Sunday, December 9, 2018

Storm Upon Storm, A Winter's Tale, Another Sunday Sermon

We all want it to stop. Relentless. That's the part we haven't felt before. That it doesn't let up. The turmoil is ordinary but the madness, the depth of the illness, an illness of character and basic decency, is unfamiliar. We're not used to being under siege, that being a privilege of American life.  Its very forms offend and invite us to wonder how we arrived at _this_ and what we can do about it.

There's a fair preponderance of opinion across Punditland that Trump is worried, scared, and at the end of his rope. That there will be some fair and just end game too. I'm skeptical of the latter not because the rule of law will fail but only because so few understand or ever consider the idea. That takes effort that is not demanded of the citizenry.

Of course, I know only as much as the rest who look from the outside and I'm not going to dismiss those working in that environment with keen professional eyes. But I don't think Trump is any more of his deeply problematic emotions than he has ever been, which is to say that I don't think he is worried or concerned or fearful like any normal person would be. Can we even think about normal anymore? What's that?

We all have reason to feel anxiety or fear or worry. In truth, we don't _need_ reasons to feel any such ways: it comes with our humanity. It's normal, if by that we mean these are experiences selecting us. Life's ordinary storms come as they do, no matter our preparations or care. What more that is asked from us also will also come from our humanity. But it will require more, more than mere indulgence of life's precarious terms of survival. To flourish is a ceaseless endeavor; the task to ask for more and that requires skills learned.

We're not born or naturally equipped to fathom what life presents to us as human beings. We were born with the ability to feel what ordinarily happens and a good bit of that is well beyond our control or comprehension. We have to ask more about what we can be. The deeper resources aren't provided, we have to invent them. Some never do or can't. Some chose to pass it off, project it on their God to do the work that they well-understand is beyond their ken.

Becoming more human remains unfinished no matter where we turn to find that more. There are complex reasons for that too, whether or not we care to inquire. Looking for ways to care for ourselves and others isn't a requirement, it's an opportunity we must help create and nurture whenever possible. We all work from within worlds that created us and not all seek to create.

Trump, as he always is, is wrapt inside layers of narcissism and self-approval that he's needed since boyhood. Unable to win father love, learn from mistakes, or cope with his limited cognitive circumstances, Trump has few skills and can only repeat the same strategies. It's bluster, "charm," threat, the same old story, same old act. He won't change any of that because he can't.

Truth to tell, he hasn't the emotional intelligence to grasp much at all---ask Rex Tillerson or Tony Schwartz, they know how little he comprehends whether that is intellectual or emotional. He doesn't want anymore and none of the work. We might reduce it to something pathetic, warranting compassion or sympathy, were it not so debased, craven, cruel, and threatening to our shared fate as citizens. Instead we have a citizenry held hostage.
The majority of us know we've yet seen only the outlines of criminality and depravity, that the depth is yet to come as Robert Mueller untangles this sordid tale. But a significant percentage sees a portion of themselves in this sick, wounded, tortured man. They cannot possibly be as wholly debased as Trump because they haven't had the privilege that fuels his spiraling mental illness.

But what appeals is the power, the ability and audacity not to care what anyone else thinks or feels or does. They want a certain kind of autonomy over their lives; they want to protect what leaves them vulnerable or makes them victim to a world they barely manage, much less control. Trump believes that they will believe anything he tells them and I think, for the most part, he's right about that. Why?

For that 89% of Republicans who just last week reported that they still support Trump, their needs match his even if their circumstances do not. They _need_ the feeling of being right, persecuted, besieged and triumphant because those are their resources, their means, the ways they cut the emotional deal.

For some others, the especially wealthy, matters are simpler: they use Trump because they want their wealth or power at any cost, they _want_ and the rest can just be damned so long as they can profit. But the majority, the Fox voter, the rural poor, the suburban once-middleclasser feesl a deeper desperation and despair, no matter how that configures into real world problems.

It's not the desperation that singles these folks out. It's the different strategies and shapings of experience. I'd wager most of us here too feel the rushing water of the deep blue sea just below the oak plank we use to keep from drowning in the everyday. We hold ourselves upright and know that what keeps us barely dry is a strange alchemy of kindness and terror. It storms too from above, so it's coming from all directions. Such is a life that promises nothing more but invites better.

But unlike the Trumpists, for whom the desperation has projected remedies and deals in assertions, we look to a different set of emotional tools, feelings that demand more ambivalence and nuance, like empathy and constructive forms of frustration that point as much towards as away. We're looking for questions as much as answers and the sort that might not answers. Some folks just don't want that or the consequences.

What's different for Trump and his followers is that any form of denial or affirmation suffices until the next one and the next one---but the truth that mines the unfinished while admitting vulnerability is cast aside.

Looking at yourself is no small matter. Some, it's important to remember, just can't. They never learned, they don't want to, they don't believe in the powers of reflection, self-inquiry, or constructive critique. These are not structured into a life of self-learning and won't be. It's easier to trade in more sanctimonious forms of assurance, the sorts that reside in more settled opinion or "values" to be asserted but not questioned.

When the world brings its inevitable turmoil or failure ensues and salvation does not, they find redemption in fantasies that come with religion or some other belonging-club, it could be guns or sports or 'family', it doesn't matter, something, anything that says "us and not them."

It's harder to take in a world that promises nothing more than the chance to love, accept those costs, and ask for what else is possible that can better a human life.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Different Kind of Hope

If you make it to the fifth paragraph here you might see my point without getting too upset with me. I have a take on commitment that may not suit you or resonate for _you_ but I'm willing to admit that all of this "hopefulness" does nothing for me. I find the "yes, we can" inspiration a distraction rather than a help. I prefer another way to commit.

"If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour."
---Henry Vth, Act 4, Scene 3d

How does telling yourself what you want to happen help make things happen? I see why people need this kind of narrative to do the work, to be motivated and inspired. You know, the whole power of positive thinking thing. It's real enough if it's real for you. I just checked the Google Gods and you win, there are hundreds of books and videos. But I'm telling you, there's an entirely different way of approaching life.

I think because I don't subscribe to this emotional strategy that I'm mistaken for defeatist or a cynic. But "positive thinking" and the hopefulness tact is not the only way one can be motivated to do that right things and to do hard work that may or may not succeed. It's particularly hard for Americans, well maybe for anyone, to see the point that we can work, want, and urge ourselves forward without the discourse of the emotional salve of hopefulness. We Americans are the can-do society, or we used to be. But while that may help you, for me it's less help or even part of the problem.

When Krishna admonishes Arjuna at the opening of the Gita and even then closes the discourse, he does not encourage the warrior to feel or to hope or to indulge in a "can do" attitude. He urges him to do his duty and, in fact, not to let his hope, pessimism, or _any other_ kind of emotional state to govern his actions or intentions. In effect, he tells him to be as Spock as possible: calm, cool, determined, focused, resolute, committed. He doesn't tell him he needs to feel like he can win to win. In fact, he tells him the chips will fall, he might fail, and there will be consequences to that.

The emotional salves, the emotional inspirations, pep talks, all the rest might help some but they are not necessarily the cause of effective action. Effective action means doing the work, like it or not, no matter how you feel or what you want, or what you wish. Just do it is the message. I am a creature of duty. How quaint. But when it's my job, I show up, I do it with all my heart, I care because I am supposed to be that person. Sure I _feel_. I love somethings, dislike others. I care about people, about life, about politics and culture. But how I feel on that given day or in that given situation can be irrelevant because I must do my duty, my Dharma. That is _enough_ for me. I want to do what's right more than anything else I want. It's _that_ feeling that I love best of all. Do you really think I love teaching every class or that my being hopeful or positive matters to the quality of my teaching? I certainly do not.

In other words, you can "put your heart into it", that is have śraddhā or "faith" without the least bit of wishful thinking, hope, or claim you can win in the face of the facts. When the Bard creates the voice of Henry Vth before the Battle of Agnicourt the King doesn't give the troops a can-do, we can win this talk. Instead he tells them how lucky they are to be there, to fight the fight, and how those who sleep in their comfortable beds are missing their chance to do what is good and right, missing the gifts of effort and friendship, that there is something good about doing what is right. That is the same sentiment that Krishna makes in the Gita. Winning and losing are not irrelevant---it's better to win. But what you need to be in the fight is the desire for the right, the rest is emotional salve.

So if hope is how _you_ do it, that's fine with me. But there are other ways to think, to feel, and to be committed to the work. I prefer the numbers, the study of history, I prefer a cool, sometimes dark realism. I'm sure I don't love any less. In truth, for me, I'm sure it reminds me why I love so much. I want to feel without fictions. I may work harder because the facts tell me we won't win. But I will do the work no matter whether we can win because it's what's right. I want to do the right, that's enough. Nothing about thinking we are not likely going to win makes me work less hard to win. YMMV. Really. It might vary. Do your needful. I will do mine. But this too,

"Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
...For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition..."

Carry on.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Further On Down the Road, A Few Notes Sung About How to Move Forward

First a love song for a friend.

"Further on down the road baby, you will accompany me...
I think back, your love was like a sun
Don't remember no dark days, I just remember the warm warm fun
Further on down the road baby, you will accompany me
If we fools in life... a happy fool I'd rather be.
Oh baby I'll be glad to learn from you
And darlin' I know you will be glad to learn from me
And if we get down and things get sad, we can cheer up each other
And grin 'cause things just ain't that bad
If we fools in life, than a happy fool I would rather be
Day by day, just one step, one step at a time
'Cause you have given me so much
Just to ease this stubborn little achin' heart of mine..."

It's been a rough few months. It's not likely been easy for you either. These are troubling times.

I've sat for days and days with my dear friend Dr. Kishan Pandya till his end this past Sunday. I would have chosen nothing else, nothing less. Kishan was a brilliant doctor, a wonderfully gifted artist, and a visionary of self. He retired from medicine to pursue Sanskrit studies, to make more music, to revel in the company of a beloved family and the company of a few good friends. We spent hundreds of hours together over this past decade, talked about love, language, politics, religion, and life. I don't know what I will do without him now. Something needs to ease this stubborn little achin' heart of mine.

I've been delinquent in finishing the Gita commentaries, only occasionally rising to meet more immediate responsibilities including University lectures and Seminars. Built into my RajanakaDNA, my training as a student of India, is a deeply Indian sense of duty, a concept that both invites us to character and challenges our very core. It's not only an Indian idea, expressed plainly in the opening of the Bhagavadgita, it's a shared human value, each culture creating its own version. Everyone does a cover version of this one.

After all, a duty is the experience of an incumbency mixed with urgency, it is the real sense of responsibility and that we must act upon those things, it is the honest expectation not only to one's self but to others. We can be devoted and assured but duty's shadow is just as real: we can also lapse into self-righteousness, be given to folly and blind to the ways we are reciting commands---self-imposed and otherwise---that are mere inventions. I've been keen to keep both light and shadow in mind. But one is never sure how to stay in that seam where both real value and the wound make for deeper engagement, a yoga of meaning when there can be no yoga of clarity. We must persist. What is life but to love its strange gifts when sorrow is never far?

I've been working some too, not enough, that has had it's distractions including staying up far too late to be productive. I'm blessed with friendship and conversation, inside and out. Somehow I found myself playing the Burns and Novick documentary on Vietnam over and over again, especially the early episodes that describe the vile impositions of colonialism and then the precipitous slope of dissimulation, the fully cognizant lies, and the failures of leaders which brought death and devastation to the Vietnamese and others, and to young Americans and their willing allies. I was only ten years old in 1967 when my brother was drafted, when the FBI came looking for him at our door, when it began to become crystal clear to my child's mind that we being lied to, that our country was failing again at its noble experiment. And indeed it has always been a noble experiment. Why must it fail again and again to so much insipid folly?

It would be a few more years for me before the follies of religion would become as clear, though that never deterred me from pursuing what I thought was religion's greatest gifts: art, music, poetry, myth, ritual, and honest philosophical inquiry. But let's be honest: not all of that inquiry is honest. Much of it is devoted to the same kinds of falsity, distraction, and consolation that led us into and kept us in that war.

Religion, as we all know, is a tool and a prop for whatever purpose we might want, far too often to manipulate our honest human needs and herd us towards our worst human instincts. But like politics, we would be mere beasts without it because however we fail to fathom our feelings or reach into reason, we are only as good as what we can create. God is on no one's side. I learned that too at this tender time.

On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, the Great One himself, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces. He said plainly, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” And this was considered unpatriotic, even unAmerican. On June 20, 1967, they convicted Ali of draft evasion, sentenced him to five years in prison, fined him $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. They meant to destroy him. But he would have none of it. We should take that lesson to heart, deeply to heart.

It was then in the summer of 1967 that the ironies and tragedies of the age crystallized yet another revolution of thinking, feeling, and action. We were presented with the fantasizing proposition that All You Need Is Love. (The song was released in July 1967 as non-album single.) In the midst of a politics of bitter division and well-justified social unrest came the imperative to _create_ something else.
The declaration that "...it's easy" is an irony we know John meant us to savor: why is it so hard to do what is so easy?

There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game
It's easy
Nothing you can make that can't be made
No one you can save that can't be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
It's easy

Let's not mistake the psychedelia for the deeper truths. We were asked to be carried away, to create an alternative. The world we'd inherited wasn't all evil but it had taken so many terrible turns we knew our elders and many of our leaders were lost. The maelstrom was real, just as it is today. We learned in our purple haze, that in our own "procul harum" we could enter into and experience things that are literally "far from these things." ("Procul Harum is a Latin misanthropy meaning "far from these things," but it might just have been the name of someone's cat. Absurdity is a great teacher, no?)

We took leave, we went elsewhere because the world, especially the world of our parents' truths, the just war world that defeated fascism, that world was obviously failing. What is truth and where is meaning? The facts were lies and somehow the withdrawal from reason was understood: it could provide new insight if only we listened more deeply to the heart.

We learned the truth from the goddess Vesta who reminds us: "She said there is no reason/ And the truth is plain to see..." There was acid changing The Beatles on the greatest single record album ever made---Donovan was the Sunshine Superman, and Traffic proposed that this was all a Hole in My Shoe. Our deep melancholy and pain for the war, for the violence of the white nationalist racists, and for the realization that "god and country" are both lies was palpable. All the while there is napalm in the jungle and our innocence burns. The words break through and the revery offers only a brief respite from the tragedy of a world at war with decency itself. When decency is lost then love is all that might remain if only, if only we make it easy. And easy is the hardest thing we ever do. Zen knows, and so does Rajanaka, that's what Appa taught me. I need to remind myself everyday.

I think these recent late night forays have brought home both hard facts and well-worn dreams. I am not worn out but I feel worn, and that's not all a bad thing. I am comfortable with this deep discomfort; the pain is a great teacher. My friend was dying and medicine, however heroic and honest in its efforts, would not save him or even give him a few more months or years. And after all, isn't "save" just another lie?

In the meantime America now condones the state murder of journalist who was divulging corruption and pleading for freedom of speech while, on the very same night, our president holds a rally in which he applauds violence against a journalist and the crowd cheers wildly. We are the mob he says. It's us, not they who protect the murderers or incite the mob before them.

The recursion of our collective failure at this moment in our history reminds me that 1967 was no anomaly. What we need more than ever---and what we are in fact creating---is a new activism and a new call to do something easy. What's easy? To care for refugees fleeing from violence and oppression, to listen to women coming forward to tell their truths and create meaningful change and pursue justice, to put in place an _alternative_ to the violent, racist, sexist rhetoric and rise to the occasion of human rights: justice, protest, and the exercise of democracy.

We must not, I think, allow our feelings to get too much the best of us. We can rather learn something from the prophetic voices of 1967---from MLK, RFK, Lennon&McCartney, Dylan, Janis, Velvet Underground, Aretha demanding we Take a Look, Sam Moore and David Porter singing about a Soul Man. All of these artists asked more from us and, at the same time, the simplest things we share in our common humanity. John Berryman published his Sonnets, Gwendolyn Brooks and Marianne Moore offered brilliance and real alternative vision, Lowell and Atwood and Ondaatje, all created artistry in the face of a world gone mad. They wrote about madness and the madness it would take to make the world a far better place.

I think a lot these days about Robert Kennedy too, about what might have been had he been president. He wrote in what can today appear with a bit too much anachronism.  But let us not fail to take his point,

"“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”


Write on. Rage Calmly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Crying Out For Myth and What Happens When We Deny Its Power

The facts may not yet be fully known but neither are they beyond our human abilities. State sponsored murder in plain sight is nothing new. While concealing the truth never makes it less true, what we need isn't only more and plainer facts. What we need is meaning that delves more deeply into the costs of virtue. We're going to need our mythologies, more than ever. Without a story to accompany the facts, we will never be better than these diminishing truths.

The hypocrisy that is the price virtue pays as tribute to vice is as much part of our political alchemy as are our noblest human aspirations. We seek the blessings of power but at what cost to virtue? How do we otherwise explain the American experiment built as it is on expressions of human freedom, equality, and dignity and as much on on the back of slavery, native pogrom, sexism, and every profit-driven exploitation?

We possess myths of American idealism and innocence and while they are patently false _in fact_, both in history and manifest behavior, what we must realize is how little we are without them. Until we take the mythology of the American experiment, the invented narratives of principle and virtue to heart, the best we will ever be are our sordid facts. Real or fake, the news is that America articulates in its mythic imagination compelling spiritual ideals: freedom, equality, dignity, and virtue's pursuits. We may only be merely human, with or without our myths, but until we embrace their power we're nothing but power's worst instincts and indications. We will be little more than beast if we forsake entirely the deeper meaning of myth's beauty.

The American presidency has embodied our hypocrisy and conflict from its invention. What we now witness is the dissolution of every last vestige of pretense. As we acknowledge the wiping clean of even the veneers of decency and the connection between aspiration and all of the rest of our fraud, demoralization, and delinquency, we come to a more lucid recognition. America without its mythology may become nothing more than a bully, an insolent and dangerous villain in a world that rewards debasement.

America admits to the world that when we stand for nothing but power, we embolden others to reveal their own distinctive perversions and moral desecrations of civility and convention. That we claim to do it with God on our side cannot offend more because such an appeal to righteous, affected piety merely reminds us that the Almighty is yet another human invention concocted to collar the mob and insure its compliance.

Who has ever failed to ennoble their unctuous displays of imposture without claiming some divine beguilement? Enter the religious right, the staging of piety is never virtue but when did that stop us? We wrap our authority and clothe our treacheries and conceits in some or another supernal resource meant to absolve failure or provide cover for mendacity. Religion is never far away from our worst and, even occasionally, our best instincts. How it plays its role is usually predictable.

There's an inherent, inextricable relationship between power and goodness---and how this relationship manifests in politics, culture, and personal conscience often reveals to us the depths of human beneficence and just as often debasement. Can one exercise the privileges of power and, at the same time, be good, stay good, want the good? And exactly is that good? Will we even pretend to agree? Will power always corrupt? Will goodness always demand more character and sacrifice than we can command?

At the heart of the conflict are interests, values, and choices that point as much to paradox as they do to aspiration and pragmatism.
We will not agree what is good or right.
We will not acknowledge the same goals or claim the same values. And when we do, we will usually know from the outset whether or not we actually agree or are prepared to compromise. What cost?

We can debate these matters as creatures born, as are all, the complex processes of natural selection. But human nature does not appear to require we be much more than primates engaged in what Hobbes called "the war of all against all." The invention of constraints, be they religious or secular, have done little to prevent us from our extremes.

When people have structural privilege and the bias of history, coupled to money, seats of power, and ambition, the incentives to act from principle or some self-determined moral yearning enter a maelstrom of competitions. We must admit every form of need, hope, want, and possibility. There are no guarantees and few binding covenants that cannot be brokered, compromised, or renegotiated. We are nothing if not pliant beings, adaptive for better and worse to do what we can, when we can.

Trump---yes, it took this many paragraphs to say his name---has laid it all bare. Everything and anyone that does not acquiesce and satisfy immediate need warrants invective, cruelty, or blithe indifference. No truth is too sacred that it cannot be contradicted or disavowed. Nothing should delay or diminish profit and nothing will stand in the way of harvesting every last remnant of power for any purpose. Character, accountability, and the discharge of justice are the province of losers: no apologies, no explanations, power knows no burdens of responsibility or liability.

This is Trumpism and "America first" is merely a further projection of such personal aggrandizement and multiplication. Are we really surprised that Republicans have condoned and endorsed this shameless, consummate avidity? Someone is bound to do it because power can always justify the means and disregard or rearrange its ethics and aspirations.

In today's world outrage is a news cycle away from irrelevance and the powerful know that simple distractions will entertain or re-induce an insensibility that keeps even the vigilant off their marks. We are all too busy surviving to attend to every indignity or sacrifice the pleasures that intervene as salves to relieve the malady of the everyday. Whether or not we are particularly privileged, Americans can largely decide to live in their own personal reclusions---and the powerful count on that to keep the streets quiet.

So when Trump says that, sure, the Russians are murderers or the Saudis did a "very bad thing," he reminds us that these are not proximate to the average American's life, that they happen in "other countries," and that what we want are jobs, profit, and just enough moral outrage to assuage our need for the pretext of conscience. But everyone knows, both here and abroad, that power left to its own devices rarely pursues virtue, acts upon the facts, or demands justice when its just too inconvenient. What we could be shouldn't stand in the way of what we can safely ignore.

At least not until our mythology intervenes. Then we stand a chance at betterment because we can make _real_ what we can dream.

We are left again asking not who we are but who we want to be. We're not merely individually culpable: few of us commit crimes of overt evil. We prefer more duplicity and deflection, a more insouciant infidelity to our ideals if we bother to have them. But having character is no human imperative. It takes work. It's a bother. But it's not difficult to learn just often tedious--- and almost always exhausting.

We also have to have enough privilege to care what to do with however much power we possess. Paying power back as virtue is a cost too few will make not because we are evil or merely fail but because we prefer more useful myths that don't demand we take them seriously. It's only when we decide that the "myth," the ideal, the invented story of virtue is better than profit will we become something more than Trump and his ilk. It is indeed the power of myth that is before us. The question is will we endeavor to allow it to change us for the better or merely pander to the facts of power without it.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Sacred Language" is Not God Talk

This morning's New York Times features an op-ed suggesting that we have a God problem, one that points to a "rhetorical problem" because Americans are somehow inhibited, less than fluent in God.

But, truth to tell, that train goes nowhere and the problems we face, especially in America, won't be solved somehow with "more God." A more adept humanism need not wholly forsake "god-talk" but unless we take on the follies of supernaturalism, we're boarding the wrong 21st century train. 

First, the link to the article. I'm sure I disagree with just about everything it has to say:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/13/opinion/sunday/talk-god-sprituality-christian.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage#commentsContainer

My initial reply is directly to the author:
Perhaps what you really need is a vocabulary suitable for the 21st century, one that employs more sophisticated metaphors rather than traffics in fantasy and anachronism, rooted in the literalism of Bronze Age goat herders? The proof that we don't need "God" to be moral or to have a conversation about what it means to be moral is just one secular person with sound ethics. That would also suffice to disqualify all of the evangelical Christians now supporting Trump.

The last thing we need is more "sacred language." Instead, how about more people educated in the rich complexities of humanistic metaphor and the facts of science who can deal more thoughtfully and compassionately with the real world. Life is hard enough without more obfuscating God-talk-nonsense and harder still with more of it, precisely because it's a means to bypass, false consolation, and creates more ethical atrophy. That's the more honest "rhetorical problem" before us.

The solution isn't a more active "vocabulary of faith" but a more open and honest wisdom rooted in plain speaking candor. We can keep the metaphors but let's keep your revival to yourself, thank you.

But here's a bit more:
In America the more self-designated religious people are in red states and identify their Republican/Trumpist politics with their God-politics. The outcome? Higherrates of poverty, crime, preventable illness, child abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Who pays for this? Blue-state tax dollars where people are less religious and so better able to address these problems.

So there'll be greater prosperity and joy if we forsake human accomplishment and reason to praise Jesus? Those telling us as much do a fine job reaching into our pockets, 'cause somehow that's the path to heaven?


Now here's the alternative.
We _need_ to know too much about the natural world these days to require the supernatural. And _that's_ the real problem we can solve. People don't know enough about reality---because that's hard to learn. They know plenty about God because that's the easy way to skip the truth.


For those who can't learn or need to get along with supernatural religious talk, we can feel compassion. Some are compelled for social reasons to claim these beliefs or use this rhetoric just to stay in their tribe. It's a sociological imperative. Some can't afford to be more honest but all can be better educated. The godless among us might not be able to be more honest about that without hurting the god-filled's tender feelings, but that too is a price of education. Those who need to resort to dissimulation might well have to, but that is a steep price to pay just to protect those who can't handle the facts. It's no small matter to draw lines between worlds of metaphor and religion-baked fantasies.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

America in the High Castle, A Meditation on Nihilism

Don't hold this against me. I'm perfectly happy to tell edifying stories about who we _could_ be. My life depends on that or at least some significant portion of my livelihood.  I have tried not to fool people with the usual unicorn nonsense but given the furtherance of Kali Yuga, you can call on me for most anything if you need it.  Let's start with some stone cold facts, okay?  We can move on to consolation fantasy soon enough.

Now, despite the fact that the universe has no intrinsic meaning, purpose, or reason to exist, is entirely bereft of supernal agency or design, and otherwise turns us out as the strange consequence of stochastic caprice, it sure does have a way of being ironic. Evidencing a level of contumacy unwitnessed in any living memory, the American republic this past week made itself a spectacle of refractory nihilism and mob rule. When the minority that rules us decides there is no longer the need even for the pretext of decency, we have Kavanaugh's America, sort of like Trump, only worse because it's not nearly as stupid. Without a hint of fourberie, they were straight faced while dissimulating, more like mugging for their low information base which are now declared to be "pumped up" for the midterms by this debacle. No doubt. So where's the irony?

Well, Amazon---that bastion of Who Me, Steal Your Life? Capitalism we all can't live without---released Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle. Sure, I'm a sucker for anything that filters and foments some Phillip K. Dick sci-fi but this is downright prescient for its coincidental weirdness. You see, this story begins in a world in which America lost WWII and we are ruled by the Japanese on the west coast and the Nazi Reich in the east. In between there is some wild west neutral zone that is more like rural Blade Runner meets the Pale Rider. The twist is that there is more than one time line, an alt-reality in which the principals have different lives because, well, America won the war over _there_, in _that_ reality. It strikes me as Trump Wins is all too much like the time line in which the Reich won and here we are living in America wishing it were Alt-America. Problem is, we know all too well how we got here even if getting out is _everyday_ a more precarious matter.

We got here because white America---a motley coalition of the rightwing rich, the suburban and exurban class that thinks "fiscal conservative" is somehow Republican tax cuts, and the all too familiar low information Fox-viewing religious, rural know-nothings---decided that a narcissistic, misogynist, soulless buffoon should reset the nation's temperature to stupid. They are angry at us liberals and elites because they know that we think their religion, selfishness, and hypocrisy is exactly what it is: nonsense, superstitious folly, anachronistic idiocy. They resent the truth they are committed to denying.

I am genuinely sad to say that what links them all together is that they share in Trump's most distinctive personality trait: anything that does not affirm their worldview is worth scorn and must be answered with cruelty. Trump likes that cruelty, in fact, he seems to need it just to make it through a day: someone has to pay for his inability to manage himself.

There's a meanness in America---I think it's always been there, founded as we are on pogrom of the native population and the importation of an enslaved labor force---which is _also_ why we are such a generous people, I mean to charity, to neighbors, to whomever needs a hand. Our shadow is so deep and so dark we act it out by phoning in our donations and serving up soup, doing dishes like VP-candidate Ryan did.

Alternately, we could actually create an entirely different paradigm for the dignity of work, a living wage, real opportunities that redress structural inequality, and so engage our long, sordid history of racism and misogyny but that would require levels of self-reflection that the majority does not even know it would need. Why bother? There's the playoffs, the new season, wtf gets you to look the other way.

So as I predicted with the usual dose of caustic, sardonic candor, we now have the Kavanaugh Court. There were the hopeful, the holdouts, the ones who thought that the likes of Collins or Manchin or Flake might have been born actual vertebrates. In this timeline---the one where the Reich rules---that was never going to happen. Only in some alt-hopeful world in which the magic of mudras or the next meditation saves you do people come to their senses---or rather avail themselves of the insensate escape, at a price.

Can this change? In what alt-America is there another Obama who can win rather than another Democratic Senator grifting on this most current loss and making sure his or her rivals are swiftly dispatched to some more time with the family oblivion. It is supposed to be the one that votes in the midterm, provided the Russians, North Koreans, Chinese, or someone who has real reason to hate us like the Canadians or Norweigians hack the election. If people vote will the votes count or be counted? And how much does that matter now that the issues of the day will be legislated by the white men in black robes (Clarence Thomas gets honorary white man status and, finally, a seat next to a fellow sexual assaulter.) What a wonderful world.

So this week alt-America isn't the fascism we feared it's the America we now imagine, the one that won the Civil War, that won the Great Society, the one that invited us to HOPE but then sat on its hands. We may be the majority but we are a team that doesn't know how to win. The America we seek is now further away, somewhere in a post-Kavanaugh world. And if I hear one more bit of unicorn bullshit about how he is going to be impeached, I will likely have to take up some overpriced meditation program just to check out even further.

In the meantime, buckle up 'cause the ride ahead will be sure to take care of all those who opposed him. Trumpists get mad and they don't just get even, they get vindictive and use all that spite to make sure their retaliation is as ruthless, as venomous, and as baleful as possible. To turn this around we will, as Lindsey Graham said, have to win some elections. Graham proved himself among the most loathsome and execrable of this week's Trumpists but, you know, he was right. If we don't like it, we're going to have to win some elections. And if by some alt-universe timeline that actually happens, we'd better learn the lessons these "Christians" teach: turning the other cheek just invites them to do the same thing again. Vote. We'll see if it matters.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Fix is In, Democracy and the Sham of Democracy

There are any number of articles in the past few days and, given it's Sunday, there will be more today in which reasonable people will say reasonable things about the Kavanaugh nomination, Rothstein, and Trump's madness. All of these presume we as Americans are playing the same game. Unless we all pretend we're in this game, that is, as those resisting the Republican objective, there may be nothing left. But let's first clarify why this is a game and why that is not a trivial way of putting it.  Fans of democracy need to take note.

By "game" I mean the rule of law as well as the traditions and ideals that are supposed to protect the rule of law and the function of our democracy---however incomplete, corrupt, hypocritical, and craven that project of government is both now and historically. Do Democrats in power really suffer this misconception that the current Republicans and "conservatives" are playing by the same rules or mean to?

Republicans are interested in the game only insofar as it is a means, an excuse, a pretext for their objectives of power. The Democrats mouth the words of the game (i.e., the rule of law, democratic institutions, etc.) and the press follows with the revelation of facts, analysis, and the hope that someone like Robert Mueller "still" stands for the law as such. They repeat how this or that is some really big deal because the abyss of tyranny is real and far too grim for most to accept.  We live in a surreal mockery of democracy built on the strength of differences that must be treated with respect and addressed in ways that allow us to live with slightly less than tyranny.  Unless Democrats participate in their own self-deceptions about American democracy's functionality they are left with nothing but the facts of tyranny upon us.  Tyranny is upon us.  It's a tough one to admit.

The irony that Republicans (and Democrats on the left) claim that Hillary was the fix is a treacle of Orwellian doublespeak worthy of, well, Orwell.  Secretary Clinton proved that America is not ready for seriousness, whether or not you agree with her ideas or believe she represented corruption.  Politics is always corrupt, can we admit this? How else does one answer to all that money and all that power and all that it entails? We must measure in quantities, not only qualities.  We must understand that the best democracy involves compromising to your adversaries and finding a way to live.  Perhaps it could be less corrupt?  But let's not digress from the moment.

Democrats and the press may _have to_ act like this because it is the _pretense_ of democracy that is all that may be holding us together. What you will witness this week in the Senate---and have over the course of the Kavanaugh hearings--- is something more craven and more honest. You see, Republicans don't care anymore, if they ever did. Trump has given them license to come out, to show their hand. The game is now for all to see. It is not a game at all. The fix is in. McConnell counseled patience because, well, they have the votes and the power and whatever they want will come to pass. The rest is all show. Republicans believe they are _entitled to rule_.  Governance by compromise, by shared interests, governance that demands we live by imperfect accommodations of difference, that is not their agenda.  Not. One. Bit.

What Republicans know is that government is professional wrestling: it's there to entertain, at best, the mob and create a pretext for cashing out and working their will. The Court is simply the most explicit example of their patriarchy and their claims to power, entitlement, and _rule_. Put another way, governance by democracy is a pretext, a sham because Republicans mean to _rule_. Not just Trump, not at this point. It cuts more deeply. And they will do or say _anything_ to do that. Nothing is beneath them. Nothing will stop them. There is nothing to persuade. To bring this to fruition requires the affected, adulterated, spurious appearances of democracy. But they care not a fig for that or anything else but their entitlement to power.

This is their moment. An election could (temporarily) thwart them. But they will not relent and for as long as they maintain their power, they will do anything to keep it. This is why even an election may not function any longer; they have help from their authoritarian allies, the big money, and theirs dupes who long to be led, to be _ruled_ and to rule over those they despise.  That would be us.  Clear?