Friday, April 2, 2010

I am NOT A TERRORIST: My little manifesto to change the world, one round table at a time

Hey Everybody,

Sorry for the title. It was a bit out of line, but you never know nowadays who is reading these blog posts, and I just wanted to be very clear that I have NO AFFILIATION WHATSOEVER WITH ANY OF THOSE CRAZY GROUPS. I don't cut gas lines, I don't throw brick through windows, and I certainly don't engage in international espionage whatever-that-is-tactics.

I wanted to tell you all that this week has been a hurricane.

I have met the mayor of my city twice in the past 12 hours, and there is a small chance he may be coming to my college for Earth Day. Quite surprising, until you realize that most people on campus don't know who he is, or just assume he is already corrupt. A pretty sad political climate we live in.

But here is the thing: I think we are at a crossroad.

Down one path is the status quo (more industry bubbles, more genocide, more corruption, more greed, more hatred at the polls, etc.) -- perhaps leading to some unfortunate end.

Down the other path is something makes us human not just democratic but human, and that is cooperation. It is bringing as many people to the table as the table can hold, and asking them all 1. What do We want (core things) 2. How different are each of our paths to reach this table (how we see one another) and 3. What are our limitations (time, people, and money).

So this alternative path is a bit tricky, because as an old friend and mentor, Robert Lowe, once said "Any organization or body of organized individuals, as the group ages, will become more and more bureaucratic. It must either evolve, adapt, and self-reflect to avoid this stagnant inefficiency, or it will continue down that path to complete bankruptcy and dysfunction." He pretty much said that.

So I feel that this alternative path is based on some key things that WE CAN ALL PRETTY MUCH AGREE ON (shocking, really) -- I talked about these things with journalists, community organizers, passionate socialists, and frustrated conservatives. As one of the frustrated conservatives, my former fraternity brother, stood atop a washing machine shouting down "LABOR UNIONS ARE THE REASON WHY MY FAMILY IS POOR", I began to understand, through his rage and anger (I'll get to rage and anger at the end), what exactly he was saying.

Core things to agree on:
- People should earn what they have (and understand why they have earned it)
- People should be treated, talked about, and classified equally regardless of sex, race, or any other demographic qualifiers.
- Society should not take what people feel they have rightly earned, although if any decisions are made about "communities", these decisions are made democratically.
- The absolute definition of democratic decisions, from our founding fathers, was a 1 to 1 vote. Now on a national level, I think this is slightly impossible -- BUT on a local, regional, neighborhood, business-wide, city-wide level, perhaps, this is much more achievable.
- What is above is pretty much core to grassroots organizing and coalition building. It is also core to the organization of a cooperative structure (it is seen in Fair Trade businesses and farming communities around the world).
- When we engage with one another about these changes that need to be made, we need to be civil, respectful, and willing to listen. **Note: This one is the hardest to have everyone agree on!

In essence, I want to say that in a time of scarcity, it is so easy to divide up. It is so easy to divide up and yell at one another from across the fence (or fences), never willing to even see who or what is on the other side of the fence. We can all agree that this too is a problem.

So think of scarcity and global recession as like this GIANT MONSTER, and we are on, say, the movie "Starship Troopers" (love that movie). It is really to get scared, pissed, off and split up -- But, in the case of this movie, we would all probably die. Not good.

I think it is within our biological makeup to work together, it is within our evolutionary "common sense" to allow for things like competition, people earning what they have, and having the most hardworking people emerge as the strongest (now we could be going down a slippery path to social darwinism with this, so it is important that we are aware of what Hitler was thinking 70 years ago).

So, now that we are talking about biological makeup, I will bring up the the "rage and fear" discussion. My good friend I met this week, David Shipler (a wonderful author and human being), talked about this as well. There is also an incredible Radio Show that speaks about this, and if you have the time you should listen to all of it.

Basically this world-renowned psychologist Michael McCullough studied human brains under certain behaviors. He looked at brains when we were enacting revenge or seeking revenge, and the brain patterns he saw (whatever those look like), were almost identical to those of craving, those of desire, those of thirst and hunger.

These are, for the most part, unquenchable and unending desires, and they serve an ancient evolutionary purpose. Well Dr. McCullough thinks that purpose has expired, and that we live in an age where this behavior of rage "cravings" is simply disadvantageous to our species.

Then he looked at forgiveness, he looked at people who were in the act of forgiving. Their brains, I believe, were very similar to feelings of pleasure, calm, and things like hypertension and blood sugar were of course at lower levels.

So we are a dichotomous species in that these two ways of behaving oppose one another. One says "An eye for an eye", one believes in the Body of Law and Justice (which, by the way is not perfect) , and the other is something else altogether.

Maybe we can learn about from our relatives.

He first spoke of his son, who is 6 or 7 years old. When his son accidentally kicks him in the face, breaks his glasses, Dr. McCullough is certainly flustered at first, but not angry. He doesn't punish his son, or kick him back. This is simple and makes perfect sense in the scale of family dynamics.

Then he spoke of Timothy Mcvey and the unibomber, and that when McVey had been sentenced to death, someone spoke up against his execution. It was the father of one of the girls who had been killed. This man said that his daughter's death should not warrant more pain and suffering, and that he had already seen enough death and destruction and did not want any more. Furthermore, this man was at McVey's execution, and was consoling the father of Timothy McVey, who was obviously distraught. Before McVey was put to death, the father of this murdered girl said to McVey's father "What a remarkable human being. What a shame to put him to waste."

This is the essence of forgiveness.

He then went on to talk about Joseph Kony and his child soldiers in Uganda. The cultural devastation is immense, as thousands of women have been raped, entire villages and communities disbanded, and thousands of children forced to do horrific things. Before the children are taken to the forest to be brainwashed, they are forced, in front of their parents, to kill their siblings. This way if the children ever escape, they have no way of returning to their families.

Some pretty awful stuff is going on here.

Basically the Acholi tribe, the group that has seen the worst of Joseph Kony's wrath, is singing these songs. These songs are beautiful and you should go to the show and listen to them.

The songs are asking Joseph Kony to join them in peace. The songs are forgiving Joseph Kony.

So I spoke to a few professors about all of this, and they think that societies, groups, countries, they all come to such a point of exhaustion, such a point of "We have had enough pain and suffering" -- That they forgive. They ultimately forgive, and we all should ultimately forgive.

So back to Birmingham.

I was speaking with John Archibald last night, who is the most knowledgeable person in the state about Alabama politics, and I asked him that when, and not if, we go to the polls, or when we go to the voting booth, should we vote/answer with the range and anger and revenge that is so easy to feel (when are scared), or should we go with a different mentality?

Certainly not a mentality of vague principles such as "Hope", or "Change", for example (don't know where I got those); but instead, we are hoping for something real and changing something specific.

I also met with 7 Alabama universities and colleges yesterday, under this same principle. We are forming a coalition and if you would like to join us please e-mail me.

This is the essential crossroad we face: Will we join the factions of hate, anger, and revenge, or have we really had enough?

Is it time to forgive and come together? Isn't this what our melting pot of a democracy is all about?

So please come to the table. Please join us not in revenge or hatred, but in forgiveness.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I'm going to go do homework now.

- Ben