Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pi and "Sanity"

Last night, I watched the movie "Pi", which is an independent film about an ethnic Jewish (as opposed to religious Jewish) mathematician who finds (via his computer mainframe) a mathematical concept of natural unity whilst trying to make mathematical sense of the stock market. It's sort of hard to explain. His mentor had found a similar (perhaps identical) concept whilst studying the transcendental number pi.

Anyway, Max (the protagonist) appears to have some physical and/or mental illness issues. He seems to suffer from chronic migraines and at the very least severe social anxiety.

It's a very intense and multi-layered movie, and I'm sure I'll get more out of it on subsequent viewings.

One of the things I got out of it on this first viewing is that neither Max nor his mentor (Sol) are particularly mentally healthy. Max, as previously stated, appears to suffer from severe social anxiety and possibly some sort of paranoia. Sol has had a stroke. And yet, they have both at least glimpsed a truth and a reality beyond normal perception.

It seems like sanity blocks the perception of such profound truths and realities. It seems like, in putting our perceptions of the world into neat little boxes, we miss the forest for the trees. It seems like only in "madness" does the truth really emerge.

It just put me in mind of my favorite Seneca quote: nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementia fuit. (There has never been any great talent without an element of madness.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Refuting Homophobia on Marriage Equality

I got involved in a discussion on a message board that had ranged into same-sex marriage. One commenter said that her husband wishes "gays would keep their sex life in the privacy of their own bedrooms. What he finds most offensive is the militant homosexual-rights activist who screams in his face something like, 'I'm queer, I'm here, and you have to accept me!' He doesn't go around advertising his sexuality, and he doesn't want to hear about theirs either. I can agree with him on that point. Whether it's gay or straight, sex belongs in private, where it's nobody else's business, and no couple of any orientation should be bringing it out in public."

I don't think too many people, gay, straight, or somewhere in between, want to have sex in public. What non-straight people do want is the ability to walk down the street holding hands or arms-around-waists with their partner and not be subject to open hostility, or to be able to marry their partner (with all the attendant societal upsides and downsides of legal marriage), or to exchange a hug and a kiss when one picks the other up at the airport, or any of a zillion other normal interactions between adults who love each other just like any other adult human being. I don't see what's so wrong with that.

I know a lesbian couple who've been together nearly as long as my mom and my stepdad (which is to say well over 20 years), and a gay couple who've been together for nearly 20 years. Why shouldn't they be able to get married? Why shouldn't they be each other's legal next-of-kin in case of emergency?

And if you want to get Biblical, the meaning of marriage has changed SEVERAL times since the Bible was written.

12 Biblical Principles of Marriage

1. Marriage consists of one man and one or more women. (Gen 4:19, 4:23, 26:34, 28:9, 29:26-30, 30:26, 31:17, 32:22, 36:2, 36:10, 37:2, Ex. 21:10, Judges 8:30, 1 Sam 1:2, 25:43, 27:3, 30:5, 30:18, 2 Sam 2:2, 3:2-5, 1 Chron 3:1-3, 4:5, 8:8, 14:3, 2 Chron 11:21, 13:21, 24:3).

2. Nothing prevents a man from taking on concubines in addition to the wife or wives he may already have. (Gen 25:6, Judges 8:31, 2 Sam 5:13, 1 Kings 11:3, 1 Chron 3:9, 2 Chron 11:21, Dan 5:2-3).

3. A man might chose any woman he wants for his wife (Gen 6:2, Deut 21:11), provided only that she is not already another man's wife (Lev 18:14-16, Deut. 22:30) or his [half-]sister (Lev 18:11, 20:17), nor the mother (Lev 20:14) or the sister (Lev 18:18) of a woman who is already his wife. The concept of a woman giving her consent to being married is foreign to the Biblical mindset.

4. If a woman cannot be proven to be a virgin at the time of marriage, she shall be stoned. (Deut 22:13-21).

5. A rapist must marry his victim (Ex. 22:16, Deut. 22:28-29) - unless she was already a fiancee, in which case he should be put to death if he raped her in the country, but both of them killed if he raped her in town. (Deut. 22:23-27).

6. If a man dies childless, his brother must marry the widow. (Gen 38:6-10, Deut 25:5-10, Mark 12:19, Luke 20:28).

7. Women marry the man of their father's choosing. (Gen. 24:4, Josh.15:16-17, Judges 1:12-13, 12:9, 21:1, 1 Sam 17:25, 18:19, 1 Kings 2:21, 1 Chron 2:35, Jer 29:6, Dan 11:17).

8. Women are the property of their father until married, and their husband after that. (Ex. 20:17, 22:17, Deut. 22:24, Mat 22:25).

9. The value of a woman might be approximately seven years' work. (Gen 29:14-30).

10. Inter-faith marriages are prohibited. (Gen 24:3, 28:1, 28:6, Num 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12, Neh 10:30, 2 Cor 6:14).

11. Divorce is forbidden. (Deut 22:19, Matt 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:9-12, Luke 16:18, Rom 7:2, 1 Cor 7:10-11, 7:39).

12. Better to not get married at all - although marriage is not a sin. (Matt 19:10, I Cor 7:1, 7:27-28, 7:32-34, 7:38).

How many of those rules do present-day Judeo-Christians advocate? These rules are so violently misogynistic that it defies description.

Then they need to STFU about legally defining marriage as "one man, one woman," because the Bible says so.

The only Biblical reference anyone gave me for that meme of "The Bible teaches that marriage equals one man and one woman" was this: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)

Okay, yeah, that speaks of marriage as being one man and one woman, but it says nothing to the effect that "This is the way it was, is, and ever shall be."

My point being, A WHOLE LOT of what the Bible has to say about marriage not only demeans women to the status of property at best, but sounds more like the transfer of said property than the union of two people who wish to make a lifetime commitment of love. And if two people who wish to make a lifetime commitment of love just happen to have the same genitalia, who really gives a shit?

I know who: those asshats who feel like it's a personal insult and a sign of the breakdown of civilization as we know it that they have to acknowledge the humanity of anyone who doesn't fit into their WASP, hetero, cisgendered, etc. world.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What Disablism Means to Me

In 1990, when I was in the ninth grade, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into U.S. law. I had to research it and write a paper on it for my English class. At the time, the conditions which now render me legally disabled (major depressive disorder with psychotic features and post-traumatic stress disorder) were present but not yet disabling (the psychotic features didn't show up until my late 20s, and the depression and PTSD were manageable at the time).

I hadn't been around many people with disabilities at that point in my life. My elementary school best friend Jessica had a twin sister named Bethany who was blind and severely mentally and physically disabled; Bethany could not feed herself, nor control her bladder and bowel functions, nor had she learned to speak by the time Jessica and Bethany were eleven years old. In ninth grade, my best friend was my next door neighbor, Suzie, who was legally blind; she was severely nearsighted and had been born without a certain type of nerve cell that enables humans to perceive color. She was about six months older than I, but attended the state school for the deaf and blind instead of the local public high school I attended. PaPa (the "a"s are pronounced like the a in apple), my maternal uncle's father-in-law, who, despite only a tenuous connection by marriage to me, always treated me like a granddaughter, had lost the lower portion of a leg and was losing his vision due to complications of diabetes. That was about the extent of my experience with people with disabilities at that time.

I don't remember any more exactly what I wrote in that paper; I no longer have a copy, either printed or electronic. But I do remember that most of what I wrote was about reasonable accommodation, like ramps for wheelchairs and the widespread availability of closed captioning and other adaptive technologies. I believe I said that it was only fair to provide reasonable accommodation, that to fail to provide reasonable accommodation was to disenfranchise people with disabilities. I don't think I was wrong, but I also realize in retrospect that I didn't quite get the whole picture.

Some years later, I remember telling a shop owner that he was in violation of the ADA because I couldn't get my (then infant) daughter's stroller through his shop aisles, so how was a person in a wheelchair supposed to shop in his store? (The stroller was narrower than most adult-sized wheelchairs.)

I remember at various times being on crutches for temporary ailments of the lower extremities and cursing the inaccessibility of public establishments and thinking, "Jeez, what do people who use crutches permanently do?"

I think those are perfectly valid reactions to an ablist world, but that's still not the whole picture.

It wasn't until I became disabled with an "invisible illness" that I really began to see. To look at me, you wouldn't think that I'm disabled. I can stand and walk without assistance. I wear glasses but that hardly counts as a disability. I can hear. I can speak and write clearly in English and Spanish, and I can read and comprehend French and Latin (never was too hot at writing or speaking French, and my Latin is VERY rusty). I can drive a car (even a stick shift) without adaptive technologies (other than my glasses). It took ten years, but I have a four-year college degree.

What I can't do is hold down a paying job. Some days, I am so depressed I cannot get out of bed except to use the toilet. Some days, I can get out of bed but I have to force myself to do it. Some days, I'm so afraid of people that I cannot stand to leave my house. Some days, I can't trust my perceptions, because my eyes and skin are telling me that there are bugs crawling on me. Some days (like today), I'm okay. Occasionally, I even feel really good. Because I can never predict from day to day whether I'm going to be okay or not, I can't commit to a work schedule. Before my condition became this severe, I worked 8am-5pm Monday through Friday (like "normal people"), doing clerical work. I can't do that any more. I'm working with my state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to try to find a line of work in which I do not have to commit to a work schedule and therefore might be able to get and keep a job again.

What I've come to see and detest is the idea that if you can't (or for that matter, don't) earn a paycheck, what you do means nothing to the world at large (but the "don't" part is for a post on sexism, and that's not what this post is).

What I've come to see and detest is that if you differ in any way from the able-bodied norm, you're not real.

What I've come to see and detest is that if you're not in a wheelchair, or on crutches, or wearing hearing aids, or visibly different from the able-bodied norm, you don't count as disabled.

I'm sure that's STILL not the whole picture, but that's disablism, to me.