Image: Thanos’ empty armor being used as a scarecrow

I’m supposed to be working on poems for my new book; I wrote this instead.

In the Marvel cinematic universe, costumed superheroes battle an assortment of global threats: Loki invades Earth with an extraterrestrial army. Ultron threatens to replace humanity with artificial intelligence. The forces of Hydra infiltrate the governments of the world and seek to bring them down from the inside.

But the ultimate villain, the larger threat looming over the more than twenty films leading up to the MCU’s climax, is Thanos. A being of unfathomable power, Thanos is also an antagonist with a specific philosophy. He believes that the problem with the universe is too much life, too many mouths to feed, too great a strain on finite resources. So his solution, his goal, is to wipe out half of all life in the universe; he believes that by doing this, the remaining half will thrive.

In these films, it is taken for granted that Thanos is the villain, and that his plan is as nonsensical as it is horrific. In the real world, however, his general philosophy – that there are too many people, that we’re going to run out of food and resources unless we control the population – is something that a lot of people (including mass murderers in El Paso and Christchurch) actually believe. Whether we call it Neo-Malthusianism or eco-fascism or whatever fancy name, it very often goes hand in hand with anti-immigrant bigotry, yellow peril xenophobia, and a sociopathic focus on rugged individualism over community, empathy, and cooperation. Pandemics make it worse.

Over the coming years, we’re going to see more of this. So here are three frames, metaphors, and counter-arguments that have been useful to me. Hopefully they can be useful to you, as well.

1. If there are a hundred people, and a hundred apples, and one person has 90 apples, and the other 99 people have to share ten apples – the problem is not that there are too many people.

The eco-fascists will tell you that there aren’t enough apples, but the truth is that as a species, we have all the resources we need, right now, to make sure every person on earth has food, shelter and access to a healthy life. The problem is that we spend billions of dollars on F-35s and stealth bombers, while propping up a system that allows a tiny minority of people to hoard unfathomable amounts of wealth that they couldn’t spend in a hundred lifetimes. The issue isn’t scarcity of resources; the issue is the system we use to distribute those resources.

2. If a pandemic comes along and kills a few million humans, disproportionately affecting the elderly, the poor, the vulnerable – refugees, prisoners, people without access to health care – that is not “the ecosystem resetting itself.” That is not “mother earth fighting back.”

I know it can sound like a cool, edgy hot-take to be like “humanity… is the real virus,” but my nieces and nephews are not viruses. My friends who are nurses and advocates and educators and working-class people just trying to live are not the problem. “Humanity,” as a general concept, is not to blame for the climate crisis. A handful of obscenely wealthy capitalists and the multi-billion dollar extractive industries they control are to blame for the climate crisis.

And while it can be annoying when some hippie on Twitter says stuff like that, it’s important to understand how that rhetoric connects to xenophobia and racism. As Trump and his supporters start calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “kung-flu,” we have to remember how historically, anxiety about overpopulation and disease has led to crackdowns on those labeled “other,” whether immigrants, religious minorities, or whatever scapegoat those in power wish to use to distract from their own incompetence. Today, we’re already seeing hate crimes targeting Asians and Asian-Americans. We must have zero tolerance for this.

Sidebar: two important links for people who might find themselves in arguments about this: The World Health Organization’s explicit recommendation to NOT name diseases after places or people and a news story with proof that Trump and/or his speechwriters are going out of their way to change the name from what is recommended to what benefits them politically. It’s sick.

3. As a purely intellectual exercise, the idea of 100 people on a sinking ship and only ten being able to fit on the lifeboat might lead you to some “harsh but fair” conclusions. In reality, though, we have more choices beyond “most people die” and “everyone dies.”

To continue this metaphor, we could bring more lifeboats on the ship. Stepping back, we could design the ship to more elegantly fit additional lifeboats, and/or be more resistant to sinking in the first place. Stepping back further, we could institute regulations on the shipbuilding industry that mandate that ships must have enough lifeboats for all passengers. 

Outside of this hypothetical, it’s worth remembering that in real life, who do you think is most likely to have access to a “lifeboat?” The rich, the privileged, and the powerful have a vested interest in making the rest of us think that there aren’t enough resources to go around, because that minimizes pressure on them to share what they see as theirs alone.

***

To return to the MCU: using the infinity gauntlet, Thanos became effectively omnipotent. If he truly cared about making sure there were enough resources to go around, rather than wiping out half of all life in the universe, he could have snapped his fingers and created more resources, or ensured that humans and aliens across the universe distributed those resources in a better way.

The fact that his “solution,” seemingly the first and only course of action he considered, was to murder half of all life tells us a lot more about him than it does about the issues he claimed to be concerned about.

Of course, Thanos isn’t real. But his philosophy is. Watch out for those whose imaginations are big enough to envision millions dying in a pandemic, but aren’t big enough to envision a more just, equitable system that would allow all of humanity to thrive. It’s on us to dream bigger, to work together, and to save ourselves. Nothing is inevitable.

FURTHER RESOURCES:

A good document pulling together some links and “how-to” resources on mutual aid and pod-mapping; basically, how we can support one another, in our communities, through the COVID-19 situation.

Additionally, a few thoughts of my own I posted on social media a couple days ago:

A million links to share, but to avoid stressing people out, here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been reading regarding covid-19; shared this the other day, but a few edits:

First, let’s remember that there’s a lot of room between “everything is fine” and “it’s the apocalypse.” Don’t panic, but please take it seriously: lives are very much at stake, especially older people, people with compromised immune systems, and frontline health care workers, and those people matter.

I’m thankful for everyone pointing out how, like a lot of big problems, the covid-19 pandemic requires solutions at both individual and institutional levels.

As individuals: there’s been a ton of good writing, articles, resources, etc. on specific things we can do: take extra care to wash hands, avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings, cancel events, offer to get groceries/supplies to people who might be more at risk, go out less, etc. This can make a real difference.

Also important: read credible sources; don’t fall for conspiracy theories, or racism (watch GOP politicians pivot to calling it “the chinese virus” or whatever), or facebook-style “I don’t know anything but I’m going to authoritatively state that this isn’t a big deal and it’s exactly like the common flu.” It’s not.

On the institutional level, we always hear calls not to “politicize” crises like this. But this crisis is political.

When people don’t have paid sick leave, they work sick, and that makes things worse– and that’s politics. When the Trump administration eliminates the position of “senior director for global health security and biodefense,” that’s politics. When millions of people don’t have health insurance, so don’t seek out the care they need, that’s politics.

So yeah, we can physically avoid one another for a while, while simultaneously committing to uniting together to tackle these underlying issues. This crisis will pass, but these bigger problems will ensure that another crisis won’t be far behind… unless we act- voting, organizing, mutual aid, everything.

“How can you become what you cannot imagine?” -bell hooks

Here’s the last episode of season one! We recorded this LIVE at the University of Minnesota in November 2019. We knew we wanted to end the season with something forward-looking, speculative, and maybe a little weird. We also knew we wanted to bring in a bunch of other voices. These guests were so generous, and so brilliant; we’re super grateful for their contributions.

Thanks also to all of the sponsoring organizations at the University of Minnesota: the Women’s Center, the Asian Pacific American Resource Center, the Aurora Center, the Office of Fraternity/Sorority Life, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Program. It’s definitely cool to see that kind of collaboration; if you’d like to bring #WhatsGoodMan to YOUR college, conference, or other space, get in touch!

Also thanks to all of our listeners over the past few months. It means a lot, and we hope people will keep sharing episodes, sharing quotes, leaving reviews, and of course- continuing the conversations, whether that’s with the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on social media, or in real life!

We will be back!

(L-R) top row: Kyle, Malik, Alec, Sawyer, Abeer; lower row: Mick, tony, Katie
Continue reading “What is the Future of Masculinity? (#WhatsGoodMan Live Season Finale)”

I live in Minnesota, and it’s a Super Tuesday state. So pretty soon, I’ll be voting for which Democratic nominee I’d like to go up against Trump in November.

For me, it’s only a conversation about Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I have no interest in the other candidates. That isn’t to say I absolutely wouldn’t vote for (for example) Biden if he wins the primary; it’s just to say that in the primary, I will be voting for a progressive.

I’ll keep this brief and straightforward: Between Sanders and Warren, I’m going with Sanders. Below, I’m going to share some of my thought process. I’m not sharing this because I’m any kind of expert or authority; I just think it’s a good practice to talk out why we’re supporting who we’re supporting. If this can be useful to anyone else who’s trying to decide, great.

I think both Sanders and Warren have good platforms (at least relative to other candidates, past and present), and I even prefer a couple of Warren’s specific policies. But in general, just reading through their websites and doing the math, I align more with Sanders. But policy isn’t my main argument here. Platforms shift, especially as a candidate moves from the primary into the general. No matter who the candidate is, it’s going to be on us to hold them accountable. It’s going to be the movement-builders who apply pressure to those platforms and drive change.

So I’m MOST interested in what the movement-builders are saying.

Both Warren and Sanders have a bunch of great endorsements from individual politicians. Where Sanders pulls ahead, for me at least, is in endorsements from activist organizations (and unions!) on the ground, doing movement-building work every day. Don’t just listen to me, read these endorsements from some of the most inspiring organizations in the country:

  • Sunrise Movement
    We know that no matter who the next President is, we will need to turn millions of people into the streets and disrupt business as usual in order to win a Green New Deal. But our movement has spoken clearly. We believe a Bernie Sanders Presidency would provide the best political terrain in which to engage in and ultimately win that struggle for the world we deserve.
  • Mijente
    We need urgent change on a whole host of issues – climate change, deportations, education, health care. To get that change, first things first, we gotta get Donald Trump out and make him a one term president. We need a candidate who can assemble a vibrant, diverse coalition that presents a clear alternative. Today it’s official – we believe that candidate is Senator Bernie Sanders.
  • Dream Defenders
    Bernie is not our political savior. It is the movement behind him that will change this country: We are not electing a savior, we are electing a political opponent who we will hold accountable to meet our demands. Bernie Sanders knows he can’t change everything on his own. His campaign slogan, “Not Me, Us” is all about building a movement of millions to fight in the streets and at the ballot box to force the hands of legislators to listen. This is how change happens.
  • Democratic Socialists of America
    When Bernie says “not me, us,” he’s talking about an urgent political project: building a mass movement of working people that can change society. We’ll start with Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, powerful trade unions, tuition-free college, and an end to mass incarceration – but we won’t stop there.
  • TakeAction Minnesota
    “Bernie Sanders is the clear choice,” said Mai Chong Xiong, Board Chair of TakeAction Minnesota. “Bernie has built a bold, powerful movement because he listens to the people and knows our power. When working people organize and rise up together, we win elections and build a democracy, government and economy that works for all of us. The momentum keeps growing because families, communities, and climate can’t wait for action. We are ready to get to work.”
  • Make the Road Action
    Daniel Altschuler, managing director of Make the Road Action, said that the organization has been impressed by Sanders’s willingness to listen and learn from the grassroots advocacy community in putting together an immigration platform that reflects their priorities, including placing a moratorium on deportations and dismantling the immigration enforcement agencies. (source)
  • People’s Action
    “We know that Bernie will stand with the multiracial working class because he has always stood with us,” People’s Action National Board of Directors President Lizeth Chacon said. “He’s proven that he can listen and work with the grassroots when it’s time to be bolder. When we launched a call for safe, accessible, sustainable, permanently affordable homes for everyone, Sanders heard our blunt call for action. Now the vision of our Homes Guarantee is reflected in his housing policy. That’s just one example of him making movement politics mainstream.”

I was originally going to share a deeper dive into my own thoughts on policy, but I think these endorsements are both more important, and more persuasive.

And it’s not just about the endorsements themselves; look closely at what they’re saying. There’s so much language in those statements that explicitly recognizes that real change isn’t driven by individual politicians. It’s driven by movements, and the Sanders campaign is uniquely, at least in my experience, in conversation with the movement work happening outside the election. One last link: check out Boots Riley’s thoughts on that dynamic.

A Note on “Electability”
That word is in quotes for a reason. It’s not that electability isn’t real, or that it doesn’t matter; it’s that pundits and talking heads (and, let’s be honest, most of us) aren’t always very good at predicting who’s electable and who isn’t.

The last two presidents of the US are a bumbling fascist conman named Donald Trump and a progressive (at least in rhetoric) Black man named Barack Hussein Obama. Neither were ever considered “electable.” Go back and read the op-eds, or listen to the clips of “experts” on cable news, in 2008 and 2016. At the end of the day, “electability” can only be measured in winning elections.

And Sanders is winning right now. At the head of a movement that includes the most diverse base in the primary, the most youth, and the most straight up VOTES, he’s the frontrunner, and best-positioned, right now, to take on Donald Trump in November.

And yes, Bernie Sanders will face negative ads, like every candidate. They’ll say he’s a communist, that he’ll destroy the economy. But that’s the work: if people are nervous about democratic socialism, or overhauling the healthcare system, or the Green New Deal, it’s on us to take that opportunity to have a real conversation about those issues- a conversation that can lead to action no matter who sits in the White House.

They’ll say he’s too radical. It’s on us to talk about how often popular, commonsense policy positions get framed as “radical.” Health care is a human right. The climate crisis is real. No one should have a billion dollars while children go hungry and families struggle to get by. If these statements are “radical,” then it is PAST time for more radical politics.

It’s on us to make the case. It’s on us to make connections. It’s also on us to hold each other accountable — as Sanders himself has — when we witness harassment or the kind of toxic behavior that has become associated with his campaign (whether we believe that association is fair or not; in politics, the perception of a problem is a problem).

Electability isn’t some inherent quality that an individual just “has” or not; it’s something we create, through our advocacy, our volunteering, and our votes. We have agency. We can get involved and help push for real change- both inside AND outside of electoral politics.

If you already agree with me, be sure to check out opportunities wherever you live to get involved, to do some door-knocking, or even just to donate.

If you’re looking for more information in a general sense about the primary, a good resource is Vote Save America, with a guide on how to register, the whole voting process, and how to get involved.

Related: a few expanded thoughts on voting in general, and how it can fit into a movement-building strategy without *becoming* the strategy.

What's Good Man title card: Episode Eight: The Art of Taking the L

My earliest memory of masculinity is not a particle, it’s a wave. My earliest memory of masculinity is not a man, it’s a mask.

We had originally planned on having eight episodes in our first season, with the final episode being the live recording of the LIVE episode that we recorded a few months ago at the University of MN. Due to some audio/tech obstacles, we’re delaying that episode by two weeks and sharing this surprise mini-episode now.

This episode is built around my poem, “The Art of Taking the L,” which also exists as video, as text, and as part of a ZINE BUNDLE available for order through Button Poetry. But since it relates so explicitly to what this podcast is about, we figured it made sense to share it here as well. Hope you like it.

As always, please feel free to subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.

Finally, a quick reminder: we’ve created a gallery of all the quote images we’ve shared on social media; feel free to share them too!

Continue reading “The Art of Taking the L (#WhatsGoodMan Episode 8)”

True accountability is not only apologizing, understanding the impacts your actions have caused on yourself and others, making amends or reparations to the harmed parties; but most importantly, true accountability is changing your behavior so that the harm, violence, abuse does not happen again.
-Mia Mingus (who is not IN this episode, but is quoted; more here)

As we approach the end of our first season, this episode is about diving into what accountability means, especially in practice, in real-life situations. That’s a huge subject, of course, and touches on issues like apology, restorative justice, transformative justice, “cancel culture” and a million other things. One episode isn’t really enough to cover all that, but we hope it’s at least a step on a longer journey.

Here are a few of the resources we mention in this episode:

Huge thanks to our guest as well, Russel Balenger of the Circle of Peace Movement (TCOPM)!

As always, if you like it, please subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.

Finally, a quick reminder: we’ve created a gallery of all the quote images we’ve shared on social media; feel free to share them too!

Here’s the transcript:

Continue reading “What Happens When We Mess Up? On Apology and Accountability (#WhatsGoodMan Episode 7)”

“As absolutely vital as it is to practice consent as an individual, it’s also important to understand the systems and cultures we move through, how they impact us, and how we can work to impact them, too.
–Kyle

Our sixth episode features a whole bunch of thoughts, ideas, and answers to the question, “how do we build a culture of consent?” We look at some great resources for understanding consent as an individual, share some actions people can take on an interpersonal level, and explore what kinds of larger-scale policy & culture shifts we can help make happen.

The whole episode is structured around this zine, which asked that question to advocates, activists, survivors, and other people in many different places. It’s a great way to explore consent, but it’s also a great way to explore activism and change-making; this is an issue that we need to understand at both levels. Some other resources from this episode:

Thanks also to our guest, Haven Davis, from the Annex Teen Clinic! You’ll hear more about Annex before this season is over.

As always, if you like it, please subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.

Finally, a quick update: we’ve created a gallery of all the quote images we’ve shared on social media; feel free to share them too!

Here’s the transcript:

Continue reading ““How Do We Build a Culture of Consent?” (#WhatsGoodMan Episode 6)”

“If I am a man, then what kind of man am I going to be? And how am I going to carry that in the world in a way that leads to the liberation of all people?” —Shannon TL Kearns

Our fifth episode is based around the question of whether the best path forward for a healthy, loving society is to focus on the “bad parts” of masculinity in hopes of creating a less toxic, more nurturing version of manhood, OR do away with the gender binary, and perhaps the concept of gender, in general. Is the goal to be a “good man,” or is the goal to be a good human being? Or is that the wrong way to frame the question to begin with!?

We realize that that has the potential to be a pretty abstract or theoretical conversation, so we tried to bring it down to earth and talk about how our responses to that question might impact the work that needs to be done, and our lives. A big section of this episode is just us reading and reflecting on adrienne maree brown’s must-read piece “Relinquishing the Patriarchy.” 

We also have a fantastic guest for the last word, Shannon TL Kearns of Uprising Theatre and QueerTheology.com.

As always, if you like it, please subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.

Here’s the transcript:

Continue reading ““Masculinity: Fix It, or Forget It?” (#WhatsGoodMan Episode 5)”

More of an on-the-road year than a release-lots-of-new-stuff year, but here’s the stuff I did help create this year, in case anyone is interested and missed any of it.

1. “What’s Good, Man?” In Search of Healthy Masculinity

A sneak preview of our 8th episode, which we recorded LIVE back in October with some incredible guests whom you’ll get to hear from soon. Photo by Peter Limthongviratn. 

I resisted the siren song of starting a podcast for a really long time. But tony the scribe had some great ideas, and the overall issue of toxic masculinity is relevant to literally every crisis on earth right now. There’s a sense of urgency here, mixed with an impulse to really take some time to explore how this dominant/dominating narrative of manhood as power, control, and authority is so effective and so insidious. We’re only four episodes into the show (with a fifth coming on 1/1/20), and already have SO MANY MORE planned for the next season. Thanks so much to everyone who’s already tuned in. Related: a piece I wrote back in January called “How much profit is in your pain? On masculinity and outrage.”

2. “The Art of Taking the L” Zine and Video

Related to the podcast, this is a poem (and accompanying zine) that I’ve been working on for a while. Finally got a draft ready to share, and it’s available now both as a video (via Button Poetry) and as part of a BUNDLE of zines that are some of my favorite projects I’ve worked on.

3. Other New Videos

This was the first year in like a decade without any new music from me. But there has been some other cool stuff, including “The Art of Taking the L” and these other new videos:

An a capella performance of my two verses from “Matches” by Sifu Hotman.

“Pro-Life,” A poem about reproductive justice (plus this piece with a bunch of great links).

“10 Excerpts From New York Times Op-Eds in Fictional Realities,” a poem subtitled “what happens when you understand conflict, but don’t understand power.”

New footage/performance of an older poem of mine, “A Pragmatist’s Guide to Faith,” about history and happenstance and struggle.

Finally, this UK producer (Fred again..) sampled a snippet of one of my poems for this beautiful song and video. It’s also available on Spotify and elsewhere:

4. Audio Book

My whole book is available now as audio, recorded by me (and engineered by longtime collaborator Big Cats)!

5. Odds and Ends

Some other stuff:

  • Featured in the City Pages’ “People” Issue here.
  • An in-depth feature on the “What’s Good, Man?” podcast via MN Monthly here.
  • A song spotlight + some favorite links on economic inequality here.
  • Shared a bunch of writing prompts for National Poetry Month here.
  • Shared a playlist of poems I’ve found useful doing social justice education work here.
  • Lots more work with TruArtSpeaks and MPD150; very cool stuff on the horizon in 2020.
  • Finally, a little Instagram collage here; chair photo is by Emeline O’Hara; sketch is by Tori HongHere’s my IG link.

Lots planned for 2020. Lots more will be happening beyond those plans. Let’s be ready.