Attempting to see the forest…

Attempting to see the forest…

Last weekend I attended a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Dinner. It’s an annual event held by congregations across the country, as a chance to get to know people from the congregation and to share entertainment, conversation and good food.

During the conversation at dinner, the subject of race came up. The conversation drifted to discussing how we can get past the foundations of race without sounding racist which put me in mind of the documentary Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. The DVD is available through PBS, but some enterprising YouTuber put the show up in a series of episodes with Spanish subtitles.

If you haven’t watched this documentary, stop reading right now and go watch it. Seriously. I’ll wait.

Done? Good.

Welcome back.

For me, the theories and research became a game-changer for my views not just on race but on cultural differences. So I surprised myself by saying that while we can say there’s no differences genetically between us white folks, and our African, Asian, Arab and European brethren, there’s a danger in carrying the conversation too far, because it’s easy to conflate racial stereotyping and cultural choice and with the myth of gender choice.

We don’t choose the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes, who we find attractive or how our bodies function. Moreover, our brains are designed to sort everything we encounter into select boxes. Our cultural training gives us the context for deciding what to do with those boxes once we’ve done the sorting.

But there’s a trap, and until I read these articles today, I didn’t have a way to articulate what that trap was because I am so fundamentally American in my belief structure that I can’t see the forest for the trees, or the rest of the world for my own borders. I suspect I’m not alone.

We Aren’t the World: Joe Henrich and his colleagues are shaking the foundations of psychology and economics—and hoping to change the way social scientists think about human behavior and culture.

I have had more than a passing interest in anthropology over the course of my life.  In fact, before I became a theatre major, I was going to be an anthropology major. I’m drawn to the research and understanding of human behavior and how it affects societies.

Coming from an areligious background, I find it more than a little strange to be committed to attending services weekly, and more than a little strange when I visit services in other religions, because I have no tools to work with, no existing framework on which to hang my belief system. It is nearly impossible for me to attend any service, UU or otherwise, without observing the ritual from the outside. UU congregations are by far the most welcoming because there is an overriding desire to incorporate the principles by which we live, which transcend virtually all other religions.

From the Unitarian Universalist Association’s web page (http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/index.shtml), this is a summary of the UU Principles:

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

There is a social aspect to UU faith that attracts me, coupled with a completely different way of worshiping that includes and encourages laughter, discussion, meditation, two-way communication and sharing in ways I haven’t found with other religious groups except, perhaps, the Quakers.

But that’s not all.

Shortly after encountering the first article, I saw this one.

False beliefs persist, even after instant online corrections

When I read these two admittedly scholarly research papers, it was easy for me to find them connected, because they both address our perceptions of reality based on empirical evidence we seldom collect outside our own safe spheres of reference.

In other words, they both tell us we can’t see the forest for the trees.

I have made a career of putting information out and correcting inaccurate information when I’ve found evidence that suggests the contrary, but in the end, we can never truly know reality if we don’t have the truth as it exists, not as we perceive it. It is impossible for us to view information without the filters we have built by being part of our society. Changing those filters takes work. There are too many times when people view that work as unnecessary, even bothersome.

Witness, for example, Richard Nixon’s fall.

Yeah, okay. I’m dating myself. If you’re not of a certain age, you won’t have the tools you need to understand where I’m headed with this, but bear with me for a moment.

Until David Frost caught Nixon on tape saying he, as President, was above the law, there was still a question about whether he had done anything illegal. Gerald Ford’s pardon was insufficient to take away the stain of the acts which forced Nixon to resign. To this day we will never truly know what happened and how it came to be because a good deal of the motive behind Nixon’s activities were buried with him.

Nixon’s legacy, that we can never truly trust the elected officials in charge of our country, persists to this day in the form of Birthers who would rather discuss President Obama’s birth certificate and legitimate claim to the Presidency than look at the country as a whole and try to find a way to fix the problems we have now, thanks to more lies from corporate entities that are more concerned with the bottom line and CEO salaries than with the lives of the people they serve.

We got here because we believe our way is the right way to live. We support those who have their own best interests in mind because they have told us to believe they are doing the things they do for us.

But what if we’re wrong? What if they’ve lied?

The French Revolution came about because the people got sick of starving to death and took it on themselves to reduce the long-standing ruling class to severed heads. The present-day American aristocracy has done its level best to deflect violence away from the true source of trouble, incarcerating anyone who seems interested in taking them down. Our government is no longer of, by and for the People, unless those people are the rich ruling class. The rest of us are here to make sure the American Aristocracy maintains their hold on the upper class.

We are almost 50 years away from landing our people, Americans, on the moon. We are fighting to keep North Korea and Iran from gaining the bomb because we have no control over their activities. We know our borders are insecure and we have done our best to lock them down, only to reduce our country to panic-stricken sheep who believe everything our politicians say, because they must be right.

Our children are starving automatons designed to follow the herd, not to innovate or be creative. And if they don’t tow the religious line, they are also incarcerated, if they don’t fall prey to random shooting violence, drugs or worse.

We spend our time watching fairy tales on TV, or modern-day gladiators in an electronic Colosseum. In the end, whatever we do will be too little too late.

And all because we think we know what’s best for the rest of the world. Because we are Americans.

When the revolution comes, it won’t be televised. I just wonder when it’s going to start.

Today’s the day.

Today’s the day.

There is no irony for me today, no sense of amusement that our recognized Inauguration Day falls today on the same Monday when we honor the life and recognize the too-early death of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday, in our congregation, we sang this anthem and spent a time considering not just its historical significance but also how far we still have to go before we can truly say that all men and women are free in this country.

Too often in the last few weeks have I heard that we are all entitled to keep our guns, that the KKK would not have been controlled without them. And yet, I have come to realize the truth, so simply stated and yet so lost in the mists of time, that without them slavery would have ended before the Declaration of Independence was signed by rich white men who made decisions on behalf of other rich white men.

Given our past year’s worth of revelations, I am sad to say that so little has changed.

I can boil our country’s problems down to keywords. I don’t have to talk about them. I only have to say their names and you will know what I am talking about. That is the awesome and terrible power of the Internet and of the media. From Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook, from Aurora to Afghanistan, Algeria, Syria and Israel. From Pakistan to Palestine, there is great injustice in the world, but no less great than right here in the good old U. S. of A.

Selma, Montgomery, Memphis, Jackson, Birmingham and Atlanta stand as just a few reminders of our country’s dark past – one I don’t share except by the color of my skin, because my family did not arrive in Brooklyn, NY until the turn of the last century. Although I don’t share that past, I am no less appalled. Rather, I am learning to make changes so that we can truly fulfill our potential as leaders in democracy and freedom for all.

Today, we have a new form of slavery – just as despicable and yet so little recognized that we prefer to think of THEM and justify all sorts of horrible things because of our obviously European roots. The “war on drugs,” rights to gun ownership, arguments against affirmative action, public school access – these all have a common thread of race that ties them together and keeps our classes apart.

Public schools have become prisons designed to indoctrinate instead of inspiring our children to do better. We want our children to toe the line, to become polite, subservient cogs in the machinery of our corporate system. We eject those who fail to fit, forcing most into what amounts to a lifetime of slavery. We should be appalled at the statistics, not just of the prison populations but of the total number of people we lose every year to violence in general.

In Australia, after a mass shooting in 1996 led to sweeping gun ownership reforms, the University of Sidney launched a web site which I discovered yesterday in response to a conversation on Facebook about gun ownership. The conversation started with an image on the Being Liberal Facebook Page, but it didn’t end there, because a friend posted a link to gun homicides in the US, thinking (I assume) that was the end of the discussion. The fact is, his numbers were deceptive because they ignore all the OTHER deaths by gun in this country and elsewhere. It’s a sad testament to the power of the National Rifle Association that we have to go outside our country to find accurate statistics for gun violence.

From their own web site: “GunPolicy.org is hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, [at] the University of Sydney. The School provides internationally recognised leadership in public health by advancing and disseminating knowledge — in this case, supporting global efforts to prevent gun injury.”

The Unitarian Universalists have launched a new campaign: Thirty Days of Love. The movement calls for us to think about mass incarceration not just to take criminals off our streets, but as an opportunity to see WHO is being swept into prison and the effect imprisonment has on our country.

On August 28, 1963, a little over two months before I was born, Rev. King gave his “I have a dream” speech, not quite 15 miles from where I live now. It saddens me to know that we still have so far to go to achieve Rev. King’s dream.

President Barack Obama took the oath of office yesterday, so that he can carry on the work he began four years ago. There is still a great deal to do, so long as there are still people who think of him as “uppity” and unfit for office simply because of the color of his skin. I don’t often pray, and seldom to god, but I will pray that the people in this country and elsewhere learn to understand and savor our differences and to choose responsibility over prejudice.

We have a long way to go.

The Second Amendment: I do not think it means what you think it means…

The Second Amendment: I do not think it means what you think it means…

God bless the Internet.

In the debate over gun control that has raged on and off for decades, President Obama made the latest salvo yesterday. I see it as a clear response to Sandy Hook’s tragic shootings of December and to the NRA’s despicable ad released the day before.

MSNBC’s response to the NRA ad, via Upworthy, calls it: NRA Ad Stuns Conservative Pundits Into Speechlessness Followed By Really Articulate Rage.

I’ve been largely silent on the subject here because I’ve tried to understand more of the context and thus avoid going off “half-cocked” on the subject.

This morning, thanks to the feed and friends who find things for me, I read this article from The Atlantic on the subject of the true history behind the Second Amendment. Everything else I’ve posted on the subject pales by comparison to this: The 2nd Amendment was placed in the Bill of Rights by James Madison to keep the Southern States’ right to slavery.

You read that right. And it’s not news. The subject has come up more than once over the course of the last 15 years, but not in a way that made it possible to share with the rest of the world, until now.

There are a number of articles on the subject, but I will leave the reading to you, to confirm what I’ve just read. Here they are, from the  original scholarly work by Carl T. Bogus, professor of law at Roger Williams University (also the author of Why Lawsuits Are Good for America: Disciplined Democracy, Big Business and the Common Law (NYU) and editor of The Second Amendment in Law and History (New Press)) to articles posted as recently as two days ago.

Henceforth, if you argue in favor of the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment, you are also arguing for the sanctity of the Southern Militias and slavery. I say to you: Get over it.

We abolished Slavery. We are past it now. This flawed amendment belongs with James Madison’s equally flawed War of 1812 – in the history books.

The Hidden History of the Second Amendment (1998) [Synopsis from the Violence Policy Center]

Additional writing of Professor Bogus

Mother Jones: Whitewashing the Second Amendment

So now, the world gets to revisit its world view again. I’m not holding my breath for any sort of understanding, based on the sincerely nasty comments generated on Twitter just to Roger Ebert’s Tweet on the subject.

God help the rest of us.

99 days and counting…

99 days and counting…

I saw a bumper sticker that made me laugh out loud until I thought about it.

At least Nixon had the decency to resign

Anyone else feel like they’re watching the last five minutes of Dr. Strangelove?

The trees were just turning in Harper’s Ferry, but the election was already underway. It was November 6, 1860 (148 years before my actual birthday coming up this year). I heard Breckenridge won. I wonder what life would have been like without Abraham Lincoln.

Would we be better off? Would there still be slavery?

At least now I know how close we are to Harper’s Ferry. I was surprised. And I noticed one other thing: While I saw a few McCain stickers on the backs of cars, the only signs I saw in town belonged to Obama.

I got my new registration card in the mail last week. The deadline for VA and DC has passed, but if you haven’t registered yet for Maryland, better get moving. You have till the 14th.

A funny note: Two rangers were talking outside of the shuttle bus as we were waiting to board. They were commiserating over some of the people who come out here this time of year. One guy bitched loud and long about how he’d planned this trip for months to be that particular weekend, and how dare the trees NOT be in full autumn color mode. The guy ranger said he’d get right on that (indicating painting the leaves, Alice in Wonderland-style).

Snort.

Some people are just stupid.

Off to the shower, services and maybe a bunch of box moving this afternoon. If you have free time and you want to help out, give me a call on my cell. I could use put-stuff-in-boxes help and hauling help both.

Enjoy your day!

Comments:

LC:
RE: Fall Foliage
We’re in the mountains of Northern Georgia and the leaves are just starting to change here too. Saw some stunning foliage on the way down as we went up in elevation; we drove from late summer to early fall and back again.

Re the guy who was upset because fall wasn’t in full flood; I actually like early fall better. Sure, the hills aren’t totally aflame, but a lot of the dark reds and vivid oranges are only there briefly when the leaves start changing.

SC:
Bearing in mind that I want him to win, these are still funny:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3154/2702462166_77a0dda189.jpg?v=0

Then again, this one’s funnier – possibly because it’s fresher:

http://bumperstickers.cafepress.com/item/that-one-sticker-bumper/315158816

But my real favorite is this:

https://www.cafepress.com/mf/25570758/bumper_bumper-sticker?productId=218556906

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