Friday, March 23, 2012

Dear Conservative Friend

(Excerpted from an ongoing dialogue.)

1) I think that we agree on many things, in principle. Nobody should be able to compel me to commit murder in the name of a 'greater good'. I dislike paying for other people's irresponsible behavior. What I have a problem with is that, likewise, nobody should be able to compel me to put MY life at risk for the sake of another. Nobody should be able to tell me what I HAVE TO allow or not allow to grow in MY body. (Scary blog post to follow in separate message.) I take issue with the fact that people in our government are trying to force others to adopt their own particular set of values with respect to their bodies.

2) I am very pro-individual freedom. I do not want to be compelled to buy crap health insurance at an exorbitant price, when I could (and probably SHOULD) be spending that money to buy better, healthier food, or otherwise improving my health PROACTIVELY. A massage once a month does wonders for my stress level (which, in turn, reduces my stress-related eating), but you can't find a health plan that covers that. Or Weight Watchers. Etc.

3) I disagree with the characterization in your link of these men as "good men defending conscience rights." Heck, I had to google 'conscience rights' just to understand this supposed justification for the outlandish, boorish, offensive statements that were presented in the War on Women video. It is never necessary to demean a class of people (ANY class of people) in order to make a valid point. None of the statements in the video even had to do with conscience rights.

4) The point of my article was that it's too easy to find a reason NOT to pay for a procedure that someone ELSE needs. I hate (absolutely HATE) the idea of kids being on psychiatric meds, and I think that scientific research backs up the point that these meds are over-prescribed and prescribed for uses/ages for which they were never designed. I think it does a lot of damage, and that we will 'reap what we sow', so to speak, as these overmedicated generations grows up. I think that the 'lifestyle convenience' argument could certainly be applied to many cases of parents seeking medication for their kids. At the same time, I cannot afford to be without health insurance, like the most of the rest of this country. That means that some of my premiums will pay for procedures and decisions with which I disagree. THAT is the price of being part of a collective - ANY collective. If we let people get everything that THEY want (or think they NEED), and opt out of giving other people what THEY think they need, then we have no power as a collective at all. The entire concept of health insurance needs to be redefined, but you don't see ANYBODY refusing it because their premium payments *currently* subsidize other people's abortions.

5) For collective health insurance to function wisely - i.e., minimize the cost and maximize the health of the participants - it SHOULD pay for those things which do the most to prevent future (preventable) expenses. It SHOULD pay for birth control so that there are no unwanted pregnancies. It SHOULD pay for Weight Watchers, so that the costs of diabetes and other weight related problems down the road are prevented. If your health insurance offers to pay for Weight Watchers, and your doctor recommends that you go, and you DON'T, then you SHOULD agree to assume a greater portion of the cost of your future health problems that relate to your weight. (Obviously people should be free to have the final word on what happens to their own bodies, but they should do so without putting the burden on the rest of us.) If insurance doesn't pay for the cost of PREVENTION, it can't refuse to pay the medical costs incurred from refusing to prevent.

6) I agree that this country has an entitlement problem. Nobody is ENTITLED to health insurance. However, the healthcare system is so out of whack that almost nobody can afford to cover their own costs, especially in the face of a crisis. Until the healthcare system is reformed, the ONLY way that the majority of us will get healthcare is to leverage our collective power. Fighting over what we do or don't want to pay for for someone ELSE is just a distraction from the much-needed call for real health care reform. Nobody ever says "I'LL opt out of coverage for [insert *likely* condition]", but everybody wants to talk about what somebody ELSE may or may not be getting.

I miss working with you too. We did have good conversation... Have a great weekend! :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spiritual, But Not Religious


I like to think about the idea of God. I like to think critically, to doubt and to imagine.

I like the idea of a god/higher power that sees me, without the intervention of a hierarchy of priests and saints.

I find it more ennobling to believe myself to be a soul reincarnated here to learn, than a slight improvement on a monkey.

I find comfort in the idea that there might be something more after this life, but I don't want to live my life just to get to it.

I am more tolerant of other people and ideas than [insert religion here] would allow me to be.

I am not blind to the mutually-exclusive nature of many religions.

I wonder what it is that enables human beings to act in purely self-sacrificial ways.

I think many of us have experiences that defy a strict materialist explanation; for lack of a better paradigm, we tend to think of these things as 'spiritual'.

... but not religious.

I don't like hypocrisy. People are human, and they make mistakes, but somehow that never stops them from trying to tell others how to live.

I was raised to think for myself in every other area of my life. Why should the realm of spiritual things be any different?

I want to be charitable, but I want to know that I'm helping buy food for the needy, and not a new gym for a church, so I donate directly to the food bank.

I find it hard to be associated with an organization/belief system that has done so much damage in the name of doing good.

Don't even get me started on how women have been devalued in the name of religion.

I think the world would be a better place if people were less reliant on authority to tell them what to think.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


"Rise up and take the power back!
It's time the fat cats had a heart attack.
You know that their time is coming to an end.
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend."

About a year ago (on a Friday), the governor of Wisconsin introduced a Budget Repair Bill that "proposed taking away the ability of public sector unions to bargain collectively over pensions and health care and limiting pay raises of public employees to the rate of inflation, as well as ending automatic union dues collection by the state and requiring public unions to recertify annually."(q) By Monday (Valentine's Day) the people of Wisconsin were already making their voices heard. The protests grew in the days and weeks that followed as the governor (and his supporters) refused to back down from the controversial position that such a move was necessary. So 'necessary' in fact, that it had to be passed with a protocol-bending slight-of-hand that catapulted even the most reticent among us out of our respective reveries.

'Necessity' (or the great lack thereof) aside, what sparked outrage and indignation was the way in which people felt they were being treated by their 'representative' government. Media critic John Nichols has written a new book chronicling the protests in Wisconsin that marked the year 2011. Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street is a considered attempt to discuss "how one uprising inspires the next" and "what an uprising and its aftermath may mean for labor, for popular organizing, for media reform, for politics, for democracy." Nichols is not afraid to say that "crooked politicians [were] conniving to take away the essential rights of working people," and to liken the subsequent attempts to remake relevant legislative processes to "Orwellian fantasy" and "way stations on a road map to ruin." Prescient words from Nichols, as new information comes to light just days before his book is officially released. Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin "took the unusual step of signing a legal agreement in which they promised to not comment publicly about redistricting discussions while new GOP-friendly maps were being drafted." (q) Not comment publicly?? As in not answer to the public that elected you and for whom you are supposed to work?!? Cue the outrage and indignation...

So much has been already said about the influence of corporations on government. But corporations are built on the backs of workers - workers who are often degraded in a dozen small and not-so-small ways. Those workers are us. The future of this country isn't going to be shaped by our science or our religion; it will be shaped by what we as workers are willing to endure for the illusion of economic security. And in a day where corporate promises are so easily broken, unemployment is so easily attainable, and the average American is so easily bankrupted by unforeseen circumstances, illusion it is, for 99% of us at least.

Nichols fills his book with inspiring quotes, such as this... "The question will arise and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine: Which shall rule, wealth or man? Which shall lead, money or intellect? Who shall fill public stations, educated and patriotic freemen, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?" And yet it seems as if Nichols is content to decry the current state of affairs and suggest the political changes that others might implement. He does not convincingly assume the mantle so often heard by the protesters - an injury to one is an injury to all. But then... who among us really does?

What Nichols fails to identify in his otherwise well-written book: Political action, though necessary, will not be sufficient. We cannot legislate others into caring about the burdens of their neighbors anymore than we can legislate them into acting in accordance with any other aspect of our own values. Attempting to do so only provokes the inevitable rebellion.

But we can attempt to make others see the reality of 'an injury to one is an injury to all'. And that reality is this... If there are any workers who can be denied benefits, a living wage, or a reasonable schedule, then those conditions can (and will) easily become a reality for everyone, because everyone is easily replaced with someone who is willing to put up with just a little bit more for the same (or less) compensation. That will always be the case in a society where workers outnumber jobs, and the conditions for workers grow worse as the number of potential replacements increases relative to the number of jobs. Those who are desperate for work may not be able to see past their own immediate emergencies, but those who are relatively secure in their employment bear the responsibility of seeing that that security does not come at the expense of others. It's not an easy responsibility to bear; we are not biologically or psychologically wired for self-sacrifice. We have no cultural imperative to work for the collective good. But perhaps, when enough of us have suffered, we will rise up and make the cultural changes that are necessary for lasting, non-illusory security.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Second Bill of Rights

"We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.

For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world."

- Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Power of Now (Pt I)

"I come clad only in the garments of today, with no mantle of history about me."

Every once in a while I'll be reading a book (usually fiction) and my progress will come to a crashing halt when I come upon a totally brilliant sentence. The above quote slammed me and I had to stop reading and ponder it.

I should point out that I have not yet read the Eckhart Tolle book whose title I borrowed for this post. I suppose that's because I see a lot of potential in the title, and I'm a bit afraid that the book itself will disappoint. (This despite 1,200+ readers' mostly high opinions of the book.)

I started think about the power of now not long ago while listening to a friend of mine talk about how she and her husband wanted a new camper (and the requisite class 3 tow vehicle) in the next two years. The last time I had any solid plans for the next two years of my life I was in grad school, and the plan was simply to finish grad school. (And this was about 10 years ago.) I had to wonder if I did (or should) envy her...

Now, perhaps, you can understand how I came to fixate on the above quote. (To be fair, for other reasons, I was also thinking about how the past is frequently a barrier to moving forward, in relationships and/or life in general.) If one were to construct a ritual for moving beyond some painful moment, either personally or in relation to another, I can see that sentence forming the basis of such a ritual. An expression of forgiveness, in response to an apology. A more elegant way of saying "It is forgotten." (Such are the digressions of my mind, stemming, I suspect, from heavy exposure to science fiction.)

Then, of course, I had to wonder exactly how far one could push the concept of now-centric living and now-centric relationships. Conventional, bald-tv-psychologist wisdom says that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Is it really wise to ignore the past, especially if it contains some powerful indicators of how one might be hurt in the future? What is the difference between acknowledging the lessons of the past, and being held hostage by the past? Is it as dysfunctional to cling to the 'lessons' of the past as it is to cling to idealistic dreams of a better future?

I was a little surprised to see that Tolle had a section on relationships in his book. Though the languages they speak are quite different, Tolle and bald-tv-psychologist wisdom agree on one thing: "The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way." (p. 98) Now I was curious to see what Tolle had to say about dealing with/ moving past past behavior...

"Millions are now living alone or as single parents, unable to establish an intimate relationship or unwilling to repeat the insane drama of past relationships. Others go from one relationship to another, from one pleasure-and-pain cycle to another, in search of the elusive goal of fulfillment through union with the opposite energy polarity. Still others compromise and continue to be together in a dysfunctional relationship in which negativity prevails, for the sake of the children or security, through force of habit, fear of being alone, or some other mutually 'beneficial' arrangement, or even through the unconscious addiction to the excitement of emotional drama and pain." (p. 100)

I won't pretend to be a fluent speaker of the language in which Tolle's answer was couched - "egoic mind patterns" and the "pain-body" - so I'm not quite sure how he gets to his conclusion. "So whenever your relationship is not working, whenever it brings out the 'madness' in you and in your partner, be glad." Er? "Being the knowing creates a clear space of loving presence that allows all things and all people to be as they are." Eh?

But Tolle soon converges with conventional wisdom again. "Learn to give expression to what you feel without blaming. Learn to listen to your partner in an open, nondefensive way. Give your partner space for expressing himself or herself." (p. 102) Still... I don't see that the emphasis there is particularly now-centric...

Every decision we make, every path taken (or not), represents an allocation of resources towards one goal at the expense of others. Such assessment of priorities is only possible in light of a hierarchy of knowledge about the past. What guides our actions in the absence of a 'mantle of history'? 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

"The stupidest norm was happier; he could feel that he belonged. We did not, and because we did not, we had no positive - we were condemned to negatives, to not revealing ourselves, to not speaking when we would, to not using what we knew, to not being found out - to a life of perpetual deception, concealment, and lying."

Yesterday I participated in a mock interview exercise. (I don't really know why I did it; interviews don't scare me. Having to be inappropriately employed scares me...) We got to the end of the mock interview, and the gentleman, in reviewing it with me, says, with all apparent sincerity, "I can tell you're a really genuine person." At which point I almost said "You bought that load of bullshit?!?"

Admittedly it wasn't complete bullshit. But let's just say that the past and I have choreographed a set of moves that hides our respective flaws and that can appear quite... genuine when necessary. Upon reflection, I suspect the gentleman (whom I've known to be quite insightful) might have intentionally planted that statement to cause me to reflect on what I was really doing in playing this game. Why was I so good at projecting a genuineness that wasn't entirely genuine? And why was I willing to do it at all?

If there has been an underlying theme of reflection in my summer thus far, it has been Authenticity. Several autobiographies that chronicle women's struggles to find and be their authentic selves have presented themselves at (one might say) oddly synchronous times. I've lately come to terms with the fact that my weight fluctuates in direct proportion with how (pardon the phrase) inauthentically I'm living at the time. And in a rather uncharacteristic display of temper, I recently lost it at the person who suggested that I "probably shouldn't tell people that you have a Ph.D." (For the record, telling people that I have a Ph.D. is not something I do, but in context, the suggestion was that I should 'dumb down' my level of discourse, especially if I "wanted to attract a husband.") Perhaps my reflecting on authenticity is also what caused me to give the gentleman more credit than he may deserve in making his statement about my genuineness.

Living an 'authentic life' is a hot topic right now in quasi-spiritual literature. "The idea of being authentic has caught our attention much like the word empowered did a few years ago." (q) Despite the prevalence of advice on authentic living, I have not dwelt much on other people's thoughts on the subject. (What can I say? I have a general aversion to received wisdom. People's brutally honest autobiographies, however, are another story.) One meta-reflection has stood out to me though. According to Maslow, "the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs." Rough translation - you won't be worrying about "becom[ing] everything that one is capable of becoming" if you are worried about being homeless. That so many people (including my unemployed self) can be concerned at all with living an authentic life says something...

Perhaps the struggle for authenticity isn't what Maslow was referring to in his description of struggling for/towards self-actualization. Maslow did describe self-actualized people as possessing "an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality," as well as "embrac[ing] reality and facts rather than denying truth." Yet you could argue that authenticity is merely one of the characteristics of self-actualization. But if the need for authenticity does not emerge as a part of the need for self-actualization, then where does it come from? What gives rise to the feeling of misery when one compromises authenticity to fulfill the more basic need for (economic) safety?

"Being authentic is being able to say yes when you mean it and no when you need to." (q) And in a world where doing so would not negatively affect your ability to meet any of your lower level needs, you could probably do that. Most of us are stopped from being authentic in that way because we have learned that compromise is necessary in order to meet the needs for safety and love. To suggest otherwise is to suggest a radically different view of what reality is, and leaves us with visions of a universe that rewards desire, want, and selfishness. Dissident thoughts indeed.

One of the few things I remember from Sunday School is that JOY was presented to us as an acronym. In order to have joy in your life, you needed to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. And indeed, to make misery bearable, we often tell ourselves that love is putting yourself last. So which is it? Putting yourself first and living 'authentically', or putting yourself last in the spirit of service to others/a higher purpose? Ironically, both perspectives are attached to 'spiritual' ideas about what reality is - ideas that provide justification and reward for those who follow their tenets, though the rewards take radically different forms.

Perhaps the truth is simply that people will be as selfish as they can comfortably be in any given situation, and will adopt whatever philosophy (or combination of philosophies) is necessary in order to feel better about their choices...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Avoiding Stultifying Affairs

"One must avoid stultifying affairs."

During this heat wave I'm enticing myself to get up and walk very early in the morning by listening to Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein on the ipod while I walk. This morning I got to the portion of Einstein's life where he is unemployed after graduation. A friend offers to help Einstein obtain a job at his company: an offer that Einstein refuses with the proclamation that "one must avoid stultifying affairs." I laughed when I heard that.

Currently unemployed myself, I have recently submitted a number of applications for positions that I find to be... less than optimum. I feel decidely unhappy when I do this, in marked contrast to the surprising feeling of general well-being that has pervaded my days since becoming unemployed. Past experience indicates that I should be feeling quite anxious given my situation. And we constantly hear about how difficult it is to find a good job these days, which should only add to my anxiety. Intellectually, I know that this means I should leave no stone unturned in my job search, including those stones that aren't so shiny, but emotionally... Emotionally, I seem to disagree, feeling anxious only when I apply for a position that I don't particularly want.

For awhile now I've been wondering about my general lack of anxiety. My past experience with unemployment says that I should be feeling highly anxious. The idea that I should be feeling anxious is supported by Maslow's hierarchy of needs: the second need in the pyramid being the need for safety, including economic safety. And I'm certainly not sitting on a pile of money. However, instead of feeling anxious, I feel relatively calm. The disparity has been great enough to prompt some introspective spelunking in an attempt to answer the question: From what wellspring issues forth this fountain of tranquility?

Have I reached a threshhold of sustaining metaphysical belief? Is this feeling of well-being externally imposed? Have I been doing something that has managed to supplant my feelings of anxiety? Or is it simply that I currently have a day-to-day existence that is almost completely free of "stultifying affairs"?

Einstein's phrase has been stuck in my head all day. It occurred to me that there are actually two possible ways to interpret it. 1) One must avoid those situations (affairs) which, by their nature, render one incapable of enthusiasm. 2) One must avoid bringing about a state of affairs that thwarts one's own interests, such as taking a job that does not represent a change for the better in one's life. Either interpretation represents wisdom, IMHO.

Today I decided to avoid stultifying affairs by spending a few hours blogging.