Friday, November 6, 2020

America: Fixer-upper or...?

My spouse enjoys the modest suspense of those renovation and rehab shows on HGTV. Invariably, a project that seemed straightforward confronts some basic issue that must be addressed lest the entire structure be doomed. It is an apt comparison to the United States in the wake of our most recent nationwide election. The U.S. still has a modicum of curb appeal, but venture beyond the fa├žade and it is worrisome.

Copyright wvhub.org and Turn This Town Around Whitesville

One could argue that our democracy and/or republic is structurally unsound. The foundation, erected by our forefathers, appears remarkably stable, only a few constitutional cracks that we can chalk up to the contractors simply being non-clairvoyant. The language in the homeowners’ manual is perhaps outdated, too, but that can be forgiven. We’ve had upgrades, like the Emancipation Proclamation, but since then it has been mostly a new coat of paint here, new flooring there. Cosmetic changes are nice, but they often conceal damage we would rather not address.

The twenty-first century has finally exposed that we have load-bearing walls holding up glass ceilings. Our support beams have dry rot or worse. Mold has crept in after periodic floods of repression, oppression, and sheer neglect. The door is stuck shut, the plumbing shot, and the wiring is not up to code. Porch pillars, and pillars of our communities, are not what we thought they were. Our privileged experiences are not reflective of the entire populace.

As an entomologist, the term “structural pest” comes to my mind. Subterranean termites. We have not been treating for them, and now we are suffering the consequences. It is telling that termites are pale, and shun the light for the darkness of their tunnels. They are blind or nearly so. They are oblivious to whatever source of cellulose they are munching, intent only on feeding themselves and their siblings, all the progeny of a bloated matriarch. They are incredibly successful in their destruction, and completely unaware of their colossal impact.

This election revealed the termites, and it was personally punishing. It turns out that many of us have been termitophiles, blindly associating with others who have, in their privacy, been gnawing away at our nation’s health and welfare by failing to advocate for those less privileged. We either did not know them, or they metamorphosed, gradually or rapidly, into something we were not expecting. That is what really shakes me in the aftermath of the election: Personal, emotional, invested infrastructure is failing. I had assumed my friends were also my allies, my load-bearing walls, and fellow construction workers helping make the world better.

It is a curse of the empathetic and vulnerable to have compassion even for those who would smite them, or at least undermine the values they hold dear. Agonizing decisions are made daily, now, as to who in your personal circle you have to let go. There are plenty of rationalizations for saying farewell, and at least some may be legitimate if not necessary. You cannot repeatedly compromise your personal mental health by being an apologist for a friend who clearly does not stand for your own principles. It is not “social embarrassment” or “politics,” it is myself recognizing that many in our world need protection from harm, while you do not.

Parting ways may be doing your former friend a favor, too. As their own circle of friends diminishes, it may force them to abandon the outdated infrastructure of belief they have clung to for so long. That is not meant to express any kind of moral superiority, mind you. Please be wary of that.

Termites (the insects) in other parts of the world are not always structural pests. They create some of the most complex and efficient architecture of any animal species, complete with “central air” in some cases, underground mushroom gardens in others. Termites are the foundation of many ecosystems in savannahs and jungles and deserts. Ironically, they do not know their limits, and probably believe they are the superior organism in their realm, overcoming attacks from aardvarks and anteaters, and spreading their colonies far and wide. They are also unaware that they truly are important to the health of the planet.

In this regard we are not like termites, unless we abandon all logic, science, reverence, and hope. We will need to invest heavily, and consistently, in acknowledging the rights of all peoples, and advancing the appointment of the disenfranchised into positions of power. We don’t have to wait for another national election to begin the necessary demolition and restoration.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Facts, Opinions, and Lies

A friend on social media recently posted to ask the difference between facts and opinions. I assumed they already knew, but it is a useful exercise to ask ourselves that question periodically, and ruminate on what constitutes truth and honesty versus lies and manipulation. The following is an abbreviated version of my own assessment, please take from it what you will. You are also encouraged to share your own perspectives in the comments. United States readers, please exercise your right to vote next month.

Facts are, ideally, bits of information for which there is widespread consensus as to their validity, achieved through independent and unbiased evaluation with reproducible results. This is essentially the scientific method, writ large to cover non-scientific subjects. Consulting documentation from a variety of resources that yield the same answer is usually indicative of something factual. There is consensus that gravity exists, for example, and no one is going to suggest water is any other compound but H2O.

Are facts absolute? Not always, and not always indefinitely. This is another lesson science can teach us: today’s conclusion may not hold up tomorrow, if a newer, better tool of evaluation is made available, or the same tools do not yield the same results as those found previously. This demonstrates the importance of peer review, and continued repetition of experiments and observations.

An opinion is a personal interpretation of observations and experiences that lead you to a perspective or conclusion that may or may not reflect reality. Opinions are important, as they can illuminate another side to a subject or condition that others may not have entertained previously. The overriding emphasis here is on “personal.” You may share this opinionated definition of “opinion” with me, or you may have a different description. Perception is very much reality for individuals in abusive households, toxic workplaces, and similarly oppressive conditions. The reality of the abused will differ from that of the abuser.

A lie is a knowingly false assertion disguised as fact. The important aspect here is intent, not the tidbit of “information” provided. A lie essentially has an agenda, or is used to further an agenda. An agenda is irrelevant to a fact. Let me repeat that: an agenda is irrelevant to a fact.

One can argue that politics and religion are the least fact-based endeavors of humanity, overrun with agendas, opinions, lies, and manipulation of the English language. This is because the principal agenda is one of power-seeking, or maintaining power that is owned already. Any matter of genuine importance to the citizenry is fair game for twisting, depriving, or enforcing in order to strengthen the power of those with existing privilege.

The worst kind of lie may be in architecting a false agenda and assigning it to the opposing party (and “party” refers to any individual or group, political or otherwise). We see this abuse committed repeatedly in campaign advertising leading up to elections. Marketing professionals are ninja-level experts when it comes to manipulating language to trigger the desired audience response. “Defund the police” is graphically equated with a flaming cop car by opponents of those who seek accountability of law enforcement, for example.

How can we avoid becoming susceptible to lies, distortions, and manipulation? Dust off the dictionary and keep it handy. Avail yourself of dependable fact-checking sources online. Be more personally inclusive of people of color, lesbians, gays, transgendered persons, non-binary individuals, and others who suffer from a profound lack of privilege and respect. Broaden your circle of associates to include those who may be of differing political or religious affiliations.

Cultivate a sixth sense of truth- and motive-detection. Ask whether media use of the word “democracy” is habitually conflated with “capitalism,” for example. Such exercises can help unmask hidden agendas, in this instance related to the preservation of concentrated corporate wealth, as opposed to an altruistic pursuit of justice and equality for all, regardless of privilege.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Supreme Injustice

You do not know where this is going, just from the title, do you? Oh, he’s going to write about the rush to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. No, he’s going to write about the verdict in the Breonna Taylor murder. The answer to both assumptions is “yes.”

The press and the pundits have revealed themselves to be tone deaf by not linking these two events. The Supreme Court is still viewed largely as all about decisions that affect privileged white folks, while individual cases at the local and state levels are of vastly more importance to people of color….at least unless and until they reach the Supreme Court, which they too rarely do. One decides what kind of life decisions you can make for yourself. The other decides whether or not you are, or were, entitled to live at all.

The Kentucky decision regarding Breonna Taylor’s assailants, and I don’t know what else to call them, regardless of whether they were representatives of law enforcement, completely devalued her life. That there was not a single shred of empathy is appalling. It is also evidence of no intent to hold police accountable for their behavior towards people of color. Ever. That we are not talking about how to elevate this issue to the level of something that should be addressed by the Supreme Court is telling.

No indictments, no appeals, obviously, but there should be another avenue for the victim and their kin, beyond civil litigation that does nothing but determine monetary damages. It is clear that this kind of preventable tragedy is going to keep on happening without intervention from some greater authority. Short of God, it would be the Supreme Court.

The high court (and I’m not talking about the basketball gymnasium in the same building) is entirely too politicized, and that is putting it politely. This particular vacancy could not have come at a worse time, when Republicans and Democrats are at such polar opposite ends of the spectrum, let alone right before a potential change in the party in power at the executive level. Fortunately, it is not lost on the press that to ram through a conservative nominee just prior to what could be another contested election would favor the incumbent President. That scenario alone should be the end of the debate: no nominee until after the inauguration.

Our judicial system is about one thing and one thing only: law. Please do not confuse the judiciary with religion, morality, or God. Those are all separate things. Religion is a human institution like business and government. Morality is an independent social construct to help inform our daily personal conduct towards others. One could argue that God, too, is a human invention, and It may be, but from my own perspective, I at least view It as an independent entity that does not play favorites, even between species. I digress.

The ideal nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court would be an individual with impeccable examples of personal conduct, who has respect for the history of the court, who has a depth of legal experience commensurate with the position, strong research skills, and a mind open to persuasion through constructive deliberation with their colleagues. They should be moral, yes, but not be a vehicle for imposing their definition of morality on the citizenry.

The ideal nominee realizes that respect for previous decisions is at least as important as the impact of what they rule for future generations. Lastly, but not least, they recognize their power to elevate the lives of minorities to the same level as those who enjoy white (male) privilege.

Justice and equality and ethics should all have the same definition. At the least the application of justice should have ethics as its driving force, and equality as the goal. That ethics so seldom plays a role in the process is heartbreaking and infuriating, at all levels of our judicial system. I’ll be paying more attention to the judges on my November third ballot this year.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Soul Purpose

You do not have to be religious, nor even spiritual, perhaps, to recognize that there is a part of your being that is completely independent of everything tangible and external that others perceive about you. If you are of a theological persuasion, then please take time to reflect on whether that internal identity squares with your chosen denomination. Then, act accordingly.

Do you know what is not white, black, brown, red, yellow, male, female, or non-binary, gay, straight, queer, or other, young or old, rich or poor, democrat, republican, independent, libertarian or anarchist? Your soul. That’s right, your soul is none of these things, and that is not an exhaustive list. Those external qualities are immaterial to your central persona. Your soul can only be corrupted if you allow it to be, if your mind and body do not fuse with your purpose, your innate sense of peace, justice, equality, and connection to all other species.

There is no shortage of influences that can conflict with our soul. We are biological entities, and that immediately entails a mind that can be bent, a body that can be compromised. We are inherently social animals, and vulnerable to coercion, brainwashing, and other tactics designed to benefit others at the expense of ourselves. We fall for distractions from the more important concerns of the day, losing ourselves in entertainment and “coping” mechanisms like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, and other vices.

Civilization has erected economies with the sole purpose of aspiring to, and attaining, gratuitous material wealth at the expense of whole classes of the citizenry. Economics dictates what is acceptable as an avocation based again on external characters of race and sex. We demand that women bear children because the economy needs more consumers, whether or not those children ever amount to anything “productive.” After all, we outsource and automate the production side. Women are also considered servants of men. We expect black people to serve us through entertainment professions: athletes, musicians, actors, and comedians.

While the private, business sector has made clear its rules of social order for the benefit of overly-privileged straight, white males, the public sector of government has largely agreed with, and reinforced, those parameters. We have yet to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women. Laws and legislation continue to ignore the poverty, mass incarceration, environmental injustice, voter suppression, unemployment and underemployment, and crime that plague entire communities of people of color (not an exhaustive list of woes). In many instances, laws are passed that make matters worse.

Religion should be a savior, or at least a voice of reason, insisting that all of “God’s children” are created equal, but too often the church is mute when it comes to demanding reform. The Bible, like the Constitution and economic theory, is now revealed to be insufficient for a more complex age where the meek are finally asserting their God-given rights. Of course we are going to adhere to outdated rhetoric if it continues to preserve conditions that allow us, personally, to prosper in terms of financial and social rank.

Are police going to stop killing black people? Are we going to stop believing this is “justifiable” use of force? Only when we start seeing through to our souls. When we stop assuming anything based on perceptions of exterior presentation, and preconceived expectations of what is “permissible,” we will begin to advance. We have to start by looking at ourselves that way. A mirror reflects only the body, our occupation merely reflects our current economic role.

Our mind is the closest thing to our soul, and we must free it from undo influence. That may well require economic sacrifice, even hardship, to honor what our soul insists upon. Your life purpose may have nothing to do with your career. In fact, that is probably the case for everyone if our “soul purpose” is to architect a more fair, sustainable life for every human being, and for all species. If that is not your personal answer to your life’s purpose, let’s hear your rebuttal. Our collective dialogue must begin to transcend everything we have come to believe defines our very existence because right now we are denying the existence of others.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Those Who You Thought You Knew

© Costawomen.com

There has been an unspoken understanding in the community of birders and other naturalists that one’s belief that other species matter automatically assumes the same sentiments are extended to all members of our own species. If the last four years have taught us anything, it is that we do not know each other at all. How we reconcile that, or whether we even choose to acknowledge that condition, will steer the future of the entire planet.

What began as simple disbelief that the United States had elected the current occupant of the White House has since become an outrage. Every step of the way it evolved and crystalized into clear recognition that the President has zero empathy for all other human beings, unless they are in a position to improve his personal economic and social status. Initially, we forgave our friends who voted for this person. We could empathize with their desire for change, for someone outside the establishment politics that rule our national government. We sought understanding, but maybe gave up eventually and returned to a relationship with those friends that had nothing to do with politics.

The expectation is that among those who espouse an all species matter philosophy, every other belief aligns

Then came the “me, too” movement, and after that the global pandemic, and in the midst of that the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis policemen. The same friends who had voted for our President were eerily silent through all of that. We were appalled already because they were quiet when borderland policy was incarcerating refugees and immigrants in conditions we would not tolerate for violent felons in prison, and separating parents from children. The rise of Black Lives Matter finally appears to have made things….excuse the analogy….black and white.

The conversations on social media finally exposed the depth and pervasiveness of hatred, even by people we had formerly respected. It was, and still is, jarring to our core. Birding communities that had been divided over etiquette in “chasing,” listing, and observing birds are now divided between racists and inclusivists. The expectation is that among those who espouse an all species matter philosophy, every other belief aligns, including impartial justice, equal rights (not special rights, whatever those are), and acceptance, not mere tolerance, of non-binary identities, and the full spectrum of sexual orientation, including asexual persuasions.

Other animals must change physically to cope….Us? We have only to change our minds in order to adapt.

We begin re-evaluating all our personal relationships, from childhood friends to the person who we trust to fix our computer when it breaks down or behaves strangely. More devastatingly, we question ourselves, and whether we can truly trust anyone to be sincere in their sentiments, and embracing of equality.

”Wait until they come for your heroes,” we are told, as statues fall and monuments are defaced. They already have “come after” John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and others I once revered, but I appreciate the enlightenment and have no fear that the accomplishments of such people will be eroded. Learning the full story, warts and all, is called education, and it has long been overdue.

The success of every species is its ability to adapt to change, but Homo sapiens has the hardest time with that. Other animals must change physically to cope with our ever-widening urban and agricultural landscapes, alter their food selection, and learn to take advantage of human mistakes and neglect. Us? We have only to change our minds in order to adapt. Politics, religion, and economics are the enemies of human adaptation. They cling more fiercely to the past than any other social institutions because those past rules and assumptions serve them in their rise to greater and greater power.

In the end, the inescapable conclusion we reach about those we thought were our friends is that they do not truly care about what is truly important. They fail to understand that only by elevating the status of less privileged people will we ever achieve the sustainability and prosperity that enables other species to thrive alongside of us. The time has come for sacrifice, not continued exclusion. Material gain, or even comfort, can no longer be tolerated when it means oppression of others. A different lifestyle or identity in no way diminishes your own. The only threats to your white, middle-class life are the stereotypes and fears your have manufactured. Get over it, or get out of my life.

Note: This may be my last post unless Blogger retains the "legacy" option as an alternative to its "new," abominable interface. I tried doing this post on the new interface and it was essentially impossible.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Book Review: A Season on the Wind

Kenn Kaufman does something ingenious in A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). He compares and contrasts the way migratory birds harness the wind to propel them northward versus the bumbling attempts of our own species to capture the wind to meet our energy needs. He and his wife, Kimberly Kaufman, live in a unique location where these powerful phenomena clash head on, quite literally. To his credit, Kaufman exercises remarkable restraint in addressing the downside of renewable wind energy, while exhorting the miracle that is spring migration at Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio, U.S.A.

The book is a brilliant and colorful chronology of the history of tracking bird migration in the Americas, and northwest Ohio specifically. While many birders recoil at the notion that anything good can come from hunting, the author reminds us that the first major strides in bird conservation came about as a result of preservation of wetlands by waterfowl hunters. The organization of hunters into a cohesive unit of persuasion and legislation is something birders should take note of and emulate to achieve more widespread measures to preserve and protect our avian fauna.

From the almost primitive practice of bird banding, to next generation radar, citizen science initiatives, and birding festivals like the Biggest Week in American Birding right there at Magee Marsh, we are constantly improving our collective and individual understanding of spring migration. Kaufman deftly walks the line between what is often seemingly dispassionate formal scientific research and the nearly anthropomorphic appreciation of birds by non-scientists. The book, like the author himself, delivers fact, humor, emotion, and honesty in its appraisal of our constantly-changing, nearly schizophrenic relationship to the natural world, with birds at the center.

It would be easy to write effusively about the spectacle of bird migration as if it exists in a vacuum, a historical constant, a changeless exercise that goes on relentlessly regardless of our own existence. Most writers would simply paint a rosy picture that serves to recruit new birders and birdwatchers, and entertain readers without ever hinting at the negative impacts our species can have on migrant fauna.

Likewise, it would be easy to write a downer of a narrative that focuses solely on the perils birds face during their aerial journey north. There is certainly enough material for one to take a full manuscript in either direction. Balancing the joys with the sorrows, anger, and frustration is no easy task, but that is clearly what Kaufman set out to do, and he executes it flawlessly. When you think you cannot recover from the devastation of the previous chapter, the next one renews your enthusiasm and optimism.

One of the most significant points illustrated in A Season on the Wind is the growth of birding as a social activity. Thanks to advances in communication, formerly isolated naturalists and leisure birders can connect with each other to any degree they wish. Some still prefer “alone time” communing with the nature, but that no longer has to be the default setting. The speed of learning about birds has increased by several orders of magnitude, and the diversity of the birding community has the potential to explode as well.

Kaufman, his wife, and their contemporaries in the ornithological community are as relentless in their pursuit of justice for birds and birders as the birds are committed to their instinctive drive to move seasonally. The birds must navigate both the constant starlit sky above and the radically shifting landscape below. Climate change is a force we are attempting to mitigate for ourselves and other species, yet it is also the driving force behind wind turbine technologies that are cutting birds out of the sky.

This conundrum forces us to confront problems of scale. Bird migration is not a stream of birds like a river in the sky. The birds are widely dispersed and the grand scale of migration guarantees that migrants will confront lethal obstacles wherever they exist. The scale of wind farms, in both height and breadth, is the problem. Bird-safe technologies exist, but offer little profit for utility companies, so they remain neglected. By now we should have reciprocal power grids, mostly localized, where individual households and businesses can feed a centralized source with surplus energy in sunny, breezy times and draw from it on cooler, calmer days.

I am already anxious for a sequel to A Season on the Wind, as the emerging discipline of aeroecology recognizes the complex web of organisms that exists overhead, and seeks to unravel those aerial interactions. Meanwhile, you will find this current book a thoughtful, stimulating, and optimistic read.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Writing Wishful Fiction

I confess that I have always looked down a little on fiction writers, perhaps because I know something about insects and how their natural history often rivals or exceeds anything our imaginations could conjure. Consequently, I never seriously entertained the idea of writing fiction myself. Then I realized that every time I write a comment on social media, or publish a blog post about how I wish the world was, instead of how it is, I am doing precisely that: writing fiction.

Never could I craft a novel about some dystopian future, I think we are already living that. I write in part to fend off depression and articulate rage, not plunge deeper into it. I want to provoke, get people to think outside the institutions that they have relied on to guide them through life. Every human institution, be it government, business, religion, or education, is deeply flawed. They all create belief systems that support aspirations of material wealth, rewarding greed, and then “educate” us on why it can be no other way.

The more I age, the greater the urgency to put out my ideas and viewpoints before I die; and most days I feel like I cannot die fast enough. The truth is that I would rather be living in a different time. One thing education has taught me is the “history” in “natural history,” and now I know what I am missing. Carolina Parakeet. American Chestnut, and on and on. All species matter to me, but how can we get there if we cannot respect all of our fellow Homo sapiens?

There is a certain degree of fear to be faced in being true to yourself, let alone publicly articulating your interpretation of the world. Most of us shut the door too quickly on unsolicited views that disagree with what we have grown-up with, and feel threatened by anything contradictory. Some respond with verbal or physical hostility to new ideas. We are seeing that now with the disgusting backlash against those who are, finally, forcefully asserting their rights as human beings and citizens fed-up with oppression in every form it has taken.

I used to feel fortunate to have been born white, male, and a citizen of the United States. I no longer find much pride in any of those circumstances. Privilege is now a burden, a shame, but it should be. I have accrued my status less by what I have achieved, than by what others have been deprived of. Higher still are those on social and economic pedestals that require reinforcement through deprivation of those beneath them. Do they not see they are eroding what is supporting them?

Our cultural evolution should be far more advanced than it is, but in America at least there are orchestrated attempts to halt it, if not return to less enlightened times. Those that long for the comfort and consistency of discrete norms and gender roles and monochromatic populations are doing a disservice to all people, including themselves.

The time for dreams and other wishful fiction must end now. Those positive products of our imagination demand to be transformed into action and tangible benefits for all. I think I am pretty good at spitting out ideas and concepts, not very good at implementing them. You? We do not each live in a vacuum. Time to make connections and complement each other’s strengths to achieve things greater than we could without cooperation.

Here is an exercise for you. Make a list of things you cannot live without. It should be pretty short unless you list family and friends individually. I hope it includes other living things, too, and clean water, healthy food, affordable shelter, healthcare, and lifelong opportunities for education. Freedom of expression. That is about where my own list ends. Now make a list of everything you are willing to sacrifice so others can have the things you can’t live without.

Demand better, please, of yourself, and of those who represent you in government, religion, and business. Connect more with those “different” from yourself and you will quickly realize you have more in common with them than the elitist class you have always been instructed to aspire to. We deserve better than the ephemeral taste of mere material success.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Statues

What is a statue if not rigid, impermeable, unmovable, defiant of the elements that would change it? Copper to cyan, stone to dust. What does a statue represent if not a memorial, nay, a celebration, of history, right or wrong? Concrete figures, concrete ideas, ideals. This is what we are being asked to sacrifice right now, and it is the most minor price to pay.

© nytimes.com

The hostile, even violent sentiments and actions directed at those who are advocating the removal of symbolic representations of racism, overt or rendered invisible by most of the historical record, is disappointing at best, and an infers personal racist tendencies at worst. Are those Black Lives (that) Matter reaching? Is this a witch hunt in which no white, political, military, or social hero with a sculptural remembrance is safe? Maybe, but more likely white people have never been exposed to the entire truth.

If you are unwilling to entertain changes to something as trivial as statues and namesakes, then how can you possibly be willing to make the necessary changes to social, political, legal, economic, business, and religious institutions that continually oppress people of color?

Personally, I associate Theodore Roosevelt with the founding of the national park system, and other conservation initiatives. I am well aware he was a hunter, and that his attitudes towards some species were, in retrospect, completely uninformed, to put it politely. I choose to acknowledge that and temper my respect for him accordingly. Now that I learn his image is a target of anti-racist activists, I need to do more research, not mindlessly object to voices calling for removal of public monuments depicting him.

Even entomology, my other chosen field of endeavor, has not been immune to serious confrontations. The Entomological Society of America, at its regional and national conferences, features a quiz event called the Linnean Games, after Carolus “Carl” Linnaeus, an eighteenth-century figure known as the “Father of Taxonomy,” the classification of organisms. Many insect species bear his name as author but, apparently, he also attempted to classify our own species, Homo sapiens, into different categories, some of which reflect horribly upon Linneaus’s character. There is now a furious uproar between those who want to rename the Linnean Games and those defending the status quo.

The energy devoted to defending individuals of dubious ethical quality should disturb us all. The obvious but unspoken question is: If you are unwilling to entertain changes to something as trivial as statues and namesakes, then how can you possibly be willing to make the necessary changes to social, political, legal, economic, business, and religious institutions that continually oppress people of color? Your voice speaks loud and clear that you are more interested in protecting the past and the present than you are committing to a new, brighter, better future.

Your comfort is overrated, especially compared to the daily fear that black people have for their very lives. Too many white people who protest they are “not racist!” still accept blacks only under certain conditions. Black servants and entertainers (and I lump professional athletes in this category) are acceptable. Even then, we decry that they are overpaid, and probably thugs off the court or off the field. Blacks in other professions? They only advanced in their careers through the reverse discrimination of affirmative action. They got through college via scholarships for blacks only.

Far more inflexible and resistant to change than statues are our own minds. That is the tragedy in all of this. Even air pollution, bird guano, rain, and wind erode the stone- and metalworks. Why is nothing nibbling at our psyche? We are blessed by our Creator, or through evolution, or both, with an infinite capacity to adapt to changes, be they physical, social, economic, or emotional/psychological. Too often we conveniently ignore that and persist in beliefs and institutions that protect our self-interests at the expense of others. That is not even what other animal societies do. It could be argued that elephants, cetaceans, and Bonobos are light years ahead of us.

Lastly, resisting what Black Lives Matter and others have started is not only futile, it goes against your own self-interest as a middle- or lower-class Caucasian. I promise, no, guarantee, that if you embrace the values inherent in this movement it will elevate your life to unimaginable heights. If you cannot fathom what true equality looks like, simply imagine a more empathetic, compassionate, prosperous version of yourself. Now, act like you are already there.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Riot Within*

Violent protests in response to violent actions are understandable, especially when the violent actions occur repeatedly, and are directed disproportionately towards human beings who are already marginalized in every other regard. What white privileged people need to do is shake up their own hearts and minds, violently so if necessary. Here are some things to consider.

The following is not a riddle, but a starting point to operate from: What is not black, white, yellow, red, brown, or any other color? What is not male, female, or any other sexual or gender identity? What is not gay, straight, queer, or any sexual orientation at all? What is not young or old? The answer is: Your soul. Think about that. The very fabric of your being has absolutely nothing to do with demographics nor outward appearances. Most of those are accidents of genetics and time.

We must begin to live our lives first and foremost from that perspective, as soul first, and everything else second. Not even second. Trivial, if not totally meaningless. Some rare individuals have achieved this, but most of us have not. It is not something you can teach, and not an overnight transformation. It takes conscious effort, and it may even fly in the face of your biological nature. The thing about our species is that we were gifted the ability to understand and, when necessary, overcome our instincts when they do not serve us well.

Caucasian people cannot possibly comprehend what the experience of a black person is like. We can, maybe, understand from our own experiences those circumstances of exclusion, repeated denial of our worth, and poverty. Thankfully, fewer still know the fear for their life every day, from others, even law enforcement. We do not know what it is to be subjected daily to suspicion, stereotypes, and injustice, with zero justification. If we can at least empathize, then we know we cannot demand that those tortured souls “behave” themselves in the face of continued mistreatment.

We should indeed feel shame for participating in institutional racism, even unwittingly, and fully recognize the sins of our fathers from previous generations. It can end with us if we want it to. We should want it to, because in limiting anyone else, we limit ourselves. Back to the soul again, the part of you that is colorblind. You cannot elevate your own being by denigrating anyone else. That is the strategy of the bully, and if you measure your life purely by economic and social status, then you are missing the vast ocean for the beach.

Surrender is the answer, of course. Surrender power to those we have marginalized and betrayed. Exercise your faith that equality for others does not translate to reverse inequality. Reverse discrimination is a myth fed to us by those who wield economic and social power over others of all non-affluent demographics. Stop defining the rules so that you can maintain all the benefits you receive from them. Stop insisting that you know what is best for others when they can damn well speak for themselves. Take their cuffs off and embrace the possibilities.

Most of all, surrender your personal attitudes and assumptions, and expose yourself as much as possible to as many other souls as possible, ignoring the externalities. “Free your mind” is not just a wonderful quote from The Matrix, it should be what we strive for every minute of every day. Accept nothing less of yourself than a total commitment to living from your soul first, and accepting others at the level of their soul.

Limitless. That is the essence of our souls, and we are all in bondage when we define ourselves and each other by mere physicality, philosophy, and fiscal parameters. Murder, mass incarceration, discrimination, and racism are overt acts of hostility that threaten to unravel us as a society and as individuals. They are the antithesis of who we are at our core, in our souls. We owe it to ourselves to be better than that, to transcend our bodies and minds, and lead with our hearts.

* This title came to mind without my knowledge that it is also the title of a book by Rodney King.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Charity Fatigue

There is no shortage of organizations to choose from in spending your donation dollars during our international pandemic emergency, assuming you have some disposable income and are not yourself in need of assistance. It can be overwhelming to contemplate charitable giving for a variety of reasons beyond the infinite diversity of causes. How do we act responsibly? That is a very personal decision only you can make.

Remember the adage “charity begins at home?” Ok, sounds great, but how come you do not qualify for a tax deduction unless the family member you are providing financial aid to lives physically in your household as a “dependent?” Countless citizens in the U.S. are caregivers to their parents in one sense or another, often helping maintain the independence of their mother or father, as they should if at all possible. Apparently, our government does not respect that effort. It certainly does not reward it.

A friend who reviews government grant applications as part of her job responsibilities recently described how she was receiving applications from individuals desperate for financial aid, but who had no experience in the proper field, nor any explicit outline or plan germane to the grant itself. At least one individual was seeking funds for healthcare. Grant applications are not easily prepared, nor without strict protocol, so going to such lengths knowing the odds are stacked heavily against you is a tragically remarkable effort.

My friend’s empathetic sharing of her travail exposes the most excruciating notion to contemplate: There are clearly many needs that should already be met by governments, the private sector, or both. Increasingly, federal, state, and local jurisdictions are abdicating their responsibilities to the poor, women, and marginalized citizens we have historically referred to as minorities. This willful neglect is too often at the behest of large corporations seeking tax breaks, outright bailouts, and other subsidies to permit continued profiteering.

The situation is further aggravated by those same corporations who refuse to pay living wages to their employees, provide affordable healthcare options, family leave, and other “benefits” that amount to necessities in order to maintain a physically, mentally, and financially healthy, productive workforce.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few also results in a small number of charitable foundations receiving a disproportionately large amount of donor revenue. Bill Gates wants to end malaria. Noble cause, but how many other causes go wanting? Every celebrity guest appearing on Jimmy Fallon’s at-home episodes of The Tonight Show has their pet charity that they advocate. Not every organization is blessed with such high-profile endorsements; and when does your donation become social currency for your own popularity?

Social media fundraisers run the gamut, too, and it is likely that many of your friends will select a favorite organization for which to solicit donations. This is a wonderful opportunity, but I find myself donating randomly, by gut instinct rather than proper research for how the organization is run, what percentage of your donation reaches its target versus what goes to administrative costs, and other factors that would better inform my decision.

Beyond the motivation for generosity generated by other individuals, and the media, there exist far more reasons for “charity choice paralysis.” The more empathetic the individual, the more difficult it is to choose, the easier it is to cling to your money lest you face a personal crisis yourself. Often, those who want to help are the least likely to ask for help themselves when they truly need it. Tornado and hurricane seasons are approaching, maybe we should wait until one of those other natural disasters hits us. Wow, when did charitable giving begin to resemble gambling?

Ultimately, no one can persuade you to part with your money for any reason, nor should they try. You have freedom of choice, one of those being to refrain from making donations. As for myself, I am torn these days between giving up on humanity entirely, and donating strictly to organizations devoted to the salvation of other species; or just scrolling through GoFundMe to find worthy individuals. Maybe I will seize upon an opportunity provided by a friend brave enough to disclose their dire circumstances on Facebook.

Monday, March 30, 2020

We Have to Stop Perpetuating Pain

© m.dailyhunt.in

In the United States there is only one thing we do better than taking care of each other. That would be screwing each other. I know because I have been a perpetrator in the past, still guilty on occasion even now, and firmly believe I will always possess the tendency to want to punish others for times I perceive to have been wronged. We cannot continue this “kick the dog” mentality or we will never have a society worth living in. Why is this an overwhelmingly male condition? How do we start to heal and redeem ourselves?

I understand how difficult it is to suppress the urge to smite someone or something that screwed you. The other day, in talking with someone about what legal recourse I have to recover thousands of dollars in repair costs due to what I believe was an undisclosed issue with a house we purchased last year, I was reminded by the person that ethics does not figure into the situation. It is all about what you can prove. She told me she has never heard of a real estate dispute that resolved in favor of the plaintiff. I left the conversation more pissed-off than when I started. The money is the least of it, of course. The real blow is the shame. I am convinced I was made a fool of, that the prior owner of the home is laughing at me, that my father is scolding me, even from the grave. Perception is reality.

Men do not do well with intangibles. Our desire is to make tangible our feelings, and it never ends well. We smash the dish as a symbol of a broken heart. Worse yet we physically beat someone so they can feel externally what we feel internally. There! You feel that?! No, they don’t. They don’t make the connection because it is not even an apples to oranges comparison. You cannot control your own emotions by controlling someone else.

Boys learn early on that social rank is important. It goes beyond popularity. It is imperative to be an alpha if you want to receive tangible benefits like sex, money, fame, and respect. The irony is that sex, money, and fame are either fleeting, of minor importance, or come with a whole new set of drawbacks, or all of the above. Meanwhile, respect has nothing to do with sex, money, or fame. Money should be earned, but in gross amounts it seldom is. True respect hinges on how you deal with….intangibles. How do you handle rejection? How do you deal with disappointment or failure? How do you react when someone wrongs you? Does your perception of reality match actual reality?

You can’t let people walk all over you, you say. You have to fight back, your father tells you when you are the victim of a bully. You gonna let her do that to you, bro? your friends say when your girlfriend breaks up with you. Toxic logic, that is what we are constantly bombarded with. We are taught that we are already perfect, and anyone who challenges that notion is our enemy, and they need to be taught a lesson. No, it is we who need to see our setbacks as lessons. Step back, take stock, adjust, and move on.

Most women understand this. They may have the opposite problem of failing to be assertive, believing that they are not worthy alone, without a relationship. They are taught a different kind of toxic logic, that they are to be subordinate to males. This was probably never true even when we roamed the African plains in our early evolution as pre-tribal groups. Our lineage would have ended long ago if either sex failed to provide for the other.

Fast forward to modern times, to today when we face a global pandemic and our overriding reaction here in the U.S.A. is selfishness. Hoard the tangibles. Hit the beaches, physical distancing be damned. Get myself tested whether I have symptoms or not. Figure out how I can exploit this disaster for my own financial benefit, be it selling stocks via insider trading, or crafting a predatory scam. “Eff You!” has replaced “E Pluribus Unum” as our national motto.

We are consistently pitted against one another. Employers overwork and under pay during the best of times. Now they fire the workforce to appease shareholders who see their stocks plummeting. The cascading effects of a capitalist economy can now be seen clearly, yet we cling to more toxic logic: If we just work harder, we’ll eventually achieve the riches we aspire to. The American Dream itself is toxic. Material wealth is no measure of respect and self-worth because you cannot measure intangibles. We desperately strive to make it so, but it never will be.

How do we find some measure of hope when venomous economics, poisonous relationships, and now a lethal pandemic are what we face? We have to begin, individually, to perpetuate peace and kindness instead of anger and pain and resentment. It takes mindfulness, willfulness, and persistence. It is proactive instead of reactive. In essence, we have to create our own hope. The good news is, that as long as we are alive, and our brains are functioning, we can do that.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Coronavirus Reveals That Our "Normal" is Itself a Disaster

© Mayoclinic.org

Since I am not even remotely literate in epidemiology, it would be irresponsible to comment on the medical aspects of covid-19. However, the fallout from it in terms of social, economic, and cultural reactions is fair game. What, if anything, will we learn from this collective experience? What will change permanently? Is resumption of “normal” an appropriate outcome? Serious questions abound if we want a better future.

Mandates and directives are changing daily, if not hourly, as governments at every level make new policy decisions based on the latest information available from the scientific community. We hope that is the process, anyway, but consumer confidence is often conspicuously absent. Politically-motivated courses of action are also at play, and it is left to media pundits and the citizenry to conclude which are in the best interest of the public versus being to the benefit of corporations and the (considerably) more wealthy.

This episode is a bizarre hybrid of a natural disaster and a manmade, or at least human-induced, catastrophe. Our behavior reflects it. While we are at our best, as Americans, anyway, in the face of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods, we are at our apprehensively worst when confronting a Y2K situation, or, obviously, a potentially cataclysmic disease pandemic. Consequently, the coronavirus has left us torn between a hoarding, every-man-for-himself mentality and a longing for closeness that violates the imperative of social distancing. Mentally and physically we are stressed to the max, and that only makes our immune systems more vulnerable to the pathogen we are trying desperately to avoid contracting.

My social media feed is full of humor, thank goodness, but also angst and uncertainty. There is little comfort to be had, and if there is anything we in the U.S. are addicted to, it is comfort….and convenience….and dependable sources of entertainment, food, and beverage….and ideally all at the same place and time. Right now, if the internet goes down, we are collectively screwed. Food delivery goes away? We are doomed.

Those in cities and suburbs, at least, are feeling helpless. Rural populations are likely laughing at us. They put a premium on self-reliance, and whatever we are in for as a result of our dependence on others in the big city, well, we deserve it. All our learnin’ and liberalism ain’t gonna get us nowhere. Forgive that last remark, or better yet take it to heart because there is some truth in it. Farmers, ranchers, and others who labor in small, far-flung communities deserve respect. Their skill sets are broader out of necessity. We could learn a good deal from them in how to prepare for emergencies.

As our lives boil down to basics, as our economic systems are forced to reevaluate their most basic tenets, and as we gain a new appreciation of what really matters, will we remember it all when life returns to our expectations? Should that be what we aim for? This pandemic is both a crisis and a valuable opportunity for make fundamental changes in our global culture, as well as addressing shortcomings here in the U.S.

Personally, maybe we make different choices in the marketplace, supporting local businesses over chain retail and dining. We’ve learned we can live without unhealthy foods we’d come to crave. We continue positive habits we evolved to cope with the stress of self-quarantine and social distancing.

Collectively, ideally, we embrace science again, start advocating for better pay and benefits for teachers, and press even harder for healthcare reform and a living wage so we can better weather future emergencies. We recall which of our civic leaders were on the side of working people, the elderly, and our youth, and who was trying to maximize their own gains or minimize their own losses at the expense of the rest of us. We remember that in the next election cycle, and push initiatives that would affect the removal of corrupt officials from office faster than recall elections.

Let us also recognize the need to repair the barriers between humanity and the wilderness that are necessary for the protection of our global population from novel pathogens. Not every organism is an appropriate resource. Probably not a resource in any way, shape or form, actually. Periodically we are reminded that our existence is tenuous, dependent on an infinite number of factors beyond our personal control. This is one of those times. Let us heed the warning, and work unselfishly toward sustainability.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Our Tax Dollars Are Being Used Against Us

The primary objection to democratic frontrunner candidates for President of the United States appears to be the idea that they would increase taxes, perhaps drastically. The problem stems from interpretation of “taxes” as strictly, or mostly, income taxes; and the belief that our current taxes are being spent as they should be. Neither of these assumptions is true.

© Atmmarketplace.com

The most extreme opponents of taxation view the practice as “theft,” the robbing of your hard-earned wealth. In theory, taxes represent your contribution to the public good, services and products shared by the citizens of your municipality, county, state, province, and nation. Unfortunately, that reality is changing, and the disbursement of your tax dollars is becoming larcenous at a grand scale.

….I look at increased taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations as an opportunity for atonement. Call them reparations for having enslaved labor and jeopardized our collective health, both physical and mental, over decades if not centuries.

As one who will be seeking professional help with his own income tax for 2019, I am in no position to comment on the collection and disbursement of any other form of taxation. However, there are plenty that come to mind immediately: estate taxes, property taxes, capital gains taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, taxes on interest income, and excise taxes such as “sin taxes.” You cannot say that America has not been creative in ways to generate tax revenue. How to tax everyone equitably has been the challenge.

How is that revenue spent? Traditionally, tax revenue has gone to pay for such features as roads and other public infrastructure, public safety services (police, fire, other first responders), national defense, libraries, museums, parks and monuments, and salaries of government officials who represent you or otherwise serve you. The arts, sciences, and public television are also supported through government programs. Tough to argue against such vital foundations of our collective society, but some people do.

Perhaps this frustration is due in part to the fact that many of the projects related to these services are not performed in-house, in the public sector, but contracted to private companies. Some companies may not be eminently qualified to carry out the tasks, despite a low bid, and consequently the job must be re-done. That kind of redundancy and waste should be unacceptable. Other companies, more qualified and skilled, habitually overcharge or otherwise exploit the systems in place to milk as much profit as possible. Cost overruns are the order of the day, and apparently accepted as common practice by government agencies that engage in public-private partnerships.

Ok, but at least our tax dollars are ensuring our health and safety as consumers, members of the labor force, and guaranteeing environmental health, a free market, and all the other things we take for granted. Right? Wrong. That is the way it should be, but the opposite is happening instead.

We have to end the feedback loop of wealth accruing more wealth to be weaponized as an unfair tax burden against the poor and middle class for the creation of still more wealth for the wealthy.

Your tax dollars, instead of being spread widely for the benefit of the entire citizenry, are being funneled upward to corporations and individuals that are already enjoying a vastly greater degree of wealth than you or I. This takes the form of outright industry bailouts and corporate subsidies, plus loopholes in the tax laws permitting all manner of legal but unethical abuses. Industry then uses its protected and enhanced profits to lobby your government representatives for deregulation to further boost profits. This tends to result in fewer protections for labor, including union-busting and depressed wages and benefits, as well as erosion of consumer protections against faulty and dangerous products, and a decrease in environmental quality resulting from relaxed codes on atmospheric emissions and discharge of wastes and toxins into water resources.

The free market, though! Ah, if only that were true. If a free market existed, the U.S. would no longer have an auto industry, a coal industry, an oil industry, nor probably the enormous financial institutions we continue to have. All are consistently subsidized with your tax dollars. In the case of auto manufacturing and big banks, bailouts kept them from collapsing, for the time being. I guess we enjoy low fuel prices, but at what costs to the environment and our health? I guess we enjoy free bank….H-e-e-e-y, wait a minute!

Personally, I look at increased taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations as an opportunity for atonement. Call them reparations for having enslaved labor and jeopardized our collective health, both physical and mental, over decades if not centuries. We have to end the feedback loop of wealth accruing more wealth to be weaponized as an unfair tax burden against the poor and middle class for the creation of still more wealth for the wealthy. We have to tear down the dam that has resulted in hoarded currency, and restore the natural flow and cycle of money throughout the economy. Currency must be defined once again as energy, not power.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Reverence For The Wrong Thing

Since about the dawn of civilization, depending on where you place that on the timeline of humanity, our species has claimed divine relationships, yet held a far less righteous agenda. Prior to that, when there were fewer of us, scattered farther afield, conflict was rather rare, resources abundant, and sentiments towards other populations relatively benign. Those phenomena out of our control we assumed were the doings of gods, and we had proper reverence for them. Salmon runs. The wet season. Our lack of knowledge kept us in our place: frightened on the one hand, grateful on the other. My how times have changed.

The consequences of our changing social and cultural climate have resulted in divisions and hostilities we should have averted, but must now devote considerable resources to mediate, repair, and end. This is not going to be an indictment of science, but a reminder of our animal nature, our ability to overcome it, and a plea for a shift in focus.

…. we revere religion above God. We hold sacred our technology instead of creation. We aspire to material wealth instead of peace, enlightenment, and humility.

As biological entities we are selfish organisms, like any other primate, mammal, or even insect. We have to be that way if we want to perpetuate our genes. Science has revealed that we are not as special a species as we would like to think, and we react angrily to that notion, especially if we are of certain religious persuasions. We should find joy and solidarity in our fundamental instincts and shared physiology with other animals, yet we actively deny it instead. This attitude serves not the Creator, only our own ego.

Today we revere religion above God. We hold sacred our technology instead of creation. We aspire to material wealth instead of peace, enlightenment, and humility. Do you sense the pattern here? God is good. Religions, at least the militarized ones? Not so much. If you are fighting your holy war with anything more violent than battle hymns, you have pretty much broken your covenant with God and taken up with the Devil. The means of asserting your rights have violated your belief system. Your definition of God becomes “warrior” if not executioner, or plain thug. No one considers God villainous until their religion needs It to be.

Religion, we should remind ourselves daily, is a human institution, and as such serves a human agenda, not a heavenly one. We conveniently interpret scripture, from whichever source applies, to uphold the favor of our race, our male sex, our male gender, our perceived dominance over other human individuals and populations, as well as other species. God is most certainly not a specific race, sex or gender, nor even a species. Other living things have souls, or none of us do. Why create a living being and then not give it a soul? Religion has created more atheists than science ever will because of its insistence that we are somehow a product of greater divine attention than anything else.

One aspect of humanity that does make us unique is our ability to recognize ourselves as animals, with all that this implies, and yet behave in ways that avoid obvious self-interest. We can put others of our species, or our entire species, ahead of ourselves if we so desire. The more specialized we become as individuals, too, the more it behooves us to preserve our collective diversity. To put it another way, the less well-rounded we are in tasks, knowledge, and social interactions, the more we need others to cook for us (speaking personally here), solve complex problems, and resolve large conflicts, to name but a few important skills.

”…. meaningful change will happen from individual choices made daily in the marketplace, the workplace, the church congregation, the public agency, the private enterprise, and the personal household.

If our human diversity is so vital to our collective survival, then why are we still at war, why is there still racism and other forms of discrimination, and why does poverty exist? If we have the capacity to acknowledge the negative ramifications of purely selfish acts, why are we so reluctant to be altruistic, charitable, and accepting of each other? Simple, and yet complex. The human institutions we have created for the organization and advancement of our species have proven terribly vulnerable to corruption, abuse of power, and other inhumane and criminal actions. Government and business and religion are all rife with atrocities that amplify our worst individual tendencies. Politics compounds the dissonance created by the other three institutions, framing everything as an us versus them scenario.

How do we overcome? Some advocate anarchy or libertarianism. Others see democratic socialism as the answer. Ironically, perhaps, meaningful change will happen from individual choices made daily in the marketplace, the workplace, the church congregation, the public agency, the private enterprise, and the personal household. Choosing to reward your definition of excellence, asserting your right to freedom from violence and discrimination, and committing to a better understanding of others will be how we solve our most intractable problems. Speaking honestly and authentically, and doing our best to withhold judgment of others, is the process.

Celebrate the right things, resist the temptation to confuse the divine with the human. Hold yourself to higher standards. Be critical of your own choices not only in the voting booth, but in products and services. Spend as much time as you can listening without speaking. Admit your mistakes and squelch the impulse to put down others for theirs. Realize you are going to fail, repeatedly, until all of it becomes second nature. Forgive yourself in the meantime.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Impeachment and the Super Bowl

The past few days have brought us events that offer a stark contrast between spontaneous generosity and orchestrated greed. We can learn from both, and demand better from ourselves.

Derrick Nnadi, Kansas City Chiefs
© Wfla.com

In the wake of winning Super Bowl LIV (54), Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi announced that he was paying the adoption fees for ninety-one dogs at the Kansas City Pet Project animal shelter. This is old news, it turns out. He has been doing that the entire season after every Chiefs victory. Wait, there’s more. “Tackles For Kids” was another season-long campaign in which Nnadi invited fans and supporters to pledge money for every tackle he made. Alternatively, you could make a flat, one-time donation. Proceeds went to Boys & Girls Clubs. Nnadi also founded the Derrick Nnadi Foundation, based in Atlanta. The non-profit helps families and children in need in Kansas City and Virginia Beach, Virginia, Nnadi’s home town.

Another story has been making the rounds in social media that purports that Super Bowl LIV MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes once paid the checks for everyone at a pizza parlor as thanks for fellow diners leaving himself and his girlfriend in peace during their meal. This may or may not be true, as a nearly identical tale was attributed to NFL Hall of Fame inductee Troy Polamalu back in 2009. Neither report has been verified.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senate impeachment hearings have only reinforced low public opinions of Congress, and exposed once again the devotion to self-interest of a majority of politicians. Being selfish is not in and of itself a crime, mind you, all individual humans are selfish to one degree or another. What should be unforgiveable is disguising selfish desires as something that benefits the greater good. This was an actual argument put forth during the hearings by Presidential attorney Alan Dershowitz. Various interpretations have been offered, but even in defending his argument against impeachment, Dershowitz stands by the idea that if the President believes his re-election is in the interest of the nation, then soliciting campaign help from a foreign government is not necessarily a criminal act all by itself.

Regardless of the validity of those arguments, it appears obvious that the intent is to protect not only the President, but an entire political party that has fallen into chaos, and sunk to a new low in a desperate attempt to protect extreme white male financial privilege at all costs. Only a tiny fraction of the nation has its interests protected under this kind of….rule.

How ironic that we continue to expect the worst behavior from supposedly “entitled” professional athletes, who are mostly people of color, while we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge evidence of willful, unethical acts by our elected officials, who are usually Caucasian males. Cultural and institutionalized racism, and oppression of women are two reasons why. What are we so afraid of? When did sacrifice for the greater good go from being a virtue to a sign of weakness?

Yesterday, my wife and I were presented with an opportunity to benefit a charitable organization that was tabling in the cold and snow outside a dining establishment here in Colorado Springs. ChildHelp.org is a non-profit that has existed since 1959, but maintains a low profile to reduce overhead costs. The current mission, as the two spokesmen explained to us, is to provide backpacks, basics like a toothbrush and toothpaste, school supplies, and toys for abused children, locally. I decided to purchase two.

We went to buy groceries after that, and I was surprised to find my card was declined. I was able to resolve that a couple hours later at my bank. The charity transaction was interpreted as suspicious activity, and perhaps now I know why. Childhelp has a reputation for turning one-time donations into recurring, automatic transactions. Wow, no good deed goes unpunished. I am not looking forward to the problems others have had with this organization. I decided to call the bank today to preempt any further transactions, but the one has not posted yet. I'll have to call again tomorrow, after it is posted, to avert recurring charges. I do not trust ChildHelp to behave itself.

I hope I can maintain my good will towards others, but maybe I’ll have to start my own foundation, like Derrick Nnadi, instead of entrusting others who may or may not be on the level. Further erosion of public trust, and trust in our family, friends, and neighbors, is going to be the death of our civilization. We must correct that before we can accomplish anything.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Thanks For "Listening"

Earlier this week I attended two local events billed as opportunities for civic engagement. I am still trying to decide if they were a waste of time. One was a “listening tour” of a state non-profit organization that serves as a liaison between Colorado government and a handful of other non-profits concerning disbursement of lottery funds to outdoor recreation and protection projects. Attendees did most of the listening, to presentations outlining updates to the goals of the organization. The other, larger event was a mostly one-sided panel-and-moderator discussion of the future of urban growth in Colorado Springs. The two forums did open my eyes to something I had been blind to, though. We collectively fail time and again to accommodate, let alone welcome, marginalized parties, at least in meaningful numbers.

© nbcpalmsprings.com

The attendance, and leadership, at both events overwhelmingly reflected white privilege, and mostly on the elder end of the age spectrum, too. That this has become what I expect is a tragedy in itself. I am modestly proud of myself for starting to notice, finally, and not being happy about the lack of involvement by people of color.

The urban growth event was so heavily weighted towards seniors that one of the speakers was the Colorado head of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). It became a running joke that each of the panel members, five of them, all white men, were either members already, or had recently received an invitation to join AARP.

What do I mean by white privilege in the context of the attendees in civic engagement events? Simple. We have the luxury of free time. We are not working a second or third job, or a second shift, in the late afternoon or evening when such events take place. We have the luxury of at least a modicum of disposable income for communication technology, and to fuel our vehicles to drive to meeting locations. We enjoy the advantage of not being hassled by law enforcement when we show up in locations where non-whites would be met with suspicion, if not hostility. We are able to understand everything being said at meetings because English is our first language. We know our opinions will be met with respect from our white peers, and that no one will question the authenticity of our experiences because they are shared by others. You can probably add additional points to this bullet list.

Oh, I already have another one. The “listening tour” did provide an opportunity to take a survey….by texting. I have a flip phone with less than instantaneous speed. Luckily, a paper-and-pencil option was available, but increasingly there are assumptions made as to the minimal level of technology utilized by citizens. This further marginalizes people who cannot afford those devices, wireless networks, and other supposedly universal products.

The responsible growth forum addressed Colorado Springs and El Paso County, an area that is expected to exceed Denver in population and geographical urban footprint in the not-too-distant future. The only thing worse than unbridled urban growth is growth for whites only….but that is the direction we are headed if we continue to prohibit equal participation in public conversations like this event. I will give civic leaders the benefit of the doubt and suggest that overwhelmingly white participation in public policy-making processes is not by design, but it still reflects a willful ignorance of the factors limiting participation by non-whites, and those who do not speak English.

The treadmill process that yields white privilege authority figures occurs when you have white privilege participation in all civic matters from voting to public hearings and meetings, resulting in the election of white privileged public officials, who then assume their constituents all enjoy the same circumstances as their white privileged benefactors and supporters….In instances where a person of color is elected or appointed, white privilege still colors their agenda, still enforces the boundaries of any meaningful reforms that could result in broader participation and increased leadership by people of color. Shameful.

Does it make me a “white savior” to be pointing out these systemic problems, these unquestioned attributes of institutional racism? I hope not, as that is not my intent. I am sharing my personal observations and interpretations, not putting words into the mouths of others, even fellow Caucasians. We have to start stepping back, take supporting roles, and even then, only when invited to do so. The irony is that all people will benefit and advance from diversity in leadership. I am supremely confident of that.

Monday, January 20, 2020

We Still Have a Long, Long Way to Go

On this day of celebration of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., at least one journalist is daring to point out something that demands earnest reflection, appraisal, and commitment to a different, better future. Jenn M. Jackson, in Teen Vogue, assesses a “whitewashed” legacy that does not do justice to the radical agenda of Dr. King. It is unfortunately an appropriate expression for this day and age, when it appears we have slid backwards.

As a Caucasian male myself, I recognize I have no right to pretend to know what any individual historical or contemporary black experience is like, nor define the boundaries of rights and expression for an entire race. What I can do is listen better, get a firmer grasp on the extent of my white privilege, support and advocate for black leadership roles in all arenas, and be willing to sacrifice in ways that might make me uncomfortable. No one should be living in constant fear for their lives, no one should view their future as limited in any regard.

Many of us Caucasians, including truly well-meaning individuals, equate racism with white supremacy, period. That was pretty much my own logic until relatively recently. Then I learned about institutional racism, cultural appropriation, and white privilege. Does it make me uncomfortable when someone points out that I am privileged just for being white? Yes, of course, because I was born that way and there is nothing I can do about my physical appearance and genetic makeup. Thankfully, that is not the only thing that defines me, and I have the freedom and ability to become more empathetic, by choice.

The first step on that road to empathy is to stop defending yourself as a white person. Pause to listen to voices you are have ignored previously. Not everything is about you, but it is often reflexive to assume a comment about your white privilege is accusatory or at least personal. Mental and emotional re-training is never easy, as any recovering addict can tell you. You and I are going to be works in progress, emphasis on work.

Black History Month will be upon us shortly. The media will tend to focus on figures of historical importance, in roles we do not typically associate with blacks. There are scientists and doctors, artists and writers, inventors, athletes….They will be referred to as “exceptional,” but the implied emphasis will be on “exception,” because the expectations of white privilege are so narrow when it comes to other races. You do not get a pass simply because your expectations of black people are not in the thug, drug dealer, or welfare queen categories.

We seem to be comfortable with black people as either entertainers (including spectator sports) or servants. There is that word “comfort” again. This is one race defining what is acceptable for another race, and you should personally have no tolerance for that. Collectively, we should find this kind of racism abhorrent. It is no better than assuming a black male is a criminal or out to take your job through Affirmative Action.

Am I making you squirm by suggesting you have more in common with a confederate flag-waving white supremacist than you thought you did? Good. That is the only way we are going to get anywhere, by confronting our own biases that we did not know were biases, because no one looked that hard before.

We have to be open to criticism, sometimes delivered with hostility, from those who have suffered and continue to suffer, even if we are not personally responsible for that suffering. Then we can begin to alleviate that pain through self-examination, increased empathy, and truly beneficial action.

The celebration of life for my late father was held at his favorite place, a yacht club. I remember it from my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s, and it is still just as old, white, and male as it was back then. It pained me that I could not call out the membership right then and there. Maybe I should have.

I remember driving through Over-The-Rhine, a black neighborhood in Cincinnati, with a friend on a summer day. She asked in a rather concerned tone why black people were on their stoops, out in the street, some loud music here and there….Back in the 1990s I did not have an answer, nor did I think it was an unreasonable question. Today? Today I would ask her “Why aren’t (white) we out on our stoops, out in the streets, enjoying the day with our neighbors?”

What are your experiences and expectations and assumptions? Why are they that way? Please, start asking yourself.

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.