What’s Going On Over There?

A good friend who is a citizen of New Zealand recently asked me that, becoming aware of the growing ‘separatism’ here in the US over our politics. My response to her:

It seems a number of factors have come together to form the ‘perfect storm’ over here, but my personal belief is it’s driven mostly by the systemic corruption that has taken over our government.  I understand that corruption has always existed, but big money has now become the primary incentive motivating our elected officials, leaving the business of working for ‘the people’ as a mere footnote, and almost everyone is feeling the effects and is sick of it.  And even though we have this common cause, our two-party politics has created this great divide as each side points fingers at the other.  The adult skills of listening and compromise have completely been forgotten as the sides get more deeply entrenched.  …  Even the media has taken sides, with money driving the need for better ratings, and each source pandering to their chosen side of the divide.  It’s very frustrating these days to simply figure out what the truth is.  … And then there is this recent election, which was more about voting for the lessor of two evils rather than for whom you liked, simply because decent, honest, intelligent people don’t want to get involved in our corrupt politics, so they don’t run for office.  Thus, our choice was, 1. the same old corrupt establishment that was Hillary, or 2. the narcissist billionaire who promised to stop the corruption by ‘draining the swamp’.   The promise of change won out, but that change may be more than we bargained for.  All this craziness has awoken even those who never paid attention to politics before, and they find themselves caught between wanting to do their patriotic duty by voicing their opinion and staying quiet so as not to alienate friends and family who have differing perspectives.  As they say, it is history in the making.

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Apathy vs. Speaking Out: Finding a Balance

It appears the decades-long political apathy that has existed in the U.S. may be at an end.  That apathy which has allowed our government to reach systemic corruption, with our representatives filling their own pockets – unchecked – with little regard for the desires of their constituents.  Americans have finally gotten fed-up with it all.  Not since the Vietnam War have I seen so many people actively concerned about the state of our politics.  And it is certainly not a bad thing, since a democracy, after all, is a government by its people.

But ‘waking up’ has come with a price.  Too many years of not paying attention – whether due to job focus, lack of interest, or simply not wanting to offend – have eroded our skills in civil discourse and thinned our skins. It has reached the point where healthy debate over political things that matter quickly devolve into unproductive arguments, name-calling, and strained relationships. This has been magnified by the impersonal aspects of social media, where a person can sit behind the shield of their computer and say things they would not typically say directly to someone’s face. This situation is made even worse by the explosion of ‘fake news’, causing people to fight over things that simply aren’t true.

I feel it myself and worry how many of my friends and family have had enough of my thoughts. Probably more than I want to know.  Where is the right balance between being an educated, involved citizen and not driving those around us completely nuts?  I have tried to read differing, well thought-out perspectives and the debates that ensue, and sometimes add my own opinion.  I think it helps.  These are the debates that will hopefully bubble up to hold our elected representatives accountable and drive them to find the compromises that serves us best.  But the number of those debates and the ugly confrontations that frequently result are becoming too much for most of us these days, myself included.

We need to find a balance between staying silent and speaking out that allows each of us to remain part of a healthy, respectful discourse while not turning us into enemies.   Because it is the discourse that is needed to fan the flames of our re-awakening and let those we elected know their party is over.  We have learned that apathy doesn’t work.

-Russ

Just One Thing

From Congressional representatives who sell out their constituents for corporate campaign contributions, to contractors who quote a price knowing they will charge you more, to marketers who collect a paycheck for developing deception, to scammers who suck the savings out of senior citizens, to the average Joe who cheats on his taxes, to Craigslist buyers who promise to be there at noon tomorrow and never show, to someone who robs your house.  These are all acts of screwing someone else for personal benefit – firmly entrenched in our American culture.

If I had to name one thing that is sucking the life out of this country it would have to be the astonishing lack of principle and personal integrity.  How have we drifted so far from our roots?  How can these people look in a mirror and smile at what they see?  How can they be proud of the example they set for their children?  (Is this why there is so much depression?)

There are lots of excuses, none of them any good.

-Russ

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)

 

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

IMG_0684 r2

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