Saturday, March 23, 2013

five little monkeys, bonhoeffer, committees

Do you know this rhyme? It begins delightfully enough.
Five little monkeys jumpin' on the bed
One fell down and bumped his head
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,
"No more monkeys jumpin' on the bed."
Ah, but then it takes a trajectory we in the grown-up world know all too well.
Four little monkeys jumpin' on the bed
One fell down and bumped his head
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,
"No more monkeys jumpin' on the bed."
That's human nature and society in a nutshell, isn't it? What the doctor actually said, as you may recall from the end of each stanza, is that NO more monkeys are to jump on the bed. As of the first stanza, there's a one-in-five chance of head-bumping. By the final stanza, of course, you will not be surprised to know that the head-bumping rate is one hundred percent.

And why? Because the committee here is acting just like a committee. They go on doing exactly what they'd been doing before, with the single exception of the one who got injured this last time. In some committees, it's because the one who fell down and bumped his head got blamed, and was disallowed to continue jumping on the bed; in other committees, it's because the one who fell learned his lesson and refused to continue.

But neither the sadder-and-wiser monkey nor the perfectly reasonable doctor can convince the rest of the committee that the actual problem stems from their continued activity. Nope, they just keep on jumping on the bed, and getting injured, and with each stanza the doctor enjoins the (fewer and fewer) remaining monkeys to stop — to make it so that no one is jumping on the bed. And with each stanza the (fewer and fewer) remaining monkeys do not stop. They keep on doing it, and keep on getting injured, because the ones who didn't get hurt simply cannot look around and see what's happening to their peers and what will soon happen to them.

Until, with the final stanza, the doctor's prescription has become a diagnosis: there are indeed no more monkeys left to jump on the bed.

Friday, March 22, 2013

thoughts on modern judaism

Several conversations recently have prompted me to conclude that quite a few Christians are undereducated in modern Jewish thought. It's as if Judaism ended when Christianity began, and didn't continue and develop.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

men and machines

Workers fly back and forth like piston-rods
And clerks like clocks strike eight or nine or ten:
Say, you who know when men will be like gods,
In what wild future men will be like men.
    G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

babies and beauty privilege

When Greta was just 7 or 8 months old, we took her to a gallery opening. Everybody fawned over her, of course; one woman, a complete stranger, asked if she could hold Greta for a while. She ended up carrying the baby all around the room, looking at one picture after another, bouncing and cuddling and smelling that addictive baby-head-smell.

Good for her! (The woman, that is.) She knew what she needed that moment, and wasn't afraid to ask for it. And how fortunate for her that she found parents who knew she wasn't going to kidnap the baby and sell her into the Mexican sex trade — something that's vanishingly uncommon, especially at gallery openings.

We have another baby now. People fawn over her too. Folks just love to hold and cuddle babies. But the interesting thing is the difference. The moment blonde-haired, blue-eyed Greta was born, people went mad. Nurses in the hospital found excuses to come back by the room and see her. People in the Taco Cabana laid hands on her. With dark-haired dark-eyed Clara, it's business as usual.

Whew! A preview of coming attractions, for a girl who's already going to go through life as a second child. No doubt people don't even realize they're treating the two girls differently. We'll have to work to avoid a Jacob-Have-I-Loved situation.

Of course, ceteris paribus, both our girls will grow up with beauty privilege. Neither of them will ever know what it's like to be un-beautiful. The most powerful agent of discrimination in our society is on their side and probably always will be. Within that context, there will always be comparison, won't there? The traditional pattern is that the older sister always feels that the younger one is more beautiful (oddly, this is often true [although, since I married a younger sister, I may be biased]). But the dark-haired one often feels less bestowed-with-magic than the fair-haired one.

My hope is that both girls will understand, to whatever extent it's possible, their beauty privilege, just as my hope is that they'll have some understanding of the privilege their wealth bestows. They'll often be encouraged to compare themselves to people far richer, and have little opportunity to compare themselves to the ninety-six percent of Earth's population that's far poorer than they. And, insidiously, they'll often be encouraged to compare themselves to those a tiny degree more beautiful — even, and especially, each other.

My greater hope is that they'll learn to be truly eccentric: literally, centered on something outside of the concentric circles of our warped society.