The Epic Stakes of the 2016 Presidential Election—Electing Clinton is Just the Beginning

Yes, it’s exciting—thrilling, even—to see a female-bodied person finally heading the ticket for the Democratic Party. Yes, it’s historic that a woman will be President of the United States. And yes, when we are shown footage of the original Hillary, the idealistic young college student, the hardworking young lawyer/mom, we can see shadows of the woman we’d like to elect.

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But to contrast that earlier Hillary with the image of the tough-as-nails politician she has become is to understand why it’s so hard for women to succeed in the American political landscape—or the corporate workplace, for that matter. You have to learn the fine art of being a fe-male, a man in the guise of a woman.

unknownWhile outwardly conforming to the dominant beauty standards for women—dyed and coiffed hair, generous make-up, body-flattering clothing, heels—you also have to be commanding and aggressive, a no-nonsense sort of leader that everyone will automatically respect.

It’s no accident that our first woman president will be a woman in her golden years. Only when a woman has outlived the possibility of being a sex symbol can she command the necessary authority, with men and women alike, to hold the highest office in the land.

How many women have the stamina—to use a buzzword from the campaign trail—to stay the course over years of trials and hurdles, all the while walking the tightrope of being simultaneously attractive and authoritative?

Donald Trump, bless him, has brought right out into the open the everyday harassment that women have to deal with. Who is unluckier: the attractive woman who gets constantly groped and ogled, admired for her body while her ideas and smarts are ignored; or the unattractive woman who is ignored on both the bodily and mental planes, if not actively booed and hissed from the public arena?

gettyimages-613703308-0Trump is like a stand-in for every boorish man who ever held power in America, whether a boss or a husband, a rich client or a random stalker on the street. Men like Trump elevate their own fragile egos by putting down others, with women being a convenient, always-in-view set of targets.

Hillary has shown us just where to aim our defensive kicks, but she is also evidence of the toll this type of psychological warfare takes on a woman. She’s damned if she “acts like a man” and also damned if she’s “too womanly.” She basically has to become as genderless as possible, and we see that in her carefully chosen suits, cropped but coiffed hair, and in the cold tautness of her heavily made-up face.

I hope that when Hillary gets into the Oval Office, she will not pull up the drawbridge behind her, but will make every effort to use her power to make things better for the girls and women coming along behind her.

Women should not have to give up their femininity to become powerful. Men shouldn’t either! When are we going to understand that gender is a continuum, not a binary; that all humans have estrogen and testosterone running through them in different measures; that every human has the capacity to be both tender and tough, sensitive and aggressive?

29906170001_4818348677001_capturePerhaps that was part of what I admired so much about Bernie Sanders—his easiness with being nurturing and warm, even cuddly, on the campaign trail. No doubt this gentleness comes easier for men as they age and no longer have to prove themselves through aggression.

My dream is that it won’t have to take so long for women like Hillary and men like Bernie to be accepted in the American public sphere.

My dream is that our society will shift away from cheering on the superficial, cartoonish values represented by the Donald Trumps among us, and get back in touch with what really matters: living in right relationship—that is, in respect and caring—for every person, no matter what they look like.

And of course, my dream goes beyond this re-valuing of human rights to encompass the rights of every living being on the planet.

jb-solstic-mountaintop-copyWhenever I turn away from the glare of the brightly lit television screens and stage sets of our political moment, back to the green and gold of the forest, I am reminded of what really matters. The water protectors at Standing Rock know it; the Treesisters know it; the Bioneers know it; the Buddhists know it. Human beings have not evolved on this planet to rape and pillage and turn the green to dust. With our unique intelligence and capacity to understand time—history as well as prophecy—we are here to be the wise stewards of the planet, to nurture and protect the complexity of the ecological web that nourishes us.

I can’t say I trust Hillary Clinton to understand or undertake this role. She is a 20th century woman, still living out a 20th century drama of war and destruction. That is why we will have to follow Senator Sanders’ model in creating a drama of our own, too big and urgent for her and her business cronies to ignore. Mother Earth will do her part—we can see it already in the constant litany of storms and floods, wildfires and searing heat.

If we humans fail in our evolutionary mission of stewardship, the Earth will simply start over, as she has many times in the past. It’s time to do everything we can, each one of us, to head off that epic fail—starting with defeating Trump and installing Clinton.

And then we will continue stubbornly, with determination and love, the great work of transforming our society into one based on a new fundamental watchword: no, not freedom this time.

For the 21st century and beyond, our core value must be RESPECT.

Another Day, Another Mass Killing: Confronting the Causes of Young Men’s Rage

As we wake up to yet another spasm of hideous violence in the world—this time more than 75 innocent Bastille Day revelers mowed down by a truck driven at high speed along a packed sidewalk—I can feel myself reeling off into that terrified little-girl mindset, a cellular memory of always being afraid in crowds, always being afraid of violence lurking around the corner, always seeking the safety of my own little room, my own little bed, hiding under the covers.

But I am well into midlife now, and I can’t hide under the covers anymore. I have to accept adult responsibility for the violent world we live in. If young men are angry enough to risk their own lives to kill gay Latinos in a nightclub—to kill Parisian youth at a rock concert—to kill police officers—to kill young men of color—to kill, kill, kill—what does that say about the society they grew up in? Whether they grew up in Tunisia or Florida, they are part of the same global society that I live in too, and the anger that leads to the killing is real and must be addressed. Adding more anti-terrorist squads, sending out more drones—these are tactics aimed at the symptoms, but do nothing for the causes of the violence.

Virtually nothing is ever said about causes of these young men’s anger and fear and how/why it prompts them to actions of violent hatred. And yes, I am putting racist police who kill innocent people in the same boat as the racist terrorists. Difference of ideology, difference of scale, but same result: innocent people dying.

I’m also being deliberate here in my use of pronouns. Every single mass shooting in the U.S. has been perpetrated by young men, and I have yet to hear of a woman cop being charged with an unjust killing, although there have been some young women coerced into becoming suicide bombers in other places in the world. For the most part the terrorists have other uses for the women—as sex slaves. The question that seems primary to me is a simple one: what is causing so many young men to become so violent?

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I believe that every baby comes into this world with the capacity to become a loving human being. We may have different propensities to kindness or cruelty, but these can be worked on in the nurturing process. Bloodthirstiness and criminal violence is not genetically programmed, at least not yet. But it seems to be overtaking more and more of our young men, worldwide. What’s up with that? Where is it coming from?

Social indoctrination. Boys are being trained to love violence and to see themselves in the role of the aggressor. This is happening everywhere a boy has access to a violent video game, and with guidance from adults in places like radical Islamic madrassahs and radical gun-rights enclaves in the US. It’s happening all over the Internet, wherever violent fanatics hang their hats. The result: a steady beat of mass killings by fanatical young men with guns, acting out of a perceived sense of righteousness.

Ready availability of weapons. Ours is a world awash with weapons. The countries that manufacture the weapons decry the violence at the same time as they gloat over the profits of selling the arms—to their own people and abroad. The violence won’t stop until we deal with this contradiction and restrict weapons to the hands of trained peacekeepers, turning the giant factories to manufacturing implements of peace instead of weapons of war.

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Poor education and lack of opportunities for young men. Young men need challenge. They need opportunities to shine and excel and receive the admiration of their peers. These days too many young men must make do with vicarious pleasures: rooting for sports teams, playing video games. In the end they have to pull away from the screen and confront the fact that their lives are going nowhere. They don’t have the education or skills to get satisfying work. They’d rather be unemployed than work in demeaning jobs. They take out their frustrations on their girlfriends or on each other…and end up in prison, or dead. A few break that general mold and go out in flames, taking a handful of innocent bystanders with them.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is so much good work to be done in the world. We need to improve education, offering retraining to young men who need it, and develop a new international public works program like Roosevelt’s post-Depression Civilian Conservation Corps, which put thousands of young men to productive, society-building work. It doesn’t have to be just manual labor, although the strong backs and firm muscles of young men would be welcome on myriads of civilian projects. We also need young men to write and sing and dance and entertain. We need young men to develop better video games that are about the human power to create, rather than our compulsion to destroy. We need loving young men to guide our boys.

Nothing I’m saying here is new, or rocket science. I’m just so frustrated at our current way of responding to violence with fear, dread and retaliation, instead of with resolve to get to the bottom of what is causing young men to act out in this deadly way, over and over and over. I’m frustrated with the political deadlocks in the U.S. that make it easier for a young man to buy an assault weapon than to get a driver’s license. I’m frustrated with the kneejerk responses to terrorism that blame entire communities for the rage of a few individuals.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said so many times, in so many ways: Violence will not be stopped by more violence. It can only be stopped by loving attention to the sources of the rage.

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Loving people, we can’t hide under the covers. We have to connect and communicate with each other across all the artificial barriers that divide us, and resolve to do everything we can to confront the problems we face as local communities and on a global level. This just can’t go on.

Why Paris? The Questions No One Is Asking About the Post-9/11, Post-11/13 World

cropped-1604741_560811498264_7010113564277153021_n.jpgOn the morning of the Paris terrorist strike, 11/13/15, I was trying to write and, uncharacteristically for me, I was totally blocked. I seemed to be wading through a thick mental fog, and nothing I could do would clear it. I gave up, went about my day, and it wasn’t until that night, when the first reports of the bombings came in, that I understood: my inner turmoil was what we used to call a “sixth sense,” picking up on the fog of fear and distress that was about to descend not just on Paris, but on the entire West that evening.

For me, this post-11/13 period has been a time of swirling, insistent questions and concerns, which I share in the hopes of promoting some productive discussion.

One: Did the timing of the Paris strikes have anything to do with the imminent global climate talks scheduled to begin there this month? Is it possible that the global oil lobby could have somehow instigated at least the time & place of the strike as a way of destabilizing the climate talks that should be leading us away from a reliance on fossil fuels?

Two: Could the military-industrial complex of the United States, Russia, and European powers like Germany, France and England, be subtly promoting war in the Middle East by their “containment” policy, which includes keeping demand for weapons high? Every bomb dropped is an order placed, after all. We saw this strategy revealed in all its grotesquerie in the Halliburton/U.S. government policy in Iraq—first manufacture a war, blow everything up and destabilize society, then rake in millions in “reconstruction” contracts. Is this happening again in Syria?

Three: Why are so few commentators talking about the role of Saudi Arabia in supporting the Islamic State? After 9/11, when all other commercial air traffic in the U.S. was grounded, there were the reports of the sketchy Saudi Arabian flights allowed to travel around the country picking up Saudi nationals and transporting them back home. We know that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and was supported by Saudi funds. Then as now, ancient Sunni/Shia rivalries are coinciding with contemporary geopolitics to fuel proxy wars in the Middle East. Is the situation in Syria really all about the rivalry between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, with the lives of millions of people caught in the crossfire of these warring ideologies? Why is American policy aligning with the Sunnis when they have been shown to be promulgating the most violent, extremist religious intolerance and hatred?

In this last question, we circle back around, perhaps to oil and the climate. If the world really got behind the shift to renewable energy that we MUST accomplish if we are to keep human civilization stable, the oil wealth of the sheikdoms would become much less important. Could it be that behind the world events currently playing out lie some desperate fossil fuel barons, willing to risk the collapse of the world order as we know it in order to keep the black gold flowing from the ground into their pockets? Is the Islamic State really some kind of bizarre mercenary army, paid to destabilize the region, no questions asked about tactics?

I know this sounds like the scenario of a wonderfully gripping international thriller, which we would enjoy in the movie theater precisely because we know it’s just fiction. But what if it’s not fiction? What if this time it’s all too terribly real—and the fate of the planet, at least the planet as we know and love her, really does hang in the balance?

My sixth sense is telling me now that we ordinary people are just pawns in a high-stakes game played by the super-elite, the rulers of the military-industrial complex, the fossil fuel industry and their political henchmen. The final question becomes: what do we do about it?

Related:

After Paris, Searching Upstream for the Source of Terrorism

Thanksgiving Refugees, Past and Present

Taking up arms against a sea of troubles

marathon-explosion-people-on-sidewalkIn the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing this week, like everyone else I’ve been thinking again about violence.

I am not a total pacifist. I do think that there are some situations in which violence is the only sane route to follow.

I could never be one of those Buddhists who try to send loving-kindness to their torturer.  Sometimes I even have trouble “turning the other cheek” if someone has offended me.

I am a Scorpio: I hold grudges, I brood, I sometimes lash out (though mostly in fantasy, very rarely in real life).

I am very sensitive to oppression, injustice and abuse—although sometimes this sensitivity manifests as a willed numbness, a deliberate refusal to see, because if I allowed myself to really take in all the oppression, injustice and abuse that saturates our planet daily, I would drown in my own howling depression and the guilt of not doing enough to combat it.

To combat it.  The verb choice there, which came out instinctively, is not innocent.

Is it possible to combat the violence of oppression, injustice and abuse without using violence?

What does sending tong-len or turning the other cheek accomplish besides emboldening one’s opponent to ever more impunity?

I believe there are times and occasions where violence is the only answer and the right answer to oppression, injustice and abuse.

But that is quite a different kind of violence from what happened in Boston this week.

Random violence that breaks into a festive, sunny day and kills and maims innocent bystanders is a totally different form of violence than the measured, carefully aimed violence of righteous resistance.

0415-boston-marathon-bomb-13Bombs loaded with nails and bb pellets, set off low in a dense crowd, are calculated to inflict maximum damage on soft exposed flesh and limbs.

Did whoever set those bombs enjoy the panic that ensued, the blood in the streets, the shock, the horror?

I can only imagine this perpetrator as a sadist, because unlike with the 9/11 attack or even the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, there isn’t any apparent symbolism in this attack that makes any sense.

I can understand rage against the U.S. Government, and against the World Trade Center.  Although I could never condone killing innocent people in the service of that rage, I can at least see and comprehend the mindset that saw such collateral damage as instrumental in making a larger statement.

But what possible message could be sent through killing athletes and sports enthusiasts on the streets of an ordinary American city like Boston?

I wish the perpetrator would come forward and stand behind this act of violence.  I want to try to understand the motive, the fury that could have prompted such a carefully calculated crime.

I am not naïve; I know there are many very good reasons that people all over the world hate the U.S. and Americans.

And there are good reasons for Americans ourselves to be angry at our society and government, with its ever-increasing inequality, its investment in environmentally destructive policies and products, its build-up of weapons at the expense of the services that citizens have a right to expect and demand.

There is a staggering amount of oppression, injustice and abuse in the world, not just by people against people, but also by people against the natural world—and thus there is a hell of a lot to be angry about—and even to take up arms about.

But setting off bombs on a street crowded with families and athletes?

That is just more senseless violence–meaningless, useless, a squandering of lives and of anger that could be much more appropriately focused and channeled.

Yes, sometimes violence is necessary, sometimes it’s a good thing.

But the violence we are seeing on at ever-increasing rate here in the U.S. is an empty, hollow kind of violence; the violence of a sadist kid who likes to pull the wings off flies.

And worst part of it is, we seem to be on a roll with it.  Our young people entertain themselves with violent movies and video games; our military-industrial complex continues to grow with ever more sophisticated means to inflict violence abroad; our chemical and industrial destruction of the environment continues unabated.

We live in a violent world of our own making.

Can we who believe in peace, harmony and justice make things right without taking up arms ourselves?

I wish I knew the answer.

9/11–Let’s Get Real!

All right, I have to say it.  I find the coverage of the 9/11 10-year anniversary nauseating.

The way we are collectively wallowing in our victimhood, while at the same time celebrating our oh-so-macho response to being attacked.

The way so few voices are talking about the reasons for the anger that launched those pilots at the US; the money that funded them; the horrendous aftermath of the attack, in which we rattled our sabers, swore vengeance against the “axis of evil,” and started a war in Iraq that cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives.

The way we aren’t talking about the corporate capitalist policies of exploitation and greed that led to widespread misery in the places where Al Qaeda operatives like to hide, places where starving parents opt to send their sons to the madrassa so they can eat, not knowing or caring what kind of indoctrination may be occurring between bites.

The way we aren’t talking about the indoctrination our children are getting here in our schools, through the sanitized version of the 9/11 story, in which the U.S. is always the good cop, policing the rest of the world in a superior and politically correct manner.

No one ever mentions anything about our status as the largest military operation in the world and the largest exporter of guns and military hardware—the biggest fomenter, therefore of violence on the planet.  How could we naively expect that this violence would not come home to roost?

And now those same policies of profit-seeking callousness have reached their limit in the natural world, and the violence we have wreaked on our environment can and will return to bite us—in fact, it is already visible in the erratic weather patterns of global warming, leading to natural disasters and food instability even here in the heart of Empire.

Instead of the obsessive repetition of schizophrenic patriotic self-congratulation alongside whining victimhood, we aren’t we talking about what really matters: moving forward in a way that radically changes the culture, both national and international, that produced 9/11?

Until we begin to have this forward-looking conversation, in which all the cards are put on the table and no credible way out of the morass of violence, greed and destructive exploitation is ignored, we will be stuck in a sick Groundhog Day of our own making, with no way to stop the repetitive madness.

I don’t know about you, but I want to wake up to a new day.

9/11 beyond the hype: What are YOU going to do about it?

Someone asked me today, What do you remember about 9/11?

I remember that at the moment the Twin Towers were hit, I was walking down to the Simon’s Rock College Center from the parking lot, on my way to my morning class—Sophomore Seminar.  It was a gorgeous September day, cool and bright.

My first indication something was wrong was inside the College Center, where there was a strange aura of people scurrying around, consulting with each other in the halls.  I quickly caught on to what at first seemed like a malicious rumor: a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  An accident?

But then no—a second plane had hit.  And the building was on fire.  People were jumping out of windows.  It was a terrorist attack.  Another plane had been hijacked.

And so, within an hour, the whole ghastly event unfolded.  The world that had seemed so safe, predictable and sane to me just minutes earlier, rocked crazily on its axis.

I met my students in the classroom, told them the news, and we all went over to the Lecture Center to watch CNN on the big screen.  The beautiful sunny day faded into the darkness and virtual screenlight.  The towers, falling over and over.  The people, jumping out of the flames to their deaths.

The firefighters, covered with eerie white ash.  The streams of people walking uptown, away from the Towers, like refugees leaving the scene of a genocide.

Manhattan is my hometown.  I have many memories of visiting the Twin Towers.

As a child, I remember when they were built, two identical towers rising on the skyline, bristling with huge cranes rendered tiny by distance.  I remember riding the elevator to the observation deck, the sick, scary feeling in my stomach as the elevators accelerated to a speed I didn’t want to fully imagine.

The wind up there, laden with the faint salty tang of the nearby sea; the tourists pointing cameras at the Statue of Liberty, or uptown at the rows of orderly buildings broken up by the green oasis of Central Park.

I have very fond memories, too, of eating dinner at Windows on the World, and the even more exclusive Cellar in the Sky, restaurants that my parents took me to for special occasions, like my 20th birthday.  At Cellar in the Sky, in addition to the fabulous food, you would get a different exclusive wine for each of seven prix fixe courses, ending up with a deep snifter of fine cognac with dessert.  We would leave the restaurant tipsy and glowing with a sense of well-being, the animal satisfaction of being relaxed and truly well-fed.

All gone, after 9/11.

What I lost on 9/11 was far more than just a physical place holding pleasant memories.  I lost my naïve belief that bombings and terrorist attacks only happened somewhere else in the world, never in my hometown.  I lost my sense of privileged aloofness from the rest of the world.

Mind you, by 2001 I was already a college professor, had already finished a dissertation that focused on personal narratives by human rights survivors from Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as North America.  I should not have been so naïve.

But somehow, until the Towers crumbled, it did not fully hit home to me how inevitable it was that the arrogance of American imperialism abroad would boomerang back around to hit us.

And it certainly did not occur to me that this strike would be used to initiate a regime of “homeland security” that brought our country closer to fascism than we had ever come before.

Ten years later, I am still feeling the pain that spread out from Ground Zero like the low ringing of a gong.  It is the pain of all of the peoples exploited by American-led capitalist imperialism, for whom World Trade is synonymous with oppression.  It is the pain of the widows, widowers and orphans, left not only by the terrorist strikes, but also by the ensuing vengeful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The pain only deepens as I begin to understand the extent to which the effects of Western imperialism have hurt the natural world, and destabilized the delicate ecological balance that has made our planet so fruitful.

9/11 hurt America, yes.  But America has been a leader in a global assault on our planet, on a scale that dwarfs the Al Qaeda strike.

 I would never support Al Qaeda, or its methods.  But neither can I support American-led corporate capitalism, with its chemicals and clear-cutting, its cowboy swagger as regards regulation, that has inflicted us with BP-style disasters replaying again and again in excruciating, devastating slow-motion.

 

What I lost on 9/11 was the sense that none of this had anything to do with me as an individual.

9/11 launched me on a difficult period of self-reflection, in which I realized the extent to which my own privilege as a member of the ruling elites had blinded me to my complicity in the oppressive system that spawned the anger that led to the World Trade Center attacks.

Once you realize your own complicity, you can either wallow in unproductive guilt, or you can roll up your sleeves and resolve to do whatever you can to make a change for the better.

History has shown us that it is the insiders–the wives, sisters and daughters of the masters of the universe—who have tremendous power over the men who love them.  In our day and age, women too can be “masters”—that is, members of the ruling class who control our society.

I think the question for us, ten years after 9/11, is a simple one.  What are you going to do about it?  Are you going to support the status quo, which may benefit you and your family greatly, but which ultimately leads to greater social instability, through political and environmental vulnerability?

Or are you going to be a change agent, someone who is not afraid to speak truth to power and insist on positive change?

On 9/11, there is no more important question to be asking ourselves.

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