The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Up" and "Drag Me To Hell"

"Drag Me To Hell" is the best "fun" horror movie I've seen in maybe a decade. Sam Raimi's tale of a bank loan officer (Allison Lohman, sweet and terrific and utterly game) cursed by an evil gypsy (Lorna Raver, braver still) and struggling to prevent the titular event, damnation at the hands of a demonic force called the "Lamia". It's kinda like "Evil Dead" meets "Curse of the Demon" (a truly superior 1957 horror film), where rationality and the supernatural collide head-on, and while it ain't pretty, it's funnier than hell (pun intended) and scarey, and gross-out good in a way that used to make great date movies. Justin Long (the Mac guy) plays her boyfriend, and he is so sweet and nice that you just KNOW something awful is going to happen to him. Ah, this one is an instant mini-classic. An "A" for horror fans. A "B" for regular audiences. Really top-notch.


All the evil people are dark-haired "others". All the people who know of the "forces of evil" are dark-skinned. A little Mexican boy is dragged to hell in the first five minutes of the film. And no, I don't think that the film-makers would have done that quite so cavalierly with a little blond white kid. Reminded me of the last "Exorcist" film, where a little black child was dragged off and devoured by jackals. I'd never seen a white child treated so horrifically, and believe the "disconnect" is responsible for this. Sam Raimi's Fat Black Woman from "Spiderman" (the only black people with dialogue [Macy Gray singing doesn't count] in "Spiderman" are both rather overstuffed) makes an appearance. In "Spiderman" she's warning Peter Parker he's too small to fight in a cage match. Here, she just sits silently in the background at the bank. Nice to see she's getting work, I suppose, but it annoys me. So blond Allison Lohman is threatened by dark people, assisted by dark-skinned Spiritual Guides. I'd be lying if I didn't say there was part of me cheering for the demon.


"Up" (2009)

Pixar is on the edge of creating their own genre: the "Pixar Film." If you'll notice, no one compares their movies to other people's any more. They just rank 'em in order of their favorite Pixar offerings. And this is just. They are so far ahead of the pack in terms of consistently imaginative and spectacular, moving and technically perfect works that it's beginning to get absurd. This tale of an old man (played to perfection by Lou Grant himself, Ed Asner) who decides to fulfill his younger dreams by floating his house to South America in search of adventure, is quite mild, not frantic at all, and contains the kind of emotional resonance found in the story of Jessie's abandonment in "Toy Story 2." That's the first half. But when things kick into gear, it's never the kind of frantic overcompensation one senses in, say "Madagascar" or "Bee Movie." Everything just works. And while this isn't their best film, it may well be their wisest. Kudos to Jordan Nagai, the little Asian cub scout who goes along for the ride. First time I remember seeing an Asian in an animated film other than "Mulan" and it's about #$%@ time. Damned good weekend for movies: An "A" as well. Pixar is simply wonderful right now. Whatever they're doing, I hope it spreads.

My personal favorite Pixar film? "The Incredibles." What's yours?


I love the fact that "racism" is the charge used by folks like Gingrich and Limbaugh against Sotomayor. And that's with nothing but anecdotal instances of discrimination or disadvantage. Anyone who thinks blacks or Latinos are too quick to complain, or women too swift to complain about sexism, needs to note this. Everybody uses anything they can to gain all the advantage available. But man...if there was ever an actual statistical disadvantage for white males, these guys would squeal like pigs. It really is like I've said: if you take people who make these comments, and switched races on them, I bet they would absolutely HATE white people. Makes me laugh, it really does.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Teaching and stuff

I'm having so much fun over at the 101 Board. Anyone interested in signing up for it, just go to

For the time being, we've changed our intent. Originally, we were going to sell the basic program after beta-testing. But there are important issues. If I feel blessed to have gained a measure of spiritual and psychological clarity in one small arena of my life (trust me, thar be plenty confusion in other arenas) then it makes sense to me to give back to the universe. So we're giving away the basic course, and will charge for the CD set and a personal consultation, keeping the price as low as possible.

Simple reason for this. I just see too much damage in the world that arises from fear, imbalance, and lack of empathy. Every morning I get to go over to the forum and talk to people about their hopes and dreams, their loves and losses. And that feels like earning my day's air.

I didn't set out wanting to be a guru figure. Studying NLP back in the 70's, the attitude was that if you wanted to really learn it, you had to use it. So I started playing around with it on willing victims, and people started asking me for help. After I had an epiphany about the concept of balance (after watching "All That Jazz" I decided that my only salvation was to become obsessive about it) I really sought out conversations about the subject, and that led to more interaction.

And somehow over the years, I just fell in love with teaching and sharing. The recent exploration of Steve Muhammad's "Four Rules" discusses the need for a spiritual law. Even if I were an atheist (and by some definitions, I am. Which amuses me.) I would want to have clarity on what I'm willing to die for, because in a very real sense, I'm trading the moments of my life for everything I do and want to achieve. Is it worth it? What is worth investing 10,000 hours of my life to master?

I'm clear on that: I would gladly die to communicate my core belief. And that belief is that we are asleep. We are gods pretending that we are ants. And if we can wake up, it is a transformative experience. And that core belief drives my writing, and my life. Yeah, I guess it gives me the guru-itch. But trust me: what I really crave is conversations and interactions on the subject of personal growth, and when I have them, I often find myself in the teacher position. I like it a lot better when I'm in the student position, trust me.


Cautious optimism. I may have found a real, genuine breakthrough for Jason's behavior problems. Every morning, we set a 2 or 3 minute boxing timer (he likes the "ding! ding!") and just sit, cross-legged or Japanese style on the floor, holding hands and looking into each other's eyes. For just a couple of minutes, I pull him into my breathing patterns, speak to him of maintaining calm, and constantly remind him to maintain eye contact. "Stay with me. Stay focused. Stay here."

Sometimes I make funny faces. Or redirect his breathing down below his navel. But we stay together, and after the ding-ding, we do one of Coach Sonnon's Prasara Yoga forms (he really likes the one called "Spider Monkey.") For the last 2 1/2 weeks, we've been doing this, and having a 100% success rate at preschool. His attention and calm have sky-rocketed, and his teachers are breathing a well-deserved sigh of relief. Like I said, I don't know if this will continue to work quite so well, but I wanted to share it, just in case.


I hear "Drag Me To Hell" is absolutely fabulous, and can't wait to see it today. Pixar's "Up" is also supposed to be off the chain. Woof. Good weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Answers to recent posts


You need people to "stop making such an unholy, perverted mess of everything." All right, I can accept that. What are you, personally, doing? You point the finger at everyone, talk about how much smarter you are than everyone...may I assume that every day you are taking time to lift others up, to inspire, to add your light to the world? And you speak much of your career success, and athleticism. Great. How are your relationships, Christian? Have you learned how to have a lasting relationship with a good woman you can respect and love? You've spoken much of your transitory dalliances. What of relationships that actually engage your heart, that you are willing to sacrifice to maintain?

I never said that sagging was positive. While not saying it is a "path to underachievement" (that may be a little strong--it is a fashion that celebrates underachievement, to a degree) what I was saying was that people are not dressing this way in a deliberate attempt to increase the pain in their lives. They don't believe that there is anything out "there" better than their current status and associations. This is, in my thinking, a terrible mistake that is due to crappy programming.

You may be intelligent, but you have the tendency to overstate, generalize and stereotype ("our tribe is FUCKED. No one respects us and most of us shouldn't be respected.") that limits your ability to actually apply that intelligence. Your wounds are showing,'re bleeding all over your word processor. I honestly don't believe you love yourself very much--and that pain darkens your entire world.



You don't grasp that logic is irrelevant here. You aren't engaged in a logical argument with ME about assimilation and so forth. I believe that we're all going to work it out. Quoting statistics about what is best in the long run is just fine. But again, tell a woman who has been serially raped that "the majority of men are good. It is damaging for the human race if men and women don't get along. Women need to look at the statistics of how their daughters will live if you don't get past this pain..."

There is logic in this, but human beings aren't primarily motivated by logic, and never are, never have been. Rather than trying to lay out the logic of why people should forgive each other, stop negatively generalizing, and move on, try to understand how it feels to be them. Try to understand how someone might decide that it is a waste of time to separate "good Indians" from "bad Indians"...and that it is time to circle the wagons.

If you can't see how an intelligent, sensitive, good person could feel that they have run out of willingness to assume good will...then you might be missing a lot of what has driven history: fear. Communities DO get wiped out. People ARE exterminated. Entire sub-groups ARE marginalized or enslaved. That is history. And a percentage of any group of people will keep extending the hand of friendship. And another percentage will close the gates and say: "I'm goign to protect my children. My women. Because you have not."

I'm sure it hurts to realize that. I'm sorry, I really am. But that's life--after you burn your fingers a certain number of times, it is foolishness not to assume the pot is hot. It will take another generation, with unburnt fingers, to go further.


What can white people do? Just be decent, balanced people. The rest will happen naturally. Extend your own humanity to others that we meet. In my mind, assimilation is underway, and it's working well. Not perfectly--and there are people who can not, or will not assimilate on either side. Neighborhoods will collapse and individuals will fall in the cracks. And unless you believe that there are innate differences between black and white--it will all work out. There will be pain. Far more than I would wish on anyone. But it will work out, and is working out. This I completely believe, and have never seen anything to make me think otherwise. I really, really, love this country.

New Photos. Dear God.

I feel like I want to cry this morning. The stories about photos of detainees being raped in Iraq are coming down the pipe, and I can't find it within myself to disbelieve. All it takes is the 10% asshole factor. I think that this was absolutely predictable, and largely preventable. Once decisions were made to "go to the dark side," either the Deciders were ignorant of human nature, or this is what they wanted to happen--they just didn't realize someone was going to be stupid enough to photograph it.

Which raises another question: does anyone out there think that the very worst behaviors were documented? That this is the limit of it? I hope not. The problem is that once you begin to treat human beings as means, as objects, you are on the road to hell, and that is one slippery slope.

Do you think the best and brightest, the most compassionate and emotionally controlled, will be the ones to implement the rough treatment? If so, then it might be possible to set limits, and trust that they won't be crossed.

But if in the light of day, with the safety of distance and in civilized context people will approve simulated drowning, they are saying: "these are not people. Wring from their bodies what you need, and avenge our dead." And just as it is inevitable that innocent people will be swept up in mass arrests, it is inevitable that orders will be exceeded.

We have had too many psychological experiments where people placed in power over others began to exhibit sadistic tendencies. Does anyone out there think that the guards were selected for their respect for Muslim culture, and clarity on the concept that Sadam Huessein had nothing to do with 9/11? Oh, please.

Don't you think that people who enjoy controlling other people, people who want revenge, people who believe torture is expedient and justified...don't you think those people will find the jobs where they get to apply their theories and express their needs? Find each other, and collaborate in the shadows? Even if our armed forces are better than humanity in general, and we gave them the respect of, say, only a 5% asshole factor, don't you think those few assholes will find their way into the shadows?

This is heartbreaking--not that it happened, but that so many intelligent people think that they can tip-toe up to a line, but even in the heat of action, with blood in their nose and a helpless "evil" enemy in their hands, no one will cross it. I want to believe that everyone who approves of "enhanced interrogation" has only the very highest morals, the very best intents, really, deeply loves our country and believes that such methods make us safer and better both short-term and long term. I really want to. those who listened to Mancow's "waterboarding is torture" reversal and decided that whatever he experienced was insufficient to meet that standard, I want to add a thought. Is rape torture? There is no organ failure, after all (an asinine definition, one as cold-hearted as I can possibly imagine.) And to those who think that what the SEALs and others who use SERE-style training experienced under voluntary waterboarding (conducted by people who love them, who would place their lives at risk to protect them) is somehow equivalent to what we did to our enemies, I ask: what is the difference between rape and making love? One thing: consent. That single thing takes the most pleasurable, positive sensation human beings are capable of experiencing, and turns it into absolute horror.

We all know this. But I think that because we do not extend our own humanity fully to the "other" this doesn't quite register. We don't quite "get it." Frankly, I don't think some of us want to.

And this is where it leads...and worse. No one can believe this is the end of it, that this is the worst, or the only. Can they? Can anyone still be blind about this? Regardless of the original intentions, walking down this road was an unbelievably bad mistake, and I think we'll be paying for it for a long, long time.

If torture were the very best means of obtaining information, inarguably superior to every other method, there would still be very serious questions. But considering that NO ONE with actual experience in this arena seems to believe that...just what the hell are we doing?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Answers to folks...

1) Pagan Topologist: I believe that Greg Walker's work is somewhat fantasy oriented. If I'm wrong, and he is a science fiction writer, that would change things, but that isn't my understanding.

2) Mike: I agree that assimilation is the best course. But then, I believe that whites and blacks are basically equal. If you don't share that belief (if, for instance, you believe that whites have left a trail of death and destruction every where they've gone...) then assimilation would seem like suicide. If you have extended your hand again and again and had it slapped down, or cut off, you might think it foolishness to ignore your experience and offer them the benefit of the doubt.

That said, if EVER, if one single time I had ever seen Steve treat a white man or woman as less than a human being, I could not model him with an open heart. No. He has offered the bounty of his life experience to anyone willing to treat him with respect, anyone willing to do the work. And he has many white students who adore him. But our life experiences shape us. The "tragedy of the commons" suggests that those who play fair while others cheat can suffer. And the reality is that Martin Luther King's non-violence wouldn't have been as successful if America hadn't been afraid of cities burning.

Those who would do violence, and have it in their nature, are often stopped only by the spectre of that violence being turned back upon them. A core aspect of male psychology is the "cross this line and I will kill you." You can find this attitude almost anywhere in the world you have healthy, un-colonized males. They will be polite, they can be loving and giving. But cross that line, threaten their families, and they will kill you. Two males of such temperament rarely fight. Warriors recognize each other, and can make parley. Steve is a warrior, and he has chosen his community. I have chosen mine. While they are not exactly the same community, we can communicate and understand each other. In a very real sense, because he is who he is, I am free to be who I am. Every generation should be just a little freer, shouldn't they?

But someone has to be the guardian at the gate, or those of cold intent will take your village.

3) Christian: I can believe that you weren't a "loved child." In all honesty, my friend, you seriously need a hug. In my mind, saggy pants are not "based on a desire to not go to school or excel." That betrays a very two-dimensional perspective on human performance. I would say the following:

a) fashion creates tribe. By dressing in a particular way, these young men are declaring that they belong to a group bounded by certain social, racial, and economic boundaries. Human beings are tribal creatures, and we will do all kinds of stupid, self-destructive shit not to feel alone. We MUST have community.

b) "a desire not to excel." All right, ask yourself under what circumstance this apparent behavior is an avoidance of pain. Simple: if you don't believe that there is actually opportunity. If you believe that even if you do, you will be isolated and alone and vulnerable. If you believe that school will INCREASE the net amount of pain in your life, rather than reduce it. In other words, people who believe that they CAN and SHOULD "get out" or When you see people who are embracing the most negative stereotypes of behavior and dress, they aren't doing the best they can do in an absolute sense...they are doing the best they BELIEVE they can do. They are computers running really shitty, buggy social/psychological programming. They were programmed by people with corrupted software, who were themselves programmed by people with corrupted software. And they can't just program themselves with "white people's software" because that can cause you to ignore very serious differences in the operational environment.

You can work around this by studying enough successful people with similar challenges throughout the ages, but how many people do that? Most people just follow the programming they got from their parents and immediate environment, screw up, get caught in the safety net, grow up, and then grow old. That pattern works well...if the system is designed for you.

Most white people, male and female, would perform with the same problems as black people if you stripped their skin and memories away. To me, what we see in these kids with their baggy clothes is some fairly typical teen-aged behavior...with some serious and negative consequences. National dress code? No. But school-by-school dress codes? Maybe. I agree with Christian that it's terrible. Steve and I were watching kids in the shopping center parking lot, just shaking our heads.


4)Dan--you can communicate your experiences, as a human being. As an adult male. You really are a man, and many boys have never met one. Race isn't the only thing about human psychology, or I never would have been able to learn from my many, many white or Asian teachers. Teach by example, tell the truth. Race is no more of a barrier than nationality or gender, and we manage to learn from people of other genders, nationalities, and even eras. You could communicate with Steve Muhammad by using any entrance of shared experience: martial arts (you've boxed), raising a family, striving to excel as a human being, growing older. That doorway gives you the opportunity to share attitudes and perspectives. Of such things are sympathetic bonds made. Steve doesn't need to be told that things have changed: he's seen more change than you and I combined.

I've dealt with hundreds of women who have been abused, raped, shattered. And I've had many of them tell me that my treatment of them with consideration and respect, seeing their humanity while encouraging them to find their strength...teaching them to protect themselves while giving them space to open their hearts....and them knowing, feeling, and sometimes SEEING that I will place myself between them and danger, and that I believe that there is a special circle of hell reserved for men who violate what I see as the divine mandate to both protect and respect women even at the cost of life itself...helped them to believe that men were human. Believe that they had somehow encountered more than their share of predators, and that their own behavior and attitudes MIGHT have contributed. This is the painful part: separating responsibility from guilt, blame, or shame. If you're not responsible, you can't stop it from happening again. And this is about human stuff--it goes way beyond race or gender. Men CAN communicate to women, and vice versa. Unless they are lying to me in both words and behaviors, I've seen it. Whites CAN communicate to blacks, and vice versa. I've seen it. But to do it, you have to be capable to truly, deeply seeing the humanity in the Other. To look beyond gender and race, and see the foibles on both sides. To do that, you have to be able to see beyond that within yourself.

Some women will say men shouldn't write about them. Curious, but I've never heard one of these women say women shouldn't write about men. I've heard some blacks say that whites shouldn't write about them. Funny, but I've never heard anyone black say that blacks shouldn't depict white characters. It's all bullshit. People can absolutely love across racial, gender, national, religious or any other lines. Claiming otherwise is just fear masquerading as cultural pride.

Give love and respect even where it is not returned. Be fiercely protective of your life and family and honor...but give the other person the respect of assuming they are just as willing to die to protect what is theirs. Start with honoring the child within you, and then seek to see the child within all others. Make peace with the old man or old woman within you, knowing that, from the safety of the death bed, they are watching everything you do, listening to everything you say. And understand that everyone around you is taking the same journey, heir to the same fears, filled with the same aching needs.

It is reasonable for a damaged woman to blame men. But people heal, and good men help heal the wounds caused by bad ones. Just takes time (all wounds take more time to heal than they took to inflict. A rape happens in minutes, and it can take years to heal.) Whites and blacks with strength and open loving hearts help heal the wounds caused by weak, cold-hearted whites and blacks. And again, wounds take longer to heal than to inflict. So no, I wouldn't expect 400 years of damage to have healed in 150 years. Or 35 years, if you're counting from the Civil Rights acts.

We're all in this together. Don't give up on each other, or yourselves. We need every good man and woman, black white Asian or whatever, to stand up and be willing to sing his song as loudly as possible. Not everyone will hear. But we only need to shift about 10% for the rest to follow.

Cultural and Personal Damage

I have to admit that I have some sympathy for the "prolonged detention" thingie. I mean...if you capture an enemy combatant, it isn't unusual for him to be held for the duration of the war. Otherwise, you'll see him on the battlefield again, and he'll kill some of your men. Well, to the degree that we're in a bit of a war here, if there is no nation-state to return someone to that we can trust to hold onto them, and no one to really make armistice with, that does pose a bit of a problem.


I remember watching "Once Were Warriors" about the collapse of the Maori culture after colonization. What struck me was that the women were holding the families together, while the males were engaged in drunken, irresponsible, often violently self-destructive behavior. And I thought to myself: wow. These guys are acting just like blacks I've seen in the Inner Cities. And suddenly, I started thinking about stories of Chinese in British occupied Shanghai, Africans in British or German occupied Africa, Mexicans in Spanish occupied Mexico, Native Americans, Irish in Belfast.

What were the things I remembered hearing? Their women were sexually available to the conquerers. The men were criminal, alcoholic, violent, ignorant. Didn't take care of their families. Not all of these things were ascribed to all of these groups, but this was the general sweep. And if I come from a position that people are basically people, then a lot of the issues seem to be the result of natural cycles of social and interpersonal interaction interrupted by slavery, colonization, and conquest. The male destructive/creative impulse turns inward upon itself. Self-confidence and healthy aggression are replaced by self-loathing, fragile egos (propped up with meaningless sex, money at all costs, faceless violence) distort the reality map with alcohol and drugs, values scrambled. Trapped in a system in which the aggressor cannot be directly combated, and representatives of those aggressors can arrest and incarcerate you at will, watching your own children and women more attracted to the dominator than to you and your people...ghastly result.

Women? Begin to change their hair styles, makeup styles, dress styles to make themselves attractive to the dominator males. Plastic surgery requests for "round eye" operations skyrocketed in Japan after WW2. Hell, Jackie Chan's had the operation. He knows where the money is. They form fire-sale relationships with the dominator males, creating relationships in which skin color or national origin by themselves are important bargaining chips, seeking a better genetic/cultural future for their offspring.

Think of the spiral this creates. In every one of these cultures, females have less negative pressure than males (in certain contexts) because they are considered less of a threat. Incarcerated less, hired more, subjected to different levels of brainwashing--designed not to destroy them but make them pliable and available. An interesting wuestion on this: while "other" males die or are rendered neuter in the entertainments of the dominator group, females are either available (if casting choices are purely male) or obese/old and sexless. Would this change if the directors/producers/casting agents are female as opposed to male? One would suspect so. Women would tend to want to decrease the competitive advantages of "Other" females, as males would want to decrease the advantages of "Other" males.

This would take more research than I've currently done, but the question is tantalizing.


Culturally, I'm very clear on the way the stats on survival and sexuality run in film. And just as convinced that the Hollywood types who make these decisions are actually MORE racially open than the average white males of their education and income across the country. A scarey concept, but I stick to it based on 57 years of travel across the country, and 30 years of working in the industry. A terrible thought. Deal with it.

But what I'm actually interested in are two notes from students. Both are women, both dealing with deep-seated issues of self-love and self-deservement. One is new to me, but said that she "doesn't know what self-love looks like." The other was terribly abused in childhood by adults her mother trusted to protect her.

This is just ghastly. It is clear to me that cultures raised in relative isolation will develop in patterns that produce stable families and children who accept the values of their grandparents. When those cultures come into competition they change as the must to survive and thrive...usually slowly.

But when cultures encounter cultures that come from a thousand miles away, there are seriously disruptive differences. If the new culture is aggressive or violent, that adjustment must be rapid. If the aggressive culture was part of the Road of Silk, on the land-sea trade routes along which information spread like a virus, then it had a huge advantage over those moving more slowly. And the result enabled them to not merely dominate the less-developed (from a technological standpoint) culture, but also to play the standard "we rule, you drool" game primates love: we're better than you. Closer to God than you. Look how your men quake, and your women fall at our feet. We must be divine."

Variants of this can be found in every colonized culture I've seen or heard of. Human beings as individuals play variations on this. Children dominated physically or sexually go into submission postures (often sexual) or self-destructive behavior (trashing themselves, their families, "their" women (not in a possessive sense, except in the same sense women would talk about "their" men.) "Using every fang and claw in the awfullest way you ever saw." If you don't love yourself, if that precious connection within has been sundered, then it is harder to connect with love at all. Love for your children, your spouse, your neighbors and community.

Of course, as you love yourself you become harder for others to manipulate and control, because you don't need their approval. You may WANT their approval, but not need it. There is an enormous difference.

Because I see no essential difference between racial or gender groups (other than things to do with testosterone and estrogen, and the production and/or protection of children and families) I look very carefully at disruptions. Violence, lack of responsibility, improper imprinting of basic social/survival rules on offspring, the channeling of basic reproductive/aggressive behaviors into patterns that allow proper nurturance of future generations.

Any culture that does NOT do this will be out-competed by those that do. To me, much of this relates to the health of individuals, and the psychic health of individuals is connected to their self-love. Their commitment to their childhood dreams, and the sense that they matter in the universe. If we don't matter, why try? If we don't hold ourselves as precious, what does that say about the judgement of any who might love us?

I hold individual women who have been raped or abused as responsible for healing themselves. Responsible for their relationships, and what they expose their children to. I hold women who have been damaged or abused to be responsible for healing themselves. But they are also responsible for their relationships, sexuality, and the care of any children they make. And I have no respect for men or women who suggest that the health and care of their children are not their responsibility--unless they have almost literally worked themselves to death, and have nothing left at all. But that's not what I see.

Whether the damage is done by rape, incarceration, economic disaster, neglect, abuse, or colonization, the individual is still responsible. Why? Because there is no one else. If you don't pick yourself up, you will die in the desert. If you don't swim, you will drown. I didn't decide that life was like that: I'm just responding to what seems to be true.

The difficult thing is to understand that we are all programmed by our genetics, our families, our cultures. That every one of us is doing the best we can, given the resources we have. And that we have to have a balance of understanding how we were harmed...and understanding how we were blessed. Often by the exact same social forces. This is how I can love my country absolutely...and accept that it damaged me and my racial group horribly. How I can love my mother without deifying her. When I see someone sprawled in the gutter in the street, I try to think of the child they once were. Where did the hopes and dreams go? What mistakes (which all children make) were amplified by a damaged family or an unforgiving culture? If I don't take the position that where we end in life is determined primarily by our innate capacity, then what the hell programmed these people, and what kind of intervention might have made a difference?

Of course, I have respect for people who take the opposite view: that our status in life is the primary indicator of our innate capacity. I've merely noticed that most with that point of view are breaking their arms patting themselves on the back: they are in the upper 10%, and want desperately to believe that they are there because of their spiritual essence. They are doing well because God made them well, and loves them better.

I see the connection between social groups and individuals , in terms of health and manifestation. When Steve Muhammad joins a group that celebrates black people, and encourages more love and community within that group than between racial groups, this is a simple reaction to 400 years of history: makes perfect sense, even if I personally have chosen another way. I get it. Just like I "get" women who have been abused having negative attitudes about men. Or Americans who have been attacked on 9/11 having a negative attitude toward Arabs or Muslims.

I just think that all of that "Us-Themism" is useful in a raw survival context, and useless for emotional and spiritual growth. Of course, if you don't survive, you don't grow, so it's also obvious why these emotions are so powerful: survival trumps damned near everything.

But with enough love, you can flow through these things. I personally had no support for myself as black, as male, as an American, as almost a child. And was forced to go through all of those ego-shields to find some bedrock. Mine was in my sense of existing. From there it was simply being a living thing. Then a spiritual being. Then a human being. And then an intellectual being. Then (probably) a Male human being. Nationality and race follow up. But I don't deceive myself that others share my priorities, and I won't let myself get seduced into "Us-Themism" without a fight.

And I can't help but hold onto my belief that love is the answer for all of this. Especially the kind of self-love that is as fiercely protective of your heart and dreams as you would be for the life of your own most beloved child. No compromise on the safety of our children, but an understanding that long-term safety means being at peace with those around us.

And that while we think our children are the most beautiful and precious in the world...everyone else thinks that as well. We have to get the joke, or the joke's on us. We are just as worthy of love and joy as anyone else. As perfect as anything else in the universe, as sacred as the stars.

And yet, to make our way in the world, we also have to play games of "this versus that." "A" is higher in the hierarchy than "B." We have to, or insecticide is as good as mother's milk.