Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Reading

Straight Support — Two straight athletes come out to battle bullying and homophobia.

Ben Cohen is a world-class English rugby star, and Hudson Taylor is a three-time college all-American wrestler. They live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. They barely know each other.

But they have something quite unusual in common. They may be the only two high-profile heterosexual athletes dedicating their lives to the issues of bullying and homophobia in sports.

The question that each one frequently gets — besides “Are you gay?” — is why are they involved in something that does not directly impact them, or so it would seem.

That is just the point, they said. In much the same way that the hockey player Sean Avery’s recent endorsement of gay marriage resonated in large part because it came from an unexpected source, their sexual orientation helps the message cross to broader audiences, Cohen and Taylor said.

“It’s massively important,” Cohen said Friday in New York, a stopover on a cross-country campaign for his fledgling Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation. “Massively. Of course it is. I’m the other side of that bridge.”

Gay slurs have emerged into the public consciousness recently. The Los Angeles Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant used one against an N.B.A. referee and was fined $100,000. The Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was said to have made homophobic gestures and remarks to fans in San Francisco, and was suspended by Major League Baseball for two weeks. Widespread criticism of both men was seen as cultural progress by gay-rights supporters.

But in a world where no active American athletes in a major male team sport has declared his homosexuality, it remains rare for athletes to chime in on the issue of gay rights. Recent exceptions, beyond Avery, include Grant Hill and Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns, who recorded a public-service announcement decrying gay slurs in sports.

Cohen and Taylor are going much further.

More below the fold.

The Ultimate Conspiracy Theory — Michael Shermer looks at why tales of the Apocalypse find an audience.

In our ancestral environments, vigilance and rapid reactions often made the difference between life and death, so the default position was to assume that all patterns are real. It was simply safer, from the point of view of survival, to hear rustling in the grass as a warning of danger. Moreover, our ancestors saw meaning and intention (“agency”) in these patterns: They took rustling in the grass to mean that a predator was intent on eating them.

What does any of this have to do with our apocalyptic tendencies? Doomsday scenarios are patterns based on our perceptions of the passage of time. We tend to make causal connections among events—A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, etc.—simply because they follow one another chronologically. These patterns are often false, of course, but they are correct often enough that, in our brains, time and causality are inseparably linked. We thus tend to infuse the passage of time with meaning and to see agency in it as well, whether it takes the form of God’s supernatural agency in settling moral scores or nature knocking us off the pedestal of our technological hubris.

Apocalyptic visions help us to make sense of an often seemingly senseless world. The literal meaning of apocalypse is an “unveiling” or “revelation,” and this definition of the word holds true whether we consider St. John’s narrative in the book of Revelation or secular chronologies that fit the events of history into a larger cosmic design.

For human beings, it is much easier to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when we believe that it is all part of a deeper, unfolding plan. We may feel like flotsam and jetsam on the vast rivers of history, but when the currents are directed toward a final destination, it gives us purpose and meaning. We want to feel that no matter how chaotic, oppressive or evil the world may be, all will be made right in the end.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. — On the bus to the future.

As the bus full of college students rolls across the South celebrating the young people who famously defied segregation ordinances 50 years ago, and promoting Freedom Riders, a new PBS documentary, that preferred answer is being heard yet again. Indeed, a story on the freedom rides by your humble correspondent, who is traveling across the South with the student riders, drew the following odd, but entirely predictable, rebuke on a Miami Herald message board.

“Cars’ windshields are so large and the rearview mirrors are so small because our past is not as important as our future. So, look ahead and move on.”

One never encounters this wholesale dismissal of the past when one commemorates, say, the Kennedy inauguration or the Holocaust. That’s because those things makes us feel sorrow, nostalgia, resolve. As Ryan Price would testify, African-American history makes us feel . .  other things.

And if we find those things difficult to process, that’s understandable. But to respond to that difficulty by declaring this one strain of history off limits is to commit an act of plain moral cowardice.

That cowardice is unfortunately common. Ray Arsenault, who wrote Freedom Riders, the book upon which the PBS documentary is based, says that instead of doing the difficult work of seeking to understand the forces that made us, Americans too often choose to create “mythic conceptions of what they think happened” in the past. Those myths, he says, are “based on half-truths and a kind of civic indoctrination which makes them feel perhaps more comfortable, but that trains them to be followers and not leaders, not to ask the difficult questions.” Without posing those questions, he says, we will never find the answers.

Which is, I suppose, just fine by some of us because it is those answers we fear. I mean, “windshields?” Really?

The funny thing is, every car I’ve ever driven had one in the back nearly as big as the one in the front — along with three mirrors reflecting the road behind. It suggests that automakers, at least, recognize what some of us do not.

To navigate the road ahead, it helps to have some sense of the road behind.

Doonesbury — The ransom of Red Rascal.