How Veterans and Rape Victims Can Help Us Stop Trump’s Racism

September 22, 2020

It’s sort of pointless to argue whether or not Donald Trump is a racist. His lifetime record of words and deeds proves it. Saturday night he rambled on about how is white crowd in Minnesota had “good genes.” He can pimp out Herschel Walker (who has had his fair share of blows to the head), or suddenly throw $13 billion at Puerto Rico, but 99% of black and brown people know what’s up. The Trump loyalists who don’t think he’s a racist are not going to be convinced by me that he is. Anyone with an a IQ over 80 and a minimal understanding of twentieth century history understands what’s happening in America right now.

And we don’t have to go all the way back to Germany in the 1930s to see the populist swing to authoritarianism returning. Trump is straight up Nixon ’68, revisiting the racist “southern strategy” as he madly tweets at “suburban housewives” that black people (and Antifa!) are coming to destroy their bucolic worlds. The fear mongering worked for Nixon as race riots gripped American cityscapes. Things are different in 2020. The suburbs are different and most of those “housewives” are the primary breadwinners in their families. I doubt Mr. “Grab ‘em by the pussy” and his racist drumbeating is going to frighten them more than COVID-19 killing their children.

So then what to do? How do we deprive this racist lover of dictators of his oxygen? How do we kill the threat of Donald Trump to America?

It will be our veterans that show us the way

The absolute key to this racial mess is understanding the nature of trauma. Liberals and conservatives, antifascists and “patriots” all have a basic understanding of trauma. So here’s how it works.

Step One: Veterans – When was the last time we heard of someone coming back from a war zone and being spit on? We don’t do that anymore. Even hard core anti-war left wingers would never even think of doing that. My father used to joke about torturing a “shell shocked” Korean War vet who was his high school teachers in the 1950s. In the 1970s, tweaked Vietnam vets were the subject of derision. “Dude’s in his own private ‘Nam.” What changed?

In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association recognized Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a very real and life-lasting cognitive condition. Because of the suffering and sacrifice of a lot of vets, we understand how acute trauma, like getting shot at, alters the brain. And we learned that trauma can lie dormant and be triggered by something random, like fireworks going off on the 4th of July. In 1998, I went to a special screening of Saving Private Ryan that honored surviving WWII vets. The opening scenes of the Normandy landing had men in their seventies convulsing like they were back on that beach 54 years prior. They nearly had to stop the film.

We’ve learned that PTSD has a whole host of ripple effects, like depression, substance abuse, and elevated suicide rates. That’s why there is near consensus on helping our vets heal instead of adding to their trauma.

Step Two: Rape victims – Rape is epidemic in our society. Depending on the measure, as many as one and four women in this country will be sexually assaulted at least once. Rape knows no political boundaries, no race or even age. We exist in a rape culture which traumatizes women with sexual violence and the looming threat of sexual violence. Even typing the word rape will traumatize some of the women reading this. I was lecturing about rape statistics in my criminology class at the University of Oregon and a young woman burst into tears and left the class, never to return. I re-traumatized her without even trying. It’s the impact not the intent.

We also have a mountain of research that shows rape victims suffer from PTSD just like our veterans do. The difference is women don’t walk off the battlefield. America is the battlefield, with the next potential attack just around the corner, or, more likely, in the next room. And having entertainment, like Game of Thrones, that turns rape into spectacle and a president who brags about his sexual assaults doesn’t help.

Even the most right-wing asshole dude has a mother or a sister or a daughter or a favorite teacher or a lover who has been wounded by sexual violence. Just like he would never tell an Afghan war vet to “just get over it,” it would be hard to imagine he would tell his wounded rape victim to “just get over it.” Even assholes have hearts.

Step Three: People of Color – I know there are white people who think racism magically ended in 1865, or 1964, or 2008 when Obama was elected. But anyone who has watched the 8 minute and 46 second execution of George Floyd knows that the trauma of racism continues and is a daily reality for people of color. Seeing grown black men, weeping on live TV, begging for black lives to matter was a wake up call for many white people.

Think of the cumulative trauma that results from slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, mass incarceration during the phony “War on Drugs,” redlining, educational discrimination, white flight, police violence, and on and on. Where is the opportunity to heal when the traumatizing impacts of racism are still coming, while white people chant, “just get over it”?

Black, brown, Asian, and indigenous people are marginalized in ways that are often completely invisible to white people. It could be a simple micro-aggression (“So, what are you?”) or a lack of representation (How many black male teachers have you had?). The rising rate of hate crimes based on race is the icing and Trump’s attacks on black athletes as “sons of bitches” are the cherries on top.

If we can understand the trauma of veterans and rape victims, why can’t we understand the trauma of racism victims? As a dude on American Ninja Warriors recently said, “Ignoring race doesn’t fix racism.”

An embarrassing story about myself

Two years ago I was taking my daughter, Cozy, to her preschool. I got there early and saw a young African-American male sitting on the steps to the school. His hood was up and he was on his phone. Something ticked in my head, that said, “Danger Will Robinson!” so I took Cozy in a different door, giving the young man a wide berth.

When I came back out, I saw him getting on a school bus, doing what we want every teenager should to be doing. The preschool steps were his bus stop. I felt incredibly embarrassed about my assumption and as he got on the bus, he shot me a look that I will never forget. It said, “What do I have to do? I’m going to school and you still think I’m a thug.” I had wounded him and his day was just starting.

What happened? I grew up in racist America which means I internalized white supremacy, including the belief that black men are threats to our safety. That internalized white supremacy turned into implicit bias, that gut feeling that had me choose to walk in a different door. That young man experienced that as a micro-aggression, he knew I was walking in the far door because he was black. And that micro-aggression was a small but meaningful traumatizing event. Instead of helping him to heal, I gave him YET ANOTHER reminder that being black in America is to be marginalized. I wounded him. And I’m sure there were plenty more woundings that followed that day.

Our president thinks discussing concepts like internalized white supremacy, implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and racial trauma are anti-American. He’s come out hard against the New York Times 1619 Project that tries to undo the whitewashing we’ve done on the history and impact of slavery on America. He wants to institute some Orwellian “patriotic education” curriculum to indoctrinate kids back into the white washing. (School curriculums are mandated on the state level, so he’s just playing to his racist base, again.) I’m waiting for Trump to sign an executive order replacing Black History Month with Slave Owners Had Good Genes Month.

If “All lives matter,” then black lives matter. That’s how words work.

The road out of this backsliding moment is to talk to white people about trauma and healing. If they can understand the experience of veterans and rape victims with PTSD, they can understand the traumatizing impacts of racism and marginalization. If it makes sense that a wounded warrior might be triggered by firecrackers or a rape victim might be re-traumatized by another news report of a sexual assault, than a white person should be able to understand the cumulative impact of another unarmed black person who was killed by the police on black people in general. In 2020, it seems like black lives just don’t matter yet.

Except for sociopaths (and I understand the ranks of neo-Nazis and “Pro-Trump” activists have plenty of those folks), all human beings are capable of empathy. I’ve written about how my road from white supremacist kid from a Klan town to anti-racist educator started with the recognition of how I traumatized a black janitor in my freshman dorm at Oxford College by ripping up a book by Martin Luther King, Jr. and throwing it in the toilet. Good people don’t want to cause trauma. Good people want to help people to heal from their wounds.

The problem is that white people are so damn fragile. They run away from the term “racist,” thinking it only applies to cross-burning Klansmen. We’ve all internalized white supremacy, full stop. Myself included. The switch has to flick from, “I’m not a racist!” to, “I am racist but I want to reduce the harm that’s caused. How can I help the healing?” I think when white people understand the depth and length of racial trauma, they will want to be helpers instead of hurters. Take down your Confederate flag and unclench your white fist into an open hand.

Donald Trump has cast himself as the savior of white America. It might work. There are are still a lot of anxious white people that can’t handle a black football player who cares about justice, let alone people taking to streets, demanding to dismantle racist institutions. Trump’s racism has been unleashed in his desperate eleventh hour attempt to salvage the train wreck of his presidency. Perhaps calm conversations about the wounding racism has caused to people we care about can end his reign of injury.

2019 in Review – 22 Snapshots and an Impeachment

December 31, 2019

I guess I’ve been a crummy blogger this year. When Cozy was a baby, I could squeeze out a couple of blogposts a week on everything from housework to feminist cowboy movies. In 2019, I only managed 22 posts. To be fair, I actually taught full-time the entire year. It felt good to be back at work. My wonderful students got to be the recipients of my random thoughts about the state of the world. And now that Cozy is a kindergartener, typing up cohesive essays is more of a luxury. Plus, I’ve spent much of my spare time chasing squirrels out of our attic.

I was excited that my writing still had an audience even though every single post wasn’t about Trump’s racism. My tribute to my late friend (and Atlanta punk icon) David Dickens had the most reads (1,900). My piece on the Christchurch killings was reprinted in The Peace Chronicle, which was a great privilege.

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2018 was a year of global travel. For 2019, I managed to stay mostly on the West Coast, with a few weeks in Mexico to give a couple of lectures in my favorite anthropology field school. I still managed plenty of world media appearances (especially CNN International), but my favorite media interview was when a rare tornado came right down our street. Under my name, instead of usual “HATE CRIME EXPERT” it said, “LIVES NEAR DOWNED TREE.” Much more exciting than an appearance in Turkish TV (which I also did in 2019).

Of course the driving theme of the year was growing blackhole being created by our idiot president, culminating in his impeachment on December 18. By that point I had written so many posts about his inevitable impeachment that the actual thing was anticlimactic and I didn’t even bother to comment on it. (I do wonder what will happen to all the ITMFA t-shirts that are so common here in Portland.) I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say as the divide widens even further in 2020, with Trump loyalists promising civil war if they don’t get their way. It’s like the country is being taken over by hordes of fascist babies.

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For me, the focus of 2019 was on my family. Working steadily gave me a better foundation to be grounded in the real and not the endless yammering on social media. My classes Portland Community College and my CLE trainings for attorneys gave me the professional connections I craved and I got to work on a few murder cases that let me to put my skills to work in very important arenas. This allowed me to not worry too much about financial issues, and focus on being present for Andrea and Cozy. Maybe the best moment was taking Cozy on a surprise trip to Disney in LA that included a stop at their animation studios where a friend showed her the work he was completing on Frozen 2. There was also a trip to Las Vegas to see The Beatles’ LOVE, twice! Family times was its own reward.

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The coming year will have plenty challenges. I imagine I will be commenting directly on the rise of anti-Semitic violence and the Trump cult’s threats to peace and equality. But my personal agenda will be focused on making good educational choices for my daughter, showing my wife how much I cherish her, and finally getting the squirrels out of the attic.

2019 WTW Posts

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“Thanks, punk!” (For David Dickens) (January 10, 2019)

Watching fragile men freak out over a Gillette ad (January 17, 2019)

Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump (January 25, 2019)

A silly love song for my wife (February 14, 2019)

The Wisdom of Double Nickels: On Turning 55(February 22, 2019)

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On not dying youngish(March 5, 2019)

He Killed My Child: Meditations on Christchurch and the Sociopathy of White Supremacy (March 19, 2019)

I have found what I was looking for, Bono.(April 14, 2019)

Globalization and Nationalism: Get Ready for More Fascist Violence(April 28, 2018)

This War on Women and a Strategy to Defend Choice (May 20, 2019)

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Just Open the Damn Border (June 18, 2019)

Female Role Models For My Daughter (and all those boys) (July 7, 2019)

How Do You Solve a Racist Problem like Donald? (July 17, 2019)

Lita was one cool cat.(July 26, 2019)

Your loved one was just killed by an angry white man with a gun. OK?(August 4, 2019)

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Matterhorn not withstanding, we have a 5-year old (August 29, 2019)

Your biography is history: Taking in the Trump impeachment (October 3, 2019)

White People: If you aren’t actively anti-racism, you are pro-racism (October 23, 2019)

I was 5 once, too!(November 27, 2019)

Reelin’ in the Tens: What was this decade about anyway? (December 29, 2019)

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 Dad’s Top Discs of 2019 (December 30, 2019)

2019 in Review – 22 Snapshots and an Impeachment (December 31, 2019)

 

Dad’s Top Discs of 2019

December 30, 2019

In 2014, the provost of Portland State University brought in some expert to tell us the university as we know it, would “cease to exist in 50 years,” so we better get onboard with higher education moving online. He compared it to CDs replacing vinyl albums. I remember thinking that sometimes the old way is better and CD sales were fading fast. 2019 saw vinyl albums outsell compact discs for the fist time since the late 1980s. Vinyl has roared back into the marketplace. I wonder where that shithead “expert” is now.

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I certainly bought plenty of vinyl in 2019, including plenty of new releases. Nothing like spinning a black platter on a grey rainy Portland day. Here’s my annual list of my favorite albums of the year. In the top spot are some old friends of mine, drivin n cryin, from Atlanta. I picked up their new album, Live The Love Beautiful, in a record store in Austin, Texas and immediately fell in love with it. It represents everything I love about the conflicting themes of life in the South, the beauty and the stark desperation. 

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There are plenty of great 2019 releases that I haven’t discovered yet. I just bought the new Lana Del Ray album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, today. I’m dying to hear the new records from Beck and Nick Cave. There were other great albums that just missed my Top 20, like The Highwomen, Vampire Weekend, Little Sue, and The Dandy Warhols. These are just the 20 that I spent the most time with. 2019 was a year when listeners rediscovered the Paisley Underground and the Laurel Canyon sound. I didn’t have much time for auto-tuned hip hop but all the time in the world for Lizzo and her brilliant debut album.

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We also saw plenty of shows this year as we’ve been rebuilding our normal routine. Some great gigs from old friends passing thorough town, including Amy Ray, the Long Ryders, and the Waterboys. Great jazz in local Portland haunts and one show I was completely conflicted over, Morrissey at the Moda Center. He was a prat but was he a fascist prat? (Regardless, openers Interpol were brilliant.)

2020 is gonna be a rough year. There will be more unraveling before we come together. Hopefully the tension will produce some brilliant music. But here’s my 20 pixel snapshot of the end of the decade.

My 20 Favorite LPs of 2019

  1. drivin n cryin – Live the Love Beautiful 
  2. Lizzo – Cause I Love You
  3. The Beatles – Abbey Road Reissue Box
  4. The Waterboys – Where the Action Is
  5. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
  6. The Who – Who
  7. Amy Ray – Holler
  8. Miranda Lambert – Wildcard
  9. The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, and The Three O’Clock – 3 X 4
  10. Jeff Lynne’s ELO – From Out of NowhereUnknown-1
  11. Jenny Lewis – On the Line
  12. Our Native Daughters – Songs of Our Native Daughters
  13. Mavis Staples – We Get By
  14. Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold
  15. Linda Ronstadt – Live in Hollywood
  16. John Coltrane – Blue World
  17. Solange – When I Get Home
  18. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  19. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
  20. Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel

Reelin’ in the Tens: What was this decade about anyway?

December 29, 2019

Decades used to have a definitive feel, a look, a sound. The Eighties were so different from the Seventies, which shared little with the Sixties. As we put this decade to bed, there’s no real sense of collective experience. We don’t even have a name for the last ten years. The Teens?

2010 began with the Obama presidency digging us out of the Great Recession and the quasi-fascist Tea Party movement and ended with the impeachment of the quasi-fascist Donald Trump and another recession looming. The first #1 song of 2010 was “Tik Tok” by Kesha and the last #1 song of 2019 is a Mariah Carey Christmas song from 1994 (and then a dozen Post Malone songs). Do those bookends offer any clue to the history that unfolded in the intervening days, weeks, months, and years between?

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I imagine the historians will dub this the Decade of Social Media. People retreated from cruising malls and bars to shopping and dating online. The fashion of the decade was the laptop and the smartphone. It was the decade where people stayed home and when they went out they were permanently hunched over their devices while the world burned down around them. Why look for a scene when you can just Netflix and chill?

It was a fairly epic ten years for me. I became a parent in 2014, which completely changed my connection to the outside world. And becoming a parent of a girl grounded my feminist ideals into a moral imperative in a world of “Grab ‘em by the pussy” presidents. 2014 was the also the year I pushed my faculty union to strike against a bloated administration which was a factor in that bloated administration cancelling my secure faculty contract. But after a few years of scrounging, that freedom gave birth to a professional and creative revival. I got to spend the second half of the decade traveling the globe and writing volumes, including books, academic chapters, an ode to Bowie published in the Gay & Lesbian Review, and an article in Huffington Post on masculinity and right wing violence. Having a wonderful partner, who never tolerated my decades old bullshit, pushed me to unexpected accomplishments.

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I have a theory about decades (discussed in my 2011 book, The Mission of the Sacred Heart). There are two albums released in the seventh year of every decade that define both what’s happening on the surface and what’s bubbling underneath. For 1967, it was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Velvet Underground & Nico. 1977 was Saturday Night Fever and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and so on. For 2017 it would have to be Taylor Swift’s Reputation and Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. Both represented the dominant themes of the decade, the empowerment of women in the face of institutional abuse (hats off to artists like Kesha and films like Bombshell) and the transformative Black Lives Matter movement (much love to artists like D’Angelo and films like Moonlight).

It was a decade that moved the ball on the leveling playing field, for transgender kids that need to pee and black kids who don’t need to get shot by the cops. But there was a massive attempt to turn back the hands of time to the bad old days, when America was (right) “great.” The rebellion against the global community sparked nationalism across the world; Trump and Putin, Brexit, mass murdering racists in Norway, neo-Nazis in Ukraine, and on and on. 2020 seems like it will be the beginning of decade of civil war. Can Harry Styles save us?

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It usually takes a while to get a feel for what a decade was all about. Give it a few years before we determine the relevance of The Bachelor and brand new pants pre-torn in Chinese sweatshops. The last decade of the “American Century” will have an official haircut and dance (Twerking?). There will be 2010s nights at clubs where they play all your old Katy Perry favorites and people dress like various Kardashians and joke about apps and Tim Tebow and they play the “Gangnam Style” video over and over again. I’ll remember it as the decade where I found my real purpose. There was no app for that.

Your biography is history: Taking in the Trump impeachment

October 3, 2019

When I was a teenager in the late-1970s, I wished I had been a teenager in the 1960s, so I could have swum in the countercultural revolution. Of course, I was already in history. It was called the punk rock rebellion, and there are a million kids now who wished they could have been in my shoes, buying Ramones albums (on vinyl!) as they came out. I was just too close to it to see it as a moment in history. It was just my life.

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The great sociologist C. Wright Mills argued that for people to start to understand how society works they have to understand their own biographies as history. When we read a biography, we see it as a reflection of the history that was unfolding around that person’s life, whether it’s the biography of George Washington or Judy Garland. My students are reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X this quarter and you can’t view the life of Malcolm Little/Malcolm X/Malik Shabazz outside of the context of the racially oppressive twentieth century. His biography is the history of hi century.

And so is yours. The goal of any individual should be to create a biography that both reflects the times and impacts the times. Live in the moment and shape the moment. You are living history. Most fascinating of all histories is the present.

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This couldn’t be any truer than right now. This era will be analyzed for centuries. People are still debating whether or not the French Revolution worked. That won’t hold a candle to the late night conversations students, history buffs, and robots will have about the spectacular rise and fall of Donald J. Trump. We are in perhaps the most significant turning point in U.S. history since the test of World War II. This generation may be witnessing the end of the American Century or the birth of a global youth revolution to save the Earth, sparked by a Swedish kid with Aspergers who demonstrates more class and intelligence than our president does on his very best day (which, I know, isn’t saying much).

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I cut my political teeth on the Watergate hearings in 1973. I was 9-years-old and watched it with rapt attention. When Nixon named Gerald Ford as his vice-president in 1974, I knew there was a quid pro quo that would lead to Ford’s pardon of Tricky Dick. My first trip to the White House was while Nixon was deciding to bug out instead of enduring impeachment proceedings. I probably could have stolen the china and they would have assumed Pat Nixon was looting the place before their shameful exodus.

It felt like history was happening and it feels that way again. The impeachment of Bill Clinton felt more like politics as usual. Bill’s shenanigan’s definitely sparked a national conversation about what constitutes “sex.” (To future generations, blow jobs are, in fact, sexual relations.) It all unfolded during my disastrous first marriage and I don’t doubt that couples across the country were having uncomfortable conversations about the nature of infidelity thanks to the Oval Office antics of Slick Willy. But it didn’t seem monumental, just sad. This feels monumental.

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History is always happening and always has a soundtrack. Yeah, the upheaval of 1968 had the Beatles’ “Revolution” and the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” but you better believe the “look backs” 20 years from now will have Billie Eilish and Lizzo playing along. (“Why men great ’til they gotta be great? Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face.”) This moment in history is framed by news apps, bipartisan divides, and generational warfare. The old white men would rather die guns blazing and burn the house down on their way out than see young women (especially young women of color) even the playing field. Sorry Mitch McConnell, the future of America looks more and more like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez every day. We’re no longer being handed history by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, we’re finding it on our phones and Twitter feeds. And we’re sharing the news that the Orange Emperor has no clothes. (Cannot unsee!)

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There’s a great 2011 Woody Allen film called Midnight in Paris all about how we over-romanticize the past. It was always better in some previous era. I’ve often thought about how great it would be to live in the Bohemia of 1840’s Paris or 1950’s San Francisco. No doubt the food would suck in both and no wi-fi to boot. The same is true for the Make America Great Again suckers who think the country was better off back in the days of Jim Crow. (Also no wifi.) This is the moment to be in. This crisis. This opportunity for transformation.

I’m committed to taking all this in, every presidential tweet storm, every unhinged Rudy Giuliani interview, every cabinet member indictment, every smirking Stephen Colbert monologue. Future generations will ask us what it was like to witness the compete collapse of America’s mad king. I’ll tell them I LMAO. They’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.

Just Open the Damn Border

June 18, 2019

Mexicans have built an amazing country filled with culture and enterprise and awesome drinks. It’s no wonder so many Americans are moving here and so many locals have zero interest in heading north. This is wonderful place.

I’m back in Mexico for our annual family trip to Morelia and a bit of guest lecturing on Isla Mujeres. Every time I come to Mexico, I’m so knocked out by the beauty and hospitality of the country that I wonder what all those Trump racists are going on about. And then I remember, racism.

If Donald Trump had ever taken a break from his rich boy bubble and traveled south of the border for an extended period (not camping out at a luxury hotel in Cancun), he might not have branded Mexicans “murderers and rapists.” If he had actually gotten to know the people of this amazing country, instead of surrounding himself with the sycophants that kiss his orange ass, America might have a completely different view on immigration. Instead of inciting crowds of morons to chant “Build the wall!” he might be encouraging Americans to “let them in!”

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We started our trip here in Guadalajara. We’re in Morelia now, soon to head to Mexico City, before hopping a ferry to the isla. Each step of our experience here is always filled with encounters with the most generous and lively people. They might not have much, but they are happy to share what they have with a visitor. On Sunday, we attended a baptism of baby daughter of a sister of a wife of a cousin. We were welcomed warmly and then invited to the fiesta afterwards and showered with tequila and chicken mole and made to feel like we had been members of the family for generations. Cozy played with the niños for hours, including having a go at the piñata, as if they were all her school mates. The grandfather of the baby told me how honored he was to have my family attend. It was the exact opposite of what you hear about Latin America on Fox News.

It was then when I realized what a mistake it is to try and keep these folks out of the United States. We should be inviting them in by the droves. America needs more kindness, more parties, more commitment to children, more family. America needs more Mexicans! We have plenty of room! And bring your crazy tequila drinks!

Unfortunately, the hate mongers have driven an idiotic narrative about criminals, cultures of corruption, MS-13, and welfare cheats. I seriously doubt any of these folks have ever even been to Mexico, other than possibly a stop in Puerta Vallarta on some luxury cruise. Spend two weeks here and then tell me we don’t want a taco truck on every corner.

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There’s two important facts these immigration hawks ignore. The first is that  America had an “open border” policy its first 148 years and the country was fine. The Immigration Act of 1924 (modeled on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) was heavily pushed by the Ku Klux Klan and effectively choked off immigration from non-Northern European countries.  It was the law that told a ship full of 937 Jewish refugees escaping Hitler in 1939 to turn around. Campaigning for the law, a Klan leader declared at their 1924 convention, “I would build a wall of steel, a wall as high as Heaven, against the admission of a single one of those Southern Europeans who never thought the thoughts or spoke the language of a democracy in their lives.” Sound familiar?

Before that law, people would just show up and America was happy to have them. We knew this country was being built and we needed hard working people from wherever who were ready to invest some sweat equity. There was no “right way” of immigrating before 1924. People just decided to join our team and get to work. But even after 1924, the southern border was completely porous with people going back and forth at will, no check points, no border patrol. Before 9/11, the same was true with our northern border. You didn’t need a passport to go to Canada and they didn’t need one to come here. This nation was built on open borders and we were great!

The second thing these Trump ass-lickers ignore is that, despite our Russian puppet president’s declaration about “criminals flooding across the border,” clear research shows that immigrants (especially undocumented immigrants) have LOWER crime rates than the general public. They come here and work their asses off, paying billions in taxes, and often not able to access the services that citizens can. If someone comes here and commits a crime, bust them, but also bust the CEOs that are robbing your 401K while you sit there watching Tucker Carlson.

The reality is that many Mexicans, especially from the state of Michoacán where we are now, headed northward after George Bush negotiated and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA in 1994. The trade agreement forced many Mexican farmers to buy overpriced seeds from Monsanto, putting most out of business. Nobody was hiring in Guatemala, so they made their way to Estados Unidos. Many of their children are now my students and kicking ass.

Research also shows that they have greater mobility in America. They may come here with just the clothes on their back, but their dedication to the American Dream allows their children to go to college and start businesses of their own. My wife walked across the Arizona border as an “illegal” and is now teaching at a university, working towards her doctorate. I would bet my house that the average DACA kid has added more to America than the average troglodyte in a “Make America Great Again” hat.

Ever wonder where that stereotype of the “lazy Mexican” comes from? It’s called projection. Mexicans and other Latin Americans are working countless shifts or in horribly unsafe conditions, while white people sit around whining about “illegals.” We’re the lazy ones. Their work ethic shames everybody else and instead of thinking, “Man, I’d really benefit from having those people on my team,” xenophobes have to make up some classic racist shit about “invasions.”

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Trump’s stupid claim that you can’t have a country without secure borders ignores reality. For most of America’s history we didn’t have “secure borders.” Tear down the walls, open the doors, and beg these wonderful people to come in. Let’s start the fiesta. Make America great again.

This War on Women and a Strategy to Defend Choice

May 19, 2019

In Texas last month, male lawmakers introduced a bill that would give women the death penalty for having abortions, even if they were the victims of rape or incest. The news coming out of Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and other “red” states is even more frightening as laws restricting a women’s control of her body have actually passed. What the hell is happening? Is America becoming Gilead? Are these states controlled by the Taliban? Is Donald Trump’s wet dream of turning the country into a misogynistic dictatorship coming true right before our eyes?

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision didn’t settle the debate about abortion access. Supreme Courts can over-rule previous “established law.” Liberals have been hoping for a president who would appoint judges that would overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision that gave personhood to corporations. The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that made racial segregation constitutional was reversed by the the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled racial segregation unconstitutional. So don’t think the high court sets anything in stone. And now that Trump has placed two conservative white men on the court (Please don’t die, Judge Ginsburg!), expect more backwards motion.

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The abortion debate runs deep. I totally understand the pro-life position. The first day we heard my unborn daughter’s heartbeat changed my life. But their position has two major flaws. The first is that outlawing abortion will not end abortion. It will push it back into alleys (and on to the internet) where women will die from not having doctors and trained professionals carry out the procedure. (You can buy RU-486 on line, by the way.) The second is that these “pro-life” advocates could not care less about these “babies” once they are born. Alabama, for example, comes in 46th in health care for children and 50th for education. While the Cotton State was ruling that rape victims must carry their rapist’s child, they were executing a guy who committed his crime when he was a teenager. Pro-life!

So what do we do?

All the screaming in the world is not going to convince the “pro-life” (Really the pro-forced birth, pro-illegal abortion) crowd to let women have control over their bodies. They’re convinced that that clump of cells is a “person” who needs to be protected. They are dug in and we are dug in. How do we appeal to enough people in the middle to make sure this frighting trend doesn’t end up as a real-life Handmaid’s Tale?

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The good news is that the vast percentage of Americans (79%) are pro-choice. According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 50% of Americans believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances and another 29% believe it should be legal under any circumstance. Only 18% of Americans surveyed think abortion should be illegal. I’m going to guess that recent news coming out of places like Alabama is going to push the May 2019 numbers even more towards the pro-choice column.

We have a road map here. It’s the incredible shift in attitudes towards homosexuality and gay marriage. Over the last twenty years, American attitudes have flipped on gay marriage. It’s been one of the biggest and fastest attitude shifts in American history. How did that happen? How did we go from Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom being cancelled because of outrage over a gay character on prime-time TV to marriage equality in all 50 states? Because people came out. There was a time when middle-America thought gay people were only in San Francisco, dancing in ass-less chaps in the streets of the Castro district. Now, LGBT folks are their family members, friends, co-workers, and (gasp) even their kids’ teachers. The movement to come out (even in Alabama) has certainly had casualties, including violent hate crimes, but the end result is that it’s a lot harder to scream about “homos burning in hell” when the family member you love comes out and asks, “Are you going to be with me or against me?”

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What’s been happening this week on social media feels a lot like the start of the #metoo movement in 2017, when women began telling their stories of harassment and rape. The genie of truth was out of the bottle. In the last few days, so many of my female friends have come forward with their stories of terminating pregnancies, including in red states. For some, it was a gut wrenching-decision. For others, it was a medical procedure that was just a step in retaining control over their lives. Some had been victims of rape. Others were not ready to add a child (or another child) to their lives. All were allowed to make the decision for themselves. Their right to dictate what went on in their bodies was not challenged, because, as Leslie Jones said on SNL, “You can’t control women because — I don’t know if y’all heard — but women are the same as humans.”

Men need to step up and join their sisters (figurative and literal) on the front lines. As a man without a uterus, I’ve learned to take a back seat on the abortion decision itself. To be 100% honest, I have had the front seat in this discussion on a personal level. Since it’s not my body, my only job has been to be supportive and respectful. Fragile men pass these laws but they can also be dicks when they should just shut up and make some tea. So, as a man I can’t say, “Women, you need to do this…” But as a sociologist, my hunch is that the more women and girls come forward with their stories about exercising their right to make choices, some hard, about their bodies, the more people in the middle will not see pro-choice women as “baby killers” or any of the other pejoratives that are hurled at females who are often just trying to get through a rough patch. The bottom line is that men have to both defer to women but also ramp up their initiative and effort to defend those women. If women and girls are going to tell their truths, we dudes have to make our brothers listen.

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Thirty years ago I volunteered as an escort for an abortion clinic in Atlanta. This was a time when a so-called “Christian” group called Operation Rescue was harassing women who were entering women’s clinics, some just for simple pap smears and OB-GYN appointments. I would walk the women in as these maniacs would scream the worst things imaginable at them. I would try to provide a distraction by talking about the weather or the latest episode of Cheers. It was clear that these “pro-life” harassers were more traumatizing to the women than the actual task at hand. 

I think that’s what’s going on now. Men are losing their long grip on patriarchy. From Title IX to #metoo, their assumed authority is eroding. They will recruit a few willing women who need a “strong man” to shape their shifting world, and flock to a pussy-grabber president who will take them back to the “again” America, before Brown v. the Board of Education, before the modern feminist movement, and before Roe v. Wade. Their best weapon is to traumatize girls and women again. To weaken them with threats of returning to the back-alley past. To bring back Father Knows Best. To reach into the femaleness of females to terrorize their humanity. To proclaim them less than human.

But it’s different this time. Women and girls are different. And so are many of the men and boys who now stand with them. The old men have lost their control over us. We won’t go back.

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Globalization and Nationalism: Get Ready for More Fascist Violence

April 28, 2018

The news today is not good for the world. A 19-year-old neo-Nazi opens fire yesterday on a Jewish synagogue in California, far-right nationalists have  won seats in Spain’s parliament, Hindu nationalists are waging a violent campaign against Muslims in India, far-right nationalists just came in second in Finland’s national election, and while the members of the Chabad of Poway synagogue were being shot, a group of white nationalists stormed a bookstore in Washington DC, chanting “This land is our land!” to an audience listening to an author speak about the rise of white nationalism.  Fascists in the streets in Germany, anti-gay murders in the Congo, and neo-Nazis “emboldened” in America.

What the hell is happening?

First of all, this isn’t something we can just blame on Donald Trump. Trump, like Brexit in the UK, is a manifestation of the problem. He has just added fuel to the flames of a fire destined to leave the world in ashes.

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One of my first jobs as a graduate student at Emory University, before I dove into the world of white supremacy, was analyzing the birth of the global economy. Working as a research assistant for the late, great Dr. Terry Boswell, one of the leading authorities on World Systems Theory, I was running computer regressions on the shipping patterns of Dutch traders in the 1500s to find the moment that money became more important than nations. For the last 500 years, we’ve worked on a global economic model. World War I was the last gasp of the old empires and now everything we have comes from somewhere else. If you wonder where our manufacturing jobs went, consider this statistic – 10% of every product exported out of China is headed to a Walmart store. The price of tea in China has mattered for centuries, as does the Nikkei index does now.

Globalization has been the norm for a while. It’s an inherently complex web of social and economic interactions that makes the world a smaller but more interconnected place. Some people’s brains can’t handle complexity, so they grunt “America first!” or “Leave!” and quit important international treaties because their little boy impulse is to take their toys, go home, and build a wall. The reality is that globalization has both benefits and harms. The workers of Thailand have better labor protections but the first world is dumping all its toxic plastic trash in Thailand’s formerly lush forests. Sorry.

There is a direct connection between the pushback against globalization and the rise of Trump and the other nationalist movements, each surrounded by waves of hate-motivated violence, like yesterday’s synagogue shooting. World Systems Theory has demonstrated that nations get about a hundred year tenure as “king of the hill,” whether it’s Spain and its massive armada, the British Empire (where the sun never sets), or the American Century. At the end that period, there’s usually an economic crash, and a new king (or “global hegemon”) is crowned. Since the American Century is generally viewed as beginning at the end of WWI (November 11, 1918), our hundred years is ending and look forward to a period of fascist isolationists pulling up their drawbridges until a new global power (China?) assumes the thrown. Donald Trump will have succeeded in making the USA a second string country. If we’re lucky.

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The neo-Nazis who organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2016 (who Trump still claims included some “very fine people”) are anti-globalists. They see the world controlled by a cabal of “international Jews” (as Henry Ford called them), destined to destroy “white society.” Earlier today I was lurking on 4chan, a haven for white nationalist boys. I wanted to get a feel for their reaction to the (latest) synagogue shooting. It didn’t take long to see the standard sociopathic anti-Semitism:

“The only solution to the Jewish Problem is extermination, that is to say genocide, which the Germans were too nice to do. Those genes are too harmful to everyone else. The second half of the 20th century demonstrates the need for Jewish extermination.” – posted on 4chan at 10:48 am on 4/28/19

The posts on 8chan, where the synagogue shooter posted his manifesto were even worse, complaining how whites have become “Jew-cucked” making it “OKAY TO KILL JEWS.” It is endless bile from fragile boys building walls in a world that thrives by opening doors.

To be fair, there’s plenty of anti-globalization from the left who see the global forces of capitalism destroying worker rights, as well as the earth itself, as multi-national corporations push for profits. The renewed campaign by the global media to make “socialism” a dirty word is certainly evidence for their position. “We are the World” doesn’t get sung much anymore.

Right-wingers have scapegoated refugees, the media, civil rights activists, feminists, transgendered kids who have to use the bathroom, and anyone who challenges the “God-given privilege” of straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied males. The global move to equality feels like oppression to them, whether they are “Incels” in America killing women in yoga studios or Saudi Arabian religious officials cutting off the heads of gay men. Hate crimes have surged in America along with Trump’s “Make America great again” campaign. If by “again,” he means 1949, we are well on our way.

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Walls are going up all around the world as those who don’t know how to manage the complexity of globalization retreat into simple “us verses them” nationalism. They will wage violent war against those who represent that complexity (like any non-White Anglo Saxon Protestants, including Muslims and Latinx immigrants) as well as those they think are agents of the push toward globalization (including Jews, the media, and any international partnerships, like the UN, NATO, and the Paris Climate Agreement). They hug flags and want their tax dollars to go straight to the military.

Buckle your seatbelts because the American Century is crashing to a close as the world’s tribes pull up stakes and get ready to go it alone, waging war on anyone who they think doesn’t belong in their camp. We are quite literally at a turning point in human history where we fall into a dark chasm of endless dystopian fascism. Or we could find a better, catchier version of “We Are the World” and banish these troglodytes to their caves. It’s that or start learning how to speak Mandarin Chinese. 我们是世界。

Are you “friends” with a Russian bot? Taking a stand against idiocracy

September 13, 2018

So I have this friend…. he’s a real idiot. Here’s the problem. I’m concerned he might not be an actual person. He might be a Russian troll bot. Or if he’s a person, he’s a cyber operative of Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA). It’s either that or he’s an idiot.

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Let me tell you about my friend, “C.” (If he is just an idiot, we should take pity on him and not harass him. You can fix stupid.) C spends his days on Facebook. As a stay-at-home parent, I typically just keep my laptop open for the the occasional news binge or topical post, but every time I glance at it there is another 5 posts from C. Typically it’s some stupid meme about “socialism,” or Obama (still) or Hillary (still) or how Trump making America great again. He posts enough images about cute kittens and college football to look legit, but then it goes off the rails. Much of his posting is seriously bigoted towards Muslims and black people. Whining about black NFL players protesting racism takes up a large chunk of his time and when the Nike deal with Colin Kaepernick was announced, he went into full snowflake mode. I wanted to know what was going on in C’s life that he was so triggered by America’s long slow journey toward social justice and equality.

Then I realized I didn’t actually know C. He’s allegedly from my hometown, which is Stone Mountain, Georgia. Stone Mountain is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and sight of the first KKK cross burning, so it’s not uncommon for these mouth-breathing good ol’ boys to pop up in my social media network. But I never actually met C and an algorithm could have generated the connection, the same way I get endless friend requests from women in bikinis who live in “Portland, Oregon.” (Bikinis are about as common in Portland as baristas are at an NRA rally.) We have 37 friends in common, but they could have fallen for the fake profile as well.

C also claims to be a reservist in the Army which adds to his appeal of having in my friend circle. I’ve supported vets and my active service friends as long as I can remember. But now I see it a bogus attempt by foreign agents to create a profile that has credibility as a “real American.” I can’t believe any real American could be this stupid or bored. And here’s why I think that. C regularly posts things that are easily proven as false. Fake facts and fake news stories with photoshopped images. I’ve been guilty of posting something that sounds good and then someone will post a link to Snopes or FactCheck debunking it and I quickly delete it with a mea culpa. Not C. When I (fairly regularly) debunk his asinine posts, not only does he leave them up, he opens the door for his moronic troll army to attack. I know lots of people in the military, including family members. I have respect for them and know they are honorable people. Not C. He traffics in division. There’s no way he’s in the American armed services. He is fighting against America. He’s gotta be a Russian troll.

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I bring this up for two reasons. The first is there is more evidence that the Russians are weaponizing social media to spread discord among Americans before the 2018 mid-term elections to keep Trump’s power unchecked. C is a discord machine. His latest rash of stupid memes are dedicated to Democrats stealing hurricane relief funds and blaming Trump. He’s funneling images from Russian troll farms like “I hate hippies and their stupid light bulbs” and “Occupy Democrats Logic” like there was no tomorrow. C wants a divided states of America. There is never a call for national unity on his feed. It is corrosively anti-American.

The second reason is about how much time I have spent arguing with this non-person, pointing out his fake news and trying to convince him that there is a better way of thinking about politics. Why am I wasting my time? I like a good political debate, but this is an exercise in futility. I’m either going up against the Kremlin, or someone so damaged by repeated head blows in Afghanistan, I might as well be talking to a wall. Either way, I fear for the country. It feels like we are descending into Idiocracy and I’m complicit. Giving C one second of my time has advanced Russia’s goal to drive an even wider wedge between the red and the blue, when we are all only shades of purple.

So C, as of today I quit you. I won’t unfriend you, because I need to be able to see what Russia’s IRA trolls are up to, but I never respond to any of your posts about “Muslim slavery” or “Al Sharpton’s taxes” again. I can’t say it’s been fun. Удачи мой поддельный друг.

She ain’t heavy, she’s my daughter: Trying to understand child abuse

August 31, 2018

I’ve told this story a thousand times. There was never a greater moment of clarity in my life than the moment I first heard my unborn daughter’s heartbeat. We were at Alma Midwifery and the whooshing sound came over the little speaker. It was as if the whooshing zoomed in to surround me and in that moment it was clear that it was no longer about me. My sole purpose in that life was to protect the heartbeat and the person that was growing around it. I was now primarily a vehicle for her success in the world. I don’t know if it was a moment of pure love or a genetic mandate to make sure my chromosomes made to the next generation intact, but it nearly knocked me off my feet.

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We were blessed to have a happy, healthy baby who is now a very smart and loving 4-year-old. I still find myself watching her sleep at night or spending time looking in the rearview mirror at her while she processes the world that passes outside the Prius window. The urge to protect her is even greater now that she has some independence. I worry that she will walk in front of a car backing out of a driveway, or get hurt at pre-school, or be grabbed off a playground in the moment that I look away. She’s about to spend a week in Mexico with my wife so you can imagine where my mind will go. I’m ready to step into full Liam Neeson mode at the drop of hat.

I mention all this because I am trying to understand the reality that parents routinely abuse their children; physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally. It’s just the hardest thing for me to understand, because I feel like every single strand of DNA inside me is telling me to protect my child from harm. There is no question I would trade my life for hers. Not even a nano-second of hesitation. Cozy is needed in this world a lot more than I am. (But you’re gonna get both of us for a long time.) I’m not some perfect parent, devoid of ethical flaws. What makes me different from them? According to a 2015 report, over 7 million children are identified as abuse victims by Child Protective Services each year. Over a third (37%) of American children are reported to Child Protective Services by their 18th birthday.  37%! That’s insane and heartbreaking and completely unacceptable.

I don’t get it, but as a sociologist and criminologist it’s my job to get it. My work often involves me building some empathy for some pretty horrible characters, including school shooters, Neo-Nazis, and serial killers. It’s not always easy and some bad actors challenge the assumption that all people are redeemable. (This is not a piece about university administrators.) As a parent, it’s easier to explain away a sociopathic serial killer than it is someone who would sexually abuse their own child (especially knowing that many serial killers were sexually abused by their own parents). Fortunately, social scientists are doing this research in a heroic attempt to break the cycle.

And “cycle” is the key word. Many abusers are acting out their own experience of abuse on their children. Others where brought up in cultures and subcultures of violence where the belief was that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. (“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” – Proverbs 13:24) Some are alcoholic or drug addicted and take out their chaotic mental state on the nearest target. Some are misogynists and attack “their” women and children to prove their masculinity. Some suffer from accutmental illness while others simply can’t handle feelings of powerlessness in a complex world. Explanations can be very broad, including the lack of social support for the economically stressed trying to raise children in this downwardly mobile economy.

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All those give us insight to the abuser. But it’s just not enough. I’ve been pretty economically stressed these last three years, not working full time and not sure when I would be, but I never thought to take it out on my small child. I could get the drunkest I’ve ever been and I have to think hurting her would never arise as a possibility. I could be in the throes of deep depression and her protection would still be paramount. I had a good friend who killed herself because she believed, in her depressive state, that she was protecting her daughter. There’s just something deep inside both of Cozy’s parents that would just STOP anything before she was hurt. What is that thing? It can’t be biological if over a third of kids (that we know about) are being abused. I was whipped a few times as a kid (The Belt!), but I don’t feel mindlessly compelled to repeat that behavior. They can’t all be so mentally ill that they don’t know what they are doing. It’s gotta be more complicated than a screw loose. Then there is the whole wide spectrum of psychological abuse, and abuse by step-parents and mom’s boyfriends and on and on. It seems massive. Like the untold story of America is what we do to our children.

Maybe it is because I didn’t become a parent until I turned 50. By then I had a lot of time to both want a child and think about what kind of parent I wanted to be. There are plenty of “unwanted” children in the world and many are born to parents who are so damaged that they are completely unprepared for the awesome and life changing responsibility of ferrying a baby into adulthood. But why didn’t hearing that baby’s heartbeat help push them in the right direction? Am I being overly judgmental?

I don’t live a bubble. I see it all around me. Adults with stories of childhood abuse and a few parents who definitely should not be raising kids until they have worked their own shit out. Violence in our society is what we sociologists call normative. We use it to express ourselves and “solve problems.” We used to think children were just little adults so why not knock them around for talking back, right? But nobody believes that anymore, unless you live in an FDLS cult in Utah. Kids are supposed to get a pass from our culture of violence. What is it? This question perplexes me to no end. I feel like if we could figure it out, as a species, we could truly evolve.

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