Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Vote for Obama

Unlike many people, I do not strategically vote. I vote my conscience. I vote for whom I would really like to see represent who I really am and what I really stand for. What is nice is there is a candidate like that. And if you searched you would likely find that person too—at least someone who matched pretty closely. 

Unfortunately, there are many who falsely believe if they vote for the candidate of their liking their candidate will lose. In addition, they believe that by voting for their candidate they make someone they really don't like, win. So many people vote to block what they call a "greater evil" out of two evil choices and not for whom they really want. This is a defeatist form of voting. It ensures you get someone you don't want every time. 

"I would rather vote for someone I want, and not get it, than to vote for someone I don't want, and get it." ~Eugene Victor Debs

If we continue to vote for the lesser evil, then we are doomed to get just that-- evil. Imagine if everyone voted for whom they really wanted to see in office. If this happened it is quite possible we could elect someone totally different outside the mainstream two party capitalist system. Yet Americans are stuck in a voting pattern that every four years sticks us with the same ole same ole and progress is one step forward and five steps back constantly. It's no way to get the actual systematic, structural, and fundamental changes we need to occur. Unfortunately, I don't think I can convince the majority of folks at this time to give up strategic voting.

There are voting reforms we would need to put into law that could reduce the chance that voting for whom we want will inadvertently elect someone we don't want. These are things like instant run off voting, ranked choice voting, and proportional representation. I hope that someday we will have these electoral reforms we need and that people will feel safer to cast a vote for whom they want. 

So instead of trying to convince people to give up strategic voting, I plan to make a different case. This case is one based on moral and ethical grounds. I believe in human rights and social justice and use this standard to measure presidents by. I feel the president should be chosen based on ethical decision making. So any inhumane act is unjustifiable in my eyes. If someone has committed an inhumane action this should be considered in the decision to vote for someone. In this instance, my argument will also address whether President Obama has done more bad than good. In that vein, I want to make a case for not voting for Obama. I don't even need to make a case for not voting for Romney, as he's clearly the greater of the two evils. Although, not that much more evil than most people think, as I intend to prove through this article. 

I would be incredibly difficult for me to list everything Obama has done that was bad. Why? Because there is A LOT. Most people vastly underestimate what negative things Obama has done. Mostly because people are simply not aware of them and because people are blinded to them by being scared of what they see as the only alternative-- Republicans. Furthermore, some people blindly follow Obama-- mostly staunch Democrats who think in black and white terms. To them if Obama isn't a Republican, he must be awesome, which is false thinking. Democrats have a long history of doing bad things. LBJ and Vietnam. Clinton with NAFTA and welfare reform. Any president who’s ever gotten us into an unjust war. That's about everyone! There is plenty of wrong things Democrats have done-- that is an indisputable fact.

The flip side is that the Democrats have done a good job at highlighting only “positive” things the president has done, and hiding all of the negative things from people. This is part of a huge propaganda machine perpetuated through the mainstream media that keeps pumping out the lies. That, and they see everything the president has done as good, whereas, much of it isn’t. This skewed version of reality they portray is what allows them to keep doing bad things without any consequence or check and balance.  

In this article I will use a radical perspective and also a very high ethical standard to judge actions taken and legislation passed by the Obama Whitehouse. So if one isn't viewing these events by this particular lens, they may not see things the same way. Perception is everything. However, I hope to make a solid case that Obama, overall, does not deserve our vote. I do this in the hope to raise awareness. 

I do not fool myself into believing it can totally change someone's vote. However, it can inform and raise consciousness on what Obama has really done. I think that in and of itself is worth the effort in trying to examine his record and its implications. 

First let me say that Obama is the ultimate compromiser and pragmatist. He really meant it when he said Republicans were his friends. That this is not a “red America, and a blue America, but the United States of America.” That fundamental belief has motivated him to try and work with Republicans and often compromise, not just promises he made before becoming president, but compromise principles he said he held to the point of total capitulation. I understand how politics works, and some compromise and reconciliation is necessary to get anything done. But Obama often gives things away and folds way too early in the game. He's way too appeasing and sacrifices too much. 

On the Bush tax cuts, he said he would get rid of them, but instead he let them stay. On healthcare, he didn't even allow an exploration of the single-payer or the public option, he went along with what was a Heritage Foundation, conservative think tank, idea to impose privatized insurance health care on everyone or they would face a penalty. The “affordable care act” was a huge giveaway to the drug and insurance corporations, which means overall the average American lost.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour. This was never brought up again. In addition, he allowed for a bad deal to be made so congress would approve raising the debt ceiling. This deal includes automatic cuts to social security if other cuts are not made in time. We have no idea yet what these cuts will entail but it’s not looking good. Obama has said he is prepared to cut medicare and social security and has proven he is not interested in fighting to save them. Furthermore, did not close Guantanamo Bay, as promised either.

Obama promised during his campaign he would be against special interests and politics as usual. He promised he was a Washington outsider who would shake things up and reject lobbyist’s influence. But he has taken corporate money during his campaigns and big corporations have played a major part of his administration. It is obvious they have influenced his policies. In fact, he put plutocrats into high level cabinet positions with corporate insiders like Timothy Geithner ( former head of the Federal Reserve), Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke (both from Goldman Sachs). These are the type of folks who make up Obama’s inner circle of advisors and insulate him with their influence and mode of thinking. Despite Obama’s eloquent “I will stand up for the little guy against the rich guy” verbiage, he has proven himself a “fierce defender” of capitalism and corporations, not the common people. People need to stop listening to his words so much, and start looking at his actions a lot more. These are just some examples of how Obama has compromised his values and promises to the American people. Believe me, the list is long and disappointing. He has gone back on so many things he said he believed in and said he would do, and has not been the “champion” of the “middle class” he promised to be.

On top of compromises he made, which sold the American people down the river to benefit the rich and privileged, he made decisions that were wrong. These include: massive deportations of undocumented immigrants, and a record number of whistleblower prosecutions but not one for those that tortured during the Bush Administration or a single prosecution of a Wall Street executive or financial firm that screwed us over during the 2008 economic crisis. Not to mention the continued war in Afghanistan with a huge increase in troops, medical marijuana raids in states that have passed medical marijuana legalization, such as in my home state of California, and a drone program which kills people from a kill list, including American citizens, without due process. That is a direct violation and assault on the constitution. On top of that, he expanded the Patriot Act and all other Bush era defense policies, launched FBI raids on antiwar activists, and appointed Monstanto executives to the FDA. The stimulus package he lead the passage of gave away tax payer money to banks and corporations instead of to help people get jobs or save their houses from being foreclosed upon.

Under Obama the United States has dropped bombs in six countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan, which is two more than Bush ever touched. In fact, he was simultaneously drone-bombing five countries – Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan all at the same time. Obama feels perfectly empowered to take military action without informing Congress or getting congressional approval for military force because if no Americans are being killed than in his view it’s not really a war. This happened with Libya in particular, which he did without any American lives being threatened, without enacting the War Powers Act, or consulting congress. 

Moreover, Obama has encouraged Congress to increase military spending. In fact, the Obama administration has spent more than the previous Bush Administration on the military. Not to mention he is totally in unconditional support of Israel and has done nothing to help the Palestinian people. He has actually expanded of deep water oil drilling, even after the BP oil spill happened off the coast of Mississippi. In fact, Obama believes in “clean coal” and “clean nuclear” power and has pushed these myths, even though in reality they are bad for the environment and for human beings.

Furthermore, Obama has expanded Bush era assaults on our civil liberties, the constitution, and bill of rights. Obama extended the Patriot Act without any changes, in some ways strengthening it and going further than Bush even did. Another large assault on civil liberties has been the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill, which was passed. It created legalized indefinite detention as some sort of “preventative” act. Bush pulled some of this in his administration but it was done illegally. Obama made it legal to do it. It was passed by the majority of Republicans and Democrats and gives the power to the president to detain anyone, including Americans, indefinitely without charges. Obama has said he would not use it, but if it exists he has the right to at any time and we would not know it. Also the next person who gets into office could chose to use it. 

One of the largest assaults has been Obama’s unmanned drone program. Which he may justify by saying it saves innocent life. But the people he has ordered the killing of have never been proven guilty. Besides the fact that the death penalty is wrong in and of itself, there are no trials and no convictions before people are killed. In fact, there has even been extrajudicial assassination of American citizens this way. This includes one American-born sixteen year old boy. The death penalty excludes anyone under eighteen in America. Not to mention that drone strikes kill a lot of civilians. Obama may take the stance that this is utilitarian; kill a few to save even more. Many support this idea but I think people have a disconnect. They see civilian deaths as casualties of war, worth the sacrifice in order to supposedly keep us safe and protect people. Like if a train is coming and it will either kill one person or five people...which one would you chose? They feel they are saving more lives by sacrificing some. However, I do not believe the ends justify the means. The issue is that is a false dichotomy. We do not have to kill to make people safe. We can pursue a totally different approach to foreign policy, one that involves diplomacy and cooperation. People don't even think there are alternatives when there are. 

I think Obama’s drone program is super unethical, unacceptable, and unjustifiable. Drones have killed hundreds of innocent civilians and terrorize thousands who are driven into stress and anxiety with fear they will be killed as loud drones buzz above them 24 hours a day. This is not good foreign policy. It creates more blowback, which means it will not make us safer because more people plan to do harm when their loved ones are killed. Plus it is immoral, not to mention illegal. This secret program has to end. Obama will only expand it.

I am sick of Obama apologists and excuses as to why Obama has not done this or that. There is no excuse for killing innocent children, for instance. The world in which Obama's hand is supposedly forced is completely an illusion. Unethical actions will continue to happen as long as people allow them to. There is no excuse for this and it cannot be justified under any circumstances.

Moreover, there is so much Obama hasn’t done he could have done. So many say well, he inherited the awful mess of the Bush Administration, he couldn’t do all we expected him to do in just four years, particularly with Republicans blocking progress in congress. While there is some validity to that argument, the president is the most powerful person in the world. He did so much bad, as I have demonstrated, and he had just as much power to have a positive influence. Sure, he did some good things. Most of them are half-measures, small reforms, and nowhere near what we need and deserve. But theoretically they have brought us some semblance of progress. For that I am grateful. I suppose it could have been worse, but my point overall is it could have been much better. The good Obama has done does not outweigh the bad. Even the good was piddly. People say give him another four years and see what he does. And I fully expect he will be re-elected and I warn you all now, do not hold your breath that he will suddenly fulfill all your dreams from the 2008 campaign or even his own promises from 4 years ago. He will continue to do the bad he has done. And for that, he does not deserve my vote. 

People do not realize there are alternatives to the two party crapitalist duopoly, but there are plenty if one is willing to look. I plan to vote for Stewart Alexander, Socialist Party USA candidate, whom I hope secures write-in status in the state of California. People do not realize there is an alternative to the capitalist system itself. Capitalism delivers on making profit for the few and does not serve human needs. What we surely deserve is a true socialist to bring about the fundamental and systematic changes we need-- a society that serves us and not the rich. There are much better ways to go about economic, social, foreign policy and much better candidates who can do a much better job than Obama has done. As long as people continue to vote for evil, that is what they will get. We are worth better and our choices matter. So choose wisely and understand the implications of your vote.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

American Myths are Killing Us: How the Way We Live is Self-defeating and What We Can Do About It

If we supported people from the beginning of life, then we would not have the social problems we have now.

Let me explain what I mean... Let's start by describing what life is like now and why.

Most of us survive mostly off our own immediate family. If one is born into a low socio-economic status family, a family in poverty, all indicators show they do not have high quality existence. They struggle with health, emotional and social well being, may experience abuse and neglect, etc. Being in poverty is very stressful for all family members and it has a huge impact on people. Not just in the immediate, but generally for the rest of a person's life. This could mean developing mental illness, substance abuse issues and other addictions, and other negative effects from trauma. In addition, the likelihood one ever gets out of poverty, if they started in poverty, is very low.

According to one cultural belief in America, if a person just works hard enough they can pull themselves out of poverty-- "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." However, this is a myth. If a person doesn't have boots how can they pull them up? The fact is most people born into poverty will never leave it, and this is not because they do not work hard. In fact, most poor folks work harder than most wealthy people, working several grueling manual labor jobs. But the jobs they can get are super low wage jobs and they cannot afford to hire nanny's to take care of their children or maids to clean their house.

Women in poverty, in particular, work several jobs, take care of their children, cook, clean, and run errands, not to mention are expected to take care of their partners. That is part of why poor people are so stressed out-- they have very little time to relax, decompress, and participate in self-care. Not to mention when a parent is away from their child so much of the time, this causes stress on the child.

Children need close bonds with their parents so they can attune to them, develop healthy attachments, and mirror the parent's modeling. The rise in childhood mental illness has been positively correlated to poverty, stress, and lack of parent contact. In addition, families under stress and suffering from inequality and being at the bottom of the hierarchy, strive for power and control. One of the negative consequences of this is violence and abuse. 

Furthermore, substance abuse and other addictions often come into the picture as people try to find a way to cope with the psycho-social stressors in their lives. Addictions often lead to children being neglected and unsupervised, where their chances of abuse increase. People vastly underestimate the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing child. For instance, did you know that a young child who simply witnesses their parents in a domestic violence situation, can get brain damage? A child doesn't even have to be touched for trauma to effect them. Imagine what happens to children who do face actual violence themselves, or who are emotionally abused, neglected, or sexually abused? We know that abuse is wide-spread, and that one in three girls and one in six boys has been sexually abused. That is astronomical and means abuse is wide spread and commonplace. The consequences of wide-spread abuse is life-long. Often this leads to a generational cycle of abuse continuing on in a never-ending repeating loop, which makes us stuck in a destructive pattern that keeps hurting people and society.

Another cultural belief in America is that if a person struggles to, "make it all on their own," that they somehow deserve more. This again, is a myth. The idea of an individual who works hard being deserving of more is wrong. Everyone deserves a good life regardless of hard work. Besides this, most people are brainwashed into believing that rich people are wealthy due to their own hard work. It's actually the opposite.

Wealthy folks are born into wealth most of the time. And when someone starts out with a lot of money they are able to use it to buy their way to the top. This works by living in relative ease, comfort, and luxury, going to the best schools, having connections and networks to get the best jobs, being able to purchase whatever they want or need with existing money their parents or family members give them, having money to invest so that they make money with money, and having lots of tax shelters, loopholes, and subsides etc. which increases their wealth even more. The rich live a truly privileged and charmed life, as capitalist society is set up to benefit them over all others. Furthermore, the way in which the wealthy accumulated their wealth is all rooted in a system of economic inequality and exploitation of others.

In fact, most people became rich because they and/or their ancestors exploited others, either through slavery, indentured servitude, through wage slavery, etc. On top of that all that, the tax cuts they receive, their ability to invest, have jobs that take advantage of others, and special treatment and favors they receive, has actually made it so there is a redistribution of the rest of our combined wealth upwards. The top 1% own 40% of the wealth in the entire country. And the top 1% own almost 40 times as much as the bottom 50%. They didn't earn it, they stole it. And this is immoral, unethical, inhumane, and wrong. No one needs or deserves that much money and the way they got it isn't right and was not earned fair and square.

In addition, most people lack a basic understanding of exactly how much we rely on each other. NO ONE is making it on their own. Unless one lives on a desert island by themselves, the average person relies on possibility thousands of people for their everyday existence. Think about it... who made your food, clothes, or house? Who makes and delivers good and services? Who provides you education and healthcare? Who took care of you as child and who takes care of you as an adult? Don't fool yourself by saying you take care of yourself. We all rely on others to make life work for us and to survive.

Could you imagine if you had to do everything to survive yourself? Could you imagine what life would be like if you were all alone? Frankly, it would suck. It would be incredibly difficult and on top of it, incredibly isolating, lonely, and alienating.

Studies by neuro-biologist Robert Sapolsky out of Stanford University, who studies stress, prove that human beings are social animals. We thrive on social interaction and connection. Also Salpolsky has proven that in a society with hierarchy and domination, stress greatly increases. Chemicals are released into the body when we are stressed, such as Cortisol, are bad for us if they stay in our bodies long-term. Chronic stress is directly linked to chronic diseases, mental illness, and early death. Chronic stress also does bad things to the nervous system. Stress kills neurons in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which impacts memory. It also has depletes pathways of dopamine, which causes depression, among other mood changes. There are even more effects on our health and well being, and it spreads to those around us, and thus the impact stress are huge.

What Saolsky also concludes is if we lived in a non-hierarchical society, where there was peace among people who cooperated instead of competed, who supported each other instead of trying to dominate one another, and where everyone helped each other out to survive, we would all live longer happier lives. This is not up for debate, it's a fact.

In fact, Sapolsky saw this happen first hand when studying baboons in Africa. When a group of dominant baboon's died by eating contaminated food, the entire community became more tranquil and lived longer less stressful lives. For more about Robert Sapolsky's research and findings please read here:

So we know that psychological distress can not only cause us major illness, misery, and suffering, but kill us. According to this article that is a fact: The bottom of this above article suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could help reduce stress and it's negative impacts because it allows us to shift our internal interpretations of stressful events in our lives so they appear less upsetting. CBT is supposed to help us develop a more realistic view instead of allowing negative thoughts to distort our self concept and allow us more acceptance and control over our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Practicing mindfulness can also be very helpful to combating the effects of stress on the body and mind. I believe CBT and mindfulness practice are extremely helpful given the stressful environment we are living in now. However, it should not be a substitute for changing the way things are at a fundamental level.

We cannot just accept that life is stressful, so oh well, get over it. It doesn't work that way. There is no real way to "get over" stress. There is a way to reduce it and cope be resilient in the face of it by utilizing positive coping skills and stress management and reduction techniques. In addition, some can utilize, implement, and practice these therapeutic methods better than others-- depending on temperament, personality, ones circumstances, and the impact on trauma on each individual. But to teach every human being how to practice these techniques would take a lot of time, effort, and funding. Unfortunately, our society is not currently supporting that sort of effort enough. Free therapy, for instance, is hard to come by. Therapy is generally very expensive and thus inaccessible to the average person. Although, CBT and mindfulness based practice can be taught and disseminated without a therapist. We should invest in this.
However, we shouldn't settle for attempts to reduce stress and end out efforts there. Treating the symptoms of dysfunction, instead of going to the root cause, is no real solution. We should work to eliminate stress altogether. This is where the idea of prevention comes in. We need to start thinking about the kind of society that would completely prevent a person from experiencing so much stress. That is the system that would bring us the best lives possible.

The society we have now is NOT set up to function in a way that brings the most prosperity for all. Our quality of life is vastly diminished by the profit-based capitalist system that governs most all aspects of our lives. It sets up a hostile environment which stresses us all out, takes time away from ourselves, our families, and communities, exploits us economically by stealing the wages we earn, over-works us, does not give us a basic standard of living and social support, and offers us no other alternatives. The system is designed on purpose this way to lock us into a perpetual system of oppression so that the rich and powerful can reap the benefits.

But what if I told you the rich and powerful also lose out? The way the system works actually creates more problems for rich people than they even realize. In fact, this system is more expensive for all of society because it leads to more social problems, which are costly to manage, and bring direct consequences outside of monetary, such as an increase in violence-- even murders. But a lot of the time the rich care about money... So we should consider just the economic impact of poverty, inequality, and hierarchy on the economic benefit of the rich.

For instance, take the child welfare system. When a child lives in poverty their chances for abuse and neglect go up due to the stress of their parent and lack of support and resources. When the child is removed from their family they end up in the foster care system. This is extremely expensive. Not to mention all the counseling services etc. that child will need. Then when the child grows up their chances of being involved in crime, being in poverty themselves, never graduating high school, becoming homeless, joining a gang, becoming pregnant at a young age, and getting on public assistance, are huge. The chances they end up abusing substances, getting into abusive relationships, and abusing and neglecting their own children, is high. This has a huge impact on our entire society. And from a purely economic standpoint, it costs a crap ton of tax payer dollars. Although the rich escape a lot of taxes, they still pay more than anyone else.

One thing to keep in mind though is all those systems-- social services, prisons, hospitals etc. make a lot of money off of dysfunctional family systems. But I would argue that the negative outcomes outweigh any economic benefit, even if we only look at money, and not the moral, ethical, human rights, or quality of life issues. In other words, all people, including the rich and powerful, are in all actuality incentivized to prevent these things from happening to begin with solely based on a simple cost/benefit analysis.

Unfortunately, those with money and power are stuck in their regressive backwards way of thinking, which realizes Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the concept that those best fit socially, survive. And those best fit in a capitalist society, are those who have money and/or have the privilege to become upwardly mobile and gain access to resources. It's a perverse concept..because it's predicated on inequality and hierarchy. It is also centralized around the idea that some people deserve to be well off and some don't, based on how hard they worked as an individual to get where they are.

If someone is poor, they are perceived to be lazy and therefore deserving of their lot in life. Many people don't feel compassion for the poor or homeless because they assume they could get it together if they were willing to work hard. But since they aren't willing, they are getting what they deserve. In addition, the people who think this way think that the poor need to learn the hard way, that if they want housing, food, etc. they better get a damn job and pay their own way. This is seen as the only right way to live. They believe the myth that people should be "self-sufficient" and "independent." Even when it is totally delusional to believe this.

If only we didn't need each other anymore what the rich believe could be true... Yet in a practical manner we still do need each other, and in a fundamental way us humans need each other to function socially-emotionally. The truth is not only do we need each other for our own well being and health, relying on each other is just more reasonable, sane, humanistic, and is in congruence with basic common sense and decency.

When we work together, we are all better off as a result. Our collective quality of life is vastly increased because we function collectively and are mutually dependent on each other. There would be less crime, less violence, less healthcare costs, less abuse, less substance use, less poverty, less infant morality, more educated more well off people, etc. if we had a system like this instead of the one we have.

It would help protect us all and save us money-- because when preventative measures aren't taken people in desperate situations take desperate measures to try and survive and the results and consequences are very expensive (such as prisons, healthcare costs, and taking care of children in poverty or the child welfare system). There are several developed countries who currently have a more human needs-based and preventive social safety net than the United States.

Countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, and even France or Germany have better ways of life. These include things such as universal healthcare, free childcare, paid vacations, good benefits, and tax payer funded college for anyone who wants to go, etc. This is the type of system we need and it would be good if we went even further-- and eliminated all profit-based mechanisms and reduced the amount of work one had to do. We could guarantee an income and basic needs to all and we could definitely afford it. Not only is the entire economic system made up, but if we simply re-prioritized our budget and how we collect taxes and how we spend the tax dollars, we'd have plenty of money to pay for the type of society we need.

Some first steps could include reducing the military budget, ending the drug war, ending all foreign wars, getting rid of all advantages for the wealthy, and increasingly the taxes on the rich by a lot. We need to eliminate economic, social, and political inequality. That is essential for a democracy to thrive. These are short term reforms that would totally shift the funding we have and be able to provide for our people a lot easier. Bigger changes could be done over time, such as making all work places co-operatives, vastly reducing working hours, allowing for a decentralized radical democracy for governance purposes, making all services publicly owned and operated, and giving the means of production to all people to workers own and operate collectively.

We need a system that benefits all people. Having such a system would create a much better society. We need to not only admit that we need each other, but that if we all worked together to fully commit to making life better for all, we would have that better world we all dream about. People assume it has to be the way it is now. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Most people assume this system is the best system in the world, and even if there was something wrong with it, there isn't anything they can do about it. But there is something fundamentally, structurally, and systematically wrong with the profit-based system. We need a human-needs based system where all get to share in the decision making, work together, and reap benefits more equally. We need that system because it works best for us and will give us what we need, want, and deserve as human beings. It would unleash and expand not only our potential and ability to self-actualize and self-activate, but our ultimate happiness as individuals and as a community. In addition, it would allow us to support our society and essentially, the entire world, to grow in every aspect of life, improving all of our lives exponentially. Furthermore, we do have the ability to make it happen.

So how do we do it? We can prevent most all maladies and social ills... by giving people what they need from the beginning and sustaining that support. If we set people up for success, they will be more prepared to become successful. If we gave, say, a young family monetary support, counseling, parenting classes, case management, free childcare and healthcare, etc. they would be much more likely to succeed. If we made sure that child's parents had a free, tax-paid college education, and a good paying job with benefits, low-cost housing, etc. then the chances that family succeeds would increase, big time. If we could do that, why would we choose not to?

And the best part is, we can! We can do this. We created everything that exists now and we can re-create what we need in the image that works best for us and humanity. We can replace this ineffective, disproportionate, and undemocratic system with one that works for us all. If we got together, we could make it happen. I believe it is already happening organically, yet slowly. I encourage everyone to start getting on board...because as a collective society we are crying out for something better... We know that we are headed for disaster on multiple fronts if we don't change our ways. We should take action before we are forced to make painful sacrifices to make the better world we need possible. Let's start now.

Life should not be such a struggle. We can make it easier and more meaningful at the same time. We can live a purposeful fantastical life filled with joy, health, well being, social connections, family, friends, creative  and collaborative work, and a fun beautiful existence where struggle is far and in between and everyone is guaranteed the basic needs of life. It can happen, we can make it happen, and we should make it happen, because it's the right thing to do, and wouldn't it be great?

Human beings are amazing, industrious, and imaginative creatures that are capable of anything. If we put all our efforts together for the good of humanity, instead of to make profit for the few, we could finally build the society and life we all deserve as human beings and get our needs met more efficiently and simply. If only we are willing to cast aside the disastrous and self-defeating myths that hold us back and come together to make it happen. Someday I know we will. I just hope for our sake, it's sooner rather than later. :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Getting Out of the Well of Loneliness

Lately I have been thinking a lot about loneliness. I suppose because about a year ago I lost a few friends and clarity came into my life. I became more clear about who I wanted in my life, and who I didn't. I am 31 years old now and I am ready for mature friendships. No longer am I willing to accept immature friendships that do not meet my needs. I need friends who will be honest, genuine, authentic, real, loyal, committed, flexible, understanding, empathetic, compassionate, are open-minded, have good self-esteem, have good emotional boundaries, and have the ability to be fun, serious, and supportive when it is needed. These qualities are so important yet so rare at the same time, especially in one person. It makes it more challenging to find and make new connections.

In addition, I have noticed how hard it is to make friends now that I am no longer in school. It's as if everyone has already made all the friends they need, want, or desire and they have no more room in their life for anyone else. I crave friends because I am human but beyond that because I am an extrovert and strive on social connections. Sadly it seems incredibly hard to find the kind of friends I am looking for.

So lately I have spent a lot more time with my partner, her family, and my own family. I also have been trying to get back in touch with old friends and rekindle those friendships. But everyone seems busy. People tell me, "let's hang out," but actually getting together proves difficult.

There is evidence that social isolation is psychologically and physically stressing to the human being. As human beings we are social animals by design, so we need each other. Without each other we face alienation, separation, and stress. When I think about this I always think about the movie, Castaway with Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks plays a FedEx worker who gets "castaway" to a deserted tropical island when a plane he is on crashes. He spends the next four years on the island, all alone. Not far into his stay he creates a faux friend, a soccer ball he names "Wilson" after the brand of the ball. He paints a face on the ball and often has conversations with it as if it is a real person. Of course the ball doesn't talk back, but it provides social comfort to the Tom Hanks character when he needs to feel like someone is listening. When he decides to try and escape from the island he ends up accidentally losing his friend, who drifts away in the ocean current. He tries to get him back but realizes it is useless, and he would die if he kept after him. He cries and screams in emotional pain of losing his one and only friend. This just shows the psychological and emotional bond that was created between him and the ball... even an imaginary friend became almost like his lifeline..and made him sane in an insane situation. This is a powerful example to me of our need for social companionship.

So since I lack a lot of friends right now, it has become even more important for me to spend time with my partner. I have always been the "clingy type." I am emotionally needy and like closeness by my nature. I have noticed that when I am left alone for more than five hours I tend to get really lonely and start to really miss social interaction of some kind. I also love affection and if I go without affection for too long I also notice the negative impact.

Sometimes my partner complains about my emotional neediness, but there isn't much I can do about it, this is just the way I am. My mother says since I was a young child I would follow her around the house asking for a hug. When I had more friends I think it helped fill my need. But now that I am down friends I want to spend even more time with her and if she goes out with her friends, I always ask that she limit the time to no more than five hours. I feel five hours is a decent amount of time but sometimes she complains that I am being her "mother" and being too "controlling."

I tell her that just like any relationship, we need to just compromise. I told her maybe she can spend less time with her friends more times a week, that way it is spread out. But she has a hard time getting out to see friends so when she does she wants to spend all day with them. It complicates things for me. I do give her space. When we're home together she is often playing computer games or reading. I have discovered I like my own space too.. to watch TV, go on the Internet, read, write, reflect, or think. I think accepting some degree of loneliness and embracing it for my own good, is something I have come to appreciate. But I also enjoy the company of others, particularly my partner.

The most enjoyable times we spend are going out to dinner and chatting together. But we can't afford to do that every night. We have to come up with more things we like to do together. This is challenging. We like different forms of entertainment and that is a barrier. She has been having some health issues lately too which keep her from wanting to be active. What does one do when the relationship they turn to for social connection, is the exact thing that stresses them out? This is sometimes true for both my partner and I at the same time.

I have no one to really talk to about things outside of my partner, besides, maybe a couple of friends on the Internet, a few older friends when we get together, and my mother. I try to have a three rule. When I'm upset or need to process something, I try to talk to three people to vent. It is SO helpful. But I don't always find three people when I need to.

I saw this article from the New York Times about people over thirty having a hard time making friends: The article's central thesis seems to be saying once you're over thirty you have a partner and children, and then your life is over. Haha... I mean you no longer have time for friends. Between your partner, your kids, and your job, your life is jam-packed. Well, I have a partner, a part time job, and no children, unless you count my four furry-children, the kitties. So I DO have free time..the issue is finding others with free time who want to spend it with me.

As time and experience has shown me, not everyone wants to be my friend. And not everyone would make a good friend for me. I am a very straight-forward person. I am very caring, but also I believe in honesty and insight, in order to help another's self growth. I want that in return too. I need confident people in my life who have good self-esteem and do not take things too personally. Otherwise, I run into people who take what I say and think I am insulting and domineering. Truth-telling sometimes brings discomfort, but it is still needed and very important. I don't intend to slap people in the face with truth, but sometimes the truth does sting no matter how much one tries to soften the blow. I have found our American culture tends to ingrain fakeness, superficiality, and niceness above all else. I think that's a major problem.

I was raised by my strong Italian mother and our culture is very tell-it-like-it-is, and loud and proud too! So I suppose super sensitive types wouldn't get along with me. That's another part of our American culture-- super sensitive people. Sadly, many suffer from a lack of self-esteem and if someone says something about them they automatically go into defense mechanism mode, instead of hearing out opinions of others without accepting the opinions as fact.

Mindfulness is sorely lacking in Western culture. Mindfulness is something I try to practice. It is challenging but it becomes easier the more one practices it. Mindfulness requires examining feelings and thoughts as an objective observer and being able to non-judgmentally access the best way to proceed, instead of jumping from feelings, thoughts, and then actions in rapid succession. Mindfulness can help us slow the process down and not allow feelings and thoughts to control us in a negative way with doubts and insecurities motivating us, evaluating our every move. Mindfulness gives us more freedom, openness, and brings more calmness and assurance. It let's us know that we are capable of solving our own problems and thus there is no need to panic or get too upset. Mindfulness allows me to set emotional boundaries and agree to disagree with someone without any hard feelings.
Mindfulness is also good for gaining perspective, choosing a different way of looking at or reacting to a situation, detaching, in noticing everything around us and appreciating it, being purposeful, to ground one, to help one make better decisions, and to attune to the now and the present moment. It would be nice to find more folks who practice mindfulness too.

I've been told before that I am "more evolved" than most people. Although that is a nice compliment, I suppose, as it shows my hard work to become more self-aware and grow, it also says two things.
One thing it could say is that most people just aren't as capable as I am of reaching such a level of consciousness. My partner has reminded me many a time that she believes my standards and expectations of others are too high. I believe that people are just capable of a lot more than they often even believe they are capable of. It's part of my overall attitude and personality to believe in others and encourage and inspire them to reach for their fullest potential and to expect nothing less from themselves. Although I try to adjust my expectations to be a tad more realistic, I can't bring myself to stop believing in others. I just have to learn how to deal with my own disappointment when others don't live up to their own capabilities-- and detach as much as possible. I know it's up to them, and that I have no control over that, and they will also deal with the consequences of their own actions. I always try to remind myself that some people have to learn the hard way and also that some people have different values than I do. So I try to not be attached as much to outcomes, but it can be difficult if I am emotionally involved.

I really think that everyone has the potential to become as "evolved" as I am. I am not special... The only thing I can think is my personality and lack of trauma history helps me to have more of a sunny disposition. I understand that if someone starts off depressed it's harder for them to be positive. But even the most depressed person has a chance to recover. People just need the opportunity to learn and grow. I try to encourage that in others as I love to share knowledge and support people in their journey to more self awareness, better choices, and greater overall well being. I think everyone deserves that!

Furthermore, being "more evolved" than most people may mean less people who "get" me. That increases my feelings of loneliness.... both figuratively and literally, as I feel like less people can relate to me and I feel like I cannot find people to relate to.
That feeling really sucks. However, I try to remind myself that it may be hard to find people I truly connect with but the effort to find them is worth it. Fostering those connections, feeding them, and putting in the work to help them grow is what makes a garden of connections bloom. I have 600 facebook friends but I am not sure how many real life friends I have. Maybe a handful, if that.

One of the friends I lost about a year ago was my "best" friend. This was someone I turned to for advice, as a sounding board, for support, for a good time, to give support to, to enjoy activities together, etc. Now I don't have someone who I feel that close to and could hang out and talk with weekly, besides my partner. It's been hard to cope with that. I have taken the opportunity to work more on myself and to also try to reconnect with people in my life.

I have grown closer to family, to my partner, and to a few friends. I feel like it's still a journey of putting myself out there and trying to forge the close connections I need in my life. Finding balance between work, home, family, and friends is my goal. Everyday I feel a little closer to accomplishing that goal. It is slow but progress is being made.

Furthermore, I take pride in learning how to embrace whatever challenges the universe throws my way. I find the more I resist the idea of being lonely, the more lonely I feel. Embracing loneliness has allowed me to create space to invite new prospects, activities, adventures, and people into my life. Instead of spending time with a friend, I might go out to dinner with my mother, or write a blog, for instance. This way it is not so much an absence or void of something but a direct intention of filling my life with abundance. I try to consciously bring in other ways of connecting with myself and others. And so far I feel I am on my way to creating the life I need, want, and desire.

In addition, we plan to move into a new and larger space, as we have outgrown our one bedroom apartment and it's time to move on. Within our search for a new home, we are going to ensure we can get a dog. I feel a dog will help me to feel less lonely and will help me feel companionship I crave. I am looking forward soon to having more quality folks in my life who meet my needs and whose needs I meet. And a little doggy to cuddle and care for. I can feel my well being increasing already. :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

On Patriarchy, Hierarchies, and Capitalist Oppression

My Dad recommended that I read a piece in Alternet by Joan Walsh called The Root of the Conservative War on Contraception Comes From a Deep-seated Anxiety.

Its central premise seems to be the war on women is being waged by Republicans to put women back in their place and give men back their power, control, and authority which they are losing.

While I think she brings up some good points I don't think she goes far enough in her analysis...

So here goes mine:

I have studied this whole power and control over women's bodies thing. This is how I think about it... society has women thinking... I gotta be thin, I gotta look a certain way, I gotta buy name brands, I gotta wear makeup, I gotta have lighter skin or darker skin (depends on how light or dark yours skin is.. too light or too dark is considered undesirable), I gotta have big boobs, I gotta have less hair on my body, I gotta live up to all these expectations. The list goes on forever... of the socio-cultural expectations of appearance of people in order to fit standards of beauty and desirability-- and be desirable to men for the most part (or so women are told). They are very unrealistic and unreasonable, and quite unattainable, but that's the point. As women struggle for perfection, these socially-cultutally constructed ridiculous standards, they are bound up and trapped.

If a woman is all wrapped up in shame and trying, yet failing, at gaining control (even over her own life) and trying to get power... but never being able to reach it, this process keeps her inextricably locked into the oppressive system. Its a false paradigm, yet it is reinforced everywhere we turn. These harmful social constructions are often internalized as well so women carry them with them and struggle internally to strive to reach something impossible to reach.

Because she is made to feel insecure and like there is something wrong with her constantly and she can never be good enough... she invests time, energy, and money in trying to "fix" herself and doing whatever she's gotta do to make herself feel better and be externally validated because she cannot be internally valued.

At the same time the industries that count on her feeling insecure and having low self image such as the fitness, fashion, magazines, beauty, makeup, plastic surgery, pharmaceutical, etc. industries are rolling in the cash. They got her right where they want her-- she is an insecure mess who is easily controlled and manipulated. She is at the mercy of what society tells her she ought to be..and she always fall short. That's a great place to put people if you want them to never rebel.

Because the more shame and less empowered people feel the less likely they are to think enough of themselves to want a better life, better society, and better world. They don't feel they deserve it or are worthy of it or can even do it if they were-- they feel helpless, hopeless, incapable, and lack agency, self-activation, or efficacy. This means they are less likely to overthrow the hegemony that controls their lives. The system is built the way it is on purpose-- to lock people into it.

In addition, if a woman's body is controlled in any way this can further strip her of her power. This falls right in line with taking away her reproductive choice so she is forced to bend to the will of men. This props up the patriarchal system-- one that keeps men in power and in control over women.

I also have a theory on strict gender construction and patriarchy and why they exist. Men control women, some men control other men, and everyone is controlled by the system that keeps them shamed, alienated, exploited, oppressed, unequal, unconscious, and dis-empowered. This works out pretty well for capitalism.

Joan Walsh's piece limits the problem to the Republican's attempt at getting men back in power. Whereas the problem goes far beyond that.

For example there is a social justice organization in the SF Bay Area called Generation Five. Their purpose is to end child sexual abuse in five generations. You might wonder, what does sexual abuse have to do with this topic? Well, sexual abuse is just one manifestation of the hierarchical system we operate under in America and it has major consequences similar to those oppressing women. In fact, many of these consequences intersect as women have the highest rate of sexual abuse or sexual assault-- 1 in 3 females.

From Generation Five:

"We are living in a broader social context that teaches power-over relations, private ownership (parents/family) of children, a dismissal of children's accounts (legal), mixed messages and little education about human sexuality (it is bad, shame based, and it is used to sell us everything from cars to deodorant), and the ongoing mixing of sex and violence. We are not taught to address pain and trauma deeply, but rather mask symptoms or blame the individual for their distress. Child sexual abuse is about having power over another person and using that power sexually. The norms that allow for this behavior are sadly, ever-present in our society."

"Generation FIVE is unique amongst national anti-violence organizations in recognizing that our goal of ending child sexual abuse cannot be realized while other systems of oppression are allowed to continue. In fact, systems of oppression and child sexual abuse have an interdependent relationship: a power-over system that benefits some at the expense of others and uses violence, creates the conditions for child sexual abuse (i.e. gender inequality, class exploitation, racism, violence and threat for difference), while in turn the prevalence of child sexual abuse fosters behaviors (obedience to authority, silence, disempowerment, shame) that prevent people from organizing effectively to work for liberation, healing and change systemic forms of violence."

In fact, recently it has been discovered that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are at an increased risk of abuse, including sexual abuse, and thus an increased risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which has major impacts on both physical and psychological well being of folks for life. More on the study here:

The only reason? Difference. Those who show difference from the socially and culturally constructed "norm" become a target. Either because someone is trying to force them to stop being different, or taking advantage of their perceived vulnerable position in our society.


I definitely think it is related to hierarchies. Hierarchies set up a system of those superior and inferior.... and that is created on purpose... because it is benefiting a system.... capitalism, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, etc. and those that perpetuate it in order to amass power and wealth through control. Not to mention how social control is used in all ways to do so, race comes to mind as one of the most pervasive next to sex/gender. Often these complex identities intersect and compound the oppression people face who have multiple identities.

Once these paradigms are put into society they are self-perpetuating and prey on human beings who then prey on other human beings. People in our society are so emotionally raw and stressed out from our capitalist system that they fall into these traps quite easily. People have to get their needs met one way or another... and when they cannot get them met healthfully and prosocially-- they will get them met in unhealthy and maladaptive ways.

As these systems work themselves into our everyday behavior, those powerless want power, those without control, want control, and those abused, often abuse. It is a system of maladaptive behaviors and people struggling to gain control in a stressed out world where they have very little options for connection or self-fulfillment.

Once abused, people have a very hard time getting what they need to heal from their trauma. In fact, I would propose almost all people have been traumatized in one way or another and did not get the help they needed. Our system is set up to keep people traumatized and take away their agency and self-determination. Once again, it is based on a hierarchical system that reinforces powerlessness and shame.

Furthermore, while women are more oppressed than men in our society, we should not forget that men are also oppressed. Men are told in our society they cannot be "weak" and thus cannot show any emotion other than anger or violence. Men are constantly policed by each other and if they do show emotion they are shamed and told they are not a man. If a man is gay, he is judged by society as weak and like a "woman" since our society sees women as weak and inferior. This is the system of patriarchy as it works to oppress men.

In fact, in that same study about abuse of LGBT children, gay boys were more likely to experience abuse. In our society it is much less acceptable for men to go outside of the society's imposed strict gender roles reinforced by the binary social construction of gender. These messages are also internalized and then perpetuated. These hierarchical systems work among men with each other who use a "one-up" mentality to display hypermasculinity in a game of domination as well as working internally to keep men locked in negative patterns. Yet at the same time this process works to keep men bound up in shame and insecurity it is working the same way that women's oppression works-- to maintain capitalist control and power.

So while Joan Walsh limits her analysis to Republicans.. the truth is the capitalist system perpetuates oppression and Democrats in their support of capitalism also prop up this system of exploitation. In addition, Democrats have supported measures that reduced women's reproductive rights and choice... the Hyde Amendment, is one of them. The Hyde Amendment makes it so the federal government does not have to cover poor women's abortions. In fact, no federal money is spent on abortions in the United States.

Poor women are in the worst place to have children as they cannot afford them and thus cannot properly take care of them. Poor women have often been traumatized and when forced to bring unwanted pregnancies to term have children they often cannot raise effectively. This leads to further traumatization of children, who often end up in the child welfare system, where they can become further traumatized. This also costs a lot of money and burdens our society when the cycle of abuse repeats itself. Whereas, if the government would have helped the woman in the first place and empowered her to make her own reproductive choices, it could have all been prevented.

In addition, Democrats help support banning "partial birth abortion" (dilation and extraction) which was only being used if the women's life was in danger. There have been other measures that chip away at abortion rights that Democrats have supported. Also there are measures that Democrats supported that hurt women, children, and families-- such as welfare reform. As long as Democrats support the capitalist system they are supporting hierarchies and patriarchal oppression that will continue to subjugate children.

True liberation comes when we rid ourselves of hierarchies, whether they be in our families, between men and women, between gays and straights, between different races, between adults and children, or between us and our government or us and our work places. If we want to end these problems we have to go after what conditions create them-- to the root causes. That is why we have to end the capitalist system.

We need to end the system of power that seeks domination and instead choose to seek mutual and shared power among all people-- and thus create healthy social, cultural, economic, and political relationships. We need nothing less than a transformative process. The change we need requires much more than merely empowering women....the future we need is socialist.