My Life is Words
Words and ideas turn on the lights in the brain
I feel wholly inadequate in trying to address a topic on which volumes have been written by people more learned than myself, but still I feel the need to try to make sense of all this.
Let’s first try to understand the debate about racism in the United States and any disagreement or misunderstanding over the term — systemic.
We need to agree on the definition of systemic. It is most commonly used in horticulture to describe a problem with a diseased plant; “A systemic drug, disease, or poison reaches and has an effect on the whole of a body or a plant and not just one part of it.”
The word comes from Late Latin systema "an arrangement, system," from Greek systema "organized whole, a whole compounded of parts," from stem of synistanai "to place together, organize, form in order," Hey, now you can speak some Latin. 😄
I imagine you get the idea. It means that if the rose bush in your garden has a systemic disease, that sucker is riddled throughout with the disease. Simply cutting off one branch that may look worse than the others will not get rid of the disease; you will most likely have to attack the problem it at the roots so that the cure is taken up by the entire plant.
Another observation — when we say the word racism, it invariably conjures up the image of a Black person in the minds of most white Americans. We know there are other people of color, Latinos, East Indians, and many people from the Middle East, but the “really black” people are from Africa in the minds of many in our society. This is due, in part, to the incessant coverage of everything Black in the news media and other forms of journalism.
Let’s look at the roots of our democracy and the growth of our nation as it relates to our modern day problem.
Jefferson, we’re taught in school, is the one who insisted on the words about equality in our Declaration of Independence. His first draft of the document states: “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;…”
The phrase was later changed, by consensus, to; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The meaning is arguably the same, meaning these rights cannot be screwed with or taken away or abridged in any way.
We are taught that Jefferson supported abolition, and he did, but with a caveat. Jefferson actually wanted the black people, once freed, to be repatriated to Africa from whence they came. He wanted them the hell out of the country; in retrospect, a form of white supremacy - wanting to keep America white. From The Atlantic, this excerpt from piece on Jefferson's writings:
"In theory Jefferson's "solution" to slavery consisted in "colonization": the deportation of all the freed blacks from the United States, preferably back to Africa. Cohen: The entire body of Jefferson's writings shows that he never seriously considered the possibility of any form of racial coexistence on the basis of equality and that, from at least 1778 until his death, he saw colonization as the only alternative to slavery.
Late in his life, however, Jefferson began to admit the impracticability of this colonial solution, at least in its widest sense, while reiterating his faith in an attenuated form of it. Cohen writes;
In 1824 Jefferson argued that there were a million and a half slaves in the nation and that no one conceived it to be "practicable for us, or expedient for them" to send all the blacks away at once. He then went on to calculate:
Their estimated value as property, in the first place, (for actual property has been lawfully vested in that form, and who can lawfully take it from the possessors?) at an average of two hundred dollars each … would amount to six hundred millions of dollars which must be paid or lost by somebody. To this add the cost of their transportation by land and sea to Mesurado [the west coast of Liberia], a year's provision of food and clothes, implements of husbandry and of their trades, which will amount to three hundred millions more … and it is impossible to look at the question a second time."
In other words, Jefferson saw the slaves as property and he appears to be trying to find a way around the economic impact of freeing slaves resulting from sending them all back as opposed to be torn by the inhumanity of the whole slavery thing. Not unlike today, the almighty dollar tends to rule the minds of those at the helm of government as opposed to simply doing the right thing and contending with the economic fallout.
John Adams, another of the prominent founders of our nation, while not owning slaves himself and generally in disagreement with slavery, as President, wrote this in response to the receipt of a pamphlet from abolitionists;
“There are many other Evils in our Country which are growing, (whereas the practice of slavery is fast diminishing,)* and threaten to bring Punishment on our Land, more immediately than the oppression of the blacks. That Sacred regard to Truth in which you and I were educated, and which is certainly taught and enjoined from on high, Seems to be vanishing from among Us. A general Relaxation of Education and Government. A general Debauchery as well as dissipation, produced by pestilential philosophical Principles of Epicurus infinitely more than by Shews and theatrical Entertainment. These are in my opinion more serious and threatening Evils, than even the slavery of the Blacks, hateful as that is.
I might even add that I have been informed, that the condition, of the common Sort of White People in some of the Southern states particularly Virginia, is more oppressed, degraded and miserable than that of the Negroes.
These Vices and these Miseries deserve the serious and compassionate Consideration of Friends** as well as the Slave Trade and the degraded State of the blacks.”
* Adams was mistaken about the state of slavery; it was in fact increasing in popularity and was on the increase, not in decline.
These quotes are not meant to denigrate the work that either of these men who helped to bring about our great, if still flawed nation or the reputations of anyone of the people of that time; they were a product of their era and their generation; they only knew what they were taught at home and in their places of worship.
We have to look at this in the context of that time. These were generally reasonable people of some faith and having been raised to believe that white people were superior to other races would likely be reticent to accept that there was true equality of the races no matter the words in our Declaration. But, it does demonstrate that 250 years ago, the seeds of racism had long been planted. Given that virtually every person of power, wealth, and influence was indeed a white man, those beliefs were not only embedded in our history but were being taught to the next generation of children as being normal and almost certainly part of God's plan.
Fast forward to the mid-1800s and we are embroiled in a great debate about a number of tangential issues revolving around the main issue of slavery that would lead to a bloody civll war. The basic problem for all this commotion was the South’s resistance to end slavery. None of the original founders was still alive by the time of the Civil War, but their sons and daughters who had been instilled, perhaps brainwashed or indoctrinated with the philosophies of their white parents were very much alive and depending on their individual indoctrination, came down on one side or the other of slavery.
In the 1800s, the term racism didn't exist. There were plenty of debates about slavery, but it didn't seem to the people e fo that time to be a debate about racism. According to the second edition (1989) of the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known usage of the word “racism” in English occurred in a 1936 book by the American “fascist,” Lawrence Dennis, The Coming American Fascism.
Keep in mind, also, that the U.S. at this point was not as populated as it is today and that nearly half of the states (not counting territories) favored secession and retaining slavery and that significant numbers of people in the rest of the Union states agreed with the South or at least thought the Federal government should butt out. Our, that is the white-Anglos, deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of Blacks and other people of color, and the fear of granting them freedom was very real. While some people were against slavery, I suspect that many did not consider Black people to be their equal.
During reconstruction following the Civil War, the U.S. passed several laws regarding the issue of slavery in an effort to right the wrongs done to the African people brought here against their will. There was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th Amendment that gave Blacks citizenship, and the 15th Amendment granting them the right to vote. Somewhat like a presidents Executive Order, these acts had little bearing on what life was like for Negros in America.
By the end of Reconstruction in the mid 1870s, violent white supremacists came to power via paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts and the White League and imposed Jim Crow laws which deprived African-Americans of voting rights by instituting systemic and discriminatory policies of unequal racial segregation.
Let’s progress another 50 years or so to the early 20th century. Almost everything in our society was dominated by white men; our government, industry, unions, the military, politicians, and teachers. These were the people who were informing the general populace on the issues of race and segregation which remained rampant across the nation.
The new century saw a hardening of institutionalized racism and legal discrimination against citizens of African descent in the United States. Although they were technically able to vote, poll taxes, pervasive acts of terrorism such as lynchings (often perpetrated by hate groups such as the reborn Ku Klux Klan, founded in the Reconstruction South), and discriminatory laws such as grandfather clauses kept black Americans (and many Poor Whites) disenfranchised particularly in the South. The discrimination was extended to state legislation which "allocated vastly unequal financial support" for black and white schools. In addition to this, county officials sometimes redistributed resources which were earmarked for blacks to white schools, further undermining educational opportunities.
Racism, which had been viewed as a problem which primarily existed in the Southern states, burst onto the nation's consciousness following the Great Migration, the relocation of millions of African Americans from their roots in the rural Southern states to the industrial centers of the North and West between 1910 and 1970, particularly in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City (Harlem), Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, and Denver.
Southern migrants were often treated in accordance with pre-existing racial stratification. The rapid influx of blacks into the North and West disturbed the racial balance within cities, exacerbating hostility between both black and white residents in the two regions. Stereotypic schemas of Southern blacks were used to attribute issues in urban areas, such as crime and disease, to the presence of African-Americans. Overall, African-Americans in most Northern and Western cities experienced systemic discrimination in a plethora of aspects of life.
Throughout this period, racial tensions exploded, most violently in Chicago, and lynchings—mob-directed hangings, usually racially motivated—increased dramatically in the 1920s. Urban riots—whites attacking blacks—became a northern and western problem. Many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward African Americans, while many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as white flight.
Many of the people we’re talking about in the early 20th century were either your parents or grandparents, depending on your age.
The Jim Crow Laws were state and local laws which were enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between 1876 and 1965. They mandated "separate but equal" status for blacks. State-sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. One of the first federal court cases which challenged segregation in schools was Mendez v. Westminster in 1946.
Let’s move to the second half of the 20th century. By the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Membership in the NAACP increased in states across the U.S. A 1955 lynching that sparked public outrage about injustice was that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago; Till was killed for allegedly having wolf-whistled at a white woman; assuming it really happened, some saw that as a capital crime punishable by death.
In June 1963, civil rights activist and NAACP member Medgar Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens' Council. In his trials for murder De La Beckwith evaded conviction via all-white juries (both trials ended with hung juries).
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point during the Civil Rights Era. On Sunday, September 15, 1963 with a stack of dynamite hidden on an outside staircase, Ku Klux Klansmen destroyed one side of the Birmingham church. The bomb exploded in proximity to twenty-six children who were preparing for choir practice in the basement assembly room. The explosion killed four black girls, Carole Robertson (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Denise McNair (11) and Addie Mae Collins (14).
Many U.S. states banned interracial marriage. In 1967, Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as white and people classified as "colored" (persons of non-white ancestry). In the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967, the Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the U.S.
Please note that this was 1967, not ancient history; this was just over fifty years ago that some states were trying to outlaw intermarriages. This is recent history and we were still batshit crazy about black and white mixing together. This could have been your parents or your grandparents promoting anti-marriage propaganda.
As the civil rights movement and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s deepened existing racial tensions in much of the Southern U.S, a Republican Party electoral strategy – the Southern strategy – was enacted in order to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans, a practice that continues today.
Republican politicians such as presidential candidate Richard Nixon and Senator Barry Goldwater developed strategies that successfully contributed to the political realignment of many white, conservative voters in the South who had traditionally supported the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party. In 1971, angered by African delegates at the UN siding against the U.S. in a vote, then Governor of California Ronald Reagan stated in a phone call to president Nixon, "To see those... monkeys from those African countries - damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”.
This is the 1970s and white people are still denigrating people of color with terms like monkey, spear chucker, jungle bunny, spic, greaser, and a long list of terms intended to diminish the person of color.The perception that the Republican Party had served as the "vehicle of white supremacy in the South", particularly post 1964, made it difficult for the Party to win back the support of black voters in the South in later years and it remains their Achilles heel today.
From 1981 to 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture discriminated against tens of thousands of black American farmers, denying loans that were provided to white farmers in similar circumstances. The discrimination was the subject of the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit brought by members of the National Black Farmers Association, which resulted in two settlement agreements of $1.06 billion in 1999 and of $1.25 billion in 2009. This was going on into the late 1990s; if you are 25 or 30 years old, this is part of your history, not something in a history book.
The problems persist today; Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Central Park Five, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the list goes on. White women calling 911 because a Black man is in Central Park - he turns out to be a bird watcher. White suburbanites seeing a black person in their neighborhood and calling the cops with no justification other than "they are Black".
This timeline should show you that racism is not new, but has existed in the U.S. and around the world for a very long time - thus, we call it systemic.
I know this has been long, but it is important for us as a nation and as individuals to understand that discrimination is deeply embedded in our society, or culture, and in the psyche of many white people in this country. I hope that you can see the pervasiveness of racism throughout our history. We have been taught by parents, political leaders, religious leaders, and just friends and adults in our lives to distrust and fear people of color and especially Black people.
It will take a thoughtful and long-term program to turn this around. And, as I heard someone talking today on the radio, this isn’t something you make happen by force; you can't legislate an open mind, acceptance, and love. You have to find a way to reach inside people and show them the value in their becoming a better person and that it is their civil obligation to make our world a better place. They, and their children and grandchildren will live in a better world for the decisions they make today.
There was a time when we, the white we, rejected the Irish, Italian, the Greeks, East Europeans, and Asians of all stripes. Today, we admire these groups for both their contributions to our country and the world, and welcome them into our families via intermarriage. It was easier because they generally looked like us - they simply had accents. It was a little harder with Asians, but we have, by and large, moved past that barrier.
Exactly how you craft that message about people of color so it reaches a maximum number of people, I don’t quite know, but it’s the only real answer. Certainly, we as individuals can make a huge contribution to this change by teaching our children to accept everyone and only judge people by their behavior. We can either work to change the opinions of our friends, or we unfriend them; isolate them and maybe that will bring them around. Beyond that, I’ll have to depend on the experts to devise ways of changing our society and nation for the better.
Is it time to rethink and reengineer our Constitution? That is not hyperbole, but looking factually at a rather old document. Some purists may think this to be political heresy; I think it makes a lot of sense.
Our founding fathers — the fact that only men were involved might well be an issue in our modern world — did a marvelous job on their first effort. The fact that the document survives today is a testament to the job they did. What they did was to "engineer" a political and social structure quite unlike anything that had been done to that point in history. And, it was designed around a culture and a set of morals very different from today.
Aristotle (ca 350 BC) was the first to make a formal distinction between ordinary law and constitutional law, establishing ideas of constitution and constitutionalism, and attempting to classify different forms of constitutional government. The most basic definition he used to describe a constitution in general terms was "the arrangement of the offices in a state". He classified both what he regarded as good and what he regarded as bad constitutions, and came to the conclusion that the best constitution was a mixed system, including monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements. He also distinguished between citizens, who had the right to participate in the state, and non-citizens and slaves, who did not.
Over the next centuries, various states tried to create the "perfect union". Spain, France, England, The United States, there is now a long list of countries who have taken on this task and at least partially succeeded. There is a long list of democratic, pseudo-democratic, and barely democratic governments on the planet. The top ten, based on a scoring system, The Democracy Index, developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit, is a ranking of the countries based on their approach to governing. The top ten are:
Interestingly enough, the United States is not in the top ten; we are 25th on the list. While arguments can be made about how these rankings are developed, it seems to me that there is a general consensus that we don't measure up to most of the Scandinavian countries and a couple of others when it comes to democracy.
My argument is, that like any technology, any constitution, and our Constitution tend to be frozen in the time they were created. They reflect the values, morality, and social construct of the day. While it is true that we have amended our Constitution, it tends to be a somewhat archaic document. Since 1789 the Constitution has been amended 27 times, a laborious process as it should be to prevent willy-nilly changes driven by the whims of elected leaders.
I used the term engineer in referring to the founding father's efforts, and I believe this is a good way to view the document. It is not unlike engineering anything. The first copy machine, the first cotton gin, the first radio; these were all amazing breakthroughs as well as incorporating all the knowledge that existed at the time. Later generations of all these machines were built on the original using the modern technology of the time. Consequently, better and better machines were developed. I believe the same is true with any social/political/philosophical undertaking; it is only as good as the available social constructs of the time.
Let's look at the nation at the time the Constitution was written. The Philadelphia Convention that ultimately drew up and signed the Constitution was exclusively made up of white males. Women did not participate in governance or politics. Women couldn't vote. Children could be pulled from school and put to work at age twelve, or sometimes younger. It was a very different world with different values than we accept today. The following description of life in 1787 is from https://www.mcall.com.
"The United States has a population of about 4 million, scattered up and down the 13 states. It is overwhelmingly white and largely Protestant and English-speaking. Most people are from the British Isles, the largest number from England. Pennsylvania Germans are one of the few exceptions. They make up a third of their state's population. There are also 700,000 black people in America. About 90 percent of them are slaves. Although slavery is still legal in New York and New Jersey, almost all of the slaves are held in bondage south of Pennsylvania.
In the cities, the sweet smell of flower gardens mixes with the pungent reek of open sewers. The stench from the pits of the local tannery equals just about any odor produced 200 years later. The people you pass on the street may smell a little gamey to your late 20th-century nose. Bathing is a sometimes thing on all levels of society. And many people think it is downright unhealthy. Piles of horse manure and swarms of flies are regarded as obnoxious but unavoidable hazards of urban living. Although there are a few wealthy merchants, almost everyone is a tradesman or artisan who lives with his family above the shop.
Rural America seems like a foreign country. It is more isolated than is possible to imagine today. Flocks of the now-extinct passenger pigeon fill the sky, a bobcat's scream echoes off a distant hillside and at night unlit country roads seem strangely dark and forbidding. With a good horse on the best of roads you can make 50 miles a day. But wagons or coaches can cover only 12 to 20 miles in the same time. It is three days of hard bumpy riding from Philadelphia to New York.
Medicine is something practiced at home. Calling a doctor is regarded as a signal that death is near. And the germ theory of disease is still 100 years in the future. Old-fashioned remedies are the best you have. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. When it's time to pull a tooth or amputate a leg there is no anesthetic. You steel yourself to the pain and hope to survive.
A traveler notes that the day begins at breakfast where Americans, "deluge their stomach with a quart of hot water, impregnated with tea, or so slightly with coffee that it is mere colored water." Then, "they swallow, almost without chewing, hot bread, half-baked toast soaked in butter, cheese of the fattest kind, slices of salt or hung beef, ham, etc., all of which are nearly insoluble." Dinner or lunch follows with a mixture of beef puddings, turnips and potatoes that "swim in hog lard," and tea so strong, "that it is absolutely bitter to the taste."
But life in 1787 is not always a dreary round of chores. In cities there are amusements that range from horse racing, cock fighting and gambling to plays, libraries and philosophical societies. Drinking is popular. During the Constitutional Convention, those late-night strategy sessions among delegates are accompanied by much rum and Madeira.
Most Americans of 1787 have little time to keep track of the burning political issues of the day. White male property holders, and only those with a certain amount of property at that, are allowed to vote or hold public office. And, since polls are difficult to reach, many of those who are eligible to vote don't bother.
America of 1787 is a nation in embryo. It has no expressways or railroads, no computers or factories. It did not even have a capitol. Its loose union of states is a jealous alliance. One South Carolinian declared the residents of Georgia and New England were as different as Turks are from Russians. But it does have an idea. It is the belief that individuals have rights that no king or lord can take away. Citizens distrust too much power in the hands of any man or government."
It is against this backdrop of cultural values and social morality and norms that our founders crafted the Constitution. Radio, television, assault rifles, jet travel, computers, international relations and trade agreements on the modern scale, and the Internet and nuclear weapons were unimaginable to the folks that occupied our nation at that time, and yet they were charged with producing a document that that could withstand the test of time, and they did a pretty damn good job of it.
Today we face problems and issues that our founders could never have foreseen. There is the impact of globalizaiton, the eroding of congressional authority and the expansion of presidential authority. While the Constitution gave congress the power to levy taxes, there was no income tax until the Civil War. Many of the taxes we pay today were created in the 1920s and 1930s including the estate tax, gift tax, and Social Security taxes. Today we wrestle with the issue of same-sex marriages, and other civil rights that are argued in the courts without much guidance from the Constitution. This, and much more needs to be revisited as viewed through the eyes of not Thomas Jefferson, but the modern world. Can we provide better answers to future generations? We need to try.
What I am proposing is a new Philadelphia Convention, or Constitutional Convention - the name is irrelevant It would be a large gathering with representatives from every state, men, women, rich and poor, all nationalities and races, people of all religions, liberals and conservatives. It doesn't matter if it's a body of 200 or 300 people; it is critical that it represent a majority of citizens in our country. Their goal would be to bring the Constitution into line with a modern world, looking at the language as it pertains to the operation of our government and the system of laws and rights embodied in the Constitution.
They might have to work for two years on this. Those who need compensation should get it. There needs to be a process for replacing people who have to leave the work for one reason or another. There would undoubtedly be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and maybe even 4th drafts. It might be done like a business proposal with red and gold teams reviewing the output. In the end, they would produce a revised and modernized Constitution. It would have to pass with a super-majority vote; if there are 300 delegates, 70% or 210 must vote for the finished document. One of the provisions of the new Constitution should be a review of the document, at least every fifty years, perhaps something less, but not so often as to create chaos.
Once the document is done, it would be ratified by the Congress. Again, a super-majority in Congress would pass it on to the states where it would be ratified by using the current quota of 38 states with a deadline that must be met. Upon ratification, it would replace the original Constitution.
Because I know I have a tendency to prattle on, and I know some people (perhaps most) won't want to read this to the end of what I suspect will become a somewhat lengthy post, I'm going to do the summary up front in the hope of imparting my message to those who, like me, are skimmers and/or impatient.
Summary: We are what we learn, plus a sprinkling of genetic matter. Life is, or it should be a continuous journey of learning. If you close your eyes and cover your ears at, say, the age of fifteen, or at any age, you will stop taking in the information that will help you grow and learn from experiences; you will be frozen in time. As Terry Coleman, a fine Irish gent I worked with at Boeing responded one when I asked him about a new supervisor who was joining our department, responded, "He has been here 25 years; he learned everything he knows in his first two years and has been repeating the same shit over and over for 23 years."
We only get one shot at life and we shouldn't waste it with our eyes and ears closed to new ideas and experiences. I think we have an obligation to learn and change as we grow. We should leave life a more informed person than when we started and with any luck at all, we will have added to the cumulation of knowledge and passed it on to our children and others. That is literally the definition of evolution.
My Journey To The Left
I wasn't born a liberal; I wasn't born anything other than a small pink collection of cells with the DNA of my parents and ancestors. The rest of my life, now approaching 78 years, has been a journey of learning about myself and about the other humans with whom I share this planet. That, I believe is a universal truth for us all. In my opinion, we aren't going anywhere after this. We will leave behind our ideas, our prejudices, and our love of life, art, music, and everything else that defines us, and with time, assuming we don't become famous, that will simply meld with all the other ideas and become the new normal.
I've documented my early life in a number of places so I won't go over the finite details here except where I think it might relate to my point that I am what I have learned. I have no memories of my mother and father as a child, save one visit from my father on my 4th birthday. I was living with my grandmother, his mother. As I recall the visit, I must have known who my father was because I remember being happy to see him; that would be the last time I saw or heard from him, ever. My mother was unknown to me at all; I had no memories of her and so, in my mind at least, I first met her when I was about thirteen. At fifteen I went to live with her and my stepfather, George Wagner, a great guy and a STBF (Short term best friend).
I lived with my parents as an infant; I know I did because my older brothers told me some interesting stories. Soon, however, perhaps around one year of age and presumably because my parents separated, I was off to my Aunt Bert's house, my father's sister, and shortly after that off to live with my grandmother, Minnie, until just before my fifth birthday.
Whether I was learning anything during this period, I have no idea; my memories are mostly limited to my grandmother and brothers and events and activities with them as opposed to any sort of philosophical, religious, or political indoctrination. I'm persuaded that I was learning to accept change; a lesson that would be useful later in life.
My grandmother was not well; I learned this later. She suffered from diabetes and at around age 70 simply could not raise children, that would be me and my two older brothers. It appears there was no other family to rely on so she ended up placing all three of us in a boys' home in Omaha, Nebraska; my brothers first, then me. Thus, I feel my life story, my journey really began at age five; the rest was a serious of incidents.
The Masonic Home for Boys is now called simply The Omaha Home for Boys. If one has to be raised in an institution, you would be hard-pressed to find a better one. Later in life, I've come to think of that experience, which lasted ten years until I was fifteen, as what I imagine being sent to a military school or some sort of boarding school must be like. Life, while lacking some of the more personal touches of growing up in a family and learning to love, but provided a solid foundation of rules and life lessons that would prove useful later in life.
Please do not go aww, or feel sorry for me. Yes, my life was certainly atypical, but the adventures I had at the Home could never be duplicated in a family environment. While I saw my life as rather inflexible and constraining as most young people do, I was never abused in the common context of abuse. Again, there were situations that I've described in other writings about life in the Home that were difficult, but it was a fun and exciting childhood.
Back to learning. I don't know, and will never know if I was born with an appetite to learn, or if it was imparted in me during my time at the Home. The boys at the Home were divided by age; roughly something like this: age 5 to 10 in the Buck Building, age 11 to 13 in the Scott Building, age 12 to 14 in the Neff Building, age 13 to 15 in the Smith Building, and ages 16 to 18 in the Anderson Building. It's been a lot of years, but that's the general idea; we were divided by age groups with about 16 boys in each building and a total capacity of about 80 boys.
Life at the Home revolved around a number of things; schedule, tradition, religion, and doing chores. It was as WASPish an environment as can be imagined. There were no boys of color when I went there in 1947, and none when I left in 1956. There were no people of color on the staff. The area in and around the Home was, to my knowledge, completely white. That has all changed tremendously (sorry for the Trumpian superlative) and I would encourage you to check out the Omaha Home for Boys if you're curious. It's now full of boys and girls and kids of all colors.
What is now a Middle School, Monroe, is where I went to school. It was then a Grade School and was about a mile away, although it felt like ten miles on a freezing, snowing day walking to school and back, I enjoyed school a lot and was a good student. The school was also lily white in those days. I have no recollection of any students of color in the ten years I went there (they made it a Middle School when I was in the 8th grade, so I stayed on for the 9th)
The good news is, while I had no exposure to people of color or ethnicity, I was also not surrounded by or bombarded by racial animus The staff at the home, to my knowledge or recollection, never said one word about race, nor did teachers at school. My diversification education, as distorted as it was, came from television. Rochester on the Jack Benny Show, Willie Best (a variety of shows and roles), Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, better known by the stage name Stepin Fetchit, and Nat King Cole. They were all images on a screen as opposed to real people.
My first five years at the Home were under the tutelage of Mrs. Mable Stoft. She was a stern little woman with, at times, some strange ideas about raising boys. Still, much of who I am today probably stems from her influence on me; others will have to judge whether that is good or bad.
As I mentioned, this area of Omaha was very white. We boys went to public schools and the church of our choice in the nearby neighborhood of Benson. The churches were, to my knowledge, all Christian. There may have been a Synagogue somewhere, but not that I was aware of. There was a clutch of Protestant churches, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Baptist, and maybe one Catholic church that I avoided like the plague; I did visit most of the other Christians houses of worship over time.
Mrs. Stoft was a solid and stoic Christian woman and she made a point to having us study and read from the Bible daily, along with other educational pursuits, reading, English, and math; she was supplementing what we were learning in school. We typically spent an hour or so reading and in recitation between coming home from school and going to dinner. As I mentioned, it was definitely a WASPy childhood.
Whether I had a talent for memorization, or she helped develop that in me through reading and recitation, I don't know, but I became a bit of a minor star in that regard. I memorized a number of Bible verses as well as the Gettysburg Address and was called on to recite these at special events for the Home which usually involved trying to raise money from donors. I think I became a bit of a hot dog whenever I had a chance to speak in front of an audience; I seemed to enjoy being on stage.
What I did have as a child, or again perhaps was developed in me, was the thirst for knowledge. I enjoyed reading, and had good comprehension and retention of what I had read. Mrs. Stoft also "forced" us to watch certain shows on television. These include artists like Lawrence Welk, Kate Smith, Ed Sullivan, Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle, and Nat King Cole. I think Mrs. Stoft wanted to develop an appreciation of music in us, as long as it was semi-religious. I left before rock and roll blew up; I can only imagine her angst over that. We also got to watch cowboy shows like, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, and The Cisco Kid.
I watched Nat King Cole with fascination. Mrs. Stoft, to her credit, never said a word about him being Black or anything else that I recall, but she obviously liked his music. I knew I was listening to something special, but I couldn't stop looking at the face of this Black guy. No one had said a word to me about people of color, so I just stared in wonderment The same thing happened with the Cisco Kid & Poncho. They were two of my favorite...cowboys?
Cisco Kid was played by Duncan Renaldo, and Poncho by Leo Carrillo. Cisco Kid was a swashbuckling Mexican dressed like a Mariachi. Leo Carrillo was actually born in Los Angeles and his character dress more like a Mexican cowboy, or Vaquero. I knew nothing about Mexicans, Mexico, or Mariachis, but I loved these two guys. The funny thing is that Renaldo was born in Romania and to my knowledge didn't have a drop of Mexican or Spanish blood in him. Carrillo, at least, came from a long line of original Californians and was of Spanish and Italian heritage. The Cisco Kid visited the home once when I was probably ten, and it was a highlight of my life then.
My point in sharing this part of my life is that I had no preconceived ideas about who any of these people were. No one had instilled in me any preconceptions, dislikes, or stereotypes for people of color. Naturally, most of the Black actors on TV and in movies were playing the stereotypical Black person so I probably assumed that was what they were like. What I enjoyed was the humor I saw in their characters without associating it with anything bad.
My life went on at the Home for another five years after I was out from under Stoft's wing, but again, with no overt racist talk or with me meeting people of color. There were a few boys who had arrived at the Home at an older age than me, say twelve-years-old, or so, who did use racial slurs, but it had no meaning to me at the time. One of the terms would stick with me and to this day I tell the story about my naïveté when I left the Home; we'll get to that in a moment.
I mentioned earlier that my mother came into my life when I was about thirteen. She and my stepfather came for a visit. I spent a series of weekends with them at their apartment in downtown Omaha, and a little before my fifteenth birthday, they plucked me out of the Home and I went to live with them.
That was initially a strange turn of events, and probably a strain on me. I had spent the last ten years, perhaps my most formative years, living in dormitories with upwards of eighty other boys and being shepherded by women who seemed to us to be ancient. I was thrust into this new home environment that was very quiet and since my two brothers, who I barely knew, were off to the Navy and other adventures, I didn't have a lot of companionship.
One thing that my early life had taught me was to adjust to the situation I found myself in, and I was pretty good at that. I tended to listen and observe the environment I was in and the people around me and adjusted, to at least survive if not thrive where I was at. That is what I did now living in a family environment, even if it was somewhat atypical.
We initially lived not far from the Home in my stepfather's parents home. That setup lasted only a few months. Shortly after I moved there, his mother died, and a fairly short time after that his father died. I guess the house, such as it was, must have been sold and what money there was divided between my stepfather and his sister. Our next move was to South Omaha.
I had often referred to South Omaha (SO) as 'Little Chicago'. That was due in part to it being one of two major stockyard operations in the country, the other being in Chicago. It also attracted a great many people looking to work in the packing houses. People from Eastern Europe (post war immigrants), and Blacks, Mexicans, and Native Americans as well as white people were all drawn to the area for good paying jobs.
Thus, my education in the world of color began.
I met people of every race, color, and religion you could imagine. Now, to be sure, I heard more than my share of racist talk in the Federal Housing Projects where we lived. Many, if not most of these folks had grown up in SO. There had been race riots, and discrimination between Black and white and Hispanic. There had been issue between white people, between native born white people and immigrants from Europe. There were old issue that came from Europe with the immigrants and those didn't just fall away because they were now in America.
But, since all that racist nonsense had not been instilled in me as a small child, at fifteen, I had developed a brain that could take in opinions and other information and form my own ideas; I hadn't been programmed to discriminate. In the interest of being real, it wasn't like I fell right in with all these diverse cultures. They were strange to me, and sometimes uncomfortable or I simply didn't understand their food, music, or banter, but no one had told me it was "bad". I made my own decisions.
I found myself rejecting the "hate speech," not because I was being coached, but simply because it was who I was. I wasn't exactly a pacifist. Growing up at the Home with upwards of eighty other boys, you have to know there was a lot of testosterone in the air. I could take it outside with the best of them if need be, but I also learned the art of negotiation and that was my preferred approach. I made and rejected friendship based on my assessment of someone as a person, not on color or nationality or any of that.
I mentioned having learned a term at the Home from one of the boys - I don't remember a name — who had obviously been schooled in racist talk. The term was 'Jungle Bunny'. I might have been around twelve when I first hear that, and I had no clue what it meant. I've told people I actually had a mental image of a human-sized rabbit hopping along the trails in the jungle. Everyone laughed when the term was used, but I guess I was seeing a very different image than the others.
Boom! I'm in SO now. I'd made friends with another boy in the Projects, Tom Devaney. We were riding a bus to the SO shopping district one day and grab-assing on the bus the way teenage boys will. The bus was probably half full, and seventy percent of that group was Black. As Tom and I kind of wrestled around, I called him a Jungle Bunny. He froze and his already pale Irish tone went even whiter. I pulled back and noticed that everyone on the bus had turned to look at us; I had no idea why.
Tom hissed at me, "Don't say that you dumb shit!" And what did I do? "What? Jungle Bunny?" I said it nice and loud and again perhaps twenty Black faces turned in my direction. Tom pulled the cord to get off and grabbed me and hauled me off the bus. He then explained what the term mean. I didn't have a clue; that's how naive my little white upbringing had been. Needless to say, other than telling this story on myself, that term has never passed my lips again.
Over the years, I continued to learn. In the Marines, I squared off with more than one good old boy from down south over racist stuff, and I did take it outside with one of them. If a couple of guys hadn't stepped in between us, he would have cleaned my clock; he was fast. It became obvious to me that racism is learned and once learned, it is damned hard to erase.
One more anecdote and I'll move on. After the Marines, and marriage, and a couple of little pink things of my own, my first wife and I moved to San Diego with our children in 1966. Being form the Midwest we were bowlers. I used to bowl on a league for the company I worked for at the time and I would go right from work to get in a little practice before our league started at 6 pm. After practice I'd grab a bite to eat the cafe in the bowling alley. I used to sit at a horseshoe shaped counter and pound down a cheeseburger and fries.
One night, just as I'm finishing, I overhear two older guys who were WWii aged and maybe veterans. What I could hear was stuff like "dirty Japs," "yellow bastards" and at one point, the guy doing most of the talking said something like, "If my kid ever married a Jap, I'd disown the little bastard." By this point, I was seething. I looked over, and the guy must have been 70 if he was a day, and I was about 27 or 28, so I figured I probably shouldn't just go over there and knock him off the stool, so I walked over on my way to the alleys and said something like, "If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I can only hope that you come back Japanese." While he was digesting what I'd just said, I walked off to bowl.
Looking back on those first twenty-five or so years, I can now see that I was moving left and rejecting much of what my white, conservative beginnings were teaching me. My natural instincts were to reject racism, hate, and negativity in general. I attribute this to my natural inclination to question what I'm told is "just the way it is," and search for answers that are logical as opposed to the legendary or hypothetical postulations typically given. Since I definitely was not being taught to think for myself at a young age, I attribute this inclination to genetics.
Having once landed in Southern California, I met and became friends with a number of like-minded people. In those days; they were labeled either hippies or communists for challenging the status quo, but I knew that my belief system and politics belonged in the left lane and the much of what I had been taught as a boy was based in a conservative white Christian dogma that didn't work for me.
Over the years and after the late 60s, and events like Viet Nam and the Nixon and Reagan administrative lies and missteps, I moved even further to the left, and today, with the oligarchy of Trump and his band of felons bolstered by an illegitimate pseudo-news network, FOX, trying to dismantle our democracy and destroy our Constitution, I think I've moved even further left. The young man who was labeled a "commie" is one of the strongest defenders of our Constitution against the likes of Trump that you are likely to find.
We are still listening to medieval voices
Modern science has existed for nearly 700 years and has guided us out of the dark ages into the most enlightened time in the history of our species. Yet, we cling to fantasies, fallacies, and folklore older than recorded history, with most of it rooted in religion.
Five major world religions claim the majority of religious adherents. Just two, Christianity and Islam, account for over 4 billion people, more than half the total population on Earth. Each of the religions has shaped our culture for generations. The world religions have influenced art, architecture, philosophy, ethics, politics, and even language. Each has its unique attributes, traditions, and peculiarities.
Thou shalt not kill - that is pretty basic to all the religions, and I suspect that tenet existed long before organized religion. Common sense told our ancient ancestors that they had to (a) survive as a group and (b) stop killing each other. Other rules for societal behavior almost certainly preceded organized religion. Like our primate cousins in the ape family, we instinctively understood the need for societal norms.
As we procreated in ancient times, probably more like wild dogs, and most likely producing some offspring that were not likely to contribute to the advancement of our species, it must have become evident that we needed rules about sexual permissiveness. Again, this was happening long before organized religion became the guardian of human behavior.
As religion evolved from…no one is quite sure what was in its place before recorded history to the advent of various beliefs in multiple gods, we then codified much of what we had learned about governing human behavior into the rules of multiple belief systems. Those ancient ancestors wanted to believe in something. We have found graves of people buried with cherished objects - sometimes other people and animals - suggesting that we had or wanted to believe in an afterlife. We concluded that some higher powers controlled the weather and lightning, floods, etc., and we experimented with multiple gods, often thought to be related to divine rulers, an idea almost certainly promulgated by the rulers.
Having witnessed over the centuries, these divine rulers behaving like low-lifes, incestuous whoremasters, and bloodthirsty butchers, we realized their behavior was tarnishing the image of our gods by association. We quickly disabused ourselves of that notion that any humans were gods. We eventually winnowed the whole theory down to a single God.
Life for humans, going back as far as recorded history permits and even before that, was, in a word, a bitch. Finding food, shelter, dying from a disease, and avoiding every other danger imaginable, human life was a considerable trial without a lot of happy endings.
As we began to believe in gods, and eventually a single God, it was counter-intuitive to believe in a God who made us suffer so. Why would he put all this pain and suffering on us, if as we were taught, he loved us? If we were to believe in God, we needed to explain why this God, who supposedly created us, would shit on us daily, as seemed to be the case.
Life and death were also great mysteries. We understood that the act of procreating brought about babies, just as every animal on the planet follows the instinct to breed. We had no clue how any of that came about, so God became a convenient explanation for how a child came to be, and with religion serving a dual purpose as keepers of science, the idea was accepted that it was divine intervention.
Death. Whoa! Death! An unsolvable mystery as it is today. We knew it happened to all living things, but it scared the bejesus out of us. Despite the miserable shit-storm, most of us called our lives, we held on to religious teachings with a passion, not wanting to die. But, with religion, came the knowledge, promulgated by our religious leaders, that we didn't die as long as we were true to our faith; we passed on to a new forever life that not only ensured we would be around forever, but we were assured that we would be free of our suffering and pain, and we would be reunited with all the family and friends who had died before us. That's a late-night ad that's hard to ignore.
Another problem presented by a "god" orchestrating all these events on Earth was the notion of evil and sin. A certain percentage of people, no matter how many times they were told the rules of civilization, refused to sign up to and adhere to the rules of life set down, rules that they didn't have a vote in. To put this aberrant behavior in context, we concluded some evil people sinned. Since we had a God to guide us down the rosy path of life, we needed a villain to explain why some of our fellow humans behaved so badly; enter Satan and the notion of evil influences.
All of this evolution of human thought happened over tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. The rules and standards were passed from one generation to the other verbally before the advent of writing. And, those social norms varied greatly from one society to another. With the arrival of writing, people all over the Earth began to record all the myths and stories, many baseless, containing all the fears and presumed answers developed over the millennia to govern human behavior.
Viola'! We had religious texts that could be passed from one generation to another, providing continuity of thought as well as enshrining those who wrote the words. Often claiming input from the divine, the authors ensured their place in history as well as some power in their current life.
All of this was working reasonably well for the better part of 2,800 years. From what some think of as the beginnings of monotheism (one God) in 1300 BCE until around the 14th century CE when some feel modern science began to unravel many of life's mysteries using observations and logic rather than folklore. Before this time, we relied on medieval science, which hailed theology and metaphysics as the pinnacle of scientific knowledge.
For an interesting take on the evolution of religion, you might want to look at this: or, better yet, buy my book.
Much of modern-day religion still holds on to the very same concepts developed during the period of medieval science. When we look at some of the rituals of the major religions, we see this in action.
The taking of communion in most Christian churches with a nibble of bread and perhaps a sip of wine in the belief that you are taking in the blood and body of Christ is a prime example.
Upon the death of a Jew, the eyes are closed, the body is covered and laid on the floor, and candles are lit next to it. The body is never left alone as a sign of respect. Those who stay with the body are called shomerim (guards). Eating, drinking, or performing mitzvot are prohibited near the body, as such actions would mock the person who is no longer able to do such things.
Flowers are not appropriate at a Muslim funeral or as gifts to the mourning family. Men and women sit separately at the Muslim funeral service, and women should cover their heads and arms. No recording devices of any kind — audio, video or photo — are permitted. Some sects mourn officially for 40 days; during that time, the family wears only black. The widow wears black for a year, although the anniversary of the death is not otherwise observed
The Christian ecclesiastical garb first became peculiar in a strict sense when, under the influence of the migration of the Germanic tribes, the costumes, as well as the forms of the ancient world, passed away. The more convenient medieval dress was substituted, while the Church (and for a longer or shorter period, the upper classes and the higher officials also) clung to Roman or Greek fashions.
Dietary laws and customs are based on the prior assumption of social stratification or, at least, of a sense of separateness is provided by Judaism as spelled out in the books of in the Torah. Prohibited foods include all animals—and the products of animals—that do not chew the cud and do not have cloven hoofs (e.g., pigs and horses); fish without fins and scales; the blood of any animal; shellfish (e.g., clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs) and all other living creatures that creep; and those fowl enumerated in the Bible (e.g., vultures, hawks, owls, herons). All foods outside these categories may be eaten.
Many Qurʾānic strictures were explicit in establishing distinctions between Arabs and Jews. Many dietary regulations borrow heavily from Mosaic Law in forbidding the consumption of the blood of any animal, the flesh of swine or of animals that are found dead, and food that has been offered or sacrificed to idols. The most radical departure of Islamic dietary laws from those found in the Torah concerns the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Jews may consume alcohol and wine in many rituals and feasts. The Qurʾān, however, absolutely forbids any such beverages.
There may have been some good reasons for some of these rules. We now know, thanks to modern science, that certain parasites can be ingested from eating both pork and some fish that can invade the body and make us sick. Without the benefit of science, ancient humans may have been able to make a connection between certain foods and humans becoming ill, and these rules were established to protect human health.
Christianity did not develop elaborate dietary rules and customs. This probably grew out of the controversy over whether or not to observe Mosaic food laws. Jesus is said to have declared that any external agent could not cause contamination.
Hindu food observances help to define a social position. While uncooked food may be received from or handled by members of any caste, Brahmans, members of the highest caste, eat only those foods prepared in the finest manner (pakka). Everyone else takes inferior (kacca) food. Food left on plates after eating is defined as garbage (jutha) because the eater’s saliva has polluted it. Meats are graded according to their relative amount of pollution. Eggs are the least and beef the most defiling; the highest-caste Brahmans avoid all meat products.
Again, much if not most of this knowledge must have come to us before organized religion. We observed what was happening and connecting the dots. So and so ate this mushroom and died. After several such occurrences, we learned not to eat that particular mushroom. That is the definition of evolution; learning by observing and making connections.
While we cling to many of these ancient notions, we all know now how to ensure we don't get sick from infected pork; it has nothing to do with what kind of hooves an animal has. Shellfish and fish without fins are not only harmless, but many of them are essential to a healthy diet.
We know how our bodies and those of the rest of the animal kingdom work to produce offspring; we know what thunder and lightning are and how it is produced; we understand the tides, eclipses, and the expansiveness of our universe. All this knowledge and more have come to us over the last 700 years, and our knowledge base continues to grow exponentially with each advance in science and technology.
So, why do we continue to listen to the voices of the past, people who, two thousand years ago, thought the world was flat? Five hundred or a thousand years from now, will the world of the future look back on us as we look back on the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and wonder how we could have clung to the old ways?
Certainly, the focus at the moment in the US and around the world, is with the various agencies involved in the enforcement of laws and their abuse of their authority, and in particular how they interact with people of color.
The "white man" has ruled over this world for a very long time in most cases. Without turning this into a history class, and I shouldn't have to if we've been paying attention, we white people have ruled most of this planet for centuries. Naturally, in China, Japan, the Koreas, and all of Asia, after the Europeans tried mightily to rule that part of the world, and succeeded for a number of centuries, most of Asia wrested back their autonomy from the Europeans.
Until quite recently, the power and the leadership in most western countries was dominated by white males. That would include most of Western Europe, the United States and Canada as well as some parts of South America. To some extent, this is true in Russia, although Russia is almost a study by itself.
In the US, and I suspect around the world, those in power also wrote controlling documents like their constitutions and enacted laws to rule their world. They formed various government agencies to operate their society. Whether it was always a conscious intent or more subconscious, those controlling documents were designed to ensure that those in power, stayed in power. They became manifestos to white male supremacy.
That term, mind control brings to mind about as many images as there are people on the planet; it means different things to different people, but it is, I believe, the ultimate struggle that each of us wrestle with our entire lives.
Our mind, our intellect, and yes, our egos are the result of an evolutionary process that seems to be unique to our branch of the primate tree and to all life as we know it on this earth. For whatever reason, our brain evolved a multitude of functions and capabilities unlike any other animal that we are aware of. And, along with that, we seem to have lost other abilities that many of our animal cousins still possess. Did we lose them, or was it simply that with the growth and complexity of our new brains that we no longer needed those older elements and instincts?
I'll leave the pursuit of knowledge about our evolution in terms of our brain to the researchers and scientists who have both the education and the time to delve into the topic. What I want to discuss is the programming of our brains as we travel the road of life.
Yes, programming; we are programmed beginning at a very early age and we continue to be programmed and attempt at reprogramming us are not stop through most of our lives. Some of the programs come from outside our minds and some of it is self-imposed.
There are studies that indicate we begin hearing and sensing things while we're still in the womb. I suspect that degree of learning is somewhat limited. First of all, in the womb, you are pretty much consumed with the process of development from a mass of cells to a fully formed little critter with a functioning brain. There's a reason why this all takes place in the womb and not on the kitchen table; we need some privacy and certainly protection during this growth period.
So that my words are not abused or misused, let me hasten to add that this has nothing to do with a woman's right to choose whether or not to be an incubator for what will eventually become a viable being. I am pro-choice and nothing I am saying here is to be misconstrued to argue against that position. Someday, as will undoubtedly happen, we will be able to create a human outside a woman's womb.
That process, just as it happens in a womb today, will initially be a collection of cells with the potential of becoming a viable being, but for a considerable period of time as it lies in a Petri dish, or glass bubble, or whatever medium is used to allow those cells to divide and grow, it is not a vialble lifeform. Early in that process, as things may go wrong, and they will just as they do in a womb, a decision will have to be made whether or not to allow those cells to evolve into a partially functioning human or not.
Enough of that. Back to our collection of cells that now has a brain capable of hearing and sensing at least some information. As the article above indicates, our little brain has the ability to hear words outside the womb and remember those words. Since we can't see yet, we can't associate those words with images, but the words are stored in our brains along with other sounds we may have heard, a barking dog, the doorbell, a sneeze or a cough.
You may have heard or read that playing classical music to an infant in the womb can increase their intelligence. This article suggest there is no scientific foundation for this claim. That doesn't mean the music isn't heard, and that it may well affect the devlopment of the infants brain, but such proof would require a significan number of babies in the womb, preferrably all identical to avoid other mitigating factors, and then a controlled study of playing Mozart for some and not others. Until we have those babies lined up in the labratory, all created equal throght DNA engineering, we're unlikely to know the answer to this question.
This preamble, while a bit long, is meant to get us thinking about mind control. As I stated at the beginning, this is a lifelong struggle for all of us, starting from the time we pop out of the womb until we are popped into a casket, oven, or whatever our end process of choice might be.
We begin in a somewhat controlled environment, at home with our parents and perhaps siblings. This is where we start learning most of what will define us as adults. We eat the family food, laugh at the family's humor, listen to the family's favorite music, smell the family smells, and begin to adopt the family beliefs and prejudices. We are somewhat insulated from the ideas and culture of outsiders. Unless, our parent(s) work and we end up in daycare. Now we are also being programmed by the daycare worker(s) with their particular beliefs, likes, and dislikes. That adds a layer of complexity to our personalities and beliefs.
Near the end of this first phase, we are off to kindergarten or to pre-school. Suddenly, we are surrounded by other little wobblers and babblers, all of whom are walking around in a very different cloud of "norms"; what they like, don't like, etc. resulting from the family they came from. That can quickly bring about conflicts of interests as well as learning about how other people think, eat, and feel about the world as a whole. This is our first real challenge of mind control. We were perfectly happy with what we were taught in that first five years, but now some of that is being challenged by new ideas.
We may go home after school and tell mommy or daddy about something another child said, did, or ate. Chances are, mommy or daddy will blow that off with an explanation we don't understand. Or, they may, depending on the topic, get quite aggitated and explain that we don't behave, think, or eat like that in our family. In that case, they have just introduced the concept of discrimination to our little minds. We have just labeled another persons likes or dislikes and even their family as good or bad.
For many of us, at some point in our early development, religion enters the scene. This is yet another effort at controlling our minds and how we think. Each religion has its own values, traditions, and culture and they work hard to indoctrinate their followers in that direction. This can cause a lot of conflict. Let's say your best friend in school is from a Jewish family and you are from a Catholic family. While it's not certain, there is a good chance you will begin to hear how different the Christians and the Jews are and all that that implies.
This process continues as we move through life and it becomes exponentially more complex and intense. Moving through grade school and on to high school and college, we are exposed to hundreds or thousands of new ideas, beliefs, and cultures, all of which we feel a need to classify based on our own values.
Once out of school and into the workplace, we are confronted by more efforts to control how we think. Company rules and norms are presented and we are expected to conform under the threat of losing our jobs. Our ego is challenged. We may be highly motivated to succeed, one of the values taught by our family, and even though we don't agree with the company values completely, we conform in order to satisfy our need to succeed, thereby satisfying our ego.
This is not to say that all or any company cultures are wrong. On the contrary, I think many of them are a good thing and provide us with tools that will benefit us through our lives. Ideas like embracing quality, working as a team, and working toward a consensus are all valuable social tools that apply outside of work as well.
At some point, and this starts with your family's values, you begin to adopt a political point of view. There is no shortage of politicians, friends, and family willing to guide you in your thinking. They will use emotional arguments, economic arguments, and social and tribal arguments to entice you to their point of view. Again, this is a battle for your mind, how you think and how your perceive others.
Marriage is yet another mine field full of potential problems for our way of thinking. Two people from two very different families come together. They have a diverse set of values based to a large extent on their family values; they like different foods, music, color of clothes, styles, etc. These two people are now challenged to blend these two cultures into one homogenous new family culture that will be passed on to their children should the choose to have children. This is often a lifelong process of give and take, compromise, and no small amount of frustration. Each person in the relationship is literally battling for control of the other's mind in terms of values.
If we chose to have children, now these children will go out into the world and bring home the ideas of other families and their likes and dislikes and we have to deal with that. We are now in a battle for control of our children's minds.
We often ask the question, "What is life all about?" The answer to that lies in part to what animal group you were born into.
For the lion and lioness and their cubs, it is learning to be the top predator on the Savannah. For the gazelle, it's understanding that the lion is the top predator and learning the techniques for avoiding the lion and continuing on with life. For a bird, it's how to fly, find food, and avoid predators. The fish, how to swim, find food, and avoid predators. Most of the animal kingdom follows a pattern like that; you're either a predator or the prey, and each of those requires skills that will help you survive.
We humans, having evolved as the top predator and for the most part without having to worry about being the prey, our battle has become one of controlling our minds versus letting others control our thoughts and minds. Early in life, what your parents and the adults helping you develop are trying to do is give you what they see as the skills of survival, much as the lioness does with her cubs. They are trying, not always successfully since they may have not had the right influences in their young lives, to give you the tools to not only survive, but to thrive.
Some final thoughts. Along this path of life, some people will want the best for us in their attempts to shape our minds and others will do so in a selfish and self-serving way. Those operating on a self-serving level are generally promoting themselves, not you. They are trying to improve their personal lot in life and sometimes at your expense or at least using you and after your usefulness is over, they will disappear from your life.
We have to look beyond what sounds good, or promises us something that is probably not deliverable. We have to use our minds and our intellect to sort the good advice from the bad advice and in the process, remain in control of our minds and the values that we know are positive and that produce good, not harm. The meaning of life for humans seems to me to be the challenge of maintaining control of our minds and not giving that over to an outside party, no matter how good they make it sound.
Over the years, I have tried to both explain to my conservative friends what it means to be a progressive/liberal and to also try to understand what drives the conservatives to such draconian solutions to societies issues. I've decided that the basic difference between the two philosophies is whether to reach for someone to give them a hug, or to smack them with a hammer. That may sound a bit dramatic, but let me try to explain what I mean.
With the progressive/liberal - I'll simply use the PL designation for this group - it seems to me that the approach to problem solving typically takes a more compassionate approach. We see most societal problems as human problems requiring a human solution. The conservatives, particularly the so-called right-wing - I'll call them CRW for simplicty - tend to be suspicious of people. When someone is up against it and asking for help, the CRWs tend to think these people are trying to scam the system. The two groups have a very different view of people and the world and how to govern a nation, in our case, one of 330 million people.
These differences are not unique to the United States. The PLs and CRWs exist in every country around the world and are in a continuous struggle to hold the reigns of power to implement their form of government. China, one of the few remaining communist countries and unquestionably the largest is in the control of the CRWs. If you think we have a problem with crime and corruption in the USA, imagine what it must have been like in China before the CRWs came into power. Simply triple the problems in the USA to try to envision the old China. The communists took over and began to tamp down the problems of corruption and crime. Unfortunately, their approach seems to have resulted in the deaths of, and the numbers vary, of around 100 million people. Yet, for all their control, China and their "stability and order" as the top priority of the ruling elite, for the past three decades, crime in China has grown much faster than its economic development. From 1973 to 2002, the increase rate for filed criminal cases by average is 17%. Due to the Chinese government's restriction on information, details are often difficult to come by.
India, on the other hand, is the larges democracy in the world. And, yes, they are struggling with all the problems that come with being a democracy. Major problems in India include various human rights issues, corruption in government, widespread poverty, societal violence based on religion, an overburdened judicial system, so-called "honor killings" and caste bias. The relative importance of each of these issues is subjective and difficult to determine. Conflicts in India between members of the Hindu and Muslim faiths have led to violence in some cases. The rights of women are a serious issue in the country. Rape of women has become the country's fastest-growing crime in the past five years, and yet it is thought to be under reported.
Governments tend to swing from one approach, CRW or PL, to the other. In the UK, you have the Conservative Party that is generally consider center-right. They are CRWish with perhaps a few moderates. There is the Labour Party, the center-left philosophy that is PLish. We, in the US don't have the equivalent of the Scottish National Party the keeps agitating for independence from the UK; the closest we may have is Texas which from time to time seems to think it could fly solo without the support of the Feds. As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic. One wonders how Texas would be faring if they were on their own. And finally, to the left of the Labour Party in the UK, you have the Liberal Democrats who tend to push for social democracy, not unlike what Bernie Sanders is going on about in the US.
Just about every nation on earth is split between CRWs and PLs, save a couple like North Korea where a brutal dictator is in charge, or Saudi Arabia where the royal monarchy has ruled since the formation of the country in 1932. Saudi Arabia is also a brutal dictatorship held together with a coalition of tribes, bribes, and corruption wrapped in a semi-theocracy. Governments like North Korea and Saudi Arabia are like the CRWs on steroids. Inside even these strict autocracies there exists both governing philosophies, but in some of these countries any kind of criticism is stifled, often under the threat of death.
I mentioned that the PL approach is typically based on compassion and trying to understand the "why" of things like poverty, crime, deviations from the norm, and simply the day-to-day struggles of the typical American, be they citizens or immigrants wanting to become citizens.
That compassion can take many forms and, like the CRWs, can lean toward the extreme at times. A simple example of that notion might be animal rights and protections. Generally, you will find the PLs are in favor of animal protection and rights. I personally eat chicken, pork, fish, and red meat in about that order with chicken being the dominate protein in our diet and red meat at the other end of the spectrum in lesser amounts. I am strongly in favor of treating all of these animals as humanely as possible on the way to our dinner table. I do not consider price to be a justification for abusing animals.
On the extreme end of this issue are groups like PETA. While I can agree with some of their approach in terms of treating animals humanely, I find some of their words and actions to be at best, ridiculous and in the extreme, outright stupid. An example of that is their efforts to change some of our idioms such as "be a guinea pig" or "beat a dead horse". Besides being innocuous terms to describe a situation, this is hardly the biggest problem facing the relationship between humans and animals and is a waste of time, money, and casts a whack job image on the group as a whole. Instead of saying "bring home the bacon", they advocate for "bring home the bagels". Give me a break! You are sounding like an SNL skit, now.
So, within our PL group, we do have our own little bell curve that goes from moderate PLs to the whacko PLs. But, generally, the PLs are focused on making life better for everyone including animals and doing so by understanding what drives our actions.
The CRW approach to governing seems to embrace terms like control, rules, and punishment. Their view of the world seems to encompass a general distrust of the motives of anyone but themselves. They view others with a suspicion that can border on a form of paranoia. They seem, at times, to be consumed with conspiracy theories: "a theory that rejects the standard explanation for an event and instead credits a covert group or organization with carrying out a secret plot:"
Consequently, the CRW approach to governing can become draconian in nature. Perhaps one of the best examples of that has been the US approach under the GOP to the issue of immigration. From the Heritage Foundation, the self-ascribed protector of all things conservative, comes this statement in 2014: "Instead, elected leaders in the House should acknowledge that our immigration system is broken, but put the blame where it belongs—on the executive branch’s failure to enforce the law. The first steps to fixing the system must be taken by the president: securing the border and enforcing current laws." Needless to say, they are referring to the Obama administration and their efforts to address immigration.
To be fair, there is a bell curve within the CRW community just like there is in the PL community. This from redstate.com, "We, as conservatives, want those who are here illegally, to understand that we want those who are law abiding, productive members of our society to fully assimilate into America! This does not mean that they must give up their culture or language of origin, but simply embrace the great culture and language of America (“The great melting pot”), as well.
I say this as a man who is married to a wonderful Bosnian / Muslim woman who came here as a legal immigrant, stayed here as a legal immigrant / resident, and became a US citizen last year. We celebrate her culture, language, and religious holidays as well as ours. I respect her culture and traditions and she respects her new / ours. She also speaks our language better than many who were born here and therefore is able to understand our laws, our Constitution, and our history."
I'm not suggesting all CRWs are AR-15 carrying crazies. If the views of this gentleman represented the majority of the CRWs, we would be well on our way to resolving many of our problems.
The truth is that immigration, and here I'm talking about illegal immigration, is not a question of criminal conduct, it is a symptom of a very human problem. People all over the world are fleeing poverty, civil wars, drug cartel recruitment, any number of reasons that make life where they were born untenable. They are literally fleeing for their lives. This is a human problem that will yield to human-based solutions. You have to find the root cause for people wanting to abandon their place of birth and work to resolve that, not look for ways to punish them for trying to survive.
Here, I have tried to explain the differences in approaching problem soliving, using real world examples, between a progressive and a conservative, and in our approach to governing. One offers people in trouble a hug, the other often raises a hammer to subdue and subordinate them or sometimes to intimidate them. This has been especially pronounced under the Trump regime. Like the old saw about drawing attracting more bees with honey than vinegar, I suggest a softer approach will have both better and longer lasting results for our nation and the world in general.
I would call your attention to the fact that the official seal of the president does not have a Confederate flag or a giant TRUMP sign of any sort. It does not hold an image of an assault rifle, nor is it covered with camouflage. What the seal does have is:
So much for the history lesson.
The first question, it seems to me, would be, do we want a president who looks forward or one who looks backward? Do we want a president who will take us confidently into the future or one who pines for the past?
MAGA, Make America Great Again, wants to go back to some ill-defined point in our past. The keyword is 'again,' suggesting that we were once great, and now we're not, so let's go back to that mysterious period where we were at our apex of success. Where that might have been, depends on who you are talking to.
I'm reminded of a comment by a woman that was generally disliked and shunned when I was at Boeing. In her ramblings one day about the men in our group - she seemed to find men appalling - she talked about men from various generations and how they dressed and cut their hair. She pointed out that many of them were somehow trying to recapture their youth, a period in their lives where at least they thought they were at their best. Senior men were dressing the way they did in their twenties or wearing their hair in a style that had gone out of vogue decades earlier. I found it to be a profound observation from someone who most of us gave short shrift to and tried to avoid. Nevertheless, it described what many people do as they begin to sense they have passed their prime.
There is a tendency by every generation, as they age, to dismiss the present and long for the past. That seems to be human nature. We forget the difficult times and only remember what we thought were the good times. Consequently, I think we do need first to decide if we want a president who will move our nation forward, maintain the status quo, or go back to some time in the past that they and their supporters believe as having been a better time.
When we talk about change, we need to keep in mind that the presidency isn't a dictatorship in spite of Trump's efforts and the waving about of his Executive Orders that have the permanency of a high school romance. If we assume the winner is Bernie Sanders with all his progressive plans, understand that he can't do that without the Congress behind him. If he were to go to the White House, and we changed the majority in the Senate to a Democratic majority, the Congress won't rubberstamp all of his proposals.
There are moderate Democrats, some who may have been elected in a state that has been historically red (but can't stand Trump). Those Democrats have to keep in tune with their constituents and if they don't like Bernies healthcare or student loan relief, or any other proposal, their representative to Congress had better listen to them if they want to keep their jobs. Regardless of who the next president is, they won't get everything they want. The real question you need to ask yourself is, will they take us in the right direction?
The likely candidate for the GOP would be Trump, and we know he wants to return to the past - not at all unusual for someone of his age. If he stumbles, resigns, or is impeached, the candidate that replaces him is not likely to alter the GOP's vision or lack thereof, so I will focus on the Democratic candidates.
We have four septuagenarians in the race. They are, in descending order of age should they be elected, Bernie Sanders - 79, Joe Biden - 78, Michael Bloomberg - 78, and Elizabeth Warren - 70. While I think it unlikely that Bloomberg will survive to the convention, politically speaking, I wanted to be inclusive.
I have mentioned before that I prefer a candidate who will live long enough once out of the office to answer for their policies. Of these four, Warren is the most likely to meet that test.
Of the four, I think Sanders is the most progressive in trying to restore our democracy to the people. Next up would be Warren, who has embraced some progressive ideas but seems also determined, through a plethora of proposals, to be focused on plans and regulations to correct what she and a lot of us see wrong with the direction our country has been led.
Biden strikes me as moderate to slightly nostalgic for the old days. His old days are not as old as Trump's, but it seems to me that he talks a lot about how it used to be more than he talks about a future vision. Biden has devoted his life to public service, and for that, he deserves to be recognized and praised, but it may not make him a 21st-century president. Bloomberg is something of an anomaly for me. I'm naturally uncomfortable with someone worth $58 billion spouting off about how he's going to help the working class. He changed from a Republican to an Independent and then to a Democrat. I don't know whether to read that as his evolution from conservative to liberal, or simply playing political chess to improve his chances of election.
Next, we have the "others," and I don't intend to demean any of them with that term, only to indicate that the dwindling field of candidates still outnumbers a starting NFL offense or defense. Here are some thoughts on the others.
Mayor Pete - He's 37, so presumably in touch with the modern world, yet he continues to struggle with gaining the support of people of color. I can't decide if his handlers are screwing up, or if the community of people of color is sensing an insincerity in his proclamations. His views, like Biden, seem to be rather moderate, and his stint as mayor of a relatively small town doesn't inspire me in terms of qualifications.
Senator Klobuchar - She is 59, an age that implies experience and wisdom. She is a three-time elected Senator with high approval ratings in her state of Minnesota and is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. She has a broad range of experience on several key committees in the Senate. She is still battling to get her moderate-to-revolutionary message out and close on the front runners, but she could be a sleeper who comes on late in the primary season.
I won't detail the rest of the pack; Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Michael Bennet, Deval Patrick, and John Delaney simply because I put their chances of showing up as candidates at the convention at something less than 2%. That's not to say they wouldn't make excellent presidents, but we simply only need one to replace the disaster currently occupying the Oval Office.
In conclusion, as I stated at the outset, we all need to think about where we want the next president to take our nation. Do we want to embrace the future or long for the past? I understand that most of us have one or two hot-button issues like immigration or abortion or healthcare, etc., that cause us to look to a particular candidate that we think will solve that problem. Still, we really do need to step back, look at the bigger picture, and make sure we aren't overlooking a dollar to pick up a penny.
You might wonder if a discussion of government and governing is philosophy; I believe it is. The Cambridge Dictionary online defines philosophy as:
I sometimes think I'm a little obsessed with topics such as politics and religion, and perhaps I am. I don't wake up to think about things; an event usually triggers it, or a news story, or something I've read. When that happens, my brain begins to whir, and I evolve an idea, opinion, or philosophy.
That brings me to the subject of this post, the philosophy of government. At the simplest level, we have two basic philosophies, progressive or liberal and conservative. Both are dominated by a school of thought that is itself founded in beliefs, values, and principles.
Generally speaking, the liberal philosophy seems to be based on the notion that all people are created equal and thus should be treated equally or as close to that as possible. This philosophy is based on compassion and understanding that humans succeed and fail. That those who fail may be entitled to some special considerations to ensure they do not suffer extreme hardships. Liberalism believes in the rule of law but prefers those laws to focus on creating positive results rather than punitive measures. It tries to be a peaceful philosophy that is opposed to war and embraces the idea that we should be able to communicate with each other and resolve our differences. In summary, liberalism is a philosophy of trust, compassion, and progress toward a better world for everyone.
The conservative philosophy seems to take a harsher view of the world and humans in general. There appears to be an attitude that if you are in dire straights, it likely is because you made bad decisions or did something wrong. This philosophy seems more combative and ready to impose penalties on others. Conservative philosophy tends to want to dictate certain aspects of society, often based on religious principles. The conservative philosophy appears to be less tolerant of discussion and reaching a consensus on those issues about which they feel strongly. The conservative philosophy takes a hard line toward foreign policy. It insists on an active military to back this approach to governing. To summarize conservatism, it is a policy based on distrust and on the idea that strict rules and harsh punishment bring about better results than caring and compassion.
Let me remind you that I stated I'm talking in generalities. Both philosophies are on a bell curve with adherents ranging from liberal to conservative within their philosophical curve. We, humans, are nothing if not diverse in thought and deed as well as our physical and cultural differences.
I count myself among the progress/liberal faction, so let me give you an example of how we might resolve one particular problem in society. I'll use the debate over the minimum wage (MW for brevity), an issue that roils emotions from the local to the federal levels of government. This is a complex issue and one I won't try to cover in excruciating detail, but in a way that I hope demonstrates a progressive approach to problem-solving and government. I'll use the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour as an example since the minimum wage is all over the map at local and state levels.
The argument that we consistently hear from the conservative side when talking about raising the MW is the impact on small businesses, and that is true. I think there is a general agreement on this notion of a liveable wage. In a perfect world, everyone would make a liveable wage, if only we could find an approach. So, how do we alleviate the poverty of those in the MW world while not breaking the back of small business people? Here are a couple of ideas.
The poverty level income for a family of three (two adults and one child) is $21,330 per year at this point. Working a full year is considered 2,020 hours a year, regardless of whether that is one job or two jobs. To reach the poverty level of income, you have to make $10.32/hour. Remember that only brings you up to poverty - that is not a liveable wage. Per the Living Wage calculator, in the state of Washington, and Seattle-King County, that family of three has to make $30.84/hour. The poverty level is $7.91/hour, and our MW stands at $11.50 as I write this. That means our MW is just over 1/3 of what is considered a liveable wage. You can use that calculator to look at any state and county in the country. You will find a broad variation depending on the state of the economy around our nation.
Back to Seattle. I'm now a small business owner. Let's say I have a pizza restaurant that is also serving sandwiches, salads, soft drinks, and beer and wine. I'm working in the kitchen. I have a dishwasher and a server in the front of the house. Remember, I'm trying to keep this simple without getting down the weeds on the cost of pizza sauce, etc. I open at 11:00 am to catch the lunch crowd, and I stay open until 9 pm. My day crew (dishwasher and server) work the 11 am to 4 pm shift, and the night crew comes on and works until 9 pm. So, I have four employees besides myself, who are each working 5 hours a day, and I'm open six days a week (closed on Sunday). My crew is working a total of 20 hours a day times six days for a total of 120 hours a week, and I'm paying them the current MW of $11.50/hour. That puts my payroll for the week at $1,380/week. But...
If you're in business, you know there are overhead costs and state taxes, etc. I ran a pretend set of numbers for my pizza shop on something call T-Sheets (by QuickBooks) to estimate the labor cost with all the other things rolled in; something call the wrap costs. With the numbers I used for rent, insurance, etc., my cost per employee came to $27.99 per employee, and remember I'm paying them $11.50 per hour.
I said the liveable wage in Seattle was $30.84/hour for a family of three. We'll assume all my employees are married and have one child. When I kick the wages up to that number, my total cost per employee per hour goes up to $48.81/hour. That's an increase of $20/hour, and that is hard to absorb. For my crew of four, my employee cost went from $167,940 per year (that's four people working 1500/hours a year and costing me $27.99/hour) to $292.860 or an increase of $124,920 per year. That's not small change.
Any plan has to look out for the employees (trying to get them to a liveable wage) and the small business owners. It should be possible to do a ramp-up to the liveable wage at a rate that get the employee to the liveable level in a reasonable time, while not breaking the backs of small business. The goal is to build something into the taxes that give the small business owner relief for helping our country bring people out of poverty and up to a liveable wage. There could be tax breaks or subsidies paid to the business to ease their burden.
Yes, this all comes out of taxes, but if we straighten out our tax system instead of letting billion-dollar corporations off tax free, it can be done. This is an example of seeking solutions that work for everyone. It moves us toward being a nation that tries to ensure that the working class doesn't have to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to survive. There would be significant reductions in those services, and that money could be redirected to the small business subsidies. As this all sorts itself out, and it will over time, then these programs can be reduced or dismantled.
These are not simple problems, and there are no simple solutions, but these clowns in DC are pulling down $174,000 a year to find answers. It's time they earned their paycheck. What might the conservative plan look like?
Recently, a very close friend lost her battle with cancer and died; she was 76. Everyone probably knew she would likely lose that battle at her age, but it still comes as a shock when it happens. We console ourselves by saying things like, "Her pain is over" or "She's in a better place" if you subscribe to religious philosophy, but no amount of consoling statements will shorten or ease the sense of loss for any of us and some experts caution against those kinds of remarks.
My wife, Gale, and I have discussed death many times over the years. With 80 years of age squarely in our sites, we know people will be making these comments about us one day. There can be no life without death. We neither fear death nor encourage it to come any sooner than necessary, programmed, or ordained depending on your point of view. Neither of us is "religious." Gale does embrace much of the Buddhist philosophy but is not a practicing Buddhist, whatever that might mean.
Regardless of what you believe about life and death, when there is a loss, it hurts. Losses can come in many ways. Death is the most obvious, but as a child, your best friend might move to another town, or your family is the one that moves, leaving all your friends behind. Your parents get divorced. You can have a breakup with a friend or partner that results in the sense of loss. Friends at work leave or you change jobs and leave friends behind. You can lose a dog, cat, bird, horse, or any number of non-human friends that you loved, and that leaves you miserable with a profound sense of loss. There are no shortages of losses in a person's life.
While talking about loss and grieving, and trying to understand what is happening, it occurred to me that we are not grieving for the person or animal that is gone - they may or may not be aware of anything - but rather we are grieving for ourselves. The pain we are feeling is that we have lost them in our lives.
The grief we feel when there is a loss is relative to the role the person or animal played in our lives. Significant impact, major pain. When they are lost to us, it leaves a larger or smaller void in our hearts, in our minds, and in our so-called souls. Something is missing from our lives, something that was important to us on an emotional level is gone.
I think and write and talk and then do it all over again.