Monday, March 19, 2012

Considering Nomenclature

A respected member of Multnomah Friends has requested that we change the name of Oversight Committee on the premise that it's deeply offensive to some people who harbor memories of slavery.  Plus there's a question of whether slavery ever went away, including in this country, or just went into prisons and/or became wage slavery in other forms.

In comparing notes with some UK citizens last night, we agreed that "oversight" and "overseer" contain different connotations and moods.  The east coast Quakers have used "overseer" more and many have already retreated from that use.  I think marrying "overseer" with "tryant" makes some sense, as per the paragraph below which I sent out from the Blue House recently:
In particular, the fact that many have championed the cause of freedom against coercive overseers who would impress slave-draftees into military service, is a source of hope in many chapters.  Relatively recently, Muhammad Ali stood up against overseers of the Vietnam War and served as a role model for a growing underground of anti-war youth who are clearly not cowards nor afraid of a good / fair fight.  Islam put a damper on the lust for war then, as did Buddhism-Hinduism through The Beatles.  There's a rush to war again, with many of the same voices that encouraged a pre-emptive attack on Iraq again at the forefront.   
"Oversight", on the other hand, is maybe something we don't have enough of, although it's also a pun or double edged word, like "sanctions" (which means "punishes" and "permits").  An "oversight" is something missed, sometimes leading to hurt feelings, as the connotation is "out of negligence".  Should we call it "the Negligence Committee"?  Some Friends skeptical of the committee's performance might consider this ironically honest.

Yes, there's a sense of hierarchy or topography in the word, in the sense of some committees providing more overview.  Would "the Overview Committee" sound less like it's about holding slaves?

However the important point to make here is that Friends are expected to rotate through these committees, more like going from ride to ride at the carnival.  Sometimes you ride the Ferris wheel, a nice sedate image of what Oversight may be like (another image is "roller coaster").

I'm inclined to hold on to "Oversight" for backward (and forward) compatibility while meanwhile continuing to chip away at the whole concept of "race", which is 98% pseudo-science with an ugly past.  A racist is anyone who believes in races, which would be most USAers at this point -- an especially ignorant demographic in light of all the facilities they're privileged to have.  In terms of ratios, we're looking at a far from equilibrium biological phenomenon, likely to alter state in dynamical ways (chaos is like that).

I'm also against circulating this comforting myth that slavery has gone away, as if Quakers were really finished with their underground railroad business.

In terms of people taking offense, this is part of the new diplomacy where Diversity is concerned.  Those harboring some guilt complex are likely to find a shoe that fits in such an atmosphere, and begin issuing apologies on behalf not just of themselves, but on behalf of others as well.

What's true about guilt complexes is they often seek to involve others i.e. once one decides to fight a crime one sees oneself as guilty of committing, there's a tendency to not want others to "still get away with it". This is why the guilty tend to turn against their former friends and then run in packs, often whipped on by spin doctors (a kind of overseer) in the background.

Beware of the guilty, as they tend to attack in hoards from hidden positions -- like those rogue uber-coward drone people, who claim allegiance to a bankrupt nation kept on life support by their Beltway Junta.  They wrap themselves in the flag of "we the people" while confessing to and/or committing war crimes.  They carry brief cases to work and frequent think tanks.  Washington DC is full of these creatures, many of whom stalk the halls of government, imagining their own legitimacy, feeling entitled in some way.

I'm glad Quakers are having this nomenclature discussion, which has spread across several Yearly Meetings by this time.  The debate will impact the membership discussion as well, as some meetings have turned their Oversight Committees into Member Care committees, trading overview and integrity for a sickly cliquishness.  This is not a time to take the continuance of liberal Friends for granted.