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Category Archives: society

Ironic that I’m posting this on my blog? Yup.

This article in the Atlantic confirms all our worst suspicions about teens and social media:

increased screen time on social media leads to depression for teens. 

Here’s one quote that provides a reason why this is so:

What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it.

The article makes me want to throw my phone at the wall and snap my laptop in half. I certainly am much more happier spending time with folks in person and reading books on paper. If only I knew how to make time…

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I keep returning to Alan Jacobs’ blog. He is now becoming something of a digital pastor for me when my flesh and blood pastors fail to provide any clarity, observation, or any discussion of the events occurring in the world. That might be a harsh statement, but it feels true. As to whether it is true in fact, needs to be discussed with my friends.

Alan Jacobs provides history, calm, and reason in a world that has seemed to lost its compass and moral grounding. He reminds us that the struggle during the civil rights – between the KKK and Martin Luther King and all the others – were an intra-Christian struggle. He does not allow any validity to the Alt-Right / White supremacists’ claim to Christian faith – theirs is an atheist and counter-Gospel narrative that rests on racial insecurity and fear.

Jacobs also tells us that whereas in 60s and 70s the intra-Christian debate was somewhat held in check by our biblical commands, now, areligious groups such as BLM and the neo-nazi parties’ frays will become increasingly insidious and violent as they are not bound by the Christian command to love thy enemy.

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Reading his blog leads me to a rabbit hole of relevant links, like the one on how BLM activists have rejected the seemingly corrupt leadership of the black church when organizing against police brutality and white oppression.

In the article, the journalist quotes a young activist about how the spirituality of group protest might replace the spirituality found in the church. I find it very telling of a Millenial generation that fears labels, strict definitions, and structural authority. Here’s the quote:

 “You’ll hear them say, ‘I want a relationship with the Creator,’ but they don’t feel the need to manifest that relationship within the church space.” These encounters have made her rethink her understanding of what church and spirituality are, she said. “When I think about what the Bible calls for us to do, it is very much in my mind tied to the work we do as activists and organizers,” she said. “The church space is not always in the four walls of Pleasant Hope.”

It’s interesting to see how young black activists are moving on without the Church, and what sort of organization they can do without it. BLM is the manifestation of that organizational effort beyond the African American church. My question is, for me, personally, who feels deeply about the injustice in this world, how do I work with my church to care about justice and the wider world? Is that even right? I can already hear my pastors saying, “it’s not in the Bible” or it is marginal.


Some other links from the Gospel Coalition have proven fruitful in their distinction among terms such as white nationalism, white supremacy, and white identity.

White supremacy refers to the belief that the white race is superior to others. The ALt-right does not believe in supremacy, but believe in some complementarian conception of races – ““The Alt Right does not believe in the general supremacy of any race, nation, people, or sub-species. Every race, nation, people, and human sub-species has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and possesses the sovereign right to dwell unmolested in the native culture it prefers.” Weird.

White nationalists are racial separatists. Their greatest fear is the mongrelizaiton and integration of non-white peoples. They are definitely linked with white identity.


Okay, enough blogging for now.

 

Posting a lot today on fb. Which probably means I’m procrasting.
I’m attempting to read Niehbur’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, and while it being highly theoretical, it has illuminated for me how sinful we really are as a society. This article briefly takes us through the major themes and conclusion of this book, of which I will leave you with one excerpt:
 
While individuals in their personal dealings often transcend self“interest (hence “moral man”), nations dealing with other nations, or social classes with other social classes, have little or no capacity for self“transcendence (“immoral society”). Nations and classes have limited understanding of the people they harm by their unjust self“assertion; they lack appreciation for the often complicated laws and institutions through which such injustice is perpetuated; and they are more inclined to embrace rationalizations of self“interest than prophetic denunciations.
 
I have witnessed friends and family members perform remarkable acts of selflessness (hence, “moral man”), and yet these very same kind people may add to a collective oppression of others. I think about how even an innocuous event like gift-exchanges at christmas or humorous white-elephant gift exchanges can serve up both a moral and immoral effects. We can solidify our bonds and communicate love to others with these gifts. But these very same gifts gather dust and add on to the already large pile of shit in our closets and basements and attics and car trunks. They are a hazard to our environment, and perhaps unjustly wrought by children’s hands or by underpaid workers who work on Christmas day. That money used to solicit a little laugh from others or to impress your girlfriend could have been used to purchase a life-saving cow for a family in a third world country.
And, if Wolterstoff is right, our privilege to enjoy security and the luxuries that come with it (e.g., useless gifts during holidays…which I enjoy), actually translates as theft from the poor. (“You who have two tunics, the extra one belongs to the one who has none”, or something like that).
If I am serious about becoming a disciple of Christ, should I not, in all my tiny power (economic, social, political, etc.), continue to strive to live justly a la Micah 6:8? And how does one do this from a point of a justified state? That is, how do I live a just life with the purpose of discipleship rather than earning salvation? How do I urge myself and others to understand the importance of living justly as part of our Christian calling with a gentle tone rather than a self-righteous and self-justifying one?
I’m tired. I can’t continue this train of thought.
etc. etc. etc.

…had me search up Brock Turner’s father’s letter to the judge. In case for the unacquainted, Brock Turner is a 20 something freshman who attends (or attended) Stanford on a swimming scholarship, and was recently convicted of rape. Social media is brimming with vitriol as a result of a light sentencing given by another white-male judge, Persky. Friends are digitally circulating a petition to remove him.

I wanted to see what the other side looked like since I have been encouraged in my MA studies to learn to read “charitably” or openly. I had read A Theology of Reading by Alan Jacobs – another white male – who advocates for an openness to reading all sorts of texts from all sorts of people, friend or foe, and I thought I’d try to practice that by reading Turner’s father’s letter. Facebook friends are posting and reposting a short phrase from his father’s letter, which states that his son’s imprisonment is far too harsh for “20 minutes of action”. The angry bloggers and facebook friends post articles that characterize the father as a father who reinforces rape culture and general white male privilege douchebaggery. I was hoping that by reading the father’s letter I could correct my own social mediated perception and try to relate to the father because demonization is another path toward another type of hell. What I mean by this is that forgiveness and redemption forge a better character than one of perpetual righteous wrath and moral outrage. Well, that’s my opinion anyways. I’m not a rape victim, so admittedly my perspective is limited.

Reading Turner’s father’s letter, however, failed to elicit any sort of sympathy from me. My friends’ FB posts claiming that his father’s letter oozed of white privilege did not seem, after reading the letter, seem so far off the mark. His father did not even seem to apologize for his son’s actions, instead opting to reflect on his son’s character attributes and accolades. In one part of the letter, the father reminisces about how he and his son visited Stanford and exclaimed that it would be swell for his son to attend a college with a history of Olympic swimmers. Look, jury, he has worked hard his whole life to achieve the academic and athletic achievements that have brought him thus far – we should not dole out too harsh a sentence for his “20 minutes of action”! He still has a bright future!

I am devastated by his father’s moral myopia. Where is his remorse? Where is the deep sadness of seeing your own child go astray from goodness and responsibility? He pleads for mercy by appealing to his son’s laurels and immaturity, whereas he should plead for forgiveness for his son. The father was so proud that his son could spell, swim, and maintain congeniality with others, but why did he not teach his son to avoid debauchery and to respect women?

Anyways, I could go on. I looked to the letter as an opportunity to soften my heart, but instead I find it steeling itself more than ever.

 

I think a big part of maturation process is realizing that you come from a family and that no matter how hard you try to break from its gravitational pull, you will always in some way be influenced by them. This is a hard realization because there are a lot of people out there who try to escape the fate of their families their entire lives. Even if we have good relationships with our family, we still must reject or accept their teachings, mannerisms, and values. Even if end up rejecting everything, at the very least they express themselves in our bodies.

I think, in the end, however, love brings you back to the table. Love and the bond of blood.

Divorce occurs for a variety of reasons, but I suppose that one of the causes for divorce must be because no blood bond exists to secure the relationship. In marriage, a blood bond is impossible and abhorrent, so society must settle for a second one based on the law. If blood does not bind the two together, then the law must serve as a binding agent between the two parties.

It is no wonder, then, that in the process of divorce the two separating parties always fight over the rights over their children. Whereas the bond between two married couples is based on a contract, the relation between parent and child is defined by blood, and now the law must somehow supersede blood in defining parental rights to the child. By blood, both parents have a binding connection to the children, but because of a contractual break, the blood connection must be weakened on a practical level (though not on an ontological one). This is one reason why divorce is so painful because the parents are not only breaking a legal contract with each other but also weakening their rightful, blood-bonded relationship with their children.

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When God employs the metaphor of marriage in the OT, he’s making a contractual type of agreement with his people, Israel. He says, you, Israel, will be like my wife and I will love you as my wife so long as you fulfill your duties in your contract. At least this is my understanding of Mosaic law. Of course, we know how that story goes.

When God introduces Jesus and his blood into the story, he creates a new covenant that fundamentally changes the nature of our relationship to God from a contractual type of relationship between husband-wife to one based on blood between parent-child. This is not to say that in the OT God did not apply the parent-child metaphor to Israel – this metaphor comes up a lot. But the blood relation between Himself and Israel still seemed to be predicated on contract and animal sacrifice, whereas the new relation is bound by the blood of Jesus Christ. If JC calls us his brothers, so then we must be his siblings as well as fellow blood-bonded children of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:17-19). Because Jesus is God incarnate, his blood legitimizes and solidifies God’s connection with His people (this time including Gentiles), except it is final and absolute in contrast to the temporary shedding of goats and lambs’ blood of the OT. Whereas the Israelites were forced to continually perform ritual and symbolic blood shedding to reconnect with God, all the world is now covered with the blood of Jesus, a blood that legitimizes and connects us to God forever as we are his blood-bonded children.

In other words, Jesus’s blood makes our connection with God permanent. God, in all his holiness and glory and morality, cannot destroy us because He cannot destroy his own flesh and blood. We are bound forever by the blood of the new covenant.

This faith in Jesus’s blood secures our connection to God, which replaces our enmity with Him with peace between God and ourselves.

This is a profound truth for me. As someone who is constantly testing the limits of the family bond, I realize that no matter what I do the bond between myself and my family can never be severed in any way because of our shared genetic material. Even if I am disowned by my family I still share their genes, which ontologically makes me forever a member of that family regardless of oaths or legal status. From my conception to the day of my death, I shall always remain a member of my family regardless of the words and contracts that are drawn up between those events.

Similarly, God, even if he sees me now in all my imperfection and un-glory and sin, he cannot remove the connection between myself and himself because of the bond established by the shared blood of Christ. I don’t know how biblical all of this is, but it seems to me that because I carry Jesus’s blood in me, through faith, I am now eternally secured to God my Father regardless of what I do from my birth to my death. This can be confusing as most religions, to my knowledge, require repentance in the form of action or penance to reestablish a connection to God/god. But God knew that such acts of repentance were worthless because they imply a relationship that is still based on contract rather than blood. Instead, God eliminates the contractual relationship and creates a blood relationship that secures His position as a Father and our position as children. This blood relation is eternal and does not end at death, and, perhaps, even exists before (human) life. You share divine blood – and you did nothing or can do nothing to preserve or create that bond. Obviously, this line of thinking can be abused.

Nevertheless, it is a curious idea to contemplate that God cannot destroy me because I am of his flesh and blood through Christ Jesus. That sounds rather blasphemous, but I don’t think I’m looking at it as if I tricked him into staying his own hand against me. It’s more like he loved the world to the extent that he desired a blood relation between his people and himself. I’m not really sure why he did that. I don’t think He’s lonely or needy for some fulfilling relationship. I’m not even sure if it’s for recognition. I know the answer is glory but I don’t even know what that means. I have negative connotations with that word.

At the end of the day, however, through JC I am a son of God.

Blasphemous. Outrageous. Arrogant. Ridiculous. Stupid. Pretentious.

but, I am a son of God.

Honorable. Noble. Legitimate. Strong. Indomitable. Proud. Virtuous. Eminent.

Loved.

Human responsibility is ultimately an individual matter.

At the same time, however, the collective behavior of Reserve Police Battalion 101 has deeply disturbing implications. There are many societies afflicted by traditions of racism and caught in the siege mentality of war or threat of war. Everywhere society conditions people to respect and defer to authority, and indeed could scarcely function otherwise. Everywhere people seek career advancement. In every modern society, the complexity of life and the resulting bureaucratization and specialization attenuate the sense of personal responsibility of those implementing official policy. Within virtually every social collective, the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?

– Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution In Poland. p. 188-189

As I read the about the horrors that men committed against each other in WWII Poland, I realize that I am just as prone as those “ordinary men” who systematically shot, butchered, and gassed Jews. Although most men were disgusted by the butchery of their vocation, and a few managed to drop out, by the end they all resembled butchers in the assembly line of a ranch. They forgot their humanity, pressured to conform, tantalized by career advancement, and committed above all to uphold German ideals of manhood, courage, and strength. Even today, do we, too, blindly uphold these values in our selfish pursuit to fashion our dreams into reality? Christopher Browning insists that responsibility ultimately lies in the individual, and I agree with him. But how much of us is formed by the collective desire of a group?

It’s been 2 years since writing the journal entry below, but I’m still posting it today because I still find it, sadly, relevant to my life today.

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January 17, 2012

or 16th. I don’t know….

I’m exhausted. My lesson plan sort of fell through today. Teaching can be humbling or debilitating – it’s only humbling if you are humble enough to learn from your mistakes, but debilitating if you let your failure undercut and waste you. Sometimes the difference between these two connotative words is a choice. Sometimes it’s not. In fact, it’s a constant mind war between your fear and your dreams and somewhere in the middle lies your character, your persistence.

We must always be wary, in such times, of false dreams and siren songs that tempt us from our immediate tasks. Somehow Society does not encourage us to persevere enough, but to flee, relax, spend, enjoy. These visions of vanity distract us from our true happiness, and, for the man, that is honest, pure work. Do not flee. Move towards your dreams.

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Life, The Source of All Creations” – Paintings by Huang Zhou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Produced by Communist China, 1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice how pockets of red are spread across the page. The Grandfather figure in the middle is the center. His right thumb is pointing in the general direction of the well organized fields in the background. Everyone is in a jovial mood, for what could go wrong when our Communist industriousness has produced the grapes of Canaan (on upper right)?

Arkady Plastov - Elections to the Committee of Poor Peasants

This is a Soviet painting from the 1930s I believe. Does this painting feel the same as the one above? They both seem to share the general theme of the idyllic, collective farm life.

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This is from the grandfather painting above. Do I spy a Han Chinese seamlessly mixing with his minority brethren?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes – I will study my alphabet in the freezing cold with hungry, bahhhing sheep in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

woman reading book

Couldn’t find the source for this one, but it’s an obvious propaganda piece from the Soviet Union. Seem familiar?

 

 

 

 

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I love this one the most. Even though I know it’s artificial, I think the artist has captured some of the essence of Central Asian life here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I randomly chanced upon this book on a dusty shelf in my living room. I took a cursory glance through the book and it is amazing. Will update with more information over the weekend if I remember!

Initial thoughts: Communist propaganda looks and feels the same, even when painted with ancient painting technique. Still trying to decide whether I respect the artist or absolutely distrust and loathe him for selling out and succumbing to political pressures for him to produce untruthful paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

One day last year my very wealthy and very conservative relatives from New York came to visit us in California. While I was recounting the travails of my first year teaching experience to them over lox spread and crackers, my uncle remarked that it must be very difficult to teach in a “culture” of a low socioeconomic student population. Something about his comment irked me.

Perhaps I took offense because he was implicitly accusing my students (and their families) for their own failure to achieve academically. To blame the “culture” is actually directly attacking the families and community – the creators of culture – for their students’ lack of educational attainment. I, like any good liberal leaning, university grad, take issue with this as I have come to think of my students’ failures as a fault of society and its failure to rectify racial and economic inequalities in the system. Sure, if my community had the wealth and resources of a pseudo public school system like that of the Acalanes School district, wouldn’t my students rise along with them?

It’s no secret that socio-economically disadvantaged students are getting shortchanged in their education in this country. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, researchers found that “public schools serving greater numbers of disadvantaged students receive fewer economic resources than schools with more affluent students”. This is old news (literally, this was published in 2000), for we all know that the current system continues to dole out fatty benefits to the wealthy and the powerful while leaving the poor and minorities to eat the crumbs off the table. It’s a sad, old tale of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

However, the report doesn’t stop there. Researchers found that pouring more money into public school districts that serve the poor doesn’t automatically create higher test scores.

The single most contributing factor to student achievement is, well, the students themselves. According to the report, the single greatest predictor of high test scores is the socioeconomic status of its student population. You can read the specifics in the report.

Essentially what the report is saying is that money is not the magic wand that evens the playing field. I hate to admit it, but in a way my rich uncle is right. While the unequal distribution of public funds certainly exacerbates  the already low achievement of poor communities, we must realize that, even with an equal distribution of resources, the community’s students will not magically produce high achieving students. The community’s culture needs to undergo painful change in order for its children to actually have a chance at reaching the levels of educational attainment of their affluent peers.

Upper/upper-middle class culture – the habits and values that arise from moneyed communities – inculcates a different set of codes into their children that allows them to achieve more than their poorer peers. This much is obvious, but, if this is the single most important factor in achieving academic success, then perhaps we need to reevaluate where we allocate our funds. Simply spending more money on teacher education, school programs, or classroom size reduction does not an academic culture make.

Then again, as a newb teacher in my second year at a low SES school, I don’t know what one can do to fight against a culture of mediocrity. Finding enough money for each student is one kind of battle, but the war against deep seeded values is another. Any thoughts?

I don’t know how some of my students do it some times. The new semester has just begun, and I’ve probably had at least 8 new students come in, but just as many leave. I don’t remember seeing that many folks come and go during my years at my white suburban high school. While some students who left gave me notice – one is moving to LA because her single mother has fallen in love with some guy in LA – others vanish without a word. No balloons, no cards, no good bye.

Meanwhile, I’ve inherited all sorts of kids from different parts of California this semester. A few of them were rejected by other school districts for behavior issues, a few have just moved from one part of the state to this one, and a few whose stories I don’t yet know. Some come in with angry eyes ready to challenge my authority, others come in docile and ready to learn.

I know it’s a tired comparison, but a big high school is a lot like a choppy ocean. The bell rings, and waves of students flood the halls for 5 minutes, only to return back to their classrooms for the next bell (that’s the hope, anyways). Teachers, however, stay put in their classrooms, watching the waves of students crash and stay for awhile until the bell rushes them back out. I am the immobile observer standing on the beach, watching the swarms of students come in and out of my classroom, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. I haven’t been at this job for even a year yet but all this coming-and-going feels fatalistic in a way that I can’t explain. All I know is that the things that my students go through on a daily basis – from taking care of younger siblings to dealing with mom’s new love affair – force them to stay sharp and nimble to survive the large but anonymous ocean.