Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Time of Reconciliation

What is happening in Standing Rock feels so deeply important to me.  I'm feeling inspired and alive seeing these Native Nations from around the country come together with a unified and important message of protecting water and honoring Mother Earth.  At the same time, I'm feeling heartbroken by the militant violence breaking up prayerful demonstrations and the government inaction to protect the peaceful water protectors and heed their important message.

[For a great snapshot of what's happening in Standing Rock and the historical context, watch this: Time to Listen to Native Americans, by Fusion.]

I have a very small percentage of Native American blood, and even when I was little, I loved and identified with that little sliver of myself.  When my spirituality started to feel like my own, the very first touchstone was an obsessive interest in native spirituality, shamanism, the Great Mystery, and ways of harmony with Mother Earth and All-That-Is.

I remember when I realized that all the rosy stories from my childhood about the Native Americans and Pilgrims peacefully coexisting were bullshit.  In the time since, I've always noticed this lying, covering, and ignoring of the history of the European contact with this country's first people.  In recent years, there has been more of a movement to question the idea that America was discovered by Columbus, but still, we have a lot of white-washed stories clouding and covering over the truth of what really happened.

And then, there is the history of the African Americans.  What we so often refuse to acknowledge here is how the history of slavery isn't really behind us. It is causally related to so many things happening today, right now, all around the country.  The first time I stepped into a prison, I literally gasped as I looked around the intake desk: all the white guards with batons on their belts and the overwhelming number of black inmates.  My boss and mentor could sense my shock, and she turned to me and said something like, "yeah, it looks like a slave ship, doesn't it?"  Since that experience, I've become more and more aware of how our racist history is having a profound impact, here in the present.

[For an eye opening look at how slavery relates to our current state of mass incarceration, watch this: Slavery to Mass Incarceration, Equal Justice Initiative]

America has some ugly skeletons in her closet.   The dominant culture seems to think the closet can just stay shut, and we can just keep all this long gone history neatly tucked away from view, not causing any disruption.  But, come on - that is not how things work.  Whatever we relegate to the shadows will find its way to the light, sooner or later.

And as I look around lately, it seems like that time is now.  In addition to Standing Rock, there is the Black Lives Matter movement.  [For a clear and useful explanation of the intentions behind Black Lives Matter, check this out: Do Black Lives Matter To You?]  And this presidential election has made many other things that have been seething below the surface more visible: our anger, our division, and our obsession with entertainment over substance.

A time of reckoning has come, and my deepest prayer is that we respond.  Brushing these unresolved issues from our past under the carpet will not work anymore, and if we don't change our approach, I sense that our country is headed for a major crisis.  We have to realize that there are other ways to respond.  We can question the status quo, we can question the stories we've been told, we can question the options placed before us, and we can stand up with those that are speaking a truth that resonates inside of us.

I sincerely believe that it is possible to reconcile, to come together, to unify, even from the state that we are in right now.  We can turn things around, if we find the courage to face the past honestly and take a stand for truth.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"there is no way to peace, peace is the way"

This week I got into a political discussion with a friend considering Trump because this friend senses that Hillary would be the one of the two most likely to get us in a war. The two of us ended up having a refreshingly open and civil back and forth, and when sharing a Gary Johnson link with him, I let myself go on a little peace rant in my email. I was surprised when he responded so positively and said how it really opened his perspective. When I looked back at what I wrote, I realized I had my peace post for this week:

Even though people might see me as na├»ve, I’m a strong believer that “there’s no way to peace, peace is the way.”  We can’t bring peace to war torn areas by bringing violence; it hasn’t worked and I don’t believe it ever will.  On this point, I really love Malala – a far more worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize than Obama.  She says we need to help educate, protect, and create opportunities for the kids who grow up to be these terrorists, and I couldn’t agree more.  I think we approach the problems with backward thinking, and it’s no wonder we just keep perpetuating the things that we hope to eradicate.  The kind of aid that’s really needed is so much cheaper, so much more restorative, and in the end, there actually are so many good souls that are and want to do that work – we could dedicate resources to supporting them instead of the ridiculous amount of money and blood we spend on trying to fight them.  Ever heard of “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson?  In my humble opinion, he’s such a fantastic example of what real change looks like.  I see both Trump and Hillary as the same old tried and failed approach to  fighting violence with more violence.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

the other side of peace

This old post from the end of 2010 has been on my mind, as I got caught up in all this conflict on Facebook around the presidential election.  I'm struggling to find the balance of engaging authentically and not projecting my own opinions in a hurtful way.  My conclusion: I have no freakin idea.  For now, I think the place for me is off Facebook, so my personal account is on pause at least until this crazy election is over. 

"conflict is essential to the development and growth of man and society.  it leads either to the construction or destruction of an entire group or state. . .  if there is no conflict - internal or external - there can be no growth."
-sun tzu, the art of war

thinking about this quote brought a conversation from many years ago to mind.  at the time, i was an idealistic new college graduate in my 20s and was tutoring high school and middle school students.  one particular student challenged me when i talked about peace as an important ideal.  he defended war, and he called it a completely natural thing.  "war is even something that happens within our bodies," he told me.  that teenager so eloquently left me flustered.

then, just this week, my body went into a state of full revolt against a virus or something i ate, and i remembered that student's words.  a war was going on in my body, and on some level, i was grateful that the battle was being fought.

i agree with the art of war on this one: conflict is essential for growth.  there is something about conflict that is necessary for our evolution, and even for our well-being.  to deny conflict is often to deny truth, and to me, peace that's faking it, isn't peace at all.  many times, i've had experiences when i can feel anger, resentment, or judgment coming from someone, but the peace mask keeps it neatly hidden.  to me, this mask isn't true peace.

true peace is in having the courage to stand up, be true, and deal with a conflict if it exists.  when i think of a wise martial artist, or even my body defending itself from something perceived as harmful, those images don't hit my sense of violence.  the use of force as defense can actually be a way of creating a state of harmony, balance, and eventual peace.

now, a couple days later, my body is at peace again.  there were moments bowing before my toilet that i honestly wondered if i would feel normal again.  the sense of overwhelming chaos and out of control nausea was all i could see or feel at that time.  but then a day or two later, balance was reestablished, and it was reestablished rather quickly simply because my body was willing to stand up, defend, and deal with the problem.

i see the truest and strongest form of peace just like that.  peace isn't necessarily the person that's always smiling and friendly, never with an unkind word to say.  peace is the one that has the courage to speak the truth.  peace is the one that doesn't cower when conflict enters the room.  peace is the one that stands up, and if truth is in saying what someone else might not want to hear, true peace is secure enough to speak anyway.

there may seem to be a contradiction between this and my last post, but the deepest truth about peace seems hidden in this paradox.  peace is courageous, but not a vigilante always looking to destroy injustice on the outside.  peace is the willingness to look within first.  peace isn't fueled by anger or righteousness; its fuel is Truth and Love.  all actions that are driven by the purest sources of this fuel, even ones that might seem externally violent, can be actions of peace.

this peace i talk about isn't the opposite of conflict; it is just big enough to encompass conflict.  within this state of Peace, there is room for all that rich conflict that leads to our greatest lessons and growth.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Earth Loving Libertarian

The Hillary machine has turned its sights on Gary Johnson, reacting to how the Johnson/Weld ticket is drawing from young people and independents that Hillary was counting on in November.

And in what I've seen of this surge, most of the attacks feel like slanted presentation or the complete lack of understanding/acceptance of the libertarian philosophy as a whole.  Although these things don't sway me, the area I'm most unsure of my alignment with Gary has been exposed: his stance on the environment.

I resonate with the libertarian perspective because of how the philosophy is about reducing governmental power to its essential roles.  I see government's power as the seed of the discontent expressed by both the Tea Party and Occupy Wallstreet.  With Occupy Wallstreet and the Feel the Bern movement that followed, the finger is just pointed at the corporations that have co-opted that government power, but what if the government didn't have that power to hand out to its crony corporations?  Both movements, so often seen as opposites, point to the same oppressive corporatacracy, and in my view, it makes much more sense to go after the root of the power than to try to control its recipients.

And my libertarian leaning views have seemed to fit together like a neat little puzzle: keep government limited, reduce its money, reduce its influence on people's decisions that don't impact others, reduce its ability to empower special interests in their attempts to control and exploit the public.  But I really don't jive with my sense of the traditional libertarian platform on the environment.

On the Johnson/Weld website, there's a nice write up about stewardship and our role to care for the environment, but it really just seems like fluff.  And on the libertarian party website, there's a write up about further privatization of land and animals as the way, but that really does not resonate for me at all.  And as hard as I've been trying to find something a bit more concrete on how the Johnson/Weld administration would approach the environment, I just keep running into Mother Jones and other left publications trying to characterize him as someone who is uninformed and uncaring about the environment, a friend of dirty big business.  From what I know about Gary and his philosophy generally, I'm not buying that, but I also admit that I don't really know what goes in these blanks.

And all this got me thinking, where am I on these issues?  I don't feel an inconsistency or incompatibility between my view that we need to radically change our relationship with the Earth and my libertarian values, so how does it fit together? 

And I realized that I see the whole environmental realm as about harming and safety, not regulations and rules.  I agree with the main thing Gary has said - regulations and messing with the markets isn't the way to deal with our environment.  A carbon tax would help bring the environmental cost into the equation, and the tax credits help boost alternative energy, but I wonder if that approach is in scale with the solutions we need.  The regulatory approach leads surges in alternative energy, and then, we have some huge environmental disaster that pushes all that progress back.  We sign an agreement full of great commitments for a more sustainable future, and then they aren't kept and enforced at the national level.  It's just an ebb and flow that doesn't get to the essential heart of the problem.

We aren't honoring and respecting the Earth as a living being, the source of our lives and of life itself.  We see it as a commodity and our theories of property ownership and resource management just cement in the illusion that we can control, manipulate, and exploit this resource if we can call it "MINE."  We can even fix it if we really mess things up.  Privatization, as it relates to the Earth, natural resources, and animals is a big part of the problem in my view.

There's this faulty set of dysfunctional principles that have led to a lot of progress, but the utility of these theories is running out and will not sustain us.  Whether we have years, decades, centuries, or millennia until these principles lead to our self-destruction, I truly believe we are inevitably going that way and the only thing that will truly shift the course is a complete reordering of our priorities.

When I went to law school, my initial thought was that I would practice environmental law.  I took environmental law classes, spent a semester working in the environmental law clinic, and even initially accepted a job to work in that environmental law clinic after graduation.  Although I felt a strong pull toward protection of our environment and our natural resources, I found environmental law so frustrating, so much like banging my head against a wall.

The area of law itself felt so uninteresting and tedious to sift through, very different than say constitutional law or criminal law.  Try breezing through the Clean Water Act: pages and pages and pages of statutory sections with reporting requirements and picayune details that can only be mastered and understood by a whole team of people tunneling into them.  And just guess who knows these statutes and regulations the best?  Just guess where the most money is dedicated to mastery of environmental law and understanding how to navigate its maze?  Obvious, right?  It's the corporations trying to find the most affordable ways to remain in compliance, or at least only amass the fines that won't throw profits out of balance.

I deeply respect the work that passionate environmental lawyers are doing, and I think it's horrible that they are so often paid poorly and have so few resources available to support them in this important work.  And the further shame of the situation is that their hard work might give us a millimeter, a centimeter of progress.  And we don't need a centimeter; we need meter sticks upon meter sticks of progress.  I feel that moving on this scale set out by our regulatory approach just is not going to get us there.

Perhaps environmental protection actually belongs in our criminal code.  It's been a long while since I was involved in environmental law, but my understanding is that there are few small ties to the criminal code for egregious environmental infractions, but the vast majority of our environmental enforcement comes in the form of reporting requirements and fines.  This approach seems completely out of scale with the level of harm these activities have the potential to cause.

If you dump poisons on the Earth – it’s like pouring acid on human beings.  If you emit toxins into the air – it’s like releasing noxious chemicals in a crowd. It doesn’t matter if you do these things in your own back yard, just like it doesn’t matter if a victim is your own child. A living being is a living being, and it’s the government’s role (even under a libertarian philosophy) to protect safety.

We've criminalized the hell out of the things that people do to harm themselves and no one else, things that rise simultaneously with poverty and with the dangerous conditions on our streets, but we leave some of the most harmful things that are being done on the largest scales untouched by our criminal code.  If there were more criminal penalties for environmental misconduct, and if we defined environmental misconduct broadly enough to catch all the things that are degrading our environment and resources, all the financial resources now dedicated to navigating environmental regulations would be redirected into finding cleaner ways to operate.  The reason so much work is done to justify our environmental degradation is that even with the costs of polluting, it's still cheaper.

When we align the costs with the governmental response, we will see real change.  I recognize how radical this is in terms of infrastructure, jobs, and just overall feasibility, but when society really and fully sees the right thing to do, it does it, even in the face of immense inconvenience.

Just like the plantation owners had to restructure and reorient after the abolition of slavery, we too need to begin again without this faulty belief system that has set us on this course to our own extinction.