Sex, Religion, and Politics

The three things you aren’t supposed to mention in polite conversation. I figured since it has been so long since I’ve devoted time to a post (read as a month) I would start here, with the big three. In truth I wont be talking about sex, drugs, and rock and roll religion, and politics separately, but rather what these off-limit subjects mean for our relationships.

A friend of mine told me the other day that these three topics should in fact be the things most frequently discussed. At first I was rather taken aback to be perfectly honest. I pictured walking up to a person and saying “Hi there, its a pleasure to meet you, I haven’t had sex in a while, I tend to vote liberal, and while I understand religion’s purpose for many people, I think its mostly ridiculous.” Obviously this isn’t what he meant, instead he brought up a very good point, that only when you discuss these topic with someone can you be sure you are friends.

Allow me to elaborate. The first time I meet someone I won’t bring these topic to the table for our discussion. It would scare them off, and it should because these topics are so personal. The second time I hang out with this person I probably won’t bring them up, and probably not for a while after that. But once I know this person, what they like to do for fun, what their major it, and if they are a dog or a cat person, its time to add some depth to our conversations. That is when these big three topics need to be talked about before a friendship can progress. If I don’t know this person’s religious inclinations, political affiliations, or sexual preferences how well do I know this person? There is not a lot more personal, more meaningful than these topics. Once I’ve talked about these things with a person, and come out the other side, there is proof positive that we’re friends and worth spending time on and with.

Now I want to talk this a step further. Sure this works great on a personal level, once you know a person, but what about on a societal level? I think it can, and it should work on a societal level. Let me begin with stating WHY these themes need to be discussed by society at large, and then I’ll move on to try and see if it is possible.

  1. Politics- Our country was founded with the idea that people would discuss their political ends. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the first amendment. Freedom of speech. If this doesn’t show that this democracy needs discussion I don’t know what does. An unwillingness to talk about our political views is one of the things that has lead to the relative gridlock in the government as it stands. There is no discussion, there is no exchange of ideas, there are simply platforms. And these platforms have been turned on their sides to form walls to stop progress. I would challenge you to have a genuine political discussion with someone, one where you don’t hate them going in because they are on the other side of the spectrum, and not be able to see where they are coming from. Sure their goals may not align with your’s, but I would bet they aren’t the illogical dribble of an idiot the pundits would have you believe it is. Open discussion, open the floodgates to successful politics. When people can talk, compromise happens, and that is what made this country what it is.
  2. Religion- Unfortunately (in my view) religion has become increasingly intertwined with politics, which makes it all the more pressing to talk about. Whether you like it or not religious values are the driving force behind many people’s actions everyday, and that is not a bad thing. It just has to be understood. When religion becomes taboo that is when intolerance gets started. I’m not saying that the religions of the world will be able to come together into a super religion and all conflict will end, what I’m saying is that people will be able to understand each other. Not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Christians “hate fags”, and when you talk to people you can’t not come to that conclusion. Just as your religion (or lack there of) is a very personally defining feature for you, so is it for someone else. You have your reasons for believing what you believe, and they have theirs for believing what they believe. You aren’t that different. At all. Talk about it, understand these deeply personal topics. Once you do you’ll understand the other person.
  3. Sex- I left this for last, because it covers a lot. Sure the act of sex itself is taboo, mostly because our society is so afraid of finding out what our neighbors are doing that we aren’t. But the act of sex is only moderately important to talk about. There are the choices around sex, and every adolescentneeds to be taught about this as they reach puberty. Yes that’s important, and yes it effects people’s lives in a very real way, but its not nearly as important than discussion around sexual identity. When you identify your sexual orientation that becomes a huge part of your personal identity. I was recently shown a video of a young man speaking to the Iowa state congress (link) about being raised by two women. To these women it is the topic of sex that keeps their family from being recognized by the state. I don’t mean to push a political agenda with this (but I am so TALK to me about it) all I mean to suggest is that we have a real discussion about this meaningful topic. This theme that holds so much weight over people’s lives, and yet we haven’t had enough of a free discussion for many people to really understand it.

At this point you are probably wondering how I aim to uphold these lofty goals. Society seems to be built to defeat me here, to stop the conversation before it can start. Allow me then to offer a simple rule to make sure these conversations can happen. Yep, one rule. Just one. That’s all I need to beat society and get these things discussed. In fact I’m sure you are familiar with it.

Here it is.

“Treat other’s as you would like to be treated.”

Did you see it coming? A few years ago I had to look into the golden rule for a debate topic, and found that the sentiment expressed in these words can be found in nearly every society across the world. Certainly every major religion. If we truly upheld this, simple, elegant standard, we could start to have the tough conversations. We could sit down at a table with a fellow human being and tell them about what means most to us. Our society could finally begin to compromise again and how could we not be better for that?

I am a straight male, I lean left politically (but I own guns, so not too far left), and I was raised Unitarian Universalist.


Mind If I Smoke?

Let’s talk about smoking. This post will have two parts, the first of which is an RA rant, the second is something else entirely. Also there will be no philosophy in this post most likely. Sorry, this is more off the cuff than a usual post, but I haven’t posted in a while and its about time. Do you think I said post enough? Yes? Good. Post.

Part One: WEED

I just sent an e-mail to my residents with that single word in the subject line. For the past week our entire hallway has reeked of marijuana. This should not really surprise anyone who has spent any time in a college residence hall, but its becoming a problem. As an RA there are times that one overlooks the smell of Mary Jane in the hall, because honestly if you went knocking every time you smelled it, you would be the most hated person in the building. It is a matter of self preservation. But I have noticed an interesting trend in the halls. Despite working here for two years, and living as a resident for one, I have never once smelled tobacco smoke in the hall.

Tobacco smokers have been trained to take it outside so well, that there is no question but to take it outside when the occasion arises. Why can’t we train marijuana smokers this well? I will try to anticipate some of your arguments before moving on to the second part of this post.

1. Marijuana smokers run the risk of cops if they smoke outside.

Well to be quite frank they run the risk of cops and the RAs if they stay inside. We both patrol from time to time. Double the risk. Not to mention you are more likely to reported by a fed-up neighbor if you keep it inside.

2. Marijuana smoking is social! 

I will adress this point in more depth in the second part, but social happens outside! Not to mention when there are more people in a room it increases noise, and if a passing RA or cops smells smoke and hears a lot of people in a room, guess which door they knock on first? Also it doesn’t have to be social. I have known plenty of reefers who smoke by themselves.

3. Its cold outside.

I admit I was stretching for a third point. Also tabacco smokers go outside when it is cold. So get over it.

PART TWO: Smoking IS social.

Every week after staff meeting the male RAs step outside to shoot the breeze and do some quality male bonding. Male bonding rarely happens without another activity involved, and for us we chose smoking cigars and pipes. For most of my life I have believed I was allergic to tobacco, so I never partook in the smoking. What I did instead was bought myself a pipe to chew on while we talked. This was the first time I saw what smoking could do for a conversation. It was a jumping off point into the deepest conversation I had ever shared with the guys on my staff, and it was quite frankly amazing. Sure we could have stuck up a conversation otherwise, but as the pipe and cigars were passed around, there was a sense of community.

As this tradition continued I began to notice something strange, I wasn’t having a reaction to the smoke around me. Initially I chalked this up to being outside, but slowly I began to suspect it was because the allergy had either faded, or never existed. Anyone, at one of these meetings I packed the pipe I had so often chewed on with some of my friends pipe tobacco and smoked it with the guys.

Since then I’ve invited my residents to join me in a pipe and we’ve bonded just as the staff did, over this activity. It was amazing. Not the smoking itself, although admittedly I enjoy it, but instead the space it created for male bonding to occur. This does beg the question, why does male bonding have to be centered over something? I mean it is the perception that there must be something else besides just the men that drives men to share a drink at a bar to talk instead of just chilling at home and talking. Its a question so huge I couldn’t possibly answer it alone. So stop by sometime, bring a pipe, we’ll talk it over out back.

Disclaimer: Tobacco use, no matter how infrequent is bad for you. Pipe smoking is NOT as safe alternative to cigaretts. When choosing to smoke (or not, either way is honestly cool) you have to known that you are risking your own health. Be conscious of those around you when smoking, especially in the residence halls. So sick of the marijuana scent.


The True Value of My Degree

Alternatively titled “How I couldn’t even start a fire with this piece of paper my university gave to me after four years and thousands of dollars.”

I’m going to take a break from critiquing my job and instead be thankful I have it. Be thankful because beyond graduation there are not a lot of job prospects that I will be able to access with a degree. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the United States of America, were even a college degree leaves you jobless, in debt, and hopeless. Not to say all college grads face this, but there is no denying that the job market in the States has tanked heavily, and it is the youngest and oldest in the work force that are in trouble.

Take my good friend in Washington for example. She is a wonderfully spirited girl, who is as bright as they come, and is so nice its absurd. She is currently looking for a job in Washington so she can move out to Colorado and continue the education she started at CU last year. She has applied to dozens of stores, and so far has only received letters telling her how sorry they are, but they can’t hire her right now. She doesn’t have a lot of work experience because she is only 19, and has only ever held summer jobs. She can’t get hired to get more work experience, and she needs work experience to get hired.

It is not just the youth that are struggling to find a way to make life work, and people are beginning to take to the streets. Take a look at Occupy Wall Street if you haven’t yet.

Show your support, or not, but know that its happening.

Here’s the deal, let’s get Locke involved, and let’s talk about the value of my degree and what’s happening on Wall Street.

There are a few hundred protesters on Wall Street right now calling for reform so the middle class can begin to revive. It seems like a relatively agreeable cause does it not? Anyway they claim they represent the 99% of the population that is not the richest 1%. Its a broad spectrum of people to represent it’s true, but someone has to right?

Okay lets talk about how this relates to my getting a degree. The middle class is quickly vanishing in the United States, and with it the kinds of jobs that can obtained with a BA. I will be getting a BA, and my prospects quite frankly look a lot more bleak than they did when I entered college.

Finally lets bring this to Locke. Most of my previous points have been short, but lets get down to business here. The government governs with the consent of the governed according to Locke. If the people feel their government isn’t doing a good job, it is up to them to change it. This has been the biggest advantage to American style Democracy, the vote and activism has allowed us to change our government peacefully. No need for the violent revolutions of the past, our laws have enabled us to become better without bloodshed. Well more accurately without too much bloodshed. Occupy Wall Street is a manifestation of Lockeian principles at work. How awesome is that? The middle class, truly the majority is finally beginning to stand up for itself. Perhaps our politicians will take notice. Maybe on the next ballot we’ll be voting for senators and representatives that are pro-reform. Then again maybe not.

The Supreme Court decided in 2010 that corporations were legally equal to individuals and could make as large a campaign contribution as they wanted. The issue I have with this isn’t the campaign contribution, because that was all happening under the table anyway. My issue is with the idea that government has given corporations, historically famous for committing human right’s violations, the same power that it gives me. Sure people commit human rights violations, but not nearly as frequently as the sweatshops, low pay, and mistreatment of corporations.

So my question is not whether Lockeian ideals will manifest in order to remedy the broken middle class, its a question of how. Will our institutions prove to cooperate with the people enough to regain the full consent of the governed? I hope so. If not we stand a really rough few years ahead of us, possible including open revolution. After all, if the government breaks the social contract we’ve made with it, it will be our obligation to overthrow it.

Sexy Beast

How does this relate to my degree? Well if the middle class isn’t restored my degree will be rendered useless. If Wall Street, the richest 1%, and corporations are allowed to run things the way they’ve been running them, it won’t be recovered. To be frank, if that happens the US government may lose the consent of the governed, and the only way to fix it may be revolution. I’m not suggesting that now, I’m just moving to its logical Lockeian end if our institutions fail to support the people.

I will graduate with my BA in a year and a half.

All I want is for my degree to mean something.

I AM THE 99%.


Your RA: The Narc Next Door

I must preface this post with a few points, listed in bullet point form so you know that they are separate and important:

  • RA stands for Resident Advisor/Assistant
  • I am an RA, and have been for two years.
  • This is not a commentary on RAs themselves, but rather their position in a residence hall.

Lets begin at the beginning shall we? Okay. No matter which university you visit across the country each one of them has a team of student leaders called RAs. These are upperclassmen who live in the residence halls. They act as advisors and mentors, put on programs and events, and act (at least in some capacity) as the enforcers in a hall. In exchange for all of this they receive room and board and a meal plan. These are the basics, and what you need to know in order to make sense of the rant that follows.

When a freshman moves into the residence halls, one of the first people they meet is their RA, this wise sage of all that is collegedom seems about the closest thing to a friend that a freshman is likely to find in the first hours of moving in. Later that night is the first floor meeting, and it is at this meeting that the possibility of becoming your RAs friend suddenly becomes strained. At this meeting the RA goes over rules and how its their job to enforce them to some degree. And then the RA tells everyone how he or she is a mandatory reporter of information passed to them that might be of a nature that needs reporting.

From the freshman’s point of view the RAs trustworthiness is called into question. And honestly that is totally fair. I know I called it into question when I was a freshman. Hell, as an RA I call it into question. How can we be meant to form bonds with Freshmen if we are expected to pass on every tidbit of information we get about their rule breaking lives? A freshman can’t come to me, tell me about how stupid he was at a party the other night, which could be an awesome teaching moment. He can’t do this because of a very rational fear of getting in trouble.

How can an RA really serve their job as a mentor if they can’t be trusted. Sure there are things that an RA needs help with from time to time. Should it ever come up that a resident were suicidal, I know I would need help dealing with this. But I don’t need help dealing witha  resident who got stupid drunk at a frat party and maybe needs a little coaching on smart drinking. Although this all relates back to the Invisible Bottle of Whiskey and the absurdity that is my school’s alcohol policy.


Clearly You’re New Here

So at the beginning of every academic year 18 year olds from across the world pour onto college campuses. For many of these impressionable youngsters (which I am a full two years older than, and can therefore call them youngsters) it is their first time away from home, and the first time away from a parent-child relationship of some kind. As an RA it is often assumed that I will fill the role of parent for these Freshmen since their parents cannot be there to do so themselves. I assure you, that it not my job. As stated before I am a mere two years older than many of the incoming Freshmen, which is not nearly enough to be their parent.

That being said, I love Freshmen because they are so desperately in need of a parent, while trying to play like they don’t miss mommy and daddy. Here are some excellent quotes that my residents have asked me that I think really exemplify this trend.

“So, when exactly is my curfew?”

“When do I show you my grades?”

“Do you’re telling me I have to take my own trash out? No one comes around and collects it?”

Oh Freshmen, you are adorable. It is worth noting that the first and foremost job of an RA is to be a resource to Freshmen. We always tell them that we’re there to answer any questions they may have. But really? Show me your grades? My parents didn’t even ask to see my grades except my final grades in high school. But why make fun of the poor Freshmen for this? Its not their fault they had helicopter parents.

If you don’t know what a helicopter parent is, allow me to elaborate. A helicopter parent is the second worst kind of parent. The first worst is a leash parent, or a parent that has invested so little time into raising their child that they must put them on a leash whenever they enter a public space. These are real people by the way.

Yeah, this a real thing.

A helicopter parent however maintains control without the rope. The helicopter parent attends EVERY school function without fail. They budget their child’s time and activities for their child, and they never really let them out of their sight. You know those GPS trackers in cars and cell phones that can be used to track your child? A favored tool of the helicopter parent.

My intention with this post is not to talk about the habits of the helicopter parent, but the effects it has on your child once they reach college. Allow me to compose a list of small, but important issues they might have:

  1. They will not know how to do laundry, I promise.
  2. They will not be able to make decisions for themselves, even if it’s what to eat. Since helicopter parents rarely teach the “why” of what they are doing many helicopter children know nothing of healthy eating habits.
  3. They might will binge in some way. I would sign a paper with my guantee, and even have this statement notarized. If its not drinking or drugs, it will be eating junk food, or playing video games, or something else. If kids can’t kind of make some mistakes and decisions for themselves early on, and make mistakes in the safety of mommy and daddy’s house, they will tumble in college.
  4. They might fail out. This one is iffy, but I’ve seen it. Since the kid doesn’t really know how to manage their time independently of their parent, they manage it poorly.

Okay, now at this point you may be wondering if I can squeeze some philosophy in here, and I’m going to try. Lets have a chat about Ayn Rand shall we? Alright, Ayn Rand has written several really popular books, and I honestly have only read Atlas Shrugged, but no one is perfect. What interests me about Ayn Rand here is her idea of rational egoism. Defined that simply means acting in one’s own rational self interest. How does this related to helicopter parenting? I’m so thrilled you asked.

As a helicopter parent you may have full control through high school, if you are good at being a helicopter parent anyway. Odds are this is exactly what you wanted, and you have achieved your goal. Odds are you wanted to maintain this control so you could send your kid to a good college, they could become a doctor or lawyer, and be successful. Now your kid enters college and you no longer have the direct control. This will frustrate you at first (point 1, I’ll come back to what this means shortly) but you’ll probably get over it. Your student will begin to call you whenever they have the smallest issue at school (point 2) regardless of how small. Then you’ll get a letter from the school letting you know your kid was involved in an incident with alcohol (point 3) in the mail. You will be too far away to march into that mean old hall director’s office (point 4) to defend your poor victimized baby. After all, us mean RAs were out to get them. You either call perpetually, which will antagonize the hall director (point 5) who has direct control over the punishments your student receives for being written up, or you’ll fly out. This will antagonize everyone involved (point 6) and likely embarrass your child (point 7) in front of his or her peers. We’ll stop here.

In a rather lengthy paragraph I was able to outline a senario I have personally seen. Each of the points listed is a point against your own rational self interest. Things that turn your hair grey so to speak. Is you teach your child independence here is how the above senario will go.

Your child faces struggles in high school, makes mistakes, but you are there to help them through it, they learn. They get to college. You get a phone call once a week with critical updates. They get caught with alcohol. You probably still get a letter (point 1.) They face the consequences, they learn their lesson.

Yep. One point. Versus 7.

Q.E.D.

Ayn Rand’s rational egoism holds that you should teach your child independence.


The Invisible Bottle of Whiskey

Freshman year of college is a time for trying lots of new things. You are forced to live in close quarters with someone, you meet people from across the world, and you are thrust into situations were there is drinking. To be fair some freshmen are able to avoid these situations, but not many. The question then becomes how do universities deal with this “issue” of underage drinking? Some universities have a really strong restorative justice programs so offenders can grow to understand why binge drinking is a dangerous habit. Not my university.

Recently, while on a duty round, one of the freshmen got his RA because his friend was pass out drunk. This RA then called us on duty to get some back up. Sure enough once I arrived on the scene I could not get a verbal response from the resident in question, so I called an ambulance to get this resident some help. The sober resident who got his RA spent the next few minutes insisting that he didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, he just needed help. We assured him that he had made the right decision, and it would all work out. But his concern of getting people in trouble was valid. Sure something dangerous had happened, but the sober resident was worried that the good would get lost in the bad.

This resident did the exactly right thing by getting help, and he will face no formal sanctions, but the resident who was drunk? He will have to pay several fines and attend one class and then the university will be done with him officially. From talking to those who have had to take an alcohol class at this university the classes focus on not drinking and did not tackle smart drinking techniques. In fact my university’s whole means of dealing with dangerous drinking is “it doesn’t happen at this school, so don’t do it.” For example they recently handed out posters for the RAs to put up. These posters read “One short or ten, its still an MIP.” The intended message is since MIP are so easy to get, don’t drink. The real message, according to an unidentified resident who wrote this on one of the posters; “One shot or ten, its still an MIP. So take ten you pussy!”

I can’t pretend to know how exactly to change this school’s system to make dangerous drinking less of a problem, but I think it might start by teaching people how to be smart instead of trying to spread this delusion that drinking doesn’t happen on this campus. According to Playboy we’re the number one party school in the nation after all. To me safe drinking and safe sex are similar idea. Teaching someone how to use a condom is not the same as say “now go screw everything and everyone.” Teaching someone how to pace themselves while drinking is not at all saying “now go be vagrants and break the law.” The more educated people are, the better decisions they can make. This was the basic idea when public schools were founded. Why do we now then seem to believe that does not hold true anymore? When did teaching people about things that effect their lives in very real ways go out of style?


On Shared Bathrooms and the State of Nature

I have lived in the residence halls for three years. All three of these years I have shared a bathroom with all of my floor mates. I have heard people say that public transportation is the great equalizer, but I would challenge that notion, public bathrooms are the great equalizer. Please allow me to elaborate, and as I elaborate, relate to our dear friend John Locke.

There is never a space less filled with human conversation than a public bathroom. It is a black hole of conversation. As soon as you enter the room, accompanied or otherwise, you will more likely than not fall silent. As soon as you are in that stall you may as well be inside a cone of silence. If you are standing at a urinal you run a slight risk of catching a drunkards attention, but never in a stall. This runs as a perfect metaphor for the state of nature as Locke saw it. People taking care of their own business, and not working together or talking about their business. Now it may be inappropriate to discuss one’s business while in the bathroom, but bear with me. People in the bathroom are still impacting one another. Gentlemen I am certain you have walked into a bathroom before to find the seat covered in another man’s urine. And we can all relate to having a person in the stall next to us relieving themselves voluminously. Although their actions can effect us, we are in a state of nature, and therefore do nothing to adjust any of these experiences.

The question then becomes “Is it possible to bring a contract to this lawless land?” Is it possible for the public bathroom, even in a dorm or residence hall, to become a place with a viable social contract so that those who have to live in this space can coexist in relative peace? Had you asked me three days ago I would have been skeptical, but since then a contract has began to form in the bathroom on my floor. A resident came to me the other night with a suggestion, one that all of the guys on the floor agreed to, one that Locke would be proud of. We have instituted, after a vote from the people, a peeing stall, and a pooping stall. You’ll forgive my bluntness I’m sure once you hear the simple brilliance of this social contract. If the pooping stall is reserved exclusively for sitting down to take care of your business, the seat will remain clear, and urine free. Bloody brilliant. That’s not to say the peeing stall is a free-for-all, spray-and-pray type senario, it just brings peace of mind to the pooping stall.

Is the metaphor perfect? No. There is no government to enforce these agreements other than common courtesy. Does it illustrate the simple beauty of a Lockian Social Contract? You bet. Locke you fine man you, well done again. Keeping our seats urine free for over 250 years.


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