The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment – A Few Thoughts

So, we’ve all seen the petition:  “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”. I have watched many, many folks not only sign it, but then send out messages imploring others to sign the petition as well. And yet, to this moment, I have resisted signing the petition. I have continually found myself in the grips of an argument as to “why”. So this morning, after receiving a few more “invitations”, I thought it may be time to explore that path of thought a little more.

The Introduction

Perhaps the first thing to do is to look at the statement itself. Its quite lengthy, so the best option would be for you to hop on over to the website hosting it. Instead of attempting the longer task of going through the declaration step-by-step, I thought it would be better if I tackled what I considered to be the prime pieces for my own understanding and consideration of the overall statement. This does not mean that I think something that calls out to you is insignificant, merely that it was not something that I – as an individual – found compelling for my own understanding. I cannot speak for what is in your mind, or what calling is on your heart — if I could, then I would be you, and not me.

The opening statement, in my mind, is perhaps the most crucial towards how many folks will identify with the overall statement. After all, we may all identify within the scope of Paganism, but we are definitely not all the same. Some individuals approach their beliefs from a perspective where politics bleeds over into everything that they do. Some others, myself included, may choose the opposite part of that: keeping the political waters and the spiritual waters separate as much as possible. I have come across folks who disagree with my stance, which for me is perfectly fine. I follow this Path because it gives me the freedom to dance before my ancestors in a manner of my own choosing. But, like I usually do – I digress from my topic.

Paganism is a family of spiritual paths rooted in ancestral religions throughout the world and predating recorded history. As explained by the Pagan Federation, Paganism includes polytheistic and pantheistic nature-worshipping religions, and often includes deities of all genders, ancestor veneration, and celebrations in tune with our Earth. A full discussion of the many varieties of Paganism is beyond the scope of this statement, but we, the signatories, value life and the natural world as sacred. Thus, Pagan thought leads us to live in harmony with the rhythms of our great Earth.

This is the opening statement that is a declaration of identity for the under-signed. I guess I am slightly disappointed that there is no language for non-Pagans, but then this is a “Pagan Community” statement, so my disappointment is a minor, minor one. But the statement does note that this is not a time or place to have the wide-ranging, and free-wheeling discussion of what typifies a “Pagan” — and for that simple notation, I am extremely grateful to read.

On Towards the Statement Itself

The rest of the statement is broken into other parts: “Nature is Sacred”, “We Are a Part of the Web of Life”, “How We Are Damaging the Ecosystem”, and “What We Can Do”. The first two sections, “Nature is Sacred”, and “We Are a Part of the Web of Life” are fairly straight-forward declarations of how many Pagans, including myself see the environment around them. As an animist, I wish there was an addition how everything has life – sometimes in manners we cannot readily perceive. But that’s merely my own manner of Spirituality stepping forward.

The next two sections are where things might get problematic. After all, not everyone will subscribe to the idea of how we are damaging the ecosystem around us. But one particular sentence mended all those fences and erased all my doubts.

Our global systems of exploitation are not easily dismantled.

That one small, seemingly insignificant statement says a lot. With the advancement of the internet – not just as a means of conveying information from point-to-point, but also as a means of providing access into local economies that we have only had access to through physical travel – our local, regional, and national economies are tied together. Any changes made to any level of these economies will have ripple effects throughout the infrastructure, and those effects can have astounding, unforeseen consequences to people in ways we might not understand just yet. So, we have to tread carefully here. We have to be responsible with how we go about working the solution.

What is the Solution?

I am not sure what solutions are to be implemented. I’m not an Economist, or even a Biologist. But I do know where I would like to see changes. It comes in the next-to-last paragraph of the statement.

Fundamentally, we believe that a change in spirit is required, one that fosters a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole.

Currently, in a global economy that views the planet and other species of plant and animal as fungible resources – there is very little value placed on things that does not have a monetary descriptive driving it. Painting with a broad brush here, we do not see the beauty in a natural view in the mountains or the forests for what it is. Rather we see how many tourist dollars can be made bringing people from other areas to see it. And those tourists miss the spiritual aspects of what they are seeing, focusing instead on the experience of “having been there” instead. Our planet is a place to see, not a place to experience.

So how do we bridge that gap? How can we change the spirit of those individuals that are driven through living in a pre-packaged, fast-food, disposable life? As dumb as it sounds, the movie “Field of Dreams” has the ultimate answer. Yes,

…build it and they will come.

Or put in another manner: show them how reverence for our environment, celebrating how we are part of our environment, finding ways to live as a part of our environment — this is where we can make the difference. There will be the naysayers. There will be those who attempt to be derisive with names like: “tree-huggers”, “dirty hippies”, “people out of touch with a modern age”. But instead of arguing with them, instead of engaging in a war of words – let’s step to the forefront, and just be ourselves. In my personal estimation, that’s more than enough. Its what I strive to do in my everyday life.

American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO

American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO

Yes, I am a Pagan, and proud to be so. Every moment of my day is spent trying to live my life the best way I know how. Trying to connect better with my environment. Doing the best I can to connect with the Gods – and to connect with my ancestors. Greeting the Sun each morning with delight, and finding beauty among the living entities everywhere around me — even here in suburban America. My actions aren’t going to change opinions overnight. Nor will anyone else’s. But I am not going to be deterred by that. This is where I draw a line in the dirt…and refuse to be what a pre-packaged, fast-food, non-spiritual world wants me to be: a cog in their machine.

Have I signed the statement with my own name?  As of ten seconds, yes I have. My consternation came more from a perspective that has always been a part of my personal makeup:  I don’t like to be told what to do. Its a leftover from growing up in Catholic schools with strict, regimented rules. But I have spent the time to investigate the Community Statement. And for me, the statement fits into what I believe. I’m not going to beat you over the head and tell you that you HAVE to sign it. But I will say, head over to the website, and read it for yourself. If its something you feel strongly enough to attach your name to it. Please do so. But don’t feel like you HAVE to sign anything. After all, you have your own mind…use it.

–Thomas Van Hook, signatory 4,988

United We Stand — When There’s Common Ground

Imagine you could rid the Earth
Of anyone you choose
Which ones would you need the most
And which ones would you lose?

Do we want to judge another
Lest we be judged too?
Careful now… The next one might be you
–Prince, Planet Earth

So, I sit here – trying to figure out what to write for this particular blog post. There’s a hundred, million things swirling around in my thoughts. “Being scared of politics” — well, not really that one. That’s more a private joke these days than anything else. But there are lots of other things swirling around in here. As is my typical method for writing – I put iTunes into a random rotation, and let it pick something to color my aural landscape. What I get is the above Prince song that I have quoted from. Because it has touched on something that is becoming a stronger voice in my ears: community. Plus, the song touches on aspects of taking care of our environment, another cause I am hearing louder and louder with every day.

Looking at Community From Another Angle

Community is an interesting concept, so much so – I have written about it numerous times here in the blog. But community isn’t just about identifying with a group of people over belief, politics, hobbies, or even the geographical area that you are living in. Its about connections. Its about relationships. Its about inclusion. Its nearly the opposite of our modern society.

Take, for instance, my local community. I live on a block of houses that totals five down my street, and three more on the opposite side of the block. Eight houses total. That’s not including the houses directly across the street from me. Just the houses right here. Remove me from the equation – that’s just seven houses….or if you will, seven families. I have been here right around seven years in this house. In all that time, I have had direct contact with only three of the families here. The neighbors on either side of me, and the family immediately to the other side of one of these neighbors (the other lives on the corner). In seven years, I have spoken to all three of these families – right around a dozen times. Total. The other families, I would never know who they were, if they passed me in the frozen foods aisle at Wal-Mart.

Its not from a lack of trying to talk to these folks.  We are all friendly enough to one another to wave an acknowledgement of our existences to one another. But that’s as far as it goes. Granted, I live in what is termed a “commuter town” in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. People who live here generally work elsewhere – so they spend their time driving to work, or in some instances, taking the train to and from work. The majority of their time is spent with co-workers. On weekends, there is the obligatory maintenance of our respective yards, and then into our routines of spending time with loved ones and the friends that we don’t see during the week. In other words, we cherish our weekends and holidays to spend with the people we consider to be our “community” — our friends, and relatives. Individuals whom we choose to spend our time with. The people that live around us? They just “happen” to live near us.

Then there is the time-suck fashion of the internet. Its an awesome tool for closing the distance between us and family that are geographically living a distance from us. Or connecting with friends who live in another part of the world. We can spend time chatting via text, or over a video connection – catching up on one another’s lives – reconnecting with our chosen community members who just don’t live close enough to visit on a whimsical weekend.

So, we have what has become the modern-day aspect of a community. Let’s remember, this doesn’t describe EVERY community, but can be utilized to describe many aspects of what has become a modern community within today’s society. We’re not just disconnected from one another. We’re also disconnected from our environment, from the plight of our planet. Take, for example, the political football that Global Climate Change has become. We have individuals that say that its a “myth” – something that is just made up from whole cloth in order to bilk people out of their monies as donations to help support the cause come in. On the other hand, there are those that point to climate data to support their assertions. This leads to the opposition raising their tone to drown out the other side. And the other side increasing their volume and urgency to offset that from the opposition. In the end, we wind up with a lot of yelling, point-counter-point silliness — and nothing gets accomplished.

Breaking For an Opinion

Rainbow near Divide, Colorado

Rainbow near Divide, Colorado

I do have an opinion on this — and so I don’t get accused of not providing my opinion. I shall do so here. I’m no scientist, but I am a numbers-cruncher and an analyst in my mundane job. I can look at the data that is provided and see the trends that are pointed out. By both sides. However, I do not blindly believe one side over another. If I did, I would already have told you to ignore the climate-change-deniers. However, I’m not that person. I don’t believe either of the data models provided. By either side. I would honestly like to see what data was thrown out of the study by both sides, where the raw data is, and have a quick look for myself. Being someone that observes the weather on a regular basis, I would submit that the wild weather fluctuations are something that provides inference that the Climate Change is a problem. How far mankind goes into contributing to that – and mankind DOES contribute to some of the changes, its just a question if its 5% or 500% or anywhere between or beyond – that’s not something I can endorse one way or another without seeing the raw stats. SO, to provide it in a single statement:  I do believe that Climate Change is a real issue facing our combined populations on this planet. I am sure that if we take the appropriate steps to reduce carbon emissions, we can help bring this issue to something more “normal”. I also believe every day we wait, the longer it will take for human kind’s efforts to reverse the extreme intensity shift we have been watching happen. In other words, I am not all that interested in ascribing blame. I’m more interested in what we – as a population – can do to bring balance back to our environment. We are, after all, only now beginning to understand how we affect our environment through our interactions.

Back to the Point

We all talk about making a “community”. We want like-minded individuals. We want to be inclusive – of Pagans and Pagan friendly folks. We want those who believe in building a utopia of our thoughts. No monies. Barter and trade for goods and services. Removal of capitalist structures that we deem to be “evil”. Why do we oppose these things?  Because each provides “power” to a select few. We exclude those things that we believe to be evil or bad — we will kick Christians, and Muslims to the curbs because neither can spend time with others without starting to wars to eradicate those that don’t believe as they do. They exclude others. Isn’t that we’re doing here? Excluding Christians and Muslims based on the actions of others in the near and distant past that may or may not practice the same Christianity and Muslim faiths of the people we have before us.

Do we want to judge another
Lest we be judged too?
Careful now… The next one might be you

Yeah.

Making a Community is Messy

Let’s be realistic and honest here. Making a utopian community can be done. If you are willing to build the walls, man the gates, prepare to fight off the hordes of “undesirables” that do not conform with what you want. But is it really necessary to build all of this from scratch again? The under-pinnings are already here. We have our desired “chosen” communities. Perhaps, we need to find a way to integrate some of those “chosen” communities back into how we interact with everyone else. Rather than building up walls to keep our “chosen” communities free of what we term as “riff-raff” – we can find ways to interact and communicate with folks of different faiths, ideologies, backgrounds….and locate our common ground. Or as Rage Against the Machine reminds us:

How long? Not long, cause what you reap is what you sow

Time to cultivate common ground. And see if we can provide a crop that gives the power to the have-nots.

 

Jazz-Style Paganism – the Song I Sing for Today

“You’re a Pagan, right?”  A little absent-mindedly, I nod in the affirmative.  “So, are you a re-constructionist?”  And I draw a very deep breath and slowly release my inevitable sigh.

That particular scenario has not played out for some time. My somewhat addled mind strains to recall how far back in time that goes. Six years?  Eight?  Perhaps further than that. Shit, it could have been yesterday. But here it is again. And its the same answer it has always been – No. Which leads to a ton of other questions from my querent. And the start of what could be a promising discussion, or a series of frustrating question-and-answer sessions.

I’m not a re-constructionist by any means. I wouldn’t even consider myself a “constructionist” of any sort either. I know in some minds that this may disqualify me as a “Pagan” in their eyes – but to be frank, that does not matter to me. I don’t follow my beliefs, practice my rites, and learn to expand my consciousness and connectedness to my environment to appease someone else. I follow my somewhat unmarked trail of Paganism through the forest because its the Path that works for me. But, here we are diverging from the trail of this subject slightly – so let me set us back on the Path somewhat.

As I said, I’m not a constructionist or a re-constructionist. I draw my inspiration from the long cold ashes of a belief system that has very little documentation to it. But I have no desire to build it up into a vision for everyone, nor do I have a desire to try and recreate it from those ashes into something close to what it may (or may not) have been. I merely want to follow my Path to wherever it may lead, and spend my time trying to connect more with my own environment.

Now, before the re-constructionists start to freak out as their blood gets warmer than my freshly brewed cup of coffee – let me make something crystal-clear here. I am not saying that the path of re-constructionism is wrong. Nor am I saying it is right. FOR ME. It works for those that are on that Path – and more power to them. I’m not about to say what’s right or wrong for anyone else – particularly in a spiritual sense. I’m not a spokesperson for Paganism. I am; however, a spokesperson for myself. And with that out of the way…

jazzSo, how do I approach my beliefs? Well, perhaps the best way to describe it is with the phrase: “its just Jazz, man.”  The musical form of Jazz is so vibrant and alive, in my opinion. The musician doesn’t just play the music, they play the music that’s inside of them. No true set form, Jazz is improvisational – coming from within, to be played as a tribute to the world around the musician in that moment. There are many people that find this style of playing harmonious, beautiful, and very in the moment. I am one of those people. But there are others who find it discordant, out of sync, and sometimes just purely random. I can understand that. Not everyone has the same connection to the world around them. Some folks prefer a bit more structure to what they do.

Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put, and it never will.  –J.J. Johnson, Bebop Jazz Trombonist

I have talked about this previously on the blog. I am not that big on structured ritual. It has its place in my daily Spirituality – mostly tied to the Wheel of the Year – but my improvisational rituals are far more relevant to me. And there is nothing “formal” to my processes either. Things can be as simple as a walk through the wooded area just south and west of my home in the swampy area of Lake Lewisville’s north shore near the Goatman’s Bridge. if you went walking with me, we might stop along the way to listen to the birds singing their morning song, or clumsily dance together in a sandy section of the trail – just because. For me, its celebrating the world around me for this very day, which the Gods have unveiled before my eyes. Or I can hold my ritual at my desk at work, wearing my headphones – lost in the teen-age wastelands that “Baba O’Riley” is conjuring in my mind. I can grab a hold of the strong energy of The Who and let that flow through me – a celebration of the Awen that created the song.

Much like the Jazz soloist, waiting for the bass player and the drummer to lay down the syncopated backdrop against he/she will paint their feelings against in a fountain of musical notes, I hold my rituals in the same fashion.

The quest for spiritual experience begins with the quest for feeling. What moves you? Has anything in your life been beautiful enough to make you cry? What took your breath away, put you on your knees with awe, turned your world over and shook it?  —Nimue Brown, Spirituality Without Structure, p.22

Nimue’s wonderful book put into words much of what I already knew. I already understood the “why” and the “how” of my rituals. I lacked the lexicon to explain it adequately. I still do – in my opinion – a lackluster job of explaining things. A lot of that has to do with my brain running far faster than I can type or talk.

If you’re gonna sing meaningful songs, you have to be committed to living a life that backs that up.  –Joan Baez

This one quote of Baez’ brings me back to a semi-grounded state. Celebrating the day is one thing…I still have to live my life with integrity. I remind myself that I need to remain grounded and centered in the face of the world that doesn’t accept me for who I am. Exploding in anger and rage for the lack of respect or recognition of who I am and what I believe does nothing for me – and only fuels their argument that what I do has no basis in a reality that they choose to define. I may declare myself as not being a “Priest” of any type – but I am still viewed as a “Pagan” in that vein by others. I MUST follow my Path…

I am ok with being looked upon with disdain by re-constructionist folks. I only need to remind myself – I am the one working with my own spirituality. I only need to have my own permission to do what I need to. And much like the Jazz musician…I play what I feel. I feel the environment around me, and let that influence the pattern of notes that I will play – the song I will sing for today….

Give Me Something To Believe In — an Opinion

Thich Quang Duc

Thich Quang Duc

Extremists. A simple descriptive that conjures all kinds of mental imagery for the reader. Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc utilizing self-immolation as a means to garner attention to his cause within Vietnam in the early 1960s. The many acts of property vandalization and destruction carried out in the name of the Earth Liberation Front over the past few decades. The suicide bombers who have strapped explosives to their bodies and then walked into targeted areas and calmly detonated their payload in an effort to cause maximum property damage and loss of life. The nineteen individuals who hijacked aircraft on September 11th and crashed the four aircraft into various targets (with one supposedly being downed in a struggle with passengers and aircraft). The concept of extreme activity is not a very far reach for many to comprehend. Or is it?

Many of today’s modern extremists tend to fall under the guise of Muslim-oriented activity, which lends itself very easily to an “Us v. Them” mentality, that westerners are very well trained to pick up on – and run with it. Groups or people that are far more indicative of “everyday” western concepts and perceptions — such as Timothy McVeigh — are painted with a different broad brush, typically that of white supremacy or racism, even when it doesn’t apply very well. Recently, I have watched opponents of fracking and oil exploration in various locations painted with the same brush and colors that the ultra-violent members of E.L.F. have been colored and branded with. Words such as “war” and “battle” and “enemy of the state” have been bandied back and forth in various discussions on the subject, with opponents of fracking being branded further as “unpatriotic” where their opposition has been pulled into the spotlight.

The spattered droplets from this massive “throw the paint on” campaign has splattered such organizations, movements and belief systems as Native Americans, First Nations, and even the Pagan community. And rather than apologizing for the over-spray caused by reckless flinging of words – the mainstream folks of western society seem to regard the over-spray of their statements to be “ok”. Not because they think its an appropriate description, but more to the point that its ok if the “weird” people get lumped into all of this too.

The true reality is that very few of the people being painted with that broad-brush stroke are actually going to be “extremists” – in fact, it might be better to describe these people as average, everyday people. They have the same needs, desires, and dreams of a society that includes everyone that any of the so-called “normal” people do. They seemingly push the envelope a little further where personal expression is concerned in comparison to other people. The extremists are still the individuals that are willing to commit violent, indiscriminate acts against environment, property, and people – just to get their point recognized.

For the moment, let’s remember that these extremists make up a small percentage of the overall population. Anyone who has been to the Middle East can attest that there is not a terrorist carrying a shoulder-fired RPG and a vest of explosives to the bus station on the way to work. Utilizing either measure takes measured thought, and implicit intention — both of which fall outside the area of a position of an inclusive, societal mindset. But without relevant statistics to back up the point — after all, how do you count the number of extremists bent on violent, calculated, uncaring action? — let’s make an assumption that 10% of the total population have these extremist tendencies. I would believe that number to be a little on the high side, but relevant statistics are not readily available – so we have to make a few assumptions.

Are we really content in our lives to sit back and let one out of every ten people drive our entire societal paradigm? I do realize that making changes in one’s social understanding of this planet — for instance, understanding and properly reacting to Global Warming — is a slow one. Particularly when they nay-sayers are loud, obnoxious and very aggressive in the manner in which they present their arguments. I admit, I am turned off to a conversation when someone butts in with this mannerism. But that’s the whole point of their argument isn’t it?  To make people shut up and go away. Not to debate the proper aspects of Science. Just to make you shut up. And whoever shouts the loudest wins the argument in that approach.

ArgumentUnless you try another approach. I have had many coffee shop discussions get hijacked from an individual wanting to shout down a discussion merely because we were not taking that person’s unspoken opinion seriously — even when they were never invited into the conversation in the first place. The easiest methodology to work from, is to accept the common ground theory – and argue at the same fervor, depth, pitch, volume with the interloper (or sometimes someone who was brought into the conversation purposefully). But this sets you on the same footing with these folks. In a manner of speaking, an argument with a Tea Party member would mean that I needed to come to their level of argument, and then escalate a bit more for the winning effect. Let’s say, I decide to fire an RPG into their local headquarters as a means of bringing my point about. I have now approached and stepped waaaay across the line towards the level of being an extremist. A more appropriate method – I have found – is to close your mouth, let these folks have their extremely loud, opinionated say – and when they run out of steam, step right back into your point from where you got interrupted. And if you happen to be a bit steamy in your points (I have a temper too, people) – just look at your watch or phone, proclaim it to be a late point in your day, and excuse yourself from the table. Its far better, in my opinion, to step away from the discussion when it starts to leave the arena of discussion – then to stay and participate in the escalation towards an argument or a senseless debate.

Sometimes, people will feel the need to be somewhat extreme in their response to something. For instance, many fracking opponents have taken to chaining themselves to equipment to stop its usage, or blockading roads to sites so that men and equipment cannot get through. In my opinion, these measures are good – be prepared to step in and take the place of someone that is protesting and gets arrested. Be prepared to be arrested yourself. Don’t resist, be non-violent. Don’t look to destroy property to make your point, because it doesn’t. It only bolsters your opposition to mark your protest as being something extreme.

Now, most of this (I would argue all of it) is my opinion. I am a non-violent person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll crack you between the eyes and cave in your testicles with my steel-toe combat boots if you attack me. But I am not going to be the instigator. I am a firm believer that talking and discussing makes more progress on an issue than torching Sport Utility Vehicles or buildings. I also hold a belief that extremist actions do nothing but steel your opponent in a manner that is not easily undone. Express your voice – but be responsible with how you do it…the future of this planet could well depend on it. The manner in which future generations bring their voices into the mix will very much depend on it as well.

You take the high road and I’ll take the low road

Sometimes I wish to God I didn’t know now

The things I didn’t know then
And give me something to believe in

–“Something to Believe In’ by Poison

Want Some Tea??? An Opinion…

About five years ago, a friend asked me what I thought was more likely: a revolution based on race, a civil war centered on religious beliefs, or a governmental overthrow based on politics? At the time, I laughed and said “All three. At the same time. For the same reasons.” I knew he actually wanted to debate the entire ball of wax, I just wasn’t that interested in listening to the same, tired arguments over the same, overly-rehashed points. Thus I handed him an answer that sound plausible, but really wasn’t.

Tea BagsBut I have had an advantage since that conversation. I’ve been sitting on the outside, for the most, and just observing. There’s still major divisions in today’s societal culture over race, religion, and politics. We’re still fighting battles all over the world based on whose religion is right or wrong. We spend time talking about whether “black lives matter” or not, and sometimes the talking isn’t enough. We spend time destroying things, battling police offers and other branches of law enforcement – trying to get the government to acknowledge the issue in a manner that we can agree with and accept. With a Presidential cycle on the near horizon here in the United States, the political rhetoric and anger seems to get thicker every single day. Insults and veiled threats are seemingly the common cry of the day. I just found out that someone I know threatened a public official a few months back…and I would never have guessed that this person would ever do something like that.

We have talked about how the “Us v. Them” syndrome helps no one’s cause. In fact, it drives the wedge of difference further down between all of us, emphasizing that each of us is not only individual in our makeup, ideas, and thoughts. It also galvanizes the driving rhetoric between us to take those emphasized differences and turn these into factors of why we should dislike one another. It changes the alchemy from one of working together to resolve issues, and work together to make this planet better for all, to a metal where we claim parts of the environment and the resources contained within our Mother Earth as something for only one group of people.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

–Genesis 1:28, English Standard Version

And that’s only one of a handful of Biblical verses that dictate that the Earth was placed here for Christian consumption. Its merely a resource to use and flip over our shoulder when done. Just like a soda can.

Luckily, a lot of folks have started to realize that there is more than just them on this planet – that we all share in its fate. But not everyone. Political groups, such as the Tea Party, see the earth’s resources as something to use. Something to profit from. Furthermore, the services provided by the government, for the people who pay the taxes, are also under fire from the Tea Party movement. The idea is to cut back spending by the Federal government and give taxes back to the people. I heard this concept most recently on today’s Fox 4 News, where Tea Party radio yapping head, Mark Davis made a handful of statements.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8wTQaj_ow

Notice the heavy emphasis on tax dollars. This is the Tea Party’s religion: money. Money over everything. There’s no desire to make the world better for everyone, just to make their pocketbooks a little better than before. To the Nine Hells with everyone else. And yet, I watch more and more people become entrapped by their dangerous ideology.

Folks, its not the Christians that are dangerous. Its not the politicians that are dangerous – its the extremist fundamentals, such as the Tea Party movement, that are dangerous. These people advocate their pocket book above all else. Yes, they utilize Biblical statements to augment their arguments…that doesn’t make them Christians. It makes them opportunists.

A Dollar is a Dollar; a Human is a Human

The damage that my neighbor's falling tree did to the fence line

The damage that my neighbor’s falling tree did to the fence line

As I sit here and type this, I am listening to the distant rumblings of thunder. This is announcing the fourth round of thunderstorms to come through my local area in the last three days. Yes, that means it really is Spring here in Texas. The first round of storms blew my neighbor’s Cottonwood tree over with 80mph wind gusts. It tore up about six panels of my fence line, but thankfully the tree landed in his backyard and not on his house. When I approached my neighbor about the damage, his first response was “our insurance will get the fence replaced.” My response was a little different than he expected (I guess): “That’s fine, I’m just glad that no one was hurt or killed by it falling down.” Its an odd little statement of difference, but its really another indicator on some of the misplaced emphasis that I see in the communities around me.

Earlier in the week, I had gotten into a protracted argument with someone about what the purpose of the Community College was. I argued that we turn out a product: educated students – some that graduate from our program, some that take our credits (at a lower cost) and move on to a four year institution. But they leave with a measure of knowledge that they did not have before. The counter argument was that we turn out a single product: money. Our students go back into the work force, where their education allows them to become more productive employees, earning a higher wage, and thus bringing more taxable income into the pool of workers in the region. For my stance, I was openly labeled as a “liberal” — and that’s fine with me. Labels don’t bother me as much as they have previously. They are, after all, just labels. Whether I choose to allow them to adhere to me or not is another thing – and another post for another time.

I understood the sentiment, and the reasoning behind it. But its the emphasis that I have a problem with – Money. Now, before you start freaking out and calling me a hippy (thank you very much) that wants to destroy the monetary lynch-pin that holds up our market economies throughout the world which I am not advocating whatsoever. Currency in whatever form, permeates our lives. We all work jobs. Those jobs pay us currency to do the jobs they hired us for. In turn, we take that money, pay a tax for the “appropriate” care-taking of our governmental system by others, and use the rest to purchase petrol for our vehicles, pay our various bills, and purchase groceries and clothing. There’s nothing wrong with what the concept of currency represents. But when currency gets a higher position within our measure of needs and concerns than the people around us – in my estimation, there’s a problem.

So when did we become a society of people that essentially worships money? When did we start clamoring for a governmental structure that emphasizes how much money we can save by cutting this project or that program without worrying about the impact it will have on people? And even more important – how do we change this?

Without spending a major ton of time looking through the histories of the various parts of the world or even the United States, I can say that I don’t have an answer for the first two questions. And to be honest, where/when/how this starts is not nearly as important as making some kind of change where its all concerned. Furthermore, there is one political movement that emphasizes this more than any other – the Conservative Tea Party.

Ok, those of you who are rolling your eyes and mumbling about me being a liberal or a hippy — ya’ll can stop reading, and find another web page to be at. There’s honestly nothing I can do or say that will change your opinion. Those of you that are cheering my statement and saying “right on!” — you can move along as well. For a lot of the same reasons.

Now for those of you that are still here – listen up for a second. Before we pan the Conservative Tea Party movement and lay blame anywhere, let’s remember a few things. There are good points that the Conservative Tea Party makes, particularly where government spending and taxation of the citizenry is concerned. Their problem is taking it far beyond the scope it should be intended for. To dismiss the movement out of hand without finding where its merits might possibly be is just as bad. To do so removes any vantage point of critical thinking we may hope to achieve. Finally, let’s remember, this post isn’t about the merits or the toxic nature that the Tea Party and its adherents bring to the table. My point is about how we can change our own perceptions – something we do have control over.

We all attach some dollar figure to various things in our lives. My iMac has a very high price tag, and yet I find that dollar figure to be negligible for what it allows me to do. My beloved Subaru Forester has a typical car value associated with it. If I sat down and did the calculations, I am sure I could come up with a dollar value for each one of my three cats. All of that can be figured into a budget, which I can then calculate against my salary. If the money came up short, I would have to decide what will happen. Do I get another job to make due? Or do I figure that one of the cats is too expensive, and send her out into the world of the Animal Control folks because she is too expensive? Under the dictums of the Tea Party philosophy, I would turn one of my precious girls out or remove one of the expensive items I mentioned from the equation and make due without it. For me, it would be the removal of one of the expensive items or getting another job. My previous girls are part of my family, and I am fiercely protective of my young ladies.

But what about a government that makes a similar choice where a food-for-the-poor program may be in question? Utilizing Tea Party philosophy, as I have come to understand it by watching and reading Tea Party adherents discuss these issues, the program would be cancelled. “So those people starve, so what?” “If they just got themselves a little cleaner, they would be able to get a job. Right?” “Dirty, scummy, hippy-types. The world would be a better place without them.”

What the Dormouse SaidWould it? Most people don’t realize that it was hippy-types dropping LSD and other psychedelic drugs that came up with the concept for the Graphical User Interface (GUI), and spent time making it work within the experimental computer research labs of AT&T and other companies. For those who would scoff at such a statement, read John Markoff’s book “What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Computer Industry” and find out differently. And yet, in today’s environment most businesses would never allow such innovation to take place. Not because they want to stifle the innovation, but because the stigma attached to engineering types dropping acid and becoming inspired from their trips would be too much to sustain a good business model in today’s society. In other words, it would cost too much money in lost prestige in the business market. Yes, we are placing a monetary value on these people.

Its done in your jobs too. Every employee has a dollar value associated with them. Their salaries, their training, their medical benefits packages, their retirement packages…all calculated together to put a monetary value on the individual. And when the individual becomes too costly compared to their output? They are terminated on some meager pretense, and a younger individual willing to work at a lower wage, and less benefits is hired in their place. For a cost savings to the company. All designed to buffer the bottom line profit, and keep the shareholders happy with increased margins.

Occasionally, you will find a company that eschews this business model. Employees are considered to be individual human beings – all with differing needs and differing levels associated with those needs. If you have ever encountered one of these places, you find happy employees who care about their product. And when the company places the employees before the product, the employees seemingly are motivated to turn out a far superior product in terms of quality. Because the company gives a shit about the employees, the employees care about their company and in turn care about their product. Monetary value of the employee? Well, its the same as any other employee in the company. The pay scale may differ, but the company treats all employees as necessary and indispensable, from the janitor to the Chief Executive Officer. This, in my opinion, is how you build undying loyalty from your employees. You care about them and how they are doing – they will give a shit about what they do and the product they make.

So, smart-ass Tommy – how does that equate to how we need to change our perceptions? How does this make our world any better?

Well, let’s draw the dots a little together. Most people do not know the neighbors on their street. I confess, I am one of them – but not from a lack of trying. My neighbors tend to close in around themselves and not congregate together in the front yard and occasionally talk. Corinth is a commuter town, and most people here pull inside of themselves, and only open up to the people that they want to consider friends. But have you ever tried to talk with your neighbors? You don’t have to be pals – just know enough about them to recognize when there might be problems. And when you perceive that, offer a hand. If its rejected, thank them for the consideration, and remind them that if they have need – they only need to say something, no strings attached. You are letting them know that you care enough to help, and that you are willing to do so on their terms. Instead of treating them as commodities and dollar figures or what they can do for you in the future, you are setting them on equal footing with yourself and saying that they are people too.

Ever give money to a homeless person on the street? I have been told by other people not to do that. That these homeless people will just go out and buy a bottle of booze with it. So? Who am I to judge on what got them to this point? If its a bottle of booze that helps them make it through another day – fine. Perhaps, by making it to the next day, they will encounter that person that will be able to give them what is necessary to change their way of life. When I worked for the Texas State Medicare program, I would pass a homeless guy under the interstate bridge right near the data center. He had the same sign always: “Will work for food”. One day, when I started back home – I saw that he was under the bridge because it was a rainy day. I turned around, went back to the McDonald’s that was nearby and bought seven cheeseburgers, three large fries, and two large cokes. I then went under the bridge and introduced myself. He seemed to expect me to reach into my pocket and give him money. Instead, I sat down next to him, removed one cheeseburger, and one of the fries, and offered the rest to him. “I’m having lunch, and I thought it would be nice to join you.” I sat and let him talk between mouthfuls. I found out that he was an Army veteran who had been discharged dishonorably for striking an officer. That stigma had followed him since his discharge in 1983. Since he couldn’t get a job, he worked odd jobs that paid cash. Essentially, he slipped between the cracks in a system that didn’t care enough to help him. For the next two weeks, I stopped by each day I worked at the Data Center (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and brought lunch for Patrick. We would talk about our mutual employment history – he in the United States Army, and mine from the United States Air Force. Then I stopped seeing him there. I never found out what happened to him. Perhaps the Dallas police had rounded him up for vagrancy. Perhaps another pan-handler had chased him from that location. Or perhaps something else. I only know that I was greeted every day during that time with a smile. And that smile reminded me that this guy was a person, just like me.

I work with data and numbers that are about our students. Its very easy to get sucked into the numbers and forget that each one represents a student. We typically have about 10,000 students registered in our classes per semester. Sometimes the number is higher and sometimes its lower. But each and every one of them is a unique story. How they got to this point in their life, what brings them to the college for education, what their dreams are, what they are doing to achieve those dreams, how their lives are now…they are all people, and all deserving of respect for whatever they are trying to accomplish in their lives. To forget that is to disrespect who they are, and to treat them merely as dollar values. And that alone — THAT is the problem.

We forget that people that are not in our immediate circle of influence are human beings with hopes, dreams, lives, and the stories that are associated with all of that. And when we forget that, those people cease to be people. They become dollar values that need to be maintained and controlled. They become tax dollars that we perceive as being “wasted” or “stolen” because we have no value for these people. Or place value on them by the amount of money that they earn, and the taxes that they contribute to the running of the government. The more they have, the more we respect them. That, ladies and gentleman, is the way of the Conservative Tea Party – monetary values attached to everything in life.

Sorry, but money is not the be-all, end-all for my life. Its merely the currency that I need to live my life the way that I choose to do so. I choose to see Life in a very different way….or as Damh the Bard says:

‘…Life is more than the money that you earn.’

Enslavement Through Analysis

or “How Categorization, Data Analysis, and Factoring Out the Outliers Continues to Enslave Us Outside of Dr. King’s Dream — An Opinion

My job tends to present some weird moments to me. I work with data. Just electronic ones and zeroes. If you were to take my job back a short ways in history – I would be described as a wizard with an abacus. After all, my job is basically to count students, faculty and administration at a community college – and then find new ways to describe that some population set, and count it again. And again. And again. I work under terminology that the average lay-person would not quite understanding:  Success-rate, Withdrawal-rate, Completion-rate, data broken down into gender and racial categories – diced up further over the five physical campuses we have, the method that the class is delivered to the student. Believe me, there’s so many ways to describe the same population of data – merely by re-categorizing the members of the population and running the same mathematical formulas against those. Yah. Exciting stuff, eh? Another way I’ve heard this job position described is “Inside Baseball” stuff. Any baseball stats junkie (like me) would not only catch the reference, but also understand the context it is being placed in.

However, there are so many ways this categorize, calculate, re-categorize, recalculate stuff can be hurtful. Data manipulation has to be approached from a clean, ethical manner. Those of you that know me can stop hiding your smirks and sniggering behind your hands. Yes, even I have to follow some basic rules — such as not harming the individuals from whom I glean the information from. How can I do that? Its really not that difficult. Re-categorization can be done by gender, or by race, or by economic status, or by relationship status, whether the student has children of their own, whether they currently have a job, pay their tuition by financial aid, or out of their own pockets, the type of financial aid they receive or any combination of those factors. Its not all that difficult to play up one side versus another. Its really a matter of how you cut the data. That’s why I spend 90% of my time writing out my methodologies, reasonings, and analysis of the data. So the people reading the reports can understand the whys of my findings. I cannot guarantee that anyone reads that part of my analysis, but I require that it is in any data study I work on when I present the findings. To me, its the most important thing that I do.

I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I have a dream this afternoon.

I have a dream this afternoon that the brotherhood of man will become a reality in this day.

And with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. With this faith, we will be able to achieve this new day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words in his speech at the Great March in Detroit on June 23, 1963. Now some people may get hung up on the Christian phrasing. Or that Dr. King only addresses the races of black and white. Or the religious aspects of Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, Catholics or even that he only seems to aim his speech towards men. My take? Whatever. You’re letting wording of a time frame that is two years prior to my own birth over-shadow the wording of the overall message. Your right to do so – but that’s not what I am addressing here.

Within the narrow bounds that “modern American” society of his time afforded to him, Dr. King could see a land where divisions created through race, religion, creed – and eventually gender – would be broken down. Where people would see one another as equals with differences such as pigmentation, belief, and gender no longer mattering in the scope of daily life.

Binary WorldHave we reached that point? In some ways, yes. In many other ways, no. We still see racial inequality within the bounds of the United States. We still see how Christianity continues to dominate the cultural landscape in America, and attempt to crowd out all other faiths. We still have an Upper class that dominates a Lower class, while the ever-so necessary Middle-Class continues to shrink ever so much more than before.

Dr. King’s message wasn’t just about equality. Providing equality in a legal aspect is very easily attained – and has been done so in countless manners. His message is not about cracking skulls and forcing a position of equality. His message is about stepping up, being socially aware, being a force towards the one thing that equality cannot give you: respect.

His message was about carving a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair – BUILDING ways towards the future. Paving the road for Hope and Respect for one another. And that’s not going to happen overnight either. The storm clouds will be dark, the rain will be cold and disheartening. People want very fast changes to take effect NOW. If it were only so that we could change hearts of people that quickly…

And violence is not going to solve the problem. In fact, it will only make it worse. Take for example the shooting that happened here in the DFW area just a few days ago. One group of people hid behind the Constitution in order to be as hurtful and insulting as they could towards members of the Muslim faith. During the day of their “event”, a protest area had been setup for Muslims to gather and express their outrage over the “event”. Not one person showed up and utilized the space. The usage of the space was where these folks wanted the media to film and watch. So that angry epitaphs and insults could be filmed and utilized as a “See? Did we not tell you what animals these people are?” However, two individuals in Arizona took enough offense and outrage to drive to Dallas, and open fire on law enforcement in the parking lot of the event. While these two may have felt their actions were vindicated — all they really did was prove the point that these folks were making with the event. Violence did not solve the problem – it only made the issue boil and fester in a way it would never have done if they had never shown up. Instead, the local news and talk radio stations are eating up this entire scenario, and spinning it one way or another to bludgeon their foes in the debate of the danger of Muslims within ANY country in the world. A totally stupid, irrational argument from both sides – which is now being provided the precious oxygen it needs to be “talked about”.

No, Dr. King is right in his words – we need to focus on the hope that we want. As President Obama mentioned several times in his first campaign: We are the ones who will affect change in the world around us. We are the people we have been waiting for. We have the power to change things, by merely making our intention known that we want a world where people are people. Regardless of color, regardless of belief, economic status, and what have you. But sometimes I wonder if this is what we really want? We – Pagans – talk about wanting equal footing, and yet we express our disdain for the entire Christian faith when we hear of a minister doing something wrong – or even an entire group of people (Westboro Baptist Church) do something repugnant. Instead of viewing these people as individuals – statistical aberrations – we paint the entire Christian faith as being just like these folks. I’ve seen it done the other way as well – where Pagans are branded as immoral, child rapists when a Pagan gets arrested for child porn or molestation. Perhaps we just broad-brush everything because its easier to do so – rather than to pick out the small pieces of garbage and differentiate them rather than the other way around.

In statistical analysis, broad-brushing an entire population by a result is done far too often. Particularly when the statistical percentage is over 75% in size. Very rarely do you see an analysis that points out that there were [x] number of points that were outside of the statistical curve. Sometimes, the outliers paint a far more descriptive understanding of the data than the overwhelming population does.

Somewhere…somewhere…I see a single point of data crying out to the rest of the digital environment:

I have a dream this nanosecond that one day we will all be recognized as individual data points. All with differing aspects that provide a unique descriptor of each of us. That one day, ones and zeroes will walk down the broadband avenue towards a user’s GUI presentation, hand-in-hand in the knowledge that we will be given equal representation within the interface by both the CPU and the End User. And we will then be free at last!

::sigh:: Until that day…I continue to fight my own fight within my own part of the world. That each data point represents a person. And regardless of the demographic breakdown of that student – they are an individual, with a unique story – and deserve to be represented as such within any analysis.