Political Essays

The National Alliance on Mental Illness & How It Saved My Life

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Five years ago, as I was finishing my last semester of graduate school in Chicago, I had a breakdown. Everyone knew it. I knew it. I just didn’t know what was happening to me. After I was rushed back home to Maine for treatment, I was diagnosed with severe Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD. My life was over. Or so I thought. For over three months, I had been experiencing a life-threatening manic episode, and desperately needed help. No one knew what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, the good people at Penobscot Community Health Care did. I was put on medication, enrolled in intense therapy, and referred to a local support group for those suffering from mental illness. That group is called NAMI Bangor. I had never heard of NAMI before, but it stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For a few years, it was real touch-and-go, and I didn’t know if I was going to survive. I came close to taking my own life on several occasions. And yet, I kept going to NAMI meetings, and I kept telling my story. And each time, it got a little easier.

If you had asked me three years ago, if I would ever “come out of the closet” and publicly admitted that I had a mental illness, I would have said absolutely no way! I was ashamed and scared, and all I wanted to do was disappear. I didn’t want anyone to know about my illness, and I just wished my life had turned out differently. I didn’t think I could ever be a “normal” person again.

And then something changed inside of me. I found a new purpose. I decided that I wanted to travel again, and to see the country where my family came from – Portugal. For over six months, I planned every detail of my trip, and it gave me such new purpose and a sense of momentum. And at every NAMI Bangor meeting I spoke about my trip, and all my anxiety and fears, as well as my optimism and hope. When the day came for me to leave — a year ago this week — I embarked on a journey home that would inevitably change my life forever.

I had an amazing time in Portugal, but it was more than just a vacation for me. For over four years, I had barricaded myself in a basement, and refused to make contact with the world. I was fearful, ashamed, and angry. After I returned, I was a new man. I had confidence, and a new sense of hope and purpose. I began to volunteer regularly, and now am a Media/ PR assistant for NAMI Bangor, as well as a literacy tutor and mentor for Literacy Volunteers of Bangor. I also work on local political campaigns. I work with children and adults, and I help to change lives.

I also work out and swim nearly every day, and have lost over 50 pounds. I eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, have cut back on stress, reduced my medication to just the right dosage, and actively engage in my therapy, my support groups, and my recovery. I am slowly going back to work, and in 2017, I will be moving back to Boston. I am no longer ashamed of who I am.

I am living proof that NAMI works! So every time that I’ve pestered you on Facebook to pledge to my walk, it hasn’t just been for a charity that I believe in, but an organization that LITERALLY saved my life. I am a new man, and as a result, I can be a fully capable and productive member of society, just like you can. I am not dangerous or unstable, but I needed help. When Governors and Congressman cut funding for mental health, they are not just preventing people like the criminally insane from getting the help they need, but the rest of us, who are no danger to anyone but ourselves, but need a little help to get our lives back. I needed it. And many thousands of other people all across our state and country do too.

If you had asked me five years ago whether I would have come out on Facebook and announced I had mental illness, I would have said no, but today, I am an advocate for all those who have suffered in silence and lived in the shadows for far too long. Won’t you help me in my journey, and help me end the stigma today?

I walk tomorrow, not just for myself, but for every person who has ever suffered in silence and needs our help. Thank you for your support!

How Star Trek Shaped Me As A Man & Can Shape Us As A People

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Over the many years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve gushed so much about how much I love Star Trek, and I know you’re probably sick of it by now. But today is the 50th Anniversary of the first episode, and I just wanted to share a few personal thoughts on why the show means so much to me.

I can’t tell you how much Star Trek has meant to me as a person. I first fell in love with the show watching The Original Series in reruns after school. By the late 1980s, I was addicted to its sequel, The Next Generation. And of course, I breathlessly watched all of the movies as they came out in the theatres. It played such an instrumental part in the formation of my values and morality as a young man watching that show. It meant so much to that young boy, and to the man I’ve become. It speaks to every fibre of my being.

Star Trek captures everything about the human condition, and about all that humanity IS capable of. As dark as it sometimes can get, Star Trek is a show driven by optimism, and the hopes and dreams of one tiny planet, amongst a sea of neighbors we may not even know yet. Admittedly, we’ve got a long ways to go on our own small planet, before we can truly hope to populate space with that kind of hope and goodwill, but it all starts with a dream.

You may say you hate Science-Fiction, but despite all the tecnobabble you may hear, Star Trek was never about gadgets and science. It is about people. People from all genders, races, religions, creeds, orientations, and yes…species…all trying to get along in the Universe, and trying to find peace and common ground. It is an allegory. In the mid-1960s, television shows simply could not talk about racism, classism, sexism, etc. Science Fiction was the perfect cover, and was used as a way to address social issues in a vaguely familiar way, but set in a distant future and in a far off place. It allowed the creator, Gene Roddenberry, to tackle the injustices he saw in the turbulent world around him. And spoiler alert: the same issues which are plaguing our world today. Star Trek has used analogous alien species and fictional conflicts to address real world problems, such as sexism, racism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cold War, bioethics, Artificial Intelligence and sentience, capital punishment, religious intolerance, bigotry, class warfare, and even drug abuse, to name a few. Star Trek is not some action-packed adventure story with ray-guns and bad prosthetics (I mean, yeah, that’s all there)! Star Trek was the most cutting edge and provocative show of its generation, and STILL CAN BE! The job is not done. Star Trek still has a vital role to play in our society.

You see, Star Trek is not about space, but about the space in between. The space between you and me, and how we can close that gap, bridge that gulf that lies between us. It’s about an idea. An idea that humankind has a future in space, and can be ambassadors of peace and tolerance. But first, we must start with ourselves. That’s not Science-Fiction. But it could be Science-FACT. It’s already within us, we just need to have the courage to be able to find it before it’s too late.

My friend Bill Doughty expressed a few thoughts on Star Trek that I’ve shared below. He meaningfully articulates some points that I may have missed. His words, like mine, are love letters. Love letters to a show that has given generations of hopeful dreamers a place to hang their hats, and hold out hope for tomorrow. A chance to boldly go where no one has gone before…

Happy 50th Anniversary to Star Trek!!!  Live Long and Prosper.

From a post by Bill Doughty from Facebook (September 8, 2016):

“I’ve enjoyed reading people’s thoughts on Star Trek today. I’ve always loved Trek for the simple reason that no matter the series or format, it has always been about one thing: look at everything we could accomplish if we could only *get over ourselves.* But at the same time, it expresses that idea a million different ways across any sort of plot, genre, or storytelling medium you can imagine. Honestly, there’s at least one Star Trek story out there to speak to every man, woman, and child on earth, and if you say you’re the exception you’re wrong amd probably just trying to impress someone.

But whether it’s a TV show, movie, book, gamw, comic, or cartoon, and whether it’s tense, moody, silly, creepy, exciting, dark, thoughtful, or, yes, occasionally stupid, that same optimism is always there, hardwired into the DNA. Accept, tolerate, embrace, and explore, and there’s little we won’t be able to accomplish.

And we’ll also get teleporters and food replicators. You know you’d be down with that.”

The Democracy of Youth

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed many of my friends rediscovering and embracing their ethnic and cultural heritage. My Jewish friends have starting going back to temple and are exposing their children to their rich Jewish heritage, my Christian friends are doing mission trips and baptizing their children, my black friends are celebrating their shared history and struggles. I am grateful to see people taking stock of their lives and finding enrichment in their cultural legacy. However, I think back to what made us friends in high school and college, and our mutual loves of theatre, or literature, or debate, or heck, even partying and having a good time. The time we spent in the dorms together, and in plays together. It didn’t seem to matter then what anyone was, or where we came from. Rich or poor. Christian or non-Christian. Gay or straight. We were students. We were friends. We were lovers. 

I know people have to grow up. I know people mature, and perhaps become more conservative. I know priorities change, and people need to start thinking of their families, their finances, and their futures.

As we find our way into middle age, children, and spouses. As we find our way back into our cultural traditions and religious institutions, and as we isolate ourselves within our pockets of friends and families who share our same beliefs and values, we must never forget those times we had together, and the people who diversified our lives and made us stronger as individuals. As we get older, we must surely celebrate where our families came from and recapture our identities as Atheists, Christians, Jews, Gays, Blacks, Asians, etc. but never forget the rich rainbow of colors we had in our youth. As we separate, and go our separate ways, we must never forget what brought us all together in the first place. As we vote in these upcoming elections, and as we look to shape the future of this country, remember the friends you’ve made along the way, and recall that you loved them once. For a reason. Don’t ever let that love go. Stand united, my friends. Let’s truly make America great for EVERYONE.diversity forum flyer graphic_0

Trump’s Thugs: An Uglier Campaign Gets Even Uglier

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Well, we certainly are seeing the character of these Trump supporters. Yelling vulgarities, spitting racist vitriol, punching out protesters, throwing up the ‘Sieg Heil ‘ salute, and generally, just being horrible human beings. THIS is apparently the way they’d like to make ‘America Great Again.’

Everyone knows I’m a liberal Democrat, but I have many conservative friends and family. I try and respect everyones’ point of view, and really don’t like the idea of invalidating another person’s opinion or censoring their freedom of speech. I’m also not a huge fan of political correctness, but for very different reasons, and I certainly find this kind of anti-P.C. crap revolting. I try to be open-minded.

And yet, I struggle to see any worth or value in these Trump supporters. I am ashamed to share a country with them. And I’m sorry, I know it’s insensitive of me, but I can’t help but wishing people like this couldn’t vote. Naturally, the democratic idealist in me believes everyone deserves a vote, but the human in me rejects all the hatred and violence they stand for AND that their collective vote could potentially destroy all the progress we’ve genuinely made in this country.

I know many of my friends are writing on their walls: “If you’re a Trump supporter, please unfriend me immediately.” I have really tried to reject saying such things, and giving such ultimatums. I think we should all have a mixture of friends, of various cultures and political beliefs. But man, it’s getting harder and harder for me to resist making the same declaration. How can I condone such hatred and violence? All I can say is, if you’re a Trump fan, we clearly have VERY different values and principles, and I pity anyone who has so much anger in their hearts.

Ignorant Bliss: The Distinction of Knowledge

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I just saw someone comment on the recent picture of the woman at last night’s Trump rally doing the Nazi salute and say, ‘Stupid, stupid woman. Of all inadequacies, ignorance is the worst.”

I take some exception to this comment, and would simply clarify a very important detail.

IGNORANCE IS A REALITY. It is what far too many people deal with all across this country and world. There are people who are poor and uneducated, and who are simply born with a disproportionate degree of ignorance. Some of them attended failing public schools, and were simply not given the privileges of knowledge and discernment like the rest of us. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. That’s just the way it works out sometimes. Some people are ignorant through no fault of their own.

WILLFUL IGNORANCE IS THE WORST. It’s the people who are defiantly and willfully ignorant who are the worst. These are the people who pride themselves on following authoritarian rule, are anti-intellectual, anti-science and technology, and just plain happily dumb. They eat this shit up. These are the ones who do not care about facts or the truth. When confronted with Trump’s lies, they simply respond, “It doesn’t matter. Who cares about the facts? He tells it like it is.” THIS is the way they want to make “America Great Again.” Yes, they are ignorant. But not necessarily through chance or misfortune. They are ignorant because they CHOOSE to be!

My Brother’s Keeper: Being The Change You Wish To See in the World

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I’ve come to begrudgingly accept that there may fundamentally be two types of people in the world — those who venture boldly into society driven by a curious and open mind, a compassionate heart, a commitment to lifelong learning, a desire to see the world, an urge to meet new and unique people, be exposed to new cultures, and learn from everyone they meet. These are the goodwill ambassadors of peace, justice, and service to those in most need of our care.

Then there are the rest. 

These are the souls who were raised in a way that places little value in education and seeking out facts and verifiable truths in the world. They view society with suspicion, see terror around every corner, and demonize those who are different or challenge their rigid and narrow-minded view of the world. These types are often guided by an inflexible and intolerant belief system and strict ideology. They operate from a place of fear, distrust, willful ignorance, selfishness, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, provincialism, anti-intellectualism, fervent nationalism, aggressive patriotism, an ‘I got mine — don’t expect a thing from me’ attitude, irrational and misguided fears of foreign cultures, a lack of empathy, outright hostility towards science and academia, and a hypocritical condemnation of the values and dissolute lives of those they disapprove of.

Naturally, the world is wide and diverse, and people fall at all different points on this spectrum. And yet, I am convinced humans are raised and/or genetically predisposed to generally fall into one category or another.

John Lennon once sang:

‘You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.’

I’d rather be naive and idealistic, with the possibility of forging friendships and building lasting peace, then approach the world with fear, aggression, and rabid mistrust. What those in the second category don’t realize is that the very fear and malicious attitude they direct at Muslims and those who are different is the very behavior which breeds enmity and gives rise to radical Islamic terrorism in the first place. People aren’t born terrorists. They learn it. They are driven towards it. And more often than not, we taught it to them. The quickest way to make a terrorist is attack his nation unprovoked, seize his oil and government, and occupy his land for years — taking away his autonomy and ability to self-govern. ISIS didn’t exist until we invaded Iraq. The only weapons of mass destruction there was us. If you want to see more radicalized Muslim attacks in this country, then by all means, threaten the welfare and livelihood of Muslims, and make them feel unwelcome in their own country. It’s remarkable what a little dignity and respect will earn you. And frightening what a little oppression can provoke.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

A House Divided: How Hatred Aimed At Any Group, Is an Assault On Us All

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I’m sorry, but you have no credibility when you preach faith and scripture out one side of your mouth, and then horrid, intolerant, bigoted, and racist rhetoric out the other. Over the past several days, I have seen nothing but vitriol and hateful fear-mongering in countless memes posted by people I once knew in high school, relatives, and even people I thought I knew better than that. Words matter. Facts matter. Hell, even spelling and grammar matter! These hastily assembled Right-wing propaganda screeds are sloppy, factually inaccurate, full of grammatical and spelling errors, and solely designed to work the faithful flock into an absolute frenzy.
 
Make no mistake, these posts are racist, bigoted, intolerant, uninformed, and hateful, and yet those who spew this garbage somehow justify their offensive behavior by claiming it’s for the good of the country, about national security, their God-given right to bear arms and their last defense against a tyrannical government, or about the very preservation of the Christian values and principles this country was built on. As they see it, only THEY are the true Americans, and somehow, groups of people who may have been here for years (generations), and are loyal and assimilated citizens are outsiders. Outsiders in their own country! They point to homegrown terrorists to prove that even the most seemingly assimilated Muslim families can produce radicalized Islamic terrorists, and no American is safe, with Muslims amongst us. They strenuously object to letting in any Syrian refugees, for fear there will be Islamic extremists among them. Of course, they fail to account for the other 99.9% of homegrown domestic terrorism, perpetrated chiefly by radicalized white Christian males, and compromising the hundreds and hundreds of mass shootings that have occurred increasingly at an average rate of one a day, since 9/11. It is far more likely that an American will be killed by someone who looks like them, than they will of becoming a victim of Islamic terrorism. But that doesn’t fit their narrative. You see, the inconvenient truth is that many of those lone gunmen who shoot up abortion clinics, black churches, schools, and peaceful protests are one of them, and come from out of their ranks….their churches…their anti-government separatist movements, etc. And the rest are severely mentally ill individuals, who somehow fell through the cracks and we failed to see the signs and the writing on the wall.
 
However, it’s important to remember that many in the GOP and Religious Right fail to take responsibility or even recognize their culpability in those ideologically driven shooting sprees, because they fail to see the connection between their angry, divisive, and reckless rhetoric and the actions of those who are undeniably influenced and radicalized by their uncompromising, polarizing and extremist views. Many of these killers are motivated by irrational fears and a sense of duty to avenge and fight on behalf of combatting abortion, protecting gun rights, reversing Obamacare and death panels, targeting blacks and POC in America’s race war, preventing immigrants from entering this country and deporting those already here, and punishing sinners who live gay and alternative lifestyles, among many other sinful and secular offenses.

Those in the far Right media have made careers out of spewing vitriol, hate, and indoctrinating generations of conservatives to hate liberals and progressive, and distrust academics, scientists, environmentalism, the media, Hollywood, those dedicated to social justice and progressive causes. While I agree that there is certainly a liberal bias in the media, at least there is diversity and degrees within that viewpoint. Whereas the Right has a small handful of extremely biased and skewed news sources, starting with the “fair and balanced” Fox News, and heading Right on the spectrum towards bombastic and wildly inaccurate methods of reporting and unapologetic propaganda, with the likes of the Drudge Report, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others. They know full well that their loud and hateful rhetoric is hyperbolic and provokes and stirs up their viewers and listeners, and the more sensational they get, the more it seems their followers…follow.

The problem is, much of this language is inflammatory and incendiary, and potentially very dangerous. It often gets so hateful and strident, it walks a very fine line between inspiring the faithful in common cause and downright inciting a riot and a literal call to arms. This kind of reckless language is perfectly protected by the First Amendment — as it should be — but responsible journalists and media personalities would know there are limits not only to good taste, but to ensuring heated rhetoric doesn’t rise to the level of violence and vengeance. Sadly, there are undoubtedly many unstable followers who don’t have the mental wellness and capacity, nor the tools to decipher talk from action, and right from wrong. With conservative candidates using harsh and antagonistic language, and decrying the Left for its decadent and permissive ways, the GOP dehumanizes their opposition, and paints liberals in very broad strokes. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect to such vitriol and demonizing, is that it doesn’t allow for compromise or negotiation, but rather, sets up the Left as an immoral and devious straw man, who must be stopped and defeated at all costs. This is where the dangerous rhetoric of religious dogma comes into play, and political disagreements and differences of opinion become cast in the much more black and white world of good vs. evil, and the righteous and the wicked. Liberals are cast as the sinful and decadent libertines, awash in their luxuriant lifestyles of sex and permissiveness, and it is these very unbelievers who are the root cause of all of society’s moral decay and the undermining of fundamental Christian values and a virtuous way of life.

It is at a crossroads, where the Religious Right demonize and blame liberals for all the ills of the world, and suggest that the only way to return America to greatness again is to defeat those on the Left, where the real danger lies. It’s in their epic and inflammatory language, the summoning of religious and moral tropes, and a calculated incitement of terror that promises a proverbial (if not literal) apocalyptic end of days if liberals continue to pollute society, where those unstable individuals among us might find fuel for their fires. When liberals are depicted as grotesque murderers of innocent babies, and accused of harvesting fetal tissue for profit and unethical scientific experimentation, what kind of message does that send to the party faithful? Sure, the reasonably well adjusted and sane may be able to condemn such actions without resorting to violence, but what about that small percentage who simply don’t have the capacity to separate committed political action from overt acts of physical violence and bloodshed?

What about that minority of viewers and listeners who are emboldened by inflammatory rhetoric and such savage and self-righteous condemnation from the Right? The lines become blurred in such cases, and those are the instances where the language has simply become too combative and threatens public safety. In no way am I suggesting we curb free speech, but I’m simply pointing out that this divisive language is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It has no place in a civil society. Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. What kind of world do these individuals want to live in, where every chance for compromise and bipartisan cooperation is met with scorn, contempt, and scorched earth defiance and an unwillingness to meet half way? Do they wish to vanquish all Democrats, minorities, and dissenting opinions? It sure seems like there is no end game here, apart from absolutely obliterating the opposition or converting all wicked foes. It’s literally my way or the highway.

There’s a tricky and seemingly intractable obstacle when dealing with those who are fundamentally motivated by faith above reason, fear above facts, exclusion over inclusion, vengeance over forgiveness, exacting justice and punishment over rehabilitation, are distrustful of science, have uncompromising attachments to personal freedoms and civil liberties over the needs of the many, prefer cultural homogeneity to plurality and diversity, and have an unwavering belief in their own righteousness and higher purpose. The most daunting and challenging aspect of dealing with individuals guided by an inflexible — and often misguided — reading of the Bible is that they are convinced to their core that their beliefs are divine and infallible, and any variation from the text is the path of the wicked and dissolute. For example, if we were talking about logic, reason, measurable and quantifiable science, or fact checking and deduction, we would have to necessarily allow time and empirical evidence to dictate the course of our research and the theories we draw. Facts and figures may seem finite and immovable, but in practice, truth and reason are incredibly fluid and compromising. As a general rule, with knowledge and exposure to cultural diversity, it becomes a lot harder to fear, distrust, demonize, oppress, or mistreat our fellow human. Reason, experimentation, and research lead us to such conclusions. However, for those who are compelled by faith alone, we might as well be speaking a different language. That is where the difficulty lies. Their capital T-Truth is unyielding and often quite literally writ in stone. How can you argue with faith? You can’t. It seems we’ve yet to discover the Rosetta Stone that translates between Faithful obedience and science and reason. We are quite honestly speaking two different languages. It’s no wonder we cannot come to a consensus.

Having said all that, I have a faith of my own, and value my own personal spirituality. I think that if there’s a place for science in our society, there should certainly be a place for the metaphysical and divine. Religion can play an invaluable role within a community. I begrudge no man or woman for having deep faith and personally held beliefs and values. In my immediate family, I have several Evangelical Conservative Christians, whom I love dearly, and who I respect and cherish. At the same time, I also fundamentally disagree with about 85% of their beliefs and how they choose to vote and envision a better society. I think many of their views on topics such as immigration, homosexuality, women’s reproductive rights, the death penalty, and others are uninformed, backwards, and sometimes even bigoted. The difference is, it doesn’t mean I love them any less. Nor do I go out of my way to belittle their deeply-held beliefs. Their faith is important to them, and gives them much peace and solace. It would be selfish and hypocritical of me to condemn them for something that guided their life in meaningful and purposeful ways. There’s no science that can account for faith in something greater than one’s self. It’s human nature. If my mother’s devout Evangelical faith gives her comfort and makes her life better and easier in any way, than why would I ever want to deny her that? My version of God and spirituality may not be as rigid or parochial as hers, but it is worthy of respect and consideration. Science-minded and overly-educated liberals often belittle faith and religion, and ridicule those who have it. That kind of behavior is no better than those who would deport all Muslims or make homosexuality illegal. It’s intolerance, plain and simple. We liberals must hold ourselves accountable, and always strive to take the higher road. We must not meet bigotry and contempt with the like, but must model and be the change we wish to see in the world.

Regardless of how accepting I am of various faiths and religions, I am still unrelenting in my insistence they be held accountable for their words and actions, and strive to be a positive force of good in this world, rather than a hateful breeding ground for intolerance and bigotry. And although many conservatives think that all liberals give a free pass to Islam, I am an equal opportunity enforcer of human rights, social justice, charity, empathy, equality, and all of the other egalitarian principles that should comprise any successful civil society.

There is A LOT not to like about some aspects of Islam, and particularly violent and seemingly savage passages of the Koran. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Islam is solely a peaceful religion, and divorce the text from its more ruthless and merciless underpinnings. There are many contradictory and questionable interpretations that one could make, when studying Islam. But by and large, the 99.9% of peaceful Muslims who espouse Islam as a religion of peace are also right. A text is only as useful and just as the people who use and shape it.
Every questionably point I brought up in regards to the Koran can as easily be made about the Bible. The Christian and Jewish Bible is full of numerous contradictions, ambiguous meanings, questionable decisions, far fetched allegory rather than literal truth, a sometimes wrathful…sometimes peaceful divinity, and lots of dictates that are confusing and easy to misread and well open to interpretation. And LOTS of violence and merciless punishment. The Bible can be cruel and savage itself, and again, it all depends on the people wielding that text. My best friend’s father is an Antiochian Priest, and he is very liberal, moderate, inclusive, accepting, compassionate, and uses the Bible as a tool to build bridges, not burn them. This is a man of reason, of science, and of rational dialogue. His faith and convictions are no less deep and committed as, say…a Ted Cruz…but unlike the Texas Senator, he uses his faith to bring people together, not divide them. He celebrates diversity, not condemns it. I only wish the Right had more good-faith brokers of peace and reconciliation for us on the Left to bargain and deal with. I know for a fact that the extremist, divisive, bigoted, and intolerant views of the Religious Right comprising the current crop of Republican Presidential nominees does NOT represent a vast majority of moderate, reasonable, and compassionate Christians and Jews. It says a lot about how broken our system is when a group that once numbered over 20 had essentially the same radical beliefs and ideology. Where is the diversity within the Republican party? It’s increasingly hard to find. 

Getting back to the danger of demagogues and their ability to incite violence, although I would never suggest these shock-jock provocateurs and blustery talking heads are purposefully inciting violence and strategically targeting a cadre of unstable foot soldiers to do their dirty work, and shoot up abortion providers, execute black churchgoers at a Bible study, or blow up a federal government building, that may very well be the unintended outcome. Their language is reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible, and we must hold them accountable for their lies, distortions, and demonizing of those on the Left.

I’m fully aware that the facts are being skewed on both sides of the aisle, and liberals are sometimes spewing all sorts of distorted numbers about guns, blaming firearms outright, and seemingly apologizing for Islam and tiptoeing around the reality that some Muslims are extremists and often susceptible to homegrown radicalization. Naturally, liberals are often victims of their own demagoguery and radical agendas too. The blame goes all around. However, it’s very hard to deny the fact that one side seems to be coming at it from a place of love, inclusion, and social justice, while the other is working from a place of deep pathological fear, distrust, and intolerance.

Surely we can balance national security and the safety of American citizens with the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for EVERY American, regardless of religion, creed, race, gender, orientation, etc. You wouldn’t know it from the Right though. It’s about my guns, my taxes, my land, my religion, my…my…my. That’s not the ideals this country was founded on. The Constitution is bigger than just the Second Amendment. If I can respect your right to own guns, surely we can meet somewhere in the middle to discuss how to keep them out of the hands of criminals. It doesn’t matter that these particular guns were obtained legally. The last ones weren’t, and perhaps the next ones won’t be either. And yet, this reasonable discussion can never take place, because a solid third of this country refuses to even listen to reason, and trust that we’re not even remotely suggesting we take anyone’s guns away. It’s like trying to reason with a child screaming at the top of their lungs with their fingers  stubbornly stuck in their ears.

I sure wish these same people cared as deeply about the other nine amendments as they do the Second, because maybe they’d be holding rallies to ensure the First Amendment protected its citizens from a government impeding their free practice of religion or choice not to practice, rather than erecting Biblical monuments preaching Mosaic Law or calling for prayer in schools. How do they not understand that such measures impede on other people’s freedom of religion? They can worship how they please in the comforts of their own homes and in their houses of worship. The public and municipal setting is a shared space, and one that should be inclusive of all Americans.

Yet somehow I suspect that’s the very sticking point right there. From their actions and words, it’s hard not to conclude that a good number of those on the Right simply believe themselves to be the very successors of liberty and the embodiment of all that is American. Yet, the Constitution would suggest otherwise, protecting all citizens equally under the law, and over time, refining and redefining its protections, to ensure that we are all treated equitably. Republicans are not any more American than that Muslim family who settled in America just last year. If those Muslims are naturalized citizens, they are just as American as a tenth generation white Christian from the south. America is not any one thing, it is a lot of different things, and at the moment, they are all getting mixed together, and we are in a massive state of upheaval. But it takes all kinds, and the sum of our parts must be greater than any one part. That’s what will ultimately unite us as a country. As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently wrote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Perhaps more than at any time in history, we are a country divided. The Civil War may have been fought on the battlefields of Antiedam and Gettysburg over 150 years ago, but we are still deeply divided, and the wounds are still fresh. We are currently fighting vicious and long overdue religious wars, cultural wars, race wars, gender wars, sexual orientation wars, and everything else, at a time in history where it seems one half of our nation longs for the past while the other dreams of the future. One half of America wishes we could return to an idyllic past and simpler way of life, where white Christian values dominated, and people shared similar life stories and beliefs, and the other half recognizes that that America never existed, because it wasn’t fair and just for everyone, as minorities, women, gays, and non-Christian faiths were subjected to intolerable cruelty, slavery, oppression, and worse. For this latter group of people, America is now only starting to deliver on the promise of our forefathers and those immortal words enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and the nation’s best years are actually ahead of us. This is the very nature of progressivism and the liberal movement. It is exactly that…a movement…forward, whereas the Right always seems to be looking back, always trying to recapture that elusive period when “America was Great”…just not for everyone.

 
Some liberals may have resisted calling the recent attacks terrorism, but if so, it’s not because of some conspiratorial love for those who attack America and hate freedom. Why must we hurl those unjust words at each other? Obama doesn’t hate America. Obama is not a Muslim. He is an American President, whose responsibility is to look out for all his citizens, including Muslim Americans. And blacks. And Mexicans. And White Christians. If liberals are reluctant to immediately brand a shooting Islamic terrorism less than 48 hours after the event, it’s only because it’s irrational and unproductive to jump to conclusions without having all the facts. You may recall how quick we were to pin the Oklahoma City bombing on middle eastern terrorists, only to later find out it was perpetrated by a white, agnostic, anti-governent separatist. It’s dangerous to even assume that because someone has an Arab name, they are automatically a Muslim terrorist. I have many Arab friends who are Orthodox Christian. And yet, they are STILL the victims of this anti-Muslim/ Arab witch hunt.

What I particularly hate about this macho and reactionary knee jerk finger-pointing is that it’s crass and undisciplined, and says more about the terror and insecurities of those doing the pointing, than those caught in the crosshairs. It’s not sissy or weak to wait for all the facts, and make well-informed decisions. That’s what those in science and law enforcement do every day. It should also be a virtue found in members of Congress, but one sorely lacking, I’m afraid. After all, politicians on both sides of the aisle profit from a nation gripped by terror and always looking over its shoulder. Rather than appear soft on terror, or explore the complex nuance and narrative of extremism in our world, it’s often easier for politicians to exploit America’s fears of terrorism and Islam, and evoke the specter of 9/11 to prove their own relevance and usefulness. If there ever was a country so blithely unaware of its own post traumatic stress disorder, it’s America – never able to fully forget and never able to fully recover from all that we lost that day. Our innocence was taken from us so cruelly and abruptly, and all we were left with was terror, no closure. Never one to overthink a solution, Bush Jr. struck boldly and blindly at those who we thought were our enemies, but only added thousands more casualties, trillions more debt, and destabilized a region so recklessly, we actually drove bitter and angry Muslims underground and allowed for ISIS to be born. Although we never could have anticipated it then, our unprovoked invasion of Iraq bred more radical Islamists than any mosque or imam could ever do. We are now painfully living the costs of war fought in haste, and decisions made rashly and without all the facts. There were no weapons of mass destruction, but there was a once-mighty and invincible nation reeling from attack, licking its wounds, and grieving its dead and wounded. And in no uncertain terms, fueled by the need for revenge and looking for someone to punish. Sadaam was as good a target as any, and WMD or no, Iraq was a nation long overdue for regime change. 

There’s no shame in admitting one’s fear or uncertainty. These are scary and uncertain times. But that’s why we must be even more vigilant and resolved not to surrender ourselves to fear or let suspicion guide our hand towards violence and injustice. Muslims are not an inherently distrustful group whom we must watch, register, isolate, or deport. Muslims have lived in America for nearly as long as we’ve been a nation. Over 10% of Africans brought over on slave ships were Muslims, although most were forced to abandon their faith and convert to Christianity. During the 19th Century, thousands of Muslims settled in America, many fleeing the Ottoman Empire and the East. Many have been here several generations, and there is nothing to suggest that they are any less American than anyone else whose descendents made North America their new home. It’s shameful how easy it is for some of us to forget that we were all once immigrants to this great nation, and only the indigenous Native Americans can truly claim any territorial birthright.
To that end, Muslims are irrefutably just as American as you and me, and yet, they now live in a culture of fear and suspicion, and are constantly forced to prove their loyalty and trustworthiness in their own country. To most, this is the only home they’ve ever known, and yet, they are made to feel unwelcome and criminal, just for practicing their faith in peace. There has been a disturbing uptick in violence against Muslims, including threatening phone calls, becoming targets on social media, death threats, beatings, the burning and vandalism of mosques, harassment on planes, the subject of boycotts, protests, and sanctions, and of course, the suggestion that they should be forced to register or simply deported outright. For all the misguided fear that many on the Right have of Muslims, I guarantee, most Muslim Americans are far more fearful of those who distrust them and wish them harm. 
If we allow fear and ignorance to guide our hand, we miss genuine opportunities and solutions. Furthermore, we shut ourselves off from facts and reason. Not the made up statistics and fear-mongering claims being passed off as facts in the memes I’m seeing on Facebook. Actual facts. As painful as it may be for some to hear, the truth of the matter is, there is no greater risk of disgruntled Muslims becoming radicalized and violent then your white Christian next door neighbor, with his distrust of the government, stockpile of weapons, and hatred of minorities. In fact, it is far more likely that your neighbor will be the next mass shooter than Mohammad down at the local mosque.
Where are our priorities? Why are we demonizing all Muslims, when barely a fraction of all Muslims in the world will ever be drawn into radical Islam? Why are white shooters given a free pass, and their behavior chocked up to mental illness and their violence dismissed so easily? Why aren’t we rounding up all white Christian hate groups, in an effort to head off any future violence? Why is there a double standard? The hatred and vitriol I have seen in memes and posts over the past two weeks has been disturbing. At the risk of sounding elitist (an insult often hurled at the Left), these posts have been such baldfaced examples of ignorance and bigotry, it’s hard for me to hold out hope of ever finding a rational, reasonable, and committed partner on the Right, just as committed to compromise and bipartisan cooperation as I am. I can’t help but thinking about the very DNA of our two sides, and how fundamentally different we are from each other. Sure, we’re still humans, and all have hopes, fears, dreams, and insecurities, which guide us in life. I have to believe that our shared humanity will someday be enough to bring us together. But for right now, we are a house divided, and I fear we will fall hard before we stand tall again. This culture war is nasty and divisive, but I can only foresee it getting much worse before it gets better. For now, we are speaking different languages, and one seems to be led with the heart, while the other, led by the mind. Eventually, we must learn to be led by both.

Whether Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, black or white, or any of the other infinite and joyous combinations we may be, we are first and foremost…Americans. The values set down in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are egalitarian ones, and strive to provide liberty, freedom, and protection to every American. And when our Constitution failed to get it right, we improved upon it, and have amended it 27 times since it was first written. Because as it says right there in the Constitution’s Preamble, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” We must heed those words….to “FORM a MORE perfect union.” Those words imply it’s not done yet. Perhaps it will never be. But with each new amendment, each new court case won for the side of equality and social justice, and each step closer to true equality and justice for ALL, we are one step closer to the America promised in our very charter. THAT is the true America, not some fabled past when America was “great.” It’s in front of us. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we can heal our wounds and move forward as a nation. Let’s make America great for ALL! 

The War on Truth & Intellect: Anti-Intellectualism & The Religious Right

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A reasonable person might ask, how could anyone vote for someone as stupid as Dr. Ben Carson? Why would you ever want to elect an ignorant person to the most powerful and influential job in the world? The sad fact of the matter is, not everyone in this country places such importance on intelligence as a prerequisite and qualifier for President. As much as the Right condemns those of us on the Left for having no values and attacking their faith, one of the most fundamental values we cherish is that of intellect, and the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectualism and human betterment have always been deeply held principles, and reason is central to progressive belief. There are plenty of religious people who count themselves liberals, but more often than not, they are reasonable and embrace plurality and diversity of opinion. Being a liberal or progressive does NOT preclude one from being faithful or religious.

Conservatives often rightly condemn us as elitists, but they often wear their own ignorance proudly, and as a badge of honor. As if being less intelligent and more faithful and religious was a good thing. But to them, it is. Faith will get you into Heaven, but don’t forget where Knowledge got poor Adam and Eve. Almost from the outset, some read the Bible as a cautionary tale against seeking knowledge and questioning God’s will. Asking questions and being too clever was looked at as sinful or prideful, and often severely discouraged and punished. Naturally, this is just one narrow and rigid interpretation of the Bible, but it has been led to a persistent and pervasive attitude towards education and learning that has found its way down through the ages, and into many evangelical and conservative faiths today.

The people considered fundamentalist have the narrowest view of the Bible, and are rigid in their condemnations of others for  behaviors they view as sinful. They seek to return America to its “Christian values” and fanatically believe America is being eroded by moral decay and a culture of permissiveness and sex. They are distrustful of medicine, science, technology, socialism or other types of government, non-Christian religions, minorities and laws like affirmative action, homosexuality, immigrants, Hollywood, the media, gun control, and many other hot-button issues. These are the people who vote and support candidates like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and once upon a time, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. This is a very different Republican party than Eisenhower, Nixon, and William F. Buckley inhabited. And as much as they love to claim them as their own, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt truly belonged to a party closer to resembling today’s Democratic Party. Anyone who knows the history of the parties and evolution over the last 150 years, knows as much. Over the last 40 years, the party has been hijacked by the Religious Right, and there has been a war on intellectualism. The days of Buckley’s incisive criticism and articulation of the party’s views are long gone, and the GOP is left with deeply faithful fanatical Christians, who have very little intellectual chops, but aren’t short on faith and moral outrage. They prey on fear, and use minorities, women, immigrants, and xenophobia to scare their base, and whip up the party.

People like Ben Carson can say outrageous and patently false statements, because 1) No one on the Right is going to fact check him, and 2) It doesn’t matter what facts and figures he has, because they’re not judging him on his intellect or veracity, but on the faith in his heart and commitment to fighting the culture wars from the Oval Office. They want an advocate to outlaw abortion, impose the death penalty, overthrow gay marriage, remove all environmental regulations, work to bring Creationism to schools and remove Evolution, build border walls and brutally enforce strict immigration laws, remove regulations from business and stoke a free market, cut taxes, reverse Obamacare, eliminate most social entitlement programs, and work to undo all the other progress the Left has made in this country. They care about moral crusaders and the soul of their candidates, but the mind is perhaps the least important part.

When Donald Trump uses the slogan, ‘Making America Great Again,’ it’s insulting to many Americans, and so sadly misleading. When was it great to begin with? Was that during the genocide of Native Americans, and when the country stripped them of their land? Or was it during slavery, and the years the country was bitterly divided and fought a civil war? Or when the Irish were rejected work? The lynchings and Jim Crow era? Perhaps it was when women were denied the right to vote or to work, or Japanese internment camps. Or was it Vietnam and the turbulent ’60s? The point is, there was no time America was “great” because it wasn’t great for everyone. Sure, maybe if you were a white, male, wealthy, Christian landowner in the south, there might have been great times. But it sure wasn’t for their slaves and the women in their households. America is a great country, and since the lofty goals outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and added upon in the Constitution even still today, it aspired to be something greater than it was. ALL men created equal. And women, and blacks, and gays, and every other person in this great country. But there is no ‘great’ to return to, Mr. Trump. The great is in front of us, as we take steps to make this country great and free for everyone.

The truth of the matter is, Intelligence is often the biggest indicator of tolerance, acceptance, open-mindedness, and a commitment to social justice. The pursuit of egalitarian principles is most often achieved by the smart and the bold. On the other hand, ignorance is the biggest indicator of bigotry, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, jingoism, and violence and a predilection to fight. Poverty is often the leading cause of ignorance, and not surprisingly, education and a war on poverty have been two of the biggest pieces of agenda on the Democratic platform. By stamping our poverty, we stamp out so many other things, such as violence, ignorance, and bigotry. Yet the Right has proven time and again, that it would rather spend countless trillions of dollars on foreign wars of election, than on educating every American, and lifting them out of poverty. Imagine what kind of education we could have provided with all the money spent on Afghanistan and Iraq. But again, since intelligence is not valued and cherished by many on the Right, either is education. It’s apparently more important to build walls to keep foreigners out and to build bigger and better weapons to fight wars and exert dominance over the rest of the world. This is a macho, jingoistic, xenophobic, truculent, and violent mindset. One who shoots first, and asks questions later. Only a mindless cowboy seeks fights, rather than keeps the peace, and avoids them.

If this world is ever going to achieve peace and tolerance, it will have to be won by the intellectuals and reason-minded. That doesn’t mean an attack on faith or that religion has no place in a civil society. Faith can play a tremendous role in a community’s health and well-being. Religion doesn’t have to be at odds with science and reason, or intellectualism and rationalism. The two are not mutually exclusive. That is, until you make them so, and admonish intelligence, and uphold blind faith and hateful, ignorant views. The people who vote for Ben Carson are not voting for intelligence, but his eternal soul. The President represents ALL Americans, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, and every other faith and belief there is. We don’t need another devout zealot trying to shape this country back into the Christian nation it once was, because it never was. The Founding Fathers did not intend it to be, and made it abundantly clear that there was to be a separation of Church and State. So go ahead, and get angry whenever a state removes a Ten Commandments rock from the statehouse grounds or prohibits prayer in school, but then go and read the Constitution, and get a clue already. A vote for an ignorant man — brain surgeon or not — is a vote for poor leadership. This is arguably the hardest job in the world, and a President probably makes at least a hundred decisions a day. This is subtle, nuanced work, and it takes a considerable mind to process all that information, face tremendous resistance, work successfully with opposing parties, use diplomacy effectively, keep peace or judiciously wage war, and make small and large decisions that could have catastrophic results. This is not a job for the feeble-minded or anti-intellectual. We saw how well George W. Bush did with his eight mindless years in office. He took a considerable surplus and turned it into a huge deficit, he launched two costly wars which we still can’t get out of, he spent all of America’s capital and good will the world had for us, he set global warming and sustainable energy back decades, he made a royal mess of Hurricane Katrina, and made many other serious blunders. W was not an intelligent man, and as such, he was handled and manipulated by war hawks and powerful men with militant agendas.

America cannot afford another dim-witted man in the White House. And that’s the fundamental difference between those who would vote for a vacuous mind, and those who put weight in the intellectual heft of a candidate. Ben Carson fans have absolutely no problem believing Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, because they either believe it to be true, or don’t care if it’s false. Either one is dangerous. Those of us who know better should do whatever it takes not to elect those who don’t.

What are 10 things that you should definitely do before turning 30?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Your teens and 20s are a time for exploring and experimenting, and trying on new hats. You must allow yourself to fail, and don't feel pressured to jump into marriage and family. Here are some things to do before 30.

1. Fall in Love Often: You may date around, fall in love a few times, and hopefully learn from all the mistakes you made. Either way, you'll get good practice for when you're finally ready to settle down.

2. Move Somewhere New: Move to at least one major city, or at least, out of your hometown. People who have never lived anywhere but home are less worldly and familiar with different cultures and viewpoints.

3. Work Several Jobs: Work as many different jobs as you're comfortable with, and try them all on for size. Like matters of love, you'll learn more from failure. It will teach you what job you can love, which job you will like, which job you can stand, and which job you will hate and should probably never do again.

4. Travel abroad: See the world, and learn about different cultures. You'll be a more open and tolerant person, and a more informed citizen. It's also likely you won't have a family yet, and may have money and time to explore.

5. Study abroad: While in college, look for a chance to study in a foreign country. The experience is life altering and will stay with you for life.

6. Graduate College or Vocational Program: The older you get, the harder it is to go back to school and finish those last few credits. It's best if you can earn all (or most) of your degrees before 30. That will give you a head start on your career earlier.

7. Party Hardy: By your 30s and 40s, most people have had it with loud concerts, crowded bars, obnoxious club experiences, casual hookups,  heavy drinking and drug use. Take advantage of your youth, and get all that out of your system. If you have kids one day, it's almost guaranteed your priorities will change.

8. Choose Your Life Philosophy: You may have been raised Catholic, taught not to curse, or maybe forced to eat all your Brussel sprouts. As you reach adulthood, it's time for you to evaluate what works for you, and what you believe. Question God's existence, and decide for yourself. Try Yoga and Meditation. Explore your ethics and what you believe about abortion, the death penalty, the environment, and other social issues. You don't have to choose a political party or label your beliefs, just gather your thoughts into your own guiding philosophy. Accept that it may change, and live your life the most decent and best way you can.

9. Enjoy Friends & Family : As you grow older, and start to have a family of your own, you inevitably see less and less of your close friends and family. Before all of that, go out with your friends often, and take trips with them! Visit your grandparents while they're still with you. Help your parents around the house, and enjoy them while they are still healthy and relatively young. You will never get this time back.

10. Volunteer: There's no better moment to lend your time and effort to people in need than when you are in your teens and 20s. You are still fit and healthy, and can do rigorous work and not get tired as easily. You also probably have more free and open unstructured time on your hands. Several organizations require travel, and that can be fun at that age.

What are 10 things that you should definitely do before turning 30?