Hillary Has A Millennial Problem: And I Don’t Think Bernie Can Help

Photo by Paul Udstrand

Photo by Paul Udstrand

As we close in on the November elections it’s becoming increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton will have to gain the White House without a big millennial vote. Two thirds of millennials don’t want to vote for either Clinton or Trump and it doesn’t look like that needle is going to move

Hillary’s millennial problem is persistent and will likely stay that way for many reasons, but the die was cast in the very beginning of the nomination process. Sometimes candidates and supporters simply fall into the trap of seeing EVERYTHING as a reflection of themselves or their candidates. This tendency among Clinton supporters was more overwhelming in this election cycle than I’ve ever seen before in my 35 years as a voting adult. Clinton and her supporters simply could not comprehend that the fact that Sanders’s support, especially from the millennials, was never about Hillary Clinton. Nor was support for Sanders based on any personal infatuation with Bernie.

Not to psychobabble but in many ways the classic process of “projection” (a process wherein someone projects their own mental process onto another) was a serious culprit on a massive level among Clinton democrats. Much of the support for Hillary has always been personal, i.e. people who like Hillary like Hillary and wanted to see Hillary be Hillary in the White House. For this reason they are/were willing to dismiss the myriad of multiple liabilities hanging around Clinton’s neck; persistent liabilities that have become all too clear at this point.

Attempts at rational discussions with many Clinton supporters were frustrated by their inability to understand the fact that support for Sanders was never a reflection of their own support for Clinton. They tended to assume that we felt the same way about Sanders as they felt about Hillary. When Clinton supporters weren’t accusing us of sexism, they were droning on about the “cult” of Bernie. One insult followed another as Clinton supporters made one facile claim after another about the naïve, ignorant, sexist, and foolish nature of Sanders’s supporters. From the beginning many democrats seemed to assume they could insult, patronize, and demean millennials and still get their votes.

The nomination is a done deal but the ghosts of the nomination process still haunt Clinton, and I’m afraid it’s a haunting that can’t be exorcised. I’m not sure it will cost her the election, I hope not, but we’ll see. Bernie is out there campaigning for Clinton but I don’t think it’s going to help because neither Bernie nor Clinton seem to understand the millennial mentality.

In recent conversations I’ve heard about Hillary’s millennial problem on MPR and elsewhere the tendency is to frame the issue as some kind of problem with millennials. Let me tell you, the millennials aren’t the problem. It’s actually quite normal, healthy, and rational to expect or demand a responsive political system when you live in a democracy. There’s nothing bizarre about expecting to have candidates you actually want to vote for. Historically candidates and parties have actually won elections by producing candidates people wanted to vote for, imagine that.

Sanders can run around telling people that this isn’t the time for a “protest” vote but here’s the problem with Bernie: one weakness of his mentality is that it can get stuck in 60’s and 70’s activism mode. Millennial’s don’t do 60’s and 70’s activism. Their vote for someone other than Clinton or Trump isn’t a “protest” vote, it’s just their vote. Millennials want to vote “for” something, not against something. The dirty little secret of the two party system is that the eternal claims of “wasted” votes have always been facile claims. A lot of people like to think that voting strategically is the only “adult” thing to do but the fact is that so-called strategic voting has produced few if any electoral victories and dismal political outcomes for decades. The truth is that once people stop voting for candidates they actually want to vote for, the elite stops providing candidates that people actually want to vote for. It’s no accident that the ascendance of “strategic” voting has led to a situation wherein no matter who wins the election in November, the most disliked and distrusted candidate to ever win a US election will become president. The idea that such a president can be wildly successful is little more than magical thinking. So much for the genius of strategic voting.

When Bernie tells millennials this is not the time for a protest vote he’s talking past them, not to them. They aren’t “protesting”, they’re just voting… or not.

We’re not decades behind where we should be in terms of infrastructure, health care, and public policy because of the millennials. Nor is being decades behind the normal base line for our country, we had an amazingly successful progressive era that lasted for decades. Our current stagnation is the product of a generation that decided not to expect anything from our government or our politicians. Sometimes you get what you expect to get. Millennials may simply have higher expectations and that’s not naïve, it’s actually normal, it’s what citizens in a democracy are supposed to do. Woe is the political party that thinks it can ignore higher expectations or worse, thinks higher expectations are “unrealistic”. Listen: If you thought Obamacare was going to be the last word and the end of our health care debate, YOU’RE the one who was out of touch with reality, not millennials.

I hope Hillary’s millennial problem doesn’t put Trump in the White House, but if it does don’t blame the Millennial’s.  Blame those who thought they could put crappy candidates on the ballot and still get the votes. Blame tepid liberals for settling for the illusion of liberal democracy instead of the agenda that long ago would have settled the enduring but manufactured crises we’ve been living with for decades. And blame our political and economic elite for simply… failing.

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Reality vs. Trump: A Quick Recap

Anti War Demonstrator St. Paul MN. 03/20/04

Anti War Demonstrator St. Paul MN. 03/20/04 Photo by Paul Udstrand 

Just so we’re clear on a few things in our: “Post Debate” environment- Donald Trump issued the longest continuous tirade of bullshit in the history of American political debates (excuse my language but sometime a blunt instrument is the best instrument) .

Just to pick a few:

The two biggest lies Trump uttered were that he was the one who made Obama release his birth cert (four years AFTER Obama actually released his birth cert), and that Trump opposed the Iraq war. Millions of us opposed that war. We marched, wrote, demonstrated and posted our resistance… Trump was NOT among us. When the only evidence you have that you opposed the war is an argument you claim to have had with Sean Hannity, you didn’t oppose the war.
More than 10,000 people oppose the Iraq War in St. Paul Minnesota.

More than 10,000 people oppose the Iraq War in St. Paul Minnesota. Photo by Paul Udstrand

ISIS did NOT emerge from a power vacuum in Iraq. ISIS or ISIL emerged in the power vacuum created by a Civil War in Syria, a Civil War that republicans wanted to join in force. The presence of 10,000 US troops in Iraq would not have prevented events in Syria.

The decision to leave Iraq wasn’t made by Obama, and he could  not have left more troops stationed there because the Iraqi government would not allow it. Any attempt to leave more troops in Iraq would probably have triggered another war.

Trump claims we should have just taken Iraq’s oil. We tried to take Iraq’s oil, THAT’S what the war was all about. Remember, Iraqi oil was supposed to pay for the war? The attempt to “take” the oil failed because it was stupid idea; it was stupid then, and it’s stupid now. Iraq’s oil infrastructure relies on hundred of miles of pipelines that could not be secured in the midst of a civil war triggered by our invasion. Beyond the stupidity of thinking we could just take the oil there’s the fact that invading a country to take their oil is actually an illegal war crime… which is why Bush claimed we were after WMDS instead of telling us were were going to war for the oil.

Anti War demonstrators carry the names of those who've died trying to "take" Iraq's oil. Photo by Paul Udstrand

Anti War demonstrators carry the names of those who’ve died trying to “take” Iraq’s oil. Photo by Paul Udstrand

Trump criticized Clinton for fighting ISIS her life- and failing. ISIS emerged from the Syrian Civil War which began in 2011. Hillary Clinton was born in 1947 and started participating in politics as an adult in the 1960s. The claim that Clinton’s been fighting ISIS her “whole life” or even adult life is clearly fatuous.

Trump can release his tax return any time he wants. When he claims that he’ll release them when the audit if finished, and then goes on to claim that he’s in a perpetual state of being audited he telling us he’ll never release his tax returns. When he claims that he’ll release his tax returns when e-mails that don’t exist anymore are released… he’s telling he’ll never release his tax returns. When he tells he’ll release his tax return against the advice of his lawyers… he’s lying, he’ll never release his tax returns.

Trump claimed that the US isn’t keeping it’s nuclear arsenal up to date. No matter how many generals and admirals endorse the guy, this a ridiculously ignorant statement for a guy who thinks he can be a commander and chief. The US spends more in it’s military than the rest of the world combined and it’s constantly updating it’s nuclear warheads and guidance systems.

In short, the breadth and depth of Trumps ignorance and dishonesty regarding everything from birth certificates to nuclear weapons is beyond breathtaking but something even more frightening emerged from Trumps performance at the debate, and as far as I know no one else has commented on it.

Trump several times mentioned the fact that the United States is “protecting” a number of nations and they’re not paying us. Basically  Trump is declaring that he’ll turn our foreign policy into a vast protection racket. Combined with his claim that the US should have just taken Iraq’s oil it’s clear that Trump intends to form a criminal administration, perhaps modeled on that of Vladimir Putin. In addition to criminal foreign policy Trump is also promising to tear up the Bill of Rights and ignore the US Constitution when he promises to implement “stop and frisk” presumably on a national level. We’ve had criminal administrations in the past but Trump promises to take it to a whole new level. Whether or not he’d succeed would remain to be seen, but do American’s want to spend the next four years fighting to contain Trump’s criminal and sociopathic impulses or do they want to work on the real issues we have before us?

The New York Times published an extensive fact check: Our Fact Checks of the First Debate

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Anatomy Of A Cycling Accident: Part Two

Photo by Paul Udstand

Photo by Paul Udstand

As a lifelong bicycle rider (45+ years) I’ve made some observations over the decades that I like to share on my blog every once and while.

I reckon I’ve put 17,000+ miles on my Gitane 12 speed over the last 30 years. Fifteen years or so ago my wife bought me a Schwinn highbrid and according to my little bike computers I ride at least 1,000 miles a year. Between these two bikes, and my cycling “career” as a child and teenager (I bought my Gitane when I was in college) I reckon I’ve ridden between twenty five and thirty thousand miles over the course of 45 years.

Like the vast majority of people in my generation I stopped riding a bicycle almost the day I got my provisional driver’s license. Unlike the vast majority of people in my generation I started riding again four years later when I commuted to my job at Calhoun Square in Uptown Minneapolis on my new Gitane twelve speed road bike, and I’ve been riding ever since. During the summer I average around seventy five miles a week and my individual rides run from fifteen to thirty five miles. To date I haven’t had any serious accidents or injuries. The only actual collision I’ve been in was when a sir speedy cyclist ran into me instead of hitting his brakes about 30 years ago on the Lake of the Isles bike path.  Note: Just like driving a car, if you rear-end someone on a bicycle it’s YOUR fault.

The only other accident of note I’ve had (again, around 30 years ago) was when I went into a turn too fast on a gravelly surface and went down, the bike slipped right out from under me. That was MY fault and I got a slightly sprained wrist in exchange for my carelessness.

Sure I had several spectacular looking wipeouts as a kid, but those tended to be described as: “cool” by observers and aside from having to bend something or another on the bike back into place my wipeouts never caused more than short delay in the days riding.

I’ve never even come close to hitting my head on anything while riding a bicycle and I’ve never worn a helmet, although I do own one.

I’m not sharing this in order to impress anyone, I’ve ridden a lot more than some people and a lot less than others. The point is you can compare my experience and profile to your own, and you have some idea now where my perspective comes from when make my observations and recommendations.

Speaking of recommendations it’s time to return to my discussion of cycling safety by examining a second collision, also a hit and run.

In my last blog I discussed a hit-and-run accident involving a left hand turn. In this blog I’ll discuss different collision (Edited for continuity):

The cyclists:

“…who lives car-free, hopped on his/her bike and headed west on Lagoon Avenue.

But just as REDACTED was preparing to cross the busy Hennepin Avenue intersection, a blue Ford Escape zipped out of the left side of his/her peripheral vision and made a right turn in front of his/her bike.

‘I didn’t see the car at all until it was turning into me.’

Unable to brake fast enough to prevent a collision, he/she smacked into the back passenger side of the vehicle and fell over, shaken and hurt.”

This is a classic “Right Hook” collision. These types of collisions are somewhat unique to cyclists and one of the most common and deadly collisions cyclists face. Other types of drivers rarely encounter collisions like this unless someone makes a right hand turn from a left lane. Cyclists encounter these turns relatively frequently.

The green line show the intended path of the cyclist. The red line illustrates the path of the car that struck the cyclist. the “X” is where the site of the collision. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Modern cars and trucks can have huge blind spots created by support columns on either side of windshield, and at the right speed a cyclist can be hidden in such blind spots for just long enough to cause a collision.  If a driver has been distracted or inattentive for some reason on their approach to the turn (when they should spot the cyclists regardless of blind spots) you have a recipe for disaster.

Some drivers don’t seem to know that the cyclist actually has the right of way and they’re supposed to yield and delay their turn until the cyclist is clear. I had a guy honk and yell at me a couple days ago as if I’d done something wrong by not stopping so he could make his right turn in front of me. Ignorant drivers may assume that the cyclist can and will stop or yield so they can make their turn, this driver yielded to me, but he didn’t seem to think he should have to do so.

Other times drivers may misjudge their speed relative to the cyclist and mistakenly think they have time and space to scoot around the corner before the cyclist reaches the intersection.

And of course some drivers simply have a careless disregard for the safety of others.

For all these reasons, and more, Cyclists can’t just blow through an intersection, even if they have a green light. Yes, the law gives the cyclist the right of way in this circumstance, in theory you shouldn’t have to exercise so much caution; but laws don’t actually physically prevent collisions or protect cyclists.

Cyclists need to approach every intersection, especially busy ones with more caution than drivers or even pedestrians. Check your 8:00 two or three times during your approach to the intersection and don’t assume that a driver on your left isn’t going to make that right hand turn, or that they will yield to you if they do. Look for turning “behavior” i.e. a car on your 8:00 that’s either signaling a turn, or slowing down as if preparing to turn with or without a signal. Hands should be on the break levers and one should be prepared to stop more or less on dime if need be, which may require slowing down prior to entering the intersection. If there is a right-hook potential slow down to at least 10 mph, that should give you the stopping and maneuvering space you might need. If there is a potential right-hooker on your left don’t proceed into the intersection unless you have a clear indication that the driver is yielding to you.

Now I’m going to repeat this again, I’m not blaming this cyclist for this collision. Despite the precautions I’m recommending it’s possible to still get caught by a right hook for a variety of reasons. My concern here isn’t to assign or reassign “fault”, I’m just suggesting some precautions. Without these precautions I would have been hit a couple dozen times in the last 47 years.

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Anatomy Of A Cycling Accident: Part One

Photo by Paul Udstand

Photo by Paul Udstand












As we swing into the height of summer tens of thousands of cyclists are hitting the streets and trails of America’s most bike friendly metro area (Minneapolis/St. Paul MN). This means it’s time for my annual blog about riding bicycles safely.

Every year I try to address different issues rather than repeat the same advice over and over, although sometimes I return to certain issues to discuss them in more detail or from a slightly different perspective. This year instead of enumerating a list of precautions I’ll discuss two real-life bicycle accidents and the safety issues surrounding them. Both accidents are hit-and-runs from the streets of Minneapolis. I’ll do this in two parts, one accident in the blog, and a second accident in a subsequent blog.

Let me just say clearly at the outset that I’m not in any way suggesting that the cyclist are “at fault”, or responsible for these accidents. “Fault” is a legal question, it’s about liability, I’m not even interested in “fault” (I want to talk about safety) and since I didn’t witness these accidents (the examples are drawn from the web) I’m simply in no position to assign fault or liability in any event. What I can do is look the accidents and see what lessons could be learned in general terms. I’m not offering a judgment of any kind regarding these specific collisions, I’m examining these collisions in general terms.

I’m redacting anything that might identify the accidents or the riders involved because these aren’t personal criticisms of individual riders and I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to rise to their own defense. I also don’t want to turn anyone into targets of derision for those who DO tend to attack cyclists whenever there’s a collision on our streets.

The first accident was a frightening hit and run on pleasant summer evening, as described by an eye witness: (Edited for continuity)

“Based on my Google maps directions, the route (required a one block ride) on Central Ave.

… We turned on to Central, and started to signal to turn left onto REDACTED. We saw an SUV in the distance, but it was so far back they clearly should have seen us as we both had our rear lights on and Central is well lit. We were biking side by side to take the lane before our turn. The SUV sped up.

Before I really knew what was happening, the SUV had hit REDACTED from behind… she and her bike were dragged for half a block. The SUV did not slow down and did not swerve at all. She was tumbling like a rag doll on the ground and the SUV almost ran over her with its back tires. Finally, she came to rest in the middle of the intersection at which we were intending to turn.”

In this instance the cyclist was not seriously injured, and as far as I know the driver that ran her over was never found.

Can we examine this collision and make any safety observations or suggestions for other cyclists? I repeat, the issue we’re considering is safety, not “fault”.

Let’s begin at the beginning with the route selection. You’ll notice that the cyclists used “Google” to determine their route, and their route put them on a major traffic avenue for one block. In previous bike safety blogs I’ve suggested that route selection is a basic precaution for cyclists. As a general rule I’ve recommend avoiding high traffic streets and thoroughfares. Whenever possible use parallel lower traffic streets. Even if there is some specific allowance for cyclists (like a dedicated lane) it might be better to avoid a high traffic route altogether. For instance despite the fact that cyclists are given explicit permission to take the whole lane along some stretches of University Ave., I’d recommend staying off University as much as possible.

I don’t know what kind of algorithms Google uses to determine the best “bicycle” routes, but we may not be able to trust Googles judgment in all cases. If we look at a map of the area we see that there’s actually a more direct route that would keep a rider off of Central except for a crossing (represented by the green line). It might be safer to simply cross a street than ride along and then make a left hand turn.

Map Courtesy of "Google Maps"

Map Courtesy of “Google Maps”

I wasn’t there at the time so maybe the green route wasn’t actually viable for some reason (Maybe it was blocked or tore up for construction for instance) but all things being equal it can be helpful to step back on a map and look the bigger picture rather than focus on the recommended route.  There’s a form of target fixation that can have adverse effects on map readers.

In this particular case I’m clearly picking nits, a short ride for one block on one street or another wouldn’t dramatically decrease any risk in most situations. I’m introducing a basic principle about selecting routes more than making a particular suggestion regarding this particular bike ride. The point is cyclists make choices about routes and alternatives are worth consideration.

We’re told that the riders saw the SUV but judged that it was far enough away as to not represent a danger. The hit and run happened around 9:00pm in the middle of the summer, so while it wasn’t “dark” it might have been twilight conditions.  The only reason I mention this is because human perceptions may have contributed to this collision.

Under the best conditions it can be very difficult to assess the speed of something that’s approaching or moving away from you on a direct line of attack or retreat, especially if it’s a quick glance while you’re turning. You need reference points to judge speed and those can be impossible to locate when something is coming more or less directly at you. This is something to think about because the witness says the SUV sped up; maybe it did but it’s also possible that the cyclists misjudged the SUVs approaching speed.

From the SUV drivers perspective it’s possible that he or she also misjudged the speed at which they were approaching the cyclists, especially if they were impaired (most likely by alcohol) or distracted for even just a few moments by a cell phone or navigation computer etc.

It’s even possible that the SUV driver didn’t realize they had bicycles in front of them instead of a car. If we read the witness statement carefully we know that the cyclists were riding side by side in the middle of the block, in the middle of the lane. You’re actually not supposed to do that in general. Cyclists are supposed to ride as far to the right as is practicable, and in single file.

Note the witness uses the phrase: take the lane, i.e.: “We were biking side by side to take the lane before our turn.” This kind of terminology might be derived from the practice of Vehicular Riding. I’ve written somewhat extensively about vehicular riding, you can check that out here.

I can’t say for sure that these riders were “Bike Driving” based on a turn of phrase in a brief account but I have mentioned in previous blogs that I think vehicular riding is a bad idea that puts riders in unnecessary danger. Vehicular riders would recommend that cyclists ride in the traffic lane rather than next to it on the right. Rather than staying right, and waiting for the SUV to drive by or reassessing it’s closing speed once reaching the corner, the vehicular rider “takes” the same lane the SUV is in (by riding out into it). The theory is that drivers will modify their behavior in accordance with the presence of a cyclist in their lane. In theory this may work… until a driver fails to modify their driving in accordance with the presence of a cyclist in their lane.

So some degree vehicular riding styles are contrary to actual State law which requires cyclists ride as far to the right as is practicable. On the other hand, the maneuver described here is perfectly legal as far as I know because few if any intersections in these United States are designed for left hand turns by cyclists. The lack of any standardized cycling infrastructure within intersections puts cyclists in a position wherein the have to choose the best strategy for any given intersection at a given time.

In the diagram here you can see the red line which represents (although not to scale) the path that our cyclist took. The green line is an alternative that keeps the rider to the right until just before the turn. The Blue line is a yet another alternative using a modified pedestrian style approach that puts you in the correct lane on the corner of the cross street prior to crossing the main thoroughfare. In cases where there’s heavy traffic I would probably use the “blue” alternative, especially if the intersection is controlled by traffic lights.

Left turn on a bicycle

I’m not recommending any particular approach, although I personally would avoid the red route. My point isn’t so much that one method is safer than the other; my point is that cyclists have choices, the best left hand turn method at 3:00 in the afternoon may not be the best method at the exact same intersection five hours later. Safe riding is about making the best choice at a given moment under the circumstances at hand. I’m not saying these cyclists made the wrong choice, I just want to illustrate the number of choices we can actually have, from avoiding a left hand turn altogether to different ways of making the left hand turn.

Returning to the collision we know that the cyclists had red rear lights on, while that certainly should have made them more visible, it might also have contributed to the illusion that they were car or truck, instead of two cyclists riding side by side. We don’t know if the lights were flashing (they should have been) or the flash rate. It is conceivable that an inattentive driver could glance up at the just the right moment and see two red lights in the lane in front of him (at some distance) think they were seeing the tail lights of a car. This could contribute the collision because a car would be traveling at much higher speeds relative to the SUV and the driver wouldn’t expect the distance close nearly so quickly. A distracted or impaired driver would be even more prone to perceptual error and could be on top of the bikes before they realized it.

Again, none of this could possibly transfer any responsibility for this hit and run to the cyclists. No matter where you ride your bike, drivers are not entitled to run you down. And no responsible attentive driver could possibly approach and run over a cyclist in the middle of any road. These riders didn’t dart out in front of the SUV, they were there and visible for blocks. Any driver should see anything on the road in front of them and correctly identify it and avoid a collision, the road directly in front of you is after where your attention is supposed to be directed when you’re driving.

So the general observations I think we can illustrate with this collision are: A) Select routes carefully, don’t over-rely on a cycling app; consider traffic volume and other factors. B) Beware of perceptual glitches that can adversely affect assumptions about speed and time, i.e. you may not have as much time as you think you do. C) Never assume a driver sees you or will see you. Drivers run into to everything from pedestrians to trees thousands of times a day in this country, a person on a bicycle is no exception. And finally: D) “Expert” cycling isn’t about mastering recommended techniques, like “taking” lanes, or using a particular method to make left hand turns. Expertise and safe riding are about choosing the best method or route for a particular situation at a particular time. This collision illustrates that even on a quiet evening with little or no traffic cyclists have choices and alternatives to be considered.

The next collision we’ll look at is a classic “right hook” collision. Stay tuned.

You can browse my previous cycling blogs here

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Bringing My Lai Home: America’s Rifle and Ordinary Massacres

Photo by Ron Haeberle. Official US Army Photograher. My Lai, March 16, 1968.

Photo by Ron Haeberle. Official US Army Photograher. My Lai, March 16, 1968.

According to the script of Francis Ford Coppola’s: “Apocalypse Now”; US troops in Viet Nam practiced a form of mental gymnastics whereby they eased their consciences after shooting someone in half by giving them a Band-Aid. As I watch my country process the latest mass shooting it occurs to me that in a very real sense Americans brought the mental gymnastics and massacres of Viet Nam home in the form of the M-16 assault rifle.

The “civilian” version of the M-16 (AR-15) has become “America’s Rifle” according the NRA and there are more of these rifles in the hands of American civilians now than were the hands of US military personnel in during the Viet Nam war. The killers of Columbine, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, and Orlando used AR-15s and these are our My Lai massacres.

As we prepare to bury another 49 victims of yet another massacre, we’re also busy performing our Viet Nam War mental gymnastics. Our 24 hour news cycle is busy recycling the same shallow “analysis” and viewers nationwide are responding with the same “heartfelt” sorrow but nobody anywhere is or has actually done anything that could realistically prevent such massacres from happening… so they keep happenng.

Once again a crazy person got hold of a assault weapon and used it to commit mass murder. By “crazy” I don’t just mean mentally ill, I think politically or religiously motivated terror attacks are their own kind of crazy whether the attacker is diagnosable or not.

Once again talking heads are all over the media talking about crazy people: Who are they? Where do they come from? How did they get their guns? How do they choose their targets? Were they acting alone? As if asking these questions can or will prevent future massacres, as if we can convert psychobabble into bullet proof vests.

Listen: Crazy people just are, and they always will be. There is no study or screening process, or background check, or database that can or will reliably identify all crazy people. Furthermore a plethora of seriously legitimate problems with any scientific attempt to identify crazy people, not to mention human rights and privacy problems associated with such attempts, make any such project an exercise in futility. The truth is a person can be perfectly sane one year and mad as a hatter the next for a variety of reasons ranging from drug abuse to PTSD, and every “radicalized” person was once… not radical.

When are you going to do your screening and studying and understanding and whom are going to choose to screen, and study, and understand? What are we going to do; screen everyone over the age of ten every six months for their entire lives? Screen them with what? Screen them FOR what? And then what are you going do? You’re gonna create a big national data base of crazy people and put them on exclusion lists of some kind? We can’t even manage our TSA No-Fly lists and you think THIS is how we’re going to stop massacres? Need I remind you that in several of the last mass shootings the murderers either did or would have passed background checks and FBI investigations?

Hey, several science fiction writers just called and they want their plots back.

Studying these attackers and their attacks might have some intellectual value but as far as preventing further attacks is concerned I can tell you what we need to know right now… these people should never get their hands on assault weapons. The difference between England and the US isn’t that we have more crazy people. The difference is that crazy people in England don’t have assault weapons.

The solution isn’t some kind of magic “profile” that we can use to keep assault weapons out of the hands of crazy people. Whack-A-Mole may be a fun arcade game but it’s a poor excuse for security. The solution is keeping assault weapons out of anyone’s hands. The truth is no one actually needs these weapons outside of the military so trying to discern who should or shouldn’t have them is a fool’s errand, no one should have them.  We simply need to ban the sale of these weapons and create a program to buy them back from civilians who realize they don’t need or want them anymore.

The problem isn’t making a sales ban (We had a sales ban, we can make another one), the problem is deciding to make one. All these big crocodile tears, and flags at half mast, and vigils, and moments of silence are just Band-Aids assuaging our collective conscience. The truth is we’ve decided that having assault weapons is more important than the lives of children, dancers, co-workers, clinic workers, and even loved ones.  We’ve witnessed one massacre after another and have done nothing to stop them, we just apply Band-Aids afterwards. Sure massacres are awful, but I guess we can live with them as long as we get to keep our AR-15s and Glocks, that’s the choice we’ve made.

So I have to say I’m no longer impressed with the tears and prayers and other Band-Aids we offer up after every massacre. Hey, you made your choice, so now either make yourself comfortable with that choice… or pull your head out of your ass and make a different choice!

If you’re interested in what the nuts and bolts of a workable assault weapon ban might look like, I’ve outlined an example here.

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Going Off the Rails With the Second Amendment. Part 6: It’s Time to Ban Assault Weapons

Fargo teen's graduation photo sporting gun get rejected. Story Minneapolis Star Tribune. Photo: Melissa Baasch.

Fargo teen’s graduation photo sporting gun. Story Minneapolis Star Tribune. Photo: Melissa Baasch.

It would be nice to say that two horrific and nearly back to back mass shootings the latest mass shooting in Orlando Florida* in the United States recently shattered a national sense of complacency but alas, these shootings have become all too common.

Back in January of 2013 I wrote a five part series on the Second Amendment and gun violence in the United States. It was supposed to be a six part series at the time but being the primary “boss of me” here at Thoughtful Bastards I decided to wave off on the sixth installment. I sensed some fatigue among my readers at the time and frankly, I knew there would plenty of opportunity in the future to write this installment. Sadly, one can always be certain that another mass shooting will take place in the United States if one is waiting for a relevant context to discuss gun control.  If you want to review the entire original series you can visit it here.

This blog is longer than I like my blogs to be, but it’s a complex issue and I can’t figure out how to neatly break it up for several reasons. I’ve written several other pieces that support and dovetail with this writing, but I think it would be disruptive for the reader to have to look to flip back and forth between this article and others, I think a single (an albeit long) stand alone piece rather than collection links is an easier read in the long run. Besides, as long as this is, it’s shorter than all the related blogs combined. Consequently I’ve elected to include short summaries here, with links to the more in depth blogs.

Yet another factor contributing to the length of blog is subject matter itself. The whole issue of gun control and the arguments that revolve around are difficult summarize. For me, this not new territory, I’ve been to this dance before and basic criticisms and arguments tend to arise with all the predictability of the sun’s orbit so I’ve decided to anticipate and respond to the more predictable criticisms rather than battle them out in comments. So without further ado.

Let me start briefly summarize the two most important findings from the original series:

First, it’s important to understand that the NRA and gun manufacturers have had great success in the last two decades creating the false impression that the Second Amendment effectively prevents any serious measures of gun control. This false impression is based on a legal fiction that the Second Amend grants individuals the right to own and use almost any of kind of gun. Unfortunately this legal fiction exists not only in the minds of many Americans but also as a political reality of sorts. Quoting myself:

“The short story regarding the Second Amendment is that it was NOT meant to bestow the individual right to own a gun in the United States. The Second Amendment was about creating and maintaining State Militias and equipping them for the common defense. Primarily the Amendment was about reassuring slave states that Federal government wouldn’t interfere with their ability to suppress slave rebellions. Over the centuries the historical and legal realities of the Second Amendment have diverged. Contrary to the historical reality, the legal reality is that the Second Amendment currently guarantees some individual rights to own guns.  However the exact nature of those rights and what kinds of guns they may apply to remains murky.”

Looking beyond the Second Amendment per se, the sheer number guns in the United State creates a plethora of civilian carnage on a scale not found anywhere else in the world. The most unique and deadly characteristics of the US gun culture is mass murder typically carried out with assault weapons, i.e. weapons who’s primary design was for use in wartime combat. You can read my extensive review of mass killings here. In summary, it’s not the just number of guns, but the type of guns Americans  possess that contributes to the carnage.

It’s important to understand these critical findings because they provide the foundation for effective gun control. The fact is that we’ve long since passed the point where we should have placed an effective ban of some kind on assault weapons in the United State. We did have an assault rifle ban of sorts on the books from 1994-2004 but it was riddled with loopholes and consequently did little to slow down ownership or prevent mass killings. Although one should note that since the US Congress let that limited ban “sunset” in 2004 we have seen a nearly explosive increase in mass shootings and casualties. Even a limited ban can produce significant results.

Before discussing the ban itself I feel the need to point out that assault weapons are not the only deadly problem that arise from our gun culture in the United States. Any discussion about gun control needs to start with the basic realization that guns are in fact incredibly dangerous weapons. If that proposition looks weird in print that’s only because groups like the NRA and the firearm manufacturers have largely succeeded with an incredibly effective campaign that obscures the inherently dangerous nature of guns. Millions of Americans would tell us that guns are actually “perfectly safe” as long as users know what they’re doing. Recent expansions of “Castle Doctrines” like the one that legalized the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012 and the explosion of conceal and carry permits are all based on the premise that guns are inherently safe.

The truth is that guns by they’re very essence are incredibly dangerous and specifically designed to deliver instantaneous and irrevocable lethal force and they do so at an alarming rate. If guns were any other product most of them would have been pulled off the shelves long ago much the same way Lawn Darts were.

The inherently dangerous nature of guns cannot be eliminated with training or familiarity. Whether it be cops accidently shooting themselves in classrooms while teaching gun safety, or lifelong hunters dropping their rifles and shooting themselves in their deer stands, every year thousands of Americans accidently shoot themselves or someone else and hundreds are killed. Guns are dangerous, period. The chances of someone in your home dying a violent death increase dramatically if there’s a gun in the home. Over 80,000 people a year are killed or injured with guns in the US. So far this year 43 toddlers have shot themselves or someone else in the United States, this is a unique American phenomena. If we step back from accidents and look at homicides the public danger of guns multiplies dramatically. According to the CDC 500 people were killed with guns by accident in 2013 while over 11,000 were murdered.

Now the fact that guns are dangerous doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be allowed to have them, lots of things are dangerous, but the notion that guns are “safe” simply has to go away. We cannot begin a rational discussion about guns from an incoherent starting point. We need start with common sense acknowledgement that guns are dangerous. Beyond that we need recognize the fact that some guns are killing far more people in mass shootings than others, and should be banned.

Why Assault Weapons?

If all guns are dangerous you ask, why am I’m focusing on assault weapons? As I pointed out in Part Five of my previous installments the massive presence of assault weapons in civilian hands has led to a dramatic public safety crises that is unique to this country.  The US has at least five times more mass shooting than any other country in the world and accounts for 31% of the worlds mass shootings despite only holding 5.1% of the world’s population. (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 3 2015) Between 1982 and 2012 103 of 142 guns used in those mass shootings were assault weapons (Mother Jones, Feb. 27 2013).

While high numbers of accidental shootings and “ordinary” homicides are certainly legitimate problems, those problems are actually far more complex than mass shootings requiring more complex responses.  Conversely, mass shooting can be attacked with a relatively simple ban of a specific class of guns in the short term.  Other strategies could be developed to reduce other types of gun violence, deaths, and injuries, in the longer term.

What’s An Assault Weapon?

Time to get down to it: Any ban of anything requires a working definition of the thing to banned, and a workable definition of: “Assault Weapons” is critical. One can quickly become mired in miasma of minutiae when attempting to define assault weapons. In fact bogging people down in minutiae has been a favored and successful gun lobby tactic for decades. It’s funny, here we have the most recognizable gun designs in the history of firearms and for some reason gun “experts” can’t recognize an assault weapon when they see one? If you delve into the business of identifying an “assault rifle” for instance online you find a dizzying collection of websites (both pro and anti- gun control groups) discussing everything from flash suppressors, to pistol grips, to magazine capacity. Frankly, I think that’s all a waste of time and that’s exactly what the gun lobby wants us to do, waste our time trying to decide whether or not “assault weapons” fit their latest iterations of mostly cosmetic details.

Assault weapon enthusiasts know that if they limit the definition of an assault weapon to for instance, anything identical to whatever specifications the Pentagon is currently using to purchase guns for the military, no ban can possibly be effective. If we’re serious about creating effective assault weapon bans, we can’t let those who oppose bans define the nature of assault weapons. We need a definition that works, and is enforceable.

My definition is broader than those typically proposed. You notice I’ve been referring to assault “weapons” rather than rifles for instance, that’s because I include semi-automatic pistols, .50 Caliber rifles (other than mussel loaders), and tactical shotguns. So what definition brings all these guns under one umbrella? To wit:

“For the purposes of this ban an assault weapon is any firearm resembling a weapon designed for military combat after the year 1890”

I say keep it simple. The fact is that the primary characteristic that makes these guns so lethal has nothing to do with individual features like pistol grips or large capacity magazines, the primary feature is that they are/were designed to take into combat and kill enemy soldiers in the greatest numbers with the greatest possible efficiency at the time. These guns were not designed for hunting, or personal defense, or target shooting, they are designed for combat and removing a selector switch here or there doesn’t change that fundamental essence.

Individual features gun enthusiasts like to argue about are actually by and large irrelevant. For instance historically a “full automatic” capability has not been a universal requirement for military assault weapons. The Belgian FN FAL (L1A1 battle rifle) is deployed by militaries all over the world, and was the standard combat weapon throughout NATO for over a decade. Some versions of the L1A1 had three round burst options, but most were limited to single shots. Some M-1 carbines had full auto capacity, some did not. Likewise the US M-14 originally had a full automatic option but the gun was so unwieldly in full automatic mode troops were ordered not to use it in Viet Nam and some cases the switches were actually disabled. Even the M16 was frequently limited to semi-auto rather than full auto operation in practice. With a rate of fire of 800 rounds per minute one could almost empty an M-16 clip before getting a finger off the trigger. Unless you want your troops to run out of ammo in the first two minutes of a firefight you don’t let them expend rounds like that.

Its important to remember that our purpose is not to buy weapons for our troops, we’re classifying to-be-banned military style weapons that have few if any civilian applications.

For instance many people may be surprised to learn that the majority if AR-15 (M-16) rifles with the military 5.56mm (.223) chambers (The vast majority of such weapons being sold in the US) can’t actually be used to hunt anything much larger than a wild boar, they’re actually limited for the most part to small game that you could shoot way way way cheaper with a .22. You wouldn’t want to shoot something like a rabbit with AR-15 anyways unless you like to see small animals explode. Likewise while the AK-47 (AK-74) variant’s fire a legal caliber for large game (7.62), these guns are a poor choice for hunting. AK-74s  are not known for their accuracy, they’re cumbersome to carry around in the woods, and big game hunters usually want to kill an animal with a single shot if they can (A bullet ridden hide is not what most hunters aspire to). There’s no practical hunting advantage of a riffle that can fire 20-30 rounds per minute at moose or elk whether it’s a AK-74 or a AR-15 firing a larger caliber round. This is why you see few if any deer hunters carrying assault rifles in the woods and fields of MN, or any other state during hunting season.

Ironically assault weapons are also a poor choice for self or home defense. Any gun enthusiast worth their salt will tell you a decent assault rifle (they may call it a “sport” rifle) ought to be secured unloaded in a gun safe because they’re prime targets for home burglary. An unloaded AR-15 locked up in a safe isn’t exactly going to be at your finger-tips if a “bad guy” bursts through the door and invades your house. Even if you could get to your assault rifle in an emergency such weapons are not well suited for close quarter action like that inside a typical home. Of course one cannot conveniently carry a loaded assault rifle around in public or at work on a daily basis for obvious reasons. The practical effect of owning an assault rifle is to increase the odds of being burgled, aside from simply “having” one, there’s they’re very impractical and expensive guns.

A pistol of some kind would make the most sense for home or personal defense, but here again, a semi-automatic military weapon is the poorest choice.  In theory a semi-automatic pistol could be safer than a revolver for instance because it may require two steps to fire, you have to chamber a round AND disengage a safety. In reality thousands of people a year accidently shoot themselves and others with semi-automatic pistols because they don’t realize there’s a live round in the chamber. Everyone from toddlers to Police Chiefs and DEA weapons instructors ends up shooting themselves because they either failed to clear the chamber after firing or forgot they chambered a round in the first place. Did I mention… guns are dangerous?

Large capacity magazines are more likely to accommodate heroic fantasies than actual self defense scenarios. Any self defense scenario you encounter is likely to last a few moments and be over (one way or another) in short order. The odds of getting into prolonged gun battles with bad guys in your living room or on a street corner are practically nil.

Likewise tactical shotguns, and .50 caliber rifles have no real civilian applications. Hunters have been bringing down ducks and pheasants for decades without 20 round drum fed semi-automatic short barrel shotguns designed for close quarter combat. Nor do hunters need ( or use) a .50 caliber weapon first introduced as an anti-tank weapon by the Germans in WW-I… to hunt elk. Few if any hunters “engage” targets at 2,000 yards (over a mile away).

The point is a ban on these weapons isn’t going to have any kind of detrimental effect on hunting or self -defense in the United States. So even if you’re worried about some ancient right to hunt or defend yourself you’ll have plenty of options, and those other options are actually better suited for hunting and self-defense.

Just a quick note because I know someone will bring this up (they always do);  you can claim we need assault weapons in civilian hands as some kind of “check” against government oppression should the need arise but:

1) That is to admit that these are assault weapons that you in fact intend to deploy in combat against the government if need be. You can’t have it both ways, deny that these are military combat weapons and then tell us you need to them to combat the military should our “freedom” ever be threatened by the government.

2) Democracy and the rule of law protect our freedoms, not guns. Not once in over 200 years has our democracy been rescued by gun wielding civilian freedom fighters. In fact, our constitution specifically classifies gun wielding civilians who attack the government as treason. Do not delude yourself that you and the gun in your closet are, have, or ever will, defend our liberties. There is NOTHING in the US Constitution, or in any court ruling to support the idea that armed insurrection is some kind of “fail safe” for our democracy. The idea that the guy walking around Walmart with a AR-15 slung around his shoulder is protecting our “liberty” is simply an idiotic fantasy.

The Ban Itself

What does the ban itself look like? Here it is:

“The sale or purchase of assault weapons (as defined above) by anyone not legally authorized to take part in such transactions in the United States of America is hereby prohibited.”

Who is “authorized” to buy or sell assault weapons? 1) The US government and State and Local law enforcement agencies. 2) Gun collectors who are licensed yearly, register their complete collections, and limited to no more than two identical examples of the same weapon. Collections need to be securely stored and cannot be transported without permit. 3) Registered gun clubs. The primary appeal of these guns is that they’re fun to shoot, there’s no denying that, so let people shoot in relatively safe and secure environments under some semblance of supervision. Any gun club with assault weapons would need to secure those weapons, keep them onsite at all times, and obtain an annual permit.

How Does This Ban Actually Work?    

First you’ll notice that sales are banned, not ownership. That’s because Millions of Americans have thus far legally purchased assault weapons and I think criminalizing ownership is just too problematic. Criminalization of possession creates a whole new list of issues like whether or not or how to confiscate guns, and I just don’t think we should go there. A ban would almost certainly be challenged in court and I think we’d do well to avoid certain search and seizure issues. What we would do is create a federal buy-back program for those who finally realize how silly it is to have these guns and want to get rid of them. If I had my way we’d pay for it out of the defense budget because I really do think this is a national defense issue.

As I’ve already outlined, this ban is does not depend on definitions comprised of a specific and detailed description of an assault weapon, but rather a straightforward recognition of basic similarities. Recognition would fall on a group of people who would simply make a judgment, a jury of sorts that would determine the status of individual weapons. We already have models for this, the FDA, FCC, SEC, for instance have commissions that enforce legislation. One advantage to commissions is they provide a framework of due process thereby rendering the process Constitutional, you could build an appeal process of some kind into this, but you’d want to set a high bar so gun manufactures couldn’t tie up the process indefinitely with frivolous challenges (something they will surely do if they can). And of course you’d come out of the gate a predetermined list of assault weapons but you wouldn’t be limited to that list.

How does the panel recognize an assault weapon when they see it? It’s actually very simple, it requires no magnifying glasses or list of components, all you really need to do is look at weapons designed for military use, and then look at the gun in question, frankly, anyone could do it…. Look:


Photo: Wiki Commons

Many historians trace the modern assault rifle to this gun, the WW-II German Sturmgewehr 44 or StG 44. Just look at it, this weapon was designed for combat use by the German Army. Photo: Wiki Commons

Does an assault rifle have to have a pistol grip and a big magazine? No.

Here’s a Chinese type 56 designed for combat use by the Chinese Army (And issued to the Viet Cong) Photo Wiki Commons

Here’s a Chinese type 56 designed for combat use by the Chinese Army (And issued to the Viet Cong) Photo Wiki Commons

The US M-14 didn’t have a pistol grip either:

The M-14 started out as an assault rifle but transitioned into a sniper rifle used the US military for decades. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Charles B. Johnson, U.S. Army. (Released)

The M-14 started out as an assault rifle but transitioned into a sniper rifle used by the US military for decades. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Charles B. Johnson, U.S. Army. (Released)

Does an assault rifle have to have a “full-automatic” option? No.

Here’s an L1A1 Belgian Assault Rifle issued by military's all over the world, semi-automatic single shot. Photo Wiki commons

Here’s an L1A1 Belgian Assault Rifle issued by military’s all over the world,  it’s  a semi-automatic. Photo Wiki commons

What about pistols? Here’s a Colt 1911 semi-automatic pistol developed for the US Army next to a Glock

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons









Just in case you think you change the style a little here’s a Colt next to a Lugar:

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons

Here’s a .50 caliber rifle, basically an assault rifle with a 50 caliber chamber:

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons

You could make a bolt action version but that would be derived from the German Mauser T-Gewehr

Here’s a tactical shotgun:

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons

And of course we have the ubiquitous AR-15 (M-16) and current military issue M-4

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons

The idea that a manufacturer can produce any of these weapons in a different caliber, without a bayonet mount, or with a different selector switch, or stock, or whatever, and call it a completely different weapon is obviously ridiculous, so we just don’t go there. Furthermore it doesn’t matter whether it’s a carbine, or a rifle, side arm, or shotgun.  Nor does it matter whether or not it’s a “new” design. If it’s a gun that looks like an assault weapon, it’s an assault weapon.  Our definition doesn’t require that a proposed civilian model be “identical” to a military version, just that its basic design be derived from a military weapon.  That derivation is determined by simple observation, not a list of components. If you start seeing “bull pup” designs in the gun shops, you’re looking at an assault weapon, this weapon was designed for military use, not plinking squirrels:

Styer AUG A1 508mm

Bull Pup design assault “Carbine”. Photo: Wiki Commons

These guns are distinctive and their origins are not disputed. No gun derived from any of these designs is difficult to recognize.

Even if (and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did) a manufacturer were to claim that any resemblance between their new gun and military assault weapon is purely coincidental, it doesn’t matter. Our ban doesn’t require that the commission prove “intent”, it just requires a visual comparison. So if you claim that your designers never saw a Bull Pup and came up with the design on their own by coincidence… that’s just an unfortunate coincidence for you and your company.  The commission doesn’t have to prove that designers looked a military weapon and derived their design from it, they simply look at your weapon.

Now a quick word about high capacity magazines; some people think that we could keep buying and selling these guns if we just limited the magazine size to 6 or 8 bullets. I’m not saying smaller magazines are a bad idea but we have to stop playing whack-a-mole. We have millions of these weapons in the hands of millions of Americans, probably billions of rounds of ammunition, and tens of millions of high capacity magazines or (clips) out there. No matter what kind of low capacity magazine you sell with an assault weapon, people will be able to get their hands on high capacity magazines one way or another for decades to come. And if we make manufacturers re-design guns to only accept new low capacity magazines, rest assured that work-arounds of a various kinds will be developed regardless of legality.

Why Now?

I think Americans might finally be getting fed up with these mass shootings and while support for bans waxes and wanes I think we can make a strong argument that people will support. I think the time might be ripe to cut though the NRA haze and have a intelligent and coherent discussion about gun regulations. Furthermore, I think the ban I’ve designed could get passed the current Supreme Court. It’s not an outright ban on all guns and it addresses a clear public health and security problem.

We might draw some confidence from the fact that the Supreme Court recently let stand an assault weapon ban in Highland Park Illinois.

In Columbia v. Heller the Justices wrote:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…”

The bases of the ban is that assault weapons fall into the category of “any weapon whatsoever” and constitute a public danger that far outweighs any potential benefits related to personal defense. Banning these weapons in no way renders citizens helpless in face of danger, yet the ban may prevent attacks on civilians by people armed with military weapons.

Another advantage to this kind of ban is that we don’t have to wait for Congress, such bans can be fashioned on a local basis and the Supreme Court has signaled a reluctance to strike such bans down.

The gun culture in the United States has created a huge monster that will haunt us for decades no matter what. I would offer no illusions that the ban I’m proposing would produce an immediate end to mass shootings, millions of these weapons are already out there and will be for decades even with a ban. The fact remains that until we fundamentally shift our focus and national discussion from dystopic fantasies that revolve around zombie apocalypses and social disintegration the carnage will continue and accelerate. It’s time to put gun lobby nonsense aside and realize that we have options, we’re not helpless, we CAN actually DO something.

*Note: This Article was originally posted in December of 2015 and has been updated in light of the June 12th, 2016 massacre in Orlando FL.



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Sexism Is More Than An Accusation: Who Gets to Say We’re Sexists?

Photo by George Hodan Public Domain.

Photo by George Hodan Public Domain.

I’ve been watching and participating in the liberal/progressive debate over Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for months. As a Sanders supporter and a writer/reporter I’ve now had many conversations and arguments about the merits of the two candidates over the last few months. I’m not going to re-enact the debate here but I’m prepared to make some observations.

Sanders and his supporters have launched a barrage of accusations most of which have had the staying power of a dairy product, however one accusation that keeps emerging and reemerging is a “sexism” claim, i.e. Sanders supporters are almost inherently sexist. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill recently renewed this accusation by claiming that Sanders would never question a man’s qualifications. In fact I don’t think we’d wait very long before qualifications would become an issue in a general election battle between Trump and Sanders. You can watch the McCaskill/Sanders “Meet the Press” segment here:  NBC News Meet The Press

Previously I’ve refuted the actual charge of sexism as it pertains to Sanders and most of his supporters, you can read that here:  “Are ‘Bernie-Bros’ Really Clinton’s Big Problem?” But today I want to look at a different claim that is related to the charge of “sexism”, namely that only women get to recognize and denounce sexism when they see it. An excellent example of this kind of reasoning recently appeared on my Facebook Newsfeed.

“As a white person I never tell people of color what is and is not racism. I could not even imagine having the audacity to do such a thing. I also recognize that there may actually be situations in which I’m unable to grasp subtle racism at play. I accept the notion that although I may not see it or understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. When that occurs, it’s a learning opportunity for me. I am also aware that my white privilege makes me racist. This is something I try to be conscious about. This is why it’s astonishing to me when some men will not only tell me they are not sexist, but dictate to me what defines it and what does not–all without realizing that doing so–is sexism.”

Over last few weeks this proposition has popped up in a lot different ways in various articles and comments, basically repeating a basic premise that we have to remember that “guys” don’t get to decide what “sexism” is. In this case the proposition is buttressed with a comparison to “racism”.

You may notice I’ve been putting “sexism” and “racism” in quotes, that’s because I want to denote the fact that we’re talking about different concepts of racism and sexism, one that is little more than an irrefutable insult to be charged by infallible observers (i.e. women or people of color) but there’s another concept of racism and sexism that civil rights activists and feminist intellectuals have been developing for decades.

One thing is absolutely clear, neither civil rights leaders nor the women’s movement or the feminist project have sought to create a race or gender specific language or discourse that only women or people of color can speak. The idea that the concept of sexism depends on infallible observers (See below) is almost an insult to feminist intellect. In many ways the feminist project has been about creating a genderless discourse that emphasizes inherent human qualities rather than inherent gender qualities. This is one reason that feminists have been out in front of the LGBT struggle.

The concept of sexism replaced other critiques of patriarchy (Such as chauvinism and patriarchal hegemony) in late 70s and early 80s because feminist were dealing with the realization that men are not the only reservoir of patriarchal oppression, consider a character like Michelle Bachmann for instance, or at the time Phyllis Schlafly. By breaking the critique of patriarchal privilege free from gender feminist created a concept that is based on public observations and has the capacity to recognize patriarchal privilege wherever and however it’s expressed. “Sexism” then becomes a concept that can seek social consensus and hence has much more power than a mere accusation leveled by one gender against the other. The whole point of the feminist project is to reveal and dismantle illegitimate gender based power structures, not create a new one based on a gender specific discourse.

While “sexism” is a feminist concept that has obviously been defined by women, it makes no sense to limit the discourse to women alone, and in fact many feminists intellectuals do not try to do that for obvious reasons.

Consider for instance the fact that my responsibility as man in a feminist project is to renounce whatever power or privilege I derive from my gender; how can I do that if I’m not allowed to recognize sexism when I see it? I have yet other responsibilities; I can not only renounce but also denounce gender based privilege, why would you want to prevent me from doing that?

The idea that only women can make such observations relies on the rational fallacy of an infallible observer, i.e. a woman and only a woman can render an observation about sexism. The problem with infallible observers is easy to see: Infallible observer 1. (Wendy) declares that something I’m doing is sexist. Then Infallible observer 2. (Brenda) declares that what I am doing is NOT sexist. There’s no way to resolve that, and feminist intellectuals long ago figured that out. By making sexism a publicly verifiable construct that everyone can recognize, renounce, and denounce, you multiply the number of observers and the socio-political power of the observation.

Consider an example from my personal life. My wife and I used to work at a hospital wherein my wife’s supervisor one day took my wife’s position away and gave it to a male employee. My wife filed a gender discrimination complaint that eventually compelled financial settlement from the employer. This was a blatant example is sexism, why should I not be able to recognize and denounce that and support my wife (or any other woman)? Furthermore, the supervisor perpetrating this sexism was a woman, and the investigator that decided it was illegal discrimination was a man. If we’re stuck with infallible female observers presumably the supervisor will say it’s not sexism and my wife will say it is and that’s the end of that. Again, there’s no way to resolve a disagreement among equally infallible observers.

Finally, we can recognize where this infallible observer language originates, it primarily emerges from a discourse about violence against women and other kinds of “victim” narratives. We have correctly observed that in assault cases and other forms of oppression thems doing the assaulting don’t get to decide whether or not they committed an assault. So for instance a child molester or a rapist doesn’t get to decide whether or not they molested or raped anyone. I’ll just assume we all agree on this.

Problems arise however if we take that principle and try to deploy it in a much broader discussion of sexism. Weird things can start to happen; a guy who thinks laundry is women’s work ends up in the same room as a gang rapist. More problematic is the universal reclassification of all women as “victims” of sexism on an existential level. A lot of feminists would object to that as destructive form of disempowerment. In our society “victims” are sheltered and protected, they receive special care.  Does a narrative that defines all women as inescapable victims empower women? Thanks for sending the women’s movement back to the 19th century. I think you try to apply a universal victim narrative to all women at your own peril, it’s not going to be universally embraced and it can be characterized as degrading under some circumstances.

We could go back and perform the same analysis for racism, but the results are the same. Neither civil rights leaders nor feminists have spent decades trying to create an irrefutable insult they can level at privilege. The whole point is to create a credible concept that expands rather than constricts understanding, recognition, and support.

As to who gets to make sexism and racism claims, it depends on your level of awareness and understanding of the concept, it can’t simply be a function of race or gender. Privilege can interfere with comprehension to be sure, but if you don’t think that people can recognize and renounce illegitimate power and privilege then no society based on equality and justice is conceivable, that might be nihilism, but it’s not feminism.

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Are “Bernie-Bros” Really Clinton’s Big Problem?

NOC 2016 finalR-12If you’re a Bernie Sanders supporter you’re no doubt familiar with the ubiquitous accusation that you’re succumbing to an insidious expression of sexism. My first encounter with this accusation arrived on Facebook shortly after I posted an article I wrote about a big Sanders event in St. Paul MN. “Sorry sexist boys but Hillary’s the next President”. Although this comment was somewhat playful those that followed, and a subsequent plethora of articles, FB memes, and conversations, clearly establish that this isn’t a playful jab, it’s a real thing. Many Clinton supporters actually believe that a vote for Hillary is the only responsible choice that any serious supporter of feminism can possibly make.

The problem for Clinton supporters is that the more they hurl accusations of sexism at their fellow Americans the less impact that accusation seems to have on the campaign dialogue. In fact when Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem ran that: “gender loyalty = feminism” gambit up the flag pole it pretty much exploded in their faces. Hillary spent the next week putting as much distance between herself and that narrative as fast as she could.

I no longer engage people on this issue personally but I see it almost every day and it’s like watching people bounce around in an echo chamber of circular reasoning: “The more we accuse people of being sexist the more they ignore us. The more they ignore us the more convinced we are that Clinton’s biggest problem is that she’s a woman. Her gender can only be a problem because there’s so much sexism…” and round it goes.

Setting feminism per se aside for a moment, there’s actually an empirical problem with the sexism narrative. The narrative that sexism is holding Clinton back ignores the fact that she has been and still is the front runner. If sexism is the dominant feature of this election cycle how did Hillary get established as the most legitimate and electable candidate in the first place? The fact is that Sanders has been the one who’s struggling for legitimacy, not Clinton. Did sexist America fail to notice that Hillary is a woman until the Iowa Caucuses?

Clinton supporters don’t actually seem know who they’re talking to when they berate Sanders supporters as sexists. Clinton’s support by-and-large emerges from establishment liberals whereas Sanders is getting most of his support from progressive liberals. If you think American progressives are a reservoir of sexism you simply don’t know who American progressives are. Listen: Sanders was recently confronted at South Carolina Town Hall Meeting regarding his call to abolish the CIA back in 1974… yeah, that was us. In the 80s we joined the Rainbow Coalition and cast our votes to put a black man (Jesse Jackson) in the White House. A few years later we decided Jackson wasn’t radical enough and we cast our vote to put a black woman (Lenora Fulani) in the White House. Granted many of the young progressives today may not have been born when Lenora Fulani was on the ballot, but this is where progressives live, this is our intellectual and ideological heritage. If you think gender is our big problem with Hillary Clinton, you simply don’t know who you’re talking to.

Let’s take a few moments to actually talk about feminism directly. It’s not my place to decide what is or isn’t feminism but I can share some basic observations (That people are free to challenge). My first exposure to feminist discourse landed on me in the early 80s when I was at University. At the time the woman’s movement appeared to be stalling in many ways (The Equal Rights Amendment would be dead by 1982) and a backlash of sorts (lead by Phillis Schlafly amongst others) had emerged upon the socio-political landscape. The feminist intellectuals I met were trying to sort out what was happening and why. Eventually a consensus of sorts emerged that the early emphasis on specific rights and gender roles was limited by an inability to reach deeper into the foundation of the patriarchal power structure. One product of this realization was the solidification of a basic tenet and agenda for feminism i.e. the identification and deconstruction of illegitimate power relations based on gender. One of the first and most destructive power relations identified was the patriarchal control of language. That power to declare the nature of reality and delegate individual roles within society i.e. “This is what a marriage is because I say that’s what a marriage is.” Or “This is what a wife and a mother are because I say so.” is a fundamental exercise of illegitimate patriarchal power. Related to the power of declaration is the power to recognize or deny the legitimacy of any given discourse, i.e. “That’s nice honey but the men are talking about serious issues, would you bring us some coffee?”

Now I can’t tell you whether you’re a feminist or not, but if you think the mission of feminism is to adopt and exercise illegitimate patriarchal power, you have some splaining to do. Steinem and Albright stood up and essentially declared that: “Clinton is the candidate for all women because we say she is and this is feminism because we say it is.” The suggestion that no legitimate feminist discourse can consider Sanders as the best candidate to promote women’s issues appears to delegitimize feminists who would vote for Sanders as a matter of decree. Maybe that didn’t blow up because young women don’t understand the challenges and struggles they face; maybe it blew up because young women (and progressives) know a patriarchal mentality when they see it. Maybe you think the mission and focus of the women’s movement is to get a woman, any woman, into patriarchal positions of power, I’m not going to say it is or it isn’t, but you have to make your case, and we await your reply.

Obviously sexism exists, and I’m not aware of any intrinsic ideological fire-walls that grant progressives or anyone else defacto emancipation from sexist thoughts and attitudes. Sexist Sanders supporters (“Bernie-Bros”) and progressives do exist. Nevertheless if you’re looking for a consequential reservoir of sexism in America you’ll likely find that among the ranks of republican voters not progressive liberals. While sexists are obviously flocking into Trump’s tent, the idea that sexism is propelling Sanders into a dead heat with Clinton is a spurious proposition at best.

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Bernie Sanders Lands In North Minneapolis: Can He Connect with Black Voters?

NOC 2016 finalR-14

Those who were lucky enough to get one of the 1,500 free tickets for a Black Forum at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis on February 12th witnessed a unique political event. The grassroots organization Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) had planned to hold a forum discussion about black lives and the black community that evening. Upon hearing that both democratic presidential candidates were going to be in town for fundraiser they decided to invite Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to their forum. Clinton was unable to clear her schedule but Sanders found time to attend.

NOC's Mike Griffen speaks to the audience prior to the forum.

NOC’s Mike Griffen speaks to the audience prior to the forum.

This was not a typical Sanders rally by any means. Whereas his typical audience would be overwhelmingly white, this audience almost entirely black. I spoke with several people prior to Sanders arrival and none of them expressed the typical enthusiasm for sanders, they weren’t there to support Sanders, they were there to hear what he had to say to them (primarily) as black voters. Nor were people there just to hear a Sanders campaign speech; this was a forum, Sanders was to join them at the table and dialogue, respond to questions, and address their concerns.

I began my interviews by talking to three young women who immediately expressed reservations about Sanders because he doesn’t support reparations for African Americans or Native Americans. Others expressed reservations because he’s an unknown quantity compared to Clinton.  Everyone I talked to (all people of color) prior to the event expressed some appreciation that a major presidential candidate was coming to their neighborhood, something no one could remember happing before. Everyone pointed out

From the left: Saida Mahamud, Hibak MohamedMegan Abdirahman,  Shared their views and expectations prior to the event.

From the left: Saida Mahamud, Hibak MohamedMegan Abdirahman, Shared their views and expectations prior to the event.

that their communities are typically ignored by major candidates during elections and once in office. Several people also pointed out the fact that Sanders isn’t simply a Presidential candidate but is also a sitting US Senator. Looking back I wonder if those were digs on Senators Franken and Klobuchar, neither of whom has attended similar forums in North Minneapolis? In the end my interviews revealed more or less the same attitudes. Sanders was not walking into a hostile room, but expectations were somewhat guarded.

Mica Grimm of Black Lives Matter leads the audience: "I believe... We will win!"

Mica Grimm of Black Lives Matter leads the audience: “I believe… We will win!”

You can watch a video of the entire forum here.

NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby begins the forum

NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby begins the forum

The forum covered a wide range of issues but two exchanges stood out as remarkable. One was a discussion about criminal justice. Hamline Law Student Ngeri Azuewah and a member of the audience by the name of Jason raised a number of issues regarding the inequities of the justice system. Ngeri asked about prison recidivism and Jason, a convicted felon who’s gotten his life on track with a Ph.D., declared that while he can “feel the Bern” he can’t cast the ballot because he doesn’t see what Sanders will actually do for people like himself.

Sanders bid for Jason’s ballot focused on a fact that Sanders himself raised- the disenfranchisement of felons as voters. Millions of black Americans have been disproportionately arrested, convicted, and imprisoned as felons, and in most states convicted felons lose their right to vote. Sanders of course denounces this fact, and he connected it to the larger agenda of voter suppression pointing that millions of disenfranchised black voters benefit some political elites. While this is a powerful observation that resonated with the audience, Sanders did not offer any specific remedy that he could pursue as President.

Sanders response to high black incarceration rates and prison recidivism is basically focuses on three initiatives: 1) Better education and community development that keeps people out of prison in the first place. 2) Changes in the law enforcement regime that now disproportionately arrests and incarcerates more blacks than whites. 3)  Reorienting criminal justice towards rehabilitation rather than punishment.  These are standard progressive initiatives going back decades and while the audience applauded I suspect they were hoping for something a little more specific.

I thought it was interesting that Sanders didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to point out that Bill Clinton’s regime (with Hillary’s support) championed the Neo-Liberal policies that exacerbated these problems in the 90s. The Clinton administration embraced several conservative initiatives ranging from welfare reform to the war on drugs and crime. Budgets for education, rehabilitation, and community development in black communities were slashed while prison capacity and law enforcement budgets exploded. I’m sure Sanders is aware of this history, so these are potentially powerful observations that he just leaves on the table. Perhaps this is an expression of Sanders reluctance to go “negative” on Clinton?

The other remarkable discussion that emerged was a discussion about reparations for over a century of economic injustice ranging from slavery to Jim Crow and contemporary racial disparities. Panelists and audience members raised the issue several times before Felicia Perry almost in exasperation finally as clearly and directly as possible demanded a response from Sanders. Perry: “…Today, can we please talk about specifically… about black people and reparations?”

Although Sanders didn’t say it explicitly, his answer was basically: “No”.  Sanders would prefer to talk about inequality and disparities in general. While he supports initiatives tailored to specific communities and cultures, he’s obviously reluctant to break out specific ethnic groups for special consideration, at least on a rhetorical level.

NOC 2016 finalR-16It’s important to consider the historical context of this discourse, because it’s not just about Sanders. The tensions between minority ethnic liberals and white liberals, socialists, and even white progressives, go back decades. Socialists tend to focus on class and income disparities, and since they’ve never had any real political power (In this country) they’re not in a position to do much. At the end of the day too many white liberals can’t escape their entitlement and end up basically assuming that the Civil Rights movement settled the issue of racism in America. White liberals will bemoan the existence of bigotry and institutionalized racism but they don’t seem to know how to engage it effectively. The limitations of white liberalism have always created tensions with the ethnic minorities they sympathize with. Those tensions have led to the emergence of popular figures like Malcom X and movements like the Black Panthers, The American Indian Movement, and Cesar Chavez’s labor activism. More recently Black Lives Matter can be seen as an expression of frustration with the white liberal establishment. Once again white liberals are playing catch-up rather than vanguard when it comes to racial and social justice.

Another problem with white liberalism in America is its actual narrative. The white liberal narrative is one of inclusion, coalitions, and the elimination of divisions and prejudice, i.e. the “melting pot”. Agendas based on unique racial and ethnic experiences don’t easily fit into this narrative. In fact, this narrative can actually minimize or even deny unique experience; it can too easily become a colonial language of assimilation. For his part Sanders has actually said that he doesn’t want to talk about reparations because he’s afraid it would be divisive. The question at hand is what did this audience make of Sanders response?

NOC 2016 finalR-12Frankly, I thought Sanders blew it on the reparations issue. However when I talked to people afterwards I ended up getting schooled in grace and humility. I asked Black Lives Matter activist Mica Grimm if this was a make or break issue, and if she was satisfied with Sanders response? Grim: “He’s just afraid of the term ‘reparations’… it provokes all kinds of controversy and white people freak out.” She went on to observe that in many ways Sanders was already talking about reparations when describes his economic and social priorities, he just doesn’t see it that way. I asked Ms. Grimm if Sanders was someone she could vote for? She nodded her head and said: “yes.”

If Ms. Grimm’s response reflects more widely held conclusion in the audience it may because on a basic level people understand that if a serious dialogue about reparations and disparities is ever going to emerge in the United States, it will emerge from the progressive end of white liberalism, not the white liberal establishment (Clinton also opposes reparations). In fact, that conversation has already begun among progressives (See Ta-Nehisi Coate’s article in the Atlantic), that conversation just hasn’t reached Sanders yet. From a campaign perspective it’s clear that Sanders isn’t trying to peel away all of Clintons black voters, just enough to tip the scale in his favor.

For some black voters it may come down to whichever candidate they think will actually advance progressive agendas.

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Cecil vs. Playboy: The Discussion We Should Be Having

by: Paul Udstrand, James Kaagegaabaw Vukelich, and Carter Meland

There is a way of living in which we do not create harm or conflict for any of our relatives. It is a way of living in peace and balance. In Anishinaabemowin, this way of living is called mino-bimaadiziwin, the good life.

~ James Kaagegaabaw Vukelich

“… I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion”

~Dr. Walter Palmer regarding his killing of Cecil the lion.  

July 28, 2015 (read the full statement)

Kelly Brook Courtesy of FHM Magazine. 2010.

Kelly Brook Courtesy of FHM Magazine. 2010.

Let me begin by saying clearly that as far as I know, no member of the Hefner family nor their magazine “Playboy” endorses “big game” hunting in any way. However when Hugh Hefner launched Playboy Magazine in 1956, he marketed it as a portal into the “Good Life” for (mostly white) American men. The image of the contented man in a smoking jacket with a pipe or cigar in hand, surrounded by other objects of his desire, was supposed to be the ultimate image of the civilized man content with his affluence. For such men the world is an oyster full of pearls… there for the taking.

On one hand Playboy is just a magazine, one man’s ultimately successful attempt to make a fortune and live the good life himself. In another way, the “Good Life” Playboy promotes represents a Western Culture that places man outside of an objectified nature that exists solely for human gratification. The problem with Playboy’s notion of a “Good Life” is it may put human beings on a collision course our own extinction.

By now most people on earth with any kind of access to “news” are aware of the sad demise of Cecil the lion at the hands of an American dentist living the “good life”, taking an object of his desire in a Zimbabwe wilderness. For a mere $50k (US dollars)plus change it seems a hunter of trophies can let loose an arrow from his trusty compound bow and lay waste to one of the world’s most magnificent animals.

Obviously the notion that killing an animal that doesn’t even know it’s in danger is some kind of “sport” is simply absurd. Even in a bullfight the bull recognizes at some point that it’s fighting for its life. We convert killing into sport by re-imagining animals as “game”. The transformation of animals into “game” converts them into objects that can be “taken” as Dr. Palmer would have it, not killed. Cecil wasn’t “taken” anywhere. He was beheaded and skinned on site, and Palmer and his guides left the carcass to rot. Cecil’s killers, in a sad commentary on their notion of responsibility, attempted to hide their beloved activity from the authorities, but a well designed radio collar foiled their design.

Truth be told, maybe the problems of one lion don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world, but the mentality that classifies killing a lion as “sport” may well lead to our own extinction. In his statement Palmer suggests that his killing for pleasure is not merely legal, but can be done responsibly. I think it’s clear that a hunter who insists they’re taking game rather than killing an animal is devoid of honor. We don’t use euphemisms to describe honorable actions.  But how does a human being in the year 2015 conclude that killing a lion for a trophy is a “responsible” thing to do? Maybe trophy hunting is a symptom of a larger problem. From the Savannah’s Zimbabwe to the shores of Lake Mille Lacs we might do well to step back and look at the big picture.

We are currently in the midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction. According to biologists and other Earth scientists over 20,000 species are currently near extinction and that rate is one thousand times the normal rate of extinction.  Unlike the previous five extinction events, this mass extinction has been caused entirely by human beings. If human beings weren’t on this planet, THIS mass extinction would not be taking place. So what? Well, we depend on this biosphere and it’s diversity for survival so if nothing else we could consider the possibility that this mass extinction may end as well with the extinction or near extinction of human beings. If not extinction, consider a nightmare world nearly devoid of plant and animal diversity, which would likely lock human communities in a constant state of combat over dwindling resources.

Once upon a time theologians of Christianity decided that humanity was above nature and theorists of Capitalism decided that nature is a commodity, put there by God for the taking. Long before trophy hunters turned animals into objects (i.e. “game”), Christianity turned everything that wasn’t human into objects, devoid of souls and destined for oblivion. Eventually Capitalism took those objects and commodified them as an efficient way of “taking” them for human designs and pleasure. These mindsets alienated their followers from nature. Bent with this pathological alienation, Europeans poured out into the world five centuries ago and unleashed an unprecedented wave of ecological, cultural, and genocidal devastation. The Indian wars may be over but the colonial mindset is still wreaking havoc on the planet. Ask Cecil.

The mentality that killed Cecil doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is it limited to the domain of self-deluded “sportsmen.” Trophy hunting is a vestige of European colonialism. It assumes that humans have a God given right to “take” what sustains them or pleases them. In that regard a lion is no different than oil, trees, or water. Palmer may have paid good money for his lion, but the “market” he exploited is nevertheless a product of colonial conquest. Maybe it’s time to trade a model of conquest for a model of sustainability?

It may interest people to know that Playboy’s idea of the “Good Life” isn’t the only idea of a “Good Life”. Recently James Kaagegaabaw Vukelich and Carter Meland began a project that seeks to introduce a different understanding of what the Good Life can be to a culture alienated from its own nature. In their work they discuss the Anishinaabe Indian idea of mino-bimaadiziwin, which translates into… you guessed it: “The Good Life”.  Basically the Anishinaabe world view is that the earth is our home, and everything in nature is a relative with whom we share a home. We cannot destroy or assault our relatives without destroying our home. As Vukelich and Meland note:

As social beings, humans should seek to live well with all manner of other living and non-living beings. Though modern society labors under the illusion that it is otherwise, human beings are not independent from the animals, plants, waters, and minerals that compose the Earth and its environments. Humans depend on these other beings for life—remove any one of them, and humans would likely face their own extinction as a species, but remove humans from the Earth and all these other ways of being would carry on without them. Human beings are really quite pitiable in this regard. All the bluster about their power to reshape the world—even as that power makes the world less livable for all—is just canary song in a coalmine filling with gas.

Vukelich and Meland plan to discuss many of the intertwining principles of the good life—mino-bimaadiziwin— and what they mean from an Anishinaabe perspective. Three of these principles reveal a distinctive perspective on the “taking” of Cecil by Dr. Palmer. If we use these ideas as a measure of what constitutes living the good life, we can see that Dr. Palmer acted irresponsibly. He acted with the sort of baseless self-indulgence that is typical of the colonialist/capitalist mindset that depletes landscapes, poisons our waters, and is arguably the main driver behind the sixth great extinction event. The three ideas are as follows:

  1. We are all related. “We” embraces all manner of being found on earth, animal, plant, mineral, water, spirit, etc.
  2. In this relationship with others there is interdependence and interconnection, which is to say that we need each other to survive. Every single thing we do affects one another.
  3. There is a way of living in which we do not create harm or conflict for any of our relatives. It is a way of living in peace and balance. In Anishinaabemowin (the language of the Anishinaabe people), this way of living is called mino-bimaadiziwin, the good life.


In looking at Cecil, a colonialist mindset sees him as game to be taken, but from the Anishinaabe perspective, he is a relative and in bringing harm to him we disturb the balance we should seek with all our relations. We are interconnected: human-to-lion-to-environment. We are a large, extended family here on Earth—here at home. When we indulge in the “good life” that Dr. Palmer pursued—of fulfilling our desires, regardless of the cost—one risks shooting him- or herself in the foot, as Palmer appears to have done given the public outcry that has followed the revelation of his act.

Let’s not think that all this discussion is really about a man and an animal though. It has become more than apparent in the days since the killing was revealed that Cecil and Dr. Palmer have become more than just a hunter and a lion. Cecil and Dr. Palmer have become symbols of humanity’s broken relationship with nature. The killing reveals a relationship that is deeply dysfunctional. Rooted in harm and conflict and egotistic self-indulgence, this dysfunctional realtionship—the likes of which most of us would not stand for in our own homes—speaks to larger issues of how modern people relate to the environments where they live. What we do to Cecil, we do to ourselves. If we fail to step outside egocentric and self-indulgent notions of what constitutes the “Good Life,” we fail to gain the kind of perspective on Cecil’s killing that we need in order to understand what is really at stake: the way we should want to live within our home.

Obviously we don’t kill our relatives for food, but neither do we kill them for pleasure or sport. Mino-bimaadiziwin doesn’t require that we forego sustenance, but it asks us to acknowledge the reciprocal nature of the relationships in our home. From an Anishinaabe perspective, hunters don’t “take” animals, rather the animals give their lives so that humans might live; their sacrifice is an act of grace that an Anishinaabe hunter acknowledges with a gift of tobacco. The animal’s sacrifice of itself is a gift to the hunter’s people, one the hunter repays with the gift of tobacco. Where a Christian blessing may give thanks for the animals, the Anishinaabe give their thanks to the animals. Theirs is a direct relationship.

Do Meland and Vukelich demand that Christians abandon their religion, or atheists like myself become fluent in the Anishinaabe language? Of course not. They offer a perspective that changes our orientation towards nature and each other. Maybe we’ve reached a point where re-arranging the deck chairs isn’t going to work—if it ever did; we don’t need to change where we sit on this Titanic, we need to jump ship. The philosophy of Anishinaabe people offers us a lifeline. We can’t save ourselves without saving our home. Cecil’s killing can help us reconsider what sort of relative we’ve been to all of our relations, and what sort of relative we ought to be.

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