On Reauthoring the Future of Humanity

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Image of highway underpass. Graffiti on a pillar reads: “A NEW WORLD IS POSSIBLE” Photo by the author

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

“You can’t free a slave unless he knows he’s in bondage.” ~Dead Prez

We can’t go on like this.

No matter what popped into your head as the antecedent of “this, you know it’s true. We are on a projectile thrusted toward inevitable and permanent change of almost every aspect of pre-pandemic life. And we by our everyday actions are all contributing to the trajectory this change takes. We can do this in one of two ways: as conscious authors of a better world, or as unwitting actors in someone else’s vision.

And if you think replacing the current occupant of the White House with decent and reasonable Joe Biden is all the effort we need contribute toward avoiding catastrophe, I regret to inform you that this is evidence that you’ve fallen prey to one or more indoctrination apparatuses, meant to lull you into blind participation in someone else’s design.

I know a little about being indoctrinated, and about unknowingly taking part in someone else’s design. I was raised Mormon in a tiny town along the Arizona-Utah border. My parents were Limbaugh-listening small business owners, proud and individualistic “by our bootstraps” believers in capitalism. So fierce was my mother’s insistence that we not depend on the government, that although we lived below the poverty line and qualified for food stamps, we never applied for them. “It’s not our neighbor’s job to take care of us,” was the maxim my mother repeated as our reason for refusing public assistance.

These ideas of independence and self-sufficiency were woven into the culture and teachings of Mormonism, and I was all in, with both my parents’ religion and their politics, until my early twenties, when the accumulation of the contradictions between the reality of my lived experience and the narrative of the worldview I’d inherited passed the tipping point of acceptability. I faced a choice between accepting the implications of the evidence of my experience and letting go of almost everything I thought I knew about my world and my place in it, or dismissing my experience and clinging to my worldview. Although I felt utterly alone at the time, I now realize that everyone faces this choice at some point.

In fact, the more awake you are, the more frequently you will experience various aspects of what you thought you knew crumbling away beneath your feet. Another worldview of mine crumbled away a few years ago, the one where I thought I lived in a mostly-free country, where there were problems, but we were all mostly equal and the people had a voice, and with enough hard work anything was possible. It’s the ubiquitous narrative of the American Dream. I’ve heard it all my life, but the evidence of my experience and observations has mounted past the point of this narrative any longer holding any credibility. I may have woken up to this reality later than some, but I’ve continued to encounter this perspective and people who hold it, so I know I’m not the last.

The pandemic has made it increasingly difficult to ignore the rot that’s been festering beneath the veneer of “normal” that some hope to “go back to” under a Biden presidency. More and more of us are realizing that the havoc and tragedy wrought by Covid-19 notwithstanding, the virus is less the cause of our current ills than the result of our past neglect, and the agent shedding light on all the cracks in the dam of a system that has benefitted a few in the short term, but has ultimately brought significant harm on all of us. And perhaps more personally damaging than being an unwitting actor in this tragedy is to have woken up to the ways in which one’s soul has become contorted to the shape of a cog to fit into someone else’s machine, and yet to be unable to extricate oneself from this machine, because alternative sources of the necessities of life are either nonexistent or inaccessible.

We can’t go on like this.

* * *

Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating the gravity of the calamity. Sure, there are problems in our governance and economy, but up until Trump, things were mostly going along alright, nothing we couldn’t mitigate with enough recycling and best-life-living. If you think things haven’t been that bad, it’s likely that you’ve been living a life mostly insulated from the hardships of poverty and/or discrimination. If you are someone for whom the system mostly works, it is remarkably easy to become complacent and to train yourself to ignore or explain away the signs that we’re all being exploited in various ways, while we’re also being left with no options but to exploit others in order to obtain the necessities of life.

It isn’t entirely your fault if you haven’t yet woken up to the brokenness of our governments and economies. If you were born in the United States, and most other Western countries, you were conditioned from birth to accept and admire this system of circular exploitation, to be blind to the ways that it hurts you and others, and to aspire to one day take your place in it. Ogala Lakota tribal member Jim Warne has called this conditioning “ignorance by design.” It bears striking similarities to the religious indoctrination of my childhood. It shows up in our schools, in our media, and in our cultural norms.

The ability to think symbolically is one of our species’ greatest assets. But inherent in all forms of symbolic representation is the possibility for misrepresentation and deception. Our society is reaping the results of decades of pervasive misrepresentation in two of our modes of symbolic representation: language, and money.

* * *

Almost two years ago, Trump Jr. told an El Paso rally crowd, “You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.” I saw many an opinion piece addressing the outrage of calling teachers losers, but to me the much more telling part of his statement was the accusation that teachers are somehow indoctrinating students to become socialists. Such a feat would have required a heroic dose of ingenuity for any teacher using the civics textbook issued at the high school where I was teaching at the time, and not just because we were still using the 2008 edition in 2019. The book is rife with what I try to teach my English students to recognize as “hidden assumptions” and “unacknowledged bias.”

Let’s start with the title: Civics Today: Citizenship, Economics, & You. Implied behind those words are the ideas that our government and our economy are inextricably linked, and that students must learn their place in these systems. The image introducing the section on economics shows four teenage girls in front of some indoor greenery, all of them thin and symmetrically-featured, each a different skin shade, wearing fashionable summer clothes, all oohing and aahing over the contents of various shopping bags. The caption: “Young women exercising independent economic decisions at a California shopping mall.” Here we see our right to shop, our freedom to pursue happiness-by-consumerism, defended by the brave men and women of our military, and enshrined in public school curriculum.

The authors emphasize the concept of scarcity. A handy diagram illustrates how “Unlimited Wants” on one side and “Limited Resources” on the other converge to create “Scarcity.” That wants are unlimited is taken as an inevitable and immutable fact of existence. Why is the insatiability of wants not seen as a pathology? I don’t know about your wants, but as for me and my house, our wants are quite simple and finite.

But the authors are very concerned with scarcity, and want to be sure students get the concept. “Even a seemingly plentiful resource such as water is considered scarce because it is not free; we pay to use it.” The authors do not address whom we pay to use it, or why. They omit any discussion of manufactured scarcity, or of a bygone concept called the commons, an arrangement under which people didn’t pay a municipal overlord for their water.

Instead, the authors drive home the point of scarcity: “Scarcity occurs whenever we do not have enough resources to produce all the things we would like to have. The United States possesses abundant resources such as fertile soil, trained workers, forests and water.” For whom exactly are “trained workers” a resource, and how does that square with our supposed private property rights if citizens do not in fact own even their own labor? Who possesses the possessions of “the United States” and why are the majority of We, the People cut off from access to these abundant resources?

The text goes on to explain trade-offs, and also tells students why it’s likely that the education they’re receiving sucks so much: “Think about a trade-off on a large scale. A country wants to put more money into education. This strategy may be a good one, but putting more money into education means having less money available for space exploration or defense.”

This indoctrination makes its way over to the English department too. The Ayn Rand books are all donated by BB&T Charitable Foundation. It’s worth asking, why would a bank want to promote reading Ayn Rand? And would these banks be as enthusiastic to donate books by James Baldwin, or George Orwell?

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Image of front inside flap of Ayn Rand novel, with label announcing: “This Book Has Been Donated Through the Generosity of BB&T Charitable Foundation” Photo by the author

The state of North Carolina recently eliminated a full semester of U.S. history from its graduation requirements and replaced it with a semester of financial literacy, even though personal finance is already a part of the required civics course. The proclaimed impetus behind this new requirement is that a lot of people are defaulting on their student loans and other debt, as though the primary cause of default were a lack of understanding of how loans work. The state superintendent of instruction made a point of “[making] sure our parents know that students will still be getting robust, rigorous lessons in our history and founding principles, and not only will we keep all America history standards, we will improve our efforts to teach the founding principles of our nation.” These are the same people who have been known to compel teachers and students to extend the school year into summer to make up instructional time due to weather closures, presumably because all of this instructional time is so absolutely vital, yet somehow nothing will be lost by eliminating a full eighteen weeks of history instruction. Whose interests are served by students learning less about history and more about money?

It’s not just the curriculum. Much has been written about the school-to-prison pipeline, and from my perch as a teacher, I observe a parallel student-to-compliant-worker-drone pipeline. Whose interests are served by our children undergoing thirteen years of conditioning to surrender one’s will to someone else, for most of the day, for five days a week? And the consequences for failing to comply with enough of this conditioning to sufficiently perform the expected feats of K-12 education can follow you for the rest of your life.

* * *

I was half listening to a local newscast one afternoon. The anchor was explaining how teacher pensions are funded, the details of which I don’t remember, but emblazoned in my mind is the upbeat and emphatic voice the anchor used as she summed up the segment. “So we all want the stock market to do well!” She practically cooed this last line.

At the time, I was going through Animal Farm with my students. I was also well into my fourth year of not earning a living wage working jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree, and this little PR piece of goodwill for the stock market rang to me of the same propaganda foisted on Orwell’s characters. After overthrowing their freeloading human master, the animals attempt to establish something resembling communism, but greed and corruption creep in among the pigs, who have assumed leadership of the farm, until the animals find themselves in the same, if not worse, circumstances as before, all while being told that they are the most free and prosperous animals in all of England:

“There were times when it seemed to the animals that they worked longer hours and fed no better than they had done in Jones’s day. On Sunday mornings Squealer, holding down a long strip of paper with his trotter, would read out to them lists of figures proving that the production of every class of foodstuff had increased by two hundred per cent, three hundred per cent, or five hundred per cent, as the case might be. The animals saw no reason to disbelieve him, especially since they could no longer remember very clearly what conditions had been like before the Rebellion. All the same, there were days when they felt that they would sooner have had less figures and more food.” ~ Animal Farm, chapter 8, George Orwell

Americans are conditioned to be very concerned about the stock market. No newscast omits the status of the markets. We are taught to believe that our own wellbeing is intimately entwined with the performance of “the market.” Elections rise and fall on its fate. But the lived experience of most Americans is that they don’t have a real stake in the stock market. If fact, what’s good for shareholders is often at odds with what’s good for the average worker.

Take this reaction in 2017 from Citi analyst Kevin Crissey over American Airline employees receiving a raise: “This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get leftovers.” I was reminded of Frederick Douglass’s account of being forced to turn over his wages as a hired laborer to his master: “When I carried to him my weekly wages, he would, after counting the money, look me in the face with a robber-like fierceness and ask, ‘Is this all?’ He was satisfied with nothing less than the last cent. He would, however, when I made him six dollars, sometimes give me six cents, to encourage me. It had the opposite effect. I regarded it as a sort of admission of my right to the whole. The fact that he gave me any part of my wages was proof, to my mind, that he believed me entitled to the whole of them.” (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, ch. 11)

It seems to me that the slope between shareholder and slaveholder lacks friction. So why does every newscast remind us to revere the stock market?

News copy is written by someone, and someone usually has a reason for hammering home particular viewpoints and messages.

The local Fox affiliate where I live, for example, has a propensity for reporting stories about hero cops and about people of color being suspected or convicted of crimes. The result is a narrative of a world full of black and brown criminals kept at bay by mostly white cops. I don’t doubt that they are reporting on true incidents, but I can’t help but notice that even though it is a “local” news program, many of the above-mentioned types of stories come from several states away. Is there truly no other regional news of import to fill the air time? Someone makes decisions about what stories to cover, and someone may benefit from a populace that reveres authority while maintaining fear of and distance from their neighbors.

And this is to say nothing of outright disinformation, which people are astonishingly bad at recognizing. A study by Stanford University found that the number one factor most people use to determine the reliability of a website is whether it looks authoritative, based on fonts and other design elements. This was true not only of middle school students, but also college students, and even college professors.

My intent here is not to bash “the media.” You’ll notice I link to plenty of news outlets as valuable sources of information, but we need to acknowledge that there are significant problems with our current for-profit news model.

And even though a lot of quality reporting exists, most of us are too busy, bored, or jaded to pay attention, and even if we want to, the pace of the news cycle sweeps away the essential in a tsunami of the sensational and unnecessary. Who even remembers the Panama Papers? That was so four years ago! And why when The Guardian reported in 2014 about the ponzi scheme the world’s banks are running did that story not gain any traction (“The truth is out: money is just an IOU, and the banks are rolling in it”) ? A combination of human nature and our collective cultural values conditions us to train our attention on what is entertaining, intriguing, triggering; not necessarily on what is important. I don’t know what you were doing in 2014, but I was still pretty asleep. I didn’t read much news and I spent an embarrassing amount of my time and energy on being a pretentious little fuck, playing almost-Ivy league grad student and posting Tequila Tuesday selfies of me and my girlfriends.

The Guardian article explains the shell game in which banks don’t actually have any money until we pay them back what they lend us, and all the wealth created through our labor is funneled to those at the top. When poor people hoard objects, we put them on reality shows and poke fun at their pathology. But hoarding money is applauded, enshrined as a right.

The unspoken assumptions behind our unquestioned cultural beliefs reveal some of what we have allowed ourselves to accept.

Take the statement “If you work hard, you can get ahead.” Embedded in the concept of “getting ahead” is the unacknowledged assumption that some will be left behind, and that this is both acceptable and inevitable.

We do indeed live in a world of finite resources, as we learned from Civics Today, and therefore, if some hoard an exorbitant excess, there will inevitably be others who do not have enough. Money is not itself a resource, in that it has no intrinsic value, but it represents access to resources, and thus its hoarding causes inequality in access to the means of life, liberty, and happiness to which we all supposedly have inalienable rights. And yet, lauds Civics Today, the ability to accumulate wealth is one of our economy’s “most remarkable characteristics.” Indeed, “[n]o other economy in the history of the world has been as successful.” I’m just an English teacher, but I caution my students against making absolute statements, because they are almost never true.

Take a quick scroll through the wealth Jeff Bezos has accumulated.

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We can’t go on like this.

* * *

The unspoken assumptions behind our unquestioned cultural beliefs reveal some of what we have allowed ourselves to accept.

Take the statement “If you work hard, you can get ahead.” Embedded in the concept of “getting ahead” is the unacknowledged assumption that some will be left behind, and that this is both acceptable and inevitable. As U.S. Americans, we claim both that everyone is equal, and that we have the right to become as wealthy as possible. I see these two ideas as inherently contradictory in a system where becoming wealthy requires that there are people beneath you, and these people will relinquish most of the fruits of their labor to you. What about my mother’s mantra, “It’s not our neighbor’s job to take care of us.” Hidden behind that statement is the reverse assumption: Neither is it our job to take care of our neighbors. What a cold and barren societal landscape to have to inhabit. No wonder we reach for the limbic salves on our screens. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is not inevitably so.

Our economy and “the market” are not natural, self-existing entities; they are human-made constructs. Through the symbol of money, we’ve created a system of deception, of false scarcity. Scarcity creates rivalry, and thus we have an economic system that rewards those who are good at winning at win-lose games.

And our culture reinforces this, hence Trump Jr’s “loser teacher” remark. One op-ed I read after this incident delineated all the compassionate, generous, patient, attentive, nurturing things teachers do, often at great personal cost, as though it were some mystery how the Trumps and their ilk could consider such obviously prosocial people losers. But in a culture where the possession of money is the primary criterion used to determine who is and is not a winner, of course by that metric, teachers are losers. (“Why would you go to college and then choose a low-paying career on purpose? Don’t you want to win?!”)

We are conditioned to internalize values and practices that keep an exploitative system running: consumerism, convenience, comfort, achievement, prestige, individualism, and entitlement. And our economy is designed to reward those who adopt these values. So long as teacher pay is set by corporate-sponsored legislators, we teachers will always be relegated to this rank of relative loserliness. By keeping teacher pay low, our leaders are implicitly sending the message that being compassionate, generous, patient, attentive and nurturing (i.e. prosocial) will get you nowhere. If you work hard, you can get ahead, but only if you choose one of the careers that our economy rewards, of which “teacher” is not one. Rather, what is rewarded is antisocial narcissism of the Superrich.

For myself, I’ve ended up a teacher despite the lousy pay in part because I am unable to endure the cognitive dissonance required to engage in the frivolous, damaging, and exploitative activity involved in so much of what passes for employment and commerce in the private sector these days. To borrow a phrase from the Book of Mormon, I will not dig a pit for my neighbor.

That most jobs are exploitative explains the cultural expectation against talking about our salaries. According to the not-at-all-alarmistly-titled article “The Surprising Dangers of Discussing Salary at Work” on Monster.com, “career experts” (whoever they may be) say that discussing salary can do more harm than good. Among the reasons: “It’s demoralizing.” Well, yes, finding out you’ve been being exploited can indeed be a demoralizing experience, but that’s about as sensible an argument as “Don’t get that irregular mole checked out; the results might upset you.” But if potential demoralization isn’t enough to deter you from talking about your salary, you should also know that “Your friends might feel forced to lie to you.” There is no mention of whether you should worry about your friends feeling the need to lie to you, which I personally find odd. And if social pressures aren’t enough to keep you mum on salary, know that the consequences could be as severe as dismissal from your job. Rather than holding an exploitative employer accountable, the employee is seen as being in the wrong for breaking the cardinal rule about not telling.

And if it’s causing you anxiety or depression to live in a society where virtually all jobs feel like thinly-veiled slavery, and virtually every financial transaction feels like a thinly-veiled swindle, just ask your doctor which of their conglomerate of copyrighted pharmaceuticals is right for you.

Paramount is that we not succumb to believing in the biggest lie of all: that our current state of affairs is just “the way things are,” and that we can’t do anything about it.

We’re conditioned to accept, to consent and become blind to, to support and facilitate a system that is in fact causing all of us harm. Messages of winners and losers, of competition over cooperation, of hoarding over sharing, of maximum profits by any means necessary, surround us so thoroughly, many of us don’t even notice them.

It’s almost like we’re being indoctrinated or something.

George Orwell wrote in 1946 about the corruption of language for political means. He declared then that the English language was “in a bad way,” and it certainly hasn’t improved. I’m not talking about the devolution Victorian grammar and spelling norms in texts and tweets. I am talking about the misuse and abuse of language. A word like “freedom” is bandied about as something that we have, and “socialism” as something we should fear, but not enough people interrogate such terms too terribly much.

Every single one of us has at some point believed something that we later learned was not true. Every single one of us believes now things that, if we are paying attention to the world around us, we will later learn are not correct. This is not something to be ashamed of, but it is imperative that we are aware of our susceptibility to believing incorrect information.

And paramount is that we not succumb to believing in the biggest lie of all: that our current state of affairs is just “the way things are,” and that we can’t do anything about it.

* * *

We face no shortage of individuals willing to author a new future. Klaus Schwab of the the World Economic Forum has a vision for the post-pandemic future, but for all its claims of commitment to opportunity for all, the propositions in the so-called Great Reset are the same failed — and false — dynamics of scarcity and competition, extraction and depletion, and the top down governance of Western culture that have gotten us into the crises we face today. And a key piece of evidence that tells me Schwab’s reset is headed in the wrong direction is his assertion that “to make it more fair and inclusive, ‘the key word is jobs.’”

Jobs suck. How else can you say it, when far too many of us spend our days (or nights) in literal endeavors of extraction, performing tasks ranging from the mundane to the masochistic, accomplishing work that is neither fulfilling, nor even useful? Our expended energy is transmuted into dollars for CEOs and shareholders. We subsist on the scraps thrown our way.

But Nancy Pelosi seems to agree that jobs are the key. In response to a question regarding what issues President-elect Biden should focus on to unify the country, she said, “Now, if we’re talking to our supporters in the labor movement: jobs. If you’re talking about the poorest people, Reverend Barber’s Poor People’s Crusade and all that: jobs. Everything in between, jobs, jobs, jobs, the four‑letter word. And that is where we should be focusing.” The dismissive “and all that” tag after misnaming the movement (Rev. Barber is a leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, not Crusade) bespeaks of a real disconnect from the actual needs of poor people, most of whom have jobs, some of them two or three.

As much as it would please Klaus and Nancy if we all kept clamoring over each other for jobs, I prefer to be a sovereign author of a different future. What we need is meaningful work, and it just so happens there is plenty of work that needs to be done. We have major problems to solve.

We cannot solve our problems piecemeal because the issues that we face — the pandemic, the ecological crisis, economic inequality, racism, and all forms of social oppression — are all interrelated. Indeed, not a single person, gnat, eel, virus, molecule or atom can abdicate its place in the interconnected web of life and energy on which we all depend.

To solve problems we have never before faced will require creating solutions we have never before conceived. And we can no longer be passive actors, because those creating designs intended for passive actors are steering us all toward extinction. We must not be passive. We must each take responsibility for co-authoring a new future.

* * *

We will not be able to solve our problems until we more fully wake up to what they are. A necessary step for most of us will be coming to terms with the fact that most of what we thought we knew about the world was wrong. I’m guessing a lot of us have had some major nudges in that intellectual direction this past year, if we weren’t pretty suspect of the status quo already. It is no easy task to discard your worldview. It is not unlike waking up to memories of repressed trauma. Painful as it may be, difficult knowledge is always better than rosy illusion, “For the well-lit problem begins to heal.”

And at some point, you realize that part of healthy cognition is the constant remaking of one’s beliefs, based on new evidence and information. Daniel Schmachtenberger has made a series of videos, discussing this process of sensemaking in depth, and why our very survival depends on all of us endeavoring to make good sense of the world.

Here’s a recommendation I give my students. I write the following three pairs of words on the board and tell them to pay attention to when the two sides do not match:

rhetoric | reality

narrative | experience

words | deeds

The concepts represented by the words on the left can be manipulated at will to suit the purposes of the speaker, and may or may not map onto what is real. It was the accumulation of incongruencies between these two sides that led me to conclude that Mormonism was not what I had been raised to believe it was.

We must become much more intelligent processors of information. You might start by taking a spin through Crash Course’s series on Navigating Digital Information, and you can avoid becoming part of the problem by being mindful of what you decide to share and repost.

I especially appreciate Schmachtenberger’s language of Signal and Noise to describe the combination of high-quality information and fluff, filler, and falsities (inaccuracies due to either human error, or actual intent to mislead) that composes all of our information sources. I want to speak in particular about social media, which we all co-create. I write from my perspective as an autistic person with sensitivities to sound. I frequently experience anxiety in loud, crowded places. The internet was once a social oasis for me, a place where I could connect and converse at a pace more suited to my natural tendencies. Facebook was the primary way I stayed in touch with my far-flung siblings, some of whom are also autistic.

But the internet has become as noisy and chaotic as any sports bar, rave, or rally; brimming with bids for attention, flashing lights, and distractions. A lot of this is advertisers and other monetized forms of communication, but the way most of us interact with social media isn’t helping. It’s gotten so bad that a lot of the people I cared about seeing on Facebook aren’t there anymore. I miss them. We have never before had a tool like the internet with its potential for global participatory communication and problem-solving, but we won’t realize this potential as long as we keep clogging it up with noise and bullshit.

My parents had eleven children. Our home was not the quietest place. My father had a phrase he brought out whenever the decibel levels got too high: “No unnecessary noise.” A succinct and specific directive, and good advice for our online interactions. As an English teacher, my personal pet peeve is posts that begin “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but…” If you haven’t identified your audience yet, maybe just be quiet and let that thought develop in your own mind, or with a couple of close friends, for a while before you put it out into the whole wide world.

If we are doing a good job of making sense of the world, we won’t be able to come to any other conclusion than to recognize our interconnectedness, interdependence and inter-responsibility to each other. This is a prerequisite for coming up with effective solutions to our crises. Rivalry, competition, and “toxic individualism” all have to go. Climate advocate James Gustave Speth put it this way: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with thirty years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation — and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

I believe in the fundamental goodness of human nature. I think we all know a lot more than we might consciously realize about how to heal our broken relationships with each other and with our world.

We need a cultural shift in which we understand that we truly are all in this together, and that “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. — “Beyond Vietnam”)

We must re-prioritize what we value and once again give primacy to things that are real, to things that make life worth living: art, creativity, music, dance, discovery, nature, relationships, connection, sex, all joys and pleasures not mediated by money. To the things that make us human. To Love.

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Magnet poem text: “if we wish to have/ any hope at all/ of a better world/ for our children/ or theirs/ we must attempt to become/ as discontent with the unreal/ as we were before they wooed/ us into believing we could/ just fill that ache/ in our soul with more/ money. From As If by Magic by Leah Elliott Hamilton

We absolutely must quit insisting that the purpose of everybody’s life is to “get a job.” To that end, the purpose of school needs to be completely re-imagined and schools need to be remade from the ground up.

We must each take responsibility for doing our best to make sense of the world, while also recognizing that none of us can do this successfully completely on our own.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 KJV)

Seven hundred years before Jesus of Nazareth we hear the assurance that our trespasses against our fellow beings can be absolved, not through vengeance, sacrifice, or scapegoating, but through reason, but not by solitary reasoning: by reasoning together.

The quality of our communication, thinking, and reasoning will never exceed our level of truthfulness. Being honest with each other begins with being honest with ourselves. Many autistic people engage in a behavior called masking, in which we hide certain manifestations of our neurodivergence in order to gain or maintain acceptance in a neurotypical-dominated world. But the neurotypical majority sure does a whole lot of masking-for-acceptance, too. And we’ve got to stop it, all of us.

Katherine May describes neurotypical conversation style from an autistic perspective in this way:

“From my end of the conversation, the constant chatter seems colourless and dry. Instead of discussing their driving passions, my companions prefer to gossip about near-strangers, or to compete for airtime at the expense of listening and perhaps learning something useful. They are endlessly obsessed with their status and their identification with their tribe. As the conversation moves on to current affairs, people stumble over themselves to agree with the most influential person at the table. They seem able to assimilate news stories that I find too tragic to digest, and to flip them glibly into humour, finding glee in the kind of interpersonal politics that make the air feel thick to me. To me, their company seems superficial, blunt, emotionless.”

May is being somewhat facile with her descriptions because she is illustrating the irony of the one-dimensionality with which the autism community is often viewed. But what she’s describing is the kind of communication that has gotten us into the messes that we’re in. We could all stand to be a whole lot truer to ourselves, and we’d all collectively be a lot better off for it.

Pay attention to and name the ways you have conditioned yourself to play a role that is contrary to what you deep down know to be the essential nature of your soul, and “rebel, rebel, rebel. Or are you satisfied?”

Because I’m sure not.

Writer and Teacher. Poetic and prosaic, personal and political, all points in between. www.leahielliott.com

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