Carlin, OSHA, Class Guilt, Vonnegut, and the Lowest Common Denominator

The job of any good comedian is to kick your head out of your ass. To throw the parts of life that make you uncomfortable in your face in a way that shocks you, makes you laugh, and makes you think. People in general go through life tucked under the warm, dark blanket of their assumptions and beliefs, eyes squeezed tightly shut, ears plugged against anything that might disturb their slumber; comedians are the guys who lift the covers and douse the sleeper in icewater, and shout, “Hey, wake up! You’re missing this!”

George Carlin is one of the best there is with the bucket of icewater. He’s fearless. He’s quick and smart. Mostly he’s dead on, but even when he’s wrong, he leaves you thinking about why he’s wrong.

On his newest CD, taken, I guess, from his most recent HBO special, he does this bit on the US exploration of Mars. He’s against it. He’s very funny in presenting his reasons, but his reasons boil down to: We could use all that money to feed poor people; and, We aren’t worthy to take our culture out into the universe because we still have wife-beaters and child-molesters and McDonald’s and cultures that forcibly remove the clitorises of women so they won’t enjoy sex and any real civilization would be appalled to see us coming.

We’re not going to get into the “feed the poor people” argument here. Okay? It’s one of Carlin’s last gasps of Liberal Economoronics, and if he thinks about it he knows better, and if you happen to agree with him but you think about it, you’ll realize that you know better, too. If you want a laugh, follow the path of this search I did on Google — “use the money to feed the”/“use that money to feed the”. If you can’t figure out why “use that money to feed the … whatever” is a seriously stupid concept, e-mail me and I’ll post your e-mail (anonymously, if you prefer) and whichever others I get in a separate column, and then I will SHOW you.

But not today.

Today we’re hunting bigger game. We’re going after the Burden of the Lowest Common Denominator, and the first peg in the BotLCD is the “We’re not worthy” argument. And that argument goes like this: We’re not worthy to go into space, build new skyscrapers, celebrate our own culture and our own lives because vast portions of this planet are political, economic, or human-rights shitholes. Frequently all three at once. We’re not worthy because our own culture is materialistic, and full of stupid people. We’re not worthy because we have stressed the ‘wrong values’.

That’s Point One. Hang onto it. “We’re Not Worthy.”

Here’s Point Two.

I was watching a documentary on the building of the St. Louis Arch the other day — a fascinating story about a magnificent achievement that developed new construction techniques, created an architectural triumph, and stands today as a symbol of daring and creativity. And one of the men talking about the building of the Arch mentioned that the insurance company underwriting the building of the Arch had predicted X number of deaths during construction, but that no one had died. And then he added this chilling little throwaway line — “Because of OSHA regulations, something like this probably couldn’t be built today.”

OSHA, for those of you who have never had to prep for an ISO inspection, is the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, a US government organization whose mandate is to ensure a safe and healthful work environment. OSHA is the enforcer of hardhats, safety harnesses, non-lethal cleaning and disinfecting supplies, dirty needle disposal, handwashing technique, and a whole lot of other important stuff. Like most government agencies, it is humorless, unimaginative, and more than all other government agencies combined, it is dedicated to the creation of Life Without Risk. It and insurance companies walk in lockstep to prevent people from doing things that will hurt others, but also to prevent them from doing things that will hurt themselves. That second bit — barring people from choosing their own risks — is a Bad Thing. But it’s important to those who would have us bear the Burden of the Lowest Common Denominator.

So along with “We’re Not Worthy,” hold “Life Without Risk” in your head.

Point Three. Whiteness Studies FredOnEverything has an intelligent overview of Whiteness Studies but the main point is that, if you’re white, you’re supposed to feel guilty for what your race has achieved, cumulatively, over the past couple thousand years. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that I’m supposed to feel guilty for my guys stripping naked and painting themselves blue and taking heads in battle to stick over their door frames way back when, so I’m guessing it’s only when we started developing interesting technological and scientific and literary and artistic achievements that we became Evil Oppressors.

Whiteness Studies is just the newest offshoot of the mindset that claims that the playing field should be level. That everyone should have the same stuff, be treated in the same way, be allowed to do the same things. That everyone who runs the race should get a fucking ribbon. Yeah, my kids went to one of those schools too, for a while.

So now we have “We’re Not Worthy.” “Life Without Risk.” “Level the Playing Field.”

There’s our triad of the Burden of the Lowest Common Denominator. That everything should be fair, that everything should be safe, and that until everything is safe and sane and equal for everyone, no one should do more than anyone else does. No one should go into space until fuckheads stop whacking the clitorises off of their baby daughters so that when they grow up, some other fuckhead won’t have to worry about them cheating on him because he sucks in bed. No one should build a mansion because not everyone can have mansions. No one should build another St. Louis Arch because building it wouldn’t be safe and who cares if it’s glorious.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a story titled “Harrison Bergeron” about a world in which everyone was handicapped. Where those who were not born with handicaps had them artificially applied. Weights and chains for the fast and graceful, distorting glasses for the keen-sighted, disruptive noises to keep the brilliant from thinking too long about any one thing. Two talented beautiful people stripped off their shackles and their blinders and danced, and they flew, and for a few moments they were wonderful and glorious and they created something magnificent. And then the envious who remained bound to the ground killed them. We’re inching toward Kurt’s nightmare, and some days, we’re running.

Guess what. The world is not fair. People are not equal, except (in some places) in the eyes of the law. The poor are always going to be with us — NOTHING is going to remove poverty from the face of the earth. Stupidity is going to be here, too. Stupid people have kids just like smart people. Envy is here to stay, and so is ignorance, and evil, and disease, and criminality. There is no fix for the whole entire world, and in all likelihood there never will be. Neither is there any all-encompassing WE that brings everyone into the flock and makes them all the same, nor should there be.

So do those of us who are willing to take risks, who can achieve, who have access to education and intelligence and the courage to use them embrace the Burden of the Lowest Common Denominator? Do we crawl into a hovel with no water and no sewer and no electric and sit rocking back and forth, beating our breasts and tearing our hair because we feel bad that we dare to dream of better things when others can’t or won’t?

Do we choose degradation and mediocrity and filth and guilt? If we do, then nothing will ever get better for anyone, anywhere. It is not the breast-beaters and the hair-tearers that make good things happen.

If we do not dream, then no one will dream. If we do not soar, then no one will soar.

No one will have to feel bad about himself either, of course, because everything will be shit, and that’s what some folks want. To share the pain, because they can’t or won’t pursue anything better.

Or do those of us who can dream, and reach to the stars, those of us who are willing to take the risks in order to achieve — do we go ahead, and do worthwhile things now because now is when we have? Do we, regardless of our own race or creed, or anyone else’s, step up and do, and in doing hope that we can inspire a few others who, without our example, might not have dared?

I dare to dream. I dare to achieve. I hope you will, too.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

33 comments… add one
  • Tom King Oct 27, 2011 @ 23:52

    Great post, Holly. Keep it up and I’m going to have to add you to my favorite conservative science fiction author’s list:

    http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7532675517685927052#editor/target=post;postID=1838546538374961197

    • Holly Oct 28, 2011 @ 8:10

      I could live with that. I’m not sure I’m quite what you have in mind, though. (I can’t read your post—your link won’t let me see your page so I have no clue how you define conservative.)

      Note that I’m not a member of any political party, that I disagree vehemently with the attachment of religion to conservativism, that I strongly support the right to freedom of religion—because freedom of religion is freedom of thought—but I find all religions appalling, that I hold the right of the individual to self-determination sacred, with the caveat that at the moment where any individual uses force against another individual except in his defense or the defense of his loved ones or property, that individual relinquishes his own rights.

      That because I hold the right of the individual to self-determination sacred, I support gay marriage (actually, I don’t think the government needs to have its sticky fingers in marriage at all, but since it has declared itself to have the legal right to legislate personal unions, I think both gay and straight folks should be treated the same).

      I think late-term abortion is murder, but support the right of a woman to an early-term abortion—I am anti-abortion overall, but do not mistake my own choice for something that should be forced on others.

      So I don’t think this makes me conservative, really. I think it makes me an individualist. That which supports the right of an individual who respects the rights of others to reach his own highest goals and standards, I support (even though it means the same individual also has the right to roll in shit, destroy himself, and call it his art). That which strips rights from the individual who respects the rights of others, I reject.

  • Danielle Meitiv Jun 10, 2011 @ 7:29

    “So do those of us who are willing to take risks, who can achieve, who have access to education and intelligence and the courage to use them embrace the Burden of the Lowest Common Denominator?”

    One of these things is not like the other: ACCESS to education. That is rarely a choice, and is becoming less of a choice for more and more people in this country,

    Our founding fathers did not set out to provide equality of OUTCOME but equality of OPPORTUNITY. We are still a long way from that. That doesn’t mean that the beautiful can’t dance or the talented shouldn’t shine. But let’s not look down on all those who don’t and say it’s all always their own fault. That’s expressing guilt too – saying that I don’t have to worry about them because they deserve their fate. Really?

    Can’t we enjoy the blessings given to us the talents and privileges we were born with while still giving a hand to those who didn’t have what we did to started with?

    Not feeling sorry for them, not handicapping ourselves for their sake, but acknowledging that not everyone had the advantages we were given and the world would be a better place if we all got to start from the starting line – and not ten yards behind it.

    • Holly Oct 28, 2011 @ 8:11

      In this country, it’s the right of the individual to homeschool his kids. If you want your kid to have a decent education, you can make sure he gets it by giving it to him yourself.

      And I wasn’t born with any talents or privileges. I had to work for everything I got. So I’m not a part of your “we.” Bluntly, neither is anyone else. Someone, somewhere, worked hard for every damn thing anyone else on this planet enjoys. If you didn’t earn what you have on your own, look back to the person who did, and who gave you your “privileges,” and see what price he or she paid.

      If this is something that matters to you personally, do something about it personally. Don’t wave a damn flag and say “we” should all do something, because all “we” means is “somebody else, while I stand around looking pious and waving my flag as they go by.”

      You want it, YOU do it.

      • Nils Oct 2, 2014 @ 21:10

        I’m with Danielle on this one. “If you want your kid to have a decent education, you can make sure he gets it by giving it to him yourself.”

        Here’s an example of why: I live in a place where the majority of the population is a first or second generation learner. I myself am second generation on my dad’s side, third on my mom’s. I don’t think you seem to understand the ‘advantage’ I had in school, especially between ages 5 and 10, because if I was confused when I was doing my homework, I could just go over and ask my parents.

        I was an early reader (could read when I was four), not only because I had people to teach me, but I had people who UNDERSTOOD the importance of reading me bed-time stories, of letting me look at pictures for hours, and who’d listen as I babble my own meanings to these stories (To be honest, I don’t remember this but they did the same thing for my younger sis, so I know their methods). It’s sad to know there are people who can’t read, whose children don’t get this experience, dealing only with textbooks and sub-par government schools and teachers. Maybe stumbling on reading by accident if someone cares.

        Maybe after middle-school level, when kids gain a certain amount of autonomy, it becomes their own choice. But there are so many people who don’t get the right opportunities.

  • Alex Mitchell May 26, 2011 @ 3:20

    Oh, and institutions that are supported by taxpayers? Totally should be coed; if it’s private, they can do whatever they want but I resent my taxpayer dollars supporting non-co-ed institutions–civilian and military.

    • Holly Oct 28, 2011 @ 8:12

      I resent my tax dollars being used for a LOT of things. If it actually matters to you, and isn’t something you just want to complain about, vote for someone different next time, or run for office yourself.

  • Alex Mitchell May 26, 2011 @ 3:15

    Can we please can the freakin’ argument about pregnancy and women in military positions or in any other employment position causing a hardship on the military/employer? Can we please quit acting like men don’t get sick or have accidents or have something happen that causes interference in their employment? Do you have stats on the number of men pulled from critical positions cause they got sick (heart attack, cancer, what have you)? Probably not, it’s important to vilify women cause they cause a shortage since their pregnant but we don’t do the same for men when they cause a shortage, do we? It’s totally sexist, so stop it.

    It’s not like men and illness/what have you don’t cause inconvenience and cause staff shortages for other employees, coworkers, huh? My uncle died of cancer after having it for 3 years and missing the last year of work before he died because he got so sick, causing a shortage of workers in his department. His pregnant coworker in another department caused a shortage of workers in her department for a month. Wow. How inconsiderate of her. I heard more bitching about her pregnancy shortage and very little about my uncle’s illness shortage in the department.

    • Michelle May 31, 2011 @ 10:32

      Well, here’s my problem with that argument. We can reasonably argue that a person does not plan to get cancer, or get into a life threatening car wreck or one of a hundred other accidents of life that might occur.

      But if a woman gets pregnant, well, the odds are surprisingly good that she chose to, either with full intention, or by not being careful. There are a lot of contraceptives available out there. And even if it was a 100% accident, abortion is still legal. In terms of the military, I fully support their right to get really pissed when female soldiers get pregnant and cry off service. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t part of their contract to not get pregnant.

      The simple fact is, military service, where the person is actively being shipped into war zones is not the same as other jobs. It’s not nine to five, it’s every day, every hour and they need people there or lives are put even more at risk. For any woman signing on for that, pregnancy should not have been anywhere near the equation. She should not be planning to get pregnant and she better be prepared to get an abortion if she do. Or face a court martial.

      But what if she’s pro-life, you ask? Then why is she joining the military? Find another job. This also goes for women in the military who have dependent children. They better have at least three back-up plans for reliable childcare, because if plan number one falls through, I fully support the military’s right to say “we don’t care.” The mother in question should have considered that before she signed up.

      In other employment fields, yes people will bitch. Unless not getting pregnant was part of the contract you signed upon being hired, they can’t touch you. Let co-workers and administrators complain all they want, they’ll do it even if you don’t get pregnant, just about something else.

      If you feel the work environment has become hostile, deal with it and in your spare time look for another job. It really is that simple. Suck it up until you can find something better. No one is guaranteed their perfect job, with understanding administrators and supportive co-workers. If that’s what you want, work for it.

      • Holly Oct 28, 2011 @ 8:13

        I agree. The needs of the military are not subject to the needs of the individuals who serve in the military. Having had a kid IN the military, as well as a husband, I fully understand what this means. It ain’t nice, but it is necessary.

        It’s also the reason the military must be voluntary, and not filled by a draft. Individuals who sign up must understand that the needs of the military DO come first.

        At this point, pregnancy is voluntary. Abortion is legal, birth control is legal, and abstinence is legal.

        Use one of the three, or all of the three, or deal with the consequences of your choice.

  • David Feb 13, 2011 @ 20:44

    Regarding the article about Carlin, et al, the people who wish to promulgate this way of thinking seem to be gaining a great deal of power from pushing this agenda. I think this also tends to be why “Suckitude” [sp?] is such a prize-winner in literature.

    I know, for example, in the field of alternative fuels, ethanol has had this lie told against it since Kerosene first came into competition with alcohol for lamp fuel. The reasoning was that ethanol was made from something that could be used to “feed the….” Nobody seemed to notice that using Kerosene instead fed no more people.

    There is always something that is taking resources that would feed, clothe, etc. Those complaining about the use of resources have no interest in taking care of the needy, they just need an excuse to halt someone else’s actions.

    The truth, as anyone using logic will see, is that someone has to do the work to produce the food, then get food to the hungry, or get the hungry to the food. If the people who are hungry can not or will not do it [culture] themselves, someone else has to work very hard to do it for them. If they are working that hard to assuage their guilt, they are not doing anything that will hinder those in power.

    If you are not doing anything to assuage guilt, it is because the news and the literature have you feeling too helpless to do anything about it, trapped in the morass of gray tapioca, and are not doing anything to hinder those in power.

    It seems that there is a power structure that would rather have you spinning your wheels to no effect or trapped in ambivalent inaction, just on the off chance you would be in the way if you actually were using your head to look around and get ideas.

    They are only willing to have you believe there is no good or evil when they are dealing with you. Dealing with them will require you do only that which they desire. Good dealt to them, to you, whatever you get is what you get.

    Of course I am being silly, there is no THEY. When someone tells you to “play ball” [meaning you should cheat] or to be a “team player” [meaning you should cheat] or to “break a few eggs” [meaning you should cheat] or “the ends justify the means” [meaning you should cheat] that someone is not part of the evil council of THEY.

    However, despite my obvious paranoid delusions, is it possible that there might be such things as “right” and “wrong”? Silly of me to think so, but having tested your patience thus far, might I not also assume that these intangible ideas might be more than mere labels applied by people? [Such people might serve better as ground meat “to feed the poor”] If, indeed, “right” and “wrong” have meaning outside the mind of the individual, then something will always be wrong, no matter who does it. It will not be a matter of me thinking I am right to take your last food from you, it will be wrong whether it is the action of you, I, or the United Nations.

    Blasphemous as it may be to suggest that the UN could ever do anything wrong [see, if you ask them, they can’t] what if — sounds crazy, I know — right and wrong exist as absolutes forces like positive and negative, like up [anti-gravity-wise] and down [gravity-wise].

    That simply cannot be, because if THEY are ever wrong, then there exists right and wrong, then there exists good and evil, which brings us into the area of religion.

    Of course, if there is such a force that we could call evil, then we have to fight against it watering down or taking over every religion that has absolutes.

    • Holly Oct 28, 2011 @ 8:13

      You don’t need religion to determine what is right and what is wrong.

      Evil is your choice to use force against another person for something other than defense: for personal gain, for personal amusement, or for the gain of a third party.

      Good is your choice to work toward your own best interest and best life by your own efforts and without forcing others to your will.

      Religions, because they use the force of threat (you’ll burn in hell for that one, Sparky), demand the subversion of the will of the individual to the will of some other entity (God, Muhammad, or the Pope say you have to do this, no matter what you wanted to do with your life), or demand that the believer ignore thought in favor of the unreason of mysticism (the virgin birth, the resurrection, the deliverance of magical Golden Tablets, the talking burning bush) are in essence evil.

      Though some people live good lives while being a part of these religions, they do so in spite of the religion, not because of it.

      • Maureen Feb 8, 2013 @ 6:01

        I know this article is old, but I’d just like to speak up for a moment – monotheism is not the only religion.
        That means any religion with one God, and those are usually the ones that lay down mandates. I’m a Pagan, myself – and no, that does not mean atheist. I don’t think the Gods and Goddesses (multiple of each) are just projections of human thought, or ‘facets’ of a single being – I believe in myriads of Gods, with their own distinct ‘personalities’.
        I would have left the Pagan path already if it had tried to lay down the law to me. There are ritual-oriented Pagans, but a great majority of them – me included – are big on personal freedom. Since the Gods are so many and different, the very nature of the religion demands you respect diversity. And the God I’m particularly ‘close’ to at the moment, Loki, is a God associated with needed chaos and change, and is very against ‘playing it safe’. 🙂
        I don’t want to force my religion on anyone, because it wouldn’t be very Pagan of me 😛 – but I just wanted to speak up at this point, because often it seems that people divide the world into ‘no religion vs. monotheist religion’. Paganism was here first, is making a comeback, and it wildly different from both Wicca and monotheism in its true form – so please remember it. 🙂

        • Holly Feb 8, 2013 @ 6:16

          Darlin’, I did my stint as a Wiccan, too.

          I get along just fine with people who believe, so long as they don’t try to tell me I HAVE to respect their unprovable mysticism, but I have no use for, and no respect for, religion.

          ANY religion.

          Including yours. “…The very nature of the religion demands you respect diversity,” you say. Freedom of religion means you get to believe whatever you please.

          Freedom of religion ALSO means I’m free to consider every bit of it vile. A demand for respect is laying down a mandate, no matter how you phrase it.

          • Morgyn Oct 25, 2013 @ 5:08

            Also, late to the table.
            Holly, is it stricture, Hah! child of scripture, that ties a knot in your tail?
            So if all “religion” organized three steps to the left bow down stuff is vile, is that because someone else is telling you what to do, to think? Someone with a mind like yours has spirit in your life. Gotta. So, everyone needs to keep it to themselves? Let it come out in their work and how they relate to others? Lots of tress have died, lot of ink has flowed, trying to express the numinous in life.

            • Holly Apr 3, 2015 @ 7:44

              PROVE spirit, and we’ll talk.

              You have every right to believe whatever you want. I have every right to think it’s nonsense, which I do.

              As long as we BOTH have this critical freedom, our part of the world remains a livable place.

  • Geraldine Ketchum Sep 10, 2010 @ 9:41

    What is also sad is the way people are held down by “respect for their traditions.” We have natives and aboriginals living in squalor because the primitive lifestyles of their ancestors must be preserved at all cost. Our (white) guilt is the excuse we use to keep them from making better lives through education and achievement. We give them money for doing nothing, build crappy houses for them to live in, and excuse them from every responsibility. The result is a created and preserved helplessness.

    Whereas in African countries (with equally strong and traditional societies) people are keen to become educated and be part of the drive for progress, in Canada it’s considered to be asking too much for natives to actually go to school regularly. Print is apparently too difficult for them: “They have an oral tradition” is the excuse. So do Africans, and so do South Americans, and so what? They still need to survive and achieve in the modern world.

    In Canada lately we have been having a lot of problems with immigrants who want to move to North America but keep their old traditions – like honor killing of women who dare to talk to young men in their high school classes. Kill the woman who has been raped because she is unclean, and brought it on herself by not wearing the full veil. Excuse wife beating because it’s part of their more traditional society. This was famously the excuse a (female) judge made for letting a Haitian man off on an assault charge several years ago.
    Preserving ignorance and cruelty should have no place in a civilized society.

    During natural progress, traditions change naturally, raising the LCD. Growth and improvement are normal, and preserving past ignorance because it’s “traditional” makes no sense at all.

    • Holly Oct 28, 2011 @ 8:16

      Part of the problem is the stipends people receive for staying on the reservation. They get “free” money, but they have to live in shit to do it.

      There is no “free” anything. Everyone pays a price. I happen to think the price of hanging on to that “free” money, and the sheer soul death it causes to most folks who accept it is way, way too high.

      As a matter of principle, I don’t accept “free.”

  • Ryan Anderson Sep 3, 2010 @ 18:06

    What a lot of people don’t seem to realize (or they choose not to,) is that the achievements of a few make the world better for many. Every increase in technology is a step toward a better world for everyone. Will everyone have access to the same advantages? No. But if the “playing field” isn’t level, at least it keeps getting higher for everyone.
    In a way, the achievers of the world already prop up everyone else by the things they do, and the things they make possible. They are already at a disadvantage from the naysayers, from operating blind in uncharted territory, from the risks they take to accomplish their dreams. So they create, and gain a lot (maybe), and everyone else gains a little. Take away the advantages, and they won’t take the risks. These are smart people we’re talking about. No one gains.
    — And they’ll be in pain the whole time, because they want to create, they have dreams itching to get out, and they need the resources to accomplish those dreams. Know that you would be cruel to hold them down.

    Studies on happiness have shown us that happiness isn’t about having X whatever. It isn’t about having what the other guy has. It’s about achieving things, about increasing your status, about becoming better at whatever it is you’re doing. Our brains and bodies are wired for problem solving and progress. In order for that to happen, there has to be another tier above yours. You have to be allowed to better your situation. If you take that away from people, if you make everyone “equal”, they will never be happy.

    Is that really what we want? A world with no progress, no happiness, just a bunch of dreams that can never be fulfilled?

    • Holly Lisle Sep 4, 2010 @ 14:59

      Sadly, it’s what a lot of people DO want, and are working very hard to get. Since there’s no way to level the playing field upward, simply because everyone does have different abilities and we are NOT all created equal (except in the eyes of the law), adding as many restrictions and burdens as possible to any form of achievement works to level the playing field downward.

      The lowest common denominator, however, is very, very low, and civilizations will be lost if we’re forced to reach it.

  • Holly Jul 2, 2003 @ 6:19

    And just for the record, recent arguments by women in favor of all-women’s schools and institutions, and recent arguments by blacks in favor of all-black schools and institutions, have made very good points. Some (if not all) of the points made have been well-thought-out, compelling, and simply right. I agree with them. I think there is a place for the all-black university or school or social club, and a place for the all-women’s university or school or social club.

    And because "equal under the law" does not mean "equal, only some are more equal than others," I also strongly favor the return of the all-male status of universities like The Citadel and all-male schools and social clubs, and note that my stance places me in a position where I must support the legal right to create all-white schools and universities and social clubs as well, or be a hypocrite.

    I think I’ll NOT take the Hypocrite’s Road today, thanks.

  • Holly Jul 1, 2003 @ 12:42

    A person, regardless of gender, who receives the benefits of living in a community has an obligation to help support that community. Public service is one way to meet that obligation, yet many of the more visible avenues for public service–politics, the military, fire and police departments–have historically been strictly male institutions. For women to fully share in the rights and duties of citizenship–which I hope we can all agree they should–these institutions *must* allow both men and women to serve.

    I agree with you completely. I do not, however, think that an equal right to serve automatically means an equal right to serve in all capacities. In situations where a soldier’s pregnancy would be a liability, women should not make up a portion of the forces. (These following remarks ONLY apply to women in the military — women in law enforcement and emergency response work face [and create] some of these same issues, but the need for overseas deployment and constant readiness is the one that makes military service special.) Recent combat situations have required the evacuation of pregnant soldiers from aircraft carriers and other service areas about to go into direct fire. I think the number quoted was 6%* of active-duty female combat forces incapable of serving in battle. These were women who held mission-critical roles, and pulling them out meant those roles went understaffed. This is a serious detriment to combat readiness. If someone else has to carry a soldier’s load because that soldier is pregnant, we have a problem.

    In situations where speed and strength affect performance, we are not all equal. While I understand the "anything they can do, I can do" mentality, suffering from it pretty severely myself, it isn’t true. At one point in my life I could do a hundred straight military push-ups and five-hundred straight Roman-chair sit-ups, and could incline press 425 lbs. of iron plates with my legs, which is respectable no matter who you are. But in peak condition the best I could ever bench-press was 125 lbs.. I was 5’6" tall, weighed 140 lbs., and any big guy who got seriously pissed at me could have thrown me over his shoulder and as long as he stayed away from my legs, been pretty sure of surviving the encounter.

    The majority of men run faster than the majority of women. I was on the fast end of the spectrum for a woman. Could outrun most of the boys I knew (and men, as an adult — this was not just a passing thing) and all but maybe one or two of the girls (and women). But the guys who were high-end runners routinely smoked past me.

    Men will put themselves in jeopardy to protect nearby women. In combat situations, this simply should not be an issue. The combat soldier’s mind should be focused on the job at hand. This male-rescue problem is a species thing, and it isn’t fixable by an application of sociology. The reason is sheer numbers, and on a species level, pretty obvious. One man could repopulate the better part of the planet, given a few weeks, a sufficent supply of women, and maybe a little help from Viagra. One woman can produce one child in nine months, and maybe a dozen children in the span of a lifetime, and each one is massively resource-intensive for her body and her attention both before and after birth. At the species-survival level if humanity is to survive, then men are expendable. But women aren’t. And no matter how smart we get, the reptilian hindbrain is still functioning inside our heads, and when we get into survival situations, it runs most of the show.

    So I believe that as citizens women deserve an equal right to serve their country by doing military duty. And I think they have no business in combat.

    *Turns out I was being generous. In the 1999-2000 deployment of the Eisenhower, 60 out of 492 female sailors could not deploy or had to be evacuated from the ship because they were pregnant. About 12%. — Citation: Dereliction of Duty, Lt. Col. Robert Patterson, USAF (Ret.), Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2003.

  • Jim Woosley Jul 1, 2003 @ 20:25

    So, I guess I don’t get spanked 🙂

    Bravo, Holly!

    (And to everyone — it’s been a marvelous read. Thanks for keeping it clean and thoughtful!)

  • Katherine Jul 1, 2003 @ 12:07

    Yes, I abhor combat. What sane person doesn’t?

    Yes, I agree that women are likely to have truly horrible experiences if captured in combat. So are men, as any of the former POWs from the Vietnam War will agree.

    But for me, this whole debate about women in the military has nothing to do with consciousness raising, or lowering standards, and everything to do with the duty of citizens in a free society. A person, regardless of gender, who receives the benefits of living in a community has an obligation to help support that community. Public service is one way to meet that obligation, yet many of the more visible avenues for public service–politics, the military, fire and police departments–have historically been strictly male institutions. For women to fully share in the rights and duties of citizenship–which I hope we can all agree they should–these institutions *must* allow both men and women to serve. It is incumbent on someone who would close those institutions to find an equally important way for women to do their share for society, and to place an equal value (monetary and social) on the contributions that women make.

  • Nicosian Jul 1, 2003 @ 12:53

    I’m here on my own merit, where I stand today, on my own two feet. I have proven myself in fields where I was the only woman. Guess what? Nothing levels a playing field better than being the best you can, with honor and integrity.

    And. I am following my dream.

    There’s bad risk: teasing T rexes with cattle prods, and good risk.

    It’s my theory that extreme sports and thrillseeking is a lashback at the overly "sanitized for your protection" world we’re in now.

    If we believe we don’t deserve to be spacegoing and shaking hands with aliens, then where’s the hope and incentive to change.

    Taped to my monitor:

    "Hope must have some kind of fuel and chance must keep it’s fire."

    Unfortunately, you have to watch out for the ones with buckets.

  • Robert A. Sloan Jun 30, 2003 @ 22:29

    The story was "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, who claimed strenuously that he wasn’t a science fiction writer. I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of Sturgeon too and would NOT be surprised if he’d quoted it or referred to it in some essay or something — it fell in line with Sturgeon’s views too.

    As for dreams, I am still writing. That says it all.

    And so it was. Thanks, Robert. Explains why I damn near tore apart my Sturgeon collection trying to find the title of that story and came up empty. Corrections made. — Holly

  • Jim Woosley Jun 30, 2003 @ 20:37

    PS below

    (of course I forgot something — I’ll try to phrase this so as not to foreshadow the other post):

    Everything else below said, I respect Mr. Guthrie’s objectives and believe there is a necessary societal role for the university he proposes.

  • Jim Woosley Jun 30, 2003 @ 20:32

    This may have been a "don’t get me started" turn of the chain, but… well, Holly is always welcome to cut me off at the knees (or delete my post) if she desires.

    Background disclosures:
    1. I was saved from being an Army Brat because most of Dad’s postings were in no-family zones; we stayed with the extended family while he went to Korea, Viet Nam (almost 6 years between ’67 and the pull-out), Germany, and Virginia. (We went with him only on a couple of postings before I started school.)
    2. I RAE sensible integrated service fictions, including Lady Harrington, the Terran forces fighting the Posleen, the Dendarii Mercenaries, and the Terran Federation Corps, to cite four obvious examples (respectively, David Weber, John Ringo, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Weber/Steve White, all from Baen). I also RAE turn-of-the-century male-oriented military SF, most notably the progenator of all such, The Lensman series. And Starship Troopers, which presumes that infantry is all male, but that non-combat units can be integrated and that women are better than men in some roles.
    3. One of my closest friends, Mike Guthrie, is nationally known as the VMI graduate who is attempting to raise money to start a private all-male military academy in the aftermath of the integration of VMI and the Citadel (not to mention the federal service academies).

    Bottom line:
    1. Everything credible I have ever learned about the contemporary integrated military is that women are NOT held to the same physical standards as men, even after the physical standards for men have been adjusted downward.

    2. Daddy’s report (c. his final tour before mustering out in 1981) was that the women in the Army at that time were primarily interested in sleeping around until they got pregnant, then earning salary and disability while raising children out of wedlock. While I would not be surprised to learn that there was some sexism in that opinion, that is the only "on-the-ground" data point I have, and I obviously trust and respect the source. This was evidently his experience of at least a subset of women in the military at the time. (And he’s been gone for two years, so I can’t pass on your derision; please keep it to yourself.)

    2. It is true that intellectual ability is increasingly important for both combat and support roles in the modern military. Since I have the utmost respect for the mental prowess of women, and for this reason, I do not share my friend Mike’s unreserved feelings about women serving in suitable roles.

    3. But I have very stringent requirements for suitable. There is, or should be, an infantry elite which handles the hard jobs. I have no problems if those units are integrated — but every person, male or female, who is in those units should have to meet the same physical standards, and those standards should be rooted in traditional infantry training. If that means a 19-1 ratio of men to women, so be it.

    We have so far been able to arrange our combat so we can accomplish our stragetic objectives through massive aerial bombardment and delayed infantry deployment. (But at the cost of such minor tactical objectives as capturing, or verifably killing, Usama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.) And I think that the fraction of women in the elite infantry remains fairly low. And we’ve still living with the story of the infantry solder who was raped by her Iraqi captors during Desert Shield back in ’91, and the ongoing story of PFC Lynch.

    Still, I live in dread of the day that an integrated unit with "mixed" physical standards has to defend itself from an entrenched position. My personal belief is that the unit will perform at about 2/3 the standard of an all-male unit of the same number of soldiers, with the result of near-universal casualties among the women and failure to hold the line. With additional attrition from the men who attempt to shield the women from the ravages of combat. And the torture-rape of any surviving women who are captured.

    While I would be sympathetic to their plight, they volunteered and thus have responsibility for their own fate. But the impact on the military would be immediate and dramatic. And there is a part of me which believes that at least one of the forces driving integration in the military are those who abhor combat and hope that we will be less likely to use an integrated military. Even if it becomes necessary for the safety and security of the United States.

    OK, I’ve had my say. Soapbox back to Lady Holly. 🙂

    PS — since Lady Honor is genetically enhanced, she’s not a good role model.

  • Holly Jun 30, 2003 @ 18:21

    "I would say that the Navy would have been better off not integrating the sexes, but the males in the integrated divisions came out of boot camp with one thing more than those from the all-male divisions: respect for women and what we could do."

    For what it’s worth, I think the business of the military is to put forward the best defensive and offensive force for the protection of our nation that we can muster. I don’t see the business of the military as being a consiousness-raising experience for its members. While I would like for all men to acknowledge that I personally and women in general are capable, intelligent, and tough, I have to note that what military men think of the capabilities of women is irrelevant compared to whether they’re prepared to defend their country, minimize their own casualites, and inflict the worst possible damage on the enemy. So I’d have to judge the outcome you describe as, if not ‘lose/lose’, then at least ‘lose/doesn’t matter.’

  • A. Shelton Jun 30, 2003 @ 17:01

    I have mixed feelings about some "levelling the playing field": In boot camp, during service week, I had the opportunity to meet several males from all-male divisions. They looked down upon integrated divisions . . . they knew the males in the integrated divisions had a slightly easier time of it because females were present. In integrated divisions, the playing field was levelled whenever females were present. That, I believe, was a detriment to ALL of us. Nobody was challenged enough to meet their full potential. I would say that the Navy would have been better off not integrating the sexes, but the males in the integrated divisions came out of boot camp with one thing more than those from the all-male divisions: respect for women and what we could do.

    In civillian life, I see little where it can HELP people, however. If the playing field were MEANT to be level, we’d all be Martha Stewart.

  • Shermel Jun 30, 2003 @ 14:11

    I often find myself a pole apart when it comes to the opinions you sometimes give here but I have to say that on this you’re bang on.

    I remember being outraged when they suggested bringing in quotas for female parliamentary candidates to increase the number of women in government (and I’m a girl who’s not easily outraged). Level playing field, it sounds like a good idea until you actually think about it.

    I think you should get to where you’re going on your own merit and if it means you have to work harder than the next person, longer than the next person and have more chance of failing than the next person well then that’s just tough tit. It’ll mean more when you suceed.

  • Misty Jun 30, 2003 @ 12:24

    I watch the news reports about universities taking students on the basis of "cultural diversity" rather than scholastic merit alone and all-male schools being forced to admit women while all-female schools are considered sacred and untouchable in that regard, and I worry for my child who had the audacity to be born white, male and intelligent. But I refuse to let the LCD win.

    I’m determined to be one of the do-ers, one of the dreamers and achievers, in the hope that I can support my child when he reaches for his own stars. Thank you, Holly, for saying it so much better than I could.

  • April Jun 30, 2003 @ 10:43

    People tend to forget that some dreams are accomplishable. I hope I never do and I’m very glad you never have.
    Dreams, more than anything, are what truly make us advance. As individuals and as a society.

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