Thursday, October 24, 2019

Lawlessness is the Oldest Story of Power in America

Let us recount what happened on October 23rd, 2019, in the basement of the Capital Building, Washington, D.C. How could they get away with that? What just happened?

What we saw yesterday and what we are seeing from Trump is as old as America. The Republicans storming the SCIF and Trump's lawyers arguing that the President can commit murder without consequences. How much lawlessness will Republicans assert to be their exclusive right? Why do they think they are above the law? Because in America such people have always been above the law.

I'm going to repeat here what I wrote elsewhere, if I may? There is something far more nefarious at work here but it is nothing new. That's kind of their point even if they aren't full conscious of it---they know nothing will happen to them, that there are no consequences. Why?

This sort of "stunt" holds together an underlying narrative of white male supremacy. These clowns believe they will get away with it because of who and what they are. Just like Trump believes he can get away with murder if he wants. White Americans love their outlaws. Jesse James was a Confederate, let us not forget that. It won't matter how he died or what he really did---it's the outlaw that embodies the insouciant indifference to the law and the lawlessness itself is deemed not the privilege that it is but the entitlement it claims. Thus the Republicans exploit privilege and claim entitlement, all in the name of their grievance and victimhood. This is textbook white male supremacy.

Now make the contrast. Obama wears a tan suit and the world is deemed lost. The horror! The violation! The abuse of power! I use that particular contrast to further the point that it's the white clown car's desire to seize on the meaningless and the trivial to take us away from their agendas and, at the same time, assert their "power." In this case, power means doing whatever they want because they can. It's a further legerdemain too, a distraction not merely for the sake of noise and fog but because they don't have the facts, the evidence, or the argument on their side. And when you got nuthin', you pound your fist and stamp your feet. Cue the escalator of aggrieved white guys.

There's a deeper evil that uses such superficiality to keep their rubes cheering. They want to be lawless because laws are for other people. They assert their power and remain unscathed because they can mock a serious situation and use impunity to make their dangerous point look comic. It's in fact nothing like President Obama's tan suit but rather a real affront to national security and then...nothing happens to them.

Male whiteness wins again. It's Rambo, Frank and Jesse, it's fact-free, it's assertion and right without evidence or reason. It's the ability to reject the system and claim the mantle of power again and again because they believe it is theirs to own. And no sharing. No one else can dispute their privilege or question their behaviors. If others did this? Think about it.. If this had been "the Squad" or a minority caucus, imagine the clamor. Imagine what Fox and Breitbart would be saying.

But I think those good folks would not have acted out with such puerile and callow disregard for truth or shared values. Their opponents actually mean to respect the institutions they represent. If you doubt that claim ask your self: Would Elijah Cummings have done such a thing?

These white privileged men are in truth incorrigible, childish nihilists who will do anything to remain in power. They think they are the institutions, that they answer to no law, no norm of decency, no matter of character, and that no one else deserves such privilege. That's an important part of the history of America. There are others, like Elijah Cummings.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Outrage Fatigue and the Edification of Self, What Are We to Do in Such a World?


One of the effects of outrage fatigue is our frustration with wanting to know, to keep up, to stay involved with the facts.  We have a need to find some relief and engage the joy that we know is ours too. The assaults on decency, the vulgarity, the sheer venality cuts across every feature of their pathology---from civil rights to the planet's fate, from corruption and inequality, it seems to infect every corner of the equation.

An important feature of our fatigue is our sense of futility and helplessness exacerbated by frustrations with opposition leadership. We can rail at those who represent our rage for their own ineptitudes but we might pause for a moment too in order to assess their own limitations inside a world driven by deeply opposing forces.

It's never comforting to be reminded how the demons fight back---there seem to be no rules, no boundaries, nothing they won't do. Since we are accused of as much we register outrage by their hypocrisy and projections. Everything he says with such imbecilic, churlish invective about his opponents we find invariably refers to himself and his lackeys. It's so reliable, so obvious that what is said about others projects his own guilt, dereliction, and criminality that we want to scream. But for the most part we don't, not just from the outrage fatigue but because we're looking for an alternative world, a world where there _is_ reason and dignity, facts and a process that procures something better, something more closely aligned with justice.

We don't want to sacrifice our own dignity even as we repulsed by the constant barrage of obscene malevolence. And there is too the acceptance required that some significant percentage of our citizenry, many of whom are our blood relatives and friends, seem impervious and incorrigible, committed to the discreditable fantasies, frauds, and conspiracy claims.

As if we need more? It is disconcerting when people refuse to engage at all, asserting their privilege not to have to be bothered with matters of political and social import. There is any manner of excuse, from false equivalence to indifference or self-proclaimed ignorance, the willful disregard of a democratic responsibility in a complex world.

What is not right before the eyes can be even more easily discharged. When Trump abandoned the welfare of some 2.5 million Kurds in Syria the consequences are not our immediate experience---even as we consider how America is responsible now for even more untethered chaos and innocent death. It is another aspect of Trump's cynical manipulation even as decent people wretch. His impulse for cruelty extends in both directions: our outrage brings him and his dupes pleasure, it is a feature not merely a consequence of the pathology.

I think we have covered enough of the cause and we're all too attuned to the diagnosis. So what can we do?

First you have to take care of yourself in ways that restore you, bring you back and keep you in the fight. Life isn't going to get easier by walking away. Abdication is for kings, not for citizens of a democratic republic. You can take a break. You can't decide for indifference or worse, helplessness. It's surely okay to let someone take your place on the front but cowering in privilege or impassivity won't do. Do what _you_ can do. You have a great heart. That heart is literally made of courage. Courage isn't a virtue, it's what you need to have virtue. Goodness must be created because it's not going to appear without you and however it manifests in you as an individual, it must be made to contribute to something greater, larger than yourself.

This is not some call to heroism. It is what it will take just to live with yourself. So rest and care for the things that make 330 million small differences in an everyday life. But rise to the occasion. Everything really is at stake.

Like it or not we must turn to leadership and that leadership has all sorts of pratfalls that can disappoint and deflate. But if we trust in their basic morality then we can live with their frailties and ordinary incompetences. These folks can be influenced and moved by _your_ voice and by _our voices_. No matter how bought and sold or corrupted by power, they are still exposed even if they seem unresponsive or unpersuadable. They need you and _we_ must act.
Power lies in collecting voices and votes, in delivering an unrelenting message. This may require interrupting your busy day.

Last, remember that fatigue is as normal as outrage. Crisis is an ordinary state of affairs too. But because these are normal---and by that we mean natural, acknowledged, and common---it's important not to normalize with apathy or mere disdain. That outrage you feel? It's not just depleting or undermining your happiness. Actually it is part of what grounds your character and shores up your other feelings.

Such an outrage must keep the company of its own light and shadow: outrage needs composure, it needs to make a compact with reason and bring heart and mind together. Like it or not, we are not simple beings so we must learn to live in a sustaining complexity. If you love, you will grieve. If you want peace, you will need the shadows of anger and frustration to derive the equations.

We need to keep greater company, not allow feelings to exist in isolation or thoughts to take too much comfort in certainty _or_ doubt. We need to participate in a greater sense of self, as individuals and in communities, with patience and compassion a part of the alchemy of our inner fury. How to accomplish any of that? We are going to need _more_ selves to live with our self and a deep desire that informs our better angels.

We are going to need stories worth telling and tell our stories. Those angels aren't all tranquil, much less sedate or soporific. The come armed and ready with all they need to face a world that will not fight fair. Our task is not to sully ourselves, not to demean the possibilities of human goodness but instead to _make more_ of what we know we can do. There may be neither savior nor absolutions but there is our human capacity to make more and better when we commit to the real and difficult tasks of being alive.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Trump Cult and the Ship of Rats

Let's talk about cults just enough to see how they connect so clearly to Trumpism.

Let's start with the assumption that the word "cult" is used pejoratively. We don't think of a cult as a good thing but we need to understand too that it's a term used for otherness when in fact it applies to all of us.

All groups, formally organized or not, are in some respects "cultish" insofar as they form around common interests, shared aspirations, stuff like that. Think: League of Women's Voters as an example of not using "cult" pejoratively but as a group that has a long-standing institutional self-formulation. Things can go sideways, wrong, and unhealthy in any group because of things that make people predictably neurotic: money, power, sex, fear, you name it, people can do really bad and stupid things.

But we humans are social beings no matter how much we guard our autonomy or proclaim our individuality overwrites all. Did you build the road in front of your house? Do you really want everyone to have to build their own road without your neighbors? Think Plato, Aristotle, Yajnavalkya, Manu, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Kautilya, Locke, Rousseau, on and on it goes because people have to create polity and civilization in collectives.

Are all examples corrupt? Well insofar as ideals may not always (or ever) wholly achieved, sure. But that's not corruption that's just the ordinary incongruity between the world you wish you lived in and the one you really do, between what you want and what's on offer. It's all about that space in between, the place that we call "sammelana," a word that few outside our group would know or recognize. All inside language is "cultish" the same way doctors, lawyers, musicians, mathematicians, and Sanskritists, etc. all need their expert vocabulary to move things forward.

So all a cult _really_ is an inside game and if you play well in that game, you're in. If you don't or don't want to or don't care, you don't. Yoga is a very very big cult as professionals would acknowledge but you particular community's yoga has its own tribe, its own sorta' features of the cult: insularity, familiarity, leadership, fidelity, conflicts, challenges, specialized or local language. Think of "cult" a word describing socialization forming concentric circles---things are smaller when you get to the core. Form _enough_ circles of de-localization and you have legitimizing organizational theory in practice. I won't write a book here about cults but to say that you are likely a member of many and that if you are not you are one lonely mofo. Carry on and try to be healthy about it. That's relatively easy, btw. Just make sure to listen to your own heart, don't compromise your character (too much, too often) to get along, and know the difference between right and wrong as best you can---they ask help, don't be too damn sure of yourself, and make confidence and humility best of friends. Here's the rest of the bit about the very sick Republican cult:

The Fate of the Cult

The Republican Cult is not an exception to how cults act, both in terms of success and failure. What can happen when a cult is in the midst of failing is that it can reimagine itself and end its sickness, its relationship to its leader, or it can go further to the margins, where it dithers in a newfound irrelevance. I'm going to take---you're not going to believe it---the most optimistic route in an effort to offer an opinion about why Republicans will fail even if the don't convict in the Senate. This should not sound completely unfamiliar to people who have had some cult life. Ahhh, hem. (Add requisite throat clearing noises.)

Part of what the cult---in this case the Republicans---fears most is that they were all be left alone, each in their own individual wilderness. This is part of the reason they have stuck with the cult, not out of fealty to its principles as such or the leader but for each other. The cult leader punishes infidelity and rewards silence as loyalty. It will take a genuine leadership that stands for values and shared interests that brought them together in the first place to reformulate.

Such a decentralizing, more principled leadership could lead most of the rank and file with them but the Republican cult doesn't know how to do this---and their once leadership is utterly corrupt and debased morally, money being the core of their principles. They all will do whatever they think brings them individual profit: that is their ideology and the source of their potential failure. Ironically, the cult doesn't know it's a cult.

To overcome their utterly corrupt cult leader the majority in leadership would have to act as a collective (not as merely as individuals), banding together denounce him and proclaim a new day. The rank and file of the cult will largely follow if the vast majority of leadership takes this path together. They lose some but regroup to have a future. Otherwise they all have to fight for the leftover scraps---or turn to a new cult leader. This is their most likely move. Someone like Haley is next.

Now the good news is that Republicans don't understand this which means they are on the swift path to self-destruction and a marginalized minority. The Cult will schism and if things go really well (not for them) then "conservatism" along with Trumpism will fail to bring the end of the republic as we know it. If the Democrats don't blow it (yeah, yeah, we know...) Trumpism will consign America's fascist cult of the wealthy to the dust heap of history where it belongs. A burning planet and the last, best hope for humankind may be at stake but why get dramatic?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

How to Rebuild America's Foundations

First, a few paragraphs of hard to accept truths.  I'll let you know when we're closer to a prognosis for better.

One of the hardest lessons of our nation that elected this shameless anarchist racist imbecile is that his slogan really does tell it all. They want to go back.
Of course they do. Back to when and what exactly? It's perfectly clear.

We as a nation are not better than this and that is another meme that may be politically necessary to have any chance but in fact contributes to the delusion. When folks say 'we're better than this' they postpone the more serious conversation, the one that we need to have if we are _ever_ going to be better than this. And that's the problem. It's a problem that I submit we are not prepared to solve. Even if the planet burns.

America has not only always been this failure of ideals, it was built on its own hypocrisy and denial. It isn't going to evolve to its ideals with any alacrity unless it goes to these very uncomfortable places. And it won't. Some of us are willing to have those conversations. But few of those willing have any strategy for reaching those who do not share our understandings of America's original sins. I can assure you that counting on the fact that the average age of the Fox News viewer is 65 years old won't help. The forces of stagnation, regression, and repression are not going to be persuaded by an intelligentsia speaking the truth and waiting for the light to go on or the old white order to die off. Instead, let us begin with the observation that Trump is not an aberration. He isn't a mutation of the "real" American values. That's why so many of us have "friends," blood relatives, and dozens of people we know who are his supporters.

We all want to be charitable, especially to those we know and love. But the verdict is in and it will become plainer still as the impeachment goes forward and he becomes more panicked, angry, and unhinged. Today he called elected representatives---women of color, people of Jewish heritage---"savages." As so many of his supporters say they like him because he is unfiltered and tells it like it is. Trump is the face _and the brains_ of an America that his critics do talk about but one that we can't wholly reject because they are _in fact_ in our families, our neighbors, and there are a _lot_ of them. They are our fellow Americans and what we know now is that this mean, nasty, racist, bullying America occupies every town, city, county, and state.

If we look in the mirror and admit that the devil is us, what _can_ we do next? Trump's America may not be the majority and they may not be the future but neither are they simply going to have a change of heart or be persuaded by some factual argument, some appeal to religion or commonsense. What makes it incorrigible is what has _always_ made it incorrigible: this kind of small-mindedness, fear of the other, brutality, and ignorance is endemic, it is built into the core of American religion and forms an armature of our history. Those who would reject this structural observation always have a stake in the power that they refuse to share. 

Now, the way to rebuild the foundation. 

So what _is_ the solution if there is no serious chance to remake the country building towards its ideals? I think the Right has already understood this: they _know_ they have lost the culture wars---guns, god, brown, women. But what they have had is a plan that works _everyday_, little by little, relentlessly to insure that _their_ agenda rules. Given demographics and the anachronistic operation of our government's organization (a Senate the represents real estate, not people; an electoral college that privileges a system meant deliberately to deny one person-one vote, etc.), the Republicans know how to _use_ that structure to their advantage. And do. Everyday. Relentlessly. So what can be done if these forces and structures of regression cannot be seriously addressed? Because they won't; because we _refuse_ as a nation to have the honest conversations we would have to have with Uncle Bob or Mary from high school. The answer is right before our eyes. The Republicans have given us the structure of the plan, all we need do is pay attention.

Everyday, little by little, with as little compromise as is necessary but with just enough not to lose the day, Democrats and progresses must do two things.

First, they must act as if everything they seek _is_ the case, will _be_ the case, and cannot be taken back or taken away. Next, they must formulate a plan from the ground up to _show up_. They must vote for compromise candidates when they have to that can be turned or can hold the space from a right-winger until the next more progressive candidate can take that seat. They must extract every bit of victory---again little by little---until things have changed and can't go back. The reason that "big structural change" (yes, that's Warren) won't succeed, even if it manages to win the presidency, is that you can't move a structure from its foundations if those foundations are corrupt.

Americans refuse to admit that our ideals have never really been the truths we now mean them to be. Americans are too lazy, desperate, busy, pre-occupied, illiterate, and incapable of doing the very hard work of citizenship that would remake our values to meet our ideals. But that doesn't mean things can't change or get better. 

So second: it means that we need to do the work _everyday_, often in small ways and in compromises we hate, but that add up and add up. Don't relent. Don't lose the plot. Have a plan that will work even when you must adapt and adjust. And most of all have the courage and the wear withal to _lead_ the way. Impeachment is coming. Americans need a simple story, leadership, and a clear destination---albeit for now. Real change won't happen if you ask for what is not yet on offer. If this argument sounds like the deeply flawed Lincoln or Obama that's because they saw greatness in the long view and success as merely temporal. Carry on.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

On the Pathology of Toadies and Dupes

One of the more fascinating features of the Trump Age involves the difference between toadies and dupes. How did they get this way? WTF is wrong with these people? I put it this way because many of them we never thought were this damaged, and we never really quite believed they were this sick. But truth to tell, they are.

What we see as inexplicable behavior, failures of character, and incorrigible stupidity is a sickness of soul. It can happen to anyone who doesn't do the work to unveil the edges and corners of a more soulful life. It can look like people have done the work, some work, any work but I suggest this is exactly what's lacking.

Let us return to the Trump pathology of toadies before we get back to dupes.

Toadies include Graham, McConnell on the A-list because they like _real power_ more than anything. Barr is the new poster child of this kind of sickness. Power corrupts. it's easy. It's fun. It's free of conscience and full of itself.

And on the A-minus list is pretty much all the rest of the elected Republicans who in some way _know_ that this is all a con job, a train wreck, a criminal enterprise and _they don't care_ because they hate us, the liberals, more than they love their country. They give no care for Trump though they say they do. Rather what they love is power and what they hate is us. And that is all they need to know. Toadies want power, money, fame, and when they can get it disdain, revenge, and vindictive self-serving cruelty. Some just like the work. The cost to their soul is never considered.

Dupes are true believers and the question is why? Why have Uncle Bob or Mary from high school, or someone we never really thought was a complete hopeless jackass now proven themselves utterly contemptible? We have lost "friends," relatives, all sorts of acquaintances who we _now know_ live in the moral turpitude, intellectual vacuity, and egregious failure of character that is Trump. How did this happen? Were they always like this?

The answer to that is actually yes but it took a trip wire, what we might call a permission trigger, and some shepherding that authorizes their failure. To put the matter in another way, it is the result of _the unexamined life_. People voted without care and reflection, without the intellectual and moral clarity that is required of citizenship; they voted in anger, desperation, not in bad faith as such but in _very poor judgment_.

How does one arrive at such poor judgment? It usually takes most of a lifetime of _not_ acquiring the emotional depth and intellectual tools that lead us _away_ from our indulgent ID and our inadequate super-ego. People don't have the personal tools to be serious citizens or more sophisticated human beings and they don't think they need them. Or even know they need them. But it's all actually worse than that.

They are actually closer to Trump in fundamental pathology than we ever thought. How do we know that?

We observe a kind of Trump trigger. He has given permission to reach into the unexamined shadow and this has sent people over their edge. This edge was a lot closer than we ever thought. Life is hard, it's not been bad nor great, but has been fed resentment, anxiety, violence, fear, and lots of failures of success. The middle class Trumpsters have met success and found out without much recognition that "success" sorta' sucks, that it's somehow not all that satisfying to have bourgeois comforts. It is not just failure---jobs that fail, marriages, opioids, etc. It's that success is not all that it's cracked up to be and yet their deeper dissatisfactions, all of which are perfectly ordinary, have been wholly unexamined.

Deep down where the Balrog lurks in the hiding places of the mountains of Moria, as Tolkien would have it, there is a shadow lingering over the false contentment that we have reduced in America to economic prosperity. America is too private to talk about its emotional relationship to success, too religiously dysfunctional to know what to do with the ordinary discontent that follows from a life in which required traumas have not been addressed.

We all come to realize that we cannot continue to act as toddlers and we rein ourselves in---at the cost of primal want that comes with our embodied form and inner, unconfined voice. Trump the Toddler is a relief valve. We have to know that we've told ourselves all sorts of stories just to survive, and when we have done that _successfully_ we have created all sorts of demons just to get there. That is just to get some success that isn't all we thought it would be. And then the world happens with love and failure and stress and illness and death. Now all the demons have come out.

So somewhere deep down inside a damaged soul, like a Trump dupe, there is a need for feeling and expressing cruelty, a vulgar self-assertion, a kind of bluster of self-superiority. This compensation and false consolation of its own sort. In short, Trump's pathology lurks in the hearts of a lotta people who are so insecure that it shatters whatever character they once used to temper their failures. What Trump has done by being elected to this pedestal of achievement and leadership is give permission and emboldened the damaged ID that has never been examined or addressed.

By virtue of such "leadership" and authority such damaged people now act out their sick souls. They have no idea how to save themselves because they have never done any of the work to examine what lies beneath their surfaces. In the deep shadows of Moria they keep the company of their own darkness and that is now "telling it like it is." Much of this is _laziness_, turpitude, a failure of character, family, and education. They have done none of the work and this, this is your Uncle Bob. He's otherwise sorta'kinsda' a nice guy. Truth is, he's deeply damaged and irreparable because he's got no interest, no tools, nothing to tell him just how the damage is doing _its_ job.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Leviathan Revisited

When Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil in 1651 I was still a lad. I jest. But I was assigned The Vast Work at least five times in college for classes in both philosophy and political science. I have reread it countless times, a privilege born of my Sinecure that I mean to Use for Good even as I Acknowledge its Potential Abuses of Privilege. (<---hint, hint...). Hobbes is no Cartoon Tiger.
 
Hobbes argues for an autocrat, one both brutal and beneficent. His title comes from the Book of Job, of course, and refers to a sea monster (more than any whale as such, fie on King James and His Bible, I say). It likely refers to the unruly and composite enormity of the project of the universe, of human nature, and the power of political force. God spare us. God notwithstanding Scrutiny for Existing at All.

While Hobbes' theories of government are far from enlightened, his understanding of human nature is as trenchant and provocative as ever. He argued, for example, that there is no faculty beyond the human mind to determine our nature and that good and evil are constructs based on sentiments rooted in desire. Downright Buddhist of him there, I'd say, and good on 'im.

When Hobbes writes about memory, which is a section to which I often return, the work points centuries forward, even towards modern cognitive theory. What is ever-present is Hobbes' 17th century style, which poses threats to our comprehension and sometimes to our sanity. 

You see, there is a prodigious and often indiscriminate use of capitalization. I think it has much to do with the carry overs from Germanic languages into English, that is, that nouns are by default capitalized. But the matter is hardly consistent. Spellings are conventional for his period but unfamiliar to our modern eye. Diction is complex and challenging as much for expression as for comprehension of difficult ideas.

In short, it's a Big Thing involving Compelling and Strange Matters that not only made lasting impact on me but warrants a short Comment for the sake of Comparative Metonymy. I have in mind our own Leviathan, the Beast in Orange and so Hereby Decree as He Himself would that Tweet Storms filled with Arbitrary Capitalization are only Hobbesian insofar as his penchant for Brutal Autocracy is, in addition to so much else, a Lethal Feckless Calumny and Assault on Modern Grammatical Dignity. It may appear Trivial to cite this Offense given the Magnitude of the Monster himself.

I do note this as an Occasion of Value to consider Further how certain words from Hebrew, in this case, liwyāthān have made their way into Late Latin leviathan then to Middle English levyathan, and so to Hobbes's English but let us Not Toil further since We all know that Trump cannot Read much less consider Etymology. Furthermore, this is not 1651 though We might be Confused by the BiglyNess of the Crimes.

Trump has Jobbian Delusions, no doubt: Non est potestas Super Terram quae Comparetur ei. Iob. 41 . 24" or as We say in the Modern Tongue: "There is no power on earth to be compared to him." Job 41.24. Let there be No Doubt. But Trump is no Hobbes, even if he is a Monster of Vast Girth, Authoritarian Imbecility, Anarchistic Predilections, and Wholly Incapable of Getting This Joke. On Him.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Listen closely, Pandemonium is Optional

Can You Hear Over the Whirl of Marine One?
Listen closely, Pandemonium is Optional


His level of unhinged really has taken on new dimensions, hasn't it? We currently live in a failing reality TV show and desperation for ratings is the tawdry underbelly of the current leader of the "free" world. The Amazon (the real one) burns, Greenland melts (can you buy it on Amazon?), and of course many people are talking about it, like you've never seen before, because fake news. Nevertheless, we must persist.  The way out of this is through this.

Chauncey Gardener meets King Lear? The malignancy and mental illness this insinuates would not be nearly as dangerous if we weren't talking about an imbecilic anarchist who is also the current President of the United States. We'd have many of the same problems but we'd feel a whole lot differently about them. So, are we doomed?

We might be but don't fret. Not that help is on the way. Democrats running for president have a plan for that or know that it's all just an abberation soon to resolve in bi-partisan fealty. If you doubt both, that would make sense to me. We can hope that the candidates' circular firing squad does not resort to live ammunition. That might be asking too much given all the abundance and availability of things we don't need and perhaps too little of what we do. If you think we need a dose of truth, that might be asking too much. We're going to need something far more potent.

You see, things that are true are not necessarily as helpful as you think. I'm not advocating solipsistic narcissism even if that's the current fad. There is an alternative and to put it in the vulgar it goes something like this: try not to lose your shit. At least for the next 515 days, some 17 hours, etc. If things go south before then, well, feel free to lose your shit.

But let's return to the problem in the meantime. Wittgenstein always helps in a pinch. I kid you not. Well, maybe a little.

Take, for example, the following indisputably true sentence: If pandas eat fish, then pandas eat fish. You don't have to know anything about pandas to know that this _sentence_ is true. It looks like fake news of the real variety. That is, If you know anything about real pandas then you've likely already stopped reading.

But logical propositions are true no matter the content. (Think about that for a moment.) And what your experience tells you about pandas tells us nothing about the truth of the proposition, which may be empirically vacuous---as it is in this case. The lesson from your Pedantic Professor is this: we need truth, we gots to have it. But it's more than truth that is at stake. We need sanity in these utterly insane times. Never mistake logic for experience. Things can be true and still meaningless in the world that tests your sanity. The task to sustain sanity never abates.

But just because true sentences can be as ridiculous as current presidents of the United States, doesn't mean that you are entitled to a reality wholly of your own making. That too, technically speaking, is called "losing your shit." Everything is not just _your_ opinion. Don't do that. Don't go there. Reverting to "that's my experience" or "that's just someone's opinion" is giving in to the fake news just as much as believing in fish eating pandas that eat fish.

This means that when it comes to experience make sure you don't rely solely on _your own_. You can be mistaken even if you aren't mad as a hatter or dumb as Trump. A more honest strategy---and forgive me for getting all serious about this at this late stage in the game---is to remind yourself that, yes, we really are in this together. We're going to need each other's sanity to use both logic and experience to keep us from _feeling_ too crazy, too distraught, or too traumatized to act. Think but be wise. Feel but don't give in.

Now you can ask sanely, what happens to America if the market crashes, the Russians decide the Balkan states are theirs, or ISIS manages to do some hurt on the homeland, and we still have The Chosen One as President? Yeah, we're screwed, fersure. I am not the paranoid sort unless there is reason to be and we should resist doomsaying to honor the language even when it fails us logically. Thank you, Wittgenstein.

But we should not forsake pandas, our best assessments, and how we make them _together_. Now is not the time to double face palm unless you are as wise as Jean-Luc Picard and have someone watching while you take that break. We've 515 days of this nightmare left, if we are lucky enough to break the spell. Pay attention. Or enough to get through it.

Like you, I don't underestimate the stupidity of the people who did this to us in the first place, including those who decided not to participate in preventing it. But let us not distract ourselves with the near-past. Any viable future (okay, okay, let's assume) depends on embracing this paradox: we're going to have to stay the course of sanity to change the course we're on.

It does seem like the madness is winning. We can be mad about that. But we can't lose the plot, pandas do not eat fish, and we gotta trust enough in goodness to be good. There is no goodness but what we make. That means the whole mess is up to us. You're worse on your own, you know that. There may be irredeemable and incorrigible stupidity and evil in the world. Personally, I have no doubt about that. But we can be good, do good, and survive this. Whether or not we ever truly flourish as we could, that might have to wait for better days.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Why Honest Journalists Take the Bait, Or What the Actual Fuck?

It's so easy to snooker the "objective" media. It's as if they can't not take the bait. And of all the candidates and voices who understand this, I think Beto really called it out best. I'll get there in a second but let's understand first how the non-Fox world of the True Fake Media plays rope a dope with itself. In the process they fail America miserably.

The news that's fit to print is supposed to be honest and so look to create a non-partisan representation of points of view. They are there to report different opinions. However, the press is also supposed to declare what it understands to be the facts. This creates a self-destructive stupidity that gives Republicans exactly what they want.

Because Republicans are shameless liars frauds and liars, they understand perfectly how to wind this first idea around the second. First, they make their declarations---sometimes willfully ignorant, sometimes dissimulating purposefully, and always with an eye on their audience so they will nod, wink, and grasp their real intention. Enter racist white supremacy politics, including efforts to suppress and gerrymander the vote, intimidate people of color, and pass every kind of law that puts non-white men at some disadvantage.

The establishment racist Republicans don't want the violence to interrupt their policy objectives, which are overtly racist. The list goes on. The evidence that Trump has emboldened, encouraged, and _fed_ the racist delusions of his white nationalist followers is indisputable. Shall we add to that the entire ecosphere of Fox, particularly Carlson and Hannity who have repeatedly asserted that immigrants make the country "dirtier" and express their own anxieties about "multiculturalism"?

The Party of White People is rallied to "conservative" causes that legitimize their bigotries using whatever cover-ups and dog whistles they need. Trump just feeds them the red meat. The press takes the bait because there are so many racists, so many pathological Republicans that they have to "normalize" their views. It's like talking about Mormon theology _as if_ it weren't insane. Have you read the Book of Mormon? Even a little? But because they own the State of Utah and act like Romney, we don't say to them What the Actual Fuck?! Legitimacy is the facade that disallows honest questions.

And then no less than Anderson Cooper will ask with a straight face if the president is a racist and then _follow up_ with "Why do you believe that?"---to satisfy his own (and the network's need) for the objective performance media bias. The right wing has so cowed, so intimidated the mainstream with accusations of being biased that matters of _fact_ must be treated _as opinion_. Cooper knows, he's not stupid. But he gives the "both sides" nod _in spite of the facts_ and just to hear it out. This is a serious mistake.

It is a _fact_ that Trump has demonstrated in his long history of racist behaviors that he has passed the test. It waddles, it quacks, it's got the right feathers and looks like all the rest of them: it's a duck. So asking if the racist is a racist is either a kind of professional self-soothing so as to meet their own emotional standards of professional objectivity or it's just being used by those who know that the reporters and their networks are stupid enough and effectively bullied and brow-beaten to do their bidding.

So on Saturday a reporter asked Beto O'Rourke as he was walking to his car Sunday: "Is there anything in your mind that the president can do now to make this any better?" Really. This was a question. Beto replied, "Members of the press, what the fuck? It's these questions that you know the answers to." Yes, what the actual fuck: can we instead ask questions about how to respond Republican complicity in racism, or just anything a little more honest? Does this reporter believe that after three years and a lifetime of racism that Trump, who owes his entire career to these vile sentiments and uses them everyday to create discord, to fear-monger, and inspire hate, is somehow going to change?

These reporters are smart people, well some of them, and so it's more interesting to ask why they act in these reprehensible ways that pander to the needs of their misinterpreted professional "responsibilities." Such horseshit but in fact it's actually worse than that. You see, most Americans have no attention span, don't read, and have been taught for more than a generation to distrust and hate their government, especially "Washington." No one gets elected as an insider professional, that being a sure way to lose. Notwithstanding, the press by failing to _start_ with the facts does the Average American a very serious disservice.

You see, all Average American will hear is "both sides do it," "it's ALL just partisan the SAME partisan bullshit," and that there are NO facts. They have been taught and deeply encouraged by the Right to deny ALL facts but the propaganda because the Right can count on the press to "report", "ask fair questions" for both "points of view," and NOT go to the facts first. Average American thinks it's a food fight when it's really the press giving the Goebbels-Fox Team the win. The same thing happens with guns. As if the idea that weapons suited for _war_ can be brought OPENLY into Walmart LEGALLY so long as they are not used---and this IS the law, normal then for America. We are okay with that?

One side wants to question that, the other wants to make sure this remains exactly the way it is. There are not two sides. There is a right side and a wrong side. Of course, NOTHING will happen in Congress because one side will make sure nothing will happen. But the press will report that "Congress has done nothing" and Average American hears that it's just partisan bickering. The press participates wholly in the delusion and the Right laughs all the way to the gun show.

Thoughts and Prayers, Or Why Power Defines Ideology and Actions

We know what everyone is going to say before they say it. I make no claim to illumine so much as attempt to further the human pursuit of understanding. "Understanding" is one of the ways we try to make "order" in a world that refuses to give what what we believe we want.

In a world of powers our ability to use power defines human success and failure. Greatness as the question of value---is it worth it? That will have to wait for now. We must come to terms with the instruments of power and that means violence must come first.

We want security, pleasure, and above all meaning because we suspect in a deeper sense that the world could be meaningless when we know there is no way to sustain order.
Order means what we think it means: our needs, desires, and interests are addressed. And since there is no way to maintain all we want we often resort to supernatural claims like God knows or the more nondescript spiritual "mystery" and use whatever we can to console, bypass, or just hold on for one more minute.

Modernity complicates the problem because we can no longer force everyone to agree that our God is the one true God: the ultimate is no longer as coercive or as compelling a source of stability as it once was. We are plural now but no less factionalized about who _should_ be in charge of what we know cannot be managed by mere human efforts.

Religion always asks for the impossible and demands it. Enter the Right. "Spirituality' admits a measure of impossibility and claims its understanding leaves us to ponder further as we sort it out or "wake up" to a "deeper truth." Enter the Left. Both predicate solutions to the irresolvable, which is why both invoke in some way the need for "thoughts and prayers."

We want what life will not offer but as humans will insist upon. Ambiguity and uncertainty is the greater threat to order that both sides abhor for fear that it is the deeper truth. It may be the unholy truth that we having only as much certainty as being human allows. However uncomfortable that makes us feel we must learn to be uncomfortable if we are to come to human terms.

Truth that depends on the provisional and the incomplete and yet nonetheless capable of taking us to the moon and beyond is not what we _really_ want. Giving up the delusion of what is impossible is felt to be defeatist (the Left) or heretical (the Right), depending on how you deal with the facts of human limitation.

The Left will now tepidly suggest reasonable gun measures with some qualification about "supporting" the 2nd Amendment. The Right will, of course, talk about threats to the 2nd Amendment, invoke the thoughts and prayers distraction, and claim anyone deviating from the talking points is unseemly. We can't talk about taking human actions when God is involved and the dead are still being actively mourned. It's all too familiar and insidious. The irony that not talking about the sources and instruments of violence is political is ignored on the Right. God is a reason for whatever they want.

On these same matters I would suggest too that a modern trope works like emblem for Left and Right both. This appears as the "spiritual" vs. "religious" claim for meaning-making. The Left wants to be "spiritual" about the issues, appealing to feelings of commonality and then turn as quickly as possible to some practical, humanist solution. What are we going "to do" comes post haste. The Right finds this unseemly at best but in fact heretical.

So we find the Fox meme that Democrats are "already" politicizing another mass shooting and insure that their do-nothing strategy gains its own momentum again. Their aim is to make sure they control the narrative such that the narrative cannot change: it is what "conservatives" want, they want to impress upon us that "order" comes from appeals to the orderly and thus to the Order Maker. "Religion" depends on claiming moral superiority, be that "freedom," "truth," or "patriotism." It's all about legitimizing the claim to power, that is, maintaining authority.

Thus, we humans are incapable of knowing the right thing and our actions need to defer to the Almighty. The mechanisms of human manipulation and control are never far from their agenda and when you decide God must first and last decide you have weaponized the ultimate in the service of the agenda. The agenda here is to maintain power, use the threat of power, and so invoke authority however possible to create the outcomes of power.

What that power seeks is control and when it spirals into anarchy it will use the claims of authority: the law, the heroic law enforcers, God, freedom conferred by God (in this case particularly the 2nd Amendment), and other claims to God-given, God-sanctioned power. That power is of course used to serve some social and political end because religion is not about individualizing feelings---that is the "spiritual"---it is always about putting them in structures of power and order such that people will do the bidding of the powerful.

The masks of religion have been temporarily torn off or perhaps not so temporarily. But the masks are real. Religion understands structural power and its manipulations and so the Right knows that control can be maintained with appeals to the supernatural and obedience.

When obedience fails then violence can be used to maintain order but violence as a threat and a tool is never far from the objectives of power. Those who disobey will be called "mentally ill" and the problem reduced to "derangement." When violence "breaks out" it disrupts the smooth claims of power: to enrich itself and maintain control.

The violence endemic to the structure must not be investigated because their God with wrath for the disobedient is one of "mercy" for the compliant. The threat of violence, like actual violence, is foundational to the structure of power itself, ultimate power is ascribed to God who is little more than those who wield it. Thus, the Republican politicians have preferred the threat of violence and, of course, don't fancy what happens when their sycophants assume the role of God which they assign to themselves.

At this point their religion is also nationalist, racist, and misogynist, and the goal is to keep power in the hands of white men---where it has "always" been. This is not only historically true but is part of the deeper purpose of religion itself: to _maintain_ order in a world that promises nothing because God's "mystery" includes the fact that all manner of unwanted things happens even to the God-fearing "compliant." Doing God's work means rooting out the cause and the sources of "evil "who are none other than those who threaten their white power. 

The "real" cause of evil, which is disorder not attributable to their "just" God, are those those who would take their power and rearrange the power to their disadvantage. Violence is the common recourse to those who prefer to make money from such threats to power---think McConnell, Trump, the NRA, the grifters, et.al.---and those who imagine themselves the stewards and keepers of order, that is particularly young white men with guns fueled by the threat of the other as the emblem of change, undermining their power, and so order itself.

Interestingly America as an ideal is built on values that treasure evolution and progress---we claim to pursue a "more perfect union."

If we can suspend for just one moment the venal hypocrisy that has always been the nation's shadow and its real sins then we can claim that our desire for order can take up imperfect means too. This is itself a threat to In God We Trust order because it places the burden of truth in reason and humanism.
We will have to allow truth to be on-going, flush with a greater awareness of what threatens us, and a recognition that our human desires must contend with being incomplete. But that will not happen if we fail to understand that power---white male power--will not relinquish its claims to absolute and ultimate control without violence as a threat.

Our ideals of plurality depend not on thoughts and prayers but on the recognition that power must serve conflicting values that may not recognize or reconcile with each other. The stakes are sustainable difference as a model of plurality in a society that makes access to violence as simple as ordering on the internet or shopping at Walmart.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Thomas Paine's Choice

Trump is a racist, a white supremacist, a moral catastrophe. He is unfit to govern and unfit to lead this nation.  If you can deny or excuse this I think there will come another time for you.  Who will you say you were when you supported his vile claims upon America?

Let Thomas Paine make the point for us: "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated”

The true test of character, of the heart, and moral value is here. And how do you want to be remembered?

IF we survive this---and that means if Trump is soundly defeated, the House remains Democratic, and maybe, just maybe the Senate turns too---then there's going to be a reckoning. It may take time. But William Barr is wrong about his Homeric destiny: his complicity in evil will not die when he does. Songs _will_ be sung. Infamy will follow all of them into death. History will know. Judge not, you opine? That's not what justice demands when we must answer to our humanity.

Who were you, where were you, and what did you do? You will be remembered because there are occasions when the stakes really are that high and there is a right side and a wrong side. It's not an opinion. It's about human decency. Did you "make a mistake" in 2016? There's still time to make amends and not a moment to waste.

I've lived long enough now to see how this goes. In 1965 you were with Dr. King's movement or you were not. In 1974, you were with Nixon or you were not. These were choices that revealed the human core. These were matters that cannot be dismissed as "mistakes that anyone could make." We've arrived there once again.

This is a moment in history now that can't just have confused you. There is no idle response. There is no neutral. You weren't just duped or taken along for the ride. The question is before you: where are you now that it's all plain as day? "These are the times that try men's souls," and Paine's anachronistic language notwithstanding the point remains.

You are with Trump or you are not. If you are with him, history will not be kind to your choices, your judgment, or your character. You will have chosen not only the wrong side of history but will have demonstrated a personal failure of character--- because this is an honest test of right and wrong.

If I am wrong then surely this experiment in democracy will be rightly over. We can leave America to the current brand of sunshine patriots. But if America decides for another, brighter and more honest future then we can lay claim to the word "hope" once more and begin to take stock of all the damage done.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

An Accountability for Power Will Be Met With Fierce Resistance

An Accountability for Power Will Be Met With Fierce Resistance

Justice has no arch towards goodness. I steadfastly reject that "hope" as little more than wishful thinking.  It serves only to permit fictions of justice. Justice must be made and so it must first be imagined and considered---fantasies about goodness are nothing better than soporific consolations.  Indulge if you must, at your own peril.

But just can be made to bend if there is enough collective will and time. The Supreme Court be damned, there will be change. Today's ruling on gerrymandering effectively tells politicians that they can choose their own voters and make sure others, even the majority, have their place in the conversation. This is another victory for white supremacy but Republicans have become entirely shameless in that too.

Last night put Julián Castro on stage pursuing the US Presidency. He stands no chance. Not yet. Not this time. We are still in the strangleholds of Reaganism.

But I will say this about the courage and insight of Julian Castro last night. What he proposed was not merely "criminal justice reform" that carries on the usual strategy of merely running scared from Reaganism. That running scared policy reduced Democratic ideas to locking morm people up more humanely, throwing a stick at rehabilitation, better opportunities, and all the rest.
All we have done is traumatize our society and leave an entire segment of the population in abject fear for their lives by virtue of not being favored by the police (because they aren't white.) Castro grasped that perfectly, as did Booker. All I think but especially them.
Instead Castro was suggesting that we look at it from the other direction, turn it completely around and demand better police, better behavior from those who enforce the law, a clearer sense of the culture of law and its enforcement.
But I tell you nothing scares or angers the white status quo more than this inversion of the argument. Around here the meme is all about that blue line in the flags. What the locals, as unsophisticated as they are, understand is that if _they_ are held accountable as the police then their own abuses are in account and their power is challenged.
Trump will run on fear of immigrants but he will also code in a heavy dose of Nixonian law and order. What is changing is that the Democrats are _finally_ turning the tables and offering not a revised, kinder, gentler Reaganism but a new model. That model will be fiercely rejected and despised.

Castro told the truth and when is doing the right thing ever the wrong thing? But I do not think it is yet a winner. There are innumerable examples of the truth that demands this reversal, this turning inside out of the model but fear of otherness, fear of loss of power, these are all far too dominant in the narrative yet.

That Castro speaks with clarity and passion only makes him more dangerous. He can't win this election but I tell you, this issue will be used to try to defeat whoever is the nominee. Even Biden will turn this corner as quickly as he can because the Democratic electorate now stands wholly opposed to more of the Run from Reaganism that has failed everyone, and I mean that, sooner than even he thinks. He is nothing if not wanting to win and he will adjust and learn because they all must.

This is what leaves characters like Delaney and Jim Webb and others with no place to go---they aren't quite as vile as Republicans but can't yet fathom a genuinely different world. No one will leave themselves behind in pursuit of office who understands the invidious Republican agenda.  They will not long survive as a candidate for anything. Republicans aren't yet cowering---as Democrats have since Reagan---but they know the jig is up. They are going to need that gerrymandering more than ever.

As If We Needed More

As If We Needed More
More credible evidence the "leader of the free world" is a sexual predator, misogynist, and rapist.

More example of the bankruptcy of moral character with no further appeal but to profit that allows murder to go unpunished, worse, unacknowledged, denied, made into false equivalence.

More needless deaths of innocents fleeing oppression only to drown because there is no asylum because we have closed the "golden door" for those deemed too tired, too poor, too huddled in masses.

More pictures of caged children, hungry, sleepless, uncared for but by each other behind secret, guarded doors, fences, and waving flags.

Is this who we are? Most decidedly, it is.

Make no mistake those who do not wish this to change because they profit, because they revel in the cruelty, because they have been driven into frenzies of their own insecurity, self-importance, and fear for the loss of privilege, will do everything they can to deny or prevent that change. It matters no if they have been found out or reported. They have instruments of distraction and the weaponry of fear and anger and indifference.

There are no boundaries to the corruptions of power in this President or his sycophants to work their will. It is their work, God's work as they imagine that god. They do not seek nor require our consent. That refuse accountability as those who would hold them accountable wring their hands in fear of? Of what? Of doing the right thing?

Trump treats America the same way he treats women: with contempt, as a cowardly bully and whenever he can as a predator. How can Americans looking for justice ever be heard over the din of his infantile enablers?

None of us are innocents in this indecency or its usurpation. We elected this form of government and consented to put in place a system that treats our humanity with indifference and worse.

Yeats told us what could happen because he saw it plainly around him even then:


Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken solitary
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.


---W.B. Yeats from Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Chaos and Compassion

I have been thinking a lot and feeling a lot about the border crisis, about the children in cages, about their conditions, that photo of the father and child drowned.

First a few lines from Wallace Stevens' well-received Sunday Morning,

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

I have been wondering too how it is that Trump's Christians can only defend him. How cruel their remarks. How astonishingly inhumane. And I ask myself how did they get this way. It's almost my job to do that, I study religion for a living---or what passes as a living.

Below is a comment I made to a friend who made a similar observation citing an article in which a Trump Christian describes why she cannot feel compassion and why we must not feel empathy. Really. It is a study in pathology. And still how did this happen to such believers, why does their religion do this to them?

What is that religion now? It is how these people live clinging to sterile dogmas, superstitions, and insipid formulas because they cannot address their own lives with any care or seriousness. They use religion not to query, question, or explore but to assert, to solve, to claim their own superiorities, to tell the rest of us how certain they are. So how we can expect them to care for others, especially children.

Why is it that they fail the simplest tests of humanity? It is not merely because they are inept and cruel and stupid, it is because they hate the vulnerability they see because they refuse to see it in their own lives, in their lies, their own valueless religious nonsense that consoles their empty souls.

We live amidst "a heap of broken images," as Eliot put it so plainly in The Wasteland. We will not banish or exile religion because it's the easy way out, the way lazy minds and frightened hearts take so that they don't need to look at themselves.

I say we must affirm that heap of broken images and find our way into it. We must not stand on it but go into the crevices and spaces where the rocks and stones will hurt us, where we must stumble, and take care even to find our own footing. And then we must look for those broken upon those same images and give them a simple hand.

We may be faltering and stumbling too but their lot is far more precarious, in deeper need, and it'd be a good thing to remind ourselves that our shared humanity is our only true hope. I don't give a damn for god until we can see each other in that form.

Sorry for the sermon here yo.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Taking Nihilism Seriously as Republican Politics

Nihilism easily defined is that death to all is preferable to any opponents' continuity. To wit, the nihilist doesn't want to die but has every arsonist's instinct and especially the desire to burn his opponent's house down with them in it. If possible, such death must include cruelty to confer pleasure because the true nihilist might wear the facade of calm but is, in fact, pathological. Nihilists are bullies, cowards, creeps, so they want to get rich and bluster and will use any excuse not to put themselves in any danger.

I think it's important to take nihilism seriously these days. When Trump talks about not conceding defeat, carrying on past eight years, or McConnell calls himself with rye disdain the Grim Reaper we are looking at nothing less. When William Barr, mistaken for a patriot and institutionalist, along with Rob Rosenstein, becomes the toady of an authoritarian, we are looking at nihilism. When Robert Mueller can't see that _his_ team doesn't have any rules but winning, he is a naive and complicit nihilist. When Jerome Powell takes the job at the Fed, he's not looking for more money (he's rich, of course), he likes the power and prestige even if it means working for the nihilists---and so concedes any decency we might otherwise suspect. Nihilism needs allies. It has plenty in grifting Wall Street, religious hypocrites, racists, misogynists, there's no lack of quislings and players.
Let us review the possibilities: I think in her last several appearances that Senator Warren knows that the Republicans are nihilists: that they will burn down the republic simply to thwart Democrats having any power whatsoever. She knows that they are evil because, well, they are. She can't quite go so far as to say it that way, because that would be impolitic. The problem with even good politicians is that to remain viable they must not be impolitic, that is, they must lie self-consciously so as not to tip the boat. But we know she knows. She knows that she would face nothing, _NOTHING_ but gridlock, brazen contempt, and intractable insolence to every proposal.

When Biden makes this pitch about breaking the fever, working with Republicans, we can't help but feel he is sincere and also dead wrong, embarrassingly so. Americans' instinct for the irenic is not misplaced entirely. You see, realizing that you have to live with your opponents because you can't actually eliminate them is part of understanding nihilism and why you don't want to be that. Everyone burns but burning it down is never really a good idea. Civil wars are like revolutions: too many people die and they should be avoided, somehow, until the very very very last. So, I'm more disappointed and embarrassed by Biden's views than I am appalled.

If Trump wins again, this American experiment is entirely over. It would sure be nice that we actually do something about Republican nihilism rather than just have more Obama-gridlock-obstructionism that merely slows it down. We need some even longer history to consider further how nihilism has become the official Republican philosophy.

Mahabharata gnomes---I count myself among them---know that goodness can never quite carry the day to the satisfaction of those who love goodness and wish it would. The most devoted and diligent will be disappointed because Their Idealism is like the Absolute or Certainty, or Anything Else With A Capital Letter---it doesn't really exist because the other side cannot be eliminated. To vanquish one's opponents is never to eradicate or erase since that would not only reduce the winner to same villainy, it is impossible. Resist finally, particular those that propose solutions.

Now just because you can't _really_ win the way you might want to win (until you really think about it...), doesn't mean that the other side will ever relent or engage in any meaningful compromise. Just because the villains are on their heels doesn't mean they will suddenly become reasonable. In fact, even if they are largely defeated and represent extreme, outlier views that the majority wholly rejects means nothing to them. They will use whatever power they have to thwart, impede, deny, reject, dodge, duck, outwit, and otherwise ruin their opponents---at any cost. Any.

It is a feature of the true nihilist that he (nearly always a "he" though we might make exception for, say, the likes of SHS or Marsha Blackburn, et.al.) has no scruples, no difficulty or hesitancy in carrying forward his agenda. That agenda is: my way or death to all. That ruin means to leave him alive and in power because he is at heart a coward but it must ruin his opponent for good, with cruelty a feature not a mere dividend.

It is this determination of the nihilist philosophy that links the likes of McConnell (and I submit any of the others) to Trump. They share nihilism's most prurient aspirations. And to make good on that adjective (<---prurient), I submit it was deliberate: they wanna fuck you, no matter what. Not in a good way, ever. Forgive my own unchaste language but I have no reason to not be impolitic---I'm never running for anything. I do think we need to be running towards the facts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Contrariety as Method and "Goal"

I've recently laced into the idea the spiritual life has final goals (or goals at all), that it is a pursuit of happiness. But this can lead to a few mistaken impressions including that we are advancing the idea that discontent is for its own sake, that this process makes us more "unhappy," and that we are rejecting outright goals or meaning. Let's start with a resounding no to each of these suggestions.

*Discontent is not a goal nor is it for its own sake. We may however generate a certain discontent or discomfort because that's what it takes to keep learning.

*The idea isn't to be more unhappy much less to generate any unhappiness. It is to say that "happy" can be in the way, a positive obstacle, to deeper inquiry. We have to take the world as we find it, not as we wish it were---that is the starting point.

*Goals, be they outcomes or process, are not in anyway a "bad" thing. Goals mark success and success is a fine thing---albeit not the end but the beginning of the contrariety method. To put it more radically, goals are mundane in comparison to the deeper, unfinishable, provisional, deeply engaging work of inquiry. "Inquiry" means any serious pursuit be that an action or an understanding. You might be building bicycles or reading Sanskrit, thus anything worth doing that fosters your imagination and curiosity is an inquiry. There is no more worthwhile an inquiry than self-inquiry: who are you, how have you been made, how do you make yourself, what are your relationships? Goals are like milestones but the road is not made by milestones, it is merely marked that way. Carry forward.

So now I will repeat some of what's been said elsewhere for the sake of putting some clarification into one place.

The method we're discussing I call 'contrariety', partially in homage to Hitchens from whom I stole the term but also because I can't quite find another that captures my meaning. It's not being merely petulant or disagreeable. And while

I haven't read the book (and so I'm not commenting on it), it likely stands in contrast to "The Subtle Art of Not Giving Fuck." Though I am intrigued by the title, I'm not suggesting being in any way disengaged from the acts or the consequences. Even when one acts on principle, one can still very much suffer the consequences---those "fruits of action" do matter, no matter what is said about bypassing them. There's a real difference between engaging and somehow disregarding consequences for an action preferred.

The thesis I'm making works has four principal points:

1*If we want the best things in life, like love, we will suffer, we will necessarily grieve.

2*It is not in happiness that we find out the most about ourselves but in the deeper exploration of the relationship we have between happiness and our shadows. And in that process, everything that remains or is suppressed into the shadows only leads to less satisfaction with life.

3*When we study, when we are really learning, we have to ask the uncomfortable questions. If we only ask the questions we can we never find out what more we could know. This can prove disturbing, of course, but asking the best questions is not a pursuit of happiness, it is a pursuit of discovery.

4*The strife, frustration, or uncertainty we feel is not only a part of the process of the best kinds of learning, it is demonstrable proof of learning. You learn more at the frontier of your competencies and that is often daunting, scarce, anxiety producing, and fearful. It can be hard to go there, harder still to sustain that kind of process but it is in the prospects of failure and continued experimentation that we grow.

None of these things is not giving a fuck nor is it the same as Krishna's advice to act without regard to the fruits of action. All of these things create some degree of stress and further complication that may not prove "happy." There is plenty of time in life, hopefully, to "back off" some, take a vacation. There are other kinds of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that are not as constructive---including bypassing these kinds of contrariety methods.

I am further suggesting that these strategies for inquiry and exploration _are_ a "spiritual" path, or maybe _the_ spiritual path that lies at the heart of what I was taught. To make that clear allow me another brief contrast.

*Indian yoga traditions make three points. First, they agree that our human condition is deeply problematic. They call this samsara and tell us that things go amiss either of their own accord or by our making, and so we necessarily suffer. Second, they posit the _solution_ to samsara that they all call (one way or another) liberation. The various traditions do _not_ agree on the description of liberation, only that it solves samsara. Liberation can be oneness, emptiness, god identity, god submission, and on and on. Third, they posit methods and processes by which to identify samsara and arrive at liberation. These include actions, external and internal, altering or establishing intentions, ideas, or feelings; understandings or knowledge and then commitments such as vows or love or other strategies of devotion.

*These yoga traditions all aim to solve samsara either completely or in part. Since there is no way to refute someone's experience, it is fair to say that all of these forms of final liberation are rightly called religious or mystical claims.

Now onto Rajanaka.

*Rajanaka does not dispute the claims or terms of samsara. We agree that suffering is not an end unto itself, that we humans prefer less and that to create more suffering is equally unhealthy.

*Suffering however cannot be overcome, bypassed, or somehow solved. So Rajanaka rejects all claims to final liberation by nearly any traditional definition. This is such heresy that it means we may no longer be "Hindus" but the Vedic life posited no such liberation, only methods to love life. Love your life is our aim. This isn't always happy or pleasant, not by a long shot.

*Loving life includes loving, loving will entail suffering and certainly grief, anxiety, fear, loss, and the rest that are clearly part of samsara.

*Diminishing suffering is not the same as overcoming it. Sometimes we want less, sometimes we ask for more (like when we love).

*Rajanaka affirms the methods of yoga (part three above) but for the purposes outlined in the previous note---exploration, discovery, inquiry that does not conclude or have final results (only provisional, unfinished results). Keep lovin' your life, even when you know it's hard.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Got Rant? Why Happiness and Its Pursuit Are Overrated

Allow me to be contrarian. You were expecting?  Let's start by saying that happiness is way, way overrated. I can think of 330 million things I would rather pursue than happiness. That makes me damn near unAmerican and certainly no one ever mistook me for a Buddhist but for my love of metaphysical annihilation at death.   This all started when some lovely person put up a meme about how success is not happiness but that happiness is success.  Who could disagree?  Let's try.

That notwithstanding I will still make the case that happiness is largely soporific banality. You can do better if you want. You might not.  That’s okay if that’s what you want.  For my part,  I could mostly care less about happiness except when it’s a reprieve from real life. I want as few reprieves as possible.

Leave it to Buddhists and Americans to make life about happiness and its pursuit. I'm decidedly of the opinion that Hindus are inordinately influenced by their own autochthonous heretics and that's why they take up the subject at all and, as we see here, link it to success. If Hindus listened to their hearts they'd know far better that this happiness thing is just a salve, a temporary at best or at worst escapist notion that removes you from life.

Real life ain't happy and isn't about it. Real life wants love and love hurts. Real love longs and aches and seeks intimacy and fails most of the time, but somehow it's worth it. Reality doesn't give one fuck about your happiness and neither should you, except when you really need it just to take the edge off the stuff that really matters more, like love and death and friendship and justice and war and sex and.  Add here whatever gets you going.

In much of the Hindu life success is not only more valued than happiness but the two are not much connected. Hindus are driven as much by duty as by any sense of pleasure or even well-being: one does what one must and should, what one is called to do, what needs be done. That this may be redolent with some kind of joy or pleasure, that we might actually _like_ it is usually secondary at best. 

Of course we can pursue pleasure as such---aesthetic, emotional, intellectual, even personal---and that can be an end in itself and so can be done successfully (or less so), but if that is happiness then it is too a matter of happiness being not for its own sake but as part of a structure of objectives. In other words, it is a happy thing to do something well, including feel pleasures (like loving poetry for example), and so it is happy to be successful just as one can be successfully happy.

But my point is that just _being happy_ is not much of a thing for Hindus until you get to that deeply introverted, staring into metaphysics sorta' thing. Meh. Cosmic happiness is pure banality as far as I am concerned, just more soporific nostalgia for a something that is more narcotic than awakening. Lots of people want that bliss, that primordial check out, lots of Hindus, just not me.  I would personally prefer something that is much more interesting---that is, that really heats you up---or something important---that is that slows you down, arrests you---to anything happy as such.  I could think of nothing worse than "unconditional" happiness or bliss.  Yawn.  Fergittaboutit.  Can we go for a bike ride, read an impossible book, fall in love, try to make interesting music? Anything?  Just not bliss.  Not Self.  Not Brahman. Not nirvana.  Just stop it, will ya'? Please?

I think it's not just because happiness has largely evaded me because I don't understand its pursuit but also because I'm pretty sure that it bores me, much like most meditation. I would rather be fired up in a testy conversation, confused by great poetry, reeling in good music, bothered by injustice, or confounded (always) by love. If we love we grieve and that is hardly ever happy, or is it? The question is more interesting if happiness isn't the point.

If the opposite of happiness is discomfiture than that's really what I think I'm after. I hate being comfortable. I like sports that make me hurt, especially cycling which is pretty much boxing in your underwear on wheels. The point of a bike race is to make the other guy hurt so much more than you are hurting that you finish ahead of him. Sure you can just pedal around for fun with your grandchild, you don't have to be a dick about everything. Even I understand that. And ain't it the truth that somedays you don't want to put the hurt on yourself because, well, you already hurt. But why let that stop ya'? 

The point of scholarship, which is supposed to be my profession, isn't to tell people what you know or found out or even for the sake of knowledge itself---how fucking boring is all that? That is exactly how you get tenure and how you tell yourself that your own bullshit is somehow important or interesting. That's what most of my colleagues do and it bores me almost as much as it makes me embarrassed to share their profession. How mundane can it get?

I prefer that everything is a lot harder than all that. What's worth it? It is to be confused, lost, confounded by ideas, by language, by feelings and arguments that have no resolution, that fail more than they ever succeed. The point of art is to provoke, to inspire, to move you. Sure, sometimes you are moved to smile---like I am every single damn time I hear Here Comes the Sun or Born to Run but that might just as soon turn into tears and heartache and loss, in a nanosecond.

I pursue discomfort with such avidity that I am usually bored shitless by the time I say what I have just thought or figured out. It's why dozens of manuscripts sit on my hard drive about 80% done. I get no real satisfaction from the finished product, I like the work abut I especially like the work when it is failing me, when I can't quite get it right, when it makes me frustrated, angry, or scared. I can't be comfortable in love. I can't be interested unless I'm being challenged or recognize a conflict. 

Happiness is what it feels like to pause from life, not to live it. I'm good for some pause. It's just the space in between the rage and the next rage. I am Rudra's child, not the Buddha's. Send in the crows and the serpents.

I'm not AT ALL recommending my ideas here nor dissuading you from happiness or success or wtf the Buddhists up there^^^ are recommending. THEY make recommendations, they give advice, they are always trying to tell us wtf to do with ourselves, what we want, what we should want, what's "really" available. I got none of that and want none of that. However, I think most people likely need that and like that. "Everybody I talk is waiting for the one who can give them the answer...", thank you, Jackson Browne, 1972. Or salvation, or a job, or MEANING to life.

Fuck meaning. It's overrated too. You don't need to have a reason that is sane or purposeful. You don't need to think you know when it's way more likely you don't. And most things that you know that you know you don't give much heed too. You haven't worried about the times tables since you almost mastered them in 6th grade so what makes you think that the things you know really are the source of something more than a banality of pleasure? Meaning is always on the make, it's at its best when it is provisional, testing and testy, when there is contradiction and irresolvable paradox. But I don't much want advice nor do I give it. I hate being told what to think. I much prefer the trials and tests that teach us how to think, that is, just to learn to think. As for feeling more deeply, we've covered that. If it ain't got pain, it ain't got love involved. Next? 

Got rant?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Why Mueller Failed

Robert Mueller's friends and colleagues have too much respect for him as a person to say much of anything negative about his manner or his findings. I too do not doubt for a moment his integrity. I think he thinks he did the right thing and that he doesn't need to explain himself further.

I think he failed. And since I have no skin in this game, no knowledge of Mueller personally or professionally, I have no reason not to speak my mind.  His pundit lawyer friends on TV can't say what I say because while they think they are being "objective" (lawyers always do) they are in fact  defending Mr. Mueller their friend.  Mueller failed.  At least so far.  I see nothing ahead that would re-set the margins.

First, he failed to act as a special "prosecutor" because he delivers no verdict. Wasn't that his job? I actually agree with Barr on this. Barr said he didn't do this job. Correct. He should have told us whether there was a case for indictment. So he evaded on the basis of some untested rule. But let's grant him this because, you know, rules that only lawyers can rationalize.

This makes him not chief prosecutor but chief investigator for Congress. Fair enough. He says he did all he needed to do and doesn't want to talk about it and that the work speaks for itself. Wrong on at least two counts. First, there are hundreds of good questions (shall I start?) that he does not answer but likely knows the answers. Second, no document speaks for itself. He would fail my entry level class if he insisted as much. So what is his role? Maybe chief educator. How did he do in that? He fails again.

And then, what really galls me. I work in a profession largely devoted to talking only to itself in complex sentences, arcane arguments, and other modes of indecipherable bullshit. Academics are like lawyers, only as we know lawyers are worse: worse because they never have to communicate to anyone but each other. (Academics have to speak occasionally to lay people, like undergraduates---most really hate doing this, n.b.) So what does Mueller do? He speaks in double negatives, legal syntax, and does pretty much the only thing he apparently knows how to do---talk like a lawyer. To Americans. To a country that doesn't read, can't read, much less understand lawyer speak. He utterly failed as a communicator, as an educator, and as anyone but a lawyer speaking to other lawyers in Congress. Congress, for its part, can't figure out that it needs to do the right thing because, in the end, its about power and who gets to use. So there is a lack of principle on the part of Congress and a lack of understanding about what real America can understand from Mueller.

Start here and forgive the pedantry, I come by it professionally.

The percentage of Americans capable of understanding Mueller-speak is commensurate with your own demographic. Plain translation, it takes listening and some marginal critical ability to understand Mueller. How many Americans can do that? Come to my college classroom, I'll show you how few. And they are in college and some of them learn how to think.  But Americans?

So it is your duty as a public person to speak to the American denominator and that is Fox News Low, it is about as hard to understand as Lester Holt.  It's what people who make TV News know.  Speak slowly, assume nothing, use simple words.  Mueller just failed.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Why Politics is Always Religion

An article in the Washington Post is chocked full of data points about why Americans won't elect a professed atheist. The author argues we need one and that may or may not be true. He understands that won't happen but not for the core reasons. I think the author needs a further distinction to help us understand how deeply this religion business cuts. We are religious beings before we are political ones, religion being the superseding category. That too needs a bit of explanation. (Here's the link to the original bit:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-time-for-us-to-have-an-unapologetic-atheist-in-the-oval-office/2019/05/08/0f3e0020-6c27-11e9-be3a-33217240a539_story.html?fbclid=IwAR3mThgOBIfvXKm0B9iPldUuM5jaMHcUFJQQrr_2Xp0pK9tWPPeBAph4rC0&utm_term=.21eb8b41d4c9)

That important difference we need to make is between a "professed" atheist and a passive one. You can _almost_ get away with being a passive atheist by playing dodge ball and keeping your mouth shut. Get into why you aren't a believer and your chances of being elected become zero. Get into why religious _belief_ is a positive detriment to 21st century adulthood and you get even less popular, even with your friends.

Bernie is a good example of the passive atheist. He adds the further distinction of not identifying particularly as culturally Jewish. Now add his socialist views and he's about as close to a godless communist as any has ever been with that many votes. But he knows how to skirt the issue because he knows we are a religious nation. Check out his quotation about how he has religious and spiritual feelings. He can't deny and no one actually ever wins at dodge ball, you're just the last person in the circle. So why is this the case?

Part of the evangelical right's disdain for Europe's democratic socialism is that these countries are largely post-Christian, humanist in orientation towards people, and indifferent to their dogma and moral evaluations. When you can be "good" without being a dogma believer you've _almost_ also escaped the last bit of coercion---the last is tribe loyalty. To deny your religion can be to reject your tribal identity; this is what we mean when we say people are "culturally X", say Jewish or Catholic or something that makes you put up a Christmas tree.

Dogma, morality, tribe are the three elements of a socialized religious identity. Notice how Republicans seek out the simplest, straightest line between the individual and the group. This is because they insist that renegade individuals or "outsiders" have no rights, no claims on the real estate. You're in or you're out. Sharing a religion is an important feature of that need but not the only one. How the individual features in this collective identity devolves usually to moral or personal regard. You think so-and-so is a "good person" because you know that person and this solves the story in most ways but not politically.

The irony in this is that the 1st Amendment freedom makes further interest in someone's religion something we don't know _how_ to talk about, it is relegated to the private. But once you are a political person, you _stand for_ the flag, for country, for _us_ and that means you have to conform. Cross even a little out of the Protestant Christian lanes and there is a lot of 'splaining to do.

The article's essential thesis is that atheism is the theists are the problem and I could not agree more. But he fails to understand more deeply I think why people don't like professed atheists. He seems to think that it hinges on our suspicions of moral inadequacy, i.e., professed atheists are immoral and then resorts to the usual disproofs. This is, of course, a false equivalency because it's a black swan problem: all you need is one deeply professed atheist who is moral and the argument fails. Meh. This is not the problem. The author has missed the real point.

Religion is inextricably woven into identity: social, cultural, and personal. All of those matters have their own histories. No matter how you privatize religious identities like Americans do in the 1st Amendment or how claim they are preempted by some claim (often religious) of our shared humanity, when someone _actively_ dissociates from religion, they are creating an antagonism against _you_ even as they formulate a new tribe, in this case the atheists.

Humans are Us-beings and no matter how we try to be _human_ beings, our Us means there is a Them. When there is a case being actively made that you and your version of Us is somehow gravely mistaken, wrong-headed, superstitious, silly, imperialist, in some way less than correct, valid, or socially legitimate there is a natural comeuppance, we take umbrage. We don't like being told that something we use somehow to formulate our identity is at best a tribal need and at worst fatuous nonsense.

In short, we _always_ take religion personally. We can't help it. And when people are affronted they feel attacked, dismissed, trivialized. It's not a moral problem as such, it's a matter of getting into the fiber of being and that _feels_ like a moral provocation. The professing atheist is making claims about our fragile and precarious hold on meaning, which we become desperate and angry about because we don't like to be told how touchy, insecure, and contingent those feelings and ideas are.

Enter modernity: we are daily undermined by diverse views, new facts, and global dangers. We may need an atheist to deal with those facts because Team Magical Friend always makes matters worse. But that will have to be a passive atheist, one who makes us _feel_ like our personal identities are being unthreatened, especially by the facts.