How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Understanding Hate – Homophobia and the Secret Fears of Manly Men

“I think…it moved (Jason Alexander as George Costanza (1)).”
We seek to control and suppress that which we fear. In 1996, scientists conducted a study on the nature of homophobia (2). 64 self-reported heterosexual men (35 of whom were admittedly homophobic) were shown various forms of erotica, including heterosexual, lesbian and male homosexual pornography. Simultaneously, electronic sensors measured penile circumference.  The results were telling. While all the men in the study had an erectile response to images of heterosexual and lesbian sex, only the homophobic men were sexually stimulated by the homoerotic pornography.

The study proved what most people already instinctively suspected. Men who secretly harbor homosexual feelings are far more likely to be outwardly prejudiced towards gays. One only has to watch current sensational media reporting to confirm this reality. From haters in the pulpit, like Ted Haggard, to the bathroom exploits of former Senator Larry Craig, gay haters seem to be more likely than non-haters to crop up in compromising homosexual positions. For these men, the fear of their own homosexual orientation is so great, they must outwardly and aggressively reject that which they fear the most, not realizing that their adamant disavowals only serve to illuminate to the world their inner truth, they hate the gay men inside themselves.

The attitudes of homophobic men shine light on the bigotry of the conservative right too. In contemporary American society, hostility against gays and lesbians is the only culturally sanctioned prejudice that is still openly tolerated. The excuses for such blatant prejudice are revealing. Homophobes insist gays on the loose will “recruit” the young, that gay marriage will undermine the institution of marriage itself and that if we condone homosexuality, everyone will be trying it. Each of these foolish justifications illuminates the inner fears of the teller. Our young cannot be recruited if they are not already gay. The institution of marriage can only be strengthened by the addition of more adherents. And, if homosexuality is universally accepted for the natural human condition it is, homosexuals will be released from the bigotry that currently poisons their lives. Heterosexuals, who are not homosexuals, will not be flocking to join the cause any more than homosexuals have been able to convert themselves to heterosexuality. The only people who fear such lunacy are those who secretly harbor homosexual desires themselves.

The ultimate defense for homophobes when all other logic fails is the time-tested, coverall for all irrational discourse, religion. The Christian fundamentalist stance on homosexuality is based on a few selected Bible passages condemning men lying together. Leviticus, a book of numerous inhumane and murderous recommendations for sinners suggests, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (18:22),” but only a few lines earlier, the same text recommends, “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness (18.19).” Later on in Leviticus 20, the author goes on to suggest capital punishment for homosexual acts, but it also recommends that if a man should sleep with both his wife and his mother in law, all three should be put to death. And, anybody having sex with animals needs to be euthanized along with their victims. Other sins punishable by death include working on Sunday, various forms of permaculture and being a victim of rape. Some sins are abominations but not capital crimes including touching dead pigs and mixing clothing fibers (cotton/linen blends are particularly heinous). Why isn’t Pat Robertson up in arms about the reintroduction of the McRib sandwich or the millions of sins that can readily be purchased on WalMart’s clothing racks?

In fact, the Bible that homophobic evangelicals love to cite to justify their bigoted judgments says a lot of silly things that are no longer relevant to our modern culture. Science has refuted the idea that a flat Earth is encased by a dome in the sky and that homosexuality is a condemnation by God for straying too far from the religious “truth.” Homosexuality occurs in exactly the same proportion across history and across all human cultures, which means it is a biological trait that is part of the human genome, in other words, completely natural. The 2,500 year old “science” of the Bible has been more than adequately debunked, and it is simply ignorant to insist on Biblical “truth.”

What can we glean from the hate-filled homophobic rants of evangelical Christians? He who shouts the loudest is probably harboring the gayest fantasies. So, the next time a gay-hating bigot spews his rhetoric your way, enlighten him about the subconscious, fearful origins of his ire. At best, he will examine his inner proclivities and come to terms with his own dichotomy. At the very least, spreading the word about the nature of irrational hate, that it is self-loathing projected onto the world, will help to clarify crimes of hatred for what they are.

Homophobia is but one manifestation of a wider cultural paradigm that insists homosexuals, Arabs, Jews, Women, people of color or any group that is outside the predominant power elite are “others” and that their humanity is not as viable or equal to those within the select, privileged group.

The same aura of self-perceived human supremacy enslaves the natural world too. The economic interests of corporations are viewed as more important than an old growth forest, Alaskan wilderness or oceanic gulf. As long as the arrogance of human elitism exists, it will leave a swath of destruction in its wake.

“Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction, are no different. They have nearly destroyed us in the past. They plague us still. They fuel the fanaticism of terror. They torment the lives of millions in fractured nations around the world. These obsessions cripple both those who are hated, and of course, those who hate, robbing both of what they might become (President William Jefferson Clinton).”


1- Watch Seinfeld clip

2- Adams, Wright and Lohr, “Is Homophobia Associated with Homosexual Arousal?” Full article available on the World Wide Web at

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks and Other Ironies of American Lore

390 years ago, a group of religious refugees landed on the shores of Massachusetts in the general vicinity of modern day Plymouth. Contrary to popular American folklore, religious persecution was not the primary motive for the emigration of the Pilgrims from Europe. This first wave of Puritans to reach North American was intent on establishing a “holy kingdom” on Earth, while they awaited Armageddon, which they were convinced, was imminent. The Puritans were political as well as religious radicals in their homeland and attempts to overthrow parliamentary rule in the United Kingdom to create a utopian theocracy had repeatedly failed. So they ventured to the New World intent on creating their Shangri-La.

The Pilgrims firmly believed they were God’s chosen people and that others who did not share their version of religious purity were instruments of Satan. While victims of bigotry themselves, they spared no judgment for their non-Puritan fellow men. Being God’s chosen, they assumed God would shelter them on their journey and provide for them upon their arrival in America. One can but imagine their dismay and surprise when as many as half their numbers perished in the Atlantic crossing and immediate aftermath from starvation and disease. God must have been testing them.

Although the Pilgrims were to form the first permanent English settlement in the current territory of the United States (the Spanish had settled Florida more than 50 years earlier), the Pilgrims were not the first Englishmen to arrive on the North American shores. Numerous expeditions and trade ships had preceded the landing at Plymouth, so by the time the Puritans arrived, the native Wampanoag Indian population had already been decimated by a robust slave trade and exotic diseases like measles and small pox.

The Native American star of the Thanksgiving story, Sqanto (who’s real name was Tisquantum), had several years previously befriended an English ship captain and sailed to Europe where he gained employment as a ship builder. Upon his return home however, Tisquantum was apprehended by a slave trader and sold to a Spanish Caribbean colony. While enslaved, he was rescued by a Franciscan monk, who managed to find passage for Tisquantum to Europe. From Europe, he finally made his way back to his familial home in New England in 1619 to find his tribe and people annihilated.

Roughly a year later, the Pilgrims arrived and attempted to make a living for themselves off a landscape they were woefully unequipped to deal with. In the age of year-round produce from around the world, it is difficult to imagine the Pilgrims would have been completely unfamiliar with the native North American flora and fauna. The seeds they brought with them for crops, like wheat, were not suited to the New England climate and soils, and they could not distinguish edible wild foods from toxic ones.

Given Tisquantum’s previous experience with Europeans, and the personal tragedy of his people, our contemporary, individualist, every man for himself mentality might beg the question, “Why on Earth did Squanto help the Pilgrims?” If he had left them to themselves, they all would have almost assuredly, died. But the Wampanoag people were constructed of a different moral standard than the Europeans who displaced them. Tisquantum and his people had an irrevocable tradition of sharing with those in need. Not offering food and support to the starving Pilgrims would have been paramount to murdering them in Wampanoag culture, so Squanto helped them. He taught them how to build shelters (wigwams) from trees and bark. He shared the native seeds of the three sisters, corn, squash and bean and taught them how to fertilize the soil with fish. He taught them to find wild foods and natural medicines and to identify poisonous plants. The Pilgrims survived.

In order to give thanks for enduring the first difficult year, the Pilgrims invited the Indians to a feast of Thanksgiving in 1621. When the Indians arrived en masse, it was evident the feast was pathetically under rationed, so the Indians sent a party to secure more provisions. Consequently, the Indians provided most of the food at this “first” Thanksgiving. The fare would have included wild turkey, but also fish, deer, squash, beans and corn and a variety of wild foods. The feast lasted for three days and was to mark a peace treaty of sorts. The Wampanoag granted to the Pilgrims the land area of their Plymouth colony and presumed that was the end of that.

But the puritanical Pilgrims had other ideas. When desperate, they were happy to accept the help of the satanic savages, but once restored to health and vitality, they were free to pursue their agenda of the spiritual purification of their new holy kingdom. More Puritans arrived in boatloads from Europe. As their numbers increased, the Puritans began a campaign to rid the land of its native people. Colonists repeatedly ransacked and pilfered Indian food stores and established colonies throughout the New England territory driving the native people from the land. Perceiving themselves as God’s chosen people, the Puritans felt entitled to the land and justified in all their unscrupulous actions.

Eventually the perpetual conflict between the different cultures erupted in all out warfare. The King Phillip’s War, named for the Wampanoag Sachem, Pometacom (derisively named King Phillip by the settlers), ended badly for the Indians and resulted in massive exodus of the native people from their land into the Canadian territories. The rest, as they say, is history.

The ritual of Thanksgiving is as old as the history of the human species and transcends all cultures and places. At the time of the landing at Plymouth, The Wampanoag and other Native American peoples of the region participated in six annual celebrations of Thanksgiving to commemorate the seasons of the year and the bounty of nature. Thanksgiving for America’s indigenous cultures is a ritual of sharing and gratitude.

Sadly, this Thanksgiving, many Americans continue in the Puritan tradition, believing themselves to be a chosen people entitled to all the spoils they can accumulate. Those of us who have ample food on the table, heat for our homes, medical care and adequate finances for our children’s educations should be truly thankful, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. We are a minority in the world, and we should never forget our wealth comes at the profound expense of others.

‘And a voice said, “All over the universe they have finished a day of happiness.” And looking down, I saw that the whole wide circle of the day was beautiful and green, with all fruits growing and all things kind and happy. Then a voice said, “Behold this day, for it is yours to make…” And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy (Black Elk, The Great Vision).’


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Defining Freedom

“The life of white men is slavery. They are prisoners in towns or farms. The life my people want is a life of freedom. I have seen nothing that a white man has, houses or railways or clothing or food that is as good as the right to move in the open country, and live in our own fashion (Sitting Bull).”

The concept of freedom is one of the defining characteristics of democratic government. People living in western democracies consider themselves to be “free,” and this belief is reinforced within the institutions of education, media and politics. Given the condition of freedom as a baseline assumption, most people never ponder the deeper implications of freedom and how they apply to our civilization.

In the democratized world, a lot of political capital is placed on the concept of freedom. Citizens of countries like the United States that enjoy voting privileges and a free press perceive themselves, for the most part to be free. “Freedom” is one of the great rhetorical catch words mouthed universally by those in power to assure the rest of the population they are looking out for our interests, but in reality, freedom is subjective.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word freedom as:

1a, “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.”
Personal freedoms are outlined by the laws of sovereign nations. In western democracies citizens are autonomous in terms of daily activities, but those activities must fall within the boundaries of established laws. Some laws protect the common welfare. In general, it is illegal to do anything that infringes on another person’s liberty. Citizens cannot murder, maim or threaten other individuals, yet the government can do all of the above to people it deems to be threatening to national security.

“Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one (Benjamin Franklin).”

1b, “liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another: independence.”
While slavery has been universally denounced in the western world in modern times, how many people can say they are entirely liberated from restraint or from the power of another? If a person is born into familial property and capital, he or she can certainly enjoy all of the opportunities our capitalist system has to offer in the form of the finest education, adequate childhood nutrition and healthcare. If he or she is wealthy enough through the accident of birth, working for wages will be optional. But for a person born into poverty, the above freedoms are not available. The child in poverty has to work hard, in spite of the obstacles of poor nutrition and failing public education to even grasp at the possibility of getting out of poverty in their lifetime. Most likely, they will be forced to work for the rest of their lives in servitude to wealthier, more powerful entities for pittance wages. How is this demographic different from slavery?

1c, “the quality of being released or exempt usually from something onerous”
Much of the modern life is in fact not exempt from onerous realities. The vast majority of Americans must go to work every day in the corporate wage environment, which I would argue is an unnatural and egregious condition. Furthermore, we are not exempt from being exposed to poison on a daily basis. Our air is polluted by industry. Every aspect of our modern lifestyle is polluted by chemical contaminants. Even those individuals with entirely natural ways of life, like the Amish, Amazonian Indians or North American Inuit are exposed to the civilized world’s toxic brew of dioxin, PCB’s and endocrine disruptors to name a few. No living organism in the modern world is exempt from exposure.

1d, “ease, facility”
In 2010, 46.3 million Americans are living in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which translates to one in seven people. Many of the impoverished work full time at menial jobs just to be able to feed their families. The lives of the American poor are not easy or facile.

1e, “the quality of being frank, open or outspoken”
Freedom of speech is alive and well in the United States of America. In fact, the right to exercise free speech has now legally been extended to powerful, non-human corporations. The recent midterm election demonstrates just how effective the exercise of free speech is in the hands of the powerful. Corporations can also engage in the political discourse by funding negative and untruthful attack ads anonymously. So they can sling mud without having to stand by their slanderous accusations. In terms of undisclosed campaign contributions, Republicans outspent Democrats by a whopping margin of six to one. The results are telling. In almost every race where undisclosed funds were used to smear a Democratic opponent, the Republican won the election. Being frank and/or outspoken may ensure the speaker’s freedom but often infringes on the liberty of others.

1f, “improper familiarity”
The right to privacy is a much-touted American privilege that is guaranteed in the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. Americans are protected in their “persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” However, this right is for all practical purposes no longer extant in the United States. Emails, telephone calls, library accounts, medical records and various other private concerns are openly monitored by our government under the Patriot Act. If this doesn’t constitute “improper familiarity,” I don’t know what does.

1g, “unrestricted use”
The right of unrestricted use is probably the most compromised freedom in American culture, but most people accept the imposition without question. Arising from the concept of private property, the land base of the North American continent has been subdivided and distributed amongst those individuals and entities who have the good fortune of sufficient capital to purchase it. Once land becomes private property, it is illegal for anybody to utilize the resources of that land except with the permission of the owner. In this fashion, the indigenous people of North America were denied access to the natural resource base that was once their birthright. Today, poor Americans and native organisms are also inadvertently denied access to those same natural resources.

The Native American peoples originally did not have a concept of private property. When an unspoiled continent stretched from sea to sea five centuries ago, it was shared equally amongst all of its human and non-human inhabitants. Today, unless one owns the natural resources, he must have money to buy them. What was once communal is now rationed by those with financial might. The right to unrestricted use is limited to those with capital.

2) A political right
As noted above, government defines which privileges are extended to its citizens, but freedom is a dubious concept. One person’s right to private property reduces another’s access to natural resources. The right of free speech can be used to falsely undermine the integrity of someone else. The freedom of access to private information gives government liberties while simultaneously taking them away from private citizens. Exemption from regulation increases corporate liberty, but imposes onerous toxic costs on the rest of humanity and the environment. One could argue that the mere fact that rights are given to citizens by their government implies that individuals living in a governed state do not have any freedoms at all. For what is given can also be taken away.

Once upon a time in North America, the native inhabitants of this land were truly free. They lived within a healthy ecosystem and governed themselves largely by consensus. The Native American way of life was so pleasant, colonists often fled to live with the Indians, and early colonial governments were forced to inflict capital punishment on defectors.  It is telling that defections in the other direction were non-existent.

“No European who has tasted Savage life can afterwards bear to live in our societies (Benjamin Franklin).”

American freedom is a concept that has been crafted by the very institutions that also restrict personal liberty. Most citizens, knowing no other lifestyle, accept the established definition of the concept with blind patriotism. But we are not free. We are given a few choices from within the cage in which we are trapped and mistake those choices for the reality that lies beyond the cage.

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed (Martin Luther King).”


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The American Terrorist's Way of Life

“Today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts (George W. Bush: September 11th, 2001).”

The attacks of September 11th, 2001 were acts of odious cowardice. The indiscriminate mass murder of innocent people is heinous regardless of the perpetrator. What drives a person to hijack a plane and fly it into a building or strap explosives around their waist and blow themselves up? If acts of terrorism were isolated incidents, one could assign insanity to the evil doers and be done with analysis. But terrorism is now a movement in the world, a movement carried out by Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike, although in the United States the Muslims get all the attention.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 crimes, pundits, politicians and terrorists universally acknowledged that the attacks were a direct confrontation on the American way of life, a way of living most Americans have come to view as a birthright. For right wing American Christian fundamentalists, U.S. Americans are God’s chosen people, and our affluence is a sign of His divine endorsement. Others, like myself simply accept the accident of the geography of our birth as a stroke of good luck. Most people, unfortunately, don’t give the subject much thought but still feel entitled to the lifestyle. If we are deserving of our way of life, then why do American detractors resent us so very much? Some say they are jealous, but jealousy alone is usually not enough incentive to incinerate oneself. If it is universally accepted that our lifestyle is so vehemently despised, perhaps we should ask ourselves “why?”

It’s the stuff we do that is offensive. While most Americans live a pretty comfortable lifestyle with plenty of stuff, much of what we enjoy as staples of the American way of life come at the expense of others. This has been the case since the founding of our nation. First, while most of us try not to think about it, and our history books gloss over it, we stole the American continent from its original inhabitants. We didn’t acquire it nicely and by mutual agreement. We took it with brutal force, the deliberate spread of disease and treachery. While the Founding Fathers were writing up documents exalting the values of freedom and liberty for all, they were simultaneously, if not ironically massacring the American Native population.

The American Indians were not savages to be tamed as we are brainwashed to believe. It was in fact the democratic government of the Iroquois Nation that inspired our own Constitution. The myriad tribes of the North American continent had deep cultural traditions, beautiful folklore, music, arts, crafts and an intimate knowledge of the natural history of their territory. Mothers and fathers loved their children and communities. When they were slaughtered, they felt the pain of losing their loved ones as surely as we would. They did nothing to deserve the onslaught of the white people who simply wanted land and resources and took what they wanted. As western European culture spread its plague across the continent, it justified its actions under the auspices of “saving” the savages’ souls for Christendom. In the name of a man who preached pacifism and acceptance, Jesus’ followers continue to annihilate cultures, people and the environment on a global scale.

Once America had completed its own imperialist expansion from sea to shining sea, it began to expand beyond the North American continental boundaries. The Spanish American War annexed the lucrative textile and food producing territories of Cuba (temporarily), Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico to the U.S. resource base. The two World Wars strengthened U.S. occupations across the globe and allowed the United States a new scapegoat under which to control other people’s resources, preventing the rise of communism. After WWII, the United States started dabbling in Middle Eastern affairs to secure crude oil supplies, and we haven’t looked back since.

Today America spreads its influence under the guise of global free trade, which is a euphemism for expanding American interests into new territory. Under free trade, American, heavily subsidized goods flood foreign markets. Oh by the way, another caveat of “free” trade is that foreign trading partners aren’t allowed to subsidize their goods to make them competitive. In India, for example, subsidized American grain is much cheaper than locally grown grain. Indian small farmers that have supplied their nation with foodstuffs for centuries, if not millennia, are now put out of business by massive transnational companies with the full power of the United States behind them. Farmers go bankrupt, lose generational land and frequently commit suicide in desperation. Suicide seems to be a common theme amongst America’s victims.

Who benefits from “free” trade? The national propaganda suggests we all do. By expanding markets, free trade is supposed to create jobs and bring prosperity to everyone across the globe. In India, the farmer either kills himself or goes to work in an urban slum where he can labor 12 hours a day at a poor-paying factory job. Meanwhile, the multinational corporation that bumped him off his land (with U.S. tax payer monetary support) takes over the arable land and sets up shop. Maybe our farmer can work for slave wages on what used to be his land. Back at home, benefits might be more observable. The farmer that grew the subsidized grain in the U.S. finds a market for his crop. But one might consider that if the subsidized commodity crop corporate industrial system of farming did not exist, our same American farmer would probably be growing food to supply to his own community, and probably at a greater profit without the transnational corporate middlemen.

Global “free” trade wherever it infiltrates exiles people from their cultural land base where they are self-sufficient and forces them into wage labor. Meanwhile, the natural resources of the infiltrated country become the private property of multinational corporations. Ultimately, if free trade goes according to plan, all of Earth’s resources will be held as the private property of corporate interests and all of Earth’s people will become wage slaves to corporate masters. In the wake of the spread of American “freedom,” are devastated landscapes, cultures and Earth herself.

Everybody living the American dream is complicit in the above crimes. My life is more benign than most. I grow most of my own food and try to buy what I don’t grow myself from my farmer neighbors. But there are a lot of things I enjoy that simply cannot be produced in the mountains of North Carolina. Tea, and especially chocolate are luxury foods that are most commonly grown on large, corporate owned plantations with deplorable working conditions. A recent study shows that chocolate accounts for the highest rate of child enslavement of any crop produced on the planet. My culinary indulgences contribute to plantation slave labor.

I heat my home with a woodstove with fallen trees from my property and conserve energy wherever I can, but I also have an electric heat pump and air conditioning system that I use freely. My electricity is generated by coal fired power plants and/or old TVA river-killing dams. My Toyota Highlander gets about 25 mpg. I would like to get a newer, electric car, like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, but I know that doing so before I wear out my current car will be more costly in terms of greenhouse gasses. The manufacturing of vehicles contributes more to global warming than their use. So I wait. My actions are contributing to global climate change.

I NEVER shop at WalMart, and I even buy organic clothes when I can, but for the most part my clothes are made in China, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines and are sewn together by the hands of people who work at least 12 hours a day in horrific factory conditions and still live below the poverty level, many of them children. The cotton the clothes are made of is the most pesticide and chemical fertilizer dependant crop on Earth. Synthetic fibers are made from crude oil derivatives and their manufacture pollutes air, land and water. My clothing contributes to the miserable lives of the working poor and the toxification of the planet.

I like stuff, lots of stuff like my television, computer, iPod, cell phone, Kindle and lots and lots of books. The manufacture of each and every one of my consumer goodies has an unsustainable environmental impact. Books were once forests, and the toxic chemical brew that is necessary to create our modern technologies is an unimaginable scourge upon the planet. My toys are contributing to the unsustainable degradation of the planet.

This is the American lifestyle we all feel so entitled to. Everything we have come to feel we deserve comes at the expense of others and the environment. We are told terrorists are jealous of our way of life. Bullshit. Our way of life is ruining everyone else’s. That’s why they hate us. The heinous crimes of people who take and abuse the lives of innocents for their own objectives are never justifiable. Terrorism is never defensible, but perhaps the anger behind terrorism is not entirely undeserved.

“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it (Noam Chomsky).”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Social Insecurity

In his book Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Derrick Jensen hypothesizes that average citizens in western society are suffering from a collective, complex post traumatic stress syndrome. Complex PTSD is caused by extreme and/or ongoing trauma that makes an individual lose all sense of meaning and control in their lives. Victims are “rendered helpless by overwhelming force (1).” Symptoms of the malaise include a persistent disconnected feeling, and victims may experience a constant hyper-alert, state of anxiety.

Jensen attributes our collective PTSD to the violence upon which our entire culture is based (please see previous post The War on…Fill in the Blank). From the time of the nation’s founding, when the continent’s First People were brutally extirpated from their land, the United States has waged wars of global conquest to fuel its incessant need for economic growth. In the everyday life, people are subjected to violence of both obvious and insidious origins.

From birth, the life of the average American is bombarded by a violent assault on the senses. Thrust out of the secure, quiet and dark sanctuary of the womb, the infant is at once assaulted with bright lights, air conditioning and the alarms, voices and mechanics of a busy hospital. When the baby goes home, he will most likely be exposed to a constant drone from a television screen programming him to know a world where his country is engaged in a perpetual state of violence. Violence against other nations, violence against the environment, violence between people and economic violence against developing countries are the American baseline.

The typical American day to day lifestyle is punctuated by a permanent state of anxiety and fear. In most families, both parents must work to earn enough to have a reasonable quality of life. Infants and small children are left at daycare or with a poorly-paid home helper. The modern work place is surrounded with uncertainty. Job security is virtually unknown in the modern world. Without a job, and the wages the job brings, an individual has no access to food, shelter, medical care and the basic necessities of life. Even with a job, the above necessities are often hard to come by. Nothing is secure. Will I lose my house? Will I get sick and lose my house? Will I still have a job tomorrow? As the job market becomes more and more unstable, the conservative movement is simultaneously, steadily eroding the safety nets of unemployment insurance, welfare, social security and Medicaid. Record numbers of Americans are falling into poverty.

We have real things to fear. Humanity is performing a dangerous experiment with Earth’s atmosphere. Monsanto, Dupont, Dow, Sargenta and Bayer chemical manufacturers are inventing genetic mutants of corn and soy, introducing them into our environment and offering them to unsuspecting citizens as food. We have polluted our air and water to the extent that an entire class of organisms, amphibians, may become extinct within the next few decades. This list could unfortunately go on for a while.

Then there is the fear proselytized by those who would seek to profit from a population made irrational by fear. Our president is a Muslim foreigner who wants to become the totalitarian dictator of a communist state. Heath care reform is a socialist conspiracy to bump off geriatrics. Homosexuals are trying to recruit our children into their ranks and have a conspiracy to do so by marrying each other. President Obama wants to redistribute wealth by taking money from hard working Americans and using it to subsidize lazy black people who don’t want to work (I’ve heard this one personally here in the lovely bigoted hills of North Carolina). Higher education is a satanic conspiracy to secularize society. The end times are upon us. Arm yourselves and be very, very scared.

When people are anxious and scared, they are motivated by fight or flight mechanisms. Like a hungry dog growling over a bowl of food, the adrenaline-pumped response is every man for himself. And this fear-motivated, individualist response has become the mantra of our society. Anxiety-driven responses are also immediate, knee-jerk reactions that usually do not take into account future consequences. The never-ending war in Afghanistan is case in point. As we become a fear-driven, reactionary society, we are ignoring the bigger issues that really do need our attention.

What if, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody feared financial insecurity? Sweden and Denmark have eliminated poverty from within their borders, why can’t we? What if every man, woman and child knew that all of their healthcare needs would be taken care of, and that retirement and old age would be free from financial worry? What if every hard working child was guaranteed a college education that would not put him in debt for the rest of his life? What if the United States became the leader rather than the detractor for solving global climate change?

Right now, the above social security measures do not happen in the United States because people are scared and manipulated. We are frightened about an escalating national debt and believe we can’t afford social programs. We could tax the wealthy, but are threatened by propaganda suggesting this would result in more job loss. We could save trillions by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then what about the terrorists that want to kill us? We could take great strides towards solving global climate change, but we can’t afford it and/or etc., etc. For every great solution to all our problems, fear gets in the way.

The entities that benefit from keeping Americans scared and paralyzed are few, the industrial military complex, corporate oil, multinational corporations and the banking industry to name a few. For the most part, the beneficiaries are not even real people, and the irrational fears they provoke are largely fabricated. We can eliminate American poverty and create real universal healthcare and pay for these programs by asking those who benefit the most in society to pay something back in the form of taxes. Many countries in the world have wonderful social programs and (unlike the United States) thriving economies. We can end the wars without any increased threat of terrorism. In fact, ending the wars would probably reduce the threat. We can be a positive example in the world regarding global climate change, creating jobs and stimulating the economy in the process.

A United States motivated by fear is a dangerous scourge upon the planet and a detriment to her people. Only in the absence of fear, can this nation become the leader in justice and democracy the nationalist diatribe claims it to be.

1- Quote is cited in Endgame (Kindle Edition Location 843) and is attributed to Judith Herman.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Hunting of Witches Begins

Is it okay to subject someone to 16 hours of exhausting daily labor, 7 days a week, 365 days a year without pay? What if the person was completely reliant on a master to provide the basic necessities of life such as food, water, clothing and shelter? Suppose that same person was impregnated and forced to give birth to the children of the master, only adding to the daily toil. Maybe the master is abusive, maybe he is not. Perhaps he controls in other more subtle ways, but our laborer always knows that survival is dependant upon the maintenance of the master’s good nature.

Would we call this slavery, indentured servitude? If the enslaved figure above was a man, the general public would be outraged at the injustice, but she is a housewife. I use the above illustration to draw attention to one of society’s most profound gender biases. We are taught to believe that women’s traditional work in the home should be unpaid, that women feel a biological need to engage in such work and that they do so happily and willingly, making payment totally unnecessary. Thus the greatest exploitation of labor on Earth is perpetuated.

We believe woman’s unpaid labor in the home is just a basic fact of life. Children need rearing, daily chores need doing and subsistence gardens need tending. None of woman’s traditional activities actually generate any revenue, so who is going to pay her? But women in the home are huge agents of production. It is by their labor and production that the entire global workforce comes into being. Labor is a resource, and women produce it. One could easily argue that the production of labor by women forms the basis of our entire economy, and women are expected to perform this great societal function for nothing.

The problem with the unpaid nature of woman’s work lies at the heart of our contemporary culture. Everything a person needs or wants in the modern economy demands capital. Without money, it is almost impossible to obtain food, medical treatment and shelter. On a larger scale, and with the recent Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, moneyed interests are increasingly dictating government policy. In the United States of America and across the globe, if one has no money, then one has no power. One is helpless. Therefore in the modern world where money is king, women are the great losers in the equation. If a mother is unable to join the paid workforce, she will always be at a disadvantage. In almost every nation on Earth, if you are a woman, statistically you are more likely to be living in poverty than your male counterparts.

Historically, women have not always been at the mercy of capital for survival. In medieval European society, a majority of women enjoyed equal economic status with men. Peasant husbands and wives shared jointly the tasks of subsistence. Many women made a living outside the home as healers, midwives, merchants and seamstresses. Women were allowed to own property.

Imagine the life of an average person at that time. Life was undoubtedly difficult. Most people lived in villages where they maintained small plots of land to grow vegetables and communally managed larger tracts of lands for grazing livestock. The Forests and water supplies were also managed by the village community providing water for daily needs, firewood and forestry products such as medicinal herbs, mushrooms and wild game. The managed lands, or “commons” were shared by all the villagers. Money was generally unnecessary as goods were bartered and traded and everybody in the community contributed to the general welfare.

Work among men and women was shared and valued equally. As men hunted, tended livestock and collected wood, women prepared small vegetable plots, tended children, gathered wild food and medicinal herbs and cared for the household. Each gender was acutely aware of the value of the work being done by the other. Since money rarely entered any of life’s daily tasks, the only value attributed to men’s and women’s labor was the value of what the labor produced. As people worked on the commons together, they nourished more than just foodstuffs and provisions. Deep, tribal, familial and community bonds were strengthened under the yoke of common values and interests.

In the realm of reproduction, women were left to their own devices. Over millennia living close to the Earth, the cycles of the moon and fertility, women had gained intricate knowledge of their own bodies and how to control the means of reproduction. Herbal remedies passed down from mother to daughter and from midwife to patient allowed women to control the number of offspring they had. Unwanted pregnancy could for the most part be avoided with birth control remedies and abortificants. By controlling how many children she had, a woman could manage her lifestyle by having children only when she could best support them. Family planning also benefitted children by ensuring that those born into the world could be adequately cared for. For centuries, religious and political institutions had nothing to say on this issue that was considered exclusively woman’s business.

Then a series of events led to a devaluation of woman’s work from which it has never recovered. In the late 14th century, the Black Death swept across Europe annihilating as much as half of the population. Peasant labor became a scarce resource. As the population declined, the laws of supply and demand forced wages upward. A thriving middle class began to emerge. But the aristocratic class (including both lords and popes), which relied exclusively on cheap labor to support their lavish lifestyles, began to feel a pinch. While they still lived decadently, it was becoming more and more difficult to find workers willing to put up with punishing hours in the field, especially in light of the fact that many peasants were now able to set up small farms and work exclusively for themselves.

As labor became more scarce, women who practiced birth control were now directly working against powerful interests. Governments and the Church began to interfere in women’s reproductive strategies and pronounced any attempt to reduce fertility as a prosecutable offense. Midwives who disbursed the herbal agents of birth control became the bane of religious and “civilized” society and were branded as witches. “Good,” God fearing women were sequestered to their homes, relinquishing control over their bodies and lives to the church and state and became unwitting incubators for the labor class. In 16th and 17th century Europe more women were executed for “witchcraft” than for any other crime.

As women lost control over their bodies, so the working class also lost control over its self-sufficiency. The commons, carefully managed for hundreds of years were reclaimed by the aristocracy, forcing farmers out into the cities in search of paid work and making them reliant on the capital from said work forevermore.

Modern people should take note of a couple of points in the historic record. Most importantly, when labor is scarce, average people tend to fare better. Powerful interests benefit enormously from keeping labor abundant and cheap. As during the witch hunts of medieval Europe, a number of tools of propaganda are employed to dupe modern women into consenting to produce an abundant supply of labor even at the expense of personal freedom and the welfare of offspring.

A woman who has reproductive choices will have fewer children but will invest more time and care into raising those children. The well provided for children will be healthier, better educated and less likely to end up living in poverty. Fewer people on the planet means more resources will be available for all of Earth’s organisms. The only losers will be those entities who profit from the exploitation of cheap and abundant labor.

Our modern witch hunt strikes out against those who would openly state the truth about reproduction. Powerful interests in churches and states who would seek to revoke a woman’s right to her own reproduction are the modern inquisitors. We simply must reduce the number of people living on Planet Earth if we are to survive as a species. Doing so will improve the lives of all people and the health of the planet.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Once Upon a Time in North America

On May 2, 1497, Giovanni Caboto (a.k.a. John Cabot) secured a ship and crew from His Majesty the King of England (even though J.C. was Italian) and set sail from Bristol England across the expanse of the Northern Atlantic Ocean. 53 days later, on June 24th, Mr. Cabot and his crew made landfall somewhere upon the wild Newfoundland coast. Being only the second European explorers to set foot in North America (the first being Viking explorers 500 years earlier), Cabot and his crew ceremoniously claimed the turf for England and, as was done in those days, the Pope.

The North American landscape of 1497 was starkly different from the one we experience today. When Cabot and his crew “discovered” North America, they wrote of nearshore waters teeming with cod that could be caught by simply dropping a bucket. Much of the landmass was blanketed in uninterrupted forest till it gave way to the Great Plains that swept from the Mississippi to the Rockies and northward into Canada.

50 million American bison grazed on ancient prairies perched upon hundreds of feet of rich, living topsoil. The great Colorado River wove its way across America, carving out the landscape and emptying into the Gulf of California in a vast 2 million acre delta estuary packed full with birds, fish and marine mammals.

In Florida, one of the world’s most productive and largest freshwater wetland ecosystems flowed like a river of grass across the peninsula before emptying into the Bay of Florida. Offshore, coral reefs teemed with life and monk seals frolicked in the balmy Caribbean water.

Everywhere, the wild continent was pregnant with life. Concrete, glass and asphalt were nonexistent. Flocks of thousands of birds blackened the skies, and venerable green giants were the only outstanding features reaching up from an uninterrupted landscape. The continent’s First People had already inhabited this land for tens of thousands of years when the first Europeans arrived.

In 1565, the Spanish settled Florida at St. Augustine. In 1607, the English settled Jamestown, and in 1608, the French settled Quebec.

Once upon a time in North America, 5 billion small but highly edible birds known as passenger pigeons traveled in massive flocks that could darken the sky for hours. By the turn of the 20th century, a single pigeon remained, and they are all now extinct.

500 years ago, most of the eastern half of the United States and much of the land west of the Rockies was blanketed in old growth forests. By 1850, the forests were severely fragmented, and now only small patches in National Parks and the Pacific Northwest remain.

Today, the Colorado River rarely flows to the sea. Immeasurable tons of Midwestern topsoil have died and blown away. A toxic brew of pesticides and fertilizers flow daily down the river of grass, rendering the Florida Bay into a veritable dead zone.

The monk seal, eastern elk, Banks Island wolf, Tacoma pocket gopher, giant deer mouse, Labrador duck, great auk, slender-billed grackle, Vegas Valley leopard frog, Ash Meadows killfish, blue walleye, Maryland darter, American chestnut moth and hundreds like them are forever erased from the face of Earth. Thousands more await the same fate in the near future.

We did this. In the name of “civilization,” western culture has wrought more havoc across the face of the Earth than any species or natural disaster in all of history. But we continue. If anything, our pace of destruction accelerates, and we seem immune to the wisdom of hindsight. We drive past the carnage of western civilization in the comfort of our air conditioned, greenhouse gas spewing SUVs, lost in a reverie of text messaging, hairstyles, football games and other mundane distractions.

History shows we are capable of pushing species, rivers and entire ecosystems to collapse with barely a second thought. There is no precedent to believe we will ever change. What will we be thinking when the last tree is felled, the last innocent bird falls from the sky and the last fish chokes in a filthy sea? Humans were the most intelligent, pinnacle of evolution…sure.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Requiem to Happier, Saner Times - Signs from the Rally to Restore Sanity

The GOP landslide in the House last night is a disheartening commentary on the sanity of the American people.  While polls just before the election indicated the vast majority of Americans actually preferred and trusted the Democrats to lead the country, most were going to vote Republican anyway. 

For the past two years Democrats have held the trifecta.  While it would seem they spent much of that time bickering amongst themselves and pandering to obstructionist Republicans, they actually did accomplish quite a lot during the 21 months of Democratic rule.  A few of the highlights include credit card reform, student loan reform, healthcare reform, saving the American automobile industry, preventing another Great Depression and financial reform to name a smattering.  Democrats have in fact accomplished more in the past two years than most administrations manage in four.

But the economy is still not very impressive, and Americans always vote against the majority party when economic times are tough even if the people they are voting for created the tough times to begin with.  So now we will have to endure two years of gridlock.  Democrats will still continue to pander to Republicans, who will, true to form, refuse to work with them.  Welcome to insanity American style.

As a requiem to the saner, happier times of last week, below I have inserted a collection of photos of some of the signage from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.  If nothing else, at least we can all have a good laugh.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Censoring Reasonableness – On the Ground at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

“We live now in hard times, not end times (Jon Stewart, the Rally to Restore Sanity, Washington DC, October 30, 2010).”

Sanity is alive and well in America. Of course you would never know this to be true by watching the “news” on television. On Saturday, October 30th, 2010, over 200,000 sane, happy, rational people gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC to celebrate reasonableness.

By National Parks Service estimates, the Rally to Restore Sanity was the best attended (by far) event on the National Mall since the inauguration of
President Barack Obama drew in crowds of close to a million people. It was certainly better attended than Glen Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor, which the Parks Service estimated at just over 70,000 or the Democratic Rally earlier this month, which hardly bears mentioning.

Attending the rally has restored my faith in the American people. Throughout the day, packed like sardines in our nation’s capital, everybody was in an upbeat and wonderful mood. Angry protests, hateful rants or even nasty signage were entirely absent. The signs I saw, with the exception of two, were light-hearted and creative. There were plenty of laughs throughout the day and everybody was generous and kind with one another and strikingly, boringly normal. The sheer numbers of attendees made me think, ‘wow, maybe most Americans are really thoughtful and reasonable after all.’

After I got home, I realized if I had not attended the rally and had relied on the news media to inform me, I would have missed my delightful epiphany completely. The mainstream media not only missed the point but, in many cases, they missed the rally entirely. In fact the major news networks ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and even NPR explicitly forbade their employees from attending the rally. NPR later clarified that all employees with the exception of those covering the rally were banned. One must wonder why major news organizations would want to censor their employees from a rally dedicated to reasonableness. I guess they don’t want the word to get out that most people are actually not fanatics. It might ruin their business.

“The country’s 24 hour politico pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.

The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus illuminating issues heretofore unseen, or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire. And then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden unexpected dangerous flaming ants epidemic.

If we amplify everything, we hear nothing (Jon Stewart, Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear).”

A conservative commentator stated that the massive audience was made up of DC locals, whereas, in their opinion, the Beck rally was filled with people from across America (“real” Americans). My view: the shuttle bus we took to the rally had one guy from Canada, one guy from Belgium, a couple from Colorado, three people from North Carolina and two from Kentucky who were most definitely opposed to head stomping as a form of political discourse. All the people I spoke to in the crowd had traveled great distances to come to the rally. Many were from California. I did not meet a single person from Washington DC until I was on the Metro back to my hotel.

A liberal columnist thought the rally was all about liberals trying to prove they are smarter than conservatives (1). The crowd was refreshingly intelligent, but I never got the impression that their aim was to score any one-upmanship.

Most of the major news television stations offered thirty second summaries, which basically dismissed the entire event as a comedy show. They must have missed the lesson in High School English class where the “fool” is an archetypal bearer of wisdom and truth. Read Shakespeare people.

To ABC’s credit, This Week with Christiane Amanpour dedicated their round table discussion to what they determined to be the rally’s theme – civil discourse. And civil discourse was certainly part of the day’s take home message, but sadly or deliberately ABC seemed to miss the most obvious point. The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was a direct commentary on our current political situation and how the media filters information to invoke sensation and fear. Hundreds of thousands of people coming together in the interest of sanity and reasonableness speaks boldly to an American electorate suffering from sensational media fatigue and desperately seeking meaningful political commentary.

In reality, we all see the world through our own lens of truth, and we all have our own agenda. Writer Derrick Jensen notes that all writing is propaganda, as no two individuals can see a view of the world in exactly the same way (2). We all amplify the details that are most important to us while simultaneously ignoring those things we either don’t want to acknowledge or are simply too distracted to see. Media is like us, but it also distorts perspective to an extreme because media has a rabid agenda. Television news shows need viewers to be able to get corporate sponsorship, so they sensationalize to get our attention. They are also then limited to a large extent by those same sponsors from publicizing anything that might be in conflict with the corporate agenda. The resultant media messages are often like holographic images reflecting reality but still a false imitation of it.

Because truth is in the eye of the beholder, we should not just take anyone else’s words at face value. We must seek truth for ourselves by turning off the mind-numbing TV and instead becomming active participants in life, taking in as much information as possible from as many sources as possible and drawing our own conclusions. If we could all step back from the media circus and do this, sanity would be restored in the United States of America.



2- See Endgame Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization by Derrick Jensen.