Monday, November 28, 2011

Censorship and the Subconscious

For those of you who missed it, congress is currently attempting to pass an under-the-radar internet censorship bill. For some reason--completely unfathomable to me--this has gotten little or no media attention. How on earth something of this magnitude, something this far reaching can go relatively unnoticed, I don't know. But anyway.

I personally am against internet censorship. For those of you going, "hey, wait, but don't we want to keep our kids from running into porn?!" just hold your horses, please.

First of all, a vague name like "internet censorship" not "pornography censorship" gives me cause to worry. If they really only intend on censoring porn, not just "the internet" then why don't they say that? And if they intend on censoring more than just explicit sexual content, well I'm not in favor of signing that kind of bill.

Secondly, with a Republican majority currently in power, I'm a little nervous that the "internet censorship" laws will look like they do in conservative countries like Singapore , i.e. censoring "immoral" behaviors like homosexuality (see link for cited article at end). I am totally, utterly, and completely against that (unless of course it simply means censoring sexually explicit homosexual behaviors, but then why say homosexual if you mean all sexual behaviors).

My third point is most likely my most contentious point (since any religious or conservative readers I have may drop out before I finish this paragraph). Censorship for all things sexually explicit seems to me to be mostly a knee-jerk reaction to sexuality. But we need to think about a couple of things when considering internet censorship. First of all, why sex? Has anyone actually done studies to prove that exposure to sexual behavior causes more problems than, say, exposure to explicit violence or hatred or intolerance? It appears to me (and I may be wrong) that the push to protect our children from sex springs from this subconscious idea that sex is wrong or dirty or less good than "sexual innocence" and that somehow our children have been ruined, broken, or despoiled if they are exposed to sexuality at an "early" age.

Now, I'm not saying I think we should let five year old kids look at porn, because I do believe that it's not age-appropriate. Nor am I suggesting that we shouldn't care about what our kids are watching, doing, or being exposed to when they are still kids. But, on the other hand, let's be realistic; it's going to be almost impossible for the FCC or anyone else to completely block any and all explicit content. Some of it is still going to be there.

But what I am saying is that this archaic attitude that sexual knowledge or sexual experience makes one dirtier or less "clean" and "pure" than someone without it is a load of bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. Sex is sex. Yeah, it's important and for many of us a confusing and divisive subject, but let's not give it more power than it has. Only in a universe where--true to the Christian belief--the ideal is to live "like Jesus" with nary a sexual thought or desire, only in that universe is sex truly bad or wicked.

And, let's also be honest about something; porn does not exist to trap innocent little kids into a lifetime of slavery to sex. That's not why it's there. Porn is there for us adults. More specifically, porn is there for the adults who want it to be there, and the only reason there aren't more of them actively protesting the censorship bill is because porn is heavily stigmatized in our culture (I'm not trying to say it should or shouldn't be, just that it is).

And, realistically, even in countries like Singapore the majority of college students surveyed said that they had been exposed to explicit sexual content (again, see link at end). If a conservative country with these kinds of strict censorship laws in place for years cannot keep its constituents from viewing censored content, then what is this legislation going to be able to achieve. Realistically speaking, probably not much.

I'll admit to having expressed an opinion more than once of wishing that there was some way to censor pornography, to make it less accessible on the internet. And I'll also admit to wishing that much of the hateful, intolerant, and bigoted attitudes that are often spewed across the internet could be reigned in somehow. But, honestly, a vague bill probably won't do much. And a bill that decides "it's better to err on the side of caution" when it comes to internet censorship probably isn't much better (see citation again; yep, same article still). I don't want to live in an over-censored society. Quite frankly, I'd rather live in one that was under-censored than one where the religious attempt to legislate the morality of the masses. No thank you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Letter

To my father-in-law,

I am sending you this to ask for an apology and a retraction. You had no right to say what you did to your son, my spouse. If it was true, it was not your place to say it, and certainly not in such an impersonal method as an email. Even if it was true, he is a grown man and it is not your place to tell him when he is doing bad and doing good. His life choices are just that; his choices. If you claim to believe in free will, if you believe in personal moral responsibility, if you believe that "God wants him to make the right choice" then it is your duty to back off and let him make that choice. For himself. It is between no one but himself and God (and me, as his spouse).

But the real issue is that what you said, the accusations you made, were not true. They are not true. You can bluff and bluster, posture and pose all you want, but the things you said were nothing but a bunch of hot air. Your son is not lazy, nor is he a quitter. True, he is not of the same personality as you or I, but not everyone was made to be forceful and strongly opinionated. There is nothing about him that makes him less of a man than you. You are completely and utterly wrong if you think he has to be stubborn as a mule and strong-willed as an ox to be a real man. You have missed the point entirely if you think your sons have to be you to be real, grown adults.

And as to the charge that he is just quitting because it is hard, let me just tell you that you haven't a clue, not a clue what has been going on with our life lately. And do you know why that is? Because we don't tell you. None of your children really let you in on all of the intimate details of your life, because all of them (and their significant others) know the truth about you; you will impose your will on their (and our) lives if you can help it. I don't know if that is what you mean to do, but that is definitely what you have done, and what it appears you are still doing. You can tell me that as their father you are responsible to God, or that you only have their best interests at heart, and I'm sure you really believe that. But the God of the bible does not force people to turn their hearts or to repent or to "do the right thing." The God of the bible waits patiently for repentance, offers up nearly unlimited opportunity to turn and make the right choice, and wants people to turn to the light of their own accord, of their own free will. If you want to believe in a God that is controlling, short-tempered, vengeful, impatient, and full of wrath, that is your prerogative. But you may not impose such a God on your son or on me any more. This ends now.

In case you took that statement to mean something drastic, like we're going to cut you out of our lives forever, please don't. Your son loves you with all of his heart, and I love you too, and we would never wish to end a relationship with family members. But it is because your son loves you that I must insist that you no longer name-call to get your way. You may not ever, ever tell him he is incompetent, lazy, a quitter, weak, or anything else. I forbid you to even imply it. He is my family and I am his. We don't need you to tell us what to do. All we need from you is love, unconditional love, and support. If you can't do this, if you can't resist the urge to control, manipulative, and wound his heart, then I will have to insist that you do not contact him until you can. We will continue to Skype you, but no emails, no letters, no one-on-one phone calls if you cannot behave as a loving, caring, concerned father.

Please do not try to argue with me about this. I don't care if you think I am right or wrong or just off on a few points or a controlling heartless bitch. I am not sending this to ask you a question or debate the finer points of fatherhood. I am sending this to tell you that I will not take this any more. I will not tolerate having to soothe your son's wounded heart every time you drop a heartless word here, or send a mean email there. He deserves better than that email you sent, and I demand it for him.

Your daughter-in-law, with love and hope

Not sure if I should in fact send this to my father-in-law, since I think my spouse might not like it, but I am very upset and seriously considering it. No one deserves to be treated like offal by their parents.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


You get used to it after a while, I suppose, the knowledge that you are eating your own skin. I can see it floating in my cup, even if I just washed my cup and filled it with fresh, clean water from the tap. I can't usually see it in my food, but I know it's there, no matter how quickly I wolf down my breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. I try not to think about the fact that licking my fingers means devouring my flesh.

I sleep in it at night, piles of my own epidermis heaped up under me. Even if I just washed my sheets, but the next morning they feel gritty, dirty, gross. I wear oversized clothes, hoping to keep it in them and off the bed, but nothing helps. The pillow feels like a floor that hasn't been swept for weeks against my face; like what you see when you move your refrigerator for the first time in six months.

I'm surrounded by myself all day long. I am covering the chairs, the table, the desks, all the furniture. I am all over every page I read, every page I write, every pencil or pen or stylus I use. I am in the cracks on my keyboard, in the lens of my camera, in the corners of every screen of every electronic device I touch; kindle, DS, cell phone, net book, camera, mp3 player, watch, printer, air conditioner. I shudder to think of what a couple months of me has done to the air conditioner's filter.

I am in the most unlikely of places; I cake the inside of the toilet bowl, turning it gray with collected filth. I am in the towels, the washcloths, stuck in and on my own clothes, leaving white splotches and film. The smell of my skin oils is everywhere, every fabric I use or touch. Even my husband's clothes are covered, simply from being washed in the same machine as mine.

I can sweep the floor every day if I like, but the soles of my feet still turn a grayish white from the dead cells that collect on the floor and then stick to my feet. I am afraid to leave anything important sitting out anywhere. I can dust and just a day, or even hours later, everything is covered in the dust that is constantly clouding off of my body. I am walking dirt. I am literally and metaphorically a walking mess.

And that is only the beginning. I itch, almost constantly. I itch so much I don't even notice the fact that my skin itches until it gets to be completely unbearable. I itch almost everywhere; face, ears, neck, shoulders, back, chest, breasts, nipples, armpits, arms, stomach, hips, thighs, crotch, butt, butt crack. I itch in places I can't itch, places I shouldn't itch, places I better not be caught itching in public. I itch and itch and itch and still I itch. I itch until I bleed, but I can't stop itching.

And when I don't itch, I hurt. I hurt when I lay on my back, my stomach, my side. I hurt when I slouch, I hurt when I stretch, I hurt when I sit or stand or bend or twist or reach. The tightness burns, almost all of the time some days, although at this point I only ever notice it when I move. Sometimes it hurts to sleep, to ride the bus, to write or play games or make love. Sometimes I take tylenol, but mostly it doesn't help. Sometimes I put lotion, aloe, baby oil, vaseline, all over my body. But then my husband can't touch me, can't put his hands all over me. I make his skin break out just by making myself comfortable in my own skin.

They put me on medicine, strong medicine. It made me a normal color again, no longer lobster red or oompa loompa orange. I'm only slightly splotchy, but now it's so light people don't stare at me on the bus anymore. No one asks me if I got horrible sunburn or have a skin disorder. I begin to notice for the first time in months that people treat me normally when I go out in public. I no longer feel shame in the shopping line (except for when I have to use food stamps, but that's different). I no longer avoid going out because I look different. I don't have to waste away trapped in a prison of my own disorder.

But I still lose skin. I flake, peel, fall like snow onto everything around me. My seat in class is marked for me, so is the place I sat in the doctor's office, on the bus, at my employment training appointment. I know which side of the bed is mine, which seat at the table is mine, which towel is mine, which plate and cup and bowl are mine. I know my phone a mile away. My net book is unmistakable. My purse, my sweater, my folder, my hat, my wallet, my keys, my jewelry. Even much of my jewelry is unmistakably marked by my bizarre and rare disorder.

Almost all of it. I had one piece of jewelry that managed all at once to be a unique expression of me and of the right material to resist the marking of my skin. My sister had made it for me, mailed it thousands of miles just to surprise me. It made me feel close to her, and loved, and safe, and like myself. Until, of course, it fell and broke. The first week I had it. In that moment the one thing in my life that at once described and defied me was lying shattered on the floor. I cried. I cried for at least an hour. My dear, dear husband took the afternoon off to hold me, and then to clean the glass off the floor while I looked the other way. She's making me another one, but I still felt shattered with the tiny glass bottle on the floor.

The fatigue and listlessness are starting to leave, along with the coloring, although it is still touch and go with the depression. For the first time in weeks I can think about taking out the trash without wanting to cry. I can wash my breakfast bowl without wanting to take a nap before and after. I can write for a couple hours without needing to take a break every five or ten minutes. I can actually manage grocery shopping every couple of weeks.

Of course, all this would have been easier if my husband hadn't had his hip broken and required a major surgery just a week after my diagnosis. But that is a whole different story, even if the threads of it are tied up in those of this story. We both had to go through trauma, depression, feelings of uselessness and helplessness. And we couldn't even help each other, except to hold each other at nights, taking turns crying into each other's helpless shoulders.

But perhaps there is very nearly a light at the end of this tunnel.

Questioning Everything

It's something every good philosopher must do. They must do this, or they are not truly a philosopher, but a talker and maybe an occasional thinker (from time to time). A true philosopher can discover nothing if they begin from their assumptions, because they will always end in the same place (or at least similar places). If you begin your assumptions believing there is a god, you will wind up in one place. If you begin your assumptions believing there could not be a god, you will wind up in a specific place. And if you begin your assumptions not caring less about the question and ignoring it completely, you will wind up somewhere else[s] entirely.

I have always begun with the belief that, whether or not there was a god, I wanted there to be one. I determined early on that there was in fact, a god, and it wasn't until much later on that I decided I didn't care if there was a god or not, I wanted to believe in one anyway. After all, it never hurt anyone to believe in something like god, right?

Of course many have and do argue that believing in god actually has done people ill, and they are only partially correct in this. Generally speaking, it is the religion that people put their faith in, the ones providing them with their god, that brings ill to people's lives. Rarely does one witness a belief in god outside of religion that in and of itself causes harm. Even in the cases of the insane who believe things about god or believe in a god that causes them to harm themselves or others, it really is the psychological illness, not the idea of god, that is the poison. They could just have easily believed in the CIA or FBI or republicans or suburban moms and done the same thing.

So why is god such a big deal? Why are people so willing to fight and hurt each other over the arguments for or against the existence of god? Why will people smear each other's morals, intelligence, and ability based on this one belief that they hold (or don't)? We don't kill each other over our beliefs about how long we should date before we marry, or how old we should be to bear children, or what kinds of shoes are the most comfortable (unless, of course, one is absolutely and legitimately crazy). What is it about this belief that seems to bring out all of the worst things in people?

I suppose that religion's history might have something to do with it. If one is religious, one sees a history that has mistakes, yes, but has brought much comfort and goodness to the lives of many, bringing much needed direction and support for communities. If one is non-religious (especially if one has a belief in the non-existence of a deity) then one tends to see all of the wars, the violence, the corporal punishment, and the nitpicking over religious ideals that has gone on and does go on. And these are both legitimate points of view.

Of course this also begs the question, why do religious people bicker among themselves about the smallest details of religious and theological belief and practice.

So far the only answer I know of is, because everyone else is arguing about it. We've grown up in a world where the idea of god is still a powerful one, for good or bad, for a lot of people. I was raised to believe that not believing in god was the worst possible thing for anyone's life, so of course the idea of not believing in god still terrifies the shit out of me, no matter how rationally I try to approach the issue. And the thing is, even if I do eventually decide to believe in the existence of a god, if I can't stop believing long enough to really think it over, than am I really believing or just being coerced out of fear into saying something that I know I'm supposed to believe? I think that the latter is true, and has been true pretty much my whole life. This isn't to say that I didn't genuinely believe, but I think that faith that is not got at genuinely, that is not genuinely chosen from an informed and coercion-free state of mind, is not real faith. It's brainwashing. So even if there is a god, and this god has the power to make my life infinitely better if I will just have faith in this god, I don't think I will be able to access this mystical spiritual power if my faith is little more than powerful psychological conditioning.

And then comes the question, if there is a god, what the hell would a god be like? The problem with the current model of god held by most religious people in the U.S. is that it is so damn outdated. If you take a look at what most Christians (to pick a religion I'm familiar with) think and believe about god, you will find that it matches up best with Greek ideas of the perfect being (and, quite frankly, the Greeks were off about a helluva lot of things; like who constituted a citizen and what kinds of sex were and weren't acceptable--their standards on anal sex and when it was and wasn't okay are frankly disturbing).

Then there is the issue of a person-god. I mean, how arrogant is it to anthropomorphise everything we see and make it like us? We talk about our pets like their people, and animals in general, we tend to assume other people think like us, and even god has been made out to be a person like us. We talk about god's hands, arms, face, and then there are god's myriad emotions; god is sad, angry, disappointed, happy, rejoicing, grieved, jealous, and quite frankly very fickle in most of the bible.

Plus there is the undeniable fact that every, and I mean every ancient culture that I have ever read about had some theological or magical/mystical way of explaining everyday events around them. We know for a fact that they were wrong about almost everything else that comprised their understanding of the world around them. They didn't understand sex, procreation, illness, healing, proper food preparation or storage, psychology, anatomy, the earth, the stars, the moon, the sun, the universe, the weather, or pretty much any of the stuff that (we think) we understand now.

As we evolve I would expect at the very least that if god was a real concept with a real application, whatever that might be, our understanding of god would and should evolve along with our understanding of everything else that make up our world around us.

Honestly, there is no way of believing in god that does not seem kooky, bizarre, weird, out there, crazy, insane, and absurd. I have at least come to terms with that fact. What really bothers me, though, is the fact that there is no way for us to understand our universe and the world around us that is not absolutely nuts. We currently have zero, and I mean zero theories for where our world came from and how we got here that make any sense at all (if you don't believe me, just take a philosophy course; preferably not at a religious institution though, they tend to be very, very heavily biased). There are theories that we came from something tiny, an atom or a sea of goop, or something; but then, where did that come from? And where did the thing before that come from? You see? So either this universe has simply always existed, or something that created the universe always existed, or it came from nothing whatsoever. And quite frankly, the idea that the universe came from an atom that always existed is no more absurd or logical than the idea that the universe came from a god or deity or life force that always existed, or that it came out of nothing. This universe, quite frankly, has stumped us all.

I have no idea what I believe, and sometimes I wish I could just be a kid again and not think about it. Ever. But I'm not a kid and these are the kinds of questions that haunt me, questions I will likely never find a concrete answer to. I wouldn't be surprised if no one ever did. And in the end, it takes just as much faith to believe the universe came from nothing as it does to believe it came from an atom, or from an unseen life force, or just always was. It is all equally absurd.

Welcome to the madness.