of language is, in and of itself. A language is not just a compilation of vocabulary and rules concerning grammar, but the expression of a culture as it attempts to put order to the world. This is what has caused the most problems in translations of ancient texts, aside from degradation of the source material: our lives are so fundamentally different from those our ancestors could have hoped to experience that there is very little common ground upon to which one might hope to base a translation. Not only would ancient peoples not have words for common technological marvels, but they would also be bereft of words to that might describe the very concepts that go behind them. How could I possibly explain to someone living five thousand years ago what it is, exactly, that I am doing now. I mean, if it’s a pain to just explain what a blog is to my grandparents, who have, at least, some experience with these newfangled computing machines, what hope would I have of explaining it to tribal nomads?
I bring this up because I have noticed changes in the way I think, depending on the language which I’m speaking. I think that was harder to wrap my head around than new words and a system of conjugation that actually made sense. Take, for instance, the concept of liking something. In English, I would say, I like to watch movies; whereas in Spanish, I would have to turn it all around, and say, Me gusta ver películas, or: It pleases me to watch movies. And where I might love doing something in English, in Spanish, it enchants me. Just a slight cultural shift, but once you’ve seen it, it’s always going to be there. My journey has been made easier by my decent vocabulary in my native tongue, and there has been more than one occasion when I have understood more than I might otherwise have hoped, simply because I was familiar with an underappreciated cognate. Thank you, Latin roots. In English, I am the master of my destiny. I like things, I love things. No matter what I am saying, what’s important in the sentence is that I am saying it. Spanish, on the other hand, is almost entirely dismissive of the speaker. When I am talking to someone, I rarely use pronouns, except to emphasize a point. It’s no wonder then, that such a culture shock exists for Latinos when they come here.
I’ve had many Latino friends tell me that, sure, they make more money here, but they’re also spending so much more. But the one thing that they cannot seem to get over, at least the ones who’ve come here as adults, is the pace of life itself in the United States. Everybody seems to be stretched to their breaking point, and we’re making money just to spend it, without leaving any time for ourselves to do things which might bring us some enjoyment. We set our jaws and grind through our days, and wear ourselves down to where we cannot take it anymore, and then we get right back up and do it all again. And in this exchange of cultures, it seems that nobody is truly winning. Kids born here cannot hope to compete against a work ethic that was never meant to go for hours, and we’ve managed to export diabetes wholesale down to Mexico.
About the work ethic thing: I am not saying that one group of people is inherently better than another. What might be viewed as sloth when it comes to the citizenry, could easily be interpreted as someone simply trying to pace themselves for a couple of full-time shifts a day. And while someone might give their all, work hard, never complain, and keep going no matter what, that kind of pace is inherently untenable, and I’ve seen it rip away decades of life that someone will never have the chance live. A sprinter is effective because of the distance run, and the time he budgets himself to recuperate. You cannot sprint all throughout a marathon, or you will die before you reach the second marker. Maybe it’s time that we learn how to slow the pace a little. We work so hard during the day (and often the night, as well), that we leave no time for ourselves or for our families. Sure, we have newest, coolest stuff, but we’ve forgotten what it means to be human.
I seem to have drifted a bit from my original intention, rather like how Latin spread throughout the Western world only to become Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, not to mention coloring my native tongue, as well. I just wanted to bring up how cool language was, not get into a diatribe about socioeconomic policies. Sorry. I guess that’s been happening more frequently this past week. It’s just that I seem to have opinions about right and wrong which have been updated through the process of immersing myself into a group of people with a background which I do not share. And that’s the magic of language, really. If you take the time to learn a second language, or a third, or more, it can not only allow you to communicate with the people you might have otherwise been unable, but the languages themselves can offer up a new way of thinking, a new way of perceiving the world around you. If you study language, you can read back through the story of mankind itself, see where we came from, and how we got to where we are today. The evolution of language is like the evolution of species, and it’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come.
Tomorrow I am going to try to do something a little more lighthearted, as a way of thanking everyone who’s come and considered all the heavy things I’ve recently had to say. Thank you everyone, and have a wonderful weekend!
Never underestimate the human capacity for getting everything wrong. Why is it that we always seem to find the need to categorize some group as “Other”? Our history is marked by the hard-fought steps toward equality, and what makes it all the more disheartening is that the argument itself never seems to change, only the group to which it is applied. We now can all accept (well, most of us, anyway) that people should not be allowed to own one another, and that interracial marriage doesn’t lead to bestiality. It should be obvious that women are every bit the equal of their tripodal opposites, and that the differences between the sexes are no basis for a comparative judgement on superiority. The Blacks didn’t steal the White man’s jobs, and the Latinos aren’t stealing them now. Gay Marriage isn’t about granting special privileges to a certain group, any more than feminism is about destroying men. Sure, each and every one of us will take every advantage we are given, but when it’s obvious that the game is rigged against us, who among us would not speak out? And why is it so easy to turn a blind eye to the suffering of someone whom you do not know?
I’ve only faced two hurdles in my quest for dominance: I wasn’t born into the 1%, and I suffer from a mental illness. In every other conceivable way, I am so far ahead in the game that I am a little ashamed that I haven’t done any better than I have. The worst I have to deal with is someone assuming that I have lots of money, and a good credit score, and then screaming at me because I cannot spare a dollar. I have had no issue getting hired just because my name’s spelled “different”, and have never been passed over for a promotion because someone assumed that I would not be able to command the respect of my employees. I have been frequently undervalued in the workplace, but the woman who took over a restaurant from me when I moved to the other store across the bay wound up making $5/hour less than I had, all while doing performing the same job. Yes, I did have more experience than her, and yes, I was also about a decade older, but a job is still a job, and no one should make only $13 every hour to be a restaurant’s General Manager.
When my wife decided that the time had come for us to marry (she was tired of wasting her time on something so open-ended), we had no trouble with it at all. I may have mentioned before that I am an atheist, and as such, wasn’t really interested in a fancy church-type wedding. My wife was Catholic, and for us to have been married in the eyes of her faith, I would have had to convert, and that wasn’t going to happen. We went to the Oakland Courthouse, filled out some paperwork, and then had a pleasant little ceremony in front of family and friends. Done. We didn’t want a church wedding, and we didn’t get one. If marriage is a religious institution, as many have suggested, then I should never have been allowed to marry. But no one has said a single about that, even when I bring it up, because my wife and I are of “complimentary” genders. At this point, the conversation turns to the reason for marriage, which, supposedly, is to populate the world. I then ask if marriages should be annulled if a couple cannot conceive. Or simply decide they don’t want children. Or want to adopt, instead. Again, the crickets become almost deafening.
I really just don’t understand.
It’s not a zero-sum game that we, the human race, are playing: trickle-down economics have taught us that. When one group is given an institutional advantage under the pretense that it will be better for everyone, it never is. I have known wealthy people, and the majority of them do not spend a single penny more than they are absolutely required to by law. Those of us without portfolios, because we cannot afford to leave our money out of reach, tend to spend it when we get it, and pump our hard-earned dollars right back into the economy. The more money that we have to spend, the more money we will spend. Yes, we will pay off our bills, and most of us will try to be responsible, but after years of making hard decisions regarding healthcare versus eating, it’s nice to pick up something that isn’t a necessity. And the more we spend, the more jobs will be required, as it takes more people to work the registers when there’s a constant line spilling out the door.
Letting someone else do something that you can do isn’t granting privileges, and they aren’t “special rights.” The world will not come to an end if two dudes can marry, and it will not end if women are finally thought of as something other than the “weaker sex.” Yes, the millionaires and billionaires might see their money vaults become a little emptier, should workers have the right to earn a living wage, but more money than god is still more money than god. And just because someone doesn’t share the same faith as you, doesn’t mean that they’re declaring war upon it.
I’ve made the point before, but I feel it bears repeating: If you are in the majority, you are not being persecuted. That’s kind of the benefit of having a majority. And, after having been railroaded into being confirmed into the Lutheran sect of the Christian faith when I was barely able to grow facial hair, and having read the Bible cover to cover, I am even more confused by those who wear a crucifix and spout off about how Jesus disapproves. Correct me if I’m wrong, as it’s been awhile since I peeked at those red letters, but I remember Mr. Christ wanting to keep money out of religion, feed the hungry, help the poor, and generally treat people better than they had been. He never said anything about a “homosexual agenda,” but I do remember something about wealthy tailors and their camels. And the parts of the Old Testament that people flip to when they are in dire need of something with which they can condemn complete strangers (Leviticus, primarily), are nestled right in among prohibitions on diet, fashion, and the sale of daughters, which are frequently ignored. It was my understanding that Jesus came to redeem the world, not start a cult of hatred and oppression.
And since I seem to be determined to piss everybody off, let’s talk about feeding the hungry and helping the poor. I mean, first we’ll have to drug test them, and scrutinize their lives for any mistakes they may have made (because we all know that no one who’s in power has ever taken a misstep), humiliate them, demonize them, moralize and then demoralize them. If they are going to receive our the fruits of our taxed labor, then they had better be on the straight and narrow, just like those we send to represent us in state and national government. Are there people who game the system? Yes. But that epidemic is not limited to just the working poor. Or those who cannot even get a job that doesn’t pay enough. If you say that we are a Christian nation, but allow a man (or woman, or child) to starve, then you haven’t been paying attention. That little “t” around your neck is not a status symbol. There will always be people who take advantage of the kindness and decency of others, but that is no excuse to punish everyone who might need help.
From there, let’s shift to voting rights, since I’m detecting an underlying theme. If your political party cannot exist unless you deprive citizens of their right to participate in their own representative democracy, you need better ideas. The goal should be to make everybody’s voice heard, even if they disagree with everything you’re saying. I, for one, do not appreciate a slide back into a state of feudalism. Money shouldn’t determine the social agenda, and wages shouldn’t consign someone to slavery. If you cannot make enough to get by, even if you’re working sixteen hours in a day, you don’t need to see the shackles to know that they are there. There is an overwhelming sense of apathy in regard to the electoral process. Every vote counts is a beautiful sentiment, but when decent people are barred from running because they refuse to sell their soul, and a candidate can garner fewer votes than his opponent, but walk away the president, I see why people just don’t care. And if no one turns out to cast their ballot, the election becomes a contest between fanatics. And that’s when you get legislation like this:
In Florida (because, of course it’s Florida), there is a bill in the State House which would ban transgender people from using “single-sex public facilities” to which they were not biologically (genetically) eligible. The bill states that its purpose is to “secure privacy and security for all individuals using single-sex public facilities.” Which, on the surface, seems like a noble cause. People should be able to feel safe and secure when they are at their most vulnerable, i.e., when then are in a state of undress. “Single-sex public facilities are places of increased vulnerability and present the potential for crimes against individuals using those facilities, including, but not limited to, assault, battery, molestation, rape, voyeurism, and exhibitionism.” Again, good on you for recognizing that. Of course, these actions may be committed by people not banned under this bill, so it only disproportionately affects those who identify with a gender that they were not fortunate enough to have been born into.
There are so many things I get to take for granted as a white, heterosexual male. I can walk down the street and not worry about harassment from the cops, or catcalls or intimidation from the opposite sex. My instinctual expressions of love (well, most of them, anyway) have never been criminalized. It’s actually a little depressing to think of how little I’ve accomplished with all of the opportunities that I was lucky enough to born into. I cannot imaging the courage that it takes for those without my privileges to face such an uphill battle. Life is hard enough without knowing that you’re probably going to be worse off for having tried for something better.
I imagine that I may have lost some of my audience somewhere along the way, and I can only say that if I have offended you, I am glad. It means that I have challenged your beliefs, and I can only hope that you will take the time to consider if they might be in need of re-evaluation. I don’t know that I have all the answers, and I don’t presume to speak for everyone. There are experiences that I will never have, and that both reassures and saddens me. I speak not because I feel that others cannot, but instead, because I have a soapbox upon which I am allowed to preach. I have many failings, as my wife will more than happily attest, but each and every day I try to leave myself open to the possibility of learning something new. Don’t tell anyone, but on a few occasions, I have been known to fall a little short of right, and as much as it has violently abused my ego, in the long run I would rather know the truth.
We cannot hide back in the past, nor look within it for our answers to the future. We must learn from our mistakes, for our victories teach us so much less. The history of humanity is a brutal struggle with our world and with our very selves, but we have made at least some progress since the dawn of time, and despite our best intentions, will most likely make some more, if we don’t drive ourselves toward extinction.
And here’s a little something to put your day back on track: