Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Archive for January, 2017

Value family

Posted by boakley59 on January 30, 2017

The challenge in stopping a jerk, a bully, a monster is in not becoming one yourself. The difficulty in an “Us or Them” conflict is that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

It’s easy to defeat even presumably superior force with force if you have any means (see Revolution: American, ca. 1770s; War: Vietnam, ca. 1960s-70s), if you are willing to adopt the inhumanity with which you are being attacked.

Gandhi solved the problem through extreme nonviolence, relentlessly turning the other cheek until the cruel saw themselves as the monsters they were. Martin Luther King deployed an aggressive strategy of mass peaceful resistance — a collective shout, impossible to ignore, that “we are here; our lives matter.” Their followers paid a high price and they themselves paid the ultimate price — and their work remains undone. Indeed, these days their work is being undone.

Lament with me that we have seen this all before and yet there are some so blind that they will not see.

The thought of defeating force with force, violence with violence, brings me to deepest sorrow; my will to violence only arises in desolate anger, when I don’t care who if any may live or die. I try not to go there and to get out if I do have a foot in that door.

Instead, I will be marching when and where I can; I will be pleading here for a broader community, a bigger house undivided.

Over the years marginalization has been justified through appeal to “family values” and nowadays the attack is from the other end with rejection of “identity politics.” Used to be “they” didn’t deserve to be treated fairly, now “they” are being unfair pointing out they’ve been mistreated.

And here is where I take my stand, because “family” and “identity” mean something more to me than the narrow usage of the domineer.

I am the adopted son of parents who have no offspring. I have an adopted sibling with whom I share no biological parentage. I have a son whose mother and I divorced, so that I missed his middle school years but his stepmother and I shepherded him through high school. He is an enrolled Rosebud Sioux through his mother’s line. He lives with his girlfriend and her son.

My mother used to joke that I was her “little Jewish boy” because of my build, coloring and facial characteristics, but she raised me Catholic: grade school, high school and university. She grew up Protestant, Methodist I think, in Virginia poverty in the Allegheny Mountains, but converted to marry into my father’s Irish and German family, Depression-era shopkeepers in the industrial Northeast Great Lakes area.

My collegiate prep high school and my prominent university gave me a strong grounding in Catholic doctrine, in math and science, and in literature. I began college as a chemistry major but my degree is in English. I became an atheist at college, but nuns, priests, chaplains, and pastors have always been in my circle of friends.

(I’ve written about this before, and I probably said it better back then, so visit See, I don’t fit in for more.)

The upshot is that there is only one family value: Love others. That makes us all family. So watch where you direct your threats: We defend our families.

Be sure you understand identity. In math, identity is an expression of unity, not separation. Two expressions are an identity if they evaluate to the same: Two plus two equals four. “Black Lives Matter” is a reminder that “All Lives Matter” not a claim that some don’t. The identity here is “black lives are lives.” The point is that labels are superficial indicators of identity.

Am I Jewish? My mother joked about it, but in truth, I have no information on my sire and dam, so my genes may very well support that identity. I presumably am a bastard, though married couples do give up children, too, so maybe not. I am not Christian, but until I point that out or do not join in worship, I suspect few Christians would see my behavior as alien to their culture. I’m a Yankee in the South. I’m on disability but I coach running.

When you put on a white sheet, when you close the borders, when you burn mosques, you attack my family. You challenge my identity. You are a monster and I will call on my family to stop you. We will not become you.

Our family is not just one man, one woman, and children. Our family has many faces — Jewish, Christian, atheist, Yankee, Sioux, married, divorced, single, degreed, disabled, rich, poor, artistic, scientific, kind (for all those different labels, in fact just one kind) — and we love each other.

So say all of us.

Posted in Philosophy/Life Lessons, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Mexican sendoff

Posted by boakley59 on January 10, 2017

I fear I will have a hard time finding places to eat under the new administration. See, we eat weekly at a Mexican restaurant and regularly enough at a second Mexican restaurant with a great fish tacos special.

But now I have been assured by our fearful leadership (isn’t it supposed to be fearless leaders?) that Mexican immigrants are illegal in the first place and wicked to boot. The sharpest tacks in the pack tell us that the only ones who come here are the drug crooks and the rapists fleeing the law in their homeland. Paradoxically, it seems these are only the incompetent drug types who aren’t living high (so to speak) but instead must disguise themselves as dirt-poor vagabonds to sneak over the border to then take our most precarious low-paying jobs all while stealing from our support programs. It’s all take, take, take with them, we are told, and they are a menace.

I see it now, I suppose: I go to the restaurant, they take my order. I eat and they take my plate. Then they take my money and pretty soon I’m asleep and can’t work and my wallet is lighter. I’ll bet their evil cousins probably took the vegetables right out of our rich nurturing soil and probably didn’t pay taxes on their slave wage but ran to the emergency room for free care with expensive subsidized medicine at the first sign of a broken back.

Over the top? Of course it is — I know it and you know it. Yet these are the openly declared elements of the narrative that is to drive change in our immigration policy. Similarly twisted lies paint as terrorist secret agents those refugees, particularly Muslims, fleeing war in their homelands. Again, it’s a profoundly incompetent secret agent who must disguise himself as a dirt-poor refugee of no standing who must petition a ponderous bureaucracy for minimal shelter and food in order somehow to have a chance to then amputate the hand that would feed him.

But you know that too. You pass the lies to support your fear and validate your selfish cruelty.

The truth is these are your neighbors, already here; these are our invitees, “tired, poor, hungry, yearning to breathe free.” No, we can’t help them all, but neither can our response be “no room at the inn” and “you’re enemy evildoers.”

Because it’s not true that these people are draining our reserves; they don’t get benefits. It’s not true that they’re stealing jobs; they’re being exploited getting a pittance without rights or protections at jobs their hosts won’t take. It’s not true that they’re warriors, crooks, spies.

It’s not true that you even know who they are: If I understand correctly, the “Mexican” restaurants I mentioned are actually run and staffed by a mix of Mexicans and Central Americans. You can’t tell by looking at someone or listening to their Spanish — or Portuguese — whether they’re undocumented. And you can’t be sure if a woman in headgear is a Muslim, let alone whether anyone so identified is bent on destruction.

The Mexicans I meet and know work hard, love their children, and do good. The hardest worker on the high school cross country team, Mexican heritage, played a heavy family role at home when his mother was sick. He contributed to the team and took care of family, a dutiful son we can all see and understand. He joked about having to leave the country after the election. Does his family have their papers? Not really funny, because the blanket condemnation of “his kind” does not grant the presumption of innocence — including that they are not immigrants but natives.

Are the Mexicans learning the language at the local literacy organization I support — so they can enjoy and help more fully their community — going to be the first suspects to be rounded up? If Mexicans come to the county fair where I help, do I point them out to security if I have to show them the ride ticket prices in Spanish? Are they helping or hurting the economy spending hundreds of dollars treating their children to a carnival one night or one week a year?

Have I just been lucky so far not to have seen the inherent evil in “these people”?

The cross country team a couple of years ago had another hard worker, gentle soul, dedicated teammate. An observant Muslim, he followed the fast during Ramadan and would not even drink water before sundown. In Arkansas late summer heat and humidity, he held to his faith without shirking his commitment to his public school team. Am I to suspect this was toughening himself for a terrorist mission someday? Again, not an immigrant, but still would be smeared with the “they’re all that way” brush.

This is the corner we paint ourselves into by accepting false narratives for political expedience. We find villains to blame for problems we imagine. Now we have leaders ready to burn the bedroom to save us from the monsters under the bed that they suggested to childish minds. What do we do when they come with the flamethrowers?

It is ironic to be telling stories to ask people to reject false stories, but those who fear monsters under the bed aren’t impressed by the truth about the room: the locks on the doors, the absence of monster footprints, the lamp beside the bed. So, we must make them see their neighbors, friends, and even kinfolk in their target zone. They must see that bigotry is ultimately self-hatred. We are more alike than we are different.

The stories I tell above are biographies; these are real people, real targets, real victims of the bigotry we are told to unleash to resolve problems that don’t exist. Immigrants are ineligible for the funds they are said to be draining; they do not steal jobs and undercut the economy but in fact are exploited by the captains of business lining their own already-subsidized pockets; they are desperate, fleeing criminals and terrorists rather than being them.

The United States spends about half of the money spent in the world on military power, and that dwarfs all the rest of our spending. If we have a financial drain, it’s not anything to do with a few people in rags walking across our desert border to siphon our riches. They can’t get at enough money to make that difference. And we average 10 equivalents of 9/11 in gun deaths every year, so any problem of sneaky ragamuffins trying to establish a terror base is dwarfed by our existing “guns don’t kill people” death spiral.

Tackling problems by going after the Mexicans? You’re going after my friends. Muslims? The ones I know are good people. When you come for them with your lies, you come for me. And we resist your purge.

Recognize wisdom from another wartime: We have met the enemy, and they is us. We are one, or we are none.

Posted in Philosophy/Life Lessons, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »