On the eve of Thanksgiving, colonialism is top of my mind. I look forward to harvest and feast season because it is the one time of year I will make a meal that takes days to put together. I don’t have time during regular life to cook foods that require so much time and attention. But once a year I can spend a week cooking because it is the nationally sanctioned time to do it. Even though I enjoy the food and friends, I can't ignore the atrocious meaning behind this particular excuse to gather.
For the last many years, food and getting to eat it with people I love are not all I want out of my November national holiday. I also want to erode the erasure of indigenous existence. I want to chip away at the plaster white folks put up over the atrocities the American government and American people perpetrated on those nations who lived here before the colonies.
It is well known that Europeans showed up to America, killed and tortured a lot of native folks, took over and got rich. It's less widely known that they have been covering it up ever since. Not just covering up the original genocide(s), but covering up the very existence of native folks. Back through our National history, and right up to the present day. To a lot of Americans, folks from native tribes live among us like ghosts, half forgotten and nearly silenced. A product of a former era. Old legend.
The perpetuation of that silencing is the most disturbing to me. And how it has been orchestrated is nightmare inducing. One of the most insidious methods our government employed to stamp out indigenous culture was to "save" the natives from it. As has happened in many places, the white conquerors of America forced their civilizing influence onto the otherwise untamed (and therefore suffering) original inhabitants, separating children from parents and banning cultural expression.
One reason ordinary white folks haven't objects much is because of their steadfast belief in the benevolent and infallible Savior. The myth of the one white savior is problematic for many reasons. Unfortunately, it is also everywhere, from religious texts to sci-fi. In the new Dune movie, for example, the savior is born into the imperial colonizing class with some secret connection to the conquered (and more worldly-connected-so-therefore-wise) people. I assume he will eventually lead those less fortunate souls to salvation from the very oppressors he hails from. We'll see when Part 2 comes out.
Regardless, the myth of the one savior is bullshit on its face, no matter who the one savior is or where they come from. Take the Fifth Element, where the ultimate savior was an other worldly femm with cool hair and a weird outfit. She appears once every 5,000 years when evil makes its regular attempt to conquer the solar system so she can thwart it. Meanwhile, humans are terrible to each other and create a world that’s almost unlivable. When she catches up on the human history she most recently slept through, she doesn’t want to bother saving us anymore. “What’s the use of protecting life when you see what you do with it?” she asks.
Fair point, Supreme Being. Fair point.
Fortunately for the humans, love conquers all and we are ultimately saved. Dumbledore would be so proud. But what cannot be overlooked is this uncomfortable truth: one being who will overcome humankind’s downfall is merely an excuse for the rest of us not to do anything in the meantime. Sure, maybe scripture or legend tells us how to prepare for the arrival of The One, but why are we waiting to be saved at all?
Possibly because that’s what the powerful want: they want us to believe we can’t achieve liberation without a savior. It certainly works out better for the status quo if most folks believe they are helpless to overcome the way things are. Then the majority of folks will patiently make do as best we can until the savior arrives, while misery, scarcity, and inequity permeate the world around us.
Unlike the movies, there’s no one coming. No one coming to stop the climate from collapsing. No one coming to dismantle racism or take down the patriarchy. No one coming to kill the masters and set us all free. No one coming to show us how to feed and house and heal each other. We have to figure it out for ourselves.
The ghastly result of the Rittenhouse trial earlier this week is a perfect example. That human killed two other people and faces no legal consequences. He will have to live with the fact that he killed two people for the rest of his life, but I doubt that is much comfort to the families and communities of his victims. He’s also probably surrounded by enough people who will pat him on the back and affirm his deplorable, fear-based actions that he might delude himself into getting over the acute negative psychological effects reasonably quickly.
The reason Kyle Rittenhouse got to go home is because at the moment he shot those two people, he felt threatened. He felt like his life was in danger when he acted. Of course his life was in danger. HE STARTED A GUN FIGHT. Someone would have to be majorly checked-out of reality not to feel like their life was in danger amidst a gun fight. But let’s take a step back and acknowledge who is responsible for his deep and presumably genuine feelings of existential unease.
It was him.
Kyle Rittenhouse felt threatened because he created a threatening situation. It infuriates me that the legal system is not structured in a way to acknowledge this fact. It fills me to the brim with ire, but it doesn’t actually surprise me. Much of our social and societal systems are set up to separate certain people from having to take responsibility for their own emotional state.
People who are white and male-presenting have the privilege of generally being farthest from the consequences of their emotional state. So, rather than Kyle Rittenhouse having to face the fact that he got himself in over his head and then caused the death of two people with his foolishness, he will probably go on to live a relatively normal, unencumbered life. He may even live a blessed life due to his 15 minutes of fame. I hope some day he feels the full weight of his actions. And I hope it destroys him, just like he destroyed the lives of at least two people last summer.
Everything I believed about the Justice system has turned out to be a lie. Just like everything I learned as a child about Thanksgiving was a lie. And everything I’ve learned since I started looking has just made these lies more shameful. Both are full of examples where someone in a position of power causes harm to someone with less power, and when there’s blow-back it’s not the original aggressor’s fault… somehow it’s the reacting and oppressed party’s fault.
And I see that still today. In the most recent Portland City Council meeting, many people testified that they feel unsafe because of graffiti and shops with smashed windows. They want more cops so they can feel safe. They want to buy the illusion of safety the police department is selling. They don’t want to examine what kind(s) of danger they are actually in and craft solutions to those specific threat. They want a savior in a uniform.
When it comes down to it, that also isn't going to work. The cops are not coming. And as Tracy Chapman told us, even when they do show up, it’s too late to stop a crime. Police don't make the city safer. Cops can't save us. We have to be our own savior. Each one of us. We have to save ourselves from the deep seeded narratives that disconnect us from each other. And then we have to reach out and save each other. That's the only way to get saved.
Information and Inspiration
When I was in my early 20’s, I wanted to quit smoking. Like many smokers with an idea to quit, I first tried quitting cold Turkey. No preparation, no planning, I just decided to stop all of a sudden. And as it is for many other smokers with an idea to quit, it didn’t work. It lasted a couple hours or a couple days, and then I was back to smoking the same amount I had been smoking before. For it to finally stick, I had to quit gradually, methodically. I needed a plan.
I started by identifying all the events and activities I labeled as the right time to smoke. These included such notable daily activities as: after a meal, while waiting for a bus, to break from work, when someone else was smoking, getting in a car, getting out of a car, leaving a store, meeting a friend, and drinking coffee. The list went on. So I nixxed those from my routine one by one over several months.
Once I had given up all the times I smoked just for the ritual of it, I was down to about 3 a day. Those were the cigarettes I smoked purely for the addiction, so if I could ween myself off those final few I could kick the habit for good. Each morning I put 3 cigarettes into the pack I took with me out of the house. A couple weeks later I put only two in the pack. A few weeks after that it was only one.
The final cigarette took the longest to let go. I usually smoked it before work, and at the time it felt a little like armor. I was working telephone customer service at the IRS under a manager that was sometimes great and sometimes the opposite (depending on unknown forces that changed without warning). It was a stressful time. But after one long weekend, I woke up Tuesday morning to get ready for work and realized I had forgotten to smoke the entire weekend. “I guess I’m done” I said, and that was that.
Quitting cold-Turkey didn’t work for me, but it does work for some people. More importantly, I had the option to quit gradually because I had time. My life was not in imminent danger from the effects of smoking, cigarettes were still available for purchase at a price I could afford, and my social circle did not ostracize people for either smoking or not smoking. Whether it took me a week, a month, or two years, as long as I stopped smoking entirely, my health would fully recover before my body began breaking down due to age.
The same is not true for climate change. The incremental measures countries have agreed to do not seem like enough to actually solve the problem or prevent certain doom. To me it seems like more of the same strategy that has not yet worked: making big promises at conventions and then going home to give industries who got rich (and continue getting richer) from harming the environment many years, and even decades, to adapt and come up with more sustainable ways to exploit the earth and its inhabitants.
The problem isn't that we haven't promised big enough promises. The problem is that we haven't delivered big enough solutions. Maybe instead of a gradual and measured approach, we need something just as drastic as the issue we're attempting to solve. Maybe we need to take action commensurate with the urgency of the environmental issue at hand. Maybe we need to make using any fossil fuel illegal. Like right now, today. Quit cold Turkey.
It would be insane. But we would figure it out. Just like we figured out how to adapt to Covid lockdown when that was imposed all of a sudden with little warning and nearly no time to prepare. Because that is what humans are best at: adapting to circumstance. Granted, many people suffered during and because of Covid lockdown when we implemented it thoughtlessly. But we’re already doing regular society poorly right now. Millions of people suffer every day because our societal systems and structures were not designed to actually take care of people. Maybe a full stop to fossil fuels would be the un-ignorable crisis government needs to actually try and things.
We have given private industry plenty of time to innovate and adapt their practices. Some have: I now get soap and cleaning product refills from a company that arrive in compostable packaging. I broke a spray bottle nozzle and they sent me a new one in exchange for me returning the broken one so they could recycle it responsibly. Our laundry detergent comes in sheets from another company that uses no plastics, perfumes, or dyes. It also shows up in compostable packaging and creates no waste.
Other companies, however, have squandered their decades of figure-it-out time. Take the entire oil/gas industry. Apparently at least ExxonMobil knew what they were doing to the planet in 1981. As I sat listening to those industry leader's recent testimony to Congress, I was infuriated. I heard them say with a straight face that we need petroleum power products because it’s going to take time to convert to other renewable sources of power...
And why haven’t we built that infrastructure yet? Why weren’t we building that infrastructure since day 2 of knowing what the industry knew in 1981 and the scientific community apparently knew in the 1968? Because the companies who control the resources and the wealth (which controls political power in this country) haven’t needed to.
So, good for Greta Thunberg. Call those assholes out. They talk a good talk at the climate conference, but they are also the ones who have been in power the last 30 years when we could and should have been doing something. They are also the ones who won’t let go of their power now, so no one else can step in and sort things out.
For changes as sweeping as we desperately need, it seems like The Public won’t get our collective act together to throw all our effort and creative juices into a solution until there are no other options. So maybe it's time to take away all those other options and make what we need to do the only choice. We just need to also plan to feed and house and educate and heal everyone in the meantime while they learn a new skill, develop a new trade, start a new company, or spend their time making art and going to therapy.
I have recently hit some kind of wall, or crossed some kind of threshold, where I no longer care what people do with their time if offered financial freedom; I just want everyone to have it. There is so much trauma in the world, historical, generational, and on-going. Absolutely everyone has something that needs processing and healing. If this current generation does nothing but heal and create a stable base for the folks that follow us into in the future, that will be an epic success for humanity.
Information and Inspiration
That’s where I was last week. I caught the first cold I’ve had since before Covid lockdown. It was a strange and initially disconcerting experience. One moment I was totally fine, feeling normal, folding laundry. The next moment I was struck by a great wave of snot. And it pretty much went downhill from there. Body aches, massive headache, exhaustion, sore throat. All plans cancelled in favor of sleep and not infecting others. The only good thing was it wasn't Covid.
After the rapid test confirmed I did not have Covid, my next thought was “but, how?!” With all the masking and hand-washing and staying away from people, how on earth did I catch a cold? My partner and I sleuthed it out through discussion and determined I must have picked it up at a Halloween party we attended. I wore a mask the whole time, lifting it only for the moments when I shoved food or drink in my mouth before lowering it again for the chewing and swallowing. So I must have touched something.
This particular event was a delightful murder mystery party, with clues hidden in and around many objects. Objects that absolutely everyone touched as we worked together to solve riddles, piece together the story, and find the solution. Objects which I touched right before putting food in my face. I washed my hands several times throughout the party, but not absolutely every time I touched something someone else touched. I have become so obsessed over the last couple years with not breathing other people's air, I quite forgot about surface-spreading ailments.
So I spent a week feeling crappy and accomplished little more than napping and Netflix. I was out sick. From work and from life. And between all the nose-blowing, neti-potting, and tea drinking, it dawned on me that a lot of people have been “out sick” for much of the pandemic. Even though we haven't been taking sick days or calling out of work. My week of malaise induced uselessness felt eerily familiar. I couldn't focus, I was cranky and fussy, and I was constantly tired no matter how much I slept.
Just like several points during this pandemic.
So I drank tea, ate soup, downed vitamins, took naps, and blew my nose frequently. I was extra nice to my body while I waited out the symptoms. Put my life and work on hold until I returned to feeling energetic and normal again. Once the fog of sickness cleared from my mind, I realized I’ve been similarly waiting for the end of Covid. Waiting for the time when we had a handle on the thing and could declare victory over the virus.
But we’re not actually trying to end the virus anymore.
I realized just this week that at some point we switched to another course. And it must have happened while I wasn't paying attention because I didn't get the memo until just now. Apparently we’re now resigned to living with Covid forever. Something I certainly did not sign up for. But I guess I also didn’t sign up for global climate collapse or the continuation of white supremacy, yet here we are.
The strange thing about this realization is I’m not quite sure what to do with it. I’ve been reserving myself, hiding away from a lot of things I really love, banking on the promise of a future that doesn’t include Covid. Putting things off and waiting to plan for a more certain time. But there is no guarantee of any such thing. And now it looks like it will never come. Unlike my cold, which resolved itself in 7 or 8 days, there's no foreseeable end to Covid. It's here to stay. And I don't like it.
I can't be out sick from the rest of my life, so I guess I've got to figure out how to be in this new Covid covered world. And I'm not excited about it. Much like living under the inescapable clouds of capitalism and the patriarchy, it's a major drag to live in a world where Covid is so prevalent. And I resent that the same people who refuse to get on-board with policies promoting greater equity in this country are also the same people who refused to get on-board with masking and lockdowns.
I also resent the health officials who worried in the beginning of the pandemic that if they told everyone to wear masks we would take that as license to don a mask and behave recklessly. Risk compensation, like many other false narratives upon which major societal systems are built, is one reason we couldn't control covid. Exacerbated by the politicization of masks, distancing, and other covid-prevention protocols. Maybe Covid would have become endemic anyway, but maybe not. And now we'll never know. So I mourn the loss of that possibility.
I like to bring each week's essay to close on a hopeful note. To offer a reminder that all is not yet lost, humans are amazing, and we can achieve anything as long as we can imagine it. This week I'm struggling to get to a hopeful place because I'm also feeling resentful toward all the older folks who are still in-charge right now and who will not have to live-out the consequences of their inaction on the pressing issues of our time. How can they keep leaving us in this mess? Surely if we can shift time an hour, we can do just about anything.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.