This may be one of the most politically charged times in our history. Resurgent Nazis, nuclear threats, incompetent and greedy rulers, obstructionist legislation: all of that and more comes around on a daily basis. It’s understandable to want to get away from it.
I don’t mean the larger politics in play. I mean politics in general. We humans are social creatures, and with society comes hierarchy. It’s been that way for millennia. We are only just now starting to look for inherent value in others as individuals, rather than pushing others — and ourselves — into specific socio-political strata. It’s common to worry about how we are perceived by others when we make decisions and take action. The more people who can observe these things, the more that fear can drive the decisions we make in turn.
This leads to uncomfortable questions. Do you choose what is right, or what is popular? Which matters more to you, your reputation or your integrity? What, or whom, is worth sacrificing or destroying in the name of your advancement within the power structure in question? Do you help another, or do you pursue your own ends?
When we step back and examine decisions we’ve made, it can be difficult to see which are “right” and which are “wrong.” It’s a cost-benefit analysis that involves human lives, relationships, and decisions rooted in anxiety and fear of isolation or abandonment. None of these things are easy to examine. Even resolving to make better decisions, to be a more inclusive and compassionate person in lieu of popularity and social standing, is painful. We remember what, and whom, we’ve already lost. We fear the shifting web of allegiances we may alter with future decisions. At what point does your desire for better personal integrity finally outweigh the politics of a social circle? When do we finally decide that we’re fed up with a system that obliterates one person for another’s personal profit?
“Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.” — John Coffey, “The Green Mile”
I won’t stop wanting people to do better. It’s what I’ve wanted others to want for me. To believe in others as I’d want to them to believe in me. It pisses me off when people let me down — they make selfish decisions to preserve their station, or worse, cloak those selfish decisions in compassionate words, or do what they do in the name of a nebulous “greater good.” It’s the very definition of hypocrisy.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, my gorge rises at such utter bullshit.
We’re surrounded by injustice. We’re trapped in a world corrupted by politics and selfishness. We’re responsible, in measures large and small, for the mess we are in. We’ve made decisions that have contributed to the shitpile, and we’ve even tried to ignore the smell because it’s warm and familiar.
You can stay there, if you want.
Or you can break out, take a shower, and realize just how much it fucking stinks.
It’s your choice.
On Fridays I write 500 words.
Spider Jerusalem created by Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson.
For a more in-depth examination of politics, watch CGP Grey’s “Rules for Rulers” here:
This has been quite a week in the United States as far as politics is concerned. Let’s leave aside the three-ring circus shit-show that is the Executive Branch, from its stereotypical 80’s Wall Street douchebag communications director to the systematic self-destruction of the egotistical compromised blowhard supposedly running things. I want to talk about the Legislative Branch.
There’s quite a bit to say about Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who steadfastly held their ground in the face of ham-fisted Presidential bullying. They have a long career ahead of them of standing up for the American people and leading the Senate into a future that is less obstructionist as a rule and more focused on the people they claim to represent. These paladins kept the healthcare debate going, kept the fight alive and, in no uncertain terms, saved it from destruction.
However, most of the attention has, of course, been on an old white man. John McCain, in this case.
I’ve been worried about McCain. He’s always been a maverick, but more and more often he’s made remarks or asked ambling questions that have raised my eyebrows. When his diagnosis came, I was unsurprised. He’s served this country for a very long time. He’s more than earned an honorable and peaceful retirement. I haven’t always agreed with him, but his record shows that he leans towards following his own code of honor, which I respect. There’s evidence that said code lines up with the long-term best interests of the country at least 50% of the time. Maybe more, maybe less, I haven’t run the numbers, and I’m not super-good at math.
He voted for the debate of the latest iteration of the Republican party’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Then, when the whole world was watching, he broke ranks and voted the bill down. Was he grandstanding? Or did he suddenly remember where he was and what he was doing?
Like so many of the rapidly aging senior Congresspeople around him, it’s time for him to step down. Unlike them, he’s done more good than harm in the long run, and considering this is Congress we’re talking about, that ain’t nothin’. His family should be able to spend as much time with him as possible while he deals with his cancer. While I respect his desire to power through it while continuing to serve, that’s going to end up causing more and more harm to him and his family.
I’m just not sure that this particular instance of hyper-American bootstrap-pulling is going to ultimately benefit himself, his family, and his constituents. I’m not sure if Capitol Hill, in its current state, is a hill worthy of John McCain dying on.
I believe that Collins and Murkowski will make that hill better, and move it forward, probably in spite of itself.
John McCain may want to help, but he can’t be relied upon to do so. He’s earned his rest. He should take it. For his sake, and for ours.
Case in point: last night, a rhino was assassinated.
The term is usually applied to an individual of prominence, for fame or a political end, but I feel that doesn’t encompass the full depravity of the act. Assassination is murder for profit. Plain and simple. And Vince’s assassination is a prime example. It was for the ivory in his horn. Nothing more.
The rhino didn’t do anything wrong. It was just, you know, being a rhino.
And that’s why it was killed.
The assassins plan to profit from this murder. Ivory sells well on the black market. The nature of our capitalist society motivated these people to murder an innocent, unaware creature. Vince died confused and scared and bleeding out.
Does that seem right to you?
Imagine if the rhino were a person. They were going about their business. Maybe worrying about bills, or looking forward to a date, or making plans to find some way to a better future. Gunshot. Snap. Nothing more in this world. The corpse will feed the worms, the murder will feed someone’s financial or political greed.
Does that seem right to you?
Now imagine the person’s character being assassinated. Their body lives, but they are assaulted on a social and emotional and mental level. They are called all sorts of names, made out to be someone they’re not. The things said and done to them make them question their sanity. Their way forward is suddenly illuminated solely by gaslight. Without help, support, and love, they may go mad. Collapse in on themselves. They might even take their own life just to end the pain and confusion. And all the while, the people who did it to them profit from it. They look better, even righteous, by comparison. They get whatever they want from that person’s agony. Some of them might even laugh about it.
Does that seem right to you?
Superpowers are engaging in assassination on a regular basis. And worse, they’re getting more bold and blatant about it. Speak out against the state, get shot in the street. Express a contrary opinion, get reduced to a joke and rendered impotent and metaphorically disemboweled. Try to be the change you want to see in the world, die physically by way of bullet or blade, or die in the eyes of the public by slander and lies.
Worse, the systems in place to protect us from this are failing. Like the walls and fences of the zoo in France, the agencies that police malicious activity and are sworn to our safety turn a blind eye to the misery and death that plague the innocent. We’re left in the cold while those in power count their coffers and laugh at our pain.
To paraphrase Rachel Maddow, it’s becoming apparent that we have to take care of ourselves.
We have to be loud. We have to stand up for ourselves, and for one another. We have to fight back against the forces that would slay and disempower and belittle and rape us. We have to say “NOT THIS TIME” as clearly as possible. We have to insist on facts, not hearsay, not gossip, not slander, facts. And we have to do it every day, every hour if we have to.
The media has tried to romanticize assassins. Games, movies, other media; they like to portray and exemplify the righteous killer. But the truly righteous thing is not to fire the bullet. It is to take that bullet for someone who’d otherwise die.
Because if we do not put ourselves in the line of fire, nobody will be left to do the same for us.
I, for one, would rather choose to work hard and even suffer in order to secure a better future for the good of all the people around me, than be made to suffer for the selfish benefit of one short-sighted person.
I’m tired of living in fear. I’m tired of jumping at my own shadow. I’m tired of seeing wounds nobody else can see.
But I’m not done fighting.
And I won’t be for as long as I’m still alive.
Wednesdays I wonder at the world in which we live.
I am not composed of cells and tissue. I am composed entirely of awesome.
So are you, provided you haven’t forgotten that fact.
It’s an easy thing to forget, really. We live in a sad, fettered world that’s all about the gains and advantages, the one-upmanship and quick victories, the lionization of the false self-image at the expense of demonizing the other, among other poison of the patriarchy, and all of the other things that makes people like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin into ‘world leaders’. And when that world is coming at you in all sorts of forms, from the latest round of bad news from across the globe to someone close to you buying into nonsensical gossip that completely ignores facts, suddenly, we forget to be awesome.
Our viewpoints get skewed away from making the world around us better, and towards more self-centered goals.
When I see it happening, I tend to get angry. Because we are capable of being so much better than that.
I take a lot of stress on myself in trying to understand the positions others are in when they say or do certain things. This is especially true if I have some personal knowledge of or experience with a given person. “So-and-so has said and done X in the past; why are they acting in this contrary way now?” The answer is never simple; you can’t cut a complex individual with Occam’s Razor. First of all, cutting people in general is cruel and downright rude (unless there’s some sort of consensual act occurring, in which case, please have some antiseptic handy, and check in with your partner often). Moreover, if we want to be imagined complexly, and not merely reduced to a caricature of our inborn traits or the perception of our rumored outward showings, we must imagine others complexly as well.
That’s been my philosophy for a long time. And in spite of everything that’s happened to me, I refuse to change it.
One thing I’ve really struggled to integrate into that philosophy is the cold fact that not everyone will appreciate my efforts, or even acknowledge them. Because this thing I do where I treat others the way I want to be treated means I don’t always assert myself or leave room for myself to be myself. That tends to give others the implicit permission to treat me in a reductive fashion — to take advantage of me, use me, in some cases abuse me, and in others, discard me like a broken thing that no longer serves a particular purpose.
You see, being reductive is easy. It requires less thought, less time, and less consideration of others. A particular person may be more interested in furthering a personal agenda; they might distance themselves from a perceived threat, be it a threat of person — “this is someone who could hurt me” — or a threat of position, i.e. “this person could make me look/feel foolish/ineffectual”. They might even get triggered by the hint of past trauma, or are too indoctrinated into a particular zeitgeist. In all of these cases, reductive perception is the quick way to resolve a situation. You get to keep your place in the groupthink, you have an easily influenced bunch of cohorts at your beck and call, and you can paint your perceived enemies with the same, broad brush. Simple! Easy!
I may be hard-wired to make things harder than they have to be for myself (more on that later), but I will be damned if I take the easy way out in this regard.
Come to think of it, I already have been, if you ask some folks.
They’re not bad people, though. They’re not evil villains out to destroy people like me.
They’ve just forgotten to be awesome.
Being awesome isn’t about winning. It isn’t about getting what or who you want. It isn’t about always getting your way. Your victories do not make you awesome. Your friends do not make you awesome. Your game collection, your bank account, your liquor cabinet, your list of potential booty calls, your Instagram — none of that, in and of itself, makes you awesome.
You know what makes you awesome?
Asking hard questions to get the facts. Making hard choices to make the world suck less for a stranger. Standing up for people who aren’t able to do so. Getting out of your own way enough to make room for others who are getting held back. Seeing something inside of yourself that needs to change, and no matter what, changing it. Doing things for yourself that are positive, happy, progressive, and constructive, of your own volition, with your own permission, that do not hurt others, and that stoke your own fires. Occupying the space you occupy without being afraid that you don’t deserve to occupy it. Being yourself and owning what that means, even if it means you’re going to make mistakes, because like it or else, you’re merely a human being.
But doing that stuff I just rattled off means you are the most awesome human being you can possibly be.
Try not to forget to do that today.
And if you do, that’s okay. Don’t forget the next day. And the next day. And the day after that.
Given the current state of affairs at home and abroad, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we got here. When you get right down to it, the root of the problem is what needs to be addressed. As bad as things can seem with the in-your-face nature of the situation in the now, my head tends to look past the bluster and the bullshit. We need to strike at the heart of the matter, not just the gushing wound. We need to go deeper.
Thought upon which I'm noodling: the patriarchy poisons everything. Feminism, media, the Oscars, our souls – everything.
It’s great that not only are we as a society becoming more aware of the patriarchy’s role in shaping the world in which we live, but also that we are actively rolling up our sleeves to work against it. That being said, I feel that at times, we lose sight of fighting the patriarchy itself, and instead throw ourselves at the perceived vectors of it. I’m not saying this is inherently bad or wrong — no tactic in fighting the patriarchy is inherently invalid — but for my part, I want to focus my energy on drilling into the heart of the matter to find the source of this endemic rot. In other words, I feel I’m in a different division of the army arrayed against the system: some hammer against the walls, whereas I want do my utmost to undermine them. Both divisions are dedicated to the same goal, we just have different marching orders.
Anyway. On to my point.
The systems of the patriarchy have been in place for centuries, if not millennia. Among it’s toxic structures, learned behaviors, and pattern arguments is a fundamental method of conflict resolution:
“You must diminish another individual to accomplish your goals.”
It’s one thing to take corrective action, to take an individual aside and address a problematic behavior or a decision that had toxic consequences or hurt someone else. It’s another to demonize said individual merely on the face of their actions. The passionate pursuit of justice has become a defining aspect of today’s feminists, activists, and radicals. While this is admirable, there’s evidence pointing to a growing trend for some to use that aspect as a tool for self-advancement in a social circle or given zeitgeist. This is a vestige of the patriarchy, and it’s just as toxic and just as destructive as a problematic behavior or decision that needs to be addressed.
We cannot and should not excuse or explain away bad behavior or hurtful decisions, no matter how they were made or what the mental state was at the time. Actions have consequences, and when those consequences hurt or diminish another, the action must be addressed. But it must be addressed with a response, rather than a retort. A response is measured, direct, face-to-face, comprehensive, complex, and above all, done with love in one’s heart for oneself and the other alike. We’re all in this together, after all. A retort is knee-jerk, rooted in the heated emotion of the moment, triggered by fear or a previous harmful or toxic experience, and has far more to do with the person reacting than the inciting incident. It’s harder to respond, since it takes time, the clarity to imagine the other complexly, and the wherewithal to hold space for yourself as well as the other as sovereign individuals entitled by right to equality. It’s easy to retort — and the patriarchy is all about doing what’s easy.
Taking the thoughts and actions required to provide a measured response can be perceived as evidence of weakness, and even an invitation for abuse. There’s a delay that comes when we take a moment to think, if not merely to breathe. The ‘traditions’ of the patriarchy teach us that such delays are openings for us to get our points in, like daggers into a threat on our lives, regardless if whether or not the person in question with whom we’re trying to reason has turned their back to take a moment to gather themselves. We see the opportunity, and we stab one another in the back, and we feel justified, even vindicated, in the aftermath. We proved our point. We prevailed. Justice is done! The monster is slain! Everybody, check out this righteous kill and the utter hideousness of this thing that I stabbed to death! Go team!
I hope you can see why this behavior is toxic.
That’s the point I’m getting at. The systems perpetuated in the spirit of the patriarchy have taught us the wrong things. We impulsively jump at the chance to prove our worth and our dedication to being an ally or smashing the patriarchy by punching whatever or whomever is in front of us right in the face. This is not to say we shouldn’t punch Nazis — I’m not an advocate for violence, but come on, punching Nazis — rather, I am suggesting that we not punch each other in the same way we punch Nazis.
I realize I’m mostly speaking within the echo chamber of ‘social justice’ folks and feminists. And that’s my intent. At this point, it’d be very difficult for members of the old guard to have this form of self-awareness or critical thought. Their learned behaviors are too deeply ingrained; their pattern arguments are too well-worn and comfortable. Addressing the nature of the fuel in their toxicity is another matter. Today, in this moment, realizing that we, too, have learned toxic behaviors and lash out with harmful retorts is something we all need to be doing.
I haven’t been as active as I would like to be in supporting the resistance. But I’ve been paying attention. And for every call for unity and collective strength in smashing the systems that put us where we are and allowed the ridiculous circus of narcissistic demagogues to seize power, there are those who wish to ‘weed out the weak’ among us. Yes, we need to address the harmful things we can say and do to one another in the midst of all of this stress and struggle. But we can do it without diminishing the other, but rather attempting to help them be and do better. We can help one another up without having to cast anyone down. And we certainly don’t need to perpetuate the broken and misguided goal of pushing ourselves forward by shoving somebody else back.
To prevail against our enemy, we must not think, speak, or act as they enemy does. We must know them, but not become them.
Each of us risks becoming the very monsters we desire to slay.
The true monster is the system, it is a thing. And people, regardless of the individual choices they make, in spite of the moments and retorts that fly in the face of their true natures, the people they could be — people are not things.
If we treat one another more like people, and less like things, even if the person in question has been acting more thing-like than person-like, we are already one step ahead of the enemy.
And that single step can make a world of difference for a person who’s just as worthy of love and liberty as you are.
Wednesdays I wonder at the world in which we live.