Sunday, June 26, 2022

Supreme Injustice Part II

It seems like only yesterday that I wrote about the Breonna Taylor trial and the rush to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it has been nearly two years now. The results of installing (I refuse to use the word “confirming”) two ultra-conservative justices into the high court has escalated quickly. They wasted no time, given the usually glacial flow of decisions, in overturning the most impactful verdict in recent history: Roe versus Wade. It is a clear example of collusion of between religion and government, for the purpose of strengthening a destructive patriarchal culture. Yes, I am calling this a criminal act.

What were once ”Christian fundamentalists” are now Christian extremists, an arguably greater threat to democracy and a civil society than any foreign enemy. While they claim there is a fictious “war on Christmas,” they perpetrate a very real war against women, including transgender persons. That we allow any level of the judiciary to continue defining and limiting the role of women as child-bearers, subservient to males, is appalling. That the citizenry has very limited power to influence the lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court is disgraceful.

Beyond the ramifications for women’s health, including abortion procedures, the court decision has an overwhelming effect of demoralization. Women are already physically and emotionally exhausted from meeting personal and societal expectations on the domestic front, and in the workplace, even if they are perfectly healthy and not battling chronic pain, disease, and/or other afflictions beyond their control. Where are they going to find the strength to overcome these newly-imposed limitations?

Numerous female friends have already posted on social media that they are willing to host and care for any friends from other states needing proper medical care that could be denied them in their own home states. I am hoping to soon see that same empathy from my male friends. I will happily be the first to volunteer. I’ll sleep on the couch or the floor if need be. That is assuming that we can vote down a proposed constitutional amendment here in Kansas.

The double-whammy of this court decision, and continuing efforts aimed at denying voting rights, is depressing. At least some democratic and independent voters are registering as Republican for their state’s primary elections, in hopes of defeating the most extremist candidates before the mid-term elections in November. We are going to need more innovative tactics like that if we do not wish to return to a wholly puritanical republic.

Do not underestimate your personal sphere of influence. You are intelligent and respectful and capable of advocating effectively. Be brave, and share your views with family, immediate and/or extended. Broadcast creatively through all your social media channels. Do not share the meme everyone else is sharing. Make your own. Be as compassionate as possible but as forceful as necessary. We can make this better. We owe it to ourselves, previous generations, and to those children we choose to have, not those we are forced to have.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

What Pride Month Means to Me

I have been struggling with what to say in honor of Pride Month. On the one hand, I am not lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or any other demographic that falls under the rainbow banner, and I have no right to speak for those people. What I can do is speak to why they have my unconditional love and support.

I know many people who face daily challenges of a magnitude inconceivable to those of us fortunate enough to be cis, straight, and otherwise conventional in identity and lifestyle. I have not always been sensitive to their plight. In my younger days I know I hit on women who were lesbian, probably more of them than I realized. I am grateful to those who admitted their preference, especially given the courage it took when you were in legitimate fear for your life from strangers. Sadly, this is still too often the case.

I am still learning the new vocabulary of our changing times, but I accept the challenge. It is the least I can do to be better informed, and become more empathetic. Too many people try and ride the fence when it comes to others who do not share their reality. “I don’t think it is any of my business” they say, believing that is somehow a comforting and acceptable response to learning of diversity in identity and lifestyle. It is not. It is condescending.

In no way are any of the rights and personal freedoms I enjoy eroded or compromised by extending those same rights to marginalized peoples. Let me say that again, louder, for those in the back: Extending to others the same freedoms and rights that I enjoy as a white, cis, straight male, in no way deprives me of those rights. Please repeat that to yourself at will until you recognize it as truth. Thank you.

It is appalling and embarrassing to me that so many citizens are apparently convinced that the whole topic of transgender can be boiled down to “men wanting to play women’s sports.” Have you seen how we treat women? Do you honestly believe that any “man” would want to heap upon himself the restrictions, discomfort, and vulnerabilities endured by women, plus the hatred shown to transgendered persons, simply for the opportunity to “dominate” in athletics? Seriously? I know this is not the case because nearly every man I know will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid social ridicule, persecution, and emotional pain.

What I desire more than anything is for those who are consumed with affirming, defending, and protecting their identities, to have the freedom to do the things they were born to do, to achieve greatness without the needless social and political barriers and hostilities they currently face. If there are any rights that should be taken from people of privilege it is the right to hate speech, the right to politicize lives you know nothing about, and the right to deny anyone else the freedoms you already enjoy.

What does an ally look like, you ask? Openly proclaiming your allegiance is a good start. Putting your money where your mouth is helps even more. Ever heard of The Trevor Project? There are countless other charities, legal defense funds, and other affirming organizations that can use your financial donations. Use your social media to follow those individuals and organizations that are effective advocates and educators. Unfollow, unfriend, or block anyone who reveals themselves to be anything but an ally.

If you found this post uncomfortable, but read it through anyway, you have my sincere appreciation. You’ve taken a step towards something good. I guarantee that your life will be enriched beyond measure by getting to know others living different lives, with different identities. That rainbow still includes you, too, you know?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Resurrecting Hope

Is there anything left to be said in the wake of yet another mass murder event in the U.S. that can be helpful? Probably not. Maybe I should shut up. I have less and less energy, and enthusiasm for life every day, but the last thing we need are discouraging words, because that is what domestic terrorism thrives on. Somewhere between thoughts and prayers and conspiracy theories lies truth and constructive action.

By now it should be abundantly clear that our lawmakers, at least the majority, have no interest in the safe education of our children. Indeed, part of the agenda is to abolish public schools such that only wealthy families have access to education through private schools. The goal appears to be a largely uneducated population of unquestioning consumers, and a powerless labor pool for production that is not already automated, or outsourced to foreign countries.

Maintaining and increasing power and wealth within a small circle of elites is at the heart of every level and category of governance, from legislation to executive to judicial, local to federal. It is obvious that there is no sacrifice too great, including the preventable deaths of children and teachers, to ensure the established power structure persists.

Every social media post and tweet that claims voting does not matter, that nothing can be done to stem the tide of blood, is another victory for these “leaders.” We are conditioned to be apathetic, lazy, armchair activists at best. Please repeat the same trite, tired, worn-out pleas and rhetoric so that indeed nothing changes. Submit, surrender, accept your reality of death, poverty, and despair. You have streaming services on your phone to distract and comfort you….

Do not be deceived. There are ways you can make an impact. Be brave. Change your habits and set an example others can live by. What I am asking is that you make some difficult decisions, but none of them are irreversible.

Do you have a firearm? Ask yourself whether you truly need it, especially if you have curious children in your household. Give serious consideration to surrendering it. My late father had at least one handgun. I should have insisted that it be taken away from him as soon as the full scope of his dementia became apparent. I’m grateful nothing catastrophic happened, and the pistol was turned over to police upon his passing.

As much as possible, drop out of the corporate economy. Patronize local businesses instead. Eat at local restaurants, tip as generously as you can.

Do you have an investment portfolio (mine is modest, through inheritance)? Make sure you divest any shares in corporations that manufacture or sell guns, that are guilty of crimes against labor, the environment, and/or consumers. Get a new financial advisor if they balk at your standards.

Voting does matter, as it remains one of the few avenues to influence lawmaking; but running better candidates is even more important. Consider running yourself, and/or promoting the candidacy of people in marginalized demographics (Black, Hispanic, Asian, transgendered persons, non-binary, LGBTQ+, truly middle-class and below). I guarantee you that our general population will be better off. Beware, however, of individuals seeking to increase their own power and wealth by aligning with power brokers in either party, or those with an existing high profile as a celebrity.

Here is a hard one: Consider changing or abandoning your religion. That is not the same thing as surrendering your faith, or a belief in God. At least re-evaluate the ethics of your church, sect, synod. Are they in favor of limiting the freedoms of others, especially women? Do they discriminate against agender, transgendered, and/or LGBTQ+ people? Do they want to deny their right to exist? Do they support continued colonization via missionary work? Do they align themselves with the more destructive aspects of any political party? Any “yes” answer here should be a red flag. What good are freedom and charity if we pick and choose who receives them?

Dismiss me as a grumpy old man if you wish, but I am not going to take up arms, or an attitude, to “protect” myself from changes that are long overdue. I am in no way threatened by the idea of true equality, justice, and freedom for those my race, gender, and ancestors have abused for centuries. The biggest part of my White privilege is the obligation to repair the damage to the best of my ability. If that makes me an “apologist,” “race traitor,” or some other epithet you are compelled to apply to me, so be it. I’ll wear it proudly.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Pursuit of Power

”Power” may be the most aggressive and dangerous concept in world history. Certainly, the pursuit of power has led us to countless devastating events, including the one we are witnessing today in Ukraine. Is such behavior, if only carried to the extreme periodically, inevitable? Is peace the exception?

The biological sciences can shed much light on human behavior. It is necessary to understand that Homo sapiens is an animal species, subject to the genetic code that has “advanced” us to the pinnacle of social organization, and supremacy over other species. What began as mating success through physical superiority to other males evolved to success through demonstration of better skills at provisioning food and other resources. Today, we no longer compete merely in a tribe or village, but on a global stage. Accumulation of excessive material wealth is now one standard. Use of military force is another means of demonstrating an "alpha" persona.

Our cultural revolutions, from the Agricultural Revolution to the Industrial and Digital, are mere extensions of our biological evolution. They have all been driven by personal aspiration to power in the sense of reflecting our biological imperative to advance our personal genetic code through future generations. The collective success of our species is probably largely a by-product of personal pursuits, choices, and invention.

We have always coveted resources held by other humans, and viewed “others” as competition, or impediments to our selfish pursuit of a monopoly on genetic advancement, though we would never come right out and say this. We have become so conditioned to ignore the role of our biological instincts that we create all manner of arguments to distract us from it. We are loathe to accept ourselves as biological beings subject to the “laws” of nature, yet it is at the heart of everything we do.

The most terrible situation of all is when an individual succeeds in convincing others it is in their best interest to advance his personal agenda, when it does not benefit those who endorse it. Tragically, we see this scenario time and again, so we are apparently not learning anything from it. In fact, when the scam is revealed, it often serves to solidify allegiance to the scammer. We abhor being duped more than we are committed to truth, justice, and equity. People who are easily fooled do not perpetuate their genes as successfully.

Time out. None of us want to admit we are that basic, that everything is driven purely by biology. Fine, but that is the foundation of our success to this point, and there is no shame in that. What is shameful is how we have chosen to evolve socially. Social evolution is largely a feedback loop that begins again with genetic code that is then modified through experience and experimentation. Social evolution is nature and nurture, the latter being more than maternal, paternal and familial, but including the global village. What works is perpetuated, what fails is not. Well, ideally, anyway.

The fact that we see rampant opposition to warfare, colonization, poverty, racism, and other manifestations of oppression and exclusion, speaks to at more than marginal success in advancing a genetic and social code based on peace, justice, and inclusion. This is highly encouraging.

Here in the U.S., efforts to gerrymander congressional districts and restrict voting rights are actually signs of success. The more desperate the measures to protect concentrated power, the more we should accelerate the opposite agenda, because we are at the brink of breaking the power cycle forever.

That is the ultimate characteristic of individual power: it is fleeting, impermanent. Even relatively benign examples like the British monarchy, are likely to expire in my lifetime, or at least be rendered irrelevant. Powerful individuals and families tend to stop evolving once they have achieved their personal version of success, while the rest of society continues to evolve, eventually overwhelming them, replacing them with more effective institutions.

We are living an accelerated social evolution right now, where, at its best, social media is creating widespread empathy for those not in positions of power, empowering those who previously believed themselves to be powerless, and organizing movements at lightning speeds. Despite a global pandemic we are refusing to allow ourselves to be isolated. We still take to the streets locally (hopefully vaccinated and still masked to protect the immunocompromised), and broadcast globally. There are fewer and fewer strangers every day.

We are getting there. Refuse to acknowledge anyone who tells you otherwise. We will prevail in normalizing the pursuit of equal power for all, and aspiring not to material wealth but to generosity and critical thinking.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Digital Anxiety

Forget the global pandemic. That I can manage through personal choices to vaccinate and wear a mask in confined spaces with strangers. No, fears of contracting a novel coronavirus pale in comparison to my constant anticipation of some failure of my desktop computer, my laptop, my phone, wi-fi, social media platforms, and everything else electronic. Recent experiences have only heightened the tension in my brain and body.

At the end of the 2021, my old (admittedly too old) desktop began to display a blue screen at start-up. The local computer fix-it shop determined it was a compatability issue between the ancient processor and the desire for Windows 10 to update properly. Do not tell me to get a Macintosh. I am too committed to Microsoft, and while it is arguably not that intuitive, there is remains a mild degree of comfort and familiarity as I, myself, continue to age.

Even after the tech folks diagnosed the problem(s?) and did the best they could to fix them, I still got a blue screen a few days later. They strongly suggested I purchase a new desktop, and so I did, last month. I ended up with the "house brand" from Micro Center, got talked into their supplementary security software, and off I went. I did manage to upgrade to Windows 11, so I feel set for awhile, but still dreading some pop-up window that I don't understand, or am leery of accommodating.

I transferred some files to my documents and pictures, but soon filled up the One Drive that was syncing with the PC. I had forgotten that abomination of "The Cloud" that Microsoft insists you subscribe to, demanding you to pay for extra storage. I thought I had managed to unlink, and then uninstall, One Drive, but yesterday I created a new Word document that I accidentally saved to One Drive instead of my desktop, so could not immediately locate after closing it. Now it is saved to "My PC" with a slightly different file name.

The laptop seems to be doing ok, but it is refurbished and I already know it will not be compatible with Windows 11. I am not good about backing things up regularly, and when I do, I end up scattering things in different external hard drives and flash drives. I no longer re-use SD cards from my camera, in case every hard drive fails. That is how paranoid I have become.

I was dragged kicking and screaming into buying a smart phone because the last time I tried to add minutes through my pay-as-you-go carrier, the service disallowed the transaction. My basic, reliable flip phone was at last obsolete, incompatible with 5G or whatever. I had to have my spouse set up the beast, which is an android. She has an iPhone, so she was a bit frustrated, too. I remain steadfast in having as few apps as possible, and I still managed to fill up my phone with only a handful of pictures. Nobody told me that I need a micro SD card for more storage.

Having enrolled in a self-paced wildlife conservation photography course, I learned that Instagram is a good place to showcase your best images. Consequently, I resurrected my dormant Instagram account, and started posting. I was initially getting prompts that Insta was not recognizing me, so I had to change passwords several times before agreeing to have a two-step authentication process that included my phone. I was doing Instagram through my laptop, and progressing ok, with a whopping fourteen posts. Then, when I logged in a couple days later, I got a message that Instagram had permanently disabled my account for a "violation of community standards," and I had no way to appeal. I can guarantee that I committed no violation, unless posting a photo of the cover of my book Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect was somehow copyright infringement. I have no plans to try making a new Instagram account. I'll continue relying on Flickr as a way to attract the attention of publishers. Pity, though, as there are some friends I can follow only on Instagram. I do hope they will forgive me.

My overriding existential fear, naturally, is that my voice will become increasingly irrelevant as the next generation of digital technologies leaves me ever farther behind. No Tik-tok for me. I have a few things on my "Bug Eric" Youtube channel, but that is about it. I have been posting all my edited images to iNaturalist, but am terribly behind in uploading to Flickr. Both are my way of saving things to "the cloud," but only Flickr lets me save images at their highest resolution. I may need to find additional solutions.

Too much screen time, too little exercise here in the winter months, and the trepidation I feel every time I push a power button, is taking its toll. It is highly tempting to return to pen, paper, and typewriter, but that would be self-inflicted irrelevance. I feel compelled to keep my social media friends entertained and informed, but get less and less satisfaction from Facebook and Twitter all the time. In-person interactions are not only problematic from the standpoint of the pandemic, but unappealing given the highly religious and conservative community I now find myself living in.

How do you cope? What comforts, and cures for anxiety and frustration am I unaware of? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Thoughts, Prayers, and Purchases

I have no idea whether God exists or not, but I’m fine with either scenario, and whatever opinion you hold. I wish more people felt that way, it would take a lot of the pressure off the holidays. Capitalism most certainly exists, but I don’t worship at that altar, either, as best as I can avoid it, anyway. Christmas is the perfect storm of religion and economics, so it is no wonder everyone feels angst. We waste too much energy on meeting the expectations of others, and berating ourselves for not fitting in. this card!

Pardon me if I do not have patience with Christians who claim persecution, who complain there are not enough Jesus ads on television at this time of year. What I have a problem with is promotion of the idea that your brand, your religion, is the only way to believe in, and revere, God. Oh, and by the way, if anyone is being persecuted it is atheists, who understandably buy into nothing. The continued existence of anti-Semitism suggests even Judaism is only tolerated. Every other belief system is pretty much considered blasphemous.

Modern Christianity continues to foster patriarchy, colonialism, and white supremacy. Our Father, for example. My own father was not a good human being, so how do you expect me to relate to a paternal deity? Missionary work is the continuation of colonialism, the effort to erase indigenous belief systems and the cultures that arose from them. I know you don’t see it that way. You believe you are doing humanitarian work, and in terms of disaster relief, economics, and infrastructure, you may well be. That does not excuse you from the hostilities of attempted conversion. You are literally being the “white savior” that nobody wants.

What we need is acceptance of those with differing beliefs, and non-believers (though that label is troubling), not mere tolerance, which implies grudging, condescending acknowledgement of “others.” I have no interest in thoughts and prayers that come from a place of self-righteousness. Please stop using the supposed word of God to justify the very human, earthly agenda you want.

Hey, capitalism! Get back here! I’m not finished. You do not get off that easily. Congratulations on eclipsing the religious importance of the holidays, though. That takes some genius marketing, and bending of some historical traditions, me thinks. You’ve gone a bit overboard, though, in converting us to extravagant consumers. Too many have bought into the idea that material goods trump acts of kindness, that services are purely economic and must always command a price.

Capitalism, you have even managed to create the grand illusion of a “middle class” that is, in reality, a debt class, propped up by borrowing, and credit from the gods of Visa, Mastercard, and Capital One. The Joneses are not even keeping up with themselves any longer. Image is everything, though. I believe that is one of your bible verses, in fact. Your churches are casinos, the corner store that sells the lottery tickets, the payday loan offices, and lawyers who will pimp frivolous lawsuits to make up for your lack of a living wage. You can take all of them to hell with you.

Economies are essentially redundant, artificial ecosystems in which one species, Homo sapiens, fills all the niches, the currencies have arbitrary value, and those monies are hoarded. In nature, the only currency is energy, with consistent, measurable value, and it circulates freely, as it must in order for living organisms to thrive and reproduce. Economists would do well to remember that. We should have evolved, by now, economies with intangible currencies. Peace and love? Lord no, we cannot even agree on definitions for those concepts. Honesty, maybe? We need to first free our minds of what we have been led to believe is the “only way.” Sound familiar, religion?

This holiday season, my heart is, as usual, with those harboring needless guilt over differing beliefs, and the stress induced by the expectation of material gift-giving. You are under no obligation to please anyone else. You have no responsibility to provide material goods to anyone else, with the exception of your minor, dependent children. Above all, you have responsibility to your mental health, an obligation to being an example of positive self-care. Do that and the ledger is good.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Talking Feral With Paul Boyce

Earlier this month I had the occasion to record an episode of the podcast Talking Feral. The host, Paul Boyce, is a doctoral candidate in Canada, but is originally from New Zealand, so his accent alone is worth the listen, but he asks insightful questions that ignite the minds of his guests and audience. Our conversation touches on a number of topics related to science and academia, so strays into arenas I usually reserve for my Sense of Misplaced blog. It was refreshing to talk about the bigger picture, and how different scientific disciplines, social constructs, and economic interests are interconnected, both personally and at large.

Please do not stop at my episode. I will not be offended if you skip it entirely, in fact, but do lend and ear to other installments of the show. Podcasts, I am happy to report, are free of the formality and constraints of traditional media, and allow us to confront issues and topics at a more visceral level. No sound bites here, but far better connections with those who tune in.