Monthly Archives: November 2015

Our Modern State of Nature

 

What do we think of as the state of nature? Have you ever heard of it? Maybe it’s as primal as animals hunting for survival. Maybe it’s the drive to steal or murder. Or maybe when you call 911 and nothing happens.

Thomas Hobbes describes it as so, “the ‘natural condition of mankind’ is what would exist if there were no government, no civilization, no laws, and no common power to restrain human nature. The state of nature is a ‘war of all against all,’ in which human beings constantly seek to destroy each other in an incessant pursuit for power. Life in the state of nature is ‘nasty, brutish and short.'”

This is the basis for Hobbes’ Leviathan. In essence, an authoritarian regime that keeps human nature at bay to create a social contract for the betterment of mankind. I align myself to this view. I’m a Hobbesian at heart, but also a cautious optimist. I believe in the best of people, but prepare for the worst. I usually see that bad behavior as a reaction for self preservation or blow-back from personal suffering. That’s what I see in the world today. I see so much conflict and pain while also seeing a struggle for happiness.

The state of nature is always just at the cusp of our every day lives. In the last year or so I’ve been thinking of this topic almost daily. I think a lot of it has to do with the place I’m at in life coming out of college, entering the real world, etc. It’s been so frustrating to enter a place like Mason with so much understanding, communication, and acceptance and then immediately leave to a maelstrom of hard experiences.

When I came to Virginia I was in the midst of it already. I had a rough time in Oklahoma in just about every area of my life; academically, romantically, family-wise, financially, and politically. I worked hard and was dedicated to success in life. I was used to hardship. That’s all I knew. Community college was no different in that there was no real community. It only involved going to class and homework. But then Mason happened. I found my passion in conflict resolution and a community that was understanding and driven. It was probably the best experience of my life so far and has helped me grow in so many ways. There was a problem though; it wasn’t sustainable. It was a bubble.

No one lies to you that college isn’t the real world. They tell you all the time that you should take advantage of it while it lasts. But you don’t really understand. How could you? You are surrounded by thousands of people who think and act the same way. It IS real. But there’s a price tag each semester called tuition. That’s where it breaks down. You are literally paying for this experience, most of the time in loans for a date down the road. That’s where the difference between college and the real world lies. In college you can make mistakes and think whatever you’d like no matter how ludicrous it is. But outside of college everything has a price, even if it’s not in money. It’s competitive; there are a lot of people. It’s nasty, brutish, and sometimes short.

Herein lies our state of nature. Every day is a struggle for survival. Our whole society is built on the premise that it creates a better chance for our survival. That’s the premise of the Leviathan and the first natural law: self-preservation.

I think that’s where we get lost in it; how to go about self-preservation. Our knowledge has moved beyond massing resources for yourself or the mindset of “what is bad for you is good for me.” It turns out that what is good for you is also good for me. That cooperation and communication creates strength, progress, and productivity. All of those experiences in college weren’t worthless or unnecessary. They are the most valuable thing you have. They show what the world can be. That’s a fight for another day though, knowledge doesn’t change human nature.

My point is that our society is drenched in conflict. Whether it is the Paris attacks or structural violence. If a mother of four gets evicted from her apartment. If a kid has to sling drugs on a corner to eat. When someone gets shot because they had a nice house. When someone gets killed because they didn’t pay a debt. Or look at it even bigger–when a whole group of people are killed because another group thinks they were hurting their chances of survival. You can’t run away from it because it is people who cause it. But that doesn’t mean people are all bad, they do it because they want a decent life with some dignity. There are only so many resources and so many dangers. There’s no one to really blame in this situation.

Again, this isn’t always a bad thing. As you learn in S-CAR, conflict can be a force for good. It causes change, learning, and understanding. The key part is to transform a conflict from a violent, destructive one to something that creates a more positive and flourishing society. It’s a hard job but knowledge gets you there.

The modern state of nature uses our society. It’s a society that can institutionalize repression and discrimination. It’s a society that is made by people and represents the nature of people, both good and bad. The modern state of nature does not just break away to the root of ourselves in violence and pure animal instincts but uses societal tools and technologies for a new type of violence. You will be born in to this world assigned a value and a country. You will have obligations and contracts thrust upon you. All land and resources are owned and leased. Human nature thrives to fulfill its self interest to varying degrees.

This is what I believe. It’s how I feel. It’s how I think. It’s the result of what I see and what I’ve learned. It’s not a fairy tale story or Mad Max. It’s just what it is. There is the good and the bad. It’s a race for survival and happiness. To make purpose out of the time we have on this earth. In my mind we should carve out a space to do what makes us happy while creating a better place for others.

By peace we mean the capacity to transform conflicts with empathy, without violence, and creatively- a never-ending process.” – Johan Galtung

 

The World Was Always at War: From Beirut to Paris

The Paris attacks happened three days ago. In the span of that time the world was shocked, grieving, and now angry. Very angry.

The world is uniting once more under the banner “never forget.” Bombs are being dropped, intelligence is being gathered, and troops are being massed. All with the raging scream, “we will not forget.”

I’ll admit, I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I see the news and feel the pain. But I’ve been angry long before the Paris attacks. I was angry when a white boy prayed with a black church and murdered nine people. I was angry when I heard the stories of Garissa University and the gunmen who lined students up only to shoot them in the head. I was even angry back when the Islamic State was called the Islamic State of Iraq and knew friends who were shot in the streets.

I’ve been angry and frustrated for a long time.

The Paris attacks, as well as the Beirut bombings are a terrible tragedy. Innocent lives were brutally ended. I understand those who call for revenge and for the obliteration of those who caused this. I want to see every person who has committed atrocities tried for their crimes. But to only send bombs and troops to a place that is already destroyed by conflict and intervention is not only naive, it’s a disaster. That makes it seem like this is an anomaly committed by psychopaths for no reason other than it serves their global jihad. It’s just not the truth. It wasn’t an anomaly, it was inevitable.

The storm around Daesh has been raging for several years. It stems from colonial powers and grew during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There’s a lot to this story and background but I don’t feel like writing about it right now. Let me know if you’d like to talk about it, I enjoy a good conversation. Essentially they are a product of their environment and grew through popular support and a vacuum of a failed state. Its ideology is based in security through extremism.

It’s no particularly unique story though. Each generation has had a conflict with similar roots. Some countries strong arm other countries. Some try to dominate them. It’s how states operate. This leads to repression in one way or another. The people in those countries don’t like it. They rebel. It goes back to the very beginning when one group of people tried to take resources from another group.

I think that’s what scares people the most. There is so much conflict and pain in the world that they want to be removed from it. Especially in the western world we want to believe this kind of violence doesn’t happen. Except it does happen, both domestic and foreign. There are mass shootings everyday and structural violence is just an everyday thing. We have built whole societies into fortresses from the rest of the world. We have had a huge part in creating the rest of the world. The western world has molded much the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and some of Asia. But it’s not possible to create barriers from the rest of the world while simultaneously using it. We are all connected in this world. Violence is a byproduct of how our societies are functioning. You can’t have the shining city upon a hill without keeping the floodgates at bay. We reap what we sow. We are linked to our actions.

I’m not saying this is a world engulfed in chaos and destruction. I’m also not saying that France deserved to have over 120 innocent people murdered or that the Beirut bombings are just the price of society.

What I am saying is that we should not be surprised that they happened. The world was always at war. France, the US, and the rest of the coalition have been on daily bombing campaigns. Whole armies are fighting in places from Yemen to Rwanda. There is racism and prejudice that kills scores every day. Poverty overthrows states. There is oppression in all corners of the world. Remember, two of the attackers were French.

My message is that violence does not cure violence. Extremism does not cure extremism. It creates it. It perpetuates it. If you want to stop another mass shooting you don’t call for extermination. You look at why it happened. You look at what drove someone to kill another human being in cold blood. No one comes out of the womb intent to end someone else’s life. To hold a pistol to their forehead and pull the trigger. They want exactly what you want; basic human dignity and a decent livelihood. That’s something not many people have anymore. If you want to stop Daesh stop their support. Improve their society.

That’s why I’m angry and frustrated.

“If you believe that the killing of innocent people is right, then you are not part of my future.” – King Abdullah II

-Dylan

White Privilege

If you are white you’ve got privilege. It’s just that simple. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s to it. But that doesn’t mean you’re a racist or that you’re dressed in a white hood carrying a flaming torch screaming for the rebirth of the Third Reich. It’s how you keep yourself aware of that privilege that is critical.

I’m a white male and I’ve got a lot of privilege. I’ve got certain systemic and cultural advantages over others. When I turn in job applications I get higher stats of success. When I’m walking down the street I’m less likely to get stopped by a police officer. When I go in to a restaurant the staff will automatically address me as the head of the group. I can get a cab every time. My small loan application will have a higher chance for approval.

These are just a few of the micro-aggression’s that others face.

It’s taken me a few years to understand how the world works like this. I couldn’t see or feel it. The gender or color of my skin doesn’t make me any more special than anyone else. Since I knew this I felt this was what was most critical. If I wasn’t acting racist, if I wasn’t putting others down, then racism doesn’t exist. 

Wrong.

The true racists of the world aren’t doing the most damage for equality and privilege, it’s the average person who doesn’t realize they’re perpetuating a system. It’s a system that follows the examples I put up above. It’s when someone gets stopped for stealing for no reason other than being black.

My wake up call came when I moved to Washington, DC. When I realized just how white washed things were where I grew up. Then I lived in to a house of about eight guys, most of whom were black. I also had my two sisters, one of whom is an avid social justice advocate. I can say there were more than just a few heated discussions. Most of which I just “didn’t get” why she was so mad. Why was she so mad that I didn’t think the N-word was a big deal? To me it only had power if you gave it power. Racism was so last generation. We’re the generation that “doesn’t see color.”

The problem is that even IF we’re the generation that doesn’t have racism we still have to deal with the generations that did (which our generation does have racism. A lot of it.) Slavery was around for 250 years and the Civil Rights Movement only happened in the 1960’s. There’s a lot of racism and a lot of it is systemic. Sorry old self, the “it only has power if you give it power” argument doesn’t work. I wish it did.

Then there is hearing stories of the discrimination. I sometimes became the token white friend when we went out so that there wouldn’t be any issues with clerks at the liquor store, bouncers, or cops. That was real. One day one of my roommates was coming out of the liquor store after having bought a bottle and cops stopped him. They told him to get on the ground because they thought he’d stolen something in his backpack. He hadn’t, he was a good guy. Later when he told me this I was shocked and angry. He and the rest of my roommates just shrugged and said it happens.

My experiences just got more dramatic as I saw more widespread and systemic poverty, violence, and police brutality in the worst areas of DC and Baltimore. Just look at the Baltimore riots as an example. If you think that that level of despair is something new you’ll be in for a shock. That level of repression doesn’t happen out of thin air. It happens through structural violence and discrimination of whole communities. It happens through unintentional bias and the complacency of the status quo.

Next came the white guilt. I think this is where a lot of people have trouble. Either you don’t know how to handle unintentionally being part of such a devastating system or you refuse to accept it. A lot of people do that. A lot of people say “I’ve had struggles too, bro.” Yeah, me too. We all have, but minorities get it worse. Whether it’s a little or a lot.

A great analogy I heard for privilege is that you are in a classroom with other students. There’s a wastebasket you are all shooting at with paper balls to try and make it in. The ones seated at the front have an easier time trying to make it in and therefore have the most privilege. The ones shooting from the back of the room have the least chance and therefore the least privilege. Here’s a great video between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly too:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2014/10/16/bill_oreilly_vs_jon_stewart_on_white_privilege.html

All being said and done that doesn’t mean things are hopeless. You shouldn’t give up and donate everything just because you’re white or a male. It’s about creating a fair chance. It’s about being aware.

Check your privilege. Maybe you’ve heard that term before. It means that something you are saying/doing is conveying your privilege in a detrimental way. Maybe you are overpowering others from really being heard in a conversation. Maybe you are adding assumptions based on your own privileged experiences. Maybe you are discounting the discriminatory experiences of others because you’ve never had them. It’s powerful because that is a powerful tool in fighting discrimination as a person of privilege.

I began hearing it at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. I went to a few training’s and heard a lot of new things. A lot of it made me uncomfortable and that’s the point. This is something I am constantly fighting. I have the privilege to stop talking about discrimination and leave the fight anytime I please. Do I no longer want to deal with racism? I’m not really affected by it as a person of privilege, so I will simply pretend it doesn’t exist. That is how these systems survive.

A part of this is about respecting spaces. Take this story for example. This was a hard concept for me to understand and I’m still not all the way there.

Now imagine you are riding the DC metro green line from Anacostia up through DC. Black students get on from being out of school and are talkative and rowdy. As the train goes it begins hitting downtown and the train gets noticeably more white. The students start getting very quiet and grouping up in to small clusters. Halfway through the train line they are the minority and are talking quietly among themselves. The train gets farther north and more people of color get on. The students get louder once again. This happens every day.

This story was told to me by a Black Lives Matter activist about the power of spaces. There are very few spaces in this country that aren’t influenced by the majority. It stifles voices and their power to fight. This isn’t our fight, it’s theirs.

Anyways, I’m by no means an authoritative figure on social justice and it’s something I fight with every day. These are a few of the impactful experiences I’ve had that I wanted to write down.

“You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress … No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.”   -Malcom X

-Dylan

Politics from DC to Oklahoma

The election cycle for the 2016 Presidential Election is underway and beginning to rev up to full speed. It started off in almost polar ways for Republicans and Democrats: the Republic candidates being a huge pool of practical unknowns, and the Democrats with their few and far between candidates behind the almost unanimous front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Now we’ve got the Republican candidate pool thinning with two radicals at the front: Donald Trump, self-proclaimed aficionado at everything, business man, and expert at being angry; and Ben Carson, neurosurgeon, with his quiet insanity and expertise in…what Jews should have done during the Holocaust. The Democratic side now is between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the former a career politician who aspires to be relevant and the latter a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, a radical to most, and emotionally stable to few. Okay maybe those descriptions are a little harsh. But this is going to be such a blast.

Not everyone in the US is participating the same way though. I see it every day on my news feed on Facebook. I took a screenshot of two different posts I saw by friends who are Democrats:

Oklahoma

Oklahoma-politics

Washington, DC

dc-politics

Talk about a difference in positions. Call me biased, but when I read the Oklahoma post I went “what the fuck.” Maybe it’s the conflict resolution major in me that got mad. The irony of starting conflict because of conflict isn’t lost on me either (#conflictproblems). That post is screaming positioning, mis-communication, bias, lack of other viewpoints,  and a basic lack of information. Yet I see that kind of post every single day.

Growing up in Oklahoma there wasn’t much focus on learning and understanding others. You don’t have a diverse population or centers of education and decision-making. In Washington, DC you get something that you rarely get across the nation: access and information. No, it’s about community and values. Honestly that’s what I miss most about it. It’s a place that you say hi to strangers walking down the street and starting a conversation with “how are you?”

Community and values came with the hitch that there’s not a whole lot of space for facts and dialogue. It’s just how it is. It’s just how it is because incomes are low and not much happens there. It’s just how it is because relationships are really all you’ve got. You’ve got your friends and family that you’ll know and be with you your whole life. You were raised a certain way and your friends think a certain way. Not much changes, so why should your views change? Here’s an article I read about a guy from Oklahoma who changed from being a Republican:

http://nondoc.com/2015/11/03/i-realized-i-am-not-a-republican-anymore/

I could relate to all of that. I can relate to growing up in a state where you’re guaranteed to get elected by using the three G’s: God, Guns, and no Gays. A state that believes in “traditional” values. To someone looking in to this kind of place it might seem illogical and irrational. Yeah, you’re right it is in a lot of ways. But in a lot of ways it isn’t. In a place where all you’ve really got are your values and traditions they become exponentially more important. They become your identity. Oklahoman’s are in a constant identity crisis.

By that standard it’s not that surprising Trump’s platform and slogan “Make America Great Again” is getting so much support. In a time where radical views get support from a majority that are sick and tired of being ignored. When you see a Facebook post slurring one candidate and idealizing another. It creates radical and one-sided ideals that are a part of a persons identity. It’s not about the candidate. It’s not even about the issues. It’s about how the person views the world and how the world views them. You break it down in to how that person wants to be seen and how that person wants to be treated.

In the end I feel like I’m in between two worlds. A place where neither world really understands the other. I think realizing that disparity is a really important lesson to know. We’ll see how it works out for people.

-Dylan

Breaking in to the World After College

It’s been long overdue since I last posted anything on here. Now that things have begun settling down after the past few months I’m going to try to start updating this blog more often. I’m also in process of creating two other blogs: one about conflict resolution and one about news. We’ll see when those get off the ground but for now I’ll be more active on here.

The reason I’ve been so out of contact the last few months has everything to do with graduating back in May. It’s been a rough road to say the least, but at the same time it has been eye opening and exhilarating. I guess I’ll start by giving a short summary of what I’ve been doing, and then how I feel about it in terms of what I like and what I don’t like, for anyone who reads this that might care.

When you get closer to graduating from college you start to panic. Everyone tells you to panic and everyone tells you it’s going to be hard. About a year before graduation I did my best to circumvent this by looking in to every option I could think of that I’d like to do. I applied for the Peace Corps, but didn’t have enough experience. I did an internship, but that didn’t turn in to anything. I started job applications and informational interviews and whatever networking I could. The biggest problem was though that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When you don’t have a goal you don’t really get a result.

So then I went in to temp work at the end of July/start of August. It was so stressful I can’t go in to words. It wasn’t necessarily the temp work, but I was in a rough situation since I didn’t really have savings since I used most of them in exchange for getting experience at the last job I was at. That meant that I needed to always be working, at least for a few months. That didn’t happen. It took me a little over a month going through the grinder to land an OK gig at a travel company. From there things got exponentially better, I started tutoring with good pay as well. Currently I’m in the process of accepting an offer at the company as a consultant.

Here’s the thing though, I hate the world I’m seeing after college. In many respects it is rough, unforgiving, competitive, conniving, and dreary. I am no stranger to hardship or hard work. I am not a “millennial who is living in a dreamworld.” I have worked a full-time job since I was in high school. I have lived on my own since I was 18 years old. Yet as time has progressed I have been exposed to different people, education, and workplaces that are real and living proof that there is another way to do things. You can have communication, cooperation, and happiness without sacrificing standard of living or livelihood. Yet most people I have met since temping at different companies don’t believe this. And that belief perpetuates the cycle of cruelty and inequality.

This brings me to my second point. While there are many things I see which I don’t like, it has helped me find what I’m passionate about and what I want to pursue as a career and as a person. In many ways it has always been my passion and interest yet now it is much more defined. I want to spread conflict resolution in the most effective ways possible. I want to train groups and organizations. I want to mediate disputes and facilitate dialogue.

I want to be a messenger of transformation.

Or in less figurative and narcissistic language I want to be involved in conflict resolution through training, mediation, facilitation, and outreach. I’m looking into consultancy and other avenues.

That’s only part of it though. I think the most important thing in life is to be happy. Life is too hard and full of grief for anything else. The arguments I have heard against this are to aid to the improvement of society. I think that’s a noble goal and I’ve been driven by that myself. At the same time I’ve become disillusioned to this end. Society is too unpredictable, too competitive, and filled with unintended misery for that to be someones whole purpose for life. I have a lot more thoughts on this but we’ll save that for another time.

Anyways, I am looking to spend my life doing what makes me happy. This includes helping others be happy and spending time with who I love. I’m planning on writing a post soon on how I’m looking to get there. I’m starting that pursuit right now.

-Dylan