Two Types of Rebellion, Part One: Unwitting Servants

Reading Kester Brewin’s Mutiny and reflecting on rebels I have known in my life,  I’ve come to believe that there are two types of rebels, at least in recent American society: 

  • Those whose rebellion supports the social structure
  • Those whose rebellion actually threatens the established order 

We’ll talk about the first group,  the rebels whose actions prop up the culture they’re rebelling against, today.  The second group will have to wait. 

The first group of rebels skips class, drinks,  has lots of sex in high school, drives too fast, plays a little dirty in business deals, keeps a “woman on the side, ” etc.

They may be reckless, selfish, irreverent, even criminal,  but they do it in normal, understandable ways. 

They uphold the power structure, even as they outwardly flout it. 

Occasionally one of them has to be punished to keep up the illusion that their rebellion is unacceptable, but it’s usually a woman (Martha Stewart or the girl who gets pregnant in high school), or the punishment is usually nominal (most white collar criminals,  Brock Turner). 

They typically “sow their wild oats” and then “grow out of it,” or else “bend the rules” or “play the system.”

They’re a necessary part of the system, though few of them would admit it.

Their rebellions serve as a pressure valve in the social system, just as their occasional scapegoating punishment serves to pacify and sanctify the self-righteous anger of the common people who live by the rules and are upset to see the cheaters prosper. 

Their rebellious acts are safely within the respectable, heteronormative, generally white male dominated traditional culture. 

Some of these acts are so common they’re not even rebellious any more, but almost expected. An “out and proud virgin” is more transgressive than the typical “having sex and hiding the fact from their parents” high schooler. 

Of course,  neither is nearly as transgressive (or likely to receive abuse) as an out LGBT+ teen, but we’ll talk about actual challenges to the social order later. 

I think Rush sum up the frustrations of a nerdy, studious kid watching the almost Huxleyan acceptable deviations of high school perfectly in one music video:

Ripples (Words and Actions Have Consequences)

​https://youtu.be/1VR3Av9qfZc

Sometimes we aim to misbehave

Most often, we don’t aim at all

In an intricately interconnected world

Our actions and inactions have meaning

Beyond our circle of friends
Beyond our monkeysphere 

Beyond our field of vision

We dance on spider’s silk

Intricately interwoven

Each step sets the strings vibrating

For good or for ill

For ourselves and for those a world away

Myths of violence prime our minds for war

Spinning up from children’s cartoons

To novels and political speeches

Desensitizing, Dehumanizing

One American life is worth

How many Pakistanis? 
How many Afghans?

How many?

Chocolate grown by slaves tastes sweet,  but not to them 

Clothes, Coffee, Rice, Diamonds, Gold

Products of foced labor, by children

So many things it’s hard to know where to start

None of us is pure.

I doubt we can be in a world like this.

Where powerful interests throw their rocks and hide their hands 

What can we do?

I’m no expert, but I have a few ideas.

Ironically, the first comes from Ayn Rand: Call evil “evil.”

Don’t give your silent sanction to things you oppose

Don’t give unspoken approval to things that appall you.

The second is simpler, but requires some self discipline

Pick a few things that are products of slavery,

And stop buying them.

Buy more clothes second-hand, if you can.

If you’re 6’7″ like me, that may not be possible.

Find something you can do, even if it’s small.

Only buy chocolate that’s ethically sourced.

Change where your money goes.

The third is simpler yet: spread the word

Sign petitions. Write your congress people

Post to social media. 

Get the word out, to people who matter.

Praise President Obama and the responsible legislators of both parties for tightening restrictions

For keeping dozens of slavery products out of the US  

Even if you don’t like their other policies

Fourth, if you are a writer or content creator

Be sure that what you create reflects your heart

Every work has a message

Every work shows and tells how it’s world works, 

How things get better or worse, 

What brings happiness and justice

Money? “Winning” the sexy love interest?  

Outwitting a nagging wife? 

Killing or beating up the right bad guys? 

Every story tells a story… or it wouldn’t be a story. 

Pure entertainment doesn’t exist

Nobody Is Pure: Aligning My Actions with My Ethics

How do you live completely harm-free in a world as complex and interconnected as ours?

You don’t.

Even if you focus on present, ongoing harm and ignore past historical harms – a completely arbitrary decision – you still can’t find or fix everything.

We pay taxes to a government that does a host of bad things (anyone reading this, regardless of political leanings, can probably agree to that). Christians have instructions from the Master Himself to do so (“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” – Mark 12:17). We all have a gun literally pointed at our heads to make us pay.

We can’t even know the origins of all the things we put on or into our bodies or our vehicles.

What do we do? Well, we can vote, if we can find someone worth voting for. We can sign petitions and write letters to our representatives in state, local, and national government. We can protest and make our voices known.

And we can educate ourselves on the issues.

But is that enough? My taxes are still paying for drone strikes against civilians, and indefinite detention without trial (both happening on the CIA’s word, with nominal executive oversight and no due process), and so are yours, if you live in the U.S.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Romans 3:10 KJV)

But that doesn’t mean we can’t push back. It doesn’t mean we can’t find one little corner of our lives and push back against the cruelty, violence, and exploitation that have been baked into our governmental and economic systems, and the deception that hides them.

It just means that nobody, vegan, vegetarian, meat-eater, tax-dodge, pacifist, or soldier, can ever fully claim the moral high ground.

I know I surely can’t.

And I know that when I try to, I can end up hurting people I never intended to.

A wise long-term vegan told me that you can only go where your consciousness leads you. And that we should not be “holier than thou” with people whose consciousness (and consciences) aren’t leading them the same direction ours are.

And experience leads me to understand that nobody can care about everything at once. A single human being just doesn’t have the energy.

So, I’ll say this. Try some vegan dishes – some are very yummy – and see if you’d like to add them to your weekly meal rotation.
But beyond that, whatever your conscience is leading you to care about, care deeply, and act wisely.

And if I ever start acting holier-than-thou, let me know.

The Rusty Nail in the Velvet Glove: Aligning my Actions and Ethics: Part 2

publicstock.net-rusty-spikes 800x530

In my last post, I talked about how our system of production is currently built upon cruelty, suffering, and exploitation, and how that suffering is intentionally hidden from us consumers. I call this the rusty nail in the velvet glove. Or, to borrow a phrase from Rich Mullins, “the mask of life I had placed upon the face of death.”

The Apostle Paul himself probably said it best (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

14 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (NRSV)

Things that are otherwise or basically good can become elements of evil if they are corrupted, or if they become ends of themselves … which is what happens when you have massive corporate interests involved. Companies don’t generally make the Fortune 500 by caring about who they hurt on the way up.

Lawyer, theologian, and social activist William Stringfellow wrote an incredible book on this, Imposters of God. (I wrote about it a few years back). Bascially, Stringfellow considered idolatrous and twisted good things (patriotism, careerism, even church-ism) to be the current and active face of evil – of the devil – in the modern world.

I can’t argue against that, but I would add to that list of devils the hidden evils we participate in without really even knowing it.

So let me try in a small way to pull away the mask that has been “placed upon the face of death.” The videos about animal abuse are all pretty hard to watch.

This is the image Hershey’s chocolate likes to show you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAw_BmRLiDY

This is where the cocoa in that chocolate comes from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ns6d6rGnfo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM

This is what the pork industry wants you to see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_UDq9tpX0w

This is how those pigs spend their short lives:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T48yOYjz5sk

This is Hormel’s “Spam America,” which attempts to link Spam to artistry and innovation

https://vimeo.com/138027963

This is “The Unauthorized Spam Tour.” Be careful what you eat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AEzOnk3ZBk

The “Bacon Brothers” singing about the “quality protein” of an egg breakfast

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a9Ixfg2q1g

The life cycle of a battery-cage chicken

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p83JoTxUZZg

Oh, look. It’s a talking cow. Doesn’t she sound happy about milk?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xdPfnZynEw

Non-CGI dairy cows … not so happy milk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzS8p727gvM

And it doesn’t stop at public relations. Industries have worked hard to influence congress and state legislatures: the livestock industry alone spends millions of dollars each year influencing elections.

That spending paid off, because just last December Congress and the President gave them a brand new, shiny present: relaxed labeling requirements that make it almost impossible for the consumer to know where the meat they buy comes from, how it was slaughtered, and so on.

Livestock industry political action groups have even attempted to pass “ag gag” laws across the US and around the world, which make it illegal to film animal abuses at processing centers.

They’ve succeeded in six states, including Idaho, whose law was inspired by a viral Mercy for Animals investigation of Bettencourt Dairies, which led to the arrests of multiple farm workers. Yup, the abuse was real and illegal, but rather than fix the problems, the response was make a law to hide them.

Rusty nails in a velvet glove. Mask of life over the face of death. Satan masquerading as an angel of light. Throwing the rock and hiding your hand.

A lot of money is riding on this. Real power is working night and day to make sure we don’t understand the damage we do.

The last thing I want to do is to make the average person reading this feel guilty. We’re not the ones perpetrating cruelty and exploitation, and we’re not the ones covering it up. We’re the ones being lied to, being brought into it deceitfully.

If you want to give up all chocolate you can’t be sure wasn’t harvested by slaves, do it. If you want to become a vegetarian, or even a vegan, do it. But in our culture, these are hard things to do. Because powerful people with lots of money have made them difficult.

The main reason I’m writing these posts isn’t to convince you, but to remind me. My biggest weakness is a lack of follow-through. I start things strong, but then fall away in time. But I’m making this public, so I can look back and remind myself why I’m doing all this … and so that y’all can call me out if I backslide.

Nobody should feel like I’m condemning them for what they have for supper. I’m not.

I’m condemning the Cattlemen’s Association, Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle’s, and Mars. I’m condemning lobbyists and the politicians they rent.
Sure, some people genuinely don’t care. But most don’t know. And of the ones who both know and care, some, maybe most, aren’t yet at a point where they’re ready to make major changes. Like I said, powerful people have spent a lot of money making us a part of this, hiding it from us, and making it hard to exit.
But if you’re feeling it, start by pushing back just a little.
Find a few vegan or vegetarian recipes (I’ll post some here, in time) and have one meatless day a week. Or, if you’ve got a family that wouldn’t be on board, give yourself one cruelty-free meal a day, like breakfast.
If you’re not at a point where you can walk away from the major chocolate companies (which all use slave labor), look in the chocolate aisle in your local grocery and or supermarket and see what they have. Maybe you could find something with a Fair Trade label, or a responsible company like Lindt, that would satisfy your sweet tooth.
If nothing else, you can pass the information along. Go to Stop the Traffik and see the little things you can do (email, petitions, etc.) to help end slavery in all industries.
If everybody did one little thing, it could make a big difference.

First, Do No Harm: Aligning My Ethics and My Actions in a Disconnected World

I posted a few Mondays ago that I’d mostly moved on from theological blog posts … well, it turns out I was wrong.

Sure, a lot of the questions I was asking back then are things I’ve settled now, but one big one has arisen: How do I be moral and righteous within an economic and industrial system that is heavily built upon cruelty, exploitation, and oppression?

I’m still wrestling, just with slightly different angels.

I’m struggling to figure out how to align my actions with my ethics in modern America. Most of the things we do to survive, or at least live, seem to be built upon the suffering of others. And that suffering is deliberately concealed from those of us on the consuming end of the equation.

I’m not talking about historical injustices or atrocities, but  ongoing suffering and death, here and now. The kind I can either contribute to or help alleviate.

  • The meat, dairy and egg industries are horrific for the animals and (to a lesser extent) the workers.
  • Overfishing has put the health of entire oceans at risk.
  • Global warming is real. The oil companies and their pet politicians and pundits have spent a lot of money convincing people it isn’t, but I trust actual climate scientists more than lobbyists.
  • Hunger is still an issue around the world, and drinking water is an even bigger issue (even here in the U.S.)
  • Worst of all, a large but hard to determine, number of everyday items include components that were made by literal slaves.

The food in my belly, the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet … someone suffered for all that. It’s easy to ignore. It’s easier to ignore than it is to learn about, because the men with the money want it that way.

As the old song says, they “you can throw that rock, and hide your hand … but what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

So now that I’ve seen this particular light, what can I do?

I really want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. How can I passively inflict this kind of damage? How can I cynically make this kind of mess for other, poorer people to clean up? Or for my daughter and her future children to clean up?

Out of sight, out of mind.

Jesus always sided with the underdogs, the outsiders in society (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”).

When he railed against sin, he was always speaking to the powerful, whose sin was oppressing and exploiting others, usually by making them into outsiders and declaring them unclean.

He never accepted second-hand cruelty. When the system was cruel, he rebuked the system. When the respectable, “moral” people were callous, he called them out.

He called me out.

We’re good at being good, when that just means being nice to the people in front of our faces, paying our taxes, and giving some money to charity from time to time. But I have a hard time believing that that is all that matters.

No matter what you believe religiously, we all stand under judgement. We can’t escape the things we do. Even if there were nothing beyond our mortal material existence, our actions still exist. They are as inescapable as gravity and entropy.

If my lifestyle is having real consequences on other people, don’t I need to change it?

Yes, I do.

Yes, I will.

And I hope that maybe I’ll inspire a few more people to join me. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be following this post up with more detail on the harm that we do, harm that is being hidden from us, and with what I’m personally doing to try to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, this in my life.

I hope you’ll join me.

Meat-Free Monday: Why Vegan?

Animal_Abuse_Battery_Cage_01 CC Compassion Over Killing

So why vegan and not vegetarian?

Well there’s two answers to this, three actually.

First, I’m supposed to be off the dairy for my health anyway. If I’m eating steak I don’t need butter on it. If I’m eating a burger I don’t need cheese on it. I need to be off dairy. Full stop. And that’s the hardest part of going vegan by a long shot. I can’t tell you how much cheese I used to eat on a daily basis.

Now, on to eggs and meat. Eggs are healthy enough, but factory farming conditions for chickens are heinous. We’ve seen the trucks taking the chickens to the the chicken factory just north of Hattiesburg, Sanderson Farms. It doesn’t look like a farm, it looks like really nasty factory, and it smells like it too.

The chickens in the truck were so cramped and packed together and each one was in a box that would barely hold six bagels. The Huffington Post calls eggs from battery-caged chickens “The Cruelest of all Factory Farm Products.” So, why would I participate in that if I’m giving up dairy? Why would I leave eggs in?

On the same point, the lives of dairy cows are even worse than the lives of beef cows, and once they run out of milk, they’re killed just like beef cows.

So it came down to a matter of health and ethics. And then there’s point number three:

I’m terrible at moderation. For years I’ve tried to “eat less meat and more veggies.” I’ve given up dairy a half-dozen times, only to backslide. I know I couldn’t half-do this. I knew I couldn’t give up some animal products without giving in and eating them all. If I was going to do this at all, I need to go “all in.”

Now, I’m only two weeks “all in,” so I can’t comment on my long-term success. And I’m certainly in no position to criticize (for example) someone who’s been a vegetarian for many years and still eats eggs and dairy. But “all in” is the only route I haven’t tried already and failed. It’s the only chance I have to succeed, realistically. So it’s what I’m going to do.

 

Twelve-Word Tuesday: Viridian Design

On Twelve-Word Tuesdays, I introduce a concept, piece of media, or other thing I want to comment on, then sum it up or review it in Twelve Words (hence the name). I’ll link to the original source material, if applicable/possible, and to some more detailed analysis of it, again, if available.

This is something I can do quickly, yet still add some value of my own, beyond just being an aggregator.

I got the idea for Twelve Word Reviews after watching the first two episodes of Game of Thrones, a show that both Katherine and I found too dark and brutal for our tastes (though the production was well-done). I summed up my reaction in twelve words, “Horrible people doing horrible things to each other. With cussing. And nudity.” And while I know that’s a bit of an oversimplification of a well-loved and award-winning series, the concept stuck.

So, back to Viridian Design

“Choose high-quality versions of the things you use most. Minimize the rest.”

Bruce Sterling details his philosophy of Viridian Design in “The Last Note.” Unfortunately, Sterling took the “viridian” part a little too far in his web design, and the article is terribly hard to read (black text on a green background? Really?).

But have no fear. Open the page in Firefox, choose “View,” then “Page Style,” then “No Style.” All that green background mess will go away, leaving a nice, clean, legible page.

Viridian design involves (and attempts to integrate) minimalism, sustainability, and quality of life. You can read more commentary at Lifehacker, “Rethink Your Stuff: What to Splurge On, What to Toss,” and GreenBiz, “Viridian Design and Rethinking Our Relationship with ‘Stuff.’

This video, “The Story of Stuff,” covers some of the same general ground as Sterling. Minimalism as a concept fascinates me, because it is the very opposite of my own tendencies.

Although I’ll probably never actually undertake minimalism per se, I do like the Viridian ideal of getting quality versions of the things you actually use frequently and getting rid of the things you just sort of have but never seem to use.