The Honorable John Judge (1947-2014)

Matt and John

I lost a long-time friend and mentor, John Judge, on April 15 of this year. The memorial held in his honor is worth watching in full if you were not among the 100 or so activists, artists, scholars, and dear friends (John has no living relatives) who attended. On the day I write this, December 14, he would have turned 67.

Every year on his birthday he invited all of his friends to dinner at one of his favorite Washington, D.C. restaurants. For several years that restaurant was Buca di Beppo, and I will never forget how he would end the night with a ‘Hinckley Hilton tour’ a few blocks away at the Washington Hilton Hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW explaining what really happened in 1981, when then President Ronald Reagan was shot. Despite the frigid temperatures of mid-December, John would speak for over an hour without pause, and his spellbound friends and supporters would listen without complaint or interruption. His most notable assertion was that John Hinckley Jr., despite popular wisdom, did not shoot the president and was actually set up to take the fall by then Vice President George H.W. Bush and his advisers, who were not happy with Reagan’s decisions in office.

This was just one of John’s many areas of focus that his detractors would ridicule as ‘conspiracy theories.’ John would retort by saying that they were ‘coincidence theorists.’ Yet, he never bought into many of the popular conspiracy theories like the one claiming the Twin Towers were brought down by controlled demolitions or that the United States never landed on the moon. He was perhaps best known for his work with the Committee on Political Assassinations (COPA), for which he organized an annual conference to commemorate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and share research refuting the Warren Commission’s findings and exploring new leads. While he was only a teenager at the time, John was greatly affected by this event and would go on to research the hidden facts behind many other famous assassinations including that of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy. He maintained that the unelected military industrial complex, which functions as a de facto secret government, had a hand in all of them.

Despite a voluminous home library consisting of books on just about every topic imaginable, John was not just a researcher. John was a consummate revolutionary and humanitarian. He not only wanted to bring truth to the masses by way of deconstructing government propaganda and lifting the veil of historical secrecy but also find solutions to the world’s most intractable problems, such as climate change, war, racism, and poverty. He began as a peace activist at the University of Dayton in Ohio and led a successful campaign to abolish mandatory ROTC at his campus. For more than 30 years he visited high schools across Washington, D.C. and promoted  alternatives to military service while debunking recruitment myths with the help of veterans turned peace activists. I joined him at times, and he helped me spread the effort to my now alma mater, the University of Maryland, where I met him after a two-hour lecture he delivered on the connection between racism and militarism that left me more impressed and informed than any of the hundreds of lectures I had previously attended.

One of my clearest memories is when John worked with former Congressman Dennis Kucinich on drafting (originally about 100) Articles of Impeachment against President George W. Bush, and I watched Kucinch fight back fatigue on C-SPAN as he read them into the congressional record and did not stop until after midnight. I felt privileged to have read many of the Articles prior and thus be able to recognize John’s influence. It was an amazing moment despite the lack of interest from the rest of the Democratic party. Prior to his involvement with Kucinich, John served on the staff of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, where he helped draft the Martin Luther King Jr. Records Collection Act. “Times are so bad that even the anarchists are working in Congress,” he would say as justification.”

John never let the prevailing political climate discourage him. He was a dreamer. He had the audacity to call for restraint after 9/11 and was proven right in his predictions of the government’s response and the resulting consequences. He insisted on truth when the lie was so much easier to swallow. I often thought that if I knew all that he knew, I would hide under the covers of my bed until the revolution was eminent. The awful truth can be crippling, especially when systemic change is years away, but I never felt cynical while in John’s presence — and if I had displayed even a shred of it, John would have kept me up until 3 a.m. enthralling me with his vision of a more just world. He never backed down from a dream.

What I remember most is his laugh. He would throw his head back and guffaw with full abandon. I have never known a genius who was so comfortable in just about any social situation and who loved people so much. I have also never known a genius who was so humble — he treated everyone as an equal, even those who understood none of his research and shared none of his interests. To me his best quality was his ability to inspire. Many who knew him continue his legacy — most notably his partner for the last four years of his life, Marilyn Tenenoff, who is realizing the dream of a Hidden History Museum that John did not live to build himself.

Given the ongoing police killings at home, the bombing campaigns abroad, and the general fog of war that grips our nation, the Judge who never held a gavel but held the conscience of the United States should be remembered on this day — and every other.

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A Little Matter of Institutional Racism and Violence

Note: This was published on Dec. 12, but I started working on it back in October (don’t know how to correct the date).

For the longest time I could not speak about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Akai Gurley, or any of the many black men who have been slain by police in recent months. I was caught between rage and powerlessness: Is it the right time to talk about solutions when so many are in pain? Is there any way to satisfy the extremes on both sides, where violence is the chosen response? These were two questions I struggled with as a peace activist and restorative justice practitioner — and as a white man.

It is undeniable that white people can and do suffer police violence, but they are typically not profiled due to race. Their skin color alone does not raise suspicion — although there is a class dimension that is worth noting. Would the NYPD have placed Garner in a fatal chokehold if he had been selling looseys in a suit and tie? I have never heard of such an incident, but there is no way to know for sure.

What I do know is that there is something deeply wrong in this country, and I am not referring to a few bad police or misguided laws but a system infested with institutional racism and hair-trigger violence. Blacks are so brazenly dehumanized and in need of progressive re-branding campaigns like #blacklivesmatter because the United States has not evolved beyond its several-hundred-year history of racial oppression. At times cops in certain segregated communities seem to function as a less crude, better equipped, and more organized version of the slave breakers of the 19th century. How else can we explain their overreaction to demonstrations in Ferguson and elsewhere and policies like Stop and Frisk that seem to only target people of color, whether they are law abiding or not? The slave breaker mentality was in full force in the powerful film, Fruitvale Station, which documented the tragic murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a white cop in 2008. To debate whether one particular cop is racist or if policing techniques are intentionally discriminatory is to miss the point.

Racism is not just about spouting epithets and wearing black face, it’s about incarcerating blacks at such disproportionate rates that even apartheid South Africa would blush. It’s about discriminatory housing polices forcing blacks into blighted inner cities and away from white neighborhoods. It’s about keeping blacks from holding decent jobs, owning land, or accessing higher education. It’s about holding a deep-seated fear of black men and justifying it based on lies, distortions, and stereotypes. And, yes, it’s about murdering them and getting away with it — whether you are George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, or Roy Bryant.

But even the history and reality of institutional racism is not enough to explain the extreme violence used by police in situations where words or inaction may have sufficed. The lack of basic conflict resolution skills exhibited by police in those cases is appalling. Is this evidence of a deficit in training, competence, decency, or a combination of the three? I have not yet decided, although I will say that — as a trained mediator — while decency cannot so easily be taught, training in areas that people take for granted as intuitive is essential. At a minimum, before an officer is ever taught to use a gun, he should be taught to use his common sense.

In an ideal world he would not need a gun at all to defuse potentially violent situations. The organization Cure Violence, which views violence as the public health pandemic that it is and treats it through nonviolence, is representative of this ideal, and the proposal that standout police officers be trained as violence interrupters within their own units is the best solution I have heard thus far. If protesters can police themselves, albeit imperfectly, why can’t the police? Even if some departments were willing to submit to such reforms voluntarily, federal involvement is necessary given the power of police unions and the conservatism of local police not only in small, southern towns but also in ‘liberal’ cities like Portland.

The question that remains, though, is what to do when there is another instance of police brutality that threatens to tear apart yet another community — or even the whole country? I am so bold as to offer dialogue as the solution, which I know will disappoint both the revolutionaries and reactionaries alike. It does not require teargas, armored personnel carriers, or military-style assault weapons — nor does it require the blocking of traffic, the destruction of property, or the looting of businesses. It proved to be transformative for the police and concerned citizens of Seattle when John T. Williams, a First Nations woodcarver, was needlessly shot down in 2010. While, as is almost always the case, the officer was not convicted for the killing, the restorative justice process used allowed for healing, understanding, and other forms of accountability that benefited not only those close to the matter but also the community as a whole. No process can raise the dead or erase a history of oppression, but a victim-centered restorative approach — which focuses on harms, needs, and obligations instead of crimes, laws, and punishments — costs no additional lives and very little in financial terms while building a more equitable future.

This approach may not sound glamorous or lend itself to TV news in the way that a violent protest and the ensuing police crackdown do, but it requires more courage, creativity, and perseverance than both. I can only hope that this large, diverse, and divided community known as the United States can come to the table.

War on Terror/War on ISIS: History Repeats Itself

As the West and its allies continue their war on ISIS and whatever new bogeyman (Khorasan?) they can use to terrorize their citizenry with to make their violence and oppression look acceptable by comparison, I quote the words of my late friend and mentor, John Judge, who aptly predicted the government’s response to the attacks on September 11, 2001, while, in my opinion, just as aptly proposed a solution that would not come to pass in his prescient essay, “A New War or a New World?

Our choice now seems to be between a “new war” and a new world. As always, the forces of reaction and wealth are telling us we have no choice but war, and no right or power to decide.

It is a time for reflection and calm, not for reaction from the pain and fear we understandably feel. Now, more than ever, the voices of reason, social justice and democratic values must take on the task of correctly defining the situation.

The protracted war envisioned by some in the White House, under the rubric of ending terrorism and “eradicating evil” will destabilize not only the oil-rich Arabic world, but potentially the various states of the former Soviet Union. These counties are similarly rich with the sort of resources and well-educated labor that the globalization agenda demands. It will also change economic relations here in the United States, throwing us back into the permanent war economy of the Cold War years, and a severe economic slump.

This agenda always stresses military expenditures at the cost of industrial infrastructure useful to the civilian world, and cuts into the social services, education and medical research and care that could instead be the benefit of our vast reserves of wealth.

The Pentagon planners, who want always to operate in secret and dictate the terms to the rest of us, know who the real enemy is. It is not terrorists or religious fanatics. It is not foreign countries with their limited stockpiles of weapons, most of which the US sold or gave them. As Walt Kelly’s cartoon character Pogo once noted, “the enemy . . . is us”.

There are many models for successful community and conflict resolution, for grievance, mediation and restitution, for economies of scale, for alternate means of exchange, for cooperative ventures and community credit, for democratic referendum and direct participation, for decentralization of power and decision making, for open communication, for inclusion and education. We do not lack the tools or the models, only the hope and the will. Those, like all else, belong to the people themselves.

To access more of John Judge’s work, visit http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/JohnJudge/#essays

Why I didn’t go to the biggest climate march in history (but probably should have)

Even though I have largely broken away from my youthful days of protest and resistance, I regret not attending last month’s People’s Climate March, billed by its organizers as “the largest climate march in history” with more than 300,000 marchers.

Claiming that I was just too busy does not seem logical because what could be more important than saving the planet — or, more accurately — saving humanity. As John Trudell, the visionary Lakota activist/poet/musician once said, the earth will endure long after we are gone. It has been through major cataclysms for millions, if not billions, of years. The existence of fossil fuels, the main enemy of the climate movement, is a major example of this fact.

Human beings, on the other hand, may not last even if climate change were reversed. The presence of thousands of nuclear weapons makes the threat of mass extinction both real and immediate. I am not implying that the nuclear issue is more important, however, because in everyday terms it is a lot less important due to the fact that nuclear weapons do not harm anyone while sitting in their silos (putting aside for a minute the environmental damage caused by their production and storage). Climate change is wreaking havoc as we speak on small island nations, such as the Maldives, and there is no serious debate among scientists that it is producing hotter summers, stronger hurricanes, longer droughts, and species endangerment throughout the world.

So, I repeat: I should have taken the five-hour bus ride to New York. Rather than make more excuses, I’ll list three things that would have made it a more desirable way to spend my weekend.

1) If the organizers explicitly connected climate change to war

The environmental movement, in my view, needs to do a better job at connecting environmental issues to violence and war. I once heard that tanks only get about 1.5 miles per gallon of gasoline, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. When the war machine is not directly destroying plant, animal, and human life, it is extracting every resource it can find from the planet in pursuit of said destruction. Oil is one of the major resources but certainly not the only one.

2) If it wasn’t the same old, same old

Even though the march was followed by a more disobedient ‘Flood Wall Street’ action, I know I am not the only one who struggles to get inspired by large marches through New York or D.C. A mass march may be one of the most recognized symbols of democracy, but if it is not part of a sustained campaign of further action, it is just that — a symbol. How many of those enthusiastic marchers will be just as enthusiastic about voting for do-nothing Democrats in November? Pardon my cynicism.

3) If the organizers had a more radical agenda 

With respect to Al Gore’s contributions to science and technology, any march that he feels comfortable participating in is probably not asking for much. I think it is naive and even counterproductive for organizations like Avaaz and 350.org to support a revolution as sweeping as the end of fossil fuels extraction (and capitalism as we know it, by extension) and act as if elites and non-elites are on the same side just because climate ultimately affects all of us. To use an appropriate analogy: while a hotter climate makes all of us sweat, those with means can afford air conditioning. And while the elites can protect themselves more easily from the worst affects of climate change, they still have a lot more to lose than the masses in economic terms, and history shows that they are unlikely to lose anything without a fight.

For a deeper critique of the organizations behind the march and their agenda, I defer to Arun Gupta’s harsh exposé. I will conclude by saying that despite these criticisms, I hope that intellectuals who are serious about radical change keep their vitriol as constructive as possible and favor action over inaction while the targets of it refrain from the sort of defensiveness that leads to conservatism and isolation. While we fight amongst ourselves, humanity burns.

ISIS and the Endless War

I had a commentary in mind when I finally got around to reviewing President Obama’s speech announcing the escalation of the war against ISIS last week, but after a bit of research, I noticed that it has effectively already been written by Rami G. Khouri.

His main thesis is that the United States and its so-called ‘Coalition of the Willing’ have not learned a thing since the absurdly titled ‘War on Terror’ began in 2001. U.S. and British military might coupled with friendly Arab dictators is no more of a winning formula now than it was then. I must agree but also expound on this assertion.

The mistake the public makes is not only believing the U.S. government and its cronies when they say they can militarily defeat ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or any like-minded group, but also believing that they actually want to achieve this. It seems that a defeat of the Islamic extremist threat, while good for public relations, is actually not in the best interests of the United States or its allies. Therefore, I do not believe that this is their objective no matter how many times Obama insists otherwise with a disingenuous glare.

This may sound like a peculiar notion. I regret that I cannot offer proof. There is no writing on the wall, but there is a particular passage from a famous novel that applies here: 1984 by the great political thinker George Orwell.

“The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word “war,” therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist.”

On the face of it, part of this analysis rings false: the war against ISIS is an external affair after all. This irregular army is made up of mostly non-Westerners and is indeed a threat not only to the West but also to just about everyone else. Yet, when you consider Orwell’s concept of a continuous war as no war at all (since, by definition, wars end) and acknowledge the murky, self-reinforcing nature — not to mention the futility — of a global ‘war on terror,’ it becomes obvious that the true enemy of the superpower (in this case, the United States rather than Orwell’s fictional Oceania) is not the external threat it leads its citizenry to fear but the citizenry itself.

Everyone knows that resources are limited on a finite planet. How is it that a government, which allegedly represents its people and rationally spends their tax dollars, can squander more than $1 trillion on the global ‘War on Terror’ in just over a decade while millions of its people go without health care, jobs, affordable housing, and other basic needs? It can only do this if it views those people as ‘the other.’ In short, you and I are not on the same side as those who decide to continue the endless war on yet another front against [insert loathsome external foe here]. They are not fighting for our freedom, Iraq’s freedom, or Syria’s freedom. They are fighting for the status quo that makes them rich and isolates them from the very injustice they help create both here and abroad.

If you don’t believe me, call me when the war is over.

The End of Pain?

Like most Americans I am fascinated by the concept of happiness. Out of everything I have read on the subject, this brief article is perhaps the most profound. While I consider myself an artist of sorts and know that my best poetry has come out of deep sorrow, loneliness, or angst, I am not ready to embrace melancholia as a way of life just yet.

At the same time, I am not convinced by flowery appeals to happiness that imply that this elusive concept is no more than a mental drug we self-administer to blot out the cold and dark aspects of life.  If only. Yet, this is presented as if it is obvious and many people excitedly concur without much critical thinking — which I see as evidence of the weakness of our education system rather than evidence of a compelling theory. This is not to say that we have no control over our own happiness — I agree that we do indeed — but my skepticism rears its head when I picture a starving person meditating to suppress the hunger pangs instead of doing the logical thing and searching for food. While anger and sadness are all in the mind, hunger is not. This is where the argument becomes absurd: No individual who has ever experienced starvation could ever reduce happiness to mindfulness alone. The mind cannot even function without nourishment, after all.

Moreover, once we have our nourishment, shelter, and other basic needs met, it would be a mistake to strive toward happiness as if it were at the top of one’s bucket list. Happiness, in my view, is a reward. Like all rewards, if one is singularly focused on it, it loses its luster. Instead, the focus should be on the behavior or task that leads to the reward — intrinsic motivation. That way no one can fail to be happy but only fail to meet the conditions for happiness. My concern is that to view happiness as a strictly spiritual or extrinsic endeavor would make happiness both selfish and contrived. Whatever happened to the kind of happiness that comes unannounced after one has exhausted all other feelings?

Far from taking a cynical view on the subject, my humble belief is that happiness is ultimately stronger than the various emotions we associate with psychological pain. Unlike physical pain, which everyone experiences without exception, psychological pain strikes some much harder than others. Why does it harm some much worse than others? Why does it exist at all? Some thinkers, such as Krishnamurti, question whether it is inevitable. Could it be merely the side effect of an over-active mammalian brain’s inability to differentiate a real threat from a perceived one? Could it stem from the need to conceive permanency where there is none as a means of control? To attach to objects, people, and animals as if they were extensions of oneself?

I am not qualified to answer these questions, but I find them a lot more interesting than the dull, endless journey into what makes a person happy.

 

Elliot Rodger’s War

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As a young straight man who is decidedly not ‘alpha’ in personality, my first reaction to the massacre in Isla Vista, California, last month was to wonder how widespread this attitude is among men a lot saner than Elliot Rodger. When I witnessed a morbid, shocking, and ultimately futile attempt to defend his attitude — if not his actions — by another man, the wonder turned to fear. I agree with feminist commentators like Rebecca Solnit who have placed these horrible crimes in the broader social context that tolerates sexism and violence against women. The fact that a man can consider sexual rejection an “injustice or a “crime” (to quote Mr. Rodger) presupposes a right to sex, and although I have observed this attitude in some men and have read that others consider it a part of “nerd culture,” I have never heard a woman express such views. This alone speaks volumes.

I will only add to the discourse that Mr. Rodger’s attitude has even wider implications. It is not only the toxic byproduct of misogyny in a country that emphasizes social equality — at least in the theoretical sense — but also the consequence of a culture of violence and fractured social relations. Regardless of whatever mental health afflictions Mr. Rodger suffered from, he was clearly responding to a perceived injustice, which sociologist James Gilligan argues is the true motive for violent acts. The question should be how to remove this false sense of injustice and stave off another grotesquely non-comedic ‘revenge of the nerds‘ — assuming Mr. Rodger identified with those who claimed to understand him.

Part of the problem is what self-described nerd Arthur Chu so eloquently lays out: There is a deeply rooted trend in our society, promoted by pop culture, for socially awkward straight guys to stubbornly pursue popular, attractive women considered ‘out of their league’ often against their will.  Because these socially awkward guys are often presented as nerdy, dorky, geeky, and otherwise harmless, it is easy to miss the unsettling dynamic that ensues when the guy does not succeed in making his fantasy a reality. Rather than becoming a real friend to the woman, which she insists on — if she is nice — the guy more or less pretends to be her friend and goes out of his way to meet her every need — asking little in return initially — with the hope that some day she will fall for him as she should because after all he is the nice guy who is worthy of her (and the guy she is with or attracted to is, of course, a soulless, brainless asshole beyond redemption). Sound familiar?

Setting aside the seemingly obvious fact that sexual attraction is not something that can be earned, this dynamic is far more than an entertaining drama for those who cannot empathize with the actors and a grim reminder for those who can: it represents a breakdown in healthy human relations that consist of mutual trust, respect, and appreciation. Men not only devalue women when they spend their lives in pursuit of a quest or conquest instead of a person; they also devalue themselves by measuring happiness and success by the quantity and quality of their ultimately shallow and typically fruitless sexual pursuits. The real revenge of the nerds would be for them to approve of themselves before seeking the approval of the attractive, popular woman whose opinion has no bearing on their value as human beings and to seek a partner who loves them for who they are and not the cartoon hero (or villain) they foolishly emulate. I wish Mr. Rodger had learned this lesson.

 

Lessons from the Nonprofit Sector

I thought this was a particularly cogent article posted on Idealist.org, which is a site that is not easy for me to compliment given that out of seemingly hundreds of applications, I can recall landing only a handful of jobs I originally saw posted there (and only one was full time).

Nonetheless, I have worked enough in the nonprofit sector to consider myself someone with an opinion worth hearing. Here are a few takeaways from six years of service to the cause:

  1. Do not attempt a career in the nonprofit sector if you are not passionate about the work: The pay and benefits are typically insufficient to serve as adequate incentives to compensate for what will likely be long hours and numerous tasks and responsibilities.
  2. Do not expect stability or security. Even outside the nonprofit sector, today’s economy isn’t like the 1950s when someone without a college degree could work at the same firm for 30 years and retire with a pension. A willingness to suffer through salary cuts, staff changes, setbacks, stretches of unemployment, and chronic uncertainty is essential for survival.
  3. Do develop a wide variety of skills and competencies. It is common to be understaffed in the nonprofit sector; therefore, managers seek to hire jacks-of-all-trades to compensate. Don’t think that just because your job description is limited to publicity and marketing that you won’t be asked to do tech support, for example.
  4. Do be creative, innovative, and bold. While it’s true that many nonprofits, particularly the larger ones, resemble corporations, there are many that reject the 9-to-5, insipid, Office Space-like paradigm that so many of us despise. The nonprofit sector is reliably flexible compared to other sectors.

 

Is Stress Only Bad?

I have been listening to Andrew Bernstein’s The Myth of Stress while driving lately. It’s a four-year-old book that makes the case that stress is an unintended consequence of humanity’s unique penchant for abstract thinking. According to Bernstein, external factors do not cause stress — our thoughts about those external factors do. Therefore, the title is a misnomer: stress is real (or, at least, the manifestation of it), but the cause is in our heads.

I started listening to this book, conveniently enough, while stuck in an hour’s worth of traffic. Bernstein actually uses traffic as his first example of a common so-called source of stress and walks the reader through an activity designed to bring the mind of the person under stress back toward reality and away from statements like “there should not be this much traffic.” This is not done through meditation or passive acceptance, which is what I suspected, but through a written brainstorm on the likely causes of the traffic — overpopulation, not enough highways, poor urban planning, etc. — with the end result being a formulation such as “in reality there should be this much traffic at this time because ___”

It sounds robotic, and he explains and defends the structure ad nauseum in anticipation of the reader’s reluctance to use it. He insists that it is not about submitting to unfortunate circumstances but coping with them by minimizing the “counter-factual thoughts” about those circumstances that produce stress. He adds that negative thinking is not necessary for change.

This last part is where I start to take exception. I have read plenty about “counter-factual” or ’emotional’ thinking in the past, and there is nothing novel in questioning the consequences of submitting to the ‘ego’ — ask any Buddhist or the numerous Westerners who have adopted Eastern philosophy, repackaged it, and brought it to bookshelves in Europe and the United States (Eckhart Tolle is who comes to mind in particular, but there are also the Hare Krishnas and others). Although Bernstein should cite the sources of his inspiration and not pretend that his “Activinsight” methodology is based solely on a cursory understanding of neuroscience and his own powers of observation, a bigger concern is the way in which his own counter-factual statement upholds the status quo.

While it is self-evident that some change can occur without will or intention, Bernstein’s assertion that all negative thinking or stress is irrelevant to effecting change is a dubious one. I cannot contemplate a stress-free revolutionary. Those who wake up happy and calm every morning do not go on to overthrow a government or fight the power in any real way. Their own writing reflects this. Gandhi may seem like an exception to this, but his autobiography reveals a man who struggled to accept everything from the sanitation practices of late nineteenth century India to marital sexual relations. As further evidence that negativity is not always counterproductive, there are studies showing that too much happiness produces negative consequences and, ultimately, unhappiness because people who reach a certain level of happiness do not make enough effort to change anything in their own lives. In other words, Mr. X could use Bernstein’s methodology to take away the stress of living in an abusive household, but perhaps if he stressed over it instead, he would reach a breaking point, move out of that abusive household, and be much happier as a result — whether he continued to allow stress to win him over or not.

This is not to argue that Bernstein should be discounted entirely. His approach actually helped me deal with traffic better in the moment and realize the futility of pounding the dashboard. Nonetheless, as he points out himself, stress is the brain’s response to danger going back to our prehistoric past and was/is necessary to our survival in certain contexts. It may not be necessary to our survival to pound the dashboard or curse at other drivers while caught in a traffic jam, but it will ultimately be necessary to our survival, given our dwindling resources, to fight for a transportation system that is better for the environment, less individualistic, safer, and more efficient. In this sense, some stress is good.