January 20, 2017

Being the change you want to see in the world

Filed under: Politics, Social Justice — marcstober @ 9:48 am

If you pardon a little software engineering humor, I once had a colleague who had a sign, “be the diff you want to see in the code.” It was, of course, a nod “be the change you want to see in the world,” attributed (probably wrongly) to Ghandi and which I seemed to hear a lot of during the early Obama years (Obama did say, “You must create the change that you want to see“).

But you know what? I think we—democrats, liberals, centrists, people who voted for him—mostly just expected Obama to be the change we wanted to see in the world. We could go about our business knowing there was someone in charge who would, more or less, make the choices we wanted.

Today there’s going to be a new president. I’m not as alarmed as parts of my social media network. People have lived under all sorts of governments, often with leaders they didn’t chose and don’t like. For us Jews, especially, we’re pretty much defined by a history of surviving under less-than-ideal regimes. Yes, there was one that killed six million, but most didn’t, and the American Jewish community is second only to the Babylonian Exile at adapting itself. I didn’t vote for Trump, but he’s not Hitler.

But that doesn’t mean everything is going to be good for everyone. So I think, in this new world, a lot more is going to be up to us, to make sure we are doing things that make a difference: lobbying our government, helping people in need, standing up for those who are put down. Not just business as usual.

To start with, I’m going to be at the Boston Women’s March for America tomorrow. While I’ll admit it’s not completely coincidental it’s the day after inauguration (as much as anything, it’s that someone has organized a relatively safe protest on a day with no work or school, and while you could give me reasons not to go you can always find a reason for inaction), I’m not protesting the election results. Trump is legally the president. It doesn’t have to fair, but I don’t know that there is an absolute arbiter of “legitimate” or “qualified” beyond the electors and officials who have signed off. And this is actually my point: as much as we’d like a leader who makes us feel like everything is going to be okay (and for some, that leader is Trump), we have to make that world ourselves.

January 29, 2013

Anne Frank and Amanda Todd

Filed under: Judaism, Social Justice — marcstober @ 12:15 am

Like a lot of teenagers, I read Anne Frank’s diary as a teenager, and what stuck with me was this idealistic quote:

in spite of everything I still believe that people are basically good at heart

Recently, I was thinking about that, and that maybe it’s not true. But, you know, I didn’t want to disrespect the memory of Anne Frank, or of all the teachers who influenced me and held that diary up as an important work to teach values to their students.

Then I heard about Amanda Todd (via Jeff Jarvis). A teenage girl who died because people were basically awful. So, I don’t think Anne Frank has the last word on this any more.

Most of the time, people are basically good, and you can expect them to be. But sometimes, they’re not. And it’s important to remember that.

October 7, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street Will Fail

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Social Justice — marcstober @ 5:01 am

It’s a mistake to conflate size with evilness and blame everything on “corporations.”

When people complain that mandated health care is bad for small business, no one points out that what they’re really saying is “I’d rather keep my profits than give my employees health care like a larger business would.” No one is complaining about small independent mortgage brokers who pushed through bad deals while flying under the radar of any attempt at corporate responsibility. No one complains about nonprofits who think their good works are an excuse for exploiting employees and cheating vendors.

Not that all (or even most) people and organizations in the above categories are to blame. But the ones that are, are certainly happy to see you blame “corporations.”

I think the problem is the way things like government debt or “socialized medicine” get talked about public debate now as if they’re axiomatically bad, instead of inherently bad things like intolerance, sickness, or war, that government policy is after all a tool to prevent.

In a nation of 300 million people, you can’t simply blame the fact that there are institutions large enough to feed, employ, and serve lots of us. It is going to take some really big farms, and really big banks. Something is wrong with the state of the social contract, if we ever had one, I’ll admit: you should be able to go to school, play by the rules, and not get tossed aside. But while some big organizations and their leaders are part of the problem, we also shouldn’t toss aside people and organizations that can be part of the solution. And we need big solutions.