A Letter to My Girls
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Charley & Lucy aka Booger & Boogie aka C-Bear & Lulu,
Humanity lives in the chest of us all and, like the heart, it prefers to be on the left side. We must find it, we must find ourselves.
It is not necessary to conquer the world. It is sufficient with making it new. Us. Today.
I wish I could say I wrote those words, but I didn’t. They were penned by Subcomandante Marcos back in 1996. You probably remember him from the book you have, The Story of Colors. He is the guy in the black mask.
This is a message brought to you from the past. The year is 2010 (twenty-ten). I doubt much has changed and by that I mean I doubt things have gotten better.
Daddy (me) is not a cynic. True, my personal opinion is we are fucked. Once a massive snowball gets going it isn’t easy to stop. It’s Zymurgy's First Law of Evolving Systems Dynamics: Once you open a can of worms, the only way to re-can them is to use a bigger can. And judging by the amount of worms that need to be re-canned I would say finding a can big enough will be no easy task.
Like I said, I am not a cynic. How do I balance not being one with a view that we’re screwed? Listen, we shouldn’t do the right things because we think some superstitious deity will reward us kindly nor should we do them because we think we will be successful. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. While I think our chances of successfully turning the tide are slim I cannot stress enough that cynicism, apathy and inaction ensures failure. I will take the slim chance of success over assured failure any day. What do you think?
What the hell am I talking about?
Don’t you know? Have I not informed you? Or do you know and are rolling your eyes?
I will assume the former though as much as I like to talk I am sure it’s the latter.
There are a few things I want you to be aware of…
One of the most important gifts you can give yourself is the gift of free thought. Think for yourself. Question Authority. Especially mine. Too many times the root of our problems is obedience to authority. Far too often people accept what to think instead of focusing on how to think and why.
Charley, your name was picked out before I knew your gender. If you were to be a boy you were going to be named Zinn, after the historian Howard Zinn (Lucy if you were a boy you were going to be named Jonas, after a Weezer song). Back in the early 70s Zinn said this in a speech:
I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don't have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down. Daniel Berrigan is in jail-A Catholic priest, a poet who opposes the war-and J. Edgar Hoover is free, you see. David Dellinger, who has opposed war ever since he was this high and who has used all of his energy and passion against it, is in danger of going to jail. The men who are responsible for the My Lai massacre are not on trial; they are in Washington serving various functions, primary and subordinate, that have to do with the unleashing of massacres, which surprise them when they occur. At Kent State University four students were killed by the National Guard and students were indicted. In every city in this country, when demonstrations take place, the protesters, whether they have demonstrated or not, whatever they have done, are assaulted and clubbed by police, and then they are arrested for assaulting a police officer.
Now, I have been studying very closely what happens every day in the courts in Boston, Massachusetts. You would be astounded-maybe you wouldn't, maybe you have been around, maybe you have lived, maybe you have thought, maybe you have been hit-at how the daily rounds of injustice make their way through this marvelous thing that we call due process. Well, that is my premise.
All you have to do is read the Soledad letters of George Jackson, who was sentenced to one year to life, of which he spent ten years, for a seventy-dollar robbery of a filling station. And then there is the U.S. Senator who is alleged to keep 185,000 dollars a year, or something like that, on the oil depletion allowance. One is theft; the other is legislation. Something is wrong, something is terribly wrong when we ship 10,000 bombs full of nerve gas across the country, and drop them in somebody else's swimming pool so as not to trouble our own. So you lose your perspective after a while. If you don't think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition-that things are really topsy-turvy.
And our topic is topsy-turvy: civil disobedience. As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem.... Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin's Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people.
But America is different. That is what we've all been brought up on. From the time we are this high and I still hear it resounding in Mr. Frankel's statement-you tick off, one, two, three, four, five lovely things .~ about America that we don't want disturbed very much. But if we have learned anything in the past ten years, it is that these lovely things about America were never lovely. We have been expansionist and aggressive and mean to other people from the beginning. And we've been aggressive and mean to people in this country, and we've allocated the wealth of this country in a very unjust way. We've never had justice in the courts for the poor people, for black people, for radicals. Now how can we boast that America is a very special place? It is not that special. It really isn't.
I want you to internalize Daddy’s Platinum Rule: Treat others better than you would want to be treated. To say “treat others like you want to be treated” doesn’t take into consideration how they want to be treated. So get to know others. How would they prefer to be treated? Answer that and treat them even better. If more and more people did this we would be better off. Mark my words.
How you see the world is just as important as what you see. Sometimes when we listen to music we don’t hear certain things. We can hear a song a thousand times and one day we hear something new. It could be something so subtle yet it changes the dynamics of everything! What you see can often change depending on how you see it.
In the movie Dead Poets Society, the actor Robin Williams plays a teacher, Mr. Keating, and he says this to the boys in his class:
Creeds and schools in abeyance I permit to speak at every hazard, Nature without check, with original energy. -- Walt Whitman. Ah, but the difficulty of ignoring those creeds and schools, conditioned as we are by our parents, our traditions, by the modern age. How do we, like Whitman, permit our own true natures to speak? How do we strip ourselves of prejudices, habits, influences? The answer, my dear lads, is that we must constantly endeavor to find a new point of view.
[He leaps onto his desk]
Why do I stand here? To feel taller than you? I stand on my desk to remind myself that we must constantly force ourselves to look at things differently. The world looks different from up here. If you don't believe it, stand up here and try it. All of you. Take turns.
[Keating jumps down from his desk]
Try never to think about anything the same way twice. If you're sure about something, force yourself to think about it another way, even if you know it's wrong or silly. When you read, don't consider only what the author thinks, but take the time to consider what you think. You must strive to find your own voice, boys, and the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." I ask, why be resigned to that? Risk walking new ground. Now. A flame in your hearts could change the world, lads. Nurture it.
Life is patterns. Look for the patterns. Music, art, politics, science, economics, everything.
Daniel Ellsberg is a famous dissident known for leaking the Pentagon Papers. During our country’s aggression against Vietnam (can you find it on a map?) he worked for a company contracted by the government and he had access to internal papers that proved the government was lying. His conscious told him to come clean. He contacted Howard Zinn, and asked for help in publishing the leaked documents. This same guy is also famous for a paradox called… the Ellsberg paradox. Basically, our brains are constructed that we have a natural aversion to ambiguity. This paradox is useful in understanding society.
Another thing. The Investment theory of party competition. This theory was created by a guy named Thomas Fergusson. The theory says that in a party-based political system (like ours) that lacks an organized working class (like ours) the business class will use their funds to dominate and ensure favorable candidates win (like ours).
This goes in with the Ellsberg paradox. Candidates sympathetic to the working class or the plight of the downtrodden will get less donations. This means they will be ambiguous in the eyes of voters. The result is they will not vote for them and opt for who they are familiar with, which are the wealthy-funded candidates. Even when it’s against their own interests.
It doesn’t help that the media is a product of the ruling class as well. Enter the Propaganda model constructed by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman. This model says that the media will reflect private and state interests through a filter system of ownership, funding, source, flak and ideology. GE, a weapons company among many other things, owns numerous media outlets. Wouldn’t you think their ownership affects the substance of news? Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you?” Media relies on funding in the form of advertising. Again, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Media also relies on sources of information. Again, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If enough people make a stink about something then the media may prefer to not rock the boat. They would hate to lose viewers which would reduce how much they can charge for ad spots and remember the bottom line for companies is the dollar. Last but not least, ideology also shapes the news. We are good. That is the common theme. Our ideology is we are exceptional and it’s the world that threatens us. It’s hard not to read the news and not pick up on this ideological spin. I have Chomsky and Herman’s book Manufacturing Consent, which is on this topic. Do yourself a favor and read it.
Now these three things go a long ways in explaining the world we live in. Aversion to ambiguity, and a political and media system tilted in favor of the ruling class against the working class.
I want to throw out two more quotes on the subject of power.
John Dewey, a philosopher:
As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.
Eugene Debs, socialist and former presidential candidate:
I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the Promised Land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition
What does this say to you? How do those words resonate in your heart? In mine they emphasize that power must come from below until there is no above. That those affected by decisions should have a say in formulating their options and choosing from them. You will come to find that being that we are a social species most of our decisions affect others and therefore decisions should be made cooperatively by those affected. This is why I consider myself a participatory anarchist.
But there is more to life than just politics and economics. You are both female. Surely by now you have noticed that men and women are looked and treated differently. True, there are some biological differences but they are so slight that it doesn’t really justify the social divisions.
Don’t let any man walk over you. Don’t make me get a blowtorch and take care of them myself because I will. You are a person who deserves respect and fair treatment.
Just last night Amy explained to you, Charley, that she and I are atheists. While we respect the rights of others to believe differently the sad truth that prevails is that it is not reciprocated. Believers are not very respectful and tolerant of us unbeliefables. As hard as it can be sometimes don’t stoop yourself down the lower levels of others. Try to bring them up with you and if that don’t work then move on.
In closing I want you to remember: question authority, do what’s right because it’s right, be conscious of how you see things, look for patterns, treat others better than you want to be treated and above all else do your best to understand why this quote below is so important to me. It comes from the prologue of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography and is titled What I Have Lived For:
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
With Unconditional Love,