Messy Reflections

I was moved to start this blog almost two years ago, in yet another attempt to speak fearlessly, with authentic voice. Today I marvel at both how easy and how hard that is to do.

Despite declaring that I intended to step up to use my authentic voice, I didn’t blather my is-the-sky-falling fears all over the internet. I watched and listened and learned more about my contrary-minded friends. I didn’t stop talking to them…but I’m still pretty cautious about talking current events with almost anyone.

I question whether to publish a personal opinion on current events if what I write  isn’t supported by the most clear evidence and most carefully-researched facts I can find. I’m giving myself permission today to write exactly that kind of messy and relatively unedited piece.

Fact-finding about current events that get my attention has become more challenging. I’ve come to understand how carefully I need to read any media. I notice how quickly I want to nod at left- skewed media and how vehemently I want to dismiss the right. New second step: pause after noticing my emotional response, and ask, “Am I reading this piece as objectively as I would a piece written from the opposite point of view?”

Reading Factfulness, “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think… a 2018 book by the late Hans Rosling [, who] suggests the vast majority of human beings are wrong about the state of the world,” was both specifically enlightening and broadly instructive. If you’re unlikely to read the book, then consider checking out one of his TED talks.

(I thank my friend Stephanie Alexander for recommending this to me along with the other items on Bill Gates’ summer reading list.)

Just for fun, see how well you do on this quiz about global development. (Confession: I did quite well only because, knowing that most chimpanzees scored better than educated human respondents, I deliberately approached the questions with the mindset of “what’s the best case that could conceivably be true?”)

The enlightening part: the book explains why the news (from local to international) often leaves me and others feeling that we live in exceptionally troubled times. It was a fascinating reminder that, as a result, even extremely smart people are far less well-informed than they think they are about the world. And, most importantly, Dr Rosling offered clear, simple, antidotes in each chapter of the book — like a checklist to let anyone make a first pass at doing our own fact-checking about anything we read or hear or see.

The book reminded me of the posts by my conservative-minded friend Todd, who told me he deliberately picks up and re-posts positive news. I’m glad he does. And I’m glad I make my own pass at fact-checking those, too.

Did I pay any attention to the previous Administration’s southern border or immigration policies? Hardly at all. I just liked and trusted those in power then in the same way that millions of other people simply like and trust the current Administration and leadership without much thought now. 

I’m dismayed to find myself so often responding numbly to American domestic politics in a way that so many writers predicted in 2016 would become sadly normal.

Within that frozen numbness, I feel light refracted among countless shards.

The part of me that wants to make a difference. The shard that just wants to get through the day, love my loved ones, care for my family. The chunk that knows that even being able to do that — stop thinking about the pain and disadvantages of others — means I am privileged beyond all imagining. The broken bit that knows intellectually that constant outrage is not only unsustainable but actually unhealthy and destructive. The pointy sliver that keeps singing, “Not good enough,” as it is swept along and slowly crushed in a glacial mass.

The more posts and books and articles and shares I read from smart, thoughtful people, the less able I feel to write. Every time I consider writing something, I feel intimidated by the careers of at least five people I met in university who have gone on to become nationally-renowned, critically-thoughtful, fact-ful, journalists.

Well, that makes no sense. My thirteen-year-old niece is much better at drawing than I am. My twenty-two year old niece is a professional graphic artist. My nineteen-year-old niece is an award-winning equestrienne.  If I wanted to be really, really, good at any of those things (or journalism, for that matter), I would have to apply time and resources and study and practice. In the meantime, none of those facts is any reason for me not to enjoy creating artwork or riding a horse. Even if somebody is watching or judging me.

Comparison is the thief of all kinds of things.

Since 2016, I’ve come to understand more about “bubbles” and what I lose by staying in mine and avoiding conversations with people who disagree with me. Which is odd because the primary way I spent my time recreational time at university treated conversation as a contest. Competitive debating had winners and losers. Okay, I remember losing a lot of the time.

I remember noticing, too, that the people who won a lot of the time were good at more than logic. While a couple of them are now among my professional journalist friends, and several are teachers or lawyers or even law professors, the very best of the best were good at theatre. They were clever as well as smart. They made you laugh as well as made you think.

I’ve gotten better at engaging in conversation with people who I know feel differently than I do.  I’ve learned more about how to express curiosity about their views and to listen without interrupting. I am a long way from mastering how to express my own contrary views on a political (or often any) subject to someone and be able to continue explore those differences in that conversation.

I used to think that being a conflict-avoider was a virtue. Apparently not; never was. But the opposite of conflict-avoidance isn’t conflict-seeking. It’s conflict resolution.

On Pushing Back Entropy

In the wake of 2016 presidential elections, I was shocked and confused and naive. I was easily drawn toward every left-leaning sky-is-falling piece I read. I was unnerved by anything more than a tiny smidge right of rock-solid-center. I was somehow afraid that if I wrote anything critical of the current Administration, something terrible would befall me.

I’ve gained some perspective in watching how events unfold in America under the leadership of those with whom I disagree. Many of those in power are working hard to undo as many as they can of the previous Administration’s policies that they feel to their very core were utterly wrong for America. Policies that were created by those who believed equally fervently in a different set of ideals for America.

When my thirteen-year-old niece was in town last week, we visited the Newseum. One of the exhibits was a video narrated by Martin Sheen (an actor I like very much, particularly for his flawless portrayal of the richly-flawed Jed Bartlet of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing). The video presented the deeply conflicted political views that were present in the United States from its earliest days — between Federalists and Anti-Federalists.  Other actors in the video portrayed public figures of those days, in those figures’ own words. The expressed views were no less  passionate about politics, and no less nasty about opponents or the press, than anything I’m reading today.

All of which is to say, the nation has survived strong national differences and evolved as a result of them for well over two hundred years.

Such tug and push and pull of forces is entirely natural in our world, which is driven by that dynamic at both micro (“Yes, it is bedtime”) and macro (about which I’m reading about more in David Christian’s Origin Story) levels.

So far, the processes on which the American political system is based continue to function within the broad parameters under which they were established.

Have its democratic systems and processes as established and evolved truly brought liberty and justice for all?

Oh, uh, nope. At least, not yet.

Has any system of government done that?

Nope.

Steady-state perfect equality of outcomes and opportunities for all individuals does not exist. Such a state, in a universe currently understood to be driven by the laws of entropy, is only possible for fleeting split-seconds.

Is that a reason to give up trying to achieve that?

Nope.

Many democratic systems start out with a declared intention of making things better for everybody (even if the definition of “everybody” also needs continuous improvement over time).

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…

On Racial Injustice

I’m thinking about racial injustice again today as my writing about the current affairs flows into awareness of the “Unite the Right II” rally scheduled to start in DC in a couple hours.
There is plenty of racism and prejudice and related injustice in Canada, where I was born. I admit that I gave very little thought to these issues during the 28 years I lived there.
I have thought a great deal, and occasionally written and advocated (hit the giant “NOT ENOUGH” button), about these issues since I moved to the United States in 1988 for many reasons.
People who are now my family and my friends have opened their hearts and souls to share the stories of their lives and loves. They have opened my eyes and my mind to things that were right in front of me that I had never noticed or though much about before I met them.
Publications from left or right of center support the idea that those who enjoy economic prosperity in the United States, or who are well-off in part because of the strength of the U.S. economy, benefit in part from the fruits of slave labor. For instance:
Forbes (which the site Media Bias considers moderately right of center), published Dina Gerdeman’s 2017 article, “The Clear Connection Between Slavery and American Capitalism” about scholars who explored “the true ties between 19th century economic development and a brutal system of human bondage in the 2016 book Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development
In 2014, The Atlantic (judged by the same source to be left-center-biased), published an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates that led me to his longer piece making The Case For Reparations.
Every year since 1989, Rep. John Conyers’ has introduced a bill similar to H.R.40, to establish a commission to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.
I’ve read some things about the I wasn’t aware, until deep into the article, about how much in reparations Germany paid to Israel, for example. Is there any way that reparations for the Holocaust, or for American internment of people of Japanese origin, or for slavery anywhere, can ever be considered fully repaid?
I don’t think so. But that’s all the more reason to pass Congressman Conyers’ bill.
In the meantime, there are everyday human things I can do. Things like noticing and stopping micro-aggressions. Things like listening to — and believing — people who talk about their experiences of discrimination that are alien to me.

I remember criticism of law enforcement and security efforts in Charlottesville surrounding the 2017 Unite The Right rally as poorly-planned and inadequate. So this year when I read:

[Many] protesters on the campus of the University of Virginia Saturday night… expressed antagonism towards police, some of whom were dressed in riot gear and who had a large presence throughout the city to prevent any outbreak of violence.
“There’s a profound difference in this year and last year and that is the heavy police presence,” said Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia and a local organizer with Black Lives Matter.
Some people might be comforted by the police, Woolfork continued. “But for folks like me, black and brown folks, folks in Black Lives Matter, we don’t equate a heavy police presence with safety, so we see this as a perceived risk and increasing the possible harm that might occur to us.”
~ CNN, 12 August 2018

I’m reminded that my experience with law enforcement is different. I’ve read some about the deep historical roots of conflict between law enforcement and people of color in the United States. I wish I knew what the right answer was.

What amount and type of police presence, if any, might be right for such an occasion? That raises questions of “right for whom?” Right to minimize criticism in case violence breaks out? Right to minimize public expression of protest? Right to separate groups likely to break out in violence if they contact each other? Sufficient to minimize people of color from being heard? Enough to protect public and private property from damage?

Did those responsible for public safety confer with those planning to assemble to discuss the type and amount of law enforcement that would be present? Or is that not done?

Do rally-ers of the left want to have as little police presence as rally-ers of right had last year? I keep circling back to understand how and why people of color often don’t have a warm and trusting relationship with law enforcement.

I hunted around for an article about the origins of racially-based police brutality from a source that Media Bias considered absolutely centrist. I found one at ThoughtCo.com:   The Black Codes and Why They Matter Today.

I wonder how that changes.

So does my friend Rovan Wernsdorfer. He is a tireless warrior for justice who always has something thoughtful to share. One of his posts, of Robert Reich’s new “Ten Steps To Finding Common Ground (Without Fighting),” inspired this one. Whether you read the article, watch the video, or both, please do.

This blog post got started about seven hours ago. It’s the only thing I’ve done today, though the thoughts have been building for months. Well-composed articles have a point, a beginning, a middle, an end. This one doesn’t. It’s more like Nuke LaLooshe’s pitching…kinda all over the place.

Maybe it has a lot of at least two of those. 

 

 

 

 

 

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