Friday, January 25, 2013

'Darwinism' Debunked -- By Charles Darwin

One of the pillars of modern Western thought, and lodestars of our cultural beliefs, is the 'scientific finding' that human existence is based on the principle of 'the survival of the fittest'. This 'sobering discovery' is attributed to Charles Darwin and his book, The Origin of Species (1859).

Why this has become such a popular notion -- justifying all kinds of bad behavior -- is something I'll get into later. 

Right now, I'll allow Charles Darwin to debunk the infamous postulate so steadfastly attached to his name and work: 'Humankind arose through the higher agencies of love and altruism. Selectivity and survival, being foundational, are retained, but in service of this higher and more complex life-form." (The Descent of Man, 1871.)

The Origin of Species was Darwin's treatise on pre-human development. It is in The Descent of Man that Darwin posits his scientific findings on how human beings developed and distinguished themselves from other earlier life forms. 

Okay, so then why have we grasped upon the first 'sobering and realistic' notion -- and made it into a defacto Materialist's Bible -- while ignoring his later, more mature and uplifting observations? 

First of all, biology itself. The human brain did not simply appear one day out of nothing. It evolved from its predecessor, Neanderthal. A ripe old age for a  Neanderthal  was into its early 30s. Until then it lived a life based on the principal of devour or avoid being devoured in a landscape dominated by beasts and behemoths with gargantuan meat-eating appetites.   And when it wasn't doing that, it was reproducing as many offspring as it could. It's brain, such as it was, was perfectly hot-wired for carrying out these functions. Neanderthals, and their brains,  successfully plodded along on earth for a whopping 650 thousand years. 

On the other hand, we humans have been here a mere 40,000 years -- and look at the unprecedented  amount of destructive havoc we have manged to reap upon ourselves and our planet is such a relative short amount of time.  

So then how did a creature that purportedly developed or evolved from Neanderthal because of a higher capacity for love and altruism, turn into such a self-destructive little brat?

A combination of biology and cultural self-programming.  One doesn't just slip out of a hundreds-of -thousands-of- years-old  mode of operation overnight. Additionally, in a twist of nature that seems unique to humans, we can also use our increased brain power to control and manipulate others by stimulating the 'veteran' Neanderthal brain over the 'rookie' human one. They are both still there.

If we human beings manage to survive this 'evolutionary adolescence', future cultural anthropologists may look back at this period with jaw-dropping bewilderment.  They would see our everyday cultural reality -- our so-called entertainment, and news, and economic systems -- shaped in a way to stimulate our Neanderthal fear-based brains and make us act out accordingly. (I think that if Neanderthals had TV, you could easily cut a few hundred thousands of years off of their existence.) We are, in effect, clothed Neanderthals with brains more advanced than we know how to use discerningly.

About 6,000 years ago, nature, the Creator, what-have-you, tried to send humans a reminder or wake up call with a new cultural phenomena for us to make hay from: religion.  Take your pick of which one, or ones, that you prefer, but all of them have one thing in common: an urgency for human beings to recover the lost virtues of altruism and selfless love that are the keys to our continued development and existence on earth -- which, by the way, is not guaranteed anywhere.

So, my point here is to try to imagine how different the human landscape would be now -- how we might have addressed our major issues of poverty, famine, racism, sexism, war and peace -- if our cultural mantra over the last century had been something more akin to William Blake's 'We are placed on earth for a short space so that we might learn to bear the beams of love', rather than the bastardized Darwinian interpretation of life as being a dog eat dog existence where only the fittest and most selfish among us survive and flourish.

I'm just sayin'....   

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Special Invitation to 'Odyssey'...

Last night I  met a woman and her three-year-old grandson. The woman's daughter, and the boy's mother, is currently deployed overseas in the US military. The boy has  not seen his mother, or his father, since he was born. Both his mother and father are  receiving treatment for physical, psychological and emotional injuries  they suffered  while serving in two consequtive wars.

There are countless other American military families in similar situations. Do we really 'honor their sacrifice', as is so often proclaimed by politicians in speeches, or by celebrities before sporting events, with jets flying over the field to thunderous applause? Are these authentic and sincere displays of support, or are they just political and social artifice?    

 Even just attempting to answer the question requires a suspension of belief in what we know to be real and authentic in life. If you want to play with it on your own, go ahead. I'll pass.

Roughly 1% of our population participates in the active 'military' defense of our nation. Can you, with a straight face, tell me that you believe we are, as we so proudly and smugly proclaim to the rest of the world,  a representative democracy -- a community of people who share the hard work of being a nation equally? 

I'll pass again on that debate.  So rather than discuss it,  I'd like to extend a special invitation to people serving us in our military (and their families and friends) to share their 'odysseys' -- their stories, thoughts, and anything else they like on this page.  I, in turn. will do my best  to provide links to resources and information  related to your needs, as well as disseminate your stories as far and wide as I possibly can. 

In 2009 I was diagnosed with a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No, it was not due to service in the military. Sometimes the domestic American landscape can feel like a battlefield. It did for me. In my book, An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net, I describe in candid and graphic detail how I dealt with the condition and my recovery. It was therapeutic, if not life-saving, for me to write about my experience. Therefore, I'm not going to rehash that experience here. (My book is available as an e-book on Amazon; and if there are any service persons who cannot afford to buy the book, contact me directly and I will send you a free copy of my original manuscript.)

But mostly I, we, want you to tell us your stories. Please tell us as honestly and as graphically as you want to what it is like to be stationed overseas in a foreign land; how it feels to enter combat; and how, if it did, did the experience change your life or your perspective on life.  We truly, sincerely, want to know.  ( No jets just flew over my apartment wasting thousands of dollars of fuel.)

Allow us to honor you by listening; let us support you by providing information about other supportive groups and organizations. And lastly, let us feel you; let us in so we can know you better like a brother or sister.

Thank you.

Friday, January 11, 2013

'Advocates" & "Odyssey' Complement One Another

When I was thinking of what ways might be best to represent the themes in my book, An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net' I was originally torn between the personal story of my 'odyssey' and the  broader social and political meanings that could be drawn from my experience. 

In the end I decided to do both because I feel that the two sides of the story complement one another and together provide a more holistic understanding of the American 'safety net' than either one on its own could provide.

When Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovic --   a largely autobiographical work -- he didn't have his character opine on the fairness or lack thereof of the Soviet penal system. He simply described what one day of life there was like. I'm not equating the American 'safety net' with a Soviet penal colony, I'm just making the analogy that we both used the same literary form -- simple realistic storytelling -- that allows the reader to make their own judgements about the experience described. 

My experience of American social services, however,  did not end where the book did. I've gone on to advocate -- as best I can as a private citizen -- for a social services that work better at realistically investing in people, rather than just providing them with enough financial assistance to exist and survive. The later approach doesn't do society or the people receiving the inadequate assistance any good. It's a waste of time and money.

 I've had to deal with bureaucratic ennui: social services is a large, overloaded system and the workers there, like the clients they serve, seem to just be treading water. They are too overloaded by the sheer numbers of people receiving assistance to find time to think period, let alone think about more creative solutions to the overall problem. 

That's one factor, and a major one. Ironically, federal and state governments are cutting budgets on the funding of people and resources for social services at the very same time that the number of people needing assistance is growing. This will, inevitably, out of necessity, lead to changes. Odds are, however, as it stands now, those changes will not alleviate the problems and will most likely lead to even more social instability and economic unfairness.

Those are some of the 'concrete' reasons why social services are not really working to alleviate poverty in America.  Aside from the economic factors, which is a whole other topic unto itself,  there is something I pointed to in earlier blogs: the social human factor. As I wrote previously, in the same way that a generation or so ago Americans looked upon  people of color, women, and gays as inferior, inept or odd, these types of attitudes  exist among Americans today about people who are in need of assistance. Basically, 'there must be something wrong with them'. (It's never because there might be something fundamentally wrong with our social or economic systems.)

This is why I felt it equally important to emphasize the 'odyssey',or the personal journey, that any one of us could embark on if we get into a situation of needing assistance from others at some time in our life.

If I had to choose another literary analogy, it would be John Howard Griffin's book, Black Like Me. The book was written in 1959 by a White writer who posed as a Black man, traveled throughout the country,and recorded his experiences in order to show what it felt like to be Black in America at that time. I could have called my book, Poor Like Me (though I surely would never do that). The main difference, though,  is that I was not posing to be something I was not. I did not enter the American 'safety net' on some kind of 'journalistic mission' in order to see how poor people are being treated these days. The 'safety net' was literally just that for me; if it didn't work out, I'd likely not be faring so well right now.  In  my book, I  candidly recount the story of how I got into the 'safety net'. In my case,  I willingly chose to put the welfare and security of a family member ahead of my own and paid a price for it.  That's something that could happen to anyone -- and especially among people of my generation whose parents are living longer than ever. So, in that sense,  my book is similar to Griffin's in that I'm aiming to re-humanize a part of the population that's been marginalized, misunderstood  and stereotyped.  I'm honest about the range of emotions I experienced while negotiating my way through the 'safety net'. 

The point is, I think it is first of all critically important to understand and empathize with the human stories that make up the tangled web of the 'safety net'. It's only when we can do that, that we will he able to make  social and political reforms to social services that will actually help people help themselves better in the future. Compassion breeds understanding, and understanding leads to real, lasting solutions. 

If you have a story, or a comment, please share it now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Invitation to 'Odyssey'

Most of us at some time in our adult lives are going to experience a personal crisis -- be it from an illness or accident; or the death , loss or irrevocable separation from a loved one.

By and large, society does not support us at these times. There's a strong cultural bias, especially in America, toward 'feeling good all the time'. This feeling often translates into an unease and aversion toward people in our society who happen to 'not be feeling so good' at a particular time in their lives.  It's as if 'feeling good' is so fragile that it might be contaminated or spoiled by contact with a different emotion.

That begs the question, 'How strong could 'feeling good' have been in the first place?' But that's a different question, perhaps, to be examined at another time.

What I'd like to focus on here is how we get through these times when we are left largely on our own to do so?

Because of all the negative and fearful attention we receive from society when we are in a personal crisis, it is often very difficult to work through our emotions in order to see exactly what happened that got us in to the situation we are in. One first has to get over the guilt of 'not feeling good'. And that's often much harder to do than it might seem on the surface because  the unsolicited advice we receive often has more to do with the solicitor's own issues of avoidance, fear and insecurity. Though in the process of 'caring about us' they are transferred to us.

What a dilemma? Now we are not only dealing with our own troubles, but those given to us by others close to us. Which is why others often get angry and blame us for 'not feeling right' -- as if we are feeling that way  on purpose to annoy them, or to remind them how fragile their own sense of well being is.

This is where it becomes vitally important to take a step back and sort out what has actually happened to us --  without the guilt or fear that we are hurting someone else by feeling the way we do.

I'm not saying that writing is the only way to sort these things out. I'm just saying that it worked for me, and it's why I share those experiences very candidly in my memoir: An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net.  I invite you to read an excerpt by clicking here

And then share with us your story on my Facebook Page: An Invitation to Odyssey.  (I know you've got one.)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Why Create A Social Media Platform of Advocates for Social & Economic Reforms

For the last few weeks I've been struggling with the challenge of how to utilize social media in order to promote my latest book, An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net.

My primary reason for doing this, frankly, is that I am told by professionals in the publishing business that it is now absolutely essential for an author to have a social media platform for their work if they want to see it published.

But that also begs the deeper and more profound question: Why create a social media platform for 'Advocates for Social and Economic Reforms'?

The first thing that comes to mind is that we are living in an age when much if not the majority of our information and opinions about social and cultural issues comes from people working in 'think tanks'. 'Tank' is the operative word in this case because most of these people are 'professional thinkers' who seem to live and operate from a  secure 'tank' safely distanced from the realities they are describing and commenting on.  That's a cultural problem in and of itself and not something I want to address on my site. My site will be dedicated to presenting what I feel is a much needed alternative to that perspective.

Again why? In addition to having lived in the 'safety net' I also work as an advocate and activist on the issue of economic fairness in America. That experience leads me to believe that there is a need for a site that can become something of a hub for all the different groups trying to tackle this issue in various ways. There are a lot of them; but, by and large, they act independently of one another and are not coordinated.    

The most obvious reason for this is that most of these groups are professional institutions -- for profit or not -- with a vested interest in holding on to their 'territory'. Believe it or not, there is a competition going on between many of these groups  as to who does the better job or has the superior approach.

Seeing as my site doesn't have any reason for being other than presenting all the information about what these groups offer makes it the perfect, by default, hub-site. And, trust me, when you are entangled in the safety net all you really want to know, as simply and quickly as possibly, is what to do to next not to make your  life any more difficult, and what steps you can take to enhance your situation. You could care less which group does it best or why.

So that's one specific goal for my site: to provide simple practical guidance on how to navigate the safety net when you are in a personal crisis situation. (My book does the same.)

This is perhaps something you don't know if you have not been  in an extreme crisis situation: almost as much as you need a solid footing underneath you, you also require some forms of personal support  in order to keep going. You need empathy and hope as much as you need air.

How can an online site provide that? Simply put, as best it can. Most people in the safety net have access to the internet; often, it's required for mandatory job searching a set number of hours every day.

In addition to posting local jobs, which I plan to do,  I will also be posting stories by people who have gone through similar difficult circumstances and overcame them, as well as those who have gained from the experience of helping out. I don't want to limit this only to verbal expressions. I invite participation by people who feel inspired to express themselves about these issues and experiences through poetry, music, photography and film.

Many of us will face an extreme personal crisis at some times in our lives; I'd like my site to a be a place where it can be embraced and resolved, not hidden from or made to feel ashamed of. A site that recognizes that we are all in this together and  that we benefit mutually from helping one another. That's the real 'why' for my site.

I welcome any and all (especially technical) suggestions on the 'how'.     

Why Crete A Social Media Platform for 'Advocates for Socfial & Economic Reforms?