A Biased, and Limited History of Modern Progressivism

An article in The Nation gave me pause and inspired me to thought. It highlights FDR’s 1944 call for, to quote the magazine, “a second Bill of Rights-an Economic Bill of Rights-that would include the right to employment, housing, education, health care, and an economy free of unchecked corporate and monopoly power”.

A good and noble vision this, and as all too many good and noble things a casualty. Since that time, a neoliberal element rhas ridsen to power in the Democratic Party and chosen to make concessions to conservative economic notions. This was an unwise effort to maintain political power in the face of what was assumed to be a public trending toward accepting the consolidation of corporate power as normal and desirable. They were, of course, right about the move toward corporate monopoly but misjudged the means to counter it.

The neoliberals, or misnomered moderates, surrendered to conservative ideology and continuously moved to the right in a futile effort to appeal to center right voters. The goal posts kept moving to the right and eventually neoliberals turned the Democrats into Republican light. This in contrast to the conservatives who stuck to their guns, stayed the course, and as time moved the needle to the right eventually became mainstream. That progressives were unable to trust their morality and related policy was a very unfortunate circumstance.

As this crisis of trust continued Democratic support of progressive policy slowly started to fade. Amid challenges from the center right of Eisenhower, the hard right of Goldwater and the fiasco in Vietnam, progressive Democratic leadership was replaced by center-right, frightened, pseudo Libertarian Neoliberals. Lyndon Johnson’s somewhat reluctant creation of the Great Society, War on Poverty, Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts was the final straw. The swan song of liberal advancement was complete.

During Johnson’s second term alignment of party loyalties was permanently adjusted. Dixiecrats and moderate Republicans from the Northeast switched teams. The contentious and damaging power struggle of the 1968 nomination flipped the final switch and the Democrats internally rid themselves of the vestiges of New Deal and Great Society policies, while still espousing them publicly.

To my mind this schism had its origins at the 1944 Democratic convention. Roosevelt was dying and a group of conservative Democrats felt that his progressive, near Socialist politics would not do well in a post WWII world where Communism was the new boogeyman. They were especially concerned about Roosevelt’s Vice president, Henry Wallace, who was an avowed Socialist. They knew that he, if reelected, would acsend to the presidency and were frightened that his policies would align closer to the Soviets than they were comfortable with.

This led to the removal of Wallace from the ticket. It was done by any means, which means were quite vicious. Every chit was called in to keep the nomination from him. The problem was, there was no consensus on who to run against him at the convention. After much intense politicking, in that way of the smoke filled room, a little known senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman, became the compromise standard bearer. He was nominally the anti communist’s man from then on. He became reliably tough on our ostensible Communist allies and, knowing little of its devstating power, was convinced to unleash the atomic bomb on Japan.

The schism in the party really took hold in 1948. The rank and file continued to work toward Roosevelt’s vision and passed the Marshall Plan of European Reconstruction. They included a call for universal healthcare in the party platform. At the convention Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey made an impassioned plea for civil rights. Southern delegates walked out. Truman took a hard line with the Soviets in East Germany and started the Korean War.

Although Congress remained in Democratic hands virtually throughout the last half of the 20th Century the progressive and neoliberal wings continued their struggles for party dominance. Their last dance with real executive power was post Eisenhower but Vietnam and Southern backlash over the Great Society ended all but the memory of the New Deal.

After the serious damage the Democrats suffered in 1968 only biconceptual or right center Democrats have had any success in nationwide elections. In 2016, underlying White Supremacy, economic uncertainty, and frustrated nationalism was fanned into incendiary fervor and Donald Trump was elected president. As we begin 2019 a cloud of authoritarianism blankets the nation. Many are weary and disillusioned.

One encouraging and oddly unintended consequence of the Trump administration’s train wreck is the tiny but real opportunity for a progressive vision to be made clear and viable to the American public. To those who are fed up with being disrespected and used by the monied few. To citizens who cry out for equity and justice.

Instead of being reviled liberalism could be understood as the strong, responsible, protective, empathic and caring philosophy of life it is. In a major coup, years of conservative framing could be undone, but only if the left is wily and smart.

If the Democrats could quit the vicious politics practiced seemingly everywhere inside the beltway, and re-evolve into the diverse and coalescent party it can and should be, things may actually ricochet back toward a government that works for all people. Life seen from a progressive viewpoint could guide the way to true prosperity, a prosperity for all. Everyone in and no one out.

To do this people of good will must be courageous. They must overcome fear.

I’m not the best at that.

Frankly, I could be less a scribe and chronic complainer and more a positive actor and humble ally.

There is a window to be opened. Open and climb through it.

We haven’t much time.

The Border is no boundary

It is international law that compels the US to accept any and all persons claiming asylum and give them a fair hearing. It is US law that says asylum seekers must present themselves at an official port of entry. I agree that anyone breaking away from the group and crossing elsewhere can and should be treated as a lawbreaker and subject to our immigration laws, with the caveat that ICE not treat them like animals. But those presenting themselves legally to ask for asylum must be granted entry and be heard in a court of law to determine their status.

Rather than spending millions sending thousands of troops to the border who legally cannot engage with the asylum seekers anyway, we should spend the money sending more agents to process all the legitimate claims and find adequate housing and feed them. Our president says he will not “release” any of them, claiming they will not return for their hearings and disappear. That may be so for a few but it sounds like concentration camps to me. 

How we spend resources on this issue says a great deal about the morality of the current federal gov’t. Yes, of course there may be “mother rapers and father stabbers” hidden among these people. If so it should only take a basic investigation to reveal that fact in a hearing. We don’t just let people waltz into the country, even when they have legally asked for asylum. We vet them. But processing takes money and as I said, the gov’t is choosing to spend that money on mustering federal troops. Rather, they should be treating those seeking asylum in a respectful humanitarian way. They should be providing adequate human necessities and muster enough personnel to quickly and effectively process their claims.

The strategy the government is employing in this instance is called a strategic initiative. A strategic initiative is a single multipurpose action that meets several goals. This strategic initiative: 1. Created a crisis where there is none to arouse the base just before the midterm elections. 2. More of the aroused base would vote and increase the number of republican votes. 3. Continues to create an atmosphere of fear that seems real and threatening to American citizens, when their is none. 4. And most critical, this action was a test of just how many laws the gov’t can break and still have the public accept and normalize that behavior.

The 2018 midterm elections represented a pivotal and grave moment in our history. The leadup was tence and scary. Now, the results told us our democracy has not yet been intentionally dismantled and replaced by a tyrannical, authoritarian regime. But not by much. It proved what I have long realized; that there are a large number of Americans who have succumbed to being groomed into buying in to this nationalist, jingoist, isolationist universe of manufactured scarcity. They are out there, so angry, indignant and arrogant. We cannot be complacent and assume a House majority will fix everything. It won’t.

The oligarchy has directed this anger at the “other”. It is an anger funneled into a soothing blame, pointed at the scapegoat flavor of the day, the gays, the Muslims, the Mexicans, Al Qaeda, ISIS, East Africans, Feminists, Socialists, I could go on. It’s a distracting and deflecting blame of anyone who isn’t white, male (and their subservient wives), wealthy or connected, hetero, cisgender, believers in allegedly fair and balanced but actual ”fake news”, dominionist Christians, and conservative sycophants. Oh, and the throngs of American serfs who worship them for deigning to toss a few crumbs their way, along with the false promise of safety, sovereignty, good jobs, and “things”.

The last time we experienced such a profound internal existential crisis was one one and one half centuries ago. We were guided out of it by a willful and strong President. In this crisis we have a willful and weak President. The contrast is striking. That this internal threat mirrors a previous external existential threat is not unusual from a historical perspective. Despots often turn to ideas of dominance from past authoritarians, rarely having the insight to invent their own.

This president continues to conduct tests to see how far he can go, how much he can get away with in breaking both American and international law through executive fiat. He is testing the limits of his power to normalize evil through his extraordinary authority to defy the constitution and get the groomed public to accede to it. All this for rallying his base and making them feel good about themselves; to establish himself as a man of the people when he is merely a man for himself. He cares not for America. He only cares for his own power and glory.

The last time we experienced such a profound internal, existential crisis was one and one half centuries ago. We were guided out of it by a willful and strong President. In this crisis we have a willful and weak President. The contrast is striking. That this internal threat resembles a previous external existential threat is not unusual from a historical perspective. Despots often turn to ideas of dominance from past authoritarians, rarely having the insight to invent their own.

I often hear my liberal peers express a wild desire to invoke the 25th amendment, demanding the president be impeached for his obvious high crimes and misdemeanors. Although their is a solid legal basis for this I do not think it is necessarily a good idea. I would prefer to humiliate him through righteously repudiating everything he has done to harm our nation. I want to see his white nationalist, racist, neo-apartheid base shown the door, out of the halls of power, their imagined dominance destroyed, never to rise again.

We do not need to punish. Raw punishment is a kind of hate. I want to see America change and grow into a better society, a leader in becoming a better world and a people worthy of saving. I want to see the human race, we specks of dust in the vast universe, thrive by evolving and not euthanizing. I want us to always walk toward the light, as do we all, each of us slowly dying.. 

And in this dying, in this seeking of the light and conscious rejection of our dark selves, we who do not close but open our hearts will become more our true selves, living rich lives in accord with each other. It is the only path that assures coninued life on this planet.

I believe this light and this love will conquer.

Is Once Always?

If we use the Jimmy Carter definition of having lust in your heart as tantamount to adultery then 110% of men are disgusting pigs and not worthy to carry out the garbage or rake the leaves. Sexually we live in the dark ages. If the criteria for holding office were to never have made a sexist, disparaging remark to another man about a woman passing by not only would the halls of Congress be nearly empty but also all levels of government right down to the proverbial dog catcher. Perhaps all of us old white men should just resign en masse and hope to avoid the damage to everything that dragging us all through the mud would entail.

We can replace us all with young lesbian women of color. Or we could just let everything slide and maintain the status quo.

Of course to do either of those things would be absurd and all levels of bad. But I have heard both of those solutions expressed, although not always in so many words. In the face of lancing the boil of traditional toxic male dominant sexualist behavior, and as the flood waters continuously and rightfully rise up and engulf more public figures daily, we must make, as a society, some difficult and historic decisions about how to go about ending the cycle of male dominance and it’s favored child, sexual predation, that has plagued humanity since before we walked the earth with dinosaurs.

Addressing this festering issue in the world of politics and the American entertainment machine is a start but only represents the tip of the iceberg. There is no more pervasive and perverse commonly accepted American norm that I know of. And now that this ship of state has sailed there will soon be no ships of any kind anchored in any port, in any harbor, and rightfully so. The scourge of authority’s use of omnipresent sexual dominance is now coming under attack from many sides, with varying levels of disgust, anger, and determination but also with a previously diffuse display of the real power that has always been there.

So how would we deal with the massive power vacuum created at the top of the food chain? How would we deal with the temporary but vast and immediate collapse of society as it unfolds before us? The system has been meticulously set up to protect the good old boys. To destroy it out of hand would unlock a chaos and anarchy many would find frightening. Will we let accusations come out slowly and let each individual case fry in the flames of outrage? Do we just get it over with and rid ourselves of the lot of them all at once, comfortable in our knowledge that they are, all of them, guilty.?

Now, wait just a darn minute. Why am I saying the observer’s them? Them is me. I have been a full and willing participant in not imagined harassment throughout much of my life. And not in the distant past. Frankly, virtually no male of my generation (and others) hasn’t transgressed in some way.  Add to that a number of women as well. Do we have to throw out this old fart along with the ocean of bathwater needed for all the other deviants? There must be a more nuanced way of dealing with this. And as always, the devil is in the details.

There remain giant, wooly mammoth in the room, questions to be answered. Are there different levels of assault and harassment and can do we differentiate between the two to start with? How do we determine levels of intent or levels of contrition? What consequences equivocate with the crimes and are appropriate in their severity, a severity which is another metric we must measure? Who adjudicates right from wrong, a big deal from not a big deal. Can we adequately quantify psychic and emotional pain and do we want to? What are the long-term costs of spiritual despair? Is it impossible to make a plausible apology? We have so little accumulated “case law and precedent” to guide us. For centuries the issue never got to the yes this happened stage much less the #me too. Now we have to carry it to its end.

Frankly, anyone over the age of middle school, gender notwithstanding, is lost to any cure, if there is one. For them, there is only treatment for the symptoms. Because this problem will only be adequately addressed, this malignancy excised, by changing the way we raise our children. Not so much by teaching them different things or differently, but through changing the societal norms we unconsciously pass on to them. This will never be easy. America’s white, male, Western European, capitalist society makes many deeply flawed and even deeper subconscious assumptions about behavior, paramount among them that men have dominion over women and all other inferior peoples, and that violence is our preferred means of conflict resolution. Make no mistake; sexual abuse is more about power and violence and less about sex.

There is a moral hierarchy pyramid in America that places white men at the top in unchallenged dominance. At our evolutionary level, we have yet to unlearn millennia of fight or flight mechanisms married to the false morality of might makes right. Male sexual dominance was originally a basic biological imperative which guaranteed that our animal-like ancestors would reproduce. Violence was the means of enforcing that imperative. The superiority of male physical power served that violence. We have left that animal nature behind us in our imaginations only. In reality, the imperative will always be there and although we claim to be civilized and human we have not significantly changed our way of fulfilling it since the neanderthal.

Not all evolution happens slowly at the biological level. We evolve mentally and spiritually as well. And these less dense evolutions happen much much faster. If we allow our lizard brains to continue controlling our sexual natures this problem won’t be changed until perhaps star date 3257, if then. We must make a concerted and conscious effort to evolve, rapidly, our mental and spiritual understanding of the biological imperative we slave under. And do something about changing it.

This change will only happen when we, as Americans, live in accord of thought, word, and deed. We must dig deep into those ancient twitch areas of our brains and become mentally clear about our goals. We must express those goals and our intentions to achieve them unequivocally. We must then follow up with right action. We cannot leave any nook or cranny of our minds unexamined. We must set up and enforce public accountability. And we must vigorously self-regulate.

The consequences must be commensurate with the crime. Given the severity of the issue, those consequences must be meaningful, enforceable, but with some level of recompense. With the realities of society as they are this, unfortunately, must needs be a slow, arduous process and to be honest will require years of culling the herd of sexist, predatory dinosaurs such as myself. Few now alive will be able to change. Some will, but this will not get better without a substantial dying off and a significant level of pain, involving all parties. I hope against hope that I am wrong.

To not embark on a swift, agitating, and yes, a risky path would be a travesty in its own right. As we get closer to unearthing the real issues facing sentient beings on this our only planet the stakes get higher and the risks greater. Surgeries to remove lies are only beginnings. To not act now and decisively is not only unacceptable but untenable. We as a race cannot afford to leave any stone unturned in our pursuit of a better world and the evolved beings that must inhabit it.

I admit to not knowing where to the draw the lines to be crossed, place the tops to go over, establish the points of no return or determine what is beyond the pale. I feel naked and powerless without a concrete suggestion of how to act in this moment. There are so many variables, lines of demarcation and if/thens that my mind boggles. I feel inept writing down these words of judgment without having any small sort of answer for them. I can only say my piece and surrender to the will of the time, who is a young woman of color with gender options, and the allies that stand beside and behind her.

And it starts with raising our sons to the surety that they no longer stand in front and decide for her.

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, used both often and liberally, have many different perceived meanings; which are then 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 need 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