I have a bumper sticker on my car, well, I have many bumper stickers on my car, but the one I’d like to write about today specifically says “Ain’t No Time to Hate.”   I mention the sticker because it sums up my philiosophy on life rather simply and today I thought it best to take some of my own advice.  One of the wonderful benefits of blogging is that I can return to who I’ve been in happier times with a simple revist to an old post.  In December, I authored a post called “Ethics of Leadership” that contained the following message:

Right or wrong, good or bad, it’s all irrelevant if we cannot learn to treat each other with respect and approach the diversity of our humanity with the love of our divine nature.  Everyone is living their lives the way they know how.   Even those who manifest horrible suffering or prey on others are merely operating within a framework that makes the most sense based on their experiences.  We should not ignore antisocial behavior or untruths, but if we orient ourselves from a perspective of tolerance and forgiveness we are in a position to produce the most change.  Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.”  When hate begets hate, the result is hate multiplied.  But when hate walks into the arms of love, it is revealed as a powerless illusion.

So here I sit in the eye of the tornado of my life, contemplating what it will take to restore balance and harmony to the very polarized world that swirls around me.  I breathe deeply and fully, filling my lungs until they could burst, and then I exhale the toxic invasion of stress and disconnection. 

This past week in my Psychology class, I introduced my students to the glorious universe of the human brain.  I paid particular attention to the separation of our right and left hemispheres because I believe this is a telling metaphor/example of our human/divine duality.  I would posit that the imbalance between the two hemispheres is reflected in our culture of intolerance, ethnocentrism, and gratuitous violence. 

We are all very familiar with our left brain, because this is the filter that allows us to operate in a tangible reality.  This is the operating system that processes information linearly and makes sense of all the stimuli that saturates our physical experience.  Many would say it is our left brain that keeps us sane, but this all depends on your definition of “insane.”  For often, it is our left brain that imposes a black and white world on a colorful spectrum.  It is our left brain that convinces us of our absolute individuality, sometimes to the point of cultivating a feeling of isolation and separateness that breeds hate and justifies a legacy of conflict, discrimination and abuse. 

In contrast, our right brain makes the impossible a possibility. It sees the men behind the curtain.  It breaks down walls and births creativity.  But many of us neglect our right brain, the part of us that always keeps one foot in the universal and the realm of undefined. We are often trained to minimize this part of ourselves, because it is unpredictable, nonconforming, and generally inspires behavior that would earn the title of “crazy.”   It is our right brain that connects us to spirit, to nature, and to each other.  It is the piece of us that creates, that dreams, that feels whole, at peace and connected to All That Is.  Some people explore their right brain with art or music, others with meditation or spiritual ritual, and still others rely on psychedelic substance.  Throughout human history, it is not uncommon for spiritual ritual and substance to go hand in hand.  The cultivation of opium for ritual purposes dates back to the Neolithic Revolution. Ayuaska and coca have their ancient origins in traditions of Amazonian shamans, and the sacred peyote has a conspicuous presence in the religion of the indigenous ancestors of this continent. 

Therefore, I must ask… when much of our disconnection and antisocial behavior is rooted in our left brain while much of our connected, symbiotic and enlightened experience arises from our right brain, why did we come to define our structured illusion of physicality as a superior way of perceiving reality?  Why do we discourage right brain association to promote personal success through a system of conformity and predictable achievements?  Why do we punish the use of drugs that suspend our spiritual and creative imprisonment and permit us to connect with those parts of our mind and spirit that generally remind us of our infinite nature? 

I am fully aware of the negative consequences that can accompany an abuse of substance, yet I am equally intrigued by the historical overlap of substance and spiritual connection.  Is it not possible that our Creator would offer us tools, perhaps gifts, to assist us on our journey into our own existence?   Must we deny and ignore the wisdom of ancients across time and globe? 

To ultimately determine Who We Are and WHY we are here… one would think it would be necessary to invest sufficient time exploring the part of our mind that is better equipped to answer such questions. 

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/229

 

This week in my political science course, I am charged with the responsibility of covering the topic of fascism.  In my studies and research to prepare for class, I cannot help but notice the connections between organized religion and fascist governments, literally and metaphorically.  Anyone with a solid understanding of world history cannot deny the blood and tyranny that accompany a theocracy.  Human experience is peppered, no smothered, with examples of religious justification for attrocities of all varieties. 

But the the similarities are striking, even when the two institutions are theoretically separated.  Both indoctrinate people with an ideology that requires a surrender of rational/logical/critical thought in exchange for blind faith in authority (divine or human).  Propaganda and symbolism are pervasive.  Both rely heavily on a culture of fear to motivate the behavior of people.  This also requires an intentional eroding of personal power of the individual in order to foster a dependency on the authority and guidance from above.  It is made clear that people cannot be trusted to think for themselves. Rather, because of our sinful, weak disposition, we are encouraged to suspend personal will or reason and adhere to a dogma or doctrine that is provided for us.  Both are arrogant and self-righteous in their absolute nature, attacking anyone who questions their validity.  Great effort is taken to avoid a thorough investigation into historical context, because connecting the dots would threaten the necessary myth that keeps people in conformity.  Truth is whatever the religious or government leaders tell you, even if it conflicts with science, logic, or your own conscience. 

 This is all particularly relavent in the US right now, because our current administration has made it clear that religion and politics BELONG together and neither should be questioned.  In fact, traditional conservatism, as theorized by Edmund Burke in the 1700s, proposes that human reason cannot be trusted and therefore the government must provide a framework of moral values based on long-standing traditions.  Burke actually advocates that the older the moral teachings, the more trustworthy they are likely to be.  Todays conservatives make no effort to conceal the fact that they believe the Bible is the ultimate source for determining moral tradition, and they rely on those teachings to oppose civil rights and encourage submission to authority. 

How can a free society function when critical thought and reason are discouraged (and often punished) and the ethical foundations of policy are rooted in a mythical theology designed to control and convert?  This is where we are going, folks.  Our system of checks and balances and rational interpretation of law has been overthrown by a cult of wealthy elites and brainwashed sheep who believe the moral authority of a supreme diety (as exercised through Christian leaders and our God-fearing administration) trumps personal liberties!  I am not just talking about the fundamentalists!  This ideology is now mainstream in the ranks of conservative politics. 

The scariest part of all of this is the involvement of Americas financial elite.  The marriage of religion and government is far more dangerous when it expands to a love triangle with greed.  There is a documentary that addresses much of this topic in detail.  Watch it.  Think about it.  Do your own research to investigate the claims that are made.  This will NOT be an easy assignment.  You will probably find many reasons why you do not have the time or you simply do not want to be bothered with so much brain-spinning information.  But information is power, and ignorance results in death of conscience and control when you abdicate the thinking to others without informed oversight. Who will look out for you if you are too busy or too overwhelmed to look out for yourself? 

In the words of a Great man, MLK, : ” Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.  Never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal.  A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.” 

http://zeitgeistmovie.com/main.htm

(Kudos to my new friend TwoBlueDay for inspiring me to rant in this delightfully fun display of sarcasm.)

1. I worked hard to become a wasteful, elitist glutton so please stop telling me I’m destroying the world with my lifestyle.

2. Of course I deserve it all.

3. Unlimited economic growth is the only way to go (even if it resembles a cancer).

4. If you disagree with me, you’re an asshole. If you disagree with our government, you’re a terrorist.

5. If you can’t stop bitching about your civil liberties, you need to move to Canada.

6. You’re either with us or against us.

7. Why should I care that half the world lives in absolute poverty, dying of starvation and hidden landmines, when our own higher cost of living forced me to downgrade to standard cable and an economy car?

8. Blame the French!

9. Literal and strict interpretation of the Constitution (much like the Holy Bible) is the only way to ensure we maintain the Manifest Destiny status quo of our sexist, slave-owning, native-murdering forefathers. 

10. Free trade is fair trade, because survival of the fittest always creates an equal playing field for rural African farmers against corporate US agriculture backed by billions in government subsidies.

11. When in doubt, bomb the shit out of anything that moves.

12. When will these people learn that they are sitting on top of OUR oil?

13. Innocent until falsely accused.

14.  4,000 US soldiers dead? God bless them for liberating those poor Iraqi people.  Please pass the mashed potatoes.

15. Why can’t those fucking Africans stop killing each other? The Europeans could learn a thing or two from us about how to control their niggers when they give them their independence.

16. God made me do it.

17. When you live in this country, you must speak English, and when I visit your country, you must speak English.

18. They only attack us because they hate our freedom.

19. It’s not my fault that being born white gives me a 300 year family advantage of access to owning property, accumulating wealth, and acquiring college education. 

20.  Being gay is completely unnatural.  They should just devote their lives to celibacy. 

21. People who commit crimes are animals who deserve no mercy, unless they do it wearing an Armani suit. 

22. What’s good for me is definitely not good for you.

 23. Killing innocent people is murder, unless you do it in the name of freedom.

24. Torture is inhumane, unless you use it to interrogate people who don’t speak your language or practice your religion. 

25. I’m sorry.  Do I look like I care?

I apologize for my long absence from the blogging world.  Apparently, as powerful creators, we must be careful what we wish for, because it often shows up in our reality.  I love teaching college and I was disappointed with the three-course maximum that an adjunct instructor is permitted at any single institution.  After a few weeks of distributing my standard employment package to various schools in the area, I ended up teaching six college classes (4 different subjects) at three different schools in two New England states.  This was a serious logistical/time-management challenge, particularly since each school runs on a unique academic calendar.  Of course, I have also been busy with the task of hiring a property attorney to address the three lawsuits surrounding my family’s two-lot subdivision and tending to the details that accompany such experiences. 

Fortunately, my original three-course load has ended, and I am in the middle of a two-week break where I only teach my new three courses.  But starting on April 7, I’ll add two new courses to redeem my insane schedule. The subjects I presently teach have morphed to include sociology, social anthropolgy, political science and psychology.  How am I qualified to teach such a variety of material?  This remains unlcear to me, but I love a challenge.

 What has prompted me to return to the virtual page (aside from a friendly nudge from TwoBlueDay) is another forwarded email I received from right-wing think-tanks. I won’t include the contents here (http://thevoice.name/?p=4426), but they essentially contained a scathing denouncement of our US senators who voted against an official national language bill in 2006. Basically, it encourages the citizens to impeach these senators as traitors for failing to uphold the Pledge of Allegiance. 

 My reaction to this message encompasses a broad response to the general culture of fear in this country that distracts citizens from critical issues surrounding this administration and the welfare of our nation.  While illegal immigration and national security are certainly legitimate concerns for all Americans, there is a fundamentalist faction within our borders that would like to highlight issues that divide us and distract us from what is truly important. 

Beyond the political ball and cup game, I am most disturbed by the recent trend to label dissenters, protesters or nonconformists as “traitors” or “enemies of the state.”  If conservative pundits have their way, anyone who disagrees with the present adminstration or, more accurately, conservative politics must be deemed unpatriotic and a threat to America. 

The extreme version of this movement toward polarized nationalism is evidenced by the direction of anti-Arab and anti-illegal alien sentiment toward senators who refused to legislate English as the official language for the United States.  Fear and hatred unite to demonize the unknown or the unexpected as a traitorous action. 

The entire issue is ridiculous.  We’ve managed to survive for over 200 years since we ratified our Constitution WITHOUT an official language as per capita immigration has actually decreased.  Why are we (the strongest military powerhouse on the planet) so threatened by those who speak other languages on our soil when the vast majority of countries in the world have NO official language and commonly speak multiple languages within their borders?  I smell  neo-fascism. 
  
People really should find more important issues to whine about that legitimately pose a threat to civil liberties in this country… like warrantless searches, government surveillance of civilians, labeling dissenters as “enemies of the state”, government sanctioned torture in military prisons, privatized military units like Blackwater operating nationally and internationally without accountability to the American people, the growing movement toward a Christian theocracy, serious proposals to amend the Constitution to deny gay marriage, and a news media that panders to profit and the politics of corporate elite.
 
Americans wouldn’t be so bent out of shape about an official language if they weren’t too lazy or stupid to become bilingual.  We have the largest population of monolingual people on the planet.  Globalization is here, folks, and we’re so distracted with scratching our asses, watching our reality television, and buying shit we don’t need on credit to notice that we’re behind the curve.  Hell, India just became the largest English-speaking country in the world.  If we weren’t so damn ethnocentric and self-righteous we might actually take a minute to LEARN something about the world instead of forwarding propaganda from right-wing think tanks to make us feel better about our simple-minded, self-centered existence.
 
Really… traitorous?  Pathetic. 

Ice shelves are breaking up, the US has a $9.4 Trillion debt, we’re spending billions each month on the war in Iraq, our economy is in recession with the value of the dollar dropping everyday, we’re the most obese nation in the world (ranked 46th in the world in life expectancy), 180,000 Floridians were disenfranchised during the 2000 presidential election and nobody seems to mind (http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/vote2000/report/ch9.htm), heathcare is a mess, our government is stripping civil liberties, our education system and technology is lagging behind the rest of the high-income nations…
and somebody seriously wants me to give a shit about the a legal formality that would essentially confirm what we’ve known for our entire national history: 
Americans speak English!  Holy shit!  Alert the press! 
No, let me get this straight… I’m supposed to condemn our elected leaders, NAY impeach them, for failing to support the ideology of a national official language because it violates the Pledge of Allegiance?  Now which version of the  Pledge exactly… the first one that lasted for 31 years:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
or the second one that lasted for another 31 years:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
or the third version that’s been around since 1954:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Should I be offended that our Great Seal of the United States and our currency all contain our motto in Latin?!?  Or should I live as if that motto, which honors the strength of our diversity, is the foundation of a liberty-loving society?
E pluribus Unum
“Out of many, One.” 

I am not a perfect person, nor do I live in the illusion that I can or should aspire to be one.  But much of my life has been an adventure of self-definition that has inspired me daily to examine who I am, who I want to be, and how accurately my choices reflect my ultimate goals.  As the oldest child in a traditional nuclear American military family, I have enjoyed a life relatively unburdened by financial hardship or domestic instability that has freed my mind to the pursuit of philosophical and artistic expressions.  When you combine this with my precarious placement along the line of American evolution as a proud member of Generation X, I am infused with the civil and sexual liberations of my baby boomer parents and left searching for a sense of social identity against the backdrop of a raging consumer culture and massive technology explosion.  Noted for our pessimistic nature and general distrust of all institutions, we are usually painted as the nameless generation of apathy and misguided rebellion.  But despite our notorious reputation, we are the NEXT level in the evolutionary transition of this country and our position has primed us for the inquisition and exposition of new frontiers in collective human development.  For all our disgruntled nature and misplaced resistance, we are still the generation of emotion and spirit, calling forth a new understanding of the connection and expression of our higher selves.  Born with the blessings of generations before us, we have been gifted with the tools to build a better world and to raise the vibration of humanity, if we could only put down the I-pod shuffle and the Starbucks latte long enough to hear and hold truth.   

Seriously, our generation is like none other and the challenges and pressures of shaping our social identity in these exponential times is at least part of the instigation for our perceived apathy.  We’d much prefer to be tuned out, turned on, or toasted than face the tremendous responsibilities that complete the Gen X package. Hell, most of us cannot even function in this unprecedented cosmic matrix without a well-nurtured caffeine addiction.  But if we can navigate through the battlefield of reality television, MySpace profiles, and text messaging, there is an oasis on the horizon.  We are here to do great things.

 I have never questioned this calling in myself, but so much of becoming a great leader is learning lessons along the way.   It’s been a long journey, and I expect I have much left to learn, but I find that my most influential lessons have come from consistent self-evaluation with the simple question; do I live my truth?  Often times, I don’t want to ask the question or return an honest response because intuitively I already know the answer is in the realm of negative.  Living unconsciously provides the false impression that we can shelter our psyche from the discomfort of rejection and transition.  But in reality, we have become a prisoner to patterns, predispositions, programming and pathology. (yes, I did use that many Ps, get over it.)  Ultimately, we must ask ourselves if we are content to walk the paths we stumble upon or if there is a faster, safer, or more interesting route we’d like to customize for our pilgrimage on this planet.  More importantly, WHERE are you trying to go? 

Ironically, my life path (or more accurately, my bloody bushwhack through thorny thickets) has led me to become a college instructor with a primary focus on teaching the subject of critical thinking.  This profession and this material comes with the added responsibility of inspiring others to look honestly at how their choices shape their reality.  Academic research has revealed that the most effective method for retaining new information is to teach that information to others.  Therefore, my writing has become an extension of my academic research as part of my commitment to the never-ending process of self-enlightenment.   

What my studies and instructions have taught me is that the degree to which we have control over our lives and the degree to which we evolve personally and collectively is directly related to the degree to which we seek truth and live with conscious intention.  Many people do not have this luxury, as much of the world is caught in a vicious cycle of oppression, devastation and disconnection.  In fact, HALF of the human population lives in poverty (the US equivalent of $2 a day), forced to focus the majority of their energy and resources on the basic needs of survival.  While everyone is merely trying to make their way based on the circumstances presented, those of us who are fortunate enough to live our lives in the relative comfort and privilege of first world nations have very different choices.  Even with the tremendous imbalance of wealth and the obstacles of prejudice and bureaucracy that exist in our country, we all ultimately benefit from the freedoms and comparative affluence that result from our position in the world as a representative republic, a political and military powerhouse and one of the most prosperous economies in human history.   

In theory, even those Americans struggling among us have the advantage of a democratic process, a public education, and relatively stable government that provides some degree of national security, personal liberty, as well as the civil service and infrastructure necessary for commerce, mobility, and the opportunity for choice.  But with these opportunities comes responsibilities.  As citizens of a free nation who enjoy the fruits of blessed life, we have a duty to ourselves and our humanity to focus our time and attention on more enlightened endeavors.  In many ways we have succeeded in this monumental task through our commitments to art, music, and the cultivation of science and technology.  But as I look around me at the realities of 21st century life in America, I find myself searching for the faint pulse of the social and spiritual heartbeat of our dying national conscience.   

What does it mean to be an American?  What truths do we stand for, what values would we preserve with our own blood? Where is the primal battle cry that wells from the souls of fierce revolutionaries? Where is that uplifted voice that speaks for justice and equality and a better life, cracking and trembling with the passion of a collective conscience? What voice speaks for us now?  What does it say about our values, our vision, and the priorities that govern our daily lives?

I’ve decided that I am going to address this issue at length, covering many topics that point directly to the diagnosis of our failing spirit and prescription for renewed collective conscience.  (OMG, that sounds like the skeleton of a GREAT book! wink, wink)  So much of what I hear from many of my students, my friends and my family is cloaked in a nearly-hopeless apathy that leaves us all powerless to effect change in our own lives, let alone the world at large.  I hear people longing for a conscious life, but imprisoned by habit or tradition, limited by structural systems that are designed for self-destruction, and frustrated with a fractured and sensationally-distorted political process.   Even the true believers find ourselves distracted from our best intentions by the embellishments of affluenza and the mindless intoxication of a suffocating mass media.  And damn, who doesn’t appreciate a well-blended iced coffee beverage or the season finale of one of those super-sexy crime shows?   

I want to examine how we got here and tear down the walls that stand between our present condition and a holistically healthy and spiritually enlightened tomorrow.  Although I am not a medical physician nor a doctor of divinity, I do possess a doctorate degree, and while I am not a formally-educated authority on anything but law and legal systems (and that’s questionable), I love myself, my fellow human and this magnificent life enough to learn whatever is required throughout this process to lead us all toward healing. 

Now, this is not an entirely noble cause, because the first and vital motivation for this process is my very real desire to understand my own pain and suffering and break unconscious cycles of my own abuse and self-torment.  You see, I have every reason to be an entirely happy individual or at least happy enough to self-manage the inevitable results of my traumas without medication, and yet I have waged a somewhat persistent and serious battled with situationally-induced depression as a result of Post-traumatic stress disorder.   Really, though, other than my predictable but almost inconspicuous masochistic dance with sadness and anger, I am a highly positive, productive and successful member of society.  In fact, most people are quite surprised to learn of the darker side of my nature and my sporadic enslavement to it, because in all honesty it hasn’t held me back by traditional standards of American performance and personality.  At the risk of sounding arrogant, outstanding personal achievement is not some rare and random event that shows up a handful of times in my life.   I have been collecting first place ribbons and parchment paper certificates since I was old enough to understand what they represent.  I have excelled as a student, a professional, a leader, an athlete, a writer, a public speaker and debater, an actress and a singer.  I could fill several walls with the treasured symbols of a job well done. But I’m not just talking about a stack of honor roll cards and some plaque for best chili in the neighborhood cook-off.  I have performed a Best-of-State vocal duet to a standing ovation of many thousands, attended college on full scholarship to earn two separate Bachelor degrees in under 4 years with high honors, been recognized by some of the oldest and most prestigious honor societies in the world, accepted awards for my leadership as one of the most exceptional law school student presidents in the country, received national honors for my writing and speaking, and delivered an impressive law school commencement speech to a packed gymnasium.  I’ve introduced governors, senators, presidential administration, and Supreme Court Justices for speaking engagements, personally and officially welcomed presidential candidates, and generally rubbed elbows with some of the most influential people in the country.  I’ve bought and sold multiple properties for profit, traveled to 18 countries and managed to secure a nearly debt-free existence.  Now, while none of these feats is earth shattering, their cumulative consideration, as well as the fact that I completed them all before the age of 30 does present purpose for pause.     (Man, I LOVE that letter P.)

The reason for my digression into self-promotion is multi-purpose.  It provides decidedly helpful background information that will be relevant as we go along and it presents a very essential example of the contrast in human experience that introduces the questions: what are happiness and self-worth, how do we measure them, and how is suffering a necessary part of the dichotomy of human experience?  So how does someone with so much proven potential still have days when she no longer desires to continue living?  We’ll explore this and other sufficient examples of my imperfection as part of our examination of the crisis of collective conscience.

Fortunately, perfection is not a pre-requisite for effective leadership or inspired thought and an advanced medical education is not necessary for surgery of the soul.  It is not my desire to instruct anyone on how to live or what to think, but merely to ask WHY they live and whether the WAY they live serves their ultimate purpose on this planet.   

Even if you are clear about the answers to both questions, you should read my book anyway, because each of us can benefit from some honest introspection, there’s always more to learn, and I’m one funny bitch.  (: 

cows.jpgIn case you missed this week’s news story about the largest meat recall in history, I thought I’d use this terrifying example to elaborate on a reality of much greater horrors.  143 million pounds of beef, a full two-years of production from a large California meatpacker, was determined to be a possible risk to human consumption based on unsanitary and unethical production practices.  Cows that were too sick to stand on their own were electrically shocked, forced by high-intensity water sprays and otherwise moved by fork-lifts to be transported for final processing.  Basically, the Department of Agriculture was largely concerned with the negative impacts of eating these sick animals, even though the bulk of the meat produced from this plant had already been consumed.   

Far beyond the human health implications this article introduces, I am most disturbed by the systemic torture of animals to sustain the wasteful and socially-irresponsible high-meat diet of the average American.  If you honestly believe that the disturbing facts uncovered in this California beef farm are rare in this industry, check out a copy of “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz or hop over to http://www.meatrix.com for a more comprehensive look at the torturous practices of factory farming.  Four meatpacking companies control an estimated 79% of cattle slaughter.  98% of all poultry is now produced by corporations.  Since 1986, the number of independent hog operations has declined by 72%.   

Wake up, America!  The vast majority of the meat available in our shopping markets does NOT hail from a happy family farm where cows and pigs graze in wide-open pastures with the warmth of the afternoon sun on their backs.  They are confined, depraved, processed and disassembled like emotionless widgets through a system that sees them as products to be consumed, not living creatures that share equal rights to this planet and the joys life has to offer.   Frankly, if you eat meat and you refuse to seriously consider the results of your diet, you willfully participate in an unhealthy, unethical, and unsustainable system of consumption and destruction.   

Read it and weep, folks (or continue to bury your head in the sand).  That beautiful steak you gnawed at Ruby Tuesdays and the succulent burger you enjoyed at the company picnic most likely came from a factory farm where the animals never see direct sunlight and their feet never touch the natural earth.  Many animals are packed so tightly that they cannot move around normally, some cannot even turn around.  And we’re not just talking about veal here.  Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space.  Because of over-crowding, the beaks are painfully removed to prevent the chickens from injuring each other and exposing them to infection.  debeaking.jpgbatteryhens1.jpgchickens2.jpgchickens.jpg

In fact, an estimated 70% of all antibiotics in the US are fed to pigs, poultry and cattle to compensate for the unsanitary and confined conditions of factory farms.  This process makes it possible, and far more lucrative, for corporations to process animals for consumption in unnatural and inhumane conditions and fosters the development of anti-biotic resistant bacteria that can spread in animals and humans, and contaminates our water supply.  Despite the widespread, medically unnecessary use of antibiotics, 70% of the 76 million annual cases of food borne illness in the US can be traced to contaminated meat.  It is also widely accepted in these industries to inject animals with articial growth hormones to increase muscle growth and milk production. The simple truth remains: eating any meat that is not confirmed (by your eyes or properly certified) to be humanely-raised and organic, can expose yourself and your family to all of the ills that result from these unhealthy types of treatments AND perpetuates a system of abuse that reduces the magnificent creatures of the planet into a tortured food source.   

 pigs.jpgpigs2.jpgpigs3.jpgpigs4.jpg

While we’re on the subject of cruelty… what does this massive torture and execution system say about the conscience of humanity?  Even if one believes that humans have a biological and spiritual RIGHT to consume the flesh of other creatures, does this authority rise to the level of full-scale, inhumane production to sustain a daily diet?  Should our entitlement include the regular enjoyment of meats, far disconnected from the gruesome realities of the process and the consequences?  Does it extend to consumption of animals we could not kill ourselves?   

These ethical problems stem from America’s artificially-created addiction to meat and an intentionally ignorant populace that would rather not know where their food comes from because they enjoy their meat, thank you very much.  In 2000, American total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) reached 195 pounds (boneless, trimmed-weight equivalent) per person, 57 pounds GREATER than the average US annual consumption in the 1950s.  Although Americans comprise only 5% of the world’s population, they consume 30% of the world’s meat.  This trend is no different than our greedy consumption of other resources, like the fact that we lay waste to 25% of the world’s oil, 27% of the world’s aluminum, and one-third of the world’s paper (oh, yes, and produce two-thirds of the world’s toxic waste).  Speaking of waste, the USDA estimates animals in the US meat industry produced 1.4 billion tons of waste in 1997- (that’s 5 tons of animal waste for every human) 130 TIMES the nation’s volume of human waste. This doesn’t even touch on the incredible amounts of methane and nitrous oxide (both potent greenhouse gases) that are produced by cattle feedlots and pig operations.   These numbers are offensive and speak directly to the elitist, entitlement mentality of our country.  

Unfortunately, EVEN when consumers make an effort to buy organic and humanely-raised meat products, the environmental implications of a high meat diet are staggering.  Throughout the world, forests are being destroyed to support the meat-eating habits of the “developed” nations. Almost 40% of the earth’s land surface has been converted to cropland or permanent pasture.  Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 40 percent of all Central American rain forests were destroyed to create pasture for beef cattle. More than four million acres of cropland are lost to erosion in the United States every year. Of this staggering topsoil loss, 85 percent is directly associated with livestock raising, i.e., over-grazing. Much of the excrement from “food” animals (which amounts to 20 times as much fecal matter as human waste) flows unfiltered into our lakes and streams. 

Raising animals for food is an extremely inefficient way to feed a growing human population. The U.S. livestock population consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed more than five times the entire U.S. population. One acre of pasture produces an average of 165 pounds of beef; the same acre can produce 20,000 pounds of potatoes. If Americans reduced their meat consumption by only 10 percent, it would free 12 million tons of grain annually for human consumption. That alone would be enough to adequately feed each of the 60 million people who starve to death each year. Eating beef produces 17 times the water-pollution and 16 times the land-use impact of eating grains.  On average, it takes 14 to 21 pounds of protein from sources that could be directly used as food to produce 1 pound of meat protein.  That means only 5 to 7 percent of the total protein consumed by a feed-lot steer or cow is returned for human consumption.  Similarly, only 12 % is returned by a hog as pork, 15 % by a chicken as meat, 22 % as eggs and 23% by a cow as milk.   

Vegetarianism is the ideal immediate solution to this grim reality. But addictions are hard to kick, so ANY reduction in meat consumption would be beneficial.  While the negative impact of daily meat consumption cannot be entirely eliminated by a switch to humanely-raised meat, it certainly provides TREMENDOUS improvement for the health of your family and the planet.     

Of course, the American meat addiction will not go down without a fight.  You’re sure to find numerous claims by well-meaning people that vegetarianism is unnatural and unhealthy.  But despite the powerful influence of the meat-industry lobby and the general unwillingness of gluttonous Americans to reassess their grossly-out-of-balance addiction to a high-meat diet, vegetarianism is a safe and socially-responsible trend that is fast-growing.  Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters. Plus, meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than vegans.  Scientists have also found that vegetarians have stronger immune systems than their meat-eating friends; this means that they are less susceptible to everyday illnesses like the flu. Vegetarians and vegans live, on average, six to 10 years longer than meat-eaters. 

Although the recent theories of Dr. D’Admano on blood type professes a biological need for some people to consume meat, the predominant consensus in medical research is that meat is not only unnecessary for human health, it presents far more health complications than a balanced vegetarian diet.  Thousands of years of Eastern diet traditions, as well as recent medical studies confirm that substitution of soy and other protein sources for meat protein does not impair human growth, development and general health in any way.    In fact, former champion bodybuilder, Bill Pearl is a vegetarian. So is the legendary 6’8, 320 pound wrestler, Killer Kowalski; fitness guru, Jack LaLanne; Olympic gold medalist, Edwin Moses; and 6-time Ironman Triathlon winner, Dave Scott, just to name a few. Burly vegetarians from the animal kingdom include bulls, elephants, rhinos, and gorillas. A silverback gorilla eats only raw fruits and vegetables and at only three times the weight of an average man, has thirty times the strength.  

I expect that this post will be met with much animosity, as honest evaluation of our diet practices can be a very personal and emotional experience.  Many may point to a handful of exceptions in the field of diet research to contradict the information presented here.  But much like the global warming hold-outs that deny mans influence in a fast-changing climate, exceptions always emerge when sufficient resistance to change renders truth painful and inconvenient. 

Sources:

Is Our Food Safe to Eat? by Leon & DeWaal, The Book of Tofu by  Shurtleff & Aoyagi, Diet for a Small Planet by Lappe, Slaughterhouse by Eisnitz, Facing the Future: People & the Planet by Goekler, www.facingthefuture.org,  www.FDA.org, www.meatrix.org, http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/02/17/beef.recall/index.html

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My impenetrable cape has returned from the dry cleaners and the Bionic Bitch is back in business. No mission is too risky for the love of my hungry felines.  The Market Basket cashier didn’t even know what hit her.  I descended on the grocery store at approximately 2 PM, arriving under cover of the bumper sticker collage of my stealth VW Jetta, and proceeded directly to the dairy ailse with my collection of thrift store canvas bags.  I temporarily lowered my invisible force field to approach the pimple-faced stocking clerk.

“Excuse me, do you have any organic sour cream, organic creamer or kryptonite repellant?” I inquired.
“I dunno.  I’ll go check.”

I spied the creamer section curiously.  Hmmmm, they think they can pass off the non-organic soy creamer as the cow-friendly alternative, but pesticides wreak havoc on my superpowers.

“Ma’am,” Whew!  He’s convinced by my human disguise.  “We’ll get some in tomorrow.”
“Alright, thanks.”

The minutes flew by and my rolling metal basket piled high with as much organic produce as one vegetarian superhuman and four cats can consume in a week (the dogs had back-up from Target).  I even allowed a package of Sour Patch Kids to penetrate my health filter and secure its position on the automated black rubber conveyor.  The cashier’s suspicions were aroused by the obviously misplaced yellow plastic bag, but I distracted her with friendly conversation and she scanned the item without confrontation. 

Upon realizing that my superheroine identity had escaped undetected, my swollen confidence intrigued me with an invitation to challenge the staff and patrons of the nearby Big Lots store.  With complete awareness that this mission would be more difficult than the last, I recharged my invisible shield with a handful of the delightfully sour gummies and collected my few remaining empty canvas bags from the trunk of my bitch mobile. 

My fellow shoppers were immediatley on guard as they observed me emerging from the parking lot with a stray shopping cart and those incriminating reusable bags.  I had to know if I’d already blown my cover before entering the store.  I hesitantly suspended my ethical training as a superheroine and scanned their thoughts with emergency mind-control techniques. 
Lighter fluid, Cheetos, jock-itch medication…What else was I supposed to get?
Oh my god, they’re having a furniture sale.
Crazy fucking hippy. Damn, Nice tits.

False alarm.  They remained clueless to my alter ego, so I proceeded as planned. Once inside the building, I was hypnotized by the wall of clearance merchandise.  Despite my best defenses, I was suckered by a $2.00 box of Craisins and several $0.85 bags of Krunchers Bar-B-Que potato chips. But I did redeem myself with some organic dill pickle spears and organic granola/fruit bars.  I even passed up the discounted holiday merchandise and the intimidating display of cheap plastic dog toys. 

But when I arrived at the check-out line, I knew I had met my match with a dishelved-looking middle-aged woman who stood slumped behind the register.  In total silence, the cashier locked sad eyes with me as I approached her counter.  She said nothing as I handed her my bags and began to unload the contents of my cart.  With labored effort, she pointed her red lazer at the line of bar codes and placed each item into my bags as if it were a thin-shelled egg.  When the machine flashed my total on the screen, I ran my credit card through the magnetized slit and waited for my receipt.  She paused awkwardly, knowing that it would be a moment before she could hand me the slip of printed paper from the tiny printer.  Suddenly, against every impulse of my structured superheroine training, I smiled and stepped outside the matrix of our disconnected world.

“Long day, huh?”
She appeared startled, then sighed.  “Yeah. One of THOSE days.”

“Thank you for being here.  Thank you for the job that you do.”
Her confusion left her momentarily speechless, and then her attention was taken by the tiny printer spitting out the record of my purchase.  She quickly retrieved the receipt and placed it into my extended palm. 

“You are very welcome.  Thank YOU for being here.”
When her sad eyes were a little less sad, I knew I’d compromised my secret mission. 

But hey, no worries, the cats will be grateful, nonetheless. 
 

So, I’ve been sitting here in my recent thrift-store score office chair for about 45 minutes now, not doing much of anything.  I’ve already surfed everything I could think of on the ‘net and I don’t really have enough energy to get out of the chair.  There are a number of things that I should be doing, perhaps tending to the dishes that have sat in the sink for a week now, or maybe grading some of the mound of papers I’ve been too distressed to attempt.  Mostly, though, I know I need cat food.  Actually, I’ve been without groceries for several days now, but coffee and crackers can go a long way.  The cats, though, they have sensitive stomaches and they deserve more than crackers.  But that would require me to get out of my bathrobe and leave the house and that involves tremendous amounts of energy.  I’m going to do it, though, because if nothing else right now, I love my cats. 

It would be swell if there was something anyone could do to help me.  I’ve got all these people in my life who love me who keep telling me they are there for me, and I guess that’s great, right?  I could have nobody that cared about me.  But, honestly, what the hell can anyone do?  I don’t much feel like talking, and it doesn’t actually make me feel any better anyway.  I don’t want to see anyone or go anywhere, because I’m just about tapped for energy and eventually I have to lay alone in my bed and remember that everything I’ve been working toward has been leveled to ground zero. 

 I’d love to speak with a counselor, but I’ve been on a waiting list to get one for several weeks now.  Without health insurance, I’m limited to the local community health program that provides counseling for $10 per session.   Apparently there are quite a few people like me who beat me to the hand-out desk.  It took me a little longer than most to ask for help because it’s pretty shameful  to have a doctoral level education and qualify for such programs. 

I’ve been diligent in my job search for over a month now because living on $1250 a month wasn’t really working out for me even before I knew they were planning to close my school.  But it’s not like I’d put on an impressive interview at this moment anyway.   Hell, I’m afraid to go to the grocery store and break-down when the cashier asks me how I’m doing. 

 I make every effort to be strong when friends and family call.  They can’t change anything and there’s no sense bringing everybody else down.  There’s nothing like throwing band-aids over gaping wounds to remind us just how powerless we truly are. 

 It’s all just so ironic.  I mean, the six months preceding this upheaval were some of the most positive in my life.  I was so excited about the possibilities, so hopeful, so focused on creating my ideal experience.  I teach the power of positive thinking for fuck’s sake!  I was that annoying inspirational nut who got excited every time I got to show The Secret in class and then share personal examples about how I’ve created a dream life with happy thoughts.  I’d write motivational comments on every student journal and scribble smiley faces incessantly. 

But today my only motivation is cat drool, as I stroke the purring friend who has made my lap her safe haven.  Unfortunately, I must disturb her nap to brave the grocery store before I am tempted to return to the unconscious state myself. 

Yesterday was not a good day for me.  I am really hoping today will turn things around. 

 My Friday morning began with a lovely trip to the gynecologist where I had the joy of a full STD screening.  Now, I know you gentlemen won’t completely understand this, but the ladies all know how rewarding it is to lie on your back in a cold, sterile room and have someone insert accoutrements into your nether region, poking and scraping your most sensitive parts.  This experience is humiliating even when the reason behind it is a more preventative and positive one.  But today I got to check the box on the form that said “My partner has had sex with other people since my last visit” and then I got to discuss the details of my personal life and sexual history at length to determine just how disturbed I truly am.  Oh sure, I’m not special.  Almost every woman has had some negative experience with her feet in the stirrups.  But, for me, EVERY visit to the gynecologist is a negative experience, because it always involves revisting a lifetime of pain and victimization.  Routine reproductive healthcare is traumatic for someone who has experienced multiple molestations and rapes.  You see, the annual pap test and vaginal exam may just be annoying for some, but for me it is a yearly reminder of my position in life as a sexual object to be manipulated for the pleasure of men.  And this time was no different.  For, despite my faithfully consensual sex with my most recent partner of three years, I was STILL violated by his infidelity.  Those who stray sexually from their monogomous relationships ultimately commit one of the most vile and offensive acts of assault.  They not only take the most intimate and spiritually sacred bond that can be shared between two people and degrade it down to a cheap, meaningless and fleeting physical pleasure wrapped in animal lust, but when they return to the bed of their unknowingly betrayed lover they inject guilt and deceit into the most vulnerable depths of soul.  And when they also commit their infidelity without a condom they perpetrate a physical violation that rises to the level of criminal negligence. 

 So, I spread my legs for the lady in white, and now I get to wait two weeks to see if my shameful man has destroyed more than my trust and stolen more than my naive heart.

Yesterday was not a good day.  When I returned from the clinic, I spent an hour on the phone with the director of the state environmental department arguing for a simple two-lot subdivision that I have been fighting to manifest for over a year now.  After my grandmother’s death in December of 2006, our family began the process of dividing her 39 acres into two lots to build a second home.  This subdivision includes a conservation easement that would permanently protect  30+ acres and the intention of my family to construct an off-grid, ecofriendly home using at least 50% recycled materials.  Yet, I have had to become a part-time contractor in order to navigate the gauntlet of municipal and state regulations to make this happen, and tirelessly dodge the road blocks set up by our neighbors from hell.  After fighting us and the town for over 8 months, our neighbors filed two lawsuits against the local land use boards for granting our subdivision, and this month they filed a suit against us to obstruct the conservation easement.  Their displeasure stems from their use of a right-of-way that our family owns that will be used for access by the new home.  Apparently they are unmoved by the fact that we OWN the right-of-way, have used it for over 40 years without incident and they were fully aware of it’s shared condition prior to the purchase of their home 14 years ago.  They live in the elitist world where those who have enough money and connections have the responsibility to deny the property rights of others in order to foster a community of self-righteous snob-zoning.  This week I had the priviledge of receiving their court summons.  Simulataneously, the state denied our subdivision application because they cannot handle basic math and they expect everyone to do their job for them.  So, my Friday afternoon was devoted to explaining the state regulations to the director of that department, who was obviously very defensive that a lowly “lay-person” (his words), and a woman no less, could articulate the state rules with greater familiarity and comprehension than the bulk of his staff. 

Yesterday was not a good day.  Upon completion of my frustrating conversation with chauvinist director, I received an email from the president of the local community college explaining that the school where I love to teach will be permanently closing in the near future and staff reductions would begin promptly.  As one of the newest members of the faculty who usually teaches mostly introductory courses, I can expect to be in the first round of cuts as they will reserve their “teach-out” positions for those with seniority.  Of course, we’ve all been whispering about this possibility for months now, but nothing is more final and frightening than the official notice that you will now be competing against your beloved friends for similar positions in the surrounding college community as we enter a very real recession in the American economy. 

Yesterday was not a good day.  After discovering more of my shameful man’s cell phone bills, I uncovered ANOTHER period from our early relationship where he was in almost daily contact with not one, but two, ex-girlfriends.  This reinforces the idea that his deceit and betrayal transcend our entire relationship and essentially secures my place as the top whore in a long line of whores.  As expected, someone with my life experiences would be tragically impacted by the realization that this is the third long-term relationship where I have been mistreated in this way and I obviously will require extensive therapy to avoid throwing myself back to the wolves. 

So my day concluded with complete emotional breakdown where I attempted to sever all ties with my shameful man.  This led to a somewhat misdirected and harsh venting at my parents, an extended period of sobbing and then a concentrated effort to prevent the suicide of my shameful man. 

But hey, look at me now.  I was awake by 7:30 AM.  I’m writing, without my morning coffee.  Even my tear-soaked keyboard can’t stop me now.  The sun is painting rainbows through the crystalized prisms of the snow-covered lawn and the cats are warming themselves on the weathered window sils.  Today is a new day.  Today is the day I deserve to be happy. 

Alright, since it seems to be the subject everyone wants to talk about, let’s take a good look at my pathology that would CHOOSE this experience in my life.  Nevermind that the folks who seem the most eager to delve into my role in this have been in similar positions before, but don’t recognize (or want to discuss) any parallels in their own dysfunction.  I’m really no different from everyone else who would prefer to focus on the reasons WHY I’m fucked up rather than HOW that manifests in my life.  But I’m feeling particularly vulnerable right now, so why not serve as a psychological specimen for everyone to vicariously resolve their own issues through my public processing? 

Human beings are funny creatures.  No one REALLY wants to hear or discuss the details of someone else’s suffering.  Hell, most people can’t even wrap their head around their own shit.  No one really wants to understand the reality of another’s pain.  They just want to make it better, make it go away, make it right, so they can feel better about themselves and the world in general.  But even the people who want to hear the dirty details are often plagued by their own demons, searching for answers in someone else’s questions or comparing their experiences to move up one rung on the ladder of human hierarchy.  Sometimes people do truly feel sorry, but who is WILLING to watch those they love be tormented by problems they cannot solve and who is ABLE to completely suspend judgment or control and just LISTEN to the painful processing of another?  It’s no easy job.

Many times we project our own shit on other people.  I actually had one friend tell me that everyone has skeletons in their closet and that I need to look at how I contributed to his infidelity. Of course, this was after she confessed to her own adultery and attempted to justify her actions based on the behavior of her spouse.  First of all, I have NO skeletons.  Anyone who does not know absolutely everything about me has just not asked enough questions.  Secondly, while I do recognize that some CHEATERS like to rationalize their sickness by blaming others, I am one of those people who believes that THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR BETRAYAL.  If someone is unhappy in a relationship, if their needs aren’t being met, if they aren’t being treated the way they deserve to be treated despite honest disclosure and effort on their part, END THE RELATIONSHIP and move on.  If you choose to stay in the relationship, you are still bound by the agreements of that relationship.  PERIOD.

While I do believe that there is a lesson in every experience and choices that I made allowed this experience to manifest in my life, I am in NO WAY responsible for the actions of my shameful man.  I am only responsible for the deeper motivations that would attract this experience into my life and my responses to the realization of this information.  The confusion of causation and correlation is one of the most common fallacies that leads people to place blame where it does not belong.  Yes, I CHOSE this experience.  No, I did not CAUSE it. 

But I am not special in that regard.  Really, WHY do any of us CHOOSE to be violated or disappointed by others?  Why would any of us choose to be abandoned, neglected, deceived, abused, or otherwise mistreated?  We all do it.  All of us at some point in our lives have CHOSEN to be the casualty of someone else’s pathology.  No one is exempt here.  At least I’ve never known or met anyone who claims to have a spotless record when it comes to their interaction with others.  My spiritual beliefs require complete accountability, though.  I have come to recognize that we create our own reality, whether by accidental apathy or conscious intention.  Therefore all horrible acts are agreements between participants and none of us has chosen a life FREE from such experiences.  So, why does the child choose the abusive, neglectful, neurotic or emotionally-challenged parent?  Why does the battered spouse choose the abuser?  Why does the slave choose the captor? Why does the betrayed partner choose the infidelity? 

Apparently, it’s complicated.  I chose this experience for many reasons, some healthy, some unhealthy, some consciously, others unconsciously, but always because I WANTED it in my life experience at some level.  Let’s start with the unhealthy motivations since that’s the hardest to admit and I don’t want to get distracted here.  Obviously I’m working on some self-esteem challenges that have manifested from other experiences I have chosen in the past.  Those of us who struggle through these growth opportunities, usually stumble a few times before we finally refuse to be treated or treat others as anything less than the divine light that we ALL are.  Some of us stumble more often and more dramatically than others based on the level of challenge we CHOSE in this lifetime and how quickly we GET the lessons.  I guess I chose an advanced level, nothing deserving of martyr status or praise, but definitely capable of producing tremendous growth and introspection.  All of us are really learning the same lesson, or more accurately, remembering the same truth.  We chose to enter this human experience, this grand illusion, with the same purpose: to co-create our collective evolution through the conscious experience of our own divine, infinite possibilities.  No, I am not high.

So, back to my unhealthy motivations… I chose this experience, because up until now I had not learned the lesson that is presented here… a lesson that I created (and have created before) to provide opportunity for my own personal growth and my contribution to our collective evolution.  This is not a one-dimensional lesson.  There is as much to learn from my future choices as there is to learn from my past and present.  I’ll explore this in more depth another time.  Each life is a series of growth opportunities, a collection of choices that allows us to move forward. 

But is this entirely an unhealthy motivation?  There is a larger lesson here.  Our human reality is a necessary symbiotic dichotomy.  Experience and choice do not exist without contrast.  How do we truly understand trust without the possibility of betrayal? How do we experience forgiveness separate from acts of violation and mistreatment?  How do we know unconditional love until we love unconditionally? 

I don’t have all the answers.  But I do know what feels good, and anger and judgment don’t feel good.  I am very clear that regardless of how I move forward through this, grief is a required part of this process.  Unfortunately, I am not perfect, and my grief can make it difficult for me to BE LIGHT in every moment.  I am sorry to everyone that I hurt and that I have hurt as I grieve.  Even my shameful man.