From the Far Margins 


As a child, I fixated on learning survival skills. My dad taught me to cast a fly rod and pick mushrooms and berries. His hunting and fishing skills had fed five cold and sometimes desperate men in the Arctic in the late 1950s after their canoes capsized in a rapid. One man was lost to hypothermia.

My dad killed caribou after caribou, huge sea migrating trout and birds. But it was my mother who taught me to shoot a gun. She'd take me into the desert outside Challis and toss clay pigeons or stack cans. She taught me to fight with a knife, "Blade up so you can cut them if they try to grab you." Young and wild, she lived nights and worked days as a secretary in New York City.

Idaho is a long way from New York, Washington D.C., Boston, even Chicago—places where people cannot imagine the passage of laws as backward as ours. So, yes, I like a challenge.

Politics interested me from day one. I was 10 when my parents were knocking on doors for Hunter S. Thompson's Freak Power campaign for Pitkin County sheriff in Colorado in the early 1970s. I've seen political loss turn to disillusionment. I've seen marriages and close communities fall apart. I've seen people retreat into the wild, the arts or drink, or all of them, just to face the trajectory humanity seems intent on.

We all find things that give us hope for our kids, our species or for ourselves. We do this with varying degrees of success or we do not, and instead crumble at the futility of trying to push our nation from a path where we further consolidate our masses of wealth into ever fewer hands, leaving the rest of us desperate to scrape by.

I had a bit of an existential crisis in high school. I contemplated the worth of life without the ability to make other lives happier. I had found solutions in the high-school realization that I am not particularly motivated by my own life, but instead highly motivated by the plight of others.

There are plenty of people out there across the political and religious spectrum who seem to set aside the idea of financial success in order to give themselves to causes and living a life within a set of values.

I've lived a good life. I've seen sides of the world that are remote and spectacular in their pristine beauty, or vivid and lovely with the kindness of humanity.

Maybe I get some peace knowing I've tried to make the world a better place, even just one student at a time by teaching, or with my voice, my relationships and my vote serving in elected office.

Not all I've done has been popular.

I've been a very intentional obstacle to those who would use power to inflict harm. I've tried to bring the weight of public opinion down on those who for too long have refused to do anything but stand by while others purposefully inflict harm.

Those things let me sleep at night and they wake me—and millions like me—up in the morning to carry on the Sisyphean task of finding ways to make the human condition slightly better.

Some days that is harder, like when a Confederate flag flies in the state I love and people I love feel fear. Like when I listen to some of the world's most powerful and wealthy use their airtime to blame problems they created on immigrants and Muslims or racial and ethnic groups other than their own. It gets harder when I see our nation's sense of justice and democracy fail under the weight of money and all that it buys.

Human populations are like other social animals—we grow less kind and generous when we believe resources are scarce. This is particularly true when we're told who to blame for scarcity; for loss; for our fears.

It's not difficult to create mobs of monsters. Anger makes ordinary people irrational.

We can be manipulated when we're afraid and neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz is afraid to do it. Adolf Hitler did it and created a mob that expected him to follow through on his rhetoric until people began to die—and they did in gas chambers, and of starvation, and by gunshot wounds because the people demanded it, having been told those who died were the source of all their ills, woe and scarcity.

It makes sense lately that I dream mostly of armageddon—violence, loss of life, great disaster and strife.

In the context of these dreams, my daily waking life seems reasonable, my goals attainable.

Still, we walk in a shadow and, regardless of what we believe about any politician's intent to follow through on his words, some of those men have created angry mobs with a set of expectations that should give us all a reason to get up in the morning and do our best to make the plight of humanity better, our fears and scarcity lesser, and our generosity greater.

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