Identity and Priorities

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that people like and are more comfortable around people and places that are familiar to them. (See Rule 11.) I’m sure you all have a friend who always orders the same thing at a restaurant–if you aren’t that friend yourself–or who always goes to the same place on vacation. People are more comfortable around people and places they know, or think they know, because they have things in common.

A few years ago I decided to hyperidentify myself. If I don’t understand my identity, I can’t understand my biases. So I picked a whole set of categories and dropped myself into each:

Sex Male
Sexual Orientation Heterosexual
Ethnicity White (Irish/Austrian/Croatian/German)
Social Class Middle Class (Lower)
Nationality American
Region Southern/Tennessee
City Chattanooga
Education College Graduate
College USC (SoCal, not SoCar)
Religion None
Church None
Political Party None
Employer Self
Hobbies Tabletop Gaming, Road Trips
Fandom None

Once I did this, I looked at the list and asked myself one question about each category: Does my membership in this group make me better than someone who isn’t a member?

Men aren’t better than women. Heterosexuals aren’t better than non-heterosexuals. Whites aren’t better than other ethnicities. For each of these, I’m a member of the group who has traditionally held power, and have often been bullies because of that power. Please note that I’m not saying that there aren’t differences between groups in these categories: There are significant and important differences, but these differences don’t make one group better than another.

I still consider myself middle class, even though financially I’m certainly not. I live in a middle class neighborhood and my daughter attends a middle class school in that neighborhood, so I’m living as middle class. Again though, middle class people aren’t better or worse than lower or upper class people.

I’m an American. I’ll get back to this one.

I live in the South. By birth, I’m a border kid. Kansas City isn’t South, isn’t North, isn’t East, isn’t West. It isn’t really Missouri or Kansas–I lived on both sides. When I moved to Wisconsin I was treated as a Southerner, when I moved to California I was treated as an Easterner, and in Tennessee I’m often treated as a Yankee due to my lack of a Southern accent. I would identify more as a Southerner were it not for the chunk of the population who thinks the “War of Northern Aggression” was fought over “States’ Rights.” It was, but the only right they were fighting for was the right to own slaves. Either way, I don’t think the people of one region are better or worse than another. Similarly, I love Chattanooga, but I don’t think Chattanoogans are inherently better than others.

I am a college graduate. This says three things about me:

  1. I could afford to go to college–in my case, through financial aid.
  2. I have parents who valued a college education.
  3. I did the work needed to pass the classes to graduate.

Only one of these, the third, might make me better than someone else, but I only think that it might make me better than someone who is lazy: It doesn’t make me better than someone who dropped out of school at sixteen to get a job to support her family.

I graduated from USC. I like it. They bought a big chunk of my loyalty with a ton of scholarship money. If push comes to shove, if the only difference between two job candidates are that one went to USC and the other went to Texas, I’d pick the Trojan. I have a bias here, but it’s a tiebreaker, not a major factor in any decision.

I’m not religious. I think this is because I have an inability to believe in anything without solid evidence. I don’t have faith in anything: If I think you are good, it’s because I’ve seen you do good things in the past, not because I have any innate faith in your goodness. I try not to shove my non-belief in anyone’s face. I have a hard time relating to very religious people sometimes, because they have something I don’t. I don’t think this makes me better or worse than them, just different.

As such, I’m not a member of a church. There is the Chattanooga Humanist Assembly here, but I don’t go to their monthly meetings, partially because I don’t really consider myself a Humanist–I think “aspiring to the greater good of humanity” is a bit speciesist–but mostly because I work most Sundays.

I’m an independent. I don’t feel superior to Republicans or Democrats, but I do feel superior to uninformed voters. I do think that in this respect I am better than anyone who is a Democrat just because their parents were Democrats or anyone who votes Republican just because the members of their church all vote Republican. But I also know independents who just vote for anyone who isn’t a Democrat or a Republican, so being an independent isn’t necessarily better. If you’re an informed Democrat or Republican, I can respect and support that.

I’m self-employed, so company loyalty is nonexistent. I’m not any better than people who aren’t self-employed; in fact, I think I’d rather not be self-employed right now. My hobbies don’t make me better than anyone else, although I think that people who get out and game, or travel, or play sports, or do anything besides stay at home and watch television are better than those who are glued to the set four hours a night. I don’t own a television precisely because I think it keeps me from doing interesting things.

I enjoy many things, but I don’t really identify myself as a fan of anything anymore. I was a huge Star Wars fan, but I gave away my collection. I enjoy watching the Chattanooga Lookouts and Chattanooga FC, but it isn’t part of my identity. Up until recently I considered myself a USC football fan, but the science on concussions ruining the lives of far too many players is causing me to give that up as well. I understand that people want to be a part of something larger than themselves, and I appreciate the spectacle of a rivalry football game or a science fiction convention. Having seen some of these groups, I do have some biases. I have had my car vandalized and my group assaulted at away games, and I have seen people bullied at a con because their type of fandom didn’t mesh with the bully’s. On the other side, when I went to see the USC baseball team play at Mississippi State a few years ago, their fans treated me like royalty. If I took full advantage of their hospitality I wouldn’t have been able to walk into the stadium due to overeating and drinking. None of this makes me want to act for or against any of these groups though.

As far as my identity goes, I don’t think anything about me makes me better or worse than anyone else. The only thing that matters, or rather, the only thing that should matter, is how I treat other people. Hopefully, I treat others with kindness and respect, regardless of their identities. Sometimes, I’m sure, I fail.

Priorities

This is where it gets more complex. Being elected to Congress requires me to act on biases. Everyone will expect me, with good reason, to act for the benefit of the people of the 3rd District. To a lesser extent, they will expect me to act on behalf of Tennessee and the U.S.A.

Other candidates have different priorities. Ted Cruz has made it clear that he wants a Christian nation. Donald Trump is running on an America First platform, which often includes stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment. Bernie Sanders wants to help the working class. Hillary Clinton wants to stay the course.

I’m not a particularly patriotic American. I don’t believe in saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day, because I don’t think oaths expire every twenty-four hours, and I don’t think most children really understand what they are saying every morning. Some things we do as a country are great. With regard to disease eradication, we’re doing wonderful things. We have helped eliminate smallpox, guinea worm disease is almost eradicated, we are getting close to wiping out polio, and malaria is down 37% since 2000. The U.S. Navy does the heavy lifting on keeping oceanic trade safe. The U.S. is continually ranked as having the most charitable people, with Myanmar knocking us from the top rank last year. Our universities are ranked as the best in the world. And our military supremacy, despite having many problems, has kept us from having a world war for over seventy years.

But we also do some horrible things. We have more people per capita imprisoned than any country in the world–with the possible exception of North Korea. The U.S. and Papua New Guinea are the only countries without paid maternity leave. We set a consumption standard that is unrealistic, unattainable, and dangerous. We have a track record of interfering in the internal politics of other countries, even deposing democratically elected leaders.

We should be good neighbors. Watch their houses to make sure no one is breaking in, but not going in and rearranging the furniture because we don’t like their feng shui. Obviously, there are limits. If we saw the neighbor beating his kid, we’d report it. If he loses his job, give him a hand.

I love living in a world where resource scarcity is becoming a thing of the past. Given the political will, there are few problems that we cannot solve. What I want to avoid, as a candidate and, hopefully, as a member of Congress, is taking actions that benefit one group at the expense of another. I don’t want to change Social Security and Medicare to improve things for the elderly while increasing taxes on the young. I don’t think that making sure veterans get proper medical and psychological care has to come at the expense of helping immigrants fleeing war zones. I think that with the resources we have, especially if we eliminate some tax loopholes exploited by the rich and by international corporations, we can allocate them to solve our most important problems.

We can make sure every child gets a good education, and that they have the food, shelter, and medical care they need. We can make sure that people are free to live their lives the way they like–but this doesn’t include the right to mistreat others who don’t have the same beliefs. We can work to make sure our children and grandchildren have a clean world.

I have some interesting and specific policy ideas on how we can get there. Stay tuned.

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