I always thought it was me. I must be missing something. I think I honestly believed that everyone was coming from a place of good hearted intention. That this whole separation of business and relationship, the politicization and bureacuratization that inevitably accompanies change, was being run by reasonable, educated people with everyone's best interests at heart.
I believed that, and I was not without evidence. But as each shard of evidence was stripped away before my eyes, because it was "good for business," I found myself floundering to understand the context of decision making if everyone had everyone's best interest at heart. So I did what I always do - I studied the environment. I did an MBA. I'm proud to say I graduated with the highest GPA in my graduating class across all MBA programs.
And I came to understand that I hadn't misunderstood at all. Something had gone off kilter and it didn't have everyone's best interest at heart, just some people's. That's exactly how it is, attempts to obfuscate and mitigate aside. We somehow came to think that we are only responsible for our half of the negotiation, when the reality for people on the ground is very, very different from that. We try to run our systems for what we wish humans were or what we want them to be, rather than for what they are. We use humans as machines in a massive-scale machine called The Economy, and we treat them like scrap when we're done with them. The same goes for all the natural resources our governments and large, multi-national corporations collude to exploit.
It's just like that.
When I was a small child, I saw road construction, and noticed some ducks nearby. I remember realizing that the ducks' home was being destroyed. I asked my mother.
"Oh, they'll just move somewhere else," was her reply. Even then, I knew that couldn't always be the answer, that eventually they'd have nowhere to go. Even then I wondered if it wasn't, somehow...wrong, to put human needs so far in first place.
I didn't need an MBA to tell me. I already knew.
Now that I know what I've always known...what do I do now?
I admit it. I'm bothered when I see Muslim women with their heads covered. It feels like it offends the core of my being. And why should it? Why should their choice make any difference to me, any more than gay marriage should matter to straight people?
Here's the take (however incomplete) that drives me to discomfort.
Men see women's sexuality as a threat. They know that even their strongest resolutions have trouble standing up against the promise of sex, a "woman's wiles". It's how they're built, from a purely "body" perspective. It's their achilles heel, a weakness they share with our ancient ancestors. Men get distracted by thoughts of sex. Biological, beyond reason, beyond will. It's a primal power that many have not even mastered, as displayed through violence, displays of anger, jealousy, and yes, catcalling and harassing women. Seeing women's pretty hair, round breasts, bum cheeks, etc. distracts men from their purpose, whatever that is. If they haven't taught themselves to look beyond it, to find the humanity and connect in a non-sexual space, being asked to do so can be very difficult.
Some men expect women to cover for their weakness. They expect women to keep their own power diminished, their sexuality hidden, so the men won't be offended by the reminder that women hold power over them. They expect women to take responsibility for men's sexuality and lack of control over it by removing the temptation, regardless of how headgear or burkhas affect the woman's human life experience.
Seeing women covered only reminds me of how weak men can be.
It reminds me that entire factions of people regard men's lack of control as women's problem. It reminds me of how far we have to go before a woman's human experience is as important in the world as a man's. How far we are from the social equality that peace demands. It reminds me that power over is not the same as power to.
I wonder if women are doing men a favour by covering themselves. Perhaps they pity the men for their weakness, take pity on them by downplaying their sexuality and reinforcing the men's sense of power. In that case, the practice is condescending at best.
Or maybe women cover because they don't want to be seen in a sexual way. Because they are sick and tired (read: I am sick and tired) of being ogled, of not being taken seriously, of being seen as a woman first and human second, of worrying whether a man's sexuality has been triggered by their very presence. Maybe covering is a way to take back power, to say, you may not look at my body in a sexual way. Look at my eyes, that is all you can see and all you need to see. If this is the case, it's still giving men very little credit.
I have experienced conversations with many, many men who did not let my woman-ness interfere with our discourse. I know they are capable of putting aside the biological imperative. I know they can talk with me, aware that my body is female, and let that awareness sink and fade away by giving attention to the work we are doing together, the conversation we are having as humans together on Earth at the same moment and place. That is their responsibility. I expect it from them, and every day, men deliver. They are masters of themselves. They are not so weak, when they choose.
So then it comes back to a God. Did a God tell women that we have to cover ourselves? Some say yes, some say no. I have trouble believing that anything as immense as a God would get into the details of such things, and if a God did, it was probably in response to the men's weakness more than the women's modesty. In fact, if a God did specifically say women had to cover, I think that God should change Her/His mind, and I'd like the chance to be heard if that God is taking any class action hearings on the matter. I don't choose to obey, even if I believed, because I don't accept that it's my responsibility to diminish my woman-ness in order to achieve equal consideration.
I've talked with several amazing Muslim women, some of whom cover, and some who don't. I've worked to try to understand. Largely, they tell me, the choice is culturally comfortable. It's like if I moved to California and suddenly everyone was pressuring me to wear a bikini. I am not comfortable being that close to naked. They are not comfortable being as close to naked as I am in my everyday clothes and uncovered hair. As a bonus, covering meets their cultural and religious norms. They cover because they choose to. I do understand that.
I just don't like it. And I don't like that I don't like it, but, here I am.
Life is serious business
It’s dog-eat-dog out there
There’s no time for lallygagging
Life is serious business.
But I say, 2013, that it doesn’t need to be.
We can live in a la-di-da paradise world where people cooperate in peace and harmony, mediating their problems with reason and compassion, where every human life pursues its path to glory and all the shit jobs are done by robots.
So now all the serious people are ready to stop reading. Fairy tale worlds are not for grownups. There are harsh realities, tangled complexities, power and human nature to contend with. Global warming, economic recession, unemployment, environmental destruction, religious fundamentalism, vampires…wait, not vampires. Unless you really think about it.
Life’s consumptive nature does pose interesting challenges to the pursuit of a pure heart (the primary goal Hollywood has spelled out for us). Food, water, oxygen, belonging, sunshine – our bodily needs, and the basic insecurity to life they create on an hourly basis, rot away trust, breed fear and enslave us to the powers of evil men.
Evil men. I’ll say it, and I’ll say it again, because this might not be a fairy tale but we are, each and every one of us, bit players in the stories that real human beings are creating. Except when we’re not. But I’ll get to that.
Let’s start again.
Have you noticed how stressed out everyone is? How busy? Do you see the scared-rabbit look in their eyes when you ask them how they are? People are secretly wigging out, all over the place, under the pressure of stress.
Stress comes from the necessity for consumption. We are consuming creatures. Chomp, chomp, chomp. Which breeds mistrust, which…wait, we’re back to the Evil Men. Damn.
Well, there it is. We could spend all day explaining how they got evil, how they are a byproduct of the socio-economic bla bla bla, but here is the truth: some people see their lives as a quest to accumulate private ownership of as much of the earth’s resources as they possibly can, even if it means taking the entire down planet with them.
Many don’t even know they are evil. The reality where they live has its own laws of nature, which disallow any argument that presumes collective responsibility. What makes them dangerous is the limitations on their thinking parameters, and their devotion to a particular gambling ring we call the stock market. No, wait. What makes them dangerous is that they control most of the world’s resources. Right. The stuff of a good apocalypse story.
For whatever reasons, these naïve, Evil Men are as blind to inherent collective responsibility as a colour-blind person might be to blue. They cannot see beyond the rules of the game they define. They are disabled, deficient, lacking in the collective sense. Many now realize this and are seeking relief through donation and charity. I believe they can be taught how to value more than they do today. Even the most far gone sufferers. I believe it’s possible, over time, over generations, in 200 years, in a thousand.
By chipping away, throwing pebbles, making little cracks in the armour. Then rushing in with collective will. We win the way all the great fantasy underdogs win, with spirit and valour and fine guerrilla tactics. We open up spaces for love to rehabilitate. First we turn the ship back in the direction that values collective responsibility, then we haggle over the hows and whats. Right now, we’re pointed straight for the waterfall drop.
When governments pass more policy that only enables inequality, I hear some people wonder how they can be so blind. They point to the research that shows all the social ills associated with inequality. They wonder if the government is unaware, or stupid. They expect that governments want to do the right thing but have the wrong ideas about how to go about that.
This expectation has failed the test of experience.
What is becoming increasingly clear to me is that a select few powerful people, none of them anyone any of us think, have made a decision to increase inequality. They have used power and influence to do so through social and economic policy.
Increasing inequality actually makes sense from a long-term perspective. It turns out, people are much more concerned with the little inequalities between us and our neighbours than with the big inequalities that let some fly private jets while others can't afford a bus ticket across town. In fact, the more gradation there is among people - that is, middle and lower economic classes mingling together in town squares, schools and walmarts - the unhappier people are. In the long run, it's probably better for humans to live in two distinct socio-economic classes - rulers and populous. People are happier in poverty if they are all in poverty together.
Increasing inequality makes sense, because it will lead to the larger-scale level of happiness rising. Right?
Except that we have made every human on this planet a beggar from the moment they are born. No longer can a person choose to leave and make their way. Every square inch is guarded and protected by bullies, with set rules and strong enforcement. We are born slaves to these pre-existing conditions of the Earth. Each birth does not inherit a new chance to make whatever they can of their lives with existing resources. Those resources are owned. So the promise of life becomes a compromise, a lie, from birth, in a way that it was not for our ancestors. And the Owners force this condition on the rest of the planet, claiming its resources and animals as spoils for safely passing them from hand to hand through generations. Different Owners, but one guiding idea of Owership.
So it's basically a matter, at this point, of how we will be kept at the bottom. We are the chattel. That's the tied-up-tight of the world by 2013, and it's only going to get tighter and meaner if we stay on course with current government policies. We are resources like the oil. Except, there's an infinite number of us. We just keep churning more out, until we aren't sure what to do with all of them anymore so we invent a new kind of gum for them to manufacture to give the illusion they are "earning" their keep.
It's ingenious - first, tell the human resources that they are not allowed to hunt, grow or make their own food but must buy it. The same with shelter, water, etc. Then, make it their responsibility to convince an Owner to pay them for some effort on their part, and to pay an Owner for a place to live, food to eat, etc. Make it impossible for any human to live on this planet without the sanction of Owners. Literally. Impossible to be alive without their sanction.
In the past, Owners in North America were able to convince governments to give them public resources for free, by promising to share the profits through paying jobs - "keeping" the population. They maintained a close enough track between available jobs and available labour that governments were fooled into believing that jobs were the appropriate way to feed and house a growing population. Robots and computers will soon make light work of the heavy burden the Owners have placed on us. Owners will not need these human machines, which are so expensive and unreliable. Luckily for them, Owners have no legal reciprocal responsibility to the people whose resources they used for free. Governments reversed course on that direction decades ago in favour of allowing the quality of life for The Many to drift significantly from what rapid-fire human innovation makes possible for The Few.
What happens when the majority of the population no longer qualify for private sector employment? When only the Elite and their children have the resources to make the grade? (hint: we're already there, all over North America). The Owners say, well, they will just suffer and die, that's not our problem. The Governments say that they are not responsible for babysitting people, and abdicate their responsibility as they abdicated the responsibility to trade our resources for appropriate recompense. It will only take a generation or three before the weak get weeded out and the ones left are so focused on survival that they will do anything for peace.
Great excess is only possible at extremes.
Unfortunately for us, there's nowhere left to go now that the globe is so full of humans. When we don't like the way things are tied up, there's no new world to strive in, no more chances to take except within the web constructed around us. If that web is based on principles of meanness, "everyone for myself-ness," the conditions at the bottom will remain deplorable, and more of us will be there.
The Owners don't care. At the tip you are last to go under.
They probably even believe that increasing inequality will lead to more happiness in future generations. They now know, as you and I do, that the level of decadence we currently enjoy in North America cannot be sustained with current technologies on current resources for every human alive on the planet. In an ideal state, they hope to concentrate resources in a way that promotes innovation to that next disruptive shift (quantum?) that will make it possible. But in the meantime, they need to lower the population's expectations of what their life should be, while dangling the hope of what it could be. It's reached new heights, this campaign.
These long-term visionaries believe what I have not accepted: that every human life cannot matter equally under current conditions on Earth.
Or, quite possibly, no one has thought about any of this, orchestrated anything, decided on any direction. The "natural flow" of human spirit into the technical depth we've achieved just accidentally leads us to increase our population while decreasing its quality of life, rather than using our resources and know-how to make at least basic life sustenance available to all.
Quite possibly, it's all just a big muck of too many selfish people making selfish and/or stupid decisions. Like when the playdough gets mixed up and turns all these ugly shades of grey. There's no untangling that mess.
I'm not sure whether I'm more disturbed imagining deliberation or accident.