Happiness

They say that being happy comes from enjoying what you have and living in the moment. I believe that, and I try my best. Overall, I am very happy. But this is a lot easier when I ignore what is going on in the real world.

The problem is that ignoring bad things allows them to continue. Some people say that the problem is that I care too much. That may be true, but I know that if we allow bad things to happen, it will affect us down the line. If by acting now I can help prevent that, I will act now.

I keep running into the problem that so many bad things are going on in the world that I cannot really be active enough in any one thing. Especially since I am a parent and I work full-time. This frustration that I have is probably part of the reason that so much of what I post are merely rants. I know full well that I am not adding anything meaningful to the debates. I just feel the need to DO SOMETHING.

I sign petitions, but so many of them ask for money after you ‘sign’ that I don’t even know if it gets counted unless I donate. I am not a bottomless pit, and I cannot donate to every worthy cause I come across.

Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Republicans & Gun Laws

I am honestly confused that in the minds of many Americans it is Republicans who are the ones who support gun rights. I know I normally try to keep party politics out of my discussions, but in this case it is the actual affiliation that confuses me. I have had conversations with people who heard my opinions on gun laws and assumed I was a Republican, to the point of questioning my other values.

Let me explain my views first, then I will explain why I have a hard time understanding the affiliation, and why I believe it exists.

I am a big supporter of the second amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There are several reasons that the founding fathers saw fit to include this right in our constitution. Hunting and personal defense are the most oft cited today. Some people think that both are outdated. I disagree.

I do not support hunting purely for game. I believe that hunting is a good skill to have, and acceptable as long as the animal is not endangered and over-hunted. Most numbers permitted by the Department of Fish & Wildlife are created with this in mind. But the most important part to me is that all parts of the animal are used. If you kill an animal, eat what you can, tan the hides, carve the bones. Find a use for every part of it. The animal gave its life to you, the most respectful thing to do is not waste it.

We do have police to keep people in line, but they cannot do anything about a crime that has not happened yet, and they may not respond fast enough in a crisis. That said I know that shockingly high numbers of gun-related deaths in this country are of household members with their own weapons. This does not mean we should not have guns for our own protection, it means that we need to make sure that guns are out of the reach of children. It also means that we may need to find a way to make marriage counseling more normal. I cannot imagine a scenario where a person in a healthy, functional relationship would ever pull a gun on a member of their household.

The main reason that we have the second amendment though is just as important now as it was in 1777. Fighting the government. And I think I can hear my name being put on a government watch list right now. Thomas Jefferson believed that in order for the government to remain fair, we should have a revolution once a generation. I agree. This revolution does not need to be bloody, but it does require awareness of the populace. At some point I would like to go through the history of this country and point out the types of revolutions I am referring to.

The founders of this great nation had just been through a war against the tyrannies of a government, and knew that they alone could not create a perfect system. They left us the ability to improve upon it, and evolve it. Voting, protesting, the process of constitutional amendments are all examples of this power. The founders knew that they did not win the Revolutionary War with a traditional military, but rather a loose militia. Our soldiers did not stand in neat little rows and fire off vollies in unison. We were the original guerrilla soldiers, the snipers and the spies. When they gave us the right to have a militia, they did not mean a government backed military. They meant that the people should have the ability to stand up for what they believe in. That is the principle of The United States of America.

So why am I confused about the party affiliation?

Republicans are doing all they can to take away these rights that every American should hold dear. They are making voting more challenging for millions, under the guise of stopping a few fraudulent votes. They are changing the voting boundaries (Gerrymandering) in order to maintain power. The Patriot Act took away many of the rights that we had as Americans to change how the system works. They are trying to make decisions for us by taking away the choices of patients and their doctors.

So why are they fighting to keep a right that I associate with keeping governmental power in check? They blatantly ignore this part of gun ownership, along with the NRA. Republicans have been able to distract from the fact that they have been taking so many freedoms by championing that they are protecting this one. They control us with the fear of our guns being taken away.

The truth is that Democrats are not trying to take them. They are trying to limit access to ever-higher powered weapons. My personal opinion on this is still open. I do not think that everyone should have access to nuclear warheads, but I do believe that those who protect the constitution should be able to do so. Democrats are trying to limit who can buy guns. This is supposed to be about making sure that people who are unstable and liable to go shooting up a school should not be allowed to have them. That is a short-sighted solution.

Despite a massive amount of research and science, there is still no way to predict this behavior. What would be better is providing accessible, normalized mental care for all. In the meantime, preventing people with a proven track record of violence from owning firearms is a good first step.