Losing my Mind in the Political Divide

Across Divide

Lately it feels like my head is going to explode, trying to make sense of this sideshow that is our current presidential race. The egomaniac has TERRIFIC plans for everything but has no details. Trust him. The socialist will provide all of our constitutional rights for free by just taking money from the rich.  Don’t worry that those same rich control this oligarchy. The radical right promises to whisk us back to the good times, when goodness was measured only through the eyes of God-fearing white men. And the most experienced candidate -a woman – smiles on top and paddles like hell underneath so the truth of her past doesn’t reach the surface. Ultimately it appears yet another voting choice will be driven by the lesser of evils, because decent, qualified people don’t want the job.  Ugh. It must be quite the spectacle for the rest of the world.

While some of us yearn for the miraculous appearance of a rational, experienced moderate to vote for – and we honestly don’t care from which party – the rest have crowded onto their chosen side of the great chasm that currently defines US politics and are throwing rocks and spears across the void.  It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen such a divisive America, where strong opinions have become the norm, with more and more people moving further to the extremes of the parties. I think this is why I can’t make sense of it all.  There is no real discussion of ideas. There are just false promises, accusations, and lots of mudslinging.  The land of the moderate, where compromise exists and people actually discuss, has become a barren, lonely place.  Why is this?

My guess is it began with the well-meaning political correctness movement in the late ’80s when we started losing the ability to have meaningful, civil discourse with each other.  You know, that ancient art of listening and sharing of ideas.  Instead, now afraid we might offend someone with our honest thoughts, we cower in the incestual safety of our like-minded friends and media sources, reinforcing our opinions with one-sided, circular arguments.  The closest we get to discourse, if you can call it that, is the online sharing of unverified, typically false, social medium memes which bolster the opinions of our side. That way we don’t have to entertain an opposing concept. No wonder the void is so large.

We can only hope that someday we start reclaiming that lost art of verbal intercourse. When college students can once again discuss controversial ideas late at night without fear of suspension by the school’s Orwellian 1984-esque PC squad. When tactfully stated, well-meaning concepts are graciously accepted for consideration. When an open mind holds more political weight than a thin skin. Then, maybe, we can begin to find that middle ground again, when compromise is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

-Russ

(Image courtesy of VisitDerry.com)

 

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My New Year’s Revolutions

2016

A disclaimer is needed right up front.  I stole this title and subject.  I stole it from Parker J. Palmer, a columnist for On Being, whose similarly-titled piece I just read, and its sincerity and truth struck me.  (Thank you, Mr. Palmer.)  However, my revolutions are different from his…

The world seems a real mess right now.  Ask anyone.  A handful of religious nut-jobs are holding the rest of us hostages of fear; millions of refugees are trying to find ways to simply survive; mass shootings have become almost commonplace; our own American democracy has spiraled into a corrupt oligarchy; and Mother Earth is struggling to support the ever-increasing mass of humanity upon it.  Personal weight-loss resolutions that probably won’t survive until February seem pretty silly in light of it all.  What’s really needed from all of us is a commitment to something a bit more meaty – call them revolutions – as part of an engaged, caring world community which will be the only hope of turning this mess around.  We need to overwhelm the bad with good.  Thus, these are the revolutions I personally resolve to put more energy into for 2016:

  1.  Not being part of the apathetic, silent majority.  It’s not someone else’s job to fix this.  If we all don’t help, things are not going to improve.  Public dissatisfaction with our government is at an all-time high, and yet  U.S. voter turnout is one of the lowest in the free world. People complain about litter, but walk right past trash on the sidewalk – not their job.  Bystanders simply watch as someone else gets bullied or abused.  A smart man once said if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.  Posts of complaint on social media to like-minded friends are fine for helping to raise awareness, but it’s not enough.  Therefore, I vow to cast my vote in every election.  I will write my representative rather than just complain without action. I will pick up more trash when I see it, and I will help others when I can and am able.
  2. Fighting political corruption.  Our once-great form of democracy is completely broken and has turned into a festering mass of corrupt politicians. The majority of Congress now spends most of their time pandering to wealthy contributors who donate millions of dollars for political decisions that make them wealthier.  Our Representatives no longer work for us and are not going to fix this because they have sold their souls and benefit from it.  Thus, I vow to work more with organizations such as Represent.Us to fight this cancer and to support and vote for candidates who promise to help.
  3. Reviving free speech.  Political correctness has killed the First Amendment.  For all the well-meaning intentions which drove the beginnings of PC back in the ’80s, the resulting overused cry of being offended and, worse yet, the fear of offending has basically shut down any real civil discourse between people on anything substantive, thereby strangling free speech.  This has become a huge problem on our college campuses, the very institutions where free speech should be taught and nurtured to maintain a healthy society where understanding others’ views drives togetherness and compromise.  Instead, we now have universities where students are suspended for saying what is on their minds, and a severely divided society where citizens only talk to those who share their own, evermore polarized perspectives.  Therefore, I vow to speak up (as tactfully as possible, mind you) to promote the blending of ideas and help get us back to a point where free speech is once again revered instead of punished.
  4. Fighting lies and fear.  Between our free enterprise system spewing deceptive advertising, erroneous social media posts gone viral,  and our fear-mongering media filling us with dread to boost ratings, we are becoming a country of quivering fools.  We spend billions of dollars on useless products that don’t work as claimed, hate and ridicule people for things that simply aren’t true, and waste trillions of our tax dollars fighting an enemy five thousand times less likely to kill us than our own lifestyle diseases and distracted driving.  Thus, I vow to research and expose the lies, when possible, to help shield us from the scams and BS that have overrun our lives.
  5. Being kinder.  The world has always needed people who are both strong and kind.  This has never been more true than it is now, and though we mostly hear about being strong, what we probably need more is the kindness.  We need more smiles from strangers as we go about our day and fewer aggressive-looking headlights on cars.  We need more people who help the elderly and less bosses who drive their employees with threats and criticism.  We need less people who hate based on color and spiritual belief, and more who accept others based on their individual actions.  Simply put, we need more nice, decent people, and I promise to do my best to be one of them.

So that’s it – my revolutions for 2016.  I hope you will make some of your own…  real goals that you can commit to, follow through on, and that will benefit all of us on this small blue planet.  There is still a lot of good out there and if we all work together maybe we can turn this tide.  Happy New Year.

-Russ

Thinking Pragmatically

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In light of the recent rise in world terrorism and mass shootings in the United States, it’s almost impossible not to think about gun control and the resulting swirling controversy. Everyone has a strong opinion, and the two sides seem to be as divided as ever. On one side are the folks who want all civilian firearms destroyed and banned forever, and on the other are those who will only relinquish their guns when they are pried from their cold, dead hands. Personally, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I’m not a gun nut and don’t have a bunker in my basement stockpiled for the apocalypse, but I have been shooting since the age of six or seven and am fairly familiar with firearms. Not counting the sticks we used as kids to play war in the woods, my first ‘gun’ was a chrome-plated Mattel Shootin’ Shell Snub-nose .38 toy revolver that shot caps and plastic bullets. That was followed shortly by a Daisy Defender air rifle (BB gun) that our father bought to teach my brother and I how to shoot safely, and then membership in a gun club where we spent a winter shooting .22 target rifles to earn awards for marksmanship. Since then I have continued to shoot, doing some small game hunting and plinking targets for fun with both handguns and rifles. I know there are quite a few people like this out there.

Though there has been that rare occasion when I was glad there was a gun nearby, I’ve typically felt very safe in this country, and the guns I’ve owned have always been unloaded and locked up when not in use. … Fast forward to today’s insanity.  Watching the nearly continuous media frenzy of the latest terrorist attack or mass shooting of the week, there is always one thought that runs through my mind:  I have to believe that every victim of those attacks wished there were people present who could have immediately returned fire.

I don’t know what the answer is, but completely disarming the general population will not help.  Though I fully agree with common sense gun laws, including banning assault rifles, requiring full background checks, and instituting waiting periods, there is much truth to the old adage that when you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns. Criminals and terrorists don’t give a damn about the law, and they will always be able to obtain or manufacture weapons.  We shouldn’t make it even easier for them to do harm.

This country has a grassroots history of fighting back when we get smacked, and that is a large part of our culture. It’s one of the primary ways we have maintained our free and open society.  Now I certainly don’t want every citizen in America walking around with a sidearm, but the evil people committing these atrocities are choosing schools, social service centers, gun-free zones on military bases, and places of worship where there is little chance of resistance. They want to kill a lot of people before they themselves are ‘martyred’ by  the police, or they expect to get away before the armed authorities arrive, which almost always takes too long. What we need are near-term solutions that make it highly likely these sick individuals will be stopped within seconds of starting their violence.

-Russ

Unbelievably, It’s Still the Same

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Ten years ago my son and his girlfriend visited our county courthouse, for a reason I no longer remember.  When they returned home, they were laughing about the ineptitude of the security screening process.  It seems they had gotten mildly reprimanded because Sarah had not declared the cell phone that was in her purse, found as it went through the scanner. Reaching into that same purse, she pulled out a lock-back knife with a three-inch blade (photo) and asked, incredulously, “Why didn’t they yell at me for this?” A previous boyfriend had given it to her for protection, and she had forgotten it was still in there.

Fast-forward to this afternoon when I visited the courthouse.  Same county, but now in a new fancy building down the street. As I approached the security area, one of the four armed security guards stated, “Everything out of your pockets and through the scanner.”  I then also remembered the large Leatherman tool that lives on my belt (which I should have left in the car!), including its two three-inch blades, and added it to the wallet, keys, and change I had already put in the bin on the conveyor.

When my turn came, I was waved through the metal detector and quickly ‘wanded’ by the guard who had called me through.  He nodded that I was clear, and I collected my stuff from the other side of the X-ray machine and filled my pockets.  As I was reattaching the Leatherman to my belt, I was thinking, ‘this can’t be right’, so held up the tool to the closest guard and asked, “Is it really OK to take this in?”

“What is it?” he asked.

“A Leatherman tool,” I replied.

“Absolutely not!” he said, and it was exchanged for the stub of a ticket so I could claim it on the way out.

Obviously not much has changed at our courthouse.  Their crack security system still hinges on people declaring the weapons the guards miss, and is wasting buckets of taxpayers’ money.  In light of recent world events, that doesn’t give me much of a warm fuzzy.

Letting Go of the Guilt and Fear

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center has shown a significant drop in the number of Americans who call themselves Christians, and a large increase in those who say they are ‘unaffiliated’. Count me among them.

I was raised Presbyterian by very decent parents and went to church every Sunday as a kid. But as the years passed I found it ever harder to make sense of religion, including my own. Significant hypocrisies between the teachings and many followers’ actions were (and still are) commonplace, the ‘business’ of the church overshadowed the real meaning, and I realized a person’s faith was not what made them good and decent – those who were would still be that way if they weren’t religious, maybe even more so since they would be less likely to judge others who didn’t believe similarly. I also realized there are hundreds, if not thousands, of religions in the world whose followers all believe theirs is the correct one. Since that is not possible it is most likely they all have it wrong.

Over the years it took to rid myself of the guilt and fear that I might be a non-believer, I’ve come to see religion as just one more reason for people to be at odds with one another, simply because they don’t believe the same. Yes, there are many people with open minds who do not fit this mold, but those seem to be the exceptions and are strongly overshadowed by the actions of their faith’s extremists. History speaks for itself on that one.

I now believe that most, if not all, religions began as a way to explain things that weren’t yet understood – to ease the fear of the unknown, primarily death.  Many faiths were subsequently (if not initially) hijacked by some overzealous ego who wanted to control the masses; using guilt, fear, and the promise of a beautiful afterlife to increase their following.

Today we still don’t truly understand where we came from, how it all began, or where we are going, and maybe we never will. But the universe continues to unfold, and our tiny corner of it here on this small blue planet includes some unbelievably beautiful nature we get to enjoy during our time, so long as we take care of it.  And I no longer fear death.  Every living thing eventually passes on.  When asked by someone what I think it will be like after I die, I simply ask if they remember what it was like before they were born.  I believe it will be just like that.

Peace.

Choose to Share

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What a beautiful world it could be if we all gave just a little more of the best we have.  I believe our decency – some might say our soul – is simply the embodiment of our self respect.  Those moments when we choose to share are the moments when we, and the world, gain the most.