Sunday, February 9, 2020

Getting Personal and Finding a "More Human" Empathy In our Religion and Politics

Scholarship doesn't reward the personal. We're told it's not our job. But Rajanaka---and that means you, people you likely know, friends, folks who've come to the conversation with open minds and willing hearts---has taught me that I don't know any other way of doing scholarship and live with myself.

I've never been very good at just reporting the facts without thinking aloud about what I'm thinking. I like to try to imagine lives I have not lived and not likely to lead but within every conversation I ask myself, to the core of being, "Well, what do you think, Ji? Do you know what you think?" Studying religion will do that to you, if you let it. Not just religion.

As far as I can tell nothing is more personal than politics. If you decide not to participate, think about it or deal with the maelstrom and malaise, it's still all gonna matter. It's going to change your life and it's likely going to change others at least as much, maybe a lot more.

Politics can be as selfish as you want it to be. It shares that with religion or spirituality, which we think of as a "me-problem." Truth is, that too isn't just a me-problem. How we evolve our learning in every way will cut to the core and that means it will reach out into other lives.

But there's a chance in politics that's rarely as clear in your religion or spirituality: what you think or believe or do can change others' lives and change yours _right now_. There's an urgency we are all feeling now because what we know is that truth, decency and dignity itself are on the line. This is an _emergency_, folks. Our imperfections, our long and storied histories of light and shadow are nothing in comparison to the menace we face.

Can we feel compassion for those who berate us, lie about us, demand fealty threatening our safety should we disagree? How we are feeling for others isn't supposed to be this hard but these are troubled times.

Empathy is no small matter. We like to believe it is natural. As Mencius said some four hundreds years before the Common Era, "Who does not feel for the child who falls into the well?" He believed pity and compassion, empathy itself came as a matter of course, as the well-spring of our shared human nature.

But in the privacy of the voting booth we face no maker but ourselves and therein lies the real test. No supernatural judgment awaits and what is karma but what we yet understand about the consequences of our actions? We can "look out for ourselves" or we can imagine a bigger world, one that implicates each and every person not because we know them but because we don't. So what will we do depends on who we choose to be. That might be worth a thought.

I teach now in University concealing only as much as seems right to insure that students feel no pressure, so that they might reach their own conclusions and assess their own values. Whatever comes through that is personal I hope makes clear that we must take learning personally. We have to decide how what we know matters and if it might change the world we share.

In a room of adults---rather than University students--- I'm just as committed to be personal _and_ to do my level best to educate, to avoid even the slightest tincture of indoctrination or evangelism. But in this environment I feel a different responsibility because I _expect_ adults to already have their own hard-won opinions. We won't persuade each other of much, I think.

Instead we will ask each other how what is personal to you might matter to you should we disagree. We learn that empathy, however natural it is, is something we can feel more deeply when we learn from one another. That is a lesson I think Mencius would also agree is part of the task of becoming, as he puts it, "more human."

Confessions of a Dreamer Pragmatist, Or is that the Pragmatist Dreamer?

I am at heart both pragmatism and dreamer. If that's a paradox, add it to the list.

My jam is prudence and risk, it's hit your target and aim high and then higher. It's try not to fall for the fleece and the folly and never let anything stop you from what you really want to do. It's humility with a tincture of recklessness. It's modesty but shameless audacity.

I love the worldly world, yes, I love a lot of things made in the material world: things made with human hands and experience, things made with careful attention to every detail, things that will age, can be fixed or are just beautiful and serve not practical purpose at all, and above all tell a good story. I also love the contemplative, the poetic, just thinking and thinking and taking the the long way home. I love the glitter and the dirt. I love the facts and the myths with every bone in my body.

I ran off to India and would have happily wandered the temples with never, ever have another given a thought to coming home. I came home and have had the same job for more than 30 years, picked up my kids from school pretty much every single day. I don't mind a good conflict of interests.

I think the way to get that spot you long for over the rainbow is little by little, again and again. YMMV. I'm not suggesting you do it my way. We each need to figure out how to get to our own personal Valhalla.

Not always as important to be right as it is to know what rings true in your heart, what works for you, what will get you through today and tomorrow and maybe ahead. It's good to give in and lose sometimes. Have an idea but know that the best laid plans fail, yeah, fail. Without a plan you're thinking that the seat of your pants will be enough, when maybe it won't. Then what? You have to adjust and adapt in every circumstance, pick the best of bad choices, never, ever relent to go for it---whatever it is for you. You have to imagine, conjure, and envision what asks more from you than you've ever thought possible. You have to live within your means and over your pay grade. I will accept what can be done and still not give up on what could be.

So let's go to the phalanx of candidates for the presidency. So here's my personal take as I work on my inner paradoxes.

*Sanders, Yang, Steyer, and Warren offer too much reverie for me. What they propose will not happen even when I like the dream. Too much the dreamers for me because the asphalt or the barefoot path through the jungle has taught me what hard falls and broken bones (dreams) feel like.

*So what of the pragmatists? Biden is too old. Pragmatically, and this is a hard one: Buttigieg is too young and can't answer the one set of questions he must, about race. I have a very soft spot for a person of such depth, intelligence, and sensibilities. My admiration is dreamy but my pragmatism tells me he's not quite the thing. I want to be with the enthusiasm that POC will bring and, truthfully, pragmatically I trust their intuitions. When in doubt listen to the folks who know that trust is hard won. Bloomberg is a safety value in case it's the dreamer crowd and he doesn't care if he's president and he let a lot mean stuff happen that shouldn't have happened.. I feel confident he will put his money into goodness because like all sane people he hates Trump and can really do something about it.

I have not been thrilled with Senator Klobuchar until the end of the NH Debate. She has been too wonky, too legislative and procedural. Presidents need to say big things and mean it. They need to know how symbols and stories work, not just how bills pass the Senate. I needed to see someone MORE dreamy, less pragmatic. She's got pragmatic in spades but she needs some hearts too. Well, she just scored big in hearts. See the video in the first comment below. The thing about FDR really ripped me 'cause she meant it.

I love people who really mean it even when I think they are too dreamy or too pragmatic. Bernie _really means it_. I just don't fancy that much grievance and that much dream when it won't get done, and the same for Warren---though I hope both deeply influence the nominee. If I lived in NH I would vote for Senator Klobuchar. She's shown me heart I didn't know she really had. So there's that. You choose best when you know how you feel and think.

**Watch Senator Klobuchar seal the deal here for hearts, not just pragmatic in spades:
https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=596494844528670

Saturday, January 25, 2020

What About Those Gates of Hell?

As the Republicans take their place to defend this craven fraud, this criminal beyond all defense, I am reminded that JFK loved Dante as much as Dr. King. Both cite the poet to remind us that courage takes its stand and that there is no neutrality in the face of evil. This is lesson lost on these debased "leaders."

There is particularly a section in the Inferno that speaks of those who will languish in the hell of their own making. We can only hope that fate befalls these incorrigible toadies as they cast off any last shard of decency and integrity for this small, callow man to whom they bow.

As they enter the gates of their own self-made hell, we must endure their slander and sycophancy because the Republic might only endure if their feckless calumny is plain for all to see. May they burn in their own falsehoods and self-deceptions. And as hard as it is to understand how far they are willing to go into a bottomless hell of imbecility and servility, I think we can let Dante do the rest,


"And I: "What is it, master, that oppresses
these souls, compelling them to wail so loud?"
He answered: "I shall tell you in few words.
Those who are here can place no hope in death,
and their blind life is so abject that they
are envious of every other fate.
The world will let no fame of theirs endure;
both justice and compassion must disdain them;
let us not talk of them, but look and pass.""
---Dante, Canto 3

Friday, January 24, 2020

Realism is Neither Pragmatic nor Revolutionary


I can't condemn everything someone says just because I disagree with them nearly 100% of the time. It was George Will who reminded me once that to be an American means only to dedicate to the proposition---that it is not race, ethnicity, language, or any other criteria that frames the ideal. And it was David Brooks who once said that Americans don't vote who they are but who they wish they were.

Today Brooks writes, "“Politically correct” has become the phrase people use to define those who use cultural power to enforce ideological conformity." Bingo. I think it's used this way both by those who resent the cultural elites---Biden voters? Trumpists for sure. And it is used by the cultural elite leftists who chastise anyone who is less than Bernie or Warren approving. Descriptive definitions work best when they apply as well to contrasts as they do narrowing to specifics.

Fact. No matter who is elected in 2020 we are going to be left in purgatory with a nearly 42-42% situation and some or another form of divided government since it takes 60 (count'em, SIXTY) votes to move legislation through the Senate. That means even with a Democratic landslide and all those seats lost in, say, NC, AZ, that there are still not enough votes to get an agenda passed.

We are looking, for the most part, at a stagnant policy pond (another reason why Obama was actually so accomplished despite far WORSE than a stagnant opposition). There is not going to be any Bernie revolution if he wins. There's not even going to be a left-center or bring along a few Republicans coalition under any claimed "realistic" idea of change, whether that comes from Biden or Klobuchar or Bloomberg. If the Democrats landslide then the only Republicans left will be the worst of the lot. Can they be any worse? Not really, even the "moderates" are McConnell flunkies. 

Basically we are headed into legislative deadlock as far as the eye can see. and that is FAR FAR better than Trump, no comparison, snap out of it, get real, don't fool yerself. So just to STOP TRUMP the Democrats need how to figure out how to win the presidency and maybe, just maybe reverse some of this irreversible damage.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Star Trek and Trump* (*not even kidding)

I was poking around the web looking for signs of the new Star Trek series that's coming called Picard. Yeah, that might sound silly for a man my age but there's a history. On September 8th 1966 when I was 9 years old the first episode of Star Trek aired and everything about the future I could dream seemed part of that world. I never, ever missed an episode. I lived for the next one the way I lived for The Beatles next Ed Sullivan appearance.

There was plenty about the Next Generation that was just as corny and cringeworthy but something about Picard would always make up for that. Here was a character who wasn't the 40s-style heroic rake the likes of Kirk but who was no less heroic and with a more reflective and dare I say deeper soul. Picard was always willing to take a serious look at his shadow in a world devoted to light.

As a lad I needed the predictable maudlin, bathetic endings of this better future, all of which began on the premise that we'd survived WWIII and that First Contact (later revealed to be the Vulcans) had changed everything for everyone.

I was growing up too in the grand malaise of Vietnam, then as a college student in Carter's truth telling, and the rise of the truly vile Reagan---all of which shaped my life because I had a brother and a family deeply mired in this American failure and rather than rise to our occasion we regressed and so began the journey that takes us to Trump. Martin and Bobby were dead. Malcolm never stood a chance. The Beatles broke up.

You might well remember or are you too young? There was that completely phony "morning in America" commercial and then everyone who had a good union job was told that their union was the problem. Next thing you know Democrats sound like Republicans and the fascists make their case again and again. We have a brief shining moment again with Obama but the forces of evil are then more than ever determined to create the future.

There was going to have to be more and I wanted to fast forward to _that_ world, the one Star Trek promised. And marry a nice Vulcan girl. And drift further into space with my logical first mate. Was India supposed to do that? No, that changed everything again but it was the promise of more. Appa could do that. (I finally got it right with the artist version of the Vulcan, which really makes no sense at all. Thank goodness.)
Well, it seems now we might yet have WWIII and I'm wondering if there is going to change. Wondering seriously and not hopeful but apprehensive and genuinely worried. Aren't we all?

Patrick Stewart recently said when it comes to Brexit in the U.K. and Trump in the U.S., “I’m not sure which of us in the most trouble.”
“I think it’s actually the U.K.,” he continued. “I think we’re fucked, completely fucked.” In the U.S., he said, “There is a time limit to your fucked state, which is four years away.”

But will America imagine a better future and then do the most important thing? Rise and act?

Partisans with character fueled by honesty have praised the Democratic Impeachment managers and so has the mainstream press, interested in the truth, mapping out the facts. Republican Senators are forced to sit silently drinking milk and dozing off. I feel confident that nothing will penetrate them. As lucid and as persuasive as the Democrats case, I await Trump's defense and the Republicans' vote. This will be no test of honesty. Neither will there be any display of seriousness or integrity. Rather, those are the qualities that are now testing the American electorate.

Trump will be acquitted and will call it exoneration. November is a long way off in American memory though we can be assured that an "exonerated" Trump will be more vindictive and more committed to using unacceptable power than ever.

Will the people of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Arizona and Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and North Carolina show up to end this blight? Will Trump accept the results? We need the results first with numbers presumably beyond dispute. What will America do in 2020 to save America?
We need Picard more than ever.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Moral Crisis of Incorrigibility

The time is upon us. It has been but with impeachment now, it seems to me we have run out of ways to avoid it, again. I'm of the view that when we face the hard truths in life we stand a better chance of living with ourselves. I refuse denial or any of its softenings to make the ugly palatable. I prefer dealing with the diagnosis and the facts and then figuring out how to cope, how to deal, what to do. None of my need for realism makes the world a less beautiful or wondrous place. I insist on both. 

How you face the cruel facts of the world is up to you. Some situations create moral crisis and not every one of those we can reconcile. Somehow we have to carry on. Let's start with a word that should have deep ethical resonance

incorrigible
[ in-kawr-i-juh-buh l, -kor- ] not corrigible; bad beyond correction or reform: incorrigible behavior; an incorrigible liar.impervious to constraints or punishment; willful; unruly; uncontrollable: an incorrigible child; incorrigible hair.firmly fixed; not easily changed: an incorrigible habit.not easily swayed or influenced: an incorrigible optimist. noun a person who is incorrigible.

I've been keeping track of the 538 poll of polls. The Republican Cult has not moved one bit. Nothing will move them. It is a solid 41-42%, never falling out of that range of support. Everyday the evidence accumulates and everyday the situation deepens. It's not just the vile menace, it's a worldview that is coming into real policy and deeply changing people's lives for the worse.
 
Is there an incorrigible person in your life? I don't know what anyone can do with this situation except understand it. I'm not sure how you cope if there is such a "good" person in your family. What do we do with ourselves and with those who are incorrigible? How do we respect their choices? How do we live with values and ideas that are beyond the pale, not just political disagreements.
I'm not using "incorrigible" as a mere adjective but rather to raise a moral crisis. Without moral crisis there is no reason to doubt one's next choice. That is the Gita's first point. The things these "good" people want are no less vile than the American situation in 1859.

I'm not asking for anything from anyone who has this problem in their lives. If some of those 42% are your family or friends and you insist they are "good people," I know this is hard. I know you love them. But do give thought, as painful as it is, what it could mean that they are "good." They are good _to you_ or in some or another circumstance that suits them. They aren't criminals and they show up when things go wrong---but for whom? What is it to be good when it comes to supporting a worldview that is in fact destroying the planet and ruining lives? What is good about a government that is cruel, no, utterly inhumane and in violation of basic human rights?

Are these "good" people if you are a woman needing healthcare or a person of color or a person whose gender or religion or lifestyle whose very existence demands their control? Let's be honest. These good people are not part of the problem, they are the problem. Because they are going to vote and they support evil. Evil. Does that make them evil? Is complicity in evil enough? Of course it is. That hurts again. What do you do when someone you love is complicit in evil? Perhaps for you love somehow conquers all and you can accept these choices because you care for these persons deeply. Does that implicate you in the evil? Love is a feeling. When is it an excuse?

The only votes that will really matter are in States where these "good" white people will decide for the rest of us if this scourge continues. That may give someone the chance to avoid the incorrigible as a personal issue. If your incorrigible lives in Massachusetts or California or New York, their choices are muted. Does that matter? I merely ask.

I don't have any solution nor much in the way of advice. Frankly, I am sure that I couldn't deal with an incorrigible in my life but to excise the relationship. Truth is, I have done that already. I can't look that person in the eye anymore. I had to walk. I say that because that is my choice but I would not presume to advise nor do I think this should or needs to be your choice. You need to live with yourself. That is the most important thing I can think of. The rest is living. I think what we have is a moral crisis for people of conscience who must suffer an incorrigible. I feel for you, truly. It must be deeply painful to live with it. I wish you well.

Monday, January 20, 2020

On MLK Day Do We Have the Courage to be American?

I hope it's appropriate to begin MLK Day celebrations by also making a connection to our American Founders and to Lincoln. We always need perspective to create a vision.

To fathom what Dr. King was asking of us is to acknowledge the inexcusable failures of our American founding and yet to "conceive in liberty" who we might be, who we want to become. Allow me to start then with Lincoln. Like all great leaders, he was a complicated man. But eventually he put the matter plainly.

Yes, Lincoln was a deeply flawed man. But I believe he tried to tell the truth or come to it; he tried to be a person of integrity and ideals. Yes, I am willing to commend that he _tried_. Lincoln struggled to evolve his values into actions and work within the muddled structure of his politics. Don't we all in some manner struggle and fail to become who we could be? So we might ask, where was his heart?

Lincoln redefined the project of our first failure at America and it's sullied, corrupted first definitions. Lincoln told us that we are Americans when we are "dedicated to a proposition." This simple phrase is itself cause for a day, years, a lifetime of contemplation. Dedication here means not race, creed, language, ethnicity, gender---it means that we are all supposed to be equal before the law and that the law must be just for all. Just how do we do this?

Lincoln told us we needed a new birth of freedom because our founders were corrupted by their racism, sexism, their whiteness, and privilege and as men of their age they were captive of all of these assumptions and value interpretations.

But Lincoln knew that we needed a rebirth their ideals in a radical way. He did not live to show us what he truly had in mind. He knew the path was to justice for all.

It wasn't until Dr. King that we began to learn how to begin that rebirth and what it means to dedicate to this noble proposition of freedom and justice for _all_.

We are in a time in which we need again and again to hear Dr. King's voice, to reflect, to take his charge and his wisdom to heart. Our rebirth of freedom is in serious jeopardy and our dedication to the propositions of justice and freedom will tell all.

This is a critical inflection point and the powerful, soulful, rich message of Martin Luther King, Jr. has never been more important or trenchant.  It is no ordinary time, for we find ourselves in the midst of a second Civil War. This one a "Cold" Civil War. But we have never been so divided since that first tragic confrontation.

King was no perfect saint because there are no such human beings. He was, however, something better than any perfection. He was a voice of true humanity who like Gandhi and Mandela and others had the audacity to speak truth to power and to lead a way forward. He had a dream that we need more than ever.

I hope we learn to to listen to Dr. King now. Right now. We need that dream more than ever I have experienced in my own lifetime.

Who do we want to be?
Who could we be?
What will it take to become Americans?
Are we dedicated to those propositions?
Do we have the courage to create a new birth of freedom?
Today would be a good day, I think, to live in these questions and see what happens in your own heart.