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IF YOU COULD, WOULD YOU LIVE FOREVER?

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THE LARGEST RELIGION IN EXISTENCE is Christianity, pushing 2-billion plus adherents.[1] It’s followers represent dozens of sects and denominations that actually disagree on more ideas than most care to keep track of. In a broad sense Christians share a few core beliefs, particularly that Yashua – a peasant Jew from Nazareth – was sent as Son of God to enlist believers in him and to atone for a sin that God’s first man was talked into.[2] It’s in belief of Yashua (Jesus is what the Romans called him) that humanity gains eternal life. Yashua died on a cross and raised himself from the dead after three days.

So much can be added to that short summary of what the core elements of Christianity are, so many arguments could be had, too. Christianity is a theologically complex religion and is somewhat irreconcilable with itself as well as historical knowledge. Equally complex and irreconcilable are the 27 holy books making up the New Testament.

As a simple exercise, ask yourself a few fundamental questions – that implicate a variety of religions aside from Christianity. Why is eternal life an idea that is offered in exchange for adhering or believing? What is so fascinating about eternal life that roughly half of the world, mostly industrialized areas, find such an exchange fruitful? What exactly are some of the implications of becoming immortal ? Would eternal life be a suitable situation for you? Have you thought about it?

Personally, despite my own beliefs, I would psychologically and spiritually grow weary of eternal existence. I can confidently state that without having any concept or taste of any afterlife. Let’s say I died tomorrow, came into some phantasmal form. I could imagine initially being sad, then being amused for awhile. Going everywhere I’ve never visited, learning things I hadn’t previously had the time for. Yet, as years would pass, I would witness the loss of other loved ones – some of whom might not be so lucky as to obtain immortality. I would be helpless as I watched my people deteriorate, become sick, or grow old and struggle.

There I would be, eternally struggling with such loss, never needing sleep, never resting, only suffering for millennia.

Well, I don’t want eternal life, I wouldn’t want that for you either. After all, to compartmentalize loss, to bury emotion, to replace grief with eternal life, is tantamount to adopting sociopathy. A sociopath lacks a conscience, is distant from humanity; I wouldn’t want to turn into that, to grow cold as the universe, as it, too, finally freezes all light from existence. That sounds so lonely, living forever in a cold expanse.

As with many firsts, a first kiss, the first bite of an ice cream sundae, a first soda or any other possible vice, eternal life will – much like those – appear awesome and grand initially; however, as we experience more and more of something it will either kill us or grow less tasteful and unsatisfying.

But, then again, what do I know, right? Actually, what is known is that we have around five or so decades together – if we’re fortunate. We have now , the present, to do kind acts, to cry together, to laugh, to share memories at gatherings and share moments of accomplishment. We have now.
As for me, when all this is gone, when precious light fades from the back of my eyelids, I want to go in peace, I want to rest well knowing that I will leave this world to you in slightly better condition than when I found it.

Notes
1. Goldwag, Arthur. (2007). ‘Isms and ‘Ologies: The 453 Basic Tenets You’ve only Pretended to Understand. Madison Park Press. New York

2. THE BOOK OF GENESIS, Old Testament

Image: public domain customization

LETTING GO: A RECIPE FOR THE FUTURE

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During the course of each of our lives we hear many things that cause us to listen. Some of these things are helpful, some disastrous, and between all that is conflicting advice. Take for instance, the concept of forgiveness. I have always been told by my elders to forgive people for their wrongs and accidental slights – no matter what these were. Few people have gone so far as to advise that, in addition to forgiveness, “to pray for them”, or “forgive, but don’t forget”. I’m sure I’m not alone in this confusing matter, so I’m going to briefly share what I think about it.

Forgiveness, at its very core, harbors the assumption that people will cross you, people will do you wrong, hurt you, use you, amongst all other manner of negative things. This means that forgiveness exists because people are capable of harm – directly or indirectly, and sometimes both ways.

Secondly, forgiveness assumes a therapeutic role – in that there is marginal benefit for victims and a vague notion that is to befall those unforgiving people. Resentment, negative expectations, deteriorated social relationships, spiritual stress, ailments, and sometimes deep-seated cultural morés, such as distrust in the “white-man” – or some such things – can be traced to unforgiveness.

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So, here I am, discussing forgiveness – an idea that most of my loved ones proclaim I should adopt, yet, they have such difficulty themselves with forgiveness. (This is not to say they are sociopaths.)

Perhaps the world I want to see doesn’t have forgiveness at all; a world where there are no people whose words trespass against anyone, and that acts are no longer harmful; eliminating all of those things that typically trigger the need for gifting or asking forgiveness. Of course, that’s not a reality; however, just as forgiveness does, we can also act upon our world in ways to preempt forgiveness: we can work to eliminate forgiveness. This idea may seem, at first glance, tricky, for us Indigenous people, having carried so much pain about the world in which our ancestors lived, a world near universally lost. But, if we can change our approach to how we are affected by others, we would do some real good for our next generation – freeing them from the weight of all that could have been.

😉

IN SERVICE OF PEOPLE, NOT GOD

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After this century began, I had the pleasure of reading an anthology of short-stories, stories that implicated the human role in the larger scheme of existence. Is human life an absurd situation, or is there any inherent purpose in life, at all? For a guy who, at the time, didn’t have any formal college education, the old dusty book posited interesting questions about how people behave in ways so that life has meaning. That struck me as very interesting! The book, published in 1963, is called The Existential Imagination.[1] Many copies of the book are still available via Amazon.com and for as little as a penny (shipping and handling, is extra).[2] Need I mention, I’ve owned three copies over the years?

There are many good stories in the book regarding issues unique to the human condition. I don’t necessarily have any favorite story because they are all good for very different reasons. I would like to share the plot from one of the stories, here, and hopefully it allows you to ponder about any philosophical or theological implications thereafter. Hopefully, you are curious enough to go buy a copy, then read the rest of the book yourself.

The story that I mean to share is called Saint Emmanuel The Good, Martyr. It is the longest story of the anthology at around 35-pages. It’s written in the form of a fictional memoir, a letter found by the true author. The letter is an account of an Italian woman, Angelita, who takes the reader through her life, beginning as a young girl who entered convent school – at her brothers bidding. She spends five years there – until at age 15 – before returning to her village, Valverde de Lucerna. There she introduces us to the true protagonist in her memoir: Don Manuel, the priest in her beloved village.

The Don is described as a healer, a saint, who chopped wood for the poor, the protector, and nourishment to the village. He is kind to all – favoring “the most unfortunate…especially those who rebelled” (102).
One of my favorite quotes came from this story. It’s great advice even if stemming from a work of fiction. It reads:

“We should concern ourselves less with what people are trying to tell us than with what they tell us without trying” – Don Manuel

Angelita, also wrote about a time when a man in the village sent his boy out into the woods in a heavy rainstorm to fetch a loosed calf. The Don, saw the boy wandering near the trees, so he went out in the heavy rain to inquire why the boy was out at such a dangerous time. The boy explained, his father sent him out for a lost calf, whereafter listening, the Don sends the boy home. He explained he would locate the calf and bring it home for him. Upon returning to the boys home (with the calf) the father went out to meet the Don, who was soaking wet. The man, Angelita wrote, was thoroughly ashamed of himself.

The story builds to denouement once Angelita’s brother, Lazarus, returns home from America. Lazarus was not Catholic, and further did not believe in God. However, Don Manuel and Lazarus spend so much time together that after Angelita’s mom died, Lazarus chose to take communion, thereby converting to Catholicism. The village rejoices, and because, Don Manuel, had yet again, performed a miracle!

Later in the evening, Angelita finds herself alone with her brother, to whom she asks, “What things did Don Manuel state to you, that caused this conversion?” She hugs him. Lazarus finally replied that he only did so for the people, not because he himself believed, nor to seek eternal life. The Don implored him to take up religious life so to set a good example for the people, by taking part in religious community life. But Lazarus explains solemnly, that he also asked the Don, why he seemed to ask that he live a lie, adding, “Do you, believe, Don Manuel?” The Don, looking out over the lake, silently wept. After a few moments, the Don said:

“The truth, Lazarus, is perhaps something so unbearable, so terrible, so deadly, that simple people could not live with it,” and, “I am put here to give life… to make [people] happy, to make them dream they are immortal – and not to destroy them. The important
thing is that they live sanely, in accord with eachother…with my truth they could not live at all…”, “…let them live…”, “with the illusion that all this has a purpose”
(120).

So, there were tough questions, indeed, utilizing deep human conflict, one that many people have grappled with over the millennia. I, too, have often looked to the stars, asked my elders, and sought the answer to the very questions this story outlines, namely, Is there a God, and what does that mean for us? If there is no God, what then? Is life a pointless marathon unto death? Maybe it’s not so bad that we are left to answer this question alone? The greater point is that it’s a wonderful journey trying to figure it out for yourself. As I believe Don Manuel would say: At times, you might feel sad, or liberated when pondering the meaning of existing only a short while. Life may seem very lonely in that view. Whatever answers you come to, I’m sure you will be fine when choosing to live for others; according to one priest, it is exactly the same as living for God.

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Notes:
1.Karl, Frederick R., and Leo Hamalian, eds. (1963). “The Existential Imagination.” First Premier Books/Fawcett. NY

2.https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000GRFJYO/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1465370579&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=the+existential+imagination

3. Images, public domain, customizations

5 THINGS ABOUT LEADERSHIP

1877

1877

ACCORDING TO A FEW EXPERTS, leadership is defined as, “the ability to get work done with and through others while winning their respect, confidence, loyalty, and willing cooperation” (Greer and Pkunkett, 2007:261). That definition implies quite a broad set of traits. A number of you might have all of these, and at the same time, not really grasp that leadership is part of your heritage, it’s in your veins.

Leadership is a consequence of complex interactions, whether psychological or social; and we all know history has created complex socio-psychological situations for Native People. The notion that leaders possess a specific set of traits traverses cultures. While all cultures do not share a universal idea of what every leader looks like, or acts like, there is a set of universal traits that all leaders do have. Let’s look at 5 of them, here.

Leaders are trustworthy. Leaders uphold a reputation for integrity, are less likely to be engaged in risky ventures, cheat, or conduct affairs that could place others in danger. Being trustworthy, that people trust your judgment is the first trait of a leader.

Secondly, Leaders act out of concern for others. Leaders are not loners, they are inherently part of a social group. So it is the people of the group who agree on leadership. It’s one thing to declare oneself a leader, and another when people treat you as one. If you are greedy, or otherwise unethical, people will see that. Leaders keep the greatest good in mind, rarely, if ever acting in self-interest. Think of the 19th Century leader, Chief Joseph.[1] Chief Joseph thought it best that his small tribe survive, instead of continually sending the dwindling men and boys to die fighting against the technologically advanced settlers ever moving westward into Nez Pierce country. Fighting was senseless by the late-1800’s. The millions of settlers weren’t going anywhere. Chief Joseph recognized that the numbers were clearly not on his side and so he acted on behalf of his people: advocating for a reserve. Acting out of concern for others, is primary, and must be in the heart of a leader.[2]

Thirdly, while leaders must be intelligent, not every intelligent person has the ability to explain things clearly . Thus, leaders must not only know the important issues at play, but need to also have the ability to clearly explain them to others. It’s through explaining and clarifying issues that consensus is developed. Consensus equals followers or disciples, and building a consensus is derived from the ability to explain important things clearly.

Leaders have to possess courage to proclaim a particular course of action. What’s the point shouting that there is such-and-such problem, trying to get people to listen without also providing the solution? Solutions don’t fall from the sky. Leaders will have taken the time to ponder about consequences. It will be from those variables that leaders must decide the most appropriate course of action. Otherwise, what you have is a clairvoyant. A clairvoyant is not concerned with outcomes, they simply report what’s going to happen next!

Finally, a leader will be scrutinized when things get tough. When water and food are scarce, or when buildings are burned down, the leader must have already developed in herself the determination and will to persist a course of action, but remain flexible enough to know when a change of direction is needed. Changing course can be both psychologically and socially difficult. Consider how Chief Joseph must have felt when he desired true freedom for his people, that he desired to fight on, but that his people were few and hungry. He had to inform his people – many of whom already knew – that it was in their best interest to settle, so that the Nez Pierce would live on- albeit on a reserve.

For sure, leadership is a social necessity. Leadership takes on unique shapes provided by the cultural and situational settings. For the Indigenous of America, leadership is part of their heritage. However, in movies and other popular media, Indigenous Americans are romanticized as as mostly Sioux-Indian males – sitting around a nighttime fire (inside a teepee) bickering about issues, perhaps passing a pipe while a drum beats into the night. On the contrary, most American Indigenous leadership hed councils in vastly different places. The Caddo Tribal leadership met in grass structures; and the Iroquois, in longhouses.

Notably, the Iroquois, or “People of the Longhouses”, (Kannonsionni ) are known broadly as the Six Nations (Haudenosaunee).The Six Nations include the Seneca, the Cayuga, the Oneida, the Mohawk, and Onandaga – and later, the Tuscarora. Today, this Six Nation Council is known as the Iroquois League.[3] Each of the Six Nations have representative leadership who are selected by the clan mothers of each Nation. These 56 chieftain leaders (Hoyenah) make up The Great Iroquois Council.[4] This ancient council is nearly 600-years old. According to the best contemporary archaeological evidence it is stated to have began around the year 1450.[5]

Throughout half a millennia we can trust that the clan mothers made sure that their selections to the Great Council possessed the 5 traits discussed here and that historically, there were undoubtedly difficult decisions made by these elected Hoyenah (chiefs). More difficult still, was that courses of action taken by the council had to be unanimous. Imagine the kind of leaders it takes to create unanimity? That’s the heritage in your veins. That’s the kind of leader you are.

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Notes:

1. Nez Pierce Chief, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Joseph
2. “In 1885, Chief Joseph and his followers were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest to settle on the reservation around Kooskia, Idaho. Instead, Joseph and others were taken to the Colville Indian Reservation far from both their homeland in the Wallowa Valley and the rest of their people in Idaho,” ibid.
3. http://www.bigorrin.org/iroquois_kids.htm
4. “The Grand Council of the Iroquois League is an assembly of 56 Hoyenah (chiefs) or Sachems, a number that has never changed. Today, the seats on the Council are distributed among the Six Nations as follows: 14 Onondaga, 10 Cayuga,  9 Oneida,  9 Mohawk,  8 Seneca,  6 Tuscarora”, ibid.
5. Dean Snow states, “the archaeological evidence does not support a date earlier than 1450,” ibid.
Greer, Charles, R. and W. Richard Plunkett. (2007). Supervisory Management, 11th Ed. Pearson/Prentice. Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 07458
Images, public domain customizations

CONSTRUCTS of REALITY

CONSTRUCTS of REALITY

IN LIFE THERE ARE MANY EVENTS that force us to redefine our reality. Think back to that childhood moment when you realized that Disneyland was in California, and that California was over a thousand miles away, or that Santa Claus did not exist! What was to be done with that “new” information? How are white lies incorporated into our morality – especially the one about an elderly do-gooder, dressed in red, who sneaks into our houses to leave gifts and eat our cookies? What is realized when we come to understand mom and dad aren’t going to pack away the family for a week of fun in California when simply getting to school some days remains a challenge?

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Aside from these seemingly trivial matters, I’m sure we have all had thoughts along these lines, shared the developmental milestones that opened our consciousness to a society filled with grey areas and the realization that the “real world” is sneakier than we imagined. Obtaining what we want in life – for many of us – begins exactly with a strangely dressed bearded fellow purportedly steering a reindeer sleigh – and evolves into truth: success takes time, patience, hard work, which includes a lot of planning – not simply socially accepted behaviors as  reinforced through economic coercion and wrapped gifts. Additionally, these consciousness milestones allow us to question deep-seated cultural and family practices such as bases for religious ceremonies and customs, and a belief in a single immortal being whether called God, Jesus, Great Spirit, Allah, or Yahweh.

With religious ideas, it can become less clear with age just how to maintain these conflicting precepts, especially in our busy lives. Also, the more intelligent we Earthlings become, the less we can honestly conceptualize any divine place. For instance, we now know with complete certainty that “heaven” is not a place behind the clouds, and the “underworld” is neither a place below the Earth’s crust, yet these facts still have the strength to tug at our sense of place and at our family or cultural loyalties – more so than when we discovered it was our lactose intolerant dad who would drink the milk we set out for the burglar we called Santa; and that mom and dad were, in fact, collectively, Santa !

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It’s true, no matter the constructs of our beliefs (or disbeliefs) – these ideas are our own. So long as these ideas do not advocate hatred or violence we do ourselves and our communities a service by welcoming diverse views of the world. After all, we can never honestly know how difficult it is (or has been) for those who maintain or adopt ideas we know to be false. Fresh ideas push evolution in consciousness – as our loss of Santa and the knowledge we would never reach Disneyland did. We are a better people without the illusions, and a more empowered people knowing we can influence the mindset of future generations. What do you think? What do you believe?

FAMILY VIOLENCE: AN ANCIENT ENEMY

Family Violence: An Ancient Enemy

Among ancient people, intimate partner violence occurred for reasons similar to many rationalizations that modern humans provide: jealousy, anger, food, mating privileges and so forth. The most obvious reasoning that intimate partner violence occurred among ancient humans is the physiological rule: that is to say, the larger an animal, or more physically imposing partner/group member would have been more likely to use force or inflict violence upon another smaller one (essentially bullying). After all, which smaller ancient individual dare challenge the larger attacker?

Tuning in to any nature channel, such as National Geographic, we can see the physiological rule of violence play out in the animal kingdom as day-to-day business: the silverback gorilla, or the alpha wolf imposing their wills and sizes upon others. Here, too, intra-group violence occurs for many of those same reasons given by modern humans: challenge to mating privileges, territorial disputes, food, threats to immediate family, etc.
But rules are meant to be broken, often by those we least expect.

This physiological rule is also countered by nature itself, an opposing force of smaller size, such as we find in the snake – whose various venoms can easily subdue or kill a being one-hundred times its size. This is natures answer to predation (bullying). An even smaller, similar situation is provided us by the ignorant mosquito – who, in conjunction with the many viruses and diseases it carries, such as malaria – kills billions without any thought of malevolence.

In humans, we have developed two of the most potent forces against the physiological rule. The first is the brain itself – the most advanced brain we have known among creatures of the Earth. The second force being the social group itself: the norms of civilization. We primarily came to understand that it was wrong to obtain things we wanted, whether for psychological satisfaction, or biological urges, through unjustified force. We have the greatest treasure of higher intellect and greater reasoning ability over all the creatures in the animal kingdom, though like them, we have not been able to irradicate intimate partner violence (family violence) from our cultures.

Families are the cornerstone to any great society. Currently, however, there exists a sad social problem of violence within families. One fairly recent study of families shared that 74% of children younger than five were hit or slapped by their parents (n1). A 2004 study of sexual abuse of children showed a drastic decline in reported cases toward the end of last century, though the remaining 89,500 cases occurring every year, is 89,500 cases too many involving this type of violence (n2).
In 2005, the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) produced a number of reported instances of intimate partner violence at 690,100 cases (in America), (n3). Of those figures, 16.2% of the victims were males. Obviously, males committed the remaining 83.8% of instances – another likely example of the physiological rule of violence at play in modern humans.

Can it be anymore obvious- that no matter how we define family violence, wether as emotional, physical, sexual, or instrumental – modern humanity relies too heavily upon it. Violence is outdated software, so to speak, as it is assumed we have moved beyond instinctive reactions and drives as primary motivators in behavior. Humans can develop machines to analyze planetary bodies in deep space; we can construct telescopes to see millions of years into the prehistory of our universe; we cure disease, yet we cannot seem to irradicate the most ancient of our behaviors which is violence among families.

If there’s nothing else you do in life, if you reject voting, if you do not volunteer in your community, or do not give to any charities, or fail to pay sufficient taxes, there is one thing you should honestly do to create a better world and that is to reject violence. This can be taught by example – through the power of diplomacy, leadership, and empathy. By failing to perpetuate violence, we can finally evolve into the civilization I see we can become. Reject violence, that is our first step for a better tomorrow.

Lean more about family violence at teachyoung.org, or through researching any of the references below.

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(N)otes:
1. Gallup Organization. Disciplining Children In America: A Gallup Report. Princeton, NJ. (1995)
2. Catalano, S. Criminal Investigation, 2004. Washington, D.C. (2005)
3. TeachYoung.org

Four Considerations in Educational Planning

What are your true passions?

What are your true passions?

IN LIFE, FEW THINGS DRIVE BEHAVIOR as strongly as does passion. Whether passion for creativity, for aiding the needy, a passion for music and so forth, these will vary among us, but we all should share a few passions. It would be nice if we shared the same passion for life, well-being, and education, too. However, we have so many distractions in contemporary times that a passion for learning and progress often gets stifled by frivolity and work.

One of the things I am passionate about is education, more specifically, lifelong learning. Educating oneself involves so much sacrifice, diligence, and focus though can also be enjoyable, especially when education from one’s culture or heritage is playfully passed down through the generations.
Another reason to be passionate about education is that one’s academic accomplishments represent hard work and positive steps toward one’s career, a promotion or raise in a wage, and perhaps a huge leap toward more meaningful employment altogether.

Finally, we cannot obtain anything in life without money from work. Everything costs money, from the air we breathe (we are taxed due to pollutants), the food we eat, the water we drink, to our comfortable shelters and clothes. Without a good-paying job, one likely could not attain much stability nor be able to appreciate the fruits of one’s labors through vacation, leisure, or by participating in holiday celebrations. Money demands work, work demands education, education demands you. So, before stepping into an educational institution – to work for that raise in pay or to start a new career – there are a few things that I discuss with my students before they jump in to this grand responsibility; I’m going to share those ideas with you, here. I call them the four directions on education.

1) What is it that you want to do for work for a very, very long time? In other words, you’re going to be going to school for at least 1-year and then after that, hopefully work in this position or this “career tree” for the rest of your life. It’s an important consideration.

2) Are you legally able to work in this field? Talk to someone who works in the field, research it, and determine what the minimum requirements are that would need to be met. There would be no sense in studying to work as detective if the legal environment prohibited it, right?

3) Conduct a cost-benefit analysis (list Pros and Cons) against your current life once you’ve decided upon your career path What sacrifices could be made, and can you absorb the additional loss of 10-to-25 hours per week doing homework – and probably commuting, if you’re not taking classes online.

4) Do you plan to attend a regionally accredited university or college, or nationally accredited university – in the alternative, as these groups typically permit credit transfers for work completed. You never want to attend a school for any extended amount of time or spend any money on a dead end degree or diploma from some career school to only find out later it was a waste of time and energy attaining it.(1) The U.S. Dept. of Education has a good reference list of accepted accredited academic bodies.(2)

Four simple considerations...

Four simple considerations…

Once you’ve covered all of these bases contact an academic advisor and open your life up to her, as she can help you into the next chapter of your life (as well as direct you to the financial aid office for options). In a few years time you will enjoy the fruits of your labors and bask in the glory of your new-found stability.
Get passionate about education, education carries your future.

Notes:
1. http://www.geteducated.com/regional-vs-national-accreditation-which-is-better-for-online-colleges
2. http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/
3. images, public domain customizations

FEBRUARY MAN

February Man

A MERE FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS AFTER The Emancipation Proclamation, humanity was granted the timely presence of a great man. This man’s words are archived for us in the many beautiful poems and ideas he left regarding the dual-consciousness that some African-Americans felt during his time: on the one hand, learning to assimilate into white society, and on the other, struggling to maintain cultural autonomy. Even without knowing who this man was, a poem such as, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, waves that dual-consciousness a generation removed from bondage.(1) This poem – if one can see past its vivid sadness – hides evidence of an energy that would aid the birth and rise of the Harlem Renaissance.

Langston Hughes wrote that poem as a teenager in 1920, where he sat as a passenger on a train that took him directly over the vast Mississippi River. Langston was on his way to meet his estranged father, who lived far to the southwest, in Mexico City.(2)

ca. 1925

ca. 1925

About his poem, Langston stated the river made him feel a connection to history, pre-January 1st, 1863(3). That he recalled reading President Lincoln’s biography, about the horrors of bartering over and selling humans, in places near the Mississippi: the same water that nourished the cotton fields, once smothered his people. Feeling this, he wrote, “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the human blood in my veins…I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.”

There are parallels today which beckon the spirit of Langston Hughes – a disunity of culture which cannot be broadly articulated. Yet, this is a great month, a great opportunity to spy the past, realizing that everyday can be a Mississippi River – an image that stirs our core energy and compels us to bring about our vision of who we want to be, perhaps 57-years from now. We all carry that energy, but like Langston we have to have the courage, the will to express it – even when things are dark and out of reach…

We all have those days, mornings when the sunrise seems more of a weapon of torture than a symbol of a new day, of new beginnings. When I get down, or when I’m lonely, when darkness calls for friendship, I find myself sitting on the front porch steps listening to Langston’s mama talk to him, encouraging him. Langston archived this image in one of his most famous poems. He wrote it for you:

“..Boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now — For I’se still.
goin, honey.
I’se still climbin’, And life for me.
ain’t been no crystal stair. “
(4)

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Notes:
1. Langston Hughes, 1920, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
2. Langston was of mixed race, picture Terrence Howard after three or four strong cups of coffee.
3. Official signing of the Emancipation Proclamation
4. Excerpt from, “Mother to Son”, from Hughes, Langston. “(James) Langston Hughes.” Gale Database Contemporary Authors (2003): Web. November 13, 2010
Photo: Langston Hughes, circa 1925,public domain

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT and the BROAD IMPEDIMENTS to CORRECTIONS

THE PENALTY OF DEATH

Modern forms of execution consist of firing squad, hanging, and the electric chair, with the most current method being lethal injections. Do we absolutely need such a punishment? In what ways is it needed? Before the questions are answered personally, let me explore some of the history of the utilization of the death penalty.
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2015-09-14_19.15.12
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THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA was the first state to utilize lethal injection, a procedure which began in 1977. Oklahoma is the same state set to tragically put to death Richard Glossip, this Wednesday (he was granted two-week stay 5-hrs before today’s execution: 9/16/15). Currently, the federal government – including 31 other states permits judges and juries to kill people, specifically, people convicted of murder (Ross, 2015).

Early American executions were routinely accomplished on lesser criminals: people such as robbers, or for rape convictions, and more aptly for treasonous acts. Though this is no longer done, except for treason, the manner in which industrialized societies have elected to killed people did not always appear as seemingly clean, quiet, and distant from the public as a lethal injection.

Background

The Romans publicly crucified criminals, most notably, Jesus of Nazareth. Before criminals were crucified – in ancient Rome, the condemned persons were sometimes given a drink mix of wine and myrrh – a mild narcotic concoction called galla. When condemned did not partake of anesthesia, as Jesus did not, the tortuous activities could be a most gruesome spectacle. Even crucifying ancient humans, occurring in the thousands, did not deter crime.

Crucifixion means a victim is nailed to two sections of crossed-wood beams. Nails seven-and-a-half-inches long, we’re used to hold a sagging body of a full grown adult. Once the person was nailed to the cross it was positioned upright, for all to see – including carrion eaters. Neither blood loss nor shock was the primary cause of death for those who were crucified; it was a helpless suffocation. The two rebels who were crucified next to Jesus, had their legs broken in order to expedite their deaths, so their feet could less be used to prop their damaged bodies up (Cawthorne, 2006).

The Romans also practiced beheading, but this was typically done to Roman citizens considered military deviants – and an honorable death, likely too quick for Roman tastes. The rare instances of Christians being beheaded publicly occurred at the behest of Emperor Caligula (ibid, 34).

While contemporary America does not engage in the type of spectacle as ancient Romans did, the implications of state-sanctioned death penalty now, reflect a spiteful and conflicted people.
2,000-years removed from Rome, philosophies have not really changed. Marked consternation and the power of everyday distractions among America’s voters deters coalition and activism. Until a sizable majority refuses to enforce this penalty, we, to some degree resemble ancient Rome, and our rationalizations of deterrence, punishment, and humiliation remain pitifully in place. These arguments are ineffective. Voters have all the power to act.

The death penalty is a remnant of sins against a God, remnant of a theocracy; thus, a peculiar ideal under an American system advocating and otherwise practicing separation of church and state. The death penalty – as used against treason – during times of war through early history held a rational argument for its temporary use. This is because the future of budding democracy – as in colonial America – sovereignty and existence hung in the balance. A single spy, or traitor could crumble the gains and sacrifices of millions. The death penalty, as used during the infancy of pre-industrial civilization had a practical and philosophical argument of a specific deterrence: true “national security” interest.

America

“… nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” -Amendment 8, U. S. Constitution.

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The men who ratified the United States Constitution through the late 18th-Century, after years of war, incorporated the heart of our civil liberties, a special section called the Bill of Rights – the first of the ten amendments in our Constitution. 200-years later, in Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as was then utilized in Furman’s case was unconstitutionally cruel and arbitrary – contravening the 8th amendment protections. America enjoyed four brief years’ freedom from state-sanctioned killing.

A few years after Furman, 1976, the court revisited the death penalty – again through the State of Georgia. The majority held that the “arbitrary and capricious” elements within the procedure used in Furman’s case, had been remedied, and once again, America began tragically murdering its citizens. Justices Brennan and Marshall, however, believed “capital punishment…inconsistent with contemporary values… ” (Smith, 2009).
This writer wants to believe that.
We are no longer a budding tract of colonies, teetering on extinction.

Moral Perspectives

“To understand criminal justice, it is necessary to understand crime. Most policymaking in criminal justice is based on criminological theory, whether the people making those policies know it or not. In fact, most of the failed policies (what doesn’t work) in criminal justice are due to misinterpretation, partial implementation, or ignorance of criminological theory. Much time and money could be saved if only policymakers had a thorough understanding of criminological theory” –T. O’Connor, in Crime Theories

One of the oft-touted rationalizations for use of the death penalty today, is retribution, which means, in short, that punishments for crime “…must match the gravity of the offense” (Barlow, 1996), and that criminals must be punished. The idea of An eye for an eye, life for a life, a poetic maxim, came down to us through religious ordinances from the Code of Hammurabi. Religious ideology still influences our politics despite rhetoric. In America, most assume we are not forced to believe this way, and in fact, have some sort of say so built-in to our representative form of government, to determine which punishments fit which crimes. Is this true? When has the death penalty (human life) been a relevant enough topic in your life that you interacted with your representatives about it? A majority, while strong in number, does not equate to being more correct than any minority view. And a silent majority is immorally incorrect.

Deterrence

Punishment must, as a utilitarian belief, serve to prevent the majority from suffering crime. In order for deterrence to be effective, so it goes, punishment must particularly be shameful enough, and in some way, debilitating – whether by restricting personal freedoms or through the application of unappealing economic sanctions in order for a malefactor learn her lesson. If we do not attempt to deter crime, we are in a sense accomplices after-the-fact, we are unjust. In a less dramatic fashion, we unapologetically acquiesce to the idea that we value nothing, outside of perhaps anarchy. We cannot let crime go unpunished. Yet, we can be totally and irreversibly smarter!

Punishment

Torture is illegal , deportation cannot be applied to natural-born citizens, suicide cannot be forced, nor can allegiance to a god or goddess be thrust upon us; however, citizens can yet be killed in some states – as a punishment.
In this writer’s naive opinion, it seems that the death penalty needs to be abolished. There is a tragic, though steady rate of murder that exists in society, and this cannot be remedied by further killing. The idea of deterrence is supposed to work as it does in firefighting, analogous to what is called a firebreak. A firebreak is a line that is burned at some safe distance between the firewall and path of destruction, so that there is nothing to burn or fuel the fire once it reaches this point. That is a figurative use of deterrence, which actually works. For prevention works best. The death penalty will never work. The death penalty has never worked. Social attention to others, and creating “firebreaks” will aid us just the same.

Rehabilitation

While seemingly cliché, contemporary punishment does not possess the aspect of reparation of the offenders as may be assumed. People who can get released, do so without skills and precious time out of the workforce.

Budgetary excuses aside, the persistent reliance on sensationalist broadcasting has provoked mass fear of a plague of violent crime – which has interestingly gone down across the past handful of decades. Unfortunately, as have rehabilitative efforts.
It’s drug offenders who create most of the “violent crime”, drug offenders have to protect territory, collect debt, fend off robbery, require countless conspiracies just to get to the point to sell, and are the most resistant to new behavior, primarily because money they make from drugs far exceeds any legitimate venture. Thus, how can one repair a value? So, recidivism is high…

• Corrections simply do not pay sufficiently to attract urban elite professionals to work – often in the middle of nowhere. This barrier is built in to the system.

• Local politics ensure that political reps are “hard on crime” such that a single 600+ bed facility can basically subsidize the local economy surrounding the prison. Why rehabilitate that?

• Additionally, programming cannot be implemented because staff-to-prisoner ratios prohibit it, and staff do not have the education for the most part. So, what’s left is an extremely bored criminal left to his own devices and, again in Oklahoma, there were 6-men recently killed across a 3-month span. Death should not be included in any sentences. Doing nothing for them shouldn’t be either.

• Rehabilitation cannot occur in corrections industries programs where prisoners work for pennies supposedly to develop skills for a workforce that largely doesn’t exist – America is a service economy. Additionally, the industries located at medium security facilities use prisoner labor from prisoners who have more than 20-years to complete on their sentences, which means any skills they develop will be useless at age of release and likely obselete. Punishment needs to include all these factors, when it does not have legitimate ends, prisons become arbitrary and capricious and cruel.

Conclusion

Crime is a failure as much as the death penalty is. We must try to first determine criminogenic needs of offenders, so as to cure the ailment(s), the suffering, addressing criminogenic needs during/before punishment. Most all murderers feel guilt from taking another person’s life. And sometimes one becomes a murderer by accident, where the heightened risk of death is imminent, but not obvious such as in a car crash while drunk, or in a felony murder, such as in a botched bank robbery or accident where the victim falls and breaks a neck. Sometimes punishment is, in fact necessary, but the emotion needs to be separated from its application.

The handling of murderers as deviant should not, in my opinion, be the immediate province of the judicial branch of government. The proper form in which murder (and sex crime) should be treated or handled should fall to the psychological or medico-psychiatric community, then judicial. Here again, we will never eradicate murder this way, or even deter murder, as murder is primarily spontaneous. Using this rationale; however, the idea is to study the perpetrators of the crime, repair problems, and allow treatment of the human to prevail, using results to assist countless others. After all, most murderous and all violent crimes (notwithstanding extremely rare serial-murderers/habitual sex-offenders) will never recidivate again – even without such treatment. And, yes, some may not be reached, but this we will know and we can prepare for long-term treatment. Housing mentally-ill with neuro-typical prisoners does create more negative issues and abuses. So this extreme minority cannot be stored in a prison (not simply because most $13-per hour corrections guards lack formal training in how to manage these individuals, but for safety of all stakeholders).

We must consider the idea that by killing citizens, we are throwing away our responsibility to them. In a way, we are trying to ignore the applications of our technological progresses. The M’Naughten Rule which states that an insane person is one that does not know right from wrong, acknowledges that we cannot kill certain individuals because they are incapable of responsible action. If genetic predisposition, is not factored for violence, then what remains are treatable social conditions. Philosopher Colin Wilson, stated that the complexities of civilization led man to develop the independent left brain so that criminality became possible…that violence is a reflection of social tension: “Anyone who has any dealing with criminals, any a policeman, lawyer, psychiatrist will verify that far from being happier than the rest of us, most of them seem to be plagued by a permanent dissatisfaction” (Wilson, 2005: 603).

• Science and research in the socio-medical fields and related social sciences should play a much more integral role in the spectrum of criminal justice, not just in law enforcement, nor in simply determining competence;

• The criminal justice system is in fact too large and cumbersome, organized in such a way as to stifle progressive activities in treatment; offenders should be incarcerated together based on similar offense type, not mixed together; this practice will aid programming needs and affect prisoner sub-cultures by diminishing criminal osmosis and prison politics; Staff within pristine can become specialized to coordinate their education/training to specific populations.

• Psychiatric patients of any kind should never become part of a general population mix. They cannot be held to typical standards. They are easily ignored by directional staff, and taken advantage of by certain opportunistic criminal elements. Yet this is practiced.

• Prosecutorial discretion (as regards plea bargaining) as opposed to sentencing guidelines is a systemic power barrier for egalitarian forms of punishment and access to treatment within reasonable time; Sentencing indeterminately, across the board would work best, placing release powers within institutional committees, those closest to offenders.

• Electing global-thinking officials is also problematic, as perceived peer/public scrutiny interferes with job stability and a career in politics; change will take decades in southern, conservative legislatures.

• The historical utilization of the death penalty is insufficient to perpetuate it; No good is accomplished for anyone in these situations.

• The private, for-profit corporations impede these ends of justice. They are an extremely large and sophisticated lobby. Prisoners are worth roughly $65-per day (far exceeds the cage value of any livestock). What’s $65 x 365? No farmer gets that for any animal.

• Secondary victims can also be asked to assist in playing a pivotal role in treatment. This participation helps the majority of victims, reconcile and adjust.
We should live by positive examples and not submit to the reciprocal killing of our citizens. Regressing toward the perpetrators actions is not the way to deter crime. If we continue to perpetuate the idea that emotional responses should precede a death, we are not at all providing moral foundations. And we condone murder by committing it as a society. We have to take an evolved approach, being more involved with our government, being involved with the criminal, even though she has committed one of the most heinous acts known to us.

The many questions that arise when debating the use of the death penalty will remain with us – and we must always debate themes of civilization, so as to progress considerate of technology or any newer and effective approaches. Relying upon a process that does not work is madness, and is akin to planning to ride a bicycle into space. As Americans we need to give up our bicycle and concentrate on constructing a more conscientious approach to punishment: value of all human life. We must understand that a person in our species who kills another is in need of some assistance, she is hurt, she is suffering, and she needs help. To deny interventions to people, our species, is tantamount to yelling to God that God is imperfect, which is ultimately false. If your ears are closed, read the following words: fix the real problems.

😦
References

Barlow, Hugh. Introduction to Criminology, 7th ed. Harper NYC. 1996.

Blacks Law Dictionary, 8th ed. M’Naughten Rule.Thompson. St. Paul. 2011.

Cawthorne, Nigel. Public Executions: Ancient Rome to the Present Day. Arcturus. London (2006).

Furman v. Georgia 408 U. S. 238 (1972).

O’Connor, T. (03/26/04). In Crime Theories, MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/111/111lect03.htm on January 9, 2006.

Ross, Phil. The US: Which States Still Practice Capital Punishment And What Methods They Use. IBTimes 1/15 /2015 http://www.ibtimes.com/death-penalty-us-which-states-still-practice-capital-punishment-what-methods-they-use-1785124

Smith, Christopher. Criminal Procedure. Wadsworth: CA (2006).

Wilson, Colin. A Criminal History of Mankind. Mercury Books. London: 2005.

United States Constitution, Amendment 8

Images:public domain customizations

ARTIST IN MOTION: Miss Native American (2013~14), Sarah Ortegon

Amber Lehman: Author

We took some time to find out what type of novelist writes about difficult social topics.

Amber Lehman, bookcover: Torn

Amber Lehman, bookcover: Torn

Amber Lehman has a great future trailblazing the territory of YA (young adult) social fiction writing about difficult subject matter. Here is our cultural conversation.

¤
RFX: Thanks for taking time for The RippleFX Foundation today. We’re glad that you’re our Culture Today interview this quarter.
You released a novel a few years back that still emanates such a profound theme: female sexuality. At about what age did you begin writing stories? And did you take classes or have inspirations that made you begin writing?

Amber: Thank you for having me. I guess as soon as I learned to write. My early attempts were mostly fantasy stories, and didn’t make much sense, but writing always interested me. I haven’t taken any particular classes, just inspired by my teen life and experiences that affected me deeply. TORN, without a doubt was sort of cathartic for me and writing about it helped me make sense of life. The world moves fast when your a teen.

RFX: So about TORN, Krista moves to a big city and is exposed to different things, and at a critical time of her development. Was the use of a female protagonist instinctive or was there an underlying message that only a female character could provide?

Amber: I knew that writing from a female perspective would allow me the most creative license, so I knew from the start about the female character. Even though Krista is the protagonist, she is hardly the most interesting character. She was merely the vehicle through which we learn about her friends and their struggles. There were certain things we could only learn through her eyes.

RFX: We read over 50 reviews about TORN, and talked with the LGBT community about it, and one thing is clear: TORN is fresh, even today. The psychosocial struggle of lesbians~not all struggle~is not discussed in Health Classes or safe~sex platforms in all schools, and it is a subject only touched on subtly in Intro~Level psych courses in college. Are Krista’s struggles and experiences typical of adolescent development?

Amber: I wouldn’t say Krista’s are what every teenage girl struggles with or that it’s typical of adolescent development. I’m sure her character is foreign to some. But, yes, there is a percentage of girls who question there attraction to girls or struggle with the idea. This is one demographic I hope finds solace in Krista’s experiences; and you are correct, these issues are rarely discussed in schools, where it is needed, as it is an issue that could lead to confusion; it’s not talked about at home too often either, but, you know, Krista never quite resolves her own relationship with Carrie. She is also attracted to boys, too, which makes her bisexual; while not recognized by her in TORN, it is important enough that her position will be revisited in later books.

RFX: Sequel’s? Nice. Tell us about how you develop your characters?

Amber: TORN was based on people I knew, it was simple as hearing their voices and everything grew from that standpoint, organically.

RFX: How about the difficulties of the first book? What was that like?

Amber: Everything was challenging, the scope was large, and the unrelated scenes demanded that I write them immediately, so the story had no flow
at first. I simply free~wrote as the voices in my head allowed. Later, it was like a puzzle putting it together, multiple revisions…it was exhausting. It was an all~consuming experience. Once I took it as far as I could, I found a trusted editor who trimmed down the book (removing six~hundred pages). There was a publisher that wanted the book if I would have trimmed the book one~hundred more pages and dropped a character. Ultimately, I decided complete control would allow me to provide the story I wanted to tell. But, yes, the entire process was tough.

(the remainder of this interview is archived for special considerations. For more on Amber, visit: http://closetcasepress.com).
Amber

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