Celtic Riverside – The Online Journal of James Keenan

Truisms – An Open, Honest Letter to America

I am going to take my biggest risk yet. I want to talk frankly about the issues facing the United States and facing many parts of the world. I want to attempt to do it from both sides of the perspective and, in doing so, realise that I stand to gain nothing and risk the wrath of all sides.

What follows are, as best I can tell, a list of truisms. Statements that we should all consider evident (though I know we will not), not for the purpose of condescending to any group with a superior knowledge of these problems and how to solve them, but merely to highlight that we are all on the same team fighting these battles. We lose tremendous time and energy battling one another over these things when they are sides to a single coin.

So please, hear me out – know that I speak for no one and I will not address everything here, and I am sure I will address some things with an inadequate degree of awareness. I am not completely “woke”, but I am trying to get there. This is how we do it – we share with one another.

Women struggle in this country. We have a gender wage gap where women earn less for the same work that men do. Yes, yes – I know, when we control for a bunch of variables that gap tends to disappear. What we need to understand, fellow men, is that those variables exist in many cases because of roles we impose on gender. More women tend to teach, counsel, or nurse – fields where, even if the pay is good it has a defined ceiling. Men excel in business and STEM where the sky can be the limit – part of that is telling children, consciously or otherwise, that their skills are best suited for those areas.

We have no official policy on maternity leave, some women struggle to obtain basic hygiene products, and abortion, a procedure proven to benefit the health and safety of women, is under constant threat primarily from a religious ideology. Men harass and assault women at alarming rates, even in the most benign situations to the point that women feel unsafe around all men – a series of practices for which women receive criticism on both sides. Too prudish, too promiscuous. Too trusting, too suspicious. Too timid, too aggressive. For many men, there seems to be no happy medium where women are even allowed to exist.

Men have a higher rate of suicide, higher incarceration rates, struggle in matters of guardianship and visitation rights, and tend to face stiffer penalties for similar offences than women. Men do have to be cautious about their language now because feminism has created an environment of social justice that can react swiftly and severely to even the appearance of gender inequality. A single false accusation can destroy a life, and yet we are not supposed to talk about the false accusations because of how it affects real victims.

We need to stop those fights. Men having their lives destroyed by false accusations is a problem. Women being abused, harassed, and assaulted is a problem. It does not matter how widespread either of those problems are, they are a problem in every single instance. We need to figure out how to believe her and deliver her justice without trashing every woman who comes forward with an accusation.

Again, men, from their perspective, I ask you to consider that even those of us who acknowledge that this is a problem for women are too quick at times to dismiss accusations. Powerful men wear #TimesUp pins and say #IBelieveHer, but when they face an accusation we hear the same, “I don’t recall it that way” or “That is a fabrication” response. We know how often these things occur and yet no one apologises and accepts responsibility for it. Of course women do not want to hear us defend ourselves in light of false accusations – it happens so often with zero accountability that there is no trust.

Black people live in poverty conditions far more often and face considerable public scrutiny, including from the police. The profiling happens all the time. Two black men arrested at a Starbucks while simply waiting for a friend to arrive, a theme that we hear all the time with no real white equivalence. White people do not have that fear in public – we have a prejudicial fear of minorities when we see them that lead to those situations. The use of violence by police and incarceration rates against the black population are disproportionate and, as with the situation described with women, leads to an erosion of trust between the black community and police, between the black community and a white majority. #BlackLivesMatter

#BlueLivesMatter. They have a dangerous, tough, thankless job that involves periods of delirious boredom and bureaucratic tediousness with flashes of violence and unrest. Communities distrust the police and may be quicker to escalate situations themselves, making police feel more nervous about getting home safely to their own families. We need the police to maintain order.

We cannot ignore the lack of accountability that exists in policing, we cannot ignore the militaristic tactics and equipment that they employ though. Even if they occur in isolated incidents, they occur frequently enough that it erodes the public trust. Telling those that distrust the police that their suspicions are misplaced is unacceptable – one is not suspicious for no reason. We need to learn those reasons and work to correct it. It will require efforts from both sides here as well.

Hispanics, perhaps more than any other group, face the threat of immigration issues. Again we see the theme that the behaviour of the smallest portion of some group becomes the foundation for the treatment of all, and for no reason. MS-13 is a threat. Drug cartels out of places like Mexico are a threat. Most of the immigrants have nothing to do with either and want to contribute to our society. They would like to move here legally and pay taxes to reap the benefits of life without those threats. Because some have eroded our trust, we as a society distrust the entire group. Families are torn apart, actual citizens have faced detention.

One is not a member of MS-13 because one is El Salvadoran, one is a member of MS-13 because one is disenfranchised. And we are wrong to classify them as animals. What they do is evil, despicable, and inhuman, but if we treat them as anything other than human we fail to understand them, and in failing to understand them, even in their distorted, evil way, we fail to fix the problem. These are gang members originating the wake of civil war, using extreme measures to “protect their kind”. They have a purpose, however inhumane, behind their terrible actions. We need to understand them and diffuse them.

The same is true of Muslims, who are mostly a religion of peace. That we hear from the members calling for jihad to wipe the rest of us from the face of the Earth if we fail to convert (or simply because) is to deny the humanity of most Muslims. One is not extreme because one is Muslim. One is extreme because, in their Islamic views, they become disenfranchised and violence seems the best means to deal with that. We need to deal with those individuals and disarm the mechanisms of that disenfranchisement. Other Muslims are our greatest ally in that effort. Vilifying them as a group deepens the disenfranchisement and recruits others to the cause.

Which brings me back to the men and the topic of toxic masculinity I discuss so often. Yes, women take things to the extreme at times, too, but the violence is a distinctly male tendency. This is not because male are more violent, this is because socially-imposed gender roles tell men that they are strong, protective, and aggressive. We reinforce these ideas with our language and our practices (ever see a Pee Wee football practice?). Men can be emotional and nurturing, but society fails to reinforce that and even criticises it. When those men become disenfranchised by society, by their community, they become physically violent.

Plenty of Americans want guns. They find recreation in them, they find a sense of security both within the home and, in a greater sense, against the hypothetical threat of tyranny from the government. Colonists forged the United States with muskets against the tyranny of a British government intent on keeping them under foot – that is the origin story of America told to every student. We have more guns than people in the United States, and the majority of them never see a violent, malicious purpose.

We have mass shootings at an unacceptable rate – unacceptable being, frankly, any. Disenfranchised individuals, typically male (toxic masculinity) use guns to exhibit their dominance because the reinforcement of all those characteristics went haywire. They found themselves in brutal conditions – unemployed, unwanted – and react the only way they know how at that point. They have all-too-easy access to firearms and use them for their inhumane practices that honourable gun owners oppose.

Guns appear even more frequently in domestic shootings and suicides – the largest numbers that we often fail to discuss. We prefer the sexiness of the mass shootings because they are such exceptional events. Men with a history of misogyny and domestic abuse shooting spouses, girlfriends, those who spurned their advances, or children. They are men dealing with some of the burdens described before, facing so much pressure and discouraged from speaking up or seeking treatment that they find comfort in taking their life with a firearm.

We need to get this situation under control. Fine, perhaps we do not call it “gun control” as that offends the gun enthusiasts who do properly exhibit safety and responsibility. Too many are dying of firearm-related deaths, and unlike other causes that we might attribute to the fault of the deceased, these people are dead only because someone else was irresponsible with one of these objects. We need to get together and decide how best to manage these circumstances.

Part of that answer is mental health, but we develop a false equivalency where mental health equals dangerous. All shooters have mental health issues – they must to have no reservation about taking a life, even if only in the passion of that moment – but not all those with mental health issues are violent. In fact, most of them are not violent – averse to violence and far more inclined to result as the victim than the perpetrator. Most of the people with mental health issues will not show any indication of it to you, just as a cancer patient or diabetic or asthma sufferer may appear perfectly fine or only slightly symptomatic. Some of those circumstances, like physical ailments, will require medicinal intervention, but they also require ongoing cognitive treatment that is prohibitively expensive for many.

This includes substance abuse, which is a mental disorder in its own right. Addiction is not a choice. Those without addictive tendencies may dabble in drugs and then step away from them quite all right. But illicit substances tend to attract those who already have those addictive tendencies. No one engages in substance abuse blissfully unaware of the negative effects; they engage, like cigarette smokers (a legal product) despite them. The initial pleasure of the use is too great with too little a price to ignore, until one day it becomes all pain and no pleasure. They require treatment and compassion, not derision and pity.

We need medical care, education, and penal reform. These are basic social services who fail too often at their prescribed task. Those who need medical care are often least likely to afford it. We deal out education unequally and unevenly. The penal system, both the law and order aspects, are set to a standard that works for virtually no one.

With blanket penalties assigned to offences, the haves often skate by crimes unscathed, if they even face prosecution. The have-nots wind up in a system that destroys lives with a disproportionate response. Every single person reading this is guilty of a municipal violation, whether we got caught or not. You jaywalked, drove a little too fast, did not quite come to a complete stop, or any number of things. Those who lack a certain standard of living get caught, often because we are watching for them to do something because we are taught to expect their bad behaviour, and then fall into a vicious cycle. A fee for the violation itself that is burdensome to pay, with court fees tacked on top of that. Additional penalties for failing to make those payments. Repayment plan options that involve their own fees, such that the individual makes payment upon payment without ever touching the principal balance. Predatory lenders who cover the cost of the offence, but then levy their own fees and interest rates that cast a person deeper into poverty.

And, fellow white people, that tends not to be us. I know that sounds like a racist deal to say this system benefits us. To be fair, it technically does not benefit us because we are white. It benefits us because we have the basic income required to avoid falling into that pit. The history of minorities in this countries precludes that option. They start with nothing, go into the system, wind up with less, and then pass on debt rather than inheritance to the next generation.

That is a key part of this, too – income. White people who fall on hard times fall into the exact same system just described. They become more likely to face incarceration, stiffer penalties, and systemic issues that drive them deeper and deeper into trouble despite any hard work they pour into it. “But for the grace of God” is the only reason many of us avoid those circumstances. One medical bill, one accident, one mistake, one natural disaster could mean the difference for us. Minorities who do well for themselves avoid that system and, in some cases, “assimilate into whiteness”.

When we talk about white privilege, when we talk about male privilege – we really mean class privilege and that happens to benefits whites and males more often than any other group. Anyone can succeed and anyone can fail, but statistically people who meet that description have a head start. Those privileges may not apply to you; they may apply to you even though you are a woman or minority – these words are playing on a generalisation. We should be able to discuss that generalisation. White males should not feel defensive about their interactions with women and minorities, the social justice of needing to “check one’s privilege and prostrate” before addressing members of another group. Other groups should be able to point out these inequities without being accused of reverse racism or feminism running rampant. As discussed earlier, the problems require both sides.

Again, I know I am leaving plenty out of this – I have not forgotten about my LGBTQ friends. The point is not to solve these problems with this post – I have not even proposed any solutions. All I am proposing is that we listen to one another and cooperate. We all know the game and how it screws us personally, but we only work to solve problems from that perspective. We need to do better understanding the perspective of others and engaging them as allies to fix the overall social system.

As one last controversial thing, I appeal to everyone reading this and call specific attention to the Trump supporter. My specific opinions and perspectives on things tend to lean liberal, progressive, Democrat. I know that we seem like natural enemies at times because have ideologically different approaches to problem-solving. We are not in a tug-of-war over the issue though. We are standing side-by-side looking at problems and proposing different routes, that is all.

I understand that you are tired of liberal condescension. We tend to have all of these fancy sociological terms for things and nice, intellectual way of trying to tackle messy problems for which you feel you have more practical, in-the-trenches approaches. We can discuss that with civility.

The Trump Administration is not the answer. I am not saying that to you as a Democrat. The Democrats have not done any better. I say this because I understand that you wanted change. The same old politicians in Washington are not working for you. The economy is wreaking havoc on your life, probably in some of the ways I described before – mired in student debt, unemployed, buried by medical bills, lender repayments or municipal violations resulting in monetary damages that seem to get worse and worse, automation of job tasks, and the shipment of jobs abroad. Some of you probably went with Obama previously, hoping that represented change.

Here is the thing, and I write about this elsewhere – the “free-market” economy that forms the foundation of everything we do does not care. I do not say that in a cynical way, but objectively – the system we have runs on the premise of profit. If companies do not earn profit, they fail or at least falter until the economy stumbles. We do not automate jobs because we hate workers, we do it because it reduces costs and increases profits. We do not outsource jobs to other countries, hire contractors, or reduce employees to part-time to reduce benefits because we hate the American worker, we do it because it reduces costs and increases profits.

Understand that I am not suggesting the free market of our capitalism is the enemy. For the problems it has wrought, it is also the source of everything wonderful about our world. It fuels innovation and allows economic mobility not possible in other systems. It partially helps to provide our freedoms of speech and assembly.

But that system is not without fault and that system is indifferent to us. It exists as a pure numbers game, one which, even played well, can result in your loss because of variables beyond your control. That system also controls politics. While we attempt to have a voice as private citizens, those companies and industries have an influential voice as well. The recent tax code change – permanent, substantial benefits to them, temporary, menial benefits to us.

That system imposes an indifferent calculus on us. I do not even fault the wealthiest for their greed in the system. If it were more cost effective to keep everyone employed, fix everything about the environment, and make everyone happy, that is what the system would do. The game is all about cost reduction though, and it will impose cuts not where it makes the most sense for us but anywhere it can find them. It cuts indiscriminately.

We the people are the ones who have to push back against it. That is our social contract, just as it works against the natural laws of nature that say, “The strongest can kill anyone they wish and take what they will”. We reject that just as we reject these natural economic laws. We impose checks on that natural system that allow it to thrive as much as possible while allowing the individual to thrive as much as possible with equal opportunity, not in outcome but in start.

We have enemies of that ideology among us. Those that feel one race is superior or one gender is superior, that some superficial quality about who we are qualifies some of us to subjugate the others. They exist in all walks of life, and we cannot allow them to poison our cooperative dialogue about how to check that system, how to improve efficiency without unjust penalties to some. They are few but loud and impose themselves with the same lack of compassion as the system itself.

We must move beyond fighting amongst one another and focus on holding ourselves accountable, focus on holding those closest to us, those with personal relationships accountable first. Do not leave it to the Internet or people “on the other side” to call out inappropriate behaviour, call it out yourself. Have your family and friends call it out for you. Understand that not one person on this planet is completely “woke”, but many of us are committed to waking with the civil guidance of others. Disagree respectfully and, now this is key, when you do it offer your perspective on why you disagree. Do not name-call or dump all over the other person’s position. That puts up walls.

Men and women are not enemies.

Cis-gender and trans-gender people are not enemies.

Heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, and bisexual people are not enemies.

Europeans, Africans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Americans are not enemies.

Monotheists, polytheists, atheists, and agnostics are not enemies.

Police and their communities are not enemies.

The healthy and the ill are not enemies.

We are all people doing our best in an impossible situation that none of us fully understands, and from which none of us escapes.

#HeForShe #MeToo #TimesUp #YesAllWomen #WhyIStayed #WhyILeft #ShoutYourAbortion

#MentalHealthAwareness #SubstanceAbuseAwareness

#NotOneMore

#BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter

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