All I want to say about Orlando is

All I want to say about Orlando is

Here in America we have so many mass shootings
It’s kind of our thing
By one count, we’ve had 136* of them
In just 164 days this year.
And most of them …
Well, the ones I hear about, which is a small percentage …
They don’t necessarily
Shake me.

Like Sandy Hook, for example.
I remember friends who are mothers,
How their hearts broke
For the parents of those kids.

Or the Aurora movie theater
Right here
In my own metro area.
So many people I knew
Worried about going to the movies.

But me
I was just
Not thrown

And I wondered
About my lack of grief or fear

Mostly
I felt frustrated

I wanted
To shake
The whole country

I wanted to yell
That it wasn’t about gun laws
It’s about our culture

That these shootings
And the predictable debates
About regulating firearms
Are such despicably handy
Distractions
Everybody gets emotional
Everybody takes a side
We yell at each other for a while
We move the needle a hair
And while no one’s paying attention
A bunch of bullshit gets passed in Congress
And it sort of seems like
That’s the plan

Who does it serve
When we kill each other in this specific way?
Because somebody sure benefits …

And that’s
What I wish
We could focus on

Because
All around the world
People are profiting
From distractions
Just like these

A lot of those people who are profiting
Are Americans

And THAT
Is what makes me
So upset

Because this is our culture
It’s written into the contract
By any means necessary
Profit
Power
Control

And I want
Us to see this

I want
Us to change

I want
Some new values
Here

Well
What’s different about Orlando?

I guess
For me
This is one of the
One of the ones
That hit me
Hard in the chest
Though I didn’t know any of those people
And I’ve never even been to that city

Is it just because I am a queer person
Too?
I have questioned

I don’t feel attacked
And I don’t feel defensive
I honestly don’t even feel
Like gayness is really the point here
In some ways
It’s just another flavor
Of the same shitty medicine
And gayness
Homophobia
Is just
The excuse
There’s nothing new here
Nothing really different
From any other
21st century
American style
Mass shooting

But
Irrationally
I feel
Responsible
For those people
At Pulse nightclub
I feel
Like they were
Part of my family
And honestly
Even if they were my real distant cousins
Who I’d never met

I probably would not feel
So sad

I didn’t know any of them
And who knows
If their experience of queerness
Was ever anything like mine
Who knows
If any of them
Would have felt a connection
To some random lesbian
In Colorado

But I do

And the loss of these lives
I feel
Like a light going out
I feel
Like a sandbag
Hitting me in the chest

It doesn’t make sense
That I should care
Like this

But I do

And I want to say
That the majority of these people
Were also
Not white
I don’t want it to be lost
In this conversation
That these people
Who were chosen
For elimination
Were vulnerable
In multiple ways
In most situations
In life
Not just at the gay bar
But in a society
Where it’s ok
To talk about
The growing proportion
Of the population
That’s Latino/a
Like
That’s a danger
To some
American way

Like they
Were the danger

I want
Us
To be different

And although it will seem to some
Like it’s none of my business
Like I’m getting worked up
By focusing on the negative
Like I am always
Picking a fight

Today
Right now
My whole body
Is full of sorrow
Still

For these lives sacrificed
For the friends and families left behind
And for the knowledge
That this
This
Is what we’ve created
After two hundred and almost fifty fucking years
Of nationhood
This is what we’ve done
With the land
We massacred
The previous occupants
To get

Oh
Fuck
That came out too

Well

It’s part of the same problem.
Mass killing is written into our contract
USA
And we’ll never change
Until we can know that
In our hearts

I keep thinking I’m out of words
But I keep not being

I keep thinking I should shut up
But I keep not

I keep thinking I’m too sad
To talk
So I write instead
And I feel a little better

I’ll quote again
One of my favorite poems ever,
Allen Ginsberg’s “America”

There must be some other way to settle this argument …
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.


———-

*That’s defining “mass shooting,” as The Gun Violence Archive does, as “any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed. That number can include any gunmen as well.”

Day 16: American Belly

I remember the moment when I first understood that there is a whole sector of the economy based on making perfectly wonderful people hate themselves, and more specifically, their bodies. It was my sophomore year in college in Intro to Women’s Studies. Up to that point I had not been convinced that feminism had anything important to say to me. Then I saw Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women

For sheer change of mental direction, this was one of the films that influenced me most in my life. It’s not like it told me everything I would ever want to know or anything, but just the way it strung together SO MANY examples of conscious campaigns to instill self-hatred for the purpose of monetary gain — well — I just felt personally upset and angry on a deep level about this.  I mean, it is not ok to make people hate themselves and want to destroy themselves so that a corporation and its owners can make a profit!!! What is WRONG with our culture that we not only allow these practices but defend them above the lives of the people they hurt???

The practice of willfully convincing young people that there is a hierarchy of acceptable physical appearances, and that not having one of the top body types both leads to unhappiness in life and is a reflection of personal failure — I guess it bothers me just as much now as it did then. 

It’s become practically a cliché to point out that the models don’t even look like that, that the standard held up is not actually possible. Most people I know probably wouldn’t admit to being appearance or size prejudiced. But educational and economic discrimination based on weight or size is quite prevalent — and that’s to say nothing of what I think is much sadder, which is the persistent messages teaching young people, who don’t yet have the capacity for sorting propaganda from helpful survival information, that their bodies are bad and that they are bad people for having bodies like that. 

How can we seriously live with the consequences of those conditions?

I guess for me, when I thought of this as a corporate project, and thought of how much pain and isolation I’d experienced up to that point in life in connection with my body, and how much those experiences had shaped me as a person, my thoughts and feelings toward myself, and my beliefs about my possibilities for success or happiness,  I just got so enraged — and I guess that anger still hasn’t left me yet. People are harming themselves over this. It is not ok that we as a society let it stand. 

When I started realizing how very much of our economic system is built on people’s suffering, purposely caused, sustained, or exacerbated in order to get people to give away their resources, or be stripped of them — Of course this goes far beyond the beauty industry. It’s so deeply interwoven into the American economy. 

I sometimes think that what we need in America is a revolution in morals. We need to reach a place, as a culture, where we value caring for people and the planet over profit. I dream of seeing a time come when we can no longer in good conscience allow huge corporations to promote incarceration over freedom, chronic diseases over wellness, poison over true nourishment, and destruction over innovation, all in the name of extracting all possible resources from a targeted group. I wonder if we all just have to want it more — and I wonder what it would take to get us there. Please let me know, because whatever it is, I want to do it. 

So that’s what I meant when you said that if I could free my mind from this particular set of beliefs — if I can ever actually get there — it will be free indeed. 

May that day come. 

America, I do still love you and believe you can be better.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Capitalism

Now and then, at the end of the day, my partner and I sometimes end up talking about capitalism — what it is, what it does, what it encourages, what it does and/or does not allow.  We observe that it seems to foster creativity and innovation, but we wonder whether it’s part of its nature to then squash any truly status-quo-challenging pursuits.  We don’t know whether or not it contains within itself the capacity for facing and solving the problems it has caused. These are sincere questions.

capitalism

Not long after one of these late-night conversations, I randomly came across this lecture by Paul Mason, recipient of the Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize, published in the New Statesman on June 12, and it attracted my interest. Keynes, Mason says, believed that capitalism (barring unforeseen circumstances) would have to end up providing for the well-being of all. But Mason disagrees, or rather points out that the circumstances that followed Keynes’ prediction were indeed unforeseen, and as a result of these circumstances, most recently the rise of information technology, capitalism has evolved into a system that can’t support itself indefinitely. (In my words, I would say that the system is unsustainable).

Mason describes the economic impact of a situation “where large amounts of information are produced and exchanged at negligible real prices, if not for free.”  He argues,

Consider the social implications: if the cost of information goods tends towards zero, and the ability to standardise and virtualise the manufacture of real things also rapidly reduces their cost, the real price of labour will also fall because a) supply exceeds demand and b) the input costs fall.

That is what I think underpins the surprise outcome of the neoliberal revolution: the impoverishment of the developed-world working class. It looks like the outcome of class struggle and defeat, but it may also be the product of a one-time technology event.

Mason goes on to point out specific ways in which the phenomenon of the concentration of wealth constrains people’s movement, speech, choice, and wellness.  The examples he gives, like the protester being kicked by the official, resonate with his analysis; really, they are just a very few of the many possible events, public and private, that could be cited.

Yet Mason also notes that the new information technology and culture have led to a flourishing of “non-managed, peer-produced, non-market activity based around information” — all the content and all the software that people are creating and giving away for free.  “Non-market activity”!  Those are good words, to me.  Activity that exists outside of the market?  Really?  It can exist?  What an important site of production.  Mason thinks that it has the potential, if not the destiny, to unravel capitalism itself.

What most stood out to me in this lecture, however, might have been nothing more than a quirk of phraseology.  Toward the end of the essay, he writes:

If we avoid this dire outcome, it will because the forces for good, for understanding and knowledge and restraint are also being strengthened by technology. I think we should imagine new technology creating the world of abundance Keynes longed for, but it is likely to be decoupled from the question of pure GDP growth and compound interest.

It won’t happen by 2030. It will not be the transition Marxists imagined, led by the state suppressing market forces, but a transition based on the controlled dissolution of market forces by abundant information and a delinking of work from income. I call this – following economists as diverse as Peter Drucker and David Harvey – post-capitalism. In making it happen, the main issue is not economics but power, and it revolves around who can envisage and create the better life.

It’s this language of imagination that compels me.  “Creating the world of abundance … decoupled from the question of …” What he’s calling for, or maybe just observing the need for, is a paradigm shift.  Can we imagine a world of abundance?  One that’s based on something other than the working models of the current economic system?  Can we imagine that?  I think we NEED to devote a lot of our attention to imagining that, and imagining the tools that we would need to get there.

I love the last line of this passage.  It points to the idea that power, as it is currently aligned, stands in the way of any type of paradigm change.  It states that “the better life,” hopefully the sustainable life, is something that needs to be envisaged, visualized, envisioned (or held as a vision), and created, emerging from our creativity, imagined and brought into being.  My interpretation: that the practice of envisioning a better world, of a different order entirely, must be nurtured and spread, until so many people are doing it that it begins to have power of its own.

Post-capitalism.

Mason ends the lecture by claiming that “the true Keynesian thing to do is to imagine a humanist future based on abundance and freedom, and explore what tools we have that might make it come about. There is no better time to imagine it.”

Social change needs imagination right now.  Ok, it needs a lot of things.  And one of those things is imagination.  From school to business to personal relationships.  From science and technology to human services to politics.  Everybody has imagination.  It is a truly vast, undertapped resource (here in America in the present day).

If imagination were truly valued in America, would we stand for companies buying out promising innovators with planet-saving solutions simply to shut them down? Or companies like Monsanto buying the research firms that test their products for safety?

Would we cut every imagination-developing class from our public schools?

Why does anyone wonder why we haven’t yet imagined, on a mass scale, a sustainable society?

And who does the status quo serve?

It is said that every system does exactly what it is designed to do.

What is our system doing?

Is that really the best we can imagine?

Some Thoughts Can’t Be Expressed As Statements

Remember watching The L-Word?  Maybe we were less picky about our entertainment back then.  Anyway, there was one point in the show where Bette, going through a personal crisis, took up meditation.  She wasn’t entirely unconvincing.  At the peak of this period she went on a week-long silent retreat at a gorgeous, swanky retreat center in the Pacific Northwest.  Man, it looked nice up there.  But it turned out that much silence was not what Bette really craved.  The episode ended like a dam breaking as she poured out her pent-up words into someone’s voice mail: “I want, I want, I want…”

This scene, and this line, have stayed with me.  I sometimes find myself thinking those words, in that same heart-filled voice, without really being able to finish the sentences.  Sometimes it seems as though what I want doesn’t exist yet, so how could I know what it is called?

And then there are the things too painful to name, or at least to call them by the words everyone else uses.  The real names of these things, maybe, are silent; these other words only code, because the real names, when spoken, are unbearably sad.

Sometimes all I can bring myself to do is ask questions, and let the many possible answers hang unvocalized in the air like invisible memorials.

Here are some questions that I would like to offer:

Who owns a neighborhood, who owns the streets?  Who has authority to say who belongs there and who does not?

Why is a life of so little value that people are allowed to act with lethal force toward anyone who scares them?

Why have we created a climate in which violence is so quickly reached for in every uncomfortable situation?  Is there any way we can uncreate it?

Why are alternative solutions suppressed?  Why do we stand for it?

When will our nation encourage people to take responsibility for the hurt they cause, purposely or inadvertently?  When will our nation lead by example?

Would different standards have been applied if the one who died had been a white teenager?  Can anyone ever be honest about this?

What if those deciders had observed their own reactions and sincerely asked themselves, why does a policeman “just sound more convincing” to them?

Will our collective inclination to be generous and compassionate toward one another ever overcome our collective defensiveness?

How can anyone say the gun did this?

How can anyone say race is not involved?

Does it mean I support the US criminal justice system as it now exists if I wish that some punishment had been assigned to this person who survived the fight?  Even though I know in my heart that jail causes far more damage than it heals?

What’s a better way?

What can we do?

What can I do?

Let me be explicit here that while a certain “case” (if that’s really what we want to call it) has been in the news so much that even I have heard of it, and while I am truly saddened by the end of this particular story, this “case” is an EXAMPLE of one localized outcome of the values of violence-before-compassionate-action that permeate American society, and that’s why I feel sorrow for our country as a whole.  Other outcomes are other young people’s deaths, within the borders of the US and around the world.  That’s why I have chosen not to mention any names in this post, even though I hope it’s clear what national conversation has inspired these reflections.  I don’t know the specific people involved and I would hate for any of them to feel that I used their names for personal gain or publicity.  But I do recognize patterns.  And on occasion, throughout our history, certain other murders that were widely covered by the press (to the exclusion of thousands of similar stories; why those few get chosen, I don’t know) have served as motivators for change, as instigators for discussion, as alarm clocks for consciences.

When my own words can’t be found, songs sung in other languages can be comforting.  In the ardor of the singer’s expression, I can imagine whatever grief I’m feeling coming out in the music, too.

I remember listening to this African music show called Motherland Jam on KOPN, the community radio station in Columbia.  The host began each installment with “Shosholoza,” a South African folk song.  I always loved the sounds and melody of this song, even before I knew what it was about.  In fact it’s a song about working in the mines.  It came on my MP3 player while I was writing this, and it felt like medicine to my heart.  According to Wikipedia, it was sung traditionally sung call-and-response style by all-male groups in the Ndebele language to “express the hardship [and] heartache” of that deep, dark, dirty work underground and in camps, separated from families, abused by bosses.  The word “Shosholoza … means go forward or make way for the next man … It is used as a term of encouragement and hope for the workers as a sign of solidarity.”  The article continues, “In contemporary times, its meaning is to show support for any struggle.”

The lyrics alchemize the trials endured by the miners into poetry:

Shosholoza

Kulezo ntaba

Stimela siphume South Africa

Shosholoza

Kulezo ntaba

Stimela siphume South Africa

Wen’ uyabaleka

Kulezo ntaba

Stimela siphume Rhodesia

Go forward

Go forward

on those mountains

train to South africa

Go forward

Go forward

You are running away

You are running away

on those mountains

train from Zimbabwe

So if I may place one thing on the altar of the memory of this one particular almost-man who was killed, and whose death, for whatever reason, allowed America to engage in a conversation, even if the conversation hasn’t yet led to any answers, I would make it this song.

“American Tune”

A couple of days ago, I was listening to the last episode of the NPR call-in show Talk of the Nation.  I’ve never been a huge follower of the show because I’m not usually driving around listening to the radio at midday, but I did always enjoy it when I heard it, and even though I’ve been accused more than once of being unsentimental, I did feel a slight welling up of emotion at its going away.

Host Neal Conan had Ted Koppel on as a guest on this series finale, doing a look back over the hosts’ lifetimes (since 1940) and speculating about whether America as a nation is better or worse off than it has been at other points since World War II.  The question on the table, for both Koppel and the callers-in, was, are you hopeful about the future?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic?  How bad are things now, compared to other times in the history of the nation, and what’s “bad” about what “things”?  One way they asked it that seemed to resonate with a lot of people was, “What keeps you up at night?”

Koppel stated in no uncertain terms that he was not hopeful about the future.  He had a series of reasons why he thinks the nation is in great danger at this moment, in some ways more even than in the Cold War days of Mutually Assured Destruction.

While listening, I thought of a friend who’d recently brought up this topic, from a different perspective.  She’d heard a speaker at a community gathering who’d totally changed her thinking on that question.  This speaker (whose name I don’t know) had listed many OTHER reasons why he saw things as getting continually BETTER, and noted that globally speaking, we humans are living, on average, much safer, healthier lives than we did earlier in the 20th century, with many fewer of us dying violent deaths or succumbing to epidemics.

Interestingly, the same debate came up in my class the other night.  It was an extended tangent away from the original topic of violence and competitions for dominance in society, where those forces come from, and whether or not they should be read as any sort of problem.  One guy, a returning student and Iraq war veteran in his 40s, stood up and insisted that first of all, humans are nothing more than animals with a VERY thin veneer of “culture” or domesticity, and we are inherently and appropriately violent beings, right down to our genetic cores; and, second, those elusive “things” in this country are going to get worse, and worse, and worse. “The world is never going to change,” he said adamantly.

As the class split up at the end of the evening, he lingered to wrap the conversation up with me.  He mentioned something that he would do when he ran for Congress.  I asked him if he really planned on running for Congress, because I could imagine him realistically doing so, and I like to encourage people to pursue their dreams.  He said yes, maybe someday, and would he have my vote?  I laughed and said I would have to see his whole platform; that I would have to reserve my judgment.

This is how I feel about the “what’s going to happen to us in the future” question, the debate over whether things are getting worse or getting better.  I do not really know, and anyway I suppose the standards of measurement are fairly suspect (“things”).  Many of my students, and others around me, express their anxiety about the future in terms of whether American will be able to keep its status as “number one.”  They see the possibility of other national currencies supplanting the dollar as “strongest” as a harbinger of future humiliation and economic hardship.  Meanwhile, others frame the problems of the present in terms of the United States’ refusal to prioritize the survival needs of the people and the planet over the survival needs of corporations.  So the jury is still out on whether we humans WILL make things better.  But I do wholeheartedly believe that we CAN.

I am hopeful about the possibility that humans can evolve, make new choices, and become less harmful to each other and to the planet.  There are other parts of us, besides our animal instincts, which give us the drive, in the face of extreme inconvenience, to create ever more just and compassionate social systems and ways of interacting with each other in every area of life, from the family to the industry to the market to the international stage of diplomacy.  I don’t know where this human journey is going, but I know it’s going somewhere.  I believe it’s our destiny to evolve.

It has also been many other species’ destiny to evolve—and some of them did so to the point where the original species became unrecognizable.  In a sense, thy evolved themselves out of existence.  And in at least some cases, I’m okay with that.

I’ve been called unsentimental because sometimes I have the ability to let go, without too many tears, of things that are no longer functioning, or no longer the most beneficial, or no longer meeting the need they were created to meet because the need is no longer there.  At least sometimes, I can recognize that it could be better to have a vacant space, into which something new and better suited to the present moment might come, than to hang on to the old thing, which, though it might still be providing some benefit, when weighed in the balance is really doing more harm than good.

So I’m led to ask, could this idea about America always being number one in the world be one of those things?  To question this assumption, I know, sounds bad.  But I’ve always believed that to hold someone accountable for their failures is an act of love.  Maybe it’s more the idea that America must be number one in the world–in everything–for us to feel secure that needs to go.  Because first of all, we’re not.  We’re not handling our internal affairs in a responsible way, and corporate preferences continually triumph over public good in our political, economic, educational, and cultural spheres.  And second of all, “the winner of everything” is a very insecure spot to be in.  When one’s sense of self worth is tied to beating everyone else in everything, one has to be constantly on the defensive and pour all one’s energy into maintaining one’s status.  And then one ends up forced to endorse the idea that all others are, in small and large ways, lesser than oneself.

In that same Talk of the Nation interview, Koppel and Conan talked about Nelson Mandela, who was at that time in the process of dying at age 94 in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa.   The journalists were calling him an exceptional leader, a great leader in a historical period that’s been mainly absent of noticeable greatness.  The source of Mandela’s distinction was the way he approached nation-building and national healing in the years after apartheid.  He and his party promoted a policy of “Truth and Reconciliation,” through which those who had benefited from the regime and brutalized the Black South Africans took responsibility for their actions, while those who had been oppressed and terrorized were treated with respect, and their suffering and grief and anger were given space to be heard.  It was not a reversal of the existing hierarchy, with the formerly colonized group now ruling over the old colonizers.  Instead, it was a process of actual peacemaking.  I daresay it involved everyone courageously forcing themselves to see everyone else involved as humans, attempting to find out what they all needed as humans, and seeking to meet those needs when possible, thus allowing each other to let go of some of their fear and defensiveness and pain.  It was a process whose goal was to lay a framework for lasting and continuing peace in that nation.

Voices around the world have been practically unanimous in acclaiming Mandela as a hero and visionary.  Yet none of our leaders have been willing to follow in his footsteps, rejecting the path of revenge on those who have been constructed as our enemies, those who we believe have done us harm.  None of our leaders, when faced with other nations, groups, or individuals behaving towards us in a hostile way, have stepped up to begin a discussion by taking responsibility for the many actions of the United States that have undermined the liberty, autonomy, and well being of people around the world and within our own borders.  In interpersonal relations, this would be the stance of a strong person, a brave person, a person trying to do what is right to the best of one’s imperfect ability.  In international affairs, such an approach is trivialized and called weakness.

I saw a meme on Facebook once that posed a question similar to this: The war in Iraq has cost the US government over 800 billion dollars so far (that’s according to CostofWar.com as of 6/30/13; click to see what it’s up to now).  What if, instead of going to war, just half of that money had been spent addressing as many of the needs of the Iraqi people as possible, that is, building sustainable civilian institutions to bring the best possible public services to underserved regions?  Would there be a conflict now?  Would there be an unstable situation?  This scenario is unimaginable to most people; it’s outside of the currently dominant paradigm.  And I’m not saying there has been none of this, but I am saying that the investment in really meeting the people’s needs has been tiny compared to the investment in fighting the people.  For all the dozens of military veterans I’ve met in my community college classes over the past three years, I’ve never met one person who’d been in Iraq or Afghanistan on any kind of peace mission.  The US has approached the situation from a military point of view only; our nation, at the government level, is just not capable yet of looking at an international conflict from a healing point of view.  But if they could, I’ll wager they’d see a lot more progress, a lot more resolution, a lot more stability and security, a lot more freedom for both “them” and “us.”

That would be greatness, America.  Living in fear that the dollar may not be the international standard any more is not greatness.  We’ve had that distinction for a while, and we should feel honored; but there are other countries in the world whose citizens know something about economics, and maybe have been doing some things better than we have lately.  What’s so bad about that?  Don’t capitalists supposedly love competition?

If we follow the line of reasoning that says that in world politics, one nation must be permanent leader (and it must be us) out a little ways, we begin to sound suspiciously like the sort of people who get called “dictator” in the mainstream media when they are in charge of other countries.  And if we look inside of that argument, we realize it depends on the assumption that if there is a permanent top dog, then everyone else must necessarily be an inferior dog, at least in the eyes of the top.  In other words, the culture of dominance in which one group has to be on top implies that all the other groups are 1. submissive, 2. subservient, 3. dependent, or 4. enemies to the ones on top.  Is that really the relationship we want to be in with ALL of our neighbors on the planet?

As you may be able to infer from this blog, I’m a terrible one for picking favorites (favorite word? favorite book?  I just can’t answer).  But I do have a favorite songwriter: Paul Simon.  After I listened to that Talk of the Nation finale, his 1973 song “American Tune” came into my head.  What I love about that song is that, for me anyway, it perfectly captures the frustration and the optimism, the quiet necessity of moving forward even with a broken heart.  I hate to quote a single line or verse, because the song is such a complete whole, but here’s the bridge:

And I dreamed I was dying

Dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly

And looking back down at me

Smiled reassuringly,

And I dreamed I was flying

And high up above my eyes could clearly see

The Statue of Liberty

Sailing away to sea

And I dreamed I was flying …

The mystics of all religions teach us that when we become something new, we do die.  Indeed, as we are continually changing, we let go of what we were, continually dying and being reborn while still living this life.  When we transform into something really different, when we take a big leap forward in our evolution, our old selves die in a more dramatic way, and that’s one reason why it’s really really scary, and takes huge courage, to allow ourselves to grow in those important ways.  As we reach toward the best that we can be, we necessarily shed old identities that no longer serve us.  Those identities may have served us for a long time, and become full of routines, relationships, ways of doing things, answers.  Letting go of them can be really damn hard.

But as the song suggests, I do believe we individuals have souls, and our souls are on a rising journey.  Our souls are heading upward; the more we get our egos out of the way, the faster they rise.  And I do believe that’s the way forward for groups of people, too.  There has to be a desire to become better—when the fire of passion for being the best one can be is awakened, we find the courage to let go of old paradigms that no longer serve.  We find the will to push ourselves to do difficult things, or things that scare us because we don’t already know what the outcome will be (because we’ve never tried them before). We can do it because we come to want so badly to become better than we are.

The concept of “hitting bottom” is illustrative here; an addict, after all, is just someone who’s become extremely dependent on a way of coping with life that’s actually much more destructive than beneficial, though it may at first seem otherwise.  Hitting bottom, losing or being truly threatened with the loss of something that it would feel unbearably painful to lose, is the most tried-and-true way that addicts have found to begin the sincere search for recovery.  Hitting bottom puts us (not just drug or alcohol addicts, to be clear here; we might include people addicted to bullying, or to being in control) in a humble frame of mind.  It gives us a yearning to transform for the better, and makes us willing to do anything it takes to heal ourselves and our relationships.  Ironically, hitting bottom can be the most powerful source of courage.  Maybe we reach this place when we finally look around and see all the suffering we’ve caused – something happens that’s so dramatic, it becomes impossible for us to continue to be willfully blind to our role in the destruction.  Maybe we reach it when we take a big hit from the world, get knocked out, see stars.  Suddenly we see ourselves with clarity and realize that our ways are not sustainable.  We need to change or die.

And, out of utter necessity, our minds become open to receive ideas from a new paradigm.  What was impossible to conceive of doing before now becomes a lifeline.  This is one way in which I can imagine nations like America evolving.

Of course, some addicts go through their entire lives without ever hitting a bottom that makes them seriously question their habits.  Many nations have risen to power and fallen to the next in line for dominance.  There’s no guarantee that anyone will ever “change” in the sense of becoming willing to undertake a difficult process of transformation—from the inside out—in order to bring their life into greater accord with their soul’s purposes.  But some do suggest that the more of us individuals undertake those efforts, the more collective energy will build, ultimately lifting and carrying along others who might not have come to that process on their own.  So that, for me, is a starting place.  It’s not an end.  I’m actively seeking ways to support and promote my nation’s process of healthy self-examination and change for the better.

Happy Independence Week, y’all.

Guns and Paradigms

It’s Friday afternoon.  I’m driving home from the school where I teach (way on the other side of Denver from where I live), moving slowly, because everyone’s doing what I’m doing at the exact same time.  It’s been a long week and my brain is fried.  The news is playing on the car radio, senators are debating gun laws, but it’s really more of a background noise for my drifting thoughts.   At this point, in this mental state,  I wonder if it is really about more gun control versus less gun control, or about our collective, cultural willingness or unwillingness to find new, nonviolent, empowering, peace-promoting, effective responses to whatever it is that makes humans want to shoot or otherwise harm other humans on ANY scale, from personal assault to mass murder to war.  Maybe this whole debate is a distraction that keeps our national attention away from other, deeper, more entrenched problems.  Eh?????

One one point, at least, both sides are the same: they both envision a world where guns are necessary for wielding against other people, or against other beings.  One side wants to reserve the right to use guns to prevent other people from using them against people (themselves or others).  The other side wants to reserve the right to use guns against the people on the first side, if it should ever come to that.  And yes, there are many sub-arguments on either side.  I honestly see where both sides are coming from, and I see both as having valid concerns within the framework of the current conversation.  But they are both based on a worldview in which it is necessary to have guns and to have the right to use them against other people in certain specific circumstances.  And I do not believe that that worldview is either necessary or predetermined.  I do believe that as a group, the direction we humans need to go in is beyond the debate about whether and how to regulate firearms and who can use them and how and when, and what happens to us when we break those rules.

Earlier, on the way TO said job on the other side of the city, I heard this archeologist talking on Science Friday about the work of figuring out what exactly made the dinosaurs go extinct, and he made a comment to this effect: that though we can’t do something now, or even imagine how we would do it, that’s no reason to assume we won’t be able to do it in the future, possibly even the near future.  He noted that even scientists tend to underestimate the magnitude of advances we’ll make, and how quickly we’ll make them.  That’s in the field of research technology, of course, but I think the same is true of any area of human learning, any field in which we increase in understanding over time.  We don’t know what we’re going to be able to do, we are unable to picture what it would be like to do a thing, and then suddenly someone experiences a paradigm shift, and is able to see it, able to conceive it, able to actually do the thing that did not even have a name before.  This was the first thing we learned about in the H.C. at IUP: Thomas Kuhn and the idea of the paradigm shift, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Back then my professor took me out for pizza because he thought it was so nutty of me to apply that theory to the spread of Christianity in my final paper.  Since that time, though, I’ve seen repeatedly how true it is of any area of human development or spiritual evolution.  To make dramatic shifts in consciousness, in understanding, to let go of problems and let them be transformed, we need to look for, cultivate, and encourage the conditions under which paradigm shifts are likely to occur.  Such shifts are possible when, and only when, we believe they are.  Although we cannot see the next step on our path, or even that there is a path, and not a gaping void, we can’t (and we don’t) let that stop us from walking forward.

So how is this related to gun laws?  The debate will play itself out how it will.  If there really are specific regulations or liberties that will lead to fewer acts of violence being committed, then I hope those are the ones that get passed.  From what I have read (like this piece), it seems like the most powerful players in this game are the gun manufacturers, and they aren’t interested in liberty OR saving lives — just money.  So I’m just saying.  The whole debate is taking place on the surface of the issue.  I’d love to see the profit factor be acknowledged regularly in the public debate for the huge force that it really is.  And at the same time as we (at least those who are participating in this conversation in good faith) are collectively looking for the best, most responsible ways to manage the use and sale of guns on a practical, this-moment basis,  I would ask Americans to also do whatever they can to open their minds to the idea that the real issue might be something else, and that by meeting and addressing and solving this real issue — the real causes of violence, of fear, rage, the urge to hurt others or ourselves — we will solve so much more than just “the gun debate.”  We need to look for solutions to the suffering that exists, and take responsibility for our roles in causing it.  It will necessarily involve advancing in our understanding of how connected we all are, and how if we harm any being, we are truly and literally harming ourselves.  That goes for you, too, corporations.  ESPECIALLY for you.

Ok, that’s all I’m going to say on the topic.  May peace be with us on Earth.