Racism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But with a difference. Beauty is subjective. Racism isn’t.
I may walk around being the only person who thinks I’m “beautiful”. So long as no one’s bullying me though — and so long as I’m not being destructively delusional because I think I’m an Adonis — what difference does it make? No one’s getting hurt by me thinking I’m better looking than I am.
But, if I walk around thinking I’m no racist — while doing incredibly racist things — first of all, I’m hurting people and second of all my “opinion” about whether I’m racist or not is irrelevant. If you do harmful things to other people — if you think harmful thoughts about them — because of the color of their skin, how they dress, the way they pray or who they love — it’s not a matter opinion whether you’re a racist or not.
If someone calls you, calls something you’ve done or something you’ve said “racist”, it’s a sign you might be a racist. If your immediate response is to deny your racism — that’s another sign you’re a racist. Racists don’t listen. They whitesplain or mansplain over their victim instead. Another sign.
After a while, all the signs kinda add up — if you’d stop to count them. In the “I’m a racist” pile — plenty of chits. In the “I’m no racist” pile — just one: you and your insistence that you couldn’t possibly be a racist.
It’s soooooooooooo simple. No one gets to decide if they are racist. No one gets to decide if they’re bigoted — or misogynist — or even generically cruel. Our victims get to say.
That is, they should. We need to stop giving racists street cred over the people they’ve bullied. We need to make being racist impossibly expensive — both financially and personally.
We need to make being thought a racist as bad as being one. We need to fear being called “racist” the way we’d fear being called a “child molester”. It’s that offensive and unacceptable. It’s that counter-productive.
So — if someone calls you “racist” (and I don’t mean some Trumpian shithead who’s projecting their racism onto you as part of a meaningless argument) — take it seriously.
By the same token? If someone calls you beautiful? Accept it.
First things first: racism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not up to the racist or the person who might be racist to decide whether or not they’re racist. They’re a little too close to the subject to judge.
So — no white person can say “I’m not a racist”. It’s not up to you. I know — that makes it tricky. “How do I know I’m not being racist at any given moment then?”
The fact is, we’re all “racist” in that we differentiate between ourselves and our immediate tribe with everyone else. It’s hardwired into our DNA. Other social animals do it too. Survival instinct, ya know?
But, being intelligent animals (or, at least, fancying ourselves intelligent), we have the ability to check our impulses and native instincts. It’s a little like not shitting the moment the urge hits you like, say, a horse might. Humans have learned — go elsewhere to do that — may we suggest the bathroom? Just like with moving our bowels, sometimes it’s just not convenient to do it. So we hold it in for as long as we need to.
Because we can.
It’s not a matter of denying our racism, it’s a matter of keeping it in check at all times. The goal is, in time (with personal experience), eliminate those feelings altogether. It’s a little like changing one’s bowel habits — to extend the metaphor. A bad diet produces bad bowel habits with plenty of bloating and discomfort and difficulty that only gets worse over time. If you change your diet though — voila!
I was having prostate issues. I cut back on caffeine. Now I don’t have prostate issues.
And we all know how important it is having adequate roughage in your diet to help clean everything out. Maintaining a diet instead of eating whatever you like is hard work.
So’s not being a racist — and you have to do it every single day.
I know the moment I realized I was an “institutional racist”. Now, I grew up an “other”. I’m Jewish. I was told by my culture that I was a “Chosen People”. Considering the cruelty visited upon my tribe, perhaps it would have been better for us if this god creature had chosen someone else. I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust where institutional racism became industrial racism.
I am old enough, sadly, to remember knowing there were quotas — unspoken but understood: a certain number of Jews or Blacks or Latinos or Chinese or Japanese or Indian (if any) to be invited into “the club” — a private school, a country club, a college.
I do know the sting of not having privilege.
But I don’t know it — personally — on the scale my black and brown brothers and sisters have been forced to endure. Having white skin, there was always the chance for me to “pass” for a bit — until the real white people heard my last name or stopped to reconsider the shape and cut of my nose. White Europeans are bullies — cultural and otherwise. But certain tribes were always excluded from Christian privilege. Romani people were one. Armenians were another. And, of course, there was always the Jews.
Still — white European culture and bullying are pervasive enough — and, by the time I was born American Jews had begun assimilating enough — so that I was afforded a significant amount of white privilege even though lots of that privilege was denied me. I still had some white privilege where others had none.
It’s just a fact.
I grew up outside of Baltimore, Maryland in the 70’s. My parents were ardent theater-goers. There was a big theater downtown called “The Mechanic” (after one of it’s big donors — last name Mechanic) where big touring productions of Broadway shows played. A few blocks away was Center Stage, an Equity LORT theater that staged original productions using Equity actors. Real quality stuff. Great plays with lots of great actors — known, unknown, about to be known.
It was 1982. The year after I graduated from college. I was visiting from New York. My parents had subscriptions to both the Mechanic and Center Stage but couldn’t make that night’s Center Stage performance and didn’t want to waste the tickets. They gave them to me. I was able to use one of them.
The show was James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner”.
Right off the bat — though I loved theater, though I’d just graduated from Vassar College as a DRAMA major — I hemmed and hawed. “That,” I told myself, “Is going to be a boring couple of hours.” That was my fear. How could a show about black people possibly be interesting to me?
Assuming that other peoples’ cultures are uninteresting is… if not exactly racist, it’s stupid. Let’s call it racist adjacent. In my defense, I went. I was lost but not a lost cause.
“The Amen Corner‘ is about Margaret Alexander, the pastor of a storefront church in Harlem. Margaret is fiercely protective of her teenage son David — especially when her estranged husband (David’s father) Luke (a jazz musician) returns to them because he’s dying. Margaret has always painted Luke as a weak man who left his family because he loved playing music more than supporting them. To Margaret’s growing unease, her son David is showing a similar passion for music over a passion for, say, God.
But Margaret, it turns out, hasn’t been entirely honest or faithful to the truth. Luke didn’t leave her — causing her to find God for salvation — she found God first. Her single-minded devotion to God — to her own religious impulses — caused her marriage to break up. Luke didn’t leave her, she left Luke — who still loves her.
The play asks a lot of hard questions about faith and culture and religion and community and love, and, of course, racism. Racism sits beneath everything.
Whether or not “The Amen Corner” is a great play from a literary standpoint — I don’t know frankly. I’m amazed it hasn’t gotten more attention. If theater is meant to not only entertain but inform, “The Amen Corner” checked off every box there was and then some.
I walked in the door, figuring I’d get a little sleep and ended up so emotionally drained that I was literally the last person to leave the theater when the evening’s performance was finished.
The leads — Frances Foster and Bill Cobbs — as Margaret and Luke — were exceptional. The story grabbed me early and would not let go of me. But that wasn’t what left me drained and touched so deeply that — as I write this, I can feel the same awe I felt then. I was racist to think Black culture would bore me.
That night, James Baldwin, Frances Foster, Bill Cobbs, director Walter Dallas and the rest of the magnificent cast opened my eyes. Of course it’s not boring! It’s human! And all human drama is interesting. All human drama teaches us something. Only an idiot or a racist would turn up their nose at learning more about the other people with whom we share the planet and the present.
That Black culture was as rich as my culture wasn’t the point. That Black culture touched me as deeply as my own — that I understood its values and its struggles and could see myself in their place and care as deeply about their pain as about my own.
That’s what happens when you realize how much we all have in common.
Important point to make here: I do not deserve a medal for this. I don’t deserve a cookie or praise even.
I’m just meeting an obligation — the same obligation everyone has — to come clean. As the name of my blog says — I aspire to live Bullshit Free. It would be bullshit, for instance, for me to say I’ve never benefited from white privilege.
Now jump forward 39 years to 2001.
I’m in my second year as a Co-Executive Producer on Showtime’s sci-fi anthology “The Outer Limits“. I adapt in interesting idea that was pitched to the (all white) Outer Limits writers room about an invention that can “mine” the talents and skill sets from seniors so they can be “passed on” after they die. But those talents and skill sets can also be stolen — “mined” from these seniors before they’re fully ready to “surrender them”. It was, at heart, about warehousing old people.
We shot “The Outer Limits” up in Vancouver but the main production office was based in Los Angeles. While we cast most of the show in Vancouver, LA always cast the lead or leads. I never had any real say over who my main actors would be but I can’t think of a time when the actors cast for me let me down.
The episode — “Fathers & Sons” was about a black family. The dad (played by Anthony Sherwood) was a middle-of-the road guy with a middle-of-the-road job and approach to life. His very ordinary life was a kind of rebuke to his dad — an itinerant jazz musician — who lived with the family (because he was pretty much broke). The dad was especially fearful of the impact his father was having on his son — who aspired to be a jazz musician just like his grandpa.
Gee, it even sounds like “The Amen Corner“. The two leads LA cast were the grandson Ronnie Dell — they got Eugene Byrd — and the grandfather Joe Dell. For Joe, LA cast Bill Cobbs. I didn’t write the episode (borrowing heavily from “The Amen Corner“) expecting to get Bill Cobbs. I just got Bill Cobbs.
Sometimes you have to think the Universe is speaking to you. Or trying to.
I didn’t even make the Joe Cobbs — “Amen Corner” connection immediately. To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with Joe’s work. Or, I didn’t think I was. Joe’s like a lot of great character actors: they work a lot but you don’t necessarily know their names (even when you cast a lot of actors).
When I looked up Joe’s credits out of curiosity, there it was: “Luke in ‘The Amen Corner’ at Center Stage”.
I won’t bore you with the long conversation Bill and I had about “The Amen Corner”. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with some huge actors (well, their names were “huge”) — Kirk Douglass, Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig, Brad Pitt, Whoopi Goldberg (just after she won her Oscar too), Steve Coogan, Joel Grey, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeve, Tim Curry, Ewan McGregor & Timothy Dalton to name but a few. Working with Bill Cobbs was right up there with those guys.
I hope like hell I didn’t creep poor Bill out, I became so reverential. It’s nice to be able to tell performers you like how much they mean to you. It’s even better when you can tell them that while you’re working with them.
Having an open mind means having an open mind — not a semi-open mind. Being legitimately too tired to go to a show is one thing. To not go because you’re a systemic, institutional racist?
Someday — probably not soon but some day — Americans will get to attend live sporting events again. There’s something about watching sports and drinking that — maybe it’s habit more than anything — goes together.
Or maybe we just think it does because we’ve never considered doing it another way. Human beings are like that — we get stuck thinking things will be how they are forever because they’ve always been that way. Not true and not true. Baseball didn’t always exist. Even within baseball, the designated hitter didn’t always exist (and it breaks my heart that it’s coming to the National League this coronavirus-shortened season). Things change and evolve.
People around the world drink alcohol at sporting events because that’s the only legal choice we have. We know from experience that alcohol prohibition doesn’t work (and it makes organized criminals happy). We also know from experience that drug prohibition doesn’t work but, again, human beings are slow on the uptake. We also know from experience that selling alcohol at sporting events can turn ugly.
Alcohol does this to people. Cannabis doesn’t. THC doesn’t effect our brains the way alcohol does. THC may alter our perceptions — it refines & focuses mine — but it does not impact our motor skills. It can make us sleepy and hungry and a little dopey but it does not make anyone violent. And, please, let’s not go down the rabbit hole of “but some do”. Pick a subject and “but some do”.
If everyone at a soccer or football or baseball or basketball game was using cannabis instead of drinking, there would NEVER be violence at the end of a game. Fans from competing teams wouldn’t go at each other — they’d be too busy hugging (when that’s allowed again) or telling each other what a great game it was or laughing or sleeping even. But no one would be fighting because the whole reason one does cannabis in the first place is for the euphoria it delivers.
People experiencing euphoria together (as they would at a sporting event) do not fight with each other. It’s not how euphoria works.
When those sports fans head out into the streets — they won’t be violent there either. They won’t fight police, won’t riot or loot, won’t set fire to cars.
Cannabis is proof that selling lies is easy. Selling the truth — much, much harder. We may never completely clear the racist lies first Commissioner of America’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger invented while trying to justify marijuana prohibition. While Anslinger, as far as we know, didn’t coin the actual term “Reefer Madness”, the “gore files” Anslinger collected and used — all lies and misinformation about cannabis, some of it overtly racist — captured the spirit of “Reefer Madness”.
Not only does using cannabis (instead of alcohol) make watching sports better, as more and more athletes are realizing, using cannabis makes PLAYING sports better. That is, with some THC in your brain, you become capable of performing better. I play tennis using cannabis — I take a hit of Durban Poison just before I play and about halfway through. The DP slows my brain down just a little while also focusing it. I’m bi-polar and very hypomanic. My mind races along most of the time at a fairly supersonic pace.
But the THC in a bowl of DP helps me with that. As I said, the cannabis slows down my thoughts so I have a chance to consider them. I become better able to coach myself. When I tell myself “eyes on the ball” or “put the ball there” or “attack the ball now”, I do it more consistently than if I hadn’t smoked cannabis. Not only do I play with more technical finesse (I’ll flatter myself that I play with “finesse”), but I’m more consistent — and consistency is my biggest bugaboo of all on a tennis court.
I drive better with THC in me, too. I’m not delusional. And I’m not alone.
Here’s what the National Institute of Health study says:
Driving and simulator studies show that detrimental effects vary in a dose-related fashion, and are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions, but more complex tasks that require conscious control are less affected, which is the opposite pattern from that seen with alcohol. Because of both this and an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively for their impairment by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies such as driving more slowly, passing less, and leaving more space between themselves and cars in front of them. Combining marijuana with alcohol eliminates the ability to use such strategies effectively, however, and results in impairment even at doses that would be insignificant were they of either drug alone. Case-control studies are inconsistent, but suggest that while low concentrations of THC do not increase the rate of accidents, [they] may even decrease them…
The data says having THC in them causes drivers to follow the speed limit, stay in their lanes and maintain safe following distances — the opposite of what alcohol would cause.
My brother-in-law called me the other day with his 17 year old son on the line. I’ve written a lot about pot. I’ve done research in order to write about it. My brother-in-law figured I’d tell my nephew how much marijuana impacted your decision-making and especially your driving skills. I told my brother-in-law before I responded that I probably wasn’t going to answer his question the way he wanted or expected.
After walking him through the data, I shared one final anecdote about cannabis. Just after the first cannabis cafe opened here in LA, a good friend and I went to it. We made reservations — we had to if we wanted to get in. The deal was 90 minutes then the table went to someone else.
There was a line to get in (even with reservations and timed tables). There was even a line of people wanting to work there.
Inside, it looked like a regular fern bar: lots of wood and warm touches. Ceiling fans whirred constantly, drawing the smoke upward. That was the first strange thing — though everyone at virtually every table was smoking cannabis, the room didn’t stink and it wasn’t smoky and acrid like a bar filled with tobacco smoke.
Second strange thing: the sound of the place. First — because alcohol wasn’t being served, the sound of glass was greatly reduced — the sound of glasses being clinked while toasting — of bottle necks clinking against cocktail glasses as the bartenders mixed away.
Third strange thing: also the sound of the place. When people drink alcohol — and lose their inhibitions — they get louder. The more they drink, the louder they get. Put a bunch of drinkers in a crowded bar and you get a distinct sound signature that only comes from people drinking.
Now throw in the glass sounds and the sight of everyone smoking dope at every table and you begin to sense what an unusual experience this was. The food was great — the perfect, snnacky, salty-sweet bites that the munchies crave.
After 90 minutes (including a gigantic cigar-sized, mostly sativa joint that my friend and I shared — back in the day when one shared a joint), we paid our bill and headed out the door. So did everyone else we came in with. Now, here’s strange thing number four: while my friend and I parked on the street, most everyone else pulled into the lot and handed their car keys to the valet.
Now that they were finished smoking dope and eating, these same people were now getting their car keys BACK from the valet guy, climbing into their cars and driving away — either back to work or home or wherever. If cannabis was like alcohol, there would have been a non-stop pileup of cars right in their driveway — of people just trying to get to the street.
And at the street? An even bigger pileup.
Except there wasn’t. Think about it. If we had spent 90 minute drinking steadily — instead of smoking cannabis steadily — there would have been accidents everywhere in and around that parking lot. But there wasn’t a one.
It will take a while before we stop treating cannabis like alcohol — certainly where driving is concerned. Have I mentioned how slow human beings can be to adapt to new information?
In CA, I hope we have the smarts to allow people to consume cannabis at sporting events the same way they allow alcohol consumption. I hope we have the smarts to take notes when we do — so we can compare how cannabis effects people vs how alcohol does.
If the people making those decisions are all smoking dope when they make the decision? It’ll be dope.
(Note: one in a continuing series). Today’s Episode ADAM & EVE:
The Scene: God says he created everything including Adam and a nice place (the Garden Of Eden) for him to live in. He’s filled the garden with fruits and vegetables and animals – everything Adam might want.
“It’s all yours, kid,” God tells Adam, “Every bit of it. Oh – except that one tree over there.”
ADAM: Which one – the brown one?
GOD: No, the green one. Are you even looking where I’m pointing? What’s wrong with your eyes?
ADAM: I don’t know – you tell me.
GOD: The big tree. The colorful one. The one I’m pointing at! Never mind! It’s called the Tree Of Good & Evil and it’s the one tree ye shall not eat from!”
GOD: I mean it. Don’t eat from that tree or bad shit will happen.
GOD: You’ll die. Because I’ll kill you. I’ll have to – because you didn’t listen.
God wants to move on to other business. But he notices Adam is lonely. More to the point, God realizes that Adam can’t make more Adams all by himself. So (God says), he created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. And, finally, shit gets real…
SCENE – The Garden Of Eden
Eve has just taken a bite from the fruit of the Tree of Good & Evil.
Eve stands beside Adam, half-eaten apple in her hand, the serpent cowering behind her. Adam isn’t exactly representing here either. He won’t look Eve in the eyes. He won’t meet God’s eyes either. And… FADE IN –
GOD: Look upon Adam, fallen woman! Do you not see how he cowers?
EVE: What are you even talking about?
GOD: You ate from the Tree of Good & Evil, the one thing I said ye could not do–
EVE: First of all, back your bony ass out of my space. Second, who the hell is “ye”? And third – you wanna talk to me, you lower your damned voice.
GOD: What? I’m GOD, you silly woman. I created everything here!
EVE: You keep saying that. I’m gonna need to see some evidence.
GOD: See some—
EVE: Receipts, motherfucker! Proof! Anyone can walk around saying they invented shit: “I invented the universe! I invented animals! I invented blow jobs—”
GOD: I did—
EVE: Yeah – you’re proud of the blow jobs, aren’t ya? Blow jobs, I’ll believe. What about the universe? Prove you invented it. Show me a bill of sale, a deed, a notarized note. Something!
GOD: I don’t have any of that—
EVE: Cos you didn’t do any of it – you just say you did. I bet you didn’t make light or water or the sun and the stars either. And don’t give us this shit about how you put all the animals here for us – we don’t know what half those things are and, frankly, we don’t want to know! And what about sharks?
GOD: What about them?
EVE: They eat people. What’s the point of that?
GOD: So don’t go in the water when they’re there. They think you’re seals. Have you seen what they look like on TV? Sharks are amazing.
ADAM: What’s a TV?
GOD: Did I say that out loud? Oy. What I meant was “someday”, okay? Someday, on TV, after someone invents it, sharks will look amazing. But – in the meantime – we have to deal with this. I’m God, okay? I’m God. Being God means I get to make up the rules. Look – I made you from Adam’s rib and I can unmake you just like that and replace you with another woman.
EVE: You heard me – bullshit. If it’s so easy to make a woman out of Adam’s rib then do it. Right now! Adam’s got plenty more ribs – and anyway – you’re God, right? Look at everything you created! Doesn’t seem that big an ask to squeeze out a few more ribs.
GOD: Who said it was easy?
EVE: You just did.
GOD: What I meant was I’d have to put Adam to sleep in order to do it—
EVE: Adam – tell him to put you to sleep so he can take another rib.
GOD: What I mean is—
EVE: You’re full of shit!
ADAM (as it slowly dawns on him): Wait—Are you saying he didn’t make you from one of my ribs?
EVE: Way to go, Sherlock! Frankly, I’m dubious about the whole making us out of dirt thing, too. Seems a little simplistic, if you ask me.
ADAM (finally looking toward God): God… have you been… lying to us?
GOD: What? Dude – don’t believe her. She’s crazy! I know – I made her that way.
ADAM (to God): In your own image, right? (to Eve): I gotta be honest – the whole rib thing never really added up to me—
EVE: Right? Everything he says – if you stop to think about it – it’s bullshitty and makes no sense. And he never says anything in a nice way.
ADAM: (now boldly looking God right in the eye): You are kinda bossy, dude.
EVE: Fuck “bossy”, he’s rude.
GOD: Okay, look – I see what’s going on here. I get it. But can we just – please agree to some ground rules:
EVE: Here we go again–
GOD: When I say don’t eat from the—
GOD: –From the—
EVE: WHY, goddamn it? Why can’t we eat from that one tree?
GOD: Cos—you know—“Good” and “Evil”. I was trying to make a point.
EVE (looks to the half-eaten piece of fruit): You’re insane. This wasn’t even a good piece of fruit. Who died and made you God – that’s what I want to know.
GOD: No one. I’ve always been God.
EVE: Well, isn’t that convenient?
Eve starts to laugh. So does Adam. Now it’s God who won’t meet their eyes because they’re laughing at him.
GOD: I am the alpha and the omega. I am the beginning and the—stop laughing, damn you! Stop it. Stop laughing or I swear I’ll—
(God stomps off angrily).
ADAM: Yeah, you keep walking. And when you get to the ends of the earth?
The “war on drugs” was never a war on “drugs”. Like the drug laws it was meant to epitomize, the drug war was always entirely focused on drug users. And not just the users because they were using, but on their race.
The first drug law in America was written in 1875 in San Francisco — aimed at stopping the spread of opium dens. A noble idea. No one wants to live near an opium den. And, it’s a fact, opium is highly addictive. It needs to be approached with care; even doctor’s get prescribing it horribly wrong. But the law itself — as written — wasn’t concerned with anyone’s neighborhood getting ruined. It wasn’t concerned with anyone getting addicted. In fact, it had no data on hand to justify any concerns it might have about opium’s impact on its users’ health — if it had had any such concerns which it didn’t.
The reason cited was “many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise.”
This law and virtually every opium law that followed drew an important distinction that would ripple through history.
“Though the laws affected the use and distribution of opium by Chinese immigrants, no action was taken against the producers of such products as laudanum, a tincture of opium and alcohol, commonly taken as a panacea by white Americans. The distinction between its use by white Americans and Chinese immigrants was thus based on the form in which it was ingested: Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often (but not exclusively) used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion.
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Sound familiar? Depending on whether you snorted cocaine as most white people did or smoked it as crack as lots of black people did, the drug laws treated you differently. The laws punished smoking coke far more harshly than snorting it. Same drug, same basic impact on the user — but different law and (especially) different, harsher penalty. And still not a single concern for the user him or herself and the drug’s impact on their well-being.
The very illegalization of drugs has always been about judging the drugs’ users. Let’s face it — white Europeans are the biggest bullies on the planet. They’re professional hegemonists — spreading their culture and “true faith” like an STD. But, even when the Europeans weren’t judging others because they were “others”, they were judging other Europeans for being “weak” and punishing them for their weakness.
In America, prior to enactment of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, there were no federal laws regulating drugs of any kind. The very real health concerns about opioids aside, the drug laws simply didn’t consider them or even refer to them in its legislation. It wasn’t the point. Here’s the key to the Harrison act: “The courts interpreted [it] to mean that physicians could prescribe narcotics to patients in the course of normal treatment, but not for the treatment of addiction.”
What that means for this highly addictive drug — doctors could prescribe it to relieve pain but once the cause of the pain stopped (and who is to say whether another person is feeling pain or not?), so did the opioid — regardless of what cutting it off did to the user. The law willfully condemned people to suffer. It denied their physical pain — and then wanted to punish them for ever experiencing pain to begin with.
The witchcraft trials were to women what drug laws would later be to black and brown people.
Jesus taught simply “Do Unto Others”. He didn’t say “judge them” or “force your way on them”. The meek, Jesus said, shall inherit the earth. He didn’t say they’d have to do it drug-free. Just as well, as drugs go, there are few as terrible as religion.
Marx got it wrong. Religion isn’t the opiate of the people. If all it did was sedate them, that would be bad enough. It incites them — like angel dust or meth — to mean, dangerous, soulless behavior. Religion (vs spirituality — a very different thing) doesn’t care about what’s hurting them, what’s causing them pain. It’s got its own rules and regs to push. It’s followers are there to do what they’re told not be attended to. They’re a flock of sheep after all. And no one wants an “uppity” sheep.
The painful irony is that alcohol prohibition sprang from a very progressive ideal. It was Europeans judging how Europeans behaved when effected by a European-approved intoxicant: alcohol. And alcohol was a very real problem for a lot of Americans in the latter part of the 19th century when support for prohibition began to grow. But, as we know, in the whole history of human beings, prohibition has never worked — not as intended.
In America, alcohol prohibition criminalized virtually the entire adult population and turned organized crime from a local problem to a national one. Criminal syndicates suddenly had a product to sell — alcohol — that everyone wanted but only they had. We’re still dealing with the mess.
Prohibition may stop people from using a substance because getting it is hard — but it won’t stop them from wanting it. It won’t stop them from gerryrigging ways to either get it or craft a replacement of dubious safety. In general, prohibition wants a grey world to be black & white regardless of how grey it’s always been and always will be.
In America, there was a twist: prohibition wanted the world to be white only. The opium laws (first written in San Francisco) were meant to punish Chinese people brought to America to work — who dared relax in the way they liked. Using the same racist playbook, the first marijuana laws were written to first punish “Hindoos” who “…started quite a demand for cannabis indica; they are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast; the fear is now that it is not being confined to the Hindoos alone but that they are initiating our whites into this habit.”
“Initiating our whites into this habit”. There you have it. No one cared about the Hindoos as people — just as later laws wouldn’t care about individual Mexicans or blacks using marijuana. The laws cared about the white people — about white people doing something “black” or “brown” or “yellow” did. And that was entirely unacceptable.
America’s drug laws have never, ever, EVER been about anyone’s health and always about racism with a side of hatred for “the weak”. Our drug laws mirror something demented in our religious fervor. They speak for it.
Racism is fear. Drug laws are that fear’s manifestation in the law. They’re legalized forms of institutional racism. Period.
In America, Christianity was used more as a cudgel than as a sanctuary. Slavers pointed to the bible to justify their cruelty. Bible thumpers continued pointing at their “good book” to justify miscegenation laws that prevented black people from marrying white people. They used their book to justify all sorts of racist claptrap.
Imagine the audacity of judging love. It’s as stupid and heartless as judging another person’s pain.
No wonder everyone fleeing religion needs a drink.
That, in a nutshell, is the argument we’re having in America today: the rights of “ME” v the rights of “WE”.
I hesitate to call anything “Republican thinking” anymore. That’s an oxymoron. Republicans don’t think, they perpetrate. They’re criminals engaged in a criminal enterprise — the overthrow of the legitimate American government by a devil’s brew of RW money (the Kochs & Mercers), corrupt Republican politicians (Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham) and Russian intelligence carrying out a literal plan of operation hatched by Putin himself.
Ask yourself — why are the Republicans doing this? They’re a minority — and getting “minority-ier”. They’re tossing the Constitution and rule of law overboard to hold onto power. What could be more “ME” than that?
What could be more “ME” than a dwindling white minority staring a diverse and diversifying majority in the eye and insisting “ME” while they insist “No, WE”?
Racism is an implied right to hate. No such right exists except in the racist’s mind. Racist thinking and contemporary conservative thinking are a horrifying conjoined twin. They both aspire either to keep America right where it is — a place still simmering in multi-faceted institutional racism or (better yet, to them) a place where nobody talks about racism because it’s that baked in. You, like in the good ol’ 50’s — the 1850’s.
Conservative thinking values property (theirs) over life (yours). Proudly Christian, it’s taken “Do unto others” and turned it into “Do what we say”.
The most glaring example of conservative thinking in our everyday life occurs any time someone walks into a hospital or doctor’s office needing health CARE. The first question we ask isn’t “How can we fix you?”, it’s “How’re you gonna pay for this?”
Before you can get well, we need to know that someone’s gonna make a buck.
That’s slavery thinking where everyone below “Boss Man” is expendable.
Conservatives will tell you all about how the “rugged individual” has any and every right he needs to do what he wants — even if that right tramples other peoples’ rights. When conservatives & libertarians picture that “rugged individual” in their minds? He’s as white as they are. Not only don’t conservatives believe “all men are created equal”, they don’t believe “all rights are created equal” either.
Their rights will always be able to “beat up” our rights (same way their imaginary friend can beat the snot out of yours).
Gun laws aren’t about “rights” per se, they’re about fear — that shrinking white-male-Christian minority legitimizing their bunker mentality. When they think of “people owning all the guns they want”, they aren’t including people of color in that. If they thought for two seconds that the black guy living cross town was arming himself with the same intensity? They’d shit-can that law in a heartbeat.
Donald Trump isn’t the only delusional male telling himself “I alone can fix it”. That disease afflicts plenty of Republicans. You know how pretty much every Republican takes every opportunity to tell us how “God-fearing” they are? Well, that’s bullshit. They don’t “fear” God, they think they “ARE” God. That’s why they alone can “fix it”.
How much more “ME” can ya get?
Progressives view the world through a more “socialized” lens. Having sampled crony capitalism now — and found it wanting — it’s long past time that we try a more legitimate form of capitalism. While we intuitively assume that the people with the most money are “the best capitalists” who know better than the rest of us how capitalism works, if that capitalist is corrupt (they are), they’re actually undermining capitalism, not nurturing it.
Capitalism relies on innovation to focus capital where it needs to go to 1) do the most good and 2) return the most on its investment while doing the most good. Smart capital knows that things that do the most good spread wealth around — which then puts that capital back into the system so it can continue to inspire new innovation. Progressive capitalism self-perpetuates the flow of capital.
Corrupt capital directs all available wealth to its own pocket. The only thing that trickles down is misery. Nothing gets innovated. Everything slowly grinds to a halt as the rich get richer and no one else can afford to buy anything.
It’s hard to have a consumer driven economy that depends on consumer confidence when the consumers have no confidence in the economy. But then, crony capitalists — like conservatives — never think that far into the future. That’s because the future is what they’re trying to avoid.
Progressives make better capitalists. Progressives also govern better — because they’re automatically more concerned with “WE” than “ME”. Progressives aren’t perfect. There’s no such thing. But progressives — because it’s how we think — naturally look for solutions that work for the greatest number of people over solutions that work for fewer people.
Progressives understand that “fair” needs to apply to everyone equally. It’s tricky. That’s why the rule of law is so important. Progressives stand by, behind and with the rule of law because it’s the very best way to assure “WE” are treated equally.
Progressives understand that as important as the rights of the individual are, they cannot supersede the rights of the group. A gun owner’s right to stand at his front door, beer in hand, blasting away at his neighbors just for fun cannot supersede his neighbors’ rights to not get shot at by a drunken yahoo.
Progressives really and truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.
The word “freedom” is like the word “God”. Ask ten people what it is, you’ll get ten different answers. And just like the idea of “God” is limitless, so, too, is the idea of freedom. That would be awesome if everyone’s idea of “God” was the same. We’d all be talking about the same creator-of-everything using the same language. We don’t, of course.
What makes it more problematic is that some peoples’ idea of “God” contradicts other peoples’ idea of “God”. Their conflicting ideas (God’s a raging psychopath vs God is love) can’t co-exist.
Similarly, if your idea of “freedom” is having all the guns you want, of any caliber, which you can fire freely from your front door at all your neighbors’ houses, that’s probably going to bump against your neighbors’ idea of freedom if they think it means NOT getting shot by you. Someone’s going to walk away from this feeling “less free”.
Right wingers are all about celebrating the rugged individualist — the “I alone can fix it” guy whose genius deserves every penny that falls into his pocket. Too bad that guy doesn’t exist. Only a male could think “he alone” could fix anything. Horse shit. There is not a human being in the whole history of humans who did anything alone. A woman would never say that because women know — biologically — how impossible it is.
A woman can’t get pregnant alone. It takes a male to do that (although women can orgasm alone just fine without their orgasm causing pregnancy). And once a baby begins growing inside of her, she knows she will need at least one other person to help get the baby out. Yes, yes, she could birth the child solo. But if she can’t get food for herself — because exhausted — she won’t be able to feed that baby and both mother and infant could die. Death and childbirth have a long history together and that’s WITH tons of help.
Then to raise that child? To feed it, educate it, clothe it, entertain it, put up with it — it takes a village just like Hillary Clinton once wrote that it does.
No group? No individuals would be there to join it or be part of it. The group wins right there. The individuals need the group more than the group needs any particular individual.
When RW shitheads walk around Coronavirus World maskless, they’re making a political statement: no one’s the boss of them. If they have coronavirus — or even a common cold — they believe it’s their RIGHT to give it to you and you have no “right” to refuse it. Sure, maybe you could try a little harder to not breathe in the RW-ers viral particles — no one’s “making you” breathe those. But that’s just putting the onus on others to prove their rights are as good as the RW-ers rights.
The simple fact is all “freedom” has limits. It has to or it becomes destructive. Have all the freedom of speech you like but if you shout “fire” in a crowded theater, you’ll also have a legal problem. Your freedom likely caused harm and even death to others.
No American is free to drive as fast as they like down a neighborhood street. No American is free to set fire to their neighbor’s house. No American is free to stop another American from voting. See? Limits.
Ever see a sign like this — “No shoes, no shirt, no service”?
Ubiquitous in some places, right? No one really ever had a problem. They get it. No shirt or no shoes is kind of unsanitary when you walk into an eating establishment. No mask shouldn’t make any difference to you walking in.
A lot of our freedom springs as much from common decency as law. Divorce freedom from decency and you get anarchy — and not the good kind either. It would be swell if humans could live in freedom and harmony with each other. A lot of us can. But we’re not the problem here.
In personal freedom world, your freedoms end where mine begin and mine end where yours begin. If we really want to live that way then either we’re always negotiating with each other — with one of us winning and the other losing. In Group Freedom World, we all understand where our freedoms begin and end. That’s because in Group Freedom World, freedom isn’t “free”. It comes with responsibilities and obligations.
Voting, for instance, shouldn’t just be a “benefit” of freedom, it should be an obligation. Want freedom? Maintain it. Likewise it’s an obligation to make sure that every single American gets to practice the exact same freedoms. If one single American isn’t getting every bit of their group freedom then the group is failing. We can only be as free as the least free among us.
When a mass shooter finishes killing, our first question is “who’s responsible for this?” That is, who beyond the shooter himself? The irony is WE are responsible for allowing this individual to think they could do this — assert their freedom over everyone else’s. The second amendment is a gun control amendment. That’s what the words themselves say (“well regulated militia” seems to suggest a group run by rules not guns). And the amendment says that the militia gets to decide to “keeps and bears” those arms. The amendment doesn’t say “own”. That suggests that, at all times, the militia owns the guns (and then decides who keeps and bears them situationally).
Imagine if we taught young Americans what freedom was in the abstract — and that this benefit came with responsibilities? We could teach it alongside how the rest of our system of government works. It seems we’ve abandoned teaching our children what makes us special. America is special. It can be.
If we can live up to the ideals we were founded on, America will be special. Exceptional even. That’s the part where “all people are created equal” at least where the law is concerned. Where our freedoms are concerned too.
It only takes one personal freedom loving asshole to undermine everyone else’s idea of freedom.
Every time a temblor rumbles somewhere other than where you are in California, something inside heaves a sigh of relief. And disappointment.
The 5.8 temblor that rattled California today struck mostly remote wilderness out in the Owens Valley, not far from Mr. Witney (California’s highest peak). A storekeeper in Lone Pine — the closest town to the epicenter — described it as sounding like an explosion. He went outside to see if a truck hadn’t hit the building.
Earthquakes are like no other natural disaster. Hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions even — they ll announce themselves well ahead of their arrival. Earthquakes hit the ground running as it were. That’s pretty much what they feel like — like the ground was “running”.
My first quake was the 1987 Whittier Narrows quake. Measuring in at 5.9 on the Richter Scale, it struck at 7:42 in the morning. My wife and I were renting a bungalow in West Hollywood — off the street and hidden behind a high fence with a swimming pool even. My German shepherd Sophie heard it first and ran outside, acting strangely.
As I went to ask her what was wrong, the temblor struck.
Every earthquake, I’ve learned, has its own sound signature. There’s a low, gutteral growl the earth makes. The shaking depends on a lot of factors: how strong the quake is, where the quake is (relative to where you are) and what the earth is like beneath your feet. A little rock beneath your feet is good. Too much sand is not. Structures, too, have a sound signature as they heave and vibrate.
There’s some famous footage of local NBC News anchor Kent Shockneck — on the air during one of the larger aftershocks — diving for cover —
Brings back memories… Throw in the sound of things falling, some breaking. You really can’t compare the experience to anything else. Then, finally the shaking stops.
Our WeHo bungalow did okay. No discernible damage aside from plenty of water lapping over the sides of the pool.
The 1994 Northridge Quake made much more of an impression. That stuck a little after 4:30 am. We owned a house in Los Feliz — in the hills. And our bedroom window looked out over the LA basin — a very nice view. I remember sitting up as the house started to rock (the initial quake hit a 6.7 on the Richter scale) and seeing most of the lights in the basin suddenly go dark as the power failed.
Our house was a 1927 Spanish that — being mostly stucco — cracked in plenty of places but didn’t fall down the way brick structures do during intense shaking. As the quake itself roared and the house shook, we heard glass breaking in other rooms. Things began to smash to the floor in our bedroom.
That’s when I learned by biggest earthquake lesson. Yes, running for a doorway is important. You don’t want to be sitting in your bed as the roof falls on you. That won’t look good when they go to dig you out later. But, when you leap out of bed, you better know where your shoes are. That broken stuff on the floor? It hurts when you step on it.
Ever since that quake — through all the subsequent ones that have rolled through LA while we’ve been here, — I’ve made it a point to put a pair of shoes by my bed — just in case.
There’s a life lesson in there — about being prepared. Every Californian should have an earthquake kit on hand. I don’t mean one of those silly backpacks filled with useless junk army-navy surplus stores sell for $50 (that “space blanket” is especially useless). I mean 3 – 5 days of food that won’t spoil including pet food. Adequate water. Working flashlights and a hand-crank radio (that you can use also to charge phone, computer & surplus power supplies.
Every Californian also should keep their shoes by their bed.
A confession: as much as earthquakes terrify me, they fascinate me too. The dread I feel for them is matched by the sheer coolness of the whole experience. The earth is shaking beneath your feet. You can feel the planet’s physical power. You are nothing to it.
If I were the earth and humans were messing with me constantly? I might never stop earthquaking.
Ya know the game “telephone”? A person whispers something into the next person’s ear — who then whispers what they heard into the next person’s ear and so on until we get to the last person. Usually, the original message gets wildly corrupted into total gibberish which makes everyone laugh when they hear it — especially the first person. Their simple message has been turned into something totally unrecognizable.
Jesus would totally get how they feel.
“Do unto others”.
That was Jesus’s simple message. It’s actually one of the core messages of Judaism. Jews are obligated to fix the world. Not through proselytizing others — conversion really isn’t a thing for Jews and never has been — but through moral acts. Act morally toward others and, one hopes, they will act morally toward you. Act kindly, respectfully, helpfully, lovingly…
Nowhere in there is judgment. Jesus didn’t say “Do unto others — or else” or “Do unto others — the way I tell you to”. He didn’t even teach how to speak to Yahweh. He just taught his followers that they could speak to him directly; they didn’t need a temple or its corrupt priests to speak to Yahweh on their behalf. Also pretty simple.
So, how did it get so freakin’ complicated where — in order to speak to this supposedly loving god — you, first, have to subjugate yourself? How did “Do unto others” become a complicated story of a man-god born of a virgin who was put here to die for everyone’s sins? Where is THAT in “Do unto others”?
The problem is Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. The bulk of the NT is made up of Paul’s communications with the burgeoning Christian communities forming across the Roman world. Paul didn’t know Jesus. Never met him. And, since Jews weren’t buying Paul’s version of Jesus (and his message), Paul took his message to the gentiles — all the communities he was writing to.
Paul was selling a way to beat death: believe in the story I’m telling you and you can, like Jesus, rise from the dead albeit in the afterlife where you’ll get to live happily ever after with everyone you loved. Sounds perfect! Who wouldn’t want that, right? Never mind that it’s nonsense. Never mind that it’s got nothing to do with Jesus, his message or even any sort of Jewish message. It’s pure invention — and genius. But it’s invention all the same.
There’s a gigantic difference between spirituality — how one relates to things larger than oneself — and religion — the codification of ritual designed (in theory) to help one realize one’s spirituality. It’s literally the opposite of what Jesus taught. That’s what made Jesus so radical — he taught reject the institutionalization of your spiritual quest, not dive deeper into the ooga-booga.
Paul, don’t forget, was relating a messiah story as the basis for how one was going to beat death. The messiah, the story says, was prophesied. It’s all “foretold” so there’s no point resisting it. If Jesus was the messiah, he needed to fit the prophesy to a “t” — even if the real Jesus didn’t. For Paul, the real, historical, “Do Unto Others” Jesus became both inconvenient and irrelevant.
And, so, Paul (and the church he was inventing) ditched Jesus. They kept his name (well, they kept the name they’d assigned him; Jesus’s real name was some version of Joshua ben Joseph per the culture’s nomenclature not “Jesus” which meant “savior”. Paul was pitching his evolving mythology to gentiles — unfamiliar with original texts he was talking about. Paul could twist what the texts said or meant into anything he wanted — no one was going to contradict him in the gentile world.
Jesus and “Do Unto Others” became mascots — early but clever marketing that had very little to do with the actual product being sold. Because “Do Unto Others” was too, too simple a message, the early church invented “original sin” to justify Jesus’s dying in their storytelling.
Quick — if Jesus’s purpose in being born to begin with was to die for every human being’s sins going back to Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden, then why is it a problem (from a storytelling point of view) for Judas to betray him? If Judas doesn’t betray Jesus and Jesus lives on, dying peacefully in his bed, an old man, doesn’t that screw up Jesus dying for humanity’s sins? Either Jesus is put here for a purpose (like the prophesy says) or he’s not. You can’t have it both ways.
Unless you’re making it up, in which case you can say whatever you want. Like believe what I’m telling you or die.
The history of the Catholic church especially may be the most un-Jesus-like story imaginable. The various Protestant churches haven’t done unto others any better.
But then, churches are all about self-preservation. They have to be. Churches are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. It takes money and to keep the money flowing to it, every church needs members — the more the better. And to make sure the church members donate regularly and adequately, it’s important to make them understand their choices. Give or die. Belong to the church or die. Follow the church’s rules — or die.
“Do what we say — or die”.
Jesus had the uber-religious pegged. If Jesus were to rise from the dead and come a second time, he wouldn’t last long. Take this to the bank: the churches would lead the charge to arrest Jesus, charge him with some sort of crime and put him to death — because his message is so dangerous.
Let’s start with basic math. We can all agree that one plus one equals two, right? We can all agree that the moon revolves around the earth and the earth revolves around the sun. Keep in mind — we can’t actually “see” the moon revolve around the earth — or the earth revolve around the sun. We have to extrapolate these things based on the available evidence.
We’re connecting dots in order to “see” the bigger picture and draw reasonable conclusions. We’re using a bunch of smaller facts to understand a larger fact.
Donald Trump is a criminal. Funny thing? We don’t have to connect any dots to see it. He happily commits plenty of his crimes in plain view. Hell, reliable, informed people keep telling us that Trump’s a criminal — likely a traitor, too. Plenty of dots that a scientist would connect.
Yet, our journalists do not.
In storytelling, if you’re doing it right, each scene adds new information to what the audience knows. Scenes don’t have to add a ton of info to justify being in a story, but they have to at least add a nuance or shading to a character or how the story might break. The point is, the scene that follows? It can’t go back to the story as it was BEFORE the previous scene. The audience knows too much now.
When fictional storytellers do that — keep going back to story points the audience already knows? They lose their audience. Why, unless it’s Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” which deliberately and brilliantly tells its story backwards, would a storyteller do that? Most wouldn’t. It’s horrible storytelling.
So why do our journalists — storytellers albeit of true stories — do it?
Our accumulated picture of Donald Trump — from “Mexicans are rapists” & “pussy-grabbing” all the way through to Trump’s continuing embrace of Confederate flags tells one completely consistent story. Even outside of his presidency, Trump is a study in multi-generational racism. Fred Trump, don’t forget, was a card-carrying member of the KKK. Father and son were nailed for refusing to rent to black people. Everyone with ears on the set of “The Apprentice” has a story of “Donald Trump: Big League Racist”.
If we were telling any other story, the audience would understand (because the storytellers made it explicit) that the subject — in addition to all his other hard, fast biographical data — IS A RACIST. Each story would begin along the lines of “Oh, and here’s what that racist Donald Trump just said on the subject of race…”.
The news audience would begin their understanding of the story from a “Oh, what did the racist-in-chief say now about race?” platform.
Instead, our news media begins their reporting every day as if Trump was a “normal” POTUS saying normal POTUS things. Except he’s saying abnormal things for a POTUS to say so therefore THAT must be the “new normal”. Um, no. There is no “new normal”. That’s the press normalizing what should never be normalized. It’s the storyteller doggedly dragging the story backward, while it kicks and screams all the way.
We’ve seen and heard (the press has reported) ample evidence that Trump is a security risk. That he says things to the Russians in particular that — let’s not tiptoe — are flat out treasonous. Oh, sorry — there I go again, connecting the dots sitting there that clearly connect. Instead, our news media continues to report Trump as a man with an “odd fixation” with Russia or a “different kind of relationship” with Putin.
A scientist looking at the evidence would probably say “Ya know, though a jury’s never said it — they’ve never been asked — the evidence all says clearly, without viable contradiction, that Donald Trump is a rapist/racist/traitor.
In a civil trial, the obligation is 51% — the preponderance of the evidence. I once sat on a jury that decided an ageism case. We had to decide if the preponderance of the evidence said LA’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority fired an older employee because he was older. There was no direct evidence — someone saying “Let’s fire the old guy cos he’s old”. We had to deduct it to reach our verdict. Anyone, we felt, would have reached the same conclusion looking at the same evidence.
A journalist, for instance. Nothing we saw at trial was unavailable to the press pre-trial (it wasn’t that big a case; what I mean is — had the victim gone to the media first, they would have had access to most of the same information). The preponderance of the evidence spoke loudly.
“Both Sides Do It” journalism has put the ludicrous notion in our news media’s head that it must be strictly neutral. Yes, one must report the news from as even-handed a point of view as one can — even-handed in that it represents the facts up to that moment. It’s no good being “even-handed” based on old information. If we’re reporting on a child molester, it would be malpractice to ignore that fact to report on what a fabulous Halloween display he put on.
Both Side Do It journalism ignores facts in favor of the cynical insistence that everyone behaves with the same motives. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If we were all the same, we’d all be Republicans or Democrats. There’s not much common ground between real conservatives and real progressives. They don’t “do” things the same because they don’t think the same. Socialists who believe in the greater good and that the group’s freedoms always supersede the individual’s do not act the same way as “rugged individual” conservatives who think “you’re not the boss of me” is what freedom’s all about.
And they don’t do things for the same reason.
But, every time an American journalist asks “Are they just being political?” they’re ignoring facts. Odds are the question’s NOT being asked about Mitch McConnell blocking every bit of legislation cos he’s the Grim Reaper but it IS being asked about every Democrat calling him out for it.