Tag Archives: Families

Monday’s Mtg: Is it hard to be a man these days?

This will be a fun one. Gale’s topic relates to both the political and the personal. The political, obviously includes that to man people Donald Trump personifies the most toxic form of masculinity. His Alpha male bravado and obsessive need to dominate everyone and everything. His personal history with the trophy wives and the boasting of sexual conquests (and assaults). The way Trump belittles the manhood of anybody that challenges him, unless they are women, in which case the insults are highly sexualized.

Of course, we can’t know precisely how much Trump’s macho act helped him win the presidency. He got 42% 46% of the female vote and there were other large forces at work. Still, I think it is really important to try to understand the role that politicized male grievance played in getting us to where we are now and how powerful a force it might remain going forward. Partisan news and social media make it easier than ever to organize the rage-filled, as the rise of the “men’s rights movement” described in the links below demonstrates.

Luckily – and to Gale’s relief I’m sure – this topic is much broader than politics and our Dear Leader. Maybe it really is hard to be a man these days. Consider:

  • The personal financial status of non-college educated men have all but collapsed in recent decades;
  • Family structures have evolved to be more egalitarian and less centered on men and their needs;
  • Men’s cultural status arguably has eroded, as popular media celebrates female empowerment and expects men to conform to a new and more egalitarian standard of manhood;
  • Many non-White men bear the additional burden of fearing encounters with law enforcement and immigration authorities.

Lots to chew on. On Monday I will briefly introduce our topic and then give Gale an opportunity to do the same.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Reality / Changes –

Standards –

Politics –

NEXT WEEK: North Korea – Now what?

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Monday’s Mtg: How far should the government go to encourage healthy lifestyles?

The more I think about this one the more complicated it gets. OTOH, a lot of what the government does to prevent and treat what are called non-communicable diseases (like cancer, diabetes, anorexia, Alzheimer’s, and hypertension) is widely supported by most Americans. The public loves govt funding basic research on chronic diseases, Medicare and Obamacare subsidies, and govt-enforced safe food and water.

But, when Americans perceive that other people’s illnesses are due to poor lifestyle choices things get controversial. How far should, for example, regulation and taxpayer-supported health insurance go in protecting people from their own bad choices?

It’s not just a moral judgment, either. As the first article below points out, it is hard to attribute many chronic conditions to specific behaviors. This is true even for health problems they’ve been studying for decades like cancer and diabetes and (it seems to me) is probably even more true for behaviors that public policy is newly targeting, like obesity. How can we know what interventions are cost-effective if we don’t know how a lot of the science works?

Oh, and what constitutes a bad lifestyle “choice” exactly? Not all decisions about what to eat and where to work and live are equally voluntary, especially for children but also in a sense for people too poor to afford healthy choices.

Along with these issues, here are some other basic questions we might consider on Monday. I will be back from my vacation, BTW.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. Rationale: Why should the govt try to prevent/minimize bad lifestyle choices?
    — Why: General public interest? Externalities (effects on other people)? To help the economy? To prevent needless suffering? To fulfill international obligations?
    —  When: Scientific uncertainty.
    — Who: Federal govt v. state/local concern?
  2. Targets: Which behaviors?
    — Smoking/drinking, other drug use and vices.
    — Diet: Obesity/sugar, child nutrition/school lunches, “food deserts” in poor areas.
    — Violence and accidents: Guns, hazards. At work/home.
    — Health care: Insurance, Obamacare carrot and sticks.
  3. Tools: It’s not just regulation.
    — Taxation/subsidies.
    — Information and advocacy.
    — Market regs: Restrictions on buying/selling, food service, product safety regs, etc.
    — Health care.
    — People under govt control: School kids, prisoners, soldiers…
  4. Limits:  How much govt action is too much?
    — Who should decide?
    — Where has govt gone too far or should do more?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

NEXT WEEK: Does foreign aid work?

Monday’s Mtg: Does Our Juvenile Criminal Justice System Work?

Two of our next three topics relate to the American criminal justice system, and both are Linda’s ideas. On June 6, we’ll do policing reform. Monday we will cover a very, very important topic that gets much less attention: Our juvenile justice system.

We jail/detain a lot of juveniles in this country. On any given day in America, there are more than 80,000 youths in detention and correctional facilities, including 20,000 in juvenile detention centers, 54,000 in youth prisons, and almost 6,000 in adult prisons and jails.   These system’s problems are legion and discussions of them rife with sad phrases like “juvenile solitary confinement” which 24 states permit, and “school-to-prison pipelines.” Individual outcomes can be heart-breaking, including here in Southern California. You also could throw in other systems that treat children and their problems, like foster care and the mental health system, if you want to look at the problem in all its facets.

Yet, quietly over the last 15 years, reformers all over the country have recognized the gross inadequacies of juvenile criminal justice systems and have worked hard to improve them. I know very little about this, but the articles below will give you a sense of what has been accomplished and how much farther we have to go to make youthful offences an embarrassing adult memory rather than the first step towards a ruined life that ruins others’ lives, too.

I will red these articles and a few more and on Monday I will start us off by describing some of the juvenile system’s worst problems and biggest obstacles to reform. Then we can talk about solutions, etc. I will highlight developments in California.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Next Week:  What is a “just war?”

Monday’s Mtg: The Transgendered in America.

Transgendered Americans historically have been among the most marginalized and persecuted among us, and they still are. Yet, slowly, the country is waking up to the existence of transgendered (TG) people and some degree of acceptance is geminating in the mass culture. The actions of a few, high-profile celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox (the Orange Is the New Black actress) have helped to ease the process forward.

Politically, change is in the air too. President Obama’s Justice Department has interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to apply to TG-Americans. Obamacare basically bans discrimination in health insurance. The Pentagon will lift the ban on trans soldiers. The LGBT movement is taking TG rights seriously, including them in the broader struggle. I’ve read articles that say transgender equality is the next frontier of civil rights.

But, it’s a tough sell to millions of Americans. The transgendered are a small, little understood, and historically despised and feared group. Discrimination is widespread and not at all a social taboo in many parts of the country. Bathroom use seems to freak out some people, especially.

My goal for Monday’s meeting is pretty basic, since I do not know much about this subject myself: A little education. Plus maybe it would be useful to discuss how our society traditionally defines gender and the challenge that TG people pose to this definition. The idea that a person has the right to define for him/herself which gender he/she (rather than have it defined for them by the shape of their genitals and society) is the core moral question, is my understanding. I also would like to get into the politics of TG equality, especially in California. I believe our state has been a controversial pioneer in adding TG to anti-discrimination and public accommodation laws.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What does being transgender mean? What other terms are used these days to describe the spectrum of gender ID and sexuality?
  2. How many TG Americans are there, and where and how do they live?
  3. How bad is persecution? Why does it happen? Why does TGs’ existence bother so many people?
  4. How quickly are cultural norms of acceptance changing?
  5. What legal protections exist for the transgendered?  Are any of the political demands of the transgendered community unreasonable? What arguments are made in opposition other than just, “ew, it’s gross?”

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Next Week: Why are so many people on govt disability programs?

Monday’s Mtg: How Does Pornography Affect Our Perceptions of Sexuality?

Two psychology-related topics in a row!  And, one I’d considered for a while before Ali suggested. Porn is part of the fabric of modern culture, thanks to the internet. Porn is very widely viewed in the United States and around the world. Estimates are that up to 30% of daily U.S. internet bandwidth is used to download porn. It’s everywhere, and since so much of it is in cyberspace, it’s nowhere. This makes it almost impossible to regulate or control. Beyond its ubiquity, the biggest worry about our brave new porn world is that porn’s content may have changed, too. Opponents say it is much nastier today than in the pre-internet days. More violent and cruel. More misogynistic. More perverse, or at least much more varied in the sex acts it shows.

Ali asks, does all of that porn, viewed over and over from a young age by most men and boys (and some women, too) warp people’s view of sexuality? Intuitively, it seems like it must. We are a country where basic sex education is controversial. Kids may be using porn to learn the birds and the bees and infer what normal sexual behavior is. Yikes.

But, not every moral panic is appropriate. What we see in media is only one factor that shapes our views of intimate relationships. After all, they are still debating whether violence on TV and in the movies causes violent behavior, inures kids to violence, or has any ill effects at all. Our discussion on this topic should be as complicated and nuanced as any other.

Now, this is a delicate topic to discuss in a big group. I’ll try to keep us focused more on the discussion questions (below) than in most meetings, and let’s all try to keep our comments only moderately explicit. Fair warning: We will have to get into some of the details of what porn actually shows these days in order to explore how it might influence people. I will try to keep us R-rated at worst. But, if you are easily offended consider skipping this one.

Re: Jokes. We’re going to have some fun and get our share of one-liners, some from me. But, how about not so frequent that they kill the flow of discussion nor so crude they’re offensive?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. How much: How ubiquitous is porn today,, really? Does “everyone” really use it? What about women? Teens? Other groups?
  2. How bad: Is pornography really “worse” than it used to be?
  3. How mainstream:
    1. Is porn widely accepted in our culture now?
    2. Is the porn POV and themes surfacing in other parts of popular culture? How bad is that?
  4. How study: How do experts study pornography’s impact on people’s attitudes and behaviors?
  5. Impact on adults views of sexuality:
    1. Men’s view of women? Women’s views of men?
    2. Expectation in a relationship?
    3. What is normal sexual expectations or behavior and what is deviant? Homosexuality?
  6. Children/teens: Same Qs.
  7. Violence: Does porn promote misogyny and sexual violence?
  8. What to do:
    1. Are we panicking needlessly; e.g., teenage sex and sexual assaults are down, etc.
    2. If not, what should be done? Can anything be done?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Caution: Some have explicit descriptions – but NOT images! – of porn content.

Next Week March 2: Will Pope Francis Transform Catholicism?

Monday’s Mtg: The Future of Marriage in America.

The debate over marriage in America in recent years has focused almost exclusively on same sex marriage.  That’s an important and divisive issue, certainly.  But, the institution of marriage has been evolving in other ways, too – rapidly.  We’ve talked about some of these changes in other meetings, including a few weeks ago (future of masculinity) and in 2013 (changing gender roles). The average of first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, compared to barely 20 fifty years ago.  Low-income Americans are far less likely to be married than in the past, and they marry far less often than affluent couples.  More kids are born out-of-wedlock (but not necessarily in unstable relationships).  Some marriages retain traditional gender roles while others are more egalitarian.  Etc.

Clearly, American marriage is in flux.  What it will look like in the future is hard to guess.  Will American marriage fade away, as it has in some parts of Europe?  Will traditional marriage make a comeback?  Will there be multiple legal forms of marriage?  I thought this might make a good conversation..

A lot has been written on this topic, Google revealed to me in a dream.  I’ll try to synthesize the major questions surrounding the future of marriage and the possible trends it might take in my opening.  Then, we can start our discussion.

Note:  This week’s Discussion Questions are more detailed and to the point than usual.  The highlighted links – especially the first one, a 6-minute YouTube video by an expert – are particularly useful to read pre-mtg, too.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. How has marriage changed in the United States in recent decades, in terms of
    1. Who marries, when, and why; and
    2. The roles and expectations within marriages (like the “blue state” and “red state” models in link #1)?
  2. Have marriage and family law changed, too?  Have they accommodated the new reality, or has the law lagged behind social changes?
  3. What do you think the institution of marriage in America will look like in, say, 20-30 years, in practice if not in legal form?
  4. Can/should family law or other public policies change to either
    1. Reinforce the types of marriages that we morally prefer or are more socially desirable; or
    2. Accommodate and support whatever new kinds of marriages and family relationships that arise?

LINKS –

Next Week:  For-Profit Colleges: Market Niche or Scam?

Monday’s Mtg: The Future Of American Masculinity

This group does mainly politics, especially lately.  But, we trespass into cultural and social issues more frequently than you might think.  We’ve discussed gender roles, whether men and women think differently, society’s sexual double standard, and (pre-blog) the future of feminism.  But, we’ve never devoted an evening to considering our culture’s notions of masculinity.

Hmmm.  Maybe a mostly-liberal political club just prefers to discuss other aspects of our politics, rather than to debate the anxieties and problems of America’s dominant cultural group.   Still, for years now I’ve been reading that two things are true with regard to America’s men:

  1. Our 21st century economy and social structures no longer support traditional gender roles and their old-fashioned model of masculinity; and
  2. A lot of men are pretty pissed off about it, feeling underappreciated, unsupported, and adrift.

I’m not just talking about misogynist backlash, like the “men’s rights” movement, or right-wing backlash politics, like Rush Limbaugh’s sputtering fury towards “Feminazis.”  (I do think a common thread links the conservative anti-feminist backlash and general male cultural anxiety:  A loss of power and privilege.  Men are now a minority in the workforce and in higher education.  Some analysts believe that women, with their superior communication and social skills, are better-suited than men to thrive in our 21st century, networked, service-oriented economy.)  No, I mean this as more of a cultural topic, one in which we might explore how we have experienced changing notions of masculinity as we’ve matured.  Or, we could just spew facts and figures, like usual.

I’ll open us up on Monday by flexing…your minds, I hope, with a short introduction that lays out kind of what I mean by the topic.  Then, I’ll start the conversation by asking all of you whether you think the meaning of manliness has changed in your lifetime and whether that’s to the good or ill.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What is expected for a man to be manly in America today?  Which attitudes and behaviors are encouraged and discouraged?  Try listing these characteristics;  e.g., independent, bread-winning, tough, stoic, respectful of authority, fatherly?  What about violent, sexually aggressive, dominating?
  2. Have these societal expectations changed in your lifetime?
  3. Does our economy and society still support traditional gender roles?  What should be done to better support men and boys in our society?
  4. What are women’s expectations of masculinity?  Have they changed?  Are they realistic?
  5. What should we be teaching boys and girls about appropriate masculine behavior?

LINKS –  (some are short!)

Next Week  The Arab Spring – A Failure or an Incomplete?

Monday’s Mtg: Homelessness in San Diego and Beyond – What Should Be Done?

I’m surprised we’ve never done this topic before. Thanks to Linda for suggesting it. Homelessness has become a big issue in San Diego recently (see links). Nationally, it’s part of that constellation of problems that our political system tends to ignore, along with most anything else connected to poverty.  Our stunted national debate pretty much starts and stops with debating whether homeless people are entirely at fault for their own misery or merely almost entirely. Public policy in many cities tries to “manage” the homeless problem so it’s less visible, and often leaves it to non-profit and private do-gooders to cope as best they can – even in deep recessions, when the need is greatest and the funding (public and private) dries up.

Yet, I don’t mean to imply that homelessness is not a complicated problem or would be fixable with simple solutions. In fact, it’s a really, really, tough issue because homelessness often lies at the intersection of many of our social ills (like joblessness, poverty, lack of affordable housing, over-incarceration) and people’s personal tragedies (such as mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse). I hope to learn more about all this at the meeting and from the links, below. Linda will run the show, but I’ll be there in my usual capacity to call on speakers in as arbitrary a manner as I can. The background readings focus on San Diego’s homelessness problem, which was Linda’s intent, but I linked toy much more information about the homelessness issue, provided by two organizations devoted to eradicating it.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. Who is homeless in San Diego and why? What about nationally? What role do personal factors play versus structural/economic factors? What does this tell us about solutions?
  2. What is San Diego doing about homelessness? How’s that going: what’s working and what is not working?
  3. What do other cities generally do – and not do – to combat homelessness?
  4. What would a more effective strategy against homelessness look like? What role would be played by our national government, state/local governments, and the non-profit sector and charities?
  5. How can we make people care more and judge less?

LINKS –

Next Week:  Causes and Lessons of the Great Depression.

Monday’s Mtg: Is There a Growing Dependence On Government?

I thought we’d try something a little different for a few weeks.  Our next 4-5 meetings take on directly some of the major political themes that today’s conservatives sound.  For me, there could be no other choice for the first topic than the “growing dependency” on government idea.

In case you didn’t know, the idea that Democrats in general – and Obama in particular – want to get Americans “hooked” on government is a major, major theme on the Right these days.  One hears it over and over and over again on talk radio, conservative websites, and other media outlets.  Dependency on government programs, they say, is rising, and the public only voted for Obama twice because he first promised and then delivered freebies to his voters.  This meme has a powerful appeal to millions of Americans and seems to have become a core belief among conservatives.  Poor people are no longer lazy, it seems; they’re seduced into dependency on the State.  They are victims of liberalism.

It is easy – way too easy, speaking of seductive notions – just to dismiss it all as covert racism and willful blindness to seeing the worst recession since WWII and the fracturing of the job market for low-income Americans.  One of my big goals for Civilized Conversation is to try to understand things most of us want to dismiss out of hand and to examine them on their merits.  Could there be anything to this idea of growing dependency on government?  What if the economy stays flat for years?  Regardless of the merits of this notion, why is it so appealing to conservatives?

I’ll open our meeting by introducing the topic and summarizing the evidence for growing government dependency. Then, we can perhaps debate in a civilized fashion why so many of our countrymen believe in this.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What do they mean by a growing dependence on government?  What evidence do they cite and how do they (or do they!) rebut the obvious counterarguments?
  2. Who really benefits from government?  Do we really redistribute much?  If so, why?
  3. Why does the dependency meme resonate so strongly with conservatives?
  4. Could there actually be a problem here?  What if private sector jobs don’t come back?  Will dependency advocates be right?

Links –

The argument

Rebuttals/Evidence –

NEXT WEEK:    Do Americans agree on what freedom means?

Monday’s Mtg: How To Raise Americans’ Wage Levels

Next Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his sixth state of the union address.  He is expected to focus on small steps the government can take to start restoring the widely-shared prosperity that our economy used to provide, before a tiny sliver began capturing all of the fruits of rising productivity.  Three years after the Great Recession officially ended economic growth is back, stocks are back, corporate profits are back.  But, employment, wage growth, and job security are not.  Worse, this situation caps a 40-year trend of stalled median wages that doesn’t even take into account the millions of workers that, starting in about 2000, have dropped out of the labor force altogether.

We’ve talked about some of this before (here and here, for example).  But, we’ve never focused a whole meeting on solutions.  Maybe that’s because it’s so daunting to figure out ways to improve pay in private markets where most Americans make their livings.  Or, maybe it’s because we don’t do solutions in this group.  Anyway, Obama’s speech gives us a good opportunity to discuss whether and how to use public policy to raise wages.

Monday I’ll open a little longer than usual because I want to describe the problem clearly and explain enough details about what Obama is expected to propose that we can discuss them intelligently.  I’ll also mention, but not rebut, the main arguments of those that argue that raising wages through government policy can’t possibly work without harming our overall economy. As you can see from the discussion questions below, this can be a kind of a theory of everything topic.  My idea to avoid this by focusing on the Obama proposals, one by one.  But, we can go big and do a government is benevolent / inherently useless discussion if you really want to.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What? Are low wages really such a problem for many Americans?  Which ones?  Low compared to what: To the economic value they produce?  If so, why aren’t they paid accordingly?  If not, are wages the problem or is it something else?
  2. Why/ Causes.  Also, are these causes “natural” to a modern economy, to the workers themselves, or did we do this to ourselves?
  3. Solutions?  What could be done –  without reducing job growth or s screwing up economy and misallocating resources?
  4. SOTU Proposals?  What will the president propose?  How will he justify them?
  5. Objections?  What are the main objections to these proposals (that don’t fit on ideological bumper stickers)?

Links – (A very broad topic.  Read the topics that interest you.)

The Problem –

Solutions  –

NEXT WEEK:    A post-SOTU topic.  The Good, Bad, and the Ugly Of a 2-Party Political System.