Tuesday, February 25, 2020

On the Risks of Gun Ownership

Virtually no gun owner protects themselves with their guns; roughly 2% of violent crime is stopped by a gun-toting private citizen being present. Shootings have happened, and people with guns have been present and still been unable, or unprepared, to stop them. In the 2019 mass shooting in Dayton, the shooter killed nine people and injured 27 others in thirty seconds... even with "good guys with guns" (police) present.

In fact, it's much more likely that a gun-owning American citizen will terrorize, injure, or kill an innocent person under the pretense or misunderstanding of "needing to defend themselves". Having a gun in the house also increases the chance of domestic disputes becoming fatal, and increases the chance of illicit activity by family members and friends being fatal, as an available gun can be lent, borrowed, or stolen.

All of this is because the mere presence of a gun in the house increases both the risk of dispute escalation AND how far it can escalate; angry partners know the ultimate threat is within arm's reach. Violent partners can go from physical assault to gun-waving to shooting. Witnesses of an "ultimate crime" (all-to-often children witnessing one partner shoot another) can be controlled the "ultimate way" (this is why children are a higher portion of domestic shooting fatalities than women... a family will often have more than one child, so (usually) the man kills the woman (one woman dead), and then all the kids (multiple child deaths)), and it can all happen in the heat of the moment... because a gun was in reach.

I'm a violent child abuse survivor. I discuss this in "The Experience Behind My Authority, Pt. 1". It's why I'm extremely cautious (one might say "gun-shy") around ALL men, and have no patience for the mutual reinforcement they engage in to maintain a fraternity of supremacy, and why I'm perpetually hyper-vigilant and easily startled. I'm pointing this out because that post paints an absolutely vivid picture of a working-class white man in America (Dale) from another perspective, one that may be outside what you identify with or understand, but a valid one nonetheless. I have first-hand experience that such men exist.

Now, consider that post, and that scenario, for a moment... and then imagine a gun in the mix.

Mom being unable to leave, so we have to live in this new level of fear, with Dale flying off the handle even more often. Beatings become more common, the gun gets waved about to reinforce the fear. Mom breaks and Dale gets his gun to "teach her a lesson"; of course, we kids are going to be taught too, right? Do we get beat, or beat up? Belt? Fists? Pistol-whipped? Shot? Or we get back to Grandma and Grandpa's house and he shows up to "teach everybody a lesson" there, which wouldn't go quietly because Grandma was a firecracker. Or he catches Mom at work and 'teaches her a lesson". Or some well-meaning nitwit with a gun goes and "takes care of" Dale for us (does he shoot Dale? Does he get shot?), or calls the police and Dale either lies to them and talks them off (let's be real, the police of northwest Indiana weren't given to investigating domestic disturbances much), or all Hell breaks lose and we get executed. Hell, my Grandma had a .22... she kept it in her room, and handfuls of blanks in drawers around the house, but she also had a case of live rounds in her room, and I knew where they were (in the closet)... how about she confronts Dale when he comes by. Does he have his gun? Does he provoke her? How do you think that would have played out? What if I knew he was coming and I had gone to get her gun... and the live rounds?

... there is nowhere you can put a gun into that formula that doesn't destroy lives, and nowhere you can put a gun in that formula that would have de-escalated things. If he didn't have a gun and was faced with one, you can bet he would have gone and gotten one, then come back to reclaim his image as King of the Hill. At the least, a constant state of terror for the rest of our lives (at least til 2004, I guess), wondering when he'll show up to make a point. At worst, a dead three-generational family and a white, male, egomaniacal, sociopathic NIPSCo employee probably convincing the court to give him a light sentence, because I guarantee he was too full of himself to commit suicide.

I brought Grandma's gun and some ammo to school twice in that big ol' Army pack of mine, but my immersion into fantasy fiction had me thinking that, no matter how bad things seemed, this wasn't what the "good guys" would do, so I never did anything. Imagine the arguably "best-case" scenario of me getting her gun and using it to "deal with" Dale... and then me having that experience in my head when I brought that .22 to school.

... there is nowhere you could put a gun into that formula without destroying lives. Not just killing people... destroying the lives of all involved.

Your intent is all well and good, and I'm sure you "believe" nothing bad could ever come from you, specifically, owning these weapons, but no amount of intent overcomes fact: you have a gun available. Your family has a gun available. So do your friends. You think you have it absolutely secure, but you don't. If a robber pulls a gun and you pull one back, a robbery covered by insurance becomes a fatality, and you gamble on it being them and not you. What if you have a gun and they don't? What if, in a moment of distraction, you think an innocent person near you is pulling a weapon? You hope an apology is enough, you bask inwardly about how word will get around that you are not to be toyed with (which tells people desperate enough to try to be SURE to come armed)... and maybe you put somebody's innocent kid in the ground.

Everyone thinks they're the exception. Nobody is. You generate just as much fear and risk as the next gun owner, and more if you're a white, male gun owner. Ultimately, in America, whether you intend to or not, white people maintain gun ownership to maintain superiority, backed by heavily white, male military, police and court systems that want to maintain a precedence that allows them to be violent at-will, a conflict of interest between justice and white superiority, and you're just a self-justifying "I mean well" part of that. Maybe nothing will happen in your case, ever, but between "preventing crime" or "causing unnecessary levels of fear, violence and death", the odds are heavily in favor of your gun ownership promoting the latter.

And my position is being one of the innocent people you strike fear into with all this. You are not okay, you are not right, you're just surrounded with a bubble of people... friends, family, co-workers, police, judges... who tell you that you are because they want to be cool and have the opportunity to terrorize and kill people at-will, too. And, outside that bubble, everybody else can't afford to not be afraid, can't afford to ever completely let their guard down.

An Exposition of the myth of "Reverse Racism"

Pumping Station One has had race issues for as long as I've been a member; I attempted repeatedly to address it, but was repeatedly put on-the-spot by PS1 leadership because I was unequipped to "prove it". PS1's approach to member management disparity leans strongly toward the convenience of a "negative peace", which is silence, as opposed to the "positive peace" that is justice, and my being unequipped to "prove it" was convenient to that negative peace: if I couldn't prove it, they didn't have to acknowledge it. No work is needed, and the greater membership is not made uncomfortable.

I was extremely frustrated for years with this, because nobody would extend themselves to help me figure out how to "prove it." As it turns out... it is provable: a couple of years ago, somebody with a relevant background proposed a survey, and workshopped the deployment of it. This is something I could never have figured out how to do from where I was standing, and they also garnered support for it that I would never have gotten.

Among other things, the survey illustrated that PS1's membership is roughly 80% white, and roughly 80% male. The report that accompanied it did a lot of work trying to spin these results, and downplay their significance... but, suddenly, the negative peace, and the character of the people promoting and benefiting from it, stood out in stark relief. For an organization that extols the equality of every member, that promotes itself as inclusive and diverse, the current practices of the organization are developed to satisfy a very narrow band of membership.

In the meantime, I encountered something that PS1's core membership was singularly unwilling, and unprepared, to acknowledge or address: aggressive misrepresentation of institutional racism to defend institutional white privilege.

History on the Chez PS1 conflict

I took issue with a sign because it was aggressively classist. At this point, I had a deep life background of experience with racism and classism, but did not have much of a background in having genuine allies on these issues, so I was uneasy in approaching it. However, the person in question turned out to be an extremely aggressive white classist, with whom I'd had previous disagreements about a living wage, about universal health care, and about the systemic disadvantage of the struggling poor... personal disagreements that could stay as such.

The sign, however, was crossing a line, as it was a public sign on a PS1 institution they controlled. PS1 is community-owned, and nobody is supposed to have private ownership of a PS1 resource, but I wasn't trying to break that... the resource was a convenience. I just wanted the sign to change, and they were very aggressive in insisting it shouldn't.

I then pointed out that, given their aggression, if any issue about the sign crossed race lines, it could be perceived as racist, and I didn't want anyone to experience that. I did feel, personally, that it was racist, but I left that out... yes, I'd encountered it, but I just wanted to make sure nobody else did. I asked and explained, repeatedly, before taking it to the public forum.

The nomination conflict

This... created a slow-brewing storm. The sign was changed quickly after, but they held a grudge for almost two years, that culminated in incredibly aggressive attempts to deploy the myth of "reverse racism"; they portrayed themselves as a victim of racism because of the prior exchange.

Their assault on my character was actually much worse; they had no boundaries. I was nominated to run for the PS1 Board, which meant there was a chance I could affect policy, and they wanted to do all the damage they could to stop it. They claimed I was racist. They portrayed me as a thief. They questioned what they referred to as my own privilege, such as my paying for my PS1 membership despite being poor, and my having a lot of free time. They even knew that my PTSD could be triggered with a certain demeaning word... and they used it. And they repeatedly and publicly portrayed themselves as a victim of racism, because I had pointed out that their choice of words, and their attitude when approached, could be experienced as racism if it crossed race lines.

And they did all of this very publicly, with no prior effort to discuss any of it, and in a forum where it could not be moderated.

On racism and "reverse racism"

If the reader has read my post "Why Promoting Equality Falls on the Privileged", you're familiar with my historical take on the unique intersectional, post-colonial power structure of U.S. society. This is pivotal.

Institutional American racism is a power structure; it's not racial biases or prejudices, which everyone has, and should mind and work with in themselves, but a conscious, organized design of racial discrimination in favor of "white" persons over all others. There has never been a system of laws, law enforcement, and judicial practice in U.S. history designed to oppress white people... nor should there be... but the very history and design of U.S. law, even to modern-day implementation, is designed around oppressing all other races as "less than" white people, with classically-eurocentric white expectations of culture being the bar that "has to be" met; a perpetually subjective set of measures that will always favor white people, because, in this society, white people define those measures from their perspective... power, and lack of experience with institutional underprivilege.

To wit: racism is a combination of prejudice and popularly-supported privilege.

The power structure of institutional U.S. racism is unique with its roots in post-colonial practice; there is no parallel power structure in the nation, and nothing that can compete without the efforts of extraordinary white allyship. This makes "racism" a uniquely-white privilege to exercise and enjoy, and a uniquely-pervasive burden everyone else has to carry and be mindful of.

This system of laws and practices is so thorough that many white people don't realize the depth of their privilege, and even practice casual racism without realizing what they're enforcing, because they're surrounded by such a massive bubble of encouragement, affirmation, and protection. On the other side of the coin, non-white people can't afford to not be perpetually aware of it; a lapse of caution can cost them their community, their job, their freedom, or even their lives... even among white allies.

In my perspective, this makes "racism" not a white word to use for themselves or their experiences; they don't experience it, the effect of growing up under such a deeply-widespread, casually-oppressive and demeaning power structure as old as the U.S.A., struggling under laws and social constructs institutionally designed to deprive you of rights and reduce you to a second-class citizen.

With this in mind, here are some of my observations on efforts to deploy the myth of "reverse racism":

When white people attempt to deploy the myth of “Reverse Racism” 

  • Deployed assuming or encouraging the illusion of an “even playing field”. 
  • Used to defend an expectation to privileges seen as rights, at the expense of the rights of others that are being treated as privileges. 
  • Weaponized to “punch down” from, and to maintain possession of, superior privilege, attempting to disempower the target by expecting their audience to ignore the differences in context when such terms are applied to them. They feel injured when the term is applied to them for casual abuses they expect as their right; they want to claim the privilege of being able to inflict this same “damage” back down the “same lane”, with no regard for the vast differences in context, because they resent their target “having such a privilege/weapon/opportunity” when they do not… ignoring that the fact that the very phenomenon stems from a state of deeply institutionalized and systemically exploited disadvantage. 
  • Deployed from the top down to demand uncontested respect as an authority, threatening to refuse the target basic human respect as a person if denied. 
  • Often defended by accusations that the victim should “accept” it the same way as a cost of “equality”, or “equal treatment”; ignores the context that respect for equality requires consideration for differences in privilege and opportunity from the top down; in essence, attempting to convince the target to accept a share of accountability that isn’t theirs, to create a subsequent argument of false equivalency in blame as a "compromise" that favors them.
  • Often followed by demands for efforts to “prove” otherwise, putting the burden on the target to prove their value as a person according to the transgressor’s subjective definition, rather than readily respect them as such, to further embattle and distract already-burdened and -disadvantaged people with busywork that appears to create an expectation of merit-based effort in order to be respected, ignoring the idea that they're ethically due this basic human respect regardless.
  • Avoids the expectation that privileges require work, consideration, and mindfulness on the part of the privileged. 
  • Avoids the context that the costs of many privileges related to the inequality of their respective positions are paid by their targets, and that they shouldn’t have some of these privileges in the first place, no matter how deeply they believe they should be able to expect and enjoy them.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Experience Behind My Authority, Pt. 1

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse

For a long time, I've been telling this story about my Grandma and Grandpa... Grandpa only had one leg, but was perfectly able to get himself a plate of spaghetti and a can of soda from the kitchen by getting about on his crutches. However, sometimes, he would just sit back in his room and, when Grandma had made dinner, he'd just bellow, teasingly, "where's my dinner???"... which would set Grandma off, and she'd grouse and gripe at him for several minutes while she made him a plate and brought it to him. 

When I was... I think eight? nine?... I was hanging out in his room, watching his TV while he slowly, carefully, did his word searches. His hands shook, badly, and each word looked like it was meticulously surrounded by a thorny little hedge. I'd flip through his old puzzle books, looking at the ones he'd done. Grandma was making dinner, and we reached this point in the play; he yelled "where's my dinner", which set her off and she hollered and grumbled at him for several minutes while she prepped his plate... 

... and he listened to her go on for a minute, chuckled, then went back to his word search. And I realized what they were doing, this routine of him lightly needling her and her grumbling at him, but still coming through. It felt like a practiced, comfortable comedy routine. 

I've always chuckled, myself, relaying that story, when I realized Grandpa was being a pest... but not cruel. It was a small thing. I've always held that story close to my heart. 

But, today, just now, I relayed that story... and all it did was make me realize how incredibly tired I am. I am reminded of it, but I can't feel the happiness that relaying that story used to bring up in me. 

I think the performance was for us. In my childhood, "Grandma and Grandpa's House" was the only "safe zone" I'd ever identified, and they spent a long time trying to keep it that way as we upended their quiet life, then left, then came back and upended it again, over and over. I was never able to feel safe anywhere else... and I had moved about a dozen times by the time I was thirteen. 

Dale tried to invade the sanctity of it when I was... eight?... and I had to openly decide to "ruin Christmas" to drive him off and make sure he knew this was where he had no place. It came back to haunt me when we moved back in with him on Stone Ave; while my older half-brother Camden was ready to kiss his ass and dude it up to avoid the belt, and, being four years older and more popular and sporty, was able to be out of the house more and also do "Dale-approved" things, Dale knew that my tiny, weird, smart, sensitive, space-cadet, easily-scared self was who he was going to have to break to make the family belong to him and do what he wanted. I knew it, too. 

Our time with him on Evergreen Ave had shown me one thing: when people are desperate to "just have a working family", a bad person will find ways to walk a line to justify almost any transgression with almost any response. If you've ever heard my "ice-cream spoon" analogy, this is where it came from. Anything at all could justify a full-on beating, or assorted other bruises if they couldn't be explained away as "the boys were playing" or "we were just horsing around". If I accidentally left a spoon with a little ice cream on it on the counter, and it made a small mess, it could be worked into a rote of transgressions, real or imagined, that, on a larger scale, "justified" a massively excessive response. The lesson here: no matter how small the transgression, I could never "provoke" him into violence; he would find a way to hide, silence, or justify any action afterward. Dale was a master of gaslighting and false equivalency.

On Stone Avenue, after the lesson I'd learned at Christmas (when even Camden was all-to-ready to tell me I'd "ruined Christmas" by refusing to interact with Dale or his "gift" for me), I had to work out how to fight Dale. Eight years old, and I'm strategizing in terror about how to deal with a huge, laughing psychopath with a belt. The answer was, simply... 

... nothing. Nothing at all. Literally, don't do anything. Just exist. 

Dale would just randomly get it in his head to pick on someone who couldn't fight back. Cam was bigger than me, and sportier... both a better Dale clone and more of a problem, if he chose to be, although, at twelve, he was still very vulnerable. And Cam could be gone more, playing sports or at friends' houses. But me... I was ideal. I was already a problem to him, and, at eight years old, completely unable to fight back. I was also scared to, because... y'know... "justification to escalate". I didn't know that phrase back then, but I understood the mechanism. But Dale never needed a concrete excuse. They never do; if they can justify it in their heads, it's enough for them to comfortably act on, and then spin it later. Exploit the mindset that “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” 

After Evergreen, and returning to the "safe space" of "Grandma And Grandpa's House", I knew my mother wasn't willing to pay any price for the illusion of a nuclear family; she was receptive, and I, as the youngest, was the most vulnerable... and that mattered. My only path of resistance was to be available. If Dale and I were home, I could go hide upstairs, in my room, playing quietly, wondering what random, small, accidental noise I made would be enough for me to hear Dale get out of his chair, make his way up the stairs to my room, and... threaten me? Hit me? Break my toys? Maybe just talk at me in that low, casually-threatening tone that suggests he's amused, but could whip my ass at any second. I could sit in my room, play quietly, with half my brain constantly listening to the house to hear his movements and try to work out his intent. Maybe he's just going to the kitchen for a snack. Maybe he IS coming upstairs, but just to go lie down and take a nap. The farther the distance... the more work it took to deliver idle threats... the less likely he'd bother. I could go hide in my room. 

And I did, sometimes. Make no mistake. I was eight. There's only so much fear a little kid can take. 

But, sometimes... I didn't. If I were more easily accessible, it'd be easier for him to accost me. Possibly to hurt me. And, if he hurt me badly enough... maybe we could just go back to "Grandma And Grandpa's" house, where they tried so hard to take care of us and make us smile, and not go back. 

So I could go play, quietly, in my room, waiting for fear or reprieve. Hey, maybe he'd leave, and I could pretend to be normal for a couple hours! Enjoy some Nickelodeon, maybe, if Camden didn’t insist on MTV. Well… even MTV would be okay. As long as Dale was elsewhere. 

...or I could get some pencils and crayons, and sit quietly in the dining room, and draw. I drew monsters. Nothing related to reality, mind you... I drew fantastical monstrosities, with big back spines that could store bodies, or conveyor-belt bottom jaws that people would fall onto and helplessly get dumped into a stomach full of Alien-blood acid. Ludicrous creatures. I also drew fight scenarios... maybe people fighting a big monster, with a hundred-foot-tall steamroller front legs, three stabby triangle heads, and a tail that was a giant lightsaber, or maybe just groups of people fighting each other. Tanks. Machine-gun turrets. Planes. Bombs. Etc etc etc. 

...or I could sit quietly on the far end of the couch, very small and still. Maybe if I seem interested in the stuff he watches on TV, he'll treat me more like someone that belongs. Desperate for peace, to not be scared anymore, to not get hurt, but almost sure I was going to get hurt. Again, I didn't have it worked out in words, it was just a feeling I had. Sit there, watch whatever he was watching, pretend I liked it. But quietly. Present. Close at-hand. 


It worked. Shockingly well, now that I look back. It was rare for he and I to be alone together that I didn't come away with a new bruise or welt, or freshly hurt and terrified all over again. Cam always thought it was so funny that I'd lose it if I got hit in the head at all; Dale is why. He'd get it in his head, and he'd come for me. Come look at what I was drawing, ask me rapid-fire questions, get "mad" at me when I couldn't reply, clip me upside the head for being "rude", trash my picture, maybe poke me or push or tip me out of the chair. If I'm on the couch, it's time to complain about me making noise (I wouldn't even tap my fingers or foot... remember: "justification to escalate." Sit. Very. Still.), or maybe I smell, or I look dirty. I'd have to prove I'd bathed recently; he'd rapid-fire question me as to when, tell me to strip down, slap me for "lying" if I "appeared dirty" (I'm going to note, here, that I was the only brown person in a white family, it took me a long time to realize that he was punishing me for not being white. An inescapable excuse to escalate). On several occasions, while I was stripping down, he grabbed or poked at my junk and laughed at how small it was. 

Y'know... an eight-year-old boy's junk. 

There were several times, when it was just he and I, where he chased me, smacking me with his belt, to the stairs as I escaped to my room, or to the tub, or half-beat me as I stripped for inspection. If a chase ensued, he was usually laughing, or making smart remarks about "that's right, you better run!". I think, looking back, that he was getting the reaction he wanted: me, in terror, unable to think clearly, panicked and scrambling. A few times, when bathing was in question, it'd result in him grabbing me, dumping me in the tub, and running a bath of cold water and telling me I could come out when I was "clean". (Again: I’m not white.) 

At one point, he questioned me about the last time I had bathed, belt in hand, in front of someone else. I was unable to answer, utterly terrified, and he went to hit me with the belt, but the other person told him I'd bathed that morning (which, I then remembered, I had)... so he started laughing at my terror, smacked my butt half-heartedly a few times with his belt, and then dragged me to the tub and made me take a cold-water bath anyways. Until I was "clean". I knew what it was... it was him testing the waters to see if he could get away with doing this around others. I didn't have the language to express that, back then... but I knew he was seeing if he could normalize it. 

A number of things contributed to the final breaking point. Dale went far over any line one day; he beat me and my brother, both. I don’t remember why, but it was savage; the two of us crying and screaming and trying to cover our butts, being warned to “move your hands, or it’ll be worse”. Also: my mother was pregnant with his child, my sister Effie. She saw this happen, and got us the hell out of there. Back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Home. My “safe place”. 

The next day, in the evening, I went to take a bath. The entire back half of me hurt. I was still in shock, shaken, easily-startled, unable to relax entirely, but relieved to be “home”. Mom knocked, and came in, and talked with me; she wanted to take pictures of what he’d done. She wanted proof for the police, and she wanted to make sure he never came near us again. Us, or my unborn sister, his child. She wanted to keep him far away from all of us. 

I agreed in a heartbeat. Even at eight years old, I knew “proof” was critical; I knew, without knowing the words, that “making a paper trail” was of utmost importance. 

And, I wanted to see. To know for sure. To be able to say. 

So she took a few pictures with a Polaroid, and I insisted on seeing them immediately. Having it happen is one thing; seeing the result on your own backside is another level. She showed them to me; I think she knew, small as I was, that I understood, on some level, just how crucially-important making this effort was. I’d put a lot of work into getting to this point; I needed to see. 

I was black and blue, covered in stripy bruises, from the middle of my back, just below my shoulder blades, to the back of my knees. When there’s untouched flesh between bruises, it tends to take on a discolored brown color, as the shading of the bruise seeps in from the edges. There was none of that on the back side of me, except at the upper and lower edges (just below my shoulder blades, and around the back of my knees), and on the sides, where I, myself, could twist around, and see the jagged, brown-edged bruising his belt had left. 


I’m writing this part a year after I started this document. I turn 45 in less than two months, and I’ve since re-discovered the amusement I found in relaying the anecdote about Grandma and Grandpa… but the scars of this run deep. Between the violence, the instability, the fear, and the escapism, I never really recovered; I’ve only recently, in the last few years, sought treatment for what’s since been diagnosed as PTSD, both from this childhood abuse and instability and from my years spent homeless. I didn’t get the Graves diagnosis til I was 35, over two decades after it started impacting my health (Graves kicks in around puberty). Both have deep complications. 

This is the price I paid for my family, and for my unborn sister. I wanted Dale as far away from all of us as possible; if we couldn’t get him arrested, I wanted him too scared to try again. I know my mother went through a terrible ordeal, as well, while my older brother was also scared, and also beaten beside me, sometimes. But I found myself having to make decisions to fight this psychopath, and, until another adult made a better decision, I found myself having to do it alone, taking risks whenever I could find my courage, and constantly vigilant for unexpected attacks. Seven and eight years old, and trying to protect myself and my family the only way I knew how… by taking the hits, not resisting, and hoping it became obvious enough fast enough. 

Nowadays… well… Dale died in 2004 of a heart attack. I saw him a couple of years before, while I was working at Sears, and he acted like we were old friends. I was on the clock. We were on the sales floor. Sears was already looking for excuses to fire people in the post-9/11 retail climate. I had to cope with the encounter, and he seemed to find it funny. But, honestly… and I know this sounds spiteful… I’m glad he’s dead.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Why Promoting Equality Falls on the Privileged

In short:
  • In an environment with values of "equality", human rights have to be non-conditional... everyone is due all of them simply by being a person. They are rights, and do not have to be negotiated for, cannot be withheld, and cannot be required to be traded away for considerations.
  • Inequity of power is duress, simply by existing.
  • Consent cannot be freely given or legitimately obtained under duress.
  • The privileged are in a natural state of having power, and therefore exist in a state of applying duress, implicitly or explicitly.
  • The underprivileged cannot be required to bargain or negotiate with the privileged for their rights, because the underprivileged are in a constant state of being under duress, and, for their own safety, cannot presume otherwise.
  • It is on the privileged to freely grant human rights to the underprivileged without expectation of specific returns, otherwise it is a "negotiation under duress", and stops being "equality" due to explicit exertion of imbalance of power.
  • The underprivileged should never "have to" negotiate for some or all of their rights, individually or grouped, and rights cannot be treated as privileges to try to require or force same.


I woke up on Sunday (02/16/2020) with the crashing realization as to just WHY ideals like “civility”, “equality”, and “inclusiveness” are top-down obligations of privilege; why it’s on the privileged, more than the underprivileged, to prioritize, promote, and actively exercise civility and rationality. It all ties into to another ethical concern I spend a great deal of time thinking about: consent.

Fully-informed consent cannot be taken; it can only be freely granted. Consent also cannot be obtained under duress, misdirection, misinformation, or under mind-altering influences. Consent is also not automatically a continuous easement, a one-time trophy obtained for unlimited permission to trespass. A person has to be cognitively capable of understanding and granting consent, so children and people suffering dementia cannot give consent, for example.

A person cannot consent to sex when intimidated or harassed, when intoxicated or high, or when lied to or misled.

A five-year-old immigrant cannot sign away their rights at all.

An employee cannot consent to worse working conditions under threat of loss of job.

How does this relate? It comes down to power. In the United States of America, there it an immense, intersected legislative, executive, judicial, and financial institutional power structure that overwhelmingly favors (for a start) white people, men, the middle- and upper-class, the healthy, cisgender (straight) people, people with property, and Christian denominations of organized religion. The mindset of this power structure dates back to British-colonial expansion of empire.

The mindset driving this expansion, and adopted by the subsequent institutions of power due to its singular success in global expansion, invasion, subjugation, possession, and rule, is an authoritarian consensual reality among the subjugating class that they, and only they, understand the nature of the intellectual moral and ethical complexities of the issues at-hand well enough to be unilaterally capable of making the necessary decisions for all involved. This, all-too-often, happened to line up with their view that others who were “different” were, somehow, “savages”, or “not people”, and, so undeserving of “civil” human courtesy. If they didn’t submit to reconditioning or indoctrination, they could just as easily be killed, or enslaved, and, since they weren’t seen as capable of understanding consent, they simply didn’t have a say in the matter. If they did submit, they could aspire to indentured servitude, or, perhaps, second-class citizenship as the “Other”, the less-than-people, to minimize ethical decisions or the need to share power and resources, as expansion and diversification continued. It was a very convenient perspective for the people that had the power to compel their opinion of what should or shouldn’t be onto others. Anyone who didn’t match… “recalcitrant” women, foreigners, the poor, the under-educated, the sick, other faiths, anything different… could be cast as the “Other” and lose their human “privileges”.

These egalitarian ideals, like “civility”, “equality”, and “inclusiveness”, are mechanics of power and consent. They cannot be taken, but must be given… and consent cannot be obtained under duress.

Power is duress, by definition.

Power, by the very nature of its presence, is an implicit or explicit threat to exercise that power. In this case, there’s an overwhelming, centuries-old institution of carefully-crafted authoritarian power ready, at all times, to make unilateral decisions about other people if they don’t conform; there is an encyclopedic set of precedents. For those who benefit from it, the safety net that preserves their way of life is all but invisible, and they rarely see the impact it has on others, who are often conveniently out-of-sight; for those who sustain that net, who labor under the constant threat of dehumanization if they don’t conform, their daily lives are saturated with the awareness of it; it’s never completely safe to let their guard down, because not conforming to the comfort of the privileged classes can result in any number of unexpected consequences with unpredictable scale… from angry remarks in checkout lines, to gerrymandering and redlining, to violence and murder… with an institutional juggernaut backing them up and ready to downplay or normalize the result whenever a precedent can be set to do so as change advances.

This means the underprivileged cannot give consent; they are constantly under duress, due to the perpetual implicit or explicit threat of power. Power doesn’t even need to intend a threat; those with power may be unaware, to some degree, of the influence they have, the implicit threat they present… but the underprivileged, those vulnerable to it, can still be starkly aware of the risks, and they cannot risk anything less. Power can be whimsical in favoring its own convenience, and that whimsy can be devastating to those without it, because even small shifts in favor can leave them very vulnerable, or simply unable to function. They can lose their homes, their health, their freedom, or even their lives, if left unsupported by power; in self-defense, they can never afford to ignore the inequity.

This creates an imbalance in the perception of power: while the privileged, often, only have a textbook or second-hand account of the experience of current conditions of underprivilege, the underprivileged have a first-hand understanding of both perspectives, because relative privilege parses into finer granularities of privilege the deeper into underprivilege one descends. This has as many facets as there are inequities, so a person may have some input on one issue but no clear perspective on another, and may not even have as clear a perspective as someone else in a deeper state of underprivilege, which requires a per-instance evaluation of context when egalitarian values are considered a factor.

Where am I going with this? Simply that, in the relation between privilege and underprivilege, only one side is in a position to freely grant fully-informed consent: the privileged. Any requirement of concessions becomes duress by definition, because the underprivileged have no way to tell what scale power will use to respond if not satisfied; “order before justice” is a subjective bar that becomes a threat, and an informed lack of action becomes an action, a conscious decision. The underprivileged can speak up, dissent, even protest, but only the privileged can grant concessions of equity and equality, and both refusal to do so and demands for concessions elsewhere on the scale of privilege become duress.

Personal note: In my perspective, equity and equality are not commodities that can be negotiated or traded for; they are basic human rights, and the modern practice of insisting on negotiating to grant them is an act of discrimination, aggression, or even outright violence.

Mission Statement

Welcome to Land and River, Fire and Sky.

For those few who might remember, I began LRFS as a part of a new start to my life in general; I had moved to Chicago, quit drinking, discovered Pumping Station One (PS1), a "hackerspace" community, and taken a strong sociopolitical outlook in defense of the disadvantaged and underprivileged, using my own experiences for perspective.

Since then, over three years has passed since my last post, and roughly four since I started LRFS. My experiences with PS1 have proven to be my largest, and longest-lasting, experiment in community involvement in my entire life, and it has certainly had its challenges. I've had to do considerable ethics exploration, between my own life experiences and the community I've joined, and it has greatly deepened my understanding of practical social justice and the issues it faces.

PS1 has a "hackerspace" philosophy of equality and inclusiveness, but many of the social issues it has are simply the same issues people face elsewhere, in miniature, and contained within a bubble. There can be issues with this, depending on who exerts pressure on that bubble, and I've spent the last three-and-a-half years alternately challenging it and being driven away by it, positing my background of poverty, disability, trauma, and disadvantage to reflect on a membership steeped in higher education, professional backgrounds, technical opportunity, and relative good physical and mental health.

Some members of PS1 are aware of the issues of social justice within the community. Some of them understand it from a controlled, brightly-branded environment, such as volunteer work or organized activism. Some of them are aware of such issues as something they read about in news, or study in a college or work-training course, but don't recognize their first-hand encounters. But many of them don't know how to recognize authority on the issues if they can't understand or identify with that authority's perspective. One thing PS1 almost universally lacks, in this arena, is first-hand representation for the disadvantaged, and it bothers me that this has never seemed to be an issue for the organization.

This has led me to do a lot of "re-inventing the wheel" when I engage them, showing my work over and over with each encounter to "earn" the authority I have to be heard as an equal when it should be intrinsic as a member, and that has been challenging; I don't have the backgrounds many of them share. I've found myself lacking the language, or being challenged on my choice of words at the expense of my message. It's been three-and-a-half years of doing what the leadership of PS1 prefers to see... autodidacticism... but not how they generally expect it: I've had to learn to communicate the language and philosophy of practical social ethics from a position of deep disadvantage, in the environment of PS1.

With this overhaul, LRFS will be doing just that. I'll be honest: it's not really going to be pleasant. I'll be addressing triggering issues (with warning) to assert authority from a perspective of experience, comprehension, and accountability. I'll also be crystallizing my efforts in deep and prolonged consideration of my experiences and the practical relation of them to ethics concerns. I'm doing this to codify perspectives I've had for a long time, and substantiate them with my experiences and observations; I've done a great deal of writing about these issues, and it's time to gather and organize them. In a way, LRFS will be more for my own purposes than for anyone else... but I intend to use it as a public reference, and I hope others benefit from this, too.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Who Am I?

For some background on the author, and the experience that gives me the authority I have to address issues I address:

My name is Juan. I identify as a mixed-race American... Mescalero Apache, Mexican, English, and German... who grew up more in the Northwest Indiana (NWI) area than anywhere else. Out of four children across sixteen years, I'm the only one who isn't white, because of different fathers. I identify most closely as mixed-race Apache, and then mixed-race Mexican, before anything else, because the race interactions I most often have with people are in the vein of "are you Native American?" (often and regularly), and "are you Mexican?" (rarely), but nobody ever mistakes me as white.

I have a genetic autoimmune condition called Graves Disease (GD or Graves), where the body thinks the thyroid is a foreign body and attacks it. The thyroid either fails, or it over-reacts and eventually burns out and fails; in my case, it was very much the latter: hyperthyroidism. Thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism, so the impact of an overactive or underactive thyroid produces body-wide issues. Graves kicks in around puberty; however, due to a lack of access to health care, I didn't get a diagnosis until I was 35. That's a long time for an overactive thyroid to have its unmitigated effect on the body. In response, I've had radiation therapy to treat the thyroid and resultant goiter, and a change in eyeglass prescription to compensate for minor protrusion of my right eye.

My childhood was extremely unstable. I was born an Army brat, but my parents divorced when I was young. By the time I was thirteen, I had moved roughly a dozen times, experienced violent child abuse and domestic violence, and descended into escapism due to a lack of mental health care. By thirteen, the impact of Graves amplified psych issues and introduced new physical problems like body pain and tremor, and I spent my adolescence hanging on to mental stability by my fingernails... and slipping often. We stopped moving around, but at fifteen, another man entered the home and introduced a different approach to domestic abuse.

I spent the early years of adulthood in various states of homelessness, from sleeping on couches to outright sleeping on the streets. I learned to watch the street or sidewalk for dropped coins as I went, to sleep in graveyards, church yards, Little League baseball dugouts, playgrounds, or just off the side of the road. I also learned to ask strangers for money, for food, for water, for rides, and to count on the incongruity of a huge, shaggy brown man in a duster, holding rerod as a walking stick, politely explaining themselves and asking for the consideration without trying to insist or impose. I have to admit... it had an exceptional rate of success; I was never a criminal element, and tried to hold on to that.

I've slept in inclement weather for weeks at a time, and dealt with hunger, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, injury, body strain, and fungal skin infections countless times. I made trips out of NWI to places like Munising, MI; Hazelwood, MO; and Gainesville, TX. Both in my home area and abroad, I encountered violence, some of it with race motivations, from other homeless, random strangers, and even the police.

My life did not stabilize as much as I would have liked in the intervening years; many people aren't equipped to properly assist with people facing such a complex history of challenges and trauma. This, in itself, isn't bad, but the prevailing practice is to oversimplify and generalize the experience, and deflect accountability for its failure on the struggling person... who, often, isn't equipped to defend their character in return. Only recently have I realized, myself, what it means to be offered a veneer of help, and how little it actually accomplishes.

As of this writing, I've lived in the same place in Chicago for over five years, and finally have health care through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), so have been pursuing physical and mental health care. A former employer offered me a private long-term disability agreement rather than fire me for being sick, so I have the space to address my health, although the pay is a shoestring budget, and finances are still a problem. My diagnoses help address issues like Graves, intent tremor (shaking when exerting effort, but not so much at-rest), unfocused body pain, PTSD, chronic major depression with suicidal ideation, insomnia, night terrors, social anxiety, and distrust of men.

My interests have faded in the last decade or so. If I had found PS1 in my youth, I likely would have taken to turning out forged swords, armor, and the like, and enthusiastically; nowadays, I've largely turned away from fiction and escapism. I obviously spend time writing on ethics and politics, from a very liberal perspective. I dabble in guitar, C# computer programming (mostly learning piecemeal by modding a video game called Terraria), blacksmithing and metalworking, and I've been trying to learn to speak German. I've also been challenging PS1 on its struggling equality and inclusivity ethics.

However, barring my challenge of PS1 status quo, and my ethics and politics writing, I've struggled to retain information, because I don't really feel sustained engagement or excitement anymore. As a result, my learning processes are much slower than they used to be, and I lack engagement resources to address this. However, this very same set of perspectives has also made me realize just how many other people face such an unaddressed challenge... that a lifetime of struggle damages the ability to learn. I'm not excited to take such messages forward, because they're strongly resisted by a comfortable status quo, but I have one persistent thought that keeps pushing me to try, because of my combination of perspective, experience, and intelligence...

... if I don't try, then who will?