What Can We Do?

Three mass shootings in two weeks. Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. All by angry white men with assault weapons. The media reports on it, the country grieves, flags are at half staff. We go about our lives wondering what the hell is happening, wondering what can be done, and no one does a goddamn thing. Words get tossed around: mental health, anger, fear, white supremacy, terrorism. Solutions are suggested, protests are staged, blame all around. And no one does a goddamn thing. We will go back to our lives, our jobs, saddened by our current state of affairs. And nothing will change.

The question of the hour: What can we do? I’ve heard plenty of ideas but almost no one is suggesting that we vote legislators out of congress who allow these shootings to continue. The ones who take money from the NRA as bribes for not voting for stricter gun laws. Our president uses fear and hate to divide us and surely this is part of the problem. Looking at the killers social media more than suggests that it is. Racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry contribute as well. Toxic masculinity from hundreds of years of raising boys to believe they should hide and fear their emotions. Hundreds of years of not talking about mental illness, of treating it as a taboo subject. You want to know what’s wrong? These things. These things right here.

“Don’t cry Bobby. Crying is for girls. Are you are girl? Well then, stop crying. Boys don’t cry.” Toxic masculinity. Countless millions of boys have been raised this way. To be tough, to be strong. To be stoic. Don’t let anyone know you feel terrible inside and whatever you do, don’t cry. Like adding pressure to an airtight bottle. Eventually it’s going to blow.

Fear. What are you afraid of? Well, if you’re American, you’re afraid of almost everything. Brown people, coming to take your jobs. Muslims, coming to take your God. LGBTQ people turning your children gay. Socialists coming to take your freedom. And when these fears are fed a steady diet of Trump and Fox News well, any thinking person can see what happens. And when our Congress refuses to act, refuses to do their jobs, it adds fuel to the fire. Like adding pressure to an airtight bottle. And when we refuse to demand that Congress does its job, that our president does his job, we are complicit. We are at fault.

There’s no point making a list, a “What can be done list.” There’s no point. We know what to do. We know what needs to be fixed. We were once a Democracy. Our country has become what we have allowed it to become. When you turn on the news and see another mass shooting, that’s your fault, and my fault. We have allowed this to happen. Through direct action or inaction, we have allowed our country to become what it is. No one I know of is suggesting this. No news agency, no individual writers that I have read are saying this is our own fault. Through our own action or inaction, it is. And we know how to fix it.

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Division

With all the news lately about our president and the GOP trying to divide the country by race, it has got me thinking about division. The conclusion I have come to is that we are in fact, a divided country, by choice. We are. The problem being, we don’t think about that very much. We think about the problems of racism, bigotry, homelessness, religious fundamentalism, and all the other things plaguing the U.S. today and many of us find it appalling, but are we not contributing to it ourselves? Do we in fact separate ourselves on purpose? I’m going to say we do, most of time unconsciously.

I am white. My ancestors were North and West European. French, German, Irish, Scottish, and a few others thrown in. Here’s how I have separated myself from others, not like me. Most of my friends are white. Most of my friends are straight, like me. Most of my personal friends are men, like me. None of my friends are homeless, or fundamentally religious, like me. Most of my friends are not big drinkers or partiers, like me. Most of my friends are liberals, like me. None of my friends are wealthy. The people that are my personal friends are mostly, like me. And most of my personal friends are also like me in these same ways. And their friends, and their friends are also mostly like them. We are a divided nation.

I have a few friends who are gay. I’ve had two or three friends who were black. I’ve never had a Native American friend. I’ve only casually known any Hispanic or Asian people. I don’t have any friends who are conservative politically. The fact is we gravitate to what is familiar, to what is comfortable. Because we like being comfortable. How many white people go to gatherings or party’s where most of the people are black? How many white people live in mostly black neighborhoods? How many of our friends are not born here? Most Muslim’s friends are Muslim. Most Christian’s friends are Christian. I could go on but I think you’ve got the picture.

We like being comfortable. We like the familiar. Not that we’re opposed to having friends who are different than us, we just don’t. We unconsciously separate ourselves into groups that are like ourselves. And I’m not picking on white people here. We all do it. The point I’m trying to make here is this: Do we in fact, contribute to the bigotry in our world by doing that? I don’t think I’m a bigot. I don’t hate or dislike people who are different than me, But I also don’t go out of my way to include a lot of people who are different than me. And I think a lot of people will find that they are like that too. So again, are we contributing to the bigotry that we see by being the way we are? Why don’t I have a lot of friends who are homeless? Why aren’t a bunch of my buddies heroin addicts? Why don’t I have a bunch of black friends? Why don’t I hang out with Muslims?

So when our president tries to separate us by race or religion or what ever else he tries, are we not already there? When he says that most of the immigrants coming through our Southern boarder are rapists and criminals, how many of them are close personal friends of mine so that I know he’s not telling the truth? This is why a lot of people fall for Trump’s rhetoric. Because they are separated from groups of people who are not like them enough that they don’t know that he’s full of shit. They don’t know that he’s using their ignorance of other people against them for political control. It wouldn’t take much to tip some people over the line from not thinking much about it to outright fear of others. A lot of people are already there.

I guess a solution would be to integrate our lives with the lives of people who are not like us. Get to know them better. The more you know, the less fear you have and fear is a great motivator. One thing our president is good at is manipulation. He knows exactly what you’re afraid of and how to use it against you. I don’t really know what kind of solutions will work best in trying to make a better world for us all but at least this gives you something to think about. If we can be honest with ourselves when we look at our lives deeper, we can find solutions.

Quality and Intelligence


I read an article today that informed me that Donald J Trump refuses to believe that climate change is real. Government climatologists have issued him reports and he chooses to ignore them. The president of the United States has at his disposal, the top minds in every scientific field there is, and he chooses to disbelieve them when they tell him we must do something about climate change. He doesn’t believe them because there are snow storms. He reasons, (if you want to call it that) that our atmosphere can’t be warming if we’re having snow storms.

One measure of the intelligence of a person is when they know, that there are lots of things they don’t know. I have a high school education and a two year Associate of Applied Science degree in Medical Laboratory Science. No Bachelors, no PhD, no Masters degree. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t know everything. I know that there are experts in thousands of fields of study who know infinitely more than I do. I know that virtually all climate scientists agree that climate change is real. How is it, that an average guy like me knows that climate change is real and we must do something about it, and our president doesn’t?

Jesse Venture, ex professional wrestler, was Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003. I voted for him. I got a lot of crap from quite a few people for admitting to that. The reasons I voted for him are many, but the single most important reason was this: He knew he didn’t know everything. He was smart enough to surround himself with really intelligent people who could help him get things done. Yes, he was a loud mouth. Yes, he said publicly, things he shouldn’t have said. But he was there, in the office, doing the job and listening to his advisors. It turns out, he wasn’t a bad governor. This is the difference between intelligence and non intelligence. Knowing you’re not the smartest person in the room.

But Donald J Trump is not really the problem. The problem is two fold. The first part of the problem is this: How could so many millions of people think that Trump would make a good president. The second part of the problem is having a Congress that has defended him and willingly aided and abetted everything he’s done. Many people I have talked to have said education is the answer. We must do a better job at educating people so they understand these things better. I agree that education is sorely lacking in the U.S. No doubt about it. But that in itself is not going to fix things. Many, if not all of our Congress people are highly educated. Trump himself has a college degree. Intelligence alone will not fix what’s wrong. Character, is what’s wrong with those who aid and abet President Trump. Simply, quality of character.

Robert M Pirsig, in his 1974 book, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote about quality. Quality for him, was the single most important issue of life. Quality in our words and deeds. When I read that book so many years ago, it really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. It made me realize that the quality of what we do, think, and say is as important that the things themselves. Striving for quality in our lives, even in something as simple as washing dishes or something very important like dealing with climate change should be a top priority. Unfortunately, we don’t have quality in our government, or our country. Tear gassing children, closing the borders to asylum seekers, doing nothing about climate change and the many, many other things our president and congress have done, or not done shows us all the low level of quality and intelligence that runs rampant through the halls of our government today. We need a higher standard. Every one of us needs to look at our lives, our words and deeds and do our best to improve their quality. And we need to use the intelligence and reason and common sense we have been given to make this country better for us all.