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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Travel adventures, past and future

In 1976 I went to a meditation retreat in the mountains of northern New Mexico. It was a great experience, but my ride back got me only as far as Oklahoma City. So I hitchhiked the rest of the way. The earliest part of the journey was the most difficult. I spent hours at the edge of Interstate 44 in Tulsa, stranded, it seemed.

About the time my prospects for a ride seemed hopeless, I got a ride from a guy in a suped-up Trans Am, complete with CB radio and "Fuzzbuster" radar detector. I knew I was in for an adventure.

My new ride spent a lot of time talking to truckers on his CB, emphasizing his "handle," or nickname, "Night Hawk." It was classic "Breaker one-nine" jabber, but the truckers weren’t much interested in talking to someone in a car. To keep some interest going he asked one of the truckers if he knew the meaning of the term "Night Hawk." The trucker said "No, don’t believe I do." So "Night Hawk" replied "Well, we have an organization that takes care of things in some of the Southern states, and meets out in the country late at night. The man who serves as the night hawk guards the meetings, and keeps outsiders away." The trucker said, "Oh, I think I know what you mean," and quickly started talking to other truckers. Night Hawk’s attempt at acceptance was rejected.

But he still had me, a captive audience, so to speak. He explained to me the importance of guarding Ku Klux Klan meetings, and showed me his belt buckle with the Klan symbol on it, a drop of blood in the middle. He was very proud of his belt buckle.

I asked him how he got started in the Klan, and he said "In prison." Then I asked what he was in prison for, and he said "Burglary. But I didn’t do it." Of course.

I asked Night Hawk what kinds of things the Klan did these days, and he said he was in Tulsa because a white woman was living with a black man. He quickly explained that if that’s what she wanted to do, that was her business, but she was trying to get away, and the black guy wasn’t letting her go. He then said "That’s where we come in."

There wasn’t much conversation after that, and he suddenly let me out when we reached Joplin, Missouri. I continued my hitch home, and had a number of interesting and weird rides, material for other stories. I was lucky to get home alive. But I never felt threatened by the Klansman, and he actually was a pretty nice guy.

I’m reminded of this story because of the killing of the Federal judge’s husband and mother in Chicago. The likeliest suspects are "white supremacists," angered by the sentence the judge imposed on their leader. You don’t hear much in the news media about who these people are, what the roots of their beliefs are, what attracts them to "racist" organizations, and what motivates them to commit acts of violence.

It’s safe to assume that the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan and other "white supremacy" organization are not made up of the elites of this country: the rich, the well-educated, the talented, the powerful, the beautiful, and the handsome. Instead, they are more likely to be similar to Night Hawk: not very well-off, lesser-educated, powerless, ne’er-do-wells. Losers, in the truest sense of the word, not the pejorative. People in search of some self-esteem, some self-worth, some sense of positive identity. Prisoners are especially vulnerable to the influence of hate groups, being at the lowest rung of social status. Not much higher in status are prison guards, and they are a major factor in the recruitment of inmates. For a person at the lowest end of the social spectrum, it is an attractive argument that the responsibility for their troubles lies outside themselves, in one or more ethnic groups, particularly groups with darker skin.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a social scientist to figure out that hate groups pose a danger to the society at large, and to particular individuals and groups more ominously. In order to minimize their threat, it would help to look at what causes such groups to gain influence and popularity.

One sure-fire way to cause hate groups to flourish is to become a more violent nation. Start wars, increase police violence, make prisons more brutal, increase the number of prisoners, lengthen prison sentences, and widen the use of the death penalty. Make the justice system regressive, so that the higher one rises in wealth and power, the more insulated one becomes from responsibility for one's behavior. Make violence an integral part of the culture through entertainment, technology, the way we travel, and the kinds of recreation we pursue.

And to tie it all together, keep the level of dialogue promoted in our mass media at the lowest, crudest, most disrespectful, threatening, bellicose, dishonest level possible. It isn’t just Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and their many imitators. They are only the worst, and are very much to blame for the violence that is now so acceptable. The supposed "conventional" interpreters of our culture, Jay Leno and David Letterman, have not exactly raised the level of national discourse to Socratic levels. But they are just the town criers, the mouthpieces for the power structure that sponsors them.

Something needs to be made perfectly clear. The President of the United States, military deserter, is the most violent and threatening person on Earth. He lied us into a vicious and completely unjustifiable war. He gleefully approved the executions of the largest number of prisoners in the history of the state of Texas, with 9 of them likely innocent. In his youth he tortured animals. He did insider trading when he ran an oil company. He is now presiding over the destruction of our economic system (For those who think we are in a "recovery," wait six months.). He promotes hatred of anyone who disagrees with him. He has approved of the institution of torture here and abroad. He is flirting with the idea of attacking Syria and Iran. North Korea is also in his sights. Because he is the "leader" of the nation, his words and actions hold great sway over the temper and tone of our interactions with each other and the rest of the planet.

Other ways that membership in hate groups can be increased are to make sure that the population is less educated, and that it is less well-off. The Bush plans to wreck Social Security, keep the minimum wage low, export jobs, and further regress the tax system all guarantee a poorer society. His gutting of education funding, and his phony "No child left behind" program guarantee a less literate country.

One way of looking at all these factors is by looking at society in terms of a normal curve. The largest portion of the the citizenry converges around the center, or mean of the distribution of the population. At the extremes of the distribution, or "tails," the most deviant behavior is found, both good and bad. Albert Einstein was out in the tails, but so was Al Capone.

When the mean, or the cultural norm is moved in a more violent direction, the entire distribution moves the same way. People in the tails of the distribution move to further extremes of behavior, and voila, we have more "hate crimes." (I’ve always found this term a bit curious. Is there such a thing as "love crime?" But I digress.)

If you support the regime of George W. Bush, if you support hate entertainment (A real, meaningful description) and their sponsors, if you support violent social policies, then you are complicit in violent crimes. If you have any sense of spirituality at all, then you know intuitively that all that is sown is reaped. You can lie to yourself and others all you want, but this fact is irrefutable. Bob Dylan put it another way: "There’s a slow train comin’." You already have your ticket. Enjoy the ride.

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