This Mess

How are you feeling? Are you managing your week OK?

How’s your job? Is it what you like to do? Do you get along with your boss? Do you make enough to pay for the things you need?

Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well? Are you spending quality time with the people you care about?

Did you watch the first presidential debate? How do you feel about the country’s future?

How do you feel about your future?

These are pretty crazy times we’re living in. The present often seems crazy because of the unpredictability of the near future. Things could go many different ways, and so that leaves a sort of unsettling, up-in-the-air feeling in our gut. Is it going to turn out OK? Am I going to be OK?

By all measures, we’re at one of the most significant crossroads in human history. The most recent climate math tells us that “if we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming…we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.” If we want to maintain a hospitable planet, we have to end our failed fossil fuel experiment now.

Beyond our worsening environmental tragedy, the integrity of American society has been stretched thin and perforated with a number of other tragedies. Unlivable wages. Excessive use of force. Invasion of privacy. Expensive, endless, destabilizing warfare. Crumbling infrastructure. Disturbing immigration and profiling practices. And those are just the most obvious.

If you tuned into Monday’s debate to hear what the Republican and Democratic candidates are going to do about all of this you were probably deeply disappointed. Instead of 90 minutes of rigorous, nuanced policy discussion on even one of these tragedies–climate, wages, immigration, or otherwise–the American public was given a front-row seat to two adult human beings–one of whom will be the next president–relive their grade-school days with petty zingers and disdainful deflections.

It is the absolute lowest-hanging fruit to vent about Donald Trump’s vulgarity. A five-year-old could tell you he’s an absurd, self-centered blowhard who should never be president. The endless hot takes saying as much aren’t clever or engaging.

It’s not nearly as obvious to many people that Hillary Clinton is right there with Trump as a historically unfavorable presidential candidate. When given an opportunity to outline a compelling vision for America at the debates, Clinton directed the audience to her website and recently published book Stronger Together, which has struggled to sell more than a few thousand copies. This country is in need of something other than the status quo. Many anticipate she will maintain that status quo, and no one is buying into it–literally or figuratively.

When earlier this year Clinton went back-and-forth with Bernie Sanders in an illuminating centrism-versus-progressivism debate, she now spends most of her campaigning pointing out that she’s not Donald Trump. Is that supposed to be impressive? There are millions of people who would be a better president than Donald Trump. We know he’s prone to things like body-shaming women. We know he’s said climate change is a hoax. We know he has shady business practices.

What does Hillary Clinton have to say to the millions of people working low-wage service jobs with more to pay for than they can afford?

What will she do for young people who think the entire free market economic arrangement is bullshit and are wondering how they’re ever going to find a modicum of success and stability in their decades of adulthood?

If she becomes president, why should anyone trust that she’ll do what needs to be done to restore the climate when she sold fracking–one of the most environmentally destructive practices–to the rest of the world as Secretary of State?

Why should anyone trust she will bring about peace and an end to intervention in other countries when she has an established history of warmongering?

How does her longstanding belief in child deportations make her more fair and empathetic on immigration?

Clinton will probably win–merely on the incredibly weak basis that she isn’t Trump and that he may not even be trying to win. It will be an uninspiring end to an uninspiring election. Either way, we’re faced with terrible choices for our next president.

So what do we do?

Do we throw our arms up and cry? I definitely felt that way after about 20 minutes of this first debate. What a sad situation that these are the two plausible choices we’ve been left with. Disengagement feels like a natural route to take–though not one that can be expected to change anything.

Do we bite the bullet and cast a lukewarm vote for Clinton? After all, haven’t our presidential elections been mostly a lesser-of-two-evils choice for a while now? Clinton-Trump looks like the worst instance of it yet, with Clinton only slightly “less evil” than Trump on aggregate.

Do we look to third parties and cast a vote for a candidate possibly more suitable to the task at hand? Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are getting more attention than third party candidates typically do. Is one of them the least-of-several-evils? However appealing they or other third party candidates may be, the odds are near impossible that one of them will win. At most, they may siphon away a mandate from Clinton or Trump.

Whomever you choose to cast a vote for in November, I think there’s a longer trajectory to be mindful of. Neither of the two major party candidates can be trusted or believed to lead the kind of movement we need to improve the many tragedies we’re confronted with. It’s up to us. If this bewildering presidential election has made anything clear, it’s that we are in desperate need of a revitalized democracy that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. We need a mass movement of everyday Americans banding together and demanding what’s necessary for the common good.

A movement that holds the feet of politicians in office to the fire, and supports down-ballot candidates (senate, house, mayor, etc.) who understand what’s going on and what we need to do.

A movement that insists on fact-based, truth-telling journalism–as opposed to the post-truth, propagandistic media we’ve been stuck with over the last several months and longer. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is now to get down to the actual facts and significance of what’s happening.

A movement that Tweets, blogs, Instagrams, Snaps, and more, about where we’re at and what needs to go differently. Politics is one of the old untouchables with family and friends, but we have to move beyond avoiding mentioning how broken the world is and how we might be able to fix it because it’s not pleasant dinner conversation. We need ideas shared out loud. We need to keep bringing injustice, destruction, and inaction back into the spotlight. We need to have constructive disagreements out in the open so we can actually land on some mutual understanding.

A movement that doesn’t stop at social-media activism, but rather continues on to running for office, joining nonprofits, researching and educating, protesting and working toward reconciliation.

We may be stuck with a saddening mess for the months ahead. Nothing changes overnight. But if we can start building a movement that holds an unfavorable president accountable and steadily starts to shift the political tectonic plates, we may see things begin to heal. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” many have quoted. It only bends if we force it.

I refuse to throw in the towel. Do you? We need you and me and her and him and those guys and that journalist and this social-media-famous young woman and that up-and-coming politician and many, many more, building up a movement that demands a better future. It’s up to all of us to fix this mess.

Who Needs a Gun?

It’s happened again. The horrific violence in Orlando is at least the 133rd mass shooting of 2016, and the 998th since Sandy Hook in 2012–a moment in history when any reasonable person would have thought: surely the slaughter of twenty kids and their six teachers will change gun policy in America. Nope. In fact, the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando is now the deadliest mass shooting in US history. They seem to be only getting worse.

There’s reason to worry that the frequency of mass shootings and the absence of any gun policy change are making us desensitized to gun violence. These kinds of tragedies in the age of social media have a very short half-life of attention. In a few weeks, will you still be mourning the victims in Orlando and clamoring for changes to gun laws in America? Will I?

Maybe instead of losing the forest for the trees with the particulars of each shooting as they happen–the number of casualties, the religion and mental state of the shooter–we need to ask more poignant, all-encompassing, difficult questions. A question like:

What citizen needs a gun in 2016?

If we’re objective and honest, nobody needs one. There are many people who want one–recreational hunters, for example. But no regular citizen of the United States needs–fundamentally, unequivocally–to possess a firearm. If you disagree, ask yourself why?

What exactly do you expect to happen that necessitates owning your own firearm? Hunting for meals? Someone trying to murder you in your home? Self-defense against a suddenly tyrannical US government?

How likely are those scenarios to happen?

The reality is that today, no one needs to hunt for their meals. We are thoroughly civilized and consumerized by the likes of superstores, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and restaurants. They all are regularly supplied by reliable food production systems that ensure that even the family mart in Quaint Town, USA, has some organic meat and produce available. Even those who hunt primarily “for the meat” only make up 35% of hunters–not even close to a majority. And it’s not clear that nowadays it costs less to hunt for meat–should someone declare that regular groceries are unaffordable. To be sure, a game meat like venison is absolutely delicious–I grew up in Wisconsin with the occasional family-hunted jerky, steaks, and sausage. But it’s not essential to survival. Just enjoyable when you can get it. And you could get it with weaponry other than a firearm. That’s not a need.

Nor does anyone need to own a gun in expectation of a home intruder. Statistically, it’s actually less safe if you do have a gun in the home. It’s much more likely a family member or close friend will be shot with it–domestic violence, suicide, or child-related accident–than a criminal intruder. Even if you are in the uncommon situation of an intruder in your home when you’re there, there’s a reasonable chance that: (1) the gun gets taken over from you; or (2) that you reactively shoot as soon as you see someone and discover it’s a person you know (that you may have been able to talk down), someone unarmed (and therefore not immediately life-threatening), or even someone innocently entering the house when you weren’t expecting it.

As for the so-called citizen militia scenario, let’s all simply recognize there is no modern Lexington and Concord to come. The United States today has a flawed, yet relatively stable democracy. Citizen paranoia is much more probable than violent state tyranny.

So, again, where is the need for a gun for the average citizen in 2016? There isn’t, it’s a want.

And if it is just a want, we better ask another question:

What does a gun do?

For too long, too many have gone along with the guns don’t kill people, people kill people cliche. But ask yourself: what is the purpose of a gun? What is its function? To have portable, quick-to-initiate, precise, lethal force, in a way that extends and amplifies the human physiological capacity for violence–like a punch or throwing a rock. In short, guns inherently wound and kill. You don’t use them as a replacement flower vase or to tie your shoes, because that’s not what they do. 

It’s a relatively narrow and modern application to use them in an intentionally non-injurious way like target shooting. And, even so, there are surely less risky and intense hobbies than loading up a firearm and trying to rupture specific places on a stationary target or objects flying through the air–even though that may be a fun skills challenge or stress-relieving.

But what about freedom?

Indeed, the United States is a country wrapped in the necessity of that immensely powerful idea. “Life, liberty (i.e. freedom), and the pursuit of happiness,” are the DNA of this country. But freedom doesn’t mean everyone gets to do whatever they want. Each person in the United States surely should have freedom from violence–as much as people desire to have the freedom to buy many things they want. Needs are more vital than wants. And freedom from violence is unquestionably a need, whereas the freedom to own a firearm–a piece of technology that’s primary purpose is to wound and kill–is a want.

We should therefore question how that want can impinge and is impinging on freedom from violence. The terror in Orlando has given us a fresh reminder of that. The shooter was an American citizen–legally in the country–using a Sig Sauer MCX–a semi-automatic firearm legally purchased. The victims were innocently trying to enjoy their lives and pursue happiness.

Whatever the original intent of the Second Amendment, it doesn’t seem to fit the current era of guns and gun violence. And, in fact, Thomas Jefferson was mindful of such unforeseen times:

Jefferson
via @JohnFugelsang

Existing gun policy is clearly “unadapted to the good of the nation”–to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in 21st century America. It’s time to think outside the box–outside of dogma, partisanship, and prejudice–about real freedom, what guns are for, and who actually needs one. Too many innocent people have died or will be killed as we’ve maintained the status quo of lax laws to accommodate want.

 

“Delete Your Account?” We Need to Demand Better

For weeks, major American media has been chomping at the bit for a Donald Trump–Hillary Clinton general election campaign to officially begin. With Clinton declared the Democratic Party nominee earlier this week (even though the superdelegates needed to put her over the delegate threshold do not vote until the Democratic National Convention at the end of July), and President Obama formally endorsing her Thursday, that general election matchup seems to have begun in earnest. How did it kick off? Bold insights about the state of the country? Hopeful policy proposals? Nope, this:

Which got this memed response:

And then the mainstream news media erupted:

%22Delete Your Account%22
via @adamjohnsonNYC

We are in the midst of (at least) two major crises: rampant economic inequality and man-made climate change. Each of them is a runaway, destructive force that requires immediate action and wise strategy. Instead, the only political issue receiving attention is the childish Twitter squabble between the two major candidates for president. Is this what the next five months has in store?

If either candidate has stated consistent, thought-out positions on economic inequality or climate change, you’d be hard-pressed to summarize what they are.

Clinton’s campaign has been dominated by the possibility that she would be the first woman to become President of the United States. That would absolutely be a historical achievement (for the US). But what happens the moment after she achieves that? I’m the first woman who’s President of the United States is not a platform–especially one that addresses the real needs of the country. #ImwithHer sounds more like the glorification of an individual than a movement for the benefit of the masses.

Trump has been so wildly all over the place demeaning and scapegoating different groups of people that it’s hard to interpret his Make America Great Again slogan as anything other than Make America Comfortable for Tribalistic White People Again. His recognizable policy proposals are about obstructing immigrants. Most of the time he’s shooting from the hip about the latest person or people that he can’t stand and how they’re losers or criminals.

You’re smart and so you already know this. You see Trump’s absurdity and demagoguery. You see the shallowness of Clinton running on simplistic identity politics and merely not being Donald Trump.

It’s a whole bunch of divisive fluff at a time when we need foresight, substance, and inclusiveness.

We need real policy that addresses the major crises we face. We need to move toward an election process that’s better than choosing the lesser of two (very objectionable) evils. We need news media that care more about spotlighting difficult truths than sensationalizing triviality. We need to demand better.

 

Motion

Rain vis-a-vis ChildHuman beings treat most of life as if “the way things are” was inevitable, and that it can be expected to endure. When we go to sleep, we should be able to wake up the next day and take a long, hot shower, whip together a few organic items for breakfast, commute about town in a trendy vehicle filled with a tank of reasonably priced gas, pick up a quick, well-made latte on the way to work, and settle into our workplace–a climate-controlled environment replete with all sorts of technology we want to use to complete the tasks at hand. And that’s just the basics of everyday life.

Thanks to “progress,” we have a whole spectrum of innovations and comforts that have made our lives easier, faster, more convenient, and more predictable. The way things are now seem like the way they were alway meant to be, and tomorrow will bring more of the same–or better. We’re on the upslope to the (really) good life–thanks in large part to more “stuff” and more manipulation of the world around us to achieve the ends we desire. “We can drill way down into these shales for natural gas and be energy-independent!” “We can brew up great coffee at home on a Keurig, skip the coffeeshop, and save time and money!” “I can stream Game of Thrones on my smartphone way out here in the woods!” And all of that. It’s been a pretty great setup for a while, and feels exactly like the kind of pleasant, ideal path humans were meant to tread. I enjoy many of modern life’s great comforts myself: I’m typing this on a tablet, connected wirelessly to happenings across the world via WI-FI, and sipping great coffee recently shipped over from a country thousands of miles away.

The thing about the inevitability, and the expectation, and the comfort, and the predictability, is that as much as it feels like things are supposed to always be this way, it’s only been so for a relatively short amount of time. We, and our planet, have never known what it would be like for human beings to be able to explore, and dig, and reconfigure, and use just about anything, anywhere, for years and years of time. In recent decades, we’ve had our eyes focused a little more carefully, our ears to the ground, and some of the devices we’ve constructed out and about collecting data to try to understand how the world we are manipulating–which is also the environment in which we live–is changing in response to our dominion. We’re finding out, rather unsurprisingly, that its servitude has led it into a dilapidated state that’s in stark contrast to our perceived “progress.”

If you’ve followed the news in the past several weeks, you’ve likely heard about both the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the White House reports on the status of our planet and its climate, and watched the ensuing–often partisan–furor. The news wasn’t good. If you were open to the notion that the planet is changing in a dramatically negative way–particularly in ways less hospitable to people living on it–they were a fresh reminder that the hot shower-gasoline-Keurig-smartphone dream is actually taxing our world ecosystem in unsustainable ways. If you were unsure or doubtful about an (anthropogenic) changing climate–especially because those with political views you can’t get on board with won’t stop talking about it–these reports and the ensuing activism likely only exacerbated your doubt and irritation.

The problem is that those who actually research such things professionally have had near one-hundred percent unanimity about a human-caused changing climate, in a negative direction, for years now, while the opinion of the general public is that things are probably A-OK on the whole. Or if our opinions are otherwise, we’re tacitly accepting the unsustainable status quo the majority of the time with our action and inaction.

What will it take for us to be shaken out of our expectations-filled, denialist/avoidance slumber? What thing will be the splash of cold water that gets us to jump out of bed and alter the harsh dominion we have held? Will it be when good coffee disappears, potentially later this century, because the growing regions of the world no longer support the plant or climate-change-friendly fungus destroys everyone’s crop? Perhaps we’re willing to settle for much less delicious hybrid varietals of coffee bean, or some other drink altogether–thought tea and cocoa aren’t expected to fare well either.

Will it be a couple of decades straight of debilitating drought in places like California, where I live–resulting in overwhelming water shortages, intolerable heat, and the complete loss of one of the country’s major food-growing regions?

Why is it human nature to wait until it’s too late or too close to home before we actually do something about the challenges before us–especially when we’ve caused them in the first place?

The earth will likely go on just fine long after the planet no longer supports human life at all. It might take a new age or era of time to stabilize from the ways we’ve messed things up, but the world should go on clicking for millions or billions of years pleasantly without any people around. We are not inevitable.

It’s our own future as people who can live and flourish on this planet that is in the balance, and in our power to control toward either a sad end or a different kind of progressive future. And it’s not just the future of generations after us–it’s the future of how we will live, struggle to live, or be overcome as the earth continues to change in our own lifetimes. The most urgent change we need to make is with energy. Fossil fuels, which took hundreds of millions of years to develop, are being culled and combusted in a matter of decades–contributing to an exponential increase in the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is driving the changing climate. Natural gas, a recent darling, is an imposter of an alternative. A quick watch of Gasland, despite its rather propogandic ethos, makes that quite clear.

But before we can make large sweeps in energy policy, we have to get everyone to even agree that the climate is changing in troubling ways. Maybe it needs to be selfishly personal: coffee, maple syrup, drinking water, local air quality, whatever. Find something the skeptic and the complacent will be compelled by. And then, when the furor is a more united voice gaining volume and influence, we have to convince the economic powers in the energy sector to do what is, for them, unthinkable: leave the fuels in the ground. There’s more there to burn than can run out before it’s too late for the climate. But we’re culpable in that too.

Michael Pollan, professor of journalism at the University of California-Berkeley, has famously reiterated with regard to food that we get to place “a vote with our fork” of what we want the food industry and food policy to look like. If we stop buying certain things altogether then there will no longer be a market for those things that aren’t getting purchased. The less we all use anything powered or shipped by means of fossil fuel, the smaller the industry will be. It costs energy corporations $1.8 billion daily just to explore for new sources; it’s doubtful they’d continue if there is no longer a future for them.

While we pursue meaningful energy change on a worldwide scale, it’s up to us all locally to decide each and every day the kinds of things we want to support with our purchase, consumption, and use, and the kinds of things we wish and need to disappear. They will if we all stop supporting them. Life as we know it will disappear if we don’t.

“Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go on forever…This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest upon the earth.” (E.M. Forster, Howards End)