Oppression is Not a Competition

Screenshot, 12th Aug 2015. I have blurred the child's face because I think it was very irresponsible of the parent not to do so in such a post; the boy is a minor who may not wish to be associated with these views as an adult and is too young to give consent here.
Screenshot, 12th Aug 2015. I have blurred the child’s face because I think it was very irresponsible of the parent not to do so in the first place; the boy is a minor who cannot give consent to be featured in a public post of a controversial nature.

This post was written by the father of a double amputee child. While I support the child, it’s unfortunate his father feels the need to begin this post by knocking down “Bruce Jenner”.

It’s a simple concept, people: there is no single definition of courage, because there is no single definition of a struggle. And there doesn’t need to be. I can acknowledge that this child and Jenner are both courageous, as are the children that manage to grow and even thrive in the conflict zones this man’s country bombs; the countless trans children and adults all around the world who don’t have access to a fraction of the resources Jenner does and still persist in living authentic lives, knowing they may very well die in the process at the hands of transphobes.

Courage is also what the abused children everywhere have, what the families in Kasur have in facing this system and trying to get justice for their children. Courage is what every honest worker has, going to work every day in a system that he knows is biased against him, knowing he has no support base to fall back upon and no advantage to leverage. Courage looks like a woman stepping on to a bus, heading off to work or to school, not letting the fear of groping hands and worse stop her. Sometimes courage is getting out of bed when you are in the deepest pit of depression. And courage can also be as simple as living life, not knowing what the next moment will be like, but silently vowing to yourself you would rather leave the world a more peaceful, happier place than you found it. These are all examples of courage.

We all know a “real” Arthur Ashe award winner–they are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and so on. Does that mean the one in my house is or should be the only one? Is my friend’s mother who beat cancer and manages a primary school for middle-to-lower income kids less deserving? Deserving of what?

Awards are just awards. If we believed awards could fully describe the extent of human achievement (and struggle), we might also have to believe that most of the people who have done anything worthy or have struggled in any way are cis, white Western men. Perhaps that is one reason why I already understand the superficiality of public acknowledgement: if it happens sincerely, it happens too late. So I don’t sit down and squabble over the merit of these awards, just like I don’t go to a school’s sports day and claim rigging/media bias/political correctness if every child is handed a prize for participation. Because these are all ultimately meaningless.

What is real is real, award or no award. Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t need an award from ESPN to validate her life has been a personal struggle, any more than Malala needed a Nobel to realize she had risked her life to stand up against the Taliban. Meanwhile, Iqbal Masih was murdered at the age of 12 and he helped over 3000 children escape from the bonded child labor that still powers a sizable chunk of Pakistan’s capitalist economy–and he got no award. It would be an afterthought even if he did.

But you know what ISN’T courageous? A grown, cis man using his child’s struggle to punch down and attack a trans woman and her struggle as somehow less worthy of attention. Do not turn your child’s pain into an excuse to invalidate someone else’s. Oppression is NOT a competition.

“Holding so much hourly work is selfish”.

I freelance on Upwork and visit the community forum every once in a while. Today was one of those times. That’s how I noticed a post in the forum, made by a fellow freelancer:

Basically some of the Veteran freelance are kept on Farming hourly work although they already have so much in list, this is a nice strategy in securing income but too selfish for those freelance with no work and newbies. Hourly job count should be limit into a small number.

(Emphasis theirs.)

Naturally, this led to a rather “spirited” debate in the forum, with a lot of critics talking about free market economics and basically shutting the OP down with the equivalent of “It’s called Capitalism, stoopid.” (Also: grammar snobbery, which I don’t truck with anyway.)

What’s a social democrat to do?

My comment on the situation:

First of all, why assume each one of those hourly contracts is active? I’ve got some 7 hourly contracts and all but two of them basically function as a retainer of sorts. Weekly hours worked are on a sliding scale, going up and down as the clients need. So why do I still have them? Because the clients like what I do, they trust me to do it, and we’ve both invested in a working relationship that stretches back years now.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal but this isn’t just the free market working–this is individual autonomy and freedom to choose and to consent, to enter only into the relationships we want. Newsflash: clients who want to work with other people work with other people! Why should those who don’t be forced to find someone else just because one project ended? Why should the freelancers they prefer to stick with be made to feel guilty for not “cutting them loose”? What, would you also suggest that because it’s so hard to find love in this world, all romantic relationships should have a built-in expiry date and it’s selfish to be in a long-term relationship (don’t even get me started about polyamory) when there are so many single people in the world?

Clients are not text on screen and a nice wad of cash in your bank account. As freelancers, we don’t deal with “money”/”jobs”/tasks. We deal directly with real, live, human beings. People are not currency to be passed around and redistributed in the interest of “fairness”. Relationships matter. They might in fact be the most important determinant of job success. You can learn to code, write, draw, manage–whatever hard skills you have, they can be standardized, measured, and improved through a clearly defined learning program. But your job is not to push pixels around. Your job is to help someone. You might be able to become a better PHP programmer after reading a technical book, but you can’t just become a better communicator overnight because you read a book about communication. And personality? Forget about it–nobody can pick up a book and just “learn” to have a different personality. That match is precious and I can understand why freelancers and clients would both be reluctant to give it up.

But hey, for all this, I still don’t get paid for hours I don’t log–if a client won’t need anything from me till October, does that mean I don’t have any bills to pay till October? I don’t only exist when somebody messages me either. I have to eat, too. So yes, if I see a project I like that sounds like something I want to commit myself to, I go for it. If the feeling is mutual, I get the job.

Quit shaming people for being honest and autonomous in who they work with and how. There are real problems with the freelance economy, but these things aren’t those problems. The one contract “arrangement” I find objectionable is when (often veteran) contractors bid and win a project because of course they’re overqualified for it, but then they secretly subcontract it to newbies/less ‘visible’ freelancers. I feel this exploits both the client (who paid to have YOU work on it) and the subcontractor (who doesn’t get a smidgeon of credit, and only a fraction of the budget the original client allocated for the job, despite all their hard work). That’s about it.

Transparent, mutually consensual and respectful long-term working relationships are neither exploitation nor unethical. They are something to aspire to as a personal and professional goal. Redirect that energy to finding people who are looking to work with someone like you. And once you find each other, you might also discover you’d rather not work with random other people either.

“I Can’t Comprehend” ≠ “Lacks Comprehension”

PSA in response to the Muslim homophobes on my Facebook dissing non-homophobic Islam

You are free to choose your deen. Okay, so you’re not really free as in if you’re born in a Muslim country/Muslim family you can’t really choose to leave Islam without being killed or subjected to violence. BUT you are free to choose your deen within Islam. Okay, so maybe that’s not quite true either, since most of you can’t really choose to change from one major sect to another (Sunni to Shia, Shia to Sunni for eg) without a violent backlash even if the govt permits it. BUT within whatever major sect you happened to be born in, you are TOTALLY free to choose the school of thought you wish to follow.

This means some of you choose to live in compassion for all humankind, following a school of thought that the behavior most in line with Islam in any situation is the one with the lowest body count. This is generally the group that gave us people like Michael Muhammad Knight.

This also means that another group amongst you chooses to believe it is their Allah-bestowed responsibility to ADD to that body count by slaying non-believers, heretics, and other assorted “wajib-ul-qatal” types. This is generally the group that gave us ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. (You’re in great company!)

One way or another, each of you shall arrive at the end of the path you’ve chosen for yourself. (Granted, the more murderous type will probably arrive at it a bit earlier than the rest, since people really don’t like it when you try to kill them.) In light of this freedom, and despite your self-obsessed persecution-complexed worldview, most of the world doesn’t give two bits for your two-bit opinion. (More bits may be given for more valuable opinions.) In the isolation of such irrelevance, you are free to decide you disagree with whoever you wish to disagree with regardless of whether they may possess the finest intellect in the world or, you know, something more familiar to you.

This is, in its simplest form, what freedom of thought looks like–you are not compelled to agree with something just because somebody smarter than you and more well-versed in the subject than you (and probably a lot more popular and influential than you) said it. You may choose to look at the words, not the grandness of who uttered them, and decide whether they resonate with YOU. This may be a novel concept for some of you, and that’s fine. You’ll get used to it with a little effort.

HOWEVER, what you can’t do is pretend you have the intellect to diss their intellect. (Since a lot of you seem to derive a sense of validation by association–no, your favorite telemullah or Islamic Facebook Page admin doesn’t have that intellect or scholarly training either. Sorry not sorry.) The works of scholars like Dr. Amina Wadud and Dr. Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle don’t “lack comprehension”, any more than the works of Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson “lack comprehension” just because YOU don’t have two brain cells to rub together.

Originally written as really long, annoyed Facebook post attached to this post by a friend:

Desi momin logic –

‘Oh, someone was raped as a child? Buss, hota hae, bhool jao, muaaf ker doh, sulah ker loh, chup raho, jaaney doh…’

‘Oh, someone raped a woman? She must be asking for it. Boys will be boys, ghalti hojaati hae, khud khyal kiya kero, chup raho abb…’

‘Someone murdered someone? Chalo, Allah muaaf karney waalah hae, blood money ley loh…’

‘Someone has left Islam? HARAAAAAM MAAR DOH KAAT DOH, GHALAAZAT, SOCIETY WILL FALL APART, ASTAGHFIRULLAAAAWWWHHHHHHH!’

‘Someone is gay? HARAAAAAM MAAR DOH KAAT DOH, GHALAAZAT, SOCIETY WILL FALL APART, ASTAGHFIRULLAAAAWWWHHHHHHH!’