Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Milo Dilemma: Land of the Free, Home of the Slaves

There is probably no greater demonstration of the subtle slavery that rules much of our world than the people who have deeply internalized someone else’s hateful and reductive views of them. The Ben Carsons, the Ann Coulters of the world. Milo Yiannopoulos. 

Here is a man who appears, by most traditional measures, to be free, yet he is enslaved in the very deepest way. How free can you be when you live in constant war with your innermost self?

This is the most subtle and dangerous form of slavery: the kind that infests us with self-hatred, that convinces us to hurt ourselves and others like us, all the while thinking we are free. Here are the twisted mutations, the poster children for bigotry: "See? Even they agree that they are less-than."

There is something important that was lost to the world for a long time, beaten out of us, but which has been re-emerging as part of the great liberation, the great Enlightenment of the Internet Era. More and more people are discovering unprecedented freedom and peace, emerging from the darkness of colonized thought into the beautiful freedom of alignment with nature, and here's the big secret: The animal within is not our enemy. 

It does not need to be beaten into submission. We are completely, totally in control of it, of ourselves: but only when we interact with it lovingly.

It operates almost exactly like a faithful pet: protecting us, sometimes a little overzealously. When properly trained, it is a useful and loyal companion: alerting us to danger, protecting us from deception, and pointing us to the things that we need.

Just like a pet, if it is beaten, if it is starved, if it is neglected, it can become vicious, uncontrollable, unpredictable. It can turn on us, and others unlucky enough to find themselves in our vicinity. Nobody who loves themselves, who is living in harmony with the animal within, could ever be convinced to knowingly harm another. Only those deep in conflict with themselves can be convinced to inflict evil on others and call it good.

Here is what the conquerors of this world understand: the easiest way to control people is to convince them to turn against their own natural drives. By disconnecting us from our own intuition, they silence the alarms that would normally sound when we encounter someone who does not have our best interests at heart; they redirect the beautiful energy we would normally direct towards making our own lives better, the lives of our loved ones, and convince us to turn it to their ends instead.

All this in the name of bypassing fair negotiation. All this in the name of getting without giving. All this under the umbrella of one big lie that still enthralls much of the world: you are of more use when you are enslaved to a Master than when you are free.

Intuition is harmony with the world around us. It guides us towards the personal fulfillment that is our due. It is that which sends the bees searching for pollen, that which sends the birds after the warmth, that which allows a pack to act in perfect harmony without complicated directions and plans beforehand. It is our birthright, but, like Esau, many of us are fooled into selling it for a bowl of pottage.

Milo, you poor, poor man. I feel for you. You hate gays; I wonder if your male lover hates gays too? What do you do when you’re holding each other, whisper bitter nothings to each other? What do you do in bed, make hatred? What will you say to one another, if you ever elope: I don’t?

Know this: the despair and bitterness and anger within you is not natural, it is not your just due, it was not given to you by God, but by your jailers. Peace of mind is real, and possible. I used to want to die on a fairly regular basis, too. I used to despair for a world based out of anything other than brutishness, aggression, dog-eat-dog...what an apt phrase for the deep unnaturalness of the world controlled by the Disinterested.

Stop listening to intermediaries for the divine. They do not care about your fate. Their power is neither innate nor permanent; it is yours to take away from them. Redemption is as simple as deciding not to accept their damnation of you any more.

Here’s how you escape: take some time out. Sit quietly with yourself. Do this whenever you get the chance. Do this until you feel the peace you’ve been looking for. It is your birthright. Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened.

Whenever the hatred of the Slavers starts to infect you, sit quietly with yourself until you find that peace again. Your own inner voice will return, it will strengthen, and the more you do this, the more you will invite self-love, inner strength, and harmony with those around you into your life, until their lies are so transparent that you cannot be bound again.

Good luck, Milos of the world.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stop Feeling Proud of Your Hatred

As I stated for the previous post to this effect, and as I will heretofore never again forget to preface: I am well aware that, as a white person, I have no place to ask anything of people of color, because no matter how hard I try I will forget again and again what it means to be ruled and surrounded by people who see you as inferior, as Other; who manifest this perspective in a million ways, big and small, who tell themselves they are being fair because they chalk it up to culture, or tell themselves they forgive it because it's nature, who tell themselves, and you, repeatedly, that they are being good to you, that they have your best interests at heart, etc. 

I forget, again and again, that I cannot begin to conceive of what this would do to your psyche. As a woman I have experienced a degree of this, but I am privileged enough to escape it, to ignore it. 

If any of those people of color most recently subjected to this return, my apologies. From now on, I will make clear my audience: I am speaking to other white activists who take on the same excuses and give themselves the same leeway as people of color, the same license to rage, without the actual need for it. I am speaking to those who know they can do better, but call their outrage holy. I am speaking to those who have the capacity to understand, the capacity for compassion, but choose not to exercise it.

Don't punch a Nazi. Don't give heartfelt speeches about how we're going to save all of the outcasts by punching a bad guy. I get that it satisfies some deep instincts and that fear and desire for security demand action and this is the most clear tangible action: punching some dude, but people. We must rise to our humanity from our brute animal existence if this world is ever going to look anything other than brute and animalistic.

I find it ironic that some of the people most outspoken about intersectional feminism are the same ones who flatly refuse to acknowledge the intersection of poverty and feminism; of lack and ignorance. 

How can you not see the contradiction when you lambast elitist white feminism for failing to consider the concerns of women globally, while at the same time explicitly deciding, from a place of privilege, to exclude a large group of the population from your concern?

I have high hopes for the intersectional crowd. They are practiced in their empathy. They have the capacity to analyze and criticize their own behavior. It is high time we all realized that every philosophy that encourages us to cut off love, to divide our loyalties, to pick either/or when we think about the needs of the world, particularly when it comes to those who have less than we do: less education, less mental stability, less awareness of how we fit into history and the socio-economic story of our country--we need to realize these are destructive philosophies that weaken us and keep us enslaved.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What it Means to Me

I know you're sick of hearing me say it, but it's still true: we need to be concerned with EVERYONE'S welfare, not just those who agree with us, or we'll all go down together.

It is vital that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN expand our circle of concern to AS MANY OTHER HUMANS AS WE CAN MANAGE, with the urgency of a world on the verge of nuclear holocaust; with the urgency of our literal lives depending on it.

Banding together as a tribe to conquer the other tribe helped us get this far, but now it is tribalism itself that threatens us all.

So let's review briefly what R-E-S-P-E-C-T looks like.

RESPECT version 1.0: House Rules

In 2000, when I was fifteen years old, I lived in Provo, Utah. With just over 100,000 people at the time, it firmly qualified as an urban area, but looking at homogeneity alone, it might lean closer to rural standards.

Eighty-nine percent of us were "white." Eighty-eight percent of the population were Mormon, and I'm sure that percentage climbs when you look at the non-white communities, considering the fact that Mormonism is what brought many of the meagre population of Pacific Islanders, Latinx/Hispanics etc. to the state in the first place. 

Respect, for a community with a clearly dominant population, tends to operate like house rules. When someone visits your house, everyone is clear as to who is in charge and who needs to bend in the case of conflict: graciousness demands that the host take in stride a certain amount of clash when it comes to values, but should the clash escalate, the guest is the one who needs to give in or get out.

House Rules is a nice way to put it. "My way or the highway" in other settings amounts to little more than bullying. But let's take it in its most innocent, natural form: you've entered a town where a bunch of people who like and agree with one another have built a set of standards of how they want to live. You, the guest, the stranger, ought to at least try and understand and make room for what they want. It's only courteous.

RESPECT version 2.0: Fair Play Rules

Now I live in the Bay Area. The greatest common denominator for the majority of people here is that we come from elsewhere. In one sense, there are no House Rules because there is no clear House.

But there is a Community, and it has rules, too, which everyone who arrives is expected to follow or suffer the consequences. The Fair Play rules of community demand that everyone get on board with the same basic rules of interaction, regardless of what House they come from. This enables a multitude of different lifestyles, religions, cultural practices, viewpoints, and unique understandings of the world to all get along in close quarters. 

Instead of presenting one specific way to live, and demanding that everyone contribute to/allow for the functioning of that particular lifestyle, everyone is required to suspend their ideas about how others should live and narrow their sphere of control to their own lives and families.

So, for example, when I was growing up (and yes, still today), it was seen as completely fair and normal and natural that because Provo, Utah was established and governed by Mormons, non-Mormons should not be allowed to do certain things they wanted to do, ever: like buy liquor on Sundays, or get married to people of the same gender, or access recreational facilities on Sundays. 

Here, it is seen as a threat to community when you try and regulate behaviors of others that have nothing to do with you. Any attempt to impose your way of life on those around you will earn anger and recrimination.

Respect, here, means that the only standard I ask of others is that they allow me to exist as I want, and I allow them to do the same; I recognize and regulate my behavior where it directly impacts them, and I leave them alone except when it comes to their behaviors that directly impact me. "I don't understand why you do that, I don't particularly like it, but it's none of my business, so carry on, friend." 

It requires a much higher level of tolerance than you're used to if you've been part of the dominant population of a House Rules area. If you're coming from that position, being in a city might feel oppressive, intimidating, and unfair. 

On the other hand, it allows for a much higher level of freedom and self-expression than you're used to if you've been part of the submissive population of a House Rules area. If you've grown up submitting to (or suffering the consequences of resisting) a dominant population, city living is going to feel liberating, generous, and much more loving than any environment you've experienced before.

A lot of the clash we see on the internet and in our politics is a bunch of people used to the House Rules version of respect entering a globalized conversation alongside people who are used to the Fair Play version of respect.

It's easy to argue that the Fair Play version of respect is a much better fit for the modern world than the House Rules version, but the thing is, the social consequences for refusing to capitulate look exactly the same as the ones in the House Rules model. If you refuse to adjust and adapt, you are shamed, ostracized, avoided, boycotted, and otherwise punished for your refusal.

In other words, the Fair Play model is still utilizing the same Old School Consequences. 

Because here's the thing, the YUUUUGE blind spot of city liberals, of social justice warriors, of activists: by separating all of society into those who benefit from power, and those who don't, we've not only identified a class worthy of our unquestioning protection, we've identified a class of Unworthies from whose fates we 100% absolve and detach ourselves, regardless of what their actual lives actually look like

What I see, what I witness with my own eyeballs, is that people with the means, the insight, and the capacity to engage in levels of self-care, autonomy, and luxury that are unheard of for the vast majority of the Unworthies, I'm talking about people who can routinely piss off to beautiful foreign countries for meditation retreats, get monthly massages, people with advanced degrees, thriving businesses, etc., people who are dancing on a pin on the tippy-top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, crazy privileged people is what I'm saying, are somehow feeling cozy and justified writing off whole swaths of the population:

fellow humans who are actively struggling to get from today to tomorrow
who are succumbing to suicide in alarming numbers
whose communities have been ravaged by addiction
who have been most affected by the withdrawal of the corporations who made them promises, sucked them dry of resources, and then abandoned them, 

These self-proclaimed warriors on behalf of those in need give zero poops about extreme magnitudes of suffering, all because the people who are suffering think they are white. 

And this active withholding of concern and empathy is supposed to be in the name of a better world. It doesn't add up, guys.

Let me say that again: wealthy people are prancing through life feeling righteous for wholeheartedly condemning those in far more desperate circumstances, never thinking to ask or care whether they ever had a reasonable chance to choose a different way of being. (Hint: they didn't.) 

Do you take intellectual freedom, structuralism, and the ability to separate yourself from your beliefs so totally and utterly for granted, you've forgotten it takes scaffolding and training to reach this understanding of the world?

Lucky you!

And because of the false dichotomy--either we care about the racists, or the populations they attack, one or the other, pick a side--we have been protected from seeing that  all along, we have been nurturing not a better world, but our sense of our own moral and intellectual superiority.

Look: I was a Molly Mormon and an avid reader: it's pretty much always been a huge goal of my life has been to try and be as good as I can to as many people as I can. And even *I* had a hard time extricating myself from the racist ideologies I was born and bred into! 

THEY ARE POWERFUL AND SUBTLE AND SINISTER AND PERVASIVE! We're talking intellectual Alcatraz here! Please stop treating racism like Club Med!

I have the humility to recognize that had I not enjoyed the guided, immersive, patient, supportive assistance of an entire classroom of students of color, plus countless encounters and experiences since, including a year living in a different country and a natural propensity to immerse myself in different experiences, I might STILL be racist.

RESPECT version PREVENT WORLD WAR 3.0: Third Way Respect

Everyone you meet, no matter how dope or awful they seem to you, became that way the same way you became you: through various encounters and interpretations of those encounters. 

Your perspective on their dope-ness, or awfulness, is highly selfish: that is, based on your perception of the world, NOT THEIRS. You are a terrible, inaccurate, unjust judge of their behavior and character because you do not have access to the ledger of their entire life. You do not know where the behavior comes from. You do not know, furthermore, what future encounters they will have; or what your encounter with them, right now, is doing to affect their awfulness or dope-ness in one direction or another.

It really doesn't take much reflection to realize that you are a terrible instant judge of another person's worthiness, regardless of their behavior. That said! That said: even if you were a good judge, are you even remotely invested in their rehabilitation? Or are you just invested in the pure animal question of whether they pose a threat to you and those you care about, or can possibly benefit you later?

All previous models of respect: 

"It is my job to respect __________  but not _____________ because _____________."

New model of respect:

"Respect is not something I give or take away based on variables of those I encounter; it is something that I offer to all because I am a respectful person.

Because I do not have access to the interior of others, I respect them. Because I do not know the journey of others, I respect them. Because I do not have control over the actions of others, only my own, I exert that control through consistent, unchanging respect towards all.

Respect does not mean that I agree with others. It does not mean that I capitulate to actions that threaten my own well-being or the well-being of others, or let such actions go unchecked. 

Respect means that I do not wait to see whether the Other assists or obstructs my well-being before I decide how to treat them or whether to concern myself with their well-being. It means that I hold myself to the same standard of concern for the well-being of the Other as I do for my own well-being and the well-being of the people I am easily able to love and understand.

It means that I support them in what they want for themselves, just as I hope they would support me. It means that I allow them space to grow at their own pace, just as I hope they would for me. 

It means that I never treat them as an obstacle. It means that in the case of direct conflict, I do not fixate on the elimination of one of the two sides, but instead put my energies towards the Third Way: that which satisfies their desires and alleviates their fears without threatening me.

For example: the term "white privilege" obscures the fact that most racists are not really fighting to be allowed to make gains above and beyond people of color. They're not fighting for privilege. They're fighting for survival. They are fighting to maintain the what little ground is still beneath their feet against the threat of losing absolutely everything. This fear is sustained, nay, fanned by the unwillingness of neo-libs to see anything other than their inability to release House Rules in favor of Fair Play Rules; their utter unwillingness to take into account the poverty, loss, desperation, and disconnection that fuels--that has ALWAYS fueled--hateful, nativist ideologies.

Go look again at Peggy McIntosh's knapsack of "Unearned Privileges." NONE of those would be considered a "Privilege" in a just society. "Disappearing Rights" is a better name for that knapsack. I would cling to my rapidly disappearing rights too, if I had no context and no clear idea of what awaits me when I finally let them go. (Hint: clear-headed accountability, humility, and the resulting empowerment.) 

There are saner, more productive, more sustainable ways to protect ourselves from harm than the Cave People, tribalist method of causing harm first.

Is it enough to have these beautiful handfuls of Believies? (warning: profanity. also hilarity.)

No. It is not.

This is not some ridiculously high-minded, impossible approach to life. This is the only way to escape the Battlestar Galactica-style eternal feud nightmare: the inane, pointless back and forth of "are you good or evil? EVIL! EVIL! I knew it! BAM EVIL BACK" "Oh no they didn't! EVIL! EVIL! I knew it! BAM EVIL BACK."

The important thing to understand about the Third Way is that it's impossible to find if you're not looking for it. As long as you're still trying to dominate/remove the obstruction/eliminate the threat, the more elegant, beautiful, harmonious, SUSTAINABLE, NON-NUCLEAR solution will eternally evade you.

If you think nothing to demand of those with less power, with less lived privilege relative to your current life, with less practical access to information (you have to have a framework for understanding, critiquing, and placing information before you can truly access it), that they change their entire way of seeing the world to better align with the mentality of people who not only give zero poops about their well-being but wage constant verbal assault on their intelligence, style, and most deeply held beliefs, how much more so, then, is it the responsibility of those with the insight, with the knowledge, with the mental space and proven capacity to change their ways of interacting with a hurting, diseased, imprisoned world? 

Amen, Dalai Lama. Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Religion Is Not The Problem

My husband and I just began attending Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and let me tell you, it has been an eye-opener. (I promise this whole post is not one big ad for the class. I have no affiliation with Dave Ramsey except this weekly class I just started taking.) Up until now, my personal strategy with my finances has been the Ostrich Method: stick your head in the sand and pretend the threats to your well-being do not exist.

It’s not a good recipe for peace of mind, you know? Ignorance isn't bliss; it's deferment. As anyone with student loans can attest, the longer responsibility is deferred, the bigger the problem gets. So I’m trying something else. And it’s already difficult, to be sure, but it also feels better, already, to look my demons in the eye and roll up my sleeves. Our entire financial system is designed to predate on those not paying attention. If you don't know what's going on, you're likely being taken advantage of. I highly recommend this class to anyone who does not feel in control of their financial lives. (For my non-religious friends: it's got a Christian slant to it, but swallow the meat and spit out the bones.)

One thing Dave addresses, which I really needed to hear, was the idea that poverty is holy. This has long been an excuse I’ve given myself as to why I shouldn’t have to do the work to regulate myself and live within my means: I don’t like money taking up my mental space. I want to save my mental space for what matters. Relationships. Service. My work.

But of course, by not focusing on it on the front end, money always ends up taking up quite a bit of my mental space on the back end. When I don’t have it, and really need it, it takes up way too much space. The money I owe to my dentist takes up mental space. The money I owe to my cousin takes up mental space. The subcurrent of anxiety that lives in me always because of my massive unaddressed debt takes up who even knows how much mental space.

I can’t help but equate this whole situation to the state of our world. A huge number of people are ostriching pretty hard when it comes to the very serious threats we’re facing. And they’re doing it in the name of holiness.

I grew up in a religious community, and now I live in a place where religion is widely considered to be The Problem. I’m here to say that religion isn’t The Problem. The religious just happen to be the most willing to discard facts that don’t serve them. But they’re not alone in this. Atheists do it too. For example, they’re all too willing to dismiss faith as an important phenomenon, despite the fact that the majority of the world finds it beneficial to their lives, simply because it doesn’t fit into their conclusions about the universe.

The real problem is the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and it is the job of the religious to see that faith wins.

First, let’s establish a definition for truth. It can get pretty complicated to try and break down, but the kind of truth I want to talk about here is simply “that which is consistent and unchangeable regardless of the angle from which it is observed.”

According to this definition, science is the language of truth. Why? Because no matter who you are or where you are, you can follow the rules laid out by science and observe the same consistent, unchangeable results, and (importantly), if you observe different results, and can demonstrate these different results, it necessitates a change in the language itself.

Science is the language of universal truth, the common truth of humanity, because everyone who calls herself a scientist must hold to the same standard of truth: absolute consistency. Not only is a scientist willing, they are dedicated to letting go of conclusions, no matter how much it means to them, the moment their results are shown to be inconsistent.

This stands in clear contrast to certain definitions of faith, which set out to hold onto certainty, no matter what external inconsistencies appear to occur. The idea here is that there is a higher truth than the one that we observe around us, one with higher laws that supercede the laws of nature, of the world. So what about Truth with a capital T? What about that understanding of the universe that many claim to be higher than science? Where does God, the Great Everything, the Divine, the Design fit into the picture of our common truth?

It doesn’t. Faith does not belong to realm of our common truth because it is not observably consistent. The bible is full of stories of miracles, but these, too, belong in the realm of personal belief, since they occurred, if at all, before the time of scientific documentation, before the time of the camera. If the Divine All chose to keep miracles exclusive to a time before pocket video recorders, that seems to me enough evidence that Truth was never supposed to try and occupy the space of truth. Either way, not a single modern account has emerged of someone who can convincingly, consistently demonstrate a line of communication with the Great Everything. For all our ability to record evidence, no one has been able to demonstrate a consistent relationship between prayer and outcome, between internal impression and outside world event.

I’m not trying to demonstrate here that God does not exist and/or that there is no Great Everything that communicates with humans. What I’m trying to establish is that this communication, if it DOES exist, does not fall under the umbrella of truth YET.

One day we may understand the mechanics of that communication such that we WILL be able to observe the consistency of it. But that day has not yet arrived, or trust me, we would know it. So when you’re talking about God, understand that you have (for the time being) exited the realm of a discussion about truth. Now you are talking about faith.

Faith is a conviction in the existence of things for which we have not yet established observable consistency.

Scientists really ought to understand better than anybody the need for faith (and many do!). Our documented observations about the world have been reimagined and essentially overturned too many times to count. Things we once held for crazy are now the most agreed-upon explanation. Science is not a group of set-in-stone rules--it’s a fluid language, constantly being refined, redefined, restated, upset.

But what the anti-science crowd really needs to understand is that while science is not infallible, it is still the best language we have for our common truth, and indeed the only language that describes a truth common to us all, because that is the entire point of it: to describe the most universal truth in the most accurate way possible.

We can tell that it is the best language for our common truth because when people learn it, they become more able than any other to exert mastery over the world around them. Science might as well be the language of God, because it consistently makes the impossible possible. Breathing underwater. Traveling to the moon. Changing the shape of animals over time. Healing ourselves.

So what is the place of faith?

Faith gives us the ability to hold a narrative for ourselves in this world. It shapes, encourages, and defines our personal journey through life. It gives meaning to our struggles and offers comfort when we are afraid. Faith is the language of our highly personal relationship with What Is.

As such, it is not anybody else’s business what anyone chooses to believe. And in any case, it is pointless to attack someone’s beliefs or faith. There is literally nothing that can convince someone to relinquish a belief system that they feel serves them: science, logic, the clearest evidence, the most carefully outlined statements, not even torture or threat of death can have the slightest effect on someone’s faith. Internal beliefs are 100% impenetrable from the outside. The only thing that can move someone to change their beliefs is the personal, internal conviction that they will benefit from the change.

Huge problem, right? No. It isn’t. Faith in a higher power isn’t what’s destroying our world, creating so much conflict, leading so many to reject the things that serve them, their communities, their children’s future.

What needs to change is the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and it is the job of the religious to see that faith wins.

This mentality has become the curtain behind which the wizard hides; the wizard, in this case, being anyone who does not want to take accountability for the outcome of their actions. Industry in and of itself is not evil, but common outcomes of industry are most certainly evil: children getting leukemia because of chemicals dumped carelessly or leaked carelessly into their water supplies. Whole ecosystems being destroyed. Forests that took centuries to reach maturity, decimated in seconds, with no research into what the loss will mean. Industrialists have found a way to completely absolve themselves of accountability for the consequences they are dumping upon us, upon our children--consequences that don’t go away just because no responsible party is called to the carpet.

All they have to do, they’ve discovered, is convince the religious that to oppose the rape and pillage of the Earth is tantamount to opposing the will of God that His children should prosper and flourish. All they have to do is convince the faithful that it’s holy to extract resources from the Earth without accountability.

They’ve already convinced most that we all share in the benefit from these extractions at least as much as we suffer the consequences from them, evidence to the contrary be damned.

It’s become all too clear that they’ve even managed to link the right of industrialists to do as they see fit without preparation or accountability for consequences to faithful’s eager anticipation of the second coming: that is, the more you allow the world to be destroyed, the more that exhibits your love of Jesus, because when the world goes down in flames, that’s when Jesus comes again. The more warnings the Earth sends us in the form of natural disasters, the more the faithful seem to believe that they are serving God’s will.

If anything, this attitude exhibits a lack of faith, a lack of humility, a lack of willingness to bend to the will of God. The eagerness to rush on Armageddon is the modern Tower of Babel: the desire of the faithful to reach the kingdom of heaven at their speed, on their own terms, rather than His. The religious have been awaiting the End of Times since long before any of us were born; it seems they’re getting increasingly impatient about it.

But I personally have faith that this world will rehabilitate, that the religious will trust once again in divine will, that they will stop relinquishing their accountability to their neighbors, to their friends, to their grandchildren in the name of faith. The saying is not, after all, "God rewards those who destroy themselves." We have become a nation of deferrers, of destroyers, of people who write checks that they cannot cash. But that is not what this country stands for. This is a country of people who take pride in reaping what they sow, in earning what they have, in building something for themselves out of nothing.

I've been stressed about money since I began gleaning, as a small child, the kind of stress it caused my parents. If I can look my money problems in the face and start to take charge, by all that is holy, we on this planet can start figuring out how to start taking responsible stewardship of this planet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Down with Santa!

Santa is sort of the secular Jesus of our culture, the culture of our tv habits, elementary school textbooks, and  philosophies we share without realizing we even have them, etc. 

Santa is also the antichrist.

I know, I know. Bold claim. Most of us laughed off the oddity of the Satan = Santa anagram long ago. Yet the more I explored the idea of Santa as a representative of mainstream American values, the less and less laughable it got.

His moral philosophy is simple to the point of stupidity: "Be good and I'll give you things." Santa is operating from one of the lowest rungs of the moral ladder, and he has no interest in your further growth beyond this rung. He doesn't actually care whether his presents are making you naughtier or nicer.

Santa just goes down the list and hands out the goods. Or quite often, doesn't. Which is pretty messed up when you consider that Santa seems to count things like shelter, food, water, and not-dying-of-disease as "gifts." Especially considering Santa has no contingency plan to keep innocent children from ending up on the same list as their parents as a matter of course.

Santa is already seeming like not such a good arbitrator of good and evil, but let's check it out: what exactly makes someone naughty or nice, according to Santa? How do we escape the dire punishment of not making the "nice" list?

The more willing you are to put Santa's priorities over everything else, including spending time with your family, keeping yourself healthy, or trying to make the world a better place, the more likely you are to make the "nice" list.

That's it. That's the one prerequisite. Cheating everyone you meet? Stealing from them? Taking advantage of good faith, honesty, and kinship? Disrespecting people? Hurting them? Santa doesn't actually care about that stuff at all, although just for appearances he has to punish you if you're dumb enough to get yaself caught. But as long as he doesn't see it, carry on.

In the meantime, the "nice" list keep getting more and more exclusive each year, so even if you've been getting better and better and working harder to make The Workshop more and more efficient, productive, and lucrative--in other words, even if you have been giving Santa the BEST of yourself, and none of it to your family--you still might not make the nice list.

Similarly, "naughty" folks can be doing just about anything else with their time, including round-the-clock saving of orphaned babies, or caring for veterans, or teaching people in need some skills that will help them survive and thrive. 

Doesn't matter. Naughty, naughty, naughty. No gifts for you. 

BUT. Even if you're on the naughty list, there may still be hope. Depending on where you are and what color your skin is, Santa still thinks you deserve some gifts. He's just going to take them increasingly out of your skin down the line.

How could you not take out debt? You know your kids deserve gifts. 

They deserve to be distracted from their own curiosity, each other, and the natural world with a lot of stuff, just like any other kid in the neighborhood.

Your spouse deserves that endless parade of tacky symbols reminding them that their individuality is less important to you than the functions they serve in your life. 

And you? You deserve any thing that promises to make you feel better about yourself--more beautiful, more adventurous, more sophisticated, more pampered, more impressive, more imposing. As long as none of them actually succeeds in actually making you feel like you are good enough, just the way you are. Don't want anyone reducing your dependency on more and more and more stuff. 

If no one looked outside of themselves for happiness, what would become of The Workshop?

No man can serve two masters. It's right in the Bible. Also here are some statistics.

Not all of the people still keeping their heads above the water, which is a pretty low bar for success but that's where we're at, have done terrible things. Some are even able to be well-rounded, awesome, and care about their kids. I've seen it. I think.

If, on the other hand, you're struggling, please take time to reflect on your personal priorities and whether you've been made to feel bad at any point for putting them before Santa's, and take some time to reflect on prioritizing the "good person" thing, even when it's just a matter of spending time and attention on people you love, and feel good about it.

That is, if you can feel anything at all, considering how cold it is this time of year, and how heat is another one of those gifts you only get if Santa says so.

One nation under Santa, extremely divided, with bondage and injustice for most.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yes We Can Love

Don't Yell Wolf

I want to preface this with a note. I've seen a lot of pushback in response to recent calls for love, empathy, and understanding for Trump voters. I've also been approached by friends (expect a part two pending those conversations). People are reeling or grim at this most recent affirmation of what they already knew, at what it means for their personal futures, their families, friends, and neighbors, and many are angry at the idea that we focus on anything other than showing support for the people most affected by a Trump presidency.

That is exactly what I'm trying to do. That is exactly why I'm writing today. This message is the most important thing I can think of to try and interrupt the pattern of what it looks like is about to happen.

We don't have time to keep inching our way imperceptibly towards our goals. An entire population which both fights and impedes us could be working alongside us instead. We, collectively, don't have the luxury to ignore them. We, personally, *of course* have the right to refuse to engage. Please never interpret anything I write as a demand that a victim force themselves to reconcile with their attacker. I would never presume to tell anyone if, or when, that should happen,let alone insist they ignore their pain and get moving.

Let me give you some personal context on why I feel this is so important.

Since about halfway through my undergraduate degree, my sisters and I have been clashing intensely with our entire, very conservative and religious extended family. We've been trying to make a case that the Republican party is pro-corporation and anti-American, and that they've fallen for wolves in sheep's clothing if they think the Republican party is more Christian. 

There have been some embittered debates. Pretty sure I'm not gonna be in certain wills. 

When you have built a pattern of trying to shame someone out of their opinions by demonstrating how their beliefs make them a bad person, they eventually just stop listening to you. So that when you share the very most important insights of your life thus far, they're just not listening.

My family was done listening by the time I learned the truth about racism in America, how the prison system, when you look at the bare facts of how it operates, it's clear that this is the modern face of segregation and slavery. They weren't listening when I tried to share something that I knew they would care about deeply and want to change if they understood. 

Over recent years I've been very deliberately dialing down the angry responses and upping the verbal affirmation of the things I agree with. Slowly, we've begun to have actual conversations again. The last time they were in town, my dad made an offhand remark about "people being too sensitive" which initiated a conversation about political correctness which started to veer towards conflict, but when my mom pointed this out and we all took a breath and kept talking, resulted in everyone agreeing that listening, showing concern that you've caused pain, and making a genuine effort to change the behavior is a good response to getting called out as a racist, and a reasonable thing for people of color to ask.

That is not how things worked out when I brought up the Harvard professor arrested for trying to get into his own home.

I'm not trying to recenter the conversation back around white people. I'm trying to help other people, and in particular people like me, with family and friends they might have estranged because of their tactic of getting super angry and heaping shame and disgust, to re-establish those bonds so that we can start having the conversations that would have kept Trump from getting elected in the first place.

This is by no means meant to replace direct action on behalf of people of color. Here are a few resources for that:

How to Intervene in a Racist Attack 
Black Girl Dangerous 
5 Tips for Being an Ally
Maximum Middle Age

The Long Con

Our enmity is neither natural, nor accidental. People like Murdoch carefully cultivate and feed a great
fear of difference, a great distrust in people who are different in certain ways, and then wield it to keep us distracted, divided, and resigned. It's really quite an elegant system of control. The worse the squeeze, the more we blame each other for the fact that neither party's policies have done the slightest thing to stop the slow, sad march of the middle class into poverty.

I think we're afraid. I think that's why we satisfy ourselves with minor ideological "victories" against straw men and extremists. I think that's why we reassure ourselves that it is more noble and important to defeat than to understand and extend care to our fellow human beings, who are also frightened, frustrated, and in pain.

The greatest challenge our generation will ever face is the mandate to transform difference from a weapon of mass oppression to an engine for positive change. We must rise to it with love, creativity, ingenuity and boldness, before irreversible, devastating events are set in motion.

There are dragons loose on the world.  Alive but lifeless, they are capable of heedless, relentless destruction. They have none of the spark of empathy, none of the survival instinct, not even a flicker of the deep inner connection all living creatures share. They were born of greed, called into being by a man who figured out how to manipulate people's sense of thrift to get them to buy endless piles of cheap crap, their sense of personal accountability to get them to surrender to joyless work for people who don't care about them, and their sense of wonder to get them to trade in their dignity for a few dingy commodities. These beasts roam wild, breathing pollution into the air, crapping trash all over the world, stomping out species, poisoning us, draining everything of authenticity and quality. Their only goal: to gain, to grow, to dominate.

They've almost destroyed the planet. We're alarmingly close to that precipice. Maybe the dragon-tamers are so drunk on their own power that they've forgotten they live here, too. Maybe they're hoist on their own petard--they can't get along at this point, either. Or, scariest and kind of likely, they're saving all of these resources they've been stealing from us to build a spaceship and leave us all behind on the no-longer-viable Earth while they find some other gorgeous cosmic organism to rape and murder.

The blog I write is very stubbornly, bull-headedly, with many stops and starts and stumbling blocks, trying to re-establish a conversation with everyone at once. By insulating us in our bias groups and then feeding us misinformation to elevate our fear of and disdain for one another, Facebook and the mainstream media have completely eliminated respectful discourse, the only thing which stands any chance to disarm difference.

If you're getting frustrated that I'm telling you to change your ways with no regard for the fact that the other guys are the ones who really need to change, or conversely if you read this as an affirmation that it's the other guys who actually need to change, go back and re-read everything you just read through the eyes of someone who believes the opposite of you. If you'll listen to the language I use, you'll realize I'm putting challenges both to myself and to you in how I portray things, by which "you" I mean You, Someone Who, Like Me, Wants to Make the World Better.  Without disguising who I am and which way I lean in terms of my personal views, I counterbalance my bias towards the things I obviously agree with by putting more effort into demonstrating my kinship with those who although I disagree with, I thoroughly respect as individuals. (I check with my mom to see whether I'm really missing the mark with the opposite side. She typically says something along the lines of, "mostly it's okay.")

Everyone who can rally: we gotta sit down and talk, a LOT, and really try our best, or chances are good we're all going to die before our time. Yuck. Lame.

When You Belong

You know, everyone talks about how bad bullying is, how bad bullies are. I think part of the reason it's such a difficult phenomenon to address is the fact that sometimes the bullies are kids with a lot of friends, popular kids, people no one wants to call out, people you could get made fun of for taking too seriously, for killing the buzz, because clearly everyone's just playing. Clearly they don't mean any harm.

In middle school, picked on and harassed by certain classmates, I found it bewildering how many friends they had, how often people would make statements like "x is so nice!" They weren't nice. Not to me, or to people like me, who couldn't distance ourselves from the insult, who couldn't find the confidence to laugh along. 

People could see this but nobody seemed to care. 

If you're not the one being targeted, it's hard to even see meanness, sometimes.There's an aspect to this I now find very positive and normal. I don't think that the second someone does something unpleasant to someone else, every other human should shun them. This is a recipe for a lot of disconnected, angry, dangerous people.

But there's another aspect to it that's not so positive.

I can't remember how or exactly why the switch flipped. I think it was after a friend of friend spent a good couple of days with us, and he was a comedian and kept calling me out on things I said, pointing out things that could be interpreted as intellectual elitism. Because I didn't in any way find this man inferior in terms of wits, I didn't take it to heart, but I was watching John Oliver one day, dear sweet funny friend John, and all of a sudden I thought "what if I was one of the people he likes to make fun of, and I didn't have a diploma to distance myself from the idea that I'm dumb?"

All of a sudden my dear sweet funny friend starting sounding a lot less dear and sweet. All of a sudden he sounded arrogant, callous, and contemptuous. The audience laughter, such a warm, reassuring sound, began to sound ugly and cruel. And I suddenly got a vision of being on the other end of one of my diatribes--it wasn't pretty.

I know many, many people who, like me, have a holy horror of physical violence as a way to solve disputes (I like it fine in certain contexts, for example roller derby, where everyone in the path of pain has volunteered to be there), yet see nothing wrong with delivering an intense verbal assault. 

It's ironic that the people most in arms about hate speech and class and social divides have been lulled into thinking that this sort of political commentary is doing anything other than deepening those very divides, salting wounds, and essentially kicking people when they're down. It's exactly what we accuse the racists of: taking out their anger on their fellow dispossessed, instead of teaming up and ending oppression.

The Pleasure of Rage

Have you ever watched yourself when you were chewing someone out? Really letting into them, telling them how despicable they are, how disgusted you are with them? 

Let's be honest: it's thrilling to drop all pretense of mutual respect and go for the jugular. There's nothing not thrilling about it. Righteous indignation satisfies so many of our desires at once: the desire to be good, the desire to act, the desire to assert our power in the world, the desire to be right, the desire to surrender to our physical instincts (put in a more positive way: to be in harmony with ourselves). 

The high tends to disguise some basic facts about righteous wrath. First, any high that relies on someone else experiencing a low is probably not all that righteous. Second, we're all mighty mighty hypocrites who shouldn't be casting stones. And third, most important of all, especially now: it's a strategically terrible move. 

It doesn't offer evidence that our beliefs are ethically superior; doesn't offer assurance that we are good people who strangers can count on for trust and support. It doesn't stand to convince anyone to agree with us. It doesn't help ensure the safety or general welfare of people who believe like we do. 

It does quite literally the opposite of all of those things.

As we look around for someone to blame for all of the divisiveness, it's time to ask how we're contributing personally to the opposition's fear that our victory means their misery.

What I'm saying is, we've been haaaaad! My dad always said the left is brainwashed too, and I thought he was wrong but I kept trying to wrap my head around what that would look like...since we base all of our stuff on science, unlike...

Didn't you ever wonder why, if the oligarchs own basically ALL of the media...and if the leftist pundits really stand to dethrone the people who allow that happen...didn't you ever wonder why they're allowed to have their own shows?

Did you think"maybe these fools just don't have enough respect for the power of words"? Did you think "maybe it's just a matter of 'money is money' to them, this guy doesn't care as long as you don't say anything bad about him, personally"? But maybe something about it still didn't seem right.

Here's what I think: the oligarchs are fiiiiiine with the liberal agenda. They're fiiiiiine with the conservative agenda. They have no investment in the outcome, because they are capable of bypassing all human interaction. They are so removed, they don't need their liberties protected anymore. But they can use the tug-of-war, the violent back-and-forth of stealing back your priorities and ignoring the other guy, to make us feel like we're capable of influencing the actions of our leaders even though our collective wealth and welfare and the viability of more and more employment options steadily declines.

Trump Voters are not Evil

Let's take it back a step. If we have no evidence that the other person's utopia will bring us misery, beyond the fact that they disagree with us, we really ought not proceed with that assumption.

Someone I respect voted for Trump. He said he's been watching the presidents parade through office, red blue red red blue blue red, all establishment politicians, and none of them did anything to affect the growing income gap, not in his whole lifetime. "One thing he said struck me. He said 'how much worse can it get?'" 

Any of us who paid attention to our history books is probably thinking "a whole lot worse, for a whole lot of people." I said as much. "We're about to find out, aren't we?" 

I felt a lot of anger towards him, but I was also humbled in that anger. This is a good man, my husband's surrogate father of sorts, kind and generous-hearted. He's Mexican-American,  supports gay rights and wants to help refugees. He was desperate. Trump is the Terrifying Big Red Button version of Bernie Sanders. Don't forget about this man when you tell me you can't possibly have anything in common with Trump supporters.

I abhor just about everything Trump stands for except one thing.

Redemption for rural America. I support him in that.

I mean, don't you?

I don't support it MORE than relief and aid for people of color, not in this country or any other. I also don't support it less, or see how anyone can justify that. Because some poor white people in rural America are bigots, all of them deserve to suffer? Keep in mind that they were raised into this. Keep in mind you're talking about heroin and meth addiction, suicide, and the loss of everything they know. 

What's the plan? Hate them into loving better?

This is why we can't all just get along. Because instead of looking for excuses to love each other, we look for reasons why we don't have to. It's because even though nearly every ethical tradition in the world has some version or other of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," nearly every tradition in the world also has a big old asterisk and a list of exceptions, a "be as big of an * as you want to these folks" loophole.

You Are Not a Good Person

It's true. You're not. See my other post. You are a person who is capable of some good actions and some bad ones. The good ones don't negate the bad ones. The point of the good ones is not to offset the bad ones.

You're not a good person, so it's important that you keep working on yourself. It's also important that you stop waiting to love yourself. Until what? You're not a good person--and you never will be. You're not a bad person, either. Love yourself now. Practice making space now for people to be exactly who they are. Same way you do for children. 

We are all luminous beings deserving of everything good in the universe. We can never love each other as much as we deserve. Every single one of us needs to train ourselves out of using the people around us as punching bags because we're angry about the state of the world!

I know it's hard to do. It's hard to even recognize. What the pundits have essentially gotten us to do is identify people who are different than us in certain ways as The Problem, instantly turn over the controls to our instinctual need to defend our home and family whenever The Problem is around, which means we then taunt, avoid, or attack The Problem.

It doesn't matter what certain individuals from the other side say or do, it doesn't justify attacking the entire group. It doesn't matter how stupid or evil someone sounds...spreading hatred is not scoring points for humanity, so take a deep breath and resist the will of the oligarchs.

On that note, can we please stop showing loyalty by supporting one another's bad behavior towards opposing tribes and randos? As fun and satisfying as that can be, it's so so important at this juncture that we put our energy into building relationships and trust, not destroying them.

I'm not saying it's not perfectly within your rights to get angry, to rant, to rave. Sometimes you need to do it. I'm just saying, don't kid yourself that you're making the world better. Don't lean in. Because the evidence is in: you're not. Bad behavior thrives under mockery and scrutiny. Hatred is emboldened when it is returned with hatred.

The Real Problem

The best way to interrupt the pattern of destruction that's been programmed into us is to fully recognize what's happening as we begin to sink into the rage. We've been brainwashed like Derek Zoolander to think that we're saving the world by spreading hatred--as long as we direct that hatred against the right people.

We've been trained, exactly as they have, to exhaust our fight on people who have just as much motive as we do to dismantle the current system. 

When the rage sets in, think "this person is not The Problem, save it for the problems."

Fight to the Death Love to the Life

In a healthy relationship, you love a person for exactly who they are, flaws and all. You try not to take it personally when they lash out against you, accidentally hurt you or misunderstand you. You also don't let them get away with abusing you. You find a balance between self-preservation and generosity. In this way you hold space for their journey. 

(Once again, I am not advocating for victims to show more love to their attackers. This applies only to the many who disagree with you, but have yet to hurt you directly in any way.)

My mother-in-law and I don't see eye to eye on everything. We don't always like the way the other one treats us. Sometimes she wants me to support her by doing things that imply support for ideas I don't agree with (like the idea that dressing up inis an important way to show respect for others). She feels very disrespected by how informal I am sometimes, like the time I let the dog lick my plate at dinner, and put it back on the table. The seeming triviality of these things belies the actual threat they pose to the two of us having a meaningful relationship. We both have to relax when it comes to certain things, and pay more attention to others. It's a lot of emotional work! And, as tends to be the case, the work is partly what makes it so rewarding.

We all know how to get with people who don't see the world the way we do. Or at least, we used to. It's entirely possible! 

Here are some tips:

When it comes to those volatile matters of difference, prioritize civility over all else. 

Give one another the benefit of the doubt in every way possible, and trust that the same is being done for you. 

Focus on the positive. No matter how heinous someone's beliefs, they continue to be a nuanced being full of bright and dark moments, with people, things, animals they love, moments of beauty, etc. 

Treat the worst moments or traits or beliefs as personal challenges the other person will one day surmount, storms that will one day pass over, phases that they will grow out of. 

And in the meantime, hold space. This is vital. Sometimes we can't actively feel love towards someone. Sometimes we feel an urge to actively withdraw our love. This is a misguided urge. We can love someone without agreeing with them. Loving them does not mean supporting everything they stand for. 

It means believing in redemption, for everyone, and desiring it for everyone--stubbornly, eternally, optimistically, faithfully, irrepressibly.

Seeing the light in them no matter what the surface is manifesting in the moment. Caring what happens to them no matter what the surface is manifesting. It means understanding deep down that every single spark of sentience on this planet is just a version of you that came up through the dark differently.

Or forget the mamby-pamby hippie kumbayah side of it. Do it because it's the most strategic way to save humanity. Do it because everything else we've tried has only gotten us deeper and deeper into this mess. Do what you can, only what you can, but everything you can.

Love imperfection. Love imperfectly. Love now.