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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why so much Democracy?

I can't figure it out.  All this time abroad and I never considered myself a big proponent of 'democracy'.  But here I am, back in the 'heart of democracy' and I now find myself just wanting to push it and push it.  And I've realized why.  Because I DON'T HAVE IT HERE.  What I am living in here in the US is a really sad version of a beautiful concept, but not democracy.

Democracy is 'rule by the people'.  We do not have this in the US.  Representative democracy as we use it is not making me feel like I have anything to do with 'ruling' myself, or even being a part in 'ruling' the world around me.  Even if my representative would listen to me, what power do they have?  What can one individual congressperson do?  They certainly can't institute any policy.  They need compatriots, backers, outside influence, money, political intrigue, and whatever else it is that one needs to pass legislation in this country.  But the one thing they don't need is 'me'.

I mean, I don't have to vote.  No matter who is in power, they are so polarized and entrenched in 'no for the sake of no' politics that any attempt by me to 'rule' as a person is complete folly.  Think of it, I vote in New York state, there is no reason for me to vote in national elections.  Over 60% of the voting populace historically votes Democratic, out of 7.5 million my single vote will not swing that.  And our system, and especially the electoral collage, gives a winner take all mentality to all politics - presidential, national, and even local - and as 2000 showed us, the popular vote means nothing in the presidential race.

So why vote?  If our system makes it mean nothing, what is the point?  Winner take all.  There is no parliamentary democracy as in Europe (and is being adopted in 'new' democracies throughout the world) where representative seats are filled in proportion to voting.  If this was the case in New York, at least then if it was 63% or 62% in one way or the other my vote might matter.  But even this line of thought doesn't matter.  American's are so entrenched in their singular belief that the American constitution is the greatest political document ever that there is absolutely no reason to think of modifying it.  Regardless of its original virtues, the evolution of it has put us on a slippery slope of intransigence today.  

You can't make life better if you are not willing to explore other ways of living it - other ways that may actually be better - and then learn from then and even incorporate aspects of them into your life.  Our democracy - if that is what it is - can and NEEDS to be better.  I want a say, I want a democratic voice.  I want to have a 'ruling' aspect over my own life and to help rule the rest of the world I live in.  But as is, I don't.  I don't have a say on anything of pertinance, on anything beyond the most local of levels.  US democracy is an illusion.  You really don't have any say...


Where do you come from?

Where is it that we are citizens of?  Do we live in one neighborhood?  One city?  One state or province?  One country?  One region?  One world?  One universe?  One still unknown thing that we haven't discovered yet?  At what stage of this process do we differentiate ourselves? Usually we differentiate ourselves wherever along this spectrum we need to in whatever present company we are keeping, and usually this is about differentiating ourselves from that specific company.  Thus, if you are in new york city you differentiate yourself as being from the upper east side, the village, brooklyn, whatever.  But as soon as you leave new york city, you are now from 'the city' if you're in the region, or 'new york' if further afield.  If your in a place where the discussion changes to nationalities, all of a sudden ones' identification changes to being 'an American'.  'Europeans' can identify themselves as such regionally and then by country as needed.

But outside of sci-fi movies who identifies themselves as 'citizens of the world', or of 'the universe'?  There is no need to do this in our daily lives, where we are trying to find some way to separate ourselves from the masses of humanity and other living things that we share our places with.  We do this simply because there are no things 'not from this world' or 'not from earth' to differentiate ourselves from.  This is a shame.  Because it is specifically the type of differentiation that we keep undertaking that leads us to focus and judge specifically on the places that we claim, and not on those that we leave be.  All of a sudden various parts of the world are not as important as "our own" - the ones we immediately identify with.  But how can this be?  We breath the same air as someone in china, we share the same biological features as someone in Africa, eat the same foods as someone in South America, and live amongst many of the same trees and soil types as someone living in Europe.  Why then is it that we must differentiate - and in turn - prioritize areas of the world as more or less important to us?

Ultimately the world is one holistic entity that works together and feeds off of every aspect of itself - including the universe it itself inhabits.  So why then do we all not consider ourselves citizens of the world?  Why is one nation and/or its citizens deemed as more or less important or valuable than another's?  Why do we not claim equal right to existence with the other 'citizens of the world' we share it with?  Humans, animals, plants, insects, bacteria, algae, what-have-you.  The world is in-fact bigger than our own specific places in it. Shouldn't we value them all as being equally important?


Governance is a tricky concept.  It implies that something will get done, some form of 'leadership' will guide something in a functional and productive direction.  But how does it work?  I mean how do you make something truly function?  How does a group of people or situation get 'governed'?  Think about it in political terms, it would seem that we would be talking about anything from local to national or international politics, and finding a way to productively facilitate and manage a smooth running 'government'.

Looking at local politics in the US I have one quick observation to make.  People have to want to be 'governed', and they have to actually know what being that actually is.  Wanting to be governed would imply that one is willing to accept the system they live in, and be willing to trust in it and give themselves to it.  If a person does not realize how democracy (and the mandate for leadership/the institution of policies it creates) exists, and that with this mandate comes a legitimate ability to do certain things, then how is an individual to understand why or how other aspects of governance will function?

With an election in a representative democracy, a new mandate is given by the people to the elected individual to represent them throughout the governance process.   They elect her/him given the platform and 'promises' promoted during the campaign.  In our system in the US it is a simple majority that takes all.  We do not live in a parliamentary system where a proportional number of 'seats' go to the proportional percentage of votes received.  Flat out 50.000000000001% takes the seat and the loser goes home.  This winner can then say that the majority of the people supported their campaign platform and thus they should try to institute it to the best of their ability.

So why would anyone be at odds with a person with this mandate trying to institute there democratically given authority?  It would seem only because they don't know what democracy is really about.  And unfortunately most people don't really understand this.  They get caught in a world seen through blinded eyes.  This is so truly sad.  Just to simply open our eyes and ears to see and hear the things around us, would allow us to learn so many new things, to think about different options, and even to understand how it is that these things could actually have come about or brought into place.  Governance is about a leader finding a way to make things work, and a person about finding a way to let themselves be lead.  Even if we didn't vote for, and don't want to be lead by, the person leading us that is the system we live in.  If you want a more representative democracy, change the system, if you want a more direct democracy, change the system.  Right now I struggle to find much of either in the US system.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Are we taught not to care, or do we really actually not care?

When it comes to trying to change our lives, to truly affect the worlds we live in, why is it that we really take and ask for so little power?  We claim to live in a democracy, a free society, but so few of us really ever use it.  Only half of us really vote, and even in that case it is usually just once a year and though we can write our representatives, rarely do.  Why is it that we are so thoroughly disinterested as a populace?  There are all sorts of theories put forth by academics, and even formulas to predict what leads to democratic participation.  But regardless of each theory, my question comes not in 'what' or 'why', but 'how'.  I wonder, if we don't care, is it because society shows us so many distractions and overloads us with the rest of our lives 'priorities', that we are simply taught to make other things more important and that our voice is just to small to make much of a difference.  This line of thinking would imply that we really actually do care about how the world affects us, and that it is society that teaches us to prioritize ourselves and our time in other more 'docile' directions. 

The alternative to our apathy being taught is that we actually don't really care.  That it is not someone or something else teaching us what we are or should be, but that we simply inherently content living a life with someone else controlling the big things - someone else 'representing' us and making decisions for us.  In democracy this 'other' would be an elected offical, or in another context it could be god or similar 'profound' power.  But this is the true question, whether we actually want to control our lives or are happy to allow it to happen for us (for the most part).

What do you think?  Are you content to let politicans, corporations, supernaturals and/or the like make your life happen?  Or are you more interested in taking control of the way the world interacts with you?  This may seem like a stupid question as most people think they control their lives.  Yet this is exactly the point.  We think we control our lives because we get up as we do, we eat what we do, we go places as we do, etc.  But why do we do these things?  What happens when we get there?  If we buy things like food, is it due to someone else's marketing campaign?  Is when we get up in the morning dictated by when our employer says we need to be somewhere?  Who is it that actually dictates whether there are even jobs out there to have?  We follow the 'rules' and 'laws' of society that someone else has designated for us to follow, and they vary by locale, country, culture, whatever.  We basically do not really make the things around us happen as we want them to, but rather work within the confines of the things that are dictated to us. 

So my question really is this, why?  Why do we not take more initiative?  Is it because the system puts us in positions that don't really reward this type of behavior or maybe just don't promote it?  Is it because certain individual actors keep us without truly knowing or understanding the amount of power we actually could have?  Or, is it the other side.  Is it that we just don't really want to control things?  Is it easier to use politics or religion and allow others or 'god' to control our lives?  To leave it in 'his' hands. 

I must admit that I have always thought that this is/was a taught thing.  That the system/people that run things don't want us to actually rise up and voice things as we would like them because this would disrupt their balance/position of power.  But of late I am begining to see that even given proding and an inkling of awareness, that most people are not really that motivated to make a difference, to try to control their own destinies, and make the larger factors that affect their lives more to their liking.  But then I keep coming full circle.  Even upon thinking about it all and becoming somewhat aware, if these people don't take the initiative, is it because it is too late?  That they have already been taught not to care?  Or is it actually innate?  Do we as humans find it easier to give up our power, is it easier - simpler - to give responsibility to others? 

How can we find out?  How is it that we can care?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


"Yet rarely has the political system seemed more polarized and less able to solve big problems that involve trust, tough choices and little short-term gain."
 This is the same old story.  We are not doing anything new, not trying anything different.  We are just entrenched in our same old thinking and politically entrenched ways.  Why bother trying to find solutions, compromises, or even alternative ideas, when you can just argue about he said she said, and I'm right your wrong!?  A polarized two party system is just NOT THE ANSWER!!  We need more political parties, we need more political dialog - and the current interpretation of the US constitution, and the system that has engulfed it, is just not working...  We need two rounds of elections...  one to vote your conscience, one to vote for your leaders...  right now we have no idea about people's conscience.

“These days I wonder if this country is even governable.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Disturbing Segregation

It is a shame that American's don't see some of the most noteworthy benefits of their own country.  America is a melting pot.  Every American is taught this from the day they start school and is 'marketed' as a positive thing.  This is claimed to be one of the reasons that the country is so 'tolerant', the country is after all made up of almost nothing but people from different places (and the few native americans that weren't killed off...).  So why is it that American's don't actually relish in the cosmopolitan opportunities of their own society?  We revel openly in the stories of splendor and vibrance with our diversity, but then upon a closer look, we are afraid of living in or visiting certain neighborhoods and/or cities where we could actually see and experience this.

When we look at the composition of our cities and neighborhoods there are always the distinct areas of/for certain ethnic groups.  Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, etc, every ethnic group seems to have its little enclaves throughout the country.  There are obvious practical reasons for this given migration issues and attempts to gain footholds in new areas.  But what then of the average white person that has been living in the US for multiple generations and does not want to live around "those types of people"?

The majority of whites in the US live in "racially isolated" areas.  Meaning that throughout most of their day they interact almost exclusively with white faces and white american culture - no diversity, no new ideas, no semblance of a different way of living from their own.  This is viewed as fine.  People want to move to areas or certain neighborhoods to be around people they 'identify' with, are of the same ethnic categories, income levels, backgrounds, whatever.  But how is this a melting pot?  How does this promote integration?  And most importantly, how does this possibly promote understanding of the realities of the world?

We as a society are isolating ourselves from the world we live in.  In terms of economics specifically, we do whatever it takes to block out a vision of the 'underclasses'.  We don't drive through the ghetto, never mind live and experience the lifestyles there.  This type of understanding and experience is important.  Kids should not grow up privileged - and by this I do not mean to make them pay for part of their car or to make them earn their own spending money.  I mean that kids should grow up in, around, and involved with people of all aspects of life - colors, creeds, economic capabilities, sexual preferences, etc.

American society today is voluntarily segregated specifically against this type of integration, and we are losing ourselves because of it.  We look at society and we say, I don't want to live there - there is to much crime, or poverty, or trailer parks... maybe its too rural, to 'black', to 'white', to whatever.  How can we as individuals ever expect to truly understand other people, let alone the world we live in, if we are unwilling to actually experience it for ourselves?  "I don't want my kids to grow up there because...."  Because you don't want them to actually see the way the rest of the world actually is.  For if they saw it, they might not like it, maybe even want to change it.  And that of course would force us to see it... to realize it exists... and maybe, just maybe, to even feel bad about it...  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Unhealthy Profit

Just a quick question on health care and motivation.  If the foundation of a health care system is so that people or companies providing the care can turn a profit, how possibly could this mean that one would get the best possible care?  In the health care systems of Europe, people are given health care that are mostly designed simply to provide for better health.  The services are designed by and run predominantly by the countries themselves and answer to a democratically elected populace.  They are not run by private companies, as in the US system, who's actual first priority is to the share holders and to profit maximization.  These companies then use providing health care as a way to make money and generate this profit.  This minor word choice is a major distinction.  In the US system companies have found a way to make a profit, not found a way to provide health care.  This is huge!!  How is it possible that the United States health care system is designed to make money first, not make us healthy.  We can talk about all the details we want in terms of healthcare policies (who pays, how much, HMO's, etc) and how the current system works/can be changed, but FUNDAMENTALLY it is flawed. 

We are not getting the best care because corners get cut if profit, or not enough profit, can be made.  As I've said before, profit is actually an extra cost that raises prices and increases inefficiency.  Yes, it does provide incentive for investment, but should we need financial incentive to care for the health of people, families, childern?  If you take the profit away from these companies they could charge lower prices.  State health care providers may be looked at as inefficient, but they are wholly inclusive and include the entire populations, have lower costs per person, and most importantly they are motivated by the right reasons - care, not money.

How many of us hate it when we go into a store or call a company, and you can tell that the sales person is really just interested in getting a sale, making a commition, or just simply doing whatever it takes to make money, even at the expense of service.  Yet we have no problem allowing our entire health care system to function like this - based on making money. 

Now, this may seem like I am pushing for state run health care, but I am not.  I am asking for health care that is not firstly profit motivated.  Health care designed to provide for the people in medical need, not financial desire.  Does such a company structure currently exist?  Does it have to be done by non-profits?  Is the state the only option?  This is quite the grey area.  I personally believe that if the system does not specifically reward or motivate in a certian direction - i.e. doesn't explicitly try to promote it - then people will not so readily follow a specific option.   We need to another level of legal corporate distinction - 'for-service' companies as I see it (I'm working on an outline for this type of company, check back).  But ultimately, we need our healthcare to be about us, not about money.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

An Olympic Spectacle

So I must admit, as an athlete I have always loved the Olympics. It has always seemed like the universal standard for athletic achievement. To be an Olympian, to walk out during the opening ceremony, to stand on the medal podium, to hear your country’s national anthem – the pride that everyone in your country and in your heart must feel at that victorious moment. Years of hard work, pain, long hours pushing your body and mind. The pinnacle of an athlete’s achievement.

However, there is one thing that has begun to dampen the spirit of it all for me. A realization that the event is really about nothing but blatant nationalism. That is all but what the Olympics have become, especially on the larger scale. It is just another way for a country to exert its national ‘superiority’ (or inferiority). Athletes and the national public simply focus on national pride and root for their countrymen. All this does is reinforce a nationalistic vision of our lives (which of course those in power have no problem with). When even our entertainment and leisure activities are based upon one area of land being ‘better’ or ‘more important’ than another, we as a society are moving in the wrong direction.

I understand that it might be tough to put together any representation scenario that would not instill this same type of stigmatization, and/or whether people would take so much pride or watch so fervently. But I think it’s worth thinking about this. Our lives are designed to keep our focuses on certain things and in certain directions. If our whole gaze is ‘supposed’ to be on our own country/local piece of land, than we won’t spend money or use resources in other places, we won’t force our politicians and companies to spend money in these places or take those places into proper account. We are taught to view other countries and their athletes as our foes – even on a leisure level. Competition may make us ‘better’, but it also makes us see others as adversaries, and is the precursor to conflict. If we are taught to only care about the local, then why would we care about the global or force anyone else to care about the global?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Equally Ignorant

What are we doing?  I mean here.  Why is it that we exist, and what gives us the right to choose it as such?  Do we singularly exist to procreate the species, or is there something else something more?  Now don't get me wrong, I am not trying to discuss spiritual existence or religious intrigue.  But more about what we actually do with our time and how this actually benefits anything.

Some would say that we are here to procreate the species, to make more of us.  But if we really want to make more of us, then why are we killing each other?  Granted there are very few orgasms in feeding starving children, so it isn't quite as 'sexy' as the typical act of procreation.  But so what?  Look at ourselves.  We live in our happy little worlds with all of our nice little things while only a few miles - yes, just a few miles away - people are hungry and suffering.  Never mind that around the world some 2 billion people will struggle for the basic necessities of life this year.  Yet here we sit, with our nice cars, big houses, and all the other 'spoils' of a claimed and marketed 'equal' opportunity.  And this is what we think, that everyone on earth has the same opportunity.  I mean if I can do it, so can everyone right?  Think about the world, what do you think would be the single biggest determiner in a person's life expectations?  No not color or ethnicity, it is where they are born.  If a person is born in the United States they have such a better opportunity to live a healthy and secure life than someone who is born in Sierra Leone.  Color doesn't matter, simply what side of some man-made arbitrary border they were born on.

But don't think this is only about foreign countries.  Suburbanites like to sit in their self made castles and act like everyone in the US still has an equal opportunity.  No way.  If a person is born in the inner city ghetto to a minority family with a single mother, poor school districts, lots of siblings, and little food there is no way you can say that people have the 'same' opportunities in life.  history does not disappear, and 'capital' does not grow on trees.  Simply by walking in a door as a black person in America or a Roma (gypsy) in Europe you are seen differently than a white person.  This is not an equal opportunity, it is a different world that varies by color, socio-economic status, gender, whatever, and one that those on the top never see.

If every women had the 'same' opportunity as a man, then why do women make almost 30% less than men do?  Are you saying that women are not as intelligent as men?  Are they not as hard working?  And what of minorities?  Is it no coincidence that one of the poorest performing ethnic groups are of those people descending from slaves?  Fact is, America is and never was about equal opportunity.  From the time the Europeans landed equality was never part of the picture.  The native americans should have 'theoretically' had a better opportunity than the europeans - they were here first after all - but this didn't matter.  They were shoved aside - murdered with 'equal' passion, Sioux, Cherokee, Mohawk, whatever.  Guns, germs and steel don't create equal opportunities, never mind greed.

Yeah, I suppose from the dawn of time we all had equal opportunity, but that was a long time ago - no matter who you ask.  But not today.  This line of thought is simply something designed to make us feel ok about our lives.  To make us feel like its ok to be rich while other's suffer.

If we bathe ourselves in the ignorance given to us, we will never understand life, and we will never truly be free...

Can one country actually be 'Best'?

So an old friend writes his five best countries in the world on facebook. USA USA USA USA USA, and then claims it was a ‘no brainer’. I wanted to ask three questions, 1, how many/have you ever been to other countries, 2, do you really know WHY you are saying that, and 3, what information and decision making process are you using? The reality of it is that most people that claim this have spent very little time outside the country they live in, and even if they have it is generally on vacation, or through the uninterested, narrow-minded eyes given to them in their home country. It is really sad that people take in so much information with such little questioning of its merits, sources, and purposes…

I just want to say things to these people, to try to open their eyes... It is not that America is the best country, or that it is not, but rather just that that is simply what they have been taught to believe. Indoctrinated into the system as ‘they’ want you to be… But even if I say something, I don't see it as doing anything but pushing me further away from everything – friends, family, society, etc. People don’t want to change things, they don’t want to up-heave their entire lives, those in power like them as they are... 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Generation of 'Scientific' Information.

Does anyone else have an issue with the social sciences hold over the world of information? I mean if you think about it, why is it that the realm of high level interpretation given the social interaction of our world rests on the shoulders of a few individuals 'trained' to see things 'scientifically'? After all what is this “scientific” inquiry and how does it translate to the real social world? We have a group of people that sit around reading the same old eight white dead European mens' ideas and re/interpreting our social existence through these same eyes, based on the same foundations of knowledge, and keep coming to the same explanations and understandings. .

Take one case in point from social science methodology. When you discuss ethics and methodology, it is generally accepted that if you wish to study someone, observe them, that you should (or really have to if you want to do things 'properly' / 'respectably'), gain their permission to observe them. I certainly understand the implications of rights and freedoms of individuals and am sympathetic to this concept. But how can you tell me that this is a 'scientific' way of observing the actual world as it exists? I mean just think about it. When you are sitting at home alone and you know full well that no one is watching you, what do you do? You do whatever you want to do and however you want to do it. Now imagine if you know that someone is watching you, studying you, trying to decipher exactly how you and your human life exist and function. Would you act differently? If you knew your fiends and family would be watching? (see my previous post about acting as if everyone is watching you as a motivator for you to be 'better')

The bottom line is being observed changes a person's behavior. If no one is there do you close the door when you pee? Do you walk around naked? Do you sing along with the radio? Think about it in family settings. Does an abusive father beat or verbally accost his children in public? Does he do this in his own home if there is a visitor? Probably not. I mean its illegal, and unaccepted. But it happens daily. Women are abused all over the world and it goes 'unnoticed', yet how often is it 'seen'? The bottom line is that people live their lives differently in public and in private. This is absolutely no surprise to anyone. So how is it that we somehow believe that 'scientifically' we are actually doing something admissible when people have been given notification before being watched. It is a false and manufactured act and in no way mirrors a controlled laboratory 'scientific' experiment. The problem is that observation or filming without peoples' consent is considered unethical, even though it would actually be the most true study. Yet it still doesn't stop social scientists from claiming these tests bring about 'facts' and/or truths – 'scientifically'.

Ultimately, social sciences have a monopoly on the generation of actionable 'information' in our society. Sociologist and anthropologists work on studying how it is that he live, political scientists focus on our governing and 'compromising', economists on how we allocate scarce resources, etc. Yet every one of these 'scientists' is caught up too implicitly in the world that we/they live in to be socially objective. They are trained to be 'scientists'. In this training they are taught 'scientific' methods and given specific lens to see things through. But, if you look at society through the same 'lens' that someone else has in the past, are you not destined to see society in pretty similar, if not the same ways? If you spend your entire higher education life learning ways of looking at things and begin to identify with one or a few of these lens, and even perhaps feel like one resonates best with you. You then start thinking in these manors and seeing the world through those already used eyes. If you believe society is based on class relations or power relations then you will start looking at your studies through these same eyes. Your experiments will begin to be colored by these same concepts, and your conclusions tainted by the structure of your studies and the 'things' you were searching to prove. A hypothesis can be nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy in the social sciences.

The problem with all this is that it is exactly these 'scientists' that society relies upon to generate the wealth of the information that we use to govern our society. Sociological data is used from everything from polling, to conclusions about how we interact daily and they easily create opportunities psychological profiling within us all. Political policies are put into place based on studies of regions and cultures which are specifically designed through unimaginably and unknowingly influenced eyes. Yet it is specifically these eyes that we trust to create policy based on observed 'facts' (this is not even to mention the 'interpretation' and selection of this information given political and business implications/influences).

What percentage of the population are these social scientists? In the US it is just under 1%, and in the world it is far less than that. Yet it is exactly these people that are determining the lives of the remainder of the people in the world – all highly salaried, highly 'educated' (of course in the ways of the system and it presumptions), and highly funded. Yes, this may see like a bit of a stretch, but trace the dots. Politicians and people with money, i.e. power (especially businesses and business persons) are the ones that set the tone and agendas for laws and practices. Those with 'ownership of the means of production' – including intellectual production – control the world. That process of control really hinges on direct lines of communication. Politicians make the laws, they base these laws on what society 'needs'/'wants', this is largely influenced and even controlled by business interests and people in positions to promote their interests (wealthy individuals, etc.), the politicians and then turn to the 'technocrats' or experts – generally the scientists – for justification and methodology as to how best to go about things. The 'proper' way of implementing things, the ramifications of various options, etc. So in-fact, while social scientists are capable of creating and illuminating a 'need' for polices or practices, even more over they are the ones that are turned to once a 'need' has been determined to exist, and a 'solution' is sought. Upon this, the sciences are of profound influence on our daily lives, the laws we live by, and our socio-political/economic interaction. This gross minority of the population comes up with all our 'solutions'.

Where is the other 99% of the population's say in this? Many would say that is what democracy is for, so that these people can have a 'say'. But this is utopian under current scenarios. In these representative democracies do we really have a say? Many democracies are lucky to get half the voting age population to actually vote. And even once someone is elected, then our only recourse is to 'contact our congress person'. This of course really means to contact that congress person's intern or assistant and doesn't even feel much like having a 'voice'. It is done by such a small percentage of the population (not to mention excludes people with less means or confidence in contacting, writing, or speaking on that level) that it is thoroughly under representative of the population as a whole. And even the information expressed, where does this go and how is it used? Once something I say or write something 'to' my congress person it then gets lumped into various categories or put on a desk in some aid's office. It is compiled and interpreted, categorized and transformed into specific issue related files that may mean you never even really get heard by the congress person you intended to or that the concept is picked from and lost in its entirety (think, if I write three pages on my thoughts on healthcare, and part of the whole concept includes a public option – but only under the other circumstances, in its entirety – yet this likely gets lumped into “58% of constituents support a public option.” Yet I only support it under certain circumstances).

How is this having a voice? And how is this having a voice on policy and legislation? We in fact have virtually no voice. The illusion of this exists, and for the few that try to express themselves, even less are actually 'heard' in legislative debate, and our political and social culture does not promote it. The fact is the a gross majority of the population of the US is never even heard from. And an unimaginably larger proportion of the world population (especially given the US's power position) is never ever heard from. A single women living in Africa has absolutely no say in the world she lives in. Even if she had a voice in the local African government's political process, that country has little to no voice abroad – and of course the world and its mechanisms are global. What she will need in her life to 'survive' is lead by others and determined on largely macro levels she has no control over. The things she must do in life, and how they are defined, to find 'success' are determined in no way at all by her.

So what do we all do? What do the other 99% do? Those with computers may blog if they can find the time and effort. But then what happens with that? Where does that go? This blog here has virtually no readers as it is not yet wired into the grid. A direct search of a copy and pasted sentence from this blog on Google does not show this blog in any of the immediate results. Only other sites that have some of the words. So who will read it? How will it ever get anywhere? In-fact, we have no say. We have no voice. We need a place where the average person can take all the 'information' that we have available to us today and write our own interpretations and ideas in one place. A place where we can cooperatively build upon ideas without the dilution and filtering of our existing decision making apparatus.

Imagine if the social sciences had a competitor – the average person. There are countless intelligent people out there: from laborers, to office workers, to unemployed, to entertainers, to postal workers, to whoever. Everyone of these people have ideas about life, about how they would like things to be. Where do they get to put their voice? Just because they are not 'trained' to examine society and/or present possible solutions doesn't mean they don't have both good ideas and possibly even good solutions. We are an information society, it is available to anyone with the internet, yet we are not doing much of anything with all this information. Where does the average person put their ideas, and why can't we find a way to be listened to?  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Real Policing...

Ironic.  The day I post on policing I find myself in the middle of a debacle.  I went to see a step show in a midsize American city.  The event was in an amazing old (for american standards) venue.  There were probably 1500 people there, almost all of which were african-american save the venue staff, and four white people that I saw.  The show was great (the hour it lasted).  But at almost an hour into the show, a fight broke out in the balcony near where we were sitting.  People began to scatter, the fight moved about that section and was eventually squelched by the police with their characteristic knee in the back while handcuffing a young kid.  Now, the performers in this event were mostly high school and college teams, though there was one junior high team.  Hence the audience was largely the same.  Within a few minutes of the fight being stopped the lights came on and the show was stopped (though I must give credit to the Alpha phi Alpha team for stepping right through the fracas, not to be deterred).  Following the end of their performance the organizers stopped the show.

Now lets examine this, how many people have ever been to a show of any kind and there was a fight?  Heavy metal concerts are fights, especially in the mosh pit.  What about concerts full of drugs, and anything else?  A high school football game?  I've heard of a fire alarm going off in a electronica trance funk type show and the show continuing on.  I was amazed that at the door though for this step event, there was NO security.  No frisking, no wanding, no metal detectors, no nothing.  There wasn't even any real security watching as people came in.  There were two police officers there that I saw at one point.  Now think about concerts or other events, security is impeccable (down to taking in water), but with a blind eye to certain things and substances.  The event was poorly organized.    

Anyway, the point of all this is what happens from there.  After the show got closed down the cops rolled in.  at least 30 police officers, including three I saw three mounted on horseback.  Within the theater it was abysmal, 15-16 year old kids (rightfully upset that the show was canceled) yet NOT causing any trouble, and the cops are pushing them out the door, literally, pushing them.  Rude as can be, like they all were criminals (it was about 10 degrees fahrenheit, -13ish celsius).  Now the worst thing about this is that as a white person, I was spared of all of this.  I was able to walk up to event staff and chat with them about the situation, I was able to ask about a money refund, and the police didn't push or harass me at all.  Outside in a mob of people the cops were a huge display, I mean cars with their lights on ever curb and corner, horses, menacing, etc.  I saw one walking around with his chrome extendable stick ready to just start hitting people, and he looked like he was 'looking' to.  And the saddest thing about it, is as a white face in the middle of a sea of black, they didn't bother me at all.  Even chatted with me as I asked for directions.

This was an overwhelming use of force and an underwhelming display of any form of compassion, understanding, and/or racial (or any other kind of) understanding or sensativity.  Now obviously, the kids need not to fight.  American society and culture needs to find a cure for this (maybe take away the me first, individualism and 'tuff guy' mentality that is 'cool'), and the cops are responding based on history and training.  But ONE fight!?! and this is the display of force you bring out to show a bunch of 12-22 year old kids?  What do you expect them to think of 'cops'?  They were shown no respect and no understanding because of just a couple individuals.  And I tell you this and you can believe it or not, but in my wholly honest opinion, if this was a regular concert - full of white faces - one fight would not have stopped the show, never mind bring the entire police force down upon these kids.  It was abysmal.  We just keep making things worse for ourselves, on both sides and as a society.    

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Police and Policing

What is it that ‘laws’ are supposed to do? Take a moment and think about this...
I like to take it back to the original intent and the motivation for it. Ultimately laws try to make society a more ordered and secure place. Obviously what ‘ordered and secure’ means will differ from place to place and culture to culture. In some places and/or times laws weren’t needed for certain crimes as all ‘property’ was communal, and/or criminal outcomes weren’t about punishment, but more about restoration.  The goal really is to find a way to work within a cultural system to find a way to allow people to feel secure.  In current global society I think that we have lost some of the original intent of the concept of laws and replaced it with a cultural of punishment and zero tolerance. 

I am not saying that if someone does something against the law that they should simply be able to pay their way off or somehow be obsolved of the crime.  But ultimately, the goal always was supposed to be to create that type of society where people felt comfortable and safe.  What says that this requires jail or death sentences, which are simply the way that things are mostly done today and in the societies we live in.

The point that I am trying to get to here is that 'policing' as it is undertaken today is for the most part about fear and then retribution.  Of public figures police officers are generally some of the worst regarded people in many places.  Now obviously, they are the messengers of laws that tell people they 'can not' do something.  No one seems to like being told what they can't do.  But the culture of policing in many of the countries I've been in or studied is not one of a 'peace officer', but more about intimidation than helping people to 'learn' the leasons needed to create this more 'ordered' and 'secure' society. 

Take this advertisment from Prague.  When I first saw this billboard I
thought it was for a new actin movie or TV show (the tag means 'Action Prague').  But it is not an advertisment for a new action drama, but for recruiting new police officers.  Guns, Motorcycles, tough guys, movie type personas.  Amazing, what type of people do you think you are going to get for the job?  Certainly not 'peace officers'.  You are going to get argressive people that want to shoot guns, take risks, have power, and feel like 'tough guys'.  And the sad thing is that while this ad is so blatently absurd, this is really the type of person that a lot of people envision when they think of "cops".  We all have been driving on the road when a cop passes us going well above the speed limit.  We hate it that 'professional courtessy' means they will never get a ticket.  Abuse of the law is par for the course with police officers (as it is in many industries).  And it doesn't help that the type of people they try to recruit are the once that this type of add appeals to. 

I think another issue is about power, no where else in society is someone actually 'the law'.  They can tell you whatever they want and make you do whatever they want.  If you complain it is your word versus a 'police officers', and you'll lose.  If they pull you over, they treat you like a criminal, no inocent before proven guilty there.  You can't get out of the car, can't actually dare to be anything but passive and just take whatever they say.  It is definitley not a conversaiton among equals (How often do you see a scene in a movie where a cop smashes out a tail light and starts talking sh*t and making threats, and let's not mention Rodney King or Amadu Diala).  Abuse of power inundates society, but I guess we expect police officers to be above that.  They are the closest and most visible association to 'the law' that we have, it would be great to see them lead by example and in the spirit and in the intent of laws in general - to make society a better more stable place to live.

Now obviously this type of compassion and understanding does exists among police officers.  Not everyone gets a ticket everytime they are pulled over, and police officers are people as well and have emotions and feelings just as the rest of us (though if you get people with the above advertisment its possible not as much).  But they can not break free of the system and their trained objectives.  Western society is so thoroughly based on individualism that everything sees all as their own right.  Police officers rightfully have to protect themselves.  Society puts them in the cross hairs, and in return they put society in teh cross hairs.  Both sides need work.     

To me, rather than inducers of fear, police officers should be teachers as well as monitors.  How many people have been pulled over, all full of this fear, and then the officer lets them off with a warning.  Upon this, many people actually head this warning and learn a lesson.  Once a person stares losing their license, money, or even job in the face, their perspectives can easily change.  People can learn without being 'punished' on numerous levels of 'criminality'.  I mean think about it, is it the physical time in jail staring at the wall 'thinking' about what you've done that 'rehabilitates' someone, or is it the loss of privledges and time and the thought of a life ruined?  You don't have to sit in a cell to experience that.

Now I am not saying we should abolish jail - that would be for a different thought process - but what I am saying is basically that society needs to rethink how it goes about 'ordering' and making itself 'secure'.  What it wants doesn't have to come through fear and intimidation, but through leasons learned - and taught.  There are good police officers out there, but they get caught in a culture of policing and violence that minimizes some of that.  People can learn lessons and not have their lives ruined during it.  The simple prospect of losing everything, can teach us to change our ways, while still allowing us to be productive members of society and not physical and/or financial drains on the political and economic system. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cultural Poverty

What is it about America that is so unaccepting of poverty?  Is the country such a competitavely based 'meritacracy' that it not only turns a blind eye, but actually shuns the poor - the 'losers'?  Is it only America?  Think of the concept of state assistance.  Does one on assistance share their plight with anyone, do they tell everyone about it?  Most people don't, culturally it is frowned upon.  Why must there be shame in this admonition?  Is it that American culture sees no reason or holds no compassion of the less fortunate, or do they see simply see it as 'their own fault'. 

If you tell someone that you are on food stamps or the like, the reaction is humbling - like you shoud be ashamed of being on them.  Does each and every person actually hold the keys to their own fate.  This is simply a falacy.  Look at today's systemic collapse.  There are simply no jobs.  The world economy is a mess, and it is a result of its own large-scale self.  Yet it is the individual selves throughout it that are truely suffering as there really is no support for them.  And the saddest thing about this suffering is that it is worst when they have to look culture in the eyes and act like there is something wrong with them.  This is wrong.  It should be the responsibility of a civilized society to look after and protect all of its citizens - after all, isn't the true measure of a 'civilization' how it treats its poor?  There should be no shame in taking assistance.  If life really is a team game, don't some players pick up the slack for other players that aren't at their best that day or are playing hurt?  The best teams have different players stepping up every night.  If one is off do you look at them like they are a pity case?  No, they contribute when they can and you respect them for it - at least good teams do this.  They win as a team and lose as a team.  But we are not a good team, we are a bickering, infighting, self obsessed group of individuals looking only to ourselves to make the final shot, to be the star. 

We should be proud of who we are, be proud that we have the courage to look society in the face and reject its stereotypes, rise above snide remarks and dirty looks.  Why can't we all look at each other as commonly human, commonly oriented, and on a common journey. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Think Local, Act Global

In a conversation the other day I was trying to describe some of my viewpoints and some of my aims. The person I was speaking to came back with, “sounds like the 'think global, act local' concept”. I agreed in short before a quick pause and then said, hold up. That is not what it is, it is exactly the opposite. While I greatly appreciate and support the 'think global, act local' movement, I definitely come to it from a different point of view.

If we spend all of our time thinking about things on a global scale (and it is wonderful to realize that our small footprints can have a large impact on the world as it exists beyond our typical site line), then we never really learn the intricacies of the multitude of varying 'locales' in the world. This is the problem with thinking globally, is that what exactly do we really know of the globe? How many of us have really been out and about it? Most likely our 'think global' concept comes from someone else's concepts, someone else's viewpoints. Not that this is all bad, but think about it in the terms of you letting someone else interpret the world for you and then giving that already digested info to you for your usage. The world as we see it is shaped entirely by the information that is presented to us after someone else has already picked and chosen how to see it and explain it.

Now think about it locally in your 'line of site.' You know the people, the culture, the norms, the generally accepted practices, the niceties, etc. You understand the area, you understand the people, and you know how they 'function'. Now think about humanity in general. We have an infinite amount of cultural nuances and variances, yet we all still wake up in the morning and all pretty much put one foot in front of the other, we look to eat, to keep ourselves clean and warm, search for company in others, etc. The world is not such a different or mysterious place, people like it when others are nice to them, they like to be able to control their own interactions with others, live in a secure setting, etc. On a grand scale these things make sense to us all as we ourselves are human, and we know what human emotions and situations feel like.

The variances really come in different ways of doing things, different cultural conclusions and different view points. So in this way I would say that what we really need to be doing is to be thinking about the local things that go on in the world – everywhere. We should all be striving to go to as many places as possible, to learn as many things as possible, and then try to draw our own larger ideas from this. We should figure out how it is that people all over the world do the same things and then try to find a global system that allows for the most inclusive and amicable system to allow people to be people. Take ideas from all over the world (not just the ones that are presented to us through they eyes of an opinionated journalist, an over educated academic, or an adgendaed politician), but those of local people, dealing with a multitude of locally unique, yet humanly similar, issues to those seen all over the world. There are some many brilliant ways of doing things that we don't even no about. We need to find them, search them out locally, and then try to incorporate them into our global ideas and actions.   

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Avatar (based on a true story...)

So the only issue I had with the movie Avatar was that that's not really how the story ends.  I mean, here we are, the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, not the Federation of Native Americans.  It would be lovely to think that the native american tribes would have been able to fend us off and be able to defend their homeland like in the movie, but then again, I guess that's why its a movie - it's a fairy tale.  I just wish that the people making decisions, which in a democracy should theoretically be US, the people, would learn from these types of films.  But more realistically, as democracy in this country leads a lot to be desired, it is the people in positions of power (governmental and corporate) that need to learn a leason from this movie. 

The cultures of the world are all beautiful in their own way, and everyone that grows out of each one has the right to keep and enjoy that culture without social, cultural, economic, or militarily being pushed in a different direction.  So how abotu if the West stops pushing the world around.  Think of how sad you felt as the human 'skypeople' killed and destroyed the Na'vi and their homeland, now picture that happening in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, South America, Asia, wherever we decide is a place of interest for us and our companies.  This is the story of Western history.  European expansion, colonization, globalization - whatever you want to call it - 'The West' (both its countries and its commercial interests) has been playing Avatar for centuries, while the rest of the world has been playing the Na'vi.  To bad the Na'vi's first real victory was on the big screen only within the last couple months rather than in real life.  How many have died?  How many have suffered?  When will we learn?    

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Democratic Voice, A Third Party

What is it that makes American politics so disgusting? Is it the way that it has become so polarized, is it the special interests and the money that so thoroughly influence elections, maybe the capitalist power/finance based system, or more pointedly is it simply America's version of representative democracy itself? I think the real answer is all of the above factor in and more still of course. But there is one short-term thing that could jolt the system a bit off its downward spiral. Creating a means for a third or even more political parties. There is a simple fix for this, and one that is tried and tested in other successful democracies. Carrying out two rounds of elections.

I know it can be a dirty word in much of American politics – “Europe” – but the Europeans have a thriving electoral system that allows for countless party affiliations, yet still boils down to just a few more powerful players. Granted parliamentary styled democracy is different than the US version, but one profound key to their multiparty system, is that many of their electoral processes offer two rounds in each election. In the first round, the electorate can vote for whomever they wish, and then if no one candidate attains a 50% majority, the top two candidates from the first round run off in a second round about a month later.

This does several things, one, it allows more ideas and voices to be heard and supported, allows the run up to the election to be more about issues than person attacks, and it allows for people to actually be able to vote for who/what they want in an 'ideal scenario', but then to vote for the eventual 'realistic' options (same as today, just with more knowledge). Today's system wouldn't change much and most likely not the outcome as entrenched money and power will still rule the show, but more voices would be a huge boon for the public.

Obviously when we think third parties in the US we think Ross Perot and Ralph Nader. Both men made huge strides towards a more encompassing electorate choice. But the biggest legacy of them will be that no one will vote for a third party again as the 4% that voted for Nader brought possibly one of, if not the most polarizing political figure in recent memory to power. Most of that 4% would have been much happier with a democrat in power than a Republican, but there was no real option to express this productively then or now. As a result America got a president without a proper mandate as neither Bush nor Gore even had 50% of the American population's support, and more importantly we gained a lesson in 'wasting' a vote. This is a democratic disaster.

Think about the choices in front of us today. One or Two, Republican or Democrat. These two parties stand for and do certain specific things and look at specific issues in specific ways, but for the most part many of the views within each of those parties are ideologically opposed. What if you are a highly religious person and you believe strongly in compassion and social safety nets for the poor, the unemployed, and the otherwise less fortunate? The Republican platform does not allow for this as economically they espouse free markets, less governmental intervention, and decreasing federal programs (the same unemployment, health care, welfare, and other governmental programs that directly affect these people in need). And say you are an environmentalist and basing your desired policies on green initiatives, or a member of the working families party looking for stronger unionization and support for blue collar workers, neither party will stand up to corporate interests to really push for these policies. Maybe you want state ownership of some aspects of corporations – more revenue to the state and more governmental intervention in business. The Democrats don't support this, only greater expanse of state funded programs, not ownership. Simply put, democracy should be about all voices being heard and promoted, not activating people of like mind to vote in certain ways.

The bottom line is that someone that doesn't want any state intervention should be able to vote libertarian. Some one that is an environmentalist should be able to vote Green, a religious based political standpoint should have its own party. A socialist platform, an anarchist party, pick a political ideology and they should have an opportunity to cast their voice. We do not currently allow this. With two rounds of elections, people could vote for the issues and parties that they truly wanted in their hearts, and then for 'reality' in the second round.

Give us a multiparty system. It will allow for a greater understanding of the voices of the electorate. Now I know there are people that would be against it as their interests could suffer, parties could be splintered, and campaign funding be lost. There is also of course the concept of compromise and allegiances that would have to arise. But look at the system now, we simply have the choice between two dysfunctional and contradictory ideological and political machines. This is not democracy, it is a one or the other where both sides are so grossly influenced by special interests and me versus you, that there is no real dialog and no real time to think about what the people truly want.

Yes, it would be difficult to form alliances, but they would fall along present day lines for the most part. Republicans, religious parties and libertarians would form a coalition. Just as the Democrats, greens, and the working families party would. We'd get most of the same functionality, but with such a greater understanding of what it was that the actual electorate REALLY wanted, where their hearts really lay. What it was and who – if in a vacuum – the people would vote for, what issues they really cared about – not which compromise they felt more comfortable making. And this, compromising, should be left to the professional politicians – that's their jobs – not to the constituents and/or to democracy itself.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Freedom of the Press

The freedom of the Press seems to us to be an uncontestable right of society, especially if it is expected to be seen as 'free'.  But is this freedom really what we want?  think about all the things written on the internet, or in the media.  How much of it is disputed, or derided as partial, or incorrect?  Anyone can publish anything if they have the means, and it can then be read and believed by anyone, no matter as to its validity.

I have the freedom to write and say whatever it is that I want - truth or not.  Now of course there are laws that tell me I can't say certain things that harm people or slander them.  But what of concepts, of grey areas, or of the fact that this type of lawsuit may just be to late to change an oppinion already entrenched by the misinformation?  The bottom line is that in today's society if you have the money or the platform to print something, you can print whatever it is that you want.  It is great that the internet gives a platform to a poor person such as myself, but what is to say that what I am saying is fact or fiction, as both are subjective for the most part given point of views and perspectives.  This is no great threat to society as there are as of yet very few people reading this.  But think about it in terms of Fox News, MSNBC, and all of the other thousands of partisan publications and messages out there (think swift boats).  The bottom line is, that in my hands an observation - even when written online for anyone to see - does not have much power, but in the hands of someone with capabilities, money, and establishment these things can change the course of elections, the path of society, and public opinion.  Now of course I could subject myself to an investor and try to make my voice more visible, but then I become beholden to the investor's wishes.  Would I then be able to say things that ran against their principle profit maximizing motivation?  Which is likely a big part of why they have the ability to invest.

Freedom of the press is a wonderful thought, and it would work phenomenally if there were equal resources for everyone to promote their ideas.  But this is not the case, the system is actually set up in a way that those who have the financial means to publish can make their message heard.  However, those without the means, do not ever get their voices heard (at least not yet;).  This is not freedom of the press, I am not free to publish whatever I want.  I can't walk into a publishers house and say, ok, I want 20,000 copies of this book printed and destributed.  They either have to come find me and say my work is good (or good with certain 'changes'), or I can self publish at a huge price in both publishing and marketing.  This is freedom within the confines of capitalist economic constraints, not real freedom.  Within current day context this basically allows for people with money to get their voice heard and those without to most likely not, especially if it is not the type of message those in positions of power want heard and will fund. 

But the true kicker of all of this, is that even with this system, it doesn't say that any of the information being published has to truely be accurate.  I just saw a commercial about the republican senate victory in Massachusetts and said that as Massachusetts had 'government-run' health care, that this loss meant that Mass voters had "just said no" to this type of health care.  Now how is it possible to sum up an entire election in this one issue?  Like there was nothing else invovled? No unemployment, no economy, no candidate personalities, electoral funding, whatever.  This election wasn't performed in a vacuum, yet the freedom of the press allows an organization to project conclusions upon the national electorate (on CNN) that needless to say leave a little bit 'wanting'.  Yet, its unlikely anyone is going to take it off air.  More likely it is just going to promote an equally biased response from a democratic leaning organization.  Neither side is innocent.

Things certainly are going to get worse now that the supreme court has declared corporate money ok to use in elections.  Think of all that money spent 'freely' by people with specific agendas, and interests in twisting information towards their specific cause.  All the money in the world, and the freedom to print whatever it is that you want.  Dangerous.  And not going to help empower anyone but those who already have it.