Monthly Archives: October 2011

Novelisation

I will be writing a bit less on here during the month of November.  That is because I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short), so my writing energies will be focussed on producing at least 50,000 words of the first draught of a novel by November 30.

I’ve never attempted to write a novel before, though I’ve certainly thought about it in the past, and I’ve read up on the subject, particularly character development.  I’m really excited.  I first got the idea for my story this summer, and about 10 days ago decided to use it for NaNoWriMo.  It’s been fun mentally sitting in this world that I’ve created it so that I can understand it and depict it.  The challenge is that the setting for the novel is pretty dark.  I will have to work extra-hard to find my “happy place.”

Wish me luck!

 

NaNoWriMo 2011

Piano

Warning of abuse trigger.

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I used to be obsessed with learning how to play piano.  I would go to the music room at school during class time, and try to figure it out, and my music teacher would coach me a long as much as she could without exactly giving me a lesson, as she had her own duties to attend to, as well.  In high school, I had lunch right after orchestra class, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to pluck out chords and melodies well into lunch period.  My church held an auction, and was getting rid of an old, very out-of-tune piano.  I was going to use a $50-dollar savings bond that I had won in a competition to pay for my bid for the piano–never mind the fact that there was no room in my family’s apartment for a piano, that the piano was in desperate need of repair, and that I still wouldn’t be able to take lessons.  I ended up placing the second-highest of three bids.  Undaunted, I went to the church in my spare time, just to try to teach myself how to play the piano and write music.

Last night, I realised why I was so obsessed with playing the piano.

My mother’s only chance to escape my father’s abuse, and to treat her own failing health due to starvation and beatings, was to go to a hospital whilst my father was on the job as a long-distance truck driver.  He had forbidden us to go to the doctor, or to really carry out any business, in our own county, as a means of hiding the abuse.  It also helped him, in that he had often established local social contacts such that he had prejudiced their opinions against my mother before she had a chance to speak with doctors, psychologists, and such in our own town.  So, if my mom was going to get help, it was going to be one county over, a half-hour drive south of where we lived.  She checked herself into the emergency room, and they kept her.  She weighed barely 100 pounds, and had suffered extensive internal organ damage from beatings.

But, there were four children, ages five through eight, with an incapacitated, barely-alive mother, and a father working hundreds of miles away.  We were not in our own county, and there was no-one we could stay with.  (Another way my father kept us socially isolated was by making it known he kept a loaded gun, and threatening to use it on us or our neighbours if we made any social contact.  He acted so unstable that neighbours who wanted to help us out of our situation worried that if they did, we or they might end up murdered.)  So we were placed in emergency foster care.

That night, as they pulled my screaming five-year-old brother off my mother, we headed off to our new residence.  We had no idea who these people were, or how long we’d be living with them, nor did they.  It was a father and mother, with three children of their own, daughters age 9, 7, and 1.

I had never been happier in my life.  It was the first evidence that I had that a man, not only did not have to yell, scream, and threaten to murder his wife and her family, but that he could treat her with love, respect, and decency.  The children were bright and well-adjusted, and we had fun having other kids to play with.  (We were not allowed to associate with other children outside of school.)  And the nine-year-old took piano lessons.

The piano was in the kids’ playroom.  It had stickers on the keys, brightly coloured little monsters labelled “C”, “C#”, etc.  The daughter would play bits of her lessons for me.  And I fell in love.  From that moment on, I wanted to play piano more than anything in the world.

My mother, still in the hospital, regained enough strength to file divorce papers.  My father returned from the road, and he was to receive temporary custody, because he had a job–even though that job kept him away from us kids for weeks on end.  We left the foster family.  I did not want to leave them.

Curiously, when I started college, as a music major, I was required to take piano lessons, but I had none of the passion I had when I was younger.  Granted, there were many intervening psychological, social, and medical reasons to not want to practise the five hours a week required to earn an A, but there was still no more fire to learn the piano.  Perhaps it was because it went from being an internal desire to an external requirement.  Perhaps it was just a childhood fantasy I shuffled off upon becoming an adult.  Or, perhaps, the piano symbolised a place of peace, of love, of hope, and that symbolism was more important than actually learning to play.

Commonality

Originally published here in March 2011, though this version has been thoroughly proofread and edited.  The original was dashed off in a hurry, so I hope this revision demonstrates my editing abilities, if nothing else.

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Human beings today seem to communicate primarily in two ways.  We either share personal narrative, or we “debate”–though it does not merit the name.  True debate is measured, calm, well-researched, and deliberate.  What we have instead, coming from all sides, are name-calling, belittlement, anger, resentment, hatred, malice, insults, and every curse of hellish fate you can imagine.

These “debates” develop as we lose sight of our mutual humanity. We do this by mentally converting fellow human beings into labels, into abstractions.  We call each other “liberal”, “conservative”, “gay”, “straight”, “Christian”, “Muslim”, “American”, “Chinese”, on and on it goes.

It is easy to go to war against an abstraction (why do you think they call them “casualties” and “collateral damage”, rather than “deaths”?), to oppress an abstraction, to abuse the rights of an abstraction.  An abstraction does not share your breath and your DNA and your heartbeat.  And if we behave as if the world consists of nothing but groups of abstractions, a “them”, and a small number that we call “us”, there’s nothing that to keep us from blowing “them” to smithereens.  We should just drop the nukes and call it a day.

However, it does not have to be this way.

We may well be hardwired to think of each other in terms of our differences rather than our similarities.  But we also have amazing minds that often transcend their wiring.  What if we stretch our minds beyond the capacity to label?  If our differences, and the way we use them to dehumanise each other, are speeding the destruction of our species, what are our similarities, and how might those similarities save us?

It’s not our genetics (for example, not all human beings have 46 chromosomes). It’s not our physical composition. It’s certainly not the way we look, dress, think, or believe.  The one thing that all human beings share is Story.

By Story, I mean the personal narrative that each of us carries. It is the unique path that has brought us to where we are. It is the tale of our triumphs and tragedies, events both momentous and mundane, the things that shaped our decisions, beliefs, and character. Not only is Story the only thing that we all share, but, in a very real sense, it is the only thing that any of us has. You can lose your job, your home, your possessions, your family and friends, you can lose absolutely everything–but no-one and nothing can take away your Story.

So, if focussing on our differences hastens the destruction of our species, would focussing on the commonality of Story save it?  First off, it is very easy for me to share my Story with someone who closely identifies with me–who shares my labels. The trick–for all of us–is to learn to transcend our boundaries in our sharing, to share with those who don’t share our labels, and to start seeing each other in terms of one label only: fellow human beings.

In this spirit, I am working hard not to engage in debate but to share Story. And I fail. A lot. But to keep trying in hopes of success is all I can do. And I know that I can’t force anyone to share their Story with me. But what I do know is that I’m not responsible for what others do, only what I do. And if I have the option of choosing actions that can make the world a worse place or a better place, I choose the latter.

Improvement

Two days ago, I was going to post an article I’d written several months ago.  But as I read through it–a spontaneous outburst of emotion–I realised that it was going to take a lot of revision if it was going to come up to the standards I am holding for this blog.  So I took some time to revise it.  And I’m having to take more time to revise it.  Already, it is far more coherent, and has lost 1/3 of its word count, but it needs more work.  I look forward to sharing it with you, but it may not be til Tuesday, as I will be very busy Sunday and Monday.

Uncensored

Last night I indulged in a carton of Ben & Jerry’s–perhaps not the smartest thing for a man trying to lose weight, but it’s not like an everyday thing.  As I decided on my flavour (“Late Night Snack”, fantastic), I noticed that one new fluffernutter-inspired concoction was rechristened, from “Cluster Fluff” to “What A Cluster”.  This did not surprise me.  The company had recently been pressured by conservative activist group One Million Moms to change the name of their latest flavour, “Schweddy Balls”, inspired by a Saturday Night Live sketch.  However, as of today on the Ben & Jerry’s website, that name remains (though, personally, I think the idea of putting chocolate and rum together sounds kind of disgusting).  Even so, though the company has used salacious flavour names in the past*, they apparently felt compelled to change the name of “Cluster Fluff”.

This censorious behaviour echoed an online conversation I’d had earlier in the day with a good friend in Canada.  He had recommended a website for me to check out, and though I was certain it would include no “graphic” imagery, I figured it would still be blocked on library computers.  I told him such, to his shock and consternation.  After all, this was a library, a purveyor of information to the masses, and a cultural institution which has a long history of standing against censorship.  If Canada doesn’t censor public internet use in this way, surely the United States wouldn’t, either.  I then explained that in the United States, the federal government can reduce a public library’s federal funding if they do not install “nannyware” filters in their computer labs.  (Some American libraries have simply chosen to forego the federal funding, on principle.)  I illustrated this attitude in American culture with the catchphrase of Helen Lovejoy, the pastor’s wife on The Simpsons: “Will somebody please think of the children?!”  My friend replied that people should focus on raising their own children, not other people’s.

I’m undecided on how I feel about his statement.  On one hand, as they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Children grow up, not in the bubble of their parents’ watch, but in society at large, and we fool ourselves if we think our actions have no influence at all on the next generation.  On the other hand, how one chooses to parent, how one chooses the values to inculcate into their children–we consider these sorts of choices as a hallmark of a free society, and, so the argument goes, if someone wants to raise their child more “precociously” than another, then so be it.  And yet, this view is also used to enforce attitudes that really do harm society: “I’m raising my child to stand against homosexuality, and rules that say ‘gay’ students get ‘special protection’ from bullying is undercutting my right to raise my child as I want.”

What I am sure of is that it is absurd to believe one can raise a child in a protective bubble in perpetuity.  There is a difference between, say, giving your twelve-year-old pornography (ignoring the fact that some of the Bible is quite pornographic), and that twelve-year-old discovering it just by being a member of society.  Children are going to find out about the real world no matter how much they protect their children.  It is the job of the parents to first build up values such that their children can handle “the real world” when–not if– they encounter it, and then, to discuss issues in an age-appropriate manner when–not if–they come up.

The challenge comes when a segment of society believes it is (literally) their God-given responsibility to act as God’s mouthpiece in any and all situations, to hand out the judgements and punishments in God’s place.  To this, I can only reply that, in a great many situations–from the woman about to be stoned for adultery, to his many encounters with the Pharisees, Jesus told people to mind their own business when it came to others’ morality, and to focus on their own.

As an aside, just to make my personal statement about censorship, allow me to say that, if you were not aware of what “Cluster Fluff” refers to, it’s a play off the phrase “clusterfuck”, which generally refers to a complex and intractable situation.

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*”The company has had other controversially named flavors as well — Karmel Sutra and Hubby Hubby (in support of gay marriage) — for example. But Schweddy Balls has received much publicity-generating attention.” Read more here.

“Objectivity”

Occupy Wall Street began modestly enough, a couple hundred seemingly homogeneous folks gathering to protest in the largest city in the United States.  As such, it needn’t gather much more news coverage than a curiosity, perhaps buried in “news of the weird”.  Yet, though in one month’s time, the protest has swollen to thousands, as its message and mission has grown more focussed, as it has carried out clear and positive actions (such as the demonstration that successfully averted some foreclosures), one would think from the amount and nature of mainstream media coverage of the movement that Occupy Wall Street remains entirely a small gaggle of unfocussed, vaguely angry “young people”–a myth.

The internet, though, isn’t (wholly) mainstream media.  What is interesting, though, is that one need not look far online to find this same unanalysed and untrue trope–of “lazy”, misguided youth, small in number and devoid of real purpose–perpetuated in comment sections across the web.  I personally believe that this is the direct result of the message that the mainstream media have perpetuated since the beginning, as one sees the same eerily similar phrasings repeated over and over.  The mainstream media established the meme of the “spoilt young middle-class rabble-rousers”, and so it has perpetuated through repetition.

It makes sense, though.  The mainstream media are owned by the same corporations that the protesters stand against–and if there is one enemy the protesters consider to have in common, it is corporations.  Through consolidation and buyouts over the years, the power to disseminate news has concentrated itself into fewer and fewer hands, leaving the news we get every day more and more “corporate”–even as the internet, smart phones, etc have placed the power to spread news in more and more hands.  The mainstream media outlets, quite simply, are not going to bite the hands that feed them by relating news stories that stand against their own self-interest.

This, however, is nothing new.  The myth that news media are, or should be, “objective” is taught from childhood.  But, first off, human beings are not by nature fully objective entities.  We are a conflated, confused mishmash of beliefs, principles, and goals, and there is no real way around it.  I think also of times past when the media would go to absurd lengths to promote its own economic well-being.  At the turn of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for a major city newspaper to print up a made-up story of, say, an elephant escaping the zoo and rampaging the city, causing panic and, yes, increased newspaper sales.  The fact that the last paragraph would read, “The preceding was a complete work of fiction” did nothing to keep people from spreading the rumour of the escaped elephant that they knew their cousin’s cousin saw yesterday–after all, aren’t we taught in school that, when writing news, you put the least important information at the end?

The mainstream media are putting Occupy Wall Street in the last paragraph, hoping that, if we ignore it, we will keep believing them and buying their products.

Learning

This is my final “I’m From Driftwood” story, originally published in May 2009.

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One fine morning in third grade, I awoke in a very good mood. As a pretentious eight-year-old addicted to public broadcasting, I planned to spend the day, as sometimes I would, speaking in an English accent. Befuddling classmates and fooling strangers as to my origin, I was just quirky me expressing my happiness. Halfway through that morning, my mood would get even better.

We had times when we were allowed to wander the classroom in order to investigate different “learning stations.” It was a good idea in theory, but I dreaded the “listening” station. It consisted of a record player with eight bulky headphone sets slinking from it like an octopus. The rule was that the first child to arrive at the listening station could pick the record. We had a collection of perhaps a couple dozen records, but you’d never know it from the class’s listening habits. Every time, I arrived late, and every time the first arrival had pulled out the “101 Dalmatians” record. Not only that, but every time they selected the same track–the “K9 Krunchies” dog food commercial. They would play the track to the end, lift the needle, and play it again. It drove me absolutely mad to hear that inanity over and over. And there was no convincing my classmates to play anything else, even from the same record.

But this time would be different. Finally, I was the one to reach the listening station first. And this meant…a different record! This time I could play anything I wanted–anything other than those simpering puppies and their corny commercial! So I pulled out a different record, some sad Russian tale of a little boy who had to eat lentils all the time, and placed it on the turntable. “No, we don’t want that!” cried out the other children. “Play something else! Play ‘101 Dalmatians’!”

“But I’m the first one here,” I retorted in my approximation of British schoolboy English, “that means I get to pick the record.”

Quite the brouhaha ensued, enough to bring the teacher over. “What’s the matter?”

“Mrs. Benson, he won’t let us play the record we all want!”

“But I was the first one here, that means that I get to pick out the record, that’s the rules.”

“But,” Mrs. Benson replied, “no one else wants to listen to the record you chose, and we need to pick what’s best for everybody.”  Angry and broken-hearted, I sat back as the poor little Russian boy gave way to that damn dog food commercial.

My voice was noticeably Midwestern the rest of the day.

There was a lot for that eight-year-old boy to absorb that day. “The rules” are fluid and unpredictable, and cannot be called upon to determine order. “The one in charge” can be put down with a revolt. And most importantly, the rights of the minority must cede to the caprice of the majority–individuality must yield to mob rule.

Obliged

I told myself that I would post here each day that I find myself online.  I told my readers, too, at the outset.

I sit here today feeling miserable.  I have a bad headache (why, then, does he not rest?  Because my apartment is not a comfortable place) that I’m certain is a longer-term consequence of my sleep issues of last week.

There is no space in my head right now for wit, for insight, for depth.  There is only room for pain, exhaustion, and my continued mourning for the death of quiet in public libraries.

And thus I learn the first rule of the blogger: have a backlog of articles at the ready.

Tonight I sleep.  Tomorrow I write properly.

Religious

This morning was my second at First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, MN.  It would have been my third in a row had I not been out of town last week.  There is a lot about the congregation I like, and I will keep visiting to determine if indeed it is a good fit for me.  This much I know: the service at this particular Unitarian-Universalist (UU) congregation, in structure, much more closely resembles an evangelical Christian service than a mainline Christian service.  It feels familiar.  It “feels like church”, more so than a mainline service, and far more so than an unprogrammed Quaker service.

Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t attended a religious service in about 1 1/2 years, which, I say, is like most people not having gone to church for 15 years.  In evangelical Christianity, the general expectation is that you go to worship services three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.  As such, it cannot help but be a very large part of one’s life.  One of the challenges as I transitioned into liberal Christianity was that there was not that huge presence on my weekly calendar.  Especially in the smaller mainline congregations, much of the church’s life begins and ends Sunday morning.  Though I understand the reasons why each branch of the Christian religion does what it does, it is the former that makes the more sense to me, because of familiarity if for no other reason.

I say that I left evangelical Christianity for personal reasons, but left Christianity overall for theological reasons.  I am, I think, a doubter by nature, and I appreciate it when I’m given space to think through ideas, rather than to just accept them wholesale.  I am at a place where I will not make any definitive statements regarding the nature of God, or God’s connexion with the universe and with humankind.  I have thus been leery of engaging in any religious services lately.

However, an acquaintance recently challenged me.  He said that, even if I might very much want to chuck God and faith and all the rest, that I myself am, for whatever reason, a religious person, and that it will only do me good to find some way to “scratch that itch”.  I’m hoping the good people at First Universalist may help me in that regard.

Synchronicity

I had planned all week to post yesterday regarding the one-week anniversary of OccupyMN.  But all week, I have been fighting issues related to my hypernychthemeral disorder, which always leaves me with having to choose either to let my sleep cycles run naturally, in which case it would take a few weeks to return to a diurnal schedule, or to take matters into my own hands by staying up a total of 36 hours or so and exhausting myself into an extra-long night of sleep, followed up by a “short” day and early bedtime, to help me get back to a diurnal schedule.  It’s a no-brainer.  I do not want to wait several weeks to live like everyone else.  I am glad, though, to have sat with this article in my head an extra day, because various seemingly unrelated events over the course of the week have unfolded to shape and reshape what I am wanting to say here.

I got back into town after my chorus’s retreat last Sunday, and one of the first things I did was to head down to Government Plaza in downtown Minneapolis.  This plaza, outside our county government building, has been renamed People’s Plaza by the protesters.  The scene looked much like what you see in New York City right now, and in many cities across the country.  There were a few hundred people present, a heartening number, but the first thought that crossed my mind was, how is this going to look when it is -30F out?  The numbers have already dramatically dwindled as our night temps near 40F.  I got to talk to some of the organisers and other protesters.  One was a lovely young man named Osha Karow, who was inspired by Occupy Wall Street to purchase the domain name occupymn.org and get the ball rolling here.  If you saw him casually, you would assume he fits the caricature with which the Occupy movements’ opponents paint the protesters: white, middle-class, and lazy.  But to hear his story firsthand broke all such assumptions, a young man whose life fell apart because health issues well outside his control usurped his education, his job, and (ironically) his health insurance to treat his very serious medical situation.  And, as I believe very much in the power of personal narrative, I believe that, behind each of these protesters that some are wont to dismiss, is a compelling personal story that has driven them to such actions as the protests.

There were some things about the protest I found truly inspirational.  I saw it pulling together diverse ideologies and perspectives.  I heard socialists and libertarians coming together for what they had in common, then taking the opportunity to engage each other in civil and meaningful discourse regarding their differences.  Those who claim that this movement is a mishmash of nebulous and unfocussed anger forget that the civil rights movements was a coalescence of different causes, different frustrations, different people.  I believe that this new movement can, in time and in much the same way, coalesce into something more focussed and more powerful.

But there is also cause for concern.  Though the protest is drawing participants and supporting passers-by from many walks of life, those in their 20s by and large are driving the movement.  They are committed to being “leaderless” and anarchic, but I wonder how much experience they’ve had working in anarchic situations.  There is such a fear of anyone taking charge of anything that even the most minor decisions are brought before the daily “general assembly”.  They do not understand the need to prioritise decision-making–that it is better for something small and minor to simply get done by someone, and that if every minor decision is brought to the general assembly, then there will be no time, and thus no chance to focus on, the major, long-term decisions.  This, I believe, is why the protests appear unfocussed to outsiders, and this lack of focus could lead to the premature demise of the movement.

When people do step up to take care of minor tasks around People’s Plaza, they are chastised for trying to be “leaders”.  These young people do not understand the difference between someone taking leadership by force, and someone rising to a place of leadership simply by being themselves.  The latter are chastised at the movement’s peril.  I cannot think of any significant social movement in history that succeeded without someone coming to the fore as, at minimum, a figurehead, if not a leader.  These historical leaders often rose to prominence despite their own personal desire not to do so.  But if those who are leaders by instinct are prevented from accomplishing even minor tasks, then this movement will sink in a mire of managing the mundane.

I am also concerned about the process of othering that has taken place.  Othering is the social force of determining “us” from “them”, insiders from outsiders.  The protesters feel justified in distinguishing “the 99” from the top 1% of earners, who control over 40% of the wealth in the United States, and thus, in many ways, control our day-to-day lives. They see “the 99” as the biggest umbrella term they can imagine, that pretty much anyone who they come across can relate to being in the bottom 99%.  But in creating this “other”, this 1%, they first distance themselves from some of those who sympathise with their plight, from high-profile billionaires who are quite vocal in wanting Congress to restructure our economy to benefit the 99%, to protesters who themselves come from the 1% and want to work with the movement hands-on.

Some critics of the movement claim that this othering process both smacks of sanctimony–the 99% are pure of motive, the 1% are inherently evil–and allows the 99% to abdicate their own responsibility in helping the economy to decline by, for example, building up untenable lifestyles through purchasing needless luxuries via “easy” credit, and staking claims and “rights” to a “middle-class” existence that is detrimental to the environment and to global economic development.  I am in full agreement with both these critiques.  I feel like the Occupy movement wants to build solidarity through a message of equality across races, religions, and (most) classes, etc, but they undercut their message of equality by stating, overtly and otherwise, that the 1% are ontologicallly, innately different.  This is why my participation in the protests has mostly been confined to a message of “love the 100%”.  I chant, “I have seven billion brothers and sisters,” and rattle off who all that includes, including those the left love to vilify.  I perform my song, “Love The Way You Hate Me”.  I challenge the notion that the 1% are fundamentally different at every opportunity.  I plant the seed, I get people to think.  And if “we are in this together,” then that means we must take responsibility for our mistakes, both individually and collectively, as well as seek to become part of the solution.

However, my personal belief that no-one is fundamentally evil takes a beating sometimes.  One friend of mine points out that my telling the 1% (or homophobes, or what have you) that I love them is like standing in a field with a raging bull charging me, and me offering to talk with the bull and give it a big hug.  (I say the analogy falls apart because I am a bull, too.)  But late Thursday night, I took pause.

My neighbours in my building enjoy watching what passes for investigative journalism today (think truTV, for example).  When I go to the TV room in my building, I can’t just change the channel, so if I choose to be in there, I choose to watch what my neighbours have on until I can change the channel per our community rules.  I’m glad they didn’t change the channel Thursday night.  They showed a recreation of the Jaycee Dugard abduction, imprisonment, and rescue.  To see all that Phillip Garrido did, the layers of deceit and evasion, the unfathomable abuse he laid upon an innocent child, to see how he built his entire life around this cruelty, it becomes almost impossible to separate the man from the acts.

Am I lumping the wealthiest amongst us in with Phillip Garrido?  No; my point is that my belief that anyone could be ontologically, fundamentally evil has been shaken, and thus leads me to question whether my belief that othering is in all cases wrong.  I discussed my principle with someone the other day.  He said that, a few nights prior, he saw a man surrounded by about a half-dozen scantily clad women whom he ordered away from him to go “do their thing” and to be sure that “he got his cut”.  Clearly, the man was a pimp.  My acquaintance remarked that, if he had passed by that man right after the incident, and the man tripped on the sidewalk and bloodied himself, my acquaintance would not have lent him a hand up.

Because I am processing the nature of evil, I am having to confront my own belief in the process of othering, and how it relates to the 99%/1% dichotomy.  I will say this: I have often compared money to alcohol–good and enjoyable in reasonable doses, but addictive, controlling, and destructive in excess.

There are those who say the protesters are spoiled.  In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune a couple of days ago, a commentator, a Tibetan immigrant to the Twin Cities, argued that Americans have the best standard of living anywhere, and that it was unpatriotic to argue otherwise.  She related her own harrowing personal story of what it was like for her family to escape from China to India, of how she was placed in an Indian boarding school with no idea of if or when she’d see her family again.  I will not argue that even the poorest Americans fare better than the average citizen in many countries, and I cannot disregard the woman’s story for a moment, as it has been relived countless times by immigrants to America over the century.  But (speaking as someone who last had ancestors come to America over 200 years ago–some by force), I cannot understand how it is unpatriotic to say that one’s country has the ability, resources, and potential to improve itself, to have faith that it can do so.  Those who chant the mantra that “the United States is the best country in the world” stand against quantifiable data: in terms of education, health care, and physical and technological infrastructure, amongst other arenas, the United States is not #1, or even in the top ten.  And the bottom 10% in a number of countries fare significantly better than the bottom 10% in the United States.  The United States can do better.  Some of us have faith that it can.

Will the protests effect change?  One friend believes that not only will they be ignored by those in power, that the gap between rich and poor will continue to grow, until mass homelessness and starvation lead to civil war.  I told him simply that I am going to fight against that eventuality.  I fully believe that the era of the American Empire, like all empires throughout history, is ending.  The difference will be whether the empire will go out in a fizzle or a bang.  A fizzle would mean a cutting back of military and world economic dominance, resulting in a refocussing of those resources into education, health care, and infrastructure–in short, an acceptance that there are much worse things than being #2.  A bang would be my friend’s scenario: chaos, destruction, and war.  I daresay almost any of us would prefer the fizzle to the bang.

So I will back the protests, though still in my contrarian way, because I believe it is unhealthy and unwise to “stand against” the 1%, for they too are my brothers and sisters, I want good for them, as for the protesters, as for anyone.  What of my epiphany regarding the problem of evil?  My views, like the protests, are sure to evolve over time, and it is too soon to tell what they will evolve into.