We All Represent “Diversity”

W.J. Astore

On not judging books by their covers

It was only a few years ago that I learned I’m a “cis white male.” As such, I guess I’m a dime a dozen. Ordinary. Not representative of “diversity.”

I get it. I’m a historian so I know something about how various peoples have suffered extreme, even murderous, prejudice and exploitation over time. I’ve taught about slavery, the Holocaust, and various forms of discrimination against women and minorities, among other groups and peoples. The list goes on and on. The recent shootings in Colorado Springs where the LGBTQ community was targeted reminds us that too many people see diversity as a threat.

If only we could see ourselves just as human beings in all the richness that term describes. We are all part of the human community. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said.

These people aren’t diverse. Where are the unhappy people? Seriously, this stock image is supposed to represent diversity, but I don’t see any blue-collar workers. Where’s the cleaning crew? Is everyone in this company lean and fit? Too often, even “diversity” images lack diversity.

Nevertheless, I understand how various people and organizations want to exhibit diversity by hiring or showcasing more women, or more Blacks, or more members of the LGBTQ community, and so on. It seems as if guys like me have ruled the world (or we act as if we have) for so long that we need to be taken down a peg or two. Or three.

What happens, sadly, is that in some cases what we get is what my wife likes to term “optical” diversity. Think about the U.S. government. You get a Black female (think Condi Rice) in a position of power, but she basically thinks and acts the same as a cis white male neo-conservative. You get a Black male (think Lloyd Austin) in a position of power, but he’s basically a card-carrying member of the military-industrial complex. You get “Mayor” Pete Buttigieg in a position of power, but he’s just another government technocrat spouting bromides in the pursuit of power.

Optical diversity shouldn’t be the main goal. What we’re striving for, or should be striving for, is diversity of perspectives, of life experiences, along with an openness to new ideas and viewpoints. A willingness to listen, to learn, to come together based on mutual respect, a shared commitment to work toward justice.

What about me? Am I just another aging cis white male? Just another out-of-touch white guy? Okay, Boomer!

I hope not. I was taught by my parents not to judge a book by its cover. So how do I represent diversity? If you were looking for “diversity,” would I fit the bill (no pun intended)? Here are ten reasons why I might be a “diverse” human:

  • I’m politically independent. In my life I’ve voted Republican, Democrat, and Green. I’m generally “progressive,” though I find labels reductive.
  • I’m a military veteran who’s written a lot of articles that are highly critical of the U.S. military.
  • I’m from a blue-collar family and I’m the first in my family to finish college.
  • I was educated as a mechanical engineer before I turned to history, where I specialized in the history of science, technology, and religion.
  • Speaking of religion, I was raised Catholic but now consider myself to be agnostic. I did my master’s thesis on Catholics and science; for my doctorate, I turned to evangelicals and science. I have a keen interest in both science and religion, respecting both of them as ways of knowing, ways of making sense of the world and ourselves.
  • I love the outdoors and consider myself to be pro-environment. So, for example, I am against fracking because of its demonstrable harm to our planet.
  • I lived and studied overseas in England for three years and have traveled to Italy, Germany, Scotland, and Wales. I gained a new perspective on America by being away from it.
  • I’m an introvert. (Do you want your team or organization to be all extroverts?)
  • I’m a science fiction fan. My favorite character on “Star Trek” is Mr. Spock. Yes, I can be a bit of a geek.
  • I like sports. Being from New England, I’m a fan of the Red Sox, Patriots, etc. I probably spend too much time watching “my” teams compete. My wife and I broke out bottles of champagne to celebrate the Red Sox winning the World Series.

Here’s my real point: All of you, everyone reading this, could make a similar list to showcase your (and our) diversity. In fact, if you’re reading this and would like to comment and share, please put a couple of things below that mark you as a “diverse” person. Because we all contain multitudes. Thanks so much.

The Nasty Voices in Our Heads

There’s way too much fear mongering in America, which helps to drive the paranoid nature of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. This is the subject of my latest article at TomDispatch.com, which I’ve included below in its entirety. If you don’t read TomDispatch, I urge you to subscribe (top right corner on the home page). Tom Engelhardt has been running the site for 20 years (I’ve been writing for it for 15 of them), and I’ve found the content to be stimulating and thought-provoking. Many thanks for your continued interest in “Bracing Views” as well, which, I joke to Tom, is a little like a baby TomDispatch.

Dystopia, Not Democracy

I have a brother with chronic schizophrenia. He had his first severe catatonic episode when he was 16 years old and I was 10. Later, he suffered from auditory hallucinations and heard voices saying nasty things to him. I remember my father reassuring him that the voices weren’t real and asking him whether he could ignore them. Sadly, it’s not that simple.

That conversation between my father and brother has been on my mind, as I’ve been experiencing America’s increasingly divided, almost schizoid, version of social discourse. It’s as if this country were suffering from some set of collective auditory hallucinations whose lead feature was nastiness.

Take cover! We’re being threatened by a revived red(dish) menace from a “rogue” Russia! A “Yellow peril” from China! Iran with a nuke! And then there are the alleged threats at home. “Groomers”! MAGA kooks! And on and on.

Of course, America continues to face actual threats to its security and domestic tranquility. Here at home that would include regular mass shootings; controversial decisions by an openly partisan Supreme Court; the Capitol riot that the House January 6th select committee has repeatedly reminded us about; and growing uncertainty when it comes to what, if anything, still unifies these once United States. All this has Americans increasingly vexed and stressed.

Meanwhile, internationally, wars and rumors of war continue to be a constant plague, made worse by the exaggeration of threats to national security. History teaches us that such threats have sometimes not just been inflated but created ex nihilo. Those would, for instance, include the non-existent Gulf of Tonkin attack cited as the justification for a major military escalation of the war in Vietnam in 1965 or those non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq used to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of that country.

All this and more is combining to create a paranoid and increasingly violent country, an America deeply fearful and perpetually thinking about warring on other peoples as well as on itself.

My brother’s doctors treated him as best they could with various drugs and electroshock therapy. Crude as that treatment regimen was then (and remains today), it did help him cope. But what if his doctors, instead of trying to reduce his symptoms, had conspired to amplify them? Indeed, what if they had told him that he should listen to those voices and so aggravate his fears? What if they had advised him that sanity meant arming himself against those very voices? Wouldn’t we, then or now, have said that they were guilty of the worst form of medical malpractice?

And isn’t that, by analogy, true of America’s leaders in these years, as they’ve driven this society to be ever less trusting and more fearful in the name of protecting and advancing their wealth, power, and security?

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

If you’re plugged into the mental matrix that’s America in 2022, you’re constantly exposed to fear. Fear, as Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, is the mind-killer. The voices around us encourage it. Fear your MAGA-hat-wearing neighbor with his steroidal truck and his sizeable collection of guns as he supposedly plots a coup against America. Alternately, fear your “libtard” neighbor with her rainbow peace flag as she allegedly plots to confiscate your guns and brainwash your kids. Small wonder that more than 37 million Americans take antidepressants, roughly one in nine of us, or that, in 2016, this country accounted for 80% of the global market for opioid prescriptions.

A climate of fear has led to 43 million new guns being purchased by Americans in 2020 and 2021 in a land singularly awash in more than 400 million firearms, including more than 20 million assault rifles. A climate of fear has led to police forces being heavily militarized and fully funded rather than “defunded” (which actually would mean a bit less money going to the police and a bit more to non-violent options like counseling and mental-health services). A climate of fear has led Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives who can agree on little else to vote almost unanimously to fork over $840 billion to the Pentagon in Fiscal Year 2023 for yet more wars and murderous weaponry. (Of course, the true budget for what is still coyly called “national defense” will soar well above a trillion dollars then, as it often has since 9/11/2001 and the announcement of a “global war on terror.”)

The idea that enemies are everywhere is, of course, useful if you’re seeking to create a heavily armed and militarized form of insanity.

It’s summer and these days it just couldn’t be hotter, so perhaps you’ll allow me to riff briefly about a scene I’ve never forgotten from The Big Red One, a war film I saw in 1980. It involved a World War II firefight between American and German troops in a Belgian insane asylum during which one of the mental patients picks up a submachine gun and starts blasting away, shouting, “I am one of you. I am sane!” In 2022, sign him up and give him a battlefield commission.

Where fear is omnipresent and violence becomes routinized and normalized, what you end up with is dystopia, not democracy.

We Must Not Be Friends but Enemies

At this point, consider us to be in a distinctly upside-down world. Reverse Abraham Lincoln’s moving plea to Southern secessionists in his first inaugural address in 1861 — “We must not be enemies but friends. We must not be enemies” — and you’ve summed up all too well our domestic and foreign policy today. No, we’re neither in a civil war nor a world war yet, but America’s national (in)security state does continue to insist that virtually every rival to our imperial being must be transformed into an enemy, whether it’s Russia, China, or much of the Middle East. Enemies are everywhere and must be feared, or so we’re repetitiously told anyway.

I remember well the time in 1991-1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed and America emerged as the sole victorious superpower of the Cold War. I was a captain then, teaching history at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Those were also the years when, even without the Soviet Union, the militarization of this society somehow never seemed to end. Not long after, in launching a conflict against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, this country officially kicked ass in the Middle East and President George H.W. Bush assured Americans that, by going to war again, we had also kicked our “Vietnam Syndrome” once and for all. Little did we guess then that two deeply destructive and wasteful quagmire wars, entirely unnecessary for our national defense, awaited us in Afghanistan and Iraq in the century to come.

Never has a country squandered victory — and a genuinely global victory at that! — so completely as ours has over the last 30 years. And yet there are few in power who consider altering the fearful course we’re still on.

A significant culprit here is the military-industrial-congressional complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans about in his farewell address in 1961. But there’s more to it than that. The United States has, it seems, always reveled in violence, possibly as an antidote to being consumed by fear. Yet the intensity of both violence and fear seems to be soaring. Yes, our leaders clearly exaggerated the Soviet threat during the Cold War, but at least there was indeed a threat. Vladimir Putin’s Russia isn’t close to being in the same league, yet they’ve treated his war with Ukraine as if it were an attack on California or Texas. (That and the Pentagon budget may be the only things the two parties can mostly agree on.)

Recall that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was in horrible shape, a toothless, clawless bear, suffering in its cage. Instead of trying to help, our leaders decided to mistreat it further. To shrink its cage by expanding NATO. To torment it through various forms of economic exploitation and financial appropriation. “Russia Is Finished” declared the cover article of the Atlantic Monthly in May 2001, and no one in America seemed faintly concerned. Mercy and compassion were in short supply as all seemed right with the “sole superpower” of Planet Earth.

Now the Russian Bear is back — more menacing than ever, we’re told. Marked as “finished” two decades ago, that country is supposedly on the march again, not just in its invasion of Ukraine but in President Vladimir Putin’s alleged quest for a new Russian empire. Instead of Peter the Great, we now have Putin the Great glowering at Europe — unless, that is, America stands firm and fights bravely to the last Ukrainian.

Add to that ever-fiercer warnings about a resurgent China that echo the racist “Yellow Peril” tropes of more than a century ago. Why, for example, must President Joe Biden speak of China as a competitor and threat rather than as a trade partner and potential ally? Even anti-communist zealot Richard Nixon went to China during his presidency and made nice with Chairman Mao, if only to complicate matters for the Soviet Union.

If imperial America were willing to share the world on roughly equal terms, Russia and China could be “near-peer” friends instead of, in the Pentagon phrase of the moment, “near-peer adversaries.” Perhaps they could even be allies of a kind, rather than rivals always on the cusp of what might potentially become a world-ending war. But the voices that seek access to our heads prefer to whisper sneakily of enemies rather than calmly of potential allies in creating a better planet.

And yet, guess what, whether anyone in Washington admits it or not: we’re already rather friendly with (as well as heavily dependent on) China. Here are just two recent examples from my own mundane life. I ordered a fan — it’s hot as I type these words in my decidedly unairconditioned office — from AAFES, a department store of sorts that serves members of the military, in service or retired, and their families. It came a few days later at an affordable price. As I put it together, I saw the label: “Made in China.” Thank you for the cooling breeze, Xi Jinping!

Then I decided to order a Henley shirt from Jockey, a name with a thoroughly American pedigree. You guessed it! That shirt was plainly marked “Made in China.” (Jockey, to its credit, does have a “Made in America” collection and I got two white cotton t-shirts from it.) You get my point: the American consumer would be lost without China, the present workhouse for the world.

You’d think a war, or even a new Cold War, with America’s number-one provider of stuff of every sort would be dumb, but no one is going to lose any bets by underestimating how dumb Americans can be. Otherwise, how can you explain Donald Trump? And not just his presidency either. What about his “Trump steaks,” “Trump university,” even “Trump vodka”? After all, who could be relied upon to know more about the quality of vodka than a man who refuses to drink it? 

Learning from Charlie Brown

Returning to fears and psychiatric help, one of my favorite scenes is from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” In that classic 1965 cartoon holiday special, Lucy ostensibly tries to help Charlie with his seasonal depression by labeling what ails him. The wannabe shrink goes through a short list of phobias until she lands on “pantophobia,” which she defines as “the fear of everything.” Charlie Brown shouts, “That’s it!”

Deep down, he knows perfectly well that he isn’t afraid of everything. What he doesn’t know, however, and what that cartoon is eager to show us, is how he can snap out of his mental funk. All that he needs is a little love, a little hands-on kindness from the other children.

America writ large today is, to my mind, a little like Charlie Brown — down in the dumps, bedraggled, having lost a clear sense of what life in our country should be all about. We need to come together and share a measure of compassion and love. Except our Lucys aren’t trying to lend a hand at the “psychiatric help” stand. They’re trying to persuade us that pantophobia, the fear of everything, is normal, even laudable. Their voices keep telling us to fear — and fear some more.

It’s not easy, America, to tune those voices out. My brother could tell you that. At times, he needed an asylum to escape them. What he needed most, though, was love or at least some good will and understanding from his fellow humans. What he didn’t need was more fear and neither do we. We — most of us anyway — still believe ourselves to be the “sane” ones. So why do we continue to tolerate leaders, institutions, and whole political parties intent on eroding our sanity and exploiting our fears in service of their own power and perks?

Remember that mental patient in The Big Red One, who picks up a gun and starts blasting people while crying that he’s “sane”? We’ll know we’re on the path to sanity when we finally master our fear, put down our guns, and stop eternally preparing to blast people at home and abroad.

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

American Exceptionalism

W.J. Astore

Two images of American exceptionalism to mull over today. The first shows how exceptional the U.S. is with its military spending:

Of course, U.S. military spending is projected to rise in FY 2023 to $840 billion or so. Note how most of the countries that spend significant sums on their military are U.S. allies, such as Germany, the U.K., Japan, and South Korea. Russia is weakening due to its war with Ukraine, yet U.S. military spending continues to soar because of alleged threats from Russia and China.

The second image is a spoof sent by a friend, but it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if it did become the official seal of the Department of Education:

Jesus riding a dinosaur: Why not? We have serious museums for creationists in the U.S., where dinosaurs wear saddles and Adam and Eve are depicted as cavorting with creatures dating to the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. I’m not sure how they all fit on Noah’s ark, but the Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Given the emphasis on gun rights, babies, and Jesus in America, perhaps the bald eagle isn’t our best national symbol. Perhaps it should be the Baby Jesus holding an assault rifle. It certainly would give new meaning to “love God” and “love thy neighbor.”

We Live in A Sick Society

W.J. Astore

I have a brother who’s mentally ill.  When you deal with mental illness in your family, you come to realize that local, state, and federal resources are limited.  Funding is iffy.  Expertise is dodgy.  Facilities are often disappointing.  And systems and bureaucracies can seem heartless.

I take nothing away from the dedicated doctors, nurses, and other staff I’ve met who’ve helped care for my brother.  Considering the resources available to them, they often do a fantastic job.

It soon appears my brother will be assigned to a nursing home, though he does not yet require that level of care.  The system, however, has virtually no other options available between a halfway-house-like setting, where a nurse isn’t available 24/7, and a nursing home, which does have nurses 24/7.

My brother was in a smaller group home where he had his own room, but a series of minor medical issues caused him to be “re-leveled” beyond the care provided by that home.  He was rather unceremoniously dumped into a private, for-profit, nursing home, where he remains as he awaits a much-delayed court date.  Indeed, his “temporary” assignment to the nursing home expired last December, with various agencies finger-pointing and blaming each other for the delay in reviewing my brother’s case.

Mental illness is such a devastating thing.  It can be far worse than physical illness.  When my brother had his first serious breakdown in 1973, we certainly didn’t understand what was happening.  Back then, there was far more stigma attached to mental illness, and few people talked about it.  It’s a shattering experience, and my brother had the worst of it, including ECT or electroshock treatments and powerful drugs like Stelazine and similar anti-psychotic drugs.

I was writing to a sympathetic attorney about my brother’s case today, and I thought maybe I’d share a little of what I wrote.  My brother’s situation, I wrote,

speaks to a larger point about how our government cares for the mentally ill, the lack of funding and so forth, something that’s not going to be fixed by an email by me.

Still, it’s a system that tends to see my brother as just another client, just another case file, just another court date, even just another billable moment.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have asylums in the true sense of that word for those among us who needed them?  But our government chooses to fund more F-35 jet fighters, more nuclear missiles, more police forces, and so forth.

The poor and mentally ill have no power because they have no lobbyists and very few advocates.

It’s a sign of the sickness of our society that we care so little for the sick.

That poor attorney got more than she bargained for.  But I truly believe a society can be judged by how it treats the poor, the sick, the unhoused, the desperate.  Our society tends to treat them like dirt, like losers, like a nuisance, even as the government gushes money for more police, more weapons, and more wars, whether internally or externally.

This is ultimately why our society is so sick.  Because we care so little for the neediest among us.

I’m sorry this is so depressing, and I plead guilty as well for not caring enough, for not acting instead of just blogging away about it.

Jesus healed the sick and dying and attracted society’s outcasts.  He praised the poor and railed against the rich.  Is it any wonder He was crucified?  So, we Americans invented our own Jesus, one who showers money on his believers, one who rewards them with happiness and health, a Santa Claus Jesus who gives out gifts to good little girls and boys.

And if you’re not “good”?  I guess you get to be homeless or dumped in a nursing home.  Next time, pray harder, loser.

We live in a sick society.

1972 and 2022, or Long Live the Fighters

W.J. Astore

Fifty years ago, a remarkable thing happened in America. A pro-peace candidate, George McGovern, won the nomination for one of America’s two major political parties. Of course, McGovern went on to lose big time to Richard Nixon in the fall, but his rise within the Democratic Party, much of it driven by grassroots activism, still inspires hope.

McGovern was right in 1972 in his justly famous “Come home, America” speech after he gained the nomination. It’s time to end overseas wars and military adventurism and heal our divisions here at home. The big problem, of course, is that so many powerful elements within the U.S. thrive best when the masses are kept busy fighting each other.

A friend posted this image on Facebook, which sums up much of America’s predicament today:

Progress within the terrarium won’t happen as long as we keep fighting each other

To borrow from my father once again, in America the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. And the rich have neither sympathy nor use for the poor. Unless by “use” you mean soldiers for empire, cleaners for mansions, and so on.

What is to be done? People ask me this a lot, expecting me to have a magical solution. I say fight the best you can, using your skills and the tools at your disposal. But make sure you’re fighting the right people and forces. Don’t fight your neighbors within the terrarium. Fight the powerful who are preventing change by keeping us divided, distracted, and downtrodden.

Long live the fighters!” as they cried in “Dune.”

SCOTUS Overturns Roe v Wade

W.J. Astore

So much for the idea of “settled law” and judicial precedent. The Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) has overturned Roe v Wade by a 6-3 majority vote. For nearly 50 years, abortion was legal in America if not always cheap or readily accessible. Now roughly half the states in America are poised to make it illegal, a major setback for women’s rights and bodily autonomy.

Many things will be written about this decision, and in fact I’ve already written about it. But one thing is glaringly obvious: this is a thoroughly politicized court of justices, several of whom perjured themselves before the Senate during their confirmation hearings.

Oh sure, they all talked carefully, saying neither “yes” nor “no” when it came to Roe v Wade. But the new justices all made noises about respecting previous court decisions, like Roe v Wade, suggesting that they wouldn’t reach a sweeping decision to overturn it. Of course, it was all BS, and many people knew it at the time. Speaking of “grooming,” recent SCOTUS justices have been groomed for decades to ensure they are against abortion and for business and corporations.

We now have a thoroughly partisan and mean-spirited court majority that will always side with business and corporations against the individual and who apparently believe that guns have far more rights to privacy and autonomy than women do.

A 6-3 majority court that embraces and advances gun rights while denying privacy and bodily autonomy to women is truly an American court.

A small coda: Shame on the Democrats for not codifying Roe v Wade into law. Even when Obama had a super-majority and promised abortion rights would be his first priority, he waffled because he just didn’t care. Now Democrats will cynically use this SCOTUS decision to raise funds. It’s just my opinion, but they’ve proved by their gutless inaction that they deserve none of your money.

The clock is spinning backwards, America. Will it stop in the 1950s — or the 1850s? And don’t forget that the 1850s were both bloody and led directly into the U.S. Civil War (1861-65).

Another small coda: I hate the calculated cowardice of these decisions that are announced on Fridays as a way of trying to limit controversy and outrage, as people’s attention is distracted by weekend plans. Dropping the bad news late on a Friday — it’s a tired approach by cowardly institutions.

One final saying: I think an anonymous female taxi driver had it right: If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Death and Violence in America

W.J. Astore

It’s staggering the number of people dying in America in ways that are preventable. Here’s a quick summary, courtesy of Blake Fleetwood at Scheerpost:

  • Gun deaths are at record levels, up 45% from the previous decade. In 2020 there were a total of 45,222 firearm deaths in the US.
  • Suicide rates have gone up more than 30% in the last 20 years. More than 1.4 million adults attempt suicide every year in America. And 45,979 succeeded in killing themselves in 2020. The highest rate of suicide is among middle class white men.  Suicides rose to the highest in the central part of the country. In 2020, 54% of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. 
  • Health risks for adolescents have shifted from pregnancy, alcohol, and drug use to depression, suicide, and self harm.
  • Drug overdose data from the CDC indicates that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.

When you start adding these numbers, you reach a grim conclusion: Americans are killing themselves and others at record rates. Grimmer still are the numbers from the Covid-19 pandemic, which in the U.S. has killed more than a million people. Estimates suggest that a true national health care system could have reduced this number by 300,000 (!), but there’s no interest among Democrats or Republicans to create such a system. Our politicians, corrupted by money from the health care “industry,” Big Pharma, etc., have no interest in saving lives (or even saving money, since a national health care system would save trillions over time).

Is it any wonder why the U.S. government embraces violence with such zeal? If you can’t care for your own people, why should you care at all for other peoples, such as in Yemen or Ukraine? What matters is profit from selling weapons, whether in the U.S., awash in assault rifles and other guns, or overseas with massive arms sales or shipments to Saudi Arabia and Ukraine, among others.

Violence or the threat of violence can be enormously profitable to those who deal in it.

Last night, I was watching baseball and saw an advertisement for a new show. In one 30-second clip, I saw several assault rifles and a gun battle, with a few handguns thrown in for good measure. We are assaulted constantly by such imagery, so much so that gun violence is seen as “normal” because it has become our new normal. Hence the gruesome spike in mass shootings across America.

Way back in the early 1980s, I had a sticker that read “NRA Freedom.” Remarkably, “freedom” in America has become synonymous with having guns everywhere, more than 400 million of them. Other freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, are being curtailed and eroded with barely a complaint, but any attempt to make it slightly more difficult for a few people to buy guns is instantly opposed.

A culture of freedom is increasingly a cult of death. And as the Outlaw Josey Wales said, “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living.” Time to learn from Josey.

The American Empire Has No Moral Authority

W.J. Astore

On his new show at The Real News, Chris Hedges recently spoke with Cornel West on the state of America. It’s not easy listening, nor should it be. Brother Chris and Brother Cornel didn’t mince words as they deplored the commodification of American life, the militarism of American society, and the imperialism of the U.S. empire. Here’s the link to their interview:

I jotted down key phrases as I listened to both men. Phrases like spiritual decadence, bootlickers for war, mass incarceration, self-glorification and self-indulgence, the Neo-fascism of Trump followers versus the Neo-liberalism of Democrats, and that the American empire has no moral authority, given its “vicious atrocities” in Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere.

Brother Cornel was especially strong on the seductive dangers of nationalism, the grotesque wealth inequality here at home, and a U.S. political system deeply compromised by legalized bribery and normalized corruption. Reality is defined by a corporatized state in which profit maximization is pursued at any cost, including impending ecological catastrophe, where education is reduced to indoctrination, vocations are reduced to professions, and callings reduced to careers.

Sure, it’s grim stuff, but the truth is often grim. Nor are these two men irredeemably grim. Both spoke of the need to be faithful unto death, to resist the paralysis that comes from despair. Both are fighters and truth-tellers; both are men of faith and men of action; both are humanistic. And both are most assuredly worth listening to.

Brother Cornel’s message is ultimately one of love. Of joy-sharing. Of thinking for yourself. Of becoming a force for good and beauty and justice in the world. Of empowering others through an expansive and inclusive humanism. His is the perfect message for this Easter season, a season of rebirth and hope, of salvation through sacrifice and love.

Are Women the Secret Weapon in a Mass Antiwar Movement?

W.J. Astore

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is an organization that’s helped to change the narrative on drinking and driving. Could a new organization like Mothers Against War (MAW) do the same for the world’s endless cycles of war?

In an antiwar movement that’s often fragmented and something less than the sum of its parts, a movement that unites women (and, of course, sympathetic men) in a dedicated push against war makes a lot of sense, argues Andre Sheldon. As he pointed out to me in our conversation yesterday, women united in the #MeToo movement against sexual violence; women marched on Washington in the aftermath of Trump’s election, donning pussy hats to remind us of his wanton and casual sexism (see Linda Roller’s account here for Bracing Views); Black women created the Black Lives Matter movement; and women helped to drive a movement against gun violence in the “Moms Demand Action” movement.

One thing we all have in common: we all have mothers. And there’s another thing that’s true for most of us (especially for us men): We should have listened to our mothers more, especially as a counterpoint to macho pro-war narratives being driven by powerful state and corporate interests.

As retired Army Colonel Ann Wright so eloquently put it recently: “For God’s Sake Boys, Stop this War S**t!!!”

In one of my favorite “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strips (from 1987), Calvin is shown comparing art projects with his friend, Susie. While Susie is content with a “tidy little domestic scene,” Calvin has something more ambitious in mind:

Something tells me we need more Susies and fewer Calvins.

For some reason, certain men, especially those who wear suits in the government, seem to think that toughness is all about putting on “big boy pants” and waging war. Of course, these same men usually don’t go to war themselves; they send other “boys” to fight and die for them. Macho posturing is common to both political parties in the United States, and it’s not just restricted to men. Perhaps the worst offenders were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who also both avoided the Vietnam War, but women like Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice have shown no remorse in waging disastrous wars. Think here of Hillary’s infamous comment, “We came, we saw, he died” in the aftermath of the death of Qaddafi and the collapse of Libya into chaos.

Obviously, the answer isn’t as simple as putting women like Clinton or Rice in command. What we need instead are courageous and outspoken women like Barbara Lee and Dorothy Day. For, as Dorothy Day put it, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”

Too many men have the emotional maturity of eight-year-old boys still seeking to knock each other over as they play “king of the hill.” But when the hill is Planet Earth and the toys they play with are nuclear missiles, the stakes are somewhat higher than bragging rights at the local playground.

Instead of “Jesus, take the wheel,” maybe it’s high time that women do. Something tells me we’d be better off as a people and as a planet.

Addendum: For more information on Andre Sheldon’s proposal, please check out his Facebook page.

Shouldn’t Anyone Who’s Sane Be a Peace Activist?

W.J. Astore

Shouldn’t anyone who’s sane be a peace activist? And shouldn’t we question the sanity — or at least the motives — of anyone who’s constantly advocating for more spending on weapons and war?

How do we change the narrative?  How do we return to Christ’s idea of “blessed are the peacemakers”?

The obstacles are many. The national security state is immensely large and incredibly powerful. The mainstream media is a big problem since it’s been captured by corporations. The few political candidates who advocate for a different path, such as Tulsi Gabbard or Dennis Kucinich, get smeared as useful idiots for the “enemy” or dismissed as impractical dreamers by that same corporate media.

Surely, we need many things to effect meaningful change. We need public funding of elections. We need better education focused on questioning and challenging authority. We need better and braver leaders — but will they simply be assassinated like JFK, MLK, and RFK?  Among others?

We need to speak up, and we are. We need to enlist religion when we can.  True Christianity — true religion — is our natural ally.

We need, as peace activist John Rachel reminded me, to connect cuts in military spending to helping people — that is, we need real peace dividends, “peace checks,” if you will. Rebates to the American people tied directly to much lower spending on wars and weapons.

We need to remember what Master Po said in “Kung Fu”: fear is the only darkness. And thus we need to come into the light.

We need to stop buying guns and start reading books. I once read: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” I don’t recall blessings being bestowed on weapons and the makers and owners of the same.

There are so many things we need to do.  Most of all, I think, is that we need to respect life and our planet, because if we don’t, the human experiment is going to come crashing down, and too many other forms of life on our planet will be driven to extinction by our own myopic selfishness and folly.

You’ve heard the saying, Power concedes nothing without a demand. We need to demand an end to fear, an end to folly (as with nuclear “modernization” at a cost of $1.7 trillion, never mind the unimaginable costs of a nuclear war).

We need to demand peace.

I think the planet’s oligarchs know the danger.  So they work to keep us divided, distracted, and downtrodden.  (As I’ve written about here.) If we’re kept divided by partisan BS and rumors of war, distracted by infotainment and the like, and downtrodden by medical and other forms of debt, menial work at starvation wages, and so forth, it’s difficult for people to unite.

We need to unite anyway. Unite to save our planet from ourselves and our destructive impulses. From our greed and selfishness.

There was a time when we humans congratulated ourselves as being made in the image of God. When we saw the earth as God’s creation that we should revere. How do we regain reverence for each other and for this wonder-filled planet of ours, a planet that keeps surprising us with its glories?

We need a collective awakening. A mass movement. One that recognizes that peace is normal and that war is insane, one dedicated to exploration of the world around us rather than its exploitation. One that demands the best from our minds even as it touches our souls. Perhaps that’s overly mystical or utopian or just plain fuzzy, but we need something like it or things are going to get far worse for ourselves and our planet.