Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I grew up in a gun culture, here's my perspective.

You know who isn't debating gun ownership with heated emotional rhetoric right now?  All the responsible gun owners that I grew up with in Alleghany County, NC, and I'll tell you why: because it is a non-issue for someone like me to buy and own a rifle, shotgun, and/or pistol for hunting, sport shooting or home protection.  I'll say it again, it is a non-issue.   Debating it is as useful as debating owning a car when over 30,000 people die each year in car wrecks. It is the laws and regulations that should be debated.  Much like the abortion issue, you have two sides who mostly want the same result-- the lowest number of abortions/gun deaths as possible--but are so dead set in their ideology that they refuse to give ground to get there.  (Anyone who thinks we can achieve zero abortions/gun deaths by banning them is unrealistic and is removed from rational discourse)

I grew up in a certifiable "gun culture."  The majority of homes had some type of firearm, and most of us, guys and girls, learned to shoot early, even if we didn't actually own a gun.  So in this "gun culture" where even the high school parking lot had its fair share of rifles in the back of trucks, the issue that gathered the community into the small local funeral home was not guns, it was car wrecks.  Ask any parent what kept them awake at night and you would never hear "guns," even though they were almost ubiquitous. 

So let's get some perspective on this and separate the issue from the tragedy.  For every child killed by a gun, over 6 drown in a swimming pool.  Each death is just as tragic and the loss is felt just as much, but when spread out over time and distance you lose the emotional sensationalism and nobody debates banning swimming pools.  So if you're serious about banning guns then you should be 6 times as serious about banning swimming pools, and vehicles for that matter.  Honestly, I don't care if you want to ban guns (you won't get very far), but you better be just as serious about banning swimming pools.

What needs to happen is the NRA needs to back the fuck off with their absurd conspiracy based fear mongering message of "they are going to take our guns, and therefore we have to fight every waiting period and sensible regulation to the bitter end."  Who is this they?  Obama?  He actually loosened gun restrictions by allowing people to carry in national parks.  As someone who hikes alone a lot I was very happy about this and felt it made perfect sense.  The average gun owner - the people I grew up with - are not going to have issue with the government trying to keep guns, and especially semi-automatic assault rifles out of the hands of evil or emotionally disturbed people.  But yet the NRA, who claims to speak for all gun owners, distorts this fact and fills the issue with unnecessary conspiracy tinged fear. If you help spread this message then I ask you to please, please stop.  You're not helping anybody.  (Unfortunately conspiracy theorists are convinced that they are the only ones who are aware of the "truth" against any evidence to the contrary, much like the Westboro Baptist Church)

If you want to make me wait a few days before purchasing a gun, fine.  If you can show that banning  military assault rifles will ultimately save innocent lives, fine.   If a history of violence and/or emotional illness trumps the right to own a gun, fine.  I refuse to believe any of these actions are connected to a vast government conspiracy to take all our guns and force us into concentration camps.  I mean c'mon.  If making me wait a few days saves one innocent child's life, just one, then I am okay with it. 

People will always die from car wrecks, drugs, guns, swimming pools, heart disease, rock climbing, motorcycles, and apparently one lady was just killed by being beaten bloody with banjos.  This is a fact of living, but we can work together to lessen the deaths as much as possible.   But any wanna-be thug that comes up to Sparta and breaks into a house in the middle of the night will probably be shot in the face by a very protective and loving father, and nobody will debate gun ownership then.

I really believe that the ultimate issue here in the wake of the tragedy is we are facing a culture of violence where emotionally sick people feed into the media sensationalism and work themselves into the perfect storm of killing innocent people.   I say "perfect storm" because there is no individual cause, but many things that work together; availability of emotional health-care, responsible parenting, easy access to guns, a culture that glorifies killing.  Put all this together into the right (or wrong) person and tragedy follows.  We have way too many gun deaths, and we also have a huge national ego that doesn't allow us to look at how other countries have reduced gun-related deaths to impressively low numbers.  For me, the issue isn't gun ownership, it is our perspective on it and how we can find a healthy and reasonable solution to save innocent lives.    

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Breaking my sports addiction and becoming the person I want to be.

Life should be about transitions--all types of transitions--slow burning hidden transitions, major upheaval transitions, focused conscious transitions, blind-siding transitions.   If you aren't actively engaged in some type of transition, either physically or mentally, then I do recommend finding one and proceed to stomp on the gas, ram and jam the gears and go into it Thelma and Louise style.  

There are no better examples of engaging life to the fullest than the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.  At any point in the day they could put on the hat of:  lawyer, scientist, farmer, philosopher, psychologist, writer, historian, statesman, politician, revolutionary, naturalist, and many more.  They were infinitely curious and stayed completely engaged with the world around them, and they achieved the ultimate goal of not living forever, but creating something that lives forever.  I look up to these types of people and do my best to consistently explore new cracks for light that I might not find unless I'm willing to become enveloped by the darkness.  Writing a blog post was scary as hell, and if I didn't have Daniel Smith and Jenny Viars encouraging me I would not have done it one my own.  Maybe only 100 people will ever read it, but it's there, it's recorded in my history; it's a small mark in a big world that I can claim.   

Lately, I've become aware of a slow burn transition that I wasn't fully aware of for the last few years; but I can remember flashes of realization and insight that, when pieced together like train tracks through the Foggy Mountains driven with the intensity of a banjo breakdown fury, can lead to one unexpected destination.   The decision to let go of being a spectator in the world of professional sports and use that time and energy to become engaged with activities that produce positive tangible experiences is a big transition for me, and I am finally to the point of not only embracing it but even arguing the benefits of it.  

But then the whole idea of making a point of this becomes another issue, because on one hand I really enjoy seeing people around me living life to the fullest, and we are here to help each other (in my Prince voice) In This Thing Called Life.  People around me inspire me to write, eat better, travel more, read more, exercise more.  On the other side of the token,  people tell me that we inspire them, at a beginning level, to learn an instrument, or even a more advanced level, get more serious with their band and write more tunes and book shows more aggressively.  Inspiring anyone to go down a new path and put forth energy into what is obviously a dream or goal plays a huge part in getting us through the tough days.  It is moments like that that have the power to replace having financial security. 

On the other hand, almost all of my family and best friends are sports fanatics; hell, my grandmother was buried in a Carolina Blue coffin because she loved UNC basketball so much.  Who am I to tell them that they are wasting their time, energy, and money on something that doesn't give a respectable return on invested time and energy in this grand experience of living on earth?  The libertarian side of me says that people have the freedom to do whatever makes them happy and I have no business interfering.  If someone wants to spend every free hour of their life smoking pot and playing Xbox games then that is their choice. Go for it...knock yourself out buddy.  (In my jersey accent) You Do You, I Do Me!

So what started as me freeing myself from the highly addictive nature of spectator sports becomes an internal debate on whether I should make a public case of it, throw it out there, start the debate, possibly offend someone....or instead, just go hiking. 

But I like debates, I like in-depth conversations, I like pushing myself and others, I like making arguments for the sake of expanding my own knowledge of the idea, and at the end of the day I can only conclude that spending so much of our limited time on this earth watching professional athletes compete in contests that have no bearing in our daily lives is just a huge waste of time.   There's really no other way to say it.  If you're a parent and you traded all the hours that you spent on sports and dedicated every single minute to activities your child enjoyed then you will look back at your life and think it was a great decision.  No one has spent the last days of their lives being thankful for the countless hours in front of a TV watching football games...ever.

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body. Rather, one should skid in broadside, thoroughly used-up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, "Wow, what a ride!"  

There's really no argument to the contrary, other than, "I do it because I like it."  I had a good friend say this about smoking cigarettes and I realized that the libertarian side of me had no debate for it.  It is both the best and worst argument that can be made.  The beginnings of this great country were founded on that type of freedom, so how can we argue the contrary?  It is such an amazing argument and powerful idea that it can reach all the way down to the bottom, to homeless crackheads--they too do it because they like it.  Earl Scruggs played banjo because he liked it, and heroin addicts shoot heroin because they like it.  Same justifiable argument, different results. 

So fuck it!  If you like it, then do it, and know that I both care and don't care at the same time.  That is coming to terms with the rich complexity of life, and not settling for the superficial simplicity.

As with any addiction, something has to take its place. For me there are two main interests that I have started to develop with an excited focused energy: hiking and the outdoors; and the love of journalism and with it the exploration into the nooks and crannies of human experience.

Just one example of how amazing this new interest is for me; last night on the 14 hour journey back to NC I listened to an episode of the beautiful NPR show "This American Life: hosted by Ira Glass."  I picked out a show that was based on the culture of conventions and had 3 parts to the story.  The first "act," as they call them, was about a convention based around a cult TV show called "Dark Shadows."  Think of a Star Trek convention but way more underground.  The story was light-hearted and quirky, but interesting, and got into the emotions of someone coming to terms with the fact they are completely fascinated with something that few people on this earth will ever even be aware of.  The second act was based around an intrepid dishwasher basically "crashing" a convention of restaurant owners--the people he spends his life working for--and again, it was also light and amusing and gently explored the dynamic of business owners and the people at the very bottom of the ladder. Something we've all experienced at one time or another. 

But then we got to act three.  It was based around two people meeting when their respective conventions were in the same space.  John Barlow (lyricist for the Grateful Dead) tells a story of being at an Apple Computer convention and meeting and falling in love with a woman who was attending the psychologist convention. Suddenly 2/3 of the way through what was supposed to be a light-hearted story, it just turns on a dime, and we find ourselves hearing one of the most amazing love stories that oozes depth, emotion, and also tragedy.  Here is a story so powerful that a man who didn't believe in the idea of individual souls completely altered not only his perspective but his daily engagement with other human beings.   As I'm driving and listening to this story my heart is just gripped as he describes his experience, and I think to myself, "This is it!"  The power of a story to connect you to the near-universal desired experience of connecting to another human being on the deepest level imaginable.  Just look at what has stood the test of time.  The works of Shakespeare?  Or the records of who won the countless Roman games in the Amphitheatrum Flavium at the end of the empire?   The process of journalism -which at its finest moment is just focused curiosity of the human experience- peels back the layers of superficiality that we layer onto life to insulate our hearts from pain and hurt, and celebrates all the nuances that both connect us and differentiate us.  Personally, that excites me much more than overtime. 

You can listen to the particular episode here

I believe that most of us want depth, beauty and connection, as well as top mental and physical health in our lives; and for me personally, breaking my connection to the outcome of games and focusing on what really matters to me was a monumental transition that I needed.  Or more simply, it is my path to become the person that I want to be.

Explorer Ben Saunders has an exellent explanation of why we need to get outside.

A beautiful Ted Talk titled "Before I die I want to..."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why I enjoy discussing politics, religion, and the pursuit of happiness.

They say polite conversation should never involve politics or religion. Well, in polite terms I say "screw that."   Recently I have come to understand that I enjoy those two topics more than anything else: they are complex, impassioned, nuanced, and most importantly, they can keep my attention.  When so much conversation is mundane and perfunctory, it is nice to get into something that people are willing to believe fervently, without much proof on either side.  I mean we're talking about huge ideas here!  Something to really get your teeth into.  Where a chance encounter with an intelligent, well-spoken person has the potential to blow your mind on everything you have ever thought on a subject.  That's exciting to me.  With a few notable exceptions, this planet has been explored quite thoroughly; so unless you're James Cameron who is willing to invent a submarine to take him to the lowest depths of the ocean floor, then our options are to explore the ideas presented to us by the people that enter into our lives. Some can afford to do this by traveling to other cultures around the world, which I think is one of the most enlightening experiences available to us; while others might have to search in their immediate surroundings, or through books that force you to look at the world and life differently.   Do it.  Stop believing everything you think.  

When it comes to politics and religion, we should look for the behind-the-scenes motivating factors.  Whose interest does it actually serve?  Is gay marriage really going to destroy the foundations of today's family?  Does Obama really have a master plan to bring down the U.S.  in a fiery ball of hell after his 2nd term?  Is there a god that really cares about Tim Tebow's touchdowns or Taylor Swift's Grammy's more than the millions of small innocent children who face starvation, rape, torture, beatings, etc. every single day of their lives?  Is killing abortion doctors or infidels really the right path for someone looking for a deeper meaning in life? Any serious internal examination of these, and other important topics, is vital to the health of our society and world, yet so many blindly follow what they're told without even a minimal effort at examining it for internal truth. 

Unexamined beliefs allow us to become labeled.  I hate labels.  I don't like what they stand for, and I think they do more harm than good in our world. 

The problem is deeper than "labels" though.  To me it is the human ability for us to choose to see the world--and live it--through a lens of singularity.  We all know people like this: they engage the world through the singular lens of Christianity, shopping, adventure, sex, physical intimidation, economic forces, profits, conservatism or liberalism, exercise and fitness...there are endless options.  They engage their daily experiences by how it relates into their chosen focus.    

I heard a story on the great NPR show This American Life, where one lady devoted her life to the art of quitting things.  She quit her town, job, boyfriend, and hobbies. She developed a life strategy that revolved around the act of quitting; she even put out a very successful magazine called The Quitter Quarterly and published two books: The Quit, and The Art of Quitting.   Every time she started a new project she started it by focusing on how she would eventually quit it.  She was experiencing her life through the singularity lens of quitting.   Now, let me be clear, she has the right to do this: it is part of living in this time and age that we have the freedom to experience life in this way.  But I also have a right to make an argument to the contrary.  And in this argument I assume that we can agree on a couple of things:  1) As humans we desire to live a happy, enriched and fulfilling life.  Our forefathers agreed, as they put this idea into our Declaration of Independence.  2) By definition, "enriched" and "fulfilling" do not mean seeing the world as a singular purpose. The word for that is "extremist."  3) Becoming a master at your craft does not necessarily mean living a singular purpose.  Bela Fleck is a master at the 5-string banjo, but look at the work he does in exploring what music means to other cultures.  Becoming a master did not stop him from interacting with this world in a completely open and engaging fashion.    (Here is a link to watch his documentary about exploring Africa while looking for the origins of the banjo, Throw Down Your Heart.  One of the most beautiful documentaries I've ever seen.)

I believe that to get a sense of fulfillment we have to not only be open, but to engage many different areas and opportunities presented to us.  We have to not only avoid the singularity lens trap, but also avoid labels that define our beliefs.  If you present yourself to the world as a staunch liberal then you are defined by the other side.  You then allow conservatives to control you.   If they go towards A then you must go towards B to maintain the proper division.   Who wants this? Life is so much deeper than this.  Lately we've watched congressional Republicans make an effort to block every single piece of legislation that our president has brought forth.  They allow themselves to be defined by Obama, not only at the expense of our nation, but at the expense of their own interests, credibility and common sense.   To see this as positive you must have a singular mindset that everything Democrats stand for is wrong, and everything Republicans stand for is right; the only way to see politics in that fashion is to completely ignore both economics and the political history of this country.  

In the same fashion, viewing the world through the lens of Christianity is equally limiting. To properly do this you have to completely ignore the history of our world, along with the complex relationship of humans and religion throughout it.  We have the freedom to do it, but as I argued before,  it does not serve the purpose of experiencing life fully.   

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations. - Christopher Hitchens.
My last point will be an attempt to answer, or at least discuss, the question of "How can you say what is right or wrong for someone?" It's a big question, but one I think needs to be engaged.   I believe that a happy and fulfilled life is also a moral life.  I also believe that humans, regardless of cultures, can actually agree on what a moral life constitutes.  Otherwise we fall into the trap of allowing extremist views--with religious backing--that harm other human beings to enjoy equal precedence, and I refuse to believe that.   As we see some middle-eastern countries go backwards where the culture actually supports suicide bombing more than it supports education for females, we have to ask ourselves, "Is it time to agree that not all viewpoints are equal, and should we start working toward what we can agree is a moral and fulfilling life?"   You would be surprised at how many people are not willing to consider this!  I think it is a fear of taking a stand, or of breaking the cardinal rule of never criticizing the beliefs of others, especially when it comes to religion.   But as we see what used to be very forward, advanced, artistic, and free countries be dragged back to the middle ages through religious extremism, we will be forced to either deal with it through the worst option--war, and/or the best option--education, knowledge, and enlightenment. The productivity and overall happiness of a nation can always be linked to a few factors, one of which is the amount of educated women in that nation.  We can all agree that this is a moral high point, and if we can agree on that then we can agree that there are other moral high points that we can strive for in this world, as well as moral low points.   This is not a conversation we should fear. We should fear the possible outcomes of not having it. about politics and religion more, and don't believe everything you've been told.   You might just find out that it is not only exciting, but if enough of us do it then we might just make some positive changes around this place.         

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pontificating on Poor People's Political Plight

So it has been a long time since I've written anything here.  I'm not completely sure why,  although I do have a couple of theories.  But I will say that it truly amazes me that people dig the things I write.    I like the process, but I also like connecting with people in this fashion.  I'm like everyone else, I just want to help the world be a little bit better than yesterday.  Maybe I'll succeed, maybe I'll fail, but at least I can say I tried.  How I view the world tomorrow might be different than yesterday, but this is a fun way to look back and see a growing process for me.  As long as there are billions upon billions of people sharing this world together, then there will be many truths for us to discover.  Don't ever settle on just one.  My favorite saying ever:  "Don't believe everything you think."

I should probably point out that pontificating on poor people's political plight is as easy as parrots pulling pianos out of a pond.  But what the hell, let's give it go...

It seems to me that this election cycle is really based on one thing: poor people.  The political stand-off that is occurring with a culture-war veracity is based solely on the alternating views of what it means to be poor and the reasons behind being poor.  This is a fascinating concept, because it rises above the conservative/liberal back and forth sniping, and forces us to confront the fact that different people view the world, and the poor, in completely different ways.

When the economy is strong and growing, and everyone is working, then the size of pie slice that goes to the poor isn't that important.  But when the recklessness and greed of Wall Street has cut the world's wealth in half, then it becomes a central issue.  

A conservative and a liberal can argue endlessly about the intended direction of public policy and only go in circles that would make a small town Saturday night dirt-track racer proud.  The reason they will not find common ground is because they can't, or won't, agree on their definition of what the poor experience means.

This fundamental disagreement would be similar to looking at the edge of the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian mountains.  I would see it as a place of refuge, peace, solace, comfort, and a place of rejuvenation.  Someone beside me could see it as a place of danger, threats, discomfort, and flat out terror.  So the chance of us finding middle ground on policy and funding for this land would not come easy, and the chance of both of us leaving happy is even smaller.

Are we both right and both wrong?  Yes, even though I think I'm a little more right than they are.  You don't have to go far to find proof of both perceptions of the woods.  Our differing views can be traced back to life experience, especially if I grew up in the woods and my friend's experience only consisted of "When Animals Attack" videos on TV.  But there's more to it than that; there can be a distinct personality difference between us, too.  I may find enjoyment in the unknown, in the adventure of new places with limited safety, whereas my friend might get happiness from consistency and insured safety.  Two completely different outlooks that shape who we are and how we interact with our surroundings, and they are both valid.  Another example: look at people's vacation habits.  We all know people that enjoy going to the same beach, staying in the same condo, on the same week every summer.  We also know people that would never visit the same place twice.  When it comes to vacation habits we can easily throw out the cliche "to each their own."  But with today's public policy and the idea of financial scarcity that pervades our culture, we enter into the octagon, where mercy is not shown, and we will beat our world-view into your thick skull with facts on one side, and emotional beliefs on the other.

I first noticed the difference in personality and political views in college when George W. was running against John Kerry. I was exposed to a lot of creative people in Boone, NC: musicians, painters, writers, poets, philosophers...and I started noticing that the more creative a person was the more left they leaned.  Why is this?  Since part of my degree was business management, I spent a lot of time in the business building as well, which was the only part of campus that I felt had a stronger conservative presence. The archetypical college conservative's experience was in fraternity/sorority life, with studies leaning towards the business side.  Of course there are exceptions, but anyone who has spent a lot of time in the microcosm of the collegiate experience will understand what I'm talking about here.  

As a lengthy side note, I'm always fascinated by the amount of news stories that come out each election cycle that deal with major artists sending cease and desist letters to the GOP for using their music during rallies, as compared to the Dems having almost a free range of choices. Lately we've seen legal action from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, David Byrne, Sting, Foo Fighters, Van Halen, Survivor (who wouldn't want to use "Eye of the Tiger?") ABBA, Heart, and Dee Snider.  And who can forget Tom Morrello's op-ed piece about Paul Ryan claiming Rage Against the Machine as a favorite band?   From small college bands playing open mic nights to some of the worlds most famous artists, this seems to be the trend. Naming off the few exceptions, such as Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr.,  does nothing to this point, as you can prove a broken clock works perfectly if you only look at it twice each day.  Again, it's not a point for arguing or proving, but a point for discussing  and understanding. 

While the urge is strong to argue that since the artists that bring so much beauty into our lives have a specific political leaning, then we/they must be right, I refuse to fall into that trap.  It is more complicated than that, as I alluded to before.  As our personality traits dictate how we view the world around us (as well as whether we dedicate our lives to the arts), our vision of this world dictates how we act both in relation to politics and religion.

As we watch both sides argue about the proper role that our government should play in people's lives we have to understand that the two sides are viewing poor people in a completely different context.  On one hand, you have the type of people that I grew up around in a small mountain town in NC.  You were much more likely to be living below the poverty line than above it, but everyone tried hard to make it.  I grew up around people who would work all week and then work all weekend if their neighbor had some hay or tobacco to put up.  Nobody asked for any help and wouldn't turn down extra work if it was offered.  These are the best and most hardworking people in the world, but they are born poor and they will die poor. It's immoral to allow them to fall through the cracks while healthcare and the cost of living explodes. 

On the other hand, I've noticed that the conservative view of the poor is completely different.  This view, which I believe is strengthened and justified by the neo-christianity of the Joel Osteens of the religious world, is based around the idea that we each choose our own paths, and if you're poor it is your own fault,  mostly because you're lazy and unmotivated.  You would rather live off the government than use the good ole american bootstraps to get yourself into a nice suburban house.  You work the system and use your welfare check to buy booze, cigs, and lotto tickets while having a jolly good laugh about how you're beating the system.

Are both these views a little bit right and a little bit wrong?  Yes, very much so.  Is it impossible to find common ground when the two sides view the issue this differently?  Pretty much.

So how do we fix this mess?  I think the first thing to recognize is that the new research into why we view the world differently is an important part of the reparation process.  If someone believes something differently than you do it is not because they are uninformed, stupid, or immoral, it is because they literally see the world in a different framework, much as color blind people see certain colors differently.

People such as Chris Mooney and Jonathon Haidt are putting out fascinating research into why there is such a thing as a right-wing brain, and a left-wing brain.  Haidt has come up with five intuitions or moral foundations that he believes can show which way your personality will lead you.

1) the sense of needing to provide care and protect from harm
2) the sense of what is just and fair
3) the sense of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for a group
4) the sense of obedience or respect for authority
5) the sense of needing to preserve purity or sanctity.

Liberals tend to emphasize the first two, while conservatives will typically emphasize the last three.   (One note on #3.  The term "group" is referring more to smaller like-minded groups, such as your church, neighborhood, political party, etc.: people who hold similar life-styles and belief systems.)

Recently a sixth moral foundation has been added, which is how we view liberty and oppression.  If you believe that those terms mean protecting those less fortunate, then it precludes a liberal bias, whereas if you see those terms as "throwing off the chains of big government" you might lean conservative. 

If you've ever noticed that conservatives are so amazingly organized and wondered why they are able to focus that organizational power with laser beam intensity, just re-read 3, 4, and 5.   Makes sense doesn't it?  Whereas liberals (and artists) have as much hierarchical discipline as The Goonies running around the underground caves trying to find their way out. 

So when it comes to the poor, I will accept rich confusion in return for shallow clarity.  Do we allow the less fortunate to go without the basic services to live, such as food, water, and health care?  No, we do not.  Do we accept that some will abuse this system and put effort into stopping these abuses?  Absolutely!  Most people want to make their own way.  If they have the opportunity to do so they will take it, and any serious analysis of the last 50 years of economic policy will tell us what economic environment creates the most opportunities.  In fact, I realized the other day that if half the analysis was put into economic history that is put into Fantasy Football each week, then we wouldn't have the political stalemate on the issue.  

Thanks for hanging with me,
Brian Swenk

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A voice for the hardworking people in the bottom 50%

Everyone just wants something to work.  And it is OK to disagree on what works - because what works for the top 1% and what works for people below the poverty line are two completely different things.  But finding what works for the country as a whole becomes an endless game of chasing your tail, since it requires concessions on both ends.  And since nothing is ever completely fair, the larger concessions have to come from the very top, from the people with the loudest and most politically influential voices.  And so here we sit in a stagnant no-man's land.  

I ask you, what more can the bottom 1/3 of this country do?  They/we live paycheck to paycheck, if they can even find a job, and have no savings or extra money for things like decent health insurance.  There's a high percentage that are also facing "up-side down mortgages" (they owe more than their home is worth) and they have run out of options.   And nothing burns me up more than to hear right wing zealots say that these people are lazy and parasitic.  I grew up in a very small rural community where no one had more than a modest house and a tiny amount of savings for an emergency.  And I found out quickly that poor people are some of the hardest working people alive.  They will work repetitious factory jobs (back when there were factories), they will work outside in extreme weather conditions, whether it is building houses in freezing temps, or paving roads on hot summer days, or milking cows twice a day for 365 days a year. They'll work all week and then help their neighbor put up hay, or put on a new roof on the weekend.  For these people to be called lazy only shows the voices of the rich are completely out of touch with any type of reality and should be discounted immediately.  Choose a random person out of my community and I'll bet a month's pay that they work harder than Mitt Romney any day of the week! 

As I was listening to right-wing radio the other day I heard in the first five minutes that the bottom 50% of this country are "nothing but moochers and parasites" and that "the best thing that could happen on election day is for there to be a huge sale of Nike sneakers so the right people will be voted in."  As Matt Taibbi pointed out this new wave of conservative ideology and rhetoric will inevitably bring the GOP down.  This is not the voice for the middle, and who in their right mind would want to be a part of this vitriolic message?

Now, there are people who live off the welfare system and work harder to stay on that system than they do to be responsible.   And all of us, no matter what affiliation, will agree that is a huge problem that should be addressed and dealt with.  But in my poor rural county everyone that I know wants to be independent and make their own way.  For most people it is basic human nature, and when the conservative voices not only forget this, but disgrace us by using words like "moochers" and "parasites" they are only digging their well-deserved grave.   

Taibbi's use of the drug addict metaphor is dead-on.  The voices of the conservative movement have to keep one-upping each other for attention and taking bigger hits until the line where reality begins and ends becomes blurred.  One of the greatest political moves in the history of our great country was the Republican party convincing poor rural white people that they were looking out for their best interests.  "Low taxes, tiny government, and guns, guns, guns!" was the mantra, and it worked!  The party run by the richest of the rich for the rich convinced people living on $300 a week that they had their best interests at heart.  Unbelievably genius, right?   But in today's world of radicalized right-wing talk radio they have become unhinged from that one thing that has kept them competitive in elections.  There just aren't enough one-percenters out there to win the elections for them.  And now they are resorting to disgusting back-room tactics like re-drawing district lines in their favor, and passing various laws that will keep the poorest of the poor away from ballot boxes each cycle. 

What our country loses in this slide down into a radicalized cesspool of rhetoric is the fact that we need some of these forgotten conservative ideals in our political discourse.   The importance of personal freedoms along with personal responsibilities, the 2nd amendment freedoms and the responsibilities that come with it, the genuine desire to not let government overgrow, and financial prudence are all important ideas that have made this country great.  But these topics have no place in today's endless debates when you have unlimited soundbites from people who make the characters of Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" look visionary. 

Watching this slow motion train-wreck does have a morbid entertainment quality to it, I have to say.   Everyone must admit some joy as we feed energy to these caricatures of politicians, as we push one to the top and watch excitedly as they fall like a slalom skier wrecking at 60 miles an hour tumbling down the mountain.  Then we find another willing participant and push them to the top of the same mountain and wait for the same outcome.  The GOP race has turned into nothing but a Wide World of Sports disaster outtake reel.  

Everyone has to sacrifice to get out of this slump, and some more than others. I only wish the loudest voices of the conservative movement could get a glimpse of what poor people go through everyday to just have a place in this world. (Here's a good start. "Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America" - read it!)  And if I hear anyone call the simple people of rural communities lazy parasites again I just might fucking lose it.