THE BINARY IS DEAD BUT DOESN’T KNOW IT YET
Every time I make a presentation about gender-inclusiveness in Thailand the question comes again, “But nature is divided into male and female. How can you deny that?” Of course nature is not divided strictly into male and female, but that’s usually not a satisfying reply. What we need to talk about is, “In what respects is gender and sexuality ‘both-and’ or ‘neither one nor the other’?”
Rather than defining the terms exclusively with words, I would like to present charts and illustrations, as I did in recent presentations at the university.
FIRST, SEXUALITY IS ABOUT PHYSICAL FACTORS
The factors include: chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, and secondary sex characteristics.
In a significant number of individuals these physical factors are misleading, and in others the factors are ambiguous. Most physical factors, of course, are clear and indicative of a birth sex, either male or female, and they become more pronounced when individuals reach sexual maturity.
SECOND, GENDER IS ABOUT MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL FACTORS
The factors include: fantasies, fascinations, self-understanding, preference for sex and romance.
It is commonly misunderstood that these mental and emotional factors are or can be controlled in accordance with social or religious requirements. Notice, please, that none of these factors are describing actions in response to the factors. Depending on circumstances, one can and often must refrain from certain actions. On the other hand, as psychologists know, sometimes when inconsistency between emotional conditions and social-physical action is resolved, obsessions disappear. On the whole emotional health is enhanced by correctly discerning “what is” and being at peace with that reality.
The spectrum is a continuum between Homosexual and Heterosexual. Increments along the continuum include, at the one pole, GAY (exclusively same-sex oriented for sex and romance), QUEER (very clearly same-sex oriented or definitely different in that regard), DARING (willing to explore options in search of excitement and satisfaction), CAUTIOUS (willing to deviate from narrow confines under very limited conditions of safety or anonymity), CURIOUS (open to the ideas that alternatives suggest while regarding those as uncommon), and STRAIGHT (exclusively oriented toward sex and romance with persons of the “opposite” sex).
THIRD, SOCIAL RESISTANCE IMPACTS ONES CHOICES
The spectrum extends from persecution to affirmation
In some societies it is a capital crime to be gay or to act contrary to the sexual mores assigned by society. At the other side of the spectrum are societies that value the unique perspectives and contributions of LGBTQIK members of society.
How we present ourselves depends to some extent on the freedom societies give us to express ourselves as we discern ourselves to be. Dangerous, oppressive societies often foster denial to such an extent that individuals dare not admit, even to themselves, their diversity.
The spectrum goes from PERSECUTION to PENALTIES to TOLERANCE to ACCEPTANCE to INCLUSION to AFFIRMATION
We who are LBBTK in Thailand experience these forms of social reaction as: PERSECUTION is sustained efforts to eliminate us through various sorts of suppression. This is rare and counter-cultural in Thailand, although some religious and ethnic sub-cultures exercise control that could swell into persecution. PENALTIES for being LGBT are imposed in the name of cultural normality. The most frequent are job ceilings in certain professions, or punishment for refusal to fulfill family obligations (such as producing heirs). TOLERANCE of sexual and gender diverse individuals is widespread. It is experienced as “being put up with” while those who put up with us are not pleased to do so. ACCEPTANCE is a milder form of tolerance, meaning in most cases that there has been compromise to achieve the absence of rancor and discord. INCLUSION involves the absence of all barriers to full participation in the social group. AFFIRMATION is active recognition of our unique perspectives and relationships. It is rare in this and most other societies at present.
FOURTH, SOCIAL IDENTITY
Social identity, how people are identified by society, is the conclusion that the majority of casual observers will draw based on two factors: the personal presentation choices the individual has made, and social sensitivity to their conclusions about what they see.
Presentation choices are of two types:
Sex markers (physical): facial features, breast and crotch, voice quality.
Gender markers (behavioral): clothing and accessories, vocabulary, movements / posture / gestures.
The stronger the social resistance to gender nonconformity, the fewer the markers that will arouse hostile reaction.
The more permissive the society, the more radical the markers must be to evoke a reaction.
The goal in establishing one’s gender identity in society is:
Either to pass unnoticed in society OR to elicit responses
A person’s satisfaction with their gender and status in society depends on how much effort (of all kinds) it takes to achieve satisfaction, and how much satisfaction is achieved.
There are four quadrants on the satisfaction grid.
The SOCIAL QUAD includes family, friends, and community primarily, but also the wider society where interactions take place.
The EMOTIONAL QUAD includes one’s internal turmoil or serenity, how one’s needs for appreciation are being met, and general happiness versus stress. One’s gender status is only one set of factors that impact emotion, of course.
The ROLE QUAD includes one’s labor, contributions to society, provision for those for whom one is responsible, and measurable accomplishments. If one’s gender has a negative effect on one’s role it takes more effort to achieve role satisfaction.
The PHYSICAL QUAD includes health and physique, as well as ability to function sexually. In some cultures physical development is a valued accomplishment or even a requirement for a satisfactory status and relationships. Health and freedom from disease and accidents aside, physical satisfaction comes from the ability to do what one wants to do. Therefore, it varies with age and circumstances as well as with such emotional factors as urges and goals.
What I have tried to illustrate is how nothing with regard to one’s gender, sexuality, and functioning in society are fixed or cut and dried. We are all somewhere along a number of spectrums.
[Thanks to Sirisak for providing a constant stream of advocacy for better understanding of gender diversity and ambiguity. Sirisak is the most photographed and recognizable LGBTIQK advocate in Thailand. Thanks also for the pictures above that Sirisak starred in.]
Essay #4 on SOCIAL ORDER
Expression vs. communication
“OMG this is awful” she exclaimed in bright red letters on Facebook. That was it, no explanation of the exclamation. No clue about what was awful. Within an hour 20 friends were sympathizing mindlessly and wanting to know more. For a day she refused to reply. I began to wonder whether she was just getting a kick out of messing with us, but I think something was messing with her. Compassion aside, what she was doing was not communication, although it is what passes for it these days of communication deterioration.
Internet Communication Technology (ICT) has changed the parameters of speech.
Expression was contained: private, personal, privileged
Communication was conversational, conventional, conciliatory
Media were moderated, managed, modulated
Everybody is the owner of their media
The right to express is being aggressively asserted (under the banner of “free speech”)
The effects of expression on communities (e.g. hate speech) are denied
The difference between expression and communication is blurred
How did we get into this loss of meaningful communication?
Not surprisingly modern philosophers have dedicated a lot of their speculation toward the subject of communication. The move to consider language as the basic philosophical issue began with Bertrand Russell, of England.
Bertie insisted, “a statement that purports to be about reality but whose truth or falsehood makes no observable difference to anything has no content, no meaning – it is not saying anything.” Only statements that are empirically verifiable are empirically meaningful; and the actual meaning of any given statement is revealed by the mode of its verification. The tool to sort this out is logic, a field in which Russell had excelled.
For example, using logic, we can sort out the truth or falsehood of the following statements, and if we cannot, then the statements are meaningless.
All the statements are in some sense false, but the reasons are different. The English throne is wooden, not iron (if by that is meant the “Coronation Chair with the Stone of Scone”). It is factually erroneous. There is no such thing as an American throne because the USA does not have any form of monarchy, so the statement is ridiculous. The Pope has a number of thrones, and any chair upon which he is seated is a throne if the Pope is performing official duties, but none of them are principally made of iron and, more importantly, the term “Papal throne” refers not to a chair but to the office. The throne in Kings Landing in George R.R. Martin’s books Game of Thrones, does not exist in reality and everything about the Iron Throne refers to a fictional object in a fantasy realm. However, within the realm of literature, the phrase would be true until the last episode when the throne was destroyed by dragon fire. The English throne can be metaphorically said to be made of iron, being durable as England is enduring. When an entity being discussed does not really in any sense exist, any statement about it is meaningless.
This distinction was picked up by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell’s student and successor as the major philosopher of England, having moved there from Austria when the Nazis took over Austria. Wittgenstein was renowned as the founder of the philosophical school of Logical Positivism, a rigorous type of analytical philosophy. What the Logical Positivists sought to analyze was not the logic that Russell thought to be the key to what can be said to be true or false, but the content of the words being used. Wittgenstein insisted that words have only the content assigned to them. Words mean what the users intend for them to mean. Moreover, words derive their meanings ultimately from whole forms of life.
For example there is a whole world of scientific activity and scientific terms derive their meaning from the way they are used within the scientific world. There are whole worlds of military, political, religious, musical and countless other activities within which a term may have a specific meaning it does not have in another context.
For example. “head” in the world of fresh produce draws to mind something like a cabbage. “I’ll take that head,” she said to the green grocer. The head of a social structure would be the appointed leader. “The chairman is the head of this company.” In the world of physical anatomy the head means a complex part of the body. “Use your head,” his mother shouted. Whereas, for a sailor, the “head” most commonly means the toilet.
Logical Positivists rejected the idea that anything can be meant by a term unless its context is known, which provides the most important clue to what the term means to the person using it.
Michel Foucault followed Wittgenstein and went a step further to propose that the reason people use terms, whatever their world of discourse, is that the user wants to manipulate or control the recipient. In fact all narratives do this, but mega-narratives do it in a mega-way, by which those with social power seek, through the invention of stories and myths, to extend their influence and control. Foucault advocated the deconstruction of those cultural artifacts, and insisted that the smaller the narrative the less it needed to be mistrusted.
Foucault’s discursive analysis theories have the potential to revise the major political structures of the Enlightenment. At the same time the post-structuralist movement, until recently called post-modernism, has become the prevailing tone of voice of our times. Installing doubt about the intentions of all speakers -- without a positive counter-force -- has led to cynicism and a “me-mindset.” Doubt has morphed into suspicion and fear. The fragmentation of empires has led to the break-down of nations, the establishment of enclaves, and the embellishment of protectionism by ever-smaller socio-cultural units.
Enter the era of EXPRESSION rather than conversation. If all words are contextual and infected with manipulative intention, the words do not contain anything that matters. What is left are effusion, expostulation, and effect. That is now amplified by the development of technological ways of storing data and disseminating it. The local newspaper gave way to television which then relinquished its main purpose of broadcasting information in favor of entertainment. Even the “news” must be entertaining. Newsmakers must be valuable as attention-grabbers. Boring politicians is an oxymoron, or will be at the next election. Absurd and ludicrous are preferable to bland and rational. ICT has made possible hundreds of “channels” of TV, and every individual with a smart phone can be a producer.
In the domain of private discourse, too, meaning is not validated by content having a specific, consistent reference. Children learn this as an early survival strategy. Crying from hour one is just expression. By about day one it becomes more often expression of felt need. By year one the clever child has developed diverse ways to communicate felt needs. By year ten, mother, too, has acquired (or remembered from ancestors) skills in which “it’s not what she says but what she means.” “I’ve made your favorite dessert,” she says; but she means, “Congratulations on making it through that difficult patch, or passing that landmark.” Threats, as well, rarely mean what they say.
So we grow up and move on to become part of the social order. We belong to different groups, and we mean different things in each one. It can be confusing. It tends to be challenging. It can, at times, be exhilarating to be Grandpa in one context, pastor in another, community elder just outside the gates, and author of essays. As we grow toward senility, or at least some form of advanced aging, we have more stories to tell, but they mean less and less. Once, our story might have suggested a course of action. Then later, that same story could have been a cautionary tale. Now it is a nostalgic recitation.
But for every listener in this time in which we live, the task is to sort out what is true from what is meaningful. That is how our social order is kept from destroying itself and from deteriorating into irrelevance.
VANISHING VILLAGE CULTURE
Rice planting has been a back-breaking labor for millennia, but the harvests have fed billions of people. In every aspect of planting and harvesting irrigated rice there has been progress away from muscle-power by animals and human beings to mechanical power by machines. Here in our valley the last bit of rice production still largely undertaken by men and women is planting and transplanting the rice.
This year, for the first time, I believe, one of the farmers in our village hired mechanical transplanting machines to do the job. I got pictures that evening when the machines were transplanting seedlings. It took them about half an hour to do one patch with a team of 2 supplying the labor. That compares to a neighbor who hired a team of 8 workers to do the same job in about an hour and a half in the next field the next morning.
Today, exactly two weeks later, I took pictures of the side-by-side fields. The results do not look promising for the new mechanical innovation. Farmers tell me, no matter how the ripe rice fields look (I may get pictures of that in about 100 days), it’s clear that the loss of productivity will more than eat up the savings on the cost of transplanting.
No matter how this initial foray into mechanized transplanting turns out, rice will have to be produced in new ways. The old rice culture is unsustainable. Reasons for that are piling up. For one thing, the new generation of young village men and women are unwilling to work the family farms. They want jobs with dependable salaries, which also come with easier working conditions. In the second place, the price of rice barely equals the cost of growing it, and that is without figuring in the value of the farmer’s own labor that does not have to be hired. This week the staple for Northern Thailand, sticky rice, was selling for 15 baht a kilo, and it would be cheaper to buy rice at that price than to grow it. The clincher is that as more and more farmers transform their rice fields into orchards or plant better cash crops, the thousand year old irrigation infrastructure is breaking down.
The government has pronounced its development policy in behalf of high-tech industry. That’s two steps removed from agriculture, with high-tech industry slowly replacing heavy industry as the developmental goal. No matter whether the government’s policy is an unattainable pipe-dream or not, HM the late King’s lifelong interest in promoting agriculture through diversified crops and agricultural research institutes as well as better land utilization, is now officially replaced.
We’ve just had another week of rancorous arguments about conversion therapy. In brief, conversion therapy is a term invented to describe a wide variety of techniques to help people get over being gay. Some of the techniques are exclusively religious using such things as prayer and meditation, but other techniques are borrowed from psychiatric treatments (many of them long since discontinued by psychiatric medicine). The word therapy is meant to cast an aura of scientific validity. But medical and psychiatric associations have denounced conversion therapy as both ineffective and destructive. So far 18 states in the USA have passed laws declaring conversion therapy illegal, as have a handful of other countries.
Still, conversion therapy is clung to tenaciously by those who feel a need for hope. It was the “Hope for Wholeness Network” that made headlines last week when its founder, McKrae Game made his last and most definite denunciation of the therapy and announced that he was also gay, meaning that not even the founder of the largest Christian network had found “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ” (which is the slogan of the Hope for Wholeness Network). “I was a religious zealot that hurt people. People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them.” Among those things were that they were going to eternal Hell. It is uncertain, of course, how many people actually succeeded in committing suicide because of the shame heaped upon them by Game and the Network. Last week he wrote on Facebook, “The very harmful cycle of self shame and condemnation has to stop.”
McKrae Game joins a lengthening list of conversion therapy enthusiasts who have declared the therapy is a fraud (misadvertizing, Game called it). In 2013 Alan Chambers, the former president of Exodus International shut down the organization. At the time, Exodus International was the largest alliance of organizations advocating the possibility of changing one’s gender orientation.
Meanwhile, also last week the results of a massive study were published about the search for a “gay gene”. It concluded that there is no one gene that determines a person’s sexual orientation, but genetics – along with environment, play a part in shaping sexuality. The August 29 issue of the Washington Post reported that Andrea Ganna, lead author and European Molecular Biology Laboratory group leader at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Finland said that the research reinforces the understanding that same-sex sexual behavior is simply “a natural part of our diversity as a species.” The study was published Thursday in the journal Science. It was based on interviews with 470,000 people in the UK and USA. In total, 5 genetic patterns account for not more than 32% of the factors while environment and other circumstances must account for the rest. Not only is there no gene that causes us to be gay, there is no way to find out who is genetically gay by looking at all the genes. Being gay is simply too complicated.
Even though we knew that, LGBTQ critics of the study feared that the mere fact there was a lack of convincing evidence that being gay was completely genetic would give fuel to conversion therapy advocates. Sure enough, the ink wasn’t dry on the newspaper reports before claims began to appear that “now we have science on our side that environment is what causes people to think they are gay.” If environmental factors are the main ones in people being gay, then changed environment that eliminates and counters those influences should bring about change, conservatives in government and evangelicals in Christianity were swift to explain.
The question that sustains conversion therapy advocates is, “Does it EVER work?” The answer is that there are people who swear they have been cured. There is no convincing response to such testimonies. Not even the fact that leading personalities like Martin Duberman (1991), Alan Chambers and McKrae Game have renounced conversion therapy will wipe out the conviction that it can work and has worked for some people.
The question that motivates conversion therapy opponents is, “Is it harmful?” Isn’t it just like certain diet fads which one may try and see for themselves? At the extreme, are conversion camps where under-age children are sent and subjected to horrible punishment. One of those cases came to light in the media a week ago, too. Documentary movies and books have exposed those extremes. But even verbal abuse can be damaging, and physical restraints are not the most common form of imprisonment. Family and social prisons are very real. As Game said, suicides have been attempted because of the religious bullying and intimidation. Medical societies have denounced conversion therapy not only because it is based on spurious science (and just doesn’t work) but because it damages vulnerable patients who despair that they are failing to be cured.
That is the danger. When you promise someone that they will get results they desperately want, but then they fail to get those results and it is because of their own inadequacy and weakness, you set them up to try something desperate. As a growing number of states and countries now see it, providing conversion therapy to minors is not a matter of religious freedom, it is a criminal offence.
Alfred Redl’s impact on World War I, which ended 100 years ago, and his effect on homophobia as official policy, has been understated, and because he was gay and un-heroic, he has been almost forgotten. But his impact on world history has been profound.
World War I was “the war to end all wars.” It was supposed to straighten out the tangled mess of European empire building that had developed. Instead the war began the process of imperial collapse and changed the way the world was organized. At the heart of the conflict between nations was a web of alliances, secrecy, nationalism, revolutionary movements and spying. At the heart of the spying was Col Alfred Redl, head of spies for Austria-Hungary and on the inside of Prussia’s spy system as well. He was the most trusted spy in the Central Powers.
But since 1902 he was also in the pay of Imperial Russia. The Russians found out that young Redl frequented the homosexual underground, beginning in 1889 when he went to Moscow to learn Russian at age 25. In 1901 the Russians began supplying Redl with young men for sex, and in 1902 they presented him with a choice: work for the Czar as a counter-spy or be exposed. They also offered him lucrative stipends for military secrets. The threat of blackmail and the promise of rewards were persuasive to the former villager whose recreational tastes far exceeded his income. He had a young Czech lover at that time, whom he began supplying with luxurious gifts.
With strategic help from Moscow, Redl exposed Russian spies to the Austrians and then set up Austrian spies to be discovered in Russia. This way he rose to the top desk with access to all of Austria-Hungary’s military contingency plans, as well as those of the Kaiser.
It was Berlin that discovered Redl’s counter-espionage activity. When he was positively identified, the Germans informed the Austrian High Command. The panic and consternation that their entire diplomatic and military plans had been compromised cannot be exaggerated. Their first reaction was to keep everything a secret. The High Command sent a squad to arrest Redl in his apartment. “I know why you are here,” he told them. They laid a loaded pistol on the table and filed out to wait in the street. A while later a shot was heard. Another version says that he stood nude before a mirror for 5 hours before he shot himself. Redl had written a note that indicated suicide, and he was given an appropriate funeral.
Meanwhile, the Austrian authorities wanted to investigate his mansion in Prague. It was Sunday and locksmiths were closed. The investigators commandeered one to open the mansion, and inside they found a full set of sadomasochistic equipment, pornography and pictures of cross-dressing by many people in high positions. Quite by luck a newspaperman heard of the discovery and knew of Redl’s suicide. He interviewed the locksmith and quickly put the story on the front page.
From that moment, it was obvious to those in officialdom that being gay made one vulnerable. Doors banged shut to men seeking careers in sensitive positions who were suspected of being gay. The discrimination was not only because sodomy was so horrendous in those days, but because exposure was so apt to compromise a person keeping governmental secrets. The policy swept through the KGB, MI5 and the FBI in due time. Redl’s influence was profound. We have not overcome it yet.
Furthermore, through Redl, Russia learned about Austria-Hungary’s invasion plans for the Balkans, should war break out. The Central Power’s plan was to make quick work of the war. The whole rationale for the war, waiting for a spark to set it off, was to achieve objectives in the course of a few weeks at most. Thanks to Redl, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo in the Balkans on 28 June 1914, Russia and its allies in the Balkans knew the plans and inflicted an unexpected defeat on Austria-Hungary in the battles of Cer and Kolubara beginning on 12 August. What was to be a quick victory turned out to be a humiliating defeat that held an important part of the Central Powers’ army in the Balkans for the duration, rather than making those forces available for the war on the Eastern Front against Russia. The long war in France and the indecisive 5-year agony in the East spelled disaster for all involved, including the victors who had to fight a Second World War to address the unresolved issues of the First, and then a Cold War as a result of the “solutions” agreed to at Yalta at the end of the Second.
According to many historians of the Hapsburg Empire as well as the CIA’s Allen Dulles and Soviet General Mikhail Milstein, Redl was an arch-traitor. The final collapse of the Hapsburg Empire can be traced to the defeats at Cer and Kolubara. Thus began the toppling of empires: Prussia, Russia, Ottoman, and then World War Two which led to the end of the French and British empires. Meanwhile, a century of suppression of gays led to thousands of losses and misplacement of talent, none more tragic than the loss of Alan Turing or more bizarre than the twisting of J Edgar Hoover. Lest we think this era of exaggerated suspicion has passed, we need only click on the Internet to see the rationale for Trump’s continuing campaign to eliminate transgender persons from the military and to prevent same sex spouses from getting diplomatic passports. It’s always “for security.”
Just when you think Donald Trump can’t be more absurd with respect to friends and neighbors of the USA, he tops himself. Who would dream of insulting the Queen of Denmark? What could Trump have been dreaming? “Ah, there’s the rub,” as Denmark’s most famous prince once ruminated.
As I understand it, US President Donald Trump was due to make a state visit to Denmark in less than two weeks. The state visit was, like the recent one to England, to include a state dinner on September 2 hosted by Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark. This was to have been the first such visit since President Bill Clinton visited Denmark. Denmark is one of the USA’s most stalwart allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Then, for some reason, probably to add an agenda item to the talks that go on at occasions like this, Trump floated the idea of discussing a purchase of Greenland. Greenland is the largest island in the world (if you consider Australia a continent). It is an autonomous Danish territory, with its own government. Apparently, Trump has been serious about buying Greenland and thought Denmark might be ready to get rid of it since it costs them a lot to maintain. With Arctic ice melting and shipping lanes opening and with Greenland rich in unexploited minerals, Trump supporters have scurried to defend the purchase as timely and smart. However, the Prime Minister of Denmark was astonished when Trump’s idea reached her. She called the notion “absurd” and mentioned that Greenland’s government was not interested in having a new landlord. So Trump cancelled the visit with just days to go. He was not going to Denmark if they couldn’t talk about a real estate sale, and then he Tweeted that he was insulted, that the entire United States of America was insulted, by the Prime Minister’s rude reply. Most people, including me, thought it was all a joke at first. But it turns out it he was serious and in a fit of temper he insulted Denmark and the Queen. Trump was just rebuked. He hates that.
So this is how US foreign affairs are being handled. The present US State Department and the White House aggravate and show contempt for our historic friends. Almost every time this happens it is because Trump has had a tantrum. Early in his administration the President had a Secretary of State who could handle most of the chaos that resulted when the boss flew off the handle or made some outlandish deal with a party determined to destroy our influence. But Trump fired him, and now has a Secretary of State to his liking.
What this means in the long run is that the moral influence of the USA as a defender of democratic principles and world development is being eviscerated. It is no longer important that the USA lead, as long as the USA can have its way. The word “bully” comes to mind. So far, during the past 3 years, US foreign policy has been highlighted by creating a crisis or creating fear of one, and then solving the crisis while blaming others. US domestic policy has been steered toward the dissolution of the middle class and the increasing of wealth for the elite. It is US foreign policy, however, that will be our first permanent defeat. When it is safe to ignore the USA, rest assured the USA will be ignored.
It will be possible to manage the mess that Trump has made of US relations with Denmark. But some of the destruction in international relations will not be remediable if Trump keeps throwing temper tantrums.
Image above © Metro News UK
What do I as a white, Christian, male, American know about racism?
I have been told that I can know nothing about racism. My white male privilege blinds me to the reality. It’s impossible that I could understand it, so I should keep quiet and make whatever pathetic repentance I can muster.
Allow me to decline the full extent of the indictment, before beginning an indictment of my own about how alarming WORLDWIDE RACISM has become.
I am Caucasian, of European extraction, blue-eyed, and male. What’s more, I am American (of the prairieland type) which means I have privileges that were build on deprivation my ancestors inflicted on others, and advantages I take for granted. But I have been a recipient of enough racism to know about it existentially, after 36 years of residency as one of a tiny minority in Asia.
To be clear and fair, racism in Thailand tends to be so non-confrontational many insist it does not exist. As recently as 1967 the dean of an institution of higher education here declared flatly, “There is no racism in Thailand.” That was the year, however, that biracial babies began to be born to US servicemen and their wives. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation had to find adoptions for many of them because inter-racial children were unwanted. (I hasten to add that has completely changed to such an extent that recent Miss Thailands have been proudly biracial. The shift began with biracial models in advertising campaigns and on TV.)
Long-term residents in Asia testify to scores of assumptions made about us, based solely on our appearance. These assumptions make it difficult for us in many ways, every day. The difficulties include double-pricing based on the belief that all foreigners are rich. More subtle and pervasive is the assumption we are incapable of accurate insight into the heart of this culture, language, or religion. Recent opinion has developed that we are rude, arrogant, and insensitive. On the ledger of advantages, we will treat property with respect, we will cause little or no legal trouble, and we are worth having around in limited numbers.
Personally, I love being in Thailand, and I feel quite accepted and unharmed. But the point is that there is racism here in Thailand and throughout Asia. Skin color matters. It is not something I am too privileged here to know anything about.
Racism varies from culture to culture. In some parts of East and South East Asia it is assumed, based on my race, that I am culturally inferior. There are serious consequences to that if I were to try to live in one of those areas. In other parts of this continent I would be considered a cultural equal, but unquestionably an outsider. In some regions it would be taken for granted that I am culturally advantaged, and feared for that.
How real is race? A popular trope is that “there is just one race … the human race.”
But superficially race is real enough to be immediately recognizable. It shows up as skin color, eye shape, hair texture. It shows up in DNA. The other ways race may manifest itself are cultural signals like costume, language, and sometimes body treatment, or cuisine. These distinctions do not hold up under scrutiny, of course, because they are artificial indicating some set of characteristics that apply to only a fraction of those assigned to any particular race.
Assignment to one race or another might be imposed, inadvertent, or voluntary. Tiger Woods with African-American father and Thai mother chose to be American and therefore Black. That is, he integrated into American culture. He could have been Thai (he wouldn’t have been alone here as a bi-racial Thai person) and he would not have been thought of as Black. On his first trip back here as a sports hero he disappointed his sponsors and Thai fans by paying almost no heed to his Thai heritage. Barack Obama is Black, too, with a white mother and African father from Kenya. In the USA, the choice is not entirely free. In Australia there is a substantial group of mixed-race citizens who are oblivious of their distant aboriginal ancestor. Others know and are bemused or nonplussed by it; recently it has become a matter of pride. Mongol blood runs in the veins of a lot of Central and East Europeans.
Assignment may be calculated or capricious. “Red and yellow, black or white, we are equal in His sight…” so goes the Sunday School song. But the fact is almost nobody is really any of those colors. Almost all of us are some shade of brown, with tinges of pink or pallor. Hair color is more dramatic, and entirely unreliable as a racial indicator these days. Indeed, racial assignment is so haphazard that pseudo-races are simply invented. It is a red-flag warning when one of these terms emerges into acceptance. “Jewish” has been used for millennia, but when “Jewish race” began to be bandied about trouble was close at hand. When 19th century anthropologists began to try to differentiate types of Caucasians as separate races, they described the Alpine, Dinaric, Iranid, East Baltic and Mediterranean races. The Nordic race, they thought, was superior. Eugenics and racial harvesting were on the way. Just recently the term “Mexican race” has made its way back into the US national discourse. That will not lead to anything good.
This morning I was reminded of racism at its worst.
President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson wrote, “… I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s 'The Cross and the Lynching Tree' off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency. Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., in 1918 that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner. Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children. According to one source, Mary was 'stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.' God help us. It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of U.S. history. It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and killing her child.”
That’s what racism will do, and it’s on the rise. It occasionally rises to that crescendo, as in the pogroms in Russia, the riots in Nazi Germany, rampages in Bosnia, and the unfinished elimination of Palestinians in Israel. That’s what is at risk when US politicians play the race card in the run-up to the national election in 2020.
Racism is a cultural invention. It includes acts of appalling atrocity, beguiling paternalism, absurd disrespect, and sometimes abject neglect. But it is subject to cultural intervention. What a culture does it can stop doing, although it takes the power of a mass movement of almost consensus proportions to stop it. That or a catastrophe.
These are somber times again when sun alone is not enough to warm our frigid spirits.
How ironic we are cold when kings and presidents are ripe with malice that is crafted fire.
All around us anger boils about the migrants swarming in, ruining our peerless race. “Hell! Are all our elders blind?” a youngster yells with guns galore while hooded Klansmen clap and laugh. “Now’s the time to start the war that starts by killing all in sight and stirring up the will to fight.”
We, however, are not stirred. Sheltered in our vague despair we’re chilled within our thoughts and prayers. Though we scarcely fear or hate, and wear our humor as a cape, we’ll never be heroic. No! We are kind and gentle souls who stay at home and cool ourselves with hopes for better times ahead.
Leaders, heaven help us, order, “Burn the jungle. Spoil the soil and waste the water. What it’s all about is oil.”
Tundra thaws and glaciers melt while penguins, polar bears and whales begin to disappear in droves. “That’s a shame,” is all we pant. Because we live so far away we never really see a panther.
Strangely, we can stay so cool as global warming steams ahead of all those terrors that we dread.
ESSAY 3 ON SOCIAL ORDER
On Tuesday June 4 the New York Police Commissioner formally apologized for the actions of the NYPD 50 years ago when they raided the Stonewall Inn. We were amazed to read about it in the New York Times. The article stated:
On Thursday, as people around the world began commemorating the 50th anniversary of the clash, New York’s police commissioner took a step toward making amends, issuing an unusual official apology on behalf of the Police Department for the actions of officers during the Stonewall uprising. “The actions taken by the N.Y.P.D. were wrong — plain and simple,” the commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said during an event at Police Headquarters. It was an admission that gay rights leaders said was momentous and unexpected, if overdue. “To have the N.Y.P.D. commissioner make these very explicit remarks apologizing, it’s really moving,” said Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, who is gay and who had a day earlier called for a police apology.
The reason for the commissioner’s apology was that it was “a step toward making amends.” I take it this was in order to heal a rift between the New York Police Department and the LGBT “community.”
There must be a reason for the current trend to apologize for ancestors’ egregious behavior, and against refusals to do so. There are 3 categories of response these days: behavior done several generations or even centuries ago, recent actions for which amends are being made, and atrocities for which perpetrators’ descendants refuse to admit the facts. To mention a few:
These 9 examples represent 3 types of hundreds of controversial decisions. Elapsed time is often used as a qualifying factor or an excuse. But the debate is inevitably about what is the moral thing to do. Morality is about action. What action should be taken with regard to the separation of infants from their parents at the US border? What action should be taken against a 95 year-old stage-4 cancer patient who was found to have illegally entered the country after having been a brutal guard 75 years ago at a Nazi concentration camp? What action should be taken to recover from the ethnic cleansing of Croatians in Bosnia?
The rationale for taking action is what ethics is about. The right action is what morality is about. Logical speculation about principles is the main job of philosophy. Ethics is about speculative principles. Ethics is abstract and philosophical, presuming to be universal. And that is connected to the philosophical theory about how social entities are composed, sustained, and changed. Morality is measured by its consistency with ethical principles.
Before going on, please note that to say, “The reason for taking that moral action is because it is the moral thing to do,” is an illogical circular argument. Unfortunately, this justification for taking action is common. It is also illogical to say, “The reason for taking that action is because it is the right thing to do.” The word “right” either means “moral” (and so the argument is circular) or “right” refers to something else that is not being specified (and so the argument is a non sequitur).
Moral codes apply to specific social units. They can and often do take on the force of law. A nation may have no law regarding production or consumption of alcohol. A state may have a tax on sales of alcohol and a law about minimum age for purchasing. A community may have a law about public drunkenness or licenses for establishments that sell alcohol. A church or college may place restrictions on consumption by members of their communities. A family may prohibit consumption of alcohol by all members. Each social unit makes rules that are limited to that unit alone but must not contravene the rules made by other units. On the other hand it can be asserted, “If our rules apply to you, you are part of us.”
Moral codes are cultural decisions made by social and political entities. In fact, the decision about who is entitled to make a decision that is called moral is the main factor that determines the extent of a legitimate social order. The boundaries of a social group are stipulated by the boundaries to which its laws apply.
But what about making objection to particular laws on moral grounds? The rule of law does not allow immoral action, although when the law makes an immoral demand the imperative may mandate changing the law. (E.g. when slavery was legal it was illegal for slaves to try to escape, even though the law was immoral because it was ethically indefensible. The time came when the law itself changed because society deemed it immoral. The argument was that the laws adopted by slave-holding states were illegitimate because they were contrary to a higher law. That higher law was a humanitarian principle because no higher law at the federal level had yet been enacted.) When an individual is compelled to make an independent decision because it is the only moral option despite being opposed by society, either the individual or the society is wrong. If society is wrong it can recognize that error and reorient itself, either by exempting certain categories of people from the provisions of the law, or by changing the law. (E.g. when pacifists objected to mandatory military service the government exempted them before abolishing the draft entirely.) If a society does not do that, either the individual is expelled from the social community or if enough individuals successfully persist in defying the community’s moral code the society adjusts or it collapses and social order disintegrates with it.
Moreover, when individuals are incorporated in a society (no matter if that is by birth, choice, or force) all members of the society share the social identity and consequences of society’s actions. Individuals do not have the option of being beneficiaries of a society without being members who share accountability. In some cases merely being identified with a social or political entity is enough to count as a “benefit” even if one were passive or a victim in it, and is sufficient to hold one jointly accountable for the society’s actions. (E.g. citizens of Germany were accountable for what they knew or should have known about the holocaust going on. Following the war persecuted groups of Germans took great pains to establish the fact that they were either totally exempt or at the bottom of the levels of accountability. Operators did not get away with declaring they were just following orders (the law). Ordinary citizens did not get away with declaring they knew nothing. The new generation of Germans is also as accountable as those in other countries who are descendants of those who inflicted despicable acts.)
It is an ethical distinction without difference between those who defend (actively or passively) an immoral social order and those who oppose a moral social order.
In brief, actions against offenders of the moral order tend to be motivated by the decision to seek one of three things: revenge, recovery, or recompense. When none of those is considered to be valid, the action should not be taken. When there is some other action that would better achieve the objective, the better action should be taken without reference to the worse action. When the objective can be achieved by either of two actions, the simpler action should be considered first.
A distinction must be kept in mind between saying “we are not responsible for our ancestors’ actions” and saying “we have not benefitted from the outcome of those actions.” (E.g. “We did not kill any Native Americans”vs “We are not living on land stolen from them.”) In the first case the attempt is to divorce one’s self from society and ignore any relationship at all with the past. In the other case what needs to be encouraged is recognition that “even if we or our ancestors were victims who were abused and we are here today despite that horrific treatment, our present circumstances are not without compensations that deserve recognition and our situation can be improved within the existing social order.”
Reparations, a form of recompense, are based on the concept that injustice and unfair treatment is still going on. Payment is not to compensate this generation for the failure to adequately recompense ancestors in the past (which would be impossible, considering the extent of inhumane treatment they received). It’s not the argument that African American slaves worked for free, so pay up. It’s the issue that America is still unjust, unequal, and unfair to people of color, so we should allocate money to fix that.
In other cases what needs to be done is simply to return sacred land, or return cultural artifacts to the people from whose ancestors they were taken.
Apologies are about recovery. The issue is how to move forward in a way that we are not yet moving. What’s past is past, of course. The crimes of the past are done, but the consequences are ongoing. Confession is an outward sign of an inner transformation, but there is still more to be done beyond admitting shame and guilt, and even beyond “Truth and Reconciliation.” Hard work must be done to restore just social order. This is the principle behind public apologies that have become increasingly de rigueur. In many cases the motive of the political authority is to seek recovery of a sense of social unity, albeit unity in diversity or ex pluribus unum. It is an attempt to articulate the reality that a social entity does not fully exist in which there is “us versus them”. An apology is an exhortation to let divisions heal by recognizing that they can heal or have healed. Or in some cases the apology is to assert that “we no longer are in agreement with our ancestors who did that,” as when the Pope exonerated Galileo after 400 years (and he simultaneously disempowered whatever Vatican operations might still be hanging onto the rationale that validated Galileo’s conviction). Apologies, above all, recognize social continuity. Apologies of the type we are considering are predicated on the conviction that the social contract is intact.
The test of a moral code is how it punishes offenders.
The rationale for punishing those who break the law usually includes revenge. (1) One form of punishment is to inflict the law-breaker with sufficient unpleasant consequences so as to dissuade others from following the criminal’s example. The argument is that “if we put drug users in prison” others will refrain from using drugs. Countless studies have disproved that this works. It is not a good reason for putting law-breakers in jail. But societies agree to it because it makes them feel better. That is also the operative idea behind wars on drugs that take place when political entities sense that society is about to accuse them of being unable to maintain social order [or to deviously disempower a particular section of the population.] (2) The second reason to punish criminals is to prevent recurrence of immoral behavior. In behalf of a more orderly society some disorderly individuals must be restrained. A just system differentiates between sentencing offenders to hospitals where they can be provided therapy to get well, or simply incarcerating them until they show enough genuine remorse to be safely released. Even in these cases, sentences imposed are so erratic that only revenge accounts for the inconsistencies. (3) Sometimes, needless to say, the operative rationale is simply to subject particular offenders to enough punishment that society achieves emotional catharsis. For example, after the end of World War II war criminals were tried for crimes against humanity and executed despite zero chance they would repeat their offences. Still today, criminals on death row will be executed even if they show immense remorse and their crime is so terrible that there is little need to instill fear in others to keep them from copying the crime. The operative principle is indisputably revenge. The question is, of course, “Is the emotional satisfaction of others sufficient reason to punish offenders when any other benefits to society are lacking?”
It is essential that firm ethical principles underlie the moral order of a society. Ethics is the rationale for the argument that a moral code is consistent, comprehensive and compassionate. The question is “is this moral mandate ethical?”
Without the concept of an inclusive, durable social ethic, the whole idea of a social corporation fails.
This concept is being reviewed in our time. Two factors are driving this review: one is the expanding notion that the individual is dominant in all decision-making, and the other is that individuals are entitled to their emotional satisfaction. In its baldest form, the first concept is that I can ignore social restrictions I disagree with. The second concept is often stated, “I need what I say I need.”
These two widely-held concepts militate against social dominance at the same time as people are losing their ability to distinguish their own voice from the voice of their social group. This is the ethical paradox of post-modernism.
In opposition to the threat of social disintegration social sub-cultures are clinging ever more desperately to their moral codes. It is the destruction of these moral codes, those social communities contend, that threatens social order with chaos. Too often, however, it is just the moral code that they seek to maintain, forgetting about such inconvenient factors as the need for a cohesive social ethic based on principles that can at least conceivably be considered universal
We are confronted these days with the question, “To what extent should the church (or any other religious organization) enforce its moral order?” There are religious communities, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish, as well as Muslim, that assert the need and their right and duty to enforce morality as they see it. When they do this for their constituencies, who are free to agree or withdraw, one could hardly quibble with them. Very frequently the most adamant will try to impel neighbors of all religious persuasions to behave, on the presumption that infringement of that moral code will endanger the social order for everyone. The most radical religious communities feel justified to resort to violence to enforce their moral code.
Those radical groups have confused morality (conceived as rules of behavior) with ethics (speculation about the universal principles for moral behavior). Furthermore, they violate the contract that holds societies together. If a political entity, such as a nation, upholds the principle of diversity, seeking to include diverse communities, the enforcement of a limited moral code upon other communities is unethical. Every society needs a social ethic that unites everyone. But totalitarianism is the only political system that imposes a single moral code upon everyone.
That brings us to the issue of legitimate social communication which is the topic of the next essay in about a month. Previous essays on the subject of SOCIAL ORDER are:
www.kendobson.asia/blog/social-bond essay number 1
www.kendobson.asia/blog/social-contract essay number 2
THE CASE OF GERRY DYCK
Gerald P Dyck was a missionary sent to Thailand by the United Presbyterian Church (USA) at the invitation of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) from 1967 to 1971. Gerry’s assignment was to assist in the Church Music Department of the Thailand Theological Seminary. It was the smallest department of the seminary, and one with the least opportunity to make an impact on the future of the Protestant enterprise in Thailand. In theory, the church music department was to train organists and choir directors for local churches. After a hundred years in Northern Thailand the mostly Presbyterian heritage churches had hardly any musicians who could play a piano and the best that could be said for choral music was that it was traditional hymns sung enthusiastically. Gerry’s job was to teach classes and give personal lessons. This had to be dispiriting with students of so little talent, but Gerry saw potential. It was the age of guitars. That was the future of church music, according to the Moderator of the CCT. Gerry saw a completely different possibility, indigenous music. The foundation for this was modest in the church. Missionaries in Lampang had developed a hand-full of hymns using Thai melodies which were the most popular hymns in the Thai Hymnal. But Thai instruments were not used to accompany the hymns. Gerry began with that. It was an incendiary move. Conservative backlash against using pagan music was instantaneous. A lesser person would have desisted and probably apologized. Gerry persisted, working with those who were not offended, finding local musicians here and there who agreed. The results, 50 years later, are that indigenous instruments providing music in church services of worship is no longer controversial. That is not to say that the church adopted Thai cultural forms, or that new hymns have been written with Thai melodies. They have not. On the other hand, the little Church Music Department became the basis for Payap University’s College of Music, one of the most successful departments in the university, and one that has vastly improved musical quality and appreciation nationally. This, ironically, has provided musicians for the church whereas recruiting them untrained and training them to be church musicians did not.
I take it from this, that one role an ex-pat missionary can have is experimenter. “Let’s just try it and see.” In this case the experiment ran against the grain of Christians seeking the maximum distance from local culture. The Christian sub-culture needs to be distinct. Gerry was constantly testing the water with new forms of music education based on Carl Orff and John Cage, while also writing cantatas not unlike ones by Bach and promoting annual performances of Messiah by Handel.
Meanwhile, Gerry used his abundant free time exploring ethnomusicology, a special field of cultural anthropology. This undertaking has been more fully described in another essay: www.kendobson.asia/blog/gerry-dyck. I would like to mention here, however, that Gerry had no mandate to do this work, which turned out to be his most enduring contribution. He was permitted to do this, and eventually given modest support to design a recording studio in the seminary building. But church officials ignored this massive work Gerry was doing almost on his own. To this day, in fact, the church has ignored what Thai cultural preservationists have called the greatest contribution any single individual has made to Northern Thai musical history. Gerry is called “the father-teacher” and borom-ajan (illustrious teacher) by Thai musicologists.
I submit that Gerry Dyck was a model for missionaries, but one not easy to follow. The contributions that many missionaries have brought have often, indeed have generally, been over and beyond the job they were sent here to Thailand to do. In Gerry’s case it was about investigation and preservation of a disappearing musical heritage. Previous missionaries contributed dictionaries, architectural and construction concepts, and cultural studies. Sometimes those were imagined as an evangelical entré, but, as with countless parish priests in England, the church-worker’s hobby sometimes was the more significant. The church and mission organizations often lose something extremely precious by imposing narrow borders on their work. The employee syndrome is less productive than it is assumed to be.
In Gerry’s case, 1970 was a tough year. The Presbyterian Church came to the end of its funds for sustained overseas work. A board representative came to Thailand with a hard choice for the CCT: cut 20% of the mission workforce, or 20% of the subsidies for other work. Gerry was not a favorite son and his work was not adding things of immediate value to church programs, so he and his family were cut along with several other missionaries. It took nearly 4 decades for his most important contribution to be recognized.
Gerry Dyck died Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at his home in Assonet, Massachusetts, USA. His daughter, Kirsten O’Dell, informed us of Gerry’s death with her and her sister Heidi and Gerry’s wife, Helga beside him as he passed away peacefully. He had been in Hospice care for a few days. A memorial service will be held in September.
Gerry will be remembered by those of us in Thailand for his two periods of missionary service here. From 1960 to 1963 he was sent by the Mennonite Central Committee to do “alternative service” (as a conscientious objector to military service) at the Sampantakit Farm, a rural development project of the Church of Christ in Thailand, north of Chiang Rai where he helped with the church and school and developed a deep interest in Northern Thai culture.
From 1967 to 1971 Gerry, by that time married to Edy with twins Ilse and Heidi (Kirsten was born here at McCormick Hospital), returned to Chiang Mai sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, to teach at the Thailand Theological Seminary in the Department of Church Music. During those 5 years Gerry became deeply involved in investigating all aspects of Northern Thai music. He produced hundreds of tape recordings of music played by all sorts of instruments along with photographic records of how the instruments were made. These were archived in Los Angeles and eventually digitized. This trove of information has been pivotal in the preservation of these aspects of Northern Thai culture. The pin pia was rescued from near extinction, for example. His work in the Church Music Department with that of his colleagues, especially Mrs. Carolyn Kingshill, formed the basis for what is now the College of Music of Payap University.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.