Several years after the death of my father, after I’d moved back to my home town, I had a conversation with an old friend of his, Karl Gies. He told me something I’d never heard before about my dad, which shocked the hell out of me.

He told me about my dad’s time at the Catholic School. For the life of me I can’t remember the name right now, but there are plenty of locals who can. Any way, Karl told me how he felt bad that he’d never apologized for the hell my father went through while in school. Even though they’d been friends for decades, Karl never spoke to my dad about it and it bothered him, enough so that he told me. I knew dad hated school, hated it bitterly, and distrusted the Catholic Church, I just never knew why.

You see, my dad came from the poor side of town, and despite being only 1/4 Native American, he was as dark as they came, especially when he spent all his time out doors. He wasn’t white, and being a poor Indian kid, he and his brothers and sisters were educated at the local Catholic school. Apparently because of who and what he was, he suffered a lot of abuse and bullying by the white kids while he was there. Karl didn’t go into much of the details, he just had a sad and angry look on his face and said, “Danny, it was bad.” and then apologized to my father via his son.

If Karl and I hadn’t gotten to talking that day, if he’d hadn’t felt the burden to tell me, I’d have never known what my father went though while at school. Dad never talked about it other than to say the nuns were strict and that a couple of them taught him the value of self-respect. That was it. In the 26 years that I got to know my father, the only other time the color of his skin was every brought up was in the stories my mom would tell about his first meeting with her father. I guess things didn’t start out well, though that would change in time.

I’ll never know where else in his life that Dad encountered racism, I’m damn sure that those weren’t the only times. And I can’t tell you how much racism, if any, my dad had in himself. Sexist, definitely, but his views on skin color he kept to himself. Dad never really talked about it. All he ever taught me, and I assume my brother, was that you judged a person on their own merits, regardless of their circumstances. Race, wealth, etc, weren’t something that he conveyed to me as being important when it came to understanding the character of a person.

I share this story now because I realized way too late, that a lot of people don’t talk about the bad things in their lives. When it came to dealing with pain, injustice and feelings in general, my dad just hunkered down, worked harder and powered through it. He could make a damn rock seem talkative in comparison. Stoic doesn’t really convey how my dad was when I was growing up. But it also means that I never learned how much the world hadn’t changed for the better. He didn’t speak up about it, he didn’t point it out or rage about how unfair it was. To him, the word unfair didn’t exist because that was normal. Good things happen, sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you make your own luck. But bad things happening, well, that was kind of the default. And he already knew he could survive that.

At any rate, my point is this – When bad stuff is your normal for so damn long, people forget that it isn’t necessarily right.

I abhor violence. It is the tool of last resort, the proof that we have failed in so many other ways. It’s almost never necessary, but it’s also usually the first thing that the average white American threatens people with the moment they want something. Don’t shake your head, you know damn well it’s true. “You can take it from my cold, dead hands!”, “Don’t tread on me!”, or show up to “peaceful” protests armed to the teeth in your tacticool gear. For the last 3-4 months, my feed has been filled with violent threats because the richest country on Earth couldn’t handle staying home, despite all our resources. So much violence threatened for such a tiny amount of time.

And… Violence always does more damage than you expect. Always.

It’s a terrible thing when peaceful people can no longer remain so. It takes a lot to push the peaceful ones over the edge, to take the ones who are law abiding and push them to the point where they can’t take it any more. It’s what happens when peaceful protest is ignored for such a long time. An actual long time, not weeks or months like the Quarantine.

It didn’t take one death, or two, but hundreds. Thousands and tens of thousands of injustices. This sort of thing has been going on since the founding of our country, back when it was legal. We pretended things were getting better, that this isn’t how it is in the US anymore. Racism was mostly dead by the late 90’s, early 2000’s, you know? All “that stuff” didn’t happen anymore, except maybe in the stereotypical deep South, we said.

And then came a Black president, and we got to see all the people that had been hiding in plain sight, the ones telling jokes that were always prefaced with, “I am not a racist, but…”, except they were doing more than telling jokes. And that was OK, apparently. It wasn’t actually about racism, they said.

And then we had cell phones with their video cameras and the Internet, which gave people a chance to show us exactly what we’d been saying didn’t happen anymore. Proof right in front of our eyes. But that was still OK, apparently. It wasn’t actually racism, they said.

And then all those in hiding got the president they wanted, the one that never met a racist he didn’t like. But, they say, “He isn’t racist. It’s not about racism.” And so it was OK, apparently.

And all the peaceful protesting continued to fall on deaf ears. It was un-American, they said. And that was OK with everybody, apparently.

Until it wasn’t, not any more.

“If you want a better government, be a better Citizen.” – Stonekettle Station, Jim Wright

I’ve got that on my fridge as both a reminder and a warning. It’s a reminder to me that if I want a nation that reflects the ideals in the Constitution, and the humanistic goals that they sprung from, I need to get out and make it happen. It’s a warning to me that if I do not work towards something better, then I will probably get what I deserve.

The key thing of it all, though, is that the government and citizens are one, at least here in the United States. That was the whole point, a Citizen government. As one President said, “…of the People, by the People, for the People…”

So, when you talk about bad laws, bad representation, being “forced” to do things, you have to look around you and also look in the mirror. When you see something that could be better? Well, the Government isn’t a faceless entity that dictates down to you. It’s worse than that. It’s your neighbors, your family, Phil in accounting, some random person 1500 miles from you. That’s your government. Some 250 million people, ish.

That applies all the way down, right to your local town hall and police department.

And, it’s true, we have a history of not getting things right all at once- we usually have to work at it. Some of our best legislation, our best social movements, have occurred in response to the reality that we have to do better. I guess that’s why they term positive change, “progressive”. Oops, I probably should have posted some sort of trigger warning before using that word. It’s been known to get some people a little worked up. That’s OK, though. From where I’m standing, our government could use quite a bit of work right now, so getting people worked up is just fine with me.

At any rate, just something to think about during an election year.

I must be in a mood today…

Montanan’s, by and large, have no idea what it’s like to not be Montanan. What I mean is, the majority of us have never lived anywhere outside of Montana. This isn’t a criticism, just a reality check. Because of the state we live in, the circumstances of our birth, we have it really damn good. But it also means that we have no damn clue what it means to live elsewhere.

Our idea of a large city is Billings, population ~100,000 people. that’s total, not per square mile. Our idea of diversity is knowing the last name of the family that owns the local Chinese or Mexican restaurant. We might, possibly maybe, know a few native Americans, maybe even a non-white(non-Native) person or two. Maybe. Odds are really damn good we’ve never had dinner with them.

This is small town Montana. Hell, that’s Billings MT, more often than not. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a really small perspective on a much larger world.

And, if I’m being fair, I could reverse that. People in Chicago or New York, have no damn clue what’s it’s like to walk down Main Street Lewistown MT. A population density less than 1000 people per block? Inconceivable! What do you mean you don’t know what a Project is? It really does go both ways and it really leads to misunderstandings.

For example, in small town Montana, there’s no reason why you can’t go to the local school and cast your vote. Sure, you might have to stand in line for as long as 30 minutes, if you’re voting after work at the Metra. It sucks and you’ll complain about it, but it really isn’t that big a deal. For most people, it doesn’t even take that long. In a typical Montana town, you’ll be standing in line with two or three people you know personally. Even if you don’t, odds are 98%+ that they’re white and you’ll get along with them just fine for the few minutes you spend in line talking about the day. They’re just like you.

That’s Montana.

You’ll never consider the idea that local or state politicians might close your polling place in order to force you to drive 20+ miles away to vote because they want to ensure that you don’t vote. Heck, most of us don’t even consider the idea of not owning a vehicle, and never have, because the concept of only being able to take a bus everywhere we go doesn’t exit here. We’ll never experience the practice of changing polling places and times, just to prevent our vote because we’re not white. Not at all. We have no damn idea even what that even means. In fact, odds are half decent that when this is brought up in the news or social media, we’ll either ignore it completely, or deny that it happens at all. The fact that we named the practice, Gerrymandering, after a guy that defined the concept, means not a damn thing to the average Montanan- because the very idea is something we’ve never experienced. We’ve got it pretty good over here.

But it does happen. Just not to us.

So when our state Secretary, Corey Stapleton, talks about voter fraud, talks about people(implying mostly Democrats) cheating on their mail in ballots, Montanans by and large have no damn clue what he’s really talking about. When Mr Stapleton insinuates that mail in voting is an absolutely critical issue, we don’t question him because we don’t know any better. We’re white, we’re small town America, and of course people are trying to cheat the system. Sure, not us, but somebody is! And we believe it when our President echoes that. Because, why wouldn’t we?

Yeah, why wouldn’t we? Well, for starters, because it’s bullshit(please pardon my vulgarity). Even in heavy Democratic districts(we don’t have Democrats in Montana, or so I’m told), the instance of voter fraud is single digits or less. The odds of neighbor Dave cheating at the weekly Friday night poker game are, generally speaking, higher than the odds of voter fraud in a given precinct. It really is that non-existent. But Montanans wouldn’t know that, we don’t have that problem. But we’re told we do…

So why does our Secretary of State, why does our President, claim it’s such an issue? Real Montanans would hate to be manipulated like that. Real Montanans would absolutely hate the idea that members of our government would be lying to us in order to take away the rights of us Citizens. Right?

“I’m just presenting an alternative point of view.” or “I just want to provide the other side of the equation.”

You’ve probably seen that more than once lately. We’re a pretty divided nation right now, so unless you’re 100% integrated into an echo chamber, I’m sure a FB friend has probably used that line when presenting an “alternative view point”.

Some people like to call it, “Playing the Devil’s Advocate.” On the surface, it’s a rational appeal. Consider other view points, approach a problem from a different perspective. It makes sense, doesn’t it? I know it does to me. I actively pursue those other view points.

So yes it does, but only to a certain degree. Let’s talk math for a minute. “I just want to show the other half of the equation.” says the guy trying to show proof that vaccines are a conspiracy. But what does that really say? 1+1=2. That’s a constant. No matter how you present, “the other side.”, the result is the same. Just because you say it doesn’t equal 2, just because you link to 3 different blogs and a youtube video by a mathematician that says it actually equals 4, the reality is, 1+1=2. That’s it.

Rhetorically, we’re seeing similar things. You see it with Covid-19. Those two physicians from California, the occasional expert from somewhere else. They have “alternative viewpoints”, that for some reason seems to completely disagree with most other experts. And yet, people give those view points extra weight. They make them equal.

Why? The stove is hot. People tell you that you will get burned. It’s not optional, that will be the result. But…. there was that one guy… that one exception. Your alternative view point says you might not. It is possible that you’ll be just fine.

What’s that burning smell?

The thing about being a real Devil’s Advocate is that you’re teaching people to take things to their logical conclusion, to consider the evidence from multiple angles and work through to verifiable results. There’s an element of responsibility to it, a method that belies the madness. 1+1 will never equal 3. That’s not up for debate, it isn’t an alternative fact, and “experts” don’t consistently and routinely return that answer. A Devil’s Advocate will never present that as an “alternative viewpoint” unless their aim is to have you figure out the correct answer for yourself.

So rhetorically, when something seems to go against the facts, when things seem to go against the logical conclusion. When people present “evidence” that they say the main stream doesn’t want you to see? You should probably take a moment to ask yourself why.

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