To be a creative person today (i.e. - a human being) who is not politically or socially engaged is a colossal missed opportunity. I feel strongly that we must work to positively influence the great issues of our day to whatever extent we can. This may simply mean participating in the ongoing discussions about what we collectively face as individuals, society, culture, and as a part of our world ecosystem.
It is an amazing time to be alive - can you feel it? Technology has brought us capabilities that our ancestors even two or three generations back could not have even imagined. We can now easily cure diseases, travel and communicate over large distances, smash atoms, and look deeply into space. There have been great advances in liberty, democratization, understanding, and expression.
However, the problems that we have created for ourselves are just as great. Wealth and income inequality remain at huge levels and continue to grow. In fact, inequality in the US today is greater than what it was in the Roman Empire. The collapse of our fragile ecosystem due to reckless consumption by wealthy nations is ongoing and world leaders remain guttless in their half hearted attempts in reversing the tide of climate change. War is increasingly waged between nations and new weapons technology are constantly being pursued and proliferated, mostly by the arms industry of the United States.
If you're reading this you probably have more influence on events than most other people in the world. Here in the "first world" we have the opportunity to change things. However, we are indoctrinated from birth with the idea that we must play by the rules and that we should trust anointed saviors to fix things. Let us recognize that participation in democracy is not realized by going to vote for one or the other corporate sanctioned millionaire every four years. There are no more Ghandis, no more Martin Luther King Jr.'s, no more Mother Theresas, no more prophets on the way to guide us.
It's up to us.
We need to step it up.
Here are some of my thoughts. I'm always learning more and my ideas change, so this is not a manifesto, but rather food for thought. I hope that you check some of this out and that it inspires, challenges, or enrages you. It is a sin to be disengaged. If this kind of thing invites discomfort and controversy then I say so be it. We must welcome and encourage debate and enter into discussion with an open mind and a yearning to create sustainability, totally human equality, world peace, and lives worth living.
Hopefully this will stimulate an otherwise boring work day for you.
WAR & MILITARISM
Here in the US, our military-industrial complex is addicted to war. We have at least 600 military bases in at least 38 other countries. Hardly any other nation has military bases in other countries. Our military pursues a doctrine of Full Spectrum Dominance over the entire world. Over half of our national budget is dedicated to military expenses. Over 20 years since the cold war ended, we still have over 5,000 nuclear weapons in the US arsenal. We even train other armies to do our dirty work for us. What is going on here? Why are we such a militaristic nation? If all of our military power didn't protect us on 9/11 then what is it for? We need to stop this madness. To quote the great Noam Chomsky, “Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: stop participating in it.”
Materials and services nessesary for a good and decent life (and a whole lot more that are unnecessary) are produced, assembled/manufactured/processed, distributed, and then disposed of - this is what makes up an economy. There is an assumption that the best way to organize all of this is by emphasizing competition. I feel that the best way to organize this is to instead focus on equality, compassion, and sustainability. There are many alternative proposals to the existing economic structures of greed. A system that is more decentralized and emphasizes participation and input from all involved (that means everyone) would move us closer to a better world. Workers should own and manage the industries that they work at. The movement of collectively run cooperative banks, workplaces, food markets, retail outlets, and more is important and should be supported. There are no need for bosses, CEO's, and board of directors. There is no need for class, there should be no rich people, and there should be no poor people either. Hard work should be rewarded and ingenuity and innovation should be encouraged, and no child should ever have to starve to death.
Climate change is real and it threatens our very existence as a species, or at least life on earth as we know it. Plant and animal species extinction is occurring at an incredible rate, destroying not only the beauty of nature but the ecosystem that can provide us with new cures for disease and materials for better lives. Our drive to find cheap coal has lead to massive mountain top removal extraction techniques which are literaly blowing apart whole landscapes into moonscapes. This is happening due to our unsustainable consumption. We are simply using too much stuff. Our role in society is not that of citizens but rather of shoppers. If we could only redirect our societal energy away from war and towards sustainably energy production and resource usage, we may just be able to survive. For this to happen we need to radically remake society, especially how we produce and use energy.
There are many forms of oppresion in this world. Many different groups of people find themselves being persecuted against because of their religion, the color of their skin, social stautus, etc. But one group of people is always at least one notch lower on the scale due to their biology - I'm talking about women. We have made a lot of progress over the last 100 years but if we look around us in our society we still find that women are objectified, overworked, and sidelined. Men, and especially white men of European background, need to consider how the marginalization of women has been enshrined in our consciousness. Us guys need to find out what it means to be a real man - to discover the real meaning of masculinity. We need to replace our habits of dismissing our sisters, co-workers, mothers, wives, and daughters with real strength, compassion, leadership, and comfort. We need to respond to the womens movement with our own mens movement. And if that's not enough we also need to consider what our ideas about gender and sexuality are really all about. Is gender a two sided reality? Is it really one or the other? Don't men have feminen characteristics and women masculine characteristics? On top of all that, what is a more appropriate relationship for us toward Indigenous people and people of other (non-western) cultures? This is a fruitful area of discussion and exploration for us to consider. It can be enlightening and it doesn't have to be a drag.
The giant agriculture mega-corporation Monsanto lobbied to have genetically modified foods go unlabeled on the shelf in supermarkets. Do you think that having food that is altered on a molecular level should be something that is open to a national discussion? Should an issue as important as what we eat be talked about by the society at large? How much say do we really have in the halls of Congress? We need to move from a representational democracy to a participatory democracy. In Venezuela, a new constitution which enshrined human rights was written by popular assemlies made up of neighborhood committees that discussed issues which were then compiled into a new constitution. Could a bottom up democratic process work here in the US? If we could write a new constitution, what would we put in it?
After the financial crash hit in 2008 there was a government bailout of $700 billion (well, actually it looks like it was $1.2 trillion. Yes, that's TRILLION with a T). Where did this money come from? As far as I can see, it came from someone typing the number into a spreadsheet someplace. When someone recieves a direct deposit into their bank account it is essentially no more than an email from one band to another, there's no money exchange. Money used to be tied to a gold standard but president Nixon did away with that. So what is money all about? Should we reconsider how we distribute goods and services in society? The typical story is that in the early days people used to trade, then came along cash which lubricated the engine of exchange, and then along came credit. Some are now saying that it was the other way around. Originally people acted more on trust and gave each other credit, then kings had to pay their mercenary armies somehow so they invented cash, but when this system occasionally broke down people went to trade and barter. Is it time for us evolve past money?
If you're going to watch the news then go no futhur than the essential Democracy Now. They stream an hour program every weekday with 10 minutes of news headlines followed by in depth analysis and interview concerning some of the most important current issues. Forget corporate sponsored news like NPR, CNN, FOX, CBS, NBC and all the rest of the corporate sponsored propagandist news outlets. Aside from Democracy Now there are endless other resources like The Real News Network, ZNET, and Alternet.
As priveledged people who live off of the work and resources of the poor of the world it is important that we think about how we view other people and cultures and what value systems that we impose on them. There is a commonly held believe that people in places that our militaries invade and occupy should be happy that we are there and that if they resist then they must be terrorists. Why was it noble for George Washington to fight the British in the American Revolution? At the same time why is it unacceptable for people in Afghanistan to resist foreign troops invading not only their country but their homes? We constantly talk about how other cultures should behave without examining our own culure in the "west". What does it mean to be free? What kind of democracy are we really spreading aroudn the world? What values and morals do we embody in our society?
When I was a young man attending Amherst High School in Amherst, NY I attended a history class in which we viewed graphic films of the disgustingly racist and evil Nazi concentration camps and their treatment of the European Jewish population. I don't know how it is at other high schools in the U.S. but I am thankful that I was exposed to this unbelievable crime at a young age - it filled me with an intense sense of justice for those who are persecuted against simply for being different than the mainstream culture. The persecution of the Jewish people throughout history is more than simple human consciousness can comprehend. There is a long list of atrocities against this noble culture - from the persecution of Jewish people throughout the middle ages (for "blood libel", being "the killers of Christ", being "money lenders", etc.), to the pogroms in Russia, to the horror of the Nazis, and beyond. There is no wonder why any group of people who have received this kind of treatment for thousands of years would seek to have their own homeland. As the Iraq war heated up in 2004 I became involved in the peace movement in Boston. It was then that I became more aware of the unfair treatment of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel. If you are unfamiliar with the situation I encourage you to take a brief look at the website If Americans Only Knew.
The Palestinians have been forced off of their land, sent into refugee camps (which eventually become towns and cities), been occupied by occupying military forces, have been refused freedom of movement in their own land, denied representation as a state in the United Nation, and so much more. This is a massive crime, and I am shocked that it has been done in the name of justice for a people who have themselves been historically persecuted. I must stress that I have no problem with Jewish people, the Jewish culture, or the Jewish religion. I believe that it is wrong to categorize groups, because at the end of the day groups are made up of individuals and all individuals have good and bad tendencies. We are all just people, and we all have beauty and ugliness inside us. We accentuate the aspects of ourselves on personal levels - we can all decide moment by moment to be an asshole or a saint.
When I think about my own Irish ancestors who where needlessly starved and persecuted by a vicious imperial power - I wonder if I have any right to persecute people in the names of my ancestral kin. I often wonder that if anyone has a right to say that they are the most persecuted people in history that the Jewish people probably have the best claim to that position. Knowing that - why are not these noble people leading the charge for justice in world? Well, I know that many of them are. Many if not most of the people that I have met in the social justice community who bravely stand up for the rights of Palestinians (and many other persecuted people, from Guatemala to the Sudan) are Jewish. I wholeheartedly support the efforts of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, the Israeli group Peace Now, and Israeli citizens who refuse to serve in the Israeli military.
It sucks for me to know that this statement deeply hurts some of my many Jewish friends, you know who you are - but I cannot be silent on this important issue, that would suck even more. Please know that I love you and that I want nothing more than a Jerusalem that is an everlasting capital for world peace and all people.
I can be reached at email@example.com