Something Very Strange: the Work of Reclaiming Our Humanity

Something very strange happened to me. I was born white, male, and middle-class in the United States of America. I was miseducated into a system so entrenched, so deep, that to extricate myself from its illusions is a full-time job that does not pay. To extricate myself from the necessary illusions and downright lies of a white supremacist culture requires critical thinking and relentless self- and social-examination within a milieu that does not support that kind of reflection. At every turn, I was and am met with the message to look the other way. I was and am offered bribes in the form of the status quo. I was and am reminded of how good I have it.

And yet, the “good” that I have does not feel so good. It’s empty, inauthentic. It’s plastic and tarnished metal, rust. It’s a warm house and stocked fridge counterposed with belching fossil fuels wreaking climate change. It’s social neglect, and racism, and starvation, and war.

And so I dropped out. I pursued poverty, took minimum wage jobs with my college education, for years. And even my pursuit of poverty was inauthentic, because when, years later, I shifted back into the mainstream, that was possible for me. I was able to shift from service and retail work to social work. And I had the intention of working from within to create change. Yet the position I held was entrenched so deeply within the system that it was remedial. I was addressing a problem that had been created by complex forces of a dehumanizing economics, and my job was to assist in managing the problem.

The root of the problem is not being addressed. The root of the problem is not only an economics of dehumanization, but an overarching culture of dehumanization.

I have come to believe that people of conscience must work to create a whole new culture. I have work to do along with others who are repudiating a culture of dehumanization. This is deep work and has been going on since before the shores of the so-called New World were invaded by colonizers. It has been and is and will continue to be work of resistance.

We also must push beyond resistance into new territory. We must push beyond repudiation to replacement. We must build. We dismantle white supremacy and the larger culture of dehumanization to build something that we don’t yet have the words for, something that cannot be comprehended through the systems that we have. We have to build a new culture, a culture of love, not possession; a culture of union, not separation; a culture of cooperation, not competition. The culture that we build must be dynamic.

We have to be the work and pass the work to others and work with others and be willing to listen and see with the eyes of others. And this is hard work. This is real work. This is not a function of an economy, but a function of humanity. This is the work of being human and this is how we reclaim humanity from those who have, and do, and will continue to dehumanize.

We must first be human to have a human culture.

Free Speech and Education

We live in a culture where communication is sped up, easily accessible, and largely unfiltered. The recent impact of Innocence of Muslims and the public release of video footage of Mitt Romney speaking to donors at a private fundraiser got me thinking about education, critical thinking, and free speech. Here are some notes I made this morning to organize my thoughts. I’m posting them here for others to comment on and as a sticky note for myself, because yellow notepads are cheap and prone to being buried in clutter.

If free speech is to be ensured and not abused, education is paramount. Aims of education:

  • critical thinking, so that individuals may arrive at informed, rational opinions
  • respect for other people — their needs, dignity, and opinions
  • citizenship, civic responsibility — must counteract consumerism, immediate gratification, and selfishness
  • a rational view of self in relation to others — again to counteract selfishness
  • a rational view of the cosmos, including an appreciation of geologic/deep time here on Earth that facilitates a rational appreciation of humanity’s uniqueness and transitory nature
  • a sense of humor, levity