Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hate speech, racism, superstition, bigotry and love.

Most folk who engage in racist and hate speech say they don't see it, and they really don't! Racists and haters are people who say things that are mean and hurtful and not true, but they're "only telling the truth." Thus, in their minds, the rest of us are trying to suppress the truth and deprive them of their right to speak it! 
Hate speech and racism are like superstition. Like our racisim, our superstitions are invisible to ourselves so long as we hold that what we believe is the truth. It's all those other people that are superstitious, because they believe things we can see to be untrue! 

Some of us *used to be* superstitious, but we got over it and we're not superstitious any more. Because if we didn't believe our beliefs were the truth, we wouldn't believe them anymore, now would we? 

Standards are like that too. Each of us has our standards, the things we hold to be good, right, the best way. Some folks come close to our standards, but no one's standards could be better or higher than ours, because if we accepted that, then those would *be* our standards!

There's always someone whose standards are different from ours *and therefore lower*. Sometimes a lot lower. If we don't meet *their* standards, so what? Their standards are wrong! We have churches and clubs where we can get together and agree on standards, and then gossip with each other about all the other members of our club who don't live up to our standards! 

We can however recognize we don't live up to our own standards - and beat ourselves up for it- which somehow makes it seem fairer to beat up other folk for not living up to our standards.

Like our own racism, all of this is invisible to us. It all begins with the assumption that the world revolves around us. We all started there as little children, and despite all the hard knocks and blows of life it's baked into us; it never really goes away. 

The only way out of this trap is to accept - on logical grounds - that we're not so different, that we too are superstitious narrow-minded self-righteous bigots in someone else's eyes, and then really try to walk in their shoes, hear what they are saying and see ourselves as they see us. 

What makes that possible is love. Sometimes tough, hard angry love, but the love that comes from never forgetting that the person I can't stand - even that scum-sucking billionaire banker who thinks he owns the world and has the God-given right to destroy it if he doesn't get his way - is just like me inside. 

As humans, we have to have beliefs and standards, but with love we can keep reaching for the ones that will draw us together in our common humanity, in a community of solidarity. 

Which is just what it will take if we - our species - are to survive!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pew Study shows 90% of Us Say We're Middle Class

90% of us may say we're Middle Class, but what on average is our answer to the question What percent of Americans (i.e. everybody else) is Middle Class? 

We were deliberately sold a bill of goods on "middle class" in the '50's and '60's in a very high powered campaign (which I am old enough to remember) involving thousands of colleges and universities, think tanks and thousands of newspaper editors. We're all middle class Americans now, except for those low-life scum next door or down the street who don't uphold our standards, or who are poorer or browner or speak worse English than us. 

So how come so many of us are living paycheck to paycheck, driven by the fear of homelessness or an old age of poverty? How come we have to try harder and harder just to stay where we are, or take out a second mortgage just to fix the roof or fix our car? 

Middle class used to mean managers, professionals, small business owners, medium-size farmers and academics. They shifted it to mean "wanting and trying to live a decent settled life with high standards of behavior and a decent income." 

When I was a child, many of us were proud of being Working Class. When I was in college I saw how they were pushing hard on the idea that Working Class = Lower Class = Loser. 

The truth is that at least 80% of us were and are Working Class - it may be 90% now. People who have to work for a paycheck to live, but we're the ones who built this country and made it great, and "without our brains and labor not a single wheel would turn." 

This may be part of why we're so confused and divided. We are living in a Middle Class fantasy, and suffering because there's such a clash between our ideas and our reality. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Should we reach out to the stars?

When we meet a civilization from another planet, it will almost certainly be much more advanced than ours just because ours is so new. The question here is will they treat us the way we treat less advanced and weaker civilizations? If so, we should beware. But how likely is that? 

Our European-grown global civilization, descended from the great Roman slave empire, has a quite extraordinary record of discovering new (to us) civilizations around the globe and conquering, plundering and consuming or destroying them. There have been voices denouncing this practice for a long time, voices of the victims and of radical critics from Padre Las Casas to Mark Twain, but It's only in the past century that any serious effort has been made by governments to restrain or reform our predatory practices. So it's only natural that we imagine this is what others would do to us. 

There have been many science fiction stories and films, starting with HG Wells' classic War of the Worlds, where aliens discover and trying to conquer or destroy us. One awesome recent science fiction film, Avatar, turned the story on its head and told of the plundering of a distant planet inhabited by intelligent beings - by us! But ultimately all these stories are not about alien life, about which we know nothing. They are about ourselves. Only a few, like ET, Close Encounters and Carl Sagan's Contact, depict aliens as benign. 

So how likely is it, really, that an alien civilization would be dangerous to us? I think it's unlikely. 

Any civilization that reaches our level of development must either bring its predatory phase to a close or destroy itself. That is the moment we are in. They will have survived and gone beyond it. 

Second, the distances are so impossible in terms of a human life-span that the only thing we really have that they could want is our story. 

The huge benefit of contact to us would be hope, hope that we too could survive our predatory phase, that humanity could have a future. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pain-killers are not the problem. It's our attitude toward Pain!

I commend Maura Healey for her promise of action in support of heroin recovery programs. I hope she continues to work with all the great people coming together to deal with addiction issues. But we as a people have to come to terms with a deeper issue: our attitude toward pain. 

I was just released from UMass Med. The care I received, from physicians, nurses, PCA's was wonderful. Its weaknesses were those not just those of American medicine but of America, and one of those was their attitude toward pain. 

As they poked, stuck and prodded, cleaned and swabbed and asked me to put a number on my pain, almost every time I flinched or grunted or reported a pain they treated it as a problem. I was told 1000 times how sorry they were something hurt, asked 100 times if I wanted something for pain - with the attitude of course I would. 

No, I didn't. No I don't. I was reporting to them as clearly and promptly as I could what was hurting, because they needed to know. 

Pain is not a terrible thing to be avoided at all costs. Pain is first of all information being sent from somewhere in your body to your brain that something needs attention. Or from one part of your brain to another. Knowing when and how to override our body's reaction to pain is something we must learn as we grow older. Yes there are times when we need to make our pain shut up. But generally it's something to pay close attention to, and if you figure out and deal with what it is saying, it usually fades to background. 

When I left, my physicians insisted I take another prescription for Oxycodone, even though I told them I'd only used one pill from the last batch. (I was sorry I did!) 

With that attitude toward pain no wonder there are so many addicts. Heroin, coke, speed, pain pills, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, love, even 12-step programs, the list of addictions is endless. Human beings need to fully commit to something larger than ourselves, such as family, neighbors, community, even humanity. 

The more we do, the less our pain matters.