The Bubble Effect

The Bubble Effect

The United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, often feels more like the land of the isolated and home of the cowardly tweet. We are more divided than at any point in my lifetime. It seems to be more than a mere lack of unity as an expression of national boredom. No, society is increasingly fragmented in deeper, more complex ways than at any point since the Civil Rights Era. Social structures quake as spreading fissures splinter national identity along lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, political ideology, educational background, socioeconomic class, and even traditions. The resulting fiefdoms are profoundly fragile as individual identities overlap, causing tension within. 

Sure, these have always been sticking points of disharmony to varying degrees. In fact, one could convincingly argue the stress created by pluralistic differences has been the thread used to stitch together the very fabric of social progress in the United States since the beginning. Conflicts emerged in opposition to oppression, racism, sexism, worker’s rights, and competition for limited resources. And we are — or should be — proud of those conflicts, for they symbolize hard-won victories of the human spirit and goodness, and, yes, social justice. However, it has been quite some time since we have witnessed the level of vitriolic rhetoric, hatred, and vengeance seen so regularly today. It has also been quite some time since we celebrated together how far we have come in under 250 years. And as a consequence, Americans are retreating into their own private worlds, increasingly detached from those who are unlike themselves. 

Individualism and the subsequent stratification of society has always shaped Western culture, and contemporary times are no different. But in years past, the concept of life in a bubble was reserved for the elites. In that regard, times have indeed changed. To be sure, in many ways the post-modern aristocracy is much like its pre-Enlightenment cousin. The nobility, although a mostly elected ruling class today, operates within the power structures of a bloated government while continuing to take orders from the clergy. Only today’s bishops serve the Church of Money and Fame, for who could argue that the deification of the dollar has not shaped current social and political realities? Yet, the peasantry, the rest of us who do the majority of the working and buying and living and dying in this country, have only recently gained access to life in the bubble. We used to be excluded from that paradise. 

Everyday Americans are now born in a bubble structured by the ubiquity of technology. Many do not know anything else. All their needs are met within. They need not communicate with outsiders — news, education, and even general services are all consumed from preferred outlets that reinforce distinctions of worldview. The very dissemination of information, bought and sold to be sure, is a process of encoding ideas into the differential vernaculars within the different types of social bubbles. Ideas like privilege, racism, diversity, nationalism, and history, along with many others, mean one thing in one bubble and something completely different in another, galvanizing disconnections. 

A tornado of money and technology has left in its wake a barren environment in which people with fascinating and profound differences surround each other, yet the politics of identity keep them from being able to acknowledge any level of similarity or sameness of experience. And the commodification of victimhood has made enemies of good people by normalizing a race to the top of Mt. Marginalization in an effort to secure the most cultural capital, decreasing social stability in the process. 

Anger and rage are the most popular currency, the only communication between bubbles. The objective is to deplatform, silence, and destroy the opposition. Purveyors of thoughts, words, or ideas that do not perfectly align with every intersection of perceived injury, oppression, or objectification are banished from their bubbles. No discussion takes place, no reciprocation within a marketplace of ideas. Dissension is received as a personal attack, violence against the sanctity of the bubble, and therefore, must be punished. Nothing is sacred. Even humor is constrained, forced to pay the toll of scrutiny to the self-appointed arbiters of bubble culture — they stand at the gate armed and ready to defend against nonconformity. 

Our bubbles started out as safe spaces, the environments where we could decompress and allow the anxiety of living in this hateful world to settle. They have now become prisons, holding us hostage, insulating us from those competing ideas that would expose the flaws in our own. That safety has crippled us, stolen authentic emotional experience and replaced it with a kind of manufactured emotion that has systematically removed empathy, concern, and compassion for those unlike ourselves, those who reside in different bubbles. Legitimate attempts to understand, even to love and accept those who are different than us or to bear the weight of their struggles or even to allow them to understand us is far too risky. Real love is too messy, and the fear of rejection from our own kind too real, so we hide away from uncomfortable realities, too afraid to be vulnerable. After all, our own bubbles are strange enough. But doesn’t this bubble effect feel somehow wrong? It does to me. 

Prison Party Politics

Prison Party Politics

If you are the type of person who doesn’t dwell on dreary details, you rarely consider prison unless it is to wish that an infamous cretin be sent there. Until I came to prison, I hardly thought anything of it. Bad people are stored in prisons until they achieve the correct amount of … something … ripeness? Penance? Correction?

No, prison isn’t a place the average person thinks about. That kind of subject is what experts are for; criminologists, lawyers, lawmakers, crime victims, people who say they are advocates for crime victims, police union representatives, police admimistrators, law enforcement technology providers, corrections officials, lobbyists representing private prison operators, subcommittees, party wonks; anyone but common citizens.

This lack of consideration is, I believe, why our country is the global leader in lock ‘em up and forget ‘em.

The prison system in the United States became the world’s largest because it was founded upon those age-old policy nuggets: demagoguery and political correctness. Conditions have improved in the last few decades. We have finally decided that prison rape and murder are slightly more distasteful than education and healthcare for inmates, but just barely.

I bet you didn’t know that political discourse among inmates resembles your Facebook page. Or that even before Drake shocked white democrats, there were more than a few black Trump supporters behind bars. Or that there were less fistfights in prison sparked by political differences than there were at political rallies, believe it or not. Racists are tolerated with far more grace in prison because survival in here often relies on racism – another of prison’s unfortunate features.

I was disappointed in similarities of opinion between inmates and free citizens. I imagined that the oppression would result in a healthy distrust of the powers that be. I was wrong. For instance, many inmates of all backgrounds parrot the president’s immigration stance even though it is obvious Trump Hotels couldn’t be constructed or operated without an army of immigrants.

An old Mexican-American man on my unit was offered parole if he would renounce his U.S. citizenship and move to Mexico. England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries called this practice ‘transportation.’ The old man agreed. I might too, if I were fluent in Spanish. Instead, I’ll parole into a population full of people meaner than many inmates I’ve known, without a say-so in politics.

I look forward to greater freedom but wonder how my country, if my country, is going to come to its senses. Right now the people are at war and want to punish anyone who doesn’t think like them. The irony is that the warring factions do think alike. Both sides hate each other. It isn’t a way to improve anything. The hatred guarantees that the country will plot punishment’s pendulumn swing every two, four, six, or eight years, to the benefit of the winners alone.

What other result can a two-party-entrenched system bring? Another generation locked up and forgotten.

An Open Letter To Survivors of Gun Violence

An Open Letter To Survivors of Gun Violence

Our hearts are saddened. I know this event just happened and you’re trying to make sense of it. You can’t. Crazy people have been doing senseless stuff like this since time began. Whether it was the Romans massacring Jewish people or terrorists flying planes in buildings, they want attention and to force their opinions or religious beliefs on the rest of us.

My heart goes out to you and I cannot fathom the living hell and agony you are experiencing.

It is a sad fact that bad things happen to good people, and no matter what laws are in place you cannot prevent every crazy person from getting their hands on weapons. Yes as I watch the news, I know the attacker’s name. I will never say it because he sought attention for himself and his cause. Do not make him immortal in the annals of history. It is only a minor victory when you refuse to say the name of a attacker like this. Sometimes little victories are the only ones we can create.

Tragedies like this are twofold as we will be soon at each others throats over who’s fault it is and how can we prevent this from happening again. This is a sad fact. We want somebody to hurt as bad as we hurt. We want somebody to pay for making us fearful and for showing just how fragile life is. When we have no one to punish, we turn on each other. We verbally attack somebody who thinks differently then we do. We miss the irony that it was a difference in opinions on how people should live that caused a crazy person to attack to begin with.

We as a society try to create something positive out of something negative. Sometimes it’s just not possible. I hope I am wrong in this case.

It is my hope the two major political parties will take the high ground and not try to make the victims suffer more by using them and their families as political props.

We live in a world where terrible things happen. The best we can do is to be a light in somebody’s darkness.

Blessed be.