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Putting a Shoulder to the Plow

The Seven Necessities

Over the last few years I have come to see that human beings need seven experiences each day in order to be well. One purpose of this blog has been to communicate ideas which inspire change in order for these seven experiences to be more freely available to all living beings including humans:

  1. To breathe clean air
  2. To drink clean water and eat good food which God provides rather than what humans manufacture
  3. To be loved: to receive care and kindness; to know you are not alone
  4. To love others: to give care and kindness; to know you are needed
  5. To be stressed: to learn, be challenged, accomplish, achieve and grow.
  6. To play: to express ourselves, laugh, cry, sing, move, and create
  7. To rest: to be quiet, be still, and sleep

All but two (1, 2, 7, & 5/6) occur in short, medium, long, and longer cycles. We must breathe in clean air every few seconds. We must bring in good food and water every few hours. We must sleep once a day for several hours. Following our work, we must play and rest from our efforts every few days. Abide by these cycles and our bodies will be happier.

Two of these (3 & 4) are necessary in cycles less fixed. However, for sound relationships with people and planet, they are like mathematical constants: As a vibrant, organized communal species, a society, we are tasked with the following activities: to make good food and water available; to protect others from harm; to heal those who are ill or injured; to clean and restore order; and to communicate, teach, learn, and manage with honest integrity our history, culture, relational norms, and the skills to accomplish our tasks. If we are not performing these broad functions, or supplying those who do, we are wasting energy.

To perform our tasks efficiently is not a measure of cost, speed, or quantity. Rather, healthy efficiency is measured in how little energy is needed to accomplish our primary tasks. We consume energy from coal, oil, gas, electricity, and edible, solar calories. The less energy, and matter, we require in the benevolent performance of our primary tasks, the healthier we all will be. Because our units of measure of efficient performance are misplaced, our mutual health and security is dysfunctional as well. When our attention shifts to caring well for all of Life, rather than an untimely demise of the ‘survival of the fittest,’ the peace, vitality, and security which has been freely given to All on this planet will be finally realized.

Strangely, of late I’ve been thinking about reincarnation. Sometimes I ask myself the question which others have wondered, “If I come back, what would I like to be?” At one time, I thought to return as a sea gull would be nice or a red-tailed hawk. I’ve considered coming back as a porpoise or a manta ray. Most recently, my preference, if given a choice, would be a wild, flowering, fruit-bearing tree. The seed of a tree is able to synthesize sun, soil, and water into a perennial source of food, beauty, and shelter for others. The roots of the tree intermingle with the roots of others to create a matrix that is stable and difficult to overturn. A tree patiently experiences the seasons of the year like human’s experience the breath of life. A tree sings, communicates, and dances by way of the wind and prefers stillness to war and wasteful consumption. And when they die, as Marie Ponsot once said, they do so into usefulness.

Oddly, from a human perspective, trees seem to know something we do not: how to live well, care for others, and do so with little noise and few inputs. Humans may be the newest, youngest, most complex species on the earth, but I’m not sure that means we are necessarily the most highly-evolved. We have much to (un)learn, much work to do. Fortunately, many good teachers have come before us. Please, won’t you join a quiet revolution of the heart? For this, All will be grateful.

From Lydia Maria Child’s “An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans”

There is hardly anything bad, in politics or religion, that has not been sanctioned or tolerated by a suffering community, because certain powerful individuals were able to identify the evil with some other principle long consecrated to the hearts and consciences of men.

“An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans” by Lydia Maria Child, pub 1833, edited by Carolyn L. Karcher, University of Massachusetts Press, 1996, p. 203

Giving Unto Caesar in God’s Economy

Earlier on this blog, I proposed some ideas for economic reform and health care reform. Here are some ideas for tax reform.

  • Every citizen of the United States, by birth or naturalization, regardless of age, receives a universal income of $29,000 annually, the current per-capita income, in direct payment from the federal government. A rate of change for the universal income would be pegged to rise or fall with the GDP. Every citizen, no exceptions. Exception is the proud implement of the twins Corruption and Power.
  • Every citizen, in addition to the universal income, would also receive the right to vote in their local, state, and federal elections. And again, Every.
  • No politician could serve more than 8-12 years or 2-4 terms depending on their office and would have to wait the same length of time before returning. Judges, tasked with protecting the rights of the disempowered, are not limited by the cyclical whims of a fickle electorate, but could be removed by them if merited. All citizens would be encouraged to stand for election to serve the process of democratic self-governance.
  • Tax revenue is to be paid by every commercial entity in the U.S., from sole proprietorships to multi-national corporations, to local, state, federal and international (WTO, IMF, UN) governing bodies with a jurisdictional interest based on breadth of suppliers and customers. Corporate entities would be invoiced their fair and equitable share of the governing bodies budgets based on corporate revenue and the number of persons employed. Rather than wages and taxes posted on the balance sheets of employees’ paycheck stubs, tax revenue would be posted on commercial balance sheets and paid by the employer directly to governing bodies just as it is now.
  • Surplus revenues contributed to the governing bodies would be used for the limited, responsible functions of government such as protecting our civil and human rights through oversight of safe and just interactions between neighbors, communities, trading partners, and the planet.
  • All citizens are to negotiate with their employers for additional wages in exchange for the necessary tasks or specialized skills they offer to supplement the universal income. A reasonable maximum wage, relative to the universal income, would be created to limit unscrupulous pay.
  • Individuals would pay annual taxes directly to local and state governing bodies only on the surplus, unless the surplus be deposited for capital investment, between what they earn and what they spend. The tax rate would be a small percentage equivalent to a short term interest rate on the amount of funds taken out of circulation.
  • Individuals would then pay taxes, once more, when they are deceased. After a proper burial and settlement of outstanding debts, half of their assets would be bequeathed to their designated heirs and half to the commonwealth. The latter half would be distributed first among those whose net assets fall below the median due to intergenerational poverty, natural disasters, and illness, and the remainder to local and state governing bodies. Citizens whose wealth falls below the median due to poor choices will have to shore up and rely on private, personal relationships rather than the general public for subsidy but their children will not have to bear their parent’s poor choices or society’s oppressive economic history.
  • Vested pension and social security benefits would begin to be distributed immediately in a sound manner to designees or beneficiaries.
  • This proposal leaves unresolved rights and benefits extended to immigrants who live and work in the United States. However, to that end, let it be said that if a person’s rights are truly inalienable, and democracy is beneficent for all, it should be the American task to see to the expeditious actualization of one’s rights, the extension of democracy, and the benefits of its economy to the people who desire it without exception.

To put the generosity, or lack thereof, of the universal income into perspective, notice this: I am a single homeowner with no spouse or children. I have no debt, no mortgage, nor rent. I do not have health insurance nor illness. I rarely eat out, do not eat meat, nor drink, smoke, use drugs, own a TV, shop, gamble, travel far, or play golf. I operate an inexpensive sole proprietorship, pay my taxes, live simply, and my expenses will be approximately $30,000 this year. A universal income of $29,000 per person would not cover most people’s basic living expenses. That the average income in this country is insufficient to meet the most meager needs seems unjust; if not, criminal. The universal income, however, would give us all some bargaining power with employers and some economic reliability in our lives. Please put your shoulder to the plow and join a quiet revolution of the heart. Many already have and there is room for many more.

From Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Moral Man and Immoral Society”

Power sacrifices justice to peace within the community and destroys peace between communities.

“Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics” by Reinhold Niebuhr. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932, p. 16

What Racists Don’t Want Us to Know

To justify disparities between persons of color and whites across so many fields, one must, in one way, shape, or form, begin with the premise that one group is ontologically different from another; that ‘these people’ are generally superior, ‘those peoplegenerally inferior, and everyone gets what they deserve. This is one-half of the phenomenon of racism in our country. There is, in fact, far more similarity between the groups known as white and black than within them. There are criminally-minded persons among blacks and among whites. There are also intelligent people within each group, and productive people, and creative people, quiet people, loud people, kind people, greedy people, and irresponsible people, and on and on. But in comparisons of the two collective groups known as black and white, non-racists see they are ontologically equal.

The disparities are not due to the inherent superiority of one group over another. The difference, for example in the criminal justice field, is that the harm caused by European-Americans is more often overlooked, without arrests, prosecutions, or incarcerations. For more specific examples, the lust and rage of some white men is often enacted upon the bodies of women and children with great harm and hardly a word spoken. The avarice of some persons, and organizations of people, who profit off the misfortune of another, even to the point of bankrupting them, at the end of the fiscal year, will be celebrated while the impoverished one will be forgotten. This is not to mention the legal harm caused to the atmosphere, water, and soil by our collective over-consumption of materials and energy.

On the other hand, if a person of color sells or consumes a substance unhealthy for their body or damages someone else’s personal property, they will be robbed of years from their lives incarcerated in prison. That is if they are lucky enough to survive their initial encounter with the arresting officers. While our society condones some crimes, others are written into law and enforced to create the disparity of African-American criminality. This is the other half of the phenomenon of racism: the exercise of power to perpetuate racial disparities, injustice, and harm. People use the outcomes of racism to justify their racial prejudices of superiority and inferiority and create an intractable loop.

One significant reason why white America refuses to examine the role that racism plays in the disparate outcomes is quite simple to see. In the antebellum South, most will agree that the wealth of southern plantation owners, and for a time northern industrialists, was created by the uncompensated labor, meager rations, and torture of kidnapped and enslaved Africans and generations of their American-born children. Likewise, todaysplantation owners and industrialistswho acquire income above the median, accumulate wealth above the median, and have access to credit do so as a result of the impoverishment of others. If those incarcerated for drug and property crimes were gainfully employed and the income of 50% of American citizens was increased to $52,000 annually, the current median income, from the current per-capita income of $27,000, those who now take home a greater distribution of the wealth, and borrow still more, would have to make do with less. What was true then remains true now: the wealth of a few is generated by the impoverishment of many.

To acknowledge these political and economic realities would fundamentally alter the American identity. We utilize the outcomes of racism to justify themselves because to do otherwise would be to acknowledge that American democracy, and the capitalist economy it instituted, are only a mock success, fraudulent, thus far. To acknowledge the harmful disparities experienced by a majority of American-born citizens, especially those in material poverty, persons of color, women, children, Native Americans, LGBTQ persons, our elders, and the disabled, would be to acknowledge that our patriotic pride has been misplaced and our political and economic systems have failed in meeting our aspirations of freedom, equality, and justice for all.

We could continue to pretend; or we could decide that democracy, and the freedom, equality, and justice for which it stands, are more important than the truly false notion of white supremacy and all the ways we measure it in order to make it seem real. One equality we all hold in common, regardless of wealth, skin tone, or gender, is the harmful residue of racism. Some it effects from the outside in and some from the inside out but no one is left untouched. Your help is needed. Please put your shoulder to the plow and join a quiet revolution of the heart. Many already have and there is room for many more.

From Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped From the Beginning”

Continuing the Declaration, Jefferson maintained that “Men” were “endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As a holder of nearly two hundred people with no known plans to free them, Thomas Jefferson authored the heralded American philosophy of freedom. What did it mean for Jefferson to call “liberty” an “inalienable right” when he enslaved people? It is not hard to figure out what Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and indentured White servants meant when they demanded liberty in 1776. But what about Jefferson and other slaveholders like him, whose wealth and power were dependent upon their land and their slaves? Did they desire unbridled freedom to enslave and exploit? Did they perceive any reduction in their power to be a reduction in their freedom? For these rich men, freedom was not the power to make choices, freedom was the power to create choices.

“Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi, Nation Books, 2016, p. 105

“Why The Birdhouse?”

In January, 2016, eighteen months ago, a span of time long enough to know, a birdhouse was placed on the wall beside my office door. It was then I began to tell my clients they would determine their own fee for the counseling services I offered. When clients arrive for the first session, they are also told I do not need to know how much, or even if, they pay. Payments are to be deposited in the birdhouse. This may, at first, seem absurd.

Before I mounted the birdhouse, deep in my bones, I knew this was no absurdity. I had observed that only humans utilize anything which resembles money to conduct exchanges. All other living beings engage in trade without money. All that is needed, including wisdom, compassion, and courage, to support Life on this planet is freely provided to all by the sun, atmosphere, water, soil, and The Source of Life which infuses all things. Most of Creation is aware of this fact. Somehow, some humans have not yet noticed.

The economy we have adopted, the so-called free-market economy, on the other hand, stands in stark contradiction to that which is freely given. Humanity’s access to food, healing, education, and protection is not limited by the poverty of some; but rather, by the widespread effort to withhold almost everything for a profitable ransom by almost everyone else. And in this context we are encouraged to consume as if there were no limits. Many, but not all, of those who live on the margins of society know of their belonging to God’s kingdom; and of their exclusion from God’s gifts. Many, but not all, who live far from the margins still hold a belief in their open inclusiveness and a firm grip on some sense of an earned superiority. Many have lost site of how our cultural and economic norms separate all persons from God’s gratuity.

It is our economy which encourages the false myth that only the fittest survive. If one looks at the diversity of life and beauty on this planet it is extremely easy to see this belief is not shared by God. Life is not being winnowed to a final victor but is being expanded into a diverse, thriving wholeness. Our economy may encourage us to believe that humans are universally greedy and selfish; aggressively driven and hopelessly lazy, but the truth is we are, more hours than not, none of these and there is a birdhouse on my wall to prove it.

We are, generally speaking, good, trustworthy and responsible. In our essence, we all wish to be well, belong to a family, and express ourselves freely. Into the birdhouse persons give more than enough to meet my expenses. A few individuals surely take advantage of the opportunity with little injury to their conscience or to me. Most, however, care for me as generously as I care for them. I post on my website how much it costs me to live, how many clients I see, and how much they contribute to offer some guidance and feedback along the way. Rather than to earn six figures, I hope to someday live in an economy that finds such expressions absurd.

With reciprocity, we may yet alleviate considerable suffering of this world and open the possibility that human’s may also join in the Beloved Community. Please, won’t you put your shoulder to the plow and join a quiet revolution of the heart? Many already have and there is room for many more. 

From Toni Morrison’s “What Moves at the Margins”

Before there was a final solution, there was a first one. And after the first, there was a second. And after the second, there was a third. Who knows how many more because the descent into a final solution is not a jump, it’s one step, and then another, and then another. Sort of like this:

One, construct an interior enemy and use that enemy as both focus and diversion.

Two, unleash and protect the utterance of overt and coded name calling, verbal abuse, and use this ad hominem attack as legitimate charges.

Three, enlist, persuade and create sources of information and distributors of information willing to reinforce the enemy’s status as an enemy. And the reasons for this willingness are: It is profitable to do so. It grants power to do so. And it works.

Four, reward mindlessness and apathy with little pleasures, tiny seductions—a few minutes on television, a few lines in the press, little pseudo-successes, the illusion of power and influence, a little style, a little consequence.

Five, attack and subvert all representatives or sympathizers with this constructed enemy who have risen to serious power. Unless, of course, the next one is part of their CV because one has to gather from among the enemy collaborators who agree with and sanitize the process of dispossession.

Then, you are able to completely take the next step—pathologize the enemy. For example, recycle scientific racism and the myth of racial superiority in order to neutralize the pathology.

Then, criminalize the enemy, and having criminalized the enemy you can then prepare, budget for, and rationalize the building of holding arenas for the enemy, especially the males and absolutely the children.

Last, maintain at all costs silence.

Forces interested in these solutions to national problems are not to be found in one political party or another. Or one or another wave of a single political party. Democrats have no unsullied history of egalitarianism. Nor are liberals free of agendas of domination. Republicans have housed abolitionists and white supremacists. Conservatives, moderate, liberal, right, left, far left, far right, religious, secular, socialist—we must not be blindsided by these Pepsi-Cola, Coke-Cola labels because the genius is that any political structure can host that virus and virtually any developed country can become a suitable home.

Fascism only talks ideology but really is just marketing, marketing for power. It’s recognizable by its need to purge, the strategies it uses to purge and its terror of truly democratic goals. It changes citizens into taxpayers so individuals become rife with anger at the notion of public good. It changes citizens into consumers so the measure of our value as humans is not our humanity, nor our compassion, nor our generosity, none of the virtues that human beings aspire to claim. None of that but what we own. And in so doing produces the perfect capitalist. The one who is willing to kill a human being for a product—a sneaker, a jacket, a car, a company. That is the ideal situation for a consumer, lay capitalist society. You don’t have to advertise any more. It changes parenting into panicking so that we vote against the education, against the health care, against the safety from weapons, against the interest of our own children.

From “Remarks Given at the Howard University Charter Day Convocation” on March 2, 1995 as published in Toni Morrison: What Moves at the Margins edited by Carolyn C. Denard. University Press of Mississippi, 2008, pp. 166-168

The Lynching of Frank Clark

It is a Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, a little after 12:00 noon. It is a sunny, mild autumn day. A man stands by a dumpster. He steps away as a woman exits her apartment and deposits her trash. He returns to where he stood, then turns again and walks away. In the meantime, a police officer sees the man, thinks him unfamiliar, and stops his car. He rolls down the window, exits, and loses sight of the unfamiliar man. Spurned, he radios four co-workers nearby.

The man walks one block and turns the corner unaware it will be the last time he does so. Another officer, one of the co-workers who was radioed, pulls up slowly. The officer rolls down the window. The unfamiliar man approaches. They talk. The officer parks, gets out of the car, and they carry on the conversation. The officer reassures the man he is not under arrest nor being detained. There is nothing to worry about; they are only talking. After a few minutes, the officer asks, “Do you mind hanging around until the first officer comes over? He wanted to see you.” The man says neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’ but does acknowledge he knows the officer who had not recognized him earlier. The second officer leans against his car. Both men wait.

Soon, the first officer comes over and speaks to the man. The officer raises his voice. Loudly, he asks if the man tried to avoid him. He asks the man if he feels nervous. The man begins to tremble. The officer wants to put his hands on the man’s body to pat him down. The officer notes some resistance. The man’s arms are not soft enough; not held high enough. A struggle to gain compliance ensues. The second officer comes to intervene. He stumbles and falls. The loud officer backs away from the melee and draws his weapon. The nervous man turns to flee. He is shot from behind and killed.

The SBI conducts an exoneration. An ad is run to seek witnesses. The officers are interviewed. They report the man swung a fist when the pat down became aggressive. They report he was holding his pants up like there might be a gun in his waistband. It might have discharged but there was some uncertainty. They report while the man standing struggled with the officer on the ground, he simultaneously pointed a weapon at the spurned officer. They report while he was fleeing, he simultaneously turned and fired the weapon. After the spurned officer fired six shots at the man’s back and landed two, the second officer was examined for injury. It was determined he was not shot, but had twisted his knee. Then they turned their attention to the man to see if he was dying or dead. EMS was called. Near the body, a gun was found. No witnesses came forward so no one else was interviewed. A report was generated and sent to the district attorney who determined no laws had been broken.

The police department conducted an internal investigation to determine if departmental policies were followed. It was determined they were and no disciplinary actions were needed. Other than the 1,071 word news release (which this 801 word piece is based on) written by the Police Department, the public can know no more information about the circumstances of why a neighbor was killed by our local public servants. Because such incidents are dubbed ‘criminal investigations,’ state law allows the information to be withheld. Because the internal investigation could have resulted in disciplinary action, they are considered ‘personnel matters’ and thus also unavailable for public oversight.

What we do know is a man named Frank Clark, whose offense was to be unfamiliar and whose suspicious behavior was to feel nervous, was killed, and though no harm was being done, there is, in the eyes of some, absolutely nothing wrong about what was done.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in the United States of America, when men of African descent were legally lynched by men of European descent, it was said such violence was necessary to protect the “law-abiding community.” The reason often given was something like, “The n****r was gettin’ outta line.” At the beginning of the 21st century we translate that as, “The suspect was non-compliant.” The means, including who is allowed to perform the killings, have evolved but the justifications and outcomes have hardly changed.

Please, turn a gentle gaze upon the sources of our suffering as well as their effects. To be allowed (to live, to be) is not equal to, the same as, actually being free. What we neglect, if indeed we were ever truly free, will be lost. Please, put a shoulder to the plow and join a quiet revolution of the heart.

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