Justice (from movies)

I’ve been binge watching “courtroom dramas” recently and just finished A Cry in the Dark. It’s the one about the real trial of Lindy Chamberlain who was accused of murdering her baby, when it had been carried off by a dingo (wild dog). I can’t help but be reminded of the “right to life-ers” who want to charge women who’ve had miscarriages with murder. Way to make a traumatic event worse! This was a case of “trial by media”, and I avoided paying any attention to the trial and the movie until now. As presented in the movie, there was a lot of forensic evidence that just went over the heads of the jury, so they decided she was guilty based on her unemotional behavior.

I also remember my friend Paul’s trial, where he was sent to prison because he’d accompanied a friend (some friend!) to an apartment where the man had beat his wife in one room, so badly that she later died, while Paul changed and fed the baby in another room. Later, the man turned states witness, but the furor was so great (not only did the mother die, but so did the baby because no one came back to help either of them), that the prosecution said “somebody must pay!”. Since they couldn’t try the murderer, or the police, who’d apparently been watching the apartment but left it alone hoping the father would come back to help the baby, all the weight of the law- and public opinion- fell on Paul. I’ll give you (and so did he) that condoning that a man could be allowed to beat a woman that badly because he thought she was unfaithful is not acceptable. But I find it worse that the public has such a taste for vengeance.

In so many of these trials I’ve watched, jurors, the public, and others who have nothing to do with the case, jump in and demand that “payment” must be made for the victims. What payment could give a victim back his or her life? How will making someone else suffer do anything to improve the situation? Yet so many people seem to feel that punishment is a good thing. No one has ever been able to explain this to me adequately. It has been proven that the severity of punishment doesn’t reduce acts (although the certainty of it does). No, it seems to be nothing more than feeding the appetite of the public for revenge.

There seems to be a feeling that if someone suffers, someone else should be made to suffer, and that this somehow makes things better. How? I’m good with consequences- if you do this, then you must try to make the situation better, even if this is a hardship for you. But just passing out punishment? No. I can understand someone who’s hurt wanting the person who’s done it to understand how much it hurts- perhaps if they realize the extent of the pain they’ve caused, they’d avoid doing it again. But this “punishment” goes beyond that. I don’t understand why they want it, I see no benefit to anyone. I understand that some victims see punishment as recognition of the suffering they’ve endured, and think that this is giving them “justice”.

I see this as wounding our society, and worse, unnecessarily. We are taking on the role of the party intentionally hurting individuals, and that cannot be a good thing for our group soul. The self righteousness of the “court system” may bother me because that is often one of my failings. I’m all for using the system to find out who is going to have to offer recompense, because often it is a burden to someone who didn’t intend, but did cause harm- for example a drunk driver does not INTEND to kill or maim others on the road. Still, in as much as possible, he must take responsibility for the results of his choices.  In the Chamberlain case, many people didn’t want dingos as a group to suffer for the (alleged) action of one, much as we shouldn’t judge all people in leather jackets or hoodies by the behavior of one jerk who happens to have been wearing that style when he did something awful. Can we not come to a place where we don’t judge a whole group by one of the members, and where we don’t see hurting others as a way of helping a victim?

I cannot help but feel that we do our society more damage by supporting vengeance than we help. I’m not sure how we can fix it. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was meant to counter acceleration of return, to restrain, not sanction vengeance. We should find better ways to respond. Frankly, I would like to think that the juries I’ve been watching in these movies are designed for dramatic effect, but I fear they are typical. They see someone hurting, and want to hurt someone back, even if it’s not the specific criminal. In In Cold Blood, the courts played with the sentencing to make it possible to keep the death penalty an option. In The Thin Blue Line, the cops went after an innocent adult because the criminal was a minor, and not eligible for the death penalty. Our thirst for vengeance warps our desire for justice. In 12 Angry Men, they showed how each of the jurors brought his own prejudices, as well as insights to the jury room. This is, I expect, what drama is for- from the ancient Greek religio-theatre to modern movies. How much insight into ourselves do we need before we desire to change?
How do we reduce the thirst for retribution  in ourselves and our society? Perhaps, like sexism, the first step is to recognize it.
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“I don’t want to be any trouble!”

One of the unspoken “side-effects” of illness, whether physical or mental, is the added stress of worrying whether one is causing problems for friends and family.

I think the short answer is “yes”, and the more accurate answer is “yes, but we think it’s worth it.” We all have perfectly healthy friends who need help occasionally, who need us to forgive when mutual plans are messed up because of something they overlooked or didn’t anticipate. In theory the sick person could always anticipate something going wrong, in which case we’d probably be annoyed with them for depriving us unnecessarily of their company, and knowing that their behavior is making their own lives harder in order to reduce inconveniencing us.

On the one hand, while we admire people trying to take care of their own problems, it can get frustrating to try to have to deal with a problem that has gotten worse when help could have kept it a minor inconvenience. At the same time, it’s too easy to criticize those who ask for help frequently. It seems a no-win situation. But as parents know that while it’s easier to do almost anything for a child, that only by letting them do it themselves (even though it takes longer, and possibly more effort for the parents), this is the way kids learn and get better, and feel good about themselves. We have to let our friends choose their own comfort levels about when to ask for help. But we also need to reassure them that needing help isn’t going to drive us away, that in balance, the extra effort having them in our lives is worth it for us.

Since they have to spend so much time and effort focusing on dealing with their problems, those problems may be the only aspect of the relationship they notice. We need to help them see past that filter, and not feel that we are keeping them around out of sympathy.

This may be why many of us are happy to push for awareness and general societal supports, from ramps to interpreters for the deaf. If we recognize the rights of all to participate in society in a useful, meaningful, and satisfying way, our whole society is better off. We benefit from the things that they can do. On a personal level, friends each have some special something that enhances our lives that makes it worth while for us to make sure that the restaurants we go to have a reasonable selection of gluten-free or vegan offerings, or even that activities are enjoyable for everyone participating. This is normal social interaction for everyone (I’m not counting the occasional narcissist who assumes that just because sports is the center of his life that everyone must enjoy it). Yes, sometimes we may want to eat Mexican, even though our best friend thinks cilantro tastes like soap, or wish we could go see fireworks, although our friend has PTSD that is triggered by loud noises. It’s a matter of scale.

There are some people who seem to think that their special circumstances entitle them to have the world, including you, rearrange itself for them. Hey, a jerk is a jerk whether they have a handicap or not, I’m not talking about that. There are mothers who still do their adult son’s laundry, but most of us achieve a better balance. I haven’t yet found a perfect answer to how to decide when to ask for or to offer help when it might make a task go faster, but make the person feel more helpless, and I think it probably each situation needs to be looked at individually.

I am getting older, and this means I sometimes have to have jars opened for me, and get help carrying heavy loads. I don’t drive after dark anymore. I don’t hear as well, nor is my memory as annoyingly good (there may be an advantage to that). All of us, unless we die young, are going to need help. And, let’s face it, not only is an old person not as cute as a baby, we’re a lot heavier, so it’s not as easy to pick up an elder as it is to change a baby’s diaper.  We’d better make ourselves pleasant enough to make it worth it to those we need help from.

There’s no answer to this one, we can only think about it, and try to be kinder to each other.

In praise of weeds

A weed is an unwanted plant, a plant growing in competition with cultivated plants.

A weed is generally hated, considered superfluous, if not harmful. The harm, of course, comes from the assumption that the herb is taking from the plants one wants there simply by existing, that it is valueless or even troublesome, if only because getting rid of them makes work and is not consistent with our imagined garden or lawn. In fact, many herbs improve conditions for other plants around them. We just don’t check.

Emerson said: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

Clearly there is nothing different about a weed except our perception of the plants. The problem is not in the weeds, but our minds.  Perhaps if we call it wort or weod as in the Old English source of the word, we wouldn’t think of them so harshly.

When I began studying and learning to identify medicinal and edible wild plants, fields and forests and roadsides became a vast resource to me. It’s our minds that need changing, not our the content of our yards. (unless you have eliminated the clover and dandelions and burdock and thistles and nettles from your yard- in that case, your yard should probably change.)  While not what we were planning or hoping to grow, weeds are often hardier and more useful than what we try to grow.

Herbalists say that if a new plant appears in your yard, it’s because you need it, and I’ve found this to be true. I don’t recognize a new plant, I look it up, and usually discover it helps a problem that someone in the house has. Even “normal” people talk to plants, because they grow better when we do.  Herbalists thank our herbs when we harvest them. Animists, like me, will ask a plant if it wants to help the patient, and sometimes one plant does and another plant doesn’t, even if they are the same species, and growing next to each other. Plants have consciousness and want to help us. I sometimes worry that they are like the Shmoos in Li’l Abner, too good to be true. We just need to know them better.

Eyeore said: “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

We need to learn more! Although they often do seem to want to help us, I also wonder if perhaps even herbalists and botanists may still be ignorant about plants place in the world. (Just look at all the amazing things we are discovering about mushrooms/mycelium!) There may be so much more than we know about them which explains why they are willing to sacrifice their bodies for our benefit. They may be more evolved than us, who knows? When we talk about “Saving the world” we really mean “saving humans”. Perhaps when mushrooms save the world, it won’t include us anymore. If we can’t understand that we are not the world, not even the most important thing in the world, we may have failed as a species.

An analogy from weeds:

At this point in political history, I can’t help thinking about how so many people seem to see other people as weeds. They want to get rid of them because they don’t recognize their value; they are simply unaware of anything except that those other people are not what they planned and expected to see in their world, so they want to “weed them out”. Kill them, or at least remove them from where they live. They don’t realize that if they did this, it would destroy the complex system that makes everything work. They seem to think that if they get rid of or hide things that bother them, they will feel better. They don’t see how impossible it is that if they get rid of the “weed-people”,  all the thing those people they despise do will be done automatically, (if we get rid of our “untouchable” caste, and suddenly we won’t need to defecate any more). It’s far too easy to simply decide to eradicate something that you don’t like, and assume that your life will be better, rather than trying to figure out why it’s there, and what it is that bothers you about it. The glyphosate crisis has illustrated the foolishness of that theory pretty well.

Plants have always been allies of humans, and it’s only when we decide that we prefer one plant over another, defining them as weeds, that we create an unbalanced ecosystem that will not support us. Go out to your doorstep and see what weeds you have there- bring them in and do an internet search and find out what the world is telling you that you need. You may be surprised to discover that weeds love you, and are trying to help.

Paul Harvey said “When there’s too much of it a flower becomes a weed.”

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Money and government

I was thinking about how people make “big” money these days. They make products- by finding places so economically strapped that they can pay slave wages. They find places where they can get resources for free, or nearly so, generally by taking them away from the people who live on the land with the permission of the government.They dump waste products without taking responsibility for cleaning up what hurts others, simply so they don’t have to pay for it.
Is there a way for people to make money on a large scale without exploiting people? Without making their profit by making sure that other people are working for almost no return under horrible conditions, by raping the land and fouling it?
If it is not the role of world governments to prevent these abuses, by making and enforcing laws stopping the people who are creating this (not just the ones who are caught up in the process), then what is a government for?

Things a man can do, and things a man can’t do

This morning I lost a contact. This was exacerbated by my having lost a contact a month ago, so I have been dealing with seeing clearly from only one eye while waiting for an appointment with the ophthalmologist (coming up only in another few weeks- he’s apparently a popular guy). Even then he has to send the order off to some lab, so it will be another week or ten days until I can see with both eyes again.

This brought into focus (as it were) many realizations about how dependent upon my contacts I am. Without them I cannot drive. I cannot work the computer (because while I can make some images bigger, and touch type a bit, I cannot see as far as my hands to find the right keys on the keyboard. No computer means no email, no facebook messages, no working on my website or the CTCW website, no painting, except for miniatures (with those and fine illumination I take out my contacts and have my nose almost on the surface as I work), no watching movies, or, in fact, seeing anything across the room, or anything anyone pointed out to me. I couldn’t tell if someone was pointing at something, or get hints about how they felt from facial expression. I wouldn’t see it.

I felt rather helpless. I called in Willow, whose talents luckily include finding and she did, in fact, find it, which is the only reason I’m able to write this. But the two hours it took her (I had dropped it in my bedroom where the path between bed and dresser is narrow, further blocked by stacks of books and probably related to that, not vacuumed in longer than I like to think, I was able to ruminate on how my poor eyesight would effect the whole family. I’d been getting dressed to go to the dump. Until then, Willow would have to do dump runs. She’d have to do all errands, drive me and Kat to any appointments. I wouldn’t be able to go to the library or shopping. I would probably be able to continue cooking, washing dishes and do other domestic chores, but I was going to have to get help to contact the people who’s paintings I was working on to let them know about the issue.

I started thinking about people in history before there were glasses. (Sadly, my prescription is such that if I wear on the nose type glasses I get dizzy and walk into things, so I don’t bother with a back-up pair.) Grandma could still sew if one of the kids was available to thread her needle. Old people ask those with good eyes to tell them what’s going on. Some jobs were not possible. Helpers help, but it comes down to what you can do and what you can’t.  Which takes us to the Captain Jack Sparrow’s quote I used as a title: “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man, or you can’t. … And me, for example, I can let you drown. But I can’t bring this ship into Tortuga all by me oneses, savy?”

He compared two problems, what Will chose to believe, and what he physically could do. It’s easier to look at our physical limitations, although those still are a problem. I think most of my old friends share my occasional confusion when we try something we’ve “done all our lives” and it doesn’t work any more. This may or may not be because we define what we can do by our personal best, as though that should always be possible (and improvable). Intellectually we may accept that our reflexes are a bit slower, we tire more quickly, we forget things we “should” remember, and it hurts when we try to lift something we think is not that heavy. We can blame it on others, “my doctor doesn’t want me to…” “I haven’t recovered since the last time I was sick…” but it’s easier to accept our gains than our losses. So we become experts at working around our disabilities. Carry smaller but more loads, think around the need for strength or speed, medicate the pain or work through it (and maybe be cranky), and as a last resort ask for help.

Thank goodness we have modern technologies to help us! No one thinks twice about glasses and hearing aides these days. We are getting more accepting of prosthetic devices and wheelchairs, but we still have problems when someone trying to do something for themselves requires us to be inconvenienced. We recognize that a wheelchair doesn’t help with stairs, but don’t want to pay to have buildings retrofitted with ramps. People with prosthesis remind us of our own fears of dealing with serious injuries. We appear not to be able to deal with “otherness”, and would rather the people who are trying so hard to just have a life just stayed out of sight so we didn’t have to think about it. Many of us even get cross when we have a hard time understanding the accent of someone who speaks English as well as their own, and possibly several other languages. Why should their “disability” slow our lives down? We need to learn to accept disabilities in ourselves and in others as a part of life.

We have to accept what we can do and what we can’t do. When we figure out what we can do, we can often find work-arounds to do more, to get what we need and what we want done. If we accept that some of us need glasses, and when we wear them, we are good drivers, how far can that be from some of us need medications to keep our blood sugar or moods regulated, and can still do what those around us do. We shouldn’t have to pretend that we don’t need the help we need to be accepted.

Learning to believe something that changes your world view- that may be harder, and if I come up with a good answer for that, I’ll share it. After all, Will did eventually believe that his father was both a pirate and a good man. Some day perhaps we will learn to accept that this is true of people with other beliefs.

 

 

False but comforting lies

I have had the Downeaster Alexa going through my head this past week, and it rarely fails to make me cry. I can’t help sympathizing with a man who only wants to support his family, even if it is very hard work. Fishermen, Miners, and others, it’s not that they are asking for a free ride, they simply want to be able to keep doing what has worked in the past for their fathers.

The problem is that they are forgetting that things have changed. They are forgetting that although once vast, the resources they are using are not infinite. The shoals and banks have been fished out, the coal and oil is used up, the water from underground aquafers is nearly gone, and that it cannot be replenished in an foreseeable future. This throws farmers who have planted crops in places where the rain will not support them in the same group. Likewise people who have built shining cities on fault lines and floodplains will lose them- or rather the people who live in them when the water rises and the land shakes will suffer. Those who started it are mostly safely in their graves. Perhaps their spirits will grieve for their descendants who they thought they had left a lasting legacy. Their fault was accepting a false, if comforting, lie, and that is shared with those who have to deal with the results.

Like abused women who stay with their abusers who promise to never hurt them again, our miners and fishermen believe the lie because they cannot see any another way to survive. The answer is not to tell them to fix it themselves, but to help them find another way. It is highly unlikely that we can get those who profited from the original decision to take on the cost of cleaning up after it, but that doesn’t change the problem that it still needs to be fixed. People need to be moved away from at-risk areas, and people whose jobs are dependent on depleted resources need to be given other options to support themselves. To not do so is to perpetuate the lie, and that will only make things worse. We also should protect the last of the resources so that, even if they can not recover enough or soon enough for us to start exploiting them again, that they have a chance to recover.

We need to scale back. Use less, find a sustainable level of living on this planet. I read a story about people from the First Nations who traded furs for guns and ammunition. They were able to harvest many more pelts more easily, although their old people warned them not to desert the old ways where they recognized the balance that needed to be preserved, but the addition of firearms and metal cooking pots and cloth and all the other things they could get by trading made it seem foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity. A few generations later the fur trade collapsed, and they no longer knew how to live the old ways. We can learn how to live with less than instant gratification. Remember, children are not hurt by having limits imposed, they feel better when they know what is reasonable. It’s time for us to grow up, and stop acting like spoiled children.

I will not deny that the accumulation of great wealth allows those who have it to patronize artists, and Tiffany and Faberge would not have been able to make the beautiful things they made without patrons paying for them spending years on a project. But beauty can be created without using slave labor to dig diamonds up to create something to sparkle. Pyzanki eggs are as delicate and colorful, if not as valuable and sparkly. These days many women donate their wedding gowns so that others can afford to have one day dressing like a princess. Centuries ago some towns kept a wedding crown to loan to brides, thus sharing the cost, and those who couldn’t borrow those made exquisite straw crowns, now preserved in museums for their beauty. The craft “quilling” was was created by nuns to get the effect of gold filigree with paper strips. Art will happen even without patrons. The aristocratic cultures that exploited the people and resources to create a beautiful life for themselves are like soap bubbles- beautiful, delicate, and colorful, but they cannot last. Sadly, neither can any system built on using resources in a non-sustainable way. To accept the lie is to support and participate in it. I only hope that we can turn to sustainability before we push more resources past the point where they can recover.

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Learning from History

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In an attempt to try and figure out what’s going on now, I have been reading up on the history of Germany in the 1930s. Ever since I first heard about WWII, I’ve been trying to figure out how it could happen. It seems to me that while there are some people in the world who like throwing their weight around, the vast majority are good people who want to help each other. They must have been unhappy with what was happening around them. Could they possibly believe that Jews, Romany, Blacks, the deaf, and labor unionists were a threat to them? Were they able to convince themselves that mass murder wasn’t happening? Were they afraid that they and their families would be attacked if they spoke out? These are the questions that I asked, and others with whom I’ve spoken asked, and decades later, we are still asking. Now we can add the question: Can it happen here? and that one we can answer. Yes it could. Which raises the question: How can we stop it? In turn that begs the question: HOW does it work?  Which is sort of where we started. Because if we don’t know how it works, how can we stop it?

So I look back to history. Other than the too-easy answer of “Anti-semitism”, which boils down to “Fear of other and the unknown”, I am willing to admit that antisemitism is real, as is racism. But in a country based on freedom of religion, where Pennsylvania and Rhode Island were created so that a different kind of Christianity would be legal to practice, people who live here shouldn’t be surprised that while you’re allowed to not like other groups, but you aren’t allowed to attack them because of it. I think it’s because the people who are in charge of enforcing the laws, the police and judges, have been allowed to indulge their biases and enforce the laws according to the local cultural attitudes- against blacks, against Native Americans, against Hispanics, and now, against immigrants. If you have been brought up to believe that blacks or Hispanics or immigrants are naturally criminal, those are the people who are arrested and prosecuted, whereas the good WASP boys have “made a mistake” or are “sowing wild oats” and are told to apologize, and behave better in the future. Sadly, because this is the way it’s “always been”, they see no reason not to continue to do it that way. Just as doctors were offended when Semmelweis told them to wash their freaking hands because their germs were making patients sick, it took nearly a half century before doctors actually started accepting germ theory and practicing antiseptic procedure. We can’t expect people who have come to explain all the problems that seem outside their control on some fantasy (whether racism, manifest destiny, or the Second Coming) to suddenly stop change their world view because the laws change. If they don’t like the laws, they’ll figure out a way to fiddle them, and in the USA, to change them.

litany-against-fearMy generation has embraced a few concepts, like the Bene Gesserit Litany against Fear, and Yoda’s advice to Luke.yoda-fear-leads-to-anger  I think the only way to reduce the fear that causes the hatred is to stop giving them something to resist. I’m not saying to allow them to harm other people, but I am saying that we should concentrate our energies on soothing their fears, because when they aren’t afraid, they won’t need someone to blame things on. When the fear doesn’t fuel a need to defend their position, they can relax, and start thinking for themselves, and maybe realize that their experience may support a less fearful position. I’ve recently read about something called the Backfire Effect “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.” This is how exercise makes muscles stronger, and it’s clear that it works with how people’s worldview is strengthened as well. It resembles what was called the Semmelweis reflex  (tendency to reject new evidence or knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms), but we always need to discover things for ourselves.

On the Muslim Ban, Trump says “Until our countries representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice.” This is Trump’s “Big Lie“, the fear he needs to reinforce in order to be allowed to take more power. In 1933 there was a fire in the German Reichstagsbrand (parliament building), a month after Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany, and the next day they made a decree suspending most civil liberties including habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, free association and public assembly. I think we need to keep an eye out for this sort of thing. We must be VERY careful to protect the freedom of the press, and the freedom of expression, as well as the freedom of non-mainstream religions to practice their faiths. They are not the problem, trying to take them away is.

So many times laws are claimed to be to “protect the children” (like what if they saw a trans-person in a public restroom, they could be attacked). We mustn’t let an incident be used to justify stopping what we stand for to be set aside for the illusion of safety. The whole “Homeland Security administration” has created a great deal of “security theater”, but like the Muslim Ban, while it reduces the rights of the many, it has no real impact on the few who might really threaten our security. We have a choice. We can choose to accept that there are a few whackos out there, who are, by their very nature, hard to defend against, or we can choose to treat everyone as a potential threat, turning people against their friends and neighbors. People who are afraid of each other are not secure at all.
We must not let the “protect the children” arguement gain power. Hitler gained a great deal of power by creating the Hitler Youth- an organization like Boy Scouts, where the kids were given handsome uniforms and outings, and trained to be “patriotic”. Back when Justinian was trying to convert the Eastern Roman Empire to Christianity, he started by making laws that banned pagans from teaching (to protect the children), and a few years later from being doctors, then from holding public office, then from being able to pass their property to their children. Full circle from protecting the children to motivating the children to pressure their parents to conform. But it starts with education. For years the backbone of the homeschooling movement has been people who didn’t want to have their children “harmed” by being taught science (evolution) by the public schools. The public school system is what makes a democracy (or even a Republic, like ours) work. If people can’t read and have access to information, how can they decide what to support with their votes?

Another reason people might “go along” with horrible activity around them is the Stockholm Syndrome, which we also see in the behavior of victims of abuse. If your survival depends on it, you make excuses for and even feel affection for your abuser. We have to worry about that one a lot. One thing I’m still trying to figure out is that Hitler seems to have gotten support by giving workers better conditions, shorter work days, longer vacations, more pay, but at the same time, he abolished unions. The Germans who had just undergone a punative depression and inflation between the wars, thought that they were getting better off, and therefore didn’t realize they were not getting rights, but getting handouts that could easily be withdrawn.

Sadly, I still don’t understand how it could happen- although stories of the horrors of living during the depression in Germany help explain how people who finally were able to buy necessities were willing to support the regime that seemed to help with that- until it was too late and they had lost their ability to object. quote-first-they-came-for-the-communists-but-i-was-not-a-communist-so-i-did-not-speak-out-then-they-came-martin-niemoller-285246We must not let our fears lead us to accept scapegoats, and accept restriction of our freedoms. The sooner we draw our line, and say ‘beyond this, I will not be moved’, the better off we will be. We do have a choice, we can choose not to give in to fear mongering, and stand with our neighbors, even if they are different than we are.

I will almost certainly keep reading about the thirties (and other historical periods) to try to find clues on how to keep from being “…doomed to repeat it” (the darker parts of history). democracy-politics-system-concept-flat-d-web-isometric-infographic-politic-tribune-over-abyss-248942326And  I will cling to hope, drawing strength from every judge who defends the constitution, and every person who persists when they know that they are right.

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Folding up the chairs

Yesterday I went to a rally to save the Affordable Care Act. (The Republicans want to repeal it with putting in anything to replace it first. This would seem impossible, except for Trump calling back Ambassadors without replacing them.)

I had never attended a rally before and didn’t know what to expect. The rally was held in the gym of the Manchester YWCA. People were throwing weighted ropes over the basketball hoop to hang up a sheet while proxies for the NH senators and representatives (all Democrats) each read statements of encouragement from them, but gave up eventually and the images were shown on the bricks of the gym wall. People clapped for each speaker before and after they spoke. Then a live stream of Senator Sanders at another rally in Michigan. People cheered. A few other people made brief statements including an acupuncturist and someone supporting the use of medical marijuana, and a doctor who talked about the difficulties of working within the current complex system. Then they broke up into smaller groups to discuss more specific topics.

I’m not sure I didn’t stay in the gym because there were comfortable chairs available there (I wonder what the breakout groups in the board rooms sat on?), because when I’d arrived there was standing room only. I’d opted to sit on the floor, and both my legs went to sleep, and people helped haul me up afterwards. I heard later that there had been 200 people (and that was good) and that they’d pulled it together in 6 days. I have no numbers to which to compare either of those figures. I really don’t have much experience with rallies.

I was surprised that people cheered during the Sanders live-streaming. Apparently people don’t applaud to show appreciation for the speaker, but to show solidarity with the rest of the attendees. “THIS is the point I’m supporting.” “THIS statement is the reason I am here.” Perhaps, like myself, they were going to see what it’s about, and how it works. I understand that the Women’s March the day after the inauguration started as a facebook event that jumped to 10 thousand overnight. I don’t know.

What I did notice though, was that during the breakout session, people (including me) seemed to want to express their opinions, their observations, their take on the situation. Perhaps that’s why we go. Because as soon as the session was over. “We have to be out of the building by four.” the crown disappeared. No one left but a few clusters in the lobby talking, and a half dozen people packing up.

The speaker had said “we need to put away these chairs”, but almost no one stayed to do it. How hard is it to fold up chairs and put them in their rack? OK, I’ll give you it’s a bit harder to track down someone who knows where they go, but come on! I also noticed that the ones who stayed all looked, like me, in their sixties or older. My background is the SCA. “We always leave a site cleaner than we found it.” Were these folks so over-booked that they couldn’t stay 15 minutes? Did it just not occur to them that someone else would have to clean up after them?

We need to change the way we approach problems. We need to take more personal responsibility for our government, to pay attention to how those who represent us vote, for not assuming that someone else will take care of everything. I had rather thought that that was the point of political activism. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s simply getting things your own way, not trying to make things fair for everyone.

When you got up from the table last, did you clear your own place? If you ate at a restaurant, you did not. Instead, you paid for someone else to do it. In a fast food place, if you leave your mess behind, the employees still clean up after you, but that’s not part of their job. The cheaper prices are dependent on people handling some of the work themselves. When the attendees didn’t stay to clear the auditorium, clearly they assumed that they didn’t need to do it. They were thinking of a different model than I was, because I’m used to the SCA. We are a diverse culture. But I think we need to start thinking more about cleaning up after ourselves, because that MAY be where the problems come from in the first place.

 

“It isn’t FAIR!”

We hear that (and if we’re honest we admit that we think that) all the time. But when we think it, we dismiss the thought because it generally has little utility to what ever situation we find ourselves in.

Fair isn’t something that exists in the natural world. It’s a construct we make for ourselves. We use it to teach children how to get along with others. Fair is a way of distributing things- whether cookies or work, in a way that allows us to get on with our lives.

We start with equal as “fair” because kids can easily see that “her piece is bigger than mine!”. Next, we can move onto unequal fairness by giving equal burdens to both adults and children. They do recognize that adults can carry more than they can.

Parents (and others who care for children) have observed that “it isn’t fair!” means “someone else has something I want”. It doesn’t apply to something that only you have or something you don’t want. Wanting something isn’t the same as needing. It’s like admiring, and like imagining joy or comfort that something can bring, whether it’s a toy, or insurance coverage.

It’s often pointed out that there are enough resources for everyone in the world to live comfortably, but that they are not distributed that way. Even if the Rich gave up some of their yachts, third homes, and unused investment income and everyone in the world had enough food to be healthy, safe and clean housing, and medical care, someone would always have less that someone else, and be able to imagine that they’d feel better if they had as much as the other.

If all the worlds resources were divided equally, it wouldn’t take long before they were unequally distributed again because some people wouldn’t want them, some would, and some would be willing to take more, and feel justified that they could use it better. We don’t want equal, we want what we want. I have no use for sports equipment, and many people have no use for the books I have gathered. We don’t want the same things, and that’s fine.

But we can aspire to “fairness”. We can try not to give too great a burden to the weak, and to give back when someone has helped us. We can attempt to maximize the comfort and joy that the things we give can do. After considering fairness for sixty-some years. That’s the best I have been able to come up with.

Faerie Ticks

Re-reading the Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, I started thinking about the description of  the land of Faerie as being like a tick. In multiple worlds, some produce nothing, so when they find a thin place between their world and others, they go through and steal what they can- like a tick sucking blood from animals it lands on.

We don’t blame the ticks for being what they are, but we take steps to not let them damage us, either through sucking away our blood (resources), or spreading disease. On the other hand, if someone chose to be a parasite, that changes the situation. That’s why we judge vampires to be evil. They decided to get the eternal youth and beauty and strength or speed or whatever the local variant of benefits is, by accepting that they live off the blood (resources, life) of others.

Sadly, it’s easy to see the colonizing period of Northern Europe as being parasitic. If someone goes into your house and takes what they want of your stuff then leaves you something you didn’t want “in exchange”, that’s not trade, that’s theft. The Civilization (and Christianity) the white world gave in exchange for the rest of the worlds resources was the most spectacular con in history (and maybe archeology). Even more tragically, it is ongoing.

I don’t want to be one of the People who offer glamor rather than value in exchange for the good stuff others produce. Changing a culture, especially when it’s both long established, accepted, and weighted in favor of those who you want to change is a monumental task, and I have no idea how to even start. Change myself first I suppose. I’m sure there are other ways of seeing fairies, but this is going to haunt me for a while.