diversity · employment · Gender · legal issues · political commentary · social activism

Bill For Genetic Testing At Work: Attempts to Limit Your Individual Pursuit of Happiness

thIt appears that 1984 is upon us, at least in a figurative and scary as hell sense. Apparently, George Orwell was on to something far bigger than any of us could imagine, and perhaps more elaborate than anything he could imagine during the time that his novel was written.

Over the years the concept of big brother watching us all has emerged as increasingly plausible, even likely, in terms of arrests related to internet use and so forth, where evidence of government entities surveilling the public seems apparent. But today, actually a few days ago, no, actually a couple of months ago, I became even more concerned about the looming notion of big brother being all up in my personal business, to speak frankly.

According to the Washington Post in an article published today titled You May Face Penalties At Work For Refusing Genetic Testing by Lena H. Sun, recently a bill has been proposed, already passing a U.S. House committee vote, in an effort to enact a law that would allow employers the right to genetically test employees, something that is currently illegal at a federal level.

Currently, the government must obtain a warrant or individual consent to collect this type of private citizen information. More, employers currently have no rights to private citizen information without voluntary consent, as the collection of such information is out of alignment with current employment laws surrounding disability and non-discrimination work practices.

However, the Trump administration aims to circumvent these currently held federal legal positions through new law that would allow the gathering of personal information by employers, specifically your genetic information, for use as part of a “wellness” program, where the goal is to “reward” some employees with reduced insurance rates for “healthy” living and “punish” employees for less than “healthy” life choices by up to a 30% increase in premium costs. An interesting concept for an administration that doesn’t seem to believe in science, something that should define the parameters of healthy living.

As for this whole bill turning into law? How about, um, no! And the answer is no for a number of reasons. First, I don’t want an employer to tell me what to do in my nonworking hours; that’s none of their business. And contrary to some beliefs held by employers, I have nonworking hours. Additionally, I want my employer to stay out of my family history, because in general who I am related to and what they have passed to me is none of my employers business either-way too nosey.

An employer doesn’t need to know what genetic markers I have or not. Next, employers will probably want a pregnancy test as part of hiring practices. Or maybe gain the legal right to speak directly with my physician; that’ll certainly make managing health in this country difficult because no one will want to talk to their physician. For an employer, the only concern should be whether or not I do my job correctly during the hours for which I have been scheduled to work, hours that are dictated to a large existent by federal law, at least for now. That’ll probably be the next thing to go.

Second, I don’t trust any employer to keep my information secure. My employer has had student information hacked a number of times, and the last thing that I need to worry about is my genetic information being freely released into the world. I already have to worry about my social security number and my transcript information as it is. Additionally, while we have FERPA law in this country, I know that it is extremely easy for everyone who works within a school to gain access to internal records; I feel sure that the same is likely true in many work settings. I don’t need everyone in the office knowing my personal business; we are not family, we are associates.

Third, this type of absurd law would almost certainly lead to discrimination in an ever increasingly hostile environment, especially at the government level, where racial, ethnic, and sexual identity politics are concerned. In short, the average employer cannot be trusted to be objective in employee hiring, firing, and evaluation when our current administration seems to have an agenda to return to the 1950s in terms of the social subjugation of specific groups, and as a caveat, we have lying Sessions as our AG.

Additionally, I am not in agreement with anything that further restricts my freedoms. As it is, we are all only as free as our culture will allow, and if you don’t believe that is true because for some reason you believe as an American you are free, test the outer limits of cultural norms and see what happens. You’ll line up with what we will allow, or you will be punished every day until you do. We already live within a set of rules that have been slowly chipped away at by many people before us who made gains in terms of restrictive social issues. These brave Americans worked toward removing those social restrictions so that we all could enjoy some measure of influence over our own pursuits of happiness, something that they had not been afforded. Their understanding that personal freedom was at stake was the very reason for the commitment to a slow chipping process. At this point, I am unwilling to return to a more socially restrictive time; it was simply too miserable for many of us who dared to push those limits previously mentioned.

Finally, Ervin Goffman’s 1963 Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity instructed us on what it means to be socially discredited versus discredible in terms of stigmatization. People who wear their identity (i.e., race, sex) are discredited upon inspection. However, many others are discredible (i.e., learned information that discredits such as physical or mental health, arrest records, etc.). Opening up genetic testing to employers is simply another avenue that allows the latter to happen without your involvement.

This recent push from the Trump administration is just one more reminder that we are dealing with a fascist leader who cannot be allowed to erase all of the hard work of those who lived before us and who worked tirelessly, and often in miserable social conditions, so that we could all be more socially free.

diversity · political commentary · politics · social activism

Crackpot in the White House

892785cc6c26290cb66d72425c82de1bHave you ever wondered why Donald J. Trump behaves in such an odd, childlike manner without the suggestion of even a modicum of shame?   Or have you found yourself thinking about how President Trump seems to have a view of the world that is based, at least in part, on fantasy?  Perhaps you have even started to believe that we have elected a man who suffers from an undiagnosed mental illness; I will admit that notion has crossed my mind more than once.

Additionally, I have considered the possibility that President Trump’s life long privileged status has led to the development of the entitlement based mindset of a rich brat, where he believes that everyone should kowtow to his desires or be punished.  I personally find the latter possibility reprehensible, but that is because I believe that only a person who has never been adequately critiqued by those rearing him and/or fails to relate to “common” people could develop such a mindset.  Could our President suffer from Affluenza because his wealth and power to punish intimidates those around him, thus resulting in kowtowing?  Perhaps Spicer and Conway may serve as points of reference for future deliberation on the matter.

American sociologist C. Wright Mills coined the term “crackpot realism” in the 1950s in an effort to explain the self delusions that are often present among the powerful elite.  According to Tom Athanasiou in Divided Planet: The Ecology of the Rich and Poor, Mills suggested that “Crackpot realism is realism gone mad, and crackpot realist are those who ‘in the name of practicality have projected a utopian image of capitalism.’ They have information in abundance, but ‘have replaced a responsible interpretation of events with the disguise of events by a maze of public relations.'” (1996, p. 298).  Further, Athanasiou explained that a crackpot realist will frame his or her messages to society’s poor by suggesting that the lives of poor people will be better in the long run as a result of capitalism, while the truth is that the crackpot realist only really sees the capitalistic framework as a process for continuation of his or her “privileged circumstances of life” (p. 298).

Mills actually used the term “realist” sarcastically; He meant to illustrate the self flattery buried in the delusional thinking patterns of the powerful elite, where politicians have long held the belief that they are, in fact, the true realists in society.  Further argued by Mills is the notion that de-regulation efforts meant to allow the free flow of markets in an unrestrained capitalistic economic framework imply an unethical and amoral social position.

Crackpot realism is realism gone array for a number of reasons: (1) capitalistic greed cannot be sustained in the long term because it offers little in terms of justice and equality and (2) unrestrained capitalism is unkind to those who lose in a capitalistic society (Athanasiou, 1996).  Rather, resources must be used wisely by society, with conservation at the forefront of thinking regarding future global sustainability.  The poor must be allowed a living wage.  More, expansion, cautious economic policy, and peace must prevail in order for the global biophysical budget to be maintained (Athanasiou, 1996).

In spite of all of the hypothesizing I’ve done lately in an attempt to try to evaluate and understand the behavior and thinking of our current President, it appears that C. Wright Mills may have provided the answer to my question more than fifty years ago.  The answer is likely that we simply have a crackpot living in the White House.

political commentary · politics

I’m married to a SPY!

37e146defa1af7f7d5c6c89f0cb139f0_secret-agent-clip-art-cliparts-secret-agent-clipart-images_350-508For years my husband has listened to conservative talk radio from time-to-time.  There have been many people, myself included, who have wondered why he would do such a thing, given his strong political ideas regarding social justice initiatives.  Because I am well aware of his political ideology, I have had great difficulty grasping why he would listen to some of the hateful, in my view, commentary, especially given that the claims made through public calls to the station have often been ignorant opinions, again in my view, and likely insulting to racial minority group members.  At any rate, he listened without much comment.  Even more, he seldom appeared to feel annoyed or put off, so to speak, by the comments.

Over the years I have also heard him have in-depth conversations with people who were clearly on the other side of the political argument without even a change to his facial expression; he simply let them speak freely without interruption.  Although he did sometimes let them know toward the end of the exchange that he disagreed with points of their argument, most often he simply let whoever was on the other end of the exchange speak.  He would end the conversation by telling the individual that he enjoyed the interaction and then he would simply go on about his business.  In some cases as he walked away he would say something under his breath regarding the nuttiness of the argument, but that small comment was usually the end of it.  In other cases, he would simply say, “Now, that’s an interesting fellow.”

One day after one of these exchanges I asked him why in the world he was repeatedly subjecting himself to such crazy talk during his off hours.  I went on to express to him that his choice to engage in these types of discussions seemed to me like some sort of self-imposed torture.  He then told me that he had to hear all of the political commentary in order for him to know what he was up against and how he could most effectively fight it. According to him, he was acting as a social justice “spy” of sorts.  He currently views himself the same way; always doing a little recon while we are out in our community.

According to Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Heart, overcoming the struggles of social war involves “a political decision, popular mobilization, organization, political intervention, and lucid, hopeful, coherent, tolerant leadership” (1997, p.50).  Tolerance is a necessary component of fighting against elitism and oppressive realities.  This tolerance for differing perspectives does not, however, mean that all points of view are accepted, promoted, or that agreements are forged wherein concessions would ultimately compromise the political strategy of the left.  Coherence between what one speaks and what one does cannot be compromised.  The commitment to coherence, therefore, exacts a limit on tolerance (Freire, 1997).

In this sense, rather, tolerance simply involves a willingness to respectfully exchange different points of view (Freire, 1997).  Freire stated that dialogism is “a requirement of human nature and also a sign of…[a] democratic stand” (1997, p. 92).  Freire additionally noted that it is counter-productive to only interact with others who verify one’s truth, especially where creating transformative social movement toward a more humane society is concerned.  For Freire, isolation results in the absence of important knowledge that is needed to strategize movement toward a more people-oriented society.

While civility implies tolerance of a certain amount, you might also find it helpful to engage in a little social justice based “spying” yourself.  It is important to know what is looming in the distance as well as what is driving that particular vehicle in order to arrange the most effective road blocks to oppressive politics.

The truth is that my husband has a commitment to his political ideas, which include creating a society where all people can equally pursue their own ideas of success.  I can tell you, though, that he has had good, civil interactions with all types of people.  He has a strong commitment to a dialogic atmosphere.  “Dialogism presupposes maturity, a spirit of adventure, confidence in questioning, and seriousness in providing answers” (Freire, 1997, p. 99).

We live in an overwhelmingly conservative part of the country, where we are likely to encounter political disagreement with our community members on a daily basis.  However, that disagreement does not mean that we cannot get learn from our political differences, or that we cannot find commonalities along other domains of public life while still maintaining coherence between what we say and what we do.

Communications · diversity · political commentary · politics · Uncategorized

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

Before you officially leave your post, I want to thank you for your service to our country.  I have appreciated your leadership for multiple reasons, some of which include policy, style and temperament.

First, thank you for favoring peace over war; in my opinion, this position demonstrates your commitment to and love for humanity.  In difficult times I have been grateful for your measured approach to conflict.  I have a child who serves in the military, and I have appreciated your deep consideration for the sacrifices that military families make during times of conflict.

Thank you for the controversial steps you took to bail us out of an economic meltdown.  You walked into a horrible situation and somehow managed to find a way to keep us afloat in a time when the immediate economic outlook was dire.

Thank you for the Affordable Care Act.  One of our young adult children lives with a chronic illness. The monthly medications that keep him well for work and school cost more than one thousand dollars a month, not to mention all of his direct physician based health management needs. As a young man with limited work skills, he simply cannot afford to be without the insurance coverage that we have provided for him all of his life. Because we can now keep him on our insurance plan, he can more easily go about the hard work of becoming a self-sufficient adult who can financially take on his own health care needs in the future, in spite of his pre-existing condition.

Thank you for having enough confidence in the goodness of your fellow citizens to believe that winning the Presidential election was possible; that speaks loudly to your faith and hope in this country.

Thank you for being a gentleman, something that feels like a throwback to a time long gone.  It has been a privilege to have a dignified and gracious leader travel the world on our behalf.  I believe that your composure, diplomacy, and generosity have likely stifled some of the less than favorable stereotypes held of American citizens by others around the world, so I offer a million thanks to you and your family for making us “look like we come from something,” as my mother would say.

While I feel certain that you and your family have encountered high points during your tenure as President of the United States, I surmise that you have all made significant personal sacrifices as well.  All Presidents make personal sacrifices, but my guess is that the personal sacrifices made during your tenure have exceeded the norm.  I don’t believe that I could have responded so gracefully to the many hateful race-based remarks directed at the First Family; your ability to show grace to people who withheld grace from you is commendable. Frankly, your commitment to civility is something we should all aspire to reach.

Finally, I apologize for the behavior of my fellow citizens who made your job nastier than it needed to be, were politics the only concern.  As you know, breaking a social boundary inspires joy in some and fear in others.  However, once that boundary has been broken, it is broken forever, making it easier for all to push against boundaries in the future; thanks is not enough here.  

One of my favorite books is East of Eden by John Steinbeck.   In chapter thirty-four Steinbeck wrote, “Humans are caught… in a net of good and evil….A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only one hard, clean question: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well-or ill?” (p. 411). Steinbeck goes on to tell the brief story of three men, with the last one “devoted to making men brave and dignified and good in a time when they were poor and frightened and when ugly forces were loose in the world to utilize their fears” (p. 412). According to the story, this man was loved by many. 

If I may answer the previously posed question, you have done well in your service to our country, Sir.


Bélanger Robinson