Sunday, February 24, 2019

Social Justice and Reactivity; Reflections on a conversation between Joe Rogan and Jamie Kilstein

Who'd have thunk THIS is what I'd feel the need to write about after such an absence...

In 2016, I was really invested in the podcast Citizen Radio and it's hosts.  And when accusations of predatory behavior came out about Jamie Kilstein, I was honestly devastated.  This was someone who I had promoted, supported monetarily, given his music album as gifts to loved ones... And then other people I was invested in said he had acted in a predatory manner towards them, aggressively enough that they ended their friendship with him.

When he disappeared in the face of these accusations, and even in the midst of my grief and upset, I honestly wished the best for him.  I hoped that he would take time off to reckon with and heal the damage we all knew he had.  That he had TOLD us he had.  I hoped he wouldn't hurt or kill himself.  I hoped that the consequences of his actions wouldn't suffocate him.  I hoped we wouldn't hear from him for years.

Well, in just the past couple of days I learned that he re-emerged.  And today I listened to his interview on the Joe Rogan podcast.  When it was over, I simply let silence enter the car as I sorted through really, really mixed feelings.  Their conversation brought up SO MUCH stuff for me.

Joe and Jamie talked a lot about what I would call the "reactive" culture we currently live in.  They spoke about the way that people simply react to things, instead of taking time with them.  They spoke about the way in which folks will be labeled as a "traitor" to the cause and excommunicated from social justice circles.  The spoke about the way in which people are immersed in communities that go from one outrage to another without rest or reflection.

And I have to agree with them on this point -- our society is highly reactive.  People on all parts of the political spectrum do this.  And this manifests differently from group to group, but there are certainly a lot of shared characteristics.

Jamie spoke about how being forced to take a step back from the way he was living his life has made it so that he is so much more healthy now.  And this reflects my own journey, and that of close friends of mine during this year.  It reflects things I've heard discussed on other podcasts, like The Friend Zone, where being "selfish" and disconnecting from the internet and taking time to meditate and read books is needed healing in our reactive world.  This made me happy.  I wanted such healing for him.

Jamie and Joe both spoke about how taking time with things is important.  They both talked about how this reactivity is a negative thing.

And then they played a clip from a confrontation between protesters and the President of a college.  And as this woman spoke with pain, and anger, and years of trauma in her voice -- they laughed.

After talking about how he has reflected on what brought him to the dire point he was in last year, as he spoke about how much he did not like the person he had become and how many issues there were to reckon with there -- Jamie also denounced the idea that his behavior had ever been predatory, and denied that there was anything he needed to learn on that front.

When discussing the very concept of predatory behavior in men, Joe characterized it as "just how men act" when they are seeking sex.

Then he went on to deny rape culture exists.

Beneath the anger I felt listening to this, I felt so sad, and so tired. 

They'd both utterly missed the point.


I remember a year or so ago I was having a conversation with one of my best friends about a guy I was into at the time.  I was telling them that this guy sometimes says things that are kinda racist, and it bothers me.  I was wondering if I should give up on him.  I'll never forget what my friend, a queer Afro-Latino Caribbean man, said to me: "well that depends on whether you want to let him be human."

I was stunned into silence.  I felt keenly embarrassed.  This is someone who knows me well, who knows my heart and mind as well as anyone alive.  Someone who is not afraid to call out racism, not afraid to call out homophobia, to tell someone who cut us off in the supermarket exactly how and why she's rude.  Not some shrinking violet who will accept challenges to his humanity without a fight.

But here he was, telling me it's ok to let someone be human.  Meaning, to be flawed.  Meaning, to have room to grow.

That's not an easy thing.

But it is a necessary thing.

I remember when he and I were living together while I was in college, when I was most immersed in the social justice circles of the Bay Area, when I was at my most unforgiving and reactive.  I remember being introduced to the idea of Transformative Justice through INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and feeling immediately how important such work is, I embracing it.  If you went by their words, most of my cohort embraced it too. But if you went by actions...many of them were also incredibly intolerant of the humanity of others.  I found this over and over again.  Perfection was demanded, or you were out.  I would even call the way some were treated as straight up abusive.  Tearing people down when they fucked up -- when fucking up is human.

So when Joe and Jamie were talking about this thing that happens on the left, I knew what they meant.  Yes, it's real.

But here's the thing that gets me when I talk or listen to white cis men like Jamie and Joe have these conversations -- they will say all this against reactivity and have all this analysis of how it effected them and constrained or hurt them -- and then will turn around and laugh and have no patience for those expressing their hurt and pain in ways they don't understand or agree with.  And that's where they lose me.

Because as far as I can see, the thing that will bring us away from reactivity isn't self-justification of our own actions and perspective -- it's COMPASSION.


Compassion is the thing I found lacking in my experiences with some people and activist groups, and is also the thing I FOUND among those with whom I'm still connected and learning; compassion is the thing that allows us to be human, to speak to pain someone else caused kindly but honestly, to reclaim what is ours to work on and let go what is not.  What allows us to be soft and feel the feelings underneath our triggers and egos and speak our truth and have healthy boundaries and also allows the people around us to still be human.

Compassion for OURSELVES and others.

I wish I had a grand ending thought to close on, but that's it, and that's what I've been working on for myself.  None of this is easy, but it's so important and so painful and so needed.  And although it took me a year to finish this, here it is and I hope someone else gets something out of it.