And in the Red Corner, Liberty​

It has come to my attention, evidently moving from one side of my brain to the other, that the words freedom and liberty, that are used both often and liberally, have many different perceived meanings; which are then liberally debated, argued and fought over. To a more conservative minded person, freedom and liberty may have very different meanings than to a liberal minded person. Not to mention the fact that there is also significant disagreement inside both conservative and liberal circles over what these words mean. (I hate the term “not to mention” because invariably, directly after saying it one mentions what is allegedly not to be mentioned.)  Not to mention the fact that these terms are constantly used to describe and define essential elements of American democracy. Sad.

When people use these words, freedom and liberty, they assume they are universal concepts universally understood; they feel certain everybody knows what they mean. But in reality, it’s only what that particular person thinks they mean. It’s the “everybody knows” mistake. Everybody does not know. Not everybody sees liberty and freedom just like you do. It is contradictions like this that gets us into loads of trouble from a societal standpoint. Misinterpretations lead to misgivings.

When we talk about freedom or liberty, and we assume we are all talking about the same thing, we go a little crazy when the other guy says something that clearly shows we are not talking about the same thing. We either think they are stupid idiots or they are trying to subvert and undermine what we are saying. Neither of those things is likely to be true and neither do they lead to anything good.

It’s hella frustrating.

So, in discussions about freedom and liberty, I think it wise to start off by explaining our definition of terms. Rather than creating discord and argument on the backside, it’s a good idea to define terms on the front side, as in a formal debate. When you talk about freedom and liberty, tell people upfront what you mean by these words. For example, don’t say:

“I think people need to be free, but when xyz does abc they are preventing 123 from being 456 and that takes away their freedom”

What does being 456 have to do with freedom exactly? Depends on what you think freedom is.

instead, you could say:

“Freedom means 789 to me and when xyz does abc it stops 123 from having 789 and that takes away their freedom to be 456”

Then at least you know they think 789 has something to do with being 456 and to them that has something to do with freedom.

You may want to read that bit over again.

Anyway, starting a conversation about freedom or liberty with what you mean by freedom or liberty gives the other person a reference point to engage in a respectful, meaningful discussion, rather than reacting negatively to something they think they heard that they think they know which may or may not be true or at all relevant. Unfortunately, when definitions aren’t made clear, contested concepts like liberty and freedom can spark the kind of needless arguments that plague civil discourse and turn a legitimate debate into angry violence, emotional and/or physical.

The contested nature of many contested concepts is not always naturally occurring. Entities with agendas actively foment misunderstanding and will intentionally muddy the waters by promoting their opposing definitions of certain terms. If they feel the use of a certain word doesn’t serve their agenda they will work to subvert the meaning of that word by constantly repeating their alternate definition, constantly repeating it in as many ways as they can to as many people as possible. They will constantly repeat it over and over, by constantly repeating it, over and over. When constantly repeated, over and over, over time their definition will come to be accepted by enough people so that in a discussion there will be contention over the meaning of terms. A strong contention that can engender anger and fighting, spiritual, emotional, mental and often physical.

Therefore, it is crucial that we listen closely to how people use words and to hear their words contextually. We can then discover what they really mean when they use a word, especially when it means something different to us.

We need to listen for agendas. We can’t live in a bubble. If we accept and understand conflicting meanings and find where they originate, then knowing why people define their terms as they do we have a much better chance of reconciling our contentious, gridlocked issues.

Words and their meanings are so important.

I can’t emphasize that enough.

OK, I need to get back to freedom and liberty.

I believe in working with these words it can be valuable to recognize the subtle differences in their natures. I would say that a majority of people use them interchangeably. But freedom and liberty are not quite the same things. If you look closely at the concepts these words describe you will see that freedom is about what, and liberty is about who. Freedom is about being, and liberty is about doing. That is, what is being versus who is doing.

For example, looking at slavery in America, emancipation made slaves FREE to no longer BE slaves, but as things turned out they did not always have the LIBERTY to DO what they wanted. This was the essence of issues faced by freed slaves in the Jim Crow era. They were freed by law from being owned, but the dominant white power structure took away their liberty to do as they desired. Freedom gives us the opportunity to BE a banker if we so choose. But it is in the choice to DO so where the liberty lives. When people talk about freedom, look for WHAT they want to BE FREE from. And when they talk about liberty, look for WHO claims they have the LIBERTY to DO something.

We should remember that freedom is a more concrete word than liberty. Not having a freedom is a clearer concept than not having liberty. It could be why freedom normally trumps liberty in contested situations. And why there is nearly always indignation arising out of those victories.

Looking at it from the standpoint of rights, freedom relates more to a constitutional right and liberty to an inalienable right. Freedom is an earned right and liberty is a birthright. We have freedom from something but have the liberty to do something. Freedom is granted by government and liberty is granted by God. Frankly, although the words mean nearly the same exact thing, the difference is substantial enough that there will always be a battle between that which is given by Caesar and that which is given by God.

A good example of this esoteric struggle is the clash between Cliven Bundy and the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Essentially Bundy claimed that he had the God-given right, the liberty, to graze his cattle on federal land, simply because he could. And the BLM said no, that’s the government’s land and your cattle aren’t free to graze there.  The disagreement originated in a clash between claims of  liberty and assignments of freedom. And in the end government and its bestowed freedom triumphed over Bundy and his claimed liberty. And much indignation arose out of the government’s victory.

As an aside, but relevant, I also see the irony inherent in this relationship of freedom juxtaposed with liberty as the basis for a meaningful contradiction of spirit. It is a contradiction displayed by people who want to supplant civil law with biblical laws, all the while fearing that sharia law will supplant civil law.

As we see, the differences between the concepts of freedom and liberty are subtle and do nothing to help us avoid contention. In this time, sadly, the words are used interchangeably but are understood to mean many and often vastly different things. Yet in a disagreement, yea an argument, understanding those differences just might give you the subtle edge that allows you to establish your definitions, create some movement of hearts, and perhaps change a mind or two. At the very least, understanding that freedom and liberty are contested concepts and the guy on the next barstool over might not hear them the same way you do gives us all a better understanding of how difficult it will be to bridge the gulf of partisanship we now so sadly live with.

Words make a difference.

A big difference.

 

 

You Won’t Like This

Las Vegas.

It usually takes me several days to process dramatic and truly damaging events that permeate our shared public consciousness. Las Vegas is such an event. It has made such a deep impact on America that I cannot even speak of it in the past tense, as it will linger and fester in our souls for a long time. I don’t even have to qualify it. Simply the name of the city is enough. And this will probably be the case for a long time. Unless the arms race of massive death creates another tortured soul with a plan.

Heroes is not necessarily the only word I would use to describe the many whose acts of courage and compassion are rightfully honored and revered. So many, in all disasters are called heroes. But in this, as in those, heroes is an incomplete concept. For me, it is not enough to simply say they are heroes. I need to hear why they are heroes, either big or small, either saving lives or soothing scared children.

Heroes do what they do, they run towards not away, because they love their neighbor, out of compassion and empathy. Because they intuitively revere and love life and people, who all deserve to be saved. Tragedy destroys the boundaries between people and carries suffering down the path to hope. The clarity of our shared pain shows us we are one, individual yet part of something greater, something that lives deep inside us and manifests when we need it. This is the divinity and beauty of heroism, not merely a selfless deed.

Now the authorities are looking for motive. Desperately. The motive is simple, as it is for all mass killers. They are in pain and choose to assuage that pain through heinous murder. No matter their state of being they all make a choice. Whether suffering through political anger, mental disorder’s damaged thinking or aggrieved despair, the pain is the same and the choice to act with violence is the same, to make others suffer as they do. Having known severe pain I cannot hate them. But why do we make so many more of them than anywhere else?

These killers act out because American culture permits us to resolve conflict and pain with violence. Not only is it permitted it is the preferred means. Immorality as social norm. But one cannot legislate morality. Conservatives know this but are so heavy-handed and self-serving they cannot serve that truth in a way that serves society. Liberals want to help save people but sell themselves short out of fear. They cannot maintain outrage because more tragedy is always around the corner to overwhelm them. And the twain shall never meet.

Everybody knows subconsciously that the American culture’s affair with guns makes the gun violence dynamic here different than the rest of the world. We cannot be another Australia no matter how much we legislate gun sensible laws. Law can only scratch the surface. Sensible gun safety legislation will help, but not enough. There must be more.

Many say we can’t stop invisible lone wolves from acting, from committing mass murder. That it’s impossible to ferret them out. They use this as an excuse to never try stopping them. The gun makers tell us the solution is more guns. Plenty of us believe this to be true. And a majority of the country does not trust the law to solve anything. In this case, they may be quite right. But I see these people as cowards, throwing up their hands in insincere despair. Selling death for profit.

To my mind, there is a good solution here, perhaps the best solution. Instead of trying to stop these evil killers when they are fully grown and engaged, we should change the way we raise our children, especially boys and especially white boys. Call it sexism/genderism and racism but the statistics bear it out. White men make up a large majority of mass murderers.

The way to stop us from accepting gun violence as a solution to social problems is to stop teaching our children this myth, this soul-crushing lie that violence is the way to go, the way to make everything right. The circle of violence can only be broken by Americans acting in concert to stop telling our boys to “be a man” and then equating that manhood with violence. I feel strongly that this “be a man” syndrome is sinful. The Christ does not ask us to turn the other cheek for nothing.

The glorification of violence is outdated at best. The fight or flight autonomic reaction existed for a creature with few reasoning skills, creatures without language as a tool of peace. There is a reason it is buried deep in our brains. It is no longer a viable means of avoiding pain or resolving conflict. As thinking beings, we can overcome our instant calls to violence. This is not easy. But as humans, we can call on the power of mind over matter. It works.

We must begin the hard work of creating fewer and fewer men with unbearable pain, those who feel horribly wronged but who hide it well, those subjected to abuse who process violence as normal, and even those who are barely aware of what they are doing. Of course, there are anomalies. There are women who act out in this way but as much as prehistoric women were rarely called upon to fight for existence, modern women are rarely acculturated to violence. This, I feel, is part of why they make up a small percentage of mass murderers. Yet another anomaly, in the instance of the sins of psychopaths these souls may never be inclined to abandon violence.

As said, it is imperative that we contribute to the solution the right way, by telling our children that violence is never acceptable. We must still learn the ways of violence as a defense against an existential threat. Complete passivity is naive. But the best way is to show our sons and daughters that violence is not the way is by our actions, modeling peaceful negotiation and mediation as the preferred method of conflict resolution, that through human interaction we can ease our pain.

The best way is better than the right way. And the example we set is the best means of successfully moving our pain into hope, as befits sentient beings. The Sanskrit word for weapon is also the word for tool. We can, as the Christ intimated, beat our swords into plowshares. We can use our hearts, souls, and minds to change society, to join many of us together as one without needing a disaster to unite us. We would no longer need to battle in the halls of Congress. We wouldn’t have to fight so much at the taverns, cafes and dinner tables of America. We could change.

An addendum

You won’t like this.

This will be seen as and called racism and it probably is. But I must say my piece. The situation in the black and much of the Latino communities, as I observe it, is that the relative lack of mass murderers from these communities is due to the fact that their suffering involving gun violence is intimate, up close and personal. It is directed at the individual, the person right there in front of you. Violence here is not an anomaly, it is omnipresent. One need not meticulously plan a bloodbath of the anonymous. Here the pools of blood will be at their feet, and the plan was formed quickly, specific to the grievance. So when those in the public eye conflate murder in these POC communities with mass murder they are terribly wrong. Though the solutions to the violence are similar the essence of the problem is different.

Mea Culpa. Please forgive me if I am wrong about this. I cannot know for certain but I witness. I fully accept a charge of racism for these comments and the mantle of racist. I speak what I feel.

You won’t like this either.

A word about prayers, including candlelight vigils and moments of silence. Prayer is a good thing. Praying for the peaceful repose of the lost souls and healing grace for their friends and families is a good thing. Candlelight vigils and shrines and moments of silence are good things. But they are all also feel good actions. They allow us to feel as though we have acted, we have done something good, something to help. We can do this and then go home and not take any further action, thinking we have done our part. In this, I do not judge. I only bear witness. Think on it yourself.

As powerful as is prayer, for the departed, we must also pray for the strength to do the hard work of changing the nation’s zeitgeist. It will take several generations but we must change the way we do this business. Praising those we call heroes and changing our laws and offering prayers are all good things but they can only save a fraction of the lives we need to.

These things are right things to do but they are not the best things to do. It is not easy to find and choose the best thing over the right thing. Doing the right thing we are so tempted to be satisfied and go home. I am convinced that, for America, the best path to hope out of pain is accepting our own pain and finding our own hope. This will give us the confidence to teach our children well. I believe we all know in our hearts that this path is true.

Let us start on this path together in love.

 

Thoughts on Privilege

Normally, in my egoism, I give my posts what I consider to be clever titles. This subject does not deserve one.

Most importantly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, (I think I’m going to use this as the first paragraph as well as one of the last) You. Are. Not. A. Bad. Person. For. Having. Privilege. You are not to blame or evil because you happened to have been born white. You just were. Who can possibly blame you for that? And alternately you cannot rid yourself of privilege by rejecting it, or repenting, or doing penance. It is what it is. I would be happy to talk about your privilege with you and show you that I don’t judge you or revile you for it. I would love to help you learn how to easier recognize it, hiding away in the inner recesses of your mind like a virus in your vertebrae. And I’d enjoy giving a few pointers on how to use it to help instead of hinder, like your being able to speak and be heard when a person of color would not be listened to.

The concept of racial privilege goes back to the early 20th century and the insights of black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois in his essay “The Souls of Black Folks. He observed that while black Americans were conscious of white Americans and racial discriminations white Americans did not think much about black Americans or racial discrimination at all. He called his idea of white privilege the “wages of whiteness” which included things white folk took mindlessly for granted things such as unimpeded admittance to public functions.

The current focus on privilege covers more than just racial privilege but includes any number of hierarchical privileges, from class to gender. The spark that lit the light that shines on these privileges was a 1988 essay by feminist and anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh in which she listed over forty privileges she, as a white person, could depend on. She described privilege as an “invisible package of unearned assets”. An unearned asset is something like somebody handing you a pair of aces as you walk into the Friday night poker game.

This essay led to an increase in the scholarly examination of privilege and brought it out of the shadows into the light of “political correctness”, whatever that is. McIntosh showed that regardless of how far down the social ladder a group was, they always had some privilege they could use over the next group lower down. And even the lowest group had one or two things they could consider privileges. It’s natural in a socially stratified world for the people in various strata to want to feel superior to those in other strata in some way. Politicians use these people’s desires to wedge demographic groups into rivals who would otherwise be natural allies in order to prevent them from banding together to take over political power. Studying privilege is a significant part of addressing modern social issues.

Recently I have listened to and read several conversations and essays which served to deny that a particular white person or persons could possibly have privilege. This was based on the fact that they knew they weren’t racist, using their past attitudes and actions as proof. One man, in particular, told us how he had fought next to blacks in the service etc. and that everyone in the military is equal and therefore he is not privileged. He expressed his disdain for those who had the gall to say he was. I consistently hear variations of this complaint in numerous venues from a variety of white Americans of all classes.

I bear no ill will toward these people. But I am often at a loss as to how I might convince them that they are wrong about their white privilege without leaving them with the impression that they are bad people who did something wrong. It is quite understandable that when folks are told they possess something that has hurt many people in many ways over many years that they feel personally attacked. I can see why they deny their privilege in most powerful ways, providing a long list of exculpatory evidence that purports to show they personally do not possess it.

Regardless of the nature of these complaints, the reality is that these white Americans simply do not understand privilege. Lest I appear to be judgmental there actually aren’t all that many people who do understand it. It turns out that it’s not a very complex issue. But there are some subtle differences in the perception of the meaning of the language used to describe, explain and define privilege. Different folks hear different things when this language is used and that impedes our mutual understanding of the concept.

I have a quite unproductive habit of writing things and then burying them several layers deep in the bowels of my computer. While looking for research material on this subject I found something I wrote several years ago on this very subject. I think it says what I wanted to say much better than I could today. It only goes to show that every blog has its day. I’m including it here for your perusal. I am absolutely certain that it is not an exhaustive nor even adequate study of the issue. I hope it might help a few of us get a better understanding.

Here it is.

“The thing people most often misunderstand about privilege, whether it’s white privilege, male, straight, Christian or American privilege is that having it doesn’t mean you are bad. Privilege is not something you choose. It’s something you either were born with, born into or changed into. It’s not your fault if you are white or male. It just is. It’s an advantage that you have because of what you are and not who you are. It has nothing to do with whether you are a good person or a bad person. And it’s not about how you act or what you do either. Everyone has a choice about what we do. We don’t have a choice about most privilege. We just have it.

Yes, you worked hard to get to where you are, nobody helped you. But that’s not privilege. Privilege is when someone worked just as hard as you did but didn’t get the advantages you got because of what you are and what they aren’t. Privilege doesn’t mean you should feel guilty or be ashamed for having it. It doesn’t mean you should think people are attacking you when they point out the privilege you have.

The hardest thing to understand about privilege is that probably 99% of it is unconscious. We have never known we have it. We have never thought about it. Therefore, since we don’t know we have it we react negatively when we are told we have it. We feel someone is telling us we are bad when we are sure that we aren’t. Not knowing we have it doesn’t excuse us from having it. But, learning we have it is a great opportunity to use that knowledge to get a clearer picture of the dynamic involved when incidents surface that have to do with privilege. That understanding will help us behave in a way that helps rather than hurts.”

Thanks, Will Servant of the past.

For the current me, the essence of what I said in that passage is that privilege is not about who we are but about what we are. It’s not about whether we are a racist or not, although that is certainly somewhat informed by privilege. It’s not about whether we do good works or cause riots. It’s more like whether you have brown eyes or blue. It’s not something you can change or give away easily. It’s not something you can choose, except perhaps by getting married or changing religion or gender. Those things, of course, are still what you are, not who you are. There is a well-known exercise that uses eye color to show how no one chose what race they are or what eye color they have. No matter how you explain privilege it is difficult for many of us to grasp because of fuzziness about what words mean and how we perceive them. Thus I will try to explain this difference between who we are and what we are several times in the next paragraphs. Please bear with me.

Because there are many different types of privilege over a variety of social and physical hierarchies we are all virtually assured of being both the beneficiaries of certain privilege and the victims of another privilege. So none of us are at the absolute top or the bottom of relative human pecking orders. The actionable thing that can be done is to search for the “invisible package of unearned assets” we have hidden inside us and learn how those assets affect the fabric of society. In knowing them we can use them for good or for poor. It is our choice to do the right thing right in the face of having it called “politically correct” (whatever that is). It is our choice to be part of the problem or part of the solution, without letting incendiary words create a smokescreen to confuse our common senses. It is our choice to stand behind and next to the groups negatively impacted by the ravages of privilege rather than usurping their right to create solutions.

A sidebar about hierarchies. Both conservatives and liberals can be confused by their own hierarchies or lack thereof. Conservatives already have a well developed moral hierarchy, i.e. men over women, women over children, humans over animals etc.. They follow this hierarchy to organize their lives. Thus the use of demographic social hierarchies can ring dissonant to their values, making it tricky for them to understand and accept privilege. Liberals like to think that there are no social hierarchies, that all people have equity regardless of their demographic. This causes some liberals to reject the fact that privilege even exists. So you can see, educating people, gently, about the perils of privilege can be most daunting.

When it comes to privilege of all sorts it doesn’t matter how good your choices have been. It doesn’t matter how well you have treated your Jewish friends or, blacks, Puerto Ricans, women, gays or the disabled. Those choices make you a good person. They make you who you are. When who you are is a good person it is a great thing and a boon to society. But being a good person has little to do with privilege. You still use privilege, maybe less than others, but you still have it. Whether who you are is good or evil, privilege has to do with what you are. What is your color, what is your religion, what is your sexual preference, what genitals were you born with, what is your economic status, what neighborhood do you live in. These things define privilege, not whether you let your wife share in your finances or whether you respect your black boss.

Now one might say that a man is a racist, and that is a what, or that I am a good person, and that is a what. To further clarify, a what is quantifiable. Being a racist is a quality and not a quantity. Likewise a there are many kinds of good people who are good in many different ways. Alternately blue eyes define brown eyes, and in a group of people, you can quantify the blue eyed people from the brown. In a group of racists, you would have trouble quantifying who hates Mexicans from who hates all Latinos or who hates many Hispanic people, which would include Spaniards. And racists include people who in reality should be call religionists.

Who you are is very clear to you. You chose to be that way. But the effects of what you are are mostly invisible unless you look for them. If, as a white family, not judging the Mexican family that moves in next to you, or not worrying about that mixed race couple walking their dog past your house doesn’t change the fact that if you walk into a convenience store you are much less likely to be followed than a black man, or stopped by the police for a minor infraction, like a burnt out tail light. That you, as a straight couple, aren’t offended by seeing two gay men kiss is much different than getting a table at your favorite restaurant ahead of that same gay couple, even though you came in after them. In the former, you are treating someone well, which is who you are. In the latter you are being treated better than someone else, all other things being equal, because of what you are. That is privilege. Some people claim they aren’t racists. There are people who would agree with them and others who wouldn’t. That’s not privilege.

It is those wages of whiteness, the invisible package of unearned benefits, that I as a white person have, just from being born white, that make for white privilege. Most importantly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, (I think I’m going to use this as the first paragraph as well as one of the last) You. Are. Not. A. Bad. Person. For. Having. Privilege. You are not to blame or evil because you happened to be born white. You just were. It is what you are. Who can possibly blame you for that. And alternately you cannot rid yourself of privilege by rejecting it, or repenting, or doing penance. That lends a nobility to who you are; but like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it will never change what you are.

I am happy to talk about your privilege with you and show you that I don’t judge you or revile you for it. I would love to help you learn how to better recognize it, hiding away in the inner recesses of your mind like a virus in your vertebrae. And I’d enjoy giving a few pointers on how to use it to help instead of hinder, like being able to speak and be heard when a person of color would not be listened to. Leave a comment and I’ll respond.

Even bearing the burden of white privilege we, as white Americans, can have an active role in making the world a better place. But in order to do that we must look deep, and continue to look even deeper, into our ourselves, Finding the awareness of that buried privilege and understanding it, recognizing it when it rears it’s ugly head, gives us the knowledge to use it differently, as allies. It lets us stand tall next to our neighbors of color in their efforts to no longer have pieces like this written.

So to reiterate, for perhaps the umpteenth time, the essential thing to remember is that privilege is about WHAT you are and not WHO you are. Think of the things you are and not the actions you take. What is a thing. Who is a nature, a concept, a quality. What is concrete, a quantity. Who is abstract. What is static. Who is active.

There, is that confusing enough for you. I certainly hope not. I truly wish we can all more clearly understand privilege and use it or not use it, depending on the circumstance, to make the world a better place.

Remember that these are the words of a white man. I don’t claim to know the struggles of people of color in America. I could be wrong about lots of this. There are those that contend my privilege disqualifies me from saying anything about the subject. But I keep working on learning about my own privilege and how I can be a better ally. Beyond that, I can’t say.

Finally, don’t ever, for one second, think anyone is without some kind of privilege. We all have some sort of blindness, some wages, some unconscious, some assets. Blame our genome if you must. Blame history. Blame language. Just don’t blame yourself.

Pinching me won’t help

I haven’t been commenting much about politics lately. I haven’t been writing much about anything. I have been collecting my thoughts, listening to what everybody else has said and is saying, and frankly have been somewhat in denial about the future of our executive branch and our way of life. But today I must say something. The events of the last several days have sent reality crashing down on me like the famous 1,000 plus-year-old Giant Sequoia we lost just days ago.

We are in an unparalleled existential crisis, not only for American democracy but for the human species and the entire planet. Dark days are ahead and it has already become dangerously difficult to avoid a catastrophic fate.

The confirmation hearings for cabinet and other important administration appointees are like Dad siding with your sister when she says you did it. We can protest with the truth all we want but the outcome is preordained. The gaslighting surrounding the claims and counterclaims of potentially treasonous personal and political behavior by POTUS has left us unsure and questioning everything about his relationship with foreign governments and their possible influence on our most intimate internal politics. Did he do this? Did they do that?

It’s hard to know what to believe, which to my mind is exactly the intention of Trump and his minions. The more mud in the water the less anyone can see clearly the truth. The doubt sewn here will mask the reality of future revelations of impropriety, whether true or false, a security blanket thrown over the chance any future indiscretions might harm his presidency.

Perhaps the least obvious but most damaging result of this telling series of events is that the Trump brain trust was not only able to deny the disturbing, disgusting allegations but was able to use that denial to fire the first volley in an attack on the free press, which, if I am correct, will be a battle that continues to be waged into the future. This is the truly scary result of this whole sick scenario. One of the first things to happen in the establishment of an authoritarian government is the destruction and/or capitulation of the press through lies and intimidation. Be afraid, be very afraid.

This frightening circumstance is accompanied by a thing I have been in complete denial about, the appointment of a murderers row of Cabinet heads and Federal Agency officials that in every case are well known to desire the abject destruction of the very department they will be overseeing. It is not folly to think that over time the federal government will be systematically dismantled. Once a SCOTUS justice is named and confirmed the social justice advances of a century or more will be in danger of being unceremoniously overturned. Draconian laws will be conceived, passed, and upheld.

We, in America, have been insulated from the coups, silent or violent, that have haunted so many other nations. We just don’t think it can happen here. We are the great democracy. We are free. We will never accept a dictator’s rule. Think again. This is the 21st century. The dictatorships of the 20th century no longer are valid save for what they have taught the tyrants of today. The modern totalitarian is an invisible puppeteer who allows the people the illusion of self-government. They sow the same seeds of death as their predecessors, but from behind an OZ-like screen of prosperity promised.

The election of President Obama was hailed in many circles as the hammer that brought down the wall of ignorant racism in America. A new coalition would change the face of American politics forever. But his election only precipitated the fear always present in the hearts of the oligarchs. They had allowed democracy to run its course, save for a little tough prodding when it got off track and their dominance was the slightest bit in doubt. But Obama’s election set off all the alarm bells. The rich white males who run things were truly threatened and now deathly afraid. So they brought down their own hammer, the hammer of ugly hatred, of racial, gender and ageist superiority, the hammer of I have wealth and you don’t.

Perhaps they had hoped to hold off for a while, let things slide as long as they were in control and raking in the dough. But as soon as their existence was truly threatened they knew they could only continue to rule by truly threatening our existence. Aren’t they aware that their gargantuan hubris threatens everyone’s existence? Have they no spiritual compass that tells them the truth about the finite nature of our natural resources, about the arrogant denial of their complicity in hastening the changes to our climate? Do they think they can defy death and take their ill-gotten gold with them when we all fry from splitting atoms, or poison atoms or burning atoms?

I’m at a loss as to what to do to reverse this, save to continue to do what I can, to love my neighbor and give of myself to those in need, to follow the God who speaks to me, who tells me there is a place for me and for all in an eternal kingdom. Perhaps I can start writing songs again. Maybe lighten a heart or two. But like the one percent of the one percent I have my unacceptable fears. I fear my children will feel pain and suffering, the torture of bearing the yoke of injustice. I fear for all the children of the world that they may never be able to become who they are. I fear that the human race will be snuffed out, unceremoniously, stabbed by a thief in the night, strangled from behind by a coward.

I am incensed. I will not accept. I will fight and resist incessantly in my own way. I will seek those real and good human values, values we all share and cast them as far and near as I can. I will become a fisher of men.

This may do nothing to change things. It may only assuage my guilt for allowing this to happen. Humanity can very well be in its death throes.

Damn, I hope I’m wrong

To Bern or Not to Bern!

I am growing weary of the superfluous yet at the same time deeply important clash between the #neverhillary Bernie supporters and the #nevertrump Bernie supporters. I’m not certain the split aligns perfectly with a millennial demographic or not, but somebody is either being somewhat politically naive or is incredibly ideologically pure about something. One puddle of wisdom (from my small reservoir of wisdom) that I have imparted to my millennial daughter on occasion, is that one of the things about life that sucks the most is you will have to sometimes do things you really don’t want to do. I’m pretty sure this is one of those times.

Here’s the thing. There’s a big difference between issues politics and electoral politics. The difference is that in issues politics it is necessary to demand 100% of what you want because that is the only way to get any of what you want. It’s you and your issue versus everybody else and their issue. There are multiple contestants in multiple battles so where you win you stay and where you don’t you move on. In modern electoral politics there are only two contestants (as far as is today’s reality) and the point comes (and it always comes) where you need other people’s supporters on your side to win, because your goal and reward is not a small victory in isolation but a majority victory in a contest decided by everyone. It is not a contest of you versus everyone else but of your coalition versus their coalition.

Compromise of ideologies is necessary in the electoral world and an anathema in the issues world. Many Bernie supporters come from the world of issues politics. They did not previously involve in electoral politics because they had no use for elections unless it directly affected their funding. Other than that they would only pursue an electoral victory if they had a champion for their issue(s). There have been single issues champions throughout the but rarely have there been any special leaders who could coalesce the numerous issues silo activists into a cohesive power bloc.

Issues activists are used to either getting what they want or leaving defeat behind and moving on to the next battle. They make black and white decisions. The concept of joining together in a coalition with the people who just caused you lose, who made you not get what you want, is utterly alien to them and feels dirty and immoral. So it’s not difficult to understand why they have trouble putting together movements. It’s just sad.

This phenomenon works in reverse as well, although people involved in electoral politics usually only drop in to work on issues when they feel burned out and made filthy by the deceits of electoral politics, and want to recharge and cleanse. Someone coming to issues politics from electoral politics will seek coalitions with what they consider to be like minded issues advocates, with similar issues. They don’t quite understand why the other issues groups leave the coalition once they get what they want. Then they remember why they were frustrated with issues activism to begin with and go back to electoral politics. To work in both electoral politics and issues politics concurrently takes some highly skilled compartmentalising, of which not everyone is capable.

This whole broken process has been a bane of the progressive movement for years, because it hasn’t really been a movement at all. It has been a bunch of separate progressive issues oriented advocacy groups all in competition with each other for grants and status and recognition. There is always a lot of rhetoric about coming together as one coherent progressive movement but it always dissolves into jealousy and competition for scarce resources. The scarcity of resources is intentional and part of a greater strategic initiative by right wing tricksters, but that’s another story.

These progressives have only come together in agreement when they have had a messiah figure to rally them. Gene McCarthy, George Mc Govern, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, all to widely varying degrees, were able to bring a number of progressives together into some semblance of a movement, enough to have some modest influence on the Democratic Party. Bernie has been the latest, most successful and probably least likely of these standard bearers. The rub is these movements died off with the relevance of their leaders. Without the focus of the strong leader the coalition descends once again into the relative chaos of egotism and economically manipulated competition.

Bernie is, and always has been, aware of this. Warnings about life after Bernie have been clear parts of his speeches from the get go. He has spent most of his time and energy since it became apparent he would not win the nomination imploring that his followers continue on and forge a game changing movement. This is true, and necessary. He has implored them to remember that this is not about him but about us. This is true, and necessary. He has implored us to defeat Donald Trump by any and all means. This is true, and necessary. He is showing and/or reminding us that 30% of 100% is much more than 100% of nothing. This is true, necessary and perhaps his greatest lesson taught.

What I don’t understand is why so many of Bernie’s followers, who have followed him through the crucible of mainstream efforts to get in his way, have now stopped listening to him. Actually I do understand. The messiah has betrayed them. He has not delivered on their issue(s) so they are expressing their rage. They will try another tack later after they get over feeling suckered by promises of glory in a progressive paradise. To be clear though, this type of betrayal is not an unusual occurrence. It is seen, commonly, in the affairs of both parties and is not fixable from the top down. Let me repeat, it is not fixable from the top down but only from the bottom up. This is why Bernie is so adamant that his supporters not run away licking their wounds but stay and fight and elect Clinton despite themselves.

In order to have a bottom up re-evolutionary movement that succeeds the Sanders coalition must stay together and organize. To accomplish this it is critical that the activated millennials not get jaded and cynical and go back to their X-boxes. Bernie is trying his damnedest to impart the knowledge that this whole thing is bigger than him and must survive his primary loss. And the first step towards that accomplishment is to prevent the uniquely American fascism of Trump and his minions from ever getting enough control to do irreparable harm to our nation and thus the globe. That would take generations to recover from.

So listen up kiddos and ex hippies. You think you need an unconditional Bernie electoral victory, when what you really need is for the many wonderful progressive issues activists out there to drop their ego facades, overcome their economic jealousies, and form the powerful progressive movement that has always been there, dormant, and ready to flip the entire political landscape. I can help, but I’m old, as are my beautiful tye dyed peers. The mantel is now being passed from Bernie’s hippie contemporaries to Bernie’s hipster acolytes. We’ll all help actually, if you let us, we’re experienced protesters. And we still know how to roll an English joint.

Here’s a parable for us to end todays sermon. When Mom broke out the Ben and Jerry’s  you told her you wanted 3 scoops of Cherry Garcia. She said no but you can each have a half scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough, because that’s all we have. Do you say no, I know you have some Cherry Garcia in there and it’s either the whole 3 scoops or nothing at all. Or, do you take the cookie dough and get at least a bit of a sweet taste in your mouth. If you all keep bugging mom maybe you’ll get some of that Cherry Garcia next time.

You weren’t that stuck up in school, were you?

Analogies Regarding Who Matters

Black Lives Matter is overreacting. Why are they protesting in such damaging ways.? It isn’t helping their cause at all. They haven’t even finished their investigation. Why can’t they wait for the facts before condemning the police? You can’t condemn all police for what  one or two do. 99% of all police do a wonderful job of protecting and serving their communities. All lives matter.

Those are among the more civilized responses to black protests of police brutality. There are other, much less civil responses that most of you know and I won’t go into them here. If you like, comment that you wish me to go there and I will. But for now let’s concentrate on why most white people don’t understand Black Lives matter protests. I myself don’t fully understand and as a white person can’t fully understand. I want to look at why.

If you have never removed a dead body from a crime scene you can speculate on what it feels like. You can empathize in the most humble and sensitive way. But you will still never know how it really feels. Only the medical examiner and their staff truly know. They are privileged. They have medical examiner privilege. They are able to cross the yellow tape of a crime scene and you aren’t. They are allowed to carry a dead body to the medical examiner’s van and you aren’t. They are allowed to carry the body into the morgue and you aren’t. Even if you are given permission to carry a dead body to the morgue or do it yourself unilaterally they are going to do everything in their power to prevent you from doing so because that is their job and always has been.

They have privilege but I’m sure they have never thought about it in that way. But if you make a good case for letting you transport, and reveal that it is privilege that is stopping you you are met with anger. How dare you call me privileged. I work hard being a public servant. You make a good case for your issue; you go to the media and ask why you can’t transport a corpse to the morgue when you are already at the crime scene with your van, and the forensics people are done, and the media decide it’s not a newsworthy event.

The people gathered ask why you want this particular body when what you told the media was that all bodies could be transported by concerned citizens. Even when you ask the police for permission to take the body they tell you you aren’t allowed to and besides, the medical examiner’s van and people are already here. They brusquely push you back behind the yellow tape.

People are outraged that you would even ask to do such a thing. Everybody knows that it is the medical examiner’s job. The next day you tell the media that your concerns haven’t been listened to and you surround the morgue with your supporters, arms locked together, and do not let any dead bodies in or out. People are outraged that dead bodies are going be left to fester out in the street and nobody will be able to walk to where they are going without either smelling death or going out of their way. What if someone from a rich family dies and they insist the police arrest the protesters because they want their relative embalmed immediately.

Aren’t the protesters going overboard? Aren’t they being idiots and hurting their cause by over reacting to one crime scene incident? Aren’t they being criminal in making innocent citizens late for work and appointments? Aren’t they threatening the vital needs of important people? Some would say so. Some would say they are ruining their chances to be heard.

What the protesters are doing is what they feel they must do to make society recognize that they are serious about this issue and want active and honest dialogue about the issue. They are tired of being subject to medical examiner privilege, even if everyone is unaware that it even exists. And no, the medical examine isn’t responsible for his privilege. He has just always had it. The mayor isn’t a bad person for not recognizing the privilege. The mayor is always looking for things that hurt the people but this one is invisible, and may not even be legal.

What the protesters want is for the people in power to simply understand their issue and support their right to petition to change policy, allowing anyone, under certain circumstances, to transport bodies to the morgue. Let the process work and bring applicable laws  before the courts. Don’t squash the issue simply because it might not be vitally important. Serve the people like your job description indicates

Now this is a ridiculous analogy but I think it gives us a vague approximation of the dynamic of my point. In this instance the protesters aren’t blaming the individual trained medical examiner employees, who are there to carry the body to the morgue, for having the privilege of transporting that body, even though the examiners enjoy that privilege. The employees in that van are only symptom of the problem. The real problem, to the protesters, is that the issue is systemic, institutional. The medical examiner has always been the only one allowed to transport dead bodies, and they have been supported by government and the people for years without ever giving regular citizens the chance to do so. The protesters  are serious about the issue, believe it is vital to the health of the city and want to make government and the people face it head on and do something about it.

I do apologize for this poor analogy. But it addresses, somewhat inadequately, the often complex relationship between the individual person or action and the group/society that I believe is germane to this issue. Most human issues, when boiled down to their essence, involve some aspect of the rights, duties, privileges and responsibilities of the individual and those of society, the two in conflict. What makes this issue so difficult is that there is confusion, sometimes on both sides, but more often on the side of privilege on who and what is involved in the essential issue at hand. Who is to blame, the system or the individual actor?

In this case of protest it is not the individual actor being blamed, even if he is a bad actor and is booed off the stage. It is the playwright (the system) and his work, the play, (the situation of privilege) that is the problem. The actor has been given all the good lines and almost all of the time on stage and the chorus (the oppressed) has been given hardly any lines. This ruins the play, but the audience (privileged society) doesn’t know better, because all plays are the same. The chorus knows the play would be better if they had more lines. The audience members are shocked and angered when the chorus asks for more lines. The chorus is determined and desperate, they threaten not to perform the play. The audience is enraged at the chorus and demands the play be the same as it ever was . They blame the chorus for the ruination of the play

And herein is the essential issue. The play has been ruined. But by whom. Is it the oppressed chorus, because of their radical threat. Or is it the playwright and their play (the system and it’s situations of privilege).

The truth is we need both the actor and the chorus. The actor will still be important with less lines and the play will be better with the chorus having more lines. The playwright  must be made to write more balanced plays and show both actor and the chorus that he has evolved. The audience will enjoy the new play better than ever and realize it’s because the playwright has evolved. And who makes the playwright evolve?

The critic (you and me)

 

 

Do We Have Room for This Crate Of Kalishnikovs?

I think if people really take a close look at things they will see that the real reason people fight so desperately to keep access to semi automatic weapons is that they want to be the ones with the powerful guns and stockpiles of ammo when the government fails and the country descends into anarchy. And to be honest the chances of that happening are not insignificant.

Yes, economic chaos is a real possibility. Fostered  by the wealthy and powerful fools who control and manipulate our economy, and thus the world’s, through greedy risk taking and egoistic speculation, the whole thing could come crashing down on their, and our own heads any any moment. The resulting domino dynamo that follows will plunge the world into a dark age.

This is only one possibility among many. But instead of brushing it off as conspiracy it is a real enough threat that it must be considered and attempts to prepare for it are not folly. This is the course that the gun hoarding anarchist/survivalists expect and in fact desire. They feel persecuted by a government that oppresses them and won’t allow them the freedoms they think the constitution ensures. They want the chaos, because with the guns and ammo they will turn the tables on the “weak and corrupt” government and will become the rulers, as is their right.

This is the source of the NRA’s fringe hardcore stance on semi automatic weapons. They have no problems with folks owning rifles and handguns under the 2nd amendment for protection because they will either get them to join their merry band or will have superior fire power with which to dominate them. But they absolutely must be able to own as many dangerous weapons as they can find large elaborate glass case for. They have already banded together and have huge stockpiles of powerful weapons. They come from that same government they hate and fear, who has more firepower than it knows what to do with. Yes, we have “well regulated militias” out there. They are not regulated to protect government interests but to suborn them.

Now I don’t have an issue with a man protecting his home in any way he deems fit. And frankly I’m not afraid of the quasi-military organizations and lone wolf survivalists. Egoistically I believe my life skills will be appreciated in a world like that. That ego might get me killed anyway but I have no family save my daughter, who gets it, so I can take the risk. Anyway, I strongly believe their dreams of conquest and vilification of the government will be squashed by a military that still functions amid the madness. That’s what the military is designed to do. It’s superior firepower will prevail, until there nothing more than small pockets of resistance.

Conspiracy theory 101. I’m not above it.

So here is my proposal for the “I’ll show you. I’ll be running this place soon and then you’ll have to answer to me” crowd. Go ahead, have as many AK 47s and AR 15s as you want and a silo full of ammo to boot. have some salvage military weapons, rocket launched grenades and pounds of C4. Go ahead, protect your homestead. Wait lovingly for the apocalypse. But if you take one step over your property line with any semi automatic weapon, including pistols, any military weapon, or even the ammo for such weapons the penalties will be more than draconian. For example, a minimum of 40 years and up to life with no chance for parole. Same for anyone found in public with such a weapon. No license to carry. No concealed carry. How is that for a compromise?

In the event of a nationwide meltdown I’m confident that when these radical Libertarians  go against the semi-organized remnants of police and military forces they will create the battles they have craved, and come out as oppressed as they ever were. The ironic thing is they created the military. They were the ones who wanted America to be strong in the face of its enemies. They wanted drones and cruise missiles and stealth bombers and hardened tanks and everything that will keep them pacified in the chaos. They created  the militarized police forces by insisting that anyone could get a powerful semi automatic rifle, and use them in committing crimes. They screamed that police forces were outgunned. So the police got their own tanks and troop carriers and hand held rocket launchers.

The irony.

So sit and stare at your beautiful gun collection. But don’t you dare bring them anywhere near me.

Like my daddy always said, “keep in in your pants”.