Thursday, October 30, 2008

Branches on the Evolutionary Tree

Thoughts on Race, Culture, and Evolutionary Change....

1. "Race"-- the physical similarities we share with other humans based on our place of origin, is just that: adaptions our bodies have made to survive in a particular place.

2. "Culture" is a collection of norms and behaviors we've evolved over time, recognize as useful to our own survival (ie. rules on how to best cooperate as a tribe) & are transmitted through "traditions" and training to our young. Deeply instilled values grow over generations.

3. Feelings of competitiveness and mistrust between members of different cultures and races have deep roots. Conflicts between different tribes enable one cultural/racial group to win greater access to resources and territory.

4. Because of the travels made by our ancestors, "America" is a mishmash of cultures and races and overlapping/conflicting cultures and values. Over generations, transmissions of traditions and values between grandparents to grandchildren change drastically, as the "main culture" of America makes different demands, and the children see the teachings of their culture to be less and less relevant to what they feel is really needed for them to survive.

5. Children begin to mistrust or disregard their parents' teachings. (And some with very good reason-- as the parents have gotten pretty messed up by their own upbringing!) Culture begins to shift and sway more dramatically and less predictably than ever before. Alongside this phenomenon is the increasing saturation of mass media, and mass marketing. Television and "popular culture" replaces parental messages about traditions and values... the essential problem being that the shaping forces behind the mass media are likely to care less about the child's well-being than the parents do. The child is left on their own to sort out which messages to adopt, and which to reject-- with varying degrees of success.

6. America seems to be a nation of individual, self-created pockets of culture. The population of some areas still has strong cultural ties-- especially in rural areas. In other populations, especially urban, individuals seem to have a very fluid and changing concept of "culture"-- and form much smaller, much more specialized "tribes" within the larger population. They live side by side, but do not intermingle much. It is here that the teaching of "tolerance" between cultures and races has required the effort of these different groups to maintain "peace."

7. The "peace" that exists now in urban America is not really peace. "Tolerance" is different than "Equality", and true Peace is impossible without Justice. Justice = a reckoning, through honest conversation, resulting in greater understanding, acceptance, and compassion on the part of all-- leading to a natural and self-motivated desire for fairness and equality in all aspects of our relationships.

8. We have so far to go. Our inability to truly see other humans as our brothers and sisters is only the first step. It is equally vital for us to see and honor the links and relations between ourselves and our fellow creatures and plants. We are all part of the same tree: this is the tree of life-- literally!

9. We have the intelligence and the ability to think forward, and to re-form, consciously, our cultures to include certain values that are not only for our "tribe"'s benefit, but for the benefit of all. It is within our capacity to know what is "right," for the benefit of the whole. It is possible, through understanding and compassion, to cultivate a natural and self-motivated desire for balance in our relationships to all who live in the branches of this great tree.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Another Beautiful Fall Day

On Monday, having heard that the stock market had plummeted, I thought to myself, "Oh, boy-- this is it!" and was immediately filled with an contradictory blend of regret and acceptance.

Having heard from my grandparents, and read multiple accounts of what the Great Depression was like, that's where my imagination lept. No more teaching art to kids (what kind of trivial, luxurious occupation is that?) = no more income. No more savings (if the banks had folded under), and, in short, nothing but my health & some friends I could turn to. I wouldn't be able to pay rent on my apartment anymore... I only have a few weeks' worth of food stored up in my pantry. What would I do? How would I feel safe in the city, as the cost of basic foodstuff skyrockets, as a black-market emerges to squeeze out the last bits of advantage we might have saved up, in order to elbow our way through this mess, and survive?

My most immediate regret was, "Oh, I really should have pursued my dream while I still had resources available to me-- (to acquire 'ownership' of a piece of land, and begin an eco-art-farm on it)-- If only I'd at least gotten a start on it!" and, "I knew this was coming-- I created an entire performance about my knowing this was coming--(The Survival Pages) and still I wasted my time & procrastinated because my present situation, however much I knew it couldn't last, was too appealing to give up."

Today, as I look through the sunny windows of my apartment, I realize that I really do have a perfect life -- "Perfect", as recently defined in a note by Kim Thompson, as "being able to look your friends in their eyes and to tell them that you tried with your whole heart" (having lifted that quote from a sappy movie she'd watched recently).

I eat good food, full of fresh veggies from my CSA-share (tho sadly, received my last box for the season on Saturday)...
I make enough money to live on, from doing something I actually LOVE and am so well-suited for-- teaching art to kids, community arts projects.
I have so many wonderful and dear friends, who actively practice community-- we help each other out. We have intentional gatherings. We spread the word about what's going on. We're creative, and plucky-- in short, not a bad network to be part of when a crisis actually does go on. (The MayDay Parade really being, in essence, a joyful practice in crisis management-- ;-) )

I feel like this Wall Street crisis is like a kick in the pants, for me personally, to make a decision already & start acting on it:

How does one simultaneously plan for hope & prepare for disaster? This life I have is so good, but leaves me so precarious when this unsustainable Titanic of a market eventually sinks.

This time we are living in is so much like teetering on the brink of all those graphs, showing us scenarios for our choices: Either a sudden crash, or a gradual decline. The longer we continue unrealistically denying the gravity of our situation, the worse the crash is going to be. The sooner we accept this inevitability -- that our fate is inextricably linked not only to global markets (as it now stands) but more importantly, and more honestly, linked to the GLOBE-- this planet & its fragile, fragile systems that we've already taxed to the max.

Obama or McCain? Work for Change or Prepare for the Worst? Keep living in the city, or move to the country & start building my "eco-bunker"-- with the thought in mind that this could then become a place to go, for all my resourceful, plucky friends, once they found it necessary to escape the city, as well.

I heard this quote by Milton Friedman in an interview of Naomi Klein, on Democracy Now last week, as the call to protest the bailout plan was mounting-- explaining how, in times of crisis, these crazy & unjust policies make their way through: Patriot Act, Pre-Approval for the Iraq War, this bailout...

"Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." -- Milton Friedman, US Prof.Emeritus-Economics, University of Chicago

What I'm wondering is, perhaps it's time that this time of crisis produces real change, on my own part-- and spur me to take action based on the ideas & dreams I've had lying around for awhile, now-- To say, Now is the time to take them seriously. Now before time has REALLY run out...

I also wonder if it's possible, to push our legislators into picking up some of the OTHER ideas that are lying around, waiting to be actualized, and be proactive for once, in promoting them-- rather than waiting for the other side to propose their horrid solutions & being limited to protesting THAT. It doesn't take too much brains to figure out:

a) The entire premise of the market, as it's now configured, is based on non-sustainable and unjust practices. It's been getting further & further out of control, as far as destruction to the planet goes, destruction to our local economies, human rights, and our own ability to have a truly democratic society.

b) The whole thing needs massive reconfiguration in order to survive ITSELF-- to propose sweeping changes that turn the priorities of "the market" into a force that serves THE PEOPLE and THE PLANET-- recognizing that certain things, like fresh water or fresh air, clean oceans or climate-stabilizing forests, are too precious to ever be worth a dollar value. To recognize that by allowing companies to exploit workers in other countries, we are ultimately undermining any progress we made in our own country, hard-fought in the Labor Movement generations ago, to keep our own jobs & preserve a locally-functional & self-sustaining economy. For the political system to somehow gain the guts to admit that the market has long played a heavier role in their decision-making than the "good of the people", and take the necessary regulatory steps to prevent that from being possible any longer (election reform).

c) Yeah, RIGHT. Like people are ever going to have the initiative to find out even these 2 basic, basic truths on their own, as long as the media news (for those who even watch news) has them bought & sold into believing their story & looking past everything that's left out of the story. Yeah, RIGHT... like people aren't eventually going to get tired of hearing "Green this" and "Green that" and eventually slip into the same old lazy, consumptive, & shortsightedly destructive patterns. Yeah RIGHT, like anything short of an all-pervasive, unprecedented BUY NOTHING effort from the American people is going to send the message to Wall Street OR Capitol Hill, that business as usual is no longer an option.

d) If not now, WHEN? (When it's already too late, and all the things we might have done to make a difference weren't done, and you're left with the nagging thought-- Oh, shit... I guess I really should have...)

That's it for now. I'd love to know your thoughts about all this. I'm calling up the Obama campaign to find out how I can help register voters, as part of my own personal d)....