Friday, December 10, 2010

And the 2010 Nonconformist of the Year Goes To...

Today is Human Rights Day, which is the perfect day to make my announcement on the selection for my annual "award", Nonconformist of the Year. I was inspired to do this in 1992 after not liking Time Magazine's choice for Person of the Year in 1991 (Ted Turner). What my selection means is that the person I select gets a special laminated ornament I made to hang on my NonconformiTree, though I won't be hanging those ornaments on my tree this year, since I have new roommates moving in and they might find that to be an "odd tradition". Oh well. The selection goes on.

All year, I had wondered who might "deserve" such a lofty title. At times, I thought perhaps outgoing Senator Evan Bayh might get the nod this year, because he is now outspoken about the broken nature of our political system. Then, during the summer, Paul the Psychic Cephalopod intrigued me enough with the possibility of naming my first non-human nonconformist. But, I read online speculation that his accurate ability to "predict" who would win World Cup matches might have more to do with the colour yellow than any kind of psychic ability. Paul chose the flag that had the most yellow in it. Every time! I don't know if Octopus can see colour, but its the kind of coincidence that deserved more study. However, Paul died before anyone could get to the bottom of it. He was in retirement, anyway, after the World Cup.

On December 16th, a local traveler and writer is going to sign his book The Art of Nonconformity at Powell's City of Books. I thought of naming him for this year's honour, but other choices were more worthy. I plan to go to the booksigning, though, and to buy a copy of his book because I like what he advocates: living life by YOUR rules, and not conform to someone else's rules. Anyhow, without further delay, here are some other possibilities for the "lofty honour"...

Chelsea Clinton was an early on favourite to be named. I don't have many female honorees (just Princess Diana 1995, Cindy Sheehan 2005, and Alicia Silverstone 2009), so that's one factor in her favour. Her father was my choice for 1992, and I'd love to honour her mother with the distinction, but she hasn't done anything that I consider to be "outside of the box." Chelsea, on the other hand, has shown her commitment to her inner self and married a guy she had a long friendship with (dating back to when they were teenagers in the early 1990s after her dad was elected president). I do find it rare and refreshing when a lady marries a guy who started out as a platonic friend. Generally, it seems more common that once a lady puts a guy into the "just friends" category, he is stuck there forever. Doesn't matter if the lady gets married and divorced, married and divorced, she expects her "guy pal" to be her "best friend" through it all. What guy wants that? Marriage, above all, should be based in a deep friendship. Sure, there might not be the kind of "butterflies in the stomach" that come with being with someone you're physically attracted to, but what happens when the physical attraction fades and you realize that you have nothing deeper in common than just sexual chemistry?

So, good for Chelsea Clinton for marrying her best friend, whom she has known for half of her life.

Another candidate for the honour is actor George Clooney, who continues to do humanitarian work in Africa (primarily Darfur and Congo). What possesses a super successful man with a great career and critical acclaim to run off to the poverty and war ravaged parts of Africa to get sweaty, subjected to malaria and discomfort? He is someone who embodies the concept of "noblisse oblige" (that one's material abundance obligates them to help the less fortunate).

A recent Dateline NBC featured a documentary on Clooney's longtime work in Africa. Sure, the cynics might think he's only doing it to impress the folks at him, or that he's hoping to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In his defense, he is using his fame to bring the spotlight to parts of the world that our shallow media often ignores. I know that Bill O'Reilly hates Clooney and one lady I worked with in my last job in Atlanta hated Clooney and thought him a phony (she also happened to be a Bill O'Reilly fan, so her opinion was suspect), yet I don't see any rightwing celebrities running off to the developing world to do something. Though, the news has reported yesterday that Sarah Palin is going to Haiti with Reverent Franklin Graham, which is shocking considering her views about minority races (her dad had said that she only attended a semester at the University of Hawaii because she hated that the school had so many Polynesian and Asian students, so she transferred to the University of Idaho, which is probably the whitest place you can get).

Also this year, Clooney organized a celebrity telethon for Haiti's earthquake relief. At Awards shows earlier this year, he seemed uncomfortable with all the celebrations and pats on the back for entertainment achievements while a real-life tragedy was in Haiti that needed urgent attention and assistance. I don't think he's faking his concern for the developing world. One doesn't keep going back to those kinds of places if they were "faking it for the folks back home."

The frontrunner for this year's Nonconformist of the Year Award was newly elected Senator from Delaware Chris Coons. The reason why he was in the running is because when he announced his campaign in January for Joe Biden's vacated Senate seat, no one gave him a real chance of winning. That's because Delaware has only one member of the House of Representatives due to its low population. That congressman, Mike Castle, is so well known in the state and well-liked that his promotion to the U.S. Senate seemed inevitable.

And it was, until the Teabaggers got wind of it and supported an inexperienced, ideological rightwing personality named Christine O'Donnell, who was deemed this year's Sarah Palin for all her gaffes, ignorance, and lack of experience. The Teabaggers were a gift to Chris Coons. Fate could not have possibly shown greater favour on a candidate than Coons had. The story of his election shows that if you follow your desires, even when the odds seems stacked against you and people say that you're only the sacrificial lamb, you never really know how things will turn out until that day arrives.

Another thing that I like about Chris Coons is that as a college student in the mid-1980s, he was a self-proclaimed Reaganite. When he studied abroad in Kenya, he was so struck by how different politics was outside of the United States that it caused him to look deeper at his own views and examine what he really believes, in relation to what he experienced overseas. He wrote an essay that Teabaggers and the rightwing media tried to use against him. Particularly the line in the essay where he said that to his conservative friends in college, they were stunned by what they called "the bearded Marxist" who returned from Kenya. The rightwing tried to claim that he had called himself that, but they only revealled their own illiteracy. I read the essay and was so struck by this thoughtful person that I became a fan. It is nice to hear a Democrat standing up for his past and telling those who think the wrong things about him to go and read the actual essay. If he was like John Kerry, he would hem and haw and try to flip flop and deny his own past. Not Coons. He is a man of principle and the citizens of Delaware are lucky to call him Senator.

Ultimately, though, there was only one REAL and logical choice for 2010's Nonconformist of the Year. That person is...

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. There is no escaping his impact on the world stage this year. Though he is wanted in Sweden for supposedly raping two women, the charge seems convenient to smear his reputation and discredit him. Based on what I've read, the women claiming rape can't even get their stories straight (claiming that he didn't use a condom and that he did but that it broke). Politicians in the United States have resorted to calling him a terrorist (Senator Joseph Lieberman, one of the few neoconservatives still left in the Democratic party and just one more reminder why he was such an awful choice for Gore's running mate in 2000) or a spy who needs to be charged with treason. Assange is a citizen of Australia, though he seems to be a globetrotter whose location was mysterious (Sweden? Switzerland?) until he turned up in the United Kingdom to turn himself into the authorities.

I debated whether or not to include Assange on my list of Nonconformists of the Year (see left side panel of this blog for the list of every selection since 1992). The rape charge, if true, is troubling. Plus, what do we know about him? My first impression when I heard the news about him and WikiLeaks is that he is kind of like a real-life "V" from the film V for Vendetta. Assange is playing a dangerous game, by exposing confidential and secret cables of governments around the world. He could either be a truly enlightened spiritual being committed to the values of our age of greater disclosure, or he could be a clever red herring played by the people in power to give a convenient reason to shut down the Internet or leverage more control over it. Whoever Julian Assange is or whatever his true motivations are, he completely fits the classification of a true nonconformist (one who lives true to his inner compass, regardless of how others might perceive of him). Thus, for that reason as well as for the impact he has made on the world this year, there is no other logical choice but Assange for the honours of being the 2010 Nonconformist of the Year.

At the World Affairs Oregon -- Young Professionals discussion group that I attend regularly, we had discussed Assange and WikiLeaks this past Wednesday. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that he was doing a good thing in our world by disclosing information so that we can be more honest in dealing with others. I had scored the largest laugh (not meaning to, but I can't help it if people find my sense of humour hilarious) when I mentioned that I did not find any of the WikiLeaks revelations thus far to be truly shocking. When asked what leak would shock me, I said: "I think it would take something like Dick Cheney being the true mastermind behind 9/11 to shock me." Everyone erupted into laughter at that comment!

Based on New Age spiritual books I've read, since the late 1990s our planet has been moving into "The Age of Aquarius", which is supposed to be the most spiritually enlightened period of our planet's history. If you believe that the whole point of human existence is to continually evolve our planet towards spiritual enlightenment, then the development of an organization devoted to disclosure of government / corporate / religious secrets is a natural part of this evolution. In fact, the word "apocalypse" is originally about "truth coming to light." Things that were once hidden gets revealed. To those who have things to hide, this could be seen as the end of their world (of deceit), but to those who value truth and honesty, this will be an exciting era in which to live. The old ways of doing business are falling apart (as we've seen in the past decade) while a new culture is emerging. Supposedly, those who are unable to live in this new era of human enlightenment will die off as their old energy vibration will not be in tune with the new energy dynamic that is coming into greater frequency.

Assange might be a menace to governments, corporations, and religious institutions with ugly histories they are trying to keep hidden, but he seems to be part of the group of souls that will force our world to change for the better. Can you imagine what our world might look like if lies were automatically transparent and people were forced to be honest or face exposure as a liar? May the honest among us get the best paying jobs and positions of leadership while those who deceive and stab others in the back get the crappy jobs! The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Hallelujah!!

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