Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Socrates, Crito, and the 2016 Election

One of my favorite things about Philosophy is how evergreen it is. It's amazing to me that something that was written in 350 BC can be so very relevant to what we do every day, but I guess that's the entire point of the philosophical adventure --getting to the heart of what makes us human. And when we find that heart, it's really no surprise that humanity hasn't changed much.

There has been a great deal of talk about not voting for a presidential candidate in the upcoming presidential election, and, instead, voting down ticket. This is even something that I have toyed with, though I have made no firm statements about what I intend to do. Each of us must vote our own conscience. I only offer these posts as a check to you and to myself --are you sure you know what you are voting for and what that will mean if carried to its logical conclusion?

So, the question this week is: Should Catholics participate in this election fully? I think that the answer to that question is an emphatic and undeniable, "Yes!"

Plato's work, Crito, falls in the life of Socrates, after he is convicted (Apology) of corrupting the youth of Athens and before he is executed (Phaedo). Crito is named for Socrates' interlocutor for this dialogue. A close family friend (a member of his deme) who is a man of means and has connections, Crito has shown up at Socrates' cell just before dawn to break him out and spirit him away before he can be executed. He has bribed the guards and has arranged for Socrates to be taken to another city to live out his days in peace. Socrates, who is an old man of 70, turns Crito down.

Scholars have argued over the intervening centuries as to why Socrates wouldn't go with Crito --some say that it is because he was old and tired of the fight, but most agree that it is to prove a point that the Athenians got what they wanted, (but not what they needed,) by executing him.

In the course of the dialogue, Socrates gives his reasons for staying. First, that by leaving, he would do harm to his reputation as a philosopher. He would be branded as a coward, or worse, as a dishonest man. He had spent his life trying to get the Athenians to govern themselves, personally and politically, with wisdom and to be the same man in public as each was in private. To be one man in private and another in public was, to Socrates, dishonest and did not move one closer to living the best life (which is what ethics is all about). By eliminating his voice, the Athenians might sleep more soundly in the short term and not have to give adequate thought to the laws and governance of the city, but in the long-term that inattention to wisdom will ultimately be their undoing. This is a "prophecy" that Socrates makes in the Apology, but he reiterates it here in the Crito. This, however, is not the argument he spends the most time on.

The argument I really want to focus on is that Socrates tells Crito that he has been a citizen of Athens from his birth and as such, he had taken advantage of the protections of the laws of Athens. Though Socrates has not participated actively in the political life of his city-state, he has benefited from the stability of the political life and the laws that govern him. Plato spends a great deal of time in this dialogue working through a soliloquy that is an imagined dialogue between Socrates and the Laws of Athens. This argument is a two-fold warning for us here in 2016.

First, Socrates gives a defense of the laws themselves. We cannot say that we agree to be governed by the laws of our country and then pick and choose which laws we will follow and which ones we will not. Socrates tells us that he agreed to abide by the laws of Athens and that includes the laws that he disagrees with but were legislated appropriately with a majority vote. This means that if Socrates benefits by the laws of Athens and they say that he should die for his crimes, then he must abide by those laws, too.

This is a warning for the single-issue voter. If you would have a wisely governed country, then you must pay attention to the whole picture. You don't want to be the one working on the cat puzzle while everyone else is working on the balloon puzzle. If you are only focused on one piece of the puzzle, it's easy to miss all the other pieces that make that picture complete. Socrates was so worried about gaining wisdom, that he missed the political piece of the picture that ultimately killed him. (Or maybe he didn't. Maybe his death was the final thing he had to teach the people of Athens --that's a debate I have heard, too!) 

When we focus on a single issue, we can miss the other pieces that would make that issue work more effectively. Legislation that improves life for those who are poor and helps to heal some of the generational effects of poverty treats the roots of the abortion issue, not just the symptom. Ignoring these other issues and clinging only to one piece of that very complex problem ignores a set of tools that might be more effective in ending the scourge of abortion in the long run.

Am I saying that pro-life legislation is worthless? NOT AT ALL. I think it needs to be approached holistically and right now, the approach is not holistic. When we have pro-life public figures actively tearing down victims of sexual assault and defending the indefensible, in the name of respecting all women --including the unborn --we have a big problem with cognitive dissonance.

Secondly, we can infer that Socrates is encouraging us not to stand by and allow laws to be made in our name (as citizens) that we do not agree with. We must use our voices to hold our government accountable. By standing aside and allowing laws to be made without his active participation, Socrates has become the unintentional victim of his own lack of involvement in the political process.

This is a warning for the apathetic voter - if you don't vote, you may be the unintentional victim of what comes next. Whether you vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, a third-party candidate or no one, you will still be subject to the winner's rule. That's the agreement we make as citizens of the United States. We benefit from all of the freedoms (and, yes! there are still many more that we enjoy than citizens of other nations) but this also means that we must accept the outcome of the political process. If you do not participate, then you have no hand in that decision.

There is a saying in the Catholic Church that we always get the vocations that we deserve. I think that the same can be said of our politicians in the United States. My daughter, quite frankly, is furious with all of us. This is her very first presidential election as a voter "...and these are the choices you're giving me?" But, maybe we really do deserve exactly these choices. It's up to us to choose wisely and force the parties we have left after this election to make better choices in 2020.

Photo: "The Death of Socrates"  Jacques-Louis David (detail)

Want to read Crito for yourself? Click here to get access to a free online copy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How do you win the battle against depression?

To be clear: This is not meant to be a replacement for regular therapy or medication, This is just another tool that might be a help to someone who is battling with depression. 
If you are grappling with suicidal ideation, please seek professional help immediately!
You are loved and valuable!

I have never taken a life, but I have tried to. I have tried on more than one occasion to take my own life.

When the enemy is someone that you carry with you through everything that you do, it's hard to hear what's true and what is a lie. Sometimes those lies can sound very real and they can convince you that the world would be a better place without you.

It's not true, of course, but The Liar tells you that anyway.

Recently, for the first time in a while, I encountered The Liar again.
"You are worthless and a failure. You could have stayed where you were, finished your MBA and gone anywhere you wanted to go for school. But no. You got in a hurry. You wanted to move up. And now, what do you have? A half-begun MBA, and no way to pursue a straight-up philosophy degree. Yep. You're awesome all right. An awesome failure.
Oh, and you know that book you were writing,'ll never finish. You're too chicken."
Oh, The Liar is a nasty, nasty enemy. She knows so much about me and makes a great argument. This time she almost got me because I was alone and vulnerable.

Only this time, I actually fought her off.

Recently, I bought a book called "Hilda" by Jennie Mustafa-Julock (aka Coach Jennie). Brilliantly, Jennie has separated out the negative, self-saboteur that plays in our heads, made her into a cartoon character, and named her Hilda.

Hilda is your inner naysayer. All that negative talk up there --that's Hilda, not me. She's the one who tells you that you can't or shouldn't or that you don't know enough to do whatever amazing thing you're about to do.

Jennie's Hilda is not mean-spirited, like The Liar. Actually, Hilda is just trying to keep you safe, but in my case, Hilda has become a tyrant. More times than I care to count, I have found myself locked in a battle for control over my own life --and at the wrong moment, it could be a matter of life or death.

It's not so much that Hilda lies, it's that she finds the very worst of me and shows me only those pieces. She misrepresents them as what I look like to the world around me. But, we all know that there's a difference between the Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth. Sure, Hilda tells the Truth...but it's not the Whole Truth.

The rest of the truth (to go with what's listed above) is that I have overcome some really big obstacles to get where I am today. Here is a partial list of the last 18 months:

-A loved one's drug addiction
-Two personal moves and one child's move
-Two divorces
-A family suicide
-Cancer (my brother's)
-Possible Cancer (mine)
-Cancer again (Dad's)
-Two job changes
-Graduation (yes, good things can be stressful, too)
-My cousin's murder

And, during that time, I passed 10 credit hours of Graduate level work with a better than 3.8 GPA, I completely changed the way that courses are developed at my old job, I helped people transform their lives and find their dreams. I was so good at what I did that Ohio State hired me (it's tough to get in there, you know!) And I have even found time to keep up on some of my reading and contributed to a book that has just recently been published.

Yeah, I AM awesome!

I developed an idea to help remind me of these things when I feel like I am failing. I call it the Success Scrapbook. It's a photo album that I keep on my phone so it's always at the ready. When ever I succeed at something I take a picture of the results or of something that represents those results. I also keep pictures of the people I love and who love me. Anytime I need a reminder that I do sometimes succeed, I open it and take a look at the pictures. It's a really great way to tell Hilda to go sit in the corner and be quiet.

I worry sometimes about my path - where am I headed. God has a plan for me, I know, but I am not a passive figure in the plan. No, I have a responsibility to use the gifts that God gave me to be everything he created me to be. The gifts of reason and perseverance, of mercy and love, and a sense of justice, have lain dormant in me for too long.

I have gotten into the habit of letting others choose for me, and I cannot do that anymore. I can choose to listen to Hilda and to look to everyone else for assurance or direction, or I can listen to myself and cut my own trail.

Hilda is not nice. Not to me, anyway, and right now, she's being downright nasty. So, it's time for her to sit down and shut up. It's time for Katie to decide who she is and what she wants, and then go get it.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

#NotOkay: Sexual Assault and the Politics of Winning

Trigger Warning -- Sexual Assault Descriptions

"Silence" - Johann Heinrich Fuessli (1741 - 1825)

Canadian journalist, Kelly Oxford (@kellyoxford), has been running a Twitter campaign in response to Donald Trump's 2005 remarks regarding the treatment of women and fame that has drawn more than one million women (no exaggeration here) out of silence to talk about their sexual assaults. I started to participate but decided that I had more to say than 140 characters would hold.

Since my childhood, I have been the victim of 7 sexual assaults, only two of which I reported.

5 years old - In my own backyard. I was stopped by a man in a car in the alley behind my house who showed me "what (he had) in his pants" and then offered me the opportunity to put my mouth on it. I declined but never told anyone because I had no idea that it was anything but just gross.
8 years old - At a Summer Camp, I was taken into a grove of pine trees by a group of boys, who raised my shirt to look at my breasts (which were apparently unimpressive, whereupon, I was let go). I reported this to my counselor who went looking for the boy I could describe. When he was found, he denied the whole thing and I was told to stop making things up.
10 years old - In my house, my babysitter decided to feel me up while "making sure I was in my bed." When I told him to stop it, he did, so I never told my parents.
11 years old - On the city bus, I was seated on a bench seat. The man who sat next to me began to spread his legs out until they were touching mine. I didn't realize what was going on until he put his hand on the seat next to me and started to touch my hip. I got off at the next stop and waited for the next bus and assumed that it was just me being hypersensitive.
12 years old - On my paper route, I was collecting for the monthly bill. An old man who had been very kindly toward me and had several grandchildren that he looked after, grabbed my breasts (which were more impressive than they were when I was 8) and humped me. He told me I was a good girl and he'd take good care of me. I quit carrying papers that month. I never told anyone because I figured that no one would believe me.
14 years old - At a babysitting job, a man who had been a guest in the house for dinner, stayed to help me with the dishes and then stayed to help himself to a little heavy petting. I participated, but he was 28. I was 14 and he knew it. I never considered this an assault until last year when I realized what had really been going on.
16 years old - At a party, I was given enough beer to get pretty well trashed and then raped by a co-worker who was twice my age. When I finally told my parents, because I was so ashamed that I had been at a party where I should not have been, nothing could be done about it.

Why are these stories so important to tell and what does this have to do with the 2016 Election?

The stories are important to tell because they point to an objectification of women that stretches far back into our history. Women and girls are simply tools for gratification. Actually, rather than raising our stock to "personhood" feminism has simply degraded the stock of men, so we objectify them, too. This has now become pervasive in our society, so much so that we have enshrined it in our entertainment.

Take a look at our obsession with shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Survivor, and Big Brother. And how about the 50 Shades trilogy? We are making those people into objects for our own gratification. We are seeking our entertainment from watching their pain and discomfort. It is this obsession with people's discomfort that drives these sexual assaults. It's all about power: I can make you flinch or do what I want you to do.

This objectification of people has everything to do with this year's election because BOTH candidates are guilty of using and abusing people in order to gain power and pleasure. This is the battle we have been ignoring. We've been following this wild dog of objectification and it's about to turn around and bite us in the collective face.

There are many who are defending Donald Trump by saying that these were just lewd comments and that actions speak louder than words. This ignores the fact that he is describing an actual encounter in which he sexually imposed himself on a woman without her consent. This is an admission of an actual sexual assault. Furthermore, it belies a much more deep-seated issue that Mr. Trump seems to struggle with on all fronts - the dehumanization and objectification of all people. For Trump, everyone is an object --a tool, if you will -- for his gratification.

He has displayed this same contempt for the women in his family, giving shock jock, Howard Stern, permission to call his daughter Ivanka "a piece of ass" and making the comment that he thinks his daughter is hot and he would sleep with her.

Really? This is the man we want representing our country? Even in his apology, he says "I'm sorry if you were offended" squarely placing the blame on those who are offended, and not taking the blame himself.

I have said before that I do not believe that the man is pro-life. He views those children's lives as a tool to get elected. If that rhetoric does not serve him in the discharge of his office, if he does not get what he wants, he will dump it.

Hillary Clinton is not immune to this objectification problem, either. No, she's not objectifying beautiful women, just because they are beautiful, but dig into her remarks about the White House interns and the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting them.

The problem is NOT that she stayed with her husband, the problem is how she treated the victims of those assaults. She shamed those women. She told them to stop making things up so that she would not lose power. First they were objects for her husband's gratification, then they became objects that were not doing what she wanted them to do, so she shamed them into silence.

Sound familiar? It does to me.

I was silent about my sexual assaults because I was told to stop making things up when I was 8, because a camp counselor just wanted to go hang out at the campfire with the other counselors. How many other women and girls suffered at these men's hands because I was silent? I'd be willing to bet it was more than one and even one more is too many.

Hillary Clinton should have to answer for this. I hope that she does, but I am not naive enough to think that this will actually happen.

What bothers me most about this "Trumpster fire" is the Cirque du Soleil-like contortions being engaged in by his supporters in order to win this year. And make no mistake, it is about winning, not being right. Right would be a move toward overall virtue. There is more than one virtue, Pro-life America!

I know Hillary is no saint, but Donald makes her look like flipping Mother Teresa. The objectification of women is only the latest way in which he has dehumanized large groups of people. The poor, immigrants, anyone who disagrees with him, fat people, ugly people, disabled people... It's not that he's so very different than any other politician --they have all objectified groups of people and individuals for their own personal gain or pleasure. It's that he's so very proud of what he has done.

Basically, to Donald Trump, if you are not white, wealthy and male, you are not a person. You are a tool.

Please, don't be a tool. Vote. And vote smart. 

If you are a Catholic, you cannot in good conscience vote for either one of these candidates, but do not be silent. My suggestion to you is to vote solidly pro-life (in all senses of that word) down-ticket. If you are concerned that Hillary Clinton would put pro-choice justices on the Supreme Court, vote in enough pro-life legislators to block that initiative. If you are concerned that Donald Trump would just run the country into the ground and get us into wars around the world then vote in legislators that would keep him in check.

Artwork:  Public Domain