Category Archives: Tanzania

Musings of an “East Coast liberal elite” on Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving, and so far I have sat mute as numerous messages have reached me across the Internet from friends and family, effusive in their gratitude for the many blessings that characterize their lives and relationships. These are sincere, warm, caring messages, and it is wonderful that this holiday opens the door to such expressions. Throughout the rest of the year, none of us says “thank you” nearly enough.

This year, however, I have not found the words inside me to be warmly responsive to these sentiments. Maybe I am just in a funky place…which might be forgivable in my current circumstances. I’m still trying – without measurable success – to make any sense of the recent presidential election, as the American political landscape seems to have entered into a place of irrationality and deep division. While the world around me seems very insecure, my own personal world also has more than a fair share of insecurity.  I’ve been unemployed (not counting a few consulting assignments and some modestly-remunerated adjunct teaching) for the past two years, despite my monumental efforts to find a new job. Success in securing employment eludes me. My small savings long ago were depleted, and despite many job applications still “pending” my prospects continue to look bleak. So…I am finding myself blocked from that congenial space in which to muse upon my blessings. I might take some small satisfaction in laying some blame for my plight on ageism and transphobia, but placing blame won’t change a culture that excludes well-qualified people from employment opportunities simply because they are mature, experienced, and living authentically.

Still, I know all too well that I am blessed.

I do indeed have much to be thankful for: my health, my family and friends, my Quaker faith community, my excellent education, my life’s narrative of so many international adventures, my growing and inspirational global community of LGBTI persons and allies. I should even be grateful for my cat…he’s a good cat.

Optimistic, idealistic do-gooders are generally not esteemed in society (cats or no cats), especially by those of a more hard-edged, pragmatic character. Still, I am grateful for my resilient idealism, despite the many knocks along the way. Among these ideals that mean the most to me are two: 1) that human dignity is universal, and 2) that ethical leadership makes all the difference in getting to a place where societies honor that dignity…for everyone. Continue reading Musings of an “East Coast liberal elite” on Thanksgiving

Old-Fashioned Bombast and Homophobic Politics, East African style

Inquisition

Beware the bombastic yet empowered moralizer, poised to point the finger of sin and approbation at anyone who dares stray from societal norms. Every society has them – ambitious politicians whose arrogance is only exceeded by their all-too-convenient conviction that they alone have a grasp on Truth. They know their constituents; they therefore know how to manipulate public sentiment so that their own sanctimonious moral rectitude will propel them to even greater positions of power, wealth, and influence.

After all this time, citizens everywhere should know these scoundrels for what they are, and send them packing. They should, but they often don’t. Such political mischief-makers often succeed in ascending their respective hierarchies largely by stepping on others, or worse…while casting their actions in the guise of protecting family values.

But perhaps I should be less hasty to condemn these guardians of public morality. After all, their convictions may be sincere (and advantageous). Worse yet, such convictions may simply be wrong and even harmful. In the secular world of democratic governance, all convictions ought to be held to the hard and dispassionate light of reason and fact. People of integrity weigh their convictions with considerable care and tenderness, knowing how interdependent we all are, and how each person deserves to be respected for their basic dignity and worth. No one ought to be “used” or manipulated to achieve one’s selfish goals, each person has value – even those who are, well, “different”. Oddly, after centuries of social progress and development, we still find empowered people who seem shocked – even outraged – by human diversity.

It is a very convenient outrage.

Demagogues and bombasts know an angle when they see one. It’s always easy to castigate “the other” and make the vulnerable the target for all that’s wrong in society. Such political climbers dispense with reason and fact at the outset, and instead play to public bias, fear, ignorance, and superstition to motivate – i.e. to use – their followers to their own political advantage. In so doing, they cannot help but being aware that they are harming those who “don’t matter”, people who are already marginalized simply by being different from the majority. Exploiting and disparaging the most vulnerable among us is among the oldest tools of political expediency, but it is also among the most cowardly and ethically bereft. For any democracy to grow and thrive, those who have been entrusted by the public to exercise positions of power and influence should be subject to scrutiny – and rejection – whenever such public officials exercise their office in callous and self-serving ways, while purporting to be moral champions.

It would be easiest to begin at home, with a hard look at the ultimate demagogue within my own society – Donald Trump. Fortunately, there’s already a flourishing industry in America devoted to holding this empty and arrogant blow-hard to account, and I have to believe that an appropriate reckoning will take place on November 8th. So instead, I put before you two other politicians, both exemplary in their self-serving and condescending moralizing, each of whom is currently very busy using their public positions to clamor for yet more of the political spotlight. Their respective quests for fame and political advantage are strategically and cynically intended to harness existing reservoirs of public prejudice and fear of “the other”. Both ignore well-established facts about diversity and human nature, choosing instead to exacerbate that ignorance to create even more animosity and hatred – all directed against people who are distinctive for their vulnerability and lack of power: sexual minorities. Each of these two men is not only doing a great disservice to the people they are targeting, but they are also deepening intolerance and prejudice to the detriment of their own respective societies’ coherence, growth, and progress.

In short, these two are all about themselves, and they’re riding roughshod over the principles of universal human dignity that all societies must embrace if they are to cohere and flourish. Continue reading Old-Fashioned Bombast and Homophobic Politics, East African style