We are exploited. In every way. And by we, I mean we. All of us. The common and the uncommon. The people you see every day. The nameless walking past you in the hallway, standing with you on the elevator, shopping with you in your local box store. We are all exploited. Economically. Politically. Spiritually. Educationally.
Take a minute and think about our lives. We live in our moments of bliss. We get a small raise. We get a good grade. We meet people at our places of worship. We blast Facebook posts about injustice. We scream at the top of our lungs.
And each of these things is a pittance. A trifle. A breath.
In reality (if there is such a thing), we are just replaceable parts in the grand scheme of power and money.
For all of you that celebrate the capitalist mentality, think that this is the American Dream, just think about who is making money. Not us. Not you. Sure, you might be okay. Maybe comfortable. You might have a car, Netflix, and pizza night. But, Apple is worth a trillion dollars. There are more than 500 billionaires in the United States. You/we are all just mechanisms in their quest to have more and more. And more. We are working to make sure they have. We don’t work for us. We work for them. And they fight against us. Fighting insurance. Fighting minimum wage hikes. Fighting against unions. We are exploited for their sixth or seventh boat or office complex.
So, who is fighting for us? Our party? Nope. Not at all. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican, Green, or Libertarian, our political parties work toward maintaining control without ever really doing anything. They let local parties and politicians fight for themselves. And then they ask for more. More money. More volunteering. More money. More time. Who gets elected? The electables. Even with people that have the same mindset, we are exploited for time and money.
The same holds true for spirituality and religion. Churches, religious leaders, atheists, agnostics, all exploit the masses for a purpose. We are told what to believe. If we don’t, we are threatened with damnation. We use our beliefs to control others, to subjugate others, and to be mouthpieces that rally against difference. Churches, non-Churches all have an agenda to attract and retain members. People are exploited out of fear.
Finally, what about education. What is our education system doing? We are creating generations that can read and write, but cannot think. They can do math, but cannot reason. That know the parts of a cell, but don’t know the methods of science? Why? To sell textbooks. To sell tests. To sell remediation. To sell, to sell, to sell… Education has become the most public, corporate enterprise. We have created emergencies of learning to sell products. And who suffers? The student. They are exploited and their growth is stunted because of the need to measure.
So, what can we do?
Don’t be exploited. Be authentic. Don’t just accept things as they are. Think about your comfort. Is it real, or is it just better than an alternative?
Strive for greatness, not just ease.
Do not conform to a forced ideal.
Do not be compliant in a world that only wants you to serve it.
Do not be exploited. Bob Marley sang, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind.” And it is time to emancipate yourself from the exploitation of life. Celebrate yourself. Always push forward. Don’t be just another person doing the work for someone. Don’t be just another person going door to door for someone that won’t represent you. Don’t be just another person that buys into a belief system out of fear. Don’t be just another student that accepts that right and wrong answers are learning.
Move forward. Take control of yourself. Be strong.
The Rise of Socio-Political Atheism
When I was younger, I was in search of faith. Some kind of faith. But, because of my upbringing, I teetered between agnosticism and atheism. For a while, I really didn’t distinguish between the two. But, after doing some research, reading some religious texts, and having many conversations I started understand the nuance between two. I was agnostic. Honestly, I didn’t know. I didn’t have a conception of a higher being. An atheist, however, chooses to not believe in God. This in itself shows a conception of a God in which to disbelieve. It is a willful choice. Mind you, I realize that this is a simplified definition of atheism and I know there are a myriad of reasons to not believe. Bear with me.
This brings me to the idea of socio-political atheism.
I was having a Facebook conversation the other day with a former peer of mine from school. I have known this person since I was in first grade. We really haven’t talked much since college. However, I post a lot on Facebook, and most of it is about society, politics, culture, and the way society is going. It seems that every time I comment, he has something to say. He says I am wrong. I am part of the problem. The things that I am saying don’t exist. In a particular exchange he said, “Police brutality exists but is rare. Racism exists but is perhaps even more rare.”
I was stunned. Police brutality exists but is rare? Racism exists but is perhaps even more rare? In what world is this person? Looking back over previous posts this was a common thread that he explored. The problems in society that we have are just fake. They are blown out of proportion. They are a figment of collective imagination.
Then it hit me. This is just willful ignorance. This is creating a narrative just to fit a worldview. This is being completely oblivious to the realities of the day. It has become a form of socio-political atheism. People are choosing to just not believe. They deny things that are obvious. It is a willful disregard for the problems this country is having because it doesn’t fit into their safe, white, usually male, cisgendered, straight worldview. Forget reality. Just make up your own. I started thinking about when this all started. I suppose it is always been true. But, I believed it is picked up steam and become a life of its own since Trump ran for office.
I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with people and they deny the simple realities of what is going on in society. Things like racism, homophobia, hatred of the poor, the Constitution, the dangers of guns, the danger of the president, Islamaphobia, and our education system. They hold tight onto the beliefs of the American dream. They believe that Donald Trump will make America great. They stand tall for the flag without any thought as to what I really means. They believe that Colin Kapernick is evil. They call Antifa, fascists.
I suppose that when your authority is challenged, your comfortable role as being the dominant group in society, your simplified belief system that makes the world make sense to you is being threatened you go on the defensive. The problem is that there is no defense. People will say, “Well, that just isn’t true.” That is the defense. It isn’t true.
This mentality of just denying things that you disagree with is incredibly problematic for a just society. There can be no discussion. Why? Because there is no defense. And those that willfully ignore the world around them always have their fallbacks. Obama. Hillary. Ben Ghazi. Emails. Servers.
What is frightening though is the fact that this willful ignorance of the facts extends up to the president. I have been told specifically that people don’t care about Trump’s beliefs, what he is done, his blatant disregard for respect for the office of the presidency, because he is getting things done. But he is not. At all. Feel free to argue that point. But when the real living wage is down .2%, a great portion of society is having their rights stripped away, large sectors of the manufacturing world and agricultural sector are being beaten down by tariffs, what exactly is it that you’re celebrating?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
That is because these people have become atheists. They have become socio-political atheists. They are choosing to not believe certain things because it doesn’t fit. Now, I am not saying that being a socio-political agnostic would be any better. But at least not knowing would suggest some search for reality.
Over the past two years, I have been pondering what it means to be a citizen of the United States. Well, that isn’t true. I have always pondered it. But as the conversation becomes more and more complicated, as people are interpreting the Constitution to fit their needs, as “being American,” is being defined by more and more limited definitions, I have been thinking about what it means to be us (and US). More specifically, I have been considering the obsession we have with the symbolism of the nation. Particularly, the flag.
The flag is a rectangular piece of fabric, sometimes one piece, sometimes stitched together. The flag has seven, horizontal red stripes alternating with six horizontal white stripes that symbolize the original colonies. At the upper left (a blue field with 50 stars, one for each state). Over the course of post-revolution history, the flag has changed based on the number of states.
But, what does it mean?
It seems that people are quick to put one on a truck, or a pin, or hang one in front of a house. Others have shorts that resemble the flag. And everywhere you go, people salute. Say the pledge. Blast the national anthem. But, how often do people actually think about what it represents?
To be a citizen of the United States, it seems that you should uphold the virtues of the United States. (Now, I bet some of you are wondering why I am not using the term America. Because there is a lot of America. Mexico, Canada are America. Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama are America. Brazil is America. Venezuela is America. Guyana is America.) Chanting USA, USA, or MAGA, MAGA isn’t being a citizen. It is being loud. It is being part of the crowd. It is about feeling like you are doing something.
It seems that people are distilling the republic down to bullet points of convenience, slogans, and cherry-picked statements to further their own agenda. We are desperately trying to simply our ideas. Therefore, we obsess over the flag.
The United States is more than that.
In the movie, “The American President,” the character Andrew Shepherd (played by Michael Douglas) says at one point, “America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.' You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
To be a true citizen, we have to hold dear those truths that are self-evident.
However, people are becoming fixated with just the flag. Or the anthem. It is an anthem of war. It seems that we are transfixed with simplicity. We fly the flag, we wear the flag, we put an applique on our car, and we are citizens.
In fact, it is more than that. We are infatuated with this simplicity. People wear the cross without thinking about what it means to act like a Christian. People have a peace symbol without thinking about the complexity of peace. People wear an anarchy symbol without considering the human condition.
We have become a reductionist society where a symbol replaces thought. Where a slogan replaces consideration. Where a vitriolic tweet has become policy.
Colin Kapernick was not protesting the flag. Or the anthem. He was protesting the treatment of black citizens of the United States. Yet, it is easy to say he is un-American. He isn’t. In fact, it is the opposite. He is ultimately a citizen. He is protesting. He is using his freedom of speech. He is challenging the gang mentality of the dominant class.
Right now, we are oversimplifying life for convenience. We don’t want to think. We can react to bullet points.
I implore everyone to commit themselves to thinking. Research ideas. Consider alternatives. Don’t disagree just because you are supposed to.
What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States?
Don’t be common.
This country is complex. We have many ideas, viewpoints, and cultures. This is why we are wonderful.
Celebrate this country through being engaged, thoughtful, and considering everyone. We ALL have a right to live. To be free. To be happy.
Help us get there.
For a moment, let us suspend our disbelief. Let’s say I went out and bought a gun. I am not talking about a modified AR-15. I am talking about a simple handgun. I will even go so far as to make it a .357. Okay, so we have the scene set. Now, because I have a second amendment right to own such a firearm and I am celebrating my right to do so, what do I do next?
How about one of the two things?
One, I could use my handgun to go out and shoot someone. No one in particular. Just someone. Someone that is bothering me. I will say I was standing my ground.
Two, I could use my gun in self-defense of my family. While I understand the statistics show that there are as many accidental shootings as there are cases of self-defense, I am going to have it available to shoot someone that I don’t want in my house (uninvited).
Now both of these scenarios could end with me shooting someone.
Are the shootings the same? Is the use of the gun the same?
So, you may ask yourself, what is my point?
I recently read a piece about the #walkaway movement. This movement is suggesting that people walk away from the Democratic Party because they are espousing the very things they are complaining about. Bigotry. Intolerance. Using people to further a cause. Here is the thing.
I get this every day. People constantly tell me that I am the problem. That my constant attacks on Trump supporters and the new conservative agenda are shutting down conversation. I am exactly the self-righteous person I rail against.
It is bullshit.
I am fighting against bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia, sexism, toxic masculinity, and profit over people.
They are fighting against being called that.
Democrats are bigoted against the bigots, show intolerance toward the intolerant. Democrats fight for other people by questioning policy.
Is it being intolerant to call out the intolerant? Is it being a bigot to show policies of bigotry?
This is the difference in what I meant by the gun metaphor. Both times I have a gun. But, what is it being used for?
The #walkaway people have made up a cause because they have no defense. And the people that are doing it? Conservatives. This is really popular among conservatives.
There is another issue I have with this contrived hashtag movement called #walkaway.
It is a command. It is telling you to walk away. Shouldn’t it be #walkedaway because you did? By making this an imperative sentence, it is suggesting you haven’t done it. Look at the other hashtag movements.
#metoo This suggests it happened to the person.
#notmypresident Suggests a political belief.
#blacklivesmatter Says that a group is important.
But, #walkaway? This is feeble and laughable.
So, why did I start out talking about guns? I knew that the people that this was intended for would at least start reading it.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.