Healing the World, Elves on Shelves, and Other Damned Lies We Tell Children

Pups woke me up at 5 a.m. this morning, and I’m feeling longwinded - enjoy some midweek rants!

I think it’s awesome that in honor of their daughter’s birth, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla pledged to give 99% of his Facebook shares to charity, through a foundation they’ve established focusing on "personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.” This is good; even though it’s one of the wealthiest areas in the country, the Bay Area ranks near bottom in charitable giving. Since research shows that millennials tend to give to causes they feel connected to, so if Zuck’s efforts inspire a few other lottery-winning early employees to donate more, than the Bay Area and America at large are better for it.

But I also agree with Sam Biddle’s snarky take on the move, namely that creating a foundation and donating towards nebulous ideas formed around moving fast and breaking things may not be as effective as picking a cause and funding experts to tackle it (see: Bill Gates.) Code cannot solve everything, and there are organizations doing spectacular work on analog issues that need funding. From Sam, on the narrow philosophy under-pinning those ideas:

Putting Facebook software in public schools? Software, software, more software. If you have a headache, take a software. Jimmy can’t read? Give him software. The conceit that code can solve all social ills and free the species from the chains of aging, illness, and flatulence is the height of Silicon Valley bullshit, and Zuckerberg’s massive giveaway will clearly be predicated on that conceit.

So Elves on Shelves have started popping up in my Facebook feed. Fuck them. Can someone tell me how we as a society decided it was a great idea to institute a Christmas tradition involving a tiny foreign agent sent to spy on your kids in December, lest they receive no gifts? Teaching our children that good deeds are not for healing the world, but as a quid pro quo to ensure they find the latest Minecraft handbook under the tree? And how did this stupid Elf on a Shelf come to involve elaborate scenes with backstories that require parents to add one more damned thing to their already-insane holiday to-do list? Like most things, I blame pinterest.

On campus battlegrounds, the tensions between cultural sensitivity and free speech continue to flare. I’m torn - one of my favorite memories of college was a heated argument with a very conservative classmate in a seminar on piracy (the seaborne kind, not the Napster kind) on a paper examining women and homosexuality in pirate culture. The other student thought this “alternative” history was an overreach, while I thought it gave voice and narrative to previously underrepresented historical participants. We were both pretty pissed at the other for daring to challenge, especially in a small room of our peers.

We were pretty dug in; his argument went on for an hour about whether it was a valid perspective to teach in this class - the professor sat back and grinned the entire time - but the student and I emerged friends after we’d cooled off. My college exposure to other views and challenging opinions fostered my critical thought paired with empathy.

That being said, I am not a minority (no, Canadian is not a minority) nor have I, thankfully, been a victim of sexual assault, and there are a million other ways my experience differs from those of the protestors. I have no answer, or way to fix it. I just hope there’s a balance on campus between respect and acknowledgement of differing backgrounds and experience, and the ability to be exposed to views you can lecture your parents on when you get home for the holidays.

Phew. Glad I got all of that off of my chest. I promise to return to snappy one-liners and puns tomorrow.