Thursday, September 10, 2015

What We Do To Ourselves

Many Americans who were alive and old enough to remember it, define 9/11 as the most significant historical and cultural event of their lifetime. The sudden, tragic death of more than 3,000 people, the fact that it was unfolding live on television, the sheer scope of the destruction, and the toppling of a symbol of the countries wealth, the resulting economic power and sheer ambition shook them to their inner most core. It was a tragedy on a scale we had never really had to deal with before. The age of innocence ended. We were forced to deal with realities we hadn't been able to fully contemplate. There's no doubt we were left changed, culturally and politically, as a result of 9/11.

The thing about 9/11 was that as much as we may have contributed to the environment that created the people who did it, we didn't do it to ourselves. As Americans who benefit from the kind militaristic colonialism and resource poaching our government and military perpetrate, we do have some degree of responsibility for contributing to creating that environment. As true as that is, it does not excuse the horror those 19 people perpetrated on a few million people who were just doing their best to live their lives in the best way they understood and hadn't had a direct involvement in the grievances 9/11 was meant to highlight and address. I've heard the argument made that because we, as a people benefit from and do not stop our government and military from their perpetration of horror on other countries, we are all just as culpable. I don't really believe that. I believe that the people of Afghanistan were as terrorized by the groups responsible for the attack on 9/11 as we were, and I believe that our government, our military and the kinds of businesses that profit off of war and death have been exploiting us for a very long time. The argument that 9/11 was the result of rational self interest does not take into account that it's the same basic philosophy of those who have so long beat the drum for war, and it is only rational in the most short term, for exactly the reason people make the argument that those of us who just happened to be born in the United States and framed by it's culture are responsible for 9/11. It only leads to more of the same. We use our military and our economic power as a stick to keep other countries in line, despite their independence from us, and that violence begets retaliation, which begets the tightening of our fist, which begets more retaliation. Given the history of the United States involvement in the Middle East, the kind of anger and hatred that creates the people who perpetrated the attack on 9/11 was inevitable, it's written all over human history. As much as it is the failure of the United States that we continue that kind of militarized colonialism and colonialist economics, it is also the failure of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIL, Boko Haram and their various peers to understand that this repetition of history can never lead to the world they believe they are trying to and want to create. It is that environment, created by military and economic decisions, that creates the atmosphere where 19 men may be convinced to take the lives of millions of people. The hatred and anger it displays is stoked, tended and fed by those who choose to manipulate the people within their sphere of influence, as is true of culture and politics in the United States. Though there is a degree of responsibility the American people share for the political choices we make, the things we allow in our name and the benefits we receive from those things, 9/11 was not solely our doing.

It's those facts, that the sole responsibility did rest on us as a society, government and culture, that make Hurricane Katrina a more significant historical and cultural event. We may not have been responsible for the hurricane itself, but we are responsible for everything leading up to it and everything that has followed. The Army Corps of engineers failed to build the levee's to the necessary specifications, Congress repeatedly refused to devote funding to maintaining the levee system properly, the state government of Louisiana and the city government of New Orleans failed to have proper evacuation plans in place, and as a government and culture we've refused to take climate change and the warnings of intensified storms seriously.

Those are the strictly bureaucratic failures, before the storm even landed on shore. They don't even begin to touch on the degree to which we have been content to live in a society where systematic inequality insures the cycle of poverty that helped to trap residents in the city, the racism that helps insure the black population continues to make up an inordinate percentage of the poor or that the bureaucratic failures that began long before the storm landed faced little to no real criticism.

It became clear within the first days of the disaster that if you lived in a city that was a , you can not expect the government, society or culture you live in to have met the responsibilities necessary to prevent your city from becoming a wasteland or to be able to provide aid if it did. Then, there was the militarized assault on the people who were attempting to survive. Homeland Security wasted no time employing military contractors for "security purposes," but couldn't figure out how to get water and food in to help prevent the necessity of "security personnel." This wasn't just the result of negligence, it was the result of the cultural and political attitude of aggression that has existed toward the poor and people of color for centuries. It was, in so many ways, the logical result of the things we refused to face, in the decades before the Katrina hit land and after.

The narrative surrounding Hurricane Katrina has been that a poorly prepared city was devastated by a natural disaster, the poor were without the ability to take refuge and government ineptitude compounded the whole thing. Like the most pernicious varieties of feeble minded explanations that are easy to swallow and make for easy to write rush headlines and sound bites, there are kernels of truth to that explanation. Prior to Katrina, 70,000 of New Orleans residents lived below the poverty line. Child poverty in Louisiana was only surpassed by Mississippi. It was a humanitarian crisis before Katrina. Before Katrina, the majority of the city's population was black, and the same is true of it's population living below the poverty line. Ignoring systematic inequality has a cost in human lives everyday, but it usually lives outside of our headlines and away from the eyes and perspectives of the centers of political, economic and cultural power. For all of the back slapping and congratulations being given to the "New" New Orleans after Katrina, in spite of the lessons that could have been learned as a result, much hasn't changed. Let's be very, very clear here. Thousands dead, bodies floating in the streets, and murder have not been enough to drive us a nation or the people who have now taken power in New Orleans to decide the cost of systematic inequality is not too high. This should make all of us question just where we fall in the order of importance. It's easy to understand the feeling that "this is what happens to them" as a defense mechanism, but the more sensible reaction is actually, "when do I become the them?" Where does the line between who matters and who doesn't actually sit? What does it take to move that line, in either direction? These are things we should be asking ourselves these questions.

The example provided by New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina has gone unheeded. Systematic inequality is still ignored. We're still moving more slowly than we can afford to address climate change, which assures the peak effects will be worse when they arrive. We're still ignoring or under funding infrastructure.

We're going to do this to ourselves again, because the cost of doing something else is too inconvenient and requires answering too many hard questions like adults who want to leave their children and grandchildren a better world. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rape Kit Testing Backlog: A Glowing Neon Sign of Rape Cultures Existence.

Any confusion about the term, "rape culture," can be cleared up with this very simple example. Kelvin Stokes walked the streets for 15 years while the rape kit containing the evidence that proved he is a rapist sat on a shelf. It says something about the way we think of rape as a crime that it's becoming commonplace to hear about two to three year back logs to test a rape kit. 13 years should be an unthinkable length of time to assess evidence in a case of rape, but apparently, it isn't. Considering the degree of investigation that goes into a person's entire life when they make an accusation of rape, scrutiny that becomes part of the public record, it would seem sensible that a rape kit could be tested in no less than 30 days as a strictly legal matter.

In New York, where a previous backlog of 16,000 kits existed, clearing that backlog and testing all of them, resulted in 2,000 DNA matches in the FBI's CODIS system. This touches on the other reason  (as if giving rape victims justice in a timely manner isn't quite a good enough reason) the back log of rape kits is a threat to public health. How many serial rapists could be caught and prosecuted as a result of testing all of these kits? A report released by Human Rights Watch in March of 2009 contained this example:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Of That Which We Don't Speak...

I've never been someone who readily identifies with or lovingly accepts expectations of my behavior or identity. I've spent the entirety of my life operating under the assumption that in trying to be a decent human being, and doing the best I can at it, that's going to cover all of my most important bases. My definition of what that means has changed, and some maturity helped give me some immunity to the kinds of insecurities that are the greatest obstacles on that road, but that journey really doesn't end until I end. Most of the socially expected and/or accepted ideas about this aren't necessarily completely meaningless to me, but at least in my life as an actual adult, they tend to fall so far down the ladder of importance as to basically not matter. It's been a good long time since I've fallen quite far enough in a sense of who I am that I had to use those creaky, dangerously weak rungs on the ladder of my priorities. 

One of the things I've always thought was good about feminism has been that in destabilizing the feminine roles, it automatically destabilizes the masculine roles since they're more or less dependent on each other to give them some kind of meaning. If there are no roles, then neither exists, essentially. I don't think that's going to happen quite yet (though I think that's as good a solution to gender bias of any kind as there is), but it does seem to be that, for many reasons, it's time to start having some conversation about what defines masculine or masculinity in a 21st century world. Feminists of every stripe have been having this conversation about the feminine and femininity for a few decades already. The conversation about the masculine has been happening to some degree, but nowhere near the necessary scale for it to have anything resembling a profound effect.
In many ways, having one conversation without the other is counterproductive. If one is redefined, both need to be redefined. That doesn't and can't happen in a vaccum. Even if it does, that's not the most beneficial way to make progress. That vacuum is the reason that "Mens Rights" advocates exist. Without a positive, relatively open discussion being had, and without intelligent, interested and genuine voices, it leaves the space open to be occupied by people of questionable logic and motives.

Being a male feminist or a male who supports feminism isn't enough anymore. There has to be a positive and productive conversation about a new definition for the masculine and new ideas about masculinity. Otherwise, all the good will and support on earth aren't going to make a difference as far as progress being made in creating a world where the most dangerous thing to women isn't men. As men, people who identify as male or however it is you want to put it, we have to begin having this conversation with each other and amongst ourselves and looking at what it is we're passing on to the generations we're raising and that they'll raise. 

Boys and men are in a kind of crisis right now. The younger the demographic, and less white the demographic, the more we're falling behind in just about every financial and social indicating category. We're graduating high school and college at lower and lower rates. We're not living significantly longer, even as medical a science progresses. We're more likely to suffer emotional and psychological difficulties. Left without any answers, the likes of Mens Rights activists blame a false preference toward women/girls. This seems too simple an answer, because the ways that women are still behind men wouldn't still be our reality either. They wouldn't be paid 30% less, they'd be paid 30% more. And still, in the 21st century, the thing most likely to cause injury or death to a woman on this planet is men. If for absolutely no other reason, it's important that feminism exists and has a strong voice. If you disregard many other good reasons for its existence, this is still a more than sensible, reasonable, rationally self interested reason for women to speak and fight about issues related specifically to gender.

The argument that hasn't been made (at least among what we can for now call "traditionalists")  is that men/boys are falling into many of these positions not because of women or feminism, but because of men. While there is no actual realistic basis for an argument that men are in this situation because of women, because as men, we're not presenting them with an alternative, it's understandable that young men and boys may be feeling they're under a constant criticism or a constant vigilance about what they can't do or say, who they can or can't be. As the sayings go, feelings aren't facts, but perception dictates reality. Whether or not, as a man, you may like it, equality has made serious strides that are not going to be turned back without an upheaval of your entire life. Turning back the clock isn't an option, so it's time to start dealing with the reality we live in on a daily basis and creating the kind of masculine identity that can be a positive, participatory ideal. Those who are at the forefront of attempting to turn back the clock are going to be crushed by the weight of time marching forward without them. We're going to look at most of them in much the same way we've just looked at the late Fred Phelps, a sickening, disturbing, pathetically twisted failure. There is so very little that really needed to be said about his death because of just how spectacularly he failed and that within his own lifetime, the cause to which he dedicated himself was legally and socially destroyed. This isn't to say homophobia does not still exist and that there aren't still areas of the country where it has the levers of power within its grasp, but it is to say, there is no one, not a single objective mind that can look at the state of anti-gay movements and mentalities and think they have any real future. Time is going to so significantly wipe them away within a generation, that they're ability to wield power will become essentially extinct.

This leaves us both, men and women, in a precarious position. We're stumbling forward in attempts to either realign or completely do away with gender roles and at least as men, we have only a few alternatives to look toward in order to have some kind of guiding principles toward creating a sense of masculinity and manhood that is both more in line with the reality of contemporary society, but that also gives us some room to grow into a society that's more equitable. Gender equality has come a very long way from where it was even 100 years ago. That still doesn't change the sad truth that the most dangerous thing in the world to women is men. We're still the likeliest cause of injury and death a woman faces in her life. That should give us pause as we consider who it is we want to be, where it is we see ourselves going and what the answers to those same questions are on a larger basis for the whole society.

This, to me, is what something akin to an actual "Men's Rights" movement would look like. It would essentially be creating place in social structure where men can create their own identities, free from the traditionalists who seem to be unable to admit that the reality is still that men are the most dangerous thing women face on the planet and that a good deal of that reality is supported by the traditional gender roles they often support, even if it's a de facto support that's more the result of trying to "take feminism down a peg," without the actual motive of supporting those roles.

It also means we don't have to let our identities be shaped by the most strident and least humane voices in the least equitable corners of the feminist movement. The reality being that there are entities within the feminist movement whose motives are as specious as many of those in the Men's Rights movement. Every grouping of human beings is going to have them. That's not an attack on feminism in any way, as much as it is a recognition that there are always going to be some people within their ranks that any group should probably just ignore. Those men who feel threatened and accused by feminism as a whole are being asked to cross a great distance within their own perspectives to meet on ground that creates equality, feminism and feminists can cross some ground and accept the reality that not everyone who claims to be a feminist has the forward momentum of equality in mind. Some of them, just need to have a paycheck continuing to come in and like the most vocal aspects of the men's rights movement have realized that the more sensational and strident the attack, the more attention they're going to garner. Attention for radical, progressive (and not necessarily Progressive in the sense of today's current political speak, where it's a euphemism for traditional American liberalism), and forward thinking ideas ans perspectives is almost always a good thing. Sometimes though, those ideas can be held up to shield much more selfish ends that end up being detrimental to forward progression.

To put it extremely plainly, as free thinking, autonomous beings, we shouldn't let the crazy people take over the entire conversation about gender, no matter where they may fall on the spectrum of philosophy or beliefs. It's important to listen to the most radical ideas because they can be coming from a previously unconsidered, but ultimately useful, helpful perspectives, but it also doesn't mean letting the mantle of "radical" become a means to an end in itself. The worst result of this ends up being that the public discussion about gender ends up becoming an argument of extremes because everyone is looking for the opponents most extreme behavior or speech and holding that up as the example of the entirety of the opposition. This is all very straight forward in the world of public discussion and politics, every single area of our society that involves either of those is shot through with it. Personally, I don't want men's rights activists defining what my accepted role in society should be, but I don't really want Jezebel definining it either. There are galaxies of ground between those two, and that's something we should be exploring in order to help understand the realities of masculinity in the 21st century. At least amongst ourselves, we can start having a conversation about what those realities are and what new kinds of expectations we have of each other and ourselves in light of those facts.

There are a thousand questions to ask surrounding just the basic idea of what a new masculinity looks like. One of them is certainly, "Should we even bother with a concept for masculinity?" It's a perfectly sensible and reasonable question to which many people will probably respond, "No." The only response I can have to that sentiment is that humanity isn't anywhere near ready to actually embrace an erasure of gender roles altogehter. The path there, if that is the best end result to hope for, is incredibly long from where we're standing. Not to say it isn't a worthy goal, but it's the Jules Verne syndrome. It's thinking about space travel before we've mastered air travel with any real efficiency or capability for mass transit. We might be able to fly in one's and two's, so far as dumping gender roles is concerned, but we're not at the point of being able to handle mass transit. It's going to take an evolution of thought and attitudes that starts with figuring out how to move the ideas of the masculine and feminine in a more forward thinking direction. Beginning with trying to understand that direction has to happen before it can begin to be popularized and communicated to the sections of society that aren't interested in participating in the conversation yet. They may become interested, but it is good to recognize the reality that it's not the kind of conversation that's going to suddenly become a subject people discuss around the proverbial water cooler.

There are a few topics that are directly related to the traditional concepts of masculinity that can't be overlooked if there is going to be a revision or reevaluation of what masculinity as a whole can or does mean in the contemporary context. Exploring those in more detail is something I plan on attempting to do in the future, but they're also concepts that should be considered as part of a discussion. I'm obviously not someone with the training or the education to be best suited to unpacking and analyzing them in the most useful way, but I can participate from my own limited perspective.

Essentially, this is an invitation. Calling people out just doesn't actually change minds or attitudes anymore (if it ever did). The endless chatter and the endless number of topics people can choose to call others out on has created what's essentially an ecosystem over run with white noise. We can all go back to our respective corners and feel good about our self righteous moral superiority, but that really changes nothing and is little better than preaching to already loyal converts. An invitation and "calling in" as I recently saw it described, is something altogether different. There is a necessary reason and place for "calling people out." There is also a necessary reason and place for "calling people in." The difference being, in the most rudimentary sense, an attitude that says, "this is important, come sit down and talk about this with us," versus "you've done something wrong and you have to listen to what we say it is." One has an undertone of imposing discipline or punishment on the offender, the other has an undertone of exercising discipline within or on ones self.

The problem with all of this being that in the most real sense, I'm essentially no one, so my invitation isn't worth much of anything. On the other hand, that might just be a good thing. Maybe this invitation to join this discussion is really about anyone who might be interested in the conversation, whether or not they know me or think I could have anything worth hearing, asking others to join the conversation, and just getting it to begin in a larger way.

I'm going to continue trying to explore this idea, as time allows. I'll be posting here about more specific topics related to this discussion as I'm able to consider, write and edit them. If you're interested, contact me through this blog or any of the social media I've got listed under "Links You Should Click" in the sidebar. I'm only one person, with one perspective, and a limited one at that, so having some other people with some ideas about what masculinity is or can be as we move into the 21st century would be useful and helpful in being able to have an actual discussion, which is what it seems we all need.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bad Faith, In Every Form

One question keeps cropping up in the back of my mind lately when it comes to issues of civics and politics: Why, exactly, am I supposed to trust you?

That might seem kind of harsh, and maybe it is. At the same time, the last few years have presented me with little reason to think otherwise when it comes to these topics.

I spent a few years working in a place where people felt perfectly at home spewing the most vile homophobia, racism and sexism a person can possibly express. On top of that, I knew that in order to be able to keep my job, I had to refuse to point out either just how vile it was or even in the more basic personal way, that it made me deeply uncomfortable.

I've also had some rather choice sentiments directed at me personally in the last few years, in connection with matters of politics and civics. I've been called a racist because I didn't support Barack Obama in his bid for reelection and actively questioned exactly why it was a good idea to continue to support any candidate whose foreign policy and violations of basic human rights were similar to his. I was also pretty often called an Obama-bot, libtard, faggot, grifter, leach and various other names because I wasn't particularly interested in Mitt Romneys promises to turn American policy a quarter of a degree past where it's been these last four years. Because let's honestly face it, the total difference in actual policy and enforcement by Democrats and Republicans over the past twenty years hasn't even been a matter of degrees, it's been a matter of percentages of a degree, when the entire landscape is considered. Sure, they're rhetorically at odds, but when it comes down to actual policy and implementation, not so much.

There is of course, the old standby, that I hate freedom. I'm not exactly sure how that squares with my continued expression of distaste for and genuine alarm at the rate with which the government and various other entities with the ability to control different levers of power have eroded civil standards of privacy, speech, gathering and otherwise. Questions and skepticism are apparently antithetical to freedom these days. I didn't get the memo on that one. It's practically a joke at this point.

I've also been called an Islamophobe because I had the gall to suggest that if you consider the results of their collective efforts, Hamas might just not have the best interests of the Palestinian people in mind. I've also been called antisemitic, for suggesting that the Israeli government, as it is an industrialized democracy, might be subject to the same failures as the American political system, and that again, there may just be factions involved in the decision making process that don't have the best interest of the Israeli or Palestinian people in mind. If you'll notice, that particular sentiment or statement does not involve blaming Jews as an ethnic or religious community for anything. It's basically suggesting that Muslims, Jews, and every other possible group of human beings are subject to the same failures when it comes to the wielding of power. Given that, I'm not very willing to take the word of Hamas, the Israeli government or their various surrogates at their word. Call me cynical, but I don't just buy it when people in positions of power promise to be protecting people over whom they exert power and influence. I know, this is a crazy notion, but what can I say?

I've also seen the rights of people I know and care about roundly ignored or outright abused, as the majority of the nation sat on their fatted asses, commenting from the sidelines. Whether it was Occupiers in various parts of the country being beaten and pepper sprayed for expressing their First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of assembly or in Wisconsin these last few weeks when police have pepper sprayed and harassed people because they didn't appreciate their state legislature passing midnight legislation that hadn't been given a fair hearing by the people of the state, or women's health advocates getting arrested because among them were people who happened to both live in an anarchist commune and legally own firearms, which they weren't carrying (it's worth noting that it's not against the law to carry a concealed weapon or to open carry a weapon on Virginia Capital grounds. People literally do both, every day the legislature is in session). Let's also not forget the number of arrests at various protests of the Keystone pipeline, including those outside The White House.

This year I've also watched the overwhelming majority of Americans go all glaze eyed over the protestations many of the rest of us put up over the NDAA. Then came the decision by a federal judge that the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens is against The Constitution, after both Democrats and Republicans wholly agreed it was both necessary, and in no way an interference with said Constitutional rights. That provision now being useless, the new National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 reconstitutes the same principle, under different language. Again, interest in this is low at best, and non-existent in the larger context.

Most recently, gun control advocates have joined anti-abortion advocates in accusing me of being in favor of child murder. Interestingly, neither of them seem to be quite so bothered when the political party of their favor chooses to blow children into small pieces from an unmanned drone. This may be more evidence of my cynicism, but I'm somehow unable to take their adamant cries for child protection quite so seriously in that context. I could just be crazy, but to think that there's some degree of partisanship driving the calls for gun control and the abolition of abortion doesn't seem beyond the realm of reality. This isn't to say that there isn't some degree of genuine belief in what they're advocating, but honestly, especially considering that some of the people who've accused me of being indifferent to the death of children have had significant enough time and dealings with me to know exactly how wrong that accusation is. I don't put a specific premium on categories of human life, which is really the main difference. A collection of cells isn't a human being as far as I'm concerned, and a Pakistani child's life is worth no more and no less than an American child's life. Let's be clear here, the drone program that's been killing children since it's inception has a two percent target kill ratio, meaning that of the people it kills, only two percent of them are the actual targets. And somehow I'm the one who is indifferent to murder. As far as I'm concerned, killing should be completely restricted to incidents where a person believes their life is in danger. That's pretty much it. It's also worth pointing out that all of this concern for the welfare of children should, logically, have lead to an effort to ban or heavily regulate the Catholic Church, considering that it engaged in a cover up of the magnitude that it did. Those kids are going to have to live with their wounds, which for some of them is going to mean many years of a kind of pain that might be a fate almost as cruel as death.

I'm not a political operative. I've never joined up with either party. I've never worked for a campaign for a candidate from either party. There was a period of time in my life (let's call it The Bush Years) when I definitely identified more with the Democratic Party, but at this point, I'm still asking many of the same questions and attempting to address the same issues now that their guy is in power, and for that I've been called a racist, an idealist and out of touch with reality. Again, it's interesting that they weren't calling each other those things when they were asking these very same questions of G.W. Bush. Republicans, it seems, have suddenly found their "principles" when it comes to many of these same questions. That is, of course, after eight years of defending the actions of the Bush administration that made the asking of those questions necessary and to which they responded by calling the persons asking those questions "unpatriotic."

I'm not a television personality. There is no monetary or career gain in expressing my opinions and feelings. In fact, probably in more cases than not, expressing my opinions and ideas would detract from the jobs I'd be allowed to have. I can basically guarantee at this point that I'd never qualify for a federal security clearance. I can also basically guarantee that if I were to attempt to get a job for a company that did significant contracting work for either of the major political parties, it wouldn't be happening. There's way too many publicly available blog posts of my criticisms of both political parties and the federal government. The fact that I seemed to have been instilled with the idea that power must always be questioned and held accountable has cost me more than it has won me monetarily. I can sleep at night though.

What does all of this have to do with my initial question? What does any of this have to do with asking why I should trust you?

You hate each other. At the end of the day, that's all there is now. You hate each other.

I'm not talking about hating the party leaders of the party you're in opposition to or their various public surrogates either. You hate each other. I'm talking about your neighbors and members of your community, people whom you may have far more in common with than the political partisans you've chosen to hitch your wagons to. The disdain with which you address each other and with which you talk amongst yourselves about the others is breath taking.

 I certainly know the majority of you don't spend much or any time at all actually listening to each other. You don't listen to me, and I'm not even one of them. For the majority, you stop listening the minute you realize I'm not one of you. Many of you badger, belittle and bully anyone who isn't one of you. Consider for a second what it says about you that because someone disagreed with you, you'd say they are either in favor of or indifferent to the murder of children. Think for a second about that...

Now think about how little you've fought to keep alive children in Yemen, Pakistan and the many other countries in which our drones are operating by bringing attention to these deaths...

Consider that.

How would you feel if I said you were indifferent to the murder of children or even in favor of it?

Considering how little most of you have attempted to influence the parties you identify with on that front, I'd probably be a bit more right than you are about that one. I've been writing and posting  about the U.S. drone program and it's casualties on different social media sites now for a few years

The thing is, no matter how much I might impugn the dogged loyalty many people show to their parties, I'd never go so far as to say that you're in favor of or indifferent to murder. It's certainly not beyond me to attempt to provoke a reaction that I'd hope might lead to a discussion of priorities, but even for me, who can be pretty provocative, that's a bridge too far.

There's a lot of talk out there that amounts to blaming the media for violence in the world. Movies, music, television, news, they're all really easy targets. Now though, with the advent and primacy of the internet, you still have yet to realize that you are the media. How does all of this blind hate fall into the larger picture of this very violent world we live in? For Americans, just exactly what part are you now playing in that? You've placed your faith in institutions that have taught you to hate your neighbors and the other members of your community who will share your fate whether or not you agree with it, and that fate, so long as you do so, will not be decided by you and those who surround you.

You don't have to take complete responsibility, this is definitely true, but at the end of the day, yours is a voice in a chorus. What song is that chorus singing and do you want to continue to participate? For all of the talk about the random acts of violence that we keep seeing, very few of you seem to be putting together that you're basically all participating in creating and propagating an environment that insists that there is either victory or defeat, and to the victor goes the ability to gloat, disenfranchise and ridicule the defeated. Add to that the fact that Americans basically spend the entirety of their lives competing for everything, and you've got the kind of pressure cooker environment that is likely to create the release of that pressure in the form of violence. Sure, the guns are the tool of choice at that point, but shouldn't there be a substantive conversation about that environment?

When I talk about my views on gun control, many people are shocked, given what they understand my other political views to be. These views aren't guided by the NRA. I hate the NRA, they're purveyors of lies and misinformation and they are so deeply intertwined with the Republican Party that it's impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. It's worth mentioning that in spite of being quite vocal about this, I've also recently been accused of being brain washed by the NRA.

I don't live in fear of criminals coming to my home. My belongings aren't worth killing over. I have no grand ideas that I would somehow be able to fight off the police if they came to cart me away on what I felt to be unjust grounds. The state is always capable of more violence than an individual. What I fear is that your hate is creating something you are not fully capable of controlling and not fully willing to recognize or understand. That's what I fear most.

Let's a take a page from history, shall we...

Lynchings were never legal in the strict sense. However, it wasn't at all unusual for members of law enforcement to take part in them. The dominant culture at the time, was able to enforce it's dominance through lynchings, intimidation, rape, arson and the fear resulting from all of those things. It's not even that everyone in all of the areas that lynchings took place believed in them or that there weren't people who thought they were barbaric, unjust and horrible. But it was a very, very, very long time before there were enough people willing to stand up and force enough attention onto this practice that it ended.

It wasn't even that long ago that people who were gay or transgendered were given not altogether different treatment, the response to which was also not altogether different. 
All of that, was the result of hate. It was a hate not completely dissimilar from what we're seeing now pass for political dialog. I have absolutely no quarrel with a pointed discussion and hard nosed disagreement, but we've gone far, far, far beyond that now.

Given this history, and that it's played out very much the same way, the world over, since human beings started keeping written history, including the very recent history during which the overwhelming majority of Americans have been willing to watch the rights of their fellow citizens violated and abused on the basis of the dominant culture enforcing it's power and dominance, I don't trust that most of you would do much of anything when all this hate you've created finally begins to spin out of control. For those of you who live in an area where yours is the dominant political culture, should these people you hate suddenly be the targets of some campaign of intimidation, harassment, and even violence, I don't honestly trust that you'd be willing to attempt to rectify that. In fact, I'm quite certain that if it required you put your economic, physical or social well being on the line, you'd do nothing. There would of course be a perfectly good justification to go along with that nothing, but in the end, that's exactly what it would be, nothing.

Also, given my predilection for asking questions many of you find uncomfortable and that have warranted extremely hateful responses, and that I do sometimes give in to the instinct for provocation, I don't completely trust that should this hate that you've all now decided to fully participate in spin out of control, I couldn't possibly end up on the losing end. I'd be more than willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of people would be easily frightened into watching someone like me carted off to a deserted area and dispatched.

What I fear is that you've put your desire to win, the desire for victory over the perceived other ahead of all considerations of faith in just about anything. I've seen good people, people I know to be otherwise caring and compassionate human beings reduced to spitting, biting, scratching bullies over their particular choice of affiliation. When something can reduce an otherwise good human being to that, it's something that should be distrusted and should be feared. For decades, stories about PCP doing essentially the same thing have driven far more strident reactions. Personally, I don't really care whether an individual is high on PCP or self righteousness of political affiliation, when their moral and communal compass is that badly set astray, it makes me deeply uneasy and deeply uncomfortable.

I have a basic distrust of centralized power that leads to a skepticism that results in questions. I have finally identified the source of that distrust, now, because of all of this. The source of that distrust is this hate that so many of you so freely spew at your neighbors, your community members and even sometimes, your family. The faith you place in it over rides the basic, practical reality that you have to live with and among these people, much more often than you have to live with and among those who are at the helm of that centralized power. The Democratic or Republican party leaders aren't ever going to be living next door to you. They're not going to be working next to you. They won't be grocery shopping next to you. In many cases, especially for those in RVA, I might. For the rest of you, someone very much like me might. Think of that the next time you attempt to rationalize away your behavior due to political realities. Your neighbors are much more a reality than the majority of your politics, whether or not they share your politics. I fear what most of you would be capable of doing or ignoring in order to protect the institutions you place trust in.

The only faith any of you really have is in your hate. Until your forced to by calamity and disaster, you have absolutely no faith in each other, and yet you never stop to realize that so many of those calamities and disasters could be prevented or at least heavily blunted by having some faith in each other before hand. For all the faith so many people out there claim to have, it seems to be about as useless as tits on a bull.

None of this really shows any kind of letting up either. It would be good for many of you to think about what it would mean should this current set of actions and attitudes be followed to their furthest logical conclusion.

So, when you ask why I'd rather take the chance of seeing the kind of random violence we saw on Friday continue, I have to answer that it's because I can't trust you. I can't trust you to understand what your hate is doing to our society, and what it's going to do to our society, because you won't even consider it. It's always their fault. Why don't I trust my neighbors? Because they're already infected with the same hatred you are, probably by the same sources. I certainly don't trust that the people who have been shaping the politics and messaging you've been following to keep all this hate under control forever. I'm not sure I even trust them to keep it under control when letting it loose might profit them. That's why I'd rather take the chance of seeing more random violence like that which took place on Friday occur than see some kind of grand inacting of gun laws. I'd rather be able to defend myself and my neighbors when the rest of you lunatics finally get to lynching and killing each other. It's really only a matter of time and circumstance.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Great Un-Making

It has been quite the interesting week in news. There were numerous, breathless headlines about a supposed DNA link between a chain taken from a subway station where there had been a protest (the announcement for which included mention of participants who had also been involved with Occupy Wall Street, hence making the protest automatically an OWS protest) and a murder that took place in 2004. Unfortunately for all of those outlets cheering this discovery, and salivating over the impending ability to start calling anyone involved with Occupy a murderer, as well as a rapist, it turns out that there was no DNA link. The reason that the same DNA showed up on the chain and the piece of evidence in the 2004 murder is that the medical examiners office contaminated the evidence. The DNA belonged to someone who actually worked in the medical examiners office. Not only is there no link to Occupy Wall Street, as "anonymous police sources" were so quick to leak, but now, should there be any case brought against a suspect in the murder of Sarah Fox, the prosecution is going to have one hell of a time proving that any DNA evidence isn't corrupted. Don't worry though, the NYPD has a clairvoyant on the case. Seriously.

Anyone who keeps even a casual eye on the news knows that although OWS was a big story last year, it certainly wasn't the only one. The Jerry Sandusky pedophilia case also broke last year. Early in the time following the allegations against Sandusky being made public, college football icon Joe Paterno was unceremoniously suspended for what, at the time, seemed to be his lack of any persistent attempts to see Sandusky brought to justice. The loss of their beloved coach apparently provoked the student body of the esteemed university to riot.

Following Sandusky's conviction, on 45 criminal charges related to the sexual assault of ten boys, a report commissioned by Penn State was released detailing exactly what errors were committed and where. The Freeh Report removes any doubt that there was a culture of cover up and corruption at Penn State, specifically in relation to the football program and it puts Joe Paterno in a new light. The kind of light, that were he still alive, usually involves some degree of interrogation, followed by criminal charges. A whole new spotlight for JoePa, indeed. Alumni and the administration shouldn't worry too much though, donations during the Sandusky scandal have been at an all time high.

All of this is now coming to it's conclusion, at least in the public sense. For the victims of Sandusky's abuse and the Penn State/Paterno ethical and moral catastrophe that protected Sandusky, this may not be over. It may not be over for them for a long time. Hopefully, at some point, they will be freed from a constant negative impact on their lives related to this entire mess. The actual incidences of abuse are horrific enough, but unfortunately for many survivors, it doesn't end there, and they are imprisoned by that experience for years, sometimes decades. Sometimes, for the rest of their lives, they are never really able to develop an emotionally and physically intimate relationship with another human being. They are, in many ways, prisoners to that experience, for a long time after.

Now though, in the public sense, it's all coming to a close. Penn State is probably extremely relieved to have it end, even if it does end with damage to the universities reputation. It will all fade away, into the background of the next news cycle. At some point in the next few years, it will all be looked at as "a hard time for the university." It will be "something we worked hard to overcome and did everything we had to to restore faith and confidence in the university and it's reputation."

Interestingly, even as the Freeh Report details a university which was more concerned about the continuation of and success of it's football program than it was about children being systematically victimized by a pedophile, there hasn't been any action against the school itself. They're now worried about what opportunities for civil suits by the victims will result from the report, with good reason, but the school's administration hasn't been the recipient of any form of sanction. In an incredibly absurd twist, the students, whom one might expect would be quite disturbed to find out their school had been harboring a dangerous pedophile, if for no other reason that how it reflects on the possible attitude of the school administration for their students safety, haven't responded at all.

A man implicated in the protection of a pedophile inspires a night of unabashed rioting and property destruction. An entire group of people protecting a pedophile in order to protect a perceived level of status (and all that comes with it) inspires mute recognition and continued obedience.

Contrast that with the reaction to Occupy Wall Street, in total. The writing was on the wall when 700 were arrested during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Charges against all of them were dropped, due to the police giving conflicting orders to the protesters, and without sufficient amplification for the protesters to even become fully conflicted about their directions. There were dozens of Occupy protests before any property was damaged. Police brutality in response to OWS was nearly immediate, and it was brutal. Taking only the now famous Anthony Bologna, the Scott Olsen incident, and the UC Davis pepper spray incident (a judge has just ruled the students have the right to sue the school for this bizarre outburst), it's fair to say that OWS and it's various supporting off shoots garnered a response that was wholly different than rioting, destructive students on a prestigious college campus. Police brutality, reports and images of it were the norm while OWS was at it's height. Here in Richmond, it wasn't very different. Occupy Richmond's largest action followed their eviction from Kanawha Plaza, drawing roughly three hundred people. The police response for that protest included two planes, a helicopter, K-9 units and more than a hundred police. Here's some video of the line of State Police cars headed to meet them. That doesn't include the Richmond City police or the units brought in from neighboring precincts. There were no reported acts of property destruction attributed to Occupy Richmond. Roughly 180 police were deployed to meet under 300 protesters who hadn't demonstrated any willingness or desire to destroy property or to violently clash with police.

When the fullness of this picture is considered, it isn't hyperbole to say that the movement as a whole demonstrated a rather serious level of discipline. A boiling pot of frustrated citizenry was being further frustrated through systematic, brutal oppression of what most Western nations consider a human right. Property destruction didn't occur until Occupy Oakland organized a march to shut down the port. Of the thousands in attendance, reports suggest some few dozen participated in window breaking. Then, in January, following the Scott Olsen incident, following what had then been more than a month of focused brutality suffered on their part, Occupy Oakland engaged in organized self defense by using home made shields to prevent themselves from being shot with rubber bullets, tear gas pellets and tear gas canisters. All of those measures had already become normal in the effort to subdue OWS protests. The pursuit that followed resulted in over 400 arrests. That was January. OWS began it's encampment in Liberty Square in September. Hundreds of marches had been staged, nationwide, with a total participation numbering in the tens of thousands. New York and Oakland alone had staged protests that reached numbers of more than two thousand.

At this point, following Occupy Oakland's attempts to organize some form of defense from projectiles, and the clash that came after, the world of liberal punditry went positively apoplectic. The most well known, is of course Chris Hedges piece, extolling the virtues of non-violence and calling on Occupiers not to use the tools of the state. More troubling than that though, was his rather blind description of the anarchist devotees in the movement and his correlating them with "black bloc"which is neither a movement or an ideology, but a tactic. Hedges certainly wasn't alone, and in retrospect, certainly wasn't the most hyperbolic. Because of his previous vocal and whole hearted support of the movement though, the backlash against his essay was immediate and severe. It was received more like a betrayal than a critique. After all, criticism had begun on day one and had been poorly informed and formulated from day one. This was the point that the liberal punditry found it's American Jesus, and returned to the power establishment with it's tail between it's legs.
On the whole, the nation responded to a brutal suppression of citizens rights with a sigh. Not even an exasperated sigh, but a sigh of resignation. There were some very vocal and public supporters and detractors of the same ilk. Some average Americans responded with cautious optimism, others with cynical glibness, and still others with outright rage. The majority though, responded with what can best be described as slightly annoyed exasperation. OWS was inconvenient.

Considering the difference between the actions of the OWS movement, the months long repression it faced from police and the fact that it's participants were involved in political speech, the petitioning of their government for redress of grievances, versus the Penn State riots to support a man that has now been proven to have been involved in covering up a pedophilia scandal, and the fact that they resorted to unrepentant and random property destruction immediately, one would think the response from police would be similar. Unfortunately for all of us, it wasn't. The Penn State riot went on for a number of hours before police began to challenge the crowds movements. Property destruction had been done long before. In the case of the Penn State riots, the crowds had overturned a news van, effectively attacking the journalistic establishment. In the case of OWS, police had been systematically targeting journalists of every stripe, amateur, citizen and professional, from the beginning. It was all replayed, yet again, this past week, as the remaining strands of the thread that was Occupy Wall Street gathered in Liberty Square to celebrate the coming birthday of Woody Guthrie. They were summarily harassed and arrested by police, even as there had been no unlawful conduct. There were no permanent or semi-permanent structure erected, no one laying down, no food stations set up, nothing that broke the new rules and law set into place after they'd taken up occupation of the park in September. No unlawful acts were committed, and yet, they were still summarily "evicted." In L.A., sidewalk chalk was magically transformed into a violently dangerous weapon of revolution.

Now, as OWS has essentially waned and has lost national attention, the LIBOR scandal is breaking. Exactly the kind of financial malfeasance Occupy Wall Street was attempting to see addressed and corrected is again going to threaten the global economy. That's not even taking the disaster the Euro zone currently faces into consideration (the result of continuing the exact kinds of failed economic policy that brought about the economic crash in 2008 are again threatening it's stability). The global economy hasn't even begun to show signs of anything resembling a real recovery, and it stands on the precipice of another collapse.

At the same time, it seems each day brings new revelations about the scope of the con being perpetrated on the American people. From drones being deployed overhead to NSA whistle blowers exposing widespread eavesdropping on all citizens communications,  to the corrupt nature of the electoral system, the many different issues that characterized the Occupy Wall Street movement as it continued don't seem to either be going away or coming to any sensible resolution. There is plenty to be read and heard about the horse race of a presidential election that is beginning to hit full stride, though only the smallest fraction of a percent of those millions of word are actually about anything substantial.

With all of that being said, and ecological calamity becoming more and more certain, there's still time for self congratulatory, self convinced, arm chair quarter backs to lob insults and diatribes at what is left of Occupy Wall Street and it's participants.

There have been more than enough words written about the hyper partisanship on display in American politics. Lamentations about the lack of bipartisanship have been written by what passes for both left and right. Weepy calls have been made to "put the country first," by just about everyone, including myself. There have been many different pieces written from every possible angle about the failures of the left, the failures of the right, the failures of the system, the failures of the establishment, the failure of just about everything, including Occupy Wall Street. Many of those ideas and accusations have a backbone of truth, many of them don't.

It doesn't matter either way.

The real truth is all of the old politics are dead. All of them. There are still millions of people wandering around with the zombified corpses of dead politics gorging themselves on their spirits and their minds, including, but certainly not limited to Alex Cockburn's most recent piece of self aggrandizing horse shit. Counterpunch can be a valuable outlet sometimes, but the reality is that it's as dead as any of the rest of it. It's dead, and it's old world "revolutionary" outlook are dead as well.

Some of the old politics died because their inherently impossible. Some of them died because they take no account of actual human beings and the strange, paradoxical decisions they make. But all in all, the over riding reason that the old politics died is that they failed. Utterly. Completely. They just failed. Humanity is marginally better off today than it was one hundred or two hundred years ago, but the reality is that it has failed to solve even the most basic and fundamental problems. It treats and become obsessed with symptoms. The old politics that are currently blaring from televisions and radios worldwide, that are being expounded upon in various forms across the internet are all about addressing symptoms.

The majority of people espousing "revolutionary politics" have the lucky and safe position to have never been in a position of serious responsibility. They've never had to wield actual power. They assure they never will have to wield any actual power through their stupendous hubris and patronizingly elitist approach to anyone and anything that isn't sufficiently "revolutionary." People like Alex Cockburn get to experience the safety of the sidelines and the comfort of having chosen to be outcast. They can sit back, safe in the knowledge that they are both sufficiently revolutionary enough to never again have to actually wrestle with the ideas of anyone who isn't already of like mind, and that there is no way in hell they will ever have to actually put their grand ideas to use because they're just to comfortable with their lack of anything resembling some level of decent human compassion for another human being to ever trust them with that power. While younger people were out there attempting to do the hard work of beginning to develop an entirely new politics, the kind of politics that doesn't dismiss the humanity of the human that has to deal with the results of those politics, Alex Cockburn was sitting at a keyboard, smugly commenting on his own surety of their failure. The NYPD has a clairvoyant too. Maybe the two of them can get together and work it out for the rest of us. He is relying on, using and being useful to the exact same system and establishment he claims to have such a disagreement with, and casting insults at others for the same. Without the establishment that he rails against to rail against, he'll be lost and useless. Without being able to recognize the suffering and the sacrifice of human beings today, whether they are sufficiently excellent or not, one is only human in biology, not in mind or spirit. Spitting on the brokenness of a few thousand young people's hope is a deeply inhuman act.

To answer the question that he asks in his piece, "Biggest Financial Scandal in Britains History, Yet Not a Single Occupy Sign; What Happened?" What happened was that Alex Cockburn is essentially no different than the millions of Americans who sat around in front of their televisions and sighed with slight annoyance that these young people were being irritating and gumming up the works. There is a very simple answer for all of the Monday morning, arm chair quarterbacking that's been going on, "If you really know so much better, where the fuck were you when we needed you?"

Men like this can sit back, from the safety of their smugness and see events like those that took place when OWS was fully engaged, see the police response to those events, and see the Penn State fiasco and the lack of police response to it and ask questions like this for one reason: they're as blind as any died in the wool Republican or blue dog Democrat. They've just dug out their eyes with a different instrument.

What happened? Some of those Occupiers have gone on to other endeavors, they're still fighting and still trying. Some are trying to figure out exactly what to do now. Some have gone back to the lives they had before, knowing they at least attempted to do something, however flawed it may have been, they sacrificed something, and sometimes that has to be enough. Others are sitting back, with smug grins, laughing at the absurdity of all of it, safe in the knowledge that the dedication to dead politics is going to be the end of all of us.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Interesting Times

There's an old Chinese proverb, sometimes called a curse, that says, "May you live in interesting times." For those who hold some belief in the possibility of living in a society or a world which is just and spacious enough (in every possible sense) for a human being to flourish (in every possible sense), the times we live in may seem cursed. Industrialized war machines seem to roam the earth nearly unimpeded, ideological extremism of every variety threatens the very basics of human dignity in almost every nation in the world. Any peoples relatively unaffected by those first two are ever more subject to the tyranny of a global economic system which shows as much disdain for their humanity as the war machines and extremist ideologies. The strange storm of the three combined seems to also be hurtling us toward  a world in which questions of human dignity may not matter in the most ultimate sense, as in a disastrous future where the scales of the delicate ecological balance that has allowed for our species (and billions of others) to evolve may be tipped toward one which makes the continuation of human life (possibly mammalian life a whole) impossible.

Until relatively recently, despair may have been an absolutely appropriate reaction to this state of affairs. In "radical" circles, there is often talk of the possibility that pharmaceutical companies are chiefly responsible for sudden and dramatic upswing in the diagnoses of mental illness and the prescription of medications manufactured by the industry as the treatment of these ailments. It's no less possible that what is often referred to as illness, is in fact a response to an insane world that should at least be expected, if not recognized as a healthy response to it. For those whom the work-a-day world is not enough of a distraction for their minds, and who have a bend to their personality and psyche which nurtures an interest in the world beyond their direct, daily experiences and immediately apparent needs and desires, the convergence of facts make a compelling argument suggesting the road our species has long been walking ends in a cliff towards which we have begun to sprint. We may just be medicating the very natural reaction of human beings to find the lives their being corralled into by the societies they live in as inhumane and irresponsible, without the society also making available to tools to deal with these problems. The majority of us are expected and treated by the larger world as either consumers or as social problems in need of the most simple and easily instituted solution. Agency is something to be undermined or whose use is to be directed along avenues that serve exactly the same conditions creating this situation. It's not something to be fostered, nurtured and seen as a necessary and vital part of a healthy society. A healthy society has an acceptable G.D.P, where it would be more sensible to suggest that a healthy G.D.P creates a society it's citizens find both acceptable and healthy.

It's generally accepted in radical, activist, and even most reformer circles that the population at large is under a rather heavy burden of almost constant indoctrination by a society that is deeply unhealthy. Depending on the school of thought, the particular community, political or social bend of any given circle, the reasons for this and the results of it are debated. They do generally agree though that the combination of media, economics and social pressures the individual faces from the time they are able to begin to understand themselves in context with other human beings and a larger society, there is a level of indoctrination at work. That indoctrination generally involves supplanting or outright creating the consumer citizen in place of the civic citizen, and shaping a persons ability to view the world through the consumer lens and the narrative that favors the kind of society that will continue that tradition. It should also be noted that these aren't necessarily some completely fringe radical ideas either. There are entire schools of academic thought dedicated to studying, producing data and explaining the mechanisms and results of it. They aren't generally ideas that are expressed in the more far reaching media outlets or in political discussions or debates held at the national or global level. Academics by nature or training don't tend to express ideas in the kind of easily digestible, simply expressed terms that make them fit neatly into the narratives and interactions they're describing, making them essentially unusable. Good academic research tends to produce results that aren't as simply black and white as our current political and media institutions like them either.

Even if all of this is true, the astute observer realizes there are signs of hope which have been largely absent for at least a few decades. As protest movements spring up and spread in nations across the globe, their motivations, shapes and tactics may all be very different, but they have at least one thing in common, none of them are content to simply accept the current order of things. All of them are essentially asserting that the institutions of their societies (often institutions with deep ties to those of other nations undergoing similar mass discontent) are no longer able to meet, respond to or generally seem very interested in the needs and desires of their citizens. Those of us will an eye toward seeing our societies move toward more just and humane foundations should be cautiously hopeful about this. We should also be watching what's unfolding to understand who the players are among these movements and what exactly may come of it should they succeed. History suggests human beings do not always force useless institutions out in favor of institutions any more useful or humane.

Opportunity is at hand for anyone with the ability to recognize it and to take hold of it. This combination of factors creates a situation in which any of the allies of sanity and human dignity have the ability to begin to address the problems they have long considered, discussed and just plain griped about. With this opportunity though, comes a significant responsibility. Shaping the prospective future of a society, a nation or the global community as a whole isn't something that can be undertaken with recklessness. It's also not something that can be expected to happen quickly or without taking a long term view of exactly what steps are necessary, what methods are most appropriate and especially, what the desired result of it all actually is. It requires a long term strategy with a sober accounting of the conditions as they currently exist as it's foundation, as absent of ideological suppositions as is possible.

In considering this, it's important for any and all to understand that the institutions that currently exist, no matter how distrusted or discredited, have had a heavy hand in shaping the way the populace of any society understands itself or it's situation. Activists, revolutionaries, reformers and many others have long lamented that the populace of the United States, and in many cases, the wider world beyond it's borders are either ill equipped to be able to make a successful transition to a new foundation for this society or the global community. They have lamented that people are under the spell of a media, religions, and state apparatus' that act essentially as Soma, keeping the population laconic and pacified, unable to understand the real factors informing and shaping their existence. In more ways than not, this has been correct. But, again, the relatively sudden explosion of popular outrage and popular movements suggests there is some hope to be found and that these conditions can be changed.

In that context, it is incumbent on us who believe another world is actually possible, to begin to set down many of the assumptions we have long held or to at least begin to learn new ways in which to express them. Insulting the average individual who has been chained to these conditions for the majority of their lives and is beginning to show some sign of awakening isn't a useful method of communicating. It is more likely to drive them directly into the service and employ of those who have recognized the kind of seismic shift taking place and are attempting to take control of it in order to instill an even less humane and just set of conditions that favor an even smaller group of individuals, corporate entities and states, whether or not they realize that is exactly where they have gone to seek shelter from the perceived insult and it's purveyor. In other words, let's not let our own self righteousness and left over outrage (whether justified or not) be our worst enemy. Let's not defeat ourselves because we favor winning the short term debate or argument over winning the long term goals of a larger strategy. That would be an enormous waste of the opportunity we find in front of us.

There's a very recent example to consider. The controversy surrounding the viral behemoth that the Kony 2012 video has become. For a very long time there has been a call for citizens of the United States and other industrialized countries to begin to look beyond the West when considering the suffering and pain inflicted on our fellow human beings. Both nationalism and racism have been attributed to this phenomenon, which is many cases has some definite truth to it. With the release and epidemic like spread of this video, it does represent the opening of exactly that window. The Invisible Children organization has been under relatively heavy fire since the video became such a phenomenon, and rightly so it seems. Much of the criticism (and there's certainly a lot of it) seems to be based on a sound foundation. From not taking the needs and wants of the people it purports to desire to attain justice for to the speculation of it being little more than a scam, nothing about the organization, this particular campaign it's waging or the situation in Uganda (where it's calling for action) seems at all simple.

All of this has been relatively good. There is a small signal that people in Western industrialized nations are beginning to be able to take interest in the lives and well being of people beyond their borders, customs and race that is somewhat different from what we've seen in the past. There has also been a swift, vociferous and pointed rebuttal of what by all accounts is an oversimplified and generally ill advised campaign. Ugandans who suffered at the hands of Joseph Kony (whom the video is attempting to make infamous) are getting a chance to take the global stage to express what they believe is most needed in their country. The brutality and inhumanity of the current leader in Uganda is being brought to light as a result. For anyone willing to take even the most cursory look, a complex picture is emerging, in relatively quick order. Popular debate has begun as well. In all, there are some very good signs here. 

There have also been some rather bad signs. Much of the criticism surrounding the entire controversy has been directed at the members of the general populace who have been spreading the video and expressing support for the campaign, and much of that has been unfair, and as a result, insulting. The dismissive nature of this variety of criticism is a hindrance to the cause of human dignity and respect more than it is a help.

One of the more interesting strains of this criticism has been that the general populace is once again gobbling up propaganda that serves the war machine. This is a myopic perspective. There's a lesson in the Kony 2012 video and campaign that should be heeded. Given that the general populace isn't well educated about the situation in Uganda or it's history, well presented propaganda can get the right conversation started. The word "propaganda" has come to have negative connotations due to the degree with which it is used by the kinds of institutions, governments and organizations there are so many popular uprisings against right now. But, in actuality, propaganda isn't much more than attempting to use some form of media to influence an individual or groups thinking related to a specific subject. Advertising is without doubt the most pervasive variety of propaganda. Advertising itself is used by corporations, political campaigns and every other variety of organization or community one can think of, including radical organizations, reform movements, and individuals with a desire to see the world changed for the better. Propaganda is a morally neutral tool, the way in which it is used may or may not be.

The average individual has neither the time nor the resources to spend on finding the information that will present them with the kind of nuanced, fully developed understanding of more than one or two specific issues or situations, at most. Being that they are entrapped in exactly the societal situation the very same activists, reformers and radicals making this criticism are attempting to address, it's a self righteous and ultimately destructive tactic to start attacking these average people. Instead, the Kony 2012 and Invisible Children controversy should be seen as a chance to take advantage of the opportunity that is created by the fact that the average, uninvolved person is taking some interest in people who are geographically and culturally on another continent. If the propaganda that their being presented with is of questionable value or moral standing, attacking the audience isn't going to do any of us any good. Present them with better propaganda instead.

This speaks to the question of a larger, long term strategy as well. It must be understood that the community of people attempting to push the society and the world forward toward a more humane foundation can not continue to both claim the populace is under the heavy handed weight of institutions that are holding them back from that progress and simultaneously attack that populace for being under the influence of those institutions. In many, many, many ways these institutions have formed the perspective through which the majority of society and the world see themselves and the world outside of themselves and their communities. Expecting that they are going to be able to shake that off because there have been a few months of more successful activism and more widespread protest movements is naive and absurd. It is self defeating and self congratulatory in the least attractive and appealing way. Approaching the populace in the same way that we approach the state or the various institutions involved with propping up the sagging status quo is a terrible, terrible mistake, and more than any other will guarantee that there will be change, and there will be a different kind of status quo, but it will be one in which we are even more likely to be the targets of repression of basically every variety. We can not both demand that governments, societies and institutions recognize the dignity of the human being and spend our time insulting the human beings we're demanding that recognition for. It is morally repugnant and it is intellectually and strategically empty. It is, in fact, the result of a lack of any real, pragmatic strategy.

There are other practical reasons not to take this approach to what is the majority of the people in any society. Jeremy Weiland has laid out a rough outline of the why's and how's for this as well. He has eloquently addressed the fact that those of us who have some desire to create a better society, can not do so through the iron willed approach we've spent our lives being addressed with by the agents of the status quo. It produces extremely problematic results that anyone with any real respect for human dignity is not going to want to be put in the position to deal with. His piece is aptly titled "Because Killing Them All Is Not An Option." Any long term strategy has to be made with the understanding that there is also going to have to be a strategy for once you've won, and continuing to develop the kind of antagonistic relationship that the majority of the radical, reform, and activist communities have had (at least to some degree) with the general public (or at least has been perceived by the public as having) is only going to facilitate an adversarial relationship should we actually be able to develop a long term strategy and win. This is not to say there isn't room for the kinds of non-cooperative and civilly disobedient actions that any successful movement needs, but that those actions must be exactly that, actions, and they should always contain the implicit message (if not absolutely explicit) that the action is directed at the state, it's institutions and it's foundations of power, not at the populace.

The attitude toward needling and antagonizing the populace out of it's lethargy is good and necessary when it shows no signs of having any interest in or idea how to bring itself about to some form of awakening. (On a personal note: It's an instinct I understand all too well and one I've been struggling to reign in as I've recognized there has already been a substantial change in the degree to which the public is willing to consider less than comfortable information in the last year). Considering the degree to which this is no longer true, and the numbers that can currently be counted as having a genuine desire to make some fundamental and foundational changes, that attitude should be almost totally discarded. It will not serve any long terms goals which will create a sane society that is willing to coexist with any more of a respect for human dignity than the one we currently find ourselves in. It will only create distrust, disdain and a lack of cooperation among those who do not already share any of our zeal for seeing that creation made real. What we need now is a creative and inclusive message that can point the way toward beginning to give the public the tools they need to no longer be reliant on the state and it's supporting institutions in order to be able to develop a more complex, nuanced understanding of issues on it's own. It will be a slow process, but it is also possible, and necessary in the long term.

For a good overview of beginning to develop and create a long term strategy with some ability to be both sustainable and successful, there are a number of good resources. Robert Helvey's "On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About The Essentials" provides an overview that is detailed enough to lay out the necessities, but vague enough to be able to be adapted to a number of different situations and desired outcomes. It's also written from the perspective of a man who spent a good deal of his life in the military, so it has a realistic and straightforward understanding of dealing with the problems that come from having to face a militarized response. Gene Sharp's "From Dictatorship To Democracy" is also a good resource.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Extreme And The Alternative

The above are both photos of men with deep religious conviction. There is a stark contrast in what they represent to us. Never the less, they both show men whose religious conviction drove them to action. Both contain symbols that inspired others to action. Both represent men and principles which we're able to find a foundation for in The Bible. Today, we look back on the time this picture was taken, and we see in the first photo, a symbol of the most vile hatred, a thing which steals life. In the second we see a symbol of a deep, life affirming struggle for dignity.

It is unfortunate that in the teaching and study of history, it is almost inevitable that it seems as if the present is the product of destiny. Looking back on the events of the past, we see that they have lead us here, to today and it's a forgivable mistake to think that it had to have happened exactly as it did, especially when it's a history we are somewhat proud of. It only takes looking a bit further back in our history to see how wrong that idea is though. We don't like to talk about it, and there are no monuments on the national mall to represent their struggle, but then again, there was no television in the days Native Americans were being exterminated here, under sets of reasoning not very different from those used by the men in the first photo. We don't like to talk about that because it was treated as if it were destiny at the time, which in hindsight seems extremely arrogant, especially when it means exterminating upward of six million people. Had there been pictures of Native Americans, being slaughtered or entire villages purposely infected with some terrible disease, beaming into every home in the nation at the time, their fate may have been somewhat different.

In the time the above photos were taken, what they represented was a choice. Which of these ideals was one going to follow? Both were addressing a social issue in religious terms. Both were addressing an issue related to a group of people who were assigned "minority status" by the society they lived in. Both claimed that they were fighting for the dignity of their people and invoked the name of God and various Biblical passages as proof of their moral and spiritual righteousness.

Today, we face the same choice, yet again. Which of these philosophies do we choose to support? Do we choose to support a philosophy which has benefited from, and continued because we allow it to tell us what the ultimate meaning of humanity is, creating a chasm between ourselves and those we share society with? Will we instead decide to follow a philosophy which asks that we come together, affirm the dignity of our fellow human beings and the struggle from which it has emerged? It is a choice and it is each of ours to make.

Today, we face issues that may be different in their complexity and in their circumstance (though not all of them are really even that different circumstantially), but that base question rests between these two ideals. On the one hand, we have men and women who have spent near their entire lives and in aggregate billions of dollars in the attempt to convince us that those with whom we live are not fit to live amongst us or that their rights are by their existence, an infringement on our rights. At the time the photos at the top were taken, the new medium of television was an integral part of bringing the results of that philosophy into people's living rooms. Today, it is quite possible for an individual who has already decided they believe many of their fellow human beings inferior (for any number of reasons) to go through an entire day having their choice affirmed and that philosophy served up in ever more zealous ways. They can go through the entire day, hearing it on the radio, come home and find it waiting on the television. The disastrous results of their decision do not have to invade their personal reality.

For everyone else, whether or not they have made a choice, we are being subjected to those results. Policy after policy is being based simply on these very same ideals. They are (as slavery was) often dressed up in economic and religious arguments, but at the end of the day, even those economic policies are at base, these same philosophies. We have seen this same question put to us continuously in the last twenty years about the rights of the LGBT community. Will we treat them as fellow human beings, as deserving of dignity as respect as we are or will we choose instead to treat them as lesser beings, who deserve none of our respect for dignity due to our innate superiority? This is the same question, again and again, and again. 

There  has most recently been a hard fought battle related to the sanctity of the individuals right to decide their own medical needs and desires. It has been packaged by as an issue of religious freedom. To those claiming this an issue of religious freedom I would ask if they are as surely outraged by the New York Police Department's surveillance and cataloging of mosque's, Muslim college students and business's across the entire Northeast? The right issue of religious freedom is among those that should never be specially enforced for any group, minority or majority. Yet, among so many currently using every second in front of a microphone or a camera to obsess about the principle of religious freedom, this wholesale state assault on the privacy of individuals founded only on their religious affiliation has been strangely absent from the critique. We have experienced no attack on religious freedom in the last two decades as focused and ferocious as that which has been leveraged against the Muslim community, and many of those now making an argument that their religious freedom trumps the freedom of the individual to make medical decisions with the council of their doctors. Instead of making the claim that religious freedom is a principle not based on the adherents choice in religion or that medical decisions are based upon the choice of the individual, they are asserting, through word and the action of legislation, that it is their freedom and their right to choose for other individuals, based on their choice of religion. They are and were among those move vocally opposing a Muslim community center being in New York at all when they realized it was a politically profitable position to take. They have also been among those who have most viciously slandered Islam as a whole, calling it a religion of violence, hatred and bent on world domination.

There can be absolutely no argument made that among the billion Muslim's in the world, there are those who favor violence as the method of attempting to solve their grievances, whether those grievances are specifically religious or political. These men, and some women, have succeeded in provoking an already hostile and arrogant Western world into portraying them as savages. The problem being, we in the U.S. certainly have no particularly strong moral ground to stand on when it comes to the denunciation of savagery. Savagery of this same variety was visited directly on the original citizens, whose birthright the land this nation was founded on, the Native Americans. And the reality is, this circle of violence, of men bowing to the least human and humane methods through which to solve problems or temper their differences has served only in seeing to it that hundreds of thousands are dead, millions are without homes or the basic necessities for the foundation for a life which is full in it's dignity, in both that given and received. These hateful, and ultimately self absorbed individuals have done little but cause their countrymen and their fellow human beings more suffering and death. Extremism in the Middle East, extremism in the West, and extremism of the "tolerance" of this extremity are all to blame. These have been wars created by extremists, none of whom believe in either religious freedom or believe in the basic dignity of the human being who doesn't passively submit to their demands for religious, social, political, economic, racial and gender domination. They are people who do not understand that the increasing interconnected nature of the world has made their world view obsolete. Average Afghan's have no more interest in holding dominion over average Americans than is true of the reverse.

We see now that this same psycho drama is playing out even in relation to questions of Iran's nuclear program, and what should or can be done to prevent it. There can't be an honest assessment of the entirety of the situation which comes to the conclusion that Iran having regular access to nuclear materials is something that is in any way going to improve any situation. It is a regime under the variety of extremism and zealotry that is yearning for greater power here in the United States. It is a regime which recognizes only it's freedom to impose it's will on the citizenry, and through it's proxy's, other nations including Israel and Pakistan. No honest assessment of the situation can suggest that it is beyond the realm of possibilities that material provided by an Iranian nuclear program will not, at the least, end up in a dirty bomb releasing a cloud of radioactive materials in the center of Tel Aviv. No sane person who believes in the dignity, health and rights of human beings can believe that is an acceptable situation.

Israel, for it's part, has squandered much of the international communities good will as it has crept toward an extremist treatment of the Palestinians and Palestine as a whole. Israel's current course, constantly threatening to take preemptive military measures against Iran while refusing to make any concessions to Palestinian requests, is adding nothing good. The moral quagmire surrounding Israel, it's establishment and it's right to exist has become an intellectual exercise on the part of almost all parties other than the Israeli's who've lived their entire lives in a society consistently terrorized by bombings and murder, and the Palestinians who have been living with Israeli occupation since at least 1948. Because of the nature of the way it was established, it leaves no simple answer. Due to the inflexibility and extremism the European Jews faced when they were forced to flee to what was not yet the state of Israel, there are no morally sound grounds for any of the arguments that suggest Israel, as a state, should or should not exist. It is among the more catastrophically stupid, insane and immoral situations in the history of the modern world. No one is right, and everyone's position is relatively understandable. For it's part, the vocally anti-Israel segment of the American political spectrum is disingenuous, at best and deluded at worst. Should Americans have spent forty years living with the constant bombardment of their civil, social and private lives with bombs and bullets, we would be a nation that went collectively insane a very long time ago. We have suffered very few terrorist attacks in comparison, though 9/11 was an attack on the most horrible scale, we succeeded in losing any sense of our moral composition in the years that followed. Should Israel now take another step down that same road by preemptively striking another sovereign nation, they will succeed in doing something no one else could possibly do right now. Striking Iran preemptively, will only serve to take an Arab and Muslim world that is fracturing, in a very good way, and provide for it's most extreme voices to once again glue together a nightmare of horrific enough weight that it will reverse the progress made there. Extremism can not exist in a society without fear and terror a a sufficiently frightening "other."

That fracture happening now, between the people of the Middle East, and the extremist dictators and regimes which have oppressed them so long, presents diplomatic opportunities for both Israel and the West that haven't been present for decades. There is a fact whose importance can't be under estimated though. All of the people struggling against these repressive, violent regimes are being assaulted, shot, shelled and murdered with arms manufactured in the West, specifically, here in the United States. Regardless of the final result, should Egyptians win their freedom from all oppression, find their way to establishing some form of society and government which they believe to represent them, they are not going to forget that the shell casings from which the bullets that killed their family, friends and neighbors have been killed, were all stamped with "Made in the U.S.A." The pictures of young people holding up tear gas canisters with that phrase painted on them are not soon going to leave the popular consciousness. The same can be said for Bahrain, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebannon and so on. There are people at the very center of mainstream American politics, today, saying that the United States should have backed the Mubarak regime, because it was historically friendly to us. They are saying essentially, that the fight Egyptians are waging for their own freedom is of less importance than the ultimate level of influence and superiority we "could have had" in the Middle East. Because it is somehow better to have influence through a violent, despotic regime than to have gained that influence through having demonstrated some degree of moral sense, and stopped supporting a vile dictator. They favor this above having a relationship between the people of Egypt and the people of the United States which says, "We stand for and support each others humanity, each others basic right to dignity and respect." It is better, they believe, to have been the ally of a dictator who was responsible for mass oppression, than to finally, after too many years, take the side of people who are fighting for their own dignity. It is more than optimistic or naive to suggest these same people, supporting these brutal regimes, would have any different an attitude toward citizens of the United States who might attempt to assert their right to dignity and to govern their own lives. It is patently stupid and the result of willful ignorance at it's worst. In this particular case, the Egyptian citizens are the one's who are serving own their need for dignity and respect. Who among us at home may fall into that category now or at any point in the future and why would we be stupid to expect those who are willing to support brutal dictatorship to ever respect and respond to our calls for the same dignity and respect?

Should Israel go through with it's threat to preemptively strike Iran in order to remove any possible nuclear capability they have, it will be yet another example of Western (overwhelmingly interpreted as the United States) manufactured weapons reigning down on Muslims, from what is seen as an oppressive regime. Whether or not one agrees with the idea that Israel is an oppressive regime doesn't actually matter, because to the majority of the Middle East's Muslim population, that is what Israel represents. Israel preemptively striking a sovereign nation could also serve to frighten the citizens of other Middle Eastern nations enough to create the kind of atmosphere where they end up seeking the kind of strength that is projected by the more extreme factions of Islam in the region. It's should also not be forgotten that right now, one of Iran's most steadfast allies, Syria, is in the midst of what has basically degenerated into a civil war. Should Iran be preemptively attacked, there's no real way of understanding if that will propel them to intervene in that conflict in whatever way they can to prop up their primary ally. It is after all, Syria, who has been primarily responsible for insuring that Hamas has been armed with the capabilities to continue to antagonize Israel. The more time passes, the more it seems true that Israel has done itself no favors through retaliation against Lebanon. Though it was completely understandable at the time, in the larger picture, it is again a "Western power" reigning destruction down on Arabs and Muslims. It is also worth mentioning that for all of those criticizing Israel with a rather profound zeal, calling for it's dissolution, none of them seem to be also offering up the idea that the United States dissolve itself and return the land on which it rests to those whom it waged genocide against.

By all accounts, the Iranian population are a sophisticated people, and it's a country which is overwhelmingly young in its demographic. Israel, and the United States will be making a grave mistake in punishing this population for it's leaders myopic world view. It's worth it to remember that prior to Egypt and the Arab Spring, Iranians had taken to the streets in protest. They may have been poorly planned, and without a larger, long term strategy, but that is even more reason to believe waiting on the Iranian people to be ready to make their own move toward a real, strengthened opposition is the best strategy. Those who were among the organizers of those protests will have learned exactly how necessary a long term strategy is for success. And with the increasingly stringent sanctions taking their toll, unemployment will continue to rise (already a problem for Iranian youth) and pressure within Iran itself will continue to mount. That is to say, so long as the unifying experience of foreign invasion and attack remains absent from the equation. Few things are as good at unifying any population as the experience of foreign attackers blowing that populations infrastructure to hell.

Let's also not forget that one of the most often referenced extremes in the Muslim world is that toward it's women. The Bush administration attempted to trot out it's humanitarian ideals in giving this reason for going to war in Afghanistan, and in the following decade, even as it's become inevitably clear to the most ardent of interventionist "hawks" that the war in Afghanistan was begun, and largely executed with absolutely no discernible goals and is therefore an absolute mess, the most extreme of those interventionists have continued to pine for the safety of the female population of Afghanistan should the United States completely withdraw from the nation. There should be no doubt or miscommunication, the Taliban's treatment of women was a horrific affront to anyone who believes in the right of the human being to dignity. It was a disgusting exemplification of what happens when one human being is allowed to act on the  belief in their right of ownership over another human being. the Taliban believe the men of a society have ownership over the women. All of this, again, given through religious foundations.

The problem with this line of reasoning resides directly in our own homes as well. The most chauvinistic of extremes in Muslim cultures views women as property that men can do with as they see fit. If the last few months are many indications that there are more than a few extremists here who believe no differently in principle, though cultural differences make them unable to take the same extremity of action. In Virginia's General Assembly, a bill that proposed the state's requirement of inserting an object into a woman's vagina without regard to her consent, was disposed of only because there was a swift and well organized opposition to a degree that the extremists in that legislative body aren't quite used to encountering. Regardless of the reasoning, should it be because she is attempting to get an abortion, an ice cream cone, a Jeep Cherokee or trying to understand what her reproductive choices are going to be in the future, the state requiring that a woman have a medically unnecessary object inserted into her vagina is based on the underlying assumption that she belongs either to the state (in this case, overwhelmingly male in it's composition) or the men who are acting in what they believe are the state's interests. Those interests are founded on religious arguments. One can not assume it is their right to require such a thing without first assuming the individual is theirs in propriety or that at least, the privilege of the decisions of medical necessity belong to them, which at the end of the day, is essentially the same thing as treating a human being as if they are an object that can be owned. If one can not have rely on the safety of their person, their body, from unnecessary invasion from the state, exactly what kind of unnecessary invasion from the state can they feel safe from? It is essentially saying that the woman in question does not have the right to the dignity of her own agency, and that without agency must have decisions relating to her well being made by those who do have agency. All of this, is of course, undertaken with "religious freedom" as it's battle cry. The freedom of any individual, male or female, to not have their person invaded without medical necessity apparently falls behind that of these individuals to propel their religious beliefs on others or in this case, actually inside others. To say this is not extreme, physical invasion, mandated by the state, under religious terms is to be either dishonest or without a strong enough sense of one's own agency to understand the degree of insult this is.

That degree of extremism, the degree to which one believes they are mandated by religion to have the right to an invade an others bodily integrity, is a few degrees shy from the basis upon which we see mutilation and murder of women happening in the other religions these very same people have decried as a danger. Bodily invasion in order to induce shame or guilt isn't very many degrees removed from bodily disfigurement, and the many things that follow it. The agency of the individual over which this will is exercised must be disregarded, dismissed or must never have been taken into account as actually existing in equal to that of the individual attempting to exercise their will. She, over whom this will must be exercised, must of necessity, be a lesser being or (more frighteningly) the individual who is attempting to have their will done on the other, must be a sadist.

That kind of sadism is not something absent from the history of the United States either. We need look no further back than the Tuskegee Airmen to understand how pernicious this mentality can be. Americans who had volunteered to serve their country were experimented on without their consent, like lab rats. All of this, essentially because an extremist perspective had been too long tolerated, and the basis of that perspective was the superiority of one group to another, often given foundation in religious terms. There is also the lesser known, and equally shocking program of medical experiments committed on citizens of Guatemala without their knowledge or consent. We can continue to look back at medical history for any number of interesting results, especially in treatment of the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill to see that when a human being begins with being understood to lack agency, that it takes nothing at all for an extreme perspective to therefore impose their own will on them, and all too often that ends with the absolute disregard for dignity and humanity.

All of these examples of this variety of extremism, that has no respect for human dignity, much less for the dignity of the autonomy of the individual, may have threads of religious extremism, but this shouldn't be mistaken to be the fault of religion. To say that religion is the force and the reason for this variety of religious zeal and extremism is to leave individual without responsibility and to take little account of the individuals autonomy. It is to suggest, at the least, that the individuals who have chosen to embrace and to propagate extremism of this variety have never been offered any variety of alternative. That, is patently, demonstratively false. The choice has been presented to them in a thousand different ways. It has been presented in various forms of secular humanism, an alternative most people of faith find hard to accept, understandably, as well as many different traditions of faith offering a very different path, no less religious, no less pious, but full of the respect for the dignity of humanity and the autonomy of the individual.

Those who have been playing the ass, braying about religious freedom while showing themselves to have none of the respect for human dignity that makes all of this freedom and all other freedoms possible (expressed in the Constitution as "We behold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happines" even as they were excluding large populations from those Rights, it represents a deeply profound ideal in contemporary context), have made a conscious choice at some point in their lives to follow or continue to follow this extremism. It can not be asserted that an adult, understood to be psychologically sound, here in the United States, could not at some point in their lives, encountered a tradition of deep religious faith that has more respect for human dignity than these varieties of extremism. No one can say that there isn't a degree of cultural pressure in the varieties of extremism that proselytize for it, that the individual may not face exclusion from that community should they cease to espouse those beliefs, but to accept this as an excuse is to again suggest that the individual in the situation does not have or exercise autonomy. It is, a matter of responsibility, to put it in the terms these extreme groups favor. These are people who have abandoned any responsibility to act in an accountable fashion in the context of the larger community in which they exist. They are making a choice to be responsible only to an extremist doctrine and an extremist community that provides both confirmation and affirmation of it.

We have today, in our public sphere, the person of Rick Santorum. He has become a near perfect amalgamation of a number of varieties of American extremism. Santorum is only an example though, as without the mass of hate filled hearts praying for his success, he would be the equivalent of a street corner preacher who is passed without thought by the overwhelming majority of pedestrians. The interview here contains an interesting and notable set of ideas. Santorum provides a commentary on a relatively famous speech by John F. Kennedy in which he proclaimed that the wall between church and state was absolute. Santorum has made the claim that this makes him want to vomit. What Santorum, as a Catholic, and someone who most assuredly knows the historical context of J.F.K's speech, is not only being disingenuous, he's being completely dishonest and is also demonstrating one of the most most horrifically terrifying qualities of this kind of extremism. The historical context for J.F.K's comments are such that he was the first Catholic to have a very good shot at winning the presidency. At the time, he was facing the religious extremists of his own day, who had joined together in a strange cabal of hatred. Not only were there those who were using religion as an excuse to attempt to stop the Civil Rights movement, but there were also those that were horrified at the possibility of a Catholic in the White House. The combination of the two strains of unreasoned hatred were producing a narrative suggesting, essentially, that the Pope would be running the country, and because this was the period during which the country was experiencing a political realignment on race (which itself divided the nations Catholic community), that would also mean black people would be able to do terrible, horrible things... like vote, eat in restaurants white people were also eating in, go to public schools where there were also white children, and so on and so forth.

Santorum is Catholic. One can not grow up with a devout Catholic background in this country without being aware of the exact kind of religious prejudice J.F.K faced while running for office (having come from a family with a few devout Catholics, I assure you, they have not forgotten). J.F.K's proclamation of the absolute wall between church and state was his defense against religious extremists attempting to keep him out of office based (so far as the religious aspect of their argument was concerned) on his being Catholic. Now, Santorum, running as a kind of Catholic Crusader for the 21st century is deriding the man whose decision to do so helped him win the presidency and as a result, has made it easier for Santorum to find his way onto the ballot in the national primary for one of the nation's two major political primaries. Santorum is demonstrating the ability of extremists like this to attempt to outcast and destroy anyone who doesn't agree with them at the very moment they're making any particular argument. If there hadn't been a J.F.K to be the first Catholic president, Santorum would be facing a degree of scrutiny about his religious beliefs that he may not have survived thus far, and it would specifically be coming from exactly the same extremist community he is now courting with these comments. Santorum, it seems, is willing to make a historically inaccurate and genuinely hateful statement about a man to whom he owes a debt of gratitude, in defense of his extremism. Again, in this context, why should any of us question the willingness of extremists like this to throw us to the wolves and disregard any call for a recognition of our dignity as human beings?

Santorum is also espousing the same variety of extreme view related to women, their rights to make their own decisions about their health, and economic views which aren't far behind in the degree of extremism they exhibit. He is also among those most loudly trumpeting the idea that the United States should attack Iran, probably very soon. He is espousing that royal flush of American mainstream extremism, that no community other than his own has the right to the dignity and respect of the fullness of their humanity. Even those who may hold similar views, must at some point ask themselves at which point they may be on the other side of this kind of extremist thinking and willingness to degrade and dehumanize? Should one believe they are going to forever be able to be in complete, exact agreement with this kind of extremism, it's history should be considered, and the number of times it has changed allegiance should be readily apparent. Their hatred may have one target today, but it may be amongst formerly allied communities tomorrow.

Santorum would essentially be a cartoon character if not for the fact that he is one of the front runners for the nomination of one of our major political parties. This is not to single out the Republicans, not to single out conservatives or to single out anyone who often finds themselves on what is popularly considered the political right in the United States. The average person who associates themselves with the American right is fundamentally interested in the question of the governments ability to inject itself into the individual's ability to make decisions for themselves. This is a philosophically and morally decent question to ask, and many of them make both philosophically and morally sensible arguments related to that question. It is a good thing to have around, there should never be any doubt about that. They may be fairly religious as well, and may hold some of those views which the faith organization of their choice espouses. At the same time, they are no more interested in the government inserting itself in their lives on the basis of religion than they are having it insert itself for any other reason. Extremists like Santorum, Pat Robertson, Ken Cuccinelli and Bob McDonnell (Pat Robertson's protegé), Glenn Beck and so forth, have stolen the megaphone from American conservatism and are taking it down a dangerous path of extremist theocracy. This is not to demonize good people who have different opinions. Differing opinions should be valued and should be welcomed. Where that difference should be abruptly and forcefully confronted is when it demands it can and should be asserted on to others.

For those of us who actually believe in religious freedom as a principle, as opposed to a banner to hide our prejudices and hatred behind, we have made a choice as well. We have chosen to remain silent for what now looks to have been far too long. If you wonder why it is the more militant among wide array of people who can be considered part of the atheist community have begun to undertake a campaign of attacking religion as a whole, this is why. Tolerance is a virtue. Taken to an extreme it becomes apathy. This can no longer be the default setting for anyone who is interested in not having their lives, their governance and their society dominated by the varieties of extremism which have been outlined here. It is no longer tolerance. It is no longer in the best interests of a civil society to allow this kind of extremism to go unchallenged. For anyone who thinks this is an alarmist perspective, that somehow, someone, somewhere will come along and speak enough sense to put this insanity to rest, stop waiting. It will only be those people who believe in an actual religious freedom, for all, who will be able to expose this extremism

This extremism is never going to be successfully battled and sent back to the dungeons of public acceptance, where it belongs, by making claims that religion has no place in contemporary society. Human beings are no more likely, in the foreseeable future, to abandon belief in religion than they are to abandon the idea of living in cities. Both have been a part of civilization since it began, neither is going anywhere soon, and this being a given, it is both ridiculous and wasteful to spend time making these claims and assumptions. It should also be noted that determining whether or not religion should be allowed, practiced or a part of society is, in principle, no different than the different varieties of expulsion these religious extremists call for. There is, contrary to what many of the more extreme religious instigators like to claim, a fundamental difference between the atheist asserting religion must be done away with and the religious zealot demanding all people bow to or be subjected to the dictates of their faith. One is asserting people should be free of the intellectual, emotional and psychological bonds of religion, and therefore, be allowed to look objectively at the choices they have and make. The other is asserting theirs is the only idea or ideal that should be acceptable. Though the sentiment may be coming from a much more respectful and respectable perspective when the atheist makes this claim, they are still denying one variety of choice in their equation, that of religious belief. In a society based on human respect, this shouldn't be the case. The belief in a theology or a deity isn't the base problem, it is the dressing draped over the rotting corpse of a society that has too long tolerated dehumanization. 

In the end, the call to end religion from one part of what is a large and diverse atheist community, is essentially a reaction to that dehumanization, and it is that which should be addressed, fully, face to face. Tolerance does not have to mean that a person or that a society accepts the manipulation of their good will in having been tolerant, which is what has become the norm among these extremists. Like their calls to religious freedom, their chief antagonism toward a tolerant society has been to cry discrimination when confronted. Even as those who are religious are the majority, and the majority of the society exists in a way that favors their religious preferences, when confronted about this extremism, they have turned to decrying all of those who have stood firmly to say that tolerance can not mean tolerating discrimination, hate filled rhetoric (that has no basis in fact), and invective meant to dehumanize those of our brothers and sisters toward whom it is directed. That is not tolerance, it is apathy and it is enabling the destruction of that tolerance and the good that it does any society. It also serves to stall the further advance of making a society based on respect and dignity. It devolves into the false dichotomy that we now face, the extremists and the rest of us who would like to be able to get about our lives, in keeping with that respect and tolerance. It serves to keep a society, that like ours, is ever changing and evolving, from being able to take the correct steps to address those changes and the evolution that is inevitable. Instead, the changes come, the evolution happens, and because they are ignored in favor of attempting to keep these same extremists from denying a recognition of that basic respect and dignity, we are all left playing a collective game of catch up, trying to undo problems which could have been prevented with a sober and sane accounting of the facts. The ultimate result is that we are not having the debates and discussions which are actually necessary in order to be sure we are prepared for the inevitable future.

In a world that is more and more connected every single day, in which the actions of people on the other side of the world have more effect on our lives today than they ever have in the past, we must be laying the groundwork and building the infrastructure which will support the weight of that reality. Instead of having the discussion about why it is we are falling so far behind in seeing to it that every community in the nation has access to broadband internet, we are arguing women's rights, the rights of the LGBT community, and essentially ignoring the problem of mass incarceration. This can not continue if we, as a society, expect to be able to be part of the kind of world community that is developing.  And in that world community, it is going to take a degree of tolerance and humility to be a vital, effective and positive actor. With the events surrounding Iran right now, we are seeing what the extremes of the ideologies of the twentieth century have produced. If we have any hope of avoiding the same mistakes, we must prepare for the world that is hurling toward us at an ever accelerated rate. We can not afford to continue to be mired down in the arguments of the nineteenth century in a twenty-first century world or we will be cast out from all of the benefits that it has in store.

We, who believe that it is possible to have a society which is based on and takes a real account of human dignity and respect, must no longer stand in our own separate communities. We must no longer stand alone. What has long been on the side of the extremists is that they have become glued together, speaking of one mind, speaking from the same invective filled script, spreading the terror of everyone who is not within ear shot as they go. It's now time that we begin to speak together. It's time now that we begin to stand together. It's time now that we say, "We have tolerated extremism long enough. We have wrestled with our responsibilities to tolerance, to acceptance and to the right of those who would to spread their hatred. It's time now to address those problems that have been neglected as a result, and to prepare for those the future will bring."

This responsibility comes with an important understanding. Those who have come to espouse and push this kind of extremism are our kin, fellow citizens as much as those who have spent their lives working toward creating a world which is based on human respect and dignity. Extremism can no more be expelled from a society or the world than religion, atheism or culture. It would not be an effective or realistic goal. What is a realistic and effective goal is that the rest of us, who don't believe in these hateful ideas, stand together as one people, and act with the dignity and respect we are fighting for. Extremism is defeated with further extremism. Nor is it defeated with anger and invective. It is defeated with the strength of a confident, proactive community which can communicate the values it most deeply believes in. Extremism is defeated by facing people who stand with straight backs, loving hearts, sharp minds and the clear statements of the truths they hold to be self evident. It is time that extremism is exposed for what it is, the terrified cries of people who have lost understanding and bearing in the world that exists. Defeating it means providing that understanding and the symbols that give real meaning.

This is going to mean we must stop waiting for the state, it's chosen methods and the necessary changes that extremism makes impossible. This is to say, that if you are among those who have been the target of this extremism, you must begin to step away from the divisions which have historically existed in American society. We must no longer have women's rights issues. Women's rights issues must be all of our issues. We must no longer have immigrant issues. Immigrant issues must be all of our issues. Issues of the black community must be all of our issues. Issues of the LGBT community must be all of our issues. The issues of the middle class and the poor must be all of our issues. We must begin to see ourselves less as separate communities attempting to reach for the respect and dignity our communities deserve than we must begin to see that this struggle to achieve that recognition is never going to move forward so long as the extremist ideologues who have so long targeted our communities can turn to another community to attack in order to distract attention the second one of our communities begins to make advances. All of these issues are fundamentally related in their struggle for dignity and basic human respect. We must also extend the understanding of what this community to those across the globe who favor the struggle for dignity and respect instead of the struggle for domination and dictatorial control. Without doing so, the extremists among us will always be able to rile an unfounded fear of the other "out there," and we will again be distracted by phantoms and tricks of rhetoric, instead of addressing the very real problems we have and which will be coming in the future. We are the first generation to live in a truly global community. That community is going to continue to grow closer and more intimate, and we have within us the capability to create a vision for the future that is compelling, respectful and dignified enough to be able to put the mistakes and problems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries behind us, if we are willing to address the extremists that prevent it now.

Another world is possible.

*The images contained here have all been included as a demonstration of the fact that there are varieties of this extremism that have been beaten back before, and also that in order to be able to confront them, they must be faced and looked at for what they are.