DONATION: The Women’s Center and Food Works

I decided last year that I would donate approximately 10% of my income to local charitable causes and community organizations. Therefore, I am donating 10% of my recent income tax refund to two local groups: The Women’s Center and Food Works.

The Women’s Center

The Women’s Center provides many helpful services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. They have a 24-hour crisis hotline (618-529-2324); emergency shelter; food, supplies, and transportation; individual and group support and counseling; information, referrals, and education; legal, medical, and personal advocacy. Basically, if you are a survivor of domestic abuse and/or sexual assault, they will find a way to help you with what you need.

Unfortunately, our state budget crisis has had a negative impact on the Women’s Center. Part of their funding comes from the State of Illinois, and the State of Illinois has dropped the ball. I don’t know all of the latest details, but I read in the Nightlife a few weeks ago that they are still in serious trouble due to the state budget crisis. They’ve done all they can to keep key services in operation, but if the budget shortfalls keep coming, they will be out of luck — and so will the people they serve.

The people at the Women’s Center work very hard to provide support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. They are on the front lines, dealing with heart-rending situations on a daily basis and providing support for survivors that often no one else is providing. Now, it’s time for us as a community to show support for them in return.

Food Works

Food Works was formed to draw attention to local food, local farmers, and issues of social and environmental health. Their mission is “Local, sustainable food systems development for Southern Illinois.”

They, too, have been the subject of budget shortfalls due to the state budget crisis.

Developing local and sustainable food systems has always been an important ecological issue, but now a growing number of people are realizing that it is also a health, social justice, and national security issue.

If low-income people don’t have access to local, fresh, ecologically grown food in their communities, then how can they remain healthy? And if virtually all of our food in Southern Illinois comes from distance sources, then what happens in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis?

These are questions that not enough people are asking. But the people at Food Works are asking these questions, and they’re looking for solutions to the current shortcomings of our food systems in Southern Illinois.

Your Support

I know it’s tempting in tough times to give less money to community and charity groups. I’m very low-income right now, and a part of me was tempted to just run out and spend my entire tax refund on silly frivolous things like extra food and paying off my credit card. But when the economy is rough, community groups are affected too, and it takes an extra effort on our part to ensure that they can keep going. And I have vowed that as long as I have income, the community groups I believe in will have income too.

I love Southern Illinois. In spite of the shaky economy, the hot and humid summers, the random inland hurricanes, and the many other quirks that sometimes make life here challenging, I love this place. I love my friends; I love all of the different groups and events in Carbondale and surrounding cities; I love the Shawnee Forest and other natural areas throughout this region. I love living here, and I believe that if we all come together and support awesome community groups like the ones listed on my Causes page, Southern Illinois will not only survive, but thrive and prosper.

I urge you to do what you can to support local community groups. Maybe this means donating money; maybe this means volunteering time; maybe this just means showing up at community events and telling people how much you appreciate the good work they’re doing. Maybe it even involves getting creative and proactive and organizing some sort of music event, or art show, or organization that doesn’t even exist yet. Whatever you feel is the best way for you personally to get involved is up to you. All I ask is that you resist the urge to be complacent, to be apathetic, to assume that someone else is going to take care of the problem and make sure these groups continue existing.

You are that someone. You have the power to make a difference for the better in your community. It won’t always be easy, but together, we can make it happen.

Hopefully I’ll see you out in the community. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and thanks for any support that you can send to these and other community groups. Your generosity and passion for the community groups you believe in is what makes Southern Illinois a place worth calling home.

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No One Is Illegal

I don’t usually talk about immigration, or write about immigration, or even think about immigration. But since so many people have been discussing it lately, and since people I respect have spoken out on the wrong side of the issue, I thought I’d share my two cents.

I’d like to start this discussion by sharing a quote from “The New Colossus,” a poem that is inscribed on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Lady Liberty herself attests, this is the attitude toward immigration that characterizes a free society.

I believe in freedom of movement, including (but not limited to) freedom of immigration and emigration. In other words, I believe that anyone who wants to travel into (or out of) the United States of America should be allowed to do so, and anyone who wants to move here permanently (or move away permanently) should also be allowed to do so.

In my mind, the above paragraph is so simple and straightforward that even a small child should understand that this is what it means to live in a free society. However, millions of Americans seem to disagree with this perspective, including some very intelligent and well-spoken individuals who have unfortunately bought into the anti-immigration rhetoric. Therefore, I would like to present counter-arguments to some of the most common arguments against freedom of movement.

First of all, I reject all openly racist arguments against freedom of movement. If you think that “white people” are superior to “non-whites,” and that we need to secure our borders so that the “colored people” don’t come in, then I have little hope of holding an intellectual discussion with you. Either remove yourself from the gene pool or come back to me when you’ve spent some time with a therapist and are ready to have a meaningful political discussion.

Now, to address some of the more sane (but still incorrect) arguments against freedom of movement.

Some people oppose “illegal immigrants” because these immigrants have broken the law. Yes, it’s true; people who have entered the country illegally have broken immigration laws. And I can understand why you’re upset about someone breaking a law. But the bigger question is this: why does that law exist in the first place?

In a free society, the question is not only whether or not a law has been broken, but also whether or not a law is just. In this case, the law is unjust. If a law is unjust, rather than arresting the people who break it, we should change the law.

Did you know that there is a limit on how many people are allowed to immigrate legally into the U.S.? I was shocked when I learned this fact a few years ago. We used to have specific immigration quotas based on nation of origin, but now we have broader quotas based on Eastern versus Western hemisphere.

Why do we have these quotas? The chief arguments I’ve heard in favor of these quotas are economics and cultural stability. If we let in more people, they will take “our” jobs, and they will flood “our” nation with languages, religions, and cultures that are foreign to us.

I can understand people’s economic fears, especially in the midst of a recession. I’m near the bottom of the economic ladder right now, and I don’t suspect a flood of immigrants will improve my prospects for more gainful employment. And I can understand people’s cultural fears, especially if they’ve grown up in a fairly uniform cultural setting in a small town or suburb. All that they know about people from other nations is stereotypes, and stereotypes fail to capture the rich cross-pollination of cultures that can occur in a diverse and inclusive society.

But should we really be acting on the basis of fear? Or should we be acting on the basis of our commitment to freedom and democracy?

If you want to have people pass through some sort of security screening as they enter or leave the country, that’s fine. I can see a point to that as long as it’s done as respectfully and non-intrusively as possible. Different countries have different laws, and different capacities to enforce their laws, so I can see why we would want to be sure that no known criminals or terrorists enter the country. I can even see a point to adopting a slower and more rigorous screening process for travel to and from nations like Iraq and Afghanistan where we are currently engaged in armed conflict.

But some of you want to limit the number of Mexicans (or Asians, or Indians, or Africans, or others) coming into the country simply because you’re afraid that they’ll take your jobs and flood your communities with their language and culture.

To this, I say: seriously? You’re seriously willing to throw away our cherished principles of freedom simply because you’re afraid that “foreigners” will take your job, or speak strange languages around you, or bring ideas into your community that weren’t there before?

If that’s how little you cherish freedom, then you may want to consider moving to a country that shares your narrow-minded views. Good luck with that, though, since their immigration policies will be stricter than ours.

This debate worries me, perhaps even more so than the health care debate or the climate change debate. It worries me because it says something profoundly disturbing about our nation’s understanding of freedom, and our level of commitment to freedom. People in this country like to speak loudly about freedom, but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, far too many of them balk at the opportunity.

In a truly free society, it wouldn’t even occur to us to establish these quotas on the number of people who can enter and leave our nation. We would be committed to the principle that our choice to move freely from one public place to another is an innate human right inalienable by any law or government. Even the most congenial of border security screenings would be conducted with the heaviest of hearts because we would know in our hearts that people who have committed no crime should be free to come and go as they please. There would be great debate about the very concept of border checkpoints, and whether or not they were acceptable at all in a free society, even for the sake of security.

Instead, we have a new law in Arizona stating that people who look “suspicious” can be stopped and asked for their “papers.” We have bizarre, manic, grandiose proposals to build thousands of miles of security fencing along our southern border. We have protracted debates about immigration — not about the absurdity and inhumanity of our immigration quotas, but about what we can do to enforce them more stringently and punish offenders more thoroughly.

This is madness! Simply madness.

The only aspect of this whole debate that keeps me sane is that there are fortunately at least some people who also recognize the importance of freedom of movement as one of the basic foundations of a free society. There are many people who have condemned the recent Arizona ruling. There are also many “sanctuary cities” that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to inquire about or arrest so-called “illegal immigrants.” But the people who favor draconian immigration policies are speaking loudly, and spending heavily, and pushing to sway otherwise decent Americans into supporting their anti-immigrant, anti-American, anti-freedom cause.

This issue has been simmering for a long time, and the recent Arizona legislation has turned up the heat. If you disagree with what I’ve said here, I’m willing to explain the points I’ve made and listen to any counter-points you’d like to offer. But if you agree with me, I urge you to speak up on the issue and take action on the issue. Otherwise, people around you may assume that the loud and rowdy anti-immigration crowd are the only people who have anything to say on the issue.

They’re not the only ones who have a voice. We have a voice, and our voice cries out the name of Freedom. In the name of Freedom for one and all, I would like to draw this entry to a close by once again sharing these famous words from the heart of Lady Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Posted in Uncategorized

VILLAIN WATCH: 27 April 2010

American military personnel are abusing prisoners in a “black hole” facility in Bagram. Monsanto is suing farmers whose crops are ruined by Monsanto’s own GMO contamination. Arizona lawmakers have decided it’s okay to stop anyone who looks “suspicious” (Mexican, Latino, “foreign”) and ask them for their papers.

Is this the free and democratic society we were promised? No. Is there something we can do about it? Yes!

Be a hero! Stand up for human rights! Stand up for persecuted farmers! Stand up for people of all colors who are being asked to show their papers just because of the color of their skin!

NEWS

Afghans ‘abused at secret prison’ at Bagram airbase

Afghan prisoners are being abused in a “secret jail” at Bagram airbase, according to nine witnesses whose stories the BBC has documented. The abuse at Bagram’s new ‘Black Hole’ has occurred AFTER President Obama issued his Executive Order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations.

ACTION

President Obama and Congress: Respect Human Rights and Counter Terror with Justice

President Obama and a number of members of Congress have resisted full accountability for torture, and have endorsed indefinite detention and unfair military commissions. Further, loopholes for torture and abuse remain and U.S. detentions at Bagram and other facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq do not meet human rights standards. Call on President Obama and Congress to respect human rights, follow the law and counter terror with justice.

NEWS

Monsanto: Global Corporate Terrorism

Monsanto has a long history of producing toxic products and byproducts such as PCBs, Agent Orange, aspartame, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They have not accepted responsibility for the harm caused by their past actions and continue to push GMOs and sue farmers whose crops are polluted by GMO pollen.

ACTION

Millions Against Monsanto

Millions Against Monsanto is organizing several campaigns to pressure Monsanto to stop bullying farmers and start taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

NEWS

Arizona Passes Restrictive Immigration Bill
[Condemned by Arizona ACLU]

Arizona lawmakers passed an authoritarian law requiring people to present their “papers” (proof of citizenship) on demand or be subject to arrest if an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that they are an illegal immigrant. “Reasonable suspicion” includes racial profiling. If you “look Mexican,” officers can demand to see your papers, even if they have no other reason to stop you.

ACTION

Boycott Arizona

Join us in letting Arizona’s leaders know how we feel, and that there will be consequences. A state that dehumanizes its own people does not deserve our economic support!

Posted in Uncategorized

A Good Society

Posted on Treesong No Comments ↓

In today’s entry, I intend to answer a question that humanity has struggled to answer for most if not all of its existence. What is a good society, and how do we get from here to there?

First of all, notice that the title of this entry is “A Good Society” rather than “The Good Society.” I don’t think that there can be, or should be, a single monolithic definition of what qualifies as a good society for all people, all places, and all times. However, as a human, I am a social and political animal. As a social and political animal, I desire to live in a good society, with good being defined relative to both my innate human potentials and the social and ecological context I live in. Therefore, I feel driven to describe what I, as a human being situated in a particular personal, social, and ecological context, believe are qualities of a good society that apply to my context in particular and arguably to most human contexts that are even remotely similar to mine.

I’ve come up with several qualities that I would argue describe a good society. Where possible, I relate these back to the principles outlined in my Foundations of Philosophy of Politics article.

1. Freedom

Freedom is a core quality that defines us as humans. A good society embraces this quality and does what it can to protect and nourish this quality. Any society that places involuntary limits on anyone’s freedom without offering them a way to “opt out” and forsake their social contract with other members of society is not a good society.

Some people believe that freedom is a quality that must be balanced with other concerns such as a concern for the common good. I disagree. This implies that we must take away certain freedoms in order to serve the common good, and that we must sacrifice a bit of the common good in order to let people remain free. This is sloppy, one-dimensional, zero-sum thinking. Instead, I argue that freedom and the common good must be harmonized, not balanced.

What does this means? Balancing our innate tendencies toward freedom and social cooperation means that we must learn to create social, economic, and political structures that empower us to choose to cooperate with each other while not eliminating our freedom of choice in the process.

The default assumption in a free society is that all individuals are free to do whatever they choose to do. The only valid reason for an individual or institution to even consider restricting someone else’s freedom is because that someone is attempting to harm to others, either by restricting their freedom or acting in a way that disrupts their health or well-being (i.e. physical injury, emotional/mental suffering, exposure to carcinogens, etc.).

Types of freedom include, but are not limited to: freedom of thought and belief; freedom of expression and communication; freedom of assembly and association; freedom of movement and migration; and freedom to form consensual contracts with other free individuals and groups of free individuals.

2. Direct Democracy

As social, economic, and political animals, most humans almost inevitably choose to live in a society with one another. As mentioned in the previous section, our dual nature as both individual and social creatures creates a potential tension between our choices as individuals and the interests or decisions of social, economic, and political groups or institutions. This tension, however, can be resolved through direct democracy.

Direct democracy is a decision-making process in which all members of an organization have equal authority and opportunity to participate in decisions made about actions that will be taken by the group as a whole. Depending on the size, purpose, and preferences of the group, this can vary from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority to more complex systems such as formal consensus decision-making.

Not all organizations in a good society need to be direct democracies. Unless there is harm or coercion involved, people should be free to form whatever types of organizations and relationships they choose. For example, parent-child relationships, teacher-student relationships, and clergy-congregant relationships are all examples of potentially non-democratic relationships that can exist in a good society. The parent-child relationship is a special case due to the fact that the child is not yet able to offer informed consent and the parent is their guardian. The other examples, however, are cases where individuals freely choose to enter into arrangements where one person has more decision-making authority than another, but all people involved have agreed that this is an acceptable arrangement. In a sense, since these are voluntary forms of association, entry into the organization or relationship is a way of casting a vote in favor of letting certain people in the organization or relationship make decisions on behalf of the group.

Non-democratic organizations, and non-direct democracies, may be acceptable social arrangements if all people involved have joined them voluntarily and are equally free to leave them voluntarily. However, they should be strongly discouraged or avoided entirely in an economic and political context.

Economic and political decisions are both matters of life or death and matters of freedom or bondage. The process of making economic and political decisions is the process by which we individually and collectively secure both our freedoms and our livelihoods. Therefore, each individual must have the power to participate directly and democratically in all economic and political decisions that affect their freedom and their health and well-being.

This is a profound statement, and a contentious statement that some people will disagree with. It is, however, firmly rooted in the foundations that proceed it. If we are to have a free society, and we are to have a democratic society, then each of us must be able to participate directly and democratically in all economic and political decisions that affect our freedoms and our health and well-being.

What does this look like in practice? It will vary from person to person, place to place, culture to culture. I will explore the question more thoroughly through my issue-based articles. In the meantime, here are a few general examples of what I mean.

In economic terms, any economic entity that conducts business of any sort should either be a self-employment sole proprietorship (an individual freely making their own economic decisions) or an economic cooperative/collective (a group of individuals who have chosen freely to engage in directly democratic decision-making about their shared economic enterprise). For-profit corporations, and other arrangements that involve capital being held by one or more capitalists while labor is conducted by one or more workers, create an inherent tension between the freedom of choice of the capitalists and the freedom of choice of the workers. Once such hierarchies of economic authority are created and institutionalized, society is stuck trying to “balance” the rights of these two classes. As noted earlier, “balancing” rights leads to choosing one over the other rather than finding ways for both to exist simultaneously and harmoniously. Rather than descending into an endless conflict between capitalists and workers, as humanity has done far too often, it is better to ensure that all people who work are co-owners of the material resources with which they do their work.

In political terms, this principle of direct democracy means that representative democracy is merely a transitional form of democracy along the path to direct democracy. Representative democracy is preferable to feudalism, or plutocracy, or other forms of unabashed authoritarianism. It is, however, itself a kinder, gentler form of authoritarianism. The “common people” choose a “leader” to make political decisions “on their behalf” for two, four, or more years. If the people who that politician “represents” decide that they don’t agree with these decisions, there is often little or nothing they can do about that until the next election cycle. If most or all of the politicians are corrupted by bribes or other outside influences, the citizens of the representative democracy are simply out of luck.

In a direct democracy of any size beyond about a dozen people, there will surely be politicians, and these politicians will almost inevitably be making decisions on behalf of their constituents. But politicians should be administrators, not policy-makers. They should serve the will of the people by enacting our decisions, not supersede the will of the people by making policy decisions on our behalf. We, the people, should decide on questions of policy directly and democratically, in accordance with the principles of our society and our educated opinion as to what policies will be most helpful in putting those principles into practice.

3. Ecological Integrity

Humans are ecological animals. In retrospect, I should have included this in the list of premises in my Foundations of Philosophy of Politics article. It slipped my mind, however, because referring to us as animals strongly implies (for me, anyway) that we are ecologically situated creatures rather than abstract forms that exist independent of an ecological context.

As ecological animals, we must ensure that the physical and institutional infrastructure of our society are designed both to fulfill our goals and to work in harmony with ecological principles. Arguably, this is an ethical or moral imperative based on our innate capacity to engage in free and mutually beneficial cooperation with the non-human world. In addition to ethical and moral considerations, however, this quality of a good society is also a measure of our very sanity and capacity to survive in the long term. Living communities that act in harmony with ecological principles are capable of finding a niche in their local ecology and living there indefinitely. Living communities that don’t live in such harmony, and don’t find such a niche, inevitably exhaust crucial resources and end up experiencing environmental stresses and ultimately a crash in population.

I’ll talk about the specifics of ecological integrity in future articles. In the meantime, the general principle of ecological integrity is one that arguably all human societies must adhere to. If we do not, our behavior will be corrected in rather unpleasant ways by the ecological realities we have chosen to ignore. It is better to choose freely and reasonably how we relate to our ecological environment than to ignore said environment and end up having harsher and narrower choices forced upon us down the road due to our collective lack of foresight.

The Path from Here to a Good Society

Do we in the United States of America currently live in a good society?

“Good society” is a relative term. Relative to feudal societies, I think we do. Relative to some of the less free and less fortunate societies in the world today, I think we do. But how are we doing relative to the social democracies of other nations? Perhaps more importantly, how are we doing relative to where we could be in ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred years if we put our minds to it?

We have made progress as a species in the way in which we structure our societies. Some aspects of our institutional structure and cultural sensibilities in the United States of America are a shining example of this progress. However, other aspects of our society are examples of how systems of oppression are also becoming more advanced right alongside systems of liberation.

Our political system, especially on the state and federal levels, has become a tragically corrupt and twisted mockery of the democracy that many of us feel it should have and could have been. Politicians must raise millions of dollars to secure their place in office, and in the process they become beholden to the large corporations and other wealthy interest groups that fund their campaigns. I still believe that there are a small percentage of politicians who genuinely seek to serve their constituents against all odds, but the vast majority are either tainted by their corporate donors or had no genuinely democratic motivations to start with.

Our economic system is arguably in far worse shape. In the political sphere, there is at least the pretense, and the occasional reality, of democracy. The economic sphere, on the other hand, is dominated almost entirely by massive transnational corporations that are the very antithesis of a democracy. Bankers, traders, and shareholders rake in billions of dollars of profit and choose the executives who will make decisions on behalf of the corporations, while everyday workers in said corporations do almost all of the material labor and see almost none of the material benefit.

There is, however, still hope for the creation of a good society.

In order to get from here to there, we have to start a public conversation about what constitutes a good society. We have to explore this question in detail — like I’m doing in my articles, but in a public dialog rather than one person’s monologue. This may seem like a needlessly abstract exercise to some people, but since we obviously seem to disagree with each other vehemently on individual policies, we need to get to the root of the matter and examine the foundations of our political decisions. Otherwise, we will just be flailing at each other as we bicker about policy issues and have no shared foundation to draw on in making our policy decisions.

Admitting that there is a problem is the first step to finding a solution. Once we’ve taken that first step, we can work together to find solutions that most of us find agreeable, and that almost all of us find tolerable.

The most important part of this process is to start working in our own communities to build a better society from the ground up. We can draw on the strengths of what already exist and tear down what no longer serves us. We can create directly democratic political and economic institutions in our own communities that challenge and replace the local, state, federal, and transnational institutions that are currently failing to hear our voices and meet our needs. We can create local communities of freedom, direct democracy, and ecological integrity that are prefigurative of larger regional organizations that will eventually form the foundation of a better society.

What do I mean by prefigurative? I mean that our local communities can possess all of the qualities that we support in society at large. In other words, our communities can each be a miniature example of the general principles that we advocate for society as a whole. I also mean that as we work on creating a better local community, along every step of the way, we will talk about how what we’re doing can be a model for what others in our region and nation can do to create a better society. In other words, the process of creating a good community, when followed to its natural conclusion, will also result in the creation of a good society.

I realize that even as I become mildly more specific, some of this still remains rather abstract.

First of all, this is because I believe that it’s undesirable to lay out the details with too much specificity. Each person is different; each community is different; each region is different; each nation is different. The details of this approach can only be made clear by groups of people who have come together freely to make directly democratic decisions about how they choose to relate to each other and their ecological environments.

Second, this is because I’ll be answering some of the more specific questions of policy in my issue-based posts, which will soon follow. These issue-based posts will indicate what public policies I support based on the foundations I’ve presented in my philosophy of politics articles. While these policy statements are rooted in my foundations, they will also be heavily focused on what I believe can and must be done in the here and now rather than what I would do in some idealized “good society.” There are plenty of policy decisions we as a society can and must make right here, right now, in our current context, that will go a long way toward improving our society. I will explore what those policy decisions are in my future posts on public policy.

Thank you to those of you who have actually read these philosophy of politics articles. 🙂 I look forward to any comments you may have about them. Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, though, I look forward to delving into policy debates on issues such as health care, immigration, climate change, and whatever other policy questions come up in the next few weeks. Let me know what you think, and I’ll let you know what I think about these issues soon!

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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