Saturday, February 17, 2018

On God, Guns, and Schools

I saw a picture of this t-shirt today shared in social media. To anyone claiming we would have less violence in public schools if we let religion to be taught thereviolence, I take it given recent events, like mass murder caused by mentally ill young men acquiring legal assault riflesI would respond that as a parent of a child in a public school I'm strongly opposed to the idea that my son should be encouraged to hold supernatural beliefs by that government institution, regardless of any positive effects there might eventually be. Actually and to the point, I feel most of the long term effects of such a change in federal law would be detrimental for our country.

To be clear, I'm not against the emotional comfort religious beliefs apparently bring some people. I respect your religion if it encourages you to be compassionate, kind, giving, and loving and if it helps you to feel comforted. Many kinds of belief systems can offer such benefits. I disagree with you, though, if you want to use supernatural beliefs to try to indoctrinate kids, who tend by nature to be very impressionable and will believe pretty much anything fanciful told to them—e.g. The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, God. Indeed, my wife and I don't tell our son (who is 7) those other three characters exist either, and neither do we tell him any of them don't exist. We simply do not tell him, "There is a Tooth Fairy." Being secular humanists, as my wife and I might be categorized, in addition to being parents isn't always easy, really, especially when someone unfamiliar with us asks our son what he's going to do with a lost tooth or asks what Santa brought him.

Our son has a children's book which we bought him on biological evolution and which he likes to read. It's titled Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story. Obviously we are okay with teaching him science at home and at school. I would add, however, that we are very careful to say to him that "evolution" is what most scientists think is happening on our planet so that all these life forms have existed. Will anyone who proselytizes to kids about religion ever similarly qualify their statement on a proposed existence of God or Creationism? Not likely. Religious proselytizers don't typically say to children, "Most priests think there is a God." Rather, they almost always couch their statements in parental and presupposing terms like "Jesus loves you".

While the notion of anyone saying "Jesus loves you" to my son makes me shudder, in fact my personal beliefs don't enter into this aspect of being his father at all. As a parent, my primary job as I see it is to protect my son from harm and let him be who he naturally is in his own way and in his own time. My wife and I are much more into staying out of his path in that regard and letting him play with ideas than telling him he should believe one cosmological thing and not another. We do talk basic science with him, because science deals with the observable and provides measurable results. Science is taught in schools for those reasonsfor its practical, everyday applicationsand therefore I support the continuation of its being taught. I do not support, though, any amount of eradication of the federal separation of church and state. To me, abolishing that separation would be anti-American, anti-enlightenment, essentially a retreat to the dark ages. I would even be relieved if the words "under God" were removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, because it was Cold War fear and anti-socialism propaganda that put them there in the first place.

In any case, we still have the problem of how to make American public schools safer, which in this context means asking how parents like my wife and me can stop dropping our son off at school and fearing today will be the day he is brutally gunned down by a culture that values its guns and religion more than its safety and science. I think I know one thing that would help. How about bucking the NRA and reversing the 22-year federal ban on gun violence research?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Cartoon Violence in American Culture

The fantasy of the American "Old West" imagines a place where actions have no lasting physical or social consequences and lethal weapons are tools for solving interpersonal problems.

The desert as a metaphor means no society, a "deserted" place, and thus very much like the idea of "The Old West" it is a space in which there are no lasting consequences for violent or anti-social actions.

The rural farm historically means a site where power relationships between species are constructed so that one species has complete control over many others, where as George Orwell ironically put it, "some are more equal than others" and murder is institutionalized and routine.

The myth of the naturally aggressive male in our society creates a supposed inevitability of interpersonal violence, such that "boys will be boys", even as paradoxically the concept must be socially created and consistently reinforced by way of culture.

In America, more than half of all suicides are committed via guns. More than 60 percent of people in this country who die from guns die by suicide. Firearms are as much, if not more, tools of suicide as they are of homicide.
America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world. There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. On average, there is more than one mass shooting for each day in America. States with more guns have more gun deaths. (Source)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Revolution Will Be Artistic

We've had approximately...

150 years of photography,
100 years of movies,
120 years of radio,
60 years of television,
thousands of years of sculpture,
thousands of years of painting,
100 years of recorded music,
500 years of written music,
and thousands of years of written poetry and prose.

That's a lot of culture!

These days in my own little Midwestern US city of Springfield, Illinois, there are too many art shows for me to attend. I get invitations to such events on Facebook all the time. They kind of pile up on me. I can't even keep track of responding Going/Interested/Ignore to them, partly because I'm so busy managing the events I host for myself and for the co-op of artists to which I belong. If I select "Ignore" to some event and opt to stay home instead some evening, I then find myself reading about new books that seem compelling, new movies I suddenly feel like watching, new TV shows coming to the burgeoning number of new internet streaming TV channels, new radio programs or internet podcasts I want to hear, new music I want to listen to, and so on and so on. That's not just because we are late in modernity right now, though. It's also because within the last two decades information technology has had a massive democratization effect on the means of producing cultural commodities. Almost everyone I know is making and disseminating something, especially via the internet, so much so that all that new art risks watering itself down to the point that it ceases to really matter. Being a patron of it can sure feel overwhelming.

And yet, I would never say That's Enough Art Thanks, because such an approach to the problem of surplus culture is not at all practical, especially for we artists who live to create and moreover because society still needs and will probably always need new artistic creations. Plus, in any complex system (like the art world) competition breeds improvement via adaptation over the long run.

So, I would say we should keep making, but with a big caveat: right now we have more pressing concerns than creating another song or another painting that simply helps people feel like everything is okay, because after all things are far from okay. Trump's America is an increasingly dangerous, hostile, and precarious place. The looming planetary extinction of species we humans are causing is extremely awful. People-caused climate change is probably going to wreck our civilization within the next several decades. Therefore, what I would say is make art, but rather let's make it so that it matters to the current situation. Let's use those ubiquitously available technological tools for as much real good as possible, and while we're at it maybe save some time for political/social action, which we need currently more than ever.

See, we can't afford to sit idle in safe mode at this point. Any new art in the coming days should be edgy, provocative, informed, bold. In a word, it must be revolutionary. We need experimental pieces a la the Situationists again. We need music groups like Consolidated again. We need Photoshop experts to take down the unsustainable and damaging systems with parody, satire, and most of all sharp criticism. Think late night comedy talk shows--John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Samantha Bee--but in terms of music, drawing, painting, writing, and everything. That's where art should be taking itself, if it knows what is good for humanity and the rest of the planet. A lot more artistic creations should be questioning and criticizing such seriously real problems as: our economic dependence on fossil fuels; our destructive and cruel meat-eating habits and industries; our over-reliance on alcohol as a drug; our widespread debilitating sugar addiction; our polluting of land, water, and air; the common ways men have been and are damaging women and children through physical, verbal, and sexual abuse; the as yet not reconciled history of enslaving and degrading people of African ancestry here in America; the ways greedy corporate interests vastly override efforts toward the common good, as with the NRA and guns, health care and the pharmaceutical industry, etc.

Of course, it would hypocritical for me to say all this and not demonstrate how to go forward with such an important cultural movement of art. Toward not being contradictory, I will not only forefront my more socially relevant pieces from now on, but also, in this post itself, I will put on display two small ways I have used what skills I practice as an art producer to attempt to make change take place. Those two pieces are below.

Trump makes the cover of New Low magazine.

Rock on and make it matter!

Monday, November 27, 2017

...For Goodness Sake!

The difficulty is not being an honest person with my six-year-old child. Rather, it's explaining to him why some parents don't do the same with their children. Point of reference: due to some sort of cultural absorption he casually believes in Santa Claus, even though my wife and I have never told him Santa exists, and nor have we ever done "the Santa thing" during Xmas. So, were he to ask me if Santa is real, I would have to say that I don't know. If he were to ask me if I believe in Santa (which, of course, is a much different question) I would have to say that I don't. Finally, were he to ask why the parents of his friends or cousins say Santa exists, I'd have no easy answer, or at least likely not one short sentence that would make adequate sense to him. Substitute any supernatural being for Santa and you can see where things get difficult here. Child psychologist Jean Piaget once said, "Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do." If Piaget is right about that, I should be plenty brilliant by the time my son is ten.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Men Are Weak

This patriarchal society of predators and violence is indeed failing, and so it should be replaced by sustainable honesty, compassion, love, and the open acceptance of diversity and bodily autonomy. No more brutality against children and women. No more bullying and groping. No more not listening. No more not caring. No more inequality. No more tolerance of homophobia, misogyny, sexism, ageism, gender policing, racism, circumcision, cruelty against non-human animals, and forced touch. No more silence at all the injustice. A male-dominated slow and quiet catastrophe of a civilization is finally ending with a polite but firm acknowledgement of its horrors because the hitherto voiceless have now found courage to start to speak. It's just the beginning.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Traveling Experience

Travel is an experience, and experience is perpetual, a bell whose pure ringing tone eventually quiets but never leaves our matter, arriving closer and closer to the asymptote of our existence in a soft exponential curve, always vibrating.
After hours of stressing through schedules, over baggage, from one connection to another down long airport hallways, we disembark into the American Northwest, breathe oddly dry air, and wonder how we ever did without the hugs of certain family and friends.

It has been six and a half years since we were here last, a time when one of us was pregnant with another, although it is like we never left—like we are back home.
The differences between here and where we come from are vast: waking in the morning several hours before the residents; our always clear sinuses vs. random allergy sneezing; and, when we look out at the Earth expecting the familiar horizontal abyss to which we're accustomed, rather than a lazy sea of relaxed corn and soybean fields we instead find we are navigating an arid bowl sculpted by walls of hills formed by a deep river valley—which at first seems to be getting smaller and smaller to our foreign perception, closing in confrontationally, but soon seems protective like an enormous cupped hand. Beyond, rising within haze, younger versions of those same tectonic gestures appear on guard: mountains. It’s then we're suddenly reminded, feeling especially small, how the planet isn't always so open and inviting, so nurturing as a parent or lover can be.

See, there is actually more space here. It’s angular, though, folded up—even perfectly vertical sometimes. In the more compromising hills it waves luxuriously like a paused ocean of ground. But out there in the Cascades it snows even in June, the jagged plates freezing and eating cold oceanic clouds for every meal. It’s all very deceptive and confusing to our Midwestern brains. Here as everywhere, the aviator lifeforms pick a destination and move toward it in a direct line, whereas we humans when grounded are confined to mobilize up and down continuously, clinging to the heaving planet and accepting its crumpled path.

The energy in a realm like this is punctuating; it makes periodic bold statements which demand to be acknowledged. If it were music it would be rock ‘n’ roll, or perhaps more so punk: every hill a striking, overdriven electric guitar chord and every valley a caesura between. It’s no wonder grunge music came from these parts. Slow and calm land in a prairie state renders no noise like that; the analogy even fails then, because an infinite expanse of fields has no sound at all: it is perceived with other senses—almost like a corpse it is placid, sleeping silently as a fertile open heart. Nearly anything grows in Illinois if you push enough into that dense fertilized past. Here the introduced apples orchards are heated and irrigated between stiff grasses and pine trees.
Everything Northwest is based on a philosophy of immediate intervention, geologically and emotionally, an asking for attention. There is an intense determination here that life and this sphere continue despite the rising, falling, and clashing of the terrestrial fabric. It’s a stubbornness. Anything like that is an adaption, naturally, and adaptation is how we function when we go from place to place. If we stay still long enough, relatively speaking we are less provoked to adapt. In that way, the American Northwest is a metaphor for change itself, a microcosm of its parent continent. Almost everything in North America is here, after all—forest, rivers, lakes, desert, ocean. It’s all just condensed, and it’s intense.
The universe happens regardless, our plans for it notwithstanding. That’s the resignation we feel while traveling. The delight is in planning successfully and experiencing the unplanned joyfully, of course, if we can. We plan for mountains and hills, and maybe we stand on a peak sometimes, shallower in the atmosphere of our world than we ever thought we could be and still take a breath, or maybe we decide to stay in the valleys, safer in a wealth of oxygen and resigned. In a sense, we are travelers whether or not we choose to be. We move through time, and oblivious to most of us our star and planet are exploring our galaxy, too, and that same Milky Way is exploring the cosmos. We might close the door to whatever is outside and remain sequestered—sheltered, imprisoned, domesticated, lonely—however we see the effects from one second to the next. Or, we might open the door and go out, taking more chances, experiencing travel.

Looking out over Selah, WA, April 6th, 2017.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

It's Okay to Panic

Given that Grab Them by the P*ssy and Conversion Therapy—which is what I plan to call them—just won the White House I certainly feel and think that a moment of panic, or disbelief, or shock, or what have you, is understandable by those who stand to lose the most, because our future president and vice-president have repeatedly and expressly stated they intend to do harm to immigrants, Muslims, gays, women, and transsexuals. Worse, they will probably be supported in that agenda by Congress and most likely by the appointment of Federal judges. My wife, a cancer survivor, for example, has very good reason to be scared because one of their first goals is to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would prevent her going forward from being discriminated against by insurance companies for such a past condition.

Really, if you perceive the results of this election in a personal way at all, this win by the conservative right doesn't seem like anything irrelevant, distant, or temporary. It's worse than a swinging back of the pendulum, a la the Reagan or Bush years. It's more than a mere reaction against Obama's popularity and successes. It's deeper than a flailing or final gasp of a cis straight white male demographic majority group. After all, it’s basically the ascension to power of a group of blatantly misogynistic, xenophobic, and unqualified men who campaigned that they want to use political power to hurt certain peoples economically, socially, physically, and morally, and not because those target people are dangerous in any real sense but rather purely because they are “different”.

So, we should try to be kind and not tell anyone not to be upset, or panicky, or shocked by the events of last night. Yes, a lot of work still needs to be done; that was always the case, and it remains the case. Obviously, though, for those of us inclined to be liberal and progressive our expectations were not nearly met this election cycle, and so our expectations for our own personal futures, for the futures of folks we love, and for the future of our culture and world in general are suddenly being drastically adjusted, too, and that's a very difficult process to endure. It’s a grieving one, actually.

I therefore understand the panic and the crying, the jaw-dropping and the fright. My tears have come, as well. What exactly will take place I don’t know. As my wiser dad likes to say, no matter what you think will happen, the reality will undoubtedly be different. For now, however, I’ll hold my wife as she cries, and I will look at my son and wonder what kind of civilization we will be giving him. Today, for right now anyway, I still hope for the best, but at once I fear the worst.