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I’m a Democratic Socialist – but I repeat myself; Voting as a Socialist Act

In PeaceAble, Politics, Uncategorized on August 8, 2018 at 12:16 pm

In all societies, power moves upward, from the masses of people who individually hold little power to the powerful few who collect and hoard whatever power they can extract from the many.
The core misunderstanding a great many people have about socialism is that it is simply an economic system in which money is redistributed from the wealthy to the poor. But money is just one form of power, and socialism more broadly is a philosophical system that advocates for the redistribution of all forms of power from those who hoard it to those who need to use it for their survival, as a way to guarantee a more equitable distribution of resources.
Every time a democracy holds an election, it is a deliberate act of redistributing power.
When a voter enters the polling both, he brings with him all his power. When he chooses a candidate and casts a vote he gives a small amount of his power to the candidate. That power, combined with the power contained by all those who vote for the candidate becomes the candidate’s power. If the candidate loses the election she can use that collected power as credibility to continue to argue for the policies she supports (and for which people supported her). If she wins the election she can apply the collected power to directly seek to influence policy in her elective position.
It’s important to note that the power the elected official has collected through votes does not obligate her to use that power exactly as the individual voters might have hoped. Each voter is only transferring a small amount of power, and individual voters may have different and conflicting ideas and needs. And, just as spending a few bucks at your favorite store does not give you any ability to tell the store owner how to spend his money, your individual vote doesn’t give you any special power to control the actions of the elected official. When you voted, however, you didn’t give up all your power, only a small piece of it, and that piece will be coming back to you at the next election.
Also, you still retain significant power once you realize that it isn’t about you, but about all of us. You gave your power to a candidate during an election, now you can give it to a cause, a movement, or an idea. Every time you contribute to an organization working for something you believe in, you use your power. Every time you choose to shop at a particular business or to withhold your patronage, you use your power. Every time you get into a discussion with your friends and acquaintances about something happening in the world and find your own mind or someone else’s changing, even a bit, you have used your power. Every time you step up in defense of those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those whose voices are not being heard, you use your power. If there is a blue wave in November, it won’t just be because a lot of people used their power at the polls, but because a lot of people have been using their power all along in both large and small ways.
Power, like every valuable thing, isn’t dependent on exactly how much one has of it, but how that compares to what others have. You are only as power rich as others are power poor. The powerful few do not, of course, want to give up their power. They will hoard whatever they can of it. Voter suppression is theft of power. Voter apathy is the squandering of power. Fewer people voting means there are fewer people to convince that they should give a candidate their power. If a party sees that a minority of voters agree with them on the issues, but can control which people don’t vote they can make it more likely that those who do vote will be those who will give them power. And if significant numbers of people voluntarily don’t vote, the party or candidate that wins assumes these non-voter’s power as well. It’s like a power tax. If you don’t vote for anything, then it’s assumed that you support those who won. After all, if you didn’t support them, you would have voted against them.
Polls show over and over again that when it comes to some of the most important and most party-line divisive issues this country is facing, issues like abortion and women’s health, income and wealth inequity, gun laws and regulation, health care, Social Security and Medicare, the social safety net, there is significant agreement about what needs to be done, if not how to do it. So, if the people who have been elected aren’t doing those things, then we need to exert our power to elect those who will.
Power is interchangeable, too. Those with a significant amount of one kind of power can use it to acquire and protect other forms power. Thus, political power can provide access to wealth and vice-versa. Someone like David Koch or Sheldon Adelson or, to be fair, George Soros, can exert enormous power all by himself, but the rest of us have to organize, we have to work together, we have to find common ground and common purpose.
We have to vote. Every time. No exceptions.
And we have to stay involved. All the time. In between elections, not just every two or four years, not just about who is going to be President, but who is going to sit on our school boards or decide our zoning or whether the town needs a new pickup truck or some new textbooks.
Doing that doesn’t start after the parties have decided who their candidates are going to be. It doesn’t start by deciding that your only choice is the lesser of two evils. It starts when you understand that you have power and that you are unconsciously giving away that power every day; and you decide to stop doing that.
If this is to be a government of, by, and for the people, then the people have to be involved. Those who represent us are spending our collective power. It is up to us, then, to keep letting them know how we want that power spent, and give our power to those who will listen.

The Learned Hypocrisy of Being Human

In No Particular Path, PeaceAble, Uncategorized on July 30, 2018 at 10:44 am

To be human is to live in contradiction.
Perfect consistency is impossible for us. We think too much; we feel too much; we believe too much. We invented philosophy and science, and art, and morality. And every time we think that these have given us an answer that is final, that is absolute, that we can rely on, that is true, the world changes and we change and the answers have to change as well.
But change is hard, so we cling as long as possible to the old truths, accepting only what in our pain and our grief and our fear we can no longer deny; and contorting ourselves to make everything fit. We shake our heads in disbelief at our own contradictions, and label others’ inconsistencies as hypocrisy.
But it’s really just all of us being human.
I just read something that asked the question, “How could we go so abruptly from Barack Obama to Donald Trump?” How could the same country elect an erudite, scholarly, compassionate and thoughtful leader, then replace him with a crude, anti-intellectual, self-aggrandizing, impulsive one? Which of these very opposite men really represents who we are?
The answer is, of course, that they both do.
We have evolved into creatures who deal with the natural conflicts and dangers of the world by contriving to make them more contentious and more dangerous. There are real solutions to the real problems of the world. There are more than sufficient resources. But we allow our worst traits, our basest instincts, our superstitions and prejudices and fear to rule us; we hoard our resources instead of using them, we reject comprehensive solutions to complex problems in favor of simplistic analyses and short-sighted solutions. We proclaim our desire for peace and understanding, we pray for the relief of suffering and ask why we can’t all just get along; but we refuse to do what is necessary to achieve those things. If we can’t see a way to fix something right now, for all time, without any sacrifice or compromise on our part, we tell ourselves that no solution exists at all.
We are simultaneously all that is good in the world and all that is evil. And every choice we make is a choice to turn in the direction of one or the other. Our moral compass is broken and we have lost our ability to find our way in the wilderness.
We are polarized because we have made a choice to declare ourselves only half of who we are, and to further assert that our chosen half of this bifurcated self is the only acceptable truth, the only reality.
The contradictions remain, of course, but rather than acknowledge them and try to understand how they make us whole, we either deny them or tie ourselves in knots trying to fit them into the incomplete self we cling to.
We do not live linear lives. Our stories are told first in stream of consciousness, and we try to understand who we are by rewriting the stories until they make sense; but each story needs to make sense on its own as well as finding a place in the whole anthology of our lives, and we need to forget so much to make that happen.
I am a man and a male. How can I change the normative misogyny and chauvinism of the culture unless I can acknowledge that it lives within me? I can’t remove it from my experience, from the teachings that shaped me. It’s there. It always will be. But when I allow myself to see it I am better able to see my way forward; so that there may come a time when we will have raised a generation that never learned it in the first place. I’m not a feminist because I have never seen the feminine as less, but because I have, and I am working to change that in me as well as in the society.
I come most directly from pink-skinned European ancestors. How can I change the normative xenophobia and racism of the culture unless I acknowledge that I carry within me the same learned fear of the other, of the different, that I wish to change? I don’t seek racial justice and equality because I have never felt afraid, but because I have, and I’m working to change that in me as well as in the society.
I am cisgender and heterosexual. How can I change the normative homophobia of the culture unless I acknowledge that I have feared and felt shamed by the feminine in myself, that I have questioned my own capacity for intimacy, both emotional and physical, with both women and men? I don’t fight for the humanity of those who are homosexual, or bisexual, or transgendered, or gender non-conforming, or to allow everyone to love whomever they love because I was never told that my feminine was weakness and abomination, but because I was; and I’m trying to change that in myself as well in the society.
If we are going to tell our stories authentically and honestly and make it possible for others to do the same, then we cannot forget, cannot leave out, the parts that make us contradictory, inconsistent, and even sometimes hypocritical.
There is no high road or low road; there is only the path we have walked thus far, with its hills and valleys, its twists and turns and detours, its dark passages and glorious vistas; for there is no way forward except from where we are right now.

Cultural Normalization and “Manchester by the Sea”

In PeaceAble, Uncategorized on January 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

Aspects of the norm in any culture are expressed and reinforced in small, subtle and pervasive acts of acceptance.  There are innumerable ways in which our cultural norms are transmitted, with public media an important part of the whole.  My intent here is to use a personal critique of the Oscar-nominated film “Manchester by the Sea” to illustrate how we are led into unconscious acceptance and reinforcement of cultural norms.

First, let me say that media do not, for the most part, create norms or cause cultural change.  The media, including the artists who work in the media, reflect more than create subjective reality.  Films are created at least in part with an intent to make money.  They will only do that if they appeal to a significant part of the available audience.  The best way to ensure that is to reflect the feelings, attitudes, ideas, and perceptions the audience already holds.  Films that challenge our perceptions may achieve critical success, but rarely achieve box-office success.

Also, it is entirely possible for a film to be artistically successful but culturally problematic.  When that happens, it is useful to point out both the artistic quality and the cultural problems.  Failure to do that, in my opinion, reinforces the expressed norms and inhibits cultural change.

“Manchester by the Sea” is in many ways a very well made film.  There is some remarkable acting, though I did not find Casey Affleck’s performance equal to the over-the-top hype that so many reviewers seem intent on propagating.  It’s a solid performance, but hardly revolutionary.  And the film is not without its flaws.  I was especially disappointed in the script over all.  Despite some nice moments of dialogue and character interaction, the story is slow to get started, keeps wandering off into side stories that are never adequately resolved or clearly connected to the main thrust of the narrative.  And the resolution at the end of the film seems hurried and not well developed.  The final decisions of everyone involved seem nearly a deus ex machina rather than a clear consequence of the characters’ earlier choices.

But the larger objection I make to the film is not about the quality of the production.  In fact, the quality of the production actually exacerbates the problem I have with it; for the higher the quality of the art, the easier it is for us to overlook the cultural issues it raises and the problematic norms it reinforces.

The film’s characters, who are faithfully and authentically portrayed, represent a privileged masculine norm that goes unrecognized and unquestioned.  The men are uncommunicative, shallow and misogynistic.  The female characters are all treated badly, either directly abused, or ignored and dismissed, or left hanging in unfinished side stories.  The 15 year-old boy, Patrick, is sleeping with one girl and plotting to sleep with another; and his uncle blithely and without comment agrees to keep everything a secret so that the girls’ parents don’t find out about the sex and the girls don’t find out about each other.  Patrick’s mother is presented as unfit to raise him because she is portrayed as a frightened, somewhat dim-witted and hysterical woman under the sway of a “Christian” fanatic in a side story that is unnecessary, stereotypical, and unexplained.  Lee Chandler blows off his ex-wife’s attempt to come to terms with the past in a particularly cruel way and the whole thing is just passed over, providing no closure and no attempt at understanding.  Several smaller female characters are introduced for a moment to offer criticisms or critiques or some small incident, but their contributions are either ignored or trivialized.

And the men don’t fare much better from this version of what it means to be a guy.  Lee’s brother apparently never told Lee just how close to death he was, nor asked his permission to assign him as guardian for Patrick, nor provided any clue as to how that could be managed.  Given Lee’s emotional state and the conditions of his life, those failures are cruel to both Lee and Patrick; and have the potential for absolute disaster.  While that is part of what creates the core conflict in the film, it is never addressed honestly for what it is.  Lee and Patrick communicate mostly through grunts and shrugs, although Patrick often seems the closest to an adult in the room; and most of the really consequential communication Lee has with his brother’s friends and associates seems to take place off-screen, while the on-screen exchanges are fraught with unspoken emotions.  This, we are to accept, is how these men communicate.  And that’s true, but the possibility that that might just be the real problem here is never explored and nothing about it ever changes.

I bring all this up not because I want anyone to not see the film.  As I have said, it is over all a well-made film, with much about it that is worth seeing.  And the characters, however flawed, are portrayed honestly by talented actors.  I am really talking here about culture and how norms are established and reinforced.

Day by day, we all encounter situations where we are presented with examples of cultural norms in action.  We see advertisements all around us for cosmetics for women and power tools for men.  We see magazine articles that propose to tell men and women separately what the other really wants and how to “win” them.  We click on a FB link because we are teased by a sexy body or a provocative headline.  A co-worker tells us a joke involving a dumb blonde woman or a grotesque caricature of a “Mexican.”  And we hear people “man-splaining” and “white-splaining” and “straight-splaining” why things are as they are.  And if we do not, whenever possible and safe to do so, point out the cultural norms inherent in those things, or fail to say why they are a problem, then the normalcy of them is reinforced.  Every time we fail to question the logic in the ads, every time we buy the magazine and read the articles without response, every time we click on the link or smile politely at the joke or fail to see things as they really are, the norms are reinforced.

I know that movies are fiction.  I know that they are portraying real things.  And I know that we are all capable of convincing ourselves that we have the maturity, the insight, and the self-awareness to consume these things without being corrupted by them.  But cultural norms aren’t fixed by our opinions of our own virtues.  If there are things about the culture that you feel need to change; if you believe that women, non-whites, people of other nationalities or religions or ethnicities, the disadvantaged and disenfranchised need to be included, given equality of representation and opportunity, and given a chance for economic equity; then the culture will need to change.  And cultures are most permanently changed by the small, everyday reactions we have to the constant onslaught of normative messages.

Do you think that our culture is too violent, too warlike, too quick to attack and too slow to seek more peaceable solutions to our problems?  Then look for the violence in your own life, in your entertainments, in your myths and heroes.  Acknowledge that it is there and question its place in your life and in the culture.  And look for the opportunities you are given to choose the peaceable route.

Do you think our culture makes second-class citizens of our women?  Look in your own life for the small things you do or fail to do that are consistent with that.  Recognize how your own life has reinforced those things in you.  Know that you are not immune, and that changing the culture requires constant checking in with ourselves to see how we are falling prey to norms we claim to disdain.

Do you want to support equal and fair treatment of non-whites, non-Christians, and the LGBTQ+ community?  Take note of your own internal reactions.  Do feel you afraid, even slightly, in encountering the other?  Can you acknowledge that the racism or xenophobia or homophobia of the culture that has raised you has affected you, that you are not completely free of its influences?  Can you recognize and own those times when you have behaved badly, perhaps without intent or awareness, but badly all the same?

And did you go to see a film like “Manchester by the Sea” and not at least make note of the fact that what you just saw was filled with misogyny and male privilege and a cultural perspective that is exactly what we need to change?  And did you say anything?

Art is one of the most powerful purveyors of cultural norms.  Film has a way of drawing us into the reality it seeks to portray.  Indeed, the suspension of disbelief, the acceptance of the terms a film sets for itself is central to its success.  But after the viewing, take the time to talk about more than just whether Casey Affleck is the best thing since Brando, or who might get the Oscar nod, or how interesting and beautiful the cinematography was.  Talk about what the film has to say about all of us as human beings, and what it has to say about what is normal in our culture.  Then ask yourself what you want to do about it.

A Very Short Love Story

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm

“I’m afraid,” she said.

 

“What are you afraid of?” he asked.

 

“Does it matter?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” he answered.

 

“I’m afraid of loving you,” she replied.

 

And he looked at her across his coffee. And she looked out the window at a leaf still clinging to a branch long after it should have fallen.

 

After a while, he got up and took his cup to the sink.

 

“I am also afraid,” he said, with his back to her, “of loving you.”

 

And she looked at him now. She looked at the way his hair stood up in an unruly hedge in the morning; and she thought of the way his eyes seemed always to stay so shyly behind his lids. Then he turned around and he looked at how the one wrinkle had deepened on the side of her mouth where her smile mostly went, at how she slipped one finger through the handle of her cup as she encircled it and lifted it to drink.

 

“But,” he said, “I am not at all afraid of being loved by you.”

 

And she smiled. And he smiled.

 

“No,” she said. I am not afraid of that, either.”

 

And they agreed to live in what they were not afraid of. And after a time, they came to realize that they were no longer afraid at all.

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