Friday, January 10, 2020

The U.S. Economy is a Dysfunctional Ecosystem

Economies might do well to emulate at least some aspects of biological ecosystems. Our American economy has somehow managed to magnify the undesirable characters of ecosystems while failing to adhere to the fundamentals that make such systems work. Meanwhile, our economy is undermining natural ecosystems that are the foundation for the economy.

Before I proceed farther, in accordance with a recently self-imposed personal law, I must disclose that I fall into the category of white privilege. It is important to remind myself that however I perceive my own circumstances and point of view, my status, for lack of a better term, is still greater than it should be when compared to other demographics that are not Caucasian nor male nor straight, and so forth. We need to hear those voices also.

How can one claim that economies are in any way like ecosystems? There are many similarities, but the most obvious is the idea of niche. Ecosystems are full of niches, each occupied by one or more species. Some, mostly plants and marine algae, are producers that take energy from the sun and convert it to biomass. Other organisms consume those plants, while still others feed on the first tier of consumers in what is properly known as the food web. Decomposing organisms help recycle deceased organisms back into the soil.

Economies are full of niches, too, but all of those niches are filled by one species: Homo sapiens. Niches in economies are called “jobs,” but it goes beyond that if only because, increasingly, one person may hold more than one job such that they can have the ability to consume more (or break even). Further, machines are filling more and more niches formerly occupied by persons as a result of automation. Society functions best when we do not limit the definition of an individual to their occupation. Human economies are more than simple transactions involving goods and services, they involve investments of intangibles like emotions and social capital.

The most profound similarity between ecosystems and economies is currency. The currency of ecosystems is energy, pure and simple. The currency of an economy is money. The only way an ecosystem functions properly is if energy flows freely, cycling ceaselessly for the benefit of all organisms. There is very little banking of energy, at least in the short term. Look at water and carbon in the natural world and they cycle endlessly.

Meanwhile, in the American economy at least, money is not viewed as energy. It is seen as power, and therefore hoarded, failing to flow as it should, despite the claims of those who subscribe to “trickle down” economics. The tap is perhaps dripping randomly. Worse yet, it is often only those in the white privilege category that receive any sustenance at all. This causes a cascade of negative effects that further erodes the economy. Entire segments of society are left without niches to fill, and therefore no way to participate in any part of the economic cycle, from production to consumption.

Among the negative side effects of an exclusionary economy is the rise of predators, parasites, thieves, and other criminal enterprises. While predators, for example, are one category of niches in natural ecosystems, there should be no place for them in an economy. When crime becomes a survival strategy, it is time to re-think the structure of our economy, question our aspirations to gratuitous material wealth, and tolerance for continued economic injustices.

One insistence of capitalist economies that is completely incompatible with natural ecosystems is the idea of infinite growth as the ideal. There can be no such thing, as human history has demonstrated repeatedly with the collapse of one civilization after another. Failure to accept the finite nature of natural resources, and/or partition them responsibly, has led to the fall of many empires, and it would appear that this is now a genuine threat to the entire globe.

Markets, like the biosphere, are also finite, despite efforts to expand them. Furthermore, while we claim allegiance to the idea of the “free market,” there is in reality no such thing. Were it true, then the U.S. auto industry, multinational banks, and other American corporations would have failed by now. Instead, we prop up those businesses artificially through government bailouts, tariffs, and other subsidies as corporate welfare that is deemed acceptable while social safety nets are allowed to unravel or are intentionally dismantled.

What does all this mean? It means that we need to look more critically at how we live our lives, what constitutes our premiums (Convenience? Value?), and perhaps seek to align our economy more with the functioning of the natural world. It is not a question of prosperity versus austerity, unless you are the ultra-privileged and your idea of austerity is one less yacht.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Art is What You Make (of it)

What do a banana taped to a wall and snowshoe tracks in a mountain landscape have in common? Both qualify as art, or not, depending on your point of view. Debating the definition of art is a useful and important exercise, if only within our own individual minds. It informs our personal and collective aesthetic, and our morality.

© abcnews.go.com and Maurizio Cattelan

The wall-mounted banana by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan might have made the news just for the $120,000 price tag it commanded, but the ingestion of the piece is what got the attention of the media. Evidently, the man who tore the duct tape off and consumed the fruit, David Datuna, is himself a performance artist who claimed that his act of eating it was itself a form of art. Here, it would appear that art is a matter of convenience, publicity, and questionable ethics. Is art for the sake of fame and/or notoriety really art?

Meanwhile, in mountain landscapes around the globe, Simon Beck creates stunning, large scale patterns by tromping across the snow in snowshoes. He gains inspiration at least in part from the intricate designs of snowflakes themselves. He will be coming here to Colorado in January to no doubt make something magnificent. Beck has also done similar work in sandscapes.

The personal choices of the artist, and the range of interpretations among the audience, make art the most universal expression of freedom that there is.

Both the banana and the snow tracks are ephemeral. Fruit spoils, tracks are quickly obliterated. One thread I read in social media asserted that Beck’s work was not art because it “has no meaning.” I found myself boiling at that remark, but was not sure why. I started writing….

”Wow. One could ask what is the meaning of a sandcastle, a snowman, an ice sculpture, a decorated cake, or any other ephemeral piece of art. If anything, I think this is astonishing precisely BECAUSE of the labor involved knowing the results could be gone in the next hour. The message? Appreciate the NOW, that is all we have."

This goes to the root of what makes art such a volatile subject. Art is whatever you make of it, but the intent of the artist is key. Art can be used as a weapon, as a way to empower or a way to oppress. Art can be propaganda or it can be a tool of social change for the better. Art can be whimsical or profound, humorous or gut-wrenching. The audience decides whether to elevate works to an iconic level or deem them worthy of the trash bin, but there will always be dissenting voices. The personal choices of the artist, and the range of interpretations among the audience, make art the most universal expression of freedom that there is.

It may be telling that I am personally much more likely to hold contempt for those offering derogatory opinions and comments about a given work than I am for artists who I still may not celebrate as genius or buffoon. You have the right to create something and call it art, but then again you do have the right to your point of view as an onlooker. What sparked your outburst of praise or condemnation, though? That is what I want to know. You were moved, but why? Honest conversation should be valued more than it is, and is itself a form of artistry we should all aspire to.

I was living in Cincinnati at the time that Robert Mapplethorpe’s posthumous “The Perfect Moment” came to the Contemporary Arts Center in 1990. Controversy surrounded the sexual and homosexual images in the exhibit, and protests and a trial ensued. I felt it was my civic duty to patronize the exhibit, regardless of whether I agreed with all aspects of it. Yes, there were photographs that made me uncomfortable, but many more that made me laugh, or simply gawk at the jaw-dropping beauty of orchids and the human figure. Besides, exposing yourself to discomfort is underrated. It tends to cultivate empathy. There is no doubt in my mind that Mapplethorpe fully embraced, and celebrated, everything that makes us human, from an appreciation of the natural world to our sexual proclivities. There was zero malice to be found in his intent.

What is your own threshold for “art?” Does it hinge on the degree of effort exercised in executing the piece? What about the degree of effort you put into making your interpretation? Do you scoff and move on? How do you express your appreciation? Is it by assigning an arbitrary monetary value to it at auction? Do you leave flattering comments in the guest book at the gallery? There is an art to evaluating art, wouldn’t you say?

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Innocents and the Bigots

Recent experiences in social media have led me to the conclusion that we tend toward a very narrow window in assessing each other’s intentions, treating all communication as black and white, good guys and bad guys. We all have our blind spots, and/or are emotionally damaged. In fact, emotional damage has a profound effect on how we perceive the world, other people, other belief systems, and how we see ourselves. Inflicting more damage, even if unintentionally, does nothing to improve matters.

My interactions with diverse individuals and social categories of our population reveals that unless I am a clone of that particular person or an individual within that category, I probably have no place commenting on their circumstance or struggles. Attempting to embrace and validate their experience becomes an exercise in futility or worse if I take the conversation public. I then have no control over the input of others.

One of the unfortunate consequences of having a social network that spans the socio-economic-political-religious spectrum is that you are going to be called out as a bigot if you “protect” anyone else perceived as a bigot by those with differing experiences and views. The assumption is that everyone is already cemented in their views and not open to any additional information. We assume they know full well they are misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, God-denying haters, and not that they are simply uninformed or uneducated. They must be professional trolls.

There is a difference between an annihilist who desires to obliterate everything and everyone “different,” and someone who is simply comfortable with their own identity but uncomfortable with the new normal or having difficulty comprehending the territory. There is no way we can possibly put ourselves into the minds and bodies of others if we are not ourselves Black, homosexual, transgendered, or otherwise a “minority.”

It is my belief that there are many innocent people being labelled as bigots simply because they lack full understanding of the issues at hand. If you do not know where the mines are, you are eventually going to step on one. If you do not recognize the triggers, you will pull one at some point. When someone talks about “dog whistles” to the bigot camp, it may be that you do not hear yourself blowing one. The wrong intent is assumed. Groups that are trying to assert their long-suppressed rights, who are understandably angry at being marginalized and abused, if not murdered, begin to interpret every attempt at understanding, or every question pertaining to the historical “norm” as somehow a threat to be met with hostility, assigned to the domain of true bigots.

Me? I am the product of an overprotective mother, and an angry father on alternate weekends. It has taken me decades to undo the damage and I am still not a finished product. The truth is that we have no idea what anyone’s personal history is, what horrific experiences or sheltered lifestyles have shaped their views. It is impossible to know this unless they fully disclose personal information that they may feel leaves them vulnerable to ridicule and persecution themselves.

This blog is where I often articulate publicly the struggles I am having privately, in my own head, striving to be a more understanding, humble, and loving human being. Others choose to do that through social media where they make posts, or comment on the posts of others. Increasingly this is asking for abuse rather than clarification, understanding and patience. Boom! You are an instant a$$hole if you use the wrong words or admit your current frustrations or misunderstandings. Zero leeway, no empathy, nothing positive.

God forbid that you defend the wrong person, too. You are then a bigot for defending a bigot, guilt by association. Whatever happened to assuming the best about people, or at least having an open mind? Your experience with a person may be drastically different than mine. I am likely to keep both of you as friends until it is demonstrated by repeated behavior that you are not worthy of my emotional and intellectual investment. I can decide for myself who to keep in my circle, and I reserve the right to recall people I have kicked out, if they agree I am worth having back in theirs.

Perhaps that is our common ground, then, that we are all flawed; and all too eager to turn others into villains to advance our cause, make ourselves feel better, morally superior, and justified in our values and beliefs. That is a terrible way to receive validation, at someone else’s expense. We can do better. We can start by admitting we are incomplete, utter amateurs in the interpretation of the experiences of others. We can listen more, not reserve judgment but abandon it completely for tolerance, if not acceptance.

Can we hate bigotry without categorizing any one individual based on one conversation or comment thread? The scientific method demands reproducible results. We might apply that to our relationships. One bad event? Maybe the benefit of the doubt is in order. Repeated instances that reflect bad character? Now you have cause to re-evaluate the relationship. Each of us has a different threshold, and a single violent action should immediately end further interaction, but there is a fine line between cautious optimism and giving up on someone as a lost cause.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Surviving Holiday Dread

Early this morning we turned our clocks back for reasons that no longer seem applicable, but many of us are about to return to behaviors and states of mind that no longer serve us so that we can survive the season of politics and holidays. How else are we supposed to cope with expectations of civility that are seldom fulfilled? Not everyone has the luxury of escape from familial responsibilities and work obligations, and we really should execute our duty of voting....but can we endure without permanent brain damage?

© Purestock Getty Images via verywellmind.com

The weather is against us, too, a physical cold that amplifies our emotional distress, and adds to the difficulties of negotiating the season in terms of travel and personal safety. We bundle up and take precautions driving, but traffic jams, crowded airports, and delayed flights make the horse-drawn carriages of yesteryear seem like a downright viable alternative if not romantic and nostalgic. We have put our extended families and in-laws at more than arm's length for a reason, and now this is the price we pay for the one or two times each year we choose to acknowledge them in person.

Congratulations to you if you have a truly loving and supportive family, a dream job, are comfortably affluent, with no addictions, and are in perfect physical and mental health. Most of us are not so fortunate, and while we have no animosity towards those doing better, we wish that you had a better understanding of our realities. We wish you had more empathy.

Were it up to me, we might be holding elections in the summer, by mail, so that politics were not so near the top of our thoughts, fueling dinner table diatribes during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Alas, they are this Tuesday, and if we must get ourselves to a polling place we have to figure out how to do so between the hours of our employment, the kids' scholastic programs, and a myriad of other chores and errands. The physical process of voting is daunting, and we haven't had time to research the issues and candidates. All of this adds to the guilt we already feel about failing in our civic engagement, and reminds us of grandpa who is stuck in a reactionary mindset that has no room for a changing social landscape. Surely you will come to blows the next time you see each other.

Depending on the outcome of the elections, we are either seeing a glimmer of hope, or plunging further into despair as the holidays fast approach. What a perfect storm, eh? Speaking of which, there is probably a Nor'easter on the way, just for good measure. Now we are reaching for another cocktail, another cigarette, or both, or something worse. We are no longer looking forward to the "vacation" to see the family, and are quite possibly fantasizing about alternative plans for Vegas or the Caribbean, minus any relatives at all, including our spouse and children. This is normal, if not unfortunate. Fantasies of fleeing are fine and healthy, it is carrying them out that is damaging. Know the difference.

What you may need to do is make a preemptive strike against depression and anxiety via a twelve-step group, a psychologist, or a supportive group in your church. Daily life is not kind to societal outcasts, and this time of year is harder still. Christians in particular would do well to remember that and at least ease off the rhetoric a bit. Compassion has to come without the strings of conversion attached to it. Seek first to understand, strive to accept rather than tolerate.

We will still likely have to deal with people who push our buttons, though, so what do we do? Avoidance is underrated if it means removing yourself from toxic situations and toxic people. You should have zero tolerance for physical, emotional, or financial abuse. Get away, stay away, or insist that your family share meals and time with another family, or at a public gathering. The "neutral field" approach can be highly effective at disarming what would otherwise be a volatile circumstance. We are all on our best behavior among people we feel we need to impress, or uphold an already high opinion they have for us.

Separate your personal objections to religion and politics from friends and family who might hold opposing positions. Good people are well worth your time, love, and investment, and good people come from all segments of the socio-economic-religious-political-ethnic spectra. Cultivating empathy should be the primary goal in our relationships with others. Listening is always good. Keeping your opinions to yourself sometimes helps, but do politely articulate your own perspectives if you need reminding of your own self-worth. I am a firm believer in the idea that stating your values, your truths, out loud, does wonders for self-esteem and confidence....as long as you are being honest, and keep an open yet critical mind.

Ask others to be honest in their assessment of the origins of their stance on any given hot topic. It is obviously personal to them, so why is that? Assure them there is no shame in being forthright, and defend them from ridicule if that is the unfortunate turn a discussion takes. You can disagree without bullying.

Good luck to you in the coming months. We wish you peace and prosperity, sincerely, and relief from whatever burdens you carry. Please share your skills, tips, and tricks for making it through the holidays with minimal pain. We are all ears.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Conversation # 1

"At the heart of it, all men long to be irresponsible."

"Really? Really??!!

"Sure."

"Why would you not want to be the best mature person you could be?"

"Maturity has little to do with it, though immaturity is what keeps me young. Irresponsibility is the hallmark of youth, and it is all about hanging on to youth."

"So you're having a midlife crisis."

(smiles) "I have had a perpetual midlife crisis then. It's chronic." (laughs).

"That's funny to you?"

"If I don't laugh, I'll cry. I'd love to start over. Completely. Have an actual family instead of just parents, you know? An intact, loving family, but where then is the struggle for the artist in me? Let's get back to the point, though. Maybe I long to be irresponsible because I want to complete my childhood. It ended rather abruptly. My mom used to tell me that when I was ten years old I put away my toys and told her I needed to make something out of my life. Ten years old for Christ's sake."

"I'm sorry."

(Shakes head)"Don't be. I don't want pity."

"So let's talk about all men, then, like you started with. Are you basing your assessment that they all long to be irresponsible on just your own experience?"

"It isn't evident, glaringly obvious to you that men are like that?"

"I don't know, I've met plenty of men who are kind and responsible. Men with a steady job, who show up to dates, on time, even open the door for me...."

"Oh, you believe in chivalry?" (chuckles) "I've got news for you. We hold the door so we can watch your ass go through."

(Appalled, mouth open in shocked silence)

"Yeah, I know you like to think that you can give men at least a little credit, but just don't. Maybe your gay male friends. It isn't even about sex, it's about lust, because we're also timid and fearful of intimacy. The psychologists have that right. Why do you think porn is so popular? It keeps women at arm's length. We don't have to answer for our inadequacies, physical or emotional."

"Wow."

"We also don't want to be responsible for your happiness. Hell, we don't want to be responsible for our own happiness. We're always looking for other people, other situations, other locations, and material goods to make us happy. God forbid we should do any self-work so we can be happy independent of anything, or anyone, else."(smiles)

"How can you be so cynical? No, no, how can you be so okay with that, if you believe it?"

"Who says that I am? Laughing or crying again. When you think about men's motivations in biological terms, all the shit makes sense. Keeping up appearances. Showing off. We have raised the lek to a theatre stage. We hoard material goods like a male bower bird, all to get our genes into the next generation."

"You said it wasn't about sex."

"True. I guess maybe it is if you really are a stud. Maybe a lavish lifestyle, and climbing the corporate ladder are substitutes for guys who can't get it up. Maybe women have that right."

"Well, gee, thanks for giving us a little credit." (rolls eyes sideways)

"You're welcome."

"So, if my man leaves me for a younger woman, it isn't about sex?"

"Nope. It's back to youth again. She symbolizes youth, freedom, confidence, everything men aspire to."

(Skeptical tongue in cheek) "I see."

"No, really. At some point in a man's marriage, his spouse becomes a symbol of confinement rather than freedom. It could be that in the process of trying to make her happy he has sacrificed his own plans and goals for security, for his wife's cooking, her income, her mere presence in his otherwise lonely life. That's always the trade-off, isn't it: freedom or security."

(Shakes head slowly)"You've got this all figured out, haven't you?"

"Hell no. If I did, I wouldn't be sitting here with you. I value your honest appraisal. Truly, I do."

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Farewells and Goodbyes

This has been a hard week emotionally. I just returned from a memorial service where I said a permanent goodbye to a sixteen year-old student and friend who I knew for all too short a duration. Earlier in the week I said a (hopefully) temporary farewell to another young lady I have grown fond of and learned so much from. The grief and sadness is a little easier the older I get because I have learned to accept the choices of others, even when that means I am deprived of their regular company.

‑--------------------
Myself, Kaya, and Heidi

Kaya came to one of the Mile High Bug Club events at Cheyenne Mountain State Park about three years ago. She got my attention immediately because she had driven down from beyond the Denver area just to hang out with a bunch of "bug nerds" and look at moths and other insects drawn to the blacklights during the night.

As we got to talking, I learned that she, too, is an only child, with divorced parents, and eclectic interests. The more I got to know her over the years the more in awe I became of her intellect, adventurous spirit, and easy-going nature. She will be on to a new job now, in a far-off city, but I look forward to staying connected, and seeing her again someday should we agree on a place to seek new and fascinating insects.

It occurs to me that while I have genuine affection for Kaya, she embodies qualities I wish I had when I was her age: confidence, mostly, but an even richer analytical mind, a fearless approach to new experiences, trust in others, endless curiosity, and a sense of freedom. Yes, that romantic notion of just going wherever your heart and soul take you. Dream on, live fully, my friend.

‑--------------------
My late friend Erin

I met Erin Starkey, her brother Brad, and their mother in August of 2012 when we both turned out for a gathering of entomologists and insect photographers at a research station in southern Arizona. Imagine the surprise and delight to learn that we all lived in Colorado Springs. We got together again a handful of times, once for Erin's birthday if I recall correctly, and I shared books and insect specimens with her. I saw her last on my own birthday, last January.

Little did I know that she was equally enamored with all animal life, rabbits especially, and was a volunteer with our local Humane Society. I had no idea she was also artistically inclined, with a talent for songwriting, acting and directing, drawing, even animation. She was incredibly empathetic to the poverty-stricken, volunteering at shelters and soup-kitchens.

Unfortunately, I also did not know that she suffered from mental illness, and the spirit-sapping lows that come with that. On September 5, the heaviness got too much to bear and she took her life.

‑--------------------

She wasn't wanting to leave us, of course, she was attempting to leave herself. At least that part of herself that conjured demons of emotional misery, dominating every part of her psyche. As if that dimension of your soul could be shed like a snakeskin, killed with the equivalent of a silver bullet....but it always takes everything else down with it. Some people try and wash that part of their mind away by drinking. Others smoke, snort, shoot up, or otherwise exorcise one dragon with another. Some people try and outrun their own ominous shadow by literally running away.

The empty, unsatisfying, and self-destructive remedies abound, all of them equally useless, a mere temporary fix that might get you to tomorrow, but still leave you with no future visible to you on your horizon. You have choices only in what Devils to bargain with, what form of suffering is the least painful.

"You could choose to be happy if you wanted to..."

No, that is not how depression works. That is not how anxiety works. That is not how obsessive-compulsive works. That's not how any of this works. As long as you insist that it is "all in your mind," or imply that one has control over their state of mind, you are doing a horrible disservice to those cursed with mental illness. Stop being so damn condescending and free your own mind to contemplate the possibility that others can be "wired" differently than you, you healthy, sunshiny son-of-a-....

Listen, we all have our deficits, our ills, our weaknesses, our genetic uniqueness. I guarantee that you know people with mental illness whether you are cognizant or not. The manifestation of madness is not always what we have been taught that it is. Your job is not to assume, not to dismiss, not to pity, not to stigmatize, but merely empathize.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

What Constitutes Suffering?

I argued in a previous post about suicide that no person should be obligated to endure suffering for the sake of other people, except in cases where there are dependent children or elderly family members involved. What I left out of that discussion was a definition of "suffering." Today, there appears to be a great deal of individual and collective suffering, so what does that mean for you?

© BBC.COM

To clarify, I am not seeking a legal definition as it applies to litigation and damage-seeking monetary compensation. That may be part of the problem, actually. Societies with a capitalist economy want to assign concrete dollar values to everything, whether appropriate or not. We have come to measure all aspects of our lives in financial terms. That may create more suffering than it solves. It certainly adds unnecessary stress.

Is suffering like pornography, you "know it when you see it?" Maybe you know it when you feel it. There is certainly the pain of physical suffering, what detainees in camps along our southern U.S. border are faced with during their confinement, what the victims of natural disasters experience during and after catastrophic events, and of course the wounds of war, terrorism, and other acts of violence. Any physical trauma is likely to generate suffering of varying degree and duration.

There is also the unrelenting mental anguish during and after violence, the stress of anticipating the next episode of abuse at the hands of your domestic partner, the constant threat of harassment or violence if you are a woman, a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ community, or a practitioner of Islam, Judaism, or some other persecuted religion....the list of potential victims of suffering is almost limitless.

I would contend that suffering does not begin and end with these scenarios. Suffering extends to those who are empathetic to the abused, the oppressed, the undervalued, underprivileged, and poverty-stricken. People with White Privilege choose whether to be empathetic or not, recognizing that they, too, suffer as long as other humans do.

Suffering from empathy goes even farther. Many in our world are empathetic not just to other members of Homo sapiens, but to other species. I myself derive great joy from knowing that there are other organisms occupying our planet, leading fascinating lives and contributing directly and indirectly to the health of humanity in both the biological and emotional sense. Depriving caring people of other species through direct extinction, climate change, and habitat destruction is no less a crime than homicide.

Each of us has a different threshold at which suffering begins, and it is wrong to evaluate the suffering of others based on our own personal standard of what we consider to be suffering. Our American society is still far too entrenched in the mentality of machismo and stoicism when it comes to pain of any kind. "Suck it up," we like to say. Such condescending and dismissive rhetoric, and behavior, will unravel our civilization if it is not properly balanced with empathy.

In these troubling times it is tempting to withdraw, and indeed countless souls abandon Facebook and Twitter and other online communities daily to avoid facing a continuous onslaught of bad news and worse news. Turning a blind eye does not make reality better, however, and also deprives one of the latest positive news from friends, validation of one's own sensitivity, and, of course, humorous memes about pets. Seriously, we need to laugh more than ever.

Perhaps your challenge, like mine, is to not return to negative personal behavior patterns that you once used to cope with mental and social anxiety, fear, and depression. Remind yourself that those are expensive and wasteful exercises, both financially and physically. We need to be at our best and sharpest, and be engaged with the world for as long and intensely as we can tolerate, which is much more than we think we can. This is not the time to run away, turn to substances legal or illicit, or check out altogether.

Most importantly, we need to remind each other that, political and religious differences aside, we recognize our humanity and the need to work collectively. No politician, no corporate leader, no single individual has all the answers. It is us who will succeed or fail in protecting each other and the Earth regardless of what happens in Congress, the Oval Office, the next international summit. Make wise choices beyond the ballot, in your preferences in the marketplace, in how you treat others and how you treat yourself. You deserve positive things, tangible and intangible. We all do. To paraphrase Timothy Leary, we won't get any of those benefits if we tune out, turn on, or drop out. Stay alive, stay connected, heap praise on the worthy, reward true excellence, and think critically. That is how you end suffering.