A Ramble About Capitalism and Socialism and Whether it all Really Matters

Discussions about politics always lead to many arguments over capitalism and socialism.  I don’t really have principles with capitalism in theory.  I think a lot of good can come out of it.  Through that spirit of competition, things that companies compete at can lead to many improvements in technology, and the development of things that people want to help them solve problems and make their lives better.  It’s been difficult to really verbalize what I don’t like about capitalism other than a gut feeling that it misses the mark, so I wanted to explore the topic a bit, and also talk about socialism as well.  Both words sort of don’t do us justice as humans.

*Spoiler alert*

If you haven’t seen the movie Gattaca, which everyone should, then you might not want to read this, although the part of the story I am going to tell isn’t really central to the plot.  The main character Vincent had a younger brother, Anton, who was genetically superior in this sci-movie, Vincent had a heart defect.  They would compete with each other as children by swimming out to the ocean to see who could swim the farthest without getting worried and needing to swim back.  Anton would always win, until one day Vincent won and left home never looking back.  In the future, their paths cross again by circumstance.  Anton is a cop.  Vincent is someone who could be turned in by his brother in this future where genetics is everything.  So Anton and Vincent have a moment of truth, and Anton challenges Vincent once again to their swimming competition, never understanding how it was that he lost to his brother who had a defective heart.  Their initial competition was important for Vincent to realize his dreams and have the courage to follow them.  So as they compete once again and swim out to sea, a determined Vincent is going strong, and his brother Anton falters, is exhausted and starts to drown.  Vincent stops and rescues him, and swims him back to shore.

This is humanity, or what humanity should be.  We may compete as a means of helping ourselves improve, but in the end we are brothers and sisters and when another is suffering, we forget about the competition and we help each other.  This is not capitalism, at least it is generally practiced today.  In capitalism today, you compete to get ahead and whatever the damage in your wake, whatever suffering that might be happening outside the realm of your drive for growth is not your problem.  Can capitalism be separated from selfishness?  In theory the answer is yes, but this doesn’t often seem to be the case.  Does capitalism promote greed, promote the corruption of our better nature? Ultimately it seems to me to promote capitalism as a system to live by that is truly beneficial to all, that promotes liberty, and happiness is a mistake.  Capitalism at best much a sub-system under a larger framework that is focused on the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. Capitalism is a system designed by humans, it was never meant to be a system to design humans.   On the surface it seems to maximize freedom, but I would say that it’s very enslaving.  We are slaves to consumerism, slaves to the constant making of money, slaves to the clock, with no real thought to our happiness which supposedly we are so free to make happen.

amp-quot-capitalism-rewards-hard-work-amp-quot-yeah-right_o_2033411So is socialism better? First let me explain how I define socialism, the word has come to mean so many things:

“A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

I will start out by saying that any ideology can be corrupted by greed and if there is a governing body the chance is there.  Socialism is something that seems to be an antithesis to freedom, and in some ways this is correct.  But maybe the better question is, how free are we really meant to be?  We evolved in tribes of about several hundred.  We were mobile out of necessity, and not sedentary.  Resources were uncertain as the environment changed, and as we most likely made occasional mistakes with damaging an ecosystem which we depended on.  But it was like a small town.  Everybody knew each other and took care of each other.  Taking care of children was communal, the idea of ownership was non-existent.  You passed down skills, and I am sure there was competition to help improve skills, but in the end success for the tribe was about cooperation.  Some people had lesser skills, some people were likely injured from time to time, some might have been too old or too young to be very effective, but that was life.  Everybody did what they were able, and for those that weren’t able, you took care of them.  You didn’t work for yourself.  As the best hunter you didn’t say, I’m taking all the meat today, good luck suckers!  At our core, our brains are wired for this idea of the collective, and the empowerment of the collective is an important tenet of socialism.  We are after all a social species.

So why do we see so many flaws in socialism?  The difference between that tribe of several hundred, and cities, or states, or countries, or the entire globe is that we don’t all know each other.  While we may be built for empathy, the fact remains that empathy is much easier to have when you’ve known someone personally (the longer the better), and in a tribe everybody knows everybody and you depend on each other.

In many ways, I feel that capitalism vs socialism boils down to a similar debate between individualism and collectivism.  Two things I’ve blogged about before.  When I frame capitalism as a sub-system in a larger framework I guess I now see individualism sort of similarly.  I am sure individuality played an important role in the tribe.  Someone having creative ideas was surely encouraged, having a diversity of expertise (even if everybody had to have similar skills), would have also been beneficial.  But if someone came up with a better way to catch more fish, it certainly wasn’t profited from.  They wouldn’t have just kept storing fish for themselves and sold them to their hungry tribe members, they would have taught this method to others and shared their haul while others learned.

In the end I just don’t see capitalism as the ideology that saves us all.  It is always going to produce winners and losers, and winners can keep rigging the game to make sure they keep winning.  And even if they intentionally don’t rig the game the privileges they and their offspring gain, compared to those with less makes sure that the deck gets continually stacked in their favor.

But if socialism is a better mirror of our tribal life that our brains are wired for, how do we get around the disconnect between the people we know and those we don’t?  Of course we could look at science and say, hey genetically we are pretty much the same and despite the fact that we are brought up in different environments, fundamentally the same things keep us happy and prosperous.  We could remain curious and continue to learn about other cultures and other problems people face, and see how similar their struggles are to our own, or what we might have gone through in the past.  We could believe in that Greek concept of “agape” a love of mankind, or a higher love that transcends our day to day to lives.  Can these things ever replace truly knowing each other, and develop empathy in the same way?  But they seem like good things to embrace even if in a lot of ways, we have to take them on faith.  We take so many religious myths on faith, so why not something that increases empathy for our fellow human?

I mean the truth is that capitalism can work, but it doesn’t mean you can get away from sharing, helping each other, and working for the rest of your tribe which is quite large in the present day given how much our population has grown and how global the economy has become.  Civilization is such a large departure from how we are wired, but for as many wonders it has created, it has spawned deeply disparate class structures and large populations in which a wealth of resources floats beneath the noses of those who have the most power to help people, and temptation to take over give becomes too great for our fragile minds who evolved in a far more uncertain world than we live in now.  Our fears and uncertainties can also be exploited by others, trapping us into a never ending cycle of divisiveness eroding the empathy which made us the successful species we are.  We are better when we cooperate.  At the end of the day I don’t really care to argue about capitalism vs. socialism, but whatever system we decide as best has to do away with greed.  I hope that one day we can find a path back to that communal culture from whence we came.

Post-Election Soul Searching: No Quarter

Well I promised that I was going to talk more about my Trump concerns, but unfortunately there is a little more scolding left to do of liberals, which includes me.  I want to talk about complacency and to do that I am going to start with a short YouTube video.

I don’t like her tone very much, and there are a few points I would disagree with, but much of it is hard to hear, because she’s right.  At least in my opinion. Because I was somebody who when Barack Obama was elected I thought that a black man being elected president was a giant step forward and he was so full of hope I felt it.  I felt it so strongly, that I fell into complacency.

The words of JFK continue to ring true, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  There have been several studies that demonstrate optimism can lead to complacency and perhaps we are all victims of that.  A country this size has many problems and maybe too many people relied on government to fix them all.  The hope and change that Obama talked about was the responsibility of all us.  And as much I really do like Obama.  He had his flaws as we all do.  Hero worship gets us nowhere.  He still bowed down to the establishment more than he should have.  He still continued foreign policy mistakes of previous administrations, and while the economy recovered there was still growing income inequality and many of the American’s at the bottom saw no improvement in their situation.  This article shows that while there was overall growth in employment, the type of jobs and the quality of jobs matter. Hell we have to pay attention to the fact that even a Muslim…nay a Muslim woman voted for Trump.  I mean holy crap!  If you were to make a list of top 10 types of people to not vote for Trump that would have been near the top of the list.  Now while I believe this woman, given her overall viewpoint, seemed to focus on only a couple of issues compared to all the other ones it certainly tells us that the homogeneity that we apply to Trump supporters isn’t right and isn’t helping.

The other point the video makes is that Hillary is not perfect.  There are valid criticisms to be made.  An article I read today gave probably the most important reason she lost, which is that she didn’t offer anything new.

“But, the desire for change last Tuesday was bigger than any worries Clinton was able to raise about Trump. Four in 10 voters said the most important character trait in deciding their vote was a candidate who “can bring needed change” to Washington. Of that group, Trump won 83 percent to Clinton’s 14 percent — 83 to 14!!!!”
She was going to be the first female president, and I think that will be an amazing day when it happens.  But how would she have been any different than Obama?  Nobody had been able to convince me that she was progressive in any way.  And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.  She’s worked very hard in her life and has accomplished a lot.  She’s smart.  But I found her to be reactive, not progressive, not a visionary.  There was no change that was the center of platform that was going to be the answer than many struggling Americans are looking for.  This is just my opinion, and I am sure there are those that would disagree.  As the article states, change is what people were looking for.  A change from the establishment, a definitive improvement on Obama’s policies, a voice that speaks to all Americans and not just the ones in swing states who already support her.  In that desperation for change….well…we got Trump.

You can feel the empathy.
You can feel the empathy  with many memes like this.

It’s unclear to me how much change this really represents, and change can certainly be negative.  I was also desperate for change, but I’ll choose slow decline over disaster any day.  But it is a terrible choice to have to make when you know that establishment politics isn’t working and the only choices you are given is the establishment and outsider who runs his campaign on lies, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia.  And what of those last 3 words.  I know many people are upset at being labeled that way in supporting Trump.  Here is the thing.  If all your concerns were legitimate economic ones, were related to health care costs, or just going for change and wanting to vote for an outsider, why did Trump bother with all the racist comments?  Why did he bother fear mongering about existential threats from immigrants and Muslims?  Why did he say that was going to take away women’s rights to determine what happens to their own bodies?  Why was any of that necessary if, as a Trump voter, none of you are these things?  Why weren’t you critique Trump about it while also praising his strengths? This is what we are all struggling with.  So here is what I want to say to the Trump voters.

Dear Trump Supporter,

I will believe you when you say you are not a racist, not a xenophobe, not a misogynist.  I understand you are feeling like your voice has been demeaned and/or ignored, and that your life hasn’t improved or gotten worse.  I understand maybe you just really wanted somebody you felt was going to cause change.  But here’s the thing.  Your candidate said many racist, xenophobic and misogynistic things.  The very words that came out of his mouth was the worst kind of populism that was intended to exploit your fears and spur your anger.  As a result, you demonized a hardworking woman who, regardless of your disagreements with her views or her ethics, she has served this country for many years, introduced a lot of legislation to try and help people and has been an active voice for equality for race, gender, and other minority groups.  I disagree with many of her policy decisions but I have no idea what it’s like being her, trying to be a woman achieving success in a man’s world of politics.  So now you have voted to put a man in power, who, if he does the things he says we will see the violation of numerous constitutional and human rights.  If he enacts the policies he says he will enact we will see the national debt skyrocket, damage relations with foreign countries, and do great damage to the environment.  And the RNC platform is supportive of many of the things Trump said he was going to do during the campaign. This was the cost of your vote.  For many people that are potential victims of the views Trump espoused during the campaign, they are having a hard time understanding how your vote was not in support of those hateful views, but solely rooted in economic change and health care issues.  You want our empathy and understanding, and you will have it, but not at the expense of injustices acted upon other people.  There are plenty of countries where governments work to make all people happy.  We should not be an Us vs. Them scenario.  It is not moral to say “now it’s time to pay attention to you, and screw everybody else.”  So let me know how I can help you, but if you are asking me to hurt somebody else to do so, I simply won’t do it.

And this empathy that you want, this desire to be seen as a human, and complex, and knowledgeable and aware.  It runs both ways.  While I have seen many of my liberal friends condemning the violence at anti-Trump protests, I have yet to see one Trump supporter that I know is on my Facebook News Feed speak out against any of the bullying and violence from Trump supporters.  The most common responses are “These are Hillary plants”, “What about the violence and anti-Trump rallies”, “Give Trump a chance”, or links to fake stories or pictures about anti-Trump protestors.  Remember we also sat through 8 years of “birther” conspiracy theories, denigrating names towards the president, constant lies about how Obama wanted to take your guns, blaming Obama for pretty much everything, and so when you now say we should respect the new president-elect, please understand how hard that hypocrisy is for us to swallow.  The person you have elected has run a campaign based on division, has espoused hate and vowed to infringe on the rights of many people that we care deeply about.  We will not trade their safety for your prosperity.  So you must also work to find a way where we can all get along or nothing will really get better for anybody. 

Finally, we don’t have to like a person who, in his very own words, has promoted ideas that bring harm to people.  We don’t have to show tolerance to the hate, the authoritarianism, and the lies he told.  The cabinet he is building currently leans towards the idea that he really doesn’t care about the working class and that you’ve all been taken in by a snake oil salesman.  I hope this isn’t the case.  I hope that you can show the same amount of understanding and empathy that you expect from us right now, because quite honestly, looking over the rhetoric from the past 8 years, hearing the hateful chants at the Trump rallies, and the bullying and intimidation that’s been going on post-election, it’s difficult to see why I should be doing all the work in this relationship.  So I’ll refrain from calling you those divisive names and labels, if you work to prove that you are unworthy of them.

With Love,
Libtard, socialist, communist, bleeding heart, elitist, femiNazi, clueless liberal

P.S. And if Trump does become the disaster to American ideals of freedom and equality that he espoused during his campaign, anybody who didn’t actively try to stop him from becoming president in this election is responsible regardless of whether you feel the labels hurled against you are fair.

And finally, because every once in awhile we just need some inspirational words here is the response of Buddhist teachers to Trump’s win.

quote-when-i-despair-i-remember-that-all-through-history-the-way-of-truth-and-love-has-always-won-there-mahatma-gandhi-328441

Post-Election Soul Searching: What We’ve Forgotten

In talking with many of my friends who share similar political views it has been up and down this past week.  We search for silver linings, we express anger and sadness, we try to calm ourselves down, and we aren’t always synchronized with others and so everybody can end up arguing with each other at some point.  For me, when something unfathomable to me happens I try to understand as hard as I can.  In many ways this is what led me to understand more about beliefs and why we have them and headed me down the path of neuroscience and cognitive science.  This post will be a bit long, but please don’t be intimidated most of it is copy and pasted from an article that I thought was very well written.  I hope you read the full articles, but if you don’t have time for that, you’ll have to settle for what I think are the most salient aspects.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post, that was the beginning of my investigation into trying to understand the support for Trump and generating some empathy for people who voted for him. And it worked.  The eventual Trump win however caused me to go through some deeper introspection as to how I played a role in divisiveness and demonstrated a lack of empathy.  So I came across a couple of wonderful articles (here is one nice balanced perspective) that looks at this rule vs. urban phenomenon more deeply and I think they are excellent reads.  One of these articles I want to quote several passages.  It is an interview with a UW-Madison sociology professor (Kathy Kramer) who has done a lot of research with rural Wisconsinites.  Let’s take a look at some important passages from the article:

“Cramer argues that this “rural consciousness” is key to understanding which political arguments ring true to her subjects. For instance, she says, most rural Wisconsinites supported the tea party’s quest to shrink government not out of any belief in the virtues of small government but because they did not trust the government to help “people like them.”

“Support for less government among lower-income people is often derided as the opinions of people who have been duped,” she writes. However, she continues: “Listening in on these conversations, it is hard to conclude that the people I studied believe what they do because they have been hoodwinked. Their views are rooted in identities and values, as well as in economic perceptions; and these things are all intertwined.”

Here we can see an important problem.  And the problem perhaps goes for many liberals as well.  Our identities are tied up in our politics.  Perhaps this should not be so.  We know inside we will never get a candidate he really caters to everything we belief.  In fact, most politicians don’t end up doing most of the things they say they are going to do in an election.  It is because our identities are associated with politics that populists exploit them to gain support.  What if instead we expected politicians to give detailed plans on how they would address the issues of all Americans?  You might not be a person living in the rural counties of the rust belt,  but what are their problems?  And if you are a democratic party member should your candidate not be addressing those people?  Sitting down and talking to them.  The same goes for Republican candidates also.

“What I was hearing was this general sense of being on the short end of the stick. Rural people felt like they not getting their fair share.

That feeling is primarily composed of three things. First, people felt that they were not getting their fair share of decision-making power. For example, people would say: All the decisions are made in Madison and Milwaukee and nobody’s listening to us. Nobody’s paying attention, nobody’s coming out here and asking us what we think. Decisions are made in the cities, and we have to abide by them.

Second, people would complain that they weren’t getting their fair share of stuff, that they weren’t getting their fair share of public resources. That often came up in perceptions of taxation. People had this sense that all the money is sucked in by Madison, but never spent on places like theirs.

And third, people felt that they weren’t getting respect. They would say: The real kicker is that people in the city don’t understand us. They don’t understand what rural life is like, what’s important to us and what challenges that we’re facing. They think we’re a bunch of redneck racists.”

I thought this section of the article was very meaningful.  The first point is something very similar to what I’ve experienced in Canada.  People say things like “The feds aren’t listening to Francophones”, “the government is in the east, and nobody is listening to the west”, “government isn’t helping anyone in the rural areas”.  If you are a journalist doing an in depth story on the problems of the day, you probably live in a city, and there are so many people of different walks of life there, you probably would never step outside the city limits.  But the problems of the day are both urban and rural issues.  I can imagine it must be difficult for people in rural areas to pay taxes but not see benefits from that.  Now maybe they are and they don’t know it, but the fact that they have this perception is a valid thing that needs to be addressed.  I can imagine a majority of tax money being used for urban purposes.  Cities make the most noise usually, especially since that’s where the media focus is as well as where politicians spend most of their time.  And her third point speaks to our own contribution to divisiveness between rural and urban.  I’ll own up and say that I have over generalized in that manner and it was wrong.  And even if they are racist, they are still human.  Why do they have that attitude?  Is it just ignorance?  Is it that they have been fed false information?  Is it anecdotal experience that was taken as truth instead of an exception?  We all know we can easily succumb to such things and develop incorrect or harmful opinions and attitudes, despite the fact that we have the best of intentions.

In looking at attitudes of resentment Cramer has this to say:

income-inequality-usa-15“Look at all the graphs showing how economic inequality has been increasing for decades. Many of the stories that people would tell about the trajectories of their own lives map onto those graphs, which show that since the mid-’70s, something has increasingly been going wrong.

It’s just been harder and harder for the vast majority of people to make ends meet. So I think that’s part of this story. It’s been this slow burn.

Resentment is like that. It builds and builds and builds until something happens. Some confluence of things makes people notice: I am so pissed off. I am really the victim of injustice here.

Not much to say here other than problems don’t just go away, they keep getting worse when left unaddressed.  I suspect democrats aren’t entirely to blame either.  It’s been going on for years under various administrations.  Maybe we can even see this as a source of a lot of racial issues that are cropping up now as well.  Problems that have been happening for years and now resentment is just so high people are angry and upset.

On the issue of race there were several good points raised:

We know that when people think about their support for policies, a lot of the time what they’re doing is thinking about whether the recipients of these policies are deserving. Those calculations are often intertwined with notions of hard work, because in the American political culture, we tend to equate hard work with deservingness.

And a lot of racial stereotypes carry this notion of laziness, so when people are making these judgments about who’s working hard, oftentimes people of color don’t fare well in those judgments. But it’s not just people of color. People are like: Are you sitting behind a desk all day? Well that’s not hard work. Hard work is someone like me — I’m a logger, I get up at 4:30 and break my back. For my entire life that’s what I’m doing. I’m wearing my body out in the process of earning a living.

In my mind, through resentment and these notions of deservingness, that’s where you can see how economic anxiety and racial anxiety are intertwined.”

While race certainly plays a role there is again this blue collar vs white collar, rural vs. urban issue popping up again.  My father was a machinist and so really appreciate the value of his work and others like him.  I have often worried about how my son will perceive those people in society given that he won’t have personal experience the way that I have.  But we do live very much in a society where blue collar jobs, low wage workers in retail or the restaurant industry are looked down upon.  I had read an article a few years ago from the perspective of a poor single mother who worked every day, lived paycheck to paycheck, and was on welfare.  She said that she didn’t mind being poor or being somebody who had to work a lot harder than everybody else and not really get ahead, but what mattered most was that people actually felt that she had value.  We shame and dehumanize a lot in this society.  Some people are not good people.  Some are lazy, racist, misogynistic, xenophobes, apathetic, selfish, but they are still human and we have to ask always, how did they get that way?  And if they are treated with kindness and humanity, is there a way in which we can make them a better person?  Cramer continues with:

It’s absolutely racist to think that black people don’t work as hard as white people. So what? We write off a huge chunk of the population as racist and therefore their concerns aren’t worth attending to?

How do we ever address racial injustice with that limited understanding?

Of course [some of this resentment] is about race, but it’s also very much about the actual lived conditions that people are experiencing. We do need to pay attention to both.

Great words.  The interviewer then asks about the idea of people not feeling like they are getting what they deserve:

“Part of where that comes from is just the overarching story that we tell ourselves in the U.S. One of the key stories in our political culture has been the American Dream — the sense that if you work hard, you will get ahead.

Well, holy cow, the people I encountered seem to me to be working extremely hard. I’m with them when they’re getting their coffee before they start their workday at 5:30 a.m. I can see the fatigue in their eyes. And I think the notion that they are not getting what they deserve, it comes from them feeling like they’re struggling. They feel like they’re doing what they were told they needed to do to get ahead. And somehow it’s not enough.

Oftentimes in some of these smaller communities, people are in the occupations their parents were in, they’re farmers and loggers. They sayit used to be the case that my dad could do this job and retire at a relatively decent age, and make a decent wage. We had a pretty good quality of life, the community was thriving. Now I’m doing what he did, but my life is really much more difficult.”

When I read this passage it really made me think that this is what a lot of Americans are facing, not just ones in rural areas.  I’ve seen many articles about how the millennial generation struggle compared to their parents simply with costs being much higher in comparison to wages.  Even with a professor wage I know I have less buying power per dollar than my parents did.  There are so many Americans facing the same struggle financially.  The theme continues and Bernie Sanders gets a mention:

         “It’s not inevitable that people should assume that the decline in their quality           of life is the fault of other population groups. In my book I talk about rural              folks resenting people in the city. In the presidential campaign, Trump is very          clear about saying: You’re right, you’re not getting your fair share, and look            at these other groups of people who are getting more than their fair share.                Immigrants. Muslims. Uppity women.

But here’s where having Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump running alongside one another for a while was so interesting. I think the support for Sanders represented a different interpretation of the problem. For Sanders supporters, the problem is not that other population groups are getting more than their fair share, but that the government isn’t doing enough to intervene here and right a ship that’s headed in the wrong direction.”

leaderI thought this was an interesting observation.  I too saw the excitement Bernie had been getting among more rural and working class voters.  Whether you agreed with his solutions are not, he was also resonating with those that were angry at the government, those that felt the government wasn’t serving their best interests.  Maybe he still wouldn’t have won the presidency, but I do think he at least took the right approach into reaching people and finding common ground among both urban and rural working class citizens.

So what is the way out of this all? Cramer had this to say:

“People for months now have been told they’re absolutely right to be angry at the federal government, and they should absolutely not trust this woman, she’s a liar and a cheat, and heaven forbid if she becomes president of the United States. Our political leaders have to model for us what it’s like to disagree, but also to not lose basic faith in the system. Unless our national leaders do that, I don’t think we should expect people to.”

As much as I’d like to believe that everybody can just pick themselves up by their bootstraps I know that it is really not possible.  I’ve felt for some time that it is our leadership who actually have to convince us that they serve us and not special interest groups.  They need be more vocal about us coming together.  Sadly I think many of them know that keeping us divided is a more effective way to keep power than to get us to unite.

In the end Cramer reminds us that empathy, that talking to each other face-to-face and listening are the most valuable tools we have as individuals:

“One of the very sad aspects of resentment is that it breeds more of itself. Now you have liberals saying, “There is no justification for these points of view, and why would I ever show respect for these points of view by spending time and listening to them?”

Thank God I was as naive as I was when I started. If I knew then what I know now about the level of resentment people have toward urban, professional elite women, would I walk into a gas station at 5:30 in the morning and say, “Hi! I’m Kathy from the University of Madison”?

I’d be scared to death after this presidential campaign! But thankfully I wasn’t aware of these views. So what happened to me is that, within three minutes, people knew I was a professor at UW-Madison, and they gave me an earful about the many ways in which that riled them up — and then we kept talking.

And then I would go back for a second visit, a third visit, a fourth, fifth and sixth. And we liked each other. Even at the end of my first visit, they would say, “You know, you’re the first professor from Madison I’ve ever met, and you’re actually kind of normal.” And we’d laugh. We got to know each other as human beings.

That’s partly about listening, and that’s partly about spending time with people from a different walk of life, from a different perspective. There’s nothing like it. You can’t achieve it through online communication. You can’t achieve it through having good intentions. It’s the act of being with other people that establishes the sense we actually are all in this together.

I’ve always grown in my life when I’ve gotten to know people from different walks of life and I need to continue.  Make an effort to do so.  It was easier growing up because I met so many people from other countries, with various levels of education and careers.  When one has a career themselves it gets a little harder.  I know pretty much other professors and students.  Maybe I need to help Kathy Cramer with her research. 🙂

rural__disenfranchised_voters_push_trump_0_6563315_ver1-0_640_360When it comes to terrorism and the issue of Syrian refugees I’ve spent a lot of time showing research and trying to explain to people the importance of compassion and how disenfranchising people who need our help is likely to increase the level of extremism and not reduce it.  It plays into ISIS’ hands.  And this is all true.  But what if, and I know it’s not all people who voted for Trump, but what is there are lot of disenfranchised white rural voters living in poverty?  Is it likely that they might start adopt more extreme views as well?  It’s an interesting pause for thought.

So in this post I maybe haven’t give a lot of love to all of us who are hurting right now, but I felt this part of the discussion is important.  In my next post, I will talk more about why I think many of us have cause for concern at the new government we face, and how the empathy that I have tried to build here for the Trump voter is not just a one way street.

Reason

I know that darkness won’t endure,
But sometimes it’s hard to see in the dark,
But I will not lose my reason,
My desire to understand the seasons,
Turning leaves reveal the truth,
Known to every pimpled youth,
There is no escaping that things change,
And so you can hold on
And squeeze the moment,
But it will eventually slip like sand,
And with time abrading your open fingers,
To make sure you learn lessons well,
To remind you, you’re avoiding the inevitable.

You can wallow in the quagmire of your beliefs,
You can even inspire with a clever tongue,
You can wipe clean all that science has found,
And it will come back and haunt you,
But humanity is no ghost,
It is curious and is happiest when it discovers,
Even though it risks its happiness,
Because somewhere in the maze of consciousness,
We know that without the risk there is no joy,
No success, no growth
We are not content to look through a pinhole,
While one eye looks at the dark, and the rest
Of our senses atrophy into putrid decay.

Each time that you hate and dehumanize,
You become less than you think you are,
Your victims more than you think they are.
And I will oppose you with heart, with teeth,
And you will fight on the battleground of reason,
Or risk endless cycles violence,
Ripping parents from children,
Casting yourself into an oblivion,
That you believe to be paradise,
All because you never knew,
How great a human you could become,
How so many pieces of existence,
Were waiting for you to know them.

And you will pay dearly for unwise choices,
And you will be forgiven,
Because the world has loss and pain,
But nobody really wants to destroy you but time,
And none of us have any say over that,
Make your meaning out of the indifferent universe,
And treat existence like a gift.
Because it is.

The Grand Illusion

It’s difficult to organize thoughts this morning after the election, but I have been getting some thoughtful words on Facebook and from friends that I think are important to express right now.   In discussion with a friend I was saying how Trump was never really successful at anything in life and his success is built solely on the illusion of his brand.  My friend responded “well isn’t that a sign of success?”  As much as it hurt to admit I think he’s right.   He has sold America an illusion, and America bought it.  He isn’t going to build a wall, he can’t bring coal jobs back, he isn’t going to magically fix inner cities, he isn’t going to make America great again.  Especially consider nobody really knows what that means, and how we define greatness is highly subjective.  We went on to discuss this illusion and how Trump’s illusion is really America’s.  Once again I couldn’t help but agree.  I’ve been mulling this thought over for a few hours and really makes sense.

America has branded itself over the years.  The country that can’t fail.  The country that does it right, and that other countries should look to as a model of freedom and democracy.  We sell the American Dream, and people believe in it, even though we have been struggling to deliver that for some time.  And when I say we’ve bought into it, I am talking about all of us to varying degrees.  We’ve even convinced many people outside the U.S. that this is the case. But it is an illusion as grand as the Trump brand.  We aren’t perfect and we’ve got a lot of problems.  There are other countries out there who are doing things better than we are.  We spend more time convincing other countries that we are the strongest and the best, and less time giving our own people something substantive to believe this is the case.  Obama called us the greatest nation on Earth.  Where is the humility?  Hillary referred to half of the voting population as deplorables.  How extreme is that righteousness?  Those of us who see behind the veil of Trump’s brand to what he really is, convinced ourselves that there would be no way Trump could be elected.  I included.  As a nation we have made some great progress at social justice and equality, but we’ve also let far too many people fall into poverty, we had some poorly executed and designed policy, even if well-intentioned.  We’ve made some terrible foreign policy decisions that has cost us money and lives.  And all these things are excusable, but we also refuse to admit it.  Why?  Because we are the greatest nation on Earth.

I believe that to earn that title, we need to have empathy, we need to have courage, and we need to have humility.  We also need to have honest introspection.  We have to create our sense of self-worth over substantive matters.  We have to demonstrate that we are as capable of celebrating our successes as well as admitting and learning from our failures.  These are the values that make for great people, and great nations.  I’m not sure any nation can be said to be there, but some are closer than others.  We have further to go than we’d like to believe, and I hope that in these next 4 years we can break through this illusion and find a way to heal a divided nation.   Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans for not reaching across the aisle.  That’s the beginning of the humility we all need to have.  All of us regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation are human.  That’s the love we need to have.  And then we have to ask “How can I live my life so that it helps raise all humans up?”  That’s the courage we need to have.  And we need to keep at these qualities, everyday of our life, because hate, self-righteousness, and fear are always with us, waiting to shake us fragile humans to our core.

Paying Lip Service to the Forgotten

For many people that I know and that I see around this country, the idea that a person like Donald Trump could be this close to the presidency is simply baffling.  A place we find it hard to empathize.  I am a person who always tries to remain optimistic.  The more pessimistic about things, the more I try to find that silver lining, that thread of understanding, and try to open the door to a more enlightened and positive mindset.  It is very difficult to do this about Trump and those who support him.  However in that journey I came across a couple of media pieces that have help.  One is this video piece done by The Guardian in the UK.  It is very well done and closely examines McDowell county in West Virginia and speaks to the desperation that many people are facing and why they would hang their hopes on someone like Trump.

The main thing that I want to discuss is this article from Cracked.Com.  Every once and awhile I’ll across a thought provoking article from this satirical site and this is one of them.  There are many points that I agree with, and few points that are hard to swallow, and I had to remind myself that I did have to open my heart a little bit more than I had.  There are also some important points that I disagree with, or rather omitted points that I think provide for a more fair approach to the subject.

Rural vs Urban voting
                        Rural vs Urban voting

The main thrust of the piece is that when you look at a map of blue vs. red, the state map that we often look at during elections gives us a false idea for how that break down happen.  The map in the article clearly shows that blue vs red is really urban vs. rural.  The fact that blue has been taking precedence nationally I think is fairly indicative of that demographic shift to an urban dominated country.  My state of Pennsylvania is a good example of how the urban centers of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia dominate the voting population even though most counties tend to be very conservative.  There are very many counties like the one investigated in WV in The Guardian video, and poverty and drug use is high.  As the Cracked article points out, rural America is a forgotten group of people and grows smaller and thus is paid less attention to over time.  Our country was once much more agrarian, many rural counties had factories or mines and all these things allowed small town and rural America to thrive.  This however is not the world we live in anymore.  As the article points out, even for the most part pop culture has left rural societies out of the conversation.  We forget where food comes from.  We are concerned about the mistreatment of urban minorities, but show little concern for the extreme poverty that many who live in rural areas or small towns live in.  The deterioration of their livelihood with no plan put into place for how to give these people a chance to better their situation.

Republican politicians often talk about two Americas, and in some way they are right.  They often talk about the good hard working folks in “any town” USA, and they are right.  How many times do democratic politicians even really actively campaigned in rural areas and made their concerns part of their platform?  I will concede that to many liberals, the needs and lives of rural America are forgotten or ignored.  I included.  We may find their attitudes deplorable, but let us also, at the very least consider how deplorable their lives have become over the past 40 years as jobs have moved overseas and that most of our food is produced by big companies and industrial farming.  And here comes Trump, who addresses the “common man” who says he’s going to bring coal jobs back (even though they aren’t coming back), who says he’s going to lower everybody’s taxes, who says that he’s going to bring companies from overseas back (he’s not), and make America great again.

My criticism with the article I linked is that (and maybe this is a problem with the media) we aren’t getting people who come to the fore, supporting Trump, and really making nuanced arguments about the difficulties in rural America.  What we have is a slick NYC businessman as far from rural as you can get being supported by people who rail against immigrants (even though they themselves were immigrants), who want religious law to influence government law (no abortion, end marriage equality), who shout patriotism without substance, who want to build gigantic walls that would only further their economic challenges, and who literally find their candidate’s offensive views on women to literally be no problem at all.

I think the article makes some great points and I think that in the end if we are going to survive as a nation than “WE the people” has to mean something.  We all have to do a better job at reaching across the aisle.  And this is one of my posts that is much as a call to action to me as anyone else.  I struggle sometimes when I see someone come on TV speaking hate and intolerance, but I don’t want to become a person who writes that person off as a loss cause.  So if there is this other America that is disenfranchised and needs are help than I am happy to do so, but that doesn’t mean I am going to turn my back on women, on racial minorities, religious minorities, on LGBQT people to do so.  Both sides have to want to heal the divide and that means that we have to start seeing everybody as important whether it is racial vs urban, all races, creeds, sexual orientation.  There are a lot of problems that we all have in common.  Let’s start there, and I think you’ll find that if we worked out those things first, a lot of the other things wouldn’t matter so much.

Syrian Refugee Crisis Nearly Solves Homelessness in the U.S., Again

ninos.guerra
Omran Dagneesh who nearly solved homelessness in America

Washington, D.C. – Last week, the bombing of Aleppo, Syria caused social media in the U.S. to surge with evanescent concern for their over 500,000 homeless people.  Experts are saying that the plight of Syrians has been one of the best tragedies for getting people to feign interest over the increasingly prevalent problem of homelessness in the U.S.  One of the more moving scenes from last week’s bombing was the vacant expression on the face of a young boy, Omran Dagneesh, who was pulled from the rubble in the aftermath and bolstered vast amounts of fleeting sympathy for homeless people.  Once his wounds had been tended to, reporters had a chance to speak to him about his reactions to the near end of homelessness in the
U.S.  “Of course,” remarked the traumatized young boy, “I am pleased that my town, my neighbors, could all be bombed so that people in America could demonstrate momentary outrage at the terrible homelessness problem.  I mean it’s the most powerful economy of any country on Earth so I was glad that bricks and cement could bury me like that so that people could seem to care for homeless people, even if just for a day.”

Omran Dagneesh’s father echoed his son’s joy at being part of the short-lived concern for homeless people in the U.S.  “I only wish,” said the smiling father whose life was recently destroyed, “that we could have shown pictures of the other children, particularly the ones that died.  Oh and my neighbor who was pregnant and whose unborn baby was killed in her womb.  I’m certain that concern for homelessness could have trended on Facebook in the U.S. in a much more significant way.”

But social media experts say last week’s wave of false concern was small in comparison to last year’s overwhelming spurious concern for the homeless.  Reporters asked Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg whether this was true. “There is no doubt that when millions of Syrians were desperately fleeing the deteriorated conditions in Syria last year, the concern for homeless people was so great that it almost felt tangible.”  Zuckerberg added, “not tangible enough to do anything, but boy you really felt liked homelessness would be over soon.”

Long time Facebook user David Olsen of Battlecreek, MI remembers the time well.  “I don’t know what came over me,” reflected Olsen, “as I saw so many articles being posted about taking in all these Syrians who were completely destitute and in need of help, I suddenly become aware of all those who were destitute and in need of help, and thought about our own homeless.  Unfortunately, I was too busy reminding everybody about them to donate any money or volunteer any time to actually help them.  But you know it really felt good to get the information out.  When news about the Syrians disappeared from my newsfeed, it was like the homeless problem disappeared as well. Problem essentialy solved.”

Other Facebook users like Shirley Potter of Enid, OK however had a difficult time showing overall temporary care for homelessness.  “In general I think homeless people just need to pull themselves off their bootstraps,” said a resolute Potter, “but I am very pro-military, and when I found out that many of our vets were homeless as I learned about how much help the Syrians needed, I was able to join the chorus of people with transient sympathy for homeless people.”

To get the opinion of those who were at the receiving end of this ersatz concern, reporters asked homeless man Barton Kirby how he felt.  Kirby however was too moved to respond by the fact that in 12  years nobody had asked him his name and also that reporters didn’t spit at him.

mcconnellAt the political end of the spectrum Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answered numerous questions from reporters at a press conference last week.  “Ultimately as a nation we can only act like we care for so many things at once, and we simply don’t have the resources to be helping Syrians with so many homeless people about,” exclaimed the senator from the nation that spends a higher percentage of their GDP on health care than any other developed nation.  “Currently we lead all developed nations in the category of child homelessness.  This problem isn’t going to go away unless we really get exposed to some long term suffering of the Syrian people so we can generate some solid and temporary concern for the homeless.”  The senator then added “We also have other problems we need to pay lip service to.  There are our veterans.” asserted the senator from the country that spends more per capita on defense than any other nation over 30 million people, and still has homeless veterans and veterans without proper physical and mental health care after their service. “We also have many people unemployed,” declared the senator, part of a congress whose work to pass jobs bills has been dwarfed by the over 60 times they tried to repeal the ACA, “so you see we have our hands full with all these other things we pretend are important, and can’t possibly help Syrian refugees.  And we’d like to thank the media for exposing the issues the good people of Syria face so we can continue this very moral and serious façade of being too busy working on our own problems to help others.”

Some detractors say that ultimately helping people is really more about the political and popular will to do so, but Dave Olsen disagrees.  “The only way we can solve homelessness through mock empathy is if we remain vigilant to stories about the suffering of the Syrian people.  I, along with many others on social media, are working together as a community to make sure that the Syrians never get helped while inspiring us to keep talking, but not actually doing anything, about the very important topic of homelessness.”