Education Saves Lives

Let’s talk about driving for a minute.
 
Driving is a surprisingly complicated activity.
 
When you’ve been doing it a while, it can feel natural or old-hat: you just instinctively know what the pedals do, how to steer, shift, look over your shoulder, check your mirrors, etc. There might be small variances in different cars you drive: different buttons or switches that do different things, the cruise control in a different place, the heating or A/C control works differently, etc. It might take a bit to realize which side of the car the gas cap is on.
 
Odds are you’ve got a basic understanding of the laws of the road, know what traffic lights mean, and you’ve got a sense of what signs mean. You develop some degree of intuition about other drivers and can sometimes predict what they will do based on their car’s body language. (Particularly when it inconveniences you.) You sort of know who is supposed to go first at a four-way stop.
 
But when you’re young and you just start driving, there’s a learning curve for those things. It can take months to learn, particularly if you’re in the midst of other studies, or a job, or you’re just an easily distracted teenager with more hormones than sense. (Not all teens are, obviously, but you see what I mean.) Good thing there’s a class for that. A basic driver’s ed class, which teaches you both the mechanics and laws of driving. You need know how to operate a car, and–importantly–how to do so safely.
 
Which is a good thing, because the stakes are pretty high. Odds are, a car is the most dangerous weapon you will ever operate in your life. It’s so easy to lose your focus and potentially hit something or someone. And the consequences of that can be *disastrous.* Not only will you potentially ruin someone else’s life, potentially forever, but you will fundamentally change your own life, potentially forever.
Driving is undeniably dangerous. You could seriously screw up.
 
That’s why you need to know how to drive safely. To pay attention to those around you. To know how to judge stopping distance and keep your eyes moving. Learn how the brakes work and the airbags and the other safety features. Good thing you had a driver’s ed class to teach you that.
 
Now imagine, however, that you didn’t have a driver’s ed class.
Or perhaps you did, but all they ever told you in class was not to drive. Just don’t do it. Only bad people drive. You’ll screw up your life and the lives of everyone around you. Seat belts or safety precautions? They’re a waste of time and don’t work. The only way to keep from killing anyone or yourself with a car is to not drive.
And then you just look at pictures of engine parts that the criminally unqualified teacher (say, a social studies teacher who has no idea about engines) glosses over them and responds to any question with a look of disgust.
This class is called “Pedestrian-Only Education.”
When you’re home, your parents look at you awkwardly and refuse to talk about driving. They are extremely driving-negative. They tell you you’re not old enough. They tell you to wait until you’ve paid a car off before driving it. In fact, if you mention liking the wrong kind of car (they’re a Ford family but you like Toyotas), they scream at you and cry and threaten to throw you out. (Gods help you if you come home in one of those cars.)
 
And now you finally have a car, which you need to drive to work. You’ve received no education about driving. No briefing on safety measures. Your Pedestrian-Only Education class taught you basically nothing. The best you’ve got is entirely too many viewings of the Fast and the Furious movies, plus your friends bragging about seemingly ridiculous accomplishments they’ve achieved with their own driving.
Also–and here’s the best thing–the lawmakers have been specifically removing laws about seatbelts and speed limits and other measures intended to protect you. They’ve made seatbelts way more expensive–they don’t come standard. And airbags? Forget about it.
 
Now. How good a driver are you going to be?
Not great, I’m guessing.
And is it any surprise that a driver who comes out of this sort of no-education, no-training, driving-negative background is at a much higher risk of potentially life-altering accidents?
So now. Let’s talk about sex for a minute.
Today, right now, in America, a disturbing number of schools in a disturbing number of states waste a disturbing number of your tax dollars teaching Abstinence-Only Education to your kids. Education that, studies have shown, dramatically increases their risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections and/or producing an accidental pregnancy. Why?
Because kids don’t avoid sex because you tell them to. That’s not how that works. But what *does* happen is that when they *do* have sex, they don’t know how to protect themselves. Because you spent all that time castigating them for something it’s only natural for them to do, and you never got around to telling them how to put on a condom.

(Not that they can get birth control very readily, because the pols are up there making it illegal or making health care not cover it. So that’s great.)

Abstinence-Only Education drives UP the teen pregnancy rate.
It drives UP the abortion rate.

It destroys lives.

And those kids who DON’T screw up when they’re young have high levels of discontent later in life, with all that sex-negative bullshit kicking around in there. (Ahem. Trust me on this one.)
Driving and Sex are both high risk activities.
Again. Think of the analogy.
We don’t expect kids to roll out of the living room and just start driving perfectly and safely with zero driving education or–worse–a class specifically designed to teach them that driving is wrong and dangerous and evil and will screw up their lives. Why would we expect kids to handle sex any better, if all the education they’ve got on the subject is a bunch of sex-negative adults telling them “just say no.”
Teach kids about safe sex.
By all means. Teach kids to be responsible and thoughtful and caring when it comes to sex. Teach them about consent–how to ask for it and how to tell if you’ve given it. Teach them about relationships and how to avoid abusive situations. Teach them about flirting. Teach them about respect.
And teach them about sex. How it works, how to protect yourself, how babies are produced. All of it. Don’t pretend that they don’t need to know this stuff.
Because kids are gonna have sex.
You wanna know how I know? Because most humans do. Not everyone drives or has any interest in driving, but almost everyone has sex at some point in their lives. And they need to be prepared.
Protect your kids. Advocate for their education and safety.
Just say “NO” to Abstinence-Only Education.
Further Reading:

Iron Fist is an Entitled White Boy Jerk pt 1

This regards IRON FIST on Netflix, and contains spoilers for episode 4/5 (not sure which).
At one point, Danny shows up at Wing’s dojo, uninvited (red flag) and clearly unwelcome after he has been stalking her for some time (red flag) and assaulted one of her students (not that he cares, because Iron Fisting or something, red flag), with “takeout” (a catering service from a romantic food place, as a result of his cluelessness, but red flag) so he can “talk to her about something.” (Red. Flag.)
He interrupts Colleen when she’s in the middle of teaching Claire (yay!) how to fight. (You know, that whole female agency/empowerment thing? Gotta interrupt that, right away.) And then he won’t leave despite the fact that they’re in the middle of a lesson. I mean, if he can’t respect women or boundaries, at *LEAST* he can respect actual training sessions, right? Nope, apparently not. (RED FLAG.)
She asks if it’s a date, and he assures her that no, it’s not a date, definitely not, unless *puppy eyes* that’s what she wants. And thank God she says “no, it’s not,” because *Jesus*, man, get it together, just a little. (Also? RED FLAG!)
When Colleen is understandably hesitant to have lunch with him (because ALL THE RED FLAGS!), Claire volunteers to give up the rest of her session and join them for lunch. And note–this is important–Danny says “no, that’s not necessary,” and Colleen says “no, that’s a great idea.”
She is visibly and narratively relieved to have an ally at that table. It’s flagged quite clearly right here.
And then during the conversation, it comes up that Danny has sworn a vow of chastity, and Colleen is OMG relieved, because *Jesus.* But at the same time, creeps sometimes trick their marks into a false sense of security, so she stays super wary. (Which is good, because she’s the best character in this show.)
And the worst part for me, I think, is that we’re supposed to root for this relationship. We the audience are supposed to wonder why Colleen’s not falling into Danny’s arms. Because he’s the hero, of course he gets the girl. (And let’s not kid ourselves here–he will. That’s just how Marvel rolls.)
I’m deeply suspicious of any message that justifies stalkery harassment with “social ineptitude” or “cultural difference.” We get enough of that “oh, he’s just socially inept–don’t mind the sexist rants on Twitter” crap in real life. Danny grew up in a context of respect and acknowledgment of others, right? So why does he do this shit? If I were Danny, I’d back way the hell off and exercise a little patience and, I dunno, *wisdom.*
This is a terrible, *terrible* message that they’re putting out there.
Maybe the show is going to redeem this kind of stalkery, boundary-pushing behavior, then ok, but considering the graceless way they’ve done everything so far, I’m not holding my breath.

The Self-Inflicted Tragedy of the Alt-Right

This is such a good piece about the sad, blissful ignorance of the alt-right–and the rude awakening they are having:

On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right, by Laurie Penny

As a young man, I thought I understood the world, and I was angry and selfish and self-righteous. I could have been one of these lost boys, but I eventually chose empathy, not hate. I met people with different perspectives and backgrounds than mine, and I respected them as teachers, rather than dismissed them as threats. I chose to grow up.

I cannot help but be saddened by this. Not out of sympathy: these pathetic man-children have chosen their path, whether out of ignorance about the consequences and/or desperation to cling to their unearned privilege. No, I am saddened out of empathy. I feel their desperation and their hurt and their overriding confusion, because I have known these things. But where adults can confront these things and find a way to live with them, the alt-right simply rejects them and refuses to participate, to their downfall and the detriment of us all.

Most of us climb the mountain of adulthood: a perilous, tedious journey, at times easy and relaxing, at times steep and smooth, at times slick and treacherous, at times seemingly impassible. We keep at it, working to find alternative routes, and we reach down to help those who are struggling to climb below us. Some people have better equipment with which to make the climb, or an easier route laid out before them.

By contrast, the alt-righters jump right off the cliff the second it becomes even remotely challenging. They think someone saying something even remotely negative must be a true test, because they have never faced anything like real persecution or oppression. They never even get to the hard stuff, and thus they forgo the added strength and stamina that comes with challenge, much less the rewards of having conquered the mountain. They stand there at the base of the mountain screaming invectives up at us, because they don’t have the self-respect to try and climb.

They entertain fantasies about what life will give to them, but they don’t have the skills or interest needed to work for such things. They stand for nothing and have nothing. They have chosen lives that mean nothing.

These awful people are damaging themselves and damaging our country. I can see the shared parts of the path we walked, and thankfully, where we diverged, I chose the right path, while they took the alt-right path: perhaps less traveled by, but for a reason. Because it goes nowhere good.

Their chosen path way leads not to freedom (from consequences, from responsibility, from aging), but to oppression (of the less powerful, of everyone, and ultimately of themselves).

They are lost, and if they are fortunate enough to have the skills needed to find their way, they don’t bother looking. Instead, they just languish in their ignorance, expecting the mountain to bow down for them, so they don’t have to exert themselves in the climb.

That isn’t how life works, and by the time they learn that, it will likely be too late.

Existential Morality: No God Required

A little bit of religious philosophy for your Monday.

Often, I come across the argument, advanced by theists (i.e. people who believe in one or more divine beings, usually in an American context we’re talking about Christians), that morality is somehow contingent upon the existence of God. Basically, if God doesn’t exist, then there’s no reason to be good–in fact, “good” and “evil” aren’t even real things!

Let’s give this some simple examination.

Theistic Moral Argument:

“God has to exist, because if God doesn’t exist, then we have no standard for morality! It’s all down to individual preference, and what’s to stop people from indulging their base impulses? If someone’s attracted to a child, why wouldn’t they act on those urges? What’s to stop people from murdering each other?”

The logical response:

So let me get this straight: are you saying that if you ever determined that God doesn’t exist, you would become a murdering, raping psychopath?

Because I wouldn’t.

And while that might not be what you’re saying, that’s what the above theistic moral argument entails: that without God, there is no standard of morality.

And that’s just not true.

It’s a logical fallacy called “begging the question” (i.e. assumes as a premise what it’s trying to prove). It assumes that God is the only source of morality in human experience.

And that’s a pretty empty way to look at the universe.

My morality doesn’t require the existence of a divine being to hand it down to me.

So where does non-religious morality come from?

Logic and reason are more than enough to figure out morality, and my morality starts with this:

Do no harm. Ask for consent. Respect others’ autonomy and basic humanity. Do good.

I think we can all agree that these are pretty standard moral principles. Does one really need them printed in a holy book?

How did the Greeks, for instance, establish morality? They’d never heard of the Christian God (predated its very conception, in fact), and their own concept of divinity was hardly morally perfect. They believed in deities that were great and powerful but also venal and fallible.

And yet they had concepts of justice and goodness vs. cowardice and evil.
And how are there good people in the world who don’t believe in God? Or people in the world who DO believe in God but still do evil things?

Thinking that a divine being must be the source of morality–or worse, a *particular* divine being–is a foolishly reductive argument. It’s also dangerous, because if you build no solid moral system for yourself, then when you have a crisis of faith (and we all do), then you will have no guiding principles.

Tying morality to religious doctrine is a recipe for societal ruin.

My Personal Context

And to clarify: I was raised in the United Methodist church and currently identify as a Christian agnostic.

Not because I’m not sure whether God exists, but because it’s ultimately not relevant.

One should live a good life, being good to others and doing right by humanity, whether God exists or not.

One shouldn’t do good things out of the hope of a reward (that’s a hollow, selfish reason to do good) or avoid doing evil things out of fear of punishment (that’s a hollow, selfish reason to avoid doing evil).

One should do good things and avoid doing evil things because it’s the right thing to do, because the world becomes a better place for all when we do good and avoid evil.

What if I’m wrong?

So what if I’m wrong, and there is indeed a god who disapproves of the way I live my life, and I end up condemned to some eternal torment?

Note that this god 1) refused to clarify exactly how to live in accordance with divine will, so as to avoid eternal torment (seriously, there are thousands of options out there—a loving god couldn’t have pointed out the right one, if it was that big a deal?), 2) continued to allow humans to live in constant fear and anxiety about existence, 3) throws people into hell because they didn’t do what they didn’t know to do.

I don’t know about you, but I’d define that god as an evil god—which is pretty far from any reasonable conception I might have—or at least as a vapid, ineffectual deity at best. A bad, alcoholic parent, who inflicts a radically elevated punishment for comparatively small slights you didn’t even realize were bad. Hardly a deity worthy of worship.

And, here’s the thing. I still lived a good life, doing good to people and to the world. If a god is going to condemn me for that—especially after not telling me the right way to do things—then there was no realistic way I could have avoided my fate. If I’m doomed anyway, then at least I did something good and useful with my life.

Cheers,
Erik

Further reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_morality

Why BLIND JUSTICE?

I got a bunch of paper copies of BLIND JUSTICE in the mail recently, and it prompted me to start thinking about the book and why I wrote it.

RAGE, mostly.

She knows you better than you know yourself--and she will punish you for it.

She knows you better than you know yourself–and she will punish you for it.

First of all, obviously, I wrote it because Ed Greenwood asked me to. He was launching a new series of novels through Onder Librum/The Ed Greenwood Group, and I was honored and thrilled to be a part of it (BLIND JUSTICE is the third TEGG book released). But Ed had nothing to do with the subject material of the book or its direction or any of that. That was all me. So why?

I guess the short answer is, I was angry.

I wrote BLIND JUSTICE from a place of anger. Of rage and of outrage. For years, I have watched story after news story about rapists, murderers, and other abusers escape justice, and always through casting aspersions on their victims. Questioning what they were wearing, obfuscating their lack of consent, singing about blurred lines. (Oh yeah, I *HATE* that song with a burning passion.) The events and characters in the novel are all created for the book and not based on anything or anyone from real life, but they *could be.* Easily. And that’s the point.

I purposefully set out to look at the evil that men do (yes, men–not all men, but it doesn’t take that many), and that’s what the book is about: human evil in our modern world. Evil that we turn a blind eye to, and the bigoted, ignorant, or selfish reasons we do.

Seraph the Justicar is a manifestation of humanity’s urge for vengeance. Unbridled. Unrestrained. Unchecked.

And Maria Ruiz–my human lead? She represents the human need to temper such violence with justice.

It is no accident that throughout the novel, Ruiz wonders not only whether she can stop Seraph, but whether she should. The daemon goes around killing people without trial–holding them accountable using only her own (generally perfect) judgment–and humans just can’t do that. But at the same time, perhaps she is doing us all a favor by doing what she does.

This informs the ultimate confrontation. Don’t worry, though–I won’t spoil it. 🙂

All of my books are about two things, ultimately: 1) the tension between justice and vengeance, and 2) identity, and this book is no exception.

Ruiz’s ethnic/cultural identity and orientation is not causative in the book–she could have had a different identity and the book still would have happened the way it does–but it’s extremely important. She resides at the intersection of numerous vectors of hate in the book, and she could be a target (not victim–target) of a number of the novel’s villains. She *is* targeted with their harassment on many occasions, and the way she deflects, deals, and/or copes with it is meant to shed light on how those dynamics often play out in real life. However much she wants to lash out and attack her harassers and oppressors, she usually doesn’t, because she recognizes that won’t always help and might very well make things worse.

And lest I be misunderstood here, I am not attempting to explain anything to anyone of those identity vectors I don’t share–female, POC, non-straight. You already know how life is and are experiencing it every day. I’ve got nothing to tell you on this point.

This is me attempting to explain something to people who share my identity vectors–male, white, straight. To folks like me: while I don’t know everything about issues of race, gender, and sexuality, I have some awareness of it, and I want to invite you along the same path. We’re all learning. It’s an ongoing conversation.

To an extent, Seraph’s identity also informs the book. Her sexual orientation is unclear, but her human form is a WOC, and that is purposeful. Not only because her raison d’etre is to punish the abusers of people who look like her, but because too easily people who look like me (a straight cis white man) see themselves as the saviors of the oppressed, rather than (at-best) allies in their struggle. And that is what they are–at best–in this book.

And most of us in this book? We’re the villains.

No, we don’t get to pretend we’re the plucky heroes. We don’t get to imagine we’re Marty McFly while acting like Biff. We don’t get to vote for fascists and call ourselves the real Americans. We don’t get to imagine that just because we’re white and male, we’re good or noble.

If we want to help, we have to *earn* it, and that means taking a hard look at the awful things we let happen, because we don’t step up to stop them.

There is no white male savior in this novel–no square-jawed cowboy with a white hat–nor will there be in the sequel. I am not rushing to the rescue. I am not in this book at all.

BLIND JUSTICE is not mine. It never was.

I mean, I wrote it, but I didn’t just write it for myself.

I want to help. I need to help.

And to those who look like me–who have the influence or privilege or whatever you want to call it that I have–I want you to want that as well.

Cheers