A Farmer’s Thoughts on Race

I have been growing at least some of my own food since I was a child. For some years my wife and I owned and operated a local organic farm, directly feeding up to 75 families from our labors.

In my half century of raising plants and animals I have learned a lot. One of the most important things I have learned is the value of diversity.

We face challenge all the time. In agriculture it comes in the form of changing weather, onslaught of pests (critters and diseases), fickle markets, bizarre government regulations, and on and on.

Diversity is the best response: a multitude of different crops, different growing schedules, crop rotations, multiple types of markets, responding thoughtfully, and keeping under the radar, generally.

So, from life experience, my inclination is to value diversity as a very good thing. It is diversity that increases the number of responses to challenge, and maximizes the chance that we will be able to respond in a positive way.

Our shorthand for this is “Diversity is not an option – it is essential.”

In my experience it is just as true of groups of people as it is for farms.

There is a lot of emotional energy involved in discussions of “race.” It tends to cloud thinking, obstruct communication, and generally lead to bad outcomes. I would like to suggest an idea that came to me as I was thinking about the concept of race as it applies to human beings.

In agriculture there are the terms “species”, “race” and “variety”. While it is somewhat more complicated than this, here is the difference: if two bisexual organisms can produce fertile offspring, they are in the same species. If they cannot, they are in different species.

Race is used when a number of similar but distinct plants are found mixed together which appear to be members of the same species, but with a lot of variation. Until further study determines more details, they are called a “race” or a “land race” as a convenient away to say, “Here are a bunch of examples of what appear to be members of a single species that we don’t know much about.”

Variety is the term we use to describe the array of natural variation in appearance or other characteristics we find in any genetically diverse group of individual members of one species. For example, we grow many different tomato varieties, each selected for a particular set of characteristics of size, shape, flavor, meatiness, keeping ability, etc.

The way we commonly express this natural, desirable variation is the “binomial nomenclature” we use to describe plants and animals: Genus, species, and then, if applicable, variety. For example, a Ropreco tomato would be Lycopersicon esculentum var. Ropreco. Race does not appear in the mix, because race is not a defining factor.

I suggest that the various subsets of Homo sapiens that we currently refer to as “races” be referred to as varieties. Perhaps that would allow us to dial down the emotion and begin to recognize and celebrate the diversity in our species that makes us so resilient, so creative, and so fundamentally better than our societies would seem to demonstrate.

What do you think?

Peace Officers or Killers?

I want to clearly state that I understand the police have a very tough job. Let me also clearly state that most police, most of the time, do that job without significant problems, and without too much hassle on anybody’s part. In the process, they help keep order and provide actual security for most of us, most of the time.

But, at an increasingly frightening frequency, some Portland police officers have gone beyond simply carrying guns to killing people with them.

It is these officers who are destroying the police department and civil life in Portland.

Too strong a statement?

Think about this: each individual officer competed for the job. Each officer went through a battery of physical and psychological tests to get hired. After being hired, each officer received the training the Police Department determined is necessary to do the job. One might reasonably conclude that each officer is a professional, with training and experience sufficient to do the job.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that any action by a police officer that is unacceptable would be cause for discipline or termination, depending on the severity of the seriousness of the action.

And yet, people are being killed by police officers. Unarmed people. Citizens who are already in custody. Folks who have simply been stopped by officers without being suspected of breaking the law. And the officers involved face no serious discipline. The “justification” is often that the officer was “in fear for his life”. The problem with that is of course that it is an extremely subjective evaluation, and absent any meaningful review, is tacit permission to kill people who have done no wrong.

The citizens of Portland have tried, for at least 30 years that I know of, to get some kind of effective citizen review of police activity. It has not happened.

And citizens continue to die at the hands of Portland police.

Increasingly, the police are seen as the enemy. Unfortunately, if this trend is not addressed effectively, at some point the relationship between police and citizenry will go beyond a feeling of fear to one of occupation.

Perhaps it is time that the Portland Police were really held responsible for their actions.

And corporations too, while we’re at it.

What do you think?

The Party of Death

In my youth, when I was first paying attention to politics, it was simple: there were the “print and spend” conservatives (represented by the Republican Party), and the “tax and spend liberals” (represented by the Democratic Party).

Conservatives were in favor of rugged individualism, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, and the constitution – particularly the right to own guns. Conservatives were against big government, government deficits, the intrusion of government into the private lives of citizens, foreign adventurism, international obligations such as the United Nations, and crime in general.

All easily, coherently, reasonably defensible positions.

Over the years, the conservatives (or at least the Republican Party) got more and more conservative, until they are now full-goose bozo. They are now rabidly in favor of the extremely wealthy in opposition to everyone else, increasing the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands (primarily those of corporations in contrast to people), the elimination of Constitutional rights for US citizens in the name of security, foreign adventurism on a scale previously undreamed of in human history, paid for by cutting programs supporting working people and with loans from foreign governments, international treaties that undermine the sovereignty of the nation, and the divine right to own any weapons you can get your hands on.

Harder positions to support, for most people.

On a national level, the legislators from the Republican Party have adopted a strategy of blocking any and all measures to provide support for the working people of the United States. They vote no for any program of social uplift, and no to holding multi-national corporations responsible for their actions. In fact, they vote no for almost everything.

That is not actually correct. What the Republican legislators do, in a block and almost without exception, is prevent any vote on measures which would provide any relief or benefit to the vast majority of the people living in the United States, refusing to feed or shelter or provide access to basic health care because “we can’t afford it”, inevitably leading to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of us every year.

They have been called “The Party of No.”

That is also not actually correct. They vote yes on a number of things, and the pattern is clear.

They vote yes on war, borrowing money to send troops halfway around the world to kill people, including innocent civilians, and to destroy hospitals, water systems, sewage treatment plants, electric generation facilities, roads, and everything else that makes civil life possible (“collateral damage”). They vote yes on increasing militarization of domestic law enforcement agencies. They vote yes on increased intrusion and surveillance by the government into the private lives of residents of the United States – including those who are not accused of any crime. They vote yes on arresting and detaining residents of the United States without due process of law.

At the same time, Republican legislators block any participation in international courts of law (except to assert rights of corporations), the investigation of high-ranking Republican officials (although Democratic officials are fair game), and any attempt at holding those guilty of leading the United States into policies and practices that are in direct violation of international law and treaty.

In short, the Republican Party is not “The Party of No.” It is “The Party of Death.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party (increasingly less representative of “liberals”) has adopted a political strategy of “so long as the Republicans are moving to the right, we’ll keep moving to the right, staying just to the left of the Republicans. We’ll get all the votes we have been (after all, who else will they be able to vote for?), plus we’ll pick up more and more conservatives who think the Republicans are too conservative.” The underlying slogan being, “Vote for us, we’re not as bad as the other guy!”

Also hard positions to support, for most people.

So, a growing percentage of people who are eligible to vote don’t even register, and many who do register, don’t vote.

And all in all, it has worked fairly well. For the politicians

For most Americans, it has sucked.

But now we are at that terminal stage, where we have a party of the extreme right, and a party of the right, a few folks in the historical middle, (with no national party, and labeled by both the Republican and Democratic Parties as “leftists and radicals”) and no actual left.

And corporations now, more than ever, control political speech in America, since the US Supreme Court has given them unfettered access to political campaigns (and therefore, legislators), and courts have even made it clear that news organizations can knowingly lie.

Isn’t it time to vote for those few remaining candidates who remember what a democracy ought to be like? (That would be the “progressives” and “the radical left.”)

After all, they’re not as bad as the other guys, are they?

Or, you might even run for office yourself, if you are willing to stand up against corporate politics, thereby demonstrating there are still vertebrates among us.

What do you think?

Government Regulation

Let’s look at government regulation as it relates to people’s actions.

The Reasoning Presented: individual people have a tendency to act in their own interests, often to the detriment of others. If left unchecked, at least some people will prey on others – the young, the small, the weak, the elderly, the ill, the poor. This is a bad thing, and should be prevented, or if it cannot be prevented, at least punished.

Therefore, we must, as a society, through our elected and appointed representatives – our government – regulate the actions of people, in order to allow the majority of people to live their lives with some amount of peace and security.

Regulation of people, through laws and regulation, enforced by police and courts, is necessary to civil life.

Let’s look at government regulation as it relates to business’ actions.

The Reasoning Presented: individual businesses have a tendency to act in their own interests, often to the detriment of others. If left unchecked, at least some businesses will prey on others – people and businesses. This is a bad thing, and should be prevented, or if it cannot be prevented, at least punished.

Therefore, we must, as a society, through our elected and appointed representatives – our government – regulate the actions of businesses, in order to allow the majority of people to live their lives with some amount of peace and security.

Regulation of businesses, through laws and regulation, enforced by police and courts, is necessary to civil life.

Let’s look at the conservatives’ story of government regulation as it relates to business’ actions.

The Reasoning Presented: Businesses are different than people. Businesses thrive only when they serve their customers. It would be self-defeating for a business to act in a way that did not serve its customers. Regulation of business raises costs unnecessarily, increasing prices and hurting people. Regulating business only hurts the interests of the public.

Therefore, we must, as a society, through our elected and appointed representatives – our government – allow businesses to operate freely and without restrictions. This free market will regulate business actions, providing the best of products and services to the public, and the most responsible business “citizens” which will help the majority of people to live their lives in peace and security.

Regulation of businesses, through laws and regulation, enforced by police and the courts, is detrimental to civil life

Given the actions of business, as experienced in the United States’ reduced regulatory status during the last decade, this argument is a little silly, isn’t it?

What do you think?