Use It or Lose It

Most people, whether they are religious or not, believe in a power outside themselves that influences our existence and over which we have no or at best limited control. Call that power what you will, we understand that it is beyond any one individual’s needs, or desires, or imagination. 

Our founders knew this and sought to create a governmental power greater than one individual person, a power which we as a people might control. They strove to establish a model for governance that took everyone’s needs into account while giving us structure to accomplish it. They did not succeed.

They were imperfect, as are we all, and thus their creation was imperfect. But it shone with light, enough light to guide a people toward a new way of looking at and organizing government. It was a grand experiment that men of learning and toiling alike felt in their souls to be the best way they could imagine to “form a more perfect union”.

‘The people must rule’ was their mantra. But they knew when individual people themselves chose what they should do, for their benefit only, as individuals, there would be anarchy. After intense discussion they fashioned a heretofore unknown system, the American Democratic Republic. It featured representatives from a number of sovereign states, working together under a federal umbrella of common purpose.

Federally, its foundation was three distinct branches of government. Each branch tempered the power of the other branches and each had exclusive power over certain procedures, creating a system of checks and balances. No one branch would dominate. Returning to their original premise, they gave the people the ultimate power of choosing those of us who would represent the people in that government. They gave all citizens the right and responsibility of voting for those representatives.

State governments had a significant amount of freedom to govern in whatever fashion their voters chose. They retained control over many of their governmental functions. The people also democratically elected their state representatives as well as local and regional government officials, each having their own jurisdictions. 

To put this agreement in writing, after intense deliberation they forged a document, a Constitution, which codified federal law as the ultimate arbiter of how power should be wielded in these united states to provide both liberty and protection to the people of the union. It also addressed which aspects of government the states retained. This document, the Constitution, is the definitive law of the land to this day. Americans in power, and those they serve, accept this Constitution as the benchmark against which all American law is measured. When the elected representatives of the people’s power are sworn in they take a vow to protect and defend that Constitution.

The Constitution has held up as our organizing document for nearly 250 years. It is the true source of the unique American way of life, of both our freedoms and our limitations. It is the real thing all Americans should revere, not symbols or institutions. Symbols, like our flag and institutions like our military help us remember what is good about America, but the constitution itself is what we are to uphold and treasure. Our freedoms originate in the Constitution, not in the flag or the national anthem. These symbols simply remind us of how to honor our unique American experiment. There is no one way to honor the Constitution. That right to choose is protected by the words of the first amendment.

Americans are called, as are their representatives, to honor and respect the Constitution. The symbols of America, the flag, the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance, exist to focus our hearts and minds on the promise enshrined in the Constitution. The institution of the military, protectors of the people’s power, do so to uphold America against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, as is directed by the Constitution. There is no one way to honor those who volunteer to protect American interests around the globe. This right is also constitutionally protected.

It is our founding document, our Constitution, which deserves our reverence. The symbols, the flag and anthem, as well as the uniforms of our cherished military protectors, are to be honored only in so much as they reflect the people’s power as written in the Constitution. They are not the people’s power itself. They are not America. The Constitution is America. The people are America. Those other things are symbols, signs and signals that point us alway, to the real idea of the rule of the people. They are institutions, means created in the Constitution to serve the people. They are worthy of our respect but nowhere in the Constitution is that respect demanded. We give it freely through our liberty. The symbols’ and institutions’ value is given to them by the Constitution and not the other way around.

The founders’ means of balancing power was unique in its wisdom. There were formed three branches of government, each separate but equal contributors. The Legislative branch, Congress, is elected to represent the people, measured by population, the House of Representatives, and also by the equal representation of each sovereign state, the Senate. Its purpose is to create laws based on the designs of the Constitution. The Executive branch is headed by the President, who is elected and appoints an administration of leaders for the primary departments of government, his Cabinet. This branch’s vitally and necessary function is to execute those laws. The Judicial branch consists of the federal legal system, federal judges, appellate judges, and the Supreme Court. They act act as arbiters of the law. They determine a law’s relevance to the Constitution. They are not elected but appointed by the President, who is given advice by and with the consent of the Senate. It is the Senate that holds this specific power because of its equal representation from each united state. The purpose of the court is to determine if the laws created and passed by Congress and signed into law by the President follow the Constitution’s edicts.

The judiciary is specifically designed to not be elected, so as not to be subjected to the whims and desires of politics. We elect the President and Senate to appoint judges for us. The founders were insistent that the court not be politicized. The reason for the Court’s impartiality is significant. The Judicial branch exists as a check on the people. Even the people’s power must be balanced and regulated. The people or their representatives can sometimes make laws that do not clearly follow the Constitution, out of neglect or by design. The Supreme Court protects us from this “tyranny of the majority” through impartially adjudicating conflicts between a law and the Constitution. This requires impartial justices. 

For most of our history an unwritten law was honored by our elected officials that justices should be chosen and appointed only through an appraisal of their suitability for this incredible honor and responsibility. Their knowledge of the law and their non partisan dedication to the Constitution were to be the only considerations used to select them for nomination. Over time this honor has deteriorated. A flaw exists in the process of appointing judges, in particular Supreme Court justices, and is now being exploited more than ever.

Justices are meant to be non partisan, impartial, using only the Constitution as their guide, and not a political ideology. Presidents, who nominate Federal judges and Supreme Court justices for appointment, slowly began to appoint them using the criterion that a justice must practice a political philosophy in line with the president who nominated them.

Application of this partisan plan relies on there being one political party which controls both the Presidency and the Senate. In this situation a Supreme Court justice, who is appointed for life, becomes not a politically neutral advocate of the law but a tool of that party, giving that party a better chance of seeing Constitutional law decisions on cases that come before the court determined from a partisan political standpoint. Their standpoint.

This politicization has slowly deteriorated the Judicial branch’s ability to check and balance the power of lawmakers and the executive from a non partisan position. One political party could ‘stack’ the court with justices who have a political bias toward interpreting the constitution. By appointing comparatively young justices, that party’s philosophy could dominate the Court’s decisions for a generation or more, even after those politicians lose the elected power of their offices. 

Perhaps the primary partisan division of judicial interpretation rests in the competing philosophies of perceiving the document as ‘living’ versus ‘dead’. A more liberal interpretation of the Constitution says the document was wisely designed to account for the inevitable changes in the evolution of society and continued advancements in technology and knowledge of the world. The document is living. The meaning of its words can change with the times. 

For example, the addition of the Bill of Rights and the opportunity for the people to amend the document gave us the power to reflect in the Constitution changes in the will of society such as ending slavery and giving women the right to vote. This more liberal philosophy also allows for new interpretations of the language of the original document as it pertains to modern times and the evolution of our citizens.  

Conversely, a more conservative bias sees the document as being strictly interpreted, literal and rigid, unchanging. These literalist constructionists see the Constitution as, in essence, dead. It can only be interpreted using what they consider to be the original intent of the founders. But who is to determine what was their original intent? That is still interpretation.

Interestingly enough we see a similar division in interpretation of religious law between conservative, fundamentalist Christians and more progressive denominations. Thankfully, it is no longer legal to stone to death an adulterer or force a widow to marry her husband’s brother. Human values change with time. Regardless, the Constitution will be interpreted according to the philosophy of Constitutional jurisprudence of a predominance of justices.

The politicization of the Supreme court is, in my estimation, the most significant factor in the slow but substantial movement of American government toward a place that looks less like a democracy and more like an authoritarian state. The grooming of vulnerable Americans by advocates for the theft of power from the people into the hands of moneyed interests, has been facilitated by their hand picked, bought and sold politicians. Mesmerized  Americans, like the frog in the boiling pot, have given away their power and freedoms, slowly, over time, almost invisibly. It has been accomplished through psychologically powerful propaganda, pandering to our most selfish interests. This deliberate erosion of our power through the efforts of these same moneyed oligarchs serves their ultimate goal, retaining their power at all costs.

It is interesting to me that as in physics the two opposing ends of the political continuum have come, in the eyes of their most radical liberal and ultra conservative factions, to the same conclusion. They posit that the country is being dominated by a somewhat secret and financially powerful cabal. The only difference being each side blames a different complex of culprits. It’s as though the strategies and tactics behind the goals of both sides are exactly the same and only the names have been changed.

In all of this it is easy for the individual common citizen to despair of having any power at all, unable to exert any influence over the decisions that critically affect their lives. But despite the machinations of those who think their vast wealth gives them license to run roughshod over the people, we still have one, and only one, power remaining to us which we can use to regain the ruling power granted to us by our founding document. That is the power of the vote. 

For any of us who think that our vote doesn’t count, or that all politicians are crooks and liars, or that both parties are the same, or that certain of our particular pet policies and issues are more important than the failing health of our democratic republic, I have this to say. Those are all illusions dreamt up in the backrooms of think tanks and the secret meetings of powerful white men designed to disillusion us and trick us into giving up our power, begrudgingly or willingly. They know our power, as given to us clearly in our sacred founding document, is the poison that can bring them, choking, to their knees, foiling their corrupt, degenerate plans for dominance. They will do anything, illegal and immoral, to diminish the real power of the American citizen that they fear. 

Our only remaining power lies in the accumulated will of our individual votes, in concert with what we know to be good for all peoples and not for only those few white men, rich in wealth but poor in spirit, desperate to hold on to their last gasp of dominance in a changing, evolving world.

Our only remaining power is in our vote. If we abrogate our responsibility to govern, a responsibility the founders intended we wield, we will deserve the dire fate we will so clearly suffer. One of my great fears is to know that many of my fellows stayed home, feeling proud of upholding their principles and not voting for either of the “corrupt corporate parties” they despise only to find out that one party IS actually worse, and has won, and is taking away their freedoms daily, one by one. Their pride lasted only until they realized the American experiment, the government they are privileged to live under, is being destroyed before their eyes, and they can do nothing to stop it. 

This fate can be diverted if only we can gather with single minded courage to ‘citizen’ and defeat those we know in our hearts to be the destroyers. It is said that the destroyers come to destroy that which is rotted and create a space in time for new ideas to flourish and new grown to thrive. That may be so. But I am not ready to give up American Democracy to rot.  To ‘citizen’ is a verb. (Thanks Aric) It means taking one’s civic responsibilities seriously. It means taking action, taking one for the the team, the team being the real idea of the America envisioned by the founders, through that still viable tool of the Constitution, our right to vote. It means doing absolutely everything we can to save our democracy, including dragging our friends, family and neighbors to the polls if we must. 

We don’t need to ’unite’. It is a sad and myopic concept. There are too many and diverse factions extant to come together singing Kumbaya. But we all have single minded purpose. We can go our separate ways and do our hard work after we have removed the cancer from the body politic; the rot that threatens us existentially. Only if we, all of us, citizen, will we fulfill that clear and true vision of our founders.

Know your power. Feel your power. Use your power.

It’s all we have.

Freedoms and Liberty

Let’s have a chat about freedom and liberty. Are they the same thing? No, they aren’t.
A freedom is a right that everybody has, something that everybody wants. For example, we all want to be able to speak our minds, and in America we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights freedom of speech. We can say what we want, free from persecution, unless our speech directly and imminently threatens someone, like in the common example of shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Liberty, on the other hand, is a right everyone has, only it’s about what an individual wants. Each of us has their own wants and desires. For example, I might want to rob your house but you probably don’t want your house to be robbed. Liberty creates conflicts of desire.
Where freedoms and liberty come from and what we can legally do about them is somewhat counterintuitive.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly that we all have the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These rights are considered to be given, by God, at birth, to everyone. Most people take this to mean that these are rights that can never be taken away, which is true. These rights cannot be legally taken away. But, because they cannot be taken away they must be regulated by law. This is because one person’s liberty may conflict with another person’s liberty. It is one reason that we have laws. Disputes about people’s liberty happen all the time and limits to our behavior are established by law. The rights to life and the pursuit of happiness also lead to conflicts between citizens, and also must be limited by laws.
Freedoms, on the other hand, are not inalienable. They are granted, by government, in their governing documents, through laws, or by the courts. For example, the Bill of Rights was added to the constitution, after the fact, because people realized there were freedoms all Americans should have that, unlike liberty, were not God-given and had to be granted by government.
Freedoms cannot be limited except by strict judicial examination and interpretation of the Constitution or through other governmental means. Our constitutional rights and freedoms have limitations that are written into the constitution, or are limited by law, or through judicial rule. And, because they are granted by government and not given by God, they can be taken away by government. Granted, it is difficult to take away a constitutional freedom. It can only be done by amending the constitution or by the edict of a dictator. But it can be done.
The constitution has been amended only 27 times with the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, having been ratified in 1791. That there have only been 17 amendments since then shows how hard it is to amend the constitution. The United States has never had a dictator, elected or otherwise. Our rights have yet to be taken away by force.
The ninth amendment in the Bill of Rights states that there are other rights not specifically mentioned in the constitution. Those rights are determined through legislation and ultimately by the courts. Because of their non-constitutional status, these rights can be much easier to take away.
A common misconception about both freedoms and liberty is that they confer upon the individual carte blanche to do anything they want and be protected by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. This is not true. Both our freedoms and our liberty can, have, and will be limited and regulated by law and through the courts. It is often overlooked that along with each right we have a corresponding responsibility. It is an important part of being a citizen that we not only know our rights but also our responsibilities. All too often I hear angry citizens complaining that their rights are being trampled on without understanding that limitations on those rights are in force. They had not considered, consciously or otherwise, that they had responsibilities associated with those rights.
This is a significant issue in today’s America. There are individuals and organizations that present very serious threats to the survival of our democracy, based on false and/or skewed interpretations of our founding documents. Many Americans misinterpret the intentions of our founding fathers, through ignorance, by succumbing to propaganda, or on purpose. There is an assumption that they have rights that cannot be limited by anyone, especially government. The threats these forces present to the nation, to our unique philosophy of governance, both from outside and inside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, are tangible and powerful. We are right to fear them. We are also right to believe in our power as citizens.
Some tell us that the power and strength of the American way of life lie in our capitalist, free-market economy, which has accumulated the vast wealth required to bend the world’s nations to our will. This is not true. America’s strength resides in her people, now and always. Perhaps our most important right, the right to vote, is still ours. We can use it to guide the path of American life, economically, socially, politically, and with equity of race, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, etc. To do so we must be mindful of our differences and develop the skills of listening and humility. We must remember that our freedoms, which include the right to vote, can be taken away, if not through the vote, through the whim of a tyrant.
We can no longer take it for granted in America that we are free from evil in our government, that we are still protected by the checks and balances built into our constitution. We are no longer safe from military action against our citizens or false imprisonment or any of the other horrors of totalitarian rule. Think long and hard before you assume that those who promise prosperity and glory are saviors. Make certain they are not leading us off the cliff and into the abyss of total subservience. This audit of America takes time and active discernment. We have need to start right now. It is by no means easy. It takes eyes and ears and tongues, hearts and souls, and brains. We will not survive if we remain frogs in the slowly heating pot. I can see the steam rising. I don’t pray often, but I pray we can save our democracy.
We have precious little time.

Selecting A Candidate

Let’s take a closer look at the politics of issues activism versus the electoral process of selecting candidates. They are both quite similar and significantly different. It has always been my contention that we can’t do both, at least at the same time, without solid compartmentalizing and a clear understanding of the essentials of how to do both.

When involved in issues activism it behooves one to focus on the issue that you can devote your entire energy to. You immerse yourself totally, 100%, into moving the needle on the issue that you give an ‘A’ grade.  Even the A-minus and B-plus issues, though critically important to you, will dilute your ability to effectuate your A grade activism. You support that highest grade issue and give it your full attention and strength. Only in that way do your policy goals have any chance of being realized.

In electoral politics, on the other hand, one deals with numerous issues simultaneously. When discerning which candidate is the best option for one to support and ultimately for the party to support not only must we look at the candidate’s position on any number of issues but also numerous non-policy factors. We grade all of these factors, issues and non-issues. Then, all grades must, or should, be actively considered  together when choosing a candidate to support and possibly work or volunteer for. Herein lies the major difference between issues politics and electoral politics.

In issues politics, it is your highest graded issue that is supported on all levels. Politicians given A grades on an issue are supported and those given F grades are actively opposed. Grades in between distract and aren’t worth spending time and energy on. This is how one does issues politics. When we approach electoral politics in the same way as we do issues politics we wind up with skewed situations. One candidate is supported and campaigned for because they score an A on the prime issue, or, they are rejected and attacked because they score an F on your favorite issue.

Once elected, because of our firmly entrenched two-party system, any representative’s vote will grade out to the issues activist as either an A or an F dependent on their vote. This causes them to determine the issues part of a candidate’s worthiness with a binary A or F being the only possible grades. Of course, they can display more variety in assessing a legislator’s non-issue-based qualities. But, even though such things as astute political instincts or media-savvy should be as important to constituents as policy, they are often not actively considered.

Regardless of how complex an issue is and how subtle and nuanced the proposed policy and legislation addressing it is, when in office a legislator can only vote up or down, yes or no, A or F.  As we know, binary logic works fine for computers but is outdated for addressing the complexity of modern law and society. This dualist nature of modern politics has influenced the current rampant partisanship we see everywhere, which in itself reinforces the dualism. A rather vicious circle.

To put this in a nutshell, in issues politics, to succeed one may work solely on their highest graded issue. But in electoral politics, the best results are achieved by working with the ‘student’ with the highest GPA.

Let me repeat that. In electoral politics, it is wise to use the grade point average of a candidate to measure their value to the voter and not simply the one who grades the highest on an important issue. Likewise, it can be unfair to reject out of hand a candidate whose grade on your main issue is ‘unacceptable’. If we aren’t careful our policy biases can tarnish the candidate best positioned to win the election based solely on their positions on select issues. Once again, because of our two-party system, it is difficult, read impossible, to find a party and/or candidate who satisfies all our policy desires. To insist on issues purity in a candidate is a recipe for disaster.

Many voters will take the apparent high road and vote for a candidate that has no chance of winning simply because that candidate more closely reflects their values. They do this because ‘it’s a free country’ where ’I can vote for whomever I want’ and ‘stand up for my principles’. These choices are noble and in keeping with the best philosophy of the American way of life. Unfortunately, as long as the two-party system dominates our elections this manner of voting will only result in more decisions based on either a single issue or a grade point average, between two divisively partisan candidates. One party’s candidate might only support your issues 40% of the time but the other only 5%.

If you choose not to vote for the 40% candidate, which your logic says you shouldn’t, there is the possibility that you get the 5% candidate. You might walk out of the voting booth proud of voting your values but one month later you’re gnashing your teeth at a vote taken by the 5 percenter we elected. I should say here that it is right and good to vote your conscience. We just need to be aware of the potential for unintended consequences and consider our choices accordingly.

Yes, this ‘ F**k, I have to vote for the lesser of two evils again’ scenario is patently unfair. It sucks. We shouldn’t have to hold our nose and vote for somebody we can barely stand. Our current system paints us into frustrating corners filled with anger. Having only two parties we sadly have only two basic philosophies of governance in the U.S.. The opposing parties must need to create coalitions of voters with varied interests. There are many more than two philosophies of government to cram into one or the other.

For candidates to appeal to the entire spectrum of different philosophies in one party we often find that it is the candidate who best tempers their candidacy with alleged ‘moderate’ rhetoric that delegates think will appeal to the most voters. These candidates will fake or hide their true politics in order to get nominated. Candidates want to win. Obviously, they can’t win without being nominated. Parties want to win. They choose who they think can win. Many of us find this incredibly distasteful and foolish, and rightfully so. But it is a political reality and a maddening one.

Counter to how things truly work, parties will cautiously nominate who they imagine is the ‘right’ candidate instead of boldly choosing the ‘best’ candidate. Most often the right candidate turns out to be the one with A’s on the popular issues. The party then develops selective amnesia about their nominee’s possibly numerous and critical F’s and their often suspect, vulnerable character flaws. It is not this candidate that will win. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the candidate who scores well across the board, who may not be ‘right’ but certainly ‘best’ can win. Maybe they don’t get so many A’s but not so many F’s either and a goodly number of B’s.

The candidate’s grades must be earned not because they got the test ahead of time and answered the way they thought the teacher wanted but rather truthfully answered with courage and conviction. Only in this way will the party nominate the person who best represents the essential values of the party. This is the candidate that inspires. This is the candidate who can actually win.

Having the better GPA is not to be confused with ‘electability’, that scourge of cautious and lukewarm centrists. The elusive quality of electability is considered to be vital in selecting a candidate. Not only the rank and file but respected pundits and influential party leaders often insist that this is the gold standard of candidate selection. Nothing could be further from the truth. The two party system certainly gives the impression that because of the diverse coalitions both parties form, their right candidate is the one who appeals to everyone in their ‘base’.

This is the seemingly safe ‘centrist’ candidate. But in trying to appeal to everyone this candidate moderates their stance on many issues they either do not support or support more vociferously. This not only lowers their GPA accross the board but can only increase the perception of them as a phony and liar. Then, in the general election, they are more likely to not only lose appeal with the ever-decreasing number of moderate voters but also cause issues voters to look away from them and toward the vote my principles candidates.

Another spurious means of selecting a candidate is the ‘next up’ method. Here we find the candidate who has paid their dues. They have been around seemingly forever. They are visible, high ranking elected public officials who have accomplished just enough to have some name recognition and popularity. They have been considered serious contenders for a long time. Why in god’s name do these qualities make someone a good candidate much less the best candidate? It’s beyond me. This is this nepotism that is not genetic but seems to be designed to motivate career politicians to consistently do the party’s bidding over the long term. What a foolish practice.

Both parties claim to have a plan based on candidate selection and the corresponding policy positions. They both claim to be appealing to young voters and non-voters in an effort to find more supporters. But these are the very voters that vote for the person who best exemplifies their philosophy of existence, and not the measured and overthought offerings of the major parties. Our current President ‘got it’ before his rivals and appealed to the populist mindset of the non-voter, helping him eke out a victory in 2016. And disillusioned milennial voters, who have been shown to be more progressive than not, largely became third party or non voters.

That the current occupant wasn’t honest about what he offered did not matter. He sold his brand of populism well. He convinced, falsely, that his care for the fed-up non-voters was genuine. As his presidency has advanced these facts have become more clear. Some of his less virulent followers have become disillusioned. He, as well as his party, are vulnerable to candidates who are wisely chosen. Currently, there are a plethora of Democrats seeking the opportunity to run against him in 2020. We will see what criteria rise to the top of the delegate’s selection process and what sort of candidate emerges.

If a safe, electable, centrist presidential candidate is nominated by the Democrats there will be a struggle that will have the most influential existential impact on American democracy, and thus the planet, as any preceding it. However, outside of the perception that the candidate has to be everything to all people there exists a basic, simpler philosophy of progress. Of the wide variety of people who tend to identify with the Democratic party nearly all embrace it. It is not issues-based, nor personality or identity dependent, but value and feeling based. If a candidate emerges that best represents that basic philosophy we could see a Democratic landslide of historic dimensions.

The centrists tell us in strongly-worded diatribes that a ‘far-left’ candidate cannot win. They present numerous examples of leftist candidates who have failed over the last half-century. Could it be that the electorate has changed enough to reverse that trend? Could disillusioned millennials and non-voting liberals turn the tide for a progressive candidate who more closely projects their values.? Can the centrists support a candidate they see as a Democratic Socialist, one they feel the country is not ready for? The jury is out. The result of the 2020 presidential election, regardless of the nature of the Democrat’s candidate, is up for grabs. This is for all the marbles. And, vastly more serious, for the future of the planet.

To summarize, all of this is to say that when fighting for a cause it is imperative to give it 100% of your power. Stay focused, don’t ever give up and don’t take any prisoners. But in discerning elections and politicians, in the beginning of the process, you must hedge your bets. Never stop looking at the big picture, the overarching values you share with diverse but like-minded compatriots. Remember that compromise and the language of confluence is not your enemy but your friend.

And everyone, everyone, always keep mindful of that GPA.

(More Than) A Few Words About Privilege

A topic of great interest for me has been the concept of privilege. From conversations and commentary I’ve been involved in there appears to be nearly as many ideas of what privilege is and what it means as there are comments. It is out of character for me to be simple in any way but how I understand privilege seems simple compared to other explanations I have heard.

I have tried to keep myself out of this discussion, from the standpoint of my own privilege. My demographic is fraught with privilege to the degree that I may never get to the bottom of it. I am white, male, middle class, heterosexual, cisgender, protestant, college educated, a senior, with a mental disorder. All of those things are prime examples of things that are associated with some form of privilege or another.

One might ask what having a mental disorder has to do with privilege but I assure you that one has access to certain things much easier when one is “disabled”. Regardless, that litany of things about me are all subject to privilege for a very good reason. Things. They are not character traits. They are actual things. They are ‘whats’ and not ‘whos’.

This is the basis for my appreciation of what privilege is and perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t. Privilege is about things. Depending on what sort of thing we are talking about the thing a person is is either subject to privilege or not. The primary indicator is that privilege is not about who we are but about what we are. And privilege is about choice. It is about what we choose to do about the privileges we have.

I can see that this explanation is vague so let’s look into it a little closer. The criterion I use to determine if a thing has privilege is how many people can be that thing. Who you are can be anyone, and anyone can be who you are. For example, a doctor can be anyone and anyone can be a doctor. That is a who. When someone asks us who we are we normally answer with a who answer, an answer that could apply to anyone. We might say we are a doctor. That’s a who. That’s because anyone can be a doctor.

When asked who we are we likely wouldn’t say we are male. Why? Because male is not a who answer. It is a what answer. Male is a logical answer to the question what are you. That is because not everyone can be a ‘what’. We don’t ask who nationality are you. Or who colored eyes do you have. Of course ‘what’ questions can sometimes have who answers. One might ask what kind of car do you drive. But the answer there is a subset of a who answer. Anyone can potentially drive a car. So anyone could drive the same kind of car you drive.

And herein we have the criterion for the difference between who and what, between privilege and not privilege. Sure it can get confusing. If the difference between a ‘who’ and a ‘what eludes you remember the prime indicator. The proof for a ‘who’ or a ‘what’ is in the number of people that can do or be a thing. Anyone can be a doctor. Not everyone can be male. All males have privilege. Doctors do not.

Some caveats here. First, one might say that doctors have privilege. They get better seats at the theatre and restaurants, better service from just about any mechanic or cashier than other people. But that is a function of earned merit. It is not something they just are. It is something they chose to earn. Anyone can study for years to become a doctor, but no one can study to be Irish.

It is also obvious that many people have a lesser chance to be a doctor than others. But once again that is a function of choice as well, just in a different direction. People who want to be doctors are often not chosen for the opportunity to become doctors based on factors such as race and class or education. Or, people with privilege are thought to be more qualified to become doctors are chosen by others with privilege, in positions of power.

Earned privilege is not the same as ‘what’ privilege. Earned privilege doesn’t always apply to a given situation. Whereas someone who identifies as male is always male, a doctor’s earned privilege is dependent on someone else granting it to him. The mechanic can always say, ‘I don’t care if you are a doctor you aren’t getting your car done earlier than anybody else’.

Here is where we start getting into what privilege really is. It’s people getting advantages or disadvantages simply because of what they are. You’re black and you can’t buy a house in a certain neighborhood but if you are white you can. That is white privilege. It is also racism. The racism is the realtor’s and not so much the two competing parties. Racism and white privilege are not the same thing. Anyone can be a racist. That is a who. Only certain people can be white. That is a what. Now of course a person can be both white with privilege and racist. That is a dangerous state of being we will touch on later.

Another way of determining if a person is privileged is to use what I call the Aldi criterion. When a person walks into Aldi pushing a cart you can sometimes tell by looking at them that they belong to a specific group of people. They are ‘whats’who have some sort of privilege. Or sometimes you can’t tell at allThose people are usually “who’s’. Using the Aldi criterion when a doctor walks into Aldi unless they are wearing scrubs no one can tell they are a doctor. But if a woman wearing a hijab pushes her cart in she is immediately known to be a Muslim woman with traditionally little privilege.

It is interesting that unless they otherwise reveal themselves, like the doctor in scrubs, it’s impossible to know a person’s ‘who’ by observing their ‘what’. Any black, asian, native, latin, or white person, man or woman, could be a doctor. This is another way we can understand that anyone can be a who but only certain people are whats. One can see that this criteria applies consistently, at least for observations based on visible physicality.

When a Muslim or white person enters Aldi one knows immediately. As soon as a white person pushes their cart through the door you know they probably won’t be watched on the camera feeds like a young black male would be. Unless of course they are dirty and unkempt like a homeless person, who is another persecuted group with lesser societal privilege. That white person is likely viewed with the same suspicion as the black male.

There exists a hierarchy of privilege that dictates whose privilege is greater. For example a white man’s privilege is greater than a white woman’s whose privilege is greater than a black man’s. And, frankly, an elderly black man has more privilege that a young black male. A hetero white family is more likely to get a mortgage than a white lesbian family but the lesbian family would still get one over a Muslim family And neither the hetero or lesbian white family would be raided by ICE at their workplace like a Latina.

These are the effects of the victimhood of ‘the other’ by those with privilege of a higher heirarchic status. The negative effects on those with little or no privilege are many and varied. A major issue in society today is that unless the person with privilege has accepted their privilege and are sensitive to it’s damage they do not see that these negative effects are doubly invisible. They do not know they have privilege in the first place. And second, they do not see that they have done any damage. That’s some big negative karma.

The white grocery shopper above didn’t do anything to deserve that mortgage or avoiding that visit from ICE. They could be a good person or a bad person. It doesn’t matter. They just happened to be born white. When they walk into the store you don’t know them at all. But you know when they leave they are less likely to be stopped for a burnt out tail light than a black judge on his way home from court. Privilege has nothing to do with who you are. You can’t tell what sort of privilege a person has by their whos. You can only know from their whats.

I think a large part of the misunderstanding about the concept of privilege is that it gets tangled up with other concepts. Sometimes people are both a racist and have privilege and other times they are not. In the example above the white families got the houses simply because they were white. Chances were they weren’t racist. And the black family may have been just as much or more financially capable of paying their mortgage as any of the families.

Once again, all white people have white privilege. Because they are what? They are white. You don’t have to be a racist to have white privilege. You might be a racist or you might not. But you absolutely have to be white. Being white affords you a laundry list of privilege you hold over other races. You did nothing to earn it. This is where the conversation about white privilege in particular usually goes south. A person will be told they have white privilege and immediately they become angry and say “But I’m not a racist”.

And maybe they aren’t a racist. But they do have white privilege. Why? Because everyone can be a racist but not everyone can be white. Being racist is a who and being white is a what. You have privilege when what you are is higher on the heirarchy totem than other people. There then is a set of advantages available to you based solely on that particular what. Sometimes people get confused with whos and whats. One big confusion that creates problems with people understanding white privilege stems from the fact that people are often both white and racist.

This is truly a big problem. Not only in local sociopolitical discourse but also as a national issue that is crippling American society. As individuals we must separate the conversation about race from the issue of whether or not somebody has privilege. People will try to mix up the two to muddy the waters. The issues of racism and white privilege are just two of many intertwined and complicated issues we face as a society. It’s vitally important to be clear about the universe to which our conversations apply.

For me the number one thing people can do to break through the anger and misinformation out there is to put a wedge between the concepts of ‘what’ with it’s privilege and ‘who’ states of being. Only then can productive dialogue take place. Let’s say you are talking to a male about discrepancies in pay for the USWNT, even as they have won the World Cup 4 times out of 8. You say that male privilege is largely responsible for women not getting equal pay. The man says ‘But my company gives women equal pay’.

If you aren’t clear about what to say in a situation like that always ask yourself the who vs. what question before you rattle off an answer. A good reply is not always very clear and an answer is expected immediately. So practice arming yourself with the question, internally. In this instance not all companies pay women equally. His company is more who than what privilege has a lower hierarchy than male privilege. Therefore his claim doesn’t hold water. This is a subtle distinction.

Companies themselves don’t have privilege so much as power and influence. The same with politicians and others with power. Their power can often circumvent privilege. They are higher on the heirarchy pyramid. However, classic privilege still functions in many situations, such as the black judge getting pulled over for a minor infraction or ludicrous suspicion. There are exceptions to the who versus what criterion.

In our equal pay example the man is a ‘what’ and has male privilege. Armed with this knowledge you can respectfully inform him of the difference between a what and a who. And how that relates to their conversation. It isn’t hard to understand these things when you keep them clear and basic. And without judgement.

If he isn’t hardcore and is simply confused or under the spell of propaganda you are much more likely to continue with a meaningful conversation. It may even inspire him to reevaluate his position on privilege and start looking into himself. This will be because he now knows he himself is not responsible for his privilege. It is because from birth he has been part of a specific group. He is now aware he has no control over his privilege, and never had.

One thing people should understand is that everyone has some sort of privilege. Everyone can have or do something that others can’t, simply because of what they are. People of color have privilege too. Men have privilege. Tall people have privilege. Attractive women get into night clubs while others can’t. English speakers also have privilege. Why? Because it is a what answerr to the question ‘What language do you speak’. In our culture some of these ‘what’ groups have significantly more privilege and others have significantly less. It’s that heirarchy pyramid at work.

Privilege can also be reversed. If you are a white person, try going into certain restaurants or night clubs in certain ethnic or religious neighborhoods and see how comfortable you feel. In that select environment black people have privilege. The heirarchy is reversed. Stepping out of your universe of privilege like that is actually a great way to experience the anguish of being a victim of privilege. It can change your perspective rather quickly. Most white people have rarely, if ever, experienced even five minutes of the abject discomfort that people of color feel everyday all day, often as the only POC in the room. This is not always easy for white people. In these situations they are prone to freaking out.

Sadly, and actually I should use a stronger word here than sadly, the fear that POC will soon have the privilege of being the majority leads white supremacists to desperation. It fuels their attempts to create an American apartheid. They are frightened and angry. They are desperate to maintain political power even as they become a minority race in America.

This desperation stems from the fact they have had privilege in this nation for hundreds of years. They have never known anything else. Just the opposite, POC in the USA have been the victims of white privilege and supremacy for just as long. They are determined to gain the equity in political and social power they have deserved for hundreds of years. White people in America are as afraid of losing their power as POC are determined to have power. This struggle is also a crisis in the USA, one that continues to grow.

Understanding your own privilege and acting to neutralize it is vitally important for our ability to see it in others. All the things I mentioned as my demographic are ‘whats’. White, male, middle class etc. are all whats. Those ‘whats’ show me my privileges. But, I don’t have musicians privilege or history degree privilege. Because those are whos. Your whats and whos shape you as you relate to the world. As white people the work we must do is to constantly assess and reassess not only what biases and prejudices we have, but also accessing our ‘whats’ and the privilege that accompanies them. By knowing ourselves and looking deep inside us we discover how our own privilege affects us and those around us.

We need meaningful dialogue in our country at rural breakfast counters to urban cocktail parties and everywhere in between. Our knowledge of self and awareness of the advantages we have simply because of what we are, whether male or white or any other ‘what’ are vital tools. We can use them to diffuse the anger and the misunderstandings about privilege these honest conversations reveal. It is a good first step toward having those respectful conversations. To take that step means being clear about your own privilege and how it affects others.

This is where those tools we’ve discussed come into play. I have experienced these sorts of encounters first hand. I have had several ‘I’m not a racist’ discussions. The conversation often centers on choice. I explain that they had no choice in being white but they did have a choice to be a racist. And they chose not to be one. Nor did they choose to have white privilege because they didn’t choose to be white. In my experience this sort of open and honest dialogue has often calmed people down enough to civilly talk about our privilege and what we can do to work on it.

Most people want to get along with each other and any tools we can use to help people learn to live better together are valuable. White people having honest conversations with other white people is very important to our understanding of privilege. We need to work hard to refine techniques of communication that are based more on the shared values of our ‘whats’ and less on the often divisive ideas of our ‘whos’. Using these tools will give us a better chance of breaking through resistance than simply bludgeoning people with facts.

There are many positive results we can take away from productive conversations about privilege. But it takes work, fortitude, patience, and mostly love. We mustn’t forget that there are as many types of privilege as there are human ‘what’s’. Developing self reflection, humility and good listening skills as habitual will be invaluable to our relationships on all levels. Exploring the ‘whats’ in our own lives gives us great insight into how our privileges affect the people in our lives in so many ways. It also gives us a peek into the privileges of others, how they affect us, and significantly, how they also affect them.

I have always found it valuable to look at situations like these through the lens of who vs. what relationships. I remember that women don’t walk across the street when they see me walking towards them, not because I’m a musician but because I’m white. I can’t change the fact that I’m white. I have to accept that and thus I have to accept the consequences of that. I have to accept my white privilege. This means I must look deep inside myself to find the privillege imprinted there, often since I was a child.

Also important is that I ask myself why that women who doesn’t cross to the other side of the street when I approach will cross over when a black man approaches. Then I need to think about how that black man feels when, every day, white people avoid him and stare at him like he is a criminal. And then I must stop looking at him like that myself, because he deserves to have a happy and fulfilling life as much as I or anyone else does. He is not a black who just happens to be a man but a man who just happens to be black. It’s a subtle difference but significant.

So, let’s remember. Privilege is a sociocultural, economic, political, or physical advantage you have when you belong to a group that not everyone can belong to. Something that only the limited number of people in that group can have or do. Privilege is about what you are. If you make it about who you are, if it’s about who you have made yourself or who you chose to be, that’s not about privilege. But don’t ignore or discount the ‘whos’. Often whats and whos can come together, such as male privilege and toxic masculinity, to create powerful sociopolitical gangs that are damaging to society and difficult to contend with. Be wary of such combinations.

I have to say here that I am not an authority on privilege. Far from it. My observations can likely be shot full of holes by most anyone. In fact, with the litany of privileges I have I could easily spend the rest of my life discovering and working on them. That being said, I believe in my observations and these tools as limited as they may be. I need to do more work and listen and learn. I must humble myself before those who know more.

We know that I have plenty of privilege to work on, much of it deeply buried in my unconscious. Sometimes it comes out at bad times. I get embarrassed and angry with myself. I feel I have failed in moving into the 21st century, where human evolution is outstripping efforts to blunt it. Luckily, I have a good support system of loving comrades who remind me that I am working hard on my shortcomings and thus worthy of a few mulligans. I am grateful for their succor and love.

If this post helps just one person open up, make their privileges conscious, and find the strength to work on neutralizing there effects out in the world I will have succeeded.

Perhaps I am that one person.

Filing My Tongue To a Point!

I get angrier by the day as I read or hear comments about what a stupid, heartless, idiot, our President is. Although it may be cathartic to prattle on so, as action it isn’t effective. What is needed right now from patriots everywhere is effort, action that will be uncomfortable and a little scary. How do we push through our fear, the fear that paralyzes, and find our will to act?


Our actions needn’t be heroic, although some might say any action is heroic. It needn’t be all that dangerous either. It may be as simple as showing up to a protest, calling your congressman’s office, or donating a few dollars to someone running for office who displays the same values you do. It’s in the action that we find meaning.


Talk is cheap. If you don’t see how our democratic republic is being systematically destroyed, or worse, if you see it and do nothing, you are with those who deserve the coming autocratic government. This is not to say that a cathartic cry out once in a while is bad. It can soothe temporarily. But it must be accompanied by action.

The American experiment is wholly dependent on the actions of We The People. It only succeeds when we uphold the principles the founding fathers insisted upon. We continue to fight for true freedom and liberty against the wealthy white men who crafted our country to serve their own desires and who still lord over us. But the essence of this democratic republic’s philosophy and tenets of governance is worth fighting for as well. Many Americans have died to preserve those principles. How can we do anything else but fight for them.

We cannot let those who fear the future divide us with that same fear and prevent our nation’s evolution. These men who look backwards are desperate to maintain their white supremacist power. They have the resources to bring to bear a plethora of sociopolitical weapons. They have an endless supply of propaganda’s ammunition with which to flummox the vulnerable. They have a death grip on the means of wielding power.

What do we have to oppose this abusive and continuous psychological and oppressive onslaught?

The successful re-evolutionary does not blindly rush into the fight, courageous but vulnerable to the oligarchy’s many weapons. They use all the means at their disposal to protect and preserve their power to rule. But what we all have are the seven centers of actual power, divine power which cannot be taken away. Used in concert with each other they can liberate us from the matrix. Used correctly they fill our scabbard and can slay dragons. The seven:

Our drive to survive. That unconscious imperative to advance our kind. To live and see future generations carry on. A need to see to it that seven future generations will prosper.


Our desire. Seeking the joy of creating a world where we can pursue the happiness that is our right. Where we can drink wine and make love and fulfill that primeval desire to evolve the species.

Our fortitude. That stick-to-it nature that will do anything needed and never give up. It is the will to succeed in creating a world of justice at any cost. It is what carries courage on it’s back and never tires.

Our heart. Where the soul lives, next door to love and across the street from empathy. The nerve center that connects and holds together the power of the body with the power of the mind. The tip of the spear that can defeat any darkness or evil, with respect.


Our speech. Our instrument of communication. It is the place where the love in the heart meets the mind’s wisdom and plans. The means of connecting to all souls who cross our paths. The place where we learn and grow.

Our mind. Where we process our convoluted lives. The light with the love. The power with the knowledge. The desire with the emotions. The need to be one with the need to be many. The mind is the repository of the spirit’s wisdom and grace. It introduces us to the universal.


Our portal. The drive to survive, bursting through to the place we came from and return to. We start with the spark of the continual universe. Two cells from two sources forming a double helix in the dualism of all continuums. Yin and Yang. And in the end we return to that spark.

Life pours out through the portal to reunite with the universe, moving out to find the three, the final, original prime number. Three branches of government. The Christian trinity. The three forms of rock. The three primary gods of the Hindus. Three strikes you’re out. And the three become one.


How do these centers, working together, relate to activism, whose root is action? They reveal that to prevail we do not use only our minds or only our courage. We must use our whole selves, focused, clear, and fully realized. We throw our goal out into the wind and it slips back, making our imagination come true, but only if we follow it in faith.

Faith depends on truth. Truth is the heart’s weapon. We have to defend truth from those who would destroy it. All tyrants try to corrupt truth. They try to replace faith with a certainty of falsehood. When truth is corrupt love is an illusion and faith is a chasm.

In this turbulent time truth is being bludgeoned to death before our very eyes. Many of us are sitting idly by and letting it happen. Truth is not always static. It is not always anchored. It is elusive and malleable in meaning. It is constantly moving and morphing into new relationships. We have to chase it, lest it eludes us. We must be fleet of foot and quick of mind to find it. We must have endurance and stamina and be able to look into those places we don’t want to go. We cannot just pick it up and gaze at it with wonder. We need to use it wisely.


What do we do with the truth when we finally capture it? It is the weapon of the heart, a mind-body-laser. We guide it into the soft underbelly of the fearful ones. Their subconscious tells them the fear they fear is real and will decay and rot them in the end. It makes them vulnerable. But we must secure it deep within them. Get close enough to replace their fear with joy.

It will never be easy. We’ve got to avoid the sleight of hand and bullying they depend on. We cannot ever succumb to their fear. We The People need to meet them face to face, look into their eyes and love them. When we fill their empty selves with love and understanding their fear will dissipate for it is an illusion. As FDR once said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. And defeating fear takes our complete selves, dissipating our own illusions of opposing priorities and false hierarchies of need.

I began here in anger directed at those who call our President and his government clever and demeaning names out of their own anger. But I wound up preaching about a theology of dissidence. A name is a powerful thing and when you name something you gain power over it. Think of how Donald Trunp has names for all his enemies, Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas. So I believe those who name he who must not be named do so to regain the power he has stolen from them. And that is more than ok.

Subsequently my grasp of the nature of divinity is tenuous at best. I am not quite yet the enlightened sage. For that I apologize. I digress. Recent events have motivated me to say exactly what my brain is currently plugged into, out there in the cosmos. It’s about time. I’ve had this stuff swirling around in my head for years but I was trapped in my own fear. I feared if I said what I really felt, what I knew about things people would laugh and ostracize me. I have such been a coward. Would that you never be a coward like me. None of us can afford that now.

As a caveat I must say that as always there will be no punishment for not acting. If right now you can only invent cute negative names that help you grow and recapture your power there will be no penance. I will rejoice. Not everyone is at a place in their life for that kind of courage. So use your other abundant courage to live a good life. We all walk our own path. But you might be ready to act without being consciously aware of it. And that’s where the stimulus, the agitation and the big nudge comes in.

Please listen carefully. You can throw what I say out with the trash or line the birdcage if you so choose. On the other hand, I just might wake you up.

That would be a source of great pleasure.