(More Than) A Few Words About Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps I am that one person.

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.

A Case of Invisible Sexism

Recently an airline pilot was heroic in bringing in an airline’s broken plane that had struck one passenger with mortal injuries and threatened the entire crew and passengers with the same fate. This pilot’s ability to perform under extreme pressure, ultimately saving lives, was rightfully praised. Bravo to the ex-navy fighter pilot with “nerves of steel”.

Tammie Jo Schults was this cool, calm, collected pilot. I will admit media coverage wasn’t atrocious. Coverage of the near tragedy itself did not particularly single out Tammie’s gender. Journalists are making efforts to catch up with the curve

But when women do something outstanding there is still the strong urge to emphasize the fact. I am an aging middle-class white cisgender male. My limited understanding of the gender issues of today tells me that the eventual goal of those fighting for women’s equity, in all areas of society, is for coverage of events of this nature to be virtually the same. The only changes between the woman hero and the man in the article or broadcast would be the names.

It seems modern journalists can’t seem to avoid overcompensation. In the midst of good treatment of the fact that the protagonist of the story identifies as female, they are compelled to find something somewhere to go on and on about.

I have read numerous accounts of this striking news story and a large number of them went off on the fact that the modest pilot didn’t want her name out in public and they had to go to passengers and relatives to find out who she was.

They also made a big deal of how she was among the first female fighter pilots in the Navy and how she had tried to get into an Air Force program but was rejected because she was a woman. They went on and on. This portion of the articles was usually made the main focus and took up more column inches than the description of the incident itself.

I’m not saying that a male pilot’s background would not be appropriate for inclusion in this sort of article. Far from it. The back story is an important part of any human interest story.

I am simply contending that if this had been a male pilot the segment on his background would have been one or two paragraphs, a simple exposition of facts. It would not have been a major part of the article.

As we move into a new phase of understanding a more subtle and invisible sexism people will have to continue digging deeper inside themselves. Even women won’t escape the uncomfortable awareness of truths that are buried in the subconscious. We will all have to listen carefully to the women who have liberated these truths and dedicate themselves to educating an evolving world.

This is hard work. You meet a part of yourself you don’t want to know. And it’s not the only work you are called to do. We have to manage somehow to live together with many who think these efforts are a bunch of BS. We have to search inside and find our racism, our religious prejudices, our unique and shameful treatment of natives, our support of the inequities of economic hierarchies, our faith in a flawed original constitution. and more.

I am always careful to include disclaimers in my works. My posts are my observations and visions and are not intended to be a claim of authority. They are my relative truths and never designed to be the absolute truth.

I am certain I have a mountain of things to learn about this topic. Please get in touch with me if I have totally screwed up somewhere. My opinion is mine alone. But the truth that serves everyone must be shared.

Knowledge is power.

Now you don’t. Now you see it.

We always knew it was a good album. We had worked hard, rehearsing and playing a few gigs at popular venues. We had a small but loyal following. It was unfortunate, but as many artists, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not so much a place to live, we all loved it here. But the wrong place and time to ply our trade. We were a power pop group complete with almost Brill Building like songs, three-part harmonies, a clean, 80’s white boy look and no niche in the area scene.

Our city was in the national spotlight. There was a funk and beyond superstar here and several loud sloppy nationally influential pre-grunge rock bands with great songwriters and au courant images. Pretty much all the local groups affected one of these styles or the other. That was allegedly what the big left coast labels were looking for, the next this or that, and several coattail groups did see the national stage.

We didn’t begrudge these guys their success. (Back then performing musicians were over 95% male.) Lots of them were our friends and it was great to see acts from our flyover hometown getting some props. Sure we wanted to be successful. We weren’t so driven as needing to play arenas to consider ourselves successful. But it would have been nice to tour and play mid-sized venues and have a few people know the words.

We recorded what we knew to be a really good album of its genre. And we got some airplay here and there. Nothing went viral. (They didn’t use that word back then.) The album was released on vinyl, barely ahead of the CD revolution. Folks everywhere were putting their turntables in mothballs, captivated by the convenience of the smaller software and quantum leap in dBs of signal to noise ratio. Not that many people even knew what a dB was, but the change was noticeable. Vinyl quickly fell out of favor.

We had some face cards stacked against us. But I for one was proud to have three songs, of my composition, recorded and released on a real, albeit smallish record label. It had been a goal of mine for many years and it was satisfying to have accomplished it. I wasn’t too concerned about it making a big splash. Our style of music was not only a little out of phase with our local scene. It was considered mostly the turf of British groups and few American bands sounded like that. I didn’t expect much.

Now, as usual, my lengthy explanation of things has left me hopelessly far away from what I really want to say. And it will undoubtedly take even longer to get there. One is supposed to reveal their main topic in the first paragraph, often repeating it as many as several times in different ways. Gotta grab those readers by the ____.

But….

To make a short story long the owner of our ancient but nascent record label, thinking of new and unique ways to make a little money off his catalog, began shopping the label’s music to brokers, who placed music in films and television shows.

After a time several of the songs were given slots in shows. Our band had a song placed in an episode of a middling, streaming service series. No big deal but we all thought it was pretty cool and the songwriter splashed down some of his royalty money on wings and beer for the band. We hadn’t all been in the same place for a while. A good time was had by all.

Time marched on and the fun was pretty much forgotten when I got an email from the label owner stating that we had a song placed in a series called Stranger Things. I nearly fell out of my chair. Although no one else involved knew anything about the Netflix production, I, as a sci-fi fan, was very aware, I knew that it was one of the most anticipated series releases of the fall and had a huge, fanatical following.

I told the rest of the guys, who seemed to be underwhelmed but intrigued. I am subject to hyperbole and everyone knows it. I wasn’t swift to tell the world, although I knew this was very cool. These things can be, as Mike, the songwriter said, the equivalent of an audio walk-on.  I knew about this, having once spent 8 hours on a movie set in full costume and make-up only to be onscreen for 5 seconds with several hundred other aspiring actors. I didn’t expect much.

Yes, I was excited. No, I wasn’t looking for anything substantial. I’m Bi-Polar and as such need to stay away from manic highs. I tried to keep an even keel. Eventually, as the release of the second season grew nearer and promotion ramped up I decided I had to tell people. I was proud of my past work, and it seemed kind of miraculous that this was happening. I posted on social media and got quite a response. My daughter lost it and told everyone she knew. It was fulfilling to hear her say she was proud of me.

Lest my friends and family, and even a few people I didn’t know, would be disappointed I made certain that people knew our song might only be on for a few seconds. But Stranger Things has a reputation for featuring a who’s who of 80s music and there are nearly as many aficionados of the series music as there are of the series itself. I hadn’t really considered that fact, all the while expecting a very short appearance on the show.

Of course, I was right about the song. It was onscreen for less than ten seconds, in the background under dialogue. I apologized to my posse. (It isn’t really a posse, more of a curious few.) I received some encouragement. “It was still pretty cool” etc.. I felt kind of foolish at building up folk’s expectations. But the horse was out of the barn and obviously, I couldn’t change things.

Well, I hadn’t considered the music mania. More than a few websites published all the music from every episode, regardless of how long it was onscreen. There were links to all of the songs and often blurbs about the performers. We were always called an obscure unknown band. I didn’t mind. One blurb I particularly liked was from a British magazine which said we hadn’t bothered to visit the UK charts. But the song itself got a lot of praise. I was amazed. I mean come on, we were on a Spotify playlist with Motley Crüe, Duran Duran, and Ted Nugent.

Counting various streaming services, Youtube channels and a cool public access video shot in 1986 we’ve had over 125,000 streams and counting. We were featured on local network news, the largest local newspaper, and the top local alt radio station. We are featured on more than a few private Youtube playlists. We have been added to regular rotation on both internet and broadcast rock radio stations, some with international audiences of over a million listeners.

Are you kidding me? It’s kind of surreal. Really though, it doesn’t make me feel all that special. I mean everyone has something they do very very well. Would that they were widely recognized for it. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. But it brings me to the thing that I have been reminded of by this whole crazy experience, the thing I hope to leave you with if you have read this far.

All art is a real expression of someone’s soul. And all art is beautiful, even art most people consider ugly. There is always someone somewhere who appreciates it.  There is also very beautiful art and exceptionally beautiful art. Some of this art is recognized as exceptional in its time. Some is not seen as remarkable until after its time. And some is never recognized as great.

Yet, art is created beautiful and remains beautiful. It retains its beauty regardless of any other factor. And for the creator of the art, it is enough to know their art is beautiful, even if appears not to be.

Perhaps they depend on their art to make a living and can be disappointed it isn’t selling well enough to support themselves. They can become despondent that their art is not appreciated. They can abandon their art for whatever reason.

But I am certain that on their deathbed, should they be cogent, they look back lovingly on their creative process, their joy in giving something unique to the world. Something that is beautiful in their eyes and in their soul. Something that will always be beautiful.

It is their legacy and they are proud of pouring their being into it.

It is enough.

And we must remember.

It is something that is always available, to be revered.

 

It’s Black Turkey Day!!!!!!

Jesus, it’s Thanksgiving! I should post something on Facebook about what I’m grateful for. Really I should. This is the extent of the original intent and essence of this dying holiday expressed by many people.

What happened? Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Even considering the fabricated nature and false origin story of the holiday the “author’s message” is a noble and visionary one. Although mythological, it’s message of American cooperation and diversity is to be admired. But that message has effectively disappeared from the celebratory landscape of this uniquely American philosophic contribution to the world politic.

A festive gathering of “others”, supping together in a testament to the unity of all peoples, a symbol of our embrace of diversity as strength and love as a primary character trait, has been reduced to gluttony and argument immediately followed by greed.

As Target is the geographically closest alleged discount store to me I use it as a thermometer to measure our nation’s commercial temperature. The retail monster that is Christmas continue’s to usurp more and more of the shopping year. It has devoured Thanksgiving and were it not for the occult appeal and “only this one day of the year” deference to childhood excess it would engulf Halloween as well. This year, Christmas tree lights, the first harbinger of the commercial onslaught, were out on the shelves BeFoRe Halloween. This phenomenon has been creeping toward this inevitability for years, a few more days every year.

Candy displays, which mark the official changeover of holiday, er merchandising, seasons now switch immediately from Halloween’s pumpkin-shaped Reese’s and black cats and witches hats on the packages to Christmas jingle bells, snowflakes and Santa-shaped chocolates of infinite variety. Not that Thanksgiving has a unique candy footprint. But come on man, can’t we have three weeks of normal colored M&Ms. Please.

If there is a token acknowledgment of Thanksgiving in modern American consciousness it is wrapped up in the form of the Turkey. Not the fierce and proud Wild Turkey (I’ll have a double) but the domesticated, cage-raised, breast augmented turkey. Each year the current President pardons this year’s Barabbas from certain slaughter, signaling the start of the barbaric genocide of this year’s “crop” of fattened calves, err birds, for the sacrificial pleasure of the unapologetic masses.

The Thanksgiving meal, once a legendary, semiotic standard of our generous and egalitarian natures has now become a no man’s land battleground for any and all partisan issues. Nothing is out of bounds; every nicety graciously observed the rest of the year flies out the window. The gloves come off. Every indignation, resentment and outright hateful feeling that blackens our hearts are bared right there amid the cranberry sauce and cornbread stuffing. With jabbing forks jabbing we challenge each other to prove our worldview is righteous and good and yours is perverse and damning.

Then the Tryptophan kicks in, we relax and acquiesce, all of us, to watching the NFL and discussing the family’s divorces, babies, and surgical procedures. The day’s battle settled, halftimes bring the patriarch’s mandated Thanksgiving speech followed by each singled out family member’s obligatory declaration of “what I’m thankful for”. This is where children learn that adherence to the respect of the origins of the Thanksgiving ideal lies only in this one obligatory sentence. Our elders reveal that a wide berth of veracity is allowed in this ritualistic reality of the modern Thanksgiving experience. As long as you are thankful for something, no matter how meaningless and insignificant, you have fulfilled your familial, and thus your nationalist duty.

Could it be that I am caustically cynical about how we as a society have desecrated this manufactured attempt by our ancestors to remind us of the nobility of our nation’s origins and respect for non-white peoples?  You’re damn right I am. Frankly, I’ve been pulling my punches. There were way more expletives in my first draft. Have we no shame? We can’t even honor a national holiday based on a falsehood.

And I haven’t even gotten to the whole unholy Black Friday thing. Just as the tree lights have crept onto shelves earlier and earlier so has the other gluttony of the day. We used to have a few hours respite, a chance to digest both the food and the sparring before we arose like vampires at midnight. Once upon a time the retailers actually waited until Friday. This year my Target credit card authorized me to get doorbuster prices on Wednesday. Emails from a week or more before the holiday teased me with “Black Friday prices”.  I’m pretty sure you were offered “Black Friday in July” pricing this summer. Dinners now start at halftime in order to get in line by 5 for the 6 PM Walmart opening. It’s let’s throw the dishes in the dishwasher and time’s a wastin’.

Armed with our family battle plan, forged out of intense research and study of the three-inch thick Thanksgiving Thursday newspaper, we attack the vast array of local big box stores in a multi-front, coordinated frenzy of credit card maxing out.

I’ll run interference while you grab the last deep discounted ultra high def flat screen smart TV at 70% off MSRP. This is why we watch football earlier in the day, to get some ideas for blocking schemes, to keep the other family’s linebackers away from our designated grabbers. It’s every gang for themselves, may the best shopper win.

Some folks skip the meal entirely and go directly to the self-propelled vacuum cleaner at pennies on the dollar. Why not? It’s damn hard to roast a turkey. And to avoid going 12 rounds every year with Uncle Harold over gay abortion is a great idea. In fact, why don’t we just do away with Thanksgiving altogether? I mean really, who is really thankful for anything these days, without reservations or exceptions or objections or consequences.

Am I still caustic, full of vitriol, toxic in my disdain? Of course, you betcha. I just can’t understand why we insist on allowing one of our most positive, meaningful traditions to deteriorate into disrepair, unredeemable and sadly, distinctly unamerican. Even if it wasn’t true it still represents something. What are we thinking?

So what am I thankful for, as an American on this day of flying cartoon characters and too dry turkey and football and deep discounts? To what do I owe gratitude on this disappearing tribute to an imagined America of tolerance and shared abundance?

I am thankful that I am still free to write these words and express my anger without fear.

I am thankful that America has always been great, if only for simple freedoms and always keeping a space available for love.

I am thankful that America has always been great for allowing dreams the opportunity to become reality.

I am thankful that America has always been great in its vision beyond the horizon, its foresight in the face of hindrance, hope in the face of despair, life in the face of violence.

Please don’t think I am chastizing everyone. Millions and millions of us know love of neighbor in their hearts and are thankful for their good fortune, health for them and their families, joy, and respect.

I’ll never give up on Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful I can.

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.