Not Why, When

If anyone were to ever ask me why I love M., I couldn’t give them an answer because there is no “why”.

That lack of why is probably a big part of it, because, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am very much a “why” person. Why’s matter to me, more than just about anything, and the fact that I am able to accept the love between us absent the “why” is what tells me that the love is the real deal.

Not to mention he’s one of the best human beings I know.

If you were to ask me why I admire M., that answer is a little easier to articulate. His positive traits are numerous beyond counting, true, but there are a few that stand out to where a top ten list wouldn’t take terribly long to compile. Though, really, the list would change order depending on the day. Some days, his sense of humor is at the top of the charts; other days– well, he does love a pun.

Today, what tops the list is his ability to not only understand my frustrations with the world, but his ability to help soothe those frustrations without diminishing or dismissing the fact that I feel frustrated. He gets that my frustration, even when it is with a demographic that he might a part of, is not directed AT him, or at anyone in particular, and so he doesn’t try to manage it. He lets it be while it passes and hugs me until it does.

This is important.

This is very important.

This is very, very important because, rather than taking ownership of my feelings of “something’s wrong” (and by dint of that trying to take ownership of me) and acting as if I am saying “something is wrong with him” or “You are doing something wrong”, he takes my feelings of “something is wrong” and lets them be as they are.

He accepts that I can think something is wrong and NOT make it about him. This makes talking about the feelings of “something’s wrong” an exercise in solving problems as opposed to unnecessary attempts at fixing someone who is somehow “broken”.

This needs to happen more often, because until it does, we are going to continue to be a society incapable of fixing problems because many of its people are too self-absorbed to distinguish “a problem that exists” from “their problem”.

Which means they also can’t distinguish “their problem” from “a problem that exists”.

A few days ago, we got to see exactly where that leads. Again.

A young man near Santa Barbara killed six people because women wouldn’t sleep with him. There were other reasons he cited, but what it boils down to is that he felt entitled to sex and wasn’t getting it. He was mad because he felt he was owed something and decided to take it out on the world that he felt denied him his due.

What resulted from this inability to realize that his problem was his problem and not a problem with other people was an unspeakable tragedy doled out at the point of a knife and the barrel of a gun. The response that a number of people have had to it, however, has surpassed that insanity by leaps and bounds. For the record, anyone who thinks that going on a killing spree is an ”understandable” reaction to women having no sexual or romantic interest in a guy (as some commenters stated some variation of) is themselves emotionally unstable. Anyone who thinks that the killer’s “manifesto” is anything more than a narcissistic exercise in victim-blaming is empathizing with a violent, manipulative misogynist. And while he can say that all he wanted was a girl to have sex with him, what would have happened to that girl if she had slept with him, or dated him and later decided to break it off with him? If the charge is that he was “mentally ill” or, more specifically, a “psycho”, what reasonable person would advocate that a woman should have willingly put herself in harm’s way to have kept this all from happening? And if a person does advocate for it, would they volunteer their sister or daughter for the task?

While many seem to write these types of incidents off as isolated and the work of a lone bad actor, one could also write off the fact that the sun rises every day as a prolonged set of isolated incidents as well. And while these individuals acted out of their individual problems, there is clearly a pattern emerging. The acts of violence perpetrated by individuals who believe themselves to be “privileged therefore entitled” are expressions of the larger societal problem.

But, it’s a pattern we can’t talk about because the second anyone suggests that maybe there is something wrong with a society that conditions its members to think of one half of the human race as some “thing” that the other half is entitled to use for its own pleasure or comfort, they are accused of “man bashing” and being “man haters”.

Think about that for a moment: The second we start talking about the society that produces misogynists who objectify, harass and do violence to women in order to assert control and social dominance, we are accused of hating men.

Let me say that again: The second we start to question the nature of our society, we are responded to as if we are speaking badly of men.

In other words, we are not being afforded the opportunity to discuss society’s ills without it being turned into a conversation about the men in it, by some of the men in it. We cannot point to a problem or say there are things going wrong without it being characterized as an attack on men, often by the very people who argue against the notion that our society is a patriarchy that favors the possessors of penises.

I can’t be the only one who sees the irony.

I can’t be the only one who sees something very wrong with suggesting that women fuck a narcissistic asshole just because he thinks having a penis is all the reason he needs to be given sex on demand.

I can’t be the only one who sees something deeply disturbing about the idea that some people seem to think that it is a woman’s responsibility to have sex with a guy if it prevents things like this from happening, rather than it being the killer’s responsibility to get a fucking grip on himself and, I don’t know, not kill people.

I can’t be the only person who thinks that a person is ultimately responsible for their own emotional state, and that the gunman’s need to blame others for his inability to take responsibility for himself might be why no one wanted to date him.

I know I am not the only one, because M. thinks these things, too. And so do a number of other people who sees this killer for exactly what he was: one of the worst examples of a human being you could possibly imagine. Anyone who sees someone to be pitied, empathized with or admired is a quite probably a very good candidate for the next expression of a very disturbing pattern.

And even if we don’t know when it will happen next, we’ll all know exactly why.

Without Permission

I will state at the outset that I generally eschew throwing around the H-word because of the terrible power it holds. Hate is a destructive thing, designed to tear things down, to blast through them like cannonball and bring that which it is leveled at down in a heap. In this particular case, I think that hate is not only warranted but appropriate:

I HATE isms.

Not only do I HATE them, but I HATE them with a passion that it is beyond my capacity to express. I especially hate racism because it stirs my passions almost more than any other ism does.

If anyone was to ask why, it has little to do with my own racial identity and almost everything to do with the fact that while sexism and ageism and size-ism and anti-gay-isms are terrible things in their own right, they are grounded at least in part in the misplaced fear of things that are not known or not understood – a sexist fears members of the opposite sex out of unfamiliarity; an ageist is may be frightened of death or decrepitude and lashes out at being reminded of their own frail morality; a homophobe feels threatened by a sexual expression that is different than their own, creating uncertainty of their own sexual identity. While this is by no means a justification for people to act like jackasses, things driven by fear are, to some extent, easier to get my head around because the emotion or condition of “FEAR” does not exist without reason. Fear, under the right circumstances, is a component of our survival toolkit – we approach the unknown with caution and exercise our cognitive faculties to determine if that fear is justified. Ism-ing is often the result of failing to correctly determine or comprehend the nature of that which is feared.

Racism, however, is an entirely different and far more savage of a beast.  Rooted in stupidity, self-loathing and refusal to adapt and respond to changing conditions, its existence and perpetuation is counter-Darwinian.  Requiring literally no thought or investment of brain capacity beyond being able to identify colors, its persistence through subsequent generations depends solely on the ability for the racist to tell its offspring to do the same.  Stupid teaches stupid, creating a chain of hereditary meta-stupidity that flies like a gigantic flag of fuck you in the face of evolution.

Despite the fervent hope of a generally conservative and often hyper-religious sector of society, evolution isn’t optional and racists, in their vociferous denials scientific fact are, knowingly or not, are embracing the most desperate brand of futility: championing the cause of stagnation without understanding that a changeless species is doomed to extinction.

If we refuse to change in a world that changes whether we like it or not, our reward will be irrelevance.

Futility and irrelevance are at the bottom of my “Things I Want to Think About” list.

So what has inspired me to wade into a conversation about a topic that I not only hate both in general and in specific? Especially considering that I am putting my oar in the water long after the Trayvon Martin ship – arguably one of the most significant illustrations of the racial divide in this country – has sailed? Because of this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8iMayZC-NMw#at=38

In this video, taken of a random and quickly escalated encounter, race relations in this country are summed up in eight seconds starting at approximately 1:39. I’ll wait…

For those who didn’t catch it, at approximately 1:39, the holder of the video camera tries to explain to the officer (Security or Police is unclear) that they were filming the carts in the parking lot. At approximately 1:44 in the video, the Officer, after the individual videotaping says “I am not even a hostile”, says the following:

“Yes you are a hostile because you are being non-compliant with me”, to which the videographer rightfully replies “Non-compliant does not mean hostile. It means non-compliant”.

Rewind to a Sunday evening in Sanford, Florida when a young man coming home from buying snacks was shot and killed by an overzealous neighborhood watchman who despite being armed claimed self-defense because he felt his life was in danger.

George Zimmerman thought of Trayvon Martin as “a hostile” and thought of him that way because Trayvon Martin did not comply with the demands of that George Zimmerman believed himself in a position to make. He was, after all, neighborhood watch captain (except that he wasn’t) and Trayvon had no business being there (except that he did).

In the weeks after the event, the months leading up to the trial and the aftermath of the verdict, the topic of race predictably and justifiably (though some would argue with that assertion), reared its head. Supporters of Zimmerman claimed that race was not a factor and that Trayvon’s attire and failure to comply with Zimmerman’s demands was the reason his life was cut short. Both those attached to the case and those who knew little to nothing of what actually happened started an ex post facto campaign to portray the unarmed Trayvon Martin as a thug, fully investing (or perhaps already invested) in the idea that the allegedly combative teen posed a clear and present danger to Zimmerman.

But what was the danger? Wearing a hoodie? It was raining. Carrying a weapon? Martin had a can of Arizona, a bag of Skittles and a cell phone on his person at the time of his death. Walking too slowly? There were no signs advising residents of the gated community of the recommended walking speed.

Could it be that George Zimmerman, like the officer in the video, equated Martin’s unwillingness to comply with his demands to an act of hostility? Do the people who contend that it was Trayvon Martin was at fault for his own death because they felt that his lack of compliance with Zimmerman’s demands was an act of hostility?

In other words, are there people in this country who believe that a white person has the right to demand that a black person justify his reasons for being where he is or doing what he is doing, and that the black person who chooses not comply is “a hostile”?

Let me let you in on a little secret: if you think that a person  has the right to dictate to a person of a particular skin color, solely on the basis of of that skin color,  that is the essence of RACISM.

You see, racism is not just the discrimination against someone based on their skin color – that is a symptom. Racism is the belief that that one is of greater importance or possessed of higher authority based on the color of their skin. Racism isn’t a series of acts that put people of a different race in a position of disadvantage, it is the expectation that that those people must ask for permission to be anywhere else other than where you think they belong.

The young men in the video did not need the officer’s permission to be where they were, just like Trayvon Martin didn’t need to get permission from George Zimmerman to be where he was.

The problem with the racism conversation in this country and, I admit, part of why I generally steer clear of it except among a select few, is that many people miss that point. To them, racism is a vapid hostility directed at people of a specific ethnicity – name calling, picking fights, shunning, active exclusion from clubs and activities and other schoolyard shenanigans torn directly from the playbook of your average 6th grade bully. The truth is that most who engage in these behaviors are less racist and more immature asshats who, generally speaking, don’t confine these behaviors to their interactions with people of a different race –they engage with anyone different from them the exact same way.  It’s difficult to single out such a person as a racist when they may, in fact, just be a douchebag.  Having a conversation with a douchebag about something as complex as race relations is as close to trying to teach a pig to sing as you can get without  trucking on down to the barnyard.

Racism, however, is a far more complicated thing hailing back to the days of slavery and extending all the way through the early 1960’s where blacks needing permission from whites to go certain places and do certain things was very much the reality. A belief that, when challenged – by either blacks or more progressive whites-, often resulted in imprisonment, violence and, in some cases, death. And while the civil rights movement went a long way towards lifting that yoke, our society in many ways still remains under its weight – a fact attributable to the number of people in positions of power, (or in many cases, those whose self-identity rests heavily on their delusions that they are in a position of power) who are unable or, more likely, unwilling to adapt.

We are still burdened by the permission paradigm, and the George Zimmermans and Wal-Mart Security Guards of the world have no desire to change it. Why would they? As long as they cling to and act in accordance to the belief that they are one of the permission givers, they have justification to externalize theirs self-loathing and direct it towards those who they would lord over. It is no coincidence that both the men at the center of these events gravitated towards vocations that imparted authority, real or imagined. Outfitted with the trappings, their belief in their status as permission givers (or deniers) other believers in the permission paradigm buy into the delusion and convince themselves that young black men, doing harm to no one, whose only offence is a refusal to seek permission to be where they have every right to be, are deserving of harassment and death.

If a young black teenager’s non-hostile non-compliance becomes a death sentence, and we as a society silently accept this, then all is futility and irrelevance.

Futility and irrelevance are at the bottom of my “Things I Want to Think About” list. But, I would much rather talk about that, and about racism, and how to stop it, how to change things, how we can as individuals and as a society evolve beyond our nation’s past, than I would about the senseless death of another seventeen year old boy.

Because there isn’t much that I’d hate more than that.

Evolution

It is said that it has been a long journey between the beginning of time and the moment that has brought us all to this place, but, really, it is a single moment that is passing with all the haste of a lazy summer day.  To our binocular vision, the span of history as measured by the mind of a man has persisted since before our ability to record it, but, in a grander view, the genetic and cultural leap from our hirsute Australopithecine cousins to the We of the here and now is very, very short.

How can this be? In recounting the evolutionary, spiritual, moral, scientific, philosophical and technological progressions that history is, how could I possibly say that our existence can be measured in a single moment?  I will grant that there is a fair amount of technological distance between the wheel and the iPhone, or between the crude representations of regional fauna scratched onto cave walls and the digital art of today.  Compared to our distant parasite-picking relatives, in some respects we’ve clearly come a long way.  So how is it that I claim that despite a host of clear signs pointing towards human advancement, the passing of millennia is nothing more than a single spin of the wheel of time?

Well, let us for a moment step outside of our humanity and look at history in the harsh light of objectivity. Let us put aside our predisposition towards the ego-gratification that our collective pride in the achievements of art and physics and television and professional sports foster in us to stop and think not about our advances in thought, in expression and in invention, for those are nearly incalculable – from the walls of Lascaux to the ceiling of the Sistine, the evolution of expression is obvious; The leap from the abacus to the microprocessor is undeniable, and the eradication of a host of diseases is without argument. Rather, let us focus not the advances of collective humanity, but how these advances have in very real ways rendered our existence stagnant.  Our historical record has shown that there is no greater time of innovation than times of war.  In the classic struggle between the haves and the have-nots, advances in resource management and technology have widened the gap so much as to be nearly impossible to bridge.  The First World exemplifies its magnanimity not in providing our Third World neighbors with luxuries of life like TV’s and high-speed internet access, but with the necessities of survival like food and clean water.  Without so much as the slightest hint of deference for our natural world, we pillage our oceans and forests and landscapes with the abandon afforded by a perceived entitlement, and all for the sake of jockeying our way up to the top of the heap. (Although many groups have distinguished themselves by the how aggressively they have climbed the ladder, in saying “we”, I refer not to any particular country, ethnic group or religious or cultural organization, I am speaking only of humanity as represented by history, past and present.)  The adage that history is written by the victorious is almost universally applicable, and, in this context, serves to support the idea of species stagnation rather than detract from it: The freedom to record events in a manner that suggests the authors of history are somehow more deserving of being at the top of the pile than those that has been kicked off it.  That perk alone is often motivation enough to rise above the rest.

But, one would argue, what other choice is there? Being on top of the heap is, after all, a guarantee of freedom.  Those that feel the need to rise up usually do so in a last desperate act of kicking off of the “yokes of oppression”, of taking for themselves what was taken from them and to right a social wrong.  The wages of freedom very often is blood – whose blood that may be is just as often unimportant.

History also shows us that freedom from oppression often turns into oppression of freedom by those who come to power.  The prosperity of freedom often spurs advances to insure and secure the freedom of the ruling power without regard for and often at the expense of the not so fortunate. Advances in health care and food production increase the population of the ruling mass and prolong their lifespan.  Advances in technology are often end results of or applied to weapons technology and advances in culture are often used as propaganda to tout the superiority of those in power.  Advancement often serves to galvanize the perception of entitlement to power by those who wield it.  “We are greater in number”, cries the king and or queen of the hill, “we are more powerful and all below seek to emulate our ways, we therefore must be right.  We will act to defend our rightness from those who are wrong, even if it means that we must crush them underfoot.”  And so the cycle repeats.  The oppressor becomes the oppressed, and vice versa.

And so, I submit that the advancement of civilization is irrelevant to the stagnation of humanity.  Stagnation due to a lack of an evolution in human nature.  In millennia of human history, we seem to be unable to overcome our tendencies towards hoarding, oppression, disharmony with man and nature, and egocentrism. In a careful reading of the tomes of history, it is clear that humanity’s drive to control is the pen that inked them.  Indeed, it would be a fair statement that the benefits of civilization advancement are a pleasant side effect from an otherwise relentless pursuit to control the world everything in it.  All conflict stems from one person or group trying to control another with the other person or group fighting to maintain the control it believes it has.

So what fosters this need to control?  What drives humans to domination?  The obvious answer would be that he who controls cannot be controlled, and that the drive to control is, in fact a drive to prevent others from controlling us.  The drive to control is often manifested as a response to feelings of powerlessness over one’s own life.  The more powerless one feels the more they seek to control the forces around them that make them feel this way.  The school bully often finds himself at the mercy of the class wimp who just couldn’t take any more.  The bullied student often delivers his tormentor an excess of violence in return for the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that he has endured. 

Looking deeper, the drive for control is actually the assertion of the right to self-control.  We want to feel, to know that we are empowered to stand at the helm of out own destines, to look ahead with all the command presence and certainty of action of a Jean-Luc Picard and “Make it so”.  We want to know that our whim and will rudders our personal universe in the direction of our own choosing.

Just as we once believed that the Earth was at the center around which the universe revolved, so do we, if only unconsciously, believe that all events within the scope of what we call “our world” revolve around us.  Many respond to natural disaster with the question “why do things like this always happen to me”, as if fire or earthquake or hurricane or god singled them out for punishment.  We recognize death and tragedy as a part of this mortal life, and yet when it impacts us directly, we feel helpless and angry at the helplessness.  Life becomes a cold and uncaring thing full of injustice and persecution.  When we grieve, we grieve not for the loss of life or way of life, but for the perceived disruption to control of our lives.  We eventually come to accept the loss as an event beyond anyone’s control, and with that acceptance we often move on to focus on those aspects of our lives in which we have established our dominance – Work, home, family, hobbies, etc.  – and devote ourselves to solidifying our command over those aspects.  We respond to loss of control in one arena by establishment or reassertion of control in another.  That is Human Nature.

If this is true, if this is who we are as a species, if this is as imprinted in our genetic makeup as firmly as eye color, bipedal locomotion and a love for chocolate, how can we expect to escape it? If this very thing, this need for control, or at least this dependency on the illusion of a lack of it, is what it is to be human, then how can we not be what we are?  The answer is: we can’t .  We are what we are and that will be true no matter how much change.  

We can, however, evolve.

Evolution is not about change for its own sake, it is understanding and adaptation in keeping with that understanding. Taking the Darwinian tact on the origins of man, just as our ascent from knuckle-dragging and prehensile tails into our upright-walking opposable-thumbed selves was a result of our understanding that there are more efficient ways to feed and protect ourselves, so too can our human nature similarly adapt to the understanding that the quest for control is fruitless, not because we can never have it, but because we never can lose it.

Every single circumstance in our life is the result of a choice that we make, and surrounding every choice is a consequence.   There are no mistakes, only outcomes.  There are no accidents, only events.   We make the choice to take particular action at a particular time in a particular place for a particular reason.  Unfortunately and all too often we find ourselves caught up in the fight to regain control of what we think went wrong to think about what the particular reason may be.  I believe that the key to our collective evolution is the realization that we as individuals do have control, and that specific circumstances in life are our own creation.  It is result of our knowing that we are our own guides, that we have chosen our own paths and that we are at all times the captains and caretakers of our own fates. We are the masters of our souls.

And how is the mastery attained?  Truth be told, I have no idea.  I make no claims to being the light and knowing the way for anyone other than myself, but I do know that once I started to think about the events in my life not as barriers but as opportunities, once I stopped asking “why me?” and simply asked “why?”, once I started to “take back” the parts of me that I had given away to the kid who bullied me in second grade and the guy who dumped me and the friends that betrayed me, I started to feel more…whole, more at ease with myself and the world that I created.  I started to feel more like the “me” that I always knew I was but never seemed to be able to meet up with, save for in dreams and stories and other products of my imagination.  It was not unlike a veil being lifted, and for the first time I could see the world in all its glorious possibility.  And what a wonderful word possibility is.  Aside from its inherent verbally pleasing qualities, possibility is the very foundation of reality.  All possibilities are attainable, and for me it took realizing that my whole world was of my creation to understand that. Every person I have ever met, every choice that I have ever made, every experience that I have ever had, no matter how unpleasant they may have been at the time has been a step in the journey that has led me to this here and now.

And perhaps it is that realization that has brought as all to this here and now.  Perhaps there is some idea, some possibility contained within these pages that well set the hand of time, poised and ready to tick off this prolonged moment into motion once again.  Maybe our time is here, or maybe it has just begun. Whatever the case, we are all here, we friends and fellows, and we have chosen this as a crossroads at which to intersect as certainly as we have chosen all of the others, and for our own reasons, and possibly more than one.  My reason? In all honesty, part of me would like to fancy myself as some sort of pioneer, some philosophical Lewis and Clark trailblazer erecting markers and drawing maps to guide the way. Perhaps more like a space-faring adventurer, at the helm of some mighty star cruiser boldly going where no one has gone before. The truth is, though, that I am no pioneer, as these thoughts truly aren’t mine. They have popped up in various forms in religion, philosophies and other intellectual or spiritual disciplines.  I know full well that what I speak is simply my interpretation of ideas available to everyone, whether they are locked deep within the recesses of our genetic code, or floating in the ether of the Universal Mind. Often enough, though, it is not the story but HOW it is told that opens our eyes to a truth.  These may be things that we hear over and over again in our everyday lives, but it isn’t until the right combination of words and inflections and phrases finds its way to our ears and catches our attention that we begin to truly understand what is being said.  I don’t expect that I have said anything that you haven’t heard before, but, hopefully, I have managed to put it in a way that you have never heard it, which, in a lot of ways, is probably better.  If nothing else, it is a testament to my unique and ever-evolving nature.

And, perhaps, that is exactly what it should be.