Thursday, December 21, 2017

When wealth becomes murder...

I have nothing against the reasonable accumulation of wealth. Please, go out and work hard and earn a good living. Make a comfortable life for yourself. Provide well for your family. Buy that nice car, heck, buy two or three. Build your dream house, if you want have a second one on a tropical beach somewhere. Travel the world, enjoy nice meals, I hope that you can accumulate enough wealth to have a pleasant and wonderful life.

But do you need 100 cars? Do you need ten mansions? Do you need a Swiss bank account overflowing with money that you will never spend?

Have you ever considered what all of your wealth means to other people? You may think you are a wonderful person because you use your wealth to build business empires that employ large numbers of people, but that has nothing to do with generosity. Employment is a transaction, you exchange money for labor, and in most cases you pay as little as you can possibly get by with. You don't provide jobs out of the goodness of your heart or to make the world a better place, you hire the minimum number of people and pay the lowest possible wages to get the benefit you desire, more wealth for you to hoard.

Wealth is not a zero sum game over a long period of time. New wealth can, in rare circumstances, be generated from nothing. But at any given moment there is a set, limited, amount of wealth in the world. The gains of one mean that others will loose, at least in the short term. When a person has more wealth than they can ever use they are denying that wealth to everyone else. They are removing that money from the economy. They are preventing others from having the money required to feed their children properly or to get the medical care they need or to have suitable housing. When laws are passed to reduce funding for programs that help those in need so that the wealthy can gain even more wealth that they have no real use for it is even worse. It is promoting the suffering and death of those in need, It is, in my opinion, the indirect killing of those without wealth. It is class based genocide happening slowly enough that we don't notice it. It is murder.

In many countries around the world you will find "Duty to Rescue" laws on the books. These laws state that if you see someone in immediate danger you have a legal obligation to try and help them if you can do so without risking your own safety. If you stand by and do nothing you are breaking the law. We don't have laws like this in the US, the tax bill just passed shows that we favor the exact opposite idea. We know we have people in our country who are homeless and hungry and unable to get the medical care they need and we want to make things even harder on them. We want them to die.

There is nothing wrong with wealth, but excessive wealth should be seen for what it is, a crime against humanity. For now it seems we are happy living in a society where we think there are some perfectly acceptable, even commendable, ways of killing people. We can change this, at least we can change it if we haven't become too comfortable with the killing.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trump is a huge problem, but Trump isn't THE problem

Saturday my newsfeed on Facebook was filled with shock and horror at the events unfolding in Charlottesville,VA. White supremacist protesters using repulsive words and imagery turned to violence and terrorism against those who disagreed with them. Donald Trump tried to place the blame on everyone who was there when it was more than obvious who as truly to blame. Soon my newsfeed switched from reports of what was happening to attacks on Trump. People said he was the reason this terrible event had happened, they placed 100% of the blame directly on his shoulders.

It is easy to understand why they posts I was seeing moved in this direction. Trump has use racist rhetoric again and again. He has attacked the rights of transgender Americans. He has adopted hate as the primary message of his presidency. But Trump is not to blame for the events in Charlottesville.

Yes, Trump emboldened the Nazis and white supremacists and other un-American protesters that were there, there can be no doubt about that. But it can also not be denied that racism and hate existed long before Trump was ever born. America has a long history of hate and oppression and using hate to divide and oppress us. What we saw last Saturday was just a continuation of what has been going on in America since before it ever existed as a country. Trump did not cause this, he has simply opened the curtains and let the light shine in on this hate so some of us can see it more clearly, though for many it has always been crystal clear.

Now we are seeing more and more people speak out. That is a really wonderful thing, but they need to be speaking out about the real issue.

If you watched that horrible scene of a car running over pedestrians and thought to yourself "Trump has to be stopped" you need to stop and rethink things. Trump is terrible for America and I hope we can find a legal and peaceful way to make his stay in the Oval Office as short as possible. The thing is that getting rid of Trump won't solve our problems. Putting all of our efforts into getting rid of Trump is like taking a cough drop for lung cancer. Trump isn't our problem, he is only a sad symptom of our problems.

If we could some how manage to impeach Trump, an almost certain impossibility as things currently stand, we would all have a period of celebration, but in a few years we would find someone else, more or less like Trump back in the White House. Our House of Representatives and Senate and our state legislatures would still be filled with people more or less like Trump. Our problems would still remain, we would just be enjoying a few moments of false celebration over our accomplishment of very little. We shouldn't be as concerned with stopping Trump as we should be with stopping the hate that put him into office. If instead of fighting Trump we begin to fight hatred and misinformation and propaganda we will defeat Trump. More than that we will have defeated future Trumps. If we refuse to let racism and bigotry easily exist in America we will make it impossible for any more Trumps to ever get elected. If we take the time to escape our own bubbles, if we realize that while we are decrying racism on Facebook all of our friends on Facebook look just like us, if we put the effort into disowning our privilege, this is how we will defeat the present and future Trumps. If we only focus our anger on Donald J. instead of working to end the hate and ignorance that put him into power, we will fail and the Trumps will own our nation for the period of time they can avoid destroying it. Fight the disease,not the symptom. Work for the cure, not for self satisfaction. Worry about winning the war for the soul of our country, not the election. This is how we will make America greater than it has ever been.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I am an artist

Please forgive me, this post may be a bit rambling. I have indulged in my weakness for my favorite beverage tonight and that will probably effect my writing. But here goes, I hope you can make this journey with me.

I am an artist. This is a statement that may seem to be of great importance or it may just seem pretentious and self serving, both views are equally valid. The thing is that it took me a long time to be willing to say this, to admit this, to put this label on myself.

I have been fascinated by photography for a long time. It fits me. I am not a painter, I can't put what my mind sees down on a piece of paper or a canvas with a paint brush, I can't reproduce my thoughts with a pencil. But with a camera I can take what is in my mind and what my eyes find themselves drawn to and reproduce it in a form that others can see. This is wonderful and frightening because I have no idea how my thoughts and visions will be received. In the images I produce I am turning myself inside out and putting myself on display. You see all my talents and all my faults, all my insanity and all my rationality printed out on a piece of paper or presented on a screen. I am laid bare, I am naked in a way that taking all of my clothes off does not expose. I put myself out there as vulnerable and open as it is possible, at that moment, for me to be.

My images come from serious thought about science and rationality and how to represent these concepts in a digestible way. Most of the time I fail, not because I am wrong but because I am distracted. Distracted by the world, both inside and outside of my mind. I am a victim of my own perception and my inability to fully understand how the rest of the world perceives the world. When I see the color red I have no way of knowing if it is the same way that you see the color red. That prevents me from succeeding and gives me the drive and reason to keep trying. We do not live in a world, we live in a mass of interconnected worlds. All related but none identical.

This is why I hate being an artist, because I will always fail to achieve the goals I set for myself. It is also why I have no choice in what I am. I am an artist and I can't be anything else. My mind is only concerned with your mind, even if I have no idea who you are, my eyes only exist to explore what your eyes see, even if I will never know what that is.

I am currently working on an exhibit of my photographs that will be on display for just a few hours. I like that. What we all see is very temporary, it only seems fitting that my images will be on display for just a few hours. After this they will vanish, at least they will vanish for most people. A few will make my visions a permanent part of their world by purchasing my images or by searching them out on the internet. My images will become zombies, they will be neither dead nor alive. They will be undead and they will exist on paper, as digital files, and in a few people's minds, maybe feeding on them.

Art is not easy, this is why we aren't all successful artists. I remember being in an art museum and hearing someone say "I could do that" as they looked at a painting. They probably could, but many would say their ability doesn't matter, what matters is that they didn't do it. I disagree, the difference is that they weren't courageous enough to do it. They weren't willing to be critiqued, to hear the disparaging remarks. Or maybe they weren't willing to hear the compliments? Maybe they weren't willing to take the risk to try and feed their souls and stomachs by producing something that has no intrinsic value. Art can't protect you from the weather, it normally won't feed you, art rarely will put a roof over your head, but artists have no other choice, they have to do what they do, damn the consequences.

I am an artist, I finally had to admit it to myself. I didn't choose it, I am not sure that I want it, my value as a person is linked to how others perceive me and my work. I just hope that I don't waste who I am, I hope at least a few see value in what I do. I hope I am not a waste of oxygen. I am an artist. I hope I survive it.

If you are in the Nashville area I invite you to come see my work, to see me that I can't express any other way. Beautiful and Banal; Exploring the How and What of seeing

Friday, May 12, 2017

Impeachable offenses

Every day I see a new story from one of the major media outlets asking if what ever it was that Trump did that day is an "impeachable offense". So far, the answer, no matter what the issue, has to be no.

This is not to say that Trump hasn't and isn't committing acts that would fall under the definition of a high crime or misdemeanor. It just takes more than the commission of a high crime or misdemeanor to get impeached.

The first step in impeachment is for the House of Representatives to pass articles of impeachment. Currently we have a Republican controlled House and nothing that Trump has done, so far, has been bad enough to get articles of impeachment passed in the House and so for all practical purposes Trump has yet to do anything impeachable.

This of course doesn't mean it is impossible for Trump to be impeached, he could do something so terrible that the Republicans in the House would decide that not voting for impeachment would be worse for their political careers than voting for impeachment, but I hope that doesn't happen. If Trump were to do something that destructive we would all be suffering and so I consider this a really horrible possibility.

There is also the possibility of Democrats winning a majority in the house, or at least a large enough minority that impeachment could be a possibility. This means,of course, waiting until after the mid-term elections in 2018. It also means that Democratic candidates will have to over come the effect of the gerrymandered districts that are designed to prevent them from winning. There is a tremendous amount of backlash against Trump currently and the party in the Oval Office tends to not fare very well during mid-term elections so it isn't impossible, but it won't be easy.

The only other option for impeachment is staying so informed and so involved that enough Republican House members feel the pressure to a point that they would stand against their party's leader. This won't be easy but it may be the best possibility. We have to remember though that this won't be about any particular action Trump takes, it is going to be about holding him accountable for all of his actions. We may be stuck with Trump for a while, so that is something we need to be doing no matter what.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A few things about conservatives us liberals just don't get.

Liberals don't understand conservatives, this is pretty easy to grasp. We often times see liberals asking why poor conservatives vote against their own best interests, why religious conservatives vote for someone who is as far from Christian values as you can get (like Trump has shown he is), or why they are constantly attacking the poor in America. The reason we don't understand them is because we neglect to see the real source of their beliefs. We keep going after the things we see on the surface, but if we are interested in having a conversation with conservatives and getting them to think about things differently we have to go deep. This election brought up a term we hadn't heard in the media very much prior to the elections, "authoritarianism". We learned that Trump supporters tended to score quite highly on psychological tests that looked for authoritarian tendencies. Sadly too many of us didn't delve deeply enough into this to realize what authoritarianism really means. Someone with authoritarians tendencies is not necessarily a person who wants our country run by a dictator or who identifies with Nazis. Normally these are people who see appeal in a political candidate who talks about issues of law and order. They are people who see a great deal of value in the social and cultural norms of the places thy live. They are people who place, to some extent, a higher value on the society than on the individual. The average authoritarian is more correctly called a collectivist and the opposite of a collectivist is an individualist. Liberals tend more to the individualist side of things. We are proponents of individual rights, pro-choice, pro- marriage equality, pro freedom of expression. We support social welfare programs because they make a poor individual's life better. We support universal health care because it helps individuals. We wrap these ideas up in a society wide wrapper sometimes but the core reason for our support is individual rights. A collectivist takes a different view of things. Free expression is wonderful as it brings new and beneficial ideas into a society, but it must be tempered so these new ideas do not become so varied and widespread that they dissolve the foundational ideas the society is based on. Anything that threatens to upset the social norms is suspect. Women's rights, civil rights, gay rights, legal abortion, new technologies are suspect, the list goes on and on. Collectivists see society as a thing they owe their rights and existence to and they want to protect it. Individualists see social and cultural norms as something that can prohibit the development of the individual and societal progress.

Let's take marriage equality for an example. Liberals often have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to stand in the way of two men or two women getting married since it doesn't affect anyone else's life. Conservatives, because of their collectivist principles see it quite differently. They look at our society and see that heterosexual marriage has been the norm for a very long time. They see that families are an important facet of our society. A change to this structure could lead to unforeseen consequences and they therefor see that change as threatening. Many will say that their arguments against same sex marriage are based on religious principles, but when confronted with Biblical arguments that disagree with them their opinion doesn't change at all. This is because their feelings about same sex marriage aren't based in religion, they are based in collectivist ideals. This is why we have heard so many people refer to heterosexual marriage as "traditional marriage", this is why they say they believe that same sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage. They aren't concerned with religion, they really aren't even concerned with marriage. They are concerned that any change to an institution like marriage, which has such great importance to our society, will cause the downfall of our society.

We see this in all sorts of issues. Why would anyone care about having to press a one or a two to select a language when they place a phone call? It isn't that they feel inconvenienced, it is because they feel that our society is an English speaking society and to accept another language could disrupt our society. They may love to go to Mexico and have formed friendships there on vacation, but be in an uproar about Latino immigrants coming to the USA. They don't hate Mexicans but they see increasing numbers of Mexican immigrants as a threat to our social norms.

We see social welfare programs as a way to help individuals move forward. They may not hate low income people but they see our society as a meritocracy and see our society helping someone who isn't working as a threat to us all. This doesn't mean they wouldn't be willing to help that same person individually but for our government to do it is a threat to our way of life.

When we think of collectivist societies we tend to think about places like India and China, but after living in the Netherlands for a few years I found that Northern European societies were much more collectivist than the US. The problem isn't that conservatives tend to be more collectivist and liberals tend to be more individualistic, the problem is that both sides think their way should be the only way. This causes them to create false narratives for why the other side does what it does. We are one of the most individualistic societies in the world, even our collectivist tendencies are quite mild compared to some other places. We can get past this, without having to change who we are. But first we have to realize that people are allowed to think about different things in different ways. We have to stop looking for the simple explanations. We have to be willing to try, that is the only way we can protect the rights of the individual while also protecting our society.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Violence, the sure fire way to bring about defeat.

On the day Donald Trump was inaugurated a racist, white supremacist, leader of the alt-right movement was in an on camera interview on the streets of Washington DC. As he was speaking someone ran up and punched him in the face. The video of this has been widely spread on Facebook and I have seen many people who oppose Trump celebrating this act of violence. They are saying that the man deserved it and a few are suggesting that this type of act should happen more often. They are saying that the people who are speaking out against this stupidity are somehow in a conspiracy to support Trump. The people who are saying this are not only wrong, they are brazen hypocrites.

These individuals claim they want to fight fascism and yet they are praising the use of violence to silence someone they disagree with. That is the very definition of fascism. They, and luckily they are a small minority, are asking us to use a tactic that will make our fight dramatically more difficult and will probably lead to our defeat. Violence from our side will not frighten the other side into submission, it will embolden them and give them justification for what they are doing.

Dr. Martin Luther King led a non-violent campaign seeking justice for African Americans. But this call for non-violence was not a call for a violence free campaign, Dr. King was too smart to think that was possible. It was a call for a non-violent response to violence. When the marchers arrived at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama and saw all of the people on the other end they knew what was about to happen. They could have stopped and turned around if they were trying to avoid violence. Instead they continued forward and were met with an incredibly violent beating. But they didn't fight back.

If the Civil Rights marchers had fought back it people across America would have said "See, they got what they deserved." By not meeting violence with more violence they gained empathy, their attackers were seen as monsters, and the Civil Rights movement was advanced.

The cowardly sucker punch we saw in the video mentioned above did not help us, in fact it may have created more white supremacists and emboldened the alt-right. Now a blatant racist has become the empathetic figure and a young person in a hoodie who punched and ran could be cast as the face of all of those of us who oppose Donald Trump. Violence from our side is exactly what Trump wants. It will allow him to do whatever he wants to do. He will use it as justification for taking rights away from people. It will gain him even stronger and more fervent support from the people who voted for him. It is the biggest gift we could give an authoritarian narcissist like him.

We have to stand up against any violent act from anyone on our side. Yes, even things like breaking windows and setting trash on fire in the streets, even though it is an understandable response from those of us who are fearful and frustrated by what Trump wants to do, will give them further justification. This is not a revolution. We are not looking to overthrow the US government. We, at least the enormously vast majority of us, just want our government to work for all of us, equally. We should march and scream and use civil disobedience to get our point across. We should gather in huge numbers and call out every lie Trump tells. But violence will only make Trump and the most deplorable of his followers victorious. We don't need a violent revolution, if that is what we start we will almost certainly lose.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

How to stop Trump

Yesterday the world watched Donald Trump take the oath of office and become the 45th President of the United States. Today we saw millions of people join together in marches all over the country to let the new President know that they will not sit idly by as he attempts to take away the rights of women, racial minorities, religious minorities, or anyone else in America. More people showed up in Washington DC to protest against Donald Trumps policies than showed up yesterday to see his inauguration. This has obviously not made President Trump happy as he sent out his press secretary to wrongfully accuse the media of misrepresenting the numbers but every one of his statements was demonstrably untrue. There is no reason to sugar coat this, he lied through his teeth.

Obviously America, as a whole, isn't falling in line behind Trump. Sadly it may not matter that the majority of Americans don't support Trump (it didn't matter in the election after all) because he has the Oval Office, he has support in the Senate and the House, he may not have most of us, but he may have the people he needs the most.

So what do we do? Demonstrations such as the Women's March we saw today are very important. They show that Trump has a serious lack of support in a way that can't be denied even though many Trump supporters live so deep in their bubbles they will find it hard to accept. It will be very difficult to have regular demonstrations on this scale though, so there must be more that we can do.

We can write and call and email our elected representatives on the federal level, ESPECIALLY the ones who are supporting Trump. They need to see that the voters they rely on to get elected do not support Trump. We can also write our state and local representatives so they can be urged to use more local legislation to fight against Trump's initiatives. Most importantly we can talk to Trump supporters.

Too many people are expressing anger at anyone who voted for Trump. They are calling them all racists and all sexists and all xenophobes. Some of them are. Many of them, however, didn't vote for Trump out of hate. Some just wanted change and didn't care where the change came from. Some are frustrated by hearing how much better the country is doing since President Obama took office since they don't feel it themselves. Some were looking for someone who they believe will uphold the social and cultural norms of America and enforce our laws as strictly as possible. Trump doesn't really offer these people what they are looking for, but he at least validated their concerns and desires for these things. That's why they voted for him. If we can stop hating these people, if we can stop looking down on these people, if we can listen to them and hear their concerns, if we can stop treating them like our enemies and start treating them like fellow Americans, we can help many of them see that Trump is not the answer to any valid question and together we can stop Trump.

Trump supporters turning away from Trump will be one of the most effective ways to reduce the amount of support he has in the federal government. If the House and the Senate turn against him, he will have to throw in the towel (and as big of a narcissist as he is, I believe he will probably resign as soon as he stops getting his way). We can tell Trump supporters that we will push for effective economic development policies that will help rural areas and urban areas that have lost their manufacturing jobs. We can talk to these people about the exact kind of change they were hoping for and get into a conversation with them about the possibility of Trump providing it. We can discuss the fact that Trump will not uphold our social and cultural norms as he doesn't believe in them himself and how his ideas about law and order are at odds with the Constitution which is the set of laws the entire country operates under. The truth and the facts are on our side and if we are willing to try we can bring the Trump supporters out of their bubbles. Of course to do this we have to be willing to step outside of our own bubbles and that can be hard to do. We have to realize that some of their concerns are actually quite valid. We have to recognize that many of us are in latte sipping, stark white, highly educated, comparatively well off economically bubbles ourselves and that we may not understand the state of our nation over all as well as we think we do. We have to realize that the best solution to an issue can vary from one place to the next. We have to realize that people always vote for what the believe is in their best interests and stop telling people we know what is in their best interest. Normally what we are telling them is what is actually in our best interest.

Some may resist doing this because they say the other side wouldn't do it for us. This is probably true, but somebody has to start it. We believe that we have our country's best interests at heart, and I believe we do. If that is really true though shouldn't we be willing to take the first step and make the first move? The conversation isn't going to happen if no one starts it.

We can stop Trump and help unify our nation all at the same time. But we can only do this if we are willing to give up our own biases and bigotry. So, are we willing to try?