Saturday, April 24, 2021

Normative vs. Descriptive Statements: A Call for the Left to Stop Tripping Ourselves Up

 One of the places where well-meaning people on the political Left undermine themselves with alarming regularity is in not understanding the distinction between normative vs. descriptive statements and not using enough normative statements.


It often goes something like this:

Something noxious happens.

A leader on the left (from President Biden to someone in a local community, but at the moment, let’s use Joe Biden as the example) says something like:

“This is not who we are!   We are Americans!  We are a generous people!  We are a people who care about each other and help those who are suffering!  We are a people who fight for the rights of all people and are committed to justice, freedom and equality!”  


And then, like clockwork, comes the denunciation of those statements by other members of the Left, including some I really admire like John Oliver:

“Oh really?  Clearly that isn’t us!  Racism isn’t a historical artifact, Joe!  It’s here now!  This is bullshit!!!!  You’re just whitewashing everything!”


In the above instant, President Biden is making a normative statement and it is getting interpreted as a descriptive statement by those who are attacking it.  [And, by the way, you think Joe Biden, who was overwhelmingly supported by the Black community does not have a clear understanding of the current nature of racism?  This kind of boggles my mind, if I am honest.]  


A normative statement is declaring what things SHOULD be.  It is a statement of standards.  It is a statement that draws clear moral lines.  It is a statement that says, “get in line with these values or we will not claim you as one of our own.”  Human beings are social animals.  The threat of ostracization is real and powerful.  When a leader makes a normative statement, it is an act of not just asserting that an identity is, x – it is a statement that is creating an identity and collective identities have to be constantly re-created and reinforced.  Normative statements are incredibly powerful and necessary.  


As a quick Greek lesson:  Themis is the Goddess of Justice.  Themistes are utterances that are often oracular that have to do with Justice.  They include two aspects:  The way things ARE and the way things OUGHT TO BE.  The purpose of oracular utterances is to give guidance to help CLOSE THE GAP BETWEEN THE WAY THINGS ARE AND THE WAY THINGS OUGHT TO BE.  That is the work of humans in their societies.  Normative statements are the way things ought to be. Descriptive statements are the way things are.  We need to use these in conjunction with helping us close the gap.  We are, instead, mistaking normative statements for descriptive statements and invalidating the vision in the normative statements.


The Left has shied away from making normative statements because they don’t seem to be able to differentiate them from descriptive statements which say “how things are.”  But if you don’t have the normative element, then you have no guidance.  The right never shies away from making normative statements and, in tripping over ourselves, we have ceded a tremendous amount of ground to them so that many on the Left are afraid to even claim any of the symbols of patriotism…ceding all of that and its associated power to the Right, large sections of which are now authoritarians. 


We need a clearly articulated vision of what we are trying to accomplish and that needs to be framed in terms of norms that are tied to the identity of what being an American is.  [Or more, locally, whatever group it is in which you have influence].  We need moral norms.  We need to speak in moral language and shape a moral vision.  And we cannot assume that a shared moral vision is just unconsciously obvious.


We want voting rights?  Why?  Presumably because we still believe in democracy.  Well…almost half the country does not believe in democracy anymore.  If we give into cynicism and talk about how BIPOC have never had full rights without strongly articulating how we will ensure they do and why, we feed that.  Descriptive critiques of our short-comings MUST also clearly articulate the moral vision of democracy and the society we are trying to create.


You cannot build anything without a clear vision of what we are trying to build.  Critique is not constructive if it is not linked to a generative vision of what you are trying to birth.


And I want to be really clear about this.  There is a clear, terrifying vision that chunks of the political Right have of what they are trying to build and it is part of why they are so effective.  There are big chunks who are essentially the Christian equivalent of the Taliban.  They have a clear vision that unites them.  They make normative statements ALL THE TIME and it gives them power.


I do believe there is compelling moral vision on the Left.  I think it is far more generative than on the Right.  But we need to start clearly articulating it and making normative statements that establish those values that can clearly establish our identity and claim that as what it means to be an American.  


And when we make those moral statements that are what allow us to judge our progress, we need to stop undermining them by invalidating their reality by virtue of the fact that we are not there yet.  Again, our job is to CLOSE THE GAP BETWEEN THE WAY THINGS ARE AND THE WAY THINGS OUGHT TO BE.  We need to judge our statements by that standard.  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Contemplation on "The Turning Point"

The idea of the "turning point" comes from ancient Greek chariot racing. Chariot racing was originally part of funeral games and could also be done to honor a hero in a re-enactment of funeral games. When you are racing a chariot, you would come to a "point" where you would need to make a left turn. It wasn't a track like what we have now. It was far closer to a "down and back" kind of trajectory. The turning point, traditionally, is associated with the grave of a hero. You would be going around the grave of a hero. The turning point is the most dangerous part of the race. First, in the actual mechanics of making a tight left turn in a chariot, you have to reign the left horse in hard while letting the right run as fast as it can. This is very hard to manage. But morally, it also demonstrates your skill in managing both control and impulse and the way in which you can integrate both. If you think about the metaphor from Plato about the charioteer (the higher rational soul) and its ability to drive the horses (the part that has the noble moral impulses, and the part that has the appetites) and then think about the fact that Plato would have understood this within chariot racing...there are these points in which you have to make the turn and managing these various parts of self and if you can do it correctly, (far more complicated because you have to treat the horses differently, but in concert), then you can be victorious. And it is in that moment, as you are turning at the grave of the hero, in which you are closest to the otherworlds because you are either very close to death (if things go badly and you crash, you will likely die) or you are resembling one of the divine heroes in managing to hold everything inside and out in just the right type of tension. Anyway, that is my current meditation on turning points and I think that mindset might be important when we identify "turning points" in life, our organizations, and society. They are liminal moments of great power and peril.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Vision of the Cosmopolis and the problem of white supremacy

I believe in reincarnation and I believe I have been pursuing the same vision for approaching 2400 years...the vision of the cosmopolis....the idea that we are citizens of the cosmos. The cosmopolis embraces and celebrates human variety, learning from each other and seeking out the best from each culture, offsetting the weakness that every culture has with the strengths of others. The idea of the cosmopolis emphasizes that we, as citizens of this world, have responsibilities to the whole world and to all of the beings with whom we share it. The fundamental virtue is friendship...there is no justice needed between friends because if you are truly someone's friend, your highest wish if for their highest good. So, for me, part of my question is what can I, as a Pagan, do to support you as a (let's say Christian, at the moment), in your Christianity? With the expectation that you will show me at least the same respect and not try to shove me into a mold. There is way to have both high levels of expressive individualism and communal responsibility. And finally, in my vision, we would ultimately create a society designed around the pursuit of arete...which means both virtue (moral and virtue as in the purified life essence) and excellence. So that our society would maximize the conditions for the pursuit of arete and our values would align with that pursuit. 
We have seen beginning models of what the cosmopolis can look like....the Hellenistic Near East and Egypt, for example. But the danger to it is actually a psychological one. So long as human beings do not find their own worth within, but have to continuously look outside and define themselves against others...inevitably trying to find some group to make "lesser" so they can make themselves "greater" we will have soul sickness that can make its way into structural oppression and violence. 
This country has always, since its founding, been simultaneously moving towards the cosmopolis (which is why I am here, I think) but also mired in some of the most baneful, tragic, wicked "othering" that there is. White supremacy is our root sin in this nation, and is being intentionally strengthened again. We have to find a way to break it and part of the challenge is this...there is no such thing as white people outside of the doctrine of white supremacy. The idea of "white people" only arises as a justification for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 
Any person with an honest heart can see that we have one of our political parties and an entire wing of our culture very intentionally building "White Supremacy" and culturally feeding White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism. We all need to denounce it, fight against it, and be on our guard. Those of us who are "white" and who have children, need to know that they are or will be targets for recruitment. Which is why I want to talk about something that concerns me with how we manage our discourses that are attempting to fight "white supremacy." 
One of the great challenges that I have in dealing with the way we handle our current race discourses is that, I believe, the ways in which many of the kinds of trainings that we have etc., if I am honest, I think many of them backfire and feed white supremacy. The main reason for that is that I think this idea that I hear in virtually every race-oriented training or discussion is that the "dominant culture" is "white culture" and that white people are always in their culture. This is problematic. While I understand that part of the purpose is to highlight the way that minorities experience being othered in their daily lives, the framing is troubling. The dominant culture in the US is an amalgam. It has had contributions by many, many different groups of people...and pretending that it is white culture hides this simple fact. 
In my experience of almost every training kind of conversation I have been part of for years it has gone something like this. A white person says they don't feel like they have a culture. The trainer says, all around you, all of this dominant culture is your culture. You don't see it because you are living in it every day like air. But the fact that I have heard this EVERY TIME and experience it myself says to me, there is something real in these experiences. In fact, I believe the reason white people don't feel like they have their own culture is because THEY DON'T. Because "White People" don't exist until the trans-Atlantic slave trade needed justification and was born from a phantom. The people who became "White" came from a bunch of different cultures, many of which didn't see a connection between themselves at all. So, when you constantly give those who are believed to be white people the message that the dominant culture is one to which they have exclusive ownership (which is dangerous) and that their identity, as white people is meaningful and the central defining characteristic of who they are...that identity is inexorably linked to white supremacy and you unintentionally build the bane. In fact, you make it nearly inescapable. 
One easy way to demonstrate this is to just ask a group of "White people" what their visceral reaction is if someone were to come up and say to them, "We should get together as White People." 
This problem, where the entire idea of "Whiteness" upholds White Supremacy, creates a serious conundrum. It is important for me to acknowledge that I have White privilege in this system and it is important that we continue to track differential outcomes (like, for example, differential educational outcomes), which requires people like me to continue to identify as "white." It is essential that we not fall into the naive notions that well-meaning people from my youth trained us into...the idea that we can just will ourselves to not see color. We have to be intentional. 
However, in terms of personal identity, I am a Cosmopolitan American. That is my identity. And I think that we need a vision about the kind of society we are trying to build. It can't just be "not racist" because, as I tried to argue, the very way in which we define our categories will keep racism always there, right under the surface, until we build a new vision. 
And I want to be a citizen of the Cosmopolis.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Notes from Oracular Ritual with Apollon 7-7-2019

From the Oracular Ritual with Apollon Today:

The most important thing in relation to the climate catastrophe those of us who have the means can do is to buy food.  That is something that we can do as individuals that is desperately needed.  As He explained it, we know that there is the carbon cost of shipping food from far away.  Eating locally and sustainably will help with that.  But theater piece of this is that those of us who can afford it need to be building the economy for local food because we will soon be facing times in which we MUST have local food.  We need to make it possible for local farmers to earn a living and to build our local agricultural infrastructure because that is what will create the local region's ability to feed the people who currently cannot afford to buy local food.

There is urgency with this.

This is not a radical departure from what He has said before, but I am seeing more pieces of it than I was previously.  Also, we should all know our local politics and be talking food security at the very local city/county levels.  Even if you are out in one of the agricultural areas....can you actually live off what you grow or are there only cash crops?

These topics are at least as pressing as our current political turmoil.

The other thing is that He said that there are the four big countries (China, India, Russia, USA) that must ALL make headway on the climate in order to head off the worst of what we are potentially facing.  No one of these four can fail.  Our emissions climbed again because of Trump's regulatory rollbacks.  We need to hit on the local and state levels.

But as individuals...local food.

Some other messages that might be useful to others include:

  • Make a conscious effort to build your joy.  Living joyfully in these circumstances is an act of resistance.
  • Build into your daily routines a scan of your subtle physiology looking for tears, leaks, places where your edges are frayed, and any cords.  Use light to fix them.  We all know how to do this, but put it into your daily routines.  It needs to be like brushing your teeth.
  • Spend the last half an hour before you sleep doing something that you want to carry forward into your dreams...something that will increase your joy.
  • Worry doesn't help.  If you are worried about the well-being of others, gather a bunch of small stones and have a bowl.  Once a day, in the morning, put the intention of a blessing towards whoever it is you tend to worry about into the stone, but as a blessing.  Then put the stone into the bowl.  When you feel worry arise, viscerally remember the stone that you held that morning and put in the bowl and put energy into that stone.
  • We absolutely must spend more time doing visionary work imagining what kind of society we want to have...we need to build that vision.  It is not merely an absence of bad.
  • SLOW DOWN!!!  We are rushing through our lives to the level where we are not experiencing them.  Slow down.  You will also be surprised at how much you actually get done when you slow down.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Children in Concentration Camps

To anyone I ever encountered who believed that Nazism and its inhumane cruelty could "never happen here," and to whom I kept saying, "only if we are vigilant about making sure it doesn't," well...we're here.  We are stealing children from their families and putting them in their own concentration camps where they are being abused, where they are living in absolutely inhumane conditions, where they have no one taking care of them.  

Our government, in our names, have made these children into "things."  They have been dehumanized to be used as a policy deterrent.  There is NO care about them as the precious, vulnerable humans they are.  They are specifically being abused to show potential asylum seekers what monsters we are so that they won't come.  That's what is going on.  That is their stated policy direction AND we (our government, in our names) did not create a system to track these children and the parents from whom we stole them so that we could EVER reunite them.

As Hannah Arendt said, this is the banality of evil and if each individual one of us DOES NOT STAND UP AND PROCLAIM "NOT IN MY NAME!" over and over and over again and do what we can to stop it...then we are complicit.

A couple of different things.  


On July 12th there will be vigils around the country.  The most important moment will be at 9 in which people will be lighting candles in MOURNING for this travesty.  This will be the moment in which the news crews from everywhere will take their most compelling pictures and we need to be showing up in force.  Here is where you find the vigil sites.  If you go onto that site and you DO NOT find one for your locale, make one..all the information is at the bottom of that list.  Call 5 friends and get them to agree to come and help you put it together.  Sign up for a site (they tell you how) and it will go on their webpage.  They will help you figure out how to do it.  Then you can make a public FB event.  Either that, or call one of the migrant friendly organizations, suggest that you work with them to create an event.  They have provided all the information you need to found an event.  Just do something. 

Next up:

CALL, WRITE, SPEAK - contact your elected representatives and make sure that they know NOT IN YOUR NAME and NEVER AGAIN.  

Next:  Donate if you can.  Some good organizations: 

NEXT: The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has released an important report  in which they FOLLOW THE MONEY and figured out which three organizations are making a killing off this travesty and (no surprise) their deep connections with high ranking GOP operatives/officials...especially in this administration.  People are PROFITING off these concentrations camps for children.  In particular:

Comprehensive Health Services
Take a look at their menu...they do all sorts of things that look very benign.  But if your company is using them, demand to leadership that they change providers.  If you have an option on a personal level, choose a different provider.   Comprehensive Health Services is owned by Caliburn International, which is an LLC.  Here is their corporate address: 10701 Parkridge Blvd Suite 200 Reston, VA 20191 United States and the Chief Operating Office is General C.D. Moore who, among other things, is a trustee at Wright State University.  So, I am going to spend a bit of time writing to WSU demanding that he get kicked off their Board of Trustees...because he is profiteering from this situation.  Here is the Board of Trustees for Caliburn.  

Next up on the list of profiteering groups!
The GEO Group
This is a notorious private prison group.  It seems that what is happening is these children who are kept in concentration camps, at least some of them are being transferred upon their 18th birthday into the private prison system.  

The address is here: 
One Park Place
Suite 700
621 Northwest 53rd StreetBoca Raton, Florida 33487George C. Zoley is the founder and the head of the organization.  He clears almost 7 million a year in compensation.  Here is the list of their board members, etc.  It doesn't look like the senior leadership of GEO serves on boards of other organizations...they are probably too toxic. 
 The person there who may be of interest is Richard H. Glanton.  Glanton is on the board and chairs several committees.  He is the CEO of the Philadelphia Television Network.  1515 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102.  

It might be useful to start raising questions there about why their CEO is serving on the board of a group that is profiteering from illegally seized and imprisoned asylum seeking children who are transferred into these private prisons when they turn 18.  .  

Next up: General Dynamics.  

Making a lot of contracting dollars off "training and technical assistance" to the Homestead facility.  

Address: 2941 Fairview Park Drive Suite 100 Falls Church, VA 22042 United StatesCEO = Phebe N. Novakovic - who is on the board of the National Military Family Association

Monday, May 27, 2019

The War on Truth

This is likely to only be a "part one" post since I have a lot to say about this topic and it is still clarifying in my own mind.

However, I want to propose that the War on Truth is the root culture war that we are currently facing. By this I do not just mean that there are people who are lying.  There have always been people who are lying.  What I mean is that for the past few decades there has been a systematic war on the idea that there is anything that actually counts as Truth.  And I would say that without a belief that Truth actually exists, although there are implications in saying that it does that are uncomfortable, we are condemning ourselves to a horrific future if we have a future at all.

So first, why I think it is the root culture war.  Let's take a look at various issues
  1. The attack on scientific epistemologies enable the climate catastrophe.  There is no substantive doubt among the sciences or scientists about the reality of the climate crisis or its causes...but that is certainly not apparent thanks to the War on Truth.
  2. The War on Women - it is based on lies.  It claims to be about protecting "unborn babies," (or more truthfully embryos and fetuses) but we know how to prevent most is the policies that the pro-choice advocates favor.  This is about controlling women and their bodies.  You can trace a lot of other aspects of the War on Women back to systematic undermining of Truth and Truth-telling.
  3. The War on Immigrants is based on systematic lies.  The U.S. born population is not reproducing enough to replace itself so we need immigrants in order to thrive.  They commit crimes at a lower rate than our native-born citizens.  They are heavily engaged in society and are not taking jobs from native born people--those places that have depressed economies are about the PLACE, not the population.  If those dying areas in the middle of the country wanted to boost their local economy, they would invite a bunch of recent immigrants to come live with them and would then treat them well so they would invest in their neighborhood.
  4. Crime is down and our overpolicing and mass incarceration is not just a human rights violation, it is also just straight up uncalled for.  So, why are people so constantly worried about crime?  This is part of the War on Truth.
  5. Any of the lies that make people believe that one group of people inherently radically different than another...we are all more alike than different.  Those definitions shift and change a lot.
  6. The Trump administration's War on Statistics  is an incredibly cynical strategy.  This includes changing the model for the poverty line which will just definitionally move people out but not represent any increase in their spending power; changing the model to calculate environmental damage from de-regulation so that it is not sensitive - not that it changes the actual amount of damage that is more accurately predicted by earlier models; undermining the accuracy of the Census and ALL OF THE RESEARCH BUILT ON IT (which is a lot) by adding a citizenship question and then terrifying non-native born people with Gestapo tactics.
All of this is to say that we must become vigilant and call lying what it is.  Call out the War on Truth at every turn.  This is necessary.  Demand that our societal whistleblowers (Fourth Estate, I'm looking at YOU!) do the same.  This is important and we must do it.

So now, some of the uncomfortable stuff.  It is not sufficient to look outside and point our fingers and say that other people are lying.  Part of the attack on Truth is the idea that "everyone is entitled to their opinion."  The thing is...if you take Truth seriously, then no one is entitled to their own opinion.  It is intellectual laziness to stop at opinion because opinion is just ignorance until it is turned into knowledge.  What is deeply uncomfortable (certainly to me) is to realize how much of what I think is actually opinion and not knowledge.  It also means that you have to really, really watch yourself and become cognizant and correct yourself when you speak untruths.  Those can be the little white lies, but they accumulate as a willingness to accept untruth; those times in which your language is careless (this is my biggest challenge); and those times in which you are just wrong and realize it later.  I try, as part of my spiritual practice to catch myself and correct when I have not been truthful.  I think this is a VERY important part of my spiritual practice given my role with Apollon and as a seer.  But it is hard.  And it is sometimes mortifying to realize how careless I can be.  And I think it is important to do this with a sense of forgiveness and recognition of the inherent weakness in we short-lived mortal beings.  It is a practice that is simultaneously humbling and helps me build compassion.

Here is the other really uncomfortable piece, though...and I say this as a political and social Progressive.  I spent a good portion of the 90's arguing with intellectuals who were on my side of the political spectrum but who bought heavily into postmodern thought and I have always been afraid it would inevitably lead to where we are.  Now, I'm not going to reconstruct everything in a blog post.  I'm not even sure that my mind is sharp enough to do it anymore (I do miss having virtually all of my time devoted to thinking big abstract ideas unlike now where I must do it in snatches).  

Here, for those who are not in this world, is a hack summary of some of the big picture postmodern critiques.  I want to be clear that this is a hack job and anyone who is a postmodernist would be rightfully mad at how bad a job I am doing...but this is what I can manage in the brief window I have.  The important insight that I think Postmodernism did bring is the realization that the way in which the "western" academy with its roots largely in the Enlightenment was going about its pursuit of knowledge and the search for that which is Essentially True was and is embedded in a social/political/cultural context in which it interrelates with power dynamics.  Now, from WITHIN "Enlightenment" thinking, this could be taken as a corrective.  Like, we may need to go back and re-interrogate certain conclusions that we reached about the nature of Truth because maybe they were distorted based on the fact that the people theorizing were embedded within particular social/cultural/power structures.  So far, I am 100% down with that.  But many of them went further and undermined the idea that there is anything in "reason" other than rationalization of power.  And, in what is a really aggravating trend, the linguistic turn in postmodern philosophy meant that you only had credibility if you got unbelievably self-referential and linguistically impossible to penetrate.  I have really big problems with this and spent about a decade getting into constant arguments about it until I found my way into my little enclave where we don't talk about it.  Maybe I shouldn't have given up the fight...but I was really, really, really poor and couldn't keep going.

Back to addition to the fact that I absolutely believe that there is a reality that has essential nature and that our quest for it is complex and challenging but that the mind is capable of using reason to search for it, I think that reducing reason to rationalization of power is just wrong.  I believe I can look at a lot of the sciences, at comparative mysticism, to laws of logic, and to the fact that minds make creative leaps for which the culture of the person having the insight doesn't know what to do with them to answer a lot of the more reductive ideas in postmodernism.  But from a pragmatic/strategic standpoint, here is the reason the postmodern fascination with undermining all truth claims freaked me out.

The people who were most engaged in postmodern thought tended to be on my side of the political spectrum.  We shared a lot of the same values about trying to overcome oppression, the responsibility of humans to the environment, etc. etc.  But my intellectual sparring partners were using the whirling scythes of unchained postmodern skepticism to try to undermine the structures that cause oppression...but were doing it in a way that I was convinced would ultimately cause far more harm than the benefits accrued by short-term gains, in addition to the fact that I was never convinced that they were actually right in their fundamental arguments.  See, the problem is that you can make a critique of structures of oppression, but if you do it in such a way that you are also claiming that reason is just rationalization of power, then you undercut your long-term claims to anything that might be called Justice...because you don't really believe in it.  There is a big difference in saying that Justice is not being realized because of prejudice or that our conceptions of Justice have been overly colored and need to be reinterrogated to better represent the Truth of what Justice is.  But the postmodern critique is essentially that Western concepts of Justice are simply cultural constructions that have no real foundation but exist in order to maintain a particular society and its dominance.  This, by the way, is where you get into extreme cultural relativism.  I am not a cultural relativist.  [I do think there is something morally wrong with female genital mutilation or various cultures killing LGBTQ people.  I also think that our addiction to fossil fuels because we can't tell the difference between comfort and necessity is morally wrong.]  

So, the strategic issue is, of reason is just rationalization of power, why would anyone relinquish power?  Why would they?  Sentiment?  With no ideal of Justice, or Love, or some other BIG IDEAL to motivate them, you are relying on guilt, sentiment, or threats.  Those are evanescent and can get overturned really easily at the first suggestion that if a group that is oppressed now were to get power they would use it for vengeance.  They also don't give any foundation for actual, meaningful change.  I don't want to just rearrange the chairs on the deck.  I want to change our relationship with power, which means changing our vision about what it looks like, what it serves, and how it relates to Truth.

Postmodern philosophy took over the academy in the 80's.  It is losing some ground now...but we have more than two generations of intellectuals, especially progressive intellectuals, being raised with it.  It leads to a type of cynicism that no longer believes there is any Truth.  When we believe that there is no such thing as Truth and it is all rationalization of power, is it any wonder where we end up?  We end up exactly where we are.  With the War on Truth.  With opinion being enshrined in either a hyper-individualistic way (I am entitled to MY opinion) or in a way that leads to ideological purity that can't measure itself against any real question for knowledge and understanding but is, instead, more about aligning identity with particular groups.  

Anyway, I am making a big deal out of the Progressive piece of this because I think that we need to really think through our own thoughts, commitments, and at least be clear with ourselves about what is going on in our own mind.

Perhaps I will write more later.  Now I need to get going to the next thing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Public Figures, Celebrity and Private Citizens

There are some things that we need to disaggregate here.  In the United States we have conflated Public Figures and Celebrity.

First, one of the great problems in our democracy is that the populace is busy evaluating public figures using the same metrics they use to evaluate celebrities...namely their "likability."  So, I would like to draw a line here and talk about function.

Public figures are those people who have willing put themselves into positions in which they speak with the authority of the voice of the citizenry.  In other words, these are elected officials, those who are choosing to run for public office, and some leaders in the professional arm of government who are of a high enough position that they should be personally responsible to the citizens for whom they work - often these are also political appointees in the executive branch and/or appointed or elected justices, district attorneys, leadership in police forces.

The key point here is that public figures have CHOSEN roles in which they act for the public citizenry and in so doing they do not have the same rights anymore as a private citizen.  A private citizen, such as you or me, have certain appropriate expectations of privacy.  A public figure...which means someone who is in leadership or an elected position, sacrifices many of those protections of privacy.  In particular, a public figure sacrifices the rights to privacy around any personal information that might shape their decisions when they are acting as the voice of the people.

I'll use myself as an example.  If I were ever to run for public office on any level, it is my duty to disclose information that my potential constituents would need in order to evaluate whether or not I was going to serve them well.  What that would mean is that I would need to disclose my financials, including my debt, any potential conflict of interest I might have, and any other information that they might need to understand my fitness for office.  If I were to win, I would need to keep high transparency.  So, for example, one of the things that my constituents would need to know about me is that at the age of 50, I still have federal student debt.  Now, I might make that part of my platform and talk about the personal and societal effects of our current policies.  I can guarantee you that I have a lot to say about that from a sociological perspective.  However, if I went forward and then fought for universal forgiveness of student loans, the public should be keeping an eye on me because I would personally benefit from that kind of a law.  The public needs to be sure that what I propose is truly for the good of the society, and not just self-dealing.  In order to do that, it is not just the public's RIGHT to know about my personal finances in a way that would be invasive if I were not running for/occuping public office, it is the public's RESPONSIBILITY to demand it so that they can do THEIR DUTY AS CITIZENS in holding me accountable.  And this is ethically appropriate because no one is compelled to serve as a public figure.  You have to seek it.  You seek  it, you sacrifice large parts of your rights to privacy as a private citizen.  If you aren't willing to do that, you are fundamentally unworthy of public office.

Now, celebrities who are not public officials are private citizens.  They just, for whatever reason, are famous.  I have no right to know anything about Robert Downey Jr. other than what he chooses to share.  People who follow celebrities or pry into their lives are violating their rights.  Whether or not I like Robert Downey Jr. is a perfectly acceptable metric for whether I think he should be popular.  It may influence whether or not I am willing to spend money to support/partake in his art, his products, whatever.  But there is nothing in his celebrity that makes him more or less qualified for public office than other people.  The appropriate metrics for whether someone is an appropriate public figure are a combination of competence, integrity, and a variety of indicators that demonstrate good critical decision making.

The second a celebrity becomes a public figure (and we have had numerous) they give up their private citizen rights.  They don't get to fall back on those the second they run for office (or take a high enough post in government).

We are in the society of the spectacle.  We need to get clarity on the role of public figures, the metrics we should be measuring them by, and how they sacrifice the rights of privacy of private citizens...AND we need to understand what rights of privacy should be defended for private citizens (including celebrities) so that we don't end up losing those ourselves.

Now - for the magically inclined:
People who are public figures also, in my opinion, do not have the same rules as when you are dealing with private citizens.  Because they are in public office and speaking in my voice and in yours, I don't think we need personal permission to do work to hold them to account for integrity - on magical or mundane levels.  In fact, if I am a citizen who has magical abilities, I think that is part of my responsibility.  I do not have any problem calling for any elected official to be held to their oaths.  I also don't think I need to get personal permission from RBG to do work to support her healing (for example), or from any of them to do some personal protection work.  That is a wholly different thing than if I were dealing with a celebrity who is a private citizens.  I think it would be a gross violation for me to do healing work for an actor who has not put out a call inviting it, for example.  If there was a call put out, I take that as permission.  Celebrities who are not public figures should be under the same ethical protections as any other private citizen.