The Art of Empathy or, Understanding Why People are Upset About Trump’s Win

_87170064_gettyimages-488226322The weeping and gnashing of teeth, as well as the rendering of garments, has commenced in full effect ever since Donald Trump won the election last Tuesday. We’ve seen protests, people crying, and heard rumors (some validated, others not) of minority groups being targeted. In short, a campaign unlike any others has given way to a transition unlike any others.

There have been quite a few Trump supporters – or even non-Trump supporters – questioning why people are so upset. They’re mocking those who protest. But to them, I’d ask that they consider the following:

In some alternate timeline, the Republicans ran Mitch McConnell and the Democrats ran Bill Maher. So we have someone who is the insider of insiders, with some massive issues (McConnell) running against a populist outsider (Maher).

During the election, Bill Maher is Bill Maher. He talks about how we have to monitor parents who raise their children within Christianity. He talks about how we should infiltrate and monitor conservative evangelical churches, just because they compromise the security of America. He shows warm feelings towards the current Chinese government (who is hardline Communist and attempting to retract many Capitalist gains). He uses multiple speeches to speak of how it’s not enough to just tax the wealthy, we have to imprison them to teach them a lesson on greed. He talks about how he wants to ban conservative media sources. He mocks anyone in “fly over” country as backwards, and does this while campaigning. And at his campaign, young far-left activists throw objects at Fox News reporters and other conservative news reporters. They mock them, spit at them, and create an environment of violence, all while Bill Maher looks on and says nothing.

And then he wins.

For many of you who are conservative, how would you feel? You’d be afraid, right? You’d be afraid that the new visitor in your church is actually a government plant, sent to spy on your church. You’d worry that just because of your beliefs, you’d now be a target by the President of the United States, who has openly campaigned on how he wants to remove your rights.

You’d have friends tell you, “I just couldn’t vote for McConnell, I want the system removed.” You’d question if they actually care about you, if they are actually concerned with who you are and your rights. It’d cause you to question the nation in which you live.

THAT is the reality that many, many people woke up to on November 9. They woke up to a world where the president-elect campaigned on promises to attack their way of life. And just as you would be scared, they are scared.

I get why you voted for Trump, I understand it, because many will say, “Well because that HAS been us for a number of years.” And to a certain extent, you’re right. While the President hasn’t mocked or threatened to remove the rights of Christians, many on the far-left have. But think of how it made you feel threatened, think of how it made you feel vulnerable, and realize that many people feel that way today because of your vote.

So maybe show some empathy to them? Maybe reach out and say, “Look, I voted for Trump because I want the system to crash; but if he does actually come after you, I’ll stand with you because I support principles before I support the party. I support the constitution more than I support ideology.” It’s bad enough that Trump was elected, but if we truly want “unity,” if we truly want “healing,” then those who voted for Trump have to reach out and say that they won’t stand for Trump acting on certain promises, that they’ll stand against Trump if he does try to live up to his rhetoric.

And if you do actually believe that the rights of Muslims should be curbed, if you do actually believe that we should ostracize Hispanics, if you do actually believe that America will become great by becoming more white, then you are the problem with this nation. Not the illegal immigrants, not the Muslims, not the African-Americans, but you.

Flag of Our Fathers: Why National Anthem Protests Shouldn’t be Controversial

fist08-05-2008b_001When I wrote my last piece on Colin Kaepernick’s protest, my thought at the time was, “Maybe I’m coming to this a bit late. But, I guess I’ll say something.”

Here we are, weeks later, and the protests of the US National Anthem are still occurring, and it’s still very controversial. It’s a bit surprising, but also quite sad, that this is controversial. Since tons has been said on this issue, I just want to convey a few thoughts:

First – Protesting the flag is not the same as protesting the military. When a flag and national anthem come to stand for military power and military power alone – that to question or protest the flag/anthem is taken as a direct assault on the military – then the line separating patriotism from nationalism has been crossed. The United States stands for far more than its military, so a failure to stand during a National Anthem wouldn’t necessitate a protest against the military.

Second – Protesting the flag/anthem isn’t even a protest against the United States as a whole. Someone can greatly appreciate and value the US, but also have some major issues with it. It’s like loving an alcoholic; you will love that person for reasons other than the alcoholism, but you’ll also “protest” certain parts of that person’s life that could enable that person’s alcoholism, or even do something that would get that person’s attention. That’s similar to what these protests are attempting to accomplish. We have a problem in our nation with how black people, especially black men, are treated in general and by authorities. That doesn’t make the US an evil place, or a horrible place, but it does mean we have a problem and we need to fix that problem. That certain elements of society want to deny and act like this problem isn’t there is why the protest is occurring, to cause a conversation on the treatment of minorities in this nation.

Third – There’s implicit racism in condemning these protests. The argument goes, “If ya’ll want to protest how you think you’re treated, then do it peacefully.” When there’s a riot, we tell minorities to be peaceful. When they protest peacefully en masse through nonviolence, we tell them not to be disruptive (such as blocking highways). When they then perform a silent protest during the National Anthem, we tell them that’s disrespectful and they ought to be forced to stand for patriotic displays (we’ll get to that). So then how are they to protest? The implicit message is, “You have nothing worth protesting over,” or, to be blunt, “You’re treated fine, get over it, and get used to it.” It delegitimizes the experience of millions of African Americans and other minority groups in the US. We assume that because we – as white people – have had a great experience in this nation that all others have had the same great experience.

Fourth – No one should be forced to make patriotic displays, because that’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism. A true patriot of the US will value free speech more than they value a song or piece of cloth. To want to take away someone’s free speech – even under the argument of “it’s a private industry so they can force people to do what they want” (they can’t, that’s called slavery and is illegal) – is the antithesis of America. What’s more insulting to those who died to protect our freedoms than failing to show proper reverence during a song is failing to show proper reverence towards the freedom we were granted by their deaths.

Fifth – Speaking of people who have died to secure our freedoms, those people are more than just the military and those who died in foreign wars. We forget, especially those of us who are white, that many civil rights activists were murdered attempting to secure justice in an unjust world. Their sacrifices, which made national news and swayed public opinion, helped secure your freedoms today as much as any military endeavor in which we’ve engaged. I add the emphasis because this is a point that is hardly ever made; people died to try and beget equality in this nation. When we ignore their sacrifices and attempt to further an entrench a system they died fighting against, we dishonor their memory. I’m a white male, but oppression is a cancer and it spreads and destroys. If oppression is not fought, if it is not combatted, then it will eventually spread to harm other people as well. Thus, even as a white male, I’m indebted to civil rights activists who fought an oppression that had limited liberty. In my debt, I am in no place to then question their children and their children’s children when they speak of the continued oppression they must suffer through; rather, I must pay my debt and continue the fight against that oppression.

Sixth – These are our friends and fellow Americans who are hurting. These are not strangers. Many white people who have black friends still don’t hear what their black friends go through, because they [black friends] are sick of being doubted and questioned. But make no mistake, African Americans go through a lot in this world, not just with the police. They’re followed in department stores, they’re treated differently when they want to purchase something, they have a harder time finding promotions or getting a good job, and the list goes on. There are statistics to back up every single one of these claims, but more than that, there are personal stories from people we know who can back up these claims. When the reality of the US today is only slightly better than the reality of the US 40-60 years ago, maybe that’s why protesting the anthem is a good thing.

Those are my thoughts on this issue. There’s no reason to get upset over someone kneeling or not participating in singing the national anthem. Ultimately, we’d do better to have a conversation over what our friends are facing rather than condemn them for not conforming in a way we like.

Kaepernick, the Blind Love of Nation, and the New Racism

Most+american+picture+i+ve+ever+made+democracy+liberty+independence+justice+freedom+and+america+by+your+powers_320779_4868118Colin Kaepernick has landed in hot water and not for being a mediocre quarterback. During a pre-season game he chose not to stand during the United States National Anthem. He chose not to stand because, in his words, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” An almost mundane choice. He’s a pro athlete making a political point, and he’s not the first one.

Yet, his refusal to stand for a song and a piece of cloth has ignited a firestorm, met mostly with criticism. It’s hard to find anyone truly sympathetic to Kaepernick’s cause, mostly because people are either enraged by his actions or apathetic towards the man himself. The conservatives hate his lack of patriotism while the liberals are too cynical to believe he’s doing this out of sincerity (but doing it because he was bumped to second string).

Removing Kaepernick from the equation, his act of protest and people’s subsequent responses betrays two bigger issues in our nation: 1) We’re too “patriotic,” in reality we are nationalistic and (2) we hold athletes of color to a higher expectation of patriotism than we hold white athletes.

To the first point, there’s a danger when we let our national identity intersect and mold our personal identity. To a certain extent it’s nearly impossible not to let our national identity influence who we are as individuals. I am, after all, a product of America. My accent, my beliefs, my cultural participation is in many ways tied to my being an American. And I’d argue that I am a patriot. I love the idea of America, I love the idea of freedom for all, I love what this nation (on paper) stands for. But being a patriot does not mean I have to be a nationalist. A nationalist will support his country no matter what, but a patriot is willing to point out its flaws and even admit to being disappointed in his nation.

I’d contend that Kaepernick, if we excuse ourselves from cynicism, is a patriot. He loves his nation, otherwise he wouldn’t protest in the hopes of change. True hatred for America wouldn’t ask for protest, but an overthrow. True hatred of America would require apathy to its flaws. Yet, nationalism prevents us from recognizing flaws in our nation, unless we first label those flaws as “outside.” One can think of how people [erroneously] say Obama is a shame to our nation, that they can’t be proud while he’s in charge. But a nationalist says this only after first claiming Obama isn’t actually from our nation, or at least claiming that his ideas aren’t American in origin. Therefore, the shame he feels for his nation isn’t for his nation, but for what his nation is becoming. And yet, without any sense of irony, he will berate and attack anyone who would question typical patriotic icons such as the flag, the anthem, and so on. Ultimately, the nationalist isn’t so much loyal to his nation as he’s loyal to the ideology behind his vision of what the nation should be, thus anyone who violates this ideology is immediately a heretic and worthy of being purged.

Our nationalism in the United States is often best seen as “white nationalism,” mostly because anyone who is not white is automatically suspected of being anti-American for any form of protest. Often, non-whites are left having to prove that they’re Americans, especially black athletes. We see this with Kaepernick, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were criticizing other black athletes for not being American enough. And by not that long ago I mean about two to three weeks ago with Gabby Douglas. She forgot or just chose not to put her hand over her heart when the American flag was displayed. The rage was so hot that other black female Olympians were often chastised on Facebook with people confusing them with Gabby Douglas. When other white Olympians failed to do the same, there was absolutely no outcry.

Notice the verbiage used for both Douglas and Kaepernick; “how dare you not respect the flag of a country that gave you an opportunity, that gave you freedom, that gave you…” It’s difficult to not imagine a slave owner saying something similar to a slave, “How dare you not be grateful for me when I’ve given you food.” The fact is, this nation didn’t give these black athletes anything. They worked hard, they shaped their bodies and talents and pushed themselves to such a level of competition that they’ve excelled at what they do (well, relatively speaking; Kaepernick is riding the bench after all). Yet, we require that these black athletes show 100% solidarity and respect to a piece of cloth, but do not place the same standard on white athletes. We can say we do, but we don’t. That we have racial inequality in our country, that we’re not living up to our ideals as a nation, is a good reason to protest the nation. Sitting during the national anthem is a good way to protest the current reality of racial inequality in our nation.

A true patriot will always love the ideals of his country, but will recognize her flaws. This allows for a duality of respect. One patriot can see a flag and show respect, because that flag represents certain ideals and the patriot wants to respect those ideals. Another patriot can see the flag and view it as representing the current reality,  and therefore choose not to respect it. In both instances, each person is right and each person is still patriotic. Both respect and protest are signs of patriotism. Neither is right and neither is wrong. The fact is, as a nation we have some deep and troubling systemic flaws that continue the oppression entire ethnic groups. But we recognize these actions as flaws because we realize that our actions contradict our ideals, or at least we ought to recognize such a thing. Sometimes it takes a drastic protest to shine a light on our flaws. Perhaps we ought to examine the message of Kaepernick before we shoot the messenger. After all, how patriotic is it to hate someone for exercising his right to free speech? Only a nationalist could allow such cognitive dissonance.

We do have a problem with racial inequality. Perhaps there are better ways to draw attention to that, but what are they? We’ve had this problem since before we were a nation and we’ve never fixed it. We attempt to sweep it under the rug like it doesn’t exist. But it does exist and it is a problem. Rather than complaining about someone protesting or the manner in which he protests, perhaps we’d be better served to listen to the message and to work to make sure our policies align with our ideals. Such an action is far more patriotic than any national anthem or pledge of allegiance.

Why Black Lives Matter: A White Guy’s Perspective

blacklivesmatterI’m white. With blue eyes, pale skin, and 98% of my genetic composition coming from various parts of Europe, I’m fully seen as a white guy. Sure, I couldn’t exactly qualify  for the KKK or any other hate group (I do have some – very little – Western African background, as well as being a quarter Russian-Jew), but for all intents and purposes I’m a white guy who benefits from being white in the United States. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am in life and admittedly I’ve typically outperformed my co-workers, be they white or black. But the fact remains, I can point to specific examples where I’ve benefited heavily from being white. I can point to the times I’ve been pulled over, to how I’ve been treated in certain jobs, to how my aggressive “go get ‘em” attitude in business is valued rather than viewed as an “angry white man.” Right or wrong, being a white male in the United States (or really, almost anywhere in the world) is pretty fantastic, all things considered.

Yet, acknowledging such things is why I can say Black Lives Matter. I know, people want to respond with, “All lives matter!” But such a response ignores the entire point behind saying Black Lives Matter. If you truly and honestly believe that all lives matter, then it follows that you should say black lives matter. Let me explain:

To say “all lives matter” would require us to actually act like all lives matter, but we don’t. Currently in the United States a little over 1 in 4 African Americans live in poverty (compared to 1 in 10 among white Americans). The household wealth disparity between white families and black families is astronomically high (13 times higher, or $141,000 compared to $11,000). African American men are 6 times more likely to face incarceration than white men and are likely to face longer sentences as well. And, of course, we can point to the disproportionate attention African Americans receive from police. Most recently, Dylan Roof murdered people in cold blood and was treated to a bullet proof vest and Burger King. A young black girl in a school, however, was ripped and thrown from her seat for the simple act of doing what teenagers frustratingly do; not listen. In almost every facet of society – from political representation, to income, to availability of middle/upper class jobs, to treatment in general, to education – whites have a distinct and proven advantage over African Americans.

The above facts cannot be disputed. They actually exist and to question the existence of such a disparity is akin to questioning the existence of the moon. The question is the cause, but even then we’re left with two very disturbing conclusions. Either:

A)     Within the United States exists a system that is not only indifferent to black lives, but even hostile and purposefully oppressive to black lives. While we might say “all lives matter,” our system tacks on, “but some lives matter more than others.” Yes, “All lives matter” is a wonderful talking point, but when looked at in practice it’s more a punch line than an ideal. The disparity is caused by a system meant to promote white supremacy, to ensure that white people get ahead with greater ease than their non-white counterparts.


B)    Non-whites are inferior to whites. That there’s something to being of European ancestry that makes a person superior in terms of ability to obtain wealth and work hard.

Now, some well-meaning people might try to decline option A, but what are we left with other than option B? All arguments that aren’t option A tip-toe and conclude with option B: they’re lazy, they don’t work as hard, they expect government handouts, if they want better lives then they can work for them, the problem is their culture, and so on and so forth. No matter what, it all boils down to one sentiment: “They” are inferior.

I would hope that in 2015 I wouldn’t have to point out why such a sentiment is absurd, but sadly I do. No human, and I mean not a single human in this world, is inferior due to race, ethnicity, or culture. Individuals have strengths and weaknesses, but not races. All human lives are both worthy of dignity; that means all lives, irrespective of ethnicity or race, are just as capable of success as the next person. From a scientific perspective there’s no evidence or reason to believe that different races are “superior” to other races; there’s smart people and dumb people, hard working people and lazy people, in all races. Skin color has no impact on a person’s work ethic or intelligence.

If we (hopefully) reject option B, then we’re left with option A, that the system has failed an entire people. And not just failed an entire people, but worked against an entire people. To say “Black Lives Matter,” then, is to act as a reminder that black lives matter…as much as all other lives, therefore, treat them that way. No one is asking white people to give up the comfort of privileges, but merely to ensure that everyone enjoys the same privileges we enjoy. That is to say, no one is asking for the median income to drop among white people, but rather let’s promote a system that allows the median income to rise among non-whites. No one is asking white people to face the same brutality from police, but rather allow nonwhites to enjoy the same respect from police that white people are afforded.

Sure, it’s okay to disagree with the methods of the Black Lives Movement and even some of the rhetoric, but despite methods and rhetoric the message remains necessary and poignant. One doesn’t have to subscribe to the methods or rhetoric in order to appreciate and embrace the message, that we have a system that is violent towards black lives. And we have to work towards reconciliation, because without it the violence will only increase, spread, and become worse.

The Stupidity of War: On the Pursuit of Love or Power

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Currently our congressional branch is discussing the merits of a treaty with Iran, one that would aid (with hope) in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms. There are man opposed to the treaty, believing that it gives too much ground to Iran. Their approach is more along the lines of, “Iran should do everything we want and if they don’t, we should bomb them.” Mind you that we’re now facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII from Iran’s neighbors, a crisis brought about directly by US armed conflict in the region. Of course, it is not as though the United States invented war or even perfected it, but rather follows a tragic line, one that dates back before humans.

Is there anything as stupid as violence? As the taking of another’s blood? We’ve overcome living in caves, mastered the seas, left the bonds of our planet, found cures for deadly disease, and extended the human lifespan to greater limits. Yet we’ve never overcome our thirst for blood. We’ve heard the cries of the orphans, seen the tears of the widowed, watched mothers and fathers bury sons and daughters, and still we’ve never satisfied out appetite for destruction. Violence, even when used to prevent further violence, is surely the most disgusting thing we can do to each other.

Yet, we continue. We watch a little child wash ashore in Turkey, a casualty of war. We wish to blame one side or the other – as though one can easily dictate sides in this newest conflict – but stall to find a solution. We watch refugees escape the violence of their homeland only to find violence in a desperate attempt to find peace. While Europe copes with taking in refugees, my greatest fear is that today’s cheering crowds will be tomorrow’s mob. European history is rife with schizophrenic nations taking in oppressed people only to kill them a few years later (Germany is a great offender in this regard, dating back to the Holy Roman Empire and its many Germanic states).

We are constantly at war, unable to live at peace with our neighbor. Almost all wars begin with one person or a group of people desiring power, often at the cost of all others. Even religious wars begin with a narcissistic quest for power, that perhaps one’s god (or gods) might smile upon the bloodshed of another human being and grant more authority to the valiant warrior. One doesn’t need religion to start a war, one merely needs be greedy and selfish, and such traits are not unique to any creed or belief. Today our wars are hardly religious unless one considers the worship of money a religion. But money is used only to gain power, and the pursuit of power reigns supreme in the modern world.

In life you can seek after power or you can seek after love, but the pursuit of one requires the denial of the other. One cannot seek after both love and power because the two are mutually exclusive. To become powerful one must become inward focused, look to one’s own goals before anyone else. This is not to say the powerful cannot love in some way, or have a marriage, or a family, but such things are tertiary to the main goal, which is power. Love, alternatively, requires a self-denial. Almost every major religion teaches that true love is self-denying, that to be in love is to deny the self. That job you want, the influence you desire, the power you wish to yield must sometimes (almost always) diminish in the presence of love because love requires you to live for others.

The problem with humanity and why we continue to dive headfirst into war is too often men seek power rather than love. In the quest for power hatred is justified, tribalism is king, and the deaths of brothers is viewed as “necessary” and “collateral damage.” What a dehumanizing thing that we place both destroyed buildings and destroyed lives within the same category. However, power is weak against love and cannot overcome it. While the quest and thirst for power is older than man, it is still younger than love.

The quest for love will always conquer power and overcome it. If we learn to live with our neighbors, regardless of where they live, then we can curb the violence which results from the thirst for power. It is only in seeking after the good of others that we can finally have peace. Or, to quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, “If more of us valued good food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” Only a life of love can cure us from the sickness of seeking power, and only such a cure can hold our hands from violence.

Finding Social Justice in Farming: The Importance of Local Ownership

DSC01993Being that we’re in election season, there’s quite a bit of discussion over social justice issues, namely food stamps, “welfare programs,” and an increased minimum wage. People on both sides will argue back and forth with some stating we need to decrease aid to encourage people to find better jobs, with others arguing we need to increase aid because better jobs aren’t available. What is often ignored in such discussions is that no matter what, the system is established in such a way as to fail the poor, but there is a solution: Farming.

We’ve fought to make ourselves an industrialized nation, to move beyond an agricultural nation, and for the most part we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. Even our farming is done via factory methods, attempting to achieve “efficiency.” We’ve reduced our farming populace to less than 1% of the US population. We’re told that our industrialized farming has done many things to end world hunger, that we’re just a few years away from ending it completely.

Of course, the reality is vastly different from what we’re told. Worldwide, the number of those hungry has remained relatively the same for 50 years. What is worse, according to the same source (the UN Food and Agricultural Organization) is that about 3 billion, or a little under half the world’s population, do not eat well.

Even within the United States, 14% of our population is food insecure, and that number is up since 2000 (when it was around 10%). Of course poverty is directly linked to food insecurity, especially in the United States. According to the same government study, 61% of those who are food insecure partook in the SNAP program or some other food stamp program the previous year. On a greater level, Americans are among the most malnourished people in the “rich” world, despite the average American consuming 2700 calories a day, we consume pointless calories, or food devoid of the needed nutrients to aid the body in growth and maintenance. While the United States has one of the worst hunger rates among rich countries, ironically we’re also one of the fattest; both stem from incredibly poor food practices.

All the problems we’ve had forces us to ask exactly how factory farms are efficient. They certainly aren’t efficient in protecting the environment or the soil. They’re not efficient in feeding the world or even the United States. They’re not efficient at providing healthier food. They’re not efficient at providing jobs as they’ve basically taken all the jobs in rural America, forcing farmers to move to the city to find work. The only thing factory farms seem to be efficient in is in making money. We’re told that factory farms are “efficient” simply because they’re efficient at making money; but by using an adjective to describe factory farms, we falsely imply that they’re efficient, at least more efficient than local farms, at producing food for the community or feeding the world. The truth is the only thing a factory farm can accomplish better than a local farm is it can make a bigger profit.

But what this entire conversation betrays is that we look at economics in terms of being “economical,” or “efficient,” which are all words for “Do the costs justify the results.” The better results at the lowest possible cost, the more “efficient” a system is. The question no one asks, the question it seems economists always fail to ask, is, “But is it right and good for society?” Is it good that we’re making a huge profit if such a profit comes with other costs?

The problem with economists – who are worse than weathermen for predicting the future in their respective field – is they tend to think along linear and isolated lines when it comes to the economy, especially farming. A (the producer) begins the line and B (the consumer) ends the line; in-between are costs. So long as A is cheaper than when B purchases it, the system is “efficient.” But such a system, when taken holistically and when asked, “But is it good for society?” becomes absurdly inefficient. After all, the producer could use slave labor to make a trinket, meaning the consumer purchases the trinket at a market-driven rate that is almost guaranteed to achieve a profit; but the end result (a profit) is gained through horrible means (slavery). Likewise, with factory farming, while a profit is gained in the end, the means and costs associated are actually quite horrible.

There are many reasons we ought to prefer local farms over factory farms, and here are a few:

  1. Property Ownership: A factory farm is, by default, a monopoly over capital producing property. A healthy society is one in which the majority of workers own and control (or at the very least hold heavy influence over) the means of their labor. Put another way, to quote from G.K. Chesterton, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” If three companies ultimately control 99% of the food production for a nation, it’s safe to say that their wishes hold more influence than 3 million people. A truly free society is one in which the majority of people own capital producing property (property that can make money). A prevalence of locally grown farms where 20-30% of the population owns a farm would create a society where land use is diversified and decentralized.
  2. Low Skill Labor: Farming jobs require hard work, but very low skill labor. For anyone who’s grown up in a rural area in the past 70 years, they can tell you that their first job was on a far. That’s because much of farming is so simple that a 13 year old can do it. But in factory farms such jobs just aren’t available. This means that people who would live in a rural town and contribute to the economy there must now travel into the cities and look for low-wage jobs in the city, living hand to mouth, and praying to God that the next paycheck will feed them. Of course, if they owned their own parcel of land and knew how to grow things on that land, they would be in a position to not only feed themselves, but then sell their produce for a profit. While they would by no means lead extravagant lives, they’d be in a better position. They’d live in a rural area instead of a cramped city, work on their terms, and if all else failed they’d at least have their own food to eat rather than praying for the first of the month to hurry and arrive.
  3. Meaningful Work: Along the same lines of providing jobs for low skill labor, farming labor is work. A factory farm does all it can to reduce the cost, which means they hire only what is needed and mechanize the rest of the labor. Those who work for the factory farm often do so under horrible conditions, conditions that dehumanize them and make them focus on one aspect of the job. Local farms, however, require farm hands to understand multiple aspects about the farm. A local farm would provide meaningful work for someone with low skills in other jobs. A kid or (as is more often the case today) adult down on his luck finds no meaning in flipping a burger or tossing french fries into a cardboard canister. They do find meaning, however, in growing things, in creating things, in seeing and reaping the fruits of their labor. There’s no utilitarian reason to it, no other explanation than that’s just how humans are; we’re typically okay working when we can see that our work has meaning.
  4. Reduced cost to the tax-payer: Factory farms are cheap and efficient in cost only because the government subsidizes them; remove those subsidies (especially for gas prices) and you’ll watch the cost of factory-produced food leap higher than locally grown food (even organic food).  Why? Because Farmer Fred down the road lives in the community, can deliver his goods to the community, and therefore doesn’t have a high overhead cost. Of the nearly $100 billion in subsidies we give out, 74% go to the top 10% of farms. While farm subsidies are necessary for smaller farmers, the cost drops due to the lower overhead cost of a smaller farm.
  5. Viability: Most factory farms also use GMOs, which isn’t bad in and of itself. The problem is that if the patented crop isn’t immune to a certain fungus or insect, an entire field could die instead of a percentage of that field. Under a local farmer – who lacks the equipment to engineer his food – his field holds diversity, allowing for at least some of his crop to survive. Even if a farmer loses his entire crop, the amount of diversity among the crops from all the farmers would be enough to ensure that an entire crop isn’t lost for the local community.
  6. A local economy: Local farms keep money within a community, allowing the community to grow. A local farm also needs a hardware store, a mechanic, and the list goes on and on. Some mega-factory receives all the repairs and keeps all the money. There’s a reason that as the farmable land has been eaten up by corporations people from small towns have moved into the city. Not everyone leaving a rural area is a farmer, but simply lose business because an “efficient” agribusiness has come into town. Whereas a local farm doesn’t have such a luxury due to financial constraints. Thus, they place their money in the local economy. They’re more likely to have the mechanic come out to the farm and work on the equipment, to hire local teenagers to work the fields during harvest time, to sell to the local grocer, and so on.
  7. Ecological sustainability: The hustle and bustle of modern life that we seem content to thrust humans into destroys our spirit and our connection with nature. Notice how most factory farms are also some of the biggest polluters out there, but local farmers tend to be quite the environmentalists. The reason is simple: The CEO and executive board sitting in New York and Chicago only sees numbers and profit; they don’t care one bit for the ecological consequences. Yes, the whole, “But they rely on the land for profit, so why ruin it?” might be logical, but such an argument assumes that greed allows men to be logical. There are thousands of instances where it was in a company’s best interest to be environmentally conscience, but they chose not to because it could save them a few bucks. The local farmer, however, is more connected to nature because he’s surrounded by it and works it everyday. Where a factory farm might not care if it ruins the soil – it has other soil it can plow – the local farmer deeply cares for his land because it’s all he has. He doesn’t see numbers first; he sees his livelihood first.

Ultimately, factory farms are only “efficient” if one considers profit, which is a very linear A to B way of thinking. Of course, such a type of thinking doesn’t function well in the real world where everything is connected. If we want to achieve true social justice, part of what we must do is begin returning a larger portion of our population back to farms that they own and control.

The Pro-Life Case for Bernie Sanders or, The One in Which I Anger Everyone

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07:  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a news conference to announce their proposed legislation to strengthen Social Security March 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are sponsoring the "Keepping Our Social Security Promises Act," which they say will increase payroll taxes on the wealthest and bolster Social Security without raising the retirement age or lowering benefits.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders. It is merely an attempt to show there are multiple ways to approach a pro-life stance without banning abortion.

The American tradition of trying to pick our next president well over a year before the election is in full swing. Still months away from a primary candidates are already coming out of the woodwork and, true to form, appealing to the most extreme in their respective groups (or in the case of Donald Trump, the most extreme are running for president).

Still, the one candidate who has my attention is Bernie Sanders. No other candidate really grabs my attention, makes me think, or – dare I say it – excites me and gives me hope. While I’m not a Democratic Socialist (as I think Socialism is only slightly better than Capitalism), I do think what he offers is vastly closer to my own economic beliefs than any other candidate. His stance on war and diplomacy is a breath of fresh air. While he’s not middle class, he’s also not a millionaire or billionaire, meaning he’s closer to the struggles of the middle class than anyone out there. Essentially, for all intents and purposes, Sanders is kind of my dream candidate, except for one thing:

He’s very pro-choice while I’m very pro-life.

And when it comes to matters of life it’s not exactly a small issue. While I’m not a one-issue voter, voting on life is more important than taxes or even income inequality. And we can’t hide behind the excuse that since Roe v. Wade will most likely never be overturned, it doesn’t matter who we elect; the president can hand out executive orders concerning abortion. A pro-life president can make abortion restrictive while a pro-choice president can loosen restrictions. So it does matter.

How, then, can someone who is pro-life such as myself (rabidly so I might add), support Bernie Sanders without any sense of cognitive dissonance?

Not so long ago I wrote about how because I’m pro-life, I can’t be a conservative. Before that, about three years ago, I even said that Republicans aren’t actually pro-life. The reason I’ve made such arguments is that I find it absolutely absurd to make the claim to be “pro-life,” but then do nothing to support life outside of the womb. After all, overturning Roe v. Wade is a pipe dream and even if it occurred, even if we could wave a magic wand and overturn that case and make abortion illegal, abortions would continue. The reason they would continue is because the conditions that make abortion so prevalent in the US would still exist.

Hence my support for Bernie Sanders: I see his policies as a way to actually reduce the number of abortions. While the abortion rate in the US has declined on and off since 2000, it’s actually increased for poor women. According to the same study, nearly 69% of abortions in the US come from economically disadvantaged women. This means women who can’t afford to take time off work, typically have substandard healthcare, have little to no paid vacation, work 40+ hours a week, and live paycheck to paycheck (or overdraft to overdraft) just to pay for themselves. Adding a child to the mix is a near impossibility. In terms of actual poverty, another study shows that 42% of women who obtain abortions live at or below the poverty line (economically disadvantaged doesn’t always meet the federal definition of poverty). According to the same study, 33% of women who had abortions lacked health insurance with another 31% using Medicaid. Only 30% of the women who had an abortion had health insurance (though the quality isn’t measured).

Compare such statistics to Western Europe, who has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world. Of course, Western Europe is known for its “socialist” approach to healthcare, namely that anyone gets it for free. That means a pregnant woman, even one in poverty, gets paid time off work, typically gets discounted or free daycare, gets free pre and post-natal healthcare, gets family leave, and the list goes on. Many of the issues in the United States that prevent a woman from having a child are eradicated in Western Europe. While one could argue that Western Europe also has restrictive abortion laws, most (88%) allow for abortions in economic circumstances, making such a point moot. Rather, what we can look at is that the infant mortality rate is drastically better than the United States (we’re ranked 27th among “rich” nations, 55th overall). In keeping with a very common theme, the study shows that wealthy mothers in the US have an infant mortality that matches and is, in some cases, better than any other nation. But economically disadvantaged mothers have an infant mortality rate on par with Qatar and Russia.  Continue reading