American Culture – American Heritage – American Policy

America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, yada, yada, yada. The U.S. of A.— it is a state of mind as much as it is a physical location. People from around the globe look at America (or used to) as a land of opportunity, a land of promise, a land where hopes and dreams were the equal of ways and means.  And we came to this existence honestly, sort of. While we have built this image on the backs of enslaved, indentured, and free: First Peoples, African, European, Asian, Hispanic, Arab, Indian, et al., and we have worked towards a more perfect union via pen and sword, we have left out many of our fellow Americans when it came to crafting inclusive policies. In this way, we have created, by design, a culture that today resembles the America of 1780 and 1870 and 1960 — and this is a problem. Culture doesn’t change overnight, and heritage, a central piece that comes from culture (both in theory and practice) tends to hold a more prominent position, at our American table, than the concepts of understanding and empathy — both historically and within current realities. If there is interest in changing that part of our culture that still views some Americans as “greater than” and some Americans as “less than” and many Americans as “other than”, we need to advocate for this change through policies and let our legislators know that current practices are not in keeping with the promises this nation was founded upon — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And by all “men”, we mean every American.

Let’s start with the policy piece of the puzzle. Policy — good, bad, or neutral, or all of the above, depending on whether you’re sitting at the table, serving the table, or unaware that a table exists, has dramatic effects on communities, and communities make-up the nation. Policies targeting financial, social, and environmental sectors can solidify the standing of one community while destroying the fabric of another. Whether the policies are created by government entities or private corporations is less important than the long-term effects that the policies will leave. In addition, policies have direct and long lasting impacts on culture and from culture we discover/construct heritage (a rather important concept within any population).

Starting at the beginning, before the 2nd Continental Congress convened, before Samuel Nicholas raised a Battalion of Marines, before Plymouth Rock, all the way back to the first permanent settlement, Jamestown (1607), that’s where we need to go to understand how we ended up “here“. The policies that defined America’s earliest trajectory were mostly concerned with hierarchy and land and “savages”. The policies that gave European emigrants the right to claim lands that were inhabited by Native People started us down a long path we can call the White-Superiority-Complex Highway (WSCH) (not to be confused with the Napoleon Complex). The new settlers believed themselves superior because of technology in the form of weapons, governmental structures, religious practices, dress, living accommodations, you name it. Natives were seen as savages and therefore “less than” the “superior” Europeans.

Just over a decade later, we find the first (as yet) verified instance of Africans being brought to Jamestown (the future America) in 1619. The fact that they wound up in Jamestown is not of little consequence as it presented the English with another lane on the WSCH (the beginnings of a super highway). The Africans were assumed to be savages, similar to the Indigenous peoples of the New World. And, because they were taken as slaves, by other Europeans, it was seen as a natural extension that they should hold a similar position to the other “savages” on the continent (chattel slavery developed over a couple of decades (via practice and policy), it wasn’t yet established at this time). This began the long and disastrous cultural solidifying of imagined superiority over all people with darker skin.

As chattel slavery took hold in the 13 Colonies, those who owned Africans, and other light-skinned Europeans in close geographic vicinity, used religion (a form of policy/doctrine from above) to justify their treatment of the enslaved people. Additionally, policies were created that required the enslaved to carry a pass, if they were traveling away from the plantation/farm where they lived (to mean going somewhere else to work, not vacation). This worked in the favor of those who wished to paint the “savages” as “child-like” and in constant need of adult supervision (mythology always has a backstory). Add to this the policies that made it a crime to teach the enslaved how to read and we can see how the WSCH was being reinforced through all possible avenues (picture Talladega with longer straightaways, that’s bad news). Even in parts of the colonies where slavery had not taken hold (which is not to say slavery was completely missing), the mythology of inferiority and savagery had made its way into most corners of the British holding.

Jump forward a century and look at the words that were placed in the U.S. Constitution for purposes of representation within Congress— Article 1- Section 2- Paragraph 3, it reads:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons”

… All other persons being the enslaved Africans. We codified the idea that enslaved individuals, Africans in this case, were really and truly “less than”; they were legally considered 3/5 of a White person (and also, chattel). And this was not some minor State or local law that might be changed in due time; this was the document that would go on to be the beacon for so many other nations who were fighting for their own freedom from tyranny, this is our founding document. At this point, White superiority was well established, the culture of America was very clearly a culture that made skin color the most significant aspect of whether or not an individual had any rights in the society (with gender and language/dialect playing various, if less important, roles as well). And in case anybody wasn’t entirely certain, the Dred Scott Supreme Court case (1857), reinforced this belief.

In the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that Africans were not considered the equal of any White person. Chief Justice Taney wrote the following in his opinion for the majority:

“They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

Taney also states, in reference to the United States Constitution,

“It then proceeds to say: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’

“The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration; for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.”

Think about the meaning of that. Think about the arguments that are still used in modern times by those who don’t understand the deranged inanity of such an ignorant statement. Think about what you believe and what you learned from your family and community—how does that compare with what I’m writing about here?

This case was decided just 3 years before South Carolina seceded from the Union. With each new State that joined the ranks of the Confederacy, the presumption of war became more real. Here to, amongst the ranks of the Southern “gentlemen”, we find literature that supports policy measures and practices meant to retain the “superior race” in a position of power (and this is where the heritage piece starts to show up most prominently, never mind that the heritage we’re referring to is tied to the Confederate States of America, not the Good Ole U.S. of A.). By this point, the WSCH had become a super highway from Maine to Florida; and several spurs had now been constructed running to all points (South)West, Midwest, and Northwest, and included not just the Black and Native peoples, but the Chinese and the Mexicans. Our transcontinental WSCH was nearly complete. We would “welcome” new immigrants and refugees in the coming century and provide them with similar treatment (South Asian, Southern European, Middle Eastern, et al.). Our culture was fully ingrained with Whiteness as the baseline against which all else would be measured. But we weren’t done yet.

War commenced between the States (1861) and the North was victorious, and everything was good, right? No, not right. For a period of about a decade, the Federal Govt. did it’s best to impose some semblance of what they thought normalcy should look like in the New South. There were some advances with the election of Black men to both State and Federal positions; but all told, the experiment didn’t work so well. And, and this is a BIG AND, the 13th Amendment, you know, the one that outlawed slavery? Well, it didn’t entirely outlaw the practice. Exceptions were made for those citizens (read: formerly enslaved) who were “running afoul” of the law (here, read: walking while Black, not showing proper deference/respect to a White person, or any actual criminal activity). The 13th amendment is the single most important piece of policy in respect to White America’s improper and unwarranted fear of and disrespect towards, People of Color. This policy catastrophe (“…except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…”) has resulted in a rapid expansion of America’s biggest shit-show, a.k.a. media exploitation of Black “criminality”; and it’s driven largely by the uber-conservative far-right of the GOP but it affects everyone’s ability to rationally think about “race” in America. Hence, current cultural norms being what they are, in vast sections of the country, don’t really seem so strange. Anyway, exit the Federal Government (1877), enter the State and local Legislators and the Black Codes.

The Black Codes were a new set of laws/policy measures meant to restrict the Freedmen’s ability to fully engage with/participate in the larger society. The former Confederacy had acted quickly to implement these laws but with Reconstruction happening concurrently, most had to be put on hold, to a degree, until Uncle SAM headed North. And then, posthaste, Jim Crow introduced his-self, lynch-law (a de facto policy that made kangaroo courts appear perfectly right and proper) took the place of the faux court proceedings that were used during Reconstruction, and just like that, we had concocted a brand new America that looked an awful lot like the ante-bellum nation of a few decades prior (Make The South Great Again, I guess…). With no means of changing policy (because their voting rights had been removed) and the constant threat of being caught up by a lynch mob (for any number of reasons, to include “that kinda looks like the guy that whistled at my girl” – sound familiar America?), African Americans (and all other Communities of Color) have continued to be perceived more negatively, over time, than what reality warrants.

The final policies to consider (and this is by no means an exhaustive list), which include those enacted between the 1930s and today, are connected to the types of systemic racism that are less easily seen, but are no less destructive in their methods. Redlining (the practice of preventing people from buying homes in particular neighborhoods—White neighborhoods specifically);  gerrymandering so as to make some people’s votes (this would be, of course, People of Color, largely) less important in state and local elections; both the intent and the implementation of drug laws; and the policies that have kept more poorly funded schools from receiving the equitable funding that could help diminish the equality and educational achievement gap, on several fronts.

So that’s how the policies of America have worked to create a culture that believes in the mythology of White superiority/supremacy (even while “borrowing” in perpetuity, from Communities of Color to make American culture, on the whole, much more Afro/LatinX/Asian-centric than most White people would like to admit). Think about what all of this means, think about how the combination of these policies, for centuries, have created an atmosphere of animus towards/fear of People of Color while simultaneously working to prevent Communities of Color from building wealth in the same ways that White communities have done. From health outcomes, to finance, and from environmental impacts to social stigmatizing, this norming of White superiority has had detrimental effects on our nation’s social, economic, and environmental spheres. To say that America doesn’t have a White supremacy problem is to ignore all of our history. And while it is not necessary to personally buy-in to the cultural norm in order to benefit from it, to pretend it doesn’t exist does nothing to address the issue.

Finally, the discussion of the heritage piece of this matter. We are… still… dealing with the idea of Southern heritage as American heritage, in relation to statues and flags and White power and all that mess. While it is true that the Confederates who fought against America were Americans prior to and immediately after the Civil War, in theory, if not practice, the hatred for “Yankees” and anyone else who might’ve tried to tell “Johnny Reb” that s/he must treat Black Americans as equals, remained particularly intense for more than 100 years. That feeling remains ingrained in certain individuals and communities in 2017.  And before you tell yourself that this small contingent of White supremacists (read: ignoramus maximi) is not fully representative of the larger White community (which I would agree with), consider the number of White folks who were willing to remain silent and those who went so far as to mention the 1st amendment to promote the Nazi’s right to march (in Charlottesville) with those flags, chant those words, and generally make a mockery of everything that the original anti-fascists fought against.

We cannot, I repeat, CAN NOT, expect the election of 1 Black President (2 times) to change hundreds of years of blatant racist policy and misinformation. The spreading of lies, by ill informed (and sometimes just plain stupid) individuals and corporations, will require at least 100 years to counteract. I believe the work has started but not all that long ago. Heritage, being what it is, will remain a barrier to those who fight against Confederate ideology and the symbols/heroes who represent that era. We could have 10,000 Black & Native & Hispanic elected officials, at every level of Local, State, & Federal GOVT, for the next half century, and still find White supremacist/superiority literature and beliefs littering our nation’s Byways.  We can change this trajectory but we can’t do it overnight, and we can’t do it without a majority of people raising their voices in unison.

So how do we make this change, you ask? It starts with talking, something too many are still afraid of. Conversations revolving around America’s ugly past  must become commonplace and they absolutely have to strike nerves and be uncomfortable. Once we can move past the difficulty of addressing the issue, we can get down to fixing it. Considering we’ve been able to do this, on a smaller, and less vitriolic (consider the context), scale, with the Irish, the Italians, Jews, and other groups who were initially seen as outsiders and “others”. I believe we can do it, it’s only a matter of IF we will do it.

Conversations lead to political action. Political action has the capacity to become policy. Policy is what got us into this mess, policy will get us out. Policies that address the systemic inequalities and inequities that we have allowed to continue since the 1600s can be reversed. Investing, rather than divesting, in inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities of Color, and in affordable housing, is a good place to start. Concurrently, provide incentives for private industry to invest in these same communities which will provide stability in the short term and opportunities to build wealth and roots in the long term. Encourage cross-sector, cross-state, cross-boundary (urban-rural) partnerships. Get creative, that’s the future of our macro economy. Creativity has always played a major role but that role is increasing exponentially with each passing day.

It only takes 1 person to start the cultural, political, social change, that will move us out of the past centuries and into the future. When police are able to choke a man to death, as he gasps for air and hoarsely whispers, “I can’t breathe”, and we don’t hold them accountable; or they drive up on a child who is playing with a toy gun in a park (as millions of other children have done for a century or more), jump out of a squad car and shoot him without bothering to ask what he was doing, and not be held accountable, we have policy issues that need to be addressed. We have a nation that needs to project a voice that is clear and confident and forceful and which tells those in charge, one more minute is 60 seconds too long.

Policies influence culture, culture shapes heritage, heritage is used as a symbol to protect what is being lost. America’s heritage is not built solely on the false narrative of White superiority, but that idea gets far more attention than it deserves. White supremacy and superiority is a fallacy that needs to die. America was not founded as a place for White people to reign supreme, nor was it built by the toil of White labor alone. Without the multitude of diverse voices and colors working together, we do not achieve the status of SuperPower, the status we still hold, if only for a while. Without the contributions of the multitudes, we are Atlantis, a great story that provides fairy tale material but no actual contribution to our global community. Without new and dynamic policies that address our greatest sins, we will most certainly go down in history as the greatest nation to ever fail. Let’s not fail, not here, not now.

Stop Hating on Millennials

I’m done listening to older generations bitch about Millennials (born 1981-2000). It’s time to take stock of a few items that apparently have gone unnoticed by some Gen X-ers (my generation) & Baby Boomers. For ease of reading, I’ll use numerals and letters, easier to refer back to for “older folks” ;).

  1. The majority of these young folks have come into adulthood in the years just preceding and following 9/11. If you think that they were less affected because they were too young to understand the magnitude of that event, think again. If you think they would be able to shake off the feelings in a few years, forgetting how much our society changed on that day, you’re wrong. If you think the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq wouldn’t mean much to those who didn’t actually step foot on the battlefield, guess again. They have experienced just as much psychological stress as the rest of us, if not more. Their lives changed in dramatic ways just as they were supposed to be solidifying a trajectory for adulthood. And yes, many of us have individually gone through major changes, difficulties, chaos, but as a generational experience, this was pretty huge.
  2. They were implored to get all the education they could get. They had to be able to compete on a global stage, they needed to spend countless hours studying so that they might score high enough on the ACT/SAT to get into the best college with the best programs (and this is where we see the rapid increase in the segregating of the students into “tracks”, another issue that affected them intergenerationally). They were pushed not just to succeed but to excel, they had to be the best, or at least amongst the best. Simultaneously, they were being introduced to all the new technologies of the day and told they must learn how It works because It is the future. The stress that this placed upon them was immense.
  3. Not everyone went to college, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t getting smart as well. Rigor was part of the K-12 program; and along with the life events they experienced, they received the best public education that our country had ever offered. So in addition to the smarty pants’ who were getting a B.A./B.S. there were a lot of intelligent young people with a high school diploma running around the country. This did help them, initially, the mid to late 1990’s offered a pretty strong job market and gave this group hope that the future held the same promise for them that it did for their parents and grandparents. If only they knew what was coming.
  4. College costs: Along with getting as much out of high school as they could, they were strongly encouraged to get a college degree. I don’t think everybody needed/needs a college degree but in today’s world, some sort of degree (2-year, 4-year, graduate, etc) is more often required for many jobs, so they did. If college costs had risen at rates that were similar to the rest of our consumer goods, they would have been ok, but that wasn’t the case. Between 1980 and 2014 the average cost of tuition at a 4 year institution rose by 260 percent. That’s a lot of dough. So they coughed it up, or more likely, borrowed it. Not a big deal though, because in America, we can count on economic growth like we experienced in the 1990s, with the job market doing great, no worries—except, that didn’t last.
  5. After 9/11, Congress backed George W. Bushes plan to cut taxes (2003), his second big tax reduction and this one while two wars were being waged. The stupidity of such an act belies the common sense of a fifth grader. This was not the kind of thing that would benefit a forthcoming generation (skyrocketing deficits and all).
  6. The economy stagnated as did job growth in the Bush (43) era, until it stopped stagnating, and the bottom fell out. The housing market is most certainly a significant factor in this episode and its long-term consequences are still being felt today. Many Millennials are nervous about investing in a home as they can’t say for sure that:   A) it’s a good investment  B) not to mention their student loans C) and many are working jobs that are long on benefits (like free pizza fridays) but short on actual wages, and D) depending on location, there may not be a whole lot of affordable housing (rentals) which tends to have an effect on previously affordable homes (drives prices up).
  7. Jobs: What happened to all the jobs. Well, in addition to the economy collapsing in 2007…’08…’09… We lost a lot of jobs in the prior 25 years. Some businesses wanted to take advantage of cheaper labor overseas. Some needed to downsize or rightsize to account for market trends and new technology. Others found newer, more efficient methods and were able to increase productivity without increasing payroll (also known as: hey, I got new responsibilities (formerly Ted’s responsibilities), and without a pay raise, woo-hoo, they must really like me!).
  8. Speaking of student loans (4,6-B), this is one area that the government could most certainly do something about. It is in the best interest of everyone to have an electorate that is well educated (regardless of what type of work you do, you should be smart about it). Student loan interest rates, via Federal loan programs are currently set between 3.76% – 6.31%, and private loans can be several percentage points higher. Decreasing these rates to 1.5% – 3% would go a long way to cutting down on the total cost and the length of time required to pay back the loans, which means more money into the local economies, more money into savings/retirement, more money into the kids/grandkids college savings accounts. Having large debt, at a young age, is stressful; and more stressful when the good paying jobs are in short order.
  9. Student loans part II, or college tuition: Colleges need to keep the lights on, pay the professors, grounds and maintenance engineers, purchase the newest equipment (especially important in healthcare, manufacturing, computer technology, and aerospace courses), provide some sort of space for living, congregating, studying, and building camaraderie; but many schools have gone overboard on the extra amenities for the sake of attracting the “best & brightest”. This, along with bloated administrations and ridiculous salaries for the coaches of the ball teams, leads to costs being outlandish. And it would be easy to argue that it’s all worth it, if we still lived in an era of plenty; plenty-o-jobs, plent-o-salary, plenty-o-benefits, plenty-o-help for those in need, but that’s just not the world we’re living in.
  10. The perfect storm of the aforementioned crash of the U.S. economy (6), the housing market bubble popping (6), the loss of jobs over the prior 25 years (7), and student loan debts/college costs quickly rising (4,6-B,8,9) all helped lead us to where we are now. It’s a very different world than the one “we” grew up in, and their path getting here has been riddled with potholes, plagues, and sandstorms, different from the ones we experienced.

Here’s the deal. Every generation hears from previous generations about how much easier the youngens have it, how much tougher the older generations are, how today’s youth whine too much, don’t do this right, don’t do that right, and generally screw up the country. It’s not true, none of it. While we can say that the older generations have done a lot of good things, they/we have f*cked up plenty as well.

So back off the young folk. Don’t get mad when they get “all smart” on you. It’s not their fault that they spent so  much time preparing to do battle with the world’s smartest Millennials. Give them some credit for handling all the stress they’ve been dealt and moving forward in a way that makes sense for their future, not ours. Each generation does what it sees fit to best accomplish longevity for the herd, they are no different; they are finding their own way. As Jeanine Tesori said:

“If you’re doing something new there is always a sense of fear or foreboding but you’re in new ground and you have to get out your machete and cut a new path”

Ever Forward Millennials, just like the rest of us.

Change is part of our internal struggle, while difficult, it is necessary.
Change is part of our internal struggle, while difficult, it is necessary.

Rugged Individualism: It’s Not Really So Real

There is a myth that persists in our society, a myth that the rugged individual (RI)(read: male, usually White, tough, rough, “self-made man“, does it “his way”; think – John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Indiana Jones, Donald Trump, George W. Bush, and the Marlboro Man) is the one who gets things done and makes our country the military, economic, and “moral” superpower it is. He explores new places or ideas, fights the “good fight”, goes his own way & finds success, and usually saves the day—in one way or another. He is the reason, some believe, that America is great. He is also the role model for those who wish to remake America in his image (that is to say, without government policies that intervene in social or economic affairs—for the most part). They say that this RI personality trait lies within the social fabric of American society, it’s part of “our” DNA. The only problem with this kind of thinking, is that it’s leaving out 95% of the story, and anyone who is not of the male gender.

The other 95% of the story tells of how these tough guys were often raised by families that cared about their physical, mental, and likely spiritual, well being. Additionally, they were raised in communities (be it rural, urban, or the netherworld that lies between) where neighbors helped neighbors, believing in the notion that the whole is greater than any individual part. Without this solid foundation upon which they were raised (that the well-being of the local polity and its constituents take precedent over any one individual), it is doubtful that the more interesting 5% of their story would ever occur.

It should also be pointed out that rugged individualism, the American type, is not exclusively practiced by the male species nor dominated by the descendants of European Americans; men & women of all ethnicities have practiced some form or another of this character trait ever since our continent was first inhabited by Native Peoples more than 10,000 years ago.

Whether the communities that raise these RIs chose to act in a collective manner because of the biblical teachings they heard on Sunday’s, or because they knew that their community was stronger if every person was healthy, educated (in whatever professions were important to the continued existence of their inhabitants) and engaged in furthering the group’s well being, they worked together for the common good. This fraternal style of living arrangement does not preclude any RI from performing heroic acts, or spending long, lonely, hours developing a plan/model for a new venture; but at the end of the day, the solo acts are only one small part of the lived experience of every individual’s greater existence. The ongoing support from friends, family, neighbors, teachers, community, et al. is far more important in any success achieved by “The Great One”, and in the telling of the full story. And this is where some of Americas’ Great Divides have their beginnings.

The real history of our great country is not one of solo actors daring to be great, but rather communal actors being supported in their not truly individual endeavors. While the period of the Columbian Exchange and beyond was filled with the efforts of many capable sailors and crew, we only know the names of the ships’ Captains; they are given all the credit for traversing the oceans and seas.  Similarly, those brave souls who took their wagons Westward are only remembered by their family, or towns for which they are a namesake (the Donner Party exempted), yet the first Governor of each state is prominently displayed on public schools and other buildings/parks/etc. Civil War buffs remember that General George Pickett showed extreme bravery when he led his men into certain slaughter on day 3 at Gettysburg, but those thousands of men who followed Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble, also showed extreme bravery by marching into an open field— knowing the Union Army waited 3/4 of a mile ahead. Certainly, we cannot hope to remember the names of every person who has aided in every successful venture, but neither should we fail to recognize the importance of all those hands that helped to make events possible.

On the one side, the pro RI side, we have people arguing that individuals, not the government, are responsible for taking care of themselves. Whether “care” entails work, medical needs, 2nd amendment rights, education, or basic needs (food, shelter, safety), they argue that individuals should bear the burden of providing for themselves. These folks are more prone to argue for policies that decrease: government oversight generally, business & banking regulations, and taxes.

The other extreme is the far left-end of a socialist-style system (which is very different from a liberal progressive form of gov’t.). Governance of this sort provides many, if not all, of the necessities that people need to survive, though not necessarily thrive; from free or subsidized food and shelter, to healthcare, education, and employment. This extreme doesn’t find much support in the U.S. Neither of these systems, as is, are particularly useful in a modern economy, but they both offer ideas that could, through skillful compromise and some tweaking, be used for the greater good. Compromise, however, according to Cadillac (ads by Publicis Worldwide) and Elbert Hubbard, is for weak men. I would disagree with this premise, as would any wise politician hoping to gain passage of a controversial piece of legislation.

In between the far left and the far right are a wide variety of political ideologies, belief systems, and traditions that dictate, to some extent, regional and personal mores, values, and norms. While it is likely that we (our collective society) agree on far more than we disagree on, some “choose” (aided by various forms of media) to focus on those issues that divide us. The divisive list includes: Roe -v- Wade, 2nd Amendment, proper role of government(s), social insurance & social welfare programs, military spending, role of Christianity in schools/society/gov’t, immigration, minimum wage and the wealth gap (ideal and actual), social justice, and marriage equality. This seems like a big list of very important issues, and it is. But it’s not bigger than the list of items that we accomplish every day.

Work (paid and unpaid), caring for family, keeping up our homes, preparing meals, supporting others (mentally, physically, emotionally), taking care of the self, remembering to be nice to people (because one never knows what another is going through), volunteering, and learning, are accomplishments that many people successfully conquer, daily. So why do we insist on arguing about topics that are not of great enough import to get a majority of us to the polls on election day? (I believe they are important enough, but our national voting record tells me I am in the minority).

Part of the problem stems from our lack of understanding each other. We interact with and live amongst people, with whom we share commonalities. This serves to reinforce our beliefs and polarize those who dare to think differently. When we are continually told that our beliefs are right/correct/valid, and we hear the vitriol directed at those with other ideas, it’s natural to assume that “those people” have it wrong. But what if they don’t? Or, what if they do but don’t know it, because no one is willing to engage in civil conversations to understand another perspective. Or, what if the truth lies somewhere in the middle (like the suburbs)? And what about the RIs who claim that all sides have it wrong and that we should rebel against all government action and fend for ourselves (while surrounded by 500 friends and family members, a whole crew of RIs)?

This calls for conversations. Real conversations, one-to-one, face-to-face, “a” to “b”, you get the picture. These conversations take time, and courage, and sometimes cold beer(s). But this is the best way to learn about our differences, our fellow citizens, our brother and sisters, our countrymen/women and those with whom we share so much yet know so little about. Urban and rural people need to connect and learn why each feels the way they do about gun control and gun rights; it’s not as simple as one might think. Republicans and Democrats could learn a lot from talking to each other about the employment, economic, and moral dilemmas that come with income inequality and the pro’s and con’s of unions. Children of privilege could gain new insights into the power of words by talking with Ta’Nehisi Coates. And those Americans in positions of power and/or with greater wealth could speak with folks in middle and lower socio-economic communities and “get in touch” with what it’s like to not be wealthy; possibly giving them pause before spouting off about the minimum wage being one of the Democrats’ lame ideas .

Policies that promote individual risk and reward (such as deregulation of the banking and business sectors or tax cuts that do more for those at the top than those at the bottom) over the needs of the greater society are responsible, by and large, for many of our current economic issues. When more of the wealth (which is finite) is concentrated in the pockets of fewer individuals, it serves to depress an economy. The concept is not complex; if you have less money, you will spend what you have in order to survive and support anyone that depends on you. If you have more money (a lot more), you will invest it, or stash it offshore, or play other sorts of games to keep from paying taxes. Money that is hidden is not helping our economy; money that is spent in local businesses, whether on french fries, fuel, or fixtures for the kitchen, is contributing to the supply and demand cycle that economies rely on.

We have come to this point in our nation’s history (vast economic inequity) in part by crediting individuals with making America what it is today rather than talking about nation-building as an effort undertaken by all of us: enslaved Africans & African Americans; construction, industrial, & agricultural workers; miners; lumberjacks; fishermen/women; teachers; engineers; volunteers; men & women of the Armed Forces; bakers & brewers; salespeople, I.T. professionals, athletes, public servants, thespians & artists of all types, and all the other Americans and immigrants who have taken part in building our country, should be recognized for their substantial efforts in making America the country it is. By placing the elite on a pedestal, we have given them carte blanche to do as they please in all matters financially, legally, and politically; and they have done what is in their best interest, made money for themselves and their friends and left everyone else standing on the far side of the moat.

I don’t begrudge anybody from trying to make money. Money is not the issue; the issue lies in the mindset that those who are the most successful have achieved their goals through nothing more than their own hard work, tenacity, and sheer brilliance, choosing to ignore all the people that have played a role in them reaching their zenith (which tends to lead to less sharing of that created wealth).

While individuals accomplish goals everyday: open businesses, graduate from college, get promoted, win a wrestling tournament, write a book, etc., etc.,;  they don’t do it without the support of their extended family/community. Be it financial, mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual, they are supported by many people from the various contacts they have made. Additionally, they are encouraged/motivated by loved ones; AND, the Local, State, and/or Federal government(s) provided services (e.g. infrastructure, emergency services/first responders, disaster relief, education, possibly tax breaks, grants & loans, and much much more) that allowed them to focus on achieving their goal.

Rugged individualism is not a myth, but neither is it the whole story. Some people have the innate ability to rise up and conquer whatever is thrown at them. This doesn’t happen through DNA alone, it is a skill that is first learned, then honed, and eventually ready to be used. It only exists because s/he had the opportunity to learn and the time to hone, and finally, the access to a place where using it offers the potential of reaping great rewards.

Leif Erikson—Rugged Viking type, got by with a lot of help from his friends
Leif Erikson—Rugged Viking type, got by with a lot of help from his friends

If you’re interested in exploring the political relationship between public and private actors and how policy actions shape societies, read Deborah Stone’s Policy Paradox. This book lays out some of the major issues that policy makers have to deal with when considering new policies and the communities they affect.

A few political cartoons about rugged individualism: AlaskaMedia production; RI

Eating to Live and Living to Eat

Ham ‘n’ havarti between pumpkin waffles with butternut squash soup and 3 bean mélange

 

Food, next to oxygen and hydrogen, is the human races’ most important survival need. A great deal of attention is paid to the foods we eat, the foods we try not to eat, the policies that dictate food production, safety standards, and labeling requirements, and the differing agricultural practices used by small family farms, medium size production sites, and large agribusiness facilities. We count calories and fat and protein and fiber, or we don’t; and we often think about eating healthier—and sometimes we do. But at the end of the day, we eat to sustain our existence; and, if we’re lucky, the foods we enjoy not only provide us with the necessary nutrients to preserve life, but also bring us joy through the flavors, colors, and aromas, that envelop each culinary delight.

One of the more recent trends in the food world (really taking off in the past five years) is the return to local sourcing, specifically with farms that engage in organic and sustainable practices. Restaurants featuring regional fare, school districts working with local producers, and increasing numbers of farmers markets, are all proof that people are 1) demanding food and beverage options that originate in their state or region, 2) are produced on farms that use sustainable and organic or biodynamic practices, and 3) are not just talking the environmental (social entrepreneur) talk, but walking the conservationist/land steward walk.

Amongst grocers, Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this movement. They were the first major grocery chain to be certified organic (2003) and they have been promoting natural and sustainable farming practices since they opened in 1980. They implemented an animal welfare rating system to provide consumers with background information about where Whole Foods sources meat and seafood and how the animals were raised/treated.

The grocer’s most recent policy change comes in the form of a rating system for produce and flowers. NPR produced a piece about this on Morning Edition (12 June 2015). Some organic farmers are upset because they don’t agree with the way Whole Foods is grading their farming practices. These farmers believe that being certified organic is in and of itself a very useful, and adequate, measure of how a farm is operating.

Whole Foods, however, didn’t incorporate the new system as another means of showing off their commitment to organic farming practices; rather, this initiative is intended to highlight those operators (organic & conventional) that are being good stewards of the land. Practices that are not included in organic certification, such as “water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, [and] waste management” are extremely important to the long-term health of rural eco-systems and the people who work the land (Charles, 2015). This appears, from an outsiders perspective (namely mine), to be aimed at conserving our resources, rather than simply ensuring no pesticides were used. Both ideas, organic production and growing in an eco-friendly responsible manner, should be the goal of anyone interested in sustainability.

The issue of conservation and land stewardship is directly related to the interconnected ideas of eating to live & living to eat. When we choose to buy food and drink that is grown and produced locally, using practices that support the welfare of the land and the farmers, we are choosing to invest in our future and our health (and the health of those we cook for). Furthermore, we have to eat, physiologically speaking; so why not support the local/regional economy when possible. And, as an added bonus, we get to indulge in the amazing flavors that are found in the grains (local craft beer), fruits, and vegetables, that don’t require additives and preservatives to stabilize them for their extended shelf life.

Eating to live comes from necessity. Living to eat comes from those food experiences that we didn’t know were possible—until we savored just picked sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes from the garden, or blueberries plucked from a bush. Support your local farmers, brewers et al., and purveyors of all things connected to your extended neighborhood.

Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!
Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!