Two (Genuine) Questions For Americans Who Support Gun Ownership And Your Constitution

I’m not American. There’s a lot of things I don’t really get about American culture- and, if I’m entirely honest, I’m not always interested in finding them out. Not because I’ve anything specifically against Americans as people. It’s simply that I get tired of the USian hegemony over my part of the world, culturally as well as economically, and I want to move my attention to someone else. I know more about some aspects of the US than I do about my own country. That bothers me.

One of the things that I don’t really understand- don’t really grok, I guess- is USian gun culture. Your attachment to guns. I’d very much appreciate if you could help me to get it. Continue reading “Two (Genuine) Questions For Americans Who Support Gun Ownership And Your Constitution”

Two (Genuine) Questions For Americans Who Support Gun Ownership And Your Constitution

‘Winning the War’ for Marriage Equality?

Love, Joy, Feminism is one of my favourite blogs, and has been for a long time. Libby Anne’s writing has a wonderful combination of clarity and empathy that I always look forward to reading. A couple of weeks month or so ago (can you tell I’m a little behind on responding to things?) she wrote about marriage equality. Hardline anti-LGBTQ US evangelicals are losing support for their position not only in the general population, but in Millennials within their own communities. There’s some lovely looking graphs at her post, by the way- go check it out!

Libby Anne describes this, happily, as anti-LGBTQ evangelicals losing not only the individual state ‘battles’ against equality, but the ‘war’ as well. If we’re talking about marriage equality in the United States, this is undoubtedly true. If you widen your lens to take in my own Western Europe as well as some parts of South America, it stays that way. In these parts of the world more LGBT people are entitled either to legal equality- or at the very least some legal protections- than ever before.

Does that mean we’re winning the war, though? I’m not sure. But it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s okay to see “marriage equality throughout the United States” as the war that needs to be won. It doesn’t even mean that “marriage equality throughout the United States” is the war that needs to be won by USians.

There’s a parochialism to a lot of USian thought. You have a massive country that has been exercising a cultural dominance (among other things) over huge swathes of the rest of the world for decades. Lifetimes, even. Like all social relations borne of inequality, we in the rest of the world pay a lot more attention to you than you do to us. We know more about you than vice-versa. Non-USians internalise US concerns and understand some of the nuances of US culture(s) in a way that is not reciprocated.

Not reciprocated, that is, in all ways except one. The average USian doesn’t have the understanding of Irish (or German, Argentinian, Ugandan or Thai) politics and society that we do of yours, but this hasn’t stopped the US from actively interfering in other countries. Sometimes this is overt militarism. Sometimes it’s more subtle, but no less real. Take here in Ireland, where antichoice forces are bankrolled by American backers. People who have never met us campaigning for laws that will never affect them. Similarly, when you look outside your borders you can see that many homophobic USian fundamentalist evangelicals have set their sights outside your country and are busy interfering elsewhere to drum up homophobia, transphobia, and legal and physical violence against LGBTQ people. It’s not that the war is being won. Battles may be being won, but front lines don’t end at a particular nation’s border. The war is shifting, being taken by USians to places where most USians aren’t even looking.

The progress made in Western and Central Europe, the Americas and Australia on marriage equality and other LGBTQ+ rights and protections is incredible, although even in these parts of the world we’ve a long way to go. There are battles being won. But the rest of the world- Eastern Europe, Asia, the vast majority of Africa and the Middle East- matter every bit as much. Especially when Western forces have been interfering in most of these parts world for centuries, we don’t get to wash out hands of the results of our ongoing interference. Ever.

The war is nowhere close to being won.

Enhanced by Zemanta
‘Winning the War’ for Marriage Equality?

Obama! Marriage! Weed! Lesbians! HELL YEAH!

Oh, America. You lovely, headwrecking country you. You put half the planet through months of nailbiting nerves. And then you come through. I want to give you a great big smooshy kiss, like I was an overbearing aunt and you’re a somewhat bemused kid.

I just heard Housemate moving about the place. So I bounded into the living room where she was sleepily eating cereal. She looked at my impossibly wide grin and said “Oh yes, you’re off to see Girlfriend today yes?” And I said “Yes! And Obama! Marriage! Weed!” and proceeded to explain to her that this morning was the first time ever that marriage equality has won a popular vote in the US. And it won THREE at the same time as re-electing an African American president. Then she started grinning too.

Congrats, America. You ain’t perfect, and you’ve a lot of work to do. But today you did us all proud. You voted for equality. You voted for an inclusive society that values and cares for all its members. You voted for women, for POCs, for queers, for poor (and middle-class!) people. You voted for science and rational discourse and evidence over rhetoric and fearmongering. You voted for cooperation. You voted for body sovereignty. You voted for healthcare.

You went and did some awesome things today, America. Now c’mere and let me give you that great big wet smoochy kiss, why don’t ya?

By the way? THIS is how I’m feeling right now. Care to join me in a happy butt dance?


Obama! Marriage! Weed! Lesbians! HELL YEAH!

An Open Letter to Americans thinking of voting third party next week.

Part the First: For Republicans.

Listen, I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t want to waste your time. You and me, we probably don’t have much to say to each other. You’re a right-thinking freedom-loving American and I’m a pinko liberal European atheist leftie queer. If you figure that Romney just isn’t quite right-wing enough for you or that he subscribes to the wrong version of Christianity then, well, there’s not much I can say to you. It’s not my area, y’know? So you might as well just do what you were going to do anyway. The rest of this post is going to be about progressives talking about progressive things, like abortion and gays and free healthcare and whatnot. You probably wouldn’t like it. I’ll bet even looking at it is sinful or something, although I wouldn’t really know.


Part the Second: Lefties, Democrats, Progressives and Other Idealists

Okay. Think I’ve gotten rid of that other lot, so it’s safe to have a chat, just you and me. Before I start, I want to let you know that I’m on your side. Really, I am. Looking at American politics makes me alternately sad, angry, and helpless. It’s this massive system based on keeping itself going and keeping the people and parties in power where they are. And in a country as huge as the US… that’s gotta be overwhelming. I’m lucky to live in country of 4.5 million people- smaller than some of your cities- where it feels like an individual can sort-of help to make meaningful change. I can see why in a situation like yours it might seem like throwing up your hands and just going flat-out towards something better is the only damn thing to do. And when you’ve been told all your life that voting matters, I can see why protesting with your vote feels meaningful.

I get that. All of it. I really do. And I feel for you. But… I have a question for you. What the hell do you think you’re doing?

Here’s the thing. Voting is never just a matter of picking your favourite person and going with them. I wish it was. Voting is always about figuring out how your own electoral system works and using those mechanics to create the best (or least worst) outcome. This isn’t idealistic. It’s not the lovely idea of democracy for the people, of the people, and by the people that you read about in college. But this is the real world, and in the real world our actions have consequences. When it comes to politics, those consequences are deadly serious and affect people far, far outside your own life and circles. If you’re an American, your actions have consequences far outside your nation. Which, by the way, is why I’m taking the time to write to you.

On electoral systems: FPTP

Your electoral system is not one that is geared toward people voting with their consciences. Of course, none of them really are. But a first-past-the-post voting system combined with that bizarre electoral college of yours? It takes voting far outside the realm of idealism and into pure pragmatism. With FPTP, every vote is counted, once and the person with the most votes wins. It’s admittedly simplest from an arithmetic point of view. The trouble with FPTP, of course, is that it means that people can win elections where the majority of people voted against them. Let’s say we have one candidate, Jeff. Jeff is running for the Puppy-Kicking Fascists Party. On the other side, we have three candidates. Susan from the Anti-Fascist Alliance, John from the Puppy Protection Foundation and Michelle from the Can’t We All Just Get Along Centrists. Seventy per cent of the country is dead-set against Puppy-Kicking Fascism. But because they use a FPTP system, Jeff could get elected on only 30% of the vote. With FPTP, the only way to keep Jeff out of office is for Susan, John and Michelle to team up.

This is, of course, a terrible situation. It lumps Centrists, Anti-fascists and Puppy Protectors into one bunch. It means that nobody really gets to vote for what they want to focus on. It means that people are constantly more worried about preventing the other side from gaining power than in advocating their own goals.

It sucks. But it’s what you’ve got. If you’re sick to death of hearing every election that this is the most important election of all time and that it’s an us-or-them battle? Blame FPTP. And that electoral college. That’s just weird.

Alternative Voting Systems

If you want to be able to truly vote with your preferences, you lot are going to have to start seriously agitating for electoral reform. There’s a bunch of different options. Around my neck of the woods, we use something called Proportional Representation: Single Transferable Vote. It’s a bit complicated to explain how the votes are calculated, but from a voter’s perspective it’s pretty simple. Instead of marking one candidate, I put a 1 next to my favourite, a 2 next to my second favourite, and so on. If my top preference is looking to lose, all the votes they got go to the next preferences down, until there’s a clear winner. Of course, there’s still strategies for tactical voting, but they don’t leave quite the same bad taste in your mouth as FPTP.

Going back to the example above, if I want to make sure that the Puppy-Kicking Fascists aren’t elected, all I need to do is give my number 1 preference to my favourite person- say, the Anti-Fascist Allliance. Then I figure out who I’d like if they didn’t get in. Say, the Puppy Protection League. They get my number 2. And, well, if all else fails I might as well give my number 3 to the Can’t We All Just Get Along centrists. They may not be my favourite, but they’ll at least keep the PKF out of power.

STV isn’t the only alternative system, of course. There’s a ton of them, and they all tend to lead to different outcomes. STV tends to lead to coalitions and multi-party systems. It’s good for getting a government that shows the preferences of the electorate, but can be a bit pants for stability. I’m not as familiar with the rest of ’em.

If you, my American friend, want to be able to vote with your true preferences, though? You’d better get studying ’em, and get agitating for electoral reform. Because that is the only way that voting with your heart will ever be the best thing to do.

This isn’t democracy. This is triage.

USians? I get it. I get that your system is constructed against you. It’s awful. It must be awful to be stuck with it. But being in an awful situation doesn’t mean you get to throw your hands up and give up. Especially when your actions impact not just yourself, not just the hundreds of millions of your fellow Americans, but the other billions of us out here.

I don’t like Obama any more than you do. He’s alright, for an American politician. His election was a bloody brilliant moment, I’ll give you that. And we in the rest of the world are pretty damn happy that you have a President who at least knows where on the map the countries he’s planning on blowing up are. It’s good to have someone there who’s reasonably literate, extremely intelligent, who doesn’t actively despise most of the people he’s supposed to be serving, and who thinks it’s a good idea for people to be able to go to hospital when they’re sick and for women to own their own damn bodies. It’s lovely to have a PoC in charge. But, yeah, I don’t like drone attacks any more than you do, and he is, at best, a centre-right politician.

But here’s the thing. With FPTP, there is no way that you’ll get someone better into the White House this year. The choice you have- the only choice you have- is between Obama and Romney. That’s it. In your electoral system, the only way of keeping Romney out of the White House is to vote for Obama. That is a hell of an unpleasant compromise to have to make. I’m glad that I’m not the one making it. But for the sake of everyone whose lives will be made exponentially worse under Romney- women, queers, PoC, poor people, working-class people, middle-class people, sick people, people with disabilities, anyone who lives on a planet threatened by climate change– I’m begging you to get out there, get to your polling place and vote for Obama.

An Open Letter to Americans thinking of voting third party next week.