The right to keep and bear harm

A friend of a friend was at the concert in Las Vegas when the nut job started shooting from the hotel. A relative of another friend was killed in the high school shooting in Florida. I don’t personally know either of those people, and odds are most of you don’t either, but we’re heading to a place where, sooner or later, you and all your friends will know a shooting victim.

Contrary to what they would have us believe, the National Rifle Association is not a grassroots citizen group but rather a weapons industry lobbying group. Anything which might cost the weapons industry sales (like banning semi-automatic weapons for private citizens) is unacceptable to the NRA on principle. Anything which might boost sales (like arming school teachers) is, by definition, good public policy. That’s really all there is to it, once the curtain of social hot-button issues is pulled back. I’m sure the folks who run the NRA would say they don’t want innocent people getting hurt, but their actions (and the data) suggest otherwise.

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The Third World- coming to a country near you…

Whether it’s election fraud and voter disenfranchisement, crooked for-profit healthcare, environmental and consumer protection, fair labor practice, poverty and homelessness, or violent crime, the USA is sliding toward something which looks more like the third world than a developed nation (I’m leaving out racism, patriarchy, and homophobia because most developed nations also have those). We have the tools to deal with all of this, but we won’t. I won’t go into why in this post, other than to say the various players who understand and use our system have been putting their agendas into place for a long time, and the results are playing out every day. Maybe our ship can be turned before we descend much farther, maybe not. To those of us who have been to other places, it’s become obvious that large segments of the US aren’t interested in learning anything from the rest of the world. It’s as if too many egos here would be threatened by hearing how other people solve problems. Rather ironic, given we’re a nation of immigrants. Perhaps it’s too much to ask, but maybe, as things deteriorate here, more of us could have some empathy toward people in the actual third world.

(Sayulita, Nayarit state, Mexico)

Someplace better…

This is an ugly time in America. President Trump’s never-ending campaign rhetoric seems to have created avenues for the worst examples of humanity among us to openly act on their hatred. Having started life in the South during the 1960s, I find this territory familiar. Back then it wasn’t immediately clear that there were more people in the country who wanted to do the right thing than wanted to do the wrong thing, at least not until the Civil Rights movement gained some momentum. These days, though, it’s pretty clear that those of us who abhor hatred and ignorance (and the associated violence) outnumber the people who support it. Although in theory anyone can change at any age, I’m guessing the worst people aren’t going to be capable of change in significant numbers. We’re going to need the younger generations (who overwhelmingly rejected Trump at the polls) to bring our country back to something resembling sanity. My advice? Continue building communities (physical and other) where young people can find better examples of living than they might have seen at home. It’s easy to be against whatever poison spews from politicians and pundits, but without clear alternatives the poison can start to appear reasonable. So, in addition to outrage, protest, and sharing necessary information, let’s enjoy life to whatever degree we’re able and share stuff we like with anyone we meet who might also like it- if I was young and wondering where I wanted to land and saw places where everyone seems angry and places where folks are having fun I know what I’d choose.

Who’s running your show?

The wealthy, whether they realize it or not, require a relatively stable society for their wealth to be preserved. Directing their employees in Congress to further de-stabilze society doesn’t seem like a real good plan. Most of the richest citizens here have a level of education which would seemingly make this obvious, but for various reasons the train continues speeding toward that sharp curve. I guess we humans aren’t good at looking ahead very far (or remembering history), and it doesn’t help when we have so many salesmen feeding the desire for short term gratification, be it a “hot button” issue or just the next product. People of all classes and backgrounds fall for it. When I was in school, we got lots of facts and figures and names and dates, but not a lot on how to function as citizens, make informed decisions, or look inward in any way which might foster a healthy sense of self or community. What to do now? Short term fixes abound (if we put even minimal effort into them), while longer term solutions will require more fundamental change. Checking in with oneself on a deeper level isn’t something everyone does on a regular basis, but if more people did I suspect it would be harder for short-term salesmen to run the show.

More from the #MeToo Dept:

Among the numerous things wrong with our culture there seems to be a common thread- when people lack empathy and self reflection they often behave in ways which negatively impact everyone else. Having worked in the transportation sector on and off for several decades, I’ve observed a lot of bad behavior on the roads and it’s a rather transparent example of what can happen when people get a false sense of insulation from what’s going on around them. But we don’t have to get in a car for our individual egos to offer a similar false sense of insulation- it’s just one of the logical end results of failing to recognize how connected and interdependent we all are. With this in mind, I offer these suggestions to any well-meaning men who genuinely want to know what they can do to help remedy the systemic gender imbalance in our culture…

First try getting quiet inside. You don’t have to learn how to meditate in any formal way (though it would certainly help), but any time spent learning what it really feels like being in your body and being you without whatever extraneous stuff society says “you” are usually pays off well. Don’t beat up on yourself for not knowing about this- most of us didn’t learn it at home, and they don’t teach it in most schools.

Then try to imagine going through your own life as a woman- if you somehow showed up at your job tomorrow no longer male, how would your coworkers treat you? How would it be to have your ideas and views (and appearance) automatically filtered through a different lens than they were the day before? How would it feel to walk down a street while being “scored” or “rated” in some way having nothing to do with who you are or what you know? I could offer more examples, but you probably get the idea.

Those are two small ways men can become more self reflective and more empathetic, without any special training or a reading list. Lasting, meaningful change will require some things from women as well (like thinking about why some of them reward men for bad behavior by dating them anyway), but men have been largely responsible for the system we have so it shouldn’t be solely the responsibility of women to fix it.

Balance, etc.

Peter Stokes- slacklining in the park

For me, one of the key things about climbing is the need to be fully present and in the moment. When I was younger I didn’t understand that concept very well (for a variety of reasons), and found myself flailing and struggling horribly one afternoon on a hill near Boston at a hang gliding place. I had successfully launched a week earlier, and perhaps I thought that, like some sort of machine, my progress would be linear and ever upward. Life doesn’t always work that way, though, and through time and experience with other practices (music and my various trades among them) I figured out that maintaining a “practice” means understanding and accepting where I’m at at any given time and not being completely attached to one particular outcome. Learning to “check in” with myself isn’t just a way to determine my level of enthusiasm but also a way to see if I might be in a state of mind that could lead to an accident. At this point I’m a complete beginner at slacklining but I’ve seen how the things I’ve successfully used in climbing are serving me as I enjoy trying this new and exciting sport. I’ve included a youtube video below the photos here with someone who just turned 60 demonstrating some basics and describing some of the benefits slacklining gives him…

Peter Stokes- practice slackline rig in the garage

Practice rig in my garage made from a truck tarp strap and ratchet

 

Climate Change? Really? Who would’ve guessed?

powerplant

It’s certainly true that we humans are not objective critters, and the scientific peer review process can be flawed. However, the stance that we have to have every single data point in before we decide on something would have prevented many of the things we all use from coming to fruition. In this particular case it’s a position designed to prevent us from making changes that, global warming or not, would make our planet a better place to live. Yes, regulating carbon emissions and the like will probably impinge on our freedom to do things the way we always have, but that’s pretty much how societies evolve- I used to have the freedom to burn tires in my yard, but enough people came to realize it was harmful that now there are fewer places to do that (damn… I love a good tire fire). Will regulations like that give the powers that be more power over us? Maybe, but the energy infrastructure we have now doesn’t exactly empower the individual much beyond choosing which oil company or utility to hand our earnings to. There’s an equally good chance the next technologies will get us off of some of the centralized models we currently use for electricity and transportation. Or they might, if we would stop letting the current vested interests control the discussion.

tires