Changing what we can.
Understanding what is.
Hate is a powerful motivator. It is hard not to hate people who oppress others. It is hard not to hate people who enslave others. Unfortunately, when we hate them, we become an engine of hate and oppression ourselves.
While it may be true that, within the controlling elite of most countries, there is a disproportionate percentage of people who have very little care for their fellow human beings, capable of treating them as most of us might treat some animal that we fear or despise such as a rat or a spider, the truth is that almost all of us have that capacity in some form or another. The way I think of it is: from a chicken’s perspective, almost all of us are sociopaths.
Mostly the difference between us is not actually our differences, but how we choose to define them. How we define our tribe. A sociopathic person might describe their tribe as one person: themselves. A saint might be described as having a tribe of all mankind. Most of us are somewhere in between.
Human beings, and for that matter most all life forms, have a kind of hierarchy. We are programmed via our DNA to try to achieve dominance. This is part of our animal nature, and we cannot get rid of it. While this tends to insure the survival of the species, it often leads to immense cruelty. Some of us pride ourselves on not being hierarchical, but even then, there is pride involved, or as Chogyam Trungpa would say spiritual materialism. Examples include bragging about our superior enlightenment, reveling in the depth of our humility, feeling superior to others because of our great selflessness, showing off in how much more socially conscious we are than others. Our creative capacity for showing our superiority is really quite amazing, and also quite horrifying, as we often use this to justify notorious acts of inhumanity.
To help limit the effects of this constant striving and fear of inadequacy, we have developed different religious and political belief systems. Our democracy was the first modern democracy, born out of the religious reformation of European Catholicism combined with a fascination and renewed understanding of the ancient Greek democracy and the ancient Roman republic. Our democracy had ideals, but was also born within and at least partially embracing harsh human customs, among them war, slavery, cultural persecution, religious persecution, oppression of women, oppression of the poor. In general, these were justified with some form of divine right: nationalism, racism, sexism, economic elitism.
Each of these isms, is a kind of tribalism, a justification for treating some group that we do not belong to as less than. While we have made great strides in understanding our tendency towards tribalism and have changed many of our attitudes and policies to be more compassionate, fair, and representative, our outcomes in education and incarceration in particular remain remarkably biased against our poor and minorities.
In our frustration, we blame the police, the teachers, the politicians, and we elect new politicians, change our teaching and testing methods, reform our policing. And yet the results persist. We become angry and start talking about defunding the police, replacing public schools with charter schools and placing term limits on politicians.
What we fail to see is that these disparate outcomes remain because they are built into the very framework of our system of governance, our system of justice, and our system of education. Each of these institutions plays a prominent role in our economic elitism and oppression of the poor and until we make fundamental reforms to these systems, we will continue to get the same results.
While our system of democracy grants us rights and freedoms that few in this world are privileged to experience, our two party system promotes majority interests at the expense of the minority and our system of legalized bribery through campaign contributions means that the wealthy elite have extremely disproportionate say in who gets nominated and who gets elected. In fact, I believe these two main issues are the root of most of our problems in this country, and that any gains that we make in equality will continually be eroded until we amend our Constitution.
The injustice of our System of Justice. We have much to be grateful for in our system of justice. It gives us protections, rights and freedoms; great privileges that few in this world are granted. Never-the-less, our adversarial system of justice, while ostensibly applying a level playing field, gives the wealthy elite remarkably disproportionate outcomes. If you are wealthy, you can hire a team of elite lawyers who work just for you against a public prosecuting team that has many other priorities. If you are poor, you get a public defender who has 70 other clients to defend. The rest float somewhere in between. Until we reform this adversarial system, we will continue to have vast disparities in the percentages of poor and minorities in our prisons.
Institutionalized Inequality: our System of Education. Our system of higher education in the United States is one of our national treasures. People of wealth and privilege come from all over the world to attend our universities, both public and private. Education is one of our last remaining branches on the tree of American opportunity. If you are fortunate to have wealthy parents you can afford a private education. And those who live in wealthy towns and neighborhoods often get “private education at public school prices”. Wealthy children have choices. The rest go to the school they are assigned to. The average American child now gets an primary public education on par with Uzbekistan and Mongolia, and our children in poor neighborhoods get even worse. While exceptional individuals may win the educational lottery and get scholarships, and above average students may enter into a kind of indentured servitude with student loans, the rest generally get long hours, low paying jobs with higher risks. Until we reform the way we fund education and provide all our children with similar opportunities in excellence and school choice, we will continue to get vastly different outcomes in high school graduation and college attendance rates.
It is easy to see these inequalities as caused by our economic elite, our top one percent, who get a kind of special treatment in all of these areas of life. But the truth is that most of us, placed in a similar situation, would behave similarly. Hating some elite group will not change anything. In fact, in some sort of perverse manner, it actually ensures its continuation. This brings us to an important life lesson: What You Resist Persists.
On the face, at least to me, this initially seemed counter-intuitive. Why should it be that when we push back against something terrible, we tend to get more of it. Why did the American Civil War, even though successful, not rid us of racism? Why did the French Revolution, even though successful, turn into Napoleon? Why did the socialist revolution in Russia, even though successful turn into Stalin? Why did the occupy movement fail? Why are our efforts to be be more compassionate to the oppressed in our city seeming to create more hate and oppression?
I think the answer in each of these cases is that when we continue to focus on what we don’t want, we fail to focus on what we do want. If we truly wish to be free of brutality, we need to stop cutting off each other’s heads, literally and figuratively. Failing to do so just begets more brutality. We need to envision peace.
If we truly want to have different results, we must design a different system that truly reflects our ideals. We must make carefully considered plans based on a deep understanding of ourselves. We must develop and follow well considered principles that move us away from our natural tendency towards brutalising each other in the name of some ism or anti-ism. We must step off our war path, drop the tug-of-war rope, and embrace a new and peaceful beginning.
But how do we do this? Well much has been done during my lifetime to expand upon the ideal of religious freedoms, applying these same principle to concepts of culture, sex, race, and gender, and creating not just a tolerance of diversity, but a true embracing of all we have to offer.
But in order to truly realize these transformations in our culture, we need to recognize and reorganize our system of governance that continues to give widely unfair advantages to our wealthy, and wildly unfair disadvantages to our poor, and leaves most of us dangling uncomfortably somewhere in the middle.
While we cannot change our national system of governance, justice, and education unilaterally through our actions in the City of Seattle, together, we can make a difference and contribute to the national dialog. If elected as your mayor, I intend to work with all of you to make meaningful changes in our city departments of public health, public education, public safety to help alleviate some of the suffering, help to balance some of the inequality, and move our city and ourselves ever closer to our American ideals of liberty and equality for all, and the opportunity to pursue our destiny and reap the rich rewards of diversity in our ever evolving American Dream.