the power of the vote

I’m sure by now everyone has seen the newest Russell Brand interview that has been making the rounds on the internets. If not, you can skip to the bottom of this post and have a gander for yourself. Personally, I think it is one of the most amazing things I’ve heard in a long, long time. Actually, the only aspect of it that bums me out is the fact that the whole discussion has since been reduced to an argument on voting when it is about so much more than that.

Me, I vote. Sometimes. I’ll admit I’ve missed an election or two in my time, but for the most part I go and take part in democracy because I like the sticker. I also like feeling like I’m a part of getting something done, but I’m realistic about the fact that I’m not really. The sad truth of American politics is that there is way too much money involved, and until there isn’t, Russell is partly – if not completely – right. Your vote kinda maybe doesn’t really mean shit. And if – like him – you’re disgusted by the entire system, your vote may actually feel like an act of complacent acceptance.

On the other hand, if you’re anti-voting like Russell is, I don’t really care. Not that I don’t care you’re not voting, but I don’t really care to hear about it. Like voting, not-voting is no revolution. You’re not tossing maltov cocktails at armored troops with billy clubs or tearing down the walls of oppression. Instead, you’re just doing exactly what those in power want you to do; Express a total disinterest in their system.

What I’m really trying to say is this: The power of the vote is gone. These days it’s just another personal preference, like drinking coffee or abstaining from television. You could write books on why the power is gone, but a simple summery would most definitely point heavily back at the massive amounts of corporate money that is steering the true direction of candidates that wouldn’t have a chance of winning without the corporate paychecks in the first place.

If you’re like me, you could vote for the buried wins in a sea of losses while believing that voting isn’t evil and not-voting isn’t a revolt. Or choose anywhere else on the hate-it to love-voting! spectrum, it doesn’t really matter. Because what you do isn’t important, it’s what you influence others to do that matters. If society feels disenfranchised and helpless, than the system needs to change, not their view of the system.

Which gets me back to the Russell Brand thing. What he is talking about is what I truly believe we need. A total re-imagination of what we are capable of. To watch this smug journalist sit across from him with that disdainful smirk on his face makes me want to just kick him off the boat, because the simple fact is this:

Every great change in our society has taken massive amounts of imagination to became reality.

I believe the most important point Russell brings up in this video is the idea that – if nothing else – the Occupy Movement introduced Americans to the truth that 1% of the population have most of the money. That alone has done more for the progressive shift of this country than any presidential vote we’ve been a part of in our lifetime.

As it turns out, real change is going to take a lot more than a vote, and that’s what Russell is talking about. And don’t get tripped up on the word “revolution” either, because it doesn’t mean we have to burn the place down. It just means we need a large amount of imagination to realize that collectively we can be anything we want to be, so what’s so hard about imagining that we just be better?

The Beautiful Line

Like many Southern Californians find themselves doing on a sunny summer day, this past weekend I headed out to Ikea to purchase a few items. I’ll admit that I try to take a more Zen-like approach than your average bear when spending a Saturday afternoon at one of our nation’s finer big-box stores, so when it comes time to get in line to pay, I just choose one that will hopefully flow like a frat-house keg and space out until my turn.

That’s not to say there isn’t a loose scientific method to my choice. On this particular day, my girlfriend and I chose the line that ended with a college-aged girl who was only purchasing a few hand towels. Maybe it was the aforementioned Zen-like approach that caused us not to notice the unfolding situation, but the girl in front happened to be talking to a girl in the adjacent line. One quick look at their similar Droopy Dog-like faces and it was easily deduced that they were probably sisters.

Shortly after, their mom walked up and – oddly – was physically more attractive than both daughters combined. One might even use the words “Orange County MILF” if describing on looks alone, making me only wonder what the dad’s half of the gene pool was contaminated with because someone was wielding the ugly stick with a heavy hand and it didn’t appear to be mom.

Soon enough, a large transaction ahead was cleared and our line progressed a chunk closer to pay day. Seeing this, other-line sister quickly and aggressively shoved her massively overflowing cart in front of us, causing me to finally realize what was happening: The sloppy sisters were line hedging in order to double their chances of a quicker exit. What was once a simple girl and her towels standing between us and our own exit had now become a colossal purchase of time-consuming proportions.

Because they were young, I could almost understand their crass – yet textbook – display of line-hogging, as self-awareness has been nobody’s strongpoint at that age. Instead, what really bothered me most was the mother’s complacent involvement. One could almost sense her pride as her girls shaved a minute or two off their waiting time, all at the expense of looking like total jackasses in the process to all behind them.

The annoyance I derived from witnessing this ill display of tasteless parenting actually surprised me. I was annoyed to the point of commenting on the situation with my girlfriend in very un-hushed tones. Of course, for the group to realize they were the subject of our discussions would have taken a self-awareness on their parts that they obviously didn’t possess. Their only concern at the moment was most likely a pair of cinnamon buns and a hot dog at the post-checkout cafe.

I can’t speak from experience, but I think we all know that parenting can really kick in the mama-bear tendencies, which creates the need for a delicate dance between scolding your kids’ actions and defending them to others. As a dog owner who has snapped at someone for reprimanding my pets aggressively, I can totally understand the protective nature that arises, be it human, canine or ursine.

Though sometimes I can only wonder if protective parenting unchecked can later lead to situations like the line debacle described above. It’s as if the extension of mama-bear self-righteousness taken too far can create kids with a strictly self-interested view of the world. A view completely devoid of how their actions might affect other people, and equally absent the awareness of the image that their actions project.

I understand this is just one small situation, but I really felt I captured a glimpse into this family’s perspective. It was obvious she was doing her daughters a serious disservice by raising them to act this way and it took some willpower on my part to notbe the asshole who tells her while she’s just trying to gather her purchases and get out of Ikea like the rest of us.

Instead I just kept quite and thought about my earlier unwarranted opinion of the sisters. We all know there are generic standards for physical beauty, but we also can all think of a “beautiful person” who in reality is absolutely revolting and vice-versa, leading me to believe without a doubt that true beauty is not about looks at all. Instead I personally believe what true beauty is, is both an understanding of yourself and an awareness of how this relates to the rest of the world and everyone else in it. To be truly beautiful is to understand that we are all in this together, and it is up to us to at least try to live our lives as such.

It made me realize the ugliness I was so unfairly judgmental about before wasn’t physical. Instead it was the wear and tear of a short selfish life worn like halloween masks on what could have otherwise been two beautiful faces if only a mother had balanced her dance and communicated to her daughters that what is truly beautiful and important about our world has nothing to do with getting your cinnamon roll a few minutes faster on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

“I believe we are each of us connected to every person and everything on this Earth, that we are in fact one divine organism having an infinite spiritual existence. Of course, we may not always comprehend that.” – Jane Catherine Lotter

The Illusion of Freedom

Guardian-of-Freedom-24x36I once went to Berlin for a few weeks and worked with a guy who grew up there in the Soviet Zone. I was fascinated by his stories of living under communism in a cold, industrialized city before the fall of the wall. The thing that struck me the most about the conversations was that he expressed it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. They still had parties and punk rock in the 80s, albeit more covertly than your average Westerner. He then went on to tell me that after the wall fell, he traveled to America for the first time for a music tour. It was there on his second or third day that he had a run in with the police on the side of the highway that was worse than anything he had ever experienced in East Germany. The discussion wrapped with him extolling the belief that the U.S. is a brutal police state not much better than the East Germany where he was raised.

A few days later I was in the back of a car driving down the Autobahn, drinking a beer, and trying to explain to a carload of Germans why you could never do that in the U.S. All I was getting in return were confused stares and unanswerable questions. “What does it matter if zi passanger is drinking beer if zay aren’t driving?” The best I could offer is, “That’s just the rules.” I’m guessing from the smattering of German conversation between them that followed, they were all in agreement that our rules are stupid. Between their confusion over such obvious freedoms as drinking responsibly wherever you’d like, and stories of East Germany as compared to American cops, it really got me thinking about this bill of freedom we’ve been crammed down our throats our whole American lives.

I know, many are fully aware of this fact already and now more than ever. Between Patriot Act spying, whistleblowers on the run, and the general sense that our corporate-influenced government no longer has our best interests in mind, it’s almost the only issue many Americans can agree on these days. That’s not to say we don’t get freedoms, but most can admit there’s an exaggeration to the word that’s undeniable. For me, personally, I can’t help but think of it when any talk about guns gets put on the table. Of course for many, guns – and the right to own them – are the physical manifestation of freedom. They see the right to bear arms as the great hope between a citizen and a government that yearns to control them. I, on the other hand, see guns as nothing more than a distraction from the lack of many true freedoms.

Even wildly entertaining the idea of a full scale revolution by the gun owners, they are talking about defending their rights against the world’s largest military. Even if every other country combined lent Syrian-rebel style support to the citizens, they would still be outgunned. So the idea of owning guns to defend against our government is just absurd, never mind the fact that if guns were truly dangerous to the governments agenda, they would have been banned long ago. The only thing gun ownership is truly effective for is giving the owners a sense of freedom. The gun is the proverbial bone tossed to a threatening – yet mostly benign – populace who cling onto them with the belief they are defending something they don’t realize they’ve already lost.

Including suicides, there have been over 300,000 gun deaths since 9/11. That’s 100x more than the catastrophic event used as the impetus for two wars that have cost countless dollars and deaths for over a decade. Yet this government can’t even pass a basic background-check bill to fight that threat. The fact is, guns aren’t going anywhere, and if someone changes their mind about that – which if they haven’t already, they never will – then there won’t be much you can do about it. That is, unless the military joins in on the coup, at which point we’d really be fucked. I personally don’t think guns have any purpose in a functioning society, but the fact is their usefulness at sedating the masses simmering unrest is unparalleled, and for that reason alone will be unchallenged for years to come.

I wish people would understand this and see their guns for what they are, nothing more than shiny, (loud, and deadly) distractions from the real issues that separate the people from the government. They are nothing more than shallow expressions of freedom smoke-screening the fact that we’re far from free and the whole world knows it but us.

The ironic part is that the corporate powers that influence the government don’t fear anyone picking up their guns, as they are experts in dealing with that – the only thing pointing a gun at someone does is gives them a reason to shoot you. Their fear is that you might actually put the guns down and explore other – more effective – options to experience your freedoms, some of which might not fit into their program as well as a factory worker getting screwed by the banks, the taxes, and the job, while contently expressing himself by blasting a few drained Bud bottles with his .22 on the weekend. And that would truly be revolutionary.

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe