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hidden people

“Wait, what?” I asked myself, rereading three words I’d just read. I confirmed they were exactly as I read them: “The West agrees.”

I was flabbergasted. Was this phrase really printed in a newspaper? Even for an editorial, this reflected an astonishing lack of nuance.

Who exactly is “the West”?

The western region of a country? If so, then which country? Which regions? Which neighborhoods? Which associations from those neighborhoods? Which portions of “the West” disagree with this position? Why aren’t they permitted to be enveloped in the blanket term “the West”?

If a collection of countries, which countries, exactly? Which portions of those countries’ populations? Day laborers or politicians, caretakers or corporate executives? If there’s no way of determining democratic consensus, why do some opinion-holders get to be “the West” while others get to be, what? Those not well enough informed? If someone’s determined there’s “the West” and “those not well enough informed to be ‘the West,'” who is that? Why do they get to make that decision? Who agrees with them? Who disagrees?

English nouns like “[the] West” aggregate things in ways that narrow listeners’ field of focus. The aggregation conceals important information: Specific people and the specific actions they take. Read more…

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starfish

This August has been beautiful. I may well be happier than I have ever been.


Me of last August could not have conceived of this. In a world so full of so much suffering that need never have been, how could joy be permitted? How could hope be reasonable?

Last September, I created a separate blog to learn to speak Politics. I (usually) didn’t want to bore or inflame people here, and beside that, life and politics were two mostly unrelated, easily separable things.

Simply put, I understood the world far, far too narrowly.

By documenting so much of my journey there, much of it was lost here. I helped sustain the illusion that life and politics are separate, and that they can be treated as such without consequence.

What does this have to do with happiness, anyway?

Quite a lot, actually. And explaining this has a lot to do with … starfish.

There’s an inspirational story where a person comes upon someone throwing starfish washed up onto shore back into the ocean. 

“Why throw a few starfish into the ocean when there are so many you can’t reach? What does it even matter?” asks the passerby.

“It matters a whole lot to the ones I throw back.”

There’s good in that story, of course, but it’s only part of the story.

How did all the starfish get there? Was it by natural forces absent humans, or did humans have a role? If humans had/have a role, what role? How do we change the outcome of multitudes of starfish left to dry out and die on the sand? If we treat only the outcome, and only for a few starfish, have we really done much worth praising, or simply forestalled death–for a few–for a few days?

A year ago, I didn’t know to ask such questions. Six months ago, I was pretty certain all was futile, but I kept asking questions in case I could reach a less grim conclusion.

Now, the questions flow easy, and I have a solid understanding of the gargantuan starfish-expulsion machine that lands so many starfish on the shore. It makes the sea pristine and spacious by extracting all unwanted–to it–life from areas it perceives as its domain.

I see the machine and I think, yeah, we’ve gotta throw back as many starfish as we can. Because even if we’re just buying those cast back into the ocean a few days, those could be the days that matter. Those could be the days it takes to break the machine and restore a more natural, kinder order to more living creatures.

Though I’ll slowly move many of my L2SP posts over, it’s not because I still believe all is eternally, hopelessly grim. It’s not because I want you to agree with me, or because I care if you do. 

It’s because a lot of work went from crashing into despair to rising back into hope.

This is where I have chosen to tell my story as it unfolds, so this story–about starfish and salvation–belongs here.

Categories: history, politics Tags: , ,

power to change everything

One year ago, I couldn’t have told you how World War II began. Sure, I’d studied it in high school history classes, but that was more than twenty years ago.

Having immersed myself in history and politics for the last year, I understand more now. Most significantly, I understand how economic distress fueled Hitler’s rise.

Germans were not a uniquely evil people. They were a distressed people, susceptible–in those specific circumstances–to finding both the wrong villains and extraordinarily wrong solutions.

On Sunday, I wrote about how neoliberalism created the conditions for the weekend’s tragedy in Charlottesville.

Yesterday, a dear friend replied that she’d seen the pictures. The racists she’d seen pictured weren’t economically oppressed, but well dressed and clean shaven. They were privileged.

I’d reply today the same as I replied yesterday. That is to say, I’d reply by noting I’m no fan of privilege theory, which conceals (grave systemic failures) much more than it reveals (anything actionable).

But I wondered: How could I express the pain of enduring economic squeeze to those who haven’t yet felt it? Read more…

a hamiltonian history

Last April, I made a small but fateful decision in a grocery store line: I bought a copy of the Hamilton soundtrack.

For the first time ever, history came alive to me. It came so alive, I decided to read the biography that inspired the musical, Ron Chernow’s Hamilton.

“Oh, Deefy. You take such silly pictures.” — my husband, today

What I read fairly well stunned me. Sold, somehow, on the notion that history was a linear progression toward the betterment of humankind, I discovered instead that Americans today are having the same fights that our forebears did two hundred years ago. That those fights were extensions of fights that had been held elsewhere for decades to centuries prior.

While the state of technology has progressed, I saw that the state of the States … hadn’t, in fundamental ways.

I’d been a lifelong Democrat when I picked up that musical in the grocery store line. Democratic officials cared for the little guy, I thought, while Republican officials cared about the little fraction of the population that could fund grotesque, human-crushing legislation. That was pretty much my entire understanding of politics before I heard and then read Hamilton. Read more…

for better and worse

My husband,
and I
recently took
one last trip to Legoland
before we let our annual passes lapse

(Much as I enjoy
Legoland, I already spend
too much time driving on
the weekdays to drive
more, routinely, on
weekends)

It was Anthony’s birthday,
and I spent much time
that day thinking how
grateful I am that he
was born, and that
our paths crossed,
and that he is such
a loving father to
our boys

There was another
gratitude, too

Recently,
I have seen
what it looks
like
when one
partner doesn’t
like the way the
other is growing
and changing;
the little digs
and pushes
and scowls
that say,
“You’re not
supposed to
be like this. You
are supposed to
stay how I know
and like you,
meeting my needs
in exactly the ways
you always have,
whether or not
that meets

yours

As I watched
Anthony with our boys,
I heard the dozens of
different ways he’s
told me he doesn’t
expect me to
remain the same,
and appreciates
what I’m trying to
change, and
why

He sees the love
behind my sorrow-
fueled rages, and sees
how the balance is
shifting away from
rage and toward
love

He knows I’m changing;
I couldn’t be unchanged
by all I have read
about centuries of
cultivated devastation
driven by colonizers seeing
(and portraying)
“the other” as
simply a roadblock
to obtaining more,
and more,
and more

(He knew
about these things
long before I did)

So he sits with me
as I say things like
,
“Oh, my god, people
in drought and famine
exchanged their kids
because they couldn’t
eat their own;
others, too weak
to fight were carried
off by jackals
and the like,
and it would
never have been
that way if colonizers
cared more for building
structures to protect people
than extracting from them
everything capable of
extraction”

and he hugs me,
and says I should not
forget the beautiful things,
too; that acts of courage and
defiance abundant but too
small individually to
make it into
history
books,
were just as
real, and can be
just as real today
when those things
are celebrated and
cultivated over mourning
that looks like
rage

I am changing;
more than being
passively okay
with that,
Anthony actively supports me,
nudging me back toward
compassion (and occasional
fiction reads, because,
he rightly says,
no one’s life is
improved by
reading all political
history, all
the time)

I see
how it doesn’t have
to be this way; how easy
it is for some to say, “when I
said ‘for better or for worse,’
I meant ‘for,
forever,
exactly
the
same'”

I see that,
and I see
Anthony,

and I am
grateful
for how
the love
of my life
accepts
all of me,
as we grow,
(for)
better
and
worse

After reading this,
Anthony said, “It’s
weird seeing my name
so many times; usually
it’s just ‘Daddy,
Daddy, Daddy'”

He’s half correct:
he is usually
“Daddy,” but never
“just” that

the power of “s”

A few weeks ago, I read briefly from Michael Harrington’s Socialism. Early on, he used the word “socialisms.”

I stared at the word for a couple of minutes. For all the times I’ve read, heard, and spoken the word “socialism,” this was my first time encountering it with an “s” at the end.

The “s” highlighted how little I actually know about socialism. It taunted me with the implication that, as Neil Postman might caution, I knew little enough of socialism’s histories to know an “s” could even belong there.

Another book made me think about the power of “s” to provoke deeper reflection. Called Late American Holocausts, it forced me to confront the idea of multiple holocausts. As an American, I’d grown up with the idea there was but one.

Of course, without even having begun reading the book, I could already see precisely why many Americans are taught that there was only The Holocaust … in which Americans were the victors, fighting evil, self-nominated, for the good of the world.

(The script hasn’t changed much, and–despite the tens of millions of people killed by America, its allies, and its arms sale recipients–American leaders still portray America as the lone, brave cowboy out bringing justice to the world. (Bah!))

Where else does an “s” invite deeper inquiry?

After “soldier,” for one. Who are the individual soldiers who sacrificed so much of their selves so that so few could gain vast riches? How do their stories vary? How do their losses ripple out to impact those who love them and must also face the daily consequences of those losses–of safety, of limb, of life? Who are these millions sacrificed by those who will never directly understand the individual costs of war?

And “war”? There’s another one. Though I didn’t see it until a few months ago, to read the word “war” and glide over it is to trivialize it. There is no one, uniform war. Each individual war killS and woundS different personS, placeS, and dreamS in dramatically different wayS.

Little has done so much for my seeing more clearly what is than the pluralizing letter “s,” which challenges me to explore the stories concealed by words used in misleading singular.

beyond resisting

My sister Rachael recently texted me to gloat that Naomi Klein would be in Portland, Oregon to promote her new book. She didn’t type “neener-neener,” but she might as well have.

There’s no way she’s visiting Portland and not L.A.! I thought. I dropped everything and searched her publisher’s events page. Nada.

When I saw an announcement including an L.A. date, I messaged Rache again. “LOS ANGELES!!!” I said.

“I get to see her first,” Rache replied.

(Neener-neener.)

Who is Naomi Klein, exactly? Apart from being author of The Shock Doctrine, she’s an inspiration to both Rache and me.

Klein looks brutality squarely in the face, assesses it, and writes about it without losing either her passion or compassion. For a couple of decades now, she has looked into the abyss without becoming it.

She’s been a light along a very, very dark journey (of history and politics) I’ve been making for about a year. I’ve read her words and heard her podcasts and thought, “I hope I can emulate her someday. I hope I, too, can choose to look upon the darkness and see within it the possibility of greater love.”

My sister listened to Klein speak in Portland on Monday. I listened, alternately tearful and laughing, in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

nine two

Far from resenting my sister for hearing Klein first, I was grateful to listen and know Rache had heard the same heart, the same compassion, the same entreaty.  Read more…

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