On Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of the Press

As a disclaimer, I want to say that I realize this is a very difficult subject, with a lot of gray areas. Because France is an entirely different culture than America, I’m sure there are things I’m misunderstanding with regards to content published in Charlie Hebdo. The recent events in France are heartbreaking, and they are not what I’m writing about today. Instead, I am writing to make the point that cruelty should not be misunderstood as heroism, regardless of the name given to it. 

This post has been edited since its original form to reflect information about which I was corrected. 

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Last week, the world stopped for a few hours when a popular magazine in France – Charlie Hebdowas attacked. Since then, most of France’s allies have rallied (I say most because here in America, it only just occurred to us that maybe we should head over and help our friends out right about now), as has much of the rest of the world to support the country and, more specifically, the magazine. The attack is one problem in a small series of them which ultimately, is resulting in increased police and military activity throughout major cities and surrounding well-known landmarks.

Ultimately though, that’s not what I want to talk about today. My opinion on terrorism should be a given more than anything, because who needs to be asked that question? Who would disagree that it remains one of the worst crimes perpetrated against humankind and which, once experienced, never quite goes away?

Instead, what I want to talk about is the magazine targeted, and the world’s reaction to that magazine post-attack. First though, I want to explain that this is a horrifying event that I can’t even begin to understand. As someone who can hardly understand war, acts of terrorism are absolutely beyond my comprehension, and I can’t even begin to imagine the grief French citizens are experiencing right now.

That said, I think it’s important that we recognize what Charlie Hebdo was: an exceedingly cruel “joke” masked as free speech, something which I condemned in my post on Monday, and which I’ll say again now.

Tweet: The rights to free speech and press don’t entitle you to treat people with cruelty. http://ctt.ec/_pLIa+

While the attacks in France are unimaginable, it is also unimaginable to me that one would choose to make their career out of demonizing someone based solely on their beliefs or for that matter, on anything. Why spending your days imagining new ways to target the same group of people who have already been targeted more than anyone should have to endure seems ideal or courageous.

Since the attacks last week, the Internet has swelled with support for a magazine that has spent years paying its dues by treating people with disrespect based solely on their religious beliefs. While I recognize the rights to free speech and press as being two of the greatest rights we’ve been given, and ones which we cannot take for granted or dismiss, I also recognize that as human beings we should see a limit to those rights. A line we will not cross, despite the realization that we can.

I cannot applaud the writers of Charlie Hebdo for their continued efforts or their cruel “jokes” because what they’re doing isn’t a joke and isn’t easily forgotten for those being targeted. Because without our ever realizing it, thousands of people take the covers of Charlie Hebdo and other similar media representations to heart, an excuse to prosecute and condemn those people being targeted.

A Few Thoughts, vol. 2

In October, I took a page out of Kelly’s book and decided to start a (apparently rare, since I haven’t written another post in months) series of posts for those thoughts that I can’t quite flesh out into a full-length post, but still want to talk about. Lately my notebook’s been filling up with these ideas again, and while I’d like to hopefully flesh out one or two of these ideas, I’d like to get them out there as much as I can now.

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Freedom of Speech

The Constitution is not your catch-all excuse to be a jackass. You don’t get to cry “freedom of speech” every time someone calls you out on your racist/sexist/homophobic/otherwise offensive and demeaning jokes, particularly when those “jokes” are contributing to a culture which continually puts down and both mentally and physically harms the people they are offensive towards. I can guarantee you that when the Constitution was written, that was not the intention.

I understand that a joke is oftentimes just a joke and that right now, this is probably a particularly controversial topic given recent events in France. However, making incredibly racist statements like “I got arrested for punching someone on New Years Eve. My instincts just kick in when I hear an Arab counting back from 10″ (this was an actual meme posted by one of my Facebook friends over the weekend) does not serve to prove your freedom or assert your right to free speech. What it does is prove is that whether or not you want to admit it, you’re incredibly bigoted and that you have no real understanding of either the Constitution or of relatively current events.

Friends

While watching Friends yesterday, I noticed that the guys’ Etch-a-Sketch changes throughout certain scenes. For example, in a scene I was watching yesterday, it flipped back and forth from “Get out” to “Poop” three times in one scene. Oooo the things you notice when you’re binge-watching Friends on Netflix.

That, and that Ross’s son would be about 20 years old right now. Just sayin’.

Cassandra C.

On Thursday, a Connecticut court ruled that a 17-year-old girl could be taken into state custody (despite having a good mother who had done absolutely nothing wrong), sedated, and tied to a hospital bed so as to receive cancer treatment she did not want.

Many people in support of the court’s decision to forcefully treat Cassandra are saying that she’s only 17 and therefore, a child in the eyes of the law. I’ll look over the fact that at 17, if Cassandra had committed a violent crime she’d be tried as an adult and that also at 17, she’s expected to be deciding what she wants to do for the rest of her life. If the overwhelming opinion is that she is an incompetent child unable to make her own medical decisions (which, later this year, you’ll all decide that she is magically capable of making on the day of her 18th birthday), then that would leave the decision up to her mother who also rejected chemotherapy, in accordance with her daughter’s wishes. Just because you do not agree with someone’s medical decisions does not mean you get to reject those decisions and replace them with your own.

Cassandra’s body is Cassandra’s body. Not her doctors’. Not Child Protective Services’. Not the state’s. Hers and hers alone which in America should be more than enough to mean that she gets to determine her own medical treatment. Even if the doctors are right that without this treatment, Cassandra will die in two years, that’s her decision to make.

Forcing treatment on someone who doesn’t want it is assault and a ridiculous violation of basic human rights, and I just cannot fathom why we need to be having this discussion in America. Why the doctors were ever able to call CPS and have Cassandra taken away from the only family she has. And why ultimately, the court sided with those doctors.

Crying Wolf

Obviously, I’m an outspoken feminist. It’s something I write about consistently on this blog, and regularly debate or discuss on social media and with people in my life. However, I recognize that there are limits to the things you will hear me say or do for that cause.

One thing that I see done constantly which I believe is hurting the case is feminists who speak out – loudly and with refusal to hear any opposing opinion – about “sexist” problems that frankly, just don’t exist (see: autocorrect is not out to propagate a misogynistic culture). While I understand the basic purpose of pointing out misogyny and sexism in everyday life (and absolutely agree with it!), finding sexism everywhere – even where it isn’t – only serves to make people stop listening (and is probably making you pretty miserable).

I am all for discussing any and all feminist issues – big or small – because they are all problems within our society which contribute to a much larger problem of continuing to hold men up over women. However, there has to be a line somewhere that people stop crossing just to discuss issues. Just to hold something up and call it sexism. The more you cry out about non-issues, the more people will decide that feminism must not be very serious because all of the issues you’re bringing up don’t exist. And that is a serious problem. 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

I’m (slowly) working on reading this book, and while I’m really enjoying learning more about myself and that I’m certainly not the only introvert in the world (it can sometimes feel that way), I’m also becoming a little discouraged.

Susan Cain does a fantastic job of discussing the amazing achievements of introverts throughout American history, and of the contributions we make to society, but none of that can mask the fact that, despite all of that, introverts are not only undervalued but avoided in mainstream society. In fact, Cain discusses a relatively long history of introverts being “bad” because they don’t want to spend every waking moment in the company of others, being deemed antisocial and therefore unhirable. We teach children that to not want to socialize is to be unsuccessful, and that position carries into our post-graduate lives when we start applying and interviewing for jobs in offices.

While I truly am enjoying Cain’s book (slowly, because it is filled with research and can be a little difficult to get through in a regular reading sort of way) and the things I’m learning from it, and I recognize that she can’t change the reality of the situation, the book is a little more disappointing than I’d been hoping for. In short, I’m still struggling with my identity as an introvert more than I’d been hoping I would after reading this book.

A Discussion of the CIA Report and Finding a Moral High Ground

Disclaimer: I know that this is going to be a controversial post, that there will people with more information than me, and people who do not agree with me.  However, at 23-years-old I feel confident that my opinion on this subject is not going to change.  I believe in debate and the power it has to spark conversation and growth, but I ask that you keep your opinions civil and that this not degrade into the likes of a Rush Limbaugh talk show segment. 

CIA Report
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I can remember in third grade, my teacher telling me that one day I would understand war.

This was about a year before September 11, so looking back I can’t remember what war she was talking to a third grade class about, or why she thought to tell an 8-year-old that war makes sense and that one day, she would agree.  I just remember feeling confused and obstinate.  Utterly sure that at no point in my life would I understand killing people to make a point.  For the first time in my admittedly short life, I doubted an authority figure and what they were telling me.

I don’t know why I thought of this on my way to work Wednesday morning, other than the recent situation with the CIA and the sudden realization, all across America, that we never really had the moral high ground after all.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the CIA released a report earlier this week detailing the tactics they’ve used over the last 13 years in the fight against terrorism.  The release of the report was a conflict in itself – the left saying that we need to admit to our mistakes and grow from them, and the right saying that all this report could do is make matters worse.  If that was bad, the report itself was even worse, filled with details about the just-barely-within-Geneva-Convention-laws torture that our CIA has been using to find information that debatably, they never did find anyway.  Waterboarding, anal feeding (I don’t know either, so don’t ask me what that is), sleep deprivation, chaining a person with broken legs into a standing position against a wall…

I’ve read very little about the report and the debate that it’s sparked.  All I really know is what my mom and I discussed briefly, the few articles I’ve read since, and what my daily email from The Skimm told me.  But for me, that’s enough: names of torture tactics that I can’t even guess what they might be.  Tactics designed to break a person, to get information that we never were able to get.

To fight for a moral high ground that, as it turned out, we never really had in the first place.  And while I realize there is a fight for the greater good at stake, that there’s a lot I still don’t know and may never know, I think I know enough to say that I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how, in 2014 we’re still at a point in society where our go-to response to a disagreement – however big or small – with another country is to grab our weapons and kill until we see who has the least men and women left standing.  I don’t understand how we’ve yet to overcome this most base instinct of ours as human beings, that which is supposed to separate us from animals.  As someone who subsists off of words and knows the power behind them, I don’t understand how language isn’t enough to stop us from this. 

I always have, and always will stand behind the men and women who risk their lives to fight for our country and my freedom.  I am grateful beyond words for what they have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice.  But I don’t understand what they are sacrificing for, why this is the only way we know to solve a problem.

On Struggling to Understand: A Discussion on Michael Brown and Eric Garner

struggling with race

A couple weeks ago, when a Ferguson police officer was not charged in the death of a black teen who he had shot to death, I said nothing.  It was hard to take a stance with so much conflicting evidence, opposing witness accounts, and inconclusive ballistic evidence from Michael Brown’s autopsy.  I had no idea how to take a stance because frankly, I hardly knew what my opinion was.  Last week though, when I opened my email from The Skimm telling me that another black man had been killed by a cop – this time on camera, and with absolutely no reason at all, and that the cop in this case had not been charged either, I nearly cried.

I’ve spent days trying to wrap my head around the situation.  Trying to understand what made an officer – a man who is supposed to be serving and protecting us – choke a man who had done absolutely nothing wrong (except maybe sell some cigarettes tax-free – which I’m fairly certain that even that didn’t happen) to death, despite his cries that he couldn’t breathe.  What made his partner stand by and let it happen, and a Grand Jury find him innocent of all charges.  I’ve tried every way I can think of to imagine what made a Grand Jury find that man innocent for a crime which has been ruled a homicide, and for which they had video recorded proof, but I’m still coming up blank.

And that breaks my heart, that somehow I love in a country where officers can kill for absolutely no reason, with no provocation at all, and not be charged with any sort of a crime.

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of opinions on these two situations, and a lot of people saying that this isn’t a race issue.  It’s a human issue.  And they’re right – it is a human issue, a condition of our existence which somehow we can’t seem to overcome.  But at it’s heart, this is also a race issue – both in the actual crime itself, and in the discussions which we have about them.   The issue of race is hidden in the hundreds of members of Facebook saying “well he did rob a convenience store” and in the officer who saw absolutely nothing wrong with watching while his partner held an innocent man in a chokehold.  It is in the people saying that justice needs to be served, regardless of how petty the crime – up until that crime is murder, and then it’s somehow okay.

The race issue here is so ingrained, so a part of our society and our thinking, that we can hardly see it when it’s right in front of us. It’s in two white cops killing two black men, and being found innocent by a mostly white Grand Jury.  It’s in our discussions which somehow focus on the bad things a black 15-year-old did, and not on the even worse things that a grown white man did.  In the discussions that popped up about Brown’s robbing a convenience store, but those same people being silent when an innocent man is choked to death.

I still don’t know how to talk about this, because I still can’t wrap my head around it.  My closest comparison is in dystopian novels, in Thought Police and legally-required curfews, so I’m struggling to relate this to the real world, to the country I thought I lived in.  I don’t know what to say about a man being killed in cold blood, and the man who did it being found innocent, because I didn’t think that could happen in America. I don’t know what to say to the people saying “there must be something we don’t know” with regards to a video-recorded murder that otherwise, they would see as absolute binding proof of a crime committed. I don’t know what to say about a justice system that allows this to happen and does nothing about it, or the people in my news feed convinced that this isn’t about race.

I don’t know what to say about what’s been done, and how it’s been handled. But I do know that this is not our entire society.  This is not the world we live in, just a piece of it, just like the protests are part of it, and the people standing up to say that this is wrong. It is a sign of something needing to be fixed, but there is something beautiful in the people standing up the make that change.

I Want to Always Remember

9/11
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When I was in my sophomore year of high-school, 6 years after 9/11, I waited the entire school day for someone – a teacher, a classmate, the principal – the say something about the anniversary.  By 7th period, after hours of discussing isosceles triangles, Hamlet, and World War II, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen.  That somehow, we manage to remember our birthdays and how many days till the next party, and where and when and how we met our boyfriends, but 9/11 somehow seems to slip our collective minds.

This year, somehow, I forgot to write a post about it.  I scheduled photos I took over the weekend and didn’t realize until I woke up this morning that photos weren’t what I wanted to be sharing today.

Thirteen years ago means that this tragedy happened while most of us were alive.  I was in fourth grade, on my way to typing class when every adult in the small school building was called immediately to the principal’s office and we were all left waiting in the hallway, arguing about who had cooties.

I’ve never had a chance to see Ground Zero, which I guess seems fitting since I also never had a chance to see the World Trade Center before that day.  But the image of them is printed into my mind as though I’d seen them a thousand times, walked past them on my way to school and work for more years than I can count.  And I guess I have because as much as people neglect to say anything on this day each year, more photos and articles pointing to conspiracy theories, blaming Bush, blaming Obama, blaming religious people who had nothing to do with that day, claiming freedom and happiness for America…they crop up everywhere.

What I don’t see, what I think a lot of people forget even as they distinctly remember the numbers, are the thousands of people who died that day – in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, in those planes.  The firefighters and rescue workers who lost their lives in the aftermath, trying to save whoever they could.  The terrified men and women who were as old as I am now, who looked up and realized that their only option was to jump.

Those are the people I want to remember today, because as thankful as I am for the people who have risked their lives since then, who have lost their lives since then, all because of this day, these people never knew what was coming.  They woke up that morning with no idea how their days would be ending, and their lives are the reason we are in this place that we are in now.  I want to never stop remembering them, and their families, and what was lost that day.

What Depression Means to Me

In the time since I first started blogging, I’ve sat down several times to write about depression; what I believe it is, and what it means to me.  I’ve always walked away from the screen, unsure of how to approach such a delicate subject, especially one that so few people seem to understand.  In light of Robin Williams passing away and the overwhelming number of reactions to his death though, I’d like to say something.

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In the few days since news of Williams’ death spread onto various news outlets, I’ve seen every one of the typical reactions to suicide and depression: heartfelt sympathy for both him and his family, of course; but also, disgust, confusion, and a complete lack of sympathy for something that most of us are thoroughly incapable of understanding.  While I can’t address what depression means to everyone, only what it means to me, I do believe there are some myths about the disease that only serve to allow it to harm more people.While I will never know Robin Williams’ personal demons – they are a very personal topic, one which I don’t believe anyone has the right to ask about – I’ve dealt with depression personally.  It is not a topic that I am now (or I think, ever will be) ready to discuss on here, but while I can’t understand the specifics of Williams’ suffering, I can understand how hard it must have been for him while he was suffering with the disease.  It’s the kind of pain that makes getting up some mornings seem impossible, and the thought of continuing to suffer doesn’t seem reasonable at times.

Depression (and Happiness) is Willful

This is perhaps one of the most damaging beliefs about such a painful and debilitating disease.  For as long as mental illness has been recognized, it has also been seen as something that the person suffering from it can control.  Unlike cancer or AIDS, which we can see the effects of, nobody can see a mental illness such as Depression.

But no matter what the noticeable effects of depression, it is the result of a chemical imbalance in the person’s brain.  Without the help of medication, most mental illness cannot simply be treated.  As helpful as things like prayer, meditation, or “smiling in the mirror each morning” may be for a person, they can’t treat the underlying condition.  Trust me when I say that a person suffering from depression (or any mental illness for that matter) is not simply lazy or refusing to see reason when you suggest they find an inspirational phrase to repeat to themselves each morning.

Depression is Attention-Seeking

There are far better ways than isolation and seemingly-perpetual sadness to garner attention (and Robin Williams, of all people, already had that attention).

Every time another life is lost to suicide, there is an overwhelming cry of “why didn’t they just ask for help?”  But when a person does, they are told that they simply are having a few bad days and need to stop looking for attention.  It makes it impossible for a person suffering to know how they should handle the situation, especially when added to the fact that most of the people in their life probably don’t fully understand what they are dealing with.

While you can’t ever truly understand what another person is dealing with unless you have been there yourself, it’s helpful to understand that their feelings are just as real as yours are.

Suicide is Selfish

It may be hard to understand if you’ve never personally dealt with depression, but at many points, it doesn’t seem like there’s a way out.  For Robin Williams – and for many others who have found themselves in the same place – that darkness lasted long enough that suicide felt like the only way out.  The only way to end the pain they’d been suffering with for so long.  It’s cruel to suggest that a person in that helpless of a situation should sacrifice themselves in order to save those in their life from grief.