Friday, April 30, 2010

Where Are Your Papers?

The plight of the illegal alien is a study in dichotomy. On the one hand, they are human beings, often from poor countries with little prospect of finding decent work at a living wage in their native land, migrating to America in search of jobs to send money home to support their families. They take great risks in entering our country illegally, the threat of discovery and deportation hanging over them like the Sword of Damocles. We can sympathize, as it is our fervent wish to feed and clothe and house our families, too.

On the other hand, they are here illegally. As a nation that prides itself on the rule of law, and with exacting standards governing our immigration policy, it is an affront to us to have these people pouring across our borders, utilizing our resources, paying virtually no taxes to compensate us, and shipping millions of dollars out of the country. They are taking the place of American citizens in any number of job areas, and in such a deep recession as we now face, their unwanted presence marks them as easy targets.

Mind you, when the economy was fine, and people were getting rich off their Internet start-ups and real estate, and still others were moving up from their humdrum jobs into more lucrative areas like IT and finance, the presence of illegal aliens was tolerated. They swept into abandoned positions no one else wanted, were willing to work for next to nothing -- comparative riches in their native country -- for long hours, and were readily available. In a culture being driven more and more by the maxim "more and cheaper," their presence was just another way to cut costs, trim the fat, and give the consumer what they wanted: cheaper goods, cheaper food, greener lawns.

Now, with the economy of easy riches and cheaper goods set back on its heels by the avarice of the deal makers and the folly of the risk takers, and jobs being shed like a dog's winter coat, the illegal immigrants are now pariahs, to be reviled for their arrogance in stealing across our borders and taking our jobs! As with any economic downturn, it is not those lofty, high-and-might, barons of industry and finance who incur the true wrath of the citizenry, safe as they are behind their gates or on their yachts offshore, but those more vulnerable and immediately at hand, who must bear the brunt of American misfortune.

And so, Arizona, under the pretense of trying to crack down on rampant crime, has set its sights on the group they so handily ignored for so long. The illegal immigrant is now the true source of all our woes, sucking at the teats of the American dream and drinking them dry, forcing good, decent, hard-working Americans to suffer as a result. The time has come to take out the trash!

What the supporters of this law fail to understand or consider, is that the present situation, like the economic crisis, like our energy dependence, like out tottering tax system, is one of our own making. So few resources were tasked to stemming the flow of illegal immigrants over the decades, that their numbers soared into the millions at one time, because we had more important things to do. Once the problem got out of hand, people simply came to accept the new status quo, and used these people to their advantage, like a disposable lighter for the economic cigar.

Now it is fashionable to turn on those who were exploited, but not just turn on them, but make them the test case for the further erosion of personal liberty and freedom in this country. It is not enough to hunt illegal immigrants like animals, but to sweeten the deal, citizens will be expected to carry documents proving they are citizens of the United States. Arizona, a state which flatly opposed the REAL ID Act -- which would have created a universal identity card -- is now proposing to force its citizens to carry proof of their citizenship. If they are stopped for any reason, or just on the suspicion that they may be illegal immigrants, they will have to produce said documentation, or face a trip to jail. Of course, only one group of Americans really need fear this -- Hispanics -- and that is one group too many.

That is where it starts; where it ends is anyone's guess. But when a people are convinced that giving up a little personal freedom and liberty in the name of security is a good idea, it is not long before more and more is asked, until "freedom and liberty" are the freedom and the liberty of the government to do as it wishes. Arizona, through hypocritical short-sightedness, has set in motion a series of events that may, once and for all, secure the blessings of liberty as they are supposed to be, or plunge us deeper into division and strife. The power of democracy and the strength of republic, hangs in the balance.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't Hate The Hater

American society is currently awash in a red tide of incivility and hatred, spurred by national events and the ease of access to global communications. Bigotry, from subtle to vitriolic, seems more commonplace now than it was in the 60's, and the scope has expanded to encompass groups far and wide. No group which lies outside the "mainstream" is immune to its influences, and every major event or accomplishment is punctuated with a surge in invective. The most troubling aspect, though, is not that the sources of some of this hate speech, which is to be expected, but how the groups that hate spawn groups that hate the haters.

Freedom of speech is the single hardest thing to have in any nation, because it protects not only those who speak plainly, intelligently, and thoughtfully, but shields those who seek to stir up anger, spew rank intolerance, and perpetuate outright lies. It is the singular right that does the most to outline what is a free society, but it also is the right that permits ease in attacking a free society by fomenting civil unrest, hatred, and anarchy. It shows the difficulty in having your cake and eating it, too.

Those of us who cherish freedom of speech and the society it creates must steel ourselves against the drumbeat of negativity that accompanies such freedom. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of turning our fire hoses on the rabble, attempting to beat them back, not by force of reason and logic, but by retaliation in kind. To turn to our own brand of invective and vitriol, no matter how earnest and right we may be, is to fall prey to the very thing that caused the trouble in the first place: ignorance. It is ignorance that is the fertile soil of the bigot and the hater, and we may become bogged down in it as much as they, if we allow ourselves to tread upon it.

We may take our shots at them for comedic effect, or to release our pent-up frustrations, but we cannot allow our thoughts to dwell too long in the muck and mire. At the end of the day, though the spiteful and self-righteous may not bend to our reason or understand our compassion, they are made lesser when we choose to stand above them, instead of wallowing down among them. We must resolve to be better people than those we know to carry hatred in the hearts, for we are called upon to make up the deficit in humanity brought about by their choices in separating themselves from it. If we carry forward the strength of our convictions, then we reduce the effect of those who would see a world divided and rife with their brand of intolerance.

Our ultimate victory over the forces of bigotry and intolerance will not, in the end, be measured by how we crushed them beneath our heels, but how we chose to rise above them.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Human Condition

Every living thing that has ever existed, and all the living things we know to exist, reside on the same irregular ball of rock, water, and gas, circling an average yellow star, at the edge of the arm of a typical spiral galaxy, which is part of an ordinary galactic neighborhood, streaming ever onward through the depths of space. Through all recorded human history, life has been found to exist in many places we thought it could not on our world, but nowhere beyond our atmosphere. Our scientific knowledge tells us that the chances are good, since the constituents of life as we know it are found strewn throughout the cosmos, that other life exists elsewhere, but we do not know where.

We, and everything else with us, are built of the remains of dying stars, the end products of nuclear fusion and titanic explosions, releasing torrents of energy and flinging heavy elements throughout the galaxy. Those elements pooled together to form the Sun and the planets surrounding it, and on our planet, the force of gravity and heat and energy from our solar furnace stirred the elements, and as they began to cool, helped promote the formation of more complex molecules.

Our pocket of life, insignificant against the backdrop of the universe, is not unlike a tiny pool on the forming Earth billions of years ago, where molecules began the dance that eventually led to their ability to replicate themselves, driving the engine that began the creation of humanity. Our existence is currently a footnote to the life of the universe, trapped as we are on our planet. We have only just managed a foray to our nearby lunar companion; no human has set foot beyond the immediate sphere of the Earth's influence.

All we are, and all we have, is here with us. The Earth is our home, our power supply, our breadbasket, our resource depot -- we are nothing and we can do nothing without the fruits of our world. As our population grows, our technology becomes more sophisticated, and the distances on the globe shrink, we become more and more dependent on the limited resources available. The Earth is of a finite size and a finite mass, and as resources are consumed they are no longer available, and by-products are created that we must live with, as they have no other place to go.

Given our size relative to our home, our resources may seem infinite, and the surface still capacious. The truth is, that the resources that we mark as most precious (oil, coal, natural gas, gold, diamonds) will all run out some day; the resources we need for life (food, water, air) will exist, but become increasingly unable to sustain us. We may very well strangle ourselves, bereft of necessary energy and lacking proper life-sustaining materials in sufficient quantities to support the full human milieu.

It does not have to be this way.

The inherent problem is that most human beings, despite a powerful imagination, cannot see the big picture. They do not see the totality of the effects wrought by their actions, socially, economically, or physically. They act as if the future is always far away, as if the resources that are here now will always be here, as if the refuse they create magically disappears. They do not see how their actions toward others affect social systems or physical systems. Human beings are very egocentric, their world revolving around them, the rest of humanity simply there. This explains the rise of patriarchal religions, feudal states, and totalitarian regimes, as some humans decide that their continued existence is more important than the sum of humanity's.

There must come a point, now, with the rise of interconnected global communication, the free exchange of ideas, and access to the full range of resources, that we must accept that the minuscule divisions we have sought to carve humanity into, serve no purpose now. Whatever differences there are, are differences imposed by human thought and societies, not by the universe. We must strive to reach beyond the discrimination imposed by the evolution of a human brain geared for survival of the individuals of the species, and harness our neural power to new ends. We must accept that whatever social systems and organizing principles we have used in the past, which have allowed us to reach this point, must now be superseded by a greater set of principles geared toward the survival of humanity.

All the eggs of life are in one basket, a basket that drifts through the coldness of space, subject to the vagaries of forces beyond comprehension to a species that has developed thermonuclear weapons, which seem puny in comparison to hurtling asteroids, whirling black holes, supernovae, and gamma ray bursts, to name a few. Even our own world continues to heave and roil beneath our feet and above the ground, hurling death at us through earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and hurricanes. The grip of our species on life is tenuous, though we may not know it to look around us.

If humanity is to be more than simple footnote to the history of the universe, then it is up to us to cast aside misgivings, mistrust, and misunderstanding, and put our energies toward fortifying our hold on life, and moving away from the cradle, to spread our seed amongst the stars. Only together, can we ensure that humanity continues its existence, and is not merely marked by the remains and relics left behind on a quiet, dead, desolate world, spinning disregarded through the void.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I'm Angry

Apparently, I am not alone in being angry in this country right now, but perhaps the reasons for my ire are not quite the same as those of many others. You see, I'm angered by:

- The fact that there appear to be so many "real" Americans ignorant of their country's history, who have bent and distorted it to their own purposes, rather than owning up to it, being proud of the accomplishments and sorry for the mistakes.

- The profusion of "celebrities" who assume that their celebrity somehow gives them a greater moral compass than my own.

- The tide of frustration at the Federal government, when that government is run by the people we elected, as if somehow we have no responsibility for its current state.

- The constant calls for an end to "big government," when no one can come up with a number or a formula for just how big the Federal government should be. Does anyone realize how many people live in the United States, and how much square footage it covers, and its influence on the rest of the world?

- The constant attempts to break humanity into pieces, selectively denying certain groups certain rights based solely on who they are. Not to harp on it, but the privileges and laws of this country are supposed to cover all persons equally.

- The continued existence of blatant bigotry, misogyny, racism, homophobia, Antisemitism, and all other forms of anti-social behavior. When will we get over ourselves, and realize that we are all part of the human milieu, differences notwithstanding.

- The continual turning of a blind eye toward the corruption, greed, and obfuscation that has led to our economic woes and our dependence on cheap goods and cheap oil.

- The moralizing of certain groups who would impose upon myself and others, doctrines that are not in our best interests, solely because their belief tells them they are right, and that somehow they must save us from ourselves.

- The resistance to reason and logic and science brought about by some misguided and misanthropic desire to live in a past world that no longer exists, if it ever did, as if it were possible to simply slip from human progress.

- The denial of the effects of our unbridled industrial growth on the health and welfare of the ecosystem of our home world, the only world we know of in the entire universe which supports our kind of life.

- The narrowness of vision that seems to grip our leaders when it comes to confronting the future that awaits us, leaving them to take mincing steps when bold leaps are required.

- The fact that, as I write these words, somewhere in the world, people are starving, homeless, hurt, dying, and I have only these words to give.

This is why I am angry.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No Compassion For Pregnant Women

She is there, and you probably do not notice her. She is a woman with a problem, a problem you cannot see and which she does not advertise. It could be a woman on a subway car, in the cubicle next to yours, sitting by herself at a cafe... you have no way of knowing. She is pregnant.

And she's not sure she wants to be.

The reason could be that she cannot support a child. Or that the father would not support her in any way. Or, perhaps, it was "not supposed to happen." Maybe, it was the result of indiscretion, or worse, the result of an assault. Whatever the reason, she may be confused, feeling vulnerable, and unable to come to a clear decision. It's still early in the pregnancy -- what to do?

Many of us will never know this feeling, If, like me, you are a man, you will never be forced to make this decision. It is perhaps the most personal decision a woman can make, as it involves a life growing inside her, a life that, in the beginning, she may not even know is there. It will tax reason and belief and logic to come to a decision. Given the gravity of the situation, it is best that there be support and not recrimination.

But some would have you believe that what is best for her is to speak to her about the mortal danger to her soul, how she would be "killing a baby," and to question her sanity and competence to make such a decision. They would relieve her of the burden by threatening her, pressuring her to take a course of action that may very well leave her limited or no options in the future. They would be more concerned with the present than the future. Their short-sighted and misguided attempts to "help" this woman would be nothing short of moral bullying.

It is easy, from the outside, to decide what is right in such a situation, to force the issue into the narrow confines of black-and-white certainty. No one wants to think of human life becoming an easily disposable commodity, but the flip-side of that is to sanctify and venerate such life beyond any realistic measure. To worship a fetus, to promote its life over the life of the mother who carries it, supplies it with a safe environment and the nutrients to allow it to grow to term, is to reduce the mother to a simple vessel, an incubator, and nothing more.

Why should we, beings capable of rational thought, strip away the humanity of a mother? What gives the fetus inside her a greater share of our compassion and care than the very person who will bring that life into the world? Without the mother, there is no child, and yet it as if the fetus obtains its full humanity from the moment of conception, even though it would be months before it could even survive outside the womb, and even then, only with great difficulty. The mother is not a shell to be discarded or a husk to be removed; she is the reason the child will come into the world. It is to her protection and health and well-being we should be directing our energies.

Whatever our personal feelings on the matter may be, the misguided effort to simply fill the world is a destructive and futile one. Even now, fully one-sixth of the population of the planet does not get enough to eat or does not have clean water to drink. It is not enough to simply bring new lives into the world, if they cannot be provided for properly. A child needs food, clothing, shelter, education, and protection, all things which take resources. Many already do not have enough of those resources themselves; to impose upon them the extra burden of another mouth to feed is to potentially condemn a "precious child" to a life of deprivation, want, neglect, or, sadly, abuse.

If, indeed, human life is to be considered precious, then our energies should be turned toward making the world a child enters the best world possible, eliminating poverty, disease, and war, and providing every human with equal rights and equal protection under the law. To invest all out efforts into protecting potential human life, while paying lip service to actual human life, is a folly our society cannot afford to support.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Immigrant Trail

Columbus did not discover America, nor did the Vikings. It's hard to discover a place that is already inhabited by people who knew it was there all along. Any and all who came to North America from the 15th Century on, were not truly discoverers, but were emigrants from their home countries. They came here to start a new life and take on new challenges; they wanted to provide a better life for their families and have some measure of freedom unlike they had in their old homes. Thus began the immigrant trail. If any group can be said to have a right to be angry about illegal immigration, it would be the native tribes of North America, for the immigrants came and came and came, pushing them off of lands they had hunted, fished, and roamed for centuries, putting up walls and marking out boundaries.

Once the new immigrants had a foothold, then came the task of survival, and after that commerce, and after that, self-rule. Out of the vast spaces were carved colonies, and then states, and then countries. And still others came, to try and fill up the space, to make new lives and to breathe free. The natives could only watch as their world continued to shrink; they fought where they could, but mostly they retreated, or worse, died. They would wind up crowded into tiny, arid, inhospitable reservations, while the waves of foreign immigrants continued to pour over the land, swallowing it up.

Every group that came after were looked upon as pariahs, no-good layabouts looking for an easy buck or trying to take the jobs of the hard-working "natives." The Italians, the Irish, the Chinese, et. al. -- each group would suffer under the prejudice of those who came before them, denigrated for being late-comers who were only there to deprive "real" Americans of jobs and wealth. This did not stop their exploitation, though, for the newcomers would do anything, take any job, for any amount of pay, simply to earn a living, and would toil far harder than most to scrape out the "American dream."

This cycle repeats, a new group washing up on the shores of the glittering promise that is the land of the free and the home of the brave, to fill the cracks in American society, take over the manual and menial jobs, and fill the ranks of the more skilled positions with labor that is cheap. They face the same kind of ignorance and prejudice that all the groups that cam before them faced. They do it mainly to make money to send back home, to countries where there is little or no work, or where jobs pay so little that living is difficult. In many cases they have come here illegally, gambling that will find work and be able to avoid drawing the attention of the authorities.

There is a great amount of invective bandied about on the subject of what to do to those who are here illegally, and how to keep more from getting in. The fact is, no amount of walls and border crossings and security is going to completely shut off the flow of illegal immigrants. The borders of America are far too expansive, of too varied a terrain, to be easily patrollable or defensible. Those who want to get in, will get in; those who can make a buck helping them get in, will help them get in.

As to those who are here, their number is so great that any concerted and sustained effort to root them out will be fruitless, for even as many are removed, still more will get in. That, and those that are here have insinuated themselves into the fabric of modern American society so deeply, that for them to disappear would inconvenience so many citizens, that there would eventually be a hew and cry. These new immigrants fill positions that others do not want or think beneath them -- busboys, cooks, gardeners, landscapers, handymen, maids, housekeepers, nannies, etc. They are cheap labor, and many a "real" American is willing to look the other way to slip them a pitiable sum in cash to have their hedges trimmed and their sheets folded, even as they declare in public that "these people must go."

The solution, as with anything, is pretty simple: make them citizens. Give them the opportunity to come out of hiding. Allow them to take their rightful place in this country, to live under the protections of the Constitution, and more importantly, to pay taxes on their income. Let them pay their way to be here, and still be able to send money home to support their families. Let them come, let them live, let them add their culture and their grit and their determination to the tapestry that is the long roll of American immigration. For a nation that prides itself on its freedom and independence, what greater way to show it than to throw open the doors, let them in, and absorb them into the nation that was built by immigrants.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

They Who Stand Against The Tide

Every decade, every century of America's existence has seen an inexorable crawl toward the clearer light, but not without strife, not without fear, and not without hatred. Slavery, women's rights, civil rights... to make strides in our quest for a united and free humanity, Americans have had to fight bare-knuckled against themselves, trying to expunge the worst parts of the human condition, literally stamping them out in some cases. Each fight seems bloodier than the last, even as the body counts grow smaller, maybe because the dead may lie in peace beneath the trees, but the damage to the American psyche never quite heals, never quite goes away.

With each stride forward, we have had to drag along the unwilling, who count themselves Americans, but do not want to share their freedom and liberty with others, as if the Founding Fathers and the Constitution have granted them exclusive rights that they could dole out as they saw fit. Whether from the barrel of a rifle or the marching feet of peaceful protest, those who would not come willingly have been carried onward, toward a future they abhor, where everyone is truly equal, where we are no longer White or Black or Jew or Christian or Muslim or Man or Woman, but Human, something we have been all along, even as some refused to admit it.

The new battle line is homosexuality. Forced to incorporate people from other races, women, members of other religions, the intolerant have drawn a wide line in the sand, and refuse to budge. They will not acknowledge that homosexuals are people, with rights, privileges, feelings, desires, and hopes. They will cling to the dogma that tells them that these people are "abominations" before their god. They will not yield, not budge, not give up an inch of ground. They will make their displeasure felt... short of actually admitting it in words.

Nowhere was this thrown into sharper relief, than in the actions of school administrators in Fulton, Mississippi, who would not allow a gay student, Constance McMillen, to go to her prom with her girlfriend. To that end, they canceled the prom, only to draw a court challenge, recently won by the ACLU. So, they said they would hold a prom after all, apparently acceding to the ruling of the court. Little did anyone know that they did not intend to let a little thing like the justice system of the United States stand in the way of their disgusting hatred. They held a "prom," which turned out to be a fake, while the real prom was held somewhere else, sans Constance and her date. To do such a thing -- besides being blatantly homophobic and bigoted -- required the tacit assistance of the community, both to create the fake prom and to hide the real one. In essence, it takes a village to raise children capable of perpetrating and participating in such a heinous act.

Their stubborn refusal to give ground subjects them to the inexorable grinding away caused by the winds of change and the waves of liberty. Not unlike the rocks that stand sentinel at the edge of the sea, they may stand there in their imposing posture, but each wave that crashes against them wears them down, just a little. The constant friction will wear down and grind away the monoliths of ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry. They may believe that in getting away with their ruse, they have won; let them wallow in their self-congratulation, then. All they have done is seal their fate.

They will be excoriated, and rightly so. America stands for freedom and liberty for all people, and though the Founders could not have made that clearer, subsequent action by this nation has defined that intent for all time. Each group that once was on the outside, now enfolded in the protections they always deserved, removes one more impediment to true freedom and unity for all, and marks such contemptible actions as those seen in Fulton, Mississippi, as even further outside the bounds of decency. They should not be hated, however, but pitied; they could accept the inevitable and become part of a greater thing, the breadth and life of humanity, but instead, they condemn themselves to the slow, tortuous, miserable death by their fear and ignorance, forever deprived of the riches that come from acceptance of their place as part of the milieu we call humanity. Like the dinosaurs, they, too, shall pass from the Earth, to haunt it no longer, relics and fossils that will be looked upon in future centuries as part of an incomprehensible past.