One sense of the verb, “progress,” is “to advance toward perfection or to a higher or better state; to improve.” That’s what comes to mind with the term “progressive,” as in, the Progressive Agenda: “favoring, working for, or characterized by progress or improvement.” It’s safe to say, our country needs to improve. Starting with basic human rights and dignity.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time watching the Parler videos on ProPublica. I learned that the Capitol Police, absurdly outnumbered, fought valiantly for a hellish hour to hold off the mob. Their little riot gates would make better bike racks. For that tense time, conventional rules of obedience to authority held through bitter confrontations. Most people seemed content to stand there yelling their slogans. Of course we know what happened, but that long hour teetered between order and chaos.
I never took Econ in college, which qualifies me to think freely. Haha! This is like when climate deniers start with, “I’m no scientist, but . . .” (Ignorance is no excuse, but it’s also bliss.) That’s not to say I haven’t read widely since: Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capitalism, Sacred Economics, Small is Beautiful, Deep Economy, Plan B, The Real Wealth of Nations, and The Truth About Green Business. To name a few.
It struck me recently that Capitalism is a crap system. It’s a lie. It’s a wonder that a system relying on cooked books and slave labor has survived this long. I guess it’s a testament to greed and stubbornness or the lure of power and willful ignorance.
Capitalism doesn’t account for its true costs. It does not factor in the costs of environmental despoliation and degradation. It does not account for the true costs of waste. That a capitalist system has waste at all is a gaping design flaw unworthy of us as the self-appointed cleverest species.
By far worst of all, it does not count the true cost of labor. Not from its earliest beginnings, in the heyday of growth and brutal slave labor, not the offshoring era to black and brown people in the global south. Not here, now, with the refusal to pay workers a living wage and the obscene (and still growing) wealth gap. Not with union-busting and exploitative practices, like keeping a workforce just under the eligibility line for benefits like pensions and health insurance. And bathroom breaks (looking at you, Amazon).
Americans are inflamed by conversations on social media, by divisive rhetoric from our so-called leaders. We are inflamed by the chaos and violence on our streets. We are inflamed by the injustice of systemic racism.
In the body, inflammation is a signal of imbalance in the immune system. When the inflammatory response flares out of control, it’s called a cytokine storm—a term we’ve learned in recent months with COVID-19. The body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues, rather than fighting the virus. It can be fatal.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new reality that makes the existing reality obsolete.”
It’s heartening that the protests are so widespread and mostly peaceful. The New York Times map indicates that nearly all 50 states have some sort of direct action. I like to think that the past few months have given us a bit more empathy. We’ve seen how this virus disproportionately affects the marginalized and vulnerable in our society, including people of color. We’ve also seen how indiscriminate it is, that none of us are quite as safe and comfortable as we thought.
I can’t live with myself one more day, knowing how unsafe and uncomfortable so many of my brothers and sisters feel on a daily basis, virus or not. I’ve known for years that it’s up to me to use my privilege as a light-skinned, middle-class person to help change the system. Short of treating everyone I meet with respect and kindness, I’ve been stymied for what else to do. That’s a blatant cop-out, I realize. Being busy or confused is no excuse.
This whole system of policing and “justice” is so flawed and broken. No wonder we are stymied by its complexity and seeming inevitability. Is it even possible to fix it?
In my work, we sometimes renovate and repurpose old buildings. We first have to determine whether the foundation and the main bones of the structure are sound. There is no sense putting all that effort into fixing up something that is rotten at the core. Some buildings, despite their historical significance or even the local fondness and nostalgia for them, are not worth a gut rehab. Better to tear it down and build something solid and new in its place.
Apply this to policing and criminal “justice.” Given the foundational beliefs of social hierarchy, racial superiority, and violence that underpin these systems of oppression, I think we have a tear-down on our hands. We are fortunate to have many good examples of people working to build a new reality, from community policing to conflict resolution, prosecutorial reform and prison reform. It’s a systemic problem and it needs systems-thinking solutions. Education, housing, healthcare, a fair living wage—everything is part of this system. We can’t solve one problem without addressing the rest.
While this may seem even more overwhelming, if we start with a simple truth, we will be guided at every step of the way. That truth is this: that everyone is precious, everyone is needed, everyone belongs, and everyone is worthy of love and respect.
The word, “quarantine,” comes from the Italian word, quarantine,
derives from a Latin root word meaning “a space of forty days.”
Forty days is a long time! As each day brings some new shock
or hard reality, I have been turning more and more to the slogan, “one day at a
time.” Will we be on lockdown until June? July? August? Who knows?
Some are suggesting that this event is a kind of global reset. Mother Nature on a cleanse. Everything is indeed upside down. Several Congressional leaders, including Mitt Romney of all people, are pushing for $1,000 Universal Basic Income for every American. Also, single-payer universal health care—free testing and care for anyone who needs it. Add in paid sick leave for all workers. (Preferably not the paltry 20% that will be covered by the bi-partisan bill that passed the House.)
The sun is out. The snow that fell yesterday is melting,
starting with the highest branches. There’s a metamorphosis of light, a
scattering of stars in place of the white tracery of snow. Fat drops fall from
the sky. High branches above the picture framed by my window.
All is right with the world in this moment. Brave folks
speak out against injustice, drag predators into the light, unearth forgotten histories.
Tell stories from ancient lands and distant times: stories with acute relevance
to us now.
Yesterday, in my Ecological Design Thinking class, I showed a couple of images of the iconic Sand Palace, the reinforced concrete house that is still standing in Mexico Beach, FL after Hurricane Michael slammed ashore with 155-mph winds that flattened the rest of town.
I asked my students to consider what questions this raises about building in a place like that, the lengths this owner and his engineer went to, etc. One student from Florida said it showed foresight and was a smart way to build in this day and age. Why not exceed current code by twice the wind load? Instead of Florida’s 2002 code requiring a house in that place to withstand 120-mph winds, this one is designed for 240-250 mph.
Something about it bothers me, though. What does it mean that this one resilient house survives and everything else around it is destroyed? What is the point of this lone house in a place where nothing else is working? In a place absent of connection and reciprocity? Continue reading →
Any parent of a teenager knows the frustration of becoming ensnared in their black-and-white thinking. Teens are so clear and unequivocal in their opinions. Mine is certain that I am frequently wrong, naïve, or just plain dumb. Well, the teenagers who have stepped up and spoken out following the latest school massacre are giving us a healthy dose of black-and-white thinking. And it’s just the medicine we need. We can’t always afford to be patient in an emergency. Arguing over every shade of gray has been a paralyzing trap.
These young people speak from authority as survivors of hideous trauma that most of us cannot imagine. They know what needs to be done and they will brook no interference. Who knows? Their involvement just might be the factor that creates the greatest shift. Continue reading →
It is easy for me to slip into despair when I read about the latest environmental protections that are being removed by EPA usurper-in-chief, Scott Pruitt. These are so egregious as to be almost laughable, like a plot outline for an overly absurd dystopian novel. One of the latest is that mining companies no longer need to set aside money to cover potential damages from their activities. They will not be held to account for toxic tailings, sludge pond overflows, and other messes.
I confess I did not have the heart (or stomach) to delve further into the topic, to determine what, if any, contingencies were substituted for the simple effect of holding corporate polluters responsible for their actions.
We are so much better than this. We have these regulations in place for good reasons, often made necessary by historical disasters that resulted in loss of property, livelihood, or even life.
There is a long and growing list of these now-shredded protection regulations. Disbanding a panel that helped cities respond to climate threats. Giving away millions of acres of protected federal lands—stolen during the genocide against the people who were here before white Europeans came. Allowing fracking companies to dump spoils into the Gulf of Mexico. (Articles are here, here, and here.) Maybe Pruitt and his cronies are brainstorming new names for the EPA. Environmental Polluters Association. Economic Pirates, All.
Here’s a thought: maybe this is a necessary unravelling that will lead us to another way of being. Continue reading →
I ran across an old email from a friend, who is in a scientific field, ranting about the admonition to “trust in science,” as if it were an actual thing with power, rather than a rational method for taking data into consideration and making new discoveries. She references C.S. Lewis, who said that the “scientific habit of mind” is a truncated one that developed “during the same period men of science were coming to be metaphysically and theologically uneducated.”
My friend takes this meaning from Lewis: “Science is a wonderful discipline to describe what we observe, but many treat science as the actual power that caused the phenomenon it merely describes. Science describes ‘how’ but not ‘why’, and unless the ‘why’ is being contemplated, thought is truncated.” We have, she observes, “a wealth of knowledge and a poverty of wisdom.” Continue reading →