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Book: "F**k Plastic"

This small book, F**K Plastic: 101 ways to free yourself from plastic and save the world by Rodale Sustainability offers excellent tips to make us more conscious of what we are doing — and want we can do.

Recently, I bought new clothes pins to hang up laundry that wouldn’t be going into the dryer. Good, you might think. But I looked at the prices and bought the cheaper plastic ones. Many have already broken. If I’d read this book sooner, those plastic clothes pins would not have been my choice.

Some of the tips in this book aren’t a surprise: Tip #17, for instance, is “Pick loose fruit and veggies” – “Don’t bother with the avocados that come two in a pack, or the bell peppers the come in threes, or the shrink-wrapped broccoli. Especially don’t bother with the half portions of cucumber you now find in supermarkets which come shrink-wrapped and then packaged in another layer of plastic. Opt instead for the veggies that are loose in trays, and–if you can-also buy from places that shun sticky labels” (24).

I’m a cucumber – get me out of here! from F**k Plastic

Some of the tips are surprises: #26 Say Goodbye to Gum.

“Have a guess how many pieces of gum are made in the world each year.

If you happened to say 1.74 trillion, [www.chewinggumfacts.com – accessed on 05/23/2018] give yourself a pat on the back. Now have a guess what most chewing gum is primarily made from. That’s right: a type of plastic. Pass the mints” (p. 33).

Say goodby to gum. Illustration from “F**k Plastic”

Some of the tips are ways of looking in new ways: Tip #15 Swap potato chips for doughnuts

“Yes, we’re serious! Sure we all know avoiding both the doughnut and the chips would be better for our health (pft), but if you’re going to reach for a treat anyway, make it a loose baked product like a doughnut or cookie over a bag of chips or cookies. Many of the latter are packaged using layered plastic material, which theoretically could be recycled but a lot of the time isn’t due to the cost. Loose baked products on the other hand are totally fair game” (p. 22).

Enjoy! Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

The book is filled with useful hints. The introduction asks: “Plastic, what’s the big deal?”

“Plastic still remains a pretty great invention–syringes, hip replacements, protective helmets, your laptop, my phone, that car. Let’s be honest–plastic ain’t going nowhere. But that’s the problem in a nutshell–all the single-use plastics we buy each day without realizing ain’t going nowhere either. A plastic carrier bag is used on average for 12 minutes [www.biologicaldiversity.org accessed on 05/23/2018] — but it’ll still be here in 100 to 300 years. The water bottle you picked up at lunch could still be here in 450” (p. 1).

Tip #89 Be mindful

“Look after your things! It’s as simple as that. Look after your phone; look after your headphones; look after your hair ties; look after your stationery; look after every item you own that contains plastic. The better care you give it, the less you will need to replace it and the less plastic that ultimately ends up bin a landfill or the sea” (103).

Read this book: There is lots to be done. We can each be part of the solution.

Aloha, Renée

P.S. Thanks for lending me this book, Joy. N.

From: <https://blueocean.net/powerful-images-of-plastic-pollution-go-viral/&gt;

The 2020 Woman's March, Maui

Again, we marched. Again, it was with a feeling of hope and joy. Again, I saw friends old and new. Again, the informational booths offered a variety of resources for Deaf Children, LGBTQ, Planned Parenthood, Citizens Climate Lobby . . . Again, we had an organized march, inspiring speeches, special guests, music, pule, dancing. The camaraderie, the energy of people – men, women, children, young and old, under a partly sunny Maui sky – all made for an excellent morning.

This, the fourth Women’s March, had keynote speaker Teresa Shook, retired attorney and resident of Hana, an isolated town on the East end of Maui. Her idea that we should march went viral after the 2016 presidential election and resulted in these Women’s Marches all across the country.

Teresa Shook, at Maui College, keynote speaker for the Maui 2020 Women’s March
Photo: mauibnews.com

For the march this year, The Maui News estimated 1,000 participants, a smaller number than other years. Missing too for the first time was the man with the bullhorn who screamed that all of us in the march hated men. With him had been a young girl, wearing a bonnet and long dress, and another man. Have they learned that, of course, we don’t hate men? (Well, we do know that some individual men have a lot to learn about respecting others). Has the girl refused to come along? We want Equal Rights, Civil Rights, Equal Opportunities, Gender Equality, Choice, Equal Pay, No War, help for immigrants escaping political and/or economic oppression, respect for all people, Truth and Reconciliation; excellent public schools for all children, clean water, protected public lands, actions to mitigate the real damage humans are making everywhere, supports for the most vulnerable among us, leaders with integrity and compassion for those struggling the most . . .

Many did come: men, women, children – many holding signs and representing a variety of interests and concerns. Photo by RR.
“Denial is not a policy” Photo by RR.
Speaking up for the Earth. Photo by RR.

Great T-shirt message: “Woman’s Rights are Human Rights, Black Lives Matter, We are All Immigrants, Climate Change is Not a Hoax, Water is Life, Science is Real” – friend & paddling sister – Joy. Photo by RR.
Maui friend & paddling sister, Gail and 93-year-old Mom at their fourth Maui Women’s March. Gail’s sisters Wendy and April come each year too. 🙂 Photo by RR.
Mele – with Maui Peace Action: NO WAR WITH IRAN. “53 cents of every US Tax dollar goes to the Military! STOP Illegal Wars”. Photo by RR.
Humorous and serious signs: “We used to burn books. I hope we can burn these signs in November.” Photo by RR.

Thanks to The Women’s March Maui Coalition, including its board members – Marnie Masuda-Cleveland, Kelli Blair Swan, Sherry Alu Campagna and founding board member Shook, the speakers, the musicians, informational booth attendants, food trucks, the marchers. Lei’ohu Ryder for the opening ceremony; Awesomystics, Skylar Masuda, Struck by Seda, Ono Maui Shakespeare, Deborah Vial Band, “Amazon,” Eliza and Shea Derrick’s Band, for the entertainment.

Great signs: “I Am A Strong Man Because of a Stronger Woman” and “I am the Resistance” at Maui College, Jan. 2020. Photo by RR.
Maui Now photo – from an earlier Maui March
Maui Time photo at Maui College

And what were friend Susan and I doing? We missed most of the speakers, the music, the dancing. We were happily sharing voting information and registering people to vote. For the first time starting with our primary election in August 2020, Hawaii residents will vote by mail. If you are a Hawaii resident, go to On-Line Voter Registration to register and/or check to see if all your information is up-to-date” <olvr.hawaii.gov>.

At the entrance to Maui College – that’s me. This was the borrowed sign I used at the 2019 Women’s March, again this year, and at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. march. Although the sign is a bit worn, the message is still excellent. Photo by Joy N.

And what was I doing two days later on January 20, 2020? I went to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March in Wailuku: good speakers, good music, good people.

Gwen’s International students experiencing a U.S. march: Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, . . . Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have liked it too. And again, I got to give out voter information. Photo by RR.

My voter registration T-shirt, compliments of Southern Poverty Law Center. We are in this together. Photo by RR.

Am I worried that the numbers to the marches are down. Should you be worried? Nope. We are busy people. We know that we must vote – and take action to change what we can.

Photo from facebook.com

Thank you to everyone involved in these marches – and in all the positive actions in our communities.

Vote wherever you live. Make you voice heard — and do more. You are needed.

Aloha, Renée

Truth & Reconciliation in Hawaii

From: <https://www.civilbeat.org/2015/01/cloud-over-hawaii-the-need-for-truth-and-reconciliation/&gt;

Cloud Over Hawaii: The Need for Truth and Reconciliation

Living under a cloud of resentment can never be good for us. In the end, resentment is self-destructive.By Paul Arinaga   / January 27, 2015 

There’s a cloud hanging over Hawaii – the weight of history. Over 100 years ago, the Hawaiian nation was subverted and destroyed. Hawaiian culture (not to mention Hawaiians themselves) was nearly wiped out and probably would have withered away had it not been for the Hawaiian renaissance of the late 20th century.

Native Hawaiians have not been the only ones to suffer in Hawaii, however. Asian immigrants later experienced their share of racism and social exclusion. Most of Hawaii’s Asian immigrants and their descendants were only able to improve their circumstances over the course of half a century.

Banner photo: Concerns are raised at Interior Department hearings on whether the U.S. should establish a government-to-government relationship with Hawaii’s indigenous community, June 2014.PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Why is this past suffering relevant? It is relevant because in many cases its effects are still with us today; they linger in the form of the relatively low socio-economic status of many Native Hawaiians, for example.

Past injustices are not only relevant for their direct economic, social and political effects, however. They are also relevant, in my view, because their effects linger in the form of resentment. Even some of the offspring of the purported perpetrators of past injustices seem to feel resentment; whether justified or not, they may feel unfairly accused.

Resentment feeds resentment. Yet we need to face the future squarely by dealing with the past, no matter how painful it may be. As Peter Apo says in a recent column in Civil Beat: “Until there is closure to the Hawaiian question, Hawaii can never be whole.”

The purpose of this article is not to find fault with any particular group or individual. Much of that ground has already been covered, even if redress has been incomplete, insufficient or non-existent, in many cases. The purpose of this article is instead to point out that living under a cloud of resentment can never be good for us. In the end, resentment is self-destructive.

That’s why I would like to propose that Hawaii establish a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” led by unifying figures and representative of all the people of Hawaii. Much as was done in South Africa and is being done in Canada, the purpose of this commission would be to unearth the truth, but to do so in such a way that there can be space for reconciliation, and perhaps even forgiveness.

This is not a New Age pipe dream. Reconciliation could have many tangible – and perhaps even immediate – benefits. It might lead to greater cohesion in our community, which in turn could enable us to solve practical problems such as the lack of affordable housing, limited economic opportunities and transportation gridlock.

On an individual level, reconciliation could release the huge amount of negative energy that I feel is currently locked away within many people, and within Hawaii as a whole. Harboring feelings of anger or resentment consumes enormous amounts of energy – energy that could be better spent in moving us all forward.

In proposing that people let go of resentment, I do not mean to dismiss the pain and suffering of any individual or group. Nor am I proposing that they give up their fight for justice, far from it.

I do believe, however, that we need to “clear the air” and try to work together rather than continually fighting each other. Truth and reconciliation could afford people a degree of closure and healing, and in the process release a wellspring of positive and creative energy. Given all the challenges we face, isn’t this exactly what we need right now?

About the Author

  • Paul Arinaga Paul Arinaga is a writer, fundraiser, marketer and communication consultant in Honolulu. He is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys mountaineering, rock climbing, trekking, and hiking.

Why don’t we have Truth and Reconciliation Committees in Hawaii? Ask at your church. Ask your elected officials. Ask those running for office. Surely we can at least do that.

Aloha, Renée

P.S. Update – 2/7/20

Please take an opportunity to be a positive voice. Help shed light on the issue of Truth & Reconciliation for Hawaiians (& non-Hawaiians). Support HCR37.

From Representative Tina Wildberger’s office: “HCR37- to convene a reconciliation commission – has been scheduled for a hearing on Monday 02/10 @ 9:00am. You can submit testimony online by following these steps: https://lrb.hawaii.gov/…/2019/12/How-to-submit-testimony.pdf

They will accept testimony until an hour before the hearing, but the earlier the better to give the representatives more time to read it. Even just clicking “support” without writing comments helps. You are welcome to share this information with your friends and family who might also want to testify.

In solidarity,
Natalia Hussey-Burdick
Office Manager
Office of Representative Tina Wildberger, 11th District
Hawaii State Capitol”

Please add your voice. Aloha, Renée (from Kihei – on Hawaiian land).

Thought for the Day: Number One?

“[The U.S. is] number one in military.

We’re number one in money.

Photo by Mathieu Turle@nbmat on <unsplash.com>

We’re number one in fat toddlers, meth labs, and people we send to prison.

We’re not number one in literacy [or] money spent on education.

We’re not even number one in social mobility. Social mobility means basically the American Dream, the ability of one generation to do better than the [previous one].

We’re tenth.”

– Bill Maher in “Sunbeams,” The Sun. April 2019, p. 48.

Obviously, we have much to improve. Aloha, Renée

Number One in junk food?

Photo by Christopher Williams <www.deiscribe.com> on <unsplash.com>.

Banner Photo by Aaron Burden <aaronburden@unsplash.com>.

The Golden Rule – Sails Again!

Sunday, I got to paddle canoes with others to escort the Golden Rule, a sailing ship with a long history, on its continuing journey of peace. Moored for the last two weeks in slip #20 at Ma’alaea Harbor, the Golden Rule came to Maui from the Big Island and before that, California. This little sailing ship, a national project of Veterans for Peace, continues its mission to create a nuclear-free world and a peaceful, sustainable future for all beings.

The Golden Rule was first used in the quest for peace in 1958 when four Quaker peace activists sailed it toward the Marshall Islands in an attempt to halt atmospheric nuclear weapons testing there.

The Golden Rule in 1958. Image from <https://www.vfpgoldenruleproject.org/history/?fbclid=IwAR08g7RrPHEqUcdfNsZ_jYkqJx7zubUJufL1GelgvJicnpLUHutDmjoxRMM&gt;.

The U.S. Coast Guard stopped the ship and arrested its crew, raising a public outcry. The Phoenix of Hiroshima, another sail boat, completed the journey and entered the atomic bomb test zone. The increasing public awareness of radiation dangers led President Kennedy, the U.S.S.R. and the U.K. to sign the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. The Golden Rule’s goal seemed accomplished.

However, after the Golden Rule sank in a gale in Humboldt Bay in Northern California in 2010, some saw the need for its continued mission.

For the next five years, U.S. Veterans for Peace, Quakers, and other volunteers restored her.

The Golden Rule now sails again for a nuclear-free world and a peaceful, sustainable future. And right now, she is here in Hawaii. Part of her mission is to educate. Did you know, for instance, that there are about 140 US military facilities and depleted uranium contamination sites in the Hawaiian Islands?

Did you know that the US Navy is expanding its military training here in Maui County: ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, above the ocean, and below the ocean surface? In our Kahului Public Library, you can see the four large manuals of Navy military plans for Maui County and beyond. Please see my earlier post: https://reneeriley.wordpress.com/2019/01/08/u-s-navy-plans-for-special-operations-training-in-maui-county-and-beyond/. If you are on Maui, go see the many military plans noted in the U.S. Navy manuals at the library reference desk.

As for the Golden Rule in her mission of peace – after her stops in Lanai and other Hawaiian Islands, she will head to the Marshall Islands, which continues to feel the effects of the 67 US nuclear bombs tested there. The Golden Rule plans to help the Marshallese commemorate “Bravo Day” – 65+ years after the disastrous Castle Bravo nuclear bomb test that was far larger than expected — resulting in widespread radioactive contamination.

Castle Bravo nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands - image from "The Deadly Miscalculation at Castle Bravo"
Nuclear test on the Marshall Islands

Go to YouTube: “The Deadly Miscalculation at Castle Bravo” to see film of the deadly bombing that has resulted in many cancers and other health issues for the Marshallese people even today.

After stops in Guam, Okinawa and possibly South Korea, the Golden Rule will sail to Japan in August 2020 for the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Education and action are needed now more than ever!

Here on Maui, we got to meet Helen Jaccard, Golden Rule Project Manager, who during several talks on our island, showed the film Making Waves: Rebirth of the Golden Rule and led discussions: What we can do to reduce the possibility of nuclear war?”

I handed out a few flyers to advertise the events. At one stop, I gave the flyer to the really helpful Ace Hardware man who always greets me, “What can I do for you, Miss?” and “Boss Lady, what do you need?” He always makes me laugh – and almost always finds what I need. When he saw the flyer, he put his head on the counter and groaned. He said, “It has to start within our hearts.”

He does have a point. In our news, our politics, even in our canoes sometimes there is grumbling. If we aren’t at peace within ourselves, within our families, and among our neighbors and fellow paddlers, how is there hope for peace in the world?

With the threat of nuclear disaster, total annihilation as a possibility, we must work on all fronts to create a peaceful, sustainable future for all beings: peace within and peace without.

The night before the Ma’alaea departure, some of the crew and friends met at Kamaole Beach Park III in Kihei for a potluck celebration.


Joseph, Susan, Judy, Mele, Chuck, Bob K., Bob D., Linda, Veteran for Peace John, and others gathered for a potluck celebration with The Golden Rule crew and friends.

The cornerstone of Veterans For Peace’s mission is to “End the arms race and reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.”

Thank you Veterans for Peace and for all those who have worked on and for the Golden Rule Sailing Ship.

From our Kihei Canoe Club canoe at the entrance to Ma’alaea Harbor – The Golden Rule raises her sail on her continuing journey.
From left: Irene, Shel, Sookie, Paulette. Eddie, Kristine, Adele
Photo by Katy Smith

To donate, for more information, and to track the progress of the Golden Rule Sailing Ship, go to:

Facebook: Golden Rule Peace Boat

Or contact: VFP Golden Rule Project/P.O. Box 87/ Samoa. CA 95564

http://www.VFPGoldenRule.org & wfpgoldenruleproject@gmail.com; Helen Jaccard Project Manager (206)992-6364

You can also find a cool video from our Sunday paddle escorting the Golden Rule Sailing ship on its way out of Ma’alaea Harbor: Go to FaceBook – Eddie Fischer. Thanks, Eddie

Let’s work for peace within our hearts, within our families, among our neighbors – near and far – and among nations.

Aloha, Renée

Books: “Travel as a Political Act”

Today as I was volunteering and getting to share the latest in humpback whale information at the Maui Ocean Center, one group – a mom and her four daughters – seemed particularly interested.  Most people  at the Ocean Center come to see the many beautiful fish and other sea creatures, and I  get to say a few facts as they pass by.  But for this particular group, I got to tell about why the humpbacks don’t eat while they are in Hawaii, how the male humpback whales have the most complex acoustical display of any in the animal kingdom, and more.  Since I could hear a slight accent, I asked the mom and girls where they were from — Saudi Arabia!  Uncovered, unescorted, all speaking English well (and of course, Arabic, and they are learning French); the mom says that the women drive; the girls are learning guitar too, and tomorrow, they are taking hula lessons at their hotel.  The mom said that life in Saudi Arabia isn’t really as it is portrayed in the news.  I asked if they were afraid of traveling in the U.S.  They said, “No.”  They are having a wonderful time and find everyone friendly.  They see the sensational news as just the news.  I would have loved getting to know them.

That seeking out of people, especially ones from cultures much different than his own is what Rick Steves shares in his book Travel as a Political Act, which offers many significant insights.  For instance, in describing his time in Iran, Rick Steves notes,

“It’s not easy finding a middle ground between the ‘Great Satan’ and the ‘Axis of Evil.’  Some positions (such as President Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust) are just plain wrong.  But I don’t entirely agree with many in my own government, either.  Yes, there are evil people in Iran.  Yes, the rhetoric and policies of Iran’s leaders can be objectionable.  But there is so much more to Iran than the negative image drummed into us by our media and our government.

I left Iran impressed more by what we have in common than by our differences.  Most Iranians, like most Americans, simply want a good life and a safe homeland for their loved ones.  Just like my country, Iran has one dominant ethnic group and religion that’s struggling with issues of diversity and change–liberal versus conservative, modern versus traditional, secular versus religious.  As in my own hometown, people of great faith are suspicious of people of no faith or a different faith.  Both societies seek a defense against the onslaught of modern materialism that threatens their traditional ‘family values.’  Both society are suspicious of each other, and both are especially suspicious of each other’s government.

When we travel–whether to the ‘Axis of Evil’ or just to a place where people yodel when they’re happy, or fight bulls to impress the girls, or can’t serve breakfast until today’s croissants arrive — we enrich our lives and better understand our place on the planet.  We undercut groups that sow fear, hated, and mistrust.  People-to-people connections help us learn that we can disagree and still coexist peacefully.

Granted, there’s no easy solution, but surely getting to know Iranian culture is a step in the right direction.  Hopefully, even the most skeptical will appreciate the humanity of 70 million Iranian people.  Our political leaders sometimes make us forget that all of us on this small planet are equally precious children of God.  Having been to Iran and meeting its people face-to-face, I feel this more strongly than ever” (p. 192-193).

Wherever you are, find someone of a different culture–listen, reflect, and learn.  Talk to people with accents; you are likely to be glad when they share something of their lives.

If you can’t go traveling tomorrow, get Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act.  

Happy traveling; happy reading.  Aloha, Renée

pooyan-eshtiaghi-fn9XdvzbyiM-unsplash

What’s important to this young man? What brings him joy & sorrow? What do we have in common? It would be interesting to find out   Photo by POOYAN ESHTIAGHI on Unsplash

Banner photo:  Rick Steves with schoolgirls in Iran.

 

 

Thought for the Day: Pacifism Revisited

“A child of an Evangelical Friends Sunday school, at an early age I was both born again and schooled in pacifism. While I don’t rightly know how it all fit together theologically, I know that the World War II veterans and their wives grieved what they understood as their necessary service as they loved us into loving Jesus.

As I was coming of age and studying theology, I found myself seeing the ways that war (even “just war”) becomes necessary when we neglect the things that make for peace. I was stunned to learn about the voyage of the MS St. Louis, a ship filled with Jewish Germans seeking asylum in the United States; it was turned away, leaving its refugees to return to Europe and Nazis’ terror (ultimately several European countries received the passengers that we denied). There were things we coulda‐woulda‐shoulda done that would have prevented the Holocaust, things that would have prevented the need for what I’d been taught was a necessary war. Pacifism, I learned, must be proactive and intensely active.

In more recent years I’ve spent many nights praying with my feet in Ferguson, Mo., and beyond. I’ve seen the police state wage war on the people; tasted tear gas; heard the beat of the batons; watched the entrenched, systemic racism up close and personal. As we call for nonviolent resistance, we too often fail to recognize that violence is already present.

In this light, platitudes for peacemaking sound more like acquiescence with evil and have no rightful place. Pacifism, it seems, is a position of privilege more so than justice. And yet as we watch the rise of the alt‐right (essentially Nazi 2.0), I’m finding myself rethinking it all yet again.

Back in the “righteous war” of the European theatre, we defeated one man and his regime with the best of American war‐making tools (or so the story is told). Success was declared, and decades of relative prosperity awaited those heralded as victors. Because our victory was militaristic and focused on one man’s empire, we never addressed what propelled the mass of people to support the madness. Make no mistake, most German folk went along (“it’s a job,” “it’s the law,” “I have to feed my family”), and many actually supported the regime. We never addressed the white supremacist ideology that undergirded the Nazi agenda, the same ideology upon which our nation was founded.

Likely we didn’t address it because it was too close to our own. In the midst of our warring, Jim Crow was having a field day back here at home. After the war, in the era of relative prosperity, the question was raised as to whether the prosperity belonged to everyone or just white folk. Slowly (with hugh sacrifice by Black leaders) some doors opened. But even then white folk never really talked about race and ethnicity. We shared metaphors that allowed us to pretend that everyone is white (melting pot, salad bowl, color‐blind) while maintaining a system of goods and services that were never shared.

Refusing to address the underlying values of the Third Reich (white capitalist patriarchy), we have been destined to relive them. We have a president who recently called a Black woman (his former aide) a “dog,” welcomed the white nationalist folk to the White House Lawn, and continued refusal to return hundreds of Brown‐skinned children to their parents. All the while his base cheers widely and his party stands behind him. In vivid and horrifying detail we are seeing the fruit of the poisonous taproot that we failed to address when we laid the blame for the Holocaust at the feet of a single contorted human. The blame then, and now, belongs with an underlying value system that elevates and dehumanizes in binary categories.

Pacifism is not passive: it is that active work of looking at the deepest causes of violence. Pacifism is a call to address violently oppressive power structures, not a judgment of the response by the oppressed. Pacifism is proactive and militant and actively disrupting [my emphasis].

Had we (white folk) embraced pacifism, we might have engaged the work necessary to identify and unlearn the racism that is suffocating us all. We might have found the courage to atone for our nation’s most original sins.

Instead we are reviving them.” – Katherine HawkerSelf, St. Louis, MO,  April 1, 2019

From: https://www.friendsjournal.org/pacifism-revisited/

It isn’t too late — yet.  Aloha, Renée

“Radical Travel” by Bani Amor

Although I’m not likely to stop traveling, this perspective is certainly something to consider – and make changes:

Radical Travel

Are we doing vacations wrong? How to be a better guest in someone else’s homeland.

Iolani Palace, the former seat of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i

It’s not unusual for Honolulu tourists to visit ‘Iolani Palace, the former seat of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. But DeTour guide Terri Keko‘olani uses the visit to discuss the U.S.-backed coup in support of military and business interests after the death of King Kalākaua. YES! PHOTO BY AARON K. YOSHINO

 

IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE MORE THAN 1.4 BILLION INTERNATIONAL LEISURE TRAVELERS who left your home for someone else’s in 2018, then chances are you’re familiar with the quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” First written in 1869 by Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, this quote is so hyped you can find it copied and pasted into Instagram captions, travel blogs, and memes, on posters, mugs, and luggage tags. It continues: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Too bad it’s such a lie.

The flawed core in this thinking, that those who have the privilege and access to travel are more enlightened than those who haven’t — especially considering the world’s most well-traveled people brought smallpox and small-mindedness everywhere they went — can be found in Twain’s usage of “our people.” We can assume he wasn’t accounting for the vast majority of this world’s people of color who cannot travel for leisure but are rather unwilling hosts to foreign occupations or peoples being displaced by extractivism and war. We know for sure he wasn’t referring to the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, whom he disparages as fit subjects for extermination in The Noble Red Man, his 1870 takedown of author James Fenimore Cooper’s romanticism. And he wasn’t referring to the stolen Africans and their descendants who were forced into chattel slavery and who were “vegetating” in their respective little corners of the Earth before those innocents ventured abroad and stepped foot on their lands.

So, what is the truth about travel? Are we doing our vacations wrong?

The truth is that tourism, like any other capitalistic project, is about consumption for profit. But “place” isn’t an endlessly renewable commodity — it is someone’s home, and the communities who call it so rarely factor in fairly to our conceptions of travel as an enlightening project.

From the economic instability that tourist cultures bring to their overuse of natural resources that exacerbate climate disasters, to glaring labor exploitation and gendered oppression that keep poor women of color living under the boot of White supremacist patriarchy, participating in the mass tourism industry is more likely to spread social inequality than staying home would.

Today, U.S. travelers are heading to the Global South more than ever. While Europe remains the number-one global tourist destination, and wealthy Global North nations top international tourist arrivals lists, U.S. Americans in particular prefer to vacation in the Global South and East, with 37 million headed to Mexico, 8 million to the Caribbean, 6 million to Asia, and 3 million in Central America.

From 1950 to 2018, international tourism arrivals grew from 25 million to 1.4 billion. The turn of the century marked a global shift in tourism caused by the mainstreaming of Western backpacking culture and the realization of U.S. travelers that they could fund lavish stays in “exotic” developing countries on the cheap. Poor regions became in-demand tourist destinations.

The truth is that travel isn’t “fatal to prejudice,” but tourism — and its not-so-distant ancestor colonization — can often be fatal to culture. Wielding this privilege only afforded to a minority to prop ourselves up as global citizens of a superior republic kind of defeats the purpose.

It’s time to retire the narrow implications of the Twain quote and pivot from a politically neutral consideration of travel to a systemic understanding of tourism and travel culture through a lens of social justice. If we center host cultures and follow their leads in how to — and how not to — engage with their lands as guests, if we complicate the idea of who travels and why and truthfully map the colonial legacy of the travel genre, we just may be able to tap into travel’s storied revolutionary potential.

Not-So-Innocent Abroad

“Tourists flock to my Native land for escape, but they are escaping into a state of mind while participating in the destruction of a host people in a Native place.”

Haunani-Kay Trask, essay “Lovely Hula Lands”

The impression that travel is an inherently enlightening experience that can lead to a greater good is evident in tourism where travelers participate in volunteer work — “voluntourism,” eco-travel, sustainable/ethical travel, and spiritual tourist cultures. The market for traveling supposedly to help disenfranchised communities in the Global South is booming, with little regulation for what constitutes “help” or who actually benefits from it.

While it’s possible that there’s effective work being done in these spaces, most initiatives are grounded in ideas of the White savior industrial complex, the concept that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) need to be saved by White folks who know better. In this way, even goodwill manifestations of tourism are still mired in layers of harm.

Consider the recent trend of “conscientious” cruising, in which companies like Carnival Cruise Line and Crystal Cruises offer extended programming presumably to aid local communities. Passengers can choose to teach English to Dominican kids for a day or help lay bricks for school buildings. These activities go far to assuage the guilt of privilege and tug at the heartstrings and pocketbooks of charitable-minded tourists, but good intentions do not compensate for the overwhelming harm caused by the cruise industry. Cruises are an all-inclusive experience that attract travelers looking for deals and ease, but they are wasteful of resources, create unnatural amounts of trash, shred coastlines and reefs, and contribute little to local economies. Just a few hours during a day stop at a port of entry is an insufficient amount of time to positively impact the lives of Jamaican orphans.

This gets to the heart of what’s wrong with voluntourism, and even tourism economies in general: They are intended for the benefit of the tourist, not centered on the needs of underprivileged destination communities. The day-to-day realities of these places will not be radically changed by token donations from multinational cruise ship corporations. And when they do have an impact, they tend to recreate a dependency on a foreign power and thwart progress toward self-determination. Who needs decolonization when a rotating class of White college kids can teach English in your village?

Few travelers seek out and center host cultures, voices, and struggles as part of their travel plans. The chasm of inequality between visitor and visited makes a truly fair exchange between them difficult to measure and nearly impossible to attain. There is no one-size-fits-all exchange — service rendered, money paid — that can balance this power dynamic. But we can strive for an understanding that host communities — especially those that include Black and Indigenous people — should be in charge of how they want their cultures, economies, and environments engaged with.

What does a more balanced exchange look like? Native notions of hospitality are driving new tourism frameworks, as Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) are doing in Hawai‘i. Solidarity delegations like those between Palestinians and Black Lives Matter activists are choosing who they’d like to open their doors to for mutual benefit. Voluntourism can work when specific expertise is requested by a host community, such as technology or medical help in a crisis.

With colonial mindsets lulling us into guilt-free, do-good travel, and Airbnb tourist dollars elbowing out residents of major travel destinations, are there equitable ways to engage in an industry that thrives off inequality? Well, there are a few rules of thumb.

YES! Photo by Federica Armstrong
Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani

Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani design their tours to expose the everyday militarism that oppresses Hawaiians. Tours like these challenge neocolonial conceptions of places as for the taking, instead framing them for the purpose of Native communities’ self-determination. YES! PHOTOS BY AARON K. YOSHINO

All-Inclusive

“People of color are the most traveled people on the planet; every time we leave our houses, we travel.”

Faith Adiele, June 2017

If you’re a social justice-minded visitor, think less about deals while traveling and more about what to avoid, starting with all-inclusive resorts. Here’s why:

Of travelers’ expenditures spent on all-inclusive package tours as a whole, 80 percent goes to airlines, hotels, and other international companies whose headquarters are located in the Global North, and not to local businesses, estimates the United Nations Environment Programme. In a tourism-dependent country like Thailand, 70 percent of all money spent by tourists leaves the country, and that figure is 80 percent for the Caribbean, perhaps the all-inclusive capital of the world. Avoid cruises — the water-borne version of the all-inclusive resort — as they additionally destroy reefs and pollute local waters.

Stay in hotels owned by locals. Eat in restaurants owned by locals. Shop at stores owned by locals.

Some do’s and don’ts require self-awareness: Practices like excessive haggling, refusing to adapt to local customary dress, taking pictures of people without their consent, or not bothering to learn the local language all signal that you lack empathy regarding your power and privilege abroad.

These are adjustments that individuals can do to ameliorate the direct harm that mass tourism causes. But what can be done about the biggest problem of travel culture: lack of inclusion?

To say that travel media has a race issue would be a meta-joke; travel media is a race issue. Not only are the editors of the magazines, the travel show hosts, the commercials, brochures, blogs, YouTubers, and Instagram accounts overwhelmingly White, they too-often depict White folks self-actualizing in lands colonized by their settler ancestors. And if they are depicted hugging Black kids, the caption will definitely quote Mark Twain.

It’s true that most BIPOC, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ people, and lower-income folks contend with barriers that keep them from enjoying leisure travel as much as wealthy White people do, but to purport they’re not doing it at all is erasure. A survey conducted by Mandala Research concluded that Black Americans spent $63 billion on travel in 2018, for example.

As a queer Latinx kid from Brooklyn who left home as a teen to hitchhike around the continent and later chose to write about travel, I found belonging in the excursions of Langston Hughes in I Wonder as I Wander, jumping into the backseat as he drove through Havana in 1931. I found it in bell hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place, running alongside her over Kentucky hills decades before I was born, and in coughing up exhaust with Andrew X. Pham as he biked along the roads of Vietnam in Catfish and Mandala in the 1990s. As Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun, often says, no one travels more than people of color. Whether for work or via displacement or through forced migration, BIPOC must go the distance to navigate a global White supremacist culture, often without even having to leave our countries. Read them.

In response to travel’s race gap and thanks to social media, people of color, specifically Black women, are creating their own lanes.

Founded by Dash Harris Machado in 2010, AfroLatino Travel connects people across the African diaspora to places the travel guides usually tell us to avoid, inspiring a variety of similar brands in its wake. Evie Robinson and Zim Ugochukwu started their businesses on social networks in the past decade (Nomadness Travel Tribe and Travel Noire, respectively), spawning what has since been dubbed the New Black Travel Movement, and Noirbnb was started after too many alarming #AirbnbingWhileBlack stories went viral.

A rock formation at He‘eia State Park

A rock formation at He‘eia State Park is where locals leave leis and other small gifts of thanks to Kāne‘ohe Bay. The Marine Corps Air Station dominates the far view, though local fishing boats and tourist boats share the bay with the military. YES! PHOTO BY AARON K. YOSHINO

Decolonizing Travel

“For even if history is most often recounted by victors, it’s not always easy to tell who the rightful narrators should be, unless we keep redefining with each page what it means to conquer and be conquered.”

Edwidge Danticat, “Create Dangerously”

Critical analyses that offer solutions to the ills of mass tourism seem to be propagating in disparate spaces, from Anu Taranath’s Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World to A People’s Guide to Los Angeles by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng to Detours: A Decolonial Travel Guide to Hawai‘i, edited by Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez and Hōkūlani Aikau.

Rather than telling tourists where to go, Detours tells them how to act. For one, “no” is a word that guests need to get more comfortable with.

Detours was inspired by A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, which seeks to “uncover the rich and vibrant stories of political struggle, oppression, and resistance in the everyday landscapes of major cities,” according to its summary. Detours writers met with the People’s Guide writers, and “we all agreed that our project is slightly different,” Aikau told me in an email. “Their project is about unearthing alternative, radical stories of places, and the conventions of the travel guide genre support their aims. Our project is about decolonization, not touring — even if differently and more radically.”

Out this November from Duke University Press, Detours flips the traditional Hawai‘i travel guide narrative by reclaiming tourism using an Indigenous perspective. “The essays, stories, artworks, maps, and tour itineraries in Detours create decolonial narratives in ways that will forever change how readers think about and move throughout Hawai‘i,” the book’s summary promises.

Aikau said Detours “is more than just critique — it is also a series of instructions for how to contribute to decolonization.” She continued, “We make the case that Detours is not just a redirection; it is a redirection with a very specific purpose — the restoration of ea,” referring to the concept of the breath and sovereignty of the Hawaiian nation, land, and its people.

Included in the guide is a section of specific tours created by local scholars and activists, from a decolonial tour of downtown Honolulu to an environmental justice bus tour of Lualualei Valley and its naval facilities. The book actually borrows its title from one of these. Hawai‘i’s DeTour guides Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani lead visitors to often-overlooked sites of U.S. military occupation on the island of O‘ahu, educating them on the disturbing link between settler colonialism and tourism in the Pacific. Taking part in one of these tours inspired doctoral candidate Tina Grandinetti to become a demilitarization activist. She ended up creating a critical walking tour of the rapidly gentrifying Kaka‘ako neighborhood for the Detoursguidebook.

“The U.S. military occupies about a quarter of the landmass of both Okinawa Island and O‘ahu, and our Indigenous communities pay the price for this,” said Grandinetti, who grew up on O‘ahu in the shadow of the Schofield Barracks Army base near the small town of Wahiawā.

“I grew up feeling a lot of anger and resentment toward the U.S. military, but it felt hard to communicate those feelings in a productive way. The DeTour showed me how the everyday violence of militarism can be made visible, and taught me that there are so many ways we can work to challenge it.” The average tourist who is unaware of Kānaka resistance or perspectives on the mass tourist presence on their land could receive a real education by taking part in a DeTour.

“Every time I went on base as a kid,” Grandinetti continued, “I felt like I was entering a world where I didn’t belong: a hypermilitarized, Americanized, White space. [DeTour] showed me that we can reclaim spaces for community even as they remain under occupation.”

Traveling and taking part in these real-time tours connects the tourist’s body to the land’s history and people in a way that staying at home and reading about it might not. “I remember feeling this most strongly when [activist guides Kajihiro and Keko‘olani] took us to a huge sculpted map of O‘ahu. We circled around the map and repeated Pearl Harbor’s true name over and over again: Ke Awalao o Pu‘uloa. Our voices got louder and more confident each time we repeated it. It was such a powerful moment.”

Tours like these challenge neocolonial conceptions of places as for the taking, instead framing them for the purpose of Native communities’ self-determination.

Aikau told me that she and her co-editor hope their book will inspire others to write decolonial guides to their own places. “What are the Indigenous place names where they live? What are the layers of stories that lie beneath concrete, asphalt, and street names? What are the protocols for asking permission to come onto territory in the place where you live?”

Think Globally, Travel Locally

“Once you commit yourself to a place, you begin to share responsibility for what happens there.”

Scott Russell Sanders, essay “Local ­Matters”

It’s easy to look to marginalized people for the answers to problems they didn’t create. It’s harder to look within and to question our own behaviors that enable that marginalization. As a traveler myself and in studying and writing about decolonizing travel culture, I’ve come to understand that the impulse to travel stems from an entitlement that is inextricable from colonialism.

Wanderlust is often a condition of lacking roots. White supremacy has created a crisis of identity for settlers who have little connection to the lands they are on or the communities they are a part of. And for this reason, they are always trying to escape, move on to the next place, consume, and repeat.

I get what Mark Twain was saying — I do, and to an extent, I agree. Settler colonialism and capitalism tell us to fear our neighbor, to chase excess by laboring in individualism. And when that gets too stressful, to escape “to Timbuktu” (as if it’s not an actual place in Mali). But taking colonial mindsets on the road is what has led to the majority of human suffering on the planet, from slavery to genocide and domination. If modern-day travel culture isn’t based on the goal of working against these ills, then it is only furthering that agenda. And that is the truth about travel.

So to decolonize travel as we move about the world, we need to dismantle White supremacy at home.

In Belonging, cultural critic bell hooks connects this lack of a relationship with home and race: “Again and again as I travel around I am stunned by how many citizens in our nation feel lost, feel bereft of a sense of direction, feel as though they cannot see where our journeys lead, that they cannot know where they are going.” What she calls “a wilderness of spirit” can be linked to much of the White supremacist terrorism that only seems to be on the rise. “Many folks feel no sense of place.”

Scott Russell Sanders has echoed this in much of his writing, most notably in Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World: “My nation’s history does not encourage me, or anyone, to belong somewhere with a full heart. A vagabond wind has been blowing here for a long while … I feel the force of it.” The lure of tourism to leave it all and disappear, as it were, seems to be strongest in the people with the most power. Looking at the consequences of mass tourism, we can conclude that the opposite of Twain’s remarks may be true — that “vegetating in one’s corner of the globe” may be what we need more of. As Sanders concludes, “I wish to consider the virtue and discipline of staying put.”

I always find it fascinating that so many international U.S. travelers are so unacquainted with the states in their country, or even neighboring districts, or, for that matter, their actual neighbors. Segregation seems to see no end in our nation’s story. These travelers would rather help build schools for kids in Africa than let their kids attend schools with Black kids in Brooklyn. The adage “you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you come from” can apply to our nation’s memory as a whole.

Perhaps we need to think about home and belonging more intentionally and invest in our local communities to recognize our important roles in them — before we plan our next big vacation. Escape is easy. Long-term commitment takes care and work. Many of the people shouldering that responsibility are the ones who can’t escape, and they deserve a break, too.

With a combination of staying put, learning our histories, and getting to know our neighbors, we can become better global neighbors — and then better global guests.

Decolonization is both the journey and the destination. And to Mark Twain: All of our people need it sorely on these accounts.

By Bani Amor

Bani Amor is a queer travel writer who explores the relationships between race, place, and power. Instagram: @baniamor, Twitter: @bani_amor

In YES! Summer 2019, p. 14-20.

So travel – at home or away.  Let’s be conscious and act in inclusive, healing ways.

Aloha, Renée

 

“The King We [but not most of us now] Would Rather Forget”

     On Nov. 9, 1967, Dr. King gave the
Annual Convocation address of the
Graduate Student Association (GSA) at
SUNY Buffalo. On behalf of the GSA, I [John Marciano]
was co-organizer of the event and his driver
that evening. This speech was seven months
after his historic “Beyond Vietnam” oration
at New York’s Riverside Church in which
he condemned that war. That evening, we
discussed the harsh attacks he received for
his opposition. King calmly and patiently
explained that he opposed the Vietnam
conflict because conscience demanded it;
he resolutely stayed the course until his
assassination five months later.
     “Beyond Vietnam” is perhaps his
greatest speech, although unknown
to most Americans compared with
his “I Have a Dream” oration at the
August 1963 March for Freedom and
Jobs in Washington. Those who have
heard or watched King’s magnificent
oration that day are deeply moved, but
to this day little is known about the
pre-march “apprehension [and] dread”
of the corporate media and political
establishment. President Kennedy ordered
4,000 troops to be “assembled in the
suburbs, backed by 15,000 paratroopers”
of the 82nd Airborne Division in North
Carolina; his aide was ready “to cut
the power to the public-address system
if rally speeches proved incendiary”;
Washington banned all alcohol sales
for the first time since Prohibition; and
hospitals prepared “for riot casualties.”
The event was a huge success: it drew a
record crowd of some 250,000 people in a
marvelous and peaceful show of support
for justice (Taylor Branch, “Pillar of Fire:
America in the King Years 1954-63”).
     Four years later, King articulated
powerful truths about the War in Vietnam
and this nation. He laid his firm opposition
to the war squarely on the shoulders of the
U.S. government—which had denied the
Vietnamese their right to independence,
aided brutal French colonialism there,
created and supported Diem’s dictatorship
in South Vietnam, and violated the 1954
Geneva Agreement.
     King denounced the United States as
“the greatest purveyor of violence in the
world today,” and saw the war was “a
symptom of a far deeper malady within
the American spirit.” Later that spring, he
asserted that “the evils of racism, economic
exploitation and militarism are all tied
together”: We could not “get rid of one
without getting rid of the others [and] the
whole structure of American life must be
changed.” He stated that the injustice of
the conflict was inextricably linked to the
African-American struggle for civil rights.
The war was an enemy of poor people
because it diverted money that could be
used to mitigate the effects of poverty. And
the poor, especially the African-American
poor, were being killed or maimed in higher
proportions than their representation in
the U.S. population (Southern Christian
Leadership Conference Report, 1967).
     King’s speech elicited vicious attacks
by the political and corporate media
establishment and civil rights leaders.
Life Magazine stated, “Much of his speech was
a demagogic slander that sounded like a
script for Radio Hanoi.” The New York
Times called his effort to link civil rights
and opposition to the war a “disservice to
both. The moral issues in Vietnam are less
clear-cut than he suggests.” It concluded
that there were “no simple or easy
answers to the war in Vietnam or to racial
injustice in this country.” The Washington
Post claimed that some of his assertions
were “sheer inventions of unsupported
fantasy”; that King had “diminished his
usefulness to his cause, to his country
and to his people.” The corporate media
and political condemnation of King
accurately reflected public sentiment; a
Harris poll taken in May 1967 revealed
that 73 percent of Americans opposed his
antiwar position, including 50 percent of
African-Americans.
     If we wish to pay tribute to Dr. King,
we should read (or reread) his “Beyond
Vietnam” speech, and abandon the myths
about him and the movement for justice
and peace to which he dedicated his life.
We do a grave injustice to his legacy
and that struggle by revising the actual
history of the era, and by failing to fully
understand and confront the economic
exploitation, militarism, and racism that he
condemned—which continue to poison this
nation.”
– Author John Marciano also  wrote  American War in Vietnam:
Crime or Commemoration and co-wroteLessons of the Vietnam War
with William Griffen. He is professor emeritus at SUNY Cortland.
Photo: King delivering his speech “Beyond Vietnam” at New York City’s Riverside Church in 1967. Photo: John C. Goodwin, TIME Magazine.

From:  V5N2—Spring 2019 p. 7 in Peace in Our Times • <peaceinourtimes.org> by John Marciano

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“Worlds Apart” by T.M. Luhrmannn

“‘Progress is impossible without change,’ George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, ‘and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’ But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve.  Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide.  On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise.  Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews.  The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs—and with those who share them.  The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.
Yet we know that people do change their minds.  We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. . . .” (Forum, February 2018, 27-29).  This Harper’s Magazine issue focuses on persuasion; it features seven writers, each with a different perspective.  The first essay follows.

The Minds of Others

The art of persuasion in the age of Trump

Worlds Apart

By T. M. Luhrmann

In March 1997, the bodies of thirty-nine people were discovered in a mansion outside San Diego. They were found lying in bunk beds, wearing identical black shirts and sweatpants. Their faces were covered with squares of purple cloth, and each of their pockets held exactly five dollars and seventy-five cents.

The police determined that the deceased were members of Heaven’s Gate, a local cult, and that they had intentionally overdosed on barbiturates. Marshall Applewhite, the group’s leader, had believed that there was a UFO trailing in the wake of Comet Hale-Bopp, which was visible in the sky over California that year. He and his followers took the pills, mixing them with applesauce and washing them down with vodka, in order to beam up to the spacecraft and enter the “evolutionary level above human.”

In the aftermath of the mass suicide, one question was asked again and again: How could so many people have believed something so obviously wrong? [my emphasis]

I am an anthropologist of religion. I did my first stint of fieldwork with middle-class Londoners who identified as witches, druids, and initiates of the Western Mysteries. My next project was in Mumbai, India, where Zoroastrianism was experiencing a resurgence. Later, I spent four years with charismatic evangelical Christians in Chicago and San Francisco, observing how they developed an “intimate relationship” with an invisible God. Along the way, I studied newly Orthodox Jews, social-justice Catholics, Anglo-Cuban Santeria devotees, and, briefly, a group in southern California that worshipped a US-born guru named Kalindi.

Most of these people would describe themselves as believers. Many of the evangelicals would say that they believe in God without doubt. But even the most devout do not behave as if God’s reality is the same as the obdurate thereness of rocks and trees. They will tell you that God is capable of anything, aware of everything, and always on their side. But no one prays that God will write their term paper or replace a leaky pipe.

Instead, what their actions suggest is that maintaining a sense of God’s realness is hard. Evangelicals talk constantly about what bad Christians they are. They say that they go to church and resolve to be Christlike and then yell at their kids on the way home. The Bible may assert vigorously the reality of a mighty God, but psalm after psalm laments his absence. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Beliefs are not passively held; they are actively constructed. Even when people believe in God, he must be made real for them again and again. They must be convinced that there is an invisible other who cares for them and whose actions affect their lives.

This is more likely to happen for someone who can vividly imagine that invisible other. In the late 1970s, Robert Silvey, an audience researcher at the BBC, started using the word “paracosm” to describe the private worlds that children create, like the North Pacific island of Gondal that Emily and Anne Brontë dreamed up when they were girls. But paracosms are not unique to children. Besotted J.R.R. Tolkien fans, for example, have a similar relationship with Middle-earth. What defines a paracosm is its specificity of detail: it is the smell of the rabbit cooked in the shadow of the dark tower or the unease the hobbits feel on the high platforms at Lothlórien. In returning again and again to the books, a reader creates a history with this enchanted world that can become as layered as her memory of middle school.

God becomes more real for people who turn their faith into a paracosm. The institution provides the stories — the wounds of Christ on the cross, the serpent in the Garden of Eden — and some followers begin to live within them. These narratives can grip the imagination so fiercely that the world just seems less good without them.

During my fieldwork, I saw that people could train themselves to feel God’s presence. They anchored God to their minds and bodies so that everyday experiences became evidence of his realness. They got goose bumps in the presence of the Holy Spirit, or sensed Demeter when a chill ran up their spine. When an idea popped into their minds, it was God speaking, not a stray thought of their own. Some people told me that they came to recognize God’s voice the way they recognized their mother’s voice on the phone. As God became more responsive, the biblical narratives seemed less like fairy tales and more like stories they’d heard from a friend, or even memories of their own.

Faith is the process of creating an inner world and making it real through constant effort. But most believers are able to hold the faith world — the world as it should be — in tension with the world as it is. When the engine fails, Christians might pray to God for a miracle, but most also call a mechanic.

Being socially isolated can compromise one’s ability to distinguish his or her paracosm from the everyday world. Members of Heaven’s Gate never left their houses alone. They wore uniforms and rejected signs of individuality. Some of them even underwent castration in order to avoid romantic attachments. When group members cannot interact with outsiders, they are less likely to think independently. Especially if there is an autocratic leader, there is less opportunity for dissent, and the group becomes dependent on his or her moral authority. Slowly, a view of the world that seems askew to others can settle into place.

When we argue about politics, we may think we are arguing over facts and propositions. But in many ways we argue because we live in different paracosmic worlds, facilitated these days by the intensely detailed imaginings of talk radio and cable news [my emphisis].  For some of us, that world is the desperate future of the near at hand. If abortion is made illegal, abortions will happen anyway, and women will die because they used clothes hangers to scrape out their insides. Others live in a paracosm of a distant future of the world as it should be, where affirmative action is unnecessary because people who work hard can succeed regardless of where they started.

Recently, the dominant political narratives in America have moved so far apart that each is unreadable to the other side. But we know that the first step in loosening the grip of an extreme culture is developing a relationship with someone who interprets the world differently [my emphasis].  In 2012, for example, a woman named Megan Phelps-Roper left the Westboro Baptist Church, a hard-line Christian group that pickets the funerals of queer people, after she became friendly with a few of her critics on Twitter. If the presence of people with whom we disagree helps us to maintain common sense, then perhaps the first step to easing the polarization that grips this country is to seek those people out[my emphasis].  That’s the anthropological way.”

 

If those Heaven’s Gate cult members had not been so isolated and had been able to talk with those outside their group,  perhaps they would have realized that killing themselves as a way to beam themselves up to a passing spacecraft was really not a rational idea.

Find someone you just can’t understand.  Talk and listen.  It’s likely to be good for both of you.

From: https://harpers.org/archive/2018/02/the-minds-of-others/2/

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