Monday, January 18, 2021

MLK Day 2021 and the Long Road Ahead

"We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right." ---Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our creative time is our life before us. Nurture healing and accountability, pursue with greater diligence and decency the knowledge we need; take up an even greater urgency and also greater resilience our heart's desires, make patience and exigency unlikely companions.

It's not over, rather it's only just begun. There's always time to do what is right and If there is to be justice and more honest conversation ahead, we're going to have illumine hearts and kindle minds. We're going to need each other, understand better who we are, who we can be, and imagine the more we could be.

We celebrate this day, look forward to the inauguration on Wednesday and, yes, hope for better in time as we ripen the fruits of our labor. Rage on, calmly.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Vaccine Puja: A Brief Primer

Forgive my need to make this a teaching moment but it's my job. An article appeared this morning in The Washington Post that warrants a moment, particular for the unfamiliar. Start here: ahh, Hindus.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-coronavirus-vaccinations/2021/01/15/342a7282-55c9-11eb-acc5-92d2819a1ccb_story.html


This post is for civilians, that is, for those who might need some Hinduism 101---and that is no crime. After all, not many have a chance for formal study, even introductions. So let me make just a few very superficial comments so that some less familiar can try to understand why it is obvious that these good folks are offer their ritual to the vaccine chest.

I will be brief, if you can believe that. But as we shall see, belief is not what is being shared so much as it is behavior that allows us to ponder and conside, even for a brief moment, including our beliefs.

This is a rather typical looking puja. Puja is "worship" but that is misleading so let's instead think of puja as recognition, offering, exchange, principally _seeing_, that is an opportunity for exchanging vision, for visualizing, for deeper "seeing" (darshan).
The moment of puja captured here is it's summation called the arhati, which involves the waving of fire after offerings of incense (dhupa), light (dipa), food (naivedya), and other substances of symbolic value (hence considered auspicious or sacred). It is literally creating a moment of value---the word "arhati" _literally_ means worthy, capable, and something like noble-lizing or valuable.


People come in their temple best to honor the light inside and out. That it is directed to the vaccine chest just shows you that nearly anything of individual and social value can be brought into a collective act of value recognition, of seeing.


If any of this strikes you as awkward or just unusual, we can easily dispel the latter. This is nothing unusual because any important object or event can be occasion for puja. We have no idea what people are thinking or believing here. No one will ask. There is no dogma or formulated pre-interpretation; there is no assumption that people share a particular faith or ideology. No dogma is in evidence but rather a simple orthopraxy.


Thus, we have a ritual that lets people feel and think in ways that give them purpose to live with the facts of their world and with the shadows of feelings that are better expressed than denied. You do puja to the vaccine chest because you want light in a world where so much that is dark is dismissed or uninvestigated, particularly in emotion and meaning.


The ritual itself is meaningful because it is principally an opportunity to mark significance, to reflect or consider even in a simple ceremony how to arrive at a more auspicious (affirming) sensibility of possibilities. We invite and dispel, we recognize and address: the "gods" and the "demons" are inside _and_ out. The power of recognition is an invitation to reflection and care. Will that do for starts?


If this still strikes you as unfamiliar or awkward we can then invite the idea that unfamiliar and awkward are invitations to allowing discomfort to be a reflection. Let me go further. Is something about this idolatry or seem...dare I say, silly? For Hindus this is not at all silly precisely because it is an individual and social opportunity to see, to try to recognize significance and value _as such_ and then to put those matters into a very everyday and practical situation.


This vaccine _is_ important and it does signify light (the gods) and our complex relationship to the demons (in this case, disease). We don't eradicate our demons but we can figure out how to keep them where they belong---because everything has to go somewhere.


As for the "idolatry" part, that's just your western customs steeped in iconoclastic religions. We may not know or recognize it but our awkwardness comes from a resistance that this is "golden calf" material. But alas, it is just another human way of saying how do we see what is important in ways that inspire us to do something of commensurate value.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Without Truth, Democracy Fails

The lies. It could never have gotten to this point without the cooperation of an entire political party and its propaganda system advancing agendas of misinformation. They have been determined to turn policy differences into "war." And Trump is merely the outcome of this long degeneration into indecency and violence.


I'm not talking about ordinary political lies. Some of those are well-meaning, like "we are better than this." We are? Not a chance when there is a lynch mob and a scaffold erected at a rally where the president and his enablers speak. Some of those lies are all just more insidious grifting and power grabs that serve monied interests. Like McConnell who will never do anything but what serves his donors. And as for policy, it was all just lies, ask Stuart Stevens. He helped create the lies and has, at last, admitted it. New polls suggest that the vast majority of Republicans believe the lies and support Trump. Would they if their leadership told the truth? Apparently such "leadership" is incapable of the truth.


Oligarcy is a serious issue in America: we are fundamentally a society of economic injustice and privilege for the rich. Much of that is the tawdry underbelly of racism and the fear of white people that they are soon to be the minority of voters. Who are we kidding?


Back to the moment.
There never was fraud to be investigated---that is all part of the lies. There never was a conspiracy to undermine the election and there were no "irregularities"---all according to _Republican_ officials who presided over the vote. Sore losers?Sure. But it cuts so much more deeply. Until they all repudiate the lies, clearly and unambiguously we must not let up. No lessons have been learned. Nothing has changed and, worse, it could happen again.


In the next week Trump may in fact foment more civil war. State Capitals may well be besieged by violent insurrectionists. And the entire Sedition Caucus has to go. What would it take for them to be "forgiven"? For that, we need a story.


Once a man told lies again and again about his Rabbi. Coming to his conscience by hard lessons, he goes to the Rabbi to ask for forgiveness. The Rabbi says that he will consider it but first he must take a feather pillow to the top of the hill and shake out all the feathers. The man says to himself, "Okay that's weird but I will do it." When he returns the Rabbi says to him, "Now go back to the hilltop and pick up every one of those feathers."


It is far more than Trump. The House Republicans are not just a joke, they are by majority seditionists. And the Sedition Caucus, the Republican leadership and all of their enablers who have advanced these lies must own their part inciting the rioters.


We must also ask why so great a percentage of Americans have believed _and continue to believe these lies_.


This did not happen overnight. It has been decades in the making. Whatever legitimate concerns people have for their diminishing lots in life---for example, the vast majority of Trump voters have less than $2000 of savings---they have been poisoned like water in a well since at least Goldwater advanced the New Jim Crow that is now the policy of Minority Leader McCarthy and the rest who have sought to disenfranchise legitimate voters. Imagine if they had had the majority? It is more than likely they would have voted to overturn the election. Whose votes are they so happy to disenfranchise? That is easy to answer. Racism, our original sin, is in full view.


There is zero chance that the criminal Trump will do the one thing he would need to do to put this country on any tract to heal. That is, to admit that he lost in a free and fair election. That _fact_ is beyond him and everything else will continue to flow from this Big Lie. How can we begin to discuss the pernicious effects of racism and other facets of our national failure until we agree upon the facts and _tell the truth_.


Until Republicans in one voice denounce the Big Lie, purge themselves of conspiracists, and stop the propaganda machine of Fox, Rush, NewsMax and the rest, they are unfit to lead. We are one election away from their plausible rule. Are you not afraid of that? Even Republicans with just the slightest dose of sanity remaining?


There are deep structural reasons why so many are so susceptible to all of the lies: structural racism undermines every effort to address income inequality, failing job opportunities, the fears that come with health insecurity, and the rest. It's easy to rile up the mob with conspiracy, culture war fears and anger, and it will be no small task to change such views. Whether its guns or Jesus, the fact is that the relentless onslaught of misinformation and stoked hatred has brought us to a sad and dangerous time when the very fate of the republic is at stake.


How about telling the truth? Until that happens there is nothing more to do than marginalize their power, turn out the vote, and hope that the current version of the Republican Party simply rots into its own factional civil war. If Democrats don't deliver some progress for _all_ this is going to get worse before it gets better. And yes, there is worse. So let's make it better.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

On Understanding Rajanaka as a Spiritual Philology



Tomorrow I'm being interviewed on a podcast about the meaning of yoga. So I offer here a few notes from my journal. I cull notes to remind myself of ideas and phrases.

It's never been terribly easy to describe Rajanaka teaching. The core of that challenge isn't about describing our methods---we use accepted, nay routine forms of critical and scientific method, we have humanist aims and goals, and we lean into Jungian interpretations of myth and ritual. We are devoted as much to the truths that science creates as genuine human achievements and mean to integrate the most contemporary understandings into our "practice" (sadhana).

Our challenges have to do with both traditionalist and modern Hindu interpretations of our common sources, i.e., a broad sense of canon. The reason is that Rajanaka has its deepest ties to the Nataraja/Tillai Kali temple myth (and ritual) tradition and the Srividya goddess Tantra. Our interpretations however take us far from the traditional goals and claims of liberation and supernormal powers---because our goal is humanist: love your life, there is no "problem" of samsara. 

Rajanaka shares the core aim of older pre-Hindu Vedic religion expressed in the phrase, "give to me, I give to you" (dehi me, dadami te), not as mere transaction but as reciprocity and care for oneself and for others. You know all of this, I think, because I never tire of telling you how the original Rajanaka mandali (circle of conversation) in India were making the same points (albeit without universal agreements, inasmuch as they were a diverse bunch). 

Once we no longer endorse any explicitly religious (or mystical) claims, we can reconsider how religious practices, like rituals, meditation, pilgrimage, myths, art, etc.) inform our humanist aims. This is important to us because our "practice" can be confused with religious goals and be confusing because we take religious "contributions" as serious data and endeavors. After all, we closely connect with many religious practices and source materials; we just don't share their traditional interpretations or meanings. Specifically, practices like pilgrimage and darshan have always been at the heart of Rajanaka. These things get you out there in the world and deeper inside yourself. 

Now if ya' think about it, one of the important things Rajanaka does might be called "spiritual philology." The problem with _that_ is that virtually no one knows the term "philology." (Disclaimer: I am by profession a comparative philologist. I made my bones reading texts and describing what they say without prejudice or preference. Trained in the comparative study of religion and philosophy, my work has been both philological and anthropological, meaning I study classical texts and languages and I study actual humans and cultures.)

So what is philology? It's not a common word.

Philology is literally "love of words." All definition, formal and more idiomatic, extend from this etymological point of departure. "Spiritual" can mean a lot of things to folks, so let's add that into our mix and sort this out a bit. Words are essential to our humanity. It is only because we have words that human beings are capable of complex tasks (wanna go to the moon?) and, more importantly, organize themselves culturally to create informed meaningful relationships with each other, with vital matters like justice, law, and the furtherance of moral life. (As an example, think of how Ramayana or even the American Constitution (presumably) uses "law" (dharma) as a way of defining our humanity, human ideals, and possibilities.) We can accomplish remarkable things because we have words and can attend to their use and meaning.

The love of words is a gateway to the soulfulness that extends into other artistic endeavors. However, Rajanaka teaches that _all_ artistry, in a far broader sense than word-love, brings us into processes of valued human investigation and expression---thus music, art, dance, craft, practices like asana, you name it, if what you do is a pilgrimage of soulfulness, a journeying into the heart, than your practice is a Rajanaka sadhana (spiritual practice). Feelin' Soulful? Caring about the world, the planet, nature, yourself, each other, people you don't even now? Exploring those experiences deeply? How do _you_ do that?

If words as such aren't your thing, share with us what you do and what it means to you. That's the idea. So "spiritual" here means "soulful" and what I mean by that is that you are moved deeply in body, heart, _and_ mind. The somatic, emotional, and intellectual are of a piece, woven into the fabric of a human life. Soulfulness is an effort to deepen sensitivities of all sorts, to reach down into our shared humanity and to extend further into our individual experience. You don't have to love James Browns' music but he taught us that soul reaches _through_ words and sounds and music. As the Boss once put it, "when I'm gone I would like to have been known as a soul man." That's it.

Are you looking for more soulfulness in your life? What are you gonna do about that? Find your artistry in the things you do, live your love life deeply and seek connection to inquire into what is important (and what is by comparison merely transactional)---that's called yoga. Now let's get back to philology because we spend a lot of time in Rajanaka with story telling and the love of wisdom (philosophy) that means to inform our psychology and every day life.

Formally, all philologists do linguistics but not all linguists are philologists. This is because philology studies languages while linguistics is the study of language. Thus linguistics tells us how languages work (this is inherently comparative) while philologists study particular languages, usually through historical study (i.e., ancient material that comes forward into more modern forms). Not all philologists are comparativists. One can be a philologist of, say, Greek or Latin with little interest in other related (or not) language and culture. (Thus all Classicists are philologists and only a few are comparative philologists who might also study Sanskrit or some other sources.)

Philology studies the history of language as a window into culture, ideas, history, and language itself. In the less formal sense, philology is the study of texts as well as oral and written records in their original form. Philology then translates and interprets those works. But for what purpose? That depends. Academically it solely for the purposes of explanation using historically sound critical methods. Rajanaka wholly endorses and plays that game. But in Rajanaka it is ALSO for our "spiritual", soulful purposes, not merely lucid understanding. We can put down that marker between academic philology (which means to understand and explain without greater personal investments) and "spiritual philology" but they are thoroughly complementary and not at all opposed. Deeper truth is our common goal.

It is from this important task of spiritual philology that we move into other realms of human inquiry, particularly philosophy and psychology. Our philosophies focus on Indian sources but are not at all limited to them because we are comparativists---we take in whatever we find, like honey bees looking for the nectar across history, continents, cultures, and traditions. Our psychological studies look to Jung and the contemporary cognitive sciences. Rajanaka loves us some science because science looks for truths (durable and shared) and everything has to do with keepin' it real. I hope this was a little helpful or clarifying about, you know, the love of words and a soulful life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Nothing to See Here

The President of the United States who is deemed unfit for a Twitter account still holds the nuclear codes. The Senate chamber acts as if nothing of import happened today but some brief upset to everyday business. Sasse talks about shoveling our neighbor's driveway and Graham slurs his jokes after a few too many. The likes of Toomey continues to say he had hoped Trump had won but concedes Biden won. Really? You can still say such a thing? What shall we call this? Another hump day in Trumpland? Hawley undoubtedly has more fund-raising tweets at the ready. Can we call this what it is? The banality of evil.

Tomorrow the insurrectionist criminals in their Trump grift gear, those who breached and vandalized the capital, will be telling their tales, showing off their selfies with police, and bragging about the day they showed America what freedom means. That was good, wasn't it? You know, when we draped the capital in Trump banners and took the battle flag of the Confederacy into the building by breaking through the doors? They'll go home to tell more stories and report to the militia.

There is nothing to suggest that American democracy is actually safe tonight. Half the country is so broken that they cannot tell right from wrong, have no care or understanding of democracy, and are so desperate for power that they will undoubtedly vote to re-elect every one of these treasonous grifters.

We are still one election away from these same Republicans ruling the majority. Nothing about their venality has been tempered much less changed. They know there will be no real consequences to their behavior and they will make sure that the insurrectionist mob gets away with it too. What happened today really was not enough to move them. So what would? They need those treasonous votes, after all.

With two more weeks of Trump we have not seen the end. Republicans remain enablers, guilty in this sedition, and they plan on holding no one accountable, much less themselves or Trump. The 25th Amendment means nothing and there will be no urgency for impeachment of a president who incited sedition---those are the pipe dreams of the majority who actually care about democracy.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Sedition Caucus and the Raffensperger Call

I am going to (try to) avoid doomscrolling this morning. You're familiar even if the neologism puzzles. We doomscroll when we roll the news not looking for doom but finding it because we are still determined to face fact before we conjure belief or, god forbid, hope.

When the task is better clarity and an aversion to delusion---our own and the danger theirs clearly poses---we must once again sort through the parables. We may yet need to separate the sheep from the goats but I for one am not interested in anything like the coming glory of the Son of Man. I can get with that whole idea that what is done to the least of us is done to all of us, so let's just stick with that for now.
We are in for a spectacle of national humiliation where half the citizenry (or at least those who vote) and their elected enablers feel no shame and will experience no regret. Instead they will reassert their identity, which is what our politics is being reduced to further.

Democracy involves an implicit paradox: one must be deeply convicted to one's principles and values and, at the same time, willing to compromise and, yes, to lose an election. The goal is not to thwart the process or somehow overcome the paradox but to live to fight another day in civil discourse. The further assumption needs to be that the winners serve the interests of their opposition as much as themselves. But while that is asking too much, it is very much the point. When politics is mere identity than nothing matters other than our side---our identity dominates at any price.

We know that the corruption of power knows no end with this guy. We've been saying it all along. [n.b., aargh, I just doomscrolled again, dammit...] but here's what we now have on record: the president of the United States called upon the secretary of the state from Georgia to aid and abet his treason in a scheme to overthrow a fair and free election. How's dem'apples?

Of course, the last time we had _recorded_ evidence of crimes against the republic followed by ten clear counts of obstruction of justice, the president's party ignored, excused, and ultimately exonerated their criminal because their own craven political interests were tied to his. Who needs truth or democracy when you can have reelection and a grift that will make you millions? How many Republicans from Kansas want to go back home after drinking from the ambrosial fonts under the Dome where there's money to be had. We know they will excuse anything and enable the worst failures of a sociopathic autocrat.

Now the plan for sedition is once again right before our eyes and this week is another point of no return. Instead of repudiating these vile, destructive claims, a significant portion of the Republican House and perhaps as many as half of the Republican Senators will _advance_ sedition and attempt a coup. We all seem confident that they will fail and they will. The military has overtly signaled that it will not participate. Former secretaries of defense have drawn a line. All of that is testimony to the fact that we can feel confident, beleaguered, assured and endangered all at the same time. Let's think about that further for practical prophecies. 

What this means for the week after this week or after January 20th remains to be seen but let's consider a few immediate likelihoods. 

There will not be any grave consequences for the Sedition Caucus or the president. We have already witnessed obstruction of justice, grifting, mob boss coercion and how many other craven acts democracy's subversion and what has happened?

Right, like I said, not much will come of this either. Americans and particularly Republican voters will largely ignore (too busy, don't care, etc.) or agree with Sedition Caucus. Think of the 70 million plus who voted to give this another four years---how that would have undoubtedly consolidated this kind of power to the point of...of what? We shudder to think. We are only one election away from finding out. So this charade is no charade. This sedition is no mere effort to placate the toddler in chief until he leaves for his golf resort. He knows he is in legal trouble and debt up to his pasty encircled eyeballs.

But once this overt effort at treason fails, these duly-elected (despite their own claims) Republicans will dodge, lie, evade, and otherwise deny they were part of it all. Because the American attention span has not seized upon the wonders of jellyfish, they will not remember and these despicable tyrants will get away with it, see no consequences, and possibly be in position to take the House in 2022. Don't tell me they will pay a grave price at the polls.

Like they know, you know they will nearly all be re-elected using the standard white-identity politics that has served to preserve power since, well, since the country's founding. They are all going to pardon themselves, one way or another, and get back to the business of seizing power---this time making it clear that it is at any cost, in any way possible. That is the first, important take away. What real damage is done to the republic because democracy is indeed fragile in the face of tyranny does not bother them in the least.

The process has been underway for years with voter suppression, gerrymandering and the rest, but it matters less now because the desire to _rule_ outweighs any other means to the power of governance. Our second point now should be clear: a president desperate to steal an election and have it recorded is desperate enough to self-pardon. We think that can't happen. But you know there is no bottom. Of course, if you can pardon yourself, you can order any crime or commit it yourself.

And that is precisely what happened on that Raffensperger phone call. Aside from the not so implicit mob boss threats, the denials and shakedowns, what you heard was an effort to _further_ a crime that is _already underway_. That crime will be committed in full view on the floor of the US Congress on Wednesday. By then it is altogether probable that the Sedition Caucus will be emboldened by two victories in the Georgia Senate races. 

So after the sedition fails but they gain power---and that may take more than one day---we can expect more self-pardoning to begin. Will that be challenged or dismissed for the sake of "moving on"? The damage to democracy is as incalculable as our unwillingness to create meaning accountability. How exactly is this conspiracy of treason and these explicitly seditious actions to be held to accounts?

Mitch will control the Senate and the effort to govern democratically will again be of no interest, only the prospects of thwarting Biden and gaining more power in 2022. If we there will be accountability by elections and the will of the people, I say that it appears half the country doesn't care or would prefer the sociopathy and autocracy. (Remember that 7 million plus margin of popular vote victory comes largely from only 2 States.) So what can we hope for? As far as possible, Biden and the elected Democrats must work to produce results for the whole country.

Biden may be dead wrong in his belief that he can work with these contumelious villains but at least he gets the idea of democracy: the winners represent everyone and attempt to make life better for everyone. May something, anything like that actually happen in the coming year. Democrats may still lose power in 2022 even if things are appreciably better but we will have another two years to keep democracy from failing and maybe, just maybe live to fight another day. I for one am tired of fighting and would prefer more cooperating, even if that means compromise.

That would tell us we are actually fit for democracy, mature enough to self-govern and face the onslaughts of autocracy and oligarchy, but remains to be seen. So long as we try to tell the truth we stand apart from those who no longer care for the facts but prefer their solidarities formed by identities rooted in cruelty, fantasy, conspiracy, delusion, and power at any cost. We may be the majority that resists such failure but we will have to reach out to those failing, the ones who keep electing the grift and lies, and see if we can help them.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Legacy of Lies and the American Denial of Shared Humanity



We should not be surprised by the Republicans' moral treason that seriously undermines the very foundations of American democracy. We have only tacitly admitted and made law the notion that all citizens have a right to vote. The real problem is that we have never in fact accepted the humanity of all citizens. As noteworthy and horrified as we are by events this week, the deeper and more disturbing issues are not unfamiliar. The lies and the racism are of a piece.

Facts need to be resilient and human-made, which means you could be wrong. They need to be tested and hard-won by method, evidence, and credibility. I've been thinking about the worst legacy, the most dangerous lasting effect of Trumpism. It's the lies. 

Welcoming, embracing, indulging, excusing, dismissing, and devolving into a culture that denies the facts, rejects the power of truth, and decides for the lies. This happened everyday of this administration and everyday it was worse until we finally saw the _complete_ dissolution of the Republican Party with its rejection of democracy and indulgence of their pathological leader.

There is one thing, however, that Republicans are not lying about. This is their disdain for democracy when the people vote. But let’s make this clearer. Republicans reject democracy when Black people vote. Their racism is explicit, shameless, and pointed—it is directed at a very specific outcome because they reject the citizenship, the rights, the humanity of Black people.

It is not only fear of the Trump base that motivates the elected Republicans to commit treason. It is a deeper hatred that has never been addressed seriously, an inhumanity they vociferously deny because they refuse to admit the truths of history and prefer to marinate in their own lies, their own denials. What they offer is nothing less than an unconcealed contempt for certain voters—again, what is at stake is not merely the process of democracy but democracy itself and, more importantly, our shared humanity.

What was endorsed was nothing less than overturning an election because certain voters are not regarded as human beings. unfit for citizenship because of who they are. This is beyond mere moral contempt. It exhibits the very worst inclinations of a racist state. We can only say that this is overstated because we can question whether 70+ people, including many who are not white, cannot be voting for racism. But we can say that the vast majority of these voters not only favor overturning an election so long as it is not their elected officials.

Do freshly elected and reelected Republicans mean to disavow their own election? Of course not. So racism doesn’t have to be the stated cause nor ever admitted to be a cause for their votes but the claim that votes themselves are illegitimate is not merely procedural. Those votes are meant to be overturned because of who cast them. To use procedure—votes were cast that violated the rules of voting—is nothing but another lie. To see those who would overturn the election as anything less than wholly complicit in racism is to be in denial of their stated goals.

The election is “illegitimate” because they cannot abide the voters, no matter how they voted and by whatever method. The procedure and the method of voting is the lie they tell to cover their claims about “legitimacy” of human beings.

The poison of the lies is coupled to the kind of moral failure that may have no remedy. For the country this is moral treason to the very idea of democracy itself and, worse, an indulgence of the original sin of its founding. However, that so significant a portion of the America populace is willing to undermine the values of democracy should not surprise us. While we find this dangerous, disheartening, and a real threat to our future, it is as much a reflection of a nation that has never actually treated everyone as human.