I originally wrote a different essay for this week. Then another school shooting happened and I sat down to write this one instead. As is tradition in this country in the wake of a mass shooting, parents and community are grieving in Uvalde, TX while politicians in offices hundreds or thousands of miles away argue about why this happened and how to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future. Democrats want guns to be less accessible to the general public. Republicans want more "good guys with guns" to protect us from the "bad guys with guns." And they're both missing the point.
Even if we waved a magic wand and got rid of every gun in the US right now, we would still have millions of people who are suffering from any number of the dreadful side-effects of just existing in modern times in modern society. And the people who commit these acts are not just monsters we need "good guys" to shoot for us. They are not just criminals who would wreak havoc and terror under any set of circumstances. They are people. People who came from somewhere and probably tried to function in our society, but were radicalized or couldn't cope.
The fact that mass-shootings exist says more about our society than just how many guns we have. People don't need guns to commit unspeakable horror – we've been torturing and killing each other very creatively since the beginning of time. As a society, we kill more people from neglect and indifference than any other single cause of death. Industrial processes make workers sick and poison communities, people with treatable illness die because they can't afford medication, people who live on the street can't get a job without a stable address.
So gun-control is not a ceiling, it’s a floor. We went for all of lockdown without a school shooting while kids weren't in school. Now everyone is back in class and there have been 27 school shootings just this year. The political posturing is the same as it always is and it seems like everyone is resigned to the inevitability of nothing actually changing. And I am unsurprised by any of it. Disheartened and dismayed, even disgusted by some of the rhetoric, but definitely not surprised.
I was surprised to discover this week that something else a little closer to home also hasn't changed. Just before Covid, I left a non-profit board position in a state of overwhelming disappointment. The organization had an unfortunate habit of using up volunteers, and I had finally become one of them. It's not totally uncommon for non-profits to have more work to do than there are people to do it, but some organizations manage it better than others.
I began my board service by doing some heavy-lifting to solve a major internal problem that had been looming over the organization for some time. I set up new systems and trained new people and got the ship pointed in a positive direction. It was work well-done. And it was effortful and exhausting. But giving back to my community, especially in such a lasting way, was also rewarding. So I carried on.
I turned my attention toward helping the organization grow its membership (which would grow it's pocketbook as well as it's pool of potential volunteers). With Board direction, I crafted a campaign, made signs, managed other volunteers to write fliers and design artful membership memorabilia. But when I brought it all back to the Board, they suddenly changed their collective mind and didn't want to do it anymore. And just like that, my efforts and the efforts of all the other volunteers were shunted to the side.
I was outraged. Not because my ideas weren't adopted or because my project didn't come to fruition, but because of the utter lack or recognition for all the community effort that had just been wasted. I invested my time and my social capital to make things happen. Other community volunteers had invested their time and effort and in some cases their professional skills. Announcements had been made on social media and the community was anticipating the upcoming drive. In the space of one board meeting, it all went down the drain. Without a single word to the volunteers or the community about why.
That is not the way an organization should treat volunteers they want to come back. I was quite vocal about my displeasure at how that whole thing was handled. Just as vocal as I was about the mishandling of another significant situation within the community. A major unpleasant incident occurred and the board had to address it. We made a plan and followed the first half of it. But when it came time to follow up, the Board actively decided to drop that ball.
Several months after the vote to not do what we said we would do, it came back to bit us in the ass. Just as I had predicted when objecting several months prior to the original ball-dropping. So the Board had to deal with the resurgence of the original issue, this time from a place of shaky credibility. How could the Board enforce consequences outlined in a plan we, ourselves, hadn't followed? That was the final straw for me. So I quit. And I told the whole board exactly why I was leaving, plainly and directly to all of their faces.
Then covid hit and all community events stopped until very recently. This week I attended a wonderful workshop put on for leaders from various branches of that same community, and it reminded me why I left that board. It's been a couple years (and a pandemic) since I resigned from that position, so I thought I was over my righteous indignation. But sitting in that workshop, listening to comments from some of my former fellow Board members, I realized nothing has changed about the way that organization conducts itself.
So, nope. Not over it. Definitely still mad.
And what I am most incensed by is the same propensity toward missing of the point. The community is currently on the precipice of making a change that will have a significant and positive impact for a lot of community members who are generally marginalized by greater society. Some community members don't want change because they like it the way it is. I understand that desire. But they are asking for things to stay the way they are without acknowledging the status quo is hurting other people.
So where do we go from here? What will bring us into a future that includes everyone instead of just the people who are already always included? The short answer is: doing something different. Figuring out exactly what to do instead will be a lot easier to accomplish if the people currently feeling most resistant to change will please take a deep, calming breath and listen to those of us who are asking you to look at why what we have now is so problematic.
Then maybe those folks who haven’t had to feel the effects of societal slight can begin to recognize their experience is not the experience of all their fellow community members. And since we all love and care about our community, maybe they'll stop getting in the way of change and start trying to enable their same positive experience for everyone else too.
Information and Inspiration
The future is unfixed. But only mostly. It's is a culmination of our past and is shaped by the confluence of ongoing circumstance. Even though we can’t look directly into the future in the same way we look into our past, we can still see at least some of our future pretty clearly. That's because we actively create our future little bit by little bit through every action we take (or don’t take) in each present moment. And I think that’s pretty amazing.
Even though it's incredible, it isn't new news. Humans have been harnessing this power in countless ways forever. We seed and cultivate forests, we build retirement investment portfolios, we attending college and earn degrees. It's as native a human behavior as breathing. Unfortunately, here are a whole lot of ways many folks don’t apply this same logic where we could. Eating healthfully for our physical, mental, and emotional longevity, taking care of the environment so our children have a planet to inherit, wearing masks in a pandemic. Just to name a few examples.
It seems like it comes down to the marketing, although the marketing is also often conflicting. Some long-term planning choices are encouraged (like retiring with a nest egg), while other choices that seem counter to that goal (like the glamorous life of a big-spender) are also displayed with sparkles and stardust. And still other things don’t fit as cleanly into the way we live our modern lives (like eating food made out of food instead of processed junk made out of sugar and filler), so they get marketed as fringe.
Marketing is a deliberate exercise. Humans use the power of imagery and persuasion to further a particular goal. Boosting sales, growing contributions to charitable causes, voting for or against a particular candidate or ballot measure. Many of the people and organizations employing the extreme effectiveness of marketing are people currently in power who want to remain in power. In our current economic system, it's pretty cush at the top and pretty harsh at the bottom, so it's no mystery why the inhabitants of the upper echelons would want to stay there.
Even more insidious is when the powerful and resourced use that persuasive mechanism to distract the masses with a complicated daily existence so we can’t find the time or energy to build a more solid future for ourselves and those around us. Or, more infuriatingly, so we don’t have time to keep track of all the groundwork some folks are laying in the background to consolidate power. Like filling the many layers of the court system with insane judges who will overturn half a century of progress on rights for marginalized people.
I’m trying in my personal sphere of influence to work on anti-oppression in all its forms. The past couple years I have been concentrating on anti-racism efforts especially. But it’s really hard to devote time and energy to fighting that necessary fight when every time I turn around my own future safety is at stake because I was born with a uterus. I guess it’s good that working for equity in one area bleeds out into more equity elsewhere, but right about now it’s hard to see the fruits of all that labor so easily dismantled by assholes.
When the Supreme Court decision leaked, I was floored. Intellectually I know this current court was hand-picked for exactly this reason by humans who think people like me are inherently less valuable (and actually not even really people, just someone's personal property). But it still hurt to see it happen right before my eyes.
I can see the future fallout of this court decision in my own life and in the lives of other people I care about. Remember after George Floyd was murdered how we all learned those same oppressors would eventually come for you if you didn't stand up for other marginalized people? Well, here they are. Some people in this country don't think black people are human beings, and some people in this country don't think uterus-having people are human beings either.
Which is why I want to build a better world. I can see the potential future available to all of us if we can only manage to make it happen. I'm tired of having to fight the effects of oppression when we could be building things instead. It's like seeing the lush green valley through the mouth of the tunnel that keeps caving in because people who can't see a brighter future for everyone set off dynamite charges to keep things the way they are now. So we're stuck here, digging out from the rubble again and again.
Which begs the question: where is the secret fifty-year plan to combat oppression? And the answer is a very disappointing: there isn't one. Just like there isn't a secret plan to stack the courts with pro-environmental judges. Just like there isn't a secret plan to feed and house and educate everyone in the country. Why are most of the politicians across the aisle from the hardcore oppressors always one step behind them? Because our current system benefits the wealthy and the elite, no matter their political affiliation, and our legislators are mostly wealthy, elite people.
Look at what you are doing every day. Follow the thread of each of your choices and each of your actions into the future where they will manifest. What do you see there? Is it a future you want to inhabit? Is it a future that includes other people you don't know or care about? It should. Because none of us exist in a vacuum. All our lives are interrelated. And short of a disaster that wipes out most of the planet's population, it's going to continue to be the case. So why not leverage that inter-connectedness and use our incredible futurevisioning ability to build a better world? We can do it little by little, step by step, until we arrive.
Information and Inspiration
According to Nand Mulchandani, the incoming CIA Chief Technology Officer, “Technology is eating the world.” I'm not so sure I agree, but I think I understand his point. There is plenty of technology in the world, and it does seem to be filling every nook and cranny of our modern existence. And there is, of course, a notable amount of human suffering facilitated or exacerbated by various forms of technology. But I don’t think it's the technology chewing up the world as we know it. I think it’s us (like it always is).
In some instances we’re using technology to stand-in for our humanity. Outsourcing important and challenging human decisions to tech built from our bias in an attempt to avoid that very same bias. In other cases we’re using technology to chip away at the foundations of our own humanity. Filling our feeds with unattainable lifestyles and body shapes. Reducing our interactions with people we don't already know to just a few judgmental sentences in a comment feed.
In the most extreme iterations, we use technology designed to bring us together to drive us farther apart. We construct our understanding of the world around us from collections of out-of-context soundbites curated by the snake-oil sellers of our time. Politicians promise a future that doesn't suck without explaining none of us will be able to afford it. Influencers prey on our human desire for belonging to peddle unfounded fears, swelling the ranks of hate groups. And we buy-in to all of it. Because the technology and the techniques were designed to work.
It's not the technology's fault. It didn't design itself to take advantage of us for things that make us human. It's the fault of the creators. It's the fault of the funders. It's the fault of regulators for not stepping in to mitigate. And it's all of our fault for creating a society in which this way of using technology results in such substantial rewards. If we had a different social, political, and economic structure, we might have a different relationship with technology.
As it stands now, people in positions of power or authority seem content to blame the tech itself for the problems we continue to cause ourselves. It's much easier than actually addressing the roots of our collective self-induced suffering. If it's something external like technology, then we can avoid introspection. If it's how we are humaning then it will take personal work to solve, and that is generally a challenging and uncomfortable process.
A similar avoidance of internal reflection by authority plays-out over the five season story arc of a serialized novel called Bookburners. It takes place in modern times where a rag-tag team of folks from different backgrounds work for a secret division of the Vatican, managing magical outbursts around the world. They fight evil demons, save people from terrible fates, and gradually come to terms with the fact that more magic is seeping into the world than it used to.
The intensely conservative leadership of the Societas Librorum Occultorum thinks magic is eating the world. Their reaction is to lock it away, and destroy any part that can't be contained. One of the central questions explored through the series is whether magic should be controlled and contained (which may not actually be possible), or whether the people trying to keep the world safe from the harmful effects of magic should instead embrace the rising tide and learn how to work with and harness its awesome power.
In the story, we learn the existence of magic isn't the problem by itself. It's application is what determines whether it is benign or problematic. It all comes down to whether the being using it is harming or helping the world around them. Just like technology in the real world. Technology's existence is not a problem. How we use it is what makes it a problem or a solution (or a really cool toy).
The tide is rising. Just like the magic in Bookburners, more and more technology is seeping into our everyday lives. I don’t see that ebbing any time soon. And I’m not sure it needs to. Technology is an amazing and powerful tool and it can do a lot of good in the world. People Fixing the World is an entire podcast devoted to stories of people using technology and ingenuity to make the world better. If we are thoughtful and willing to self-examine, I think we can harness the awesome power of our magical technology and use it for good instead of evil.
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.