Friday, January 24, 2014

The Ukraine and Kansas University

*This post contains quotes which have strong language. Just thought you should know.*

     Recently, KCUR (Kansas Public Radio) did a story on a professor that was fired from Kansas University for expressing a view that was in conflict with the views of KU. Please click HERE for that story. Leading up to that story, KCUR asked people to chime in on their own opinion concerning firing people for expressing views that are not compatible with the views of the employer. It was surprising to see how many people felt it was fine for schools or corporations to maintain a "media policy" that prevents their employees from expressing dissident voices; even on personal or private pages.
     It would be unfair to compare the firing of one professor to the current struggle and protests in the Ukraine. While the issues are very different, what interested me is the response of those in power to the protests of others. The Ukrainian president recently passed laws outlawing the gathering of people in order to protest. If a protester did register for one of these events, they received a text stating they were in violation of the recently passed law. Bypassing the Orwellian implications of receiving electronic notifications on something you haven't even done yet, does anyone else see a similarity between what happened to this KU professor and what is happening to the Ukrainian people?
     Being kept quiet can happen through various means. In the Ukraine it is happening through threats, imprisonment, violence, and electronic tracking. In other countries, like North Korea, the control is more overt and the media is clearly a mouthpiece for the government. It can also be more subtle. In countries where advertising and media are prevalent, the fight can be so subtle we are unaware we are losing.
     In the 2011 movie, Detachment, Adrien Brody plays a teacher (who probably plays the piano). Speaking to his class he says this about the "Marketing Holocaust":
     "Examples of lies in society: I need to be pretty to be happy. I need surgery to be pretty. I need to be thin, famous, fashionable. Our young men, today, are being told that women are whores. Bitches. Things to be screwed. Beaten. Shit on. Shamed. This is a marketing holocaust. Twenty-four hours a day for the rest of our lives, 'the powers that be' are hard at work dumbing us to death. So, to defend ourselves and fight against assimilating this dullness into our thought processes, we must learn to read. To stimulate our own imagination. To cultivate our own consciousness. Our own belief systems. We all need these skills to defend...to preserve our minds."
This message is not new. Fight Club expressed a similar message, albeit with a slightly darker and nihilistic response. The Matrix is an allegory for this message that "the powers that be" want us to remain docile, calm, quiet, and forever pursuing the status quo which "they" conveniently create. If this is beginning to sound a bit paranoid, go to the Ukraine and enjoy a quiet and peaceful protest. For a less dramatic approach, why not try going shopping while asking yourself why you like the clothes you like.
     This is not a blanket excuse to be an unmitigated argumentative pain in the neck. Part of being mature and learning to exercise love is to be sensitive and appropriate. However, that does not allow institutions, in any form they may take, to silence our voices. An offense even worse than trying to silence a voice is trying to replace it. To require others say, through their actions or their voice, that everything is fine, when everything is not fine, is to deny them their humanity for our own comfort. If we are honest with ourselves, the reason we seek uniformity and conformity is to avoid the discomfort that comes with difference.
     As I tweeted to KCUR, firing someone for expressing a dissident voice is tantamount to eradicating autonomy in the name of peace; it is self-defeating. When we ask people not to disagree with our beliefs, our policies, or our motives, we deny ourselves opportunities for growth. When our insistence on being right outstrips our desire for relationship, our rightness no longer matters.

*UPDATE* I was informed by KCUR via Twitter that the professor from KU has not been fired and instead is on administrative leave. Here is an article from the Huff Post about his supension.

Everything Is Great No Mouth
Everything Is Great
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014
    

7 comments:

  1. I'm on staff as a pastor at a 200-person church; if I were to get up on Sunday morning and during announcements say something inflammatory and derogatory about the church where I serve or the pastor I serve with, I would expect to get fired.

    The difference, there, is that I'm using the church's pulpit to speak the comments, but I think it's a similar comparison.

    Building relationship through disagreement means disagreeing fairly. If you and your wife had a disagreement, and instead (or even alongside of) going to her privately and personally, you spoke out about it online, then you would be in violation of your relationship.

    I don't see the difference, when it comes to your professional life.

    Comparing KCUR to Ukraine doesn't seem completely fair, even though they seem comparable. Government censoring its people for the sake of "image" is a symbol of corruption. Employers doing it is different. Most of us have much more say in where we work than where we live.

    The NSA comment above was definitely a joke, but I definitely wanted to contribute something meaningful to the conversation as well. Hope my thoughts are at least somewhat coherent.

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    1. The NSA comment was on facebook, not here. Oops

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    2. Which is too bad. The nsa comment bright up a great point: when is it OK for institutions to monitor our communications? Regardless, let me ask you this: if you felt the pastor was out of line, would you approach him? Doesn't scripture offer several verses on iron sharpening iron and ways to rebuke a friend? It would seem scripture assumes that disagreements are a naturally emerging property of being in genuine relationship

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    3. Oh, absolutely, I would! But I would do it privately. Iron sharpens iron intimately, not through public shaming or anything of the sort.

      You mentioned building relationships through disagreement. I absolutely believe in the principle there. This is how we truly grow in all of our relationships. If we can't agree with some civility, then we don't have a strong enough relationship. I'd argue that tweeting about our disagreements is going to directly produce a negative effect on our relationship, whether it's referring to individual/individual or individual/corporation.

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    4. So the means may negate the message. What recourse would you suggest when the relationship is not personal, but professional? Or governmental? What should the Ukrainian response be?

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  2. I think you've made a bit of a slippery slope out of the argument. First of all, people don't give up autonomy for peace. They always have the option to act how they want, but they may decide to be quiet for peace. This act is not intrinsically bad (for example, when you hold your tongue at a family member who you think is behaving foolishly your act is good, when you refuse to speak out against abuse/racism/etc your act is bad).

    Secondly, while the difference seems to be eroding, there is still a gap between governments and corporations/institutions. A part of this difference is the how free you are to embrace an alternative and what sort of disruption to your life that brings. In case of corporations and institutions this ability to choose an alternative is pretty simple and doesn't necessarily entail a disruption to your life. If you don't like the policies of an employer you can leave and find another one. If they don't like your views they can end the relationship as well. The hardship attached to a decision like that is not usually substantial for either party. In the case of countries it looks very different. If you don't like what a country's policy is you have limited means to change it, particularly in faux democracies. It's even worse if a country like that is at odds with your views. They may hunt you down, lock you up or even kill you. Want to change countries? Not easy. You may be able to build a case that you are a human rights victim and get asylum, but that's a hard, uncertain road.

    For me I think a big part of the argument lies in the balance of power and the associated consequences. If choice for both parties can be preserved with minimal hardship, then choice should reign. If one party is dramatically effected by the consequences it should place a greater responsibility on the Power to act carefully, graciously and fairly.

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    1. You are so right! Can I agree with you and agree with myself, simultaneously? I do think that often people can give up autonomy for comfort or the illusion of peace. Kierkegaard's faceless coin is a great analogy of that concept. We can, if we're not careful, trade autonomy for acceptance. Kierkegaard would go on to point out that this is not true acceptance because that which is being being accepted is not genuine, so the acceptance is not genuine.

      You're right that acceptance does not automatically exclude autonomy. In fact, real acceptance demands all parties retain autonomy while engaging in relationship.

      On to the power differential you so keenly observed. In therapy, we talk about maintaining a one-down position; we must allow the clients to be the expert of their life and we enter into their world with respect and trepidation as a partner. It's often described as "coming alongside". Is this even possible with a government? Is it practical?

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