Friday, February 15, 2019

The Schizophrenic Nature of the American Experience

Contemporary life in America today can be likened to a schizophrenic experience. On a daily basis the news describes events and circumstances that seem to come from entirely divergent worlds. On the one hand there are instances of irrational violence and behavior that seems to have its origins in realm of the darker emotions devoid of any input from the rational mind. This is readily exemplified by the mass shooting of innocent victims attending a public event; the erratic policy decisions of a white-supremacist leaning president; racially-motivated police actions, or the daily occurrences of irrational, aggressive and provocative behaviors that permeate daily life in life of humans in the United States.

In parallel with this kind of news, there are those stories that suggest the existence of an alternate reality in which inspired and heartening events unfold. I am referring here to the many instances of compassionate acts of kindness and unqualified assistance that are offered to those who suffer misfortune; to the many divergent voices that incessantly advocate for peace and social justice; to those who act with passion and resolve on behalf of the natural environment and those who directly put their own lives and risk for the sake of the weak and vulnerable.

Within this category, I also include those whose professional lives are dedicated to the advancement of science with the goal of furthering our understanding of the natural world, the nature of life, the human body and the vast and wondrous cosmos in which we live. Within this category, I also include the many individuals responsible for developing technologies that directly impact the quality of life as we have come to understand it. It is interesting that there is a significant segment of the American population that regards scientists, technologists and professionals with advanced understanding, within their particular domains, with disdain and characteristically describes them as “elitists.” Ironically, these individuals who choose to scorn the intellectual achievements of others are the very benefactors of the products of their collective labor.

This discordant set of conflicting values lies at the very heart of the schizophrenia of which I speak. In my mind, this dissonance is a reflection of the dichotomy that persists within the infrastructure and fabric of the human brain – between the seat of the emotions, the source of suspicion and hatred and xenophobia, and higher-order thinking that incorporates acquired knowledge, reasoned judgment and thoughtful decision making.

Throughout human history, civilizations have become shipwrecked upon the hazardous terrain of the dark emotions. Whether or not, America can weather the storms prevalent in the 21st century remains an open question.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Black in the US

What is currently transpiring regarding the political climate in the state of Virginia regarding the racial attitudes of white men in power is, in reality, a disturbing look into the very heart of America. It would be easy and much less painful to simply point a finger at these politicians and focus all the blame and derision in that direction. In reality, these men are simply a product of their upbringing and the cumulative pressure to conform to the endemic racism that underscores so much of American life.

The first documented evidence of slavery in the US is 1619. It is now 400 years later, and we remain as a people bound and chained to conceptions and beliefs some more subtle than others that confirm and reinforce the extent and diverse set of advantages that whites have come to take for granted.

In many parts of this country, it had been a common practice that Blacks were intentionally prevented from purchasing housing and property based upon their race. As a result, much of the wealth tied to such property has remained secured preferentially in the hands of white families. This wealth passed down through the generations has had a profound impact upon the financial discrepancy between the races. Further evidence of the consequences of ingrained racial prejudice is the quality of education available to the children of lesser means. Local funding for public education is often tied directly to property through the collection of local property taxes. The inevitable outcome of this relationship is the differential quality of education available to the poor and especially people of color as opposed to their white counterparts.

The nation’s prisons are populated by people of color in disproportionate numbers. In addition, as a nation, the US has one of the highest per capita prison populations in the world. Moreover, prisons have become a booming private industry insuring that this legacy will be continuing well into the future.

In my mind, one of the more foreboding examples of the chronic and enfeebling state of racism is the preponderance of police shootings of black males especially in the nation’s urban areas. Again, it might be convenient to rest the blame solely upon the police. However, this reality underscores the often- subtle perception that Blacks lives are more expendable.

The abject failure of this country and its people to come to terms with the nature and substance of its racial attitudes once and for all and to rectify the deep inequities that exist among our people is a disturbing reality of contemporary life. The most distressing trend is the apparent reemergence of the notion of white supremacy reminiscent of the pre-Civil War era in which the nation was sharply split by vastly divergent ideological principles. This is especially evident given the rise of legislation in the American South designed to suppress the participation of the non-white population in the voting process reminiscent of the dark days of Jim Crow.

The time is long overdue for this country to come to terms with its history especially in regard to the blatantly inequitable treatment of a sizable portion of its population.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Power and its Corruption

The fact that a significant portion of the federal administration has been shut down for almost a month due to an inability of a divided government to reach a compromise agreement is, of course, extremely unsettling. It suggests that further disturbances will come and that as a society, we may be heading towards an escalating state of chaos and uncertainty.

Underlying this morass, however, there lies a reality that is as old as the existence of human societies and that is the formidable existence of the will to power. The state of order and the intricate system embodied in the rule of law is something that all of us depend upon and that we take for granted. Human civilization relies upon a covenant that specifies a system of rules designed to maintain that order. In the United States this covenant is embodied in its constitution. Within that document is the central concept of a democratic republic formed for the purpose of creating a government of, by and for the people. This was and continues to be a revolutionary concept; for, the tendency over the thousands of years of the existence of human societies has been toward the establishment of a hierarchy based upon wealth and power.

I believe it can be said without exaggeration, that even within contemporary societies and cultures world-wide, the powerful rule. Inordinate power brings with it the tendency towards corruption – the use of that power to usurp and exploit the powerless. The United States is not immune in this regard. Of course, it is the intricate system of laws and custom that helps to curb the breath and degree of that corruption.

Over the few hundred years of the political and social evolution within the United States, there has been significant progress towards realizing the dream of a government of, by and for the people. This has been a slow process during which time slavery was abolished, women were and continue to be freed from their repressed status, and the civil rights of minorities have been asserted and codified in law. The current demographics of the nation suggests a great diversity of people in terms of the color of their skin and their cultural origins. This diversity is now reflected more fully in the current occupants of public office in the House of Representatives. The ascendency of greater numbers of ordinary citizens to positions of influence poses a threat to those who actually hold the reins of power.

Over the span of the past few decades the powerful have orchestrated a concerted effort to regain their hold upon the nation. The apparent success of this goal is embodied in the makeup of the current administration. It should be of no surprise that many of those chosen for top cabinet positions within the government are white men of wealth and power who have deep corporate ties and whose primary focus is to ensure that the economic interests they represent take precedence over the people they are supposed to serve. This is particularly evident in the area of government regulations and especially the dominance of the interests of the fossil fuel industries over any concern about the natural environment as relates to public land use and the undoubted and deleterious changes in the earth’s climate.

History teaches its students that important and critical choices made by any nation or people can have lasting and dramatic consequences for the future. If the acute degree of this corruption that has engulfed the political life of this nation is met with silent acquiescence, then the crisis will only worsen - creating a situation where the general well-being of the many will be entirely subsumed by the capricious and self-serving behavior of the powerful. Such a conclusion would be reminiscent of the dark days of the past when the so-called “robber barons” were unbounded.

There is, however, an entirely different future possible if the collective voice in opposition to this folly is forceful and unequivocal. As a people, we are more than capable of demanding that our leaders act in service to all the people. We are certainly capable of choosing leaders that can exercise good judgment, have the intellectual capacity to comprehend complex issues, demonstrate personal integrity and have an appropriate respect for the truth. We should expect the very best not only from ourselves but from those who seek our vote and have chosen public service. It is in the best interest of everyone to do so.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

King County Washington Homeless Deaths Break Record

According to a recent article in the Seattle Times deaths of homeless individuals in King County increased steadily from 2012 (78) to 2018 (191). This represents an increase of 245% or an average of 35% per year. The increase in the number of deaths has climbed steadily in the last 4 years. Furthermore, the causes of these deaths in 2018 that occurred out of doors included, “cardiovascular disease, gunshot wounds and blunt-force injuries, as well as complications from alcoholism, suicide, overdoses from fentanyl or meth.” Included in these statistics is the death of a 7-month old baby apparently from sudden infant death syndrome.

This issue, of course, is not particular to King County in WA state, but represents a crisis having national implications i.e. Los Angeles reported the deaths of 831 homeless individuals during the same year – 2018. There is no region of the country that is spared the societal burden of homelessness.

The economic, social and cultural impact of homelessness is readily apparent to anyone who has seen or felt its deleterious effects. Although it would be easy to simply blame the homeless for their plight, it is a complex issue that is a result of many and diverse factors including poverty, drug addiction, substance abuse, mental health issues, physical disability and illness and a paucity of low-income housing. All of these problems are amenable to solution provided that public policies are instituted and employed to deal with them.

Given this reality, why is it that vulnerable individuals and families continue to be added to the ever-growing number of homeless in our cities and towns? Why is it that governments at all levels of society – town, city, county, state and federal – are unable to formulate working solutions to these problems and effectively eliminate the prospect of homelessness for anyone in this country? In other words, why has homelessness evolved into such a vexing problem in an exceedingly wealthy nation as our own?

Homelessness is not for the faint-hearted. It is a state of existence that can essentially rob an individual of personal dignity or hope. It is a state of existence that exposes the individual to many dangers that ultimately impact mental and physical health and adversely diminishes personal longevity. Homelessness is an entirely preventable condition that causes enormous amounts of unnecessary suffering.

In spite of this horrific reality, it seems readily apparent, that homelessness as a state of existence does not seem to capture enough public attention and cause enough concern to be regarded as an unconscionable situation requiring immediate action. It apparently is not regarded as a high-priority issue demanding immediate remediation. Instead, the vulnerable in our country are left in a perpetual state of anxiety regarding their fate. In fact, under the right set of circumstances almost anyone can fall into the spiraling abyss of homelessness. Collectively, we are certainly capable of dealing with his issue head-on and resolving it once and for all.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Obsession with a Wall

The news media seems to be currently occupied with the supposed political debate over a wall – an imposing physical barrier – designed to deter and prevent the movement of a people across the nation’s southern border. Of course, the length of this border – nearly 2000 miles – is so extensive that the barrier required would be exorbitantly expensive to adequately build and maintain to the level required to make it an effective deterrent.

In my mind, this monstrosity is seen by its proponents as a sensible solution to the persistent and dogged attempts made by many desperate individuals and families to find a better life for themselves in the United States. It should be noted that emigrating to a new place and alien culture effectively leaving behind all that is known and familiar is a decision that is not easily come by. Anyone in this country with ancestors that have made such a journey from many and divergent regions of this planet have heard the stories of the extensive sacrifices that were required to do this. In many ways, this country was built by the exhausting and unrelenting labor of immigrants.

This wall is seen by some as a legitimate response to a nagging problem essentially created by the very real economic differences between a prosperous nation and its exceedingly impoverished neighbors who are mostly driven by an unquenchable desire to escape oppression and find a more hopeful life for themselves and especially their offspring. Of course, among the vast majority of these thoroughly innocent people are those motivated by nefarious reasons. It is quite possible, that the underlying motivation to build this wall is to delay or deter an inevitable change in the nation’s demographics that will effectively result in whites no longer being the majority population.

This wall, however, is no solution; it is no substitute for a rational and reasoned national policy that would ordinarily come from free and open debate and resulting in a thorough reform of immigration law.

Ode to a National Pastime

Young men
tribute to ancient gladiators
fitted with helmets and awesome shoulder pads,
formidable apparitions
build like anvils
torsos hewn from ferocious action,
superb exemplars of manly flesh.

Young men
on the escape route
from poverty’s gnawing
relentless and aching abyss,
adored and maligned by anxious spectators
primed for the adrenalin rush
blood sport of the games.

Young men
readied for combat
relentless drills
blind obeisance to
dictates of savage competition
to make team owners remarkably rich.

Young men
destined to a future
adorned with consequences
battered brains within
assaulted skulls and
thoroughly abused bodies,
such are the hallmarks of

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thoughts Regarding the Futility of Judging Others and the Art of Forgiveness

First, I would like to make an important distinction between determining innocence and guilt that is at the very bedrock of any human society based upon a system of laws and covenants agreed upon by a nation or sovereignty and the kinds of judgments we make nearly everyday regarding others. The latter comes from an internal and individual analysis and reflects a personal choice. Furthermore, the conclusions I have reached do not question the condemnation of that kind of behavior or action whether coming from an individual or group or nation that knowingly does harm to others. My focus is directed to the tendency of all of us to make summary judgments regarding the person beyond a consideration of the behavior itself.

I have over the many years of my existence been quite facile regarding judging those who I do not know and whose behavior I have observed and those close to me – family and friends. Lately, I have expended a considerable amount of mental energy trying to determine the underlying basis of these kinds of judgments.

As with all personal reflections, the initial answer to this quest is the most superficial and the one I prefer to listen to. In fact, the basis of these judgments invariably stem from a number of internal assumptions –

· I condone or reject the behavior of others based upon what I believe I would do under same circumstances.

· This further assumes that I have a very precise and apparently infallible understanding of what is right and wrong.

This initial analysis is woefully incomplete. Judgment is, after all, a more complex process that requires, considerably more thoughtfulness and honesty to uncover the real basis of our conclusions. A personal internal analysis is likely to bring up certain elements of self that can be unexpected and sometimes even unsettling. This is not surprising; since, we are all such fragile and imperfect creatures. The choices we make in life are, in fact, due to a complex constellation of factors some of which are amenable to conscious considerations and others to less accessible subconscious factors. A primary function of the human brain is to order the environment around itself so as to make living comprehensible, manageable and constructive. The order that is imposed reflects a world view fashioned from societal norms, personal experience, the state of mental health, the nuances of family life, etc. This kind of analysis can only arise from an understanding of self that is not readily available to others.

I believe it is safe to presume that every individual is convinced of the rightfulness of his or her actions at the moment that the choice is made. In order to fully appreciate the behavior of another, I would quite literally need to be operating from within that person’s own mind in order to perceive that particular reality. This degree of empathy is really not possible due to the inherent complexity of the human brain. This to me is an essential reality of human existence.

Based upon the conclusions I have described above, I have come to see the importance of and necessity for forgiveness in regard to the actions of others in relationship to myself. Of course, the more we are hurt by the action of others, the more difficult it is to forgive. This is only natural. For this reason, forgiveness requires a discipline of mind that can carry the self beyond the protective measures we ordinarily use to shield ourselves from the ambivalent and uncertain nature of living.

Much like the art of surrender, there is an art to forgiveness. Art is by its nature an expression of the meaning of existence that originates from the essential reality that is embraced by the artist. It is from this same wellspring of existence that deep-seated feelings of love, peace, spirituality, surrender and forgiveness flow.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Regarding Presidential Incompetence

As has become painfully obvious, choosing a candidate for high political office based solely upon ideological principles and not on the candidate's competence to hold such office, can have disastrous consequences.

Donald Trump seems incapable of intellectually grasping the complex nature of decision making that is an absolute requirement when attempting to resolve fundamental domestic and international issues that invariably face the President of the United States. This basic level of incompetence is further exacerbated by an apparent inability to distinguish the true nature of reality from imagined truth that conveniently conforms to ideologically-based constructs. This interpretation may help explain Trump’s seemingly inexhaustible distortion of truth and outrageous habit of spewing blatant falsehoods.

This deeply troubled individual has managed to alienate reasoned and principled individuals of prominence and position within his own administration. Over time, he has surrounded himself with sycophants that demonstrate a degree of loyalty that stretches the imagination. With an amazing lack of respect for and appreciation of the gravity of the office that he holds, Trump has quite single-handedly thrust the workings of government into a state of unrelenting chaos and the instability that naturally follows from such behavior.

This current state of government has alienated and angered our most important international allies and eroded domestic confidence in the national economy that is such an essential aspect of a thriving nation within the modern world.

This state of affairs is not representative of the worldview of a significant majority of American citizens but reflects the inner reality of a troubled mind. In essence, Trump is not to blame for he is a disturbed personality. The real issue that we need to confront is the fact that so many who have chosen him continue to remain loyal to him, and for that reason continue to endorse a worldview that remains out of the purview of reasoned and intelligent judgment.

This is a dangerous path that we are on.