Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Racism is but a part of our national problem

Racism is a hot-button topic these days. The truth is it's been a hotly debated and divisive topic in this country for well over 300 years. Practically every generation has produced an event that has brought the inequality between white citizens and those of color to the national spotlight.

And yet, the color of one's skin has not been the only cause of distrust and hatred. Since our country was founded we've invented reasons to deny equality to women, the poor, the Irish (and Italians, Polish, Japanese, Germans, Native Americans, and a host of other immigrants as well as those born on these shores), Catholics, Jews, Mormons, atheists, gays and other LGBT people, children, the elderly, the handicapped; almost every type of human being other than wealthy white males.

It's that history that makes me uncomfortable with the national focus on race.

Skin color is not the only component of race. Race is also determined by bone structure, hair and eye color. (diffen.com) We also have a history of prejudice toward humans of various ethnicities, genders, sexual persuasions, etc.

Obviously we have a problem in this country, and not just between whites and blacks, gays and straights, men and women.

Our laser focus on race is blinding us to a larger problem. We are a nation of the intolerant.

Since the founding of the U.S. we have been intolerant of anyone who is different than us in any way imaginable. (For a satirical example, enjoy Tom Lehrer's National Brotherhood Week) This is the sad state of affairs in America. We are a nation of immigrants, for the most part, people of various color, national origin, gender, sexual persuasions, hair color, physical ability, handedness, belief...who look down on everyone who isn't like us in every way.

Racism is only a fraction of our national intolerance, our institutionalized bigotry.

Instead of stressing our common humanity and celebrating our similarities as human beings, we'd rather emphasize our differences. Instead of working together to make the world a better place for everyone, we'd rather fight wars and commit genocide based on our perceived differences.

I may be a progressive, but I've lived too many years to be an idealist. I'd like to think that we could dismiss our differences and unite as humans to create a better world. But I honestly don't think we've evolved that far yet. We are still too closely related to our territorial, tribal, hunter forebearers. We are closer to our cave-dwelling past than we are to our possibly utopian future. We are not yet able to think of ourselves as a single human race. 

I seriously doubt we'll accomplish that in my lifetime. It may take many generations, providing we don't manage to bring about our own extinction in the meantime. I do think it's a worthwhile goal. In fact I believe it's the only way we'll ever progress as a species and assure our continued existence. But it won't happen overnight. It won't be brought about by passing laws or shaming on social media. It won't happen by lying about our past and rewriting history. We won't change just because we take one flag off the pole. 

Our entire nation, every person in the country, will have to be educated and encouraged to reorder their beliefs. Cooperation will have to crowd out competition. Peer pressure will need to be applied until hating another person just because they aren't like us is no longer acceptable anywhere at any time. 

I sincerely hope we can. I hope we will. I hope we do. Because if we don't our future as humans is seriously threatened. 



Saturday, April 04, 2015

The forgotten factor in the "Religious Freedom" debate

The last few weeks have been filled with debates, from town halls to mainstream media, from congregations to social networks, over the merits and intentions of Indiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act".


What doesn't seem to be getting mentioned much if at all is one the foundational beliefs those who sponsor and back measures like this hold and believe deeply.

Many religious people, not just Christians, believe that homosexuality is a choice. They believe people make a conscious decision to be gay. Further, they don't accept that there's anything organic about being transgendered. They think that a transgendered person is simply someone displeased with their biologically assigned gender and who wants to think of themselves, and wants everyone else to think of them, as a member of the opposite gender.

The religious ignore any scientific evidence that supports a biological and genetic basis for people who are gay or transgendered. They believe that these are "lifestyle choices", that one day in 1986 little Timmy decided he'd rather have sex with Billy than Marcia, or that he'd rather be Theresa than Timmy. Yet when questioned directly about this belief, I have yet to encounter someone who can tell me exactly when it was they made the choice to be heterosexual. While they often say that gays must have suffered some trauma of a sexual nature in their youth that made them choose to become gay, they dismiss the testimony of those who have been gay since they were first sexually aware who had wonderful childhoods. Of course, there is trauma often suffered when attempting to come out to homophobic family members and friends. That's a whole other issue, a very real and painful one.

These religious people do not see this debate as one over equal, civil rights. I'm sure the majority of them see our treatment of Blacks as an issue that needs to be addressed, a situation that needs correction. They know that no one chooses their ethnic background, but they fervently believe that one does choose their sexual orientation. They cannot separate orientation from behavior. In fact, they see the entire LGBT community as a group who has chosen to behave in ways unacceptable to the majority of "decent" (i.e. religious) Americans. They reject the notion of orientation. Because of their failure to appreciate the difference between behavior and orientation, they cannot equate discrimination toward Blacks or women with discrimination toward LGBT people. 

Thus, this debate over "religious freedom" is less a civil rights matter and more another aspect of the religious right's ignorance of science, their preference for the Bible over biology. As long as they refuse to respect medical science and instead defer to their religiously inspired bigotry, they cannot "in good faith" support the fair and equal treatment of gays and the transgendered. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

We are the 99%

We are the 99%.
The beat down, the hopeless, the pointless, the useless.
Robbed of the dream, denied success.
The poor, the disenfranchised, society's mules.
Robotically working, mindlessly living.
Lacking vision, denied salvation by the gods.
Reduced to pretense;
“Let’s pretend we can still be anything we want to be”
“Let’s pretend our lives are following a divine plan”
“Let’s pretend hope, and love, and opportunity exist”
Unable and unwilling to face reality.
Displeased with what is, hoping to achieve what will never again be.
We are the 99%.
The disillusioned, the angry, the impotent.
We buy homes we can’t afford.
We carry guns we know we’ll never use.
We rage online, in words.
Yet we meekly go about our lives.
Our misery makes us weak.
The future is dark and mysterious.
We buy our lottery tickets, we drink our cheap whiskey.

We die still dreaming of being among the 1%.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

10 ways to thank a veteran for their service

Almost every time someone discovers I'm an Army veteran they will inevitably, at some point in the conversation, say, "Thank you for your service". 

I admit, I prefer thanks to chants of "baby killer" and accusations of being the tool of a fascist government.  

But all too often it's easy to see that the phrase is just a "feel-good" reaction, lacking any emotion or sincerity. It's as hollow as the "God bless America" that ends every political speech by every U.S. politician that has ever mounted a podium. 

My advice, as a veteran, is this: stop saying "Thank you for your service" or any similar trite, politically popular bullshit. 

You sincerely want to thank a veteran? Here are ten things (there are many more) you can do that will make every veteran's sacrifice and service worthwhile.


  • Vote
  • Defend and protect your family, friends, neighbors and children
  • Get involved in social projects that help less fortunate Americans: Provide jobs to the unemployed, provide shelter to the homeless and food to the starving 
  • Get your news from journalists, not commentators and entertainers
  • Champion honesty, compassion, empathy and generosity
  • Promote justice and the equal treatment of all Americans
  • Take care of our country; don't litter or waste resources
  • Don't give away your Constitutional rights for political expediency 
  • Understand we must work together to solve national issues
  • Realize that everyone who contributes to bettering our society is just as worthy of thanks as any veteran
In short, thank a veteran by working to improve the life of every American citizen, including yours. The American people are who we fought to defend and protect.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Acting like an extrovert

All my life I've been the epitome of introversion.

When I was younger my hobbies were reading, writing, and nature photography. The only sports I enjoyed were solo pursuits; hiking, rock climbing, gymnastics, competitive roller skating. I prefered to spend time alone, and liked that.

Yet I was involved in choir and ensemble groups, I had a good time acting in several stage plays and in college I took public speaking every semester because of the confidence it gave me and I really liked the prof who taught the course.

As an adult I look back at my working life and realize that the majority of jobs I've held could best be described as either public service, customer service or retail management.

My current life exemplifies this dichotomy. I work in a convenience store 8 hours a day then go home to my rented room, where I tend to spend time with my beloved Cleo, the world's greatest Cocker Spaniel, and my computer. I have my meals in my room, often reading a book while I eat.

So how does a natural introvert adapt to a professional life as an extrovert?

I think it's best explained with a metaphor I invented when I had to council an employee who was being terminated. He and I were quite similar, yet I could adapt to life as a working extrovert and he couldn't. He couldn't understand how I managed it.

Since he and I had both been involved in theater, I told him that my working life was a role I played in a stage production called "My Working Life". At work I wore a uniform (costume) and acted according to a script (the expectations of the job/my employers). I wasn't me at work, I was a character in a play which earned me money that was used to enjoy my real life. In fact I took great pains not to mix my professional and private lives. I don't party with coworkers or make friends with them. I seldom if ever bring work home with me. I avoid discussing my job when I'm not at work. My two lives are wholly separate. It's a matter of compartmentalization.

So if you ever run into me at work, don't be insulted if I fail to be personal and treat you like every other customer I deal with daily. You're not meeting me but rather the character I play as a job. If you meet me away from my job, don't be surprised if I have little to say about my work and prefer to discuss philosophy, or science, or Cleo.


Friday, December 13, 2013

When bacon goes bad

In 1394, a pig was hanged at Mortaign for having sacrilegiously eaten a consecrated wafer; and in a case of infanticide, it is expressly stated in the plaintiff’s declaration that the pig killed the child and ate of its flesh, “although it was Friday,” and this violation of the jejunium sextae, prescribed by the Church, was urged by the prosecuting attorney and accepted by the court as a serious aggravation of the porker’s offence.
– E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Priorities

I suppose I really ought to quit smoking. But I bought a carton of smokes last week and I've still got 6 packs left. Besides, smoking's my muse, it ignites my brain cells.


Smoking gives you cancer. You could get lung cancer, even brain cancer. Cancer's a horrible, shitty, deadly disease. 

If I quit now I'm leaving 6 packs of cigarettes unsmoked, unappreciated. They don't let you return those things to the store you know. 

It could be those 6 packs that push you over the edge and give you cancer. You'll die a terrible, miserable death. Your hair will fall out. Oh wait, OK, your beard will fall out. You'll have to lie in a hospital bed all day. You hate that. And there isn't really a cure, so you'll linger in pain and sadness until the day you die.

But if I quit now I'm out 20 bucks.