Let’s End Duality: Make America Grey Again

January 4, 2018

To start off 2018, I’d like to take us back to a moment in 2004 when Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama said these words:

“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”

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It seemed like a shift away a from the Bush-era divisiveness and surely played a role in Obama’s election in 2008. It’s worth pointing out that 14 percent of registered Republicans voted for a black Democrat in that election. It seems unimaginable now as we tweet and post from our red and blue state fortresses, rejecting anything that requires acknowledging the complexity of these issues. Remember Donald Trump in February saying,  “Nobody knew that healed care could be this complicated.” Oh, they knew.

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Queer Theory has been instrumental in helping people break through their binary thinking. When we are young we are taught that the sexes are “opposite.”  We are brainwashed in gender attributes that are mirror reflections. Boys are strong, girls are weak. Boys are stoic, girls are emotional. Boys are active, girls are passive. And on and on. It continues into adulthood. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Men care about foreign policy and women care about education. Most adults figure out that we have more in common that in opposition. “You have a pancreas? So do I!” Gender is not black and white. It’s many shades of grey. (A little bird told me that Vice President Mike Pence wears frilly pink panties and Donald Trump actually has a mangina.)

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I was thinking about the persistence of this bullshit dichotomy over the holidays when I read my old pal Bono kavetching that today’s music was “very girly;” that there wasn’t enough loud rock ’n’ roll like when he was a teenage boy. I flashed to the moment that a local Atlanta rock star I worked with in 1981 described the first U2 album as “whiney.” He should try saying music is too girly to Joan Jett’s face. Bono might turn off the Taylor Swift and check out bands like Savages, Diet Cig, Daddy Issues, and War on Women. There’s an explosion of women in rock right now. When I was 13-years-old I thought Kiss rocked and then I heard The Runaways’ Queens of Noise album. I’d put “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin” against any of U2’s “guitar rock” without hesitation. If that’s girly music, give me more. The girls I know love the loud guitar. I’m a huge U2 fan but Bono is stuck in an antiquated binary.

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We don’t live a black and white world of evil doers and God’s pious peeps. We’re all sinners. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. Context matters. The yin-yang symbol makes for a cool tattoo, but Buddhism does not reduce the world into a simple duality. Taoism is based on the paradox of simultaneous duality and unity. God vs. man? The Gnostic Texts excised from the Christian Bible, make the case that Christ ends that duality. The kingdom of heaven is within you. But you don’t get that message from the Christian Church. Man keeps constructing boundaries. Here’s how you get through heaven’s gate…

Duality makes sense in the abstract world of Boolean algebra, but here in reality things are rarely occurring in opposites. It’s only freaking Thursday?? And yet it’s 2018 already! Time can move fast and slow simultaneously. Even the distinction between life and death is a blurry line at best. We let those man-made boundaries define us. A person can be born with a penis, see themselves as a female identified person, AND be attracted to women. And maybe men occasionally.

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The issue of gender queer persons makes binary thinkers’ heads explode. You have to fit into a nice socially constructed category. It’s either/or not whatever. You have a penis? You belong in the heterosexual male box. Anything else is a “transgression” against nature, or God, or that old Oxford English dictionary your grandmother gave you for your ninth birthday. Those boys and men who stray into the pink zone must be punished. You’re watching The Crown instead of the Sugar Bowl? Smear the queer! I remember it well.

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The same is true with race. You’ve got a box to fit in and that’s who you are. You are either white or non-white. Again, reality has other plans. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 2 percent of Americans identified as two or more races. That’s 9 million people. In fact, multiple-race Americans grew at a faster pace than single-race Americans (32% vs. 9.2%). More and more Americans do not fit nicely into a demographic box. Is my half-Mexican daughter “white” or “brown”? Well, when she is applying for college scholarships, she’s gonna be “Latina” when it helps. But her light skin will privilege her the majority of her “white” life.

But here we are are, in a world where the President of the United States tells transgender Americans they are not allowed to serve in the military. (Another of his many failures in 2017.) Lower-level dualistic simple thinking rules the day. Either you are with us or against us. America, love it (our way) or leave it.  Sorry, simple people; it’s just not that simple.

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The reason this is the first post of the year is that I’ve noticed a creeping problem in 2017. Both sides are stuck in a binary deadlock. If you are a conservative, anyone who identifies themselves as liberal is just a “libtard” and anything they say will be dismissed out of hand. The other side is not much better. “You voted for Trump? You must be a complete moron and incapable of rational thought.”

Americans are not red or blue. They are mostly purple. Numerous surveys show that, despite political polarization, most Americans hold both liberal AND conservative opinions about things. Not only is it a scale, it’s a sliding scale. I imagine people get more conservative as April 15th approaches and more liberal over the holidays. Some people are socially liberal and economically conservative or vice versa. Some may change their political position after a good movie or a bad arrest. I spent much of my college years hanging out with Marxists, but I don’t want to live anywhere that looks like North Korea. I think capitalism is inherently corrosive but I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of my local Portland businesses. I even bought something in a Wal-Mart last year. (Long story.) Am I a hypocrite or just a complex person? Most people are complex. People who voted for Obama also voted for Trump and might vote for Elizabeth Warren in 2020. My dad likes to say he’s a “Republicrat.” Make your case. He’ll listen.

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I’ve written about the need for political civility in this blog. But this is something bigger. This is about breaking away from the us vs. them lie that’s been fed to us. I’m a post-modernist. I want to destroy these artificial barriers that confine us politically, sexually, spiritually, and any other way. We are trapped in our dogmatic partisan perspectives, fearful of the natural complexity of things. This is nothing new in this country. Our founders divided themselves into federalist and anti-federalist camps. Surprise, surprise – the best reality was somewhere in the middle.

There are things we can do to break through this artificial dichotomy. Ask questions of people making opposing arguments. Find the shades of grey you can work with. Keep an eye out for polarizing language. I tell anyone who uses the word “libtard” in a Facebook debate that there is no point to engage after that. Others should do the same when I use the word “moron.” Don’t make assumptions about people in different camps. You probably have more in common than you know. Instead of trying to “beat” them, help them to understand your position. Break out of your bubble. Diversity is good for plant life and party conversations. Don’t be afraid of encountering strong arguments that undermine the position you’ve taken. Don’t be afraid.

2018 is going to be a hell year. Perhaps the most important mid-term election in this nation’s history is only eleven months away. It’s going to be emotional and people are going to be combative, defensive, and needlessly inflammatory. We could divide ourselves into two opposing factions, a new civil war. Or we could reject the red and blue traps we’ve created for ourselves and make America fully human for the first time. “Hi, I’m Ying Yang, Yeah, it’s complicated. Get to know me.”

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The Man Way: The stupidity of fighting terrorism with more terrorism

July 6, 2016

I don’t know who first said, “War is terrorism with a bigger budget,” but it seems profound these days. Smart bombs away! Boys love war. They’ll lead wars against poverty, against crime and drugs.  And don’t forget the war against terrorism. All of which have been miserable failures. And yet boys think more war is the answer.

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When I was a boy, I loved war too. I played with G.I. Joe and my plastic machine gun. I did school reports on Sherman tanks and studied the dogfights of World War 1 pilots. I watched John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima and The Green Berets. Like John, we boys played Vietnam War in the Georgia woods, only this time we won. I wondered what war I would fight in when I grew up. I imagined I’d be an Air Force pilot, safe above the clouds as I dropped bombs on the faceless enemy below. When I was 16, Ronald Reagan was elected on the promise of more and better wars and my testosterone pumped. Iran, Afghanistan, maybe even Mother Russia herself. But suddenly the 4 O’clock movie started to look like a reality and I began to have second thoughts about the thrill of war.

Then I grew up. In college I read Gandhi and Martin Luther King and The Gospel According to Matthew. And my love of war began to fade.  I met some of those soldiers I had romanticized and the dream of war became a nightmare. Over the years all the warriors I’ve met have told me tales of dead friends, sleepless nights, long waits at the VA, and 4th of July fireworks triggering PTSD. I haven’t met John Wayne once, just men and women who need support in managing the effects of politicians playing soldier.

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So you will excuse me if Mr. Trump’s talk of “bombing the shit out of ISIS” just makes me want to puke. We’ve dropped countless bombs on the middle east and people are still being killed by terrorists in cafés and nightclubs. The war in Afghanistan is in its fifteenth year and the place doesn’t look that much different than when we showed up in 2001.  And today we learn that 8400 US troops will remain in Afghanistan in the war without end. (But war profiteers have made billions of dollars so don’t expect it to end any decade soon.) George W. Bush’s (and Tony Blair’s) idiotic invasion of Iraq that opened the door for ISIS and Obama’s “clean” drone strikes in the region have only made us less safe while funneling trillions of dollars out of the American economy. Do you think those dudes sing along when they hear Mavin Gaye ask “What’s going’ on?” Maybe they just giggle at the “War is not the answer” part.

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The Obama administration released a report last week about civilians killed in drone attacks in Africa, Yemen, and Pakistan. They believe that between 2372 and 2581 “enemy combatants” were killed between 2009 and 2015. We trust that these “enemy combatants” were sociopathic terrorists who want to blow up shopping malls in Kansas and not kids who were forced into someone else’s jihad. For the same period, the administration estimates that between 64 and 116 non-bad guys (men, women, children, doctors, aid workers, etc.) were accidentally killed by our drones. Investigative journalists think that count may be ten times higher. And this does not include civilian deaths from the drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria that are a daily terror. By the way, the going price for a remote controlled MQ-9 Reaper drone is $12, 548,710.60. (The 60 cents is for the pine scent.) And we wonder why we can’t “afford” free college or health care.

I think if I was a young man in Yemen and one of those 116 “non-enemy combatants” killed was my child, I might be a little angry. In fact, when I found out my child was killed by some American sitting in an air-conditioned office in Colorado, manning a flying robot bomb with a joystick, I’d want revenge. I’m like that. I’d find Al-Qaeda or ISIS, or whoever was screaming the loudest in my village and ask what I could do to strike back against these terrorists. Strap a bomb to my chest and walk into a crowded European airport? No problem. And I get to see my child again. I want them to hurt the way I’ve been hurt. It’s the cycle of pain that war perpetuates and we are all guilty.

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It’s easy to talk about how Presidents Bush and Obama and Prime Minister Blair (and Secretary Clinton) have blood on their hands, but there’s plenty of blame to go around as we fan the flames of war in somebody else’s backyard. We don’t want to be accused of not “supporting the troops” as a another generation of young warriors gets sent into the meat grinder only to become the next generation of old vets standing on an offramp asking for spare change.  They’re keeping us free, right? Why should we stop that?

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So that brings us to Mr. Trump. After the mass shooting in Orlando, Trump renewed his calls for an all-out ban on Muslims entering the U.S.. Omar Mateen, the shooter, was born in Queens, New York, just like Trump, so I’m not sure what his ban would have accomplished. He repeatedly tells his crowd that his strategy will be to “bomb the hell out of them” and his sub-moronic loyalists scream in approval. The problem is the recent attackers in Turkey and Bangladesh (and Orlando and San Bernardino) did not come from the battlefields of Syria. Like Mateen, they were most likely radicalized online. So I guess Trump’s plan is to bomb the hell out of every Muslim with a laptop or a smartphone. Gee, I wonder what the unintended consequences of that type of genocidal violence might me.

Do you think President Trump might end up creating more terrorists than he kills? You could make the case that lesson should have been learned by Bush, Blair and Obama. Oh, never mind. His fans love war. Trump is John Wayne! More bombs! That’s the answer! Today, a sister of one of the British soldiers killed in Iraq called Blair, “the world’s worst terrorist.” Tony has some competition for that honor. (4,486 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq.) Maybe President Trump can win that title. Winning!

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Of course, Trump wants to make this about Islam and not the conditions that push young men into war. (Our war on their terrorism or their war on our terrorism.) The attacks this week in Saudi Arabia should prove that ISIS is not a real Islamic organization any more than the KKK is a real Christian organization. What could be more anti-Muslim than blowing up Muslims in Medina on Ramadan? (Wait, is ISIS a Trump front?)

Scholars have described the bulk of the rank and file members of these jihadi groups as being either illiterate or barely literate. They’re not reading the Koran; somebody is telling them what it says. Sort of like that backwoods Pentecostal preacher telling some hill person that dancing with a poison snake will make Jesus happy (and killing gay people is God’s will). You don’t stop their anger at the world with more bombs.

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“So what are we supposed to do, Professor Blazak?” Here’s the part you don’t want to hear. Terrorism is a complex issue, with a lot of moving parts (including a military part). But in an election year,  Americans want simple, bite-size solutions. Most could care less about the difference between Sunni and Shia followers of Islam. Just bomb the hell out of all of them. Am I right? Maybe not. Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face by the Taliban, famously said, “With guns you can kill terrorists. With education you can kill terrorism.” But what does that kid know? And old guy in rural Georgia knows that our bombs can beat their bombs. “More war! (As long as I don’t have to go,)” he bleats.

Look, can we have a moment of national honesty? We’ve finally admitted that the War on Drugs was a horrible waste of lives and tax dollars. Republicans and Democrats actually have some agreement on this. Can we just admit the war on terrorism is sucking the soul of America dry and making the world less safe with every “smart” bomb we drop. Are we ready for a permanent state of world war or are we intelligent enough to imagine a more effective strategy? Just maybe war is the problem, not the solution. The answer is probably not going to come from a boy (or a girl who acts like a boy). I might listen to Malala. Just sayin’. War is over, if you want it.

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Prince Died for Your Sins: Prophecy and Phallacy

April 28, 2016

Dearly beloved, I want you to explore the infinite mystery in your own special way, the God power, the cosmic tick-tock, Yahweh, Science, Gaia, the Holy Trinity, the Hubble Array, whatever you want to call it. But I have a little story for you about the prince of paisley.

I had to listen to Prince records in silence. They were too dirty to play out loud. I worked in a record store in the fall of 1981 when Controversy came out. It was Georgia so we couldn’t play it in the store for fear of offending Bible Belt shoppers looking for the new REO Speedwagon album. But we took turns taking the store copy home so we could play “Do Me, Baby” in the privacy of our bedrooms, under the sheets.

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There are a million Prince-related stories like that, always about sex and shame and how Prince didn’t give a fuck who or how you fucked. When he died last week, everyone who never saw Purple Rain talked about how much they loved Purple Rain. Somehow the sinful sexuality, the androgyny and the personal freedom that were so despised 30-years ago by the PMRC have become the property of the most uptight unsexy-MFers in the world. Did you know that Matt Lauer was a “big fan”? But I’m here to tell you something different.

Prince is a deity and he died for your sex sins.

How do I know this? Because I am his prophet. I first became aware of his divinity on October 13, 1988. That’s when I saw him in Atlanta on the Lovesexy tour. He arose out of the stage and ascended into the air in a red Corvette, bathed in a celestial purple light. I felt something stir deep inside me. There was a ringing in my ears after the show that said, “Don’t turn away from me. I am the purple light.” But I did just that. I forsook my sex lord.

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A few years later, after the Diamonds & Pearls (1991) album, I turned away from Prince and his message of sexual freedom. Oh, sure I’d check in once in a while, I even bought Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999) and Musicology (2004). But of his last twenty-four albums, those are the only ones I let into my world. And my life began to suffer. I experienced copious alcohol consumption, divorce, job loss, I even wore a goatee for many years. All because I let Prince out of my heart.

Then right after he died, a strange thing happened. I was in the laundry room, in the basement of my house, washing whites. Alone. Suddenly a fantastic bolt of light emerged out of the dryer and knocked me off my feet. Standing there was the angel Gabriel, bathed in a purple light, the same light I had seen emanating from Prince in 1988. I could barely breathe. Then, in a high-pitched yet genderless voice, Gabriel said,

“The New Power Generation is here and you will be its leader. I will provide you God’s 23 positions for sexual liberation on 39 golden plates. These verses will become known as The Book of Prince and will lead the rainbow children to the emancipation of Planet Earth and the golden experience of eternal joy.”

And I said, “Right on, Gabe! What do you want me to do?”

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The angel replied, “The new power age will have no churches. There are thieves in the temple. Set up a GoFundMe account and tell each person who sends you $19.99 that, when they die, their souls will be funked up by Lord Prince and they will get off for all eternity.”

The angel then dropped a purple sock into my load of whites, donned a raspberry-colored beret and zapped back into my dryer.

So if you want a funky eternal life, just send $19.99 to: gofundme.com/2chh6ftg

The moral of this story is…

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All religions are created by people. Prophets are people who other people believe to be divine. Holy books are written by people that other people believe to be sacred. There is no religion without human invention. How do you know that Moses or Muhammad or Joseph Smith or me are or are not actual prophets? You don’t. That’s the value of faith. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion started in the 1870s and run by a group of “Elders” (i.e. people) in Brooklyn who are in charge of telling followers what the Bible REALLY says. And apparently Armageddon is coming any minute, so get out your debit cards. Every single religion is a house of cards built on the work of human beings that claim they speak for God or gods. Religious followers faith is not in God, it’s in the people who invented the religion; faith that they are not con-men.

That does not mean there is no transcendent mystery in the universe that people have called, “God.” It is entirely possible that when you die you get to see your grandmother and your dead cat and get to jam with Jimi Hendrix (Poor dead Hendrix). There may be an intelligent design to this mess after all. Or it might be a lot of wishful thinking that some very clever people have capitalized on. I don’t know. I’m agnostic. Joseph Campbell, who spent his long life studying the thousands of religions in the world once said, “He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows.” I don’t know.

What I do know is that for the last 3000 years, the people who have been inventing religions are mostly men and conveniently created a god that looks like them, typically an old white guy. (For shits and giggles, Google Image “God.”) Jews, Christians, and Muslims learn that God has existed for all eternity and then suddenly created the entire universe in six days. Makes you wonder what God was doing before those six days. Did He Netflix and chill? With himself? Guys.

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I totally respect whatever you want to worship, whatever your god or gods look like. If you want to pray to a lord that looks like Ewan McGreggor or a god that looks like an overly ripe avocado, I’ve got your back. Just know that unless your are a follower of some ancient pagan goddess, there is or was some dude behind a curtain pulling the levers. This is how we got patriarchy (and Melania Trump).

When you look at child marriage in Pakistan, the arrest of women for having abortions in Northern Ireland, the brothels of India, or Ted Cruz and the normality of rape culture in the United States it starts with the idea that God has a phallus and created MAN in HIS image. As Mary Daly so famously said, “If God is man than man is God.” There’s a ton of celebrated rape in the Old Testament of the Bible, in books written by men.

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So the next time someone wants to use some “sacred scripture” to justify something, especially the oppression of some other group of people, ask who wrote that scripture. The answer is that is was a person, just like Prince. You are free to put your faith in the scribblings of some men from the Bronze Age, or the 1800s (or the 1950s if you are a Scientologist). Or you could put on Prince’s Sign o’ the Times album and find some great wisdom there. It’s pretty much the same thing. The men who wrote Leviticus, the Koran, 2 Corinthians and the Book of Mormon were built exactly the same way as the man who wrote, “Your face is jamming, your body’s heck-a-slamming, if love is good, let’s get to ramming.” So lovesexy. That’s what Lord Prince wants. Believe me, I’m a prophet.