Structure is necessary because unfettered behavior isn’t the same as freedom

My father was a piano player. I was eight years old the first time I’d heard him play a song that captured my imagination. I begged him to teach me how to play it and he eventually relented. I was not an easy student. He explained where I needed to place my fingers on the piano, but it was difficult for my little hands and I tried to create shortcuts. My father would not allow shortcuts, though. He explained that I needed to do things the right way or not at all. I hated being told that, but what I didn’t understand at the time was that music has structure and in order to play music you need to operate within a structure. You don’t have to learn it the same way as everyone else, but you do have to learn it, otherwise you will never have the freedom of playing music.

You only have freedom if you have choice, but choice requires structure. This means that while all structure does not allow for freedom, freedom itself requires structure. I know that sounds convoluted and counterintuitive, but we actually experience it every single day. For example, if you want to read any book, you must first learn to read. There is no way around it. Someone could read it to you or you might catch the movie version, but unless you yourself actually learn to read you cannot choose to read a book. There is no choice and therefore no freedom. Once you learn to read however, you are free to choose to read whichever books you like. You are also free to never read anything ever again. The choice is yours, but again there is no choice or freedom without first having—in this case—the structure of literacy.

Culturally as Americans we want to act as individuals and to follow our base instincts, but to actually function we must learn to move beyond that behavior. We want to be left to our own devices and we falsely think of that as freedom. Our impulse is to buck at anyone telling us to do otherwise and scream for that reverse freedom to be protected. But the act of following our base instincts is not a thing that needs protection. On the contrary, it is a thing we must always be protected from. Literally none of us would have lived to see even our first birthdays if we weren’t actively kept from putting every single thing we could touch into our mouths.

Throughout our lives we are taught to overcome our base instincts by our families, schools, societies and religions. As broken and wrong and brutal and deadly as these institutions can be when they are at their worst, at their best they can be vehicles of actual freedom allowing us to seek out, find and become our very best selves. Unfortunately, far too many of these institutions promote, interpret or are deliberately built on ignorance or prejudice and bigotry. This allows for many of us to believe that ignorance, prejudice and bigotry are equal to, if not more valuable than knowledge, compassion and curiosity. That belief leads to another: that structure is the enemy.

And so here we are in this moment, besieged by a global pandemic and led by the self-aggrandizing embodiment of American unstructured base instinct. Arguments from ignorance abound to the point of political voices nearly superseding all scientific truth. And too much of the public confuses conspiracy theorizing for critical thought. We are held captive by our cultural misunderstanding of freedom and I hope we release ourselves before it is too late.


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Vote *who* no matter who?

Watching him ride the wave of white supremacy into the White House was shocking at every moment. Even after it became obvious he was going to win. And every single day since the 2016 election I cringe at the thought of him and everything he represents. Really. At least once a day I literally cringe at the realization that, to many of my fellow Americans, all that really matters is their whiteness. They just want to feel like they’re on top of something, regardless of where the actual truth reveals them to be.

Late last year, right when I thought I could spot every kind of American white supremacy from a mile away, that ol’ white phantom snuck up on me again. There we were, enjoying the most diverse selection of democratic presidential candidates the country had ever seen! The future looked so bright! And that’s when the phantom whispered into the air, “But who’s really electable?” And just like that, as if watching hope wither in real time, we saw one by one the most diverse selection of democratic presidential candidates began to lose support. Then they began dropping out.

First Harris, then Castro, then Booker, Yang, Buttegeig, Klobuchar and then Warren. That is, as soon as electability became the chief concern, major candidates lost support and left the race in the reverse social order of the moment. First the Black woman. Then the Latinx man. Then the Black man. Then the Asian man. Then the gay white man. Then the white women until all you had to choose from was two old white men. But wait just a minute! One of them is Jewish. And here we are with Biden.

Now, am I saying that a lack of support for Booker, Warren or Bernie automatically makes you a racist, misogynist or anti-Semite? Of course not. What I am saying is, if your reason for voting for Biden was electability, then you’ve needlessly allowed the most destructive voices in America to influence your opinion.

Democracy/white supremacy in action!

Incumbents are notoriously difficult to beat. Republicans’ odds also go up when fewer voters turn out and right now massive voter disenfranchisement abounds. The incumbent has shown you every single day of his presidency that it doesn’t matter what criminal activities he’s involved in, how generally offensive he is, how objectively stupid he is, or how much you personally hate him. Because so far there has been no mechanism within our political system that can hold him accountable. Combine that with the fact that whatever strategy Biden’s team had been building for years is now gone. COVID-19 has changed all of that and now his team will have to strategize in a completely new world. They’re not just following a map to a place they’ve never been. There is no map. And to top it all off they are doing all of this for a politician with an incredibly long and consistent career of having been on the wrong side of every important issue of the day, an equally long history of plagiarism and poorly told lies on tape and an even longer history of unstable arrogance. All of this during deafening public discussions of sexual assault allegations and steady cognitive decline.

I’m going to be honest with you and you’re not going to like it. I sure as hell don’t like it. November is a long way off, but if the election were held tomorrow, I don’t vote for Biden. I just leave that box blank because I don’t see the point. Yes, I know people are worried about the Supreme Court and the possibility of RBG being replaced with another Kavanaugh. But Biden can’t be counted on to save the court because he’s already done such damage to it. He had his say in replacing a liberal minority activist justice and we ended up with the previous generation’s Kavanaugh. That’s how Thurgood Marshall’s seat went to Clarence Thomas, which, in many ways cleared the way for Kavanaugh. And that’s not even getting into Biden’s personal treatment of Anita Hill.

Of course, I want to believe that he’s changed or at the very least put together a team of advisors who will wisely guide him. But Biden shows no signs of change and he doesn’t listen to advisors. During his 1988 presidential campaign Biden continuously lied about participating in the civil rights movement. His advisors knew that he never marched a day in his life and repeatedly told him to stop lying. He agreed, but continued to repeat the lie over and over and over again anyway. Eventually all the lies sunk his 1988 campaign, but now here we are in 2020 and he’s telling those same disgusting lies again. I don’t know for certain that his advisors are telling him not to, but I can only expect that they are.

I know this country needs protection from the republican shift to fascism, but Biden won’t protect us from that either. I know that because we all just witnessed it in real time. The entire world watched in horror as republicans forced the Wisconsin primaries to happen amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, this will result in peoples’ deaths and so not only democrats, but politicians and pundits and scientists and citizens around the world spoke out against it. Not Joe Biden, though. Even though he was well ahead in the polls and well ahead in delegates, Biden was perfectly fine with republicans putting millions of lives at risk and causing an unknowable amount of certain deaths.

Biden’s own fascist tendencies are frightening as well. Not only does he endlessly brag about writing the goddamn Patriot Act and frequently lie about his Iraq War stance, but the sole reason we have email encryption is because Joe Biden himself was so terrifying.

On a good day Biden is either a self-aggrandizing liar with the style and frequency to rival our current president or a Susan-Collins-type liar doing everything in his power to help republicans and voting against them when his vote no longer counts. On a bad day, he’s a belligerent, irrational, indignant, accused rapist who is such a milquetoast even his most enthusiastic supporters can’t make a case for him without mentioning the current president or the previous one.

And even those mentions are disingenuous. Biden’s Black BFF is not that at all. Obama is Biden’s former boss—a former boss who waited almost an entire week after there were literally no other remaining applicants before recommending Biden for a job. Combine that with the timing of Obama’s endorsement of Hillary in 2016—over a month before Bernie dropped out—and the fact that Obama pushed Biden not to run in 2016 and a different kind of relationship emerges.

As far as comparing Biden to the current president goes, it is honestly shocking to me that two men anywhere could be so similar, let alone two men who are supposed to be on opposite sides.

I know some of you are mad at this. I’m sure someone is calling me a Russian bot right now, but like I said, November is a long way off. I’m not immovable. Hell, the right VP pick could turn me right around.

I’m not Biden’s problem. I didn’t vote for Bernie. A whole lot of people did, though and Biden is going to need their votes. He’s going to need a lot of non-democrat votes and not just republicans. He’s going to need brand new voters.

The thing is, while all of those new voters can see Biden and most of the things I’ve already mentioned, they can also see his supporters and they’re not very convincing either.

They yell out desperate nonsense phrases like “vote blue no matter who” willfully vocalizing the same intention to blindly fall in line they’ve spent the last four years lambasting republicans over. They would have you vote for Biden even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue.

They brag about Biden having the most progressive platform of any democratic nominee ever. While meaning much more of candidates who aren’t outrageously habitual public liars, this has been said of every democratic nominee—and half the republicans for a lifetime. It’s like a car manufacturer bragging that their recent models now come with brand new tires!

Some complain endlessly about a “post-fact world” while ignoring the most obvious facts of their own candidate.

Bernie supporters just spent the last four years getting blamed for Hillary’s loss even though more of them turned out for her in 2016 than her supporters did for Obama in 2008. 

My personal favorite Biden bro pitch is saying that not voting for the president is an act of privilege. Really, I just can’t think of any attitude more privileged than the one assuming there’s a solution for every problem. Sometimes there’s only pain and the hope of enough time for it to fade.

Luckily, we’re not there yet!

Right now, there’s a pretty good chance replacing a weird senile serial liar riding a wave of white supremacy with another weird senile serial liar riding a different wave of white supremacy isn’t going to inspire a lot of new voters. Especially when the replacement has already done or is currently doing many of the things they fear from the other guy. But again, November is a long way off. Either way, in the meantime there are many things you can do to make this a better country regardless of Biden’s success or failure.

For instance, donating your time and money to FairVote can help make our electoral systems more representative and inclusive. Also, and I say this a lot, but none of what you want for this country is possible without control of the senate. So, pick a democratic senate candidate running against a republican incumbent and volunteer. Make calls for them, write emails, send texts, give them your money. Sara Gideon running against Susan Collins in Maine and Amy McGrath running against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky are my favorites right now. But no matter what, any change you want for this country is going to take you doing more than just showing up in November. Check out SwingLeft for more ideas and information.


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What Trump isn’t is as important as what he is

As the coronavirus continues to subsume the planet, the president’s actions and inactions continue to kill untold numbers of Americans. Despite years of warnings from all manner of experts, the president has left Americans so vulnerable as to potentially lead to millions of deaths. As we attempt to deal with this crisis, minimize the outcome and prevent future epidemics it is vitally important that we understand why he has done this.

The answer is simple: he is not now—nor has he ever been—mentally fit for his office. While that may seem obvious, even those of us who loath the president describe him in terms that say otherwise. Rather than understand him as the cruel imbecile he clearly is and admit that our systems reward whiteness and inherited wealth above all else, we imply he’s superior in some way, fooling us.

We do this even now, despite the fact that as of this moment nearly four months after the first case of COVID-19 on American soil, the White House has yet to publish a plan to fight the coronavirus. This is not because the president is masterfully navigating systems the plebian masses simply cannot comprehend. It is because the president is a man born to and living in such privilege he actually lacks the capability to do anything other than receive gifts. This is why it’s so important to stop saying these five things about him:

He’s a gangster

Gangsters are heroes. I know they’re not supposed to be. And that is exactly why they are. Gangsters employ whatever means necessary in order to navigate and fight against a system designed to exclude, exploit and/or destroy them. That story itself is the very entirety of America. In 1780 English writer Edward Gibbon called the American rebellion a “criminal enterprise.” George Washington and company were the first American gangsters. Depending largely on how supported you are by which system you can follow that story as a straight line through the country’s origin in revolution, through Harriet Tubman and John Dillinger, through Gangsta Rap and Outlaw Country. Rebellion is as gangster as apple pie and none of that is Trump. He’s never fought against the system. He’s the desired outcome of the system. And like all of those born into wealth, he’s only ever been cherished and encouraged and protected by the system. He’s been an unscrupulous landlord, a boss who refused to pay his workers, an egomaniacal elite using his wealth to oppress minorities and children and he’s stolen from the poor to give to the rich. While gangsters are the heroes in America’s narratives, Trump has only ever been the villain.

He’s got a strategy

He doesn’t. Really. That’s not to say those around him don’t have strategies. Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, etc. surely have strategies, but the president himself does not. If you think otherwise, I invite you to find any evidence of him ever having created a strategy for anything. That is, not a strategy created by a lawyer or advisor or assistant, but something he himself came up with. While you will find that task impossible, you can find case after case of lawyers and advisors and assistants trying like hell to marginalize the damage done by the president’s deadly destructive, buffoonish absolute lack of forethought.

He’s a con man

Similar to gangsters, we love con men. I can’t count the number of movies I’ve seen with con men heroes. They’re some of my favorite movies and if I’ve learned anything from them it’s that con men need to be good liars. The president, while a frequent liar, is not very good at it. Not only is he a terrible liar, he just has absolutely no impulse control whatsoever.

During this most recent Friday’s COVID-19 press conference it was announced that the CDC now recommends wearing masks in public. The president volunteered that he would not wear one. When asked why, he replied, “I’m feeling good. I just don’t wanna be doing—I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just, I just don’t. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but this will pass and hopefully it’ll pass very quickly.”

He’s great at marketing

This is similar to strategy. There’s an implication of a plan that just isn’t there. The president isn’t out here coming up with subtle schemes to get you to spend your money on his products. When put in front of a microphone he largely rambles incoherently. His communication skills are below measurement and he certainly isn’t persuasive. Ask yourself when was the last time he convinced you of anything. Do you think that’s his natural skin color? Were you ever fooled by his hair? He’s just a bad liar and simple bigot giving voice and permission to others of the same descriptions. This is why, when every other country in the world was taking steps to protect its citizens from the coronavirus, the only action our president took was to block people coming into the country from China. And to fail by calling it “the Chinese virus” and the like.

He’s tough

This one is a personal pet peeve. I grew up around a lot of tough people. Disabled vets, the formerly incarcerated, street fighting enthusiasts. I’ve met a lot of tough people and they were all quiet about their toughness. Their toughness was usually born out of fighting circumstances beyond their control. They never bullied. They never bragged. And not one of them ever, ever whined. It just wasn’t possible because, you know, they were tough. The president is not tough. He’s a weakling and he’s the worst kind of weakling: the kind who acts tough when he knows he’s protected, but the moment he feels unprotected he slinks away like a worm.

We are in trouble. Americans not only need to defend ourselves from a pandemic, but from the actions and inactions of the president as well. I know quibbling about these descriptions may seem frivolous, but defending ourselves from a deliberate and clever malefactor requires a different tact than from an unspeakably dangerous idiot. Being able to see the difference could be a matter of life or death.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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