Sunday, February 23, 2014

Day 512: Oh, the Hypocracy - America's Stance on Gay Rights

(CNN) -- Uganda's President has said he's seeking advice from American scientists before he decides whether to sign a bill that criminalizes homosexuality.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda. The proposed legislation passed by parliament toughens the penalties, including life imprisonment for certain acts.
President Yoweri Museveni 's decision backtracks from his announcement last week, when he said he'd sign the bill for "scientific" reasons.
At the time, he said that Ugandan scientists had determined there was no gene for homosexuality.
"It was learned and could be unlearned," he said.
Shortly after his announcement, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that enacting the bill would affect relations between the two nations. He described the proposal as an "affront and a danger to the gay community" in Uganda.
The United States and Britain are among the nation's largest donors.

(CNN) -- Arizona's Legislature has passed a controversial bill that would allow business owners, as long as they assert their religious beliefs, to deny service to gay and lesbian customers.
The bill, which the state House of Representatives passed by a 33-27 vote Thursday, now goes to Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican and onetime small business owner who vetoed similar legislation last year but has expressed the right of business owners to deny service.
"I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don't work with," Brewer told CNN in Washington on Friday. "But I don't know that it needs to be statutory. In my life and in my businesses, if I don't want to do business or if I don't want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I'm not interested. That's America. That's freedom."

If you were to take all references to America out of the 2 articles above and replace them with labels like "A" and "B", you would think that the articles were about 2 separate countries: one that supports gay rights and one that does not.

It is a reflection of the fractured nature of humanity - at least that is one aspect of it. We are so divided within ourselves and in our lives that we cannot even develop one clear assessment of anything, we see only in a fractured way as per the restriction of our current nature. On top of this we have a very limited ability to reason and question with clarity, we are always bringing our fractured views and biases into everything we touch.  In other words, we take our baggage with us everywhere, and no one ever taught us how to leave it behind and be objective and holistic. 

Keeping this in mind, is it any wonder that America has contradictory stances and reactions to the same issue? And by this I don't mean the varied opinions of the people of America, I mean the political and media representation of America that spoon feeds the people, leading to those varied opinions. 

In the end, discrimination is discrimination. Discrimination stems from ignorance, from a blind faith in one's own opinions and beliefs. It comes from a complete unwillingness to take anything else into consideration, to acknowledge that there may be more to it than what one believes there is.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day 511: It's All Open to Interpretation

If you think about it, all of our lives are based on your interpretation of, well, everything. This is not limited to philosophical, religious or other worldly views - it includes the simplest of things that we all seem to miss in our day-to-day living. For example: you see something in the distance, or something that is a little fuzzy, and you can't clearly see what it is - your brain will start imposing images of what it could be, the things it looks similar to - but then as you get closer or the image gets clearer you realize that it was actually something else entirely. Another example would be the game "broken telephone" (where a group of people sit in a circle and one person chooses a phrase and then whispers it into the ear of the person to their left or right and that person then passes it on to the person sitting next to them etc etc until the message eventually gets to the last person who then speaks aloud what was whispered into their ear.) The message that comes out at the end is seldom the same as the first phrase that was chosen and whispered by the first person.

When we are uncertain about something we tend to mould our understanding of it into something that makes sense for us - which does not necessarily reflect the true nature of the thing.

On some level we all know that our views and experiences of life are subjective, but we live them as though they are objective. Essentially we are lying to ourselves.

How does this then translate into our actual lives and the lives of other people? Ie: why should anyone care about this - what difference does it make? It is a thought and behavioural structure that influences every part of our lives. When it comes to things like religion and beliefs, it will influence how the teachings of spiritual leaders and texts are interpreted and lived in the lives of the followers. Just think of how many different branches of Christianity there are, and then even more individualized interpretations within those branches. We tend to interpret things in such a way so that they will benefit us, whether it be material or otherwise.

We live in such a way that we do not fully investigate all things, we are more prone to jump to conclusions and see things in a biased way. The very fact that we cannot be honest with ourselves in this respect calls into question our honesty within every other aspect of our lives.

When we only see what we want to see we miss the things that matter - the things that are not as pretty or convenient as we would like - the things that do not fit into our world views and self beliefs (oh yes, we only see what we want to see about ourselves too). Interpreting everything in our lives causes us to miss the whole picture and all the possible other pictures. This interpretation arms us with reasons and excuses for living how we do and with reasons and excuses for why we shouldn't think or care about other people and beings. We believe that in order to keep our precious rights to our interpretations (beliefs and opinions) we must allow others their rights to their own interpretations and therefore not challenge anyone - because to do so would put our own rights at risk.

This system that governs our lives was designed very well - those of us who are in it cannot even see the confines and restrictions it places around us and those of us who are seeing it for what it is are constantly struggling to disentangle ourselves from its grasp. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Day 510: Attack the Rich

Tom Perkins suggested Thursday that only taxpayers should have the right to vote -- and that wealthy Americans who pay more in taxes should get more votes.
The venture capitalist offered the unorthodox proposal when asked to name one idea that would "change the world" at a speaking engagement in San Francisco moderated by Fortune's Adam Lashinsky.

"The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," Perkins said.
"But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?"
The audience at the Commonwealth Club reacted with laughter. But Perkins offered no immediate indication that he was joking. Asked offstage if the proposal was serious, Perkins said: "I intended to be outrageous, and it was." - CNN Money

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins came under fire after publicly comparing the experience of wealthy Americans to a deadly Nazi campaign that preceded the Holocaust.
"Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its 'one percent,' namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich,'" he wrote, opening a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal.

"This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?" he concluded. - CNN Money

Once again our worth is determined by a monetary value. Of course this is the view of people who have money, because this, in their eyes, gives them a higher value. They can now think of themselves as being better than all those other schmucks who don't have as much money as they do. A lot of people have bought into this ideology - maybe not quite so overtly, but in smaller ways. Say you see someone who is working as a cleaner. Your automatic judgement of who they are may include labels like "uneducated", "poor", "probably lives in a small home", "probably has some stereotypical problems at home within their family" - these judgements really depend on the one who is doing the judgements, how they see the world. What I'm getting at is that one of our assumptions is that a person who is working as a cleaner is unable to afford many things and many types of lifestyles - and we're not too bothered about those assumptions - that's just the way it is. Like I said, not quite so overtly, but the thoughts exist within most people that poorer people shouldn't be able to have what richer people have. This exists within us on a subconscious level, so consciously all it is is a tacit acceptance of our cultures, social acceptances and so on.

Obviously the rich will do everything in their considerable power to hold onto said power, but what also happens is that many people who are not wealthy, not by a longshot, also defend those in positions of wealth. They do this because they feel their own comfortable lives are well deserved and that anyone wanting such a life must deserve it, as well as anyone who has an even better life must also deserve it and therefore they are "good people". The other possibility is that they are taken over by the desire to also be wealthy, which would implicitly justify everything that comes with wealth. Remember that everyone is always trying to validate who they think they are - trying to have their actions mirror their self belief. It's called Cognitive Dissonance and everyone has it. You may believe that you are immune to it. You're not. You are alive and therefore you exist within a state of cognitive dissonance. That is how completely self unaware we are - we don't even know that we are lying to ourselves.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Day 509: The True Nature of Charities

Guatemala City, Guatemala (CNN) -- In a country where 20% of people live on less than a dollar a day, Richard Grinnell is doing his level best to help the impoverished people of Guatemala.
Grinnell runs an American charity here called Helps International, which arranges medical procedures done by American doctors and provides stoves to the poorest of the poor.
So when he heard that 15 small American charities that have nothing to do with foreign aid claimed to have sent $40 million worth of medicines to Guatemala in a single year, he was surprised, to say the least.
Grinnell said his charity runs 15,000 clinics throughout Guatemala at a cost of about $300,000 a year.
"Any charity that spends even a million dollars a year would be huge," he said.
Documents obtained by CNN show that Charity Services International, a private South Carolina company, claimed to have shipped nearly $40 million in medicines and other donations on behalf of 15 small charities to Guatemala in 2010. Those same charities also reported sending another $10 million to Guatemala the next year.
According to its tax filings, one of those American charities, The Breast Cancer Society of Mesa, Arizona, claimed to have shipped $22 million of donations by itself in 2010.
But a joint investigation by CNN, the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting could find no trace of even a fraction of those donations.

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common occurrence. Most charities exist within a bubble of moral high ground, immune to questioning and fed by our desires to do good and feel good.

We don't actually know what happens to the money we "donate" to people and/or organizations. How often do you actually see for yourself what happens with that money? Almost never. When you give money to a charity you also give away your sense of responsibility, it's like giving that money away is equivalent to actually doing something good for someone else in your mind - you tell yourself that when you meet your maker in the hereafter you will proudly declare that you gave money to charities on a regular basis. In reality that is just the easiest path for any person to take, the path where you claim to be passing on your responsibility to whomsoever you bequeath that money to, that they will now do all these good deeds on your behalf. What's really odd about this though process is that you will actually feel good about yourself after doing this, like you have made a positive difference when in reality you have no clue what kind of effect your actions had.

For all you know, you could be funding the mob through one of their legitimate cover businesses, or you could be funding some greedy person's private jet. You just don't know. You can't know - unless you actually go and investigate for yourself, which, let's face it, few have the time and resources required to do.

The other aspect of this conundrum is that you feel like you are contributing in some way to improving the world when you donate to a charity, which may or may not be true, when in actual fact the reality of the situation is that none of your actions are considering or addressing the cause of the problems - the very existence of charities is questionable as there are very few of them that will actually consider how best to address the cause of the problems as opposed to trying to treat the symptoms day in and day out.

Consider poverty - a charity that provides food and some health care to impoverished people is not addressing the cause of the poverty, it is simply applying palliative care. Those people living in poverty require a solution that will permanently improve their quality of life to a standard that any person would find acceptable and forever more remove the possibility of lapsing back into poverty. While food and medicine can make life slightly less unbearable, it does not provide a real, permanent solution.

Why are there no charities receiving funding and attention for their work on developing real, practical solutions to issues like poverty? Yea sure, there are ad campaigns with famous people and what not - but that in itself is no solution. We have to provide an alternative to the crappy choices that lie in front of us, or else we will simply choose the same again, it seems.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Day 508: Another War Brewing?

(CNN) -- North Korea is showing no signs of scaling back its fearsome labor camp system, with torture, starvation, rape and death a fact of life for tens of thousand of inmates, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
The rights group released satellite images, purportedly showing evidence of expansion, including the construction of new housing blocks and production facilities, at two of the isolated regime's largest camps or "kwanliso" --15 and 16 -- used to hold political prisoners.
"The gruesome reality of North Korea's continued investment in this vast network of repression has been exposed," said Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International's East Asia Researcher.
"We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those prisoners of conscience held in political prison camps and close the camps immediately."

Are the peoples of the world being primed for another military excursion into a country that appears to be doing things it shouldn't be?

Before I continue let me be clear on one point: I am in no way saying that North Korea is or is not doing certain things. I cannot know this as I have not been there myself to witness the state of the nation and its people. This post is about public perception and how it is influenced to support or reject one or more actions.

One thing that America has gotten really good at is getting its people to believe that military action against other countries is good and just and somehow protecting Americans. This may be true in some cases, but certainly not in all. Many citizens are opposed to military action against other countries done under the guise of patriotism, but not enough to make a real difference.

In reality what happens in most governments and nations across the world is that most people are pretty neutral about most issues - they do not care enough to petition their cause in any way. Then you will have the 2 minority groups: one is against an issue and the other is all for it. This is where the real decision normally comes from: which minority group makes their voices heard the best.

Now where public perception comes in is when the powers that be would like to keep the population as complacent as possible while they carry out their morally questionable actions - they do this by making what they are doing seem to be good for the country and for each citizen personally. These attempts to influence the population will obviously create their own minority groups of supporters and opposition. What is most often the case is that the supporters have far more money to spend than the opposition has and so the morally questionable acts continue with only a few rallies and marches taking place in an attempt from the opposition to get their voices heard. Obviously the problem comes in when the majority of the population just doesn't care enough to do anything, one way or the other, allowing the minority groups to continue their shouting matches.

The truth is that North Korea is shrouded in mystery. The truth is that the motives of the world leaders are shrouded in mystery. The truth is that it is very rare for someone in a position of power to act in the best interests of the many. The truth is that we cannot trust the correctness of objectivity of news articles. The truth is that we cannot trust the motives of advertisements. The truth is that most people have more interest in profiting from a situation than they do from helping other people and improving life on Earth. The truth is that the people who run the world are mostly very charming liars who are good at getting what they want and only want what benefits them. The truth is that we have to question everything in this world. The truth is that the best way to find the truth is to investigate the matter yourself, because there is no easy way to tell when someone else is lying.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Day 507: When is Enough, Enough?

At what point can you say to yourself that you have tried hard enough?

I had a discussion with Bernard a few months before he died which was about how you know when you've tried hard enough, or long enough. Basically, there never is a point of "enough". Not really - not if you want to be able to say "I did everything I was able to".

In this life we all face things that make us feel like to carry on trying is futile. The fact of the matter is that that is what we will face over and over in this life - especially if we want to change the world. So why do we, in some tasks, decide that we've done "enough" but in other tasks we will never allow ourselves to stop trying?

Standing as a principle is absolute. It is not something you just do in your spare time, or when it suites you. In order to say that you did absolutely everything you could you have to actually do everything you can, which means trying until it comes right or until it completely collapses - and this is simply to show you that you need to try a different approach.

You cannot say that you want to change the world and that you will never stop trying no matter how daunting the task - but in some other "smaller" matters in your life not apply that same dedication. Sometimes it's easier to give up. It actually often is. Carrying on, trying again - after each and every apparent failure - that is difficult.

So I ask you again: When can you say that you have tried hard enough, that you have done enough? Maybe sometimes when the situation is showing you that nothing more can be done (for example a doctor trying to resuscitate a patient - there is a point where to continue would be pointless). But most of the time we stop trying because it's just too hard to carry on, or it doesn't seem to be worth it, or we've been hurt and don't feel like we can forgive and move on. These reasons, even though they are so overpowering to us when we are in the midst of all of it, are not valid. What I mean by that is that these reasons exist solely because we give attention, and therefore power, to them. We fuel them with thoughts, doubts, anxiety, fears, anger, hurt, sadness, tiredness - these are obstacles that exist simply because we are participating in their creation and continued existence.

Take away the hurt, the anger, the frustration, sadness, tiredness, fear, thoughts, doubts - whatever - and you will see that the task at hand seems much less daunting. This does not mean that everything will work out - it is simply you giving yourself the opportunity to truly do everything you are able without your own inner chatter and conflict standing in the way.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Day 506: What is Real Democracy?

When you think of the word "democracy", the ideas that come to mind are similar to majority rule; decisions made by the people; more than 60 % of voting results decide; leaders do that which the people want and need done; etc etc - correct? I find it interesting, then, that in most countries the turnout of voters is nowhere near the total voting age population (the number of people eligible to vote).

If a country's leaders and future is being decided by only half of the population, can that country still be described as a democracy? There are a few countries that have a high turnout of eligible voters, some of which have laws making voting compulsory for those people who are eligible to vote and other countries have a high rate of political participation. There are success stories and failure stories in both of these types, but that is irrelevant to this particular moment.

Go to this website to see the available data on the voting histories of the world. As you will see, the percentage of voters who are eligible to vote who actually do range from anything to only a few percent to the high 90's.

Let's take USA as an example of questionable democracy. 50 - 60% of the eligible voting population actually votes in the presidential elections. Parliamentary election turnouts are even lower. The US political system then gets a bit weird. Apparently the politicians must be approached by lobbyists as representatives of the people's wants and needs (representatives of interest groups) - but what actually happens is that the big corporations are the ones dominating all the lobbying activities as they are the ones with the deepest pockets. These interest groups also happen to be the major funders of the political parties. This brings us to another interesting aspect about the American political system: Presidential candidates spend millions on their campaigns, trying to win over the few people who actually vote. I would wager that a large number of these voters make their choice based on how much they "like" a candidate - so it's not so much about choosing the right person for the job as it is about choosing the nice person for the job - and even that is manufactured. The candidate is whatever the press makes of him/her and however they choose to present themselves - it doesn't mean that they are presenting "who they really are", but rather that they are presenting who people want them to be so that people will vote for them.

The South African political system is a little simpler in its corruption. The key to gaining political power in SA is familial ties to people in power and the willingness to use public opinion as a weapon against certain groups to gain followers. It also doesn't hurt if you're a good public speaker who is able to ignite the passions of people and play on their emotions. Our voter turnout is about the same as America.

Are the examples above consistent with what you believe democracy means? Either our definition of the word is wrong or our application of the word is wrong. I think that it's the latter, but who am I to refute the validity of so many democracies across the globe? Just a skinny blonde girl with idealistic plans and a pessimistic view of the human condition.

With all of this in mind, how is it possible that any government is actually doing what the people want or need?  Who is really leading the countries then?