Thursday, January 30, 2020

Defense

Your honor:

Your honor, listen:

He didn't do it.

Image result for dershowitz

He didn't do it so much, that we shouldn't talk to anybody who was around him at the time

And also: so what if he did it?

He can do it if he wants to, he can do whatever he wants, if you keep talking about him we'll go after you for doing it, that thing you say he did, which he didn't, but which is perfectly OK for him to do.

It's so hateful to say he did the thing he didn't do AT ALL, that thing which sworn witnesses said he did do, that thing which anybody can see he did in that truncated transcript he released, that thing which we've seen him literally do on television several times, how dare you persecute him for that thing he didn't do that you've seen him do WHICH IS FINE FOR HIM TO DO.

It's so fine to do it, so perfectly justified, so absolutely OK, that we should absolutely not hear from anybody with firsthand accounts of him doing the perfectly OK thing WHICH HE DIDN'T DO but always remember that he CAN do it and it would be GREAT if he DID do but he DIDN'T and how dare you.

Oh sure. Maybe you think he did do it and has done it a lot and is still doing it and last month we all agreed it would be really very bad if he was doing it but that was before we found out that he did do it (which he DID NOT) and now we say it's fine that he did it (he DIDN'T) but the important thing is, did you know SOMEBODY ELSE DID SOMETHING ELSE so i think you see, your honor it really makes you think



He's really innocent because even if he did it (he DID NOT) he didn't know it was illegal (which it ISN'T) and we know he's innocent of the thing he absolutely can do and everybody knows it, that's why it's SO important that we don't ever look at any of the facts or testimony pointing to it, which nobody brought up in the House because he blocked it all, WHICH WAS HIS RIGHT TO DO.

In summary, he didn't do it, but he could have if he thought he should, and anything he thinks he should do he can do, and how dare you say he did it, he was only stopping somebody else from doing that something, which was a terrible thing for them to do and also it would be perfectly fine if he had done it, that terrible thing he was trying to prevent and which he DID do AND did NOT DO. NO FURTHER WITNESSES your honor also NO PREVIOUS WITNESSES your honor Also: if any of you bastards in the jury vote against my client he's going to cut your head off and put it on a stick. The defense rests.

Also, your honor. If I may:

My client did NOT just claim he’d cut off your head and put it on a stick how DARE you suggest it how DARE you. But listen: he will. He will. And it would be fine if he did. It's his right to do that if he thinks it's alright. But nobody said he would. But listen to me carefully: he WILL. Defense rests some more.

God bless America, or whatever.


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Thursday, November 21, 2019

THE REVISIONARIES - Now For Sale!

My novel—THE REVISIONARIES—released on December 3, 2019.

It is now available for order!




Google Books
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-a-Million
IndieBound
Penguin Random House Canada 

Any of those links will get the job done, but I confess a love for the independent option. You also should be able to go to your local bookstore and place your order through them, and maybe buy more books while you're there, which will make your life better and keep independent bookstores going. The indie bookstore ecology is hugely important to the health of the industry, and your order there helps me just as much. Food for thought!

If you want to support an author—if you like what they do, if you'd like them to go on getting a chance to write things—the way you do that is simple: you order. It's how the publishing industry decides whether a debut novelist (such as ahem me) gets another bite at the biscuit.

Read the reviews!

"... equally audacious and brilliant ..."
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"Father Julius jumps off the page. And he's not the only one ..."
—Sergio De La Pava, The New York Times

"I'm almost irritated by how much I enjoyed it."
-Amal El Mohtar, NPR

"Moxon's astounding novel, bursting at the seams with ideas and pathos, is a breathless demonstration of masterful storytelling."
—Alexander Moran, Booklist


Please order my book. Then—if you liked it and have time and want to give me a thrill—leave a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon and let me know you did.

Get one for you.

Get one as a gift.

Get an office copy.

Let your friends and family know about it. Tell strangers on the street. Tell everybody! Read it with the cover ostentatiously displayed. Write it across the sky in gossamer teardrops! Proclaim it to the heavens in angelic tongues of fire!

Whatever you're able to do, know that I will appreciate you with my whole heart, and love you with my whole brain, and maybe if we meet up somewhere (on book tour, which I've been sent on because of all the orders, of course) I'll sign your copy with my whole hand, if that's what you'd like.

I can't wait for you to read this book.

And the next one.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Mountain

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began

-
Mary Oliver


Here’s how it always seemed to me, ever since I was very young:
There was a mountain in the distance, which we could all see.
And the authors were up there, climbing, climbing.
They wrote books.
I loved books.
So I wanted to be on the mountain, too.

And I'd write stories in pencil
Sometimes I'd staple the pages together
If the stories were two pages long

This was entertaining, but it didn't seem to be the mountain.
I could still see the mountain, and the authors climbing it.
Authors.

Some of them were way up high. Some of them further down.
Sometimes a cloud would break apart and there’d be another one I’d never noticed before.
Authors.
How they got on the mountain I didn’t know.
Except…

…I knew it involved writing a book.
Then something happened.
Then they were on the mountain.
What was this something?

Did they clutch their new pages in their arms,
Take a running start,
Leap, 
Fly through the air, 
Land as high as they could?
If so, I knew I would never make the mountain
Impossible to jump that high.
Impossible.

But, if not jumping, then … what?
I had written stories before, and I wasn’t on the mountain.
What did one do?

Came the day I realized I had a story to tell, based on a story I’d made with my friend Ben
I thought about writing it, but … look how high the mountain is. I can’t jump up there.
I’ll have to walk instead.
Page after page

I started walking toward the mountain.
It wasn’t an easy walk for a while. I stumbled a lot. I got tired quickly.
But other times the walk was pleasant.
I walked on.

Every once in I’d look up and the mountain wouldn’t seem any closer.
Nor did its face seem any more climbable.
But then I’d look back and see how far I’d come.
And I was stumbling less. I was getting tired less.
So, because the walking was pleasant, I walked on.

Came the day the trail ended. That is to say: I’d finished the story. I’d done all the writing I could.
So I read what I’d written.
Ow. Cramps.

Parts were pretty good.
A few parts I liked a lot.
A lot of it was quite bad. It was going to need to be worked on.
There was a thicket between me and the mountain.
I walked into it.

This wasn’t fun at all. It was hot sticky work. There were brambles.
I couldn’t even see the mountain most days.
Some days I was certain I wasn’t even walking toward it anymore.
I learned how to use a hatchet.
I went through the story over and over.
The thicket thinned.

Came the day I finally reached the end of the thicket.  That is to say: I’d made the story as good as I knew how.
I’d arrived at a pile of enormous boulders.
They didn’t seem climbable. But when I tried, I discovered my arms and legs were stronger than I’d imagined.

After a lot of false starts and scrapes and falls, I was atop the boulder.
A realization: I was at the mountain.
I was at the mountain.
I’d made it.
I looked up, and despaired.

Immediately above was an outcropping, jutting out, seamlessly smooth, obscuring my view of the rest of the peak.
There was no way up. It was impossible to climb.
Impossible.

But then I climbed it.
It took a couple years, and a few times I thought I’d fall to my death, but I climbed it.

*How* did I climb it?
With the help of other people.
More people than I could say.
I am very lucky, and very grateful.

Other authors who laid the paths long ago
A friend who helped chart the direction
A publisher who invited to pull me up.
An agent who gave me equipment I never could have gotten on my own.
An editor who led me back into the brambles, handed me a hatchet, showed me a more likely path than straight over

So many of you, letting all of them know I was there in the first place.
And the people around me who saw me start to walk in the first place, and encouraged me.

Turns out if you walk to the mountain, you’ll get to the mountain, and once you're there, you can climb it.

Turns out if you climb it, you’ll be on it

And if you arrive at an unclimbable spot, you can go back into the thicket as long as you want, until you find a more likely spot.

The mountain is patient.

And here’s what happened today:




I’m on the mountain now, thanks to more people than I can say.
Not so high up. That’s fine.
Maybe this is as high up as I ever get. That’s fine.
There’s no bad spot on the mountain, any more than there's a bad path to it.

There are plenty on the mountain who aren’t traditionally published.
And some who really did seem to fly up there.
But nobody got up on the mountain without help.
I sure didn’t.

I believe I'll keep climbing.

I have no idea how far up I can climb, nor does it particularly matter.
But my arms feel rested, and my legs feel strong. And it’s good to climb.
I do believe I’ll try to find out how far I can go.

There’s more people up here with me than I can say. There’s room for billions more.
To be on the mountain you go to the mountain, and you climb.

Turns out going to the mountain was only ever about the walking
Turns out getting on the mountain was only ever about the climbing.
And it turns out being on the mountain isn't about being seen.

It's about the view.



Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Compass and the Navigation


There’s a magic trick that’s going to get played on us every day during the 2020 election cycle. It’s a fairly simple trick, once you see it.

I’d like to talk about what leadership is and what governance is.

I’d like to talk about the compass, the navigation, the travel, and the corrections.

Let me begin by proposing ‘movement’ as a metaphor for coordinated human activity.
Sometimes the metaphor actually involves movement: Humanity moved from the earth to the moon.
Sometimes the metaphor is figurative: The United States moved from legal slavery to abolition.

When people decide to leave the place they are and move to a different place, there’s an observable order to it.

The order is very important.

So, in movement, there is the moment of arrival at the destination.
But before that moment, there is the actual trip.
We began here. We moved until we got there. We put one foot in front of the other. We set sail and kept going until we arrived. The aircraft cut its way across the sky.
The travel.

But before that, there was a plan.
We are here. We will go there. Here, after study and research and consultation and testing and training, is how we’ll do it.
The navigation.

But before that, there was a determination to move in the first place.
We are here. We should be there. We will go there, in that direction, as opposed to all other directions.
The compass.

Coordinated movement begins with a determination to move in one direction over all other directions.
Then comes the plan.
Then comes the actual trip.
But the trip may turn out to be something quite different than the plan.

Sometimes the trip is smooth and easy, and goes exactly to plan.
More often, especially if the destination is an ambitious one, or the path is long, there are challenges and setbacks and unforeseen difficulties.
The route went off-plan, requiring delays and divergences and detours.
Corrections.

We thought we would be here. But we are still going there.
A successful correction requires the same tools that motivated the original trip: the determination to arrive at the destination, then the plan to do it, then the actual travel.
In that order.

The compass determines direction.
The navigation determines the route.
The route leads to the destination.
In that order.
The order is key.

As long as you’re determined to end at your destination, and know the direction, and have the ability to chart your course, and the ability to actually move from one place to another, your original plan can absorb any number of corrections.
You may even learn of a better destination on the way.
But first you have to actually decide to move.

You wouldn’t make a plan before you knew where you were going.
You wouldn’t begin travel before you’d figured out how to get there.
It wouldn’t work.
So now let’s talk about leadership and governance, and the magic trick that gets played on us over the difference.


Say we humans have a problem.
It could be anything.
Like 50% of the wealth in the hands of a few hundred people among billions.
Or a medical system that only cares for those who can pay.
Or millions of people without homes in the world’s richest country.
It could be anything.

But I don’t want to be controversial, so let me make up a more sci-fi premise.
Let’s pretend there was a climate disaster that threatens extinction of life on the planet.
Say the evidence was incontrovertible.
Say the early effects were present and observable.
Try to imagine this.

Now, let’s say the remedies were known, but very challenging.
Let’s say they would require a major restructuring of the political and economic and social order, globally.
And let’s say as a result, there were a lot of people who didn’t want to do it.
Again, try to imagine.

Let’s pretend that the people most resistant to changing the world order were the people who had gained the most power and wealth within that world order.
Let’s pretend the next election would actually be about whether or not to even respond to the threat.
Again, try to imagine.

Let me locate us in this scenario.
We’re not yet at the point to start enacting a plan we haven’t yet decided to make.
We’re not at the point to argue about the specifics of the plan—though we need a plan!
What we need is the determination to move.
We need the compass.

Leadership is the compass. Leadership is the thing that says, “even though it is controversial, even though it is disruptive, even though it is hard, we are going to move from here to there.”
Leadership statements are compass statements.

Once we’ve determined we are going to move in a direction, we will need a plan, and a good one.
The nuts and bolts of how it’s going to happen—the navigation.
The actual logistics of doing it—the travel.
That’s governance. It’s very important.
It doesn’t come first.

“The Green New Deal” is a leadership statement. It’s a compass statement. It’s a declaration about coordinated human movement.
You might disagree with this statement. If so, you have some options regarding how you might respond.


You might claim that there is no reason to move. You’d say something like, “this is a hoax.”
You might claim that it’s too early to move. You’d say, “the science is uncertain.”
You might claim it’s too late to move. You’d say, “human activity isn’t causing it.”
Those are the direct responses.
But remember there’s a magic trick.


Some might realize that the danger is real, and the moral call of movement is absolutely uncontestable. They might decide the best way to oppose is to perform some slight-of-hand.
They’d say things like “The Green New Deal is unrealistic.”

Realistic?

That’s a matter for navigation. We’re not there.
We’re making compass statements.


“The Green New Deal is unrealistic *sounds* like a governance statement.
It’s not. It’s a leadership statement. It’s a compass statement.
It says “actually, we will stay where we are” just as much as “climate change is a hoax” does.
It says it with more subtlety, but it still says it.

I want to be careful, because even as we talk compass, we want an eye on navigation.
It’s OK to point out that the navigation is off.
But when one does so to close off or delay questions of coordinated movement, then it’s the magic trick. Leadership disguised as governance. A compass statement disguised as navigation.

If one wants to critique The Green New Deal’s policy, it needs to be within the larger context of a firm commitment to a robust and prioritized response to climate change, and a willingness to engage in the significant disruption that will cause. Otherwise it’s just using the challenge of the problem as a reason not to start.
Abracadabra!

It’s one of the slyest tricks of opposition there is, to deny a clearly needed solution to an obvious problem, not because the need for a solution is great, but because the route hasn’t been charted thoroughly enough, because all of the potential problems haven’t been identified, because every last correction hasn’t been made.

But leadership comes BEFORE governance.

The compass determines the direction.
The direction determines the navigation.
The navigation determines the travel.
And corrections can be made on the way.

This is the reason that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (for example) has so many people who oppose her obsessed and frightened, by the way.

Whenever someone arrives who actually makes bold and needed compass statements, people respond.

And, it reveals all the people who have been refusing to make them.

She’s showing us the magic trick.

Once you know the trick, you can see it everywhere.

Who’s going to PAY for Medicare for All?
Magic trick. “Medicare for All” is a compass statement. We WILL care for everybody’s medical needs, because that is what a civilized society does.

The country won’t accept gun control, it can’t happen here.
Magic trick. We WILL minimize gun violence. Letting our schools become war zones is unacceptable.

A 70% marginal tax rate is socialism run amok!
Magic trick. We ARE going to address the scourge of wealth disparity, hording and corrupt billionaire welfare.

The Green New Deal is flawed!
Magic trick. We ARE going to drop literally everything else to address a potential extinction-level crisis, because of course we are, my god, what the hell is wrong with you?

This is going to matter in 2020. Remember that leadership is the compass, governance is the navigation. Both are important, but one comes ahead of the other, and you can make adjustments on the way.

And watch everyone’s hands closely.



Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Castle On The Hill


When you fell asleep, the castle on the hill was firing their customary rockets down onto the villages in celebration of the king; when you woke, your village was already in flames.
There was no time to save anything, except your only child.
__
There hadn’t been much food in the village. The castle atop the hill gathered most of the food for itself. Your uncle had found his way into the castle atop the hill; he wrote of the mountains of food to be found there.
“I’m hungry,” said your only child.
You began to climb.
__
You brought your child along. Your only child: hungry.
The castle guards had been given telescopes, and saw you coming from a distance. They raised the alarm.
The people in the castle shook with outrage. We’re being invaded, they fretted. We’re being invaded for our food.
__
The king ordered the drawbridge raised. He put archers on the parapets. “DON’T CLIMB” he bellowed.
You were still at the bottom of the hill, in the next village up.
“I’m thirsty,” your child said.
The castle puts our water in bottles, the villagers said.
You climbed.
__
DON’T CLIMB the king bellowed.
You barely heard. You thought of mountains of food. You thought of rooms full of water.
You climbed. You brought your child with you, your only child: hungry, thirsty.
An invasion is coming, the people in the castle moaned, a great invasion.
__
When you reached a higher village, you saw the easy paths had been barricaded. Only the harder paths remained.
“I’m sick,” your only child said.
The castle has the best medicine, the villagers said.
You took the harder path. You brought your only child: hungry, thirsty, sick
__
ITS AN INVASION, bellowed the king.
It's an invasion, the people mourned, from their baths in the castle atop the hill. They worried as they gathered their excess food in sacks for disposal.
A great invasion for our food and water and medicine, which is the greatest.
__
When you reached the castle wall, well-fed guards seized you.
They seized your child, sick, hungry, thirsty.
Whose child is this, asked the guards.
Mine, you replied.
Where is your proof, asked the guards.
It burned, you said. It burned, it all burned.
__
They took your child away, hungry, thirsty, sick
When you saw her next, she had died
She had died in a cage: unfed, thirsty, sick
__
The people in the castle heard of this
Yes it's a tragedy, they said. A tragedy, that this woman chose to bring her child on the journey to the top of the hill
Such a dangerous trip
Why would she put her child in such danger
Just to invade us
Just to invade
How selfish
__
Why didn’t she stay in her own village
Why didn’t she take the easier path
Why did she come when she knew the path was hard
You tried to tell them why, but they couldn't hear a word
They were firing their customary rockets into the villages to celebrate the king

Friday, September 28, 2018

Down By The River



The woman had come forward, and it was all most untoward and disturbing.

Something had to be done.

The men, being men of action, did something.


“Oh well,” they sighed, tying heavy weights to her legs. “Time to carry her down to the river and see if she’s telling the truth. It would have been easier if she’d come to us right away, when the water was warmer. Such a shame, such a shame.”
.
“I’ll tell you my theory,” the eldest one said. “I believe she made a clay statue to look just like him, then bewitched it into life.”
“A sensible explanation,” the rest murmured. “If only she hadn’t, it would never have attacked her.”
“Women must be careful,” the eldest said.



“Take off the weights before you threw me in the river,” she said. “If you don’t, I won’t be able to swim.”
The man looked grave and stern. “Why these demands before swimming?” they asked. “Wouldn’t a truthful woman be *eager* to swim?”
.
“This isn’t fair,” yelled the onlookers. “It isn’t right!”
“To be sure, to be sure,” the men replied. “But you must admit, we are doing it.”


"If only you had evidence," the men mourned. "But you have none."
"I named a man who saw it," she said. "He's at his home now."
"Yes," the men agreed. "But unfortunately he is there, and we are here."
"You *carried* me here," the woman said.
"No time for questions," said the men.

.
Some women were watching from a distance.
"It happened to me, too," one called.
"And me," said another. "It was just like she said."
"And me," whispered a third.
"If only those women were not watching from such a distance," the men said, sadly. "We might hear them. Alas."


"How dare you," screamed the accused man. "How dare you say such things about me."
"You've been through so much," murmured the other men. "So much."
"But is it true?" asked a woman.
"How dangerous," the men warned, "If we asked that, we'd have to ask all the other men that, too."


The woman struggled for a while as she sank.
"Did sinking mean she was lying or that she was telling the truth?" asked a young man.
"Who cares?" said the eldest.
They all laughed. They laughed and laughed.
Some women were there, watching from a distance.




Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bubbles 12 - Everything is Permitted

Previous

I find it helpful to end with story.

Yes, but what do I propose? What policy do I suggest?

You know, I’ve always wanted a movie about what happened to Jules Winnfield after he left that diner. Still hoping I’ll get one.

Yes, fine-fine-fine, but what’s my answer? I've been pointing fingers—what's my big solution?

But I never said I was looking for a solution. I’m looking for a way to exist in a world I'd failed to recognize. I’m trying to understand the appropriate posture to take in a world that is different than I thought it was.

The old stories aren’t working for me. I’m looking for a new story. I'm almost done now.

What a cop out!

Really? I don’t think so.

It’s one thing to make a compelling argument. It’s another to be compelling. The former might win an argument, but the latter might—maybe—change a mind.

Put it another way. We can resift order's soil if we like, and it looks like we should. But I think we’d do better to fix justice's bedrock. And fixing the bedrock is more a matter of spirit than law. It's more a matter of desire than ideas. It's the heart, not the mind; the vision, not the spreadsheet. It's a matter of orientation. It's the compass.

It may well be appropriate and useful to make policy proposals that are more just than the current ones, and useful to pass more just laws, and our lawmakers should certainly make that attempt, and certainly I hope to see laws passed that increase justice, but policy will not move us, and laws will not save us, unless we choose to discard the spirit that has captured us, and become oriented toward a justice founded in love.

Policy may improve people’s lives, but they can’t make us believe people's lives matter. Laws can enforce justice, but they can’t make us enforce them justly. Justice’s underlying bedrock can’t be smoothed without a change of ideology, of worldview, without a recapitulation of underlying assumption, without a renewal of spirit.

The only thing that will save us from the merciless consequence of believing our foundational lies is the changing of our national soul. A reorientation toward justice, toward recognizing the fact that people are art. Something close enough to a miracle as to be indistinguishable from it.

Let me try to demonstrate what I mean.

One of the great stories of the past 10 million years or so is this: humans have had to engage in labor to stay alive.

One of the stories of the past 10 thousand years or so is this: humans have innovated technologies, which have allowed them to create enough surplus to form increasingly large societies, which have allowed them to exchange their labor in exchange for wages of goods or services. Meanwhile, organizations have harnessed this labor to form industries, which coordinate this labor toward projects of increasingly larger scale.

One of the stories of the past 200 years or so of human history is this: thanks to increasingly large jumps in innovation and technology, industry, which seeks above all else to increase profit, has developed a preference for technology over humans, when it comes to labor.

As a result, increasing numbers of people have had their labor replaced by technology.

Let’s repeat the problem: There has been an advance in technology, and as a result, industry no longer thinks humans are desirable for labor. As a result, many have been replaced and have no way of proving their worth to a society that views profitability as the metric of worth, and many others have found themselves herded into meaningless occupations in order to survive. If it hasn’t yet happened to what you do: just wait another decade. I doubt you’re safe if you’re a doctor, or an attorney, or an actor, or a writer. Industry seeks to cut expense. Humans labor is very expensive. Technology solves complex problems.

Let me ask you this: Is this a problem?

It’s here where framework is crucial.

If we live in a culture where life is something that must be earned, and the way you earn life is by making yourself profitable, this is a huge problem. You can argue pros and cons of solutions within the framework, but you’re still stuck within that framework, and increasingly people will fail to provide sufficient profit, and increasingly people will not deserve life, and so, increasingly, in various ways, we will allow people to die.

And, not to go future-shock on you, but … our technology is getting exponentially more sophisticated, more intelligent, more and more able to replicate something like thought. The more our technology replaces human labor, the more it will be making decisions on our behalf. Which means we’ll need to ‘teach’ it, but soon enough, it will be learning things from us we did not intend to teach. We can try to teach it that all human life is valuable, but unless we actually believe it, that’s not what our technology will learn. It will learn our lies from us instead. It will learn that we don’t belong to each other. It will learn that life must be earned. It will learn that being profitable is how life is earned. It will learn that humans are not preferable for this goal. And it will learn that violence redeems.

We've seen that movie. We keep making it. It's almost as if we know.

That's a pretty huge problem.

If, on the other hand, if you believe life is something you deserve simply through your being, then the fact that industry no longer desires human labor is simply an extraordinary challenge.

The challenge is this: Since industry would like to replace human labor to increase efficiency and profit, and since industry is already doing this, how do we, as a primary responsibility, make the necessary adjustments to our understanding of how human labor (a good thing) is going to function within our society in order to preserve and protect basic human physical and spiritual need, and, as a secondary responsibility, identify everything good about this trend so that we can preserve the innovation, the benefit, the increases in knowledge and ability?

Do you see what's changed? We still want to preserve industry. We still want to preserve innovation. We still want to preserve free markets. They just aren't any longer the first thing we want to preserve, or the only things.

Industry and innovation and technology and labor and efficiency aren’t bad things. They’re good things. Robotics and artificial intelligence aren’t bad things; they’re tools—amazing  tools, incredibly useful ones. It’s just none of them are more important than the idea that all humans are unique and irreplaceable works of art carrying intrinsic and unsurpassable worth. If any of them is failing in that regard, we can either make adjustments to what we have, or we can come up with something else.

You’re telling me we can’t innovate some system, if we so desire, that allows people to engage in whatever labor they find meaningful, but which stands untethered to the coercive elements of a profit-oriented system? I don’t believe you. We have a rover taking pictures of Mars. We split atoms. We attack cancer with radiation. We can hit any specific spot on the planet with a missile that will devastate a city, and we can do it until we’ve exterminated ourselves. We can do whatever we want.

Which means the question is…what do we want to do?

Human beings have basic physical needs. Human beings also have an innate desire for meaning and significance, which leads them to a vast spectrum of meaningful work and achievement and expression. We can make sure we are providing for these things as a primary objective, or we can make profit and growth of industry a primary objective. If we can have both, that's wonderful—and, because we are innovative and smart and industrious, we probably can—but if the one has decided to cast off the other, then we must meet the challenge of that reality.

Oh. My. God. Am I talking about … socialism???

My answer is: I don’t know. And who cares? It’d not an important question, it's really not. It's the question somebody would ask whose first priority is preserving capitalism rather than human life. I’m suggesting merely we meet the challenge presented by a new reality. And I’m suggesting that toward that endeavor, everything is permitted … except the destruction or subjugation or abuse of human beings, who are art.

Be very skeptical of the person whose reaction to a problem is merely the preservation of the system causing the problem, rather than meeting the challenge of solving the problem.

Consider capitalism and socialism. They’re oppositional forces, right?

Wrong. They are tools. Two among many. Perhaps one has more appropriate applications than the other, and perhaps one is more useful more often than the other, and perhaps one is more dangerous than the other—and we could argue which is which, if we were the types of people who enjoy boredom.

Capitalism and socialism aren’t oppositional forces any more than your screwdriver is an oppositional force in contention with your wrench.

Unless, that is, either is improperly elevated to the most important thing.

If either is made the most important thing, then the most important thing will be to always use them for every task. And, when inappropriate use creates harmful results, the most important thing will not be the redress of the harm, but the preservation of the inappropriate use.

Capitalism has been for many years an imperfect but largely successful way of organizing human labor to the benefit of both. It is starting to decide it doesn’t need humans. Are we really going to live as if capitalism is more important than humans?

Hell, no. Let's do better.

And still there are those who will think I'm attacking capitalism, because they are in a bubble that says that capitalism, not a justice rooted in love, is the most important thing.

This is just one illustration, just one challenge to meet. The point of the illustration is, policy and law are good if they are just, but they will not save us if our frame is still unjust.

Preserve what is good. Change what isn’t. Use any tool available, provided you put it to a use appropriate to your orientation toward justice. When you find no appropriate use, put the tool back in its place.

We can change anything.

Which means we can use any thing.

Which means we can do anything.

Anything.

The frame of justice is so large, it turns out it is the entire canvas. If you can manage to frame yourself there, you'll wonder why you hemmed yourself into such a small corner of it.

Everything is permitted.

Everything.

So, again. What do we want to do?

Right now we want to go to war and war and war and war. Right now we want to profit off of suffering, and increase suffering if it will increase profit. Right now we want to imprison more and more people, and to profit from their imprisonment. Right now we want to blame the victim. Right now we want a Muslim ban and a holy war. Right now we want a police force that will destroy the bodies of those who are considered presumed theft. Right now we want to presume that people of color are presumed theft. Right now we want people whose labor has been replaced by technology to die. Right now we want to protect rapists if they had a bright white future. Right now we want people, who are too sick or too poor or too unskilled or too old or too disabled to be able to turn a profit, to die. Right now we want people who remind us of the responsibilities we've inherited because of our country's unresolved genocides to die.

Right now we want to try to stay comfortable through all that.

If that's not what we want to do, then why are we doing it?

If where we are wasn't where our compass was pointing, then why are we here?

Suppose you are like me. Suppose you are an idiot. In that case, you won't understand every policy proposal. In that case, you won't have a detailed understanding, or even a functional one, of every industry and every technological advance and every law. And, if  you're like me, perhaps you've begun to suspect that it won't be possible for you, all by yourself, to gain such godlike understanding. After all, you're like me. You're an idiot.

But I might understand one small part of it. And, together, we might understand it all. And, if we believe we all belong to each other, then we might move together in whatever direction we choose. And, if, together, our compass is pointed toward justice, we'll eventually arrive at justice. We'd make mistakes, but we'd correct them. Because the compass sets the course, and the course informs the navigation. If the navigation is unskilled at first, we need only refer to the compass and adjust. If the compass is true, we'll get there in time. It will be hard and costly and humbling and worth it.

Demanding to know exactly how we'll get there before deciding to do so is the real cop-out. This is why asking someone for their policy solution is usually my way of distracting from the fact that I don't want to do the right thing. It's usually my way of changing the frame away from justice, back to the more precise details of how we might justify doing something unjust.

Or put another way: Usually, before people embark upon some difficult task, they first see the necessity or the desirability, which leads them to want to do it. It's only after wanting to do it that they actually make the plan.

Which is kind of obvious, if you think about it.

The good news is this: You don’t have to win the debate over policy. The attempt to win the debate is usually a loss in itself. A debate within an unjust framework benefits the unjust by accepting the framework as a foundational premise.

Lose the debate. Not in the sense of defeat. In the sense of casting it off.

Lose the debate. Move the frame.

You move the frame by telling a story.

Let me tell you a story.

* * *

Once upon a time, a tyrant became aware of his own tyranny, and left his kingdom behind to walk the earth, trying, real hard, to become a shepherd.

You know: like Kane in “Kung Fu.”

He was a bad motha-shutyomouth. (But I’m just talkin’ about Jules. So can you dig it?)

Before long, the new shepherd ran into trouble. In every town, it seemed, there were people suffering, and others who held sway over them, benefiting from the imbalance. Sometimes there was a rich industrialist, who had bought up most of the land in the county. Sometimes it was a local tough and his gang, who rode through town each night to terrorize those less imposing and ruthless than he. Sometimes there was a poison in the ground, or the water. Sometimes an abusive patriarch. There was always a tyrant.

The shepherd confronted each tyrant. Reactions varied. Some, recognizing his innate authority, offered him opportunity in exchange for his allegiance. Others, trusting to their superior familiarity with the local territory, simply lied, attempting to confuse him with conflicting narratives, attempting to cast his intended victims as the true villains and himself the misunderstood hero. Others, casually confident, simply explained the legal and physical forces against which the shepherd sought to cast himself, hoping to quell him into submissive apathy. Others simply raged and threatened him with an undue and targeted measure of the abuse they already distributed generally.

The shepherd insisted on siding with justice, and refused complicity. He refused to believe lies, repeating the truth he saw. He refused apathy, setting himself in contention with tyranny even when defeat seemed unavoidable. He absorbed the abuse with which he was threatened, knowing it had been intended for others.

Occasionally the shepherd found it necessary to bring out the tool of his old trade, his weapon, the instrument of his tyranny—yet he never used it, and he was always the first to put it down. He came to realize that he would only bring it out in order to be able to be the first to put it down. In time he brought it out less. By the end he never brought it out anymore. Some suspect he lost it.

Wherever the shepherd stayed, he lived with those the tyrant intended to hurt. At first he attempted to impart his wisdom to them, but soon he discovered that most spaces needed his ears more than his words. Soon he learned that people already understood the particulars of their own territory better than he did. Soon he realized that they were far more the heroes of the story than an interloper like he could ever be. Soon he realized that even the tactics he disagreed with were the ones that had allowed these people to survive within the abuse of their situation. The shepherd would not participate in these tactics if his conscience disallowed their use, but he was slow to criticize any perceived failing, and quick to name any perceived goodness.

Always the day would come the shepherd realized there was nothing more he could do. The shepherd never stayed long after that. The shepherd always said good-bye.

Sometimes the shepherd left having found some measure of success, with people less threatened than before, or more empowered, or refortified with resolve or provision. Sometimes the people had managed to wrest some concession, large or small, from their tyrant. In rare instances their tyrant had even been turned from abusive ways by a better example, repented, and joined humanity.

Sometimes the shepherd failed entirely. Sometimes he left having made no discernable impact, because he had been forced out, either beaten and bleeding and defeated by a stronger hand, or else shunned by those who feared a disruption of their order more than life lived under threat of a tyrant.

Even in hard times, the shepherd did his best not to forget to laugh with his friends, and to spend time in their company. In time, the shepherd came to realize that this had been the point more than had been the struggle.

The shepherd died in the end, of course. Everybody does. By the end, the shepherd had stopped fearing it. Nobody’s sure how the shepherd met his end. Some say the shepherd ran afoul of some thug. Some say he met with accident on the road. Some say he just got old.

They found his wallet, but not his body. The wallet was empty, and full of tiny holes on one side, as if at some point, long ago, stitching had been removed from the leather.

Nobody knows where the shepherd’s grave is.

But in every place the shepherd had stayed, without quite knowing why, someone put up some marker beside the road he'd traveled, a sign of a spot he'd stayed for a season.

And, in ever place the shepherd had stayed, there were those who had observed the shepherd closely, and remembered him well, and decided to become shepherds themselves. Each of them, having been at some early point in their lives a tyrant, and having recognized what kind of story they had been living, would come to one of the shepherd's markers, carrying a weapon they found they no longer needed, and would leave it behind.

Some shepherds followed in the footsteps of their old friend, and walked the earth. Some stayed where they were. They had different skills and abilities and weaknesses than the shepherd. But each of them somewhat resembled the shepherd, and each refused complicity, insisted on the truth, eschewed despair and apathy, and absorbed the abuse meant for others.

And others observed these new shepherds, and remembered them well.

And they decided to become shepherds, too.


* * *

If you’re still reading, I think I can consider you a friend.

My friends, a new name for you, whoever you are:  You were tyrants. Now you are shepherds.

We all have areas, with very few exceptions, in which we hold privilege. In a society captured by a spirit of genocide and slavery, geared toward default settings, we have all been tyrants. Some of us more than others. Some of us much more than others.

Recognize your tyranny.

Become shepherds.

We move the frame by telling a better story than the one being told.

The best way for us to tell the story is to be the story.

Let’s go be good stories.

Let’s go be art.

May we pop every bubble.




We hold these truths to be self-evident

-The Declaration of Independence
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I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

-Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail


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If you want to find a Granfalooon, remove the skin from a toy balloon.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle 


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Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?