Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Are YOU Afraid?

I thought the national divide in how we as US citizens view the Syrian refugee crisis (and our role in helping the refugees) was the issue that highlighted how very divided we all are. Now I see that the never-ending gun debate highlights this national divide even more. I used to break it all down and view this divide from the perspective of people who care about others (including strangers) and people who don't care very much about others they don't know. I'm shifting that perspective to now see it as an issue of safety: What makes people feel safe, or unsafe? Granted, I've been attuned to the fact that fear underlies many of our actions and views as a society for a long time. But focusing on basic safety and what makes us feel safe breaks this divide down for me even more. 

Guns don't make me and many others feel safe. Guns DO make many citizens feel safe.

Opening our doors to refugees doesn't make me feel in danger, whereas our nation being perceived as acting selfishly and condemning entire groups of people does ultimately make me feel less safe. It also just feels wrong to turn away from any suffering given our innate interconnectedness.

Allowing refugees and immigrants into the US makes many citizens feel very unsafe. This fear is expressed with anger and condemnation of "the other."

I had a clue how to approach this when I was focused on the capacity to care about others. When looking at it from a safety perspective, I just don’t know. When one person feels safe only by being armed at all times in contrast to others who feel in MORE danger around regular citizens who are armed at all do you bridge that divide?

When we don't feel safe, that is a very basic, foundational issue as we go through our daily lives. (This is precisely why #BlackLivesMatter is so heartbreaking and infuriating, as black and brown people...millions of people!... feel they are not safe because, in our society, people are deemed to not matter -- that their lives literally do not matter or matter very little -- because of the color of their skin.)

We need air, food, clean water, shelter and to feel safe from physical harm. (I also feel part of feeling safe is to know you have access to care when health and well-being are in danger.)

One hugely negative thing about the flood of information via the Internet and 24/7 media is that facts are no longer valued. We have a seemingly endless amount of information at our fingertips now, but it has become like white noise and people disregard it altogether (unless it supports their position). There is very little trust now in the source of purported facts, thus many people completely disregard any rational argument based on facts and statistics.

Obama is another lightning rod for this divide. Some of us pay attention to his record (what he has DONE), as well as what he says, and see no evidence of him wanting to take everyone's guns. Others have believed this is true from Day 1 -- that he intends to take everyone’s guns -- and have had this reinforced through their news sources for the last 8 years. (I just watched Ted Cruz get caught in a flat-out lie and then stumble all over himself in his attempt to defend his argument that Obama wants to take everyone's guns. That prompted me to reflect on lies and fear and safety.)

I understand there are forces who perpetuate fear because it makes them money. Gun manufacturers and their partner the NRA have perpetuated fear (of Obama and of many other people) in a very blatant way these last eight years and have made a LOT of money off of fear. The military-industrial complex plays the same game.

But even if Obama wasn't in office and people weren't hearing the NRA rhetoric about gun rights being demolished, stoking their fears, there are a significant number of people who would still be afraid and want to have a weapon with them at all times in order to feel safe.

To me having a dialogue about the Constitution and laws and such is often a moot point now, as sad as that is. All of that is in the realm of fact -- with a need for rational, informed discussion and interpretation -- which this nation seems to have given up on. Journalists rarely push back against blatant lies spewed by the people in positions of power, or those wanting to hold these positions. Lies are told so often it becomes the truth in the minds of many citizens.

So, what are we to do when fact-based dialogue increasingly impossible? It's easy to say divide the country, with the people who want unlimited gun rights, no immigrants, no marriage equality, Christian-only everything living in certain states, and the rest of us living in other states. But when you really start to envision the practicalities of that, it's messy as hell and not realistic. It's also very dangerous to our national security in a multitude of ways. (Yes, we all have some fears and want some semblance of security.)

But what and who we fear, and how and why we feel secure, is drastically different.

Shouldn't that be where we start? Having a dialogue about precisely what is at the core of our fear-based views and behaviors and beliefs?

If I could get a certain neighbor of mine to have a calm, civil discussion with me, I would. She loathes me, seeing me as everything that is wrong with the United States. She sees me and others like me as an example of what is destroying the life she wants for her and her child. (This was prompted when she knew I was voting for Obama in 2008, and why I was voting for him.) She hates me but underneath it she fears me and my views, because she feels it makes her and her child unsafe.

I don't hate her, but I do fear her for the same reason: I feel her views and actions and choices -- and others who are like her -- put me and my child in danger. Yet I also fear her in a very direct way because she loathes me and has a gun. When you know someone loathes and/or fears you, and they are armed and are vocal about it, that’s reason to feel at least a bit disconcerted, right? Is that irrational of me? Is her fear of me rational in a direct, personal way? I don’t think so, but I do understand that she views me as a threat indirectly.

Similarly, is it irrational for people of color and Muslims and gay and trans people to not fear white US citizens who are armed and have obvious disdain for them, or for people to fear police officers (or entire police departments) who view citizens as the enemy?

Bottom line, that's what the vast majority of us want as a very basic need: To be safe, and especially for our children to be safe.

I care about others enough to not want them to feel unsafe, even if I don’t like them very much and don’t want to be around them. I don’t want anyone to feel in constant danger and live in fear, including myself. That’s partly selfish, because I think it’s living in fear that brings out the absolute worst in humans. It creates pain and suffering in seemingly infinite ways for all involved, between individuals, between groups of people, and even between nations. So the fewer humans who feel unsafe and can step out of living in fear, the better off we’ll all be.

That’s what I think.

Do we start by exploring what and whom we are afraid of and why? If so, people will need to be brutally honest with themselves, especially to do the work of exploring WHY they’re afraid.

What do you think?

~ Dena

PRACTICAL COMPASSION | Sharing thoughts, ideas, and visions of a more compassionate, collaborative, joy-filled world.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

It's Official: The Internet is Owned by White Dudes

Disclaimer: I realize I make broad-brush statements below, which I normally try to stay away from, but the gist of it all is what I'm trying to convey here. It's official to me, the fact that white guys own the Internet. This may in essence be my first draft of this post. 


My point is about CULTURE -- values, priorities. Young white dudes -- even though they are not a monolith, no demographic group is -- in general have different values and priorities. The Internet initially was pretty much a playground for brilliant, young white male geeks.

That is the culture -- the values and priorities -- upon which the Internet was built and is infused in it even now. Even though the face of IT is changing, I'm speaking to the now ingrained culture and how that will take time to turn around.

I'm not focused, in this post at least, on where venture capital (VC) goes or who has coding skills. (Even though VC definitely goes largely to men; some suggest that only white men are generating ideas but that is simply not true and never has been.)

I absolutely believe that the lack of diversity at the very core, the very root , the creation of these ventures -- which are the new institutions of this modern era -- has contributed to the increasingly overtly disrespectful, often outright bigoted, racist and misogynistic culture, online and off.

Diversity and equity must be part of the foundation and creation of any endeavor or else nothing is ever going to change. Not really. Not meaningfully.

* * *


As a 52-year-old woman who has been an avid early adopter of All Things Online, as well as someone who has been exploring funding options for online ventures over the last few years, I've come to realize how much the Internet is -- and, more importantly, always has been -- dominated by men. Usually younger men (or at least they were when they created whatever entity has made them millions or sometimes billions of dollars).

I don't mean the Internet is dominated by men as the users, as that has become a more level playing field in the last five years with women having an equal presence online, but as those who are creating the business entities themselves and thus profiting off of them. Even when the websites or apps are created with women being the target audience, the founders are most often men (i.e., Pinterest).

Specifically, the creators and founders and teams of online space are fairly young white men.

Now, please know that I'm not knocking white men. Nor am I personally criticizing the individual men who created the vast majority of the most successful websites/apps. I do not know them personally and I trust they are wonderful souls.

What I do know is that the life experience of a white man, IN GENERAL, is vastly different from the life experience, in general, of men with black and brown skin. It is a life experience that is indeed very different from women, of any color. While youth has a a lot to offer, especially in today's rapidly changing, wired world, there is also a need for wisdom and perspective borne of life experience; ageism is a problem in the IT world.

In a recent search of the most popular sites (top 100 or so on Alexa) and apps, with the most traffic/usage --disregarding the more programming-oriented and country-specific sites -- I made a list of 30, including Facebook, twitter, Amazon, Pinterest, Wikepedia, reddit, Paypal, instragram, kickstarter, HuffPo. I also included sites liberals tend to prefer, like DailyKos and Salon.

(Did you know that Huffington Post was actually created by Arianna Huffington and 3 other men, including ANDREW BREITBART!)

Except for Gawker Media (created by 6 men and 4 women) IN EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE THE CREATORS|FOUNDERS ARE ALL MEN, PREDOMINANTLY WHITE MEN, with a smaller percentage of the men being Asian.

Aside from the lack of diversity in general and the concentration of "new" wealth in the hands of a specific demographic...continuing what has been the norm for is why this disturbs me:

I adore the Internet. So much good has been done yet I do not believe we have even scratched the surface of the altruistic potential. We can reach critical mass toward transformation (positive or negative) much faster now. I search for the good, but the toxicity and nastiness -- the culture of the Internet as a whole -- inevitably gets in the way. Look at the comment section of nearly any site and you'll see what I mean. Misogyny, racism and other forms of bigotry are pervasive.

I am not blaming the founders of any of the many websites for this culture of hate. I highly doubt any of them set out to create or contribute to a Petri dish of anger and "othering," but there is another aspect I believe is at play in this culture as well: a strong libertarian and anarchist vibe. These traits/values are embodied by many of the founders of these most successful sites (successful by Wall Street standards). The tone of a company's culture is set early on and manifests on the front end as well as the back end of the business.

Free speech, hands off, individualism.

Again, please don't get me wrong -- free speech is a core value of democracy. But what happens when the most vicious of voices are all that are heard because they live to attack and troll and drown out (and drive away) voices of reason? This nasty online culture has influenced the larger societal discourse, and we've all noticed the growing inability for people to engage in respectful discussion. Even though I respect the role twitter plays in our world, I don't consider tweets back and forth meaningful conversation. I'm talking about ongoing, meaningful, respectful discussion. And, let's face it: There is very little distinction between "online" and "IRL" now. Online IS a significant aspect of our daily lives.

Of course, financial profit is the accepted goal and drives everything. It often encourages the "hands off" policy or perhaps encourages a cultivation of nastiness by said businesses in order to bring more traffic to their content which equals mo' $$$, y'all. So, there's that.

Even the so-called Sharing Economy ventures -- Airbnb, Lyft and Uber -- many of which are profit-driven capitalism by another name, were founded by fairly young, white men.

So while I can appreciate what these innovators and entrepreneurs have offered the world, and have no animosity toward men (young men, old men, white men, men of matters not), I am struck by the fact that WHO has created the foundation of the spaces which are influencing our culture is, by far, younger white men.

I absolutely believe that the lack of diversity at the very core, the very root, the creation of these ventures -- which are the new institutions of this modern era -- has contributed to the increasingly overtly disrespectful, often outright bigoted, racist and misogynistic culture.

Diversity, inclusion and equality must be part of the creation -- the foundation -- or else nothing is ever going to change. Not really. Not meaningfully. 

That's the change I'm trying to bring to the table via the projects at Our Good Media, which includes a discussion forum intended as a public sanctuary for civil, ongoing (that's key) discussion about issues that matter to the Common Good.

Creating teams of diverse women as the face of these projects is one of my primary goals.

~ Dena

PRACTICAL COMPASSION | Sharing thoughts, ideas, and visions of a more compassionate, collaborative, joy-filled world.