Saturday, July 18, 2020

Texas Notes: Virtue Signaling

     Our regular Saturday report from EGD Austin Bureau Chief, Caren Jeskey.

 “We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.”                               ― Immanuel Kant

     I once spent time on a tobacco farm in a small town in Kentucky. The land owners, rich and humble, were still overseers. The migrant workers lived in a large dorm-like building with beds, a kitchen and bathrooms. The beds were spaced apart for privacy, but there were no room dividers. It was very clean, temperate and well appointed yet it was still just a giant room where grown men had to live together for meager wages. Couldn’t the landowners have truly shared their wealth with the men who did dangerous and back-breaking work every day? What if they'd each had a small home where brothers or friends could be roommates, and spouses and children could come and join them and wages to support a family? Wouldn't this be more humane?
     The land owner told me a story. One of the workers came from Guanajuato Mexico to work on the farm and quickly found his new job to be untenable. I was young and very fit back then and helped plant one day, it was brutal. This young man was so distraught that he packed his bags and left after just a few days. He was walking down the road trying to get back home to Mexico when the landowners and his brother, also a worker on the farm, drove down and found him. The owners escorted him back home via airplane and spent some time with his family. This surely created a tighter bond and more trust between the owners and this family of workers. The land owners did their best to be good people; however, they were in an industry that included marginal employment of a corral of men hired on as workhorses, and it just didn’t sit quite right.
     Yes, we can have industry and hire workers. No, we cannot sit in ivory towers like Jeff Bezos (worth an estimated $178.4 billion) is doing today while his Whole Food workers are expected to have face time with hundreds of potentially COVID ridden members of the public each day. One person should not possess such wealth and if they do, they should not be allowed to exploit others to keep their deep pockets from tearing.  

      My Busia (great grandma) used to tell me to “be kind to everyone.” Her daughter, my Grandma Marie, also showed kindness to strangers around every corner. My Grandma Olive always had a smile and a joke, and I don’t think I ever heard her say an unkind word about another human being. My parents taught me about the value of justice since I was a young child, and tried to give me diversity of experience. They chose socially redeeming work when they could, and showed me the value of integrity and honesty in less-redeeming work. I believe that these messages have molded me into a person who cares about others. I have not always been a good person to those I love (including myself) and I have had relationship challenges like everyone else. I knew, though, that I (must always strive to be more balanced in order to be a better member of society. I now seek to have harmony across all boards and minimize conflict when I can. I admit when I am wrong to the best of my ego’s ability, and say I am sorry when I need to. I will continue to use my voice and take actions to contribute to social justice. 
Our Present Image (detail) by David Alfaro Siqueiros (MoMA)
  In my estimation virtue signaling, if honest, is a proper use of one’s voice. Had I not heard stories of the importance of practicing ethical humanism as a child, had I not witnessed my family doing so, who would I be today? Living in the South has provided me with a brand new challenge to test my mettle. For the first time in my life I find that I have right-leaning, Trump supporting, all lives matter believing (of course they do, but that misses the point of striving for justice for all), non mask-wearing, anti-vaxxers— some with ingrained white supremacist beliefs— in my life. Shouting and screaming at them won’t get us anywhere, from what I have seen, but patient discourse and modeling just might. Let’s keep holding out for hope.

     “Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”                                                                            ― Kofi Annan



  1. So sorry to hear that you have so many have right-leaning, Trump-worshipping, white lives matter believing, anti-mask, won't-stop-partying, anti-vaxxers— some with ingrained white supremacist beliefs— in your life. I was going to suggest leaving Texas, but then I realized that those orange ruffians are nearly everywhere, including places like Illinois and Ohio.

    Shouting and screaming at them won’t change their minds, but I enjoy pissing them off. I know the adrenalin rush is not healthy, but I do it anyway. Why? Because...rage is almost like an addictive's bad for you, but it makes you feel better while you're trying to make them feel worse..

    1. Thank you for your comment. I have and will lose my temper again. I also believe that more gets done with hard and patient work behind the scenes and I have chosen a field where I can put food on peoples' tables, procure affordable medications, and bus cards in their hands when necessary. I am in a leadership group that seeks to provide health resources to disenfranchised people and have always sought to do so. The larger systems are so broken that it often feels like bandaids on a geyser and I recognize that changes in our infrastructure are just as important. It's a lot! But one day at a time.

    2. 2016 election results:


      Trump 52.5%
      Clinton 43.5%


      Trump 51.8%
      Clinton 43.7%

      Uh, it's not like you were riding a Blue Wave there in the Buckeye state, Grizz. You acknowledged as much in your comment, but I wanted to check the box score.

      Plus, in your marveling at Caren being stuck in Texas, you seem to disregard the fact that she lives in freaking Austin, as is pointed out by Neil before every post of hers. That's kinda like feeling bad for Illinois residents who live in Chicago because we're surrounded by corn fields.

    3. I'm well aware that Ohio went for Trump. It's been red for some time, after being purple, and blue before that. We Hillary campaigners knew that we would lose Ohio, which is now a red sea with a number of blue urban islands that often change the outcome. We knew that wouldn't happen in 2016, but we still thought Trump would lose the election, right up to the last minute. Obama carried Ohio in my previous two campaigns, by 4.6 points and 3.0 points, respectively.

      Ohio has nearly always has picked the winner in presidential contests, going back to Civil War days. There have only been four or five instances in which Ohio did not reflect the national outcome. Last two were FDR in 1944 (lost Ohio but still won), and Nixon in 1960 (won Ohio but still lost to JFK). We thought Trump would surely add his name to this short list, but we were wrong. I think it will happen in 2020, though. He will win Ohio again, but he will get the boot anyway.[folds hands in prayer].

      How much do you know about those cornfields? I used to live out there. Take it from me...remove "Chicagoland" and Illinois would be just another rural red "I" state...a lot like Indiana, or maybe Iowa. Mr. S.has repeatedly pointed this out, following his downstate visits.

      Sounds like even Austin, now one of the larger metro areas, in both Texas and the nation, has acquired more than its share of benighted yahoos, who aren't shy about getting in the face of a "Yankee"...they even called her a "socialist worker" at one point.

      If this is now routine, in supposedly-liberal Austin, one can only imagine what the rest of the state is like. Or maybe Austin, with all its growing pains, isn't just for liberals anymore. Everywhere in the country, the yahoos are no longer hesitant about being racist and sexist and anti-mask and Trumpist. Even in the blue urban islands of Ohio. I came to this one for love, but also for the plentiful jobs and the mild, sunny climate. I was misinformed.

    4. Perhaps the comment about the cornfields was a confusing analogy in that paragraph, I'll admit. I just meant it with regard to the culture and sights, not politics. Of course, I'm aware of the political geography in Illinois.

      Good on you for your campaign work, Grizz. Must have been pretty dispiriting last time.

      And yes, even in the blue part of the blue states there are plenty of folks who've been emboldened by our Maximum Leader.

  2. Patient discourse and modeling? Knowledge and tolerance? Pretty to think so, as our host is fond of saying. Cult followers like that either find truth and justice the hard way or not at all. Overwhelmingly not at all.

  3. On LinkedIn, in a discussion thread, someone tossed out the accusation of virtue signaling to another commenter.

    I asked, in response, just what part of virtue it was he had a problem with, and was met with utter silence by way of reply.

  4. I've used the term virtue signaling auto-ironically before, but I still haven't looked into the origin of the term. I think I will, later today. Thanks for inspiring me to do some research, C!

    1. Cool potatoes. Philosophers have been talking of this forever. We can tawk.

  5. If you achieve a degree of patience and tolerance and manage to practice both in these difficult times you have my total frespect. I feel you have done better than I as my supply of both qualities (hard-earned and hard-learned) diminished substantially since 2016. How did these twin disasters of Brexit and Trump happen I wailed to a wise friend. It still escapes me. But I remember his words: Ian, you expect too much of democracy... it rarely works for the common good since there are at least 51% of assholes in the world. I had no answer to that and still don't. And however hard I try I cannot bring myself to defend their right to be assholes. Caren, you have trumped me with this one (forgive the expression! Maybe one day I shall understand better and get more peace of mind.

    1. I like the word (typo) freespect. We can respect each others' freedom of speech, unless it fuels hate or violence, or murdering each other with a virus. I have struggled to learn from wise teachers for many, many years to strive to do what I can (thus social work and activism) and waste my breath and energy less trying to wear down those who want to argue. I am firmly placed in my identity as ethical humanist to the best of my human ability. Life is short! Why not? This is not advice to you, just my experience. I like to focus on reaching out a hand rather than arguing with those who disagree. I vote, lobby, write letters, join helpful groups, sit on a board of helpers, but self-care first so I can do these things.


      Ethical Humanism, also called Ethical Culture, is an evolving body of ideas that inspires Ethical Societies. Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity (Humanist Manifesto III). For Ethical Humanists, the ultimate religious questions are not about the existence of gods or an afterlife, but rather, “How can we create meaningfulness in this life?” and “How should we treat each other?”

  6. Here's some patient discourse for the Trump supporters:

  7. Thanks for giving me something to think about Caren.

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  9. Kofi Annan had it right regarding propaganda as it pertains to ignorance and bigotry. Add greed to the equation and you have what we are experiencing now.
    Those who suffer from those characteristics have no interest in changing.
    We have no choice but to tolerate them while still keeping an eye on them.
    They don’t realize it but they are in fact the true enemies of the state.

    1. Agreed- though I have seen people come around a little bit here and there. In the meantime I try to position myself where I can to provide tangible help.


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