Friday, October 27, 2017

The Foreigner

If you are a Jackie Chan fan - and maybe even if you are not - you will like The Foreigner. It's a compelling story in the tradition of Taken. A father has lost his daughter, and he will do anything to bring the perpetrators to justice. From the shocking act of terrorism at the beginning to the end the audience knows is coming, the film keeps us engaged and (generally speaking) rooting for the right people for the right reasons.

There are several interesting elements to the story that deserve some serious thought. Pierce Brosnan's character (Liam Hennessy) is a morally compromised man trying to do the right thing for morally ambiguous reasons. He would be a great case study for an ethics class. Several affairs show what happens to individuals and situations when sex, which is meant to be an expression of love, becomes a weapon. As much as I am interested in pursuing those thoughts more deeply at some point, I am currently more interested in something that stood out to me in relation to Jackie Chan's character, Quan Minh.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

When Men Become Monsters

In an ideal ecosystem, everything has a particular role to play; there is a balance that is hopefully not disrupted by something that breaks the natural flow and harmony. In a broken ecosystem, something invasive is introduced that will brings harm. (I'm talking to you, zebra mussel.)

The Harvey Weinstein scandal is calling attention to a lot of important issues, so I want to be sure we don't overlook this one: we have a sexually broken moral ecosystem in the United States. While both men and women are are impacted, women are bearing the brunt in overwhelming numbers as morally monstrous men increasingly exert their power to use and abuse. How did we get here? What are the causes? What can we do to address it?

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First, we have to address the terrible social cost of pornography. Is there really any question that it fuels all kinds of terrible fallout for women and men? It fundamentally damaging how people view others. It’s ruining sex for millions of people; it’s leading to a rise in human trafficking; it’s creating a culture in which we begin to think of pornographic norms as if they were actual norms. Read up on how people who work with kids are noticing wildly changing norms for young girls who are being pressured to perform like porn stars by equally young boys who are being raised on porn. And if you are wondering if there are studies that confirm the link, the answer is yes. 

Yet in the midst of this damage we laud moral monsters like Hugh Hefner - well, not everyone did - who have done all they could to convince us that our current sexual ecosystem is the best of all possible worlds: Boys will be boys, and women will be bunnies. When men say ‘hop,’ women should be happy to do so naked on the grounds of a castle that puts Neverland's scandalous rumors to shame. It’s all so very normal and good and healthy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Plague Of Porn

As much as I like to explore both sides of an issue, the two sides of this issue are remarkably lopsided. Pornography is a moral and social plague that brings devastation to those who make it and those who use it. Here's the argument I will make, and which my links will support:
  • It dehumanizes, objectifies, and eventually destroys the actors and actresses who make it.
  • It turns those who make and produce it into callous users if not predators.
  • It ruins romantic relationship emotionally, sexually and relationally. 
  • It ruins normal relationships as users get used to the commodification of people.
  • It fuels “acting out” as many (not all) users find that simply viewing an activity is not enough.
  • It fuels a culture that normalizes sexually abusive behavior (see the recent headlines about a daunting list of predatory males - then ask women around you if they have had those kinds of experiences with men in their lives)
Full disclosure: I gave ten years of my life to pornography. Fortunately, this was before I had easy access to the internet, so I was spared the easy escalation of clicking on the next link. I didn't need that to fall into an addiction. Had you asked me at the time, I would have said it was no big deal (except for the shame and depression that followed my inability to stop). It wasn't until I found freedom - which is a story for another time, and involved what I consider to be God's miraculous and crushing intervention in my life - that I realized how much it had been impacting my view of women and sex, as well as my overall judgment of what gave people value, worth and dignity.

I rant about this not because I sit astride some moral high horse; I'm pleading with you as one who was broken by this, and as one who did not realize until later that cost that all those around me would pay for all the time I spent training myself to view the world through pornified lenses. As I moved from addition to freedom, I spent a lot of time reading up on how porn impacts the brain, how it impacts relationships, and how it devastates those who make it. I also spent a lot of time refilling my mind with truth (more on that in the links at the end).

It is not a victimless crime. Someone always pays a price. Don't take my word for it; read the links. There's a lot of them, but there's probably not enough that can be said about the seriousness of this issue.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Apocalyptic Fevers And Ships: Two Novels Of Life After The Collapse

I've always been a fan of apocalyptic fiction. Plagues, zombies, alien invasions, world wars, the end of the world, I love 'em all. It's not that I'm morbid (or so I will defend to the bitter end). It's more that I like seeing how people envision humanity's response when everything falls apart. Two recent library impulse reads, Fever by Deon Meyer and The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, gave me a golden opportunity to visit two visions of a world in collapse.

* * * * *

Fever has been getting some buzz about being the next great apocalyptic epic, and it's got some great blurbs from people who know something about that genre (such as Stephen King himself). Set in South Africa, mostly in the village of Vanderkloof in the Northern Cape, it picks up after a plague has wiped out the vast majority of the world. Infrastructure is down; desperation is creeping in. The story begins with a father and son's fight for survival before morphing into the chronicling of the rise of a city in the midst of a dangerous and lonely world.

It's hard to highlight the strength of this story, because it did everything well. The depth and development of the characters were compelling (it's a father/son story at heart, but there is much more at work). The rising tension and increasing stakes felt realistic. Fever even shows how its easy for bigger-than-life heroes to build the historical mythology of a culture. I could gush, but I have more dignity than that as of now. A couple things stood out to me that set this story apart.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The United States And Gun Violence: What's A Problem, What's Not, And What To Do About It

After the recent horrifying shooting in Las Vegas, the gun discussion has been hot, as it should be. I probably don’t need to note how inundated the United States is with guns. Our culture is saturated in a way that is outstanding – and I don't mean that in a good way – among other nations, particularly nations in the West. In terms of the raw numbers, the human toll is daunting.

A discussion of guns and violence cannot afford to minimize the personal and emotional impact of gun violence. Can we all agree on that? It's far too easy for pro-gun advocates to raise a defense that appears to minimize the fact that real families are mourning real death because a gun killed someone they loved. An argument for gun ownership can easily seem like a cold, legal argument that ignores tragedy.

On the other hand, the ongoing discussion must also include the facts surrounding gun sales and ownership. The anti-gun crowd too quickly lumps gun owners into a melting pot full of of rabid, violence-loving fools who will only give up their guns when they are pried from cold, dead fingers. This is not fair.  It's a gross misrepresentation of the vast majority of gun owners.

I would like to offer some facts about gun violence and ownership in the United States (with plenty of links!), and then make a recommendation on what we can do as a culture that aligns with what has been observed in other Western countries wrestling with what to do about this problem.

Two important caveats before we jump into this.

First, because I think the statistics defend lawful gun ownership more than is often assumed, I am afraid I will be dismissed as a gun lobby homer. I’m not. I do not own a gun and don’t have plans to own one. I am not a hunter or sport shooter. I like going to outdoor music festivals, and movie theaters, and restaurants, and church, and just walk walk down the street  – all places where gun violence has taken a tremendous toll. I hate the idea that violence is that close. If we could live in a world without guns, that would be fantastic.

Second, I believe there are practical things we can and ought to do in order to address gun violence. I’m convinced there is a two-pronged approach. First, we should enforce the laws we have and look at how to improve them. Second, we have to recognize the problem of human hearts. If all our hearts were good (and our brains free of mental illness), gun violence would be a non-issue. For that reason, we must have a national conversation about what is forming people who commit all kinds of violence. But we don’t live in a world full of pure hearts, and so we must engage in behavior modification more effectively than we are currently doing. I believe there are ways to do that, and I will address that at the end.