More Things in Heaven and Earth

Born a Stormtrooper

You know what I liked about the character Finn from the new Star Wars* movie? Finn was born into this club; this culture that he didn’t really feel he belonged to. So he got out. He switched sides. Joined the good guys. As a white, middle-class, U.S. American male, I find it very easy to commiserate with that character. Especially now.

Seriously. Can I join the other team? I want out. I don’t resent my upbringing or my birth. I’m proud of my parents, and my family, and my Ukrainian-Norwegian heritage (I think), I guess. Whatever. I am certainly thankful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded. I just feel like playing for the other team. I don’t think all middle-class white men are sexist bigots. I think there are a very small percentage who are “and some, I assume, are good people.” I imagine that not every stormtrooper was a bad guy either. But one day you wake up and realize that Darth Vader or Donald Trump just got elected to rule the galaxy, and you think “fuck, how’d I end-up on this side of the force?” I want to renounce the strange feudal power that my white/male/middle-class-ness is heir to. Even before this election, but especially after, I want to renounce the title of “white male.” Of course, I can not.

This is a stupid thing to complain about. Things are bad for women. They’re bad for African Americans. They’re bad for LGBT people, Latinos, Native Americans, Muslims, refugees, etc. etc., ad infinitum. What the hell do I have to complain about?! You know who’s the least likely to suffer under a Donald Trump presidency? Probably me. But I hate that. Why should I get a pass? I hate these ass holes, but they’ll never persecute me. I look and live just like them. With a $100 suit and a shave I could run for office and be taken seriously — no platform required. Because I have blue eyes and a penis I’m shown, time-and-again, that I can steal and belittle with impunity. Apparently, as a former competitive swimmer, I can commit sexual assault and get away with it (lest any punishment should dim my bright future). Who knows, maybe I could even shoot someone on Fifth avenue and get away with it. And the whole thing makes me feel disgusting. Off with the white armor. Time to find some jedis and try to keep up.

It’s hard to renounce privilege. Who doesn’t like a leg up? I’m extremely thankful to have had easy access to a good education and a zillion resources, many of which are completely invisible to me. But when I hear a podcast about an extremely bright black woman in a suburb of St. Louis; a person that by all rights should have had access to every tool and teacher and comfort that I did, but was denied those resources because of where she was born and what color, I am profoundly disgusted with my “privilege.” “Congratulations on your recent degree from Death Star University, this is really going to open doors for you!”

I like to think I’ve always spoken out against things that I see as wrong. But how easy is that? I repost all the scathing articles about institutionalized racism and police shootings of black men and overt sexism and xenophobia. (What great sacrifice!) My girlfriend and I sat in the driveway and cried while we listened to President Obama’s eulogy in Dallas. I have even been known to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertions about the shape of the moral universe and which way it arcs. But considering the extraordinary advantages bestowed upon me from birth, I haven’t done much. It’s all well and good to be that one stormtrooper who can say “hey man, I voted for Bernie ‘Obi-won’ Sanders!” But until you steal that TIE fighter and get the hell off the Death Star, what have you really done?

Sure, I work hard. I’ve worked really hard and I’m proud of my accomplishments. But when you start every race three strides ahead of everyone else on the track, how proud can you be when you win? Remember the scene in Star Wars where the stormtroopers really beat the hell out of  the teddybear army on the teddybear planet? Did you think it was because the stormtroopers worked harder; had better resumes? Or do you think it was because the stormtroopers had laser guns and the teddybears had spears? This is really the crux here: You don’t get to chose whether you’re born with privilege or not, but we should all have the grace and humility to acknowledge it if we were. Fellow white dudes, this is a fact! Accept it. And if you fell out of the womb near the top of the pyramid, be a decent human being and lend a hand to the people who’re climbing up from the bottom. At least get out of the way.

What are you supposed to do with #WhitePrivilege? #MalePrivilege? Resent it? Use it to make a shit-ton of money and give it all to the poor? I recently read an article that I think shows a really good way to be an ally. I think that that’s probably a good start. But to be honest, I don’t know. I don’t want to get in the way. I don’t want to patronize or pretend to be able to truly empathize, and I definitely don’t want to suggest that any disenfranchised group needs my help. But I want to help. I believe in equality and I want to fight for it alongside the people that have fought and struggled harder than I ever have and maybe ever will. You should too. First, acknowledge privilege if you were lucky enough to inherit it. Second, try to put it to good use (and let me know if you figure out how). Obviously voting and civic engagement should be high on the list, but I think sometimes just a phone call could help — let people know that you believe what they believe and that you are there for them.

p.s., I’ve seen a lot of posts since Trump was elected about how to be positive and productive going forward. Here are a couple links to causes that seem worth getting involved with or just simple ways to be a positive and productive force for change and equality. I’ll update the list with other good things I can find and with suggestions from people who know what they’re talking about.

How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear into Action from Slate

How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You from @editoremilye via attn:

The White Man in that Photo from Films for Action

What To Do If You Are Witnessing (Islamophobic) Harassment from Maeril | Art Blog

Writers, Start Writing from the Paris Review

Five Ways to Support Water Protectors in Standing Rock, ND from Bioneers

Campaign Zero

The American Civil Liberties Union

The International Rescue Committee

The White Helmets

* Yes, I’m going to reference Star Wars a lot in this article. My analogy is sophomoric, but I think it works. Stick with me.


When I Die

When I die

leave my body in Moose Basin Divide

among the lupine, larkspur, and columbine.

Render stardust of bone

big mamma black bear

and scatter my atoms wherever you’re wont to roam.



Why Relisting Wolves in Wyoming was a Mistake

On September 23rd, a federal judge ruled that the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to accept Wyoming’s 2012 wolf management plan was “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result, wolves are once again federally protected in Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act. This ruling is merely the most recent in what seems to be a never-ending litigious cycle, as wolves have been de-listed and then again re-listed in Wyoming three times since they were brought back, and all since the population reached its recovery goals in 2002.

The reason for this most recent, court-mandated, relisting of wolves amounts to something like a syntactical error. The ruling (as far as I can tell) is correct to the letter of the law, but comes across as myopic with regard to the wonderfully complex socio-ecological system to which wolves now belong. But, I don’t want to discuss the legality of the decision.

There are other upsetting outcomes of this ruling. For instance, if you follow the news (or your Facebook news feed), you might have gotten the impression that this ruling was the omniscient hand of almighty justice wiping Wyoming’s so-called “predator zone” from the face of the earth. This, of course, had nothing to do with the court’s decision. And again, I don’t want to talk about the individuals who erroneously heralded this as a victory over anachronistic management practices. Anyone who read the court ruling knows that had nothing to do with it.

What was ruinously overlooked, was the effect that this decision is almost certain to have on already dichotomized attitudes towards wolves, wolf conservation, and wolf management. Wolves are a divisive and polarizing topic in the West. However, in granting Wyoming the right to manage its wolves, a small step was taken towards the democratization of wolf management. It offered the people who live with wolves a say in how they should be managed; a chance to ease some tension on the subject. This lawsuit stripped that modicum of control from the people of Wyoming.

The reintroduction of wolves to the Western United States was a tremendous success for conservation. The USFWS by the guidance of the Endangered Species Act achieved the far-too-rare triumph of righting the wrongs of a previous generation. Wolves recovered! We should all be proud of that. But as it turns out, wolves are very good recoverers. And now we must decide where we think they should and shouldn’t be. Passing the torch of wolf management from the USFWS to the state of Wyoming was symbolic of graduating wolf management from a biological issue to a socio-ecological issue.

It was nice while it lasted, I guess.

In 2012, when wolves were delisted for the third time in Wyoming, I was working in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park as a field biologist, tracking wolves to better understand their eating habits. Then (and now) Wyoming’s wolf management plan struck me as cowboyish, and perhaps even a bit draconian. But I was relieved all the same. Sure, wolves would be treated as “predators” (read: “unregulated nuisance species”) in more than 80% of the state, but there’s a lot more cattle than wilderness in that part of Wyoming. To the extent that livestock depredating wolves damn themselves and their wild brethren, I figured it was probably best to keep them out of areas where they could do at least as much harm as good. Wyoming’s plan may have been heavy-handed, but it seemed justified, especially if it appeased some of the more vocal opponents of wolves in Wyoming.

In 2013, Wyoming began managing its wolves under the watchful eye of the entire nation. They started the year with many more wolves than they were asked to manage for by the USFWS, and more than Wyoming wanted. As such, Wyoming initiated a plan to marginally reduce the wolf population by 5%. Instead, despite an aggressive and controversial approach to wolf management, the wolf population in Wyoming actually grew by 5% in 2013.

One would think that this would be welcome news to those that were still calling for continued federal protection of wolves. At the very least, it showed that Wyoming’s management plan wasn’t going to eradicate (or even put a dent in) the wolf population there any time soon. Nevertheless, Wyoming was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club on the grounds that its management plan was inadequate. We know how that turned out.

What’s most dangerous about relisting wolves in Wyoming is what it forecasts. Management of wolves and many other iconic species in the United States is tracing the path of a pendulum, whereby the inertia of an extreme conservation philosophy carries policy far past its natural center until the gravity of an extreme management philosophy inevitably draws it back. Thus the pendulum swings between two extreme philosophies with no force of reason to halt it at its natural center.

The wolf pendulum in Wyoming was approaching its center three weeks ago. On September 23rd, 2014 it went rocketing by so fast that most of us didn’t even notice it pass.

Before the court’s ruling, Wyoming had a management plan. It was not a perfect plan. Many people were angered by the callous way that Wyoming chose to manage wolves in most of the state, and rightly so. But it was a plan. It was a plan that could be amended. It was a plan that served as a framework by which pro- and anti-wolf individuals could debate over how Wyoming should manage its wolves. Perhaps most importantly, it was a plan that could have marked the start of a tumultuous road toward a fair and unilaterally supported approach to wolf management and conservation in Wyoming. Instead we’re back on the pendulum.

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