Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reality Skewed

Professor J,

You'll recall that a couple of weeks ago I posted about an uncomfortable church service I attended. This week the blogosphere exploded with a related story that everyone has probably heard about unless on a strict digital detox of some sort. Even if one doesn't watch much television it would have been pretty difficult to keep from hearing about the Duggars, their 19 children, and their show on TLC. 

I bring it up here because it conveniently brings together for us several topics we've discussed recently and can serve as a microcosm for things we see in society. For readers who may be completely unfamiliar with them the Duggars are fundamentalist, home schooling, adherents to the Quiverfull Movement. They are friends of, and campaign for Mike Huckabee and regularly take stands against the LGBT community. So last week when it was revealed that the oldest son, Josh, had sexually molested 5 girls (including his own sisters) the backlash was swift and loud.

As happens so often in modern American culture we see the "party" lines split just as we'd expect. There's the side that thinks since JD is sorry and his parents provided "counseling" that all should be forgiven and everyone is just being mean or that the Duggars are being persecuted for their beliefs. On the other side we have the people who want the show cancelled and possibly all the minors placed in protective custody while DHS does a full investigation. Did I mention that he was 14 when the events took place and that there's been no apparent misconduct since then? Certainly nothing that would indicate that the behavior is ongoing. The religious right just cannot understand the level of vitriol being hurled in the direction of this sweet family from Arkansas.

That's the problem. 

Nothing is more infuriating than hypocrisy. The right doesn't seem to get that. To the outside world this just looks like another case of the hyper-religious conservatives saying one thing and then doing something else. Getting caught. Asking forgiveness. Politicians. Mega-church leaders. Conservative celebrities. It's a long list and while Christianity is based on forgiveness, which we are reminded of when these scenarios happen, the world outside the church doors wants to know where that same forgiveness is for others. Many bloggers and tweeters this week asked the excellent question--what if he'd molested his brothers? Would the parents have been so hasty to cover it up and then stand by him? Would the little brother (s) have been told to get over it and trotted out to smile for the cameras at their father's campaign events (he has been a state rep) and the family's reality TV show?

This entire scenario reminds me of the Republican debate in the last election primary. Rick Santorum (another Duggar favorite) explained in one of his responses that the reasons Muslim extremists hate America is because of our freedom, democracy, blah, blah, blah. Ron Paul in his turn made the point that explaining things that way is simplistic and dishonest. They hate us because of our foreign policy. They hate us because of the way our government interacts with them. The religious right has the same problem but they don't see it. Are they hated because of their beliefs or how they relate to others? If everyone on the outside just hates Christianity in general and Bible believing Christians in particular then how do we explain the respect of a figure like Mother Theresa among the religious and secular alike?

Because unlike what we hear from the RR average people actually do know what Jesus taught and recognize it when they see it. How sad for all of us that it is seen so rarely. What is offered up instead is a sad forgery and misrepresentation, then dismay and anger when we are called on it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Maybe They Need Heard Too


“Lots of people tend to think of our problems in little compartments that don't affect anything else. It may be our fatal mistake.”

Well said.  You keep spinning the gold!

Our blind and often destructive bludgeoning of nature to force it to do our will is meeting the lack of wisdom we have exercised in that force of will.  Various short-term tasks or challenges we “successfully” address blow back on us with consequences we have chosen to not foresee. As just the honeybees example demonstrates, we can probably dispense with the sapiens sapiens part of our species classification.  Maybe even the sapiens part entirely!

Or maybe we should just auto-exclude America, as we seem to lead the charge into unwise behavior—and our behavior then manifests into 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order effects across the rest of the world.  Yes, yes, there is much wrong in the world that is not a result of America’s actions and inactions, but the America-can-do-no-wrong crowd are injurious fools for failing to acknowledge where we have gone and do go rogue.

We know why many of us refuse to acknowledge reality, or worse, distort it or allow others to distort it for us:  “Reexamination of basic assumptions temporarily destabilizes our cognitive and interpersonal world, releasing large quantities of basic anxiety.  Rather than tolerating such anxiety levels, we tend to want to perceive the events around us as congruent with our assumptions, even if that means distorting, denying, projecting, or in other ways falsifying to ourselves what may be going on around us.” Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership.

I see and hear many angry statements from the above crowd. Are those statements not in most cases the result of anxiety? Anxiety that deep down they know something is off and maybe wrong, that their world-view is not consistent, that the world is changing in many ways, that their previously established “standard order” is transforming and they’re not ready for it to do so, that despite supporting the views and policies they have that things are not getting better and in fact are getting worse?  Are they not people who do not know what their place in the world might become, but in any case are fearful that it might not be a good place—at least not as good as what they’ve become accustomed to?

Is there a way to reach out to them in their anxiety?  And, especially, is there a way for those who will collectively become the new majority to reach out to them?  To acknowledge their fear, the anger, the anxiety, the division, and then try to transcend it?  That maybe if we acknowledge that we hear their anxiety, that we can then address its roots and have healthy, healing conversations about all that?  Or is this vocal quarter so resolutely, blindly, destructively on the wrong side of history that the tide of history must simply wash them aside until they are ready to swim with it?

I think we as society should be strongly seeking to answer the above.

Your ideas for positive, empowering action should be heeded by all.  The depressive assault must be combatted, and people must empower themselves to the greatest extent—the various political and economic and institutional systems out there are rarely if ever going to do it. 

Seeing “Tomorrowland” might help a bit.  No spoiler alerts here though! :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Feeling Connected

 “Sadly, we live in a world where if you do good things, there are no financial rewards. If you poison the earth, there is a fortune to be made.”
June Stoyer

Professor J,

The theme of your last post was connection. Something that discourages me when talking to people about the myriad of problems we face is how little understanding there is of just how connected everything is. Lots of people tend to think of our problems in little compartments that don't affect anything else. It may be our fatal mistake.

But I'm encouraged today. First this week I read that Obama has banned much of the militarized weaponry that has found its way lately into the hands of local police departments. Something we (and a lot of other people have been discussing). Then yesterday the White House took action to reverse our country's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. Yes, yes, it's a small start but something is better than nothing.

Most people have little understanding (or did until recently) just how closely we've tied our corporate food culture to the honeybee. Bees are now shipped around the country to pollinate crops on massive commercial farms, a practice that weakens the colonies. Under normal conditions, in the wild, or the backyard apiary bees are free to forage from a variety of plants. They know what protein is a specific need at any given time. On a farm where only soybeans or corn are being grown they are forced to feed on only one source. It's unhealthy for them.

But now we need them to do just that. Corporate farming has created an unnatural situation and unless we are willing to do without a large number of the foods we are use to the practice needs to continue until corporate farms begin to diversify crops. A proposition that would make planting and harvesting more expensive. And those feisty pesticide lobbyists (do I even have to say Monsanto?) have kept our government from doing what the European Commission did in 2013, ban neonicotinoids, at least for two years while more research was done.  It's not the only problem but it's a huge part of it.

Many things that people were doing even when they moved to cities like keeping chickens and bees or collecting rainwater are making a comeback. But there are about a third of the beekeepers in the US as there were a few decades ago. I read once that rain barrels went out of fashion when modern laundry detergents and shampoos made them less necessary. But if we are talking connections then our transient lifestyles and mobile careers make things like investing time and energy in a property beyond landscaping for resale value less appealing.

People are overwhelmed with the magnitude of problems we face but rarely realize how much of a difference could be made by doing something small like planting milkweed for monarchs or a variety of plants for bees. Research repeatedly shows that time outdoors eases depression and that sitting for long periods of time is as bad for our health as smoking. We could be taking better care of ourselves and the planet, not to mention securing our own sources of food by doing some very small things. Simple things. If the negatives are all connected then so are the positives. Beginning by wanting to solve one problem we might see a cascade of positive effects.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Connect Or Die

Madame M:

I did not know.  Thanks for the education!  How very many things there have been throughout history that have been subverted and perverted away from the originator’s intent.  Thinking about that makes me wonder how likely it would be that my Independence Week idea could be corrupted in much the same way.

You and I have not met in person in quite a while now, and we are both not the richer for it!  If we feel that way, how much the letter writers from the days of difficult and long travel must have felt it even more.

When the female bees demonstrate social and economic cooperation, amazing how much easier and more satisfying things seem to be.  In the book The White, which I mentioned once before, a similar phenomenon was demonstrated among the Native American women, of whose society the white woman had become part of.  She contrasted it with the hectic, overworked, highly stressed life her white mother had lived in the hyper-individualistic society of her youth.  When are we going to be ready to take our lesson?  Our good friends the Scandinavians have demonstrated that one does not have to give up one’s individualism to live in a cooperative society.

Yes, we need men and women of calm and reason in aggrieved and put-upon communities.  But as you rightly intimate, if we just end only with our very, VERY large expectation—that the repressed and victimized swallow their emotions and not “get out of hand” or “go violent”—then we will have selfishly, arrogantly, compassionlessly failed to be siblings to our fellow human beings.

What’s more, we will be self-blind to the intricate pattern we are ourselves woven into.  Because just like about environmental responsibility, in social and economic responsibility, we keep thinking there can be an “away.”

But sooner or later, there isn’t.  The social and economic injustice we inflict, or even that we permit or look the other way and deny about, has a way of coming back to haunt us.  Even if we don’t make the connection.  The brutalized, the marginalized, the communities nearly sucked dry of hope, the young with no real opportunity, the lack of ever growing up safe or getting to feel safe, the ever-present racism (both overt and subtle) that infects law enforcement and society both like an angry poison—how dangerously foolish we are to think that all that can be contained or quarantined. 

Things spill out, spill over, spread.  Those with few options and little to lose are a powder keg of hostile variability.   It happens in the Middle East, and it happens right here. 

Except we keep missing the connections.  That actions and lack of actions have consequences, sometimes delayed years or decades, but consequences nonetheless.  Robbery, drugs, kidnappings, violence, death, to name just a few.  Where there is little or no justice, there is no peace.  Where there is little or no fairness, there is no tranquility.  Where there is marked economic inequality, there is no sustainability.

Connection may be our only hope.  We need—desperately—to reconnect with each other. 

Because the alternative is, for both us individually and as society, literally killing us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Communities Large and Small

Professor J,

Thanks for the good wishes for Mother's Day. It's a holiday I have a love/hate relationship with, much like Valentine's Day. Something in me dislikes having feelings manipulated. "Feel this emotion today! Oh and let us sell you a nine dollar card." Guilt and obligation are the last two reasons I'd want to receive anything. My kids always make the day lovely and I appreciate it but they know it's not expected. They turned out to be wonderful adults and that is the best gift every day of the year. You probably know that the woman responsible for the day spent the second part of her life trying to get it rescinded when she saw what it became once the card companies and florists got a hold of it.

Your new preamble was brilliant and funny and sad.

As to our "struggling" I think sometimes we find ourselves in the weeds by parsing words or opinions too carefully. Unfortunately this happens because we are at the disadvantage of not being able to use  the ninety percent or so of communication that is non-verbal in these discussions. It would all be so much less tedious across a table wouldn't it? But this is the available medium and so we forge on. Correcting, redefining, clarifying.

Community policing: It's easy to see how well that might work. We saw it in Baltimore to some extent when the community pulled together to clean up after the initial riots and looting and the next night when we saw citizens form a line and lock arms between protesters who may or may not have turned violent and the police line. Vietnam veteran Robert Valentine stepped forward to tell young rioters to go home. He was a dignified but firm voice exhibiting love for his city and earning respect in the process. We desperately need men like that to be the voice of calm and reason in their own neighborhoods as well as communicate the concerns of citizens with authorities and work toward solutions. More than anything else, people who feel powerless want to know they are heard. There has to be some validation of their concerns before any real action or change can take place.

It would be helpful if our city leaders, community leaders, and police departments could forge alliances and keep communication ongoing instead of waiting for the powder keg to erupt. 

Could the 2016 election actually be more Clintons and Bushes? It's like a scab that won't heal. One that's indicative of a worse condition.

I've got a hopeful candidate picked out but it's early yet. 

 You rightly point out that the worker bees are female. Something interesting that I've noticed in the hives is that, though they are famously hard workers and known for being busy, those workers actually spend quite a bit of time resting and hanging out. Sometimes literally on the front of the hive in hot weather in a phenomenon called bearding. The take away lesson is that when they work they do so in such an efficient and cooperative way that the time spent not working does no harm and surely prolongs their lives which are very short during summer. We can imagine the tremendous benefits among humans if work were carried out this way.

But those are the females. Drones lumber around consuming valuable resources and waiting to mate with a virgin queen that might show up. I've been on the watch for a tiny little bee bar (serving meade no doubt) hidden in the hive with a tiny flat screen TV but haven't found it yet. :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

That Quarter

Madame M:

First, let me wish you and all mothers a great Mother’s Day!

Second, let me thank you for covering for me while overload was upon me.

There is as usual, entirely SO much that needs to be talked about in just the American landscape, let alone elsewhere, and that doesn’t even take into consideration all the points I need to address while you’ve had the soapbox solo the last three postings!  I will try mightily to restrain and focus in order that some faint measure of brevity can be attained!

To cover a bit of previous before addressing your recent post:  1) I was not aware we had been “struggling,” but maybe that’s the surest sign, lol, 2) if we had been, your “Digging For Answers” post came through and bulls-eyed it superbly (prime exhibit #1: “We ask people to live under impoverished conditions while pressing their faces up against the glass of wealth and privilege. Then we just can't imagine what all the anger is about”), 3) The “Digging For Answers” post needs to be taught nearly verbatim as part of a lesson in a university social science class, 4) Plan B, the book, listed some correctives to the disconnection that design of our American cities brings, 5) answer to your question:  Community Policing.  It has worked and does work better than anything when it is implemented earnestly (including when police and citizens sit down in relaxed and informal settings), and can work (and has worked in specific instances) in this large country precisely because law enforcement in America still retains large measures of de-centralization,  6) all efforts at law enforcement reform are made harder inside a plutocratic political-economy and widespread poverty, 7) how interesting that the worker bees you illustrate in your Rethink Community post, the cooperative engines of bee society, are female.

As to your post, I see we have swung the pendulum to full agreement, and I am sparked to add some things.

We the undiscerning, mindless robots of tragic failure, in order to perpetuate a more dysfunctional disunion, foment injustice, ensure domestic discontent, feed the devouring military-surveillance-fear-repression consortium, ignore the general Welfare, eviscerate the environment, and undermine the foundations of Liberty to ourselves and our descendants, do hereby disestablish preservation, protection, and defense of the Constitution of 1787 in favor of a vague and misty imaginary one we cannot articulate but still“know“ is being “threatened” by those we choose as ideological enemies.

I came up with that after reading your quite on-target “rant.”

Thomas Frank,  born in the heart of America in Kansas City, has chronicled very well the infuriating and frustrating phenomenon you/we relate.  In his books, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule; Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right; and his most famous one, What’s The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, he details what has happened.  For those who have not yet read his books, just going to the Wikipedia entry on him will give you some quotes from them that can be instructive.

Kansas has, in the 10+ years since he wrote the book, become even a deeper example.  It has a governor and legislature so in tune with ideological extreme (and demonstrated failure) policy that Kansas has gone into economic and governmental dire straits.  And what was once an educational system that ranked in the top third in the nation has been shredded.

A plutocratic political-economy takes three broad groups, and that’s precisely what we have:  1) The enormously wealthy individuals and corporations.  These are the true rulers.  They are the plutocrats.  2) Their mouthpieces/shills/politicians and other paid or sponsored henchmen.  These are the otherwise “powerful” that have been purchased or forced through money and influence to make the system work for the plutocrats—and to gum it up so that it can’t work against them.  3) the emotionally manipulated (emotions—often false ones—of fear, disgruntlement, resentment, anxiety, greed, distrust, racial “preference,” religious “persecution,” etc.).  The unkind call these low-information voters “suckers” for voting against their economic and democratic interests, but there is no doubt they are vocal, demanding, organized—and they vote in droves.  In so doing they perpetuate the plutocracy.  And in the process do all—and more—of the insensible things you list. 

Including campaigning for Mike Huckabee, a man who, while he doesn’t believe in a minimum wage, believes in a MAXIMUM wage, a limit for those who are EARNING a living.  He, of course, being a shill for plutocrats, says nothing of maximum income.  No, no, no.  That would step on the strings of his puppeteers who thrive on carried interest, dividends, capital gains, and other unearned income.

But there is another catalyst in this plutocratic setup.  The apathetic, the distracted, the ill-informed, the uncritically thinking, the diversion-fanatics, the shallow, the willfully ignorant, the uncaring, the selfish, the overly apolitical, the self-indulgent, and even the despairing and the disgusted share a common trait.

They rarely show up to vote, and even then not consistently.  Or even to register.  And getting them to be engaged and retain focus on an issue is usually beyond their capacity.

Thereby giving excessive, destructive influence to the vocal, demanding, organized quarter of the population who arm and armor themselves to fight cultural wars while the real problems slowly devour all of us.

Hey three-quarters, are you listening?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Handbasket Ready

 Professor J,

Warning: This one's a rant.

I sat in church on a recent night and squirmed. My stomach churned and I felt sick. I didn't know if getting up and walking out would be the right thing. The sweet distant family member who had invited us wouldn't have understood and sometimes you have to decide where and when to try to explain why you disagree with something. I felt like the old lady in the insurance commercial whose friends are confused about social media--That's not how this works; that's not how any of this works.

Let me explain.

We'd been asked to join one of the sweetest people we know for the evening service at the church we use to attend. A large church where Mike Huckabee came to speak when he was governor. A church full of people who will vote for him in primaries and cheer him every step of the way as he campaigns for president. 

First there was some rousing music and a long prayer for the city that everyone was encouraged to read off the giant screens together. It included things like and end to racism and for businesses to come here to provide jobs. So far so good. But then a picture of the Supreme Court justices was put on the screen with a list of their names. The pastor of the church then asked people to pray about the case they were hearing on Tuesday about same sex marriage. The atmosphere turned solemn and he asked people to get down on their knees and pray that they would not have enough votes to legitimize same sex marriage as a constitutional right. There was a lot of talk about judgement befalling America and how much we'll deserve it if a couple of guys can get married. The language was more eloquent, somber, and scary than that but I'm snarkily paraphrasing. 

 I'm always surprised how quickly church services can morph into political rallies and vice versa in this country. I sat in my seat and subversively prayed for the hearts and minds of everyone present to mind their own business, although I probably prayed something more like "open minds and give a spirit of compassion and love. Then have them mind their own business."

After a long prayer the entire congregation arose and sang God Bless America. From the tone of it you would have thought some government entity was going to force them all into same sex marriages at gunpoint right after the service. After that things proceeded in a way that seemed more like church. I felt as though I'd been a victim of the old bait and switch. 

Later I wondered what was so upsetting to me. I know the noisy philosophy of this church and what they believe and I oughtn't really have been surprised. As I wondered what about it bothered me the most I soon realized that it was the list of things we'd not been asked to get down on our knees about during the years I'd attended.


Some things that are actually mentioned repeatedly in scripture as things that God seems to get pretty worked up about. That injustice thing is a big one. Funny how we never hear anything about in many churches. I've certainly never been asked to kneel at my seat to pray fervently about the spirit of greed on Wall Street or income inequity. No one ever seems interested in praying about whether we are acting like a certain ancient empire when we invade other countries to democratize or liberate them, without asking, because of course, we know what's best for them.  

For some reason this one issue of same sex marriage is the line in the sand that evangelicals have latched onto. So an issue that has two consenting adults trying to create a permanent relationship, home, and family upsets people more than war.


We are supposed to believe that two men or women living together under the banner of marriage is more terrible than violence and bloodshed. Or worse than the total destruction we saw drone video of this week. We are supposed to buy that judgement will come from on high because a couple of guys want to register at Pottery Barn for wedding gifts but that God turns a blind eye to corporate backed wars where we invade and destroy third world countries while enriching corporations who manufacture items that kill, maim, and destroy. Then we vote for candidates who ensure those corporations get tax breaks but have a meltdown over a single mom getting welfare.

We parade these twisted priorities (it's like no one has even read the gospels) like badges of honor and claim persecution if anyone points out that perhaps, you know, just maybe, it's a bit off somewhere.

I've venting here because this is what happens when I'm left to my own devices too long alone with a soapbox. And because I thought you, and some of our readers, might understand. I am so not up for another election already.

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