Monday, January 24, 2022

Can We Be Whole in a Partisan World? The Superficial Truths Need to Come First

24 January 2022

This weekend I read about a man who was privileged enough to retire, buy an island, live alone for decades, spending most of his time planting trees, and then refusing millions of dollars to sell his island. I could be that castaway because I feel ready to cast away this world. Is that a time in life or feature of the world? Could it be both? This may just sound like complaining. Or even envy. If it does then apologies in advance. I think there are a few points to make and when they are less then sanguine or "hopeful"---not a word or even an idea that I much fancy under the best of circumstances---even a point worth making can sound peevish or malcontent.
I haven't been reading as thoroughly over the past few months in public affairs. I cancelled subscriptions to podcasts, newsletters, and no longer watch or listen any talking heads, not even my favorites. I'm glad they are out there sounding the alarms and raising a clamor but to what end? For my part, I have retreated into what I call "the work"----any and all things I would consider "yoga." By that I don't mean things exclusively Indian or from the histories of yoga properly speaking. What most people think is "yoga" has little or nothing to do with what I mean here. They aren't wrong. Meanings need to be understood for us to communicate. That is at least part of this repine. I include in the term "yoga" all literature, art, reflection, and criticism from any cultural source that speaks to my soul. The criteria of inclusion is
sahrdaya: that's the word for soulfulness, literally, with heart. I want to spend the rest of my days thinking, reading, having rich, serious conversations. That's all I really want. It seems to me I should want more but for now this will do. Politics should be in that realm, for it is Dharma even if that is but a limited sense of the meaning of that word. We must work to hold ourselves together---Dharma's literal meaning---and to negotiate with those whose values and visions are not ours. We need to find ways to live with each other even when, frankly we'd rather not have much of a relationship at all. It's like having an ex- with children involved: you need at least a working relationship to prevent misery. Misery prevented is a good day. that may lower the bar but can we just start there? I don't need to have my all of neighbors to dinner. I do need them to show up when the house is burning down---that still seems to work. Thank you, Fire Department. But I also need them to admit to a common set of facts and that is clearly failing. Not much about living together in this society seems to be working well or even tolerably. What happens when things are intolerable? We tolerate still because that is what we must do. What does that mean? Democracy can argue over what to do about the facts but it cannot have too, too much variance over what constitutes the shared formative assumptions and renderings of the evidence. Simply put, we need common facts in order to have diverse opinions. Opinions subject to the tacit rules of reason are called arguments. We need to be able to argue, not merely quarrel or fight. Democracy stands no chance when we cannot debate more or less the same facts.

My turned down personal volume admittedly has elements of resignation---I mean resignation from this society. That is not a responsible or serious position. One does not live apart from the social contract, the law, the ethos of culture and its formulations in the world. I believe I am suffering from a lack of seriousness about what I need to do to be whole person in this society. But is that really the case?

Like it or not, we are participants and not spectators to our world and as Americans that means this culture, however fragmented, diverse and segmented, however its differences appear from place to place. Furthermore, it is not only impossible but irresponsible to abdicate the de facto participation of citizenry if we want democracy---the best worst form of government we know.

Here's the rub and it chafes me to the point of erosion. First, I see no remedy to the misinformation (actually the dysinformation) of our current ecosystem. This means no common set of facts and please no false equivalencies here about both sides and how we choose our "news" sources. The Fox nation is fed a steady stream of culture war racism and Confederate ideology inciting violence and commending hatred. Not so many liberals are asking if we can use our guns yet. Let us hope we on the side of reason---the only alternative to voilence---stay rational. Because we cannot share facts we cannot argue meaningfully. But it's actually worse than that. Their "conservative" denialism is part of their identity formation, so the facts simply don't matter. Masks are mandated in New York right now and the other day I saw dozens of people in Wegmans without them. How to enforce when the culture's social contract is broken? We are not only two (or more) nations, we are not even a culture or a society: we acting as if we live in different worlds because that is what people want.
Those who dispute the facts cannot be reasoned with---let us say just that's about vaccines or the election's results, the particular topic doesn't matter. More personally, I see no point in such conversations and I want more soulfulness and less futile engagement with, well, life. I cannot in conscience wholly resign because already defeats democracy. We must stay informed and vote, even if they destroy democracy and none of our agenda is reali zed. Democrats hold all three branches of government and cannot among themselves agree on what needs to be done. How frustrating is that in the mix? Their opposition is determined to see them fail and they are seemingly determined to fail themselves. Currently, I cannot abide more participation than this. Last, and this charges further feelings of resignation and our political failure: there appear to be no consequences to criminal and traitorous behaviors. Of course since we can't agree on the facts and the courts are stacked with partisans, there can be no justice. Trump's criminality is like climate change. It can't be denied, it is right before our eyes. And what do we do about it in any meaningful way? There appear to be no consequences to anything that demands our collective will to bring the facts to bear. Trump so far has walked, as he always has, largely free of any consequences not only because he is a crafty, rich enough to use the system con artist but because his "I can do anything" view of the world is what "conservatives" want. This is, of course, a foundation of fascism, not of liberty. The Gadsden Flag, truck decals of Calvin pissing, refusal to mask---you name it, it's all of a piece. The idea of "freedom" is not only irreparably corrupted, it is meaningless.

I would be disingenuous if I said that these circumstances don't evoke a measure of hopelessness. No matter the facts it seems, there are few meaningful consequences.
So the world literally burns and floods, we witness the slow-march to democracy's death, we are the majority and "control" the levers of federal government and are apparently utterly powerless to prevent failure that is plain to the meanest eye. Pandemic and politics have cured me of people is what I said the other day when we returned from a "vacation." This involved normal things like travel, going "out" and seeing the world filled with other people. No, thank you.
Of course it's also clear that I don't know what vacation means, I apparently don't like it, and if I never go on another it'll be too soon. If taking a day to ride the bike or read something I want to or not have to talk is vacation, then I'm all in. Otherwise, come see me here, at the end of our driveway, in the still-burnt house that may never be fully repaired. Come spend some time on the porch but don't ask me to mingle with the population, at least half of whom apparently think that guy should still be president or that the current guy is a doddering fool. (Joe is neither a fool nor does he suffer doddering senility, even if you don't agree with him.)
The worst of these politics is yet to come, not to sound the cynic. The slow walk to fascism doesn't seem so slow. Republicans are using the law to make sure they will never lose again. Their behavior insures that the circumstances of pandemic will only continue to ebb and flow leaving us all in danger. And like you, I'm tired of wearing a mask.
I will of course wear one on the outside when I must interact with our fellow citizens but the mask on the inside seems more comfortable and more likely where I want to be.
I don't feel like I need more friends, though that would be welcome. I want more time with the friends I have. What I am sure about is that I will have to think long and hard about wanting to go out into the bigger, wider world just to see you.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Peaceful Secession Theory

Alas, there is more talk of secession and what Congresswoman Greene is calling a "peaceful divorce."  I am in favor because their alternative is undoubtedly violence against those they despise.  Good Christians are what they call themselves.  I would agree: there is nothing unusual about their Christianity.  

(Not all, blahblahblah.  Not all is always true, which means it isn't interesting or the point.  If someone somehow identifies with "Christian" are they responsible for these dangerous fools too?  I think not.  But what are they thinking?)


Christians began in apocalypticism those 21 centuries ago and they are still at it.   The End is near.  The End is not our fault but rather it is theirs: it is sin, they are the sinful.  We are the saved.  Well, we are too sinful but not like them.  They need to be extinguish, that is God's work that will expiate our sin.  Redemption is nigh!

Some people never learn or, to put it more honestly, can't learn. And when you can't learn from your mistakes because you can't admit them or accept what life really delivers, you create the religious fantasies you need to address the fear, anger, anxiety, and delusion that are only further stoked by the narratives you are creating.


This means that the cycle of delusion that comes with religions that teach us we are helpless to understand the deeper facts will only advance: the incapacity to address the problematics of truth only fuels more of the same.  So we cannot know and yet we are the ones who really know.  It's that kind of absurdity we must contend with.  These good Christians believe it is all God's plan and that it is both a mystery and perfectly available and clear.  Clear?  Umm, sure.

Apocalypticism postpones what is coming but is always basking in the certainty that it is.  You don't know but you could know.  The paradox must abide: we are at God's mercy and that too must also come with a dose of secret, esoteric knowledge that confirms one's "deeper" understanding. This is why our crazy Trumper uncle who is of course a "good Christian" is reading those websites and telling us all about our ignorance, the "real" truth, and more stupitshit: he has to be privy to the "real" truth.  Another key to the end is near is that "they" are the devil. The next move is to "stop the steal" by stopping "them" from butdestroying what is "ours."  You can Make America Great Again while the world is also ending.  Go figure.  But this is no joke.

Trumpism is just Neo-Fascism, which is why these Christians are his most ardent supporters. It's all of a piece: we are the rightful heirs, the true believers, we are the ones who must stop "them." So all of this talk about guns and secession is not idle talk. January 6th was prelude and Armageddon is not far if we just take them seriously. We should. Your life might depend on it. These are Christians who will send any of us to death in the name of their savior.

Once in a Divinity School class in front of a whole clowder of Christians, I said aloud "people who can believe a human being resurrects from the dead will believe anything..." and so long as it is said to fulfill a fantasy of denial and invention.   (N.B., this comment did not go over well.)  I cannot wish misfortune on these folks but they are likely anti-vaxxers and Trumpers and all the rest too---and so I have no shard of concern for their outcomes. I hope they take care of each other and are less of a burden on our already burdened world.

Good people will suffer because stupid people do willfully stupid things---is that too much to admit? Why is it that people we think are not stupid do such things? Because fear and anxiety are far easier to access than calming powers of reason and tolerance. Despair and hope are light and shadow, of course, but it's the way fear can stanch empathy that poses the greatest risk to "others." Our crazy uncle might love us enough not to shoot but certainly not if we were "them." Otherness is anxiety's scapegoat.  

I ask rhetorically about their burden because it sounds so cruel and I don't like that feeling. I do feel for their pain and the horror of their loss. I don't need my own house nearly burning down to imagine what it feels like to see your house burn down. The powers of empathy require imagination and care---we can reach across consciousness into other's hearts if we dare to think that the other is another form of ourselves. The fine line is always present: I am also not you, which means I cannot pretend to know your life, even as I am nothing but you. The place we must inhabit to coexist is that somehow I am like you.

But compassion fatigue is no sin, I say, when it is the honest outcome of offering more than is deserved that is received with dismissive opprobrium. So, let them burn. May the rest of us survive and flourish, best we can.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The December Sky in 2021

I wrote this morning for the Rajanaka Sky Group on Facebook because there is some politics and real world stuff in here. But I'm posting it here too because I talk about how I miss you and hope to see you on Zoom or even at Rajanaka Camp this July? Reprise, voodoo chile slight return.

A Review: If This is Winter, Does it Still Snow? The December Sky in 2021 I hope you're enjoying some lovely holiday time with family, safely. As safely as possible in these times. "These times" looks like they are going to go on awhile. Maybe a long while. I hope you are laughing and doing things you like with people you love. I miss seeing you in person. With all my heart.
I don't miss the travel but I bet you can understand that. I did about 20 years on the road, sometimes three weekends a month. We get to meet now quite regularly on Zoom. I will keep that up till my last breath. I will not forsake our community in all of it's virtual glories. Come when you can. Please? I realize that it's not the same. We all have Zoom Fatigue but that's far better than Covid. For me, I am happier going out into "the world" as little as is humanly possible. I'm not advocating or even suggesting that you share these feelings or views. Much of this is our situation and yours is likely quite different. You may like the world more than I do. You almost certainly live in a more civilized place. We have the beauty of countryside and the blessings of volatile weather, which I actually like a lot. The Storm rages here, literally. I came for the job but I'm staying for the weather. For real. You've likely noticed that I have stopped commenting on the news as a daily enterprise. I've quit The Bulwark subscription, don't watch any of the talking heads (we lost the TV in the fire and have not replaced it), and I have deleted all my podcast subscriptions to the very smart, dedicated people who comment so wisely. Those pundits have made it their job and I admire that. I think they are no less right than ever. I think it doesn't much matter that they are right. My own punditry need not contribute. I couldn't be "Lawrence O'Donnell" or, you know, anyone who has to report daily on our collective malaise. I don't envy Heather Cox Richardson, though I admit that she is the only one I still read daily. Sometimes I skip. I'm busy with work that does not demand these particular engagements. I appreciate no less their due diligence and intelligence and goodness. As I've said, I've reached the point where I can longer entertain that my own commenting does much good. Certainly, I don't feel particularly less well-informed but I'm also not less stressed or upset by what's happening. I read the news and feel, you know, as horrible as usual about it. But not about you. You I love and wish every good thing. One need only read in cursory ways to get to the same kinds of internal responses. Did you see the piece in The Times this morning about Enid, Oklahoma? Need we say more? I think we all know where we stand. I think we know who we are. I think those matters are beyond persuasion. Rajanaka Storm/Sky was devised as a place to share dignified rage. I still maintain that we can decide who we want to be with each other. I am obviously raging, right here, now. I still vest my trust and friendship in you. I have not "given up". Instead I nowadays feel the boundaries are actually easier to keep. Pandemic has made me lonely for you and for civilization but those are literally remote from our experience out here. I simply no longer want to talk with Republicans. Any of them. I wouldn't care if they are my family or my neighbors. Truth is, I want as little to do with them as human beings as possible. I hope that they will not take up arms or use them to enforce their views. I'd bet plenty are "nice people" so long we talk about nothing important. We can do things, like get a coffee or transact groceries without saying or doing anything more important than the honest exchange. But I don't particularly care to talk to people wrapt in conspiracies, bad information, unvetted "facts", religious beliefs, or politics that strike me as undemocratic, unjust, and so contrary to my own that we have virtually nothing in common but that we are the same human species. I will also say something more...unkind? I don't actually care any longer what happens to them though I confess to some resentment that they are making the world a lot less safe and much more unpleasant, that they are costing the rest of us a fortune by wasting resources and destroying what little chance we have of planetary survival. They are a lost cause to me. I see no reason to think otherwise. So I do my best to keep boundaries and in these pandemic times simply don't go out of the driveway if I don't have to. I miss culture. I miss civilization. But I don't live in an interesting city and work keeps me largely at home. I think this a blessing beyond all privilege. I am truly sorry if you have to venture into the world to make your living. I have to go to the University physically of course but that is a mere inconvenience in comparison to what you undoubtedly must endure. I miss you and I miss India so much that it aches in my bones. I miss a lovely night out and a day with art or a night with music. But there's really no where to go 'round here that we want to go. We'd have to leave the dog and we're happier with her than any encounter save one with you. You would make it worth the trip. That's why I am inviting you here for Camp. More later about that. We have actually planned a trip "outside"---you could call it a vacation though I honesty have no idea what that means. If it goes off properly it will surely be a good thing. I mean, we all need to get out some. But if we didn't go, I think Suz and I wouldn't care much: we'd just as soon stay home with the pup. She would make art. I would still be the professor. We're privileged and we know it. People who must work in the world are in danger of, well, a lot of other people whose behaviors are, well, let's be honest: contemptible. But the country? I think that matter is simpler to address. We are divided and there is little prospect for better. I see no future with them. I am not a cynic though I do think "faith" is among the least helpful of all human projections. This is a very foolish thing to say among most yogis---and most folks?---who somehow still revere the faithful. I prefer to trust those whom I regard worth trusting but not to have faith. We can discuss the difference if it interests you. I try to imagine what it would take to do better in my own life in everyday matters and to do those things with some consistency. Take care and do good things when you can, right? I do fear for the kinds of ignorance that define the body politic because of what they "believe." Belief is no road to fact and truth, unlike fact, is the province only of philosophers. Philosophers are apt to express preference as truth but that's likely because there is nothing better than a well expressed preference when it comes to truth. Facts we need to share. When we don't share the facts we have no reason to think democracy will survive. Truths are personal or when we are less solipsistic, collective ways of living. I like philosophy, I've made a living with it though sometimes I prefer only the merely anodyne world of facts. Facts can get in the way of the truths you prefer. That makes me use the facts---as best we can discern---to determine truths that help me (and others?) to get along. So I'm claiming no truth that applies to you too, only suggesting ways to live with what we experience. My rage has not abated just because the insurrecion failed last time or because we're in the hurricane's eye before the next election. But I do find that if I read only the headlines and a few selected articles, I get enough to know what's surely coming I don't think there will need to be an insurrection next time---power will be merely seized "legally"---and the majority aka those who voted for Democrats will merely capitulate. I think we are watching the slow-walk end of democracy in America. My own town council went the way of Enid, OK years ago. My neighbors fly their Confederate flags and Trump banners proudly. I stay here at the end of our long driveway wishing I were Canadian by birth but not longing to be the ex-pat. That strikes me as too complicated and anyways I was born to run. I prefer to sit with you whenever that's possible. Below is the link to The NYT piece. I actually read the whole thing. I advise caution. It's too obvious what will be said. But for today I'm going to back to the Mahabharata to translate and record an audio book of that we'll be reading together. Wanna come? I'm still taking time to learn Japanese furiously, for fun. It's hard and if you find Japanese easy, you're way smarter than I (though that would not be hard.) I'm also woorking on learning more about Sycthian archeologies and the PIE artifacts of the Steppes. This venture into comparative mythologies is a huge task---so many languages, so much history and geography to cover. I may yet rearrange the disorder of literally dozens of boxes (really they are now huge plastic bins) of notebooks filled translations and comments). The task of 2022 is to put them in "order." I will undoubtedly leave a huge mess inasmuch as I will leave these boxes of notes and books but I promise to make it all easy to throw out. I really really hope to see you on Zoom soon. We mean to have a live Summer Camp in July in Bristol. I mean to go to India in 2022. Wanna come? Those things will happen if at all possible. And like I said, Zoom will be my way to meet with you mostly (Camp! Camp!) until Yama comes a'callin'. That link, right:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/26/us/oklahoma-masks.html

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

You Might Not Like Change Anymore Than I Do

The times are a’changing and it seems undeniable we must adapt and adjust.  But change itself is not something that comes to me or maybe to any of us all that agreeably.  I am a creature of irenic habits, not all of which are virtuous or solicitous or even complaisant but are nonetheless mine.


We can argue about being possessive of our possessions but as the protectors of life on the icy moon of Jupiter put it plainly, “All these worlds are yours, except Europa.  Attempt no landing there.  Use them together.  Use them in peace.”  Asimov was on to something.  And I take this personally.  I might need change to expand horizons but I want it without intruding on my icy moon.  Is that too much to ask for?



How did I get on this jag?  I mean, why bother? 
It's all very vogue-y to say that change is a good thing until we think about how much we don't really fancy it. So I set to thinking about this because I would be dishonest if I said that I like change. So the impetus for the essay.

Two of the artists I admire most---Tom Petty and the Boss---both remarked in personal memoirs about how much they hate change.  They really did use the word “hate” and not to speak for them but for myself, I get it.

 

I think hating change is easily misunderstood, which is why I cite Petty and Springsteen.  I want to associate my own change-hate with them to get myself on their jag.  How’s that?  Neither of these guys ever decided to be oldies acts, though are both deeply sentimental.  Neither is nostalgic because they don’t want to go back in time, only forward---with the past along for the ride, sometimes sitting in the back, sometimes riding shotgun.  They’ve spent lives creating new and more art not without a love for their audience’s hopes or without regard to pleasing them but always to please themselves.

 

As Rilke would have it, what’s the use of art that isn’t also for yourself?  But neither Petty nor Bruce have been willing to bend with the trend, answer to others’ demands for songs to sell to some new audience that demands change.  Change demands and who can like that?  So instead they’ve cast their lots, accepted the consequence of hating change, ‘cause know who they are, what they want to be.  It’s certainly privileged to take such a stand but what exactly is the alternative?  If you know, I’m listening.

 

You can know what you like, you can really hate change, and still be warm to difference, tolerant and broadminded, clement, magnanimous, receptive, and progressive.  It strikes me that one is more likely to be charitable, good-humored, and easy-going precisely because you hate change.

Seen in these terms change is loathsome because it indulges and imposes, because it too easily concedes to craze and bends to vogue.  We don’t have to despise a fad or a fancy much less be cross with others because we don’t share tastes or preferences.  I don’t mind change in others if that’s what they like.  But I might be suspicious that their judgment is speeding ahead of their wits and wonder if identity is moving faster than any better comprehension.

 

Wisdom is pretty much the antithesis of change because it is hard-won and moves and through rather than merely with the furor, the folly, or the rage.  We can still rage on and rage on, calmly, but not change-ly.

I like things to be fresh, sometimes new, well-kept, and best of all better with use, but I don’t much fancy surprises unless they won’t change things too much.  I won’t chase the latest, at least not if it's going to change things too quickly for my tastes, and most of all I don’t go looking for change.

 

Change is gonna happen, evolution like entropy is a state of affairs and not much of a choice.  We all gotta’ get on with life because time really does wait for no one.  Change may have to be accommodated, even reconciled, but it doesn’t have to be loved.  Tolerance has little to do with love or at least not necessarily so.  I can tolerate change and hate it at the same time.  Now that tells you something about tolerance too.

When I hear “change:” I rally to unhappy meanings like reckless, careless, thoughtless.  We mustn’t mind urgency when it’s the order of the moment or disdain dispatch when there is not a moment to lose.  And when do we ever have moments to lose?

 

I will try never to doubt the value of the spontaneous even when it seems rash or hairbrained.  I will sing the praises of the intuitive but not at the expense of the rational because they need not be opposed.  Change is a false dichotomy: it’s telling you that who you are now is not connected to who you want to be.  If that’s the case, you’ve got a lot more to do to help yourself than just change.

 

We must certainly not be opposed to time doing its business of change but I won’t find myself  interested in being timely, fashionable, and I positively dislike being hurried.  I admire the uninhibited for their courage and the unexpected shouldn’t be treated as inadmissible when we must first accept it and only then decide where our exceptions can be made.  But I always prefer to lace my boots slowly as a kind of pleasure, I would never rush the stage even if I might be the first to applaud.  Change disrespects time and time is the honor we share with the living.

 

None of these things strike me as careless but change certainly does.  Change may not be telling you to reject what you like but it it may well be telling you that you need to be more than you are and not what you have.  If you find change exciting, titillating, or groovy, I won’t object and I might even be intrigued.  But I won’t necessarily do what you want me to do because you think I need a change.  I’m not going to change but for the ways I hope I can still grow and get better at being myself.  As for the rest, use them in peace.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Our Toddler Nation



Robert Bly is still with us and I am glad everyday for all that he wrote in his storied career. The book that followed Iron John, which was immensely influential on culture, was the little-read Sibling Society. Bly's thesis is that America has refused to grow up, that people seek attention childishly rather than do the work required to deal with a complex self in a world they cannot control. Bly was pointing to the false proclamations of freedom and the bypass, the barely concealed racism and nostaligic nonsense that was fueling the "Reagan Revolution." Robert was not only insightful, he was prophetic.

We are now a nation of three year olds with car keys and guns.

As we witness the coup of the minority Party to seize control of the government, dispose of democracy, and impose their rule, we are also watching their base embrace the failures of their narcissism. Rejecting the vaccine has become a badge not merely of stupid or absurd conspiracy theories (i.e., implanting computer chips), it has revealed itself to be the desperate need of fellow Americans to gain attention. 

Finally the majority will not indulge the unvaccinated's need to be important because they seek attention. Their anguish, fear, reasons have now been shown to be what they are: excuses and foot stamping obdurate childishness. Imagine if we had to get TB vaccines that left a scar---as it is still the common badge of honor and public responsibility in much of the world where people still die from breakthroughs of this horrible disease. Republicans would have even more ways to claim their "freedom" while they endanger the sane.

Of course, there can be no liberty that rejects the injury that will be done to other. Freedom is not a free for all of your personal choices---your weaponized narcissism is not acceptable.

Unfortunately toddler-esque behavior is not limited to Republicans who appear willing to die and risk long term illness consequences to "own the libs." I have found more than a few lefty-yogis whose credibility has now been wholly undermined. If someone can't get a free, life-saving vaccine whose risks have been proven minimal, how can you trust them about anything else they say or do? The gravest threat to America and to democracy is not from abroad, it is from our fellow Americans.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

In 20 Years Since 9/11


9/11 was a Tuesday and I was walking to class at a few minutes past 9am, like I always am. I didn't know that the second plane had hit the tower nor about Flight 93 or the Pentagon. I knew something horrible had happened in NYC but I went ahead and taught the class.  I think that wasn't the right thing to do and I think about that not only as a failure of vision but of my own need "to carry on" when things go wrong.  It was still too early in the day to see what these events meant.  By the time class was over at 11am, matters were before us.

Today twenty years later is a day to remember the innocent and the millions of lives changed because nihilists chose to inflict their horrors on our shared humanity. Destiny has a way of revealing both what we knew then and are yet still coming to understand. I grieve for all of these losses but never for the nihilists.

As soon as I found out the rest of the day's news I was certain we were heading down the wrong road, that our response would be even more catastrophic than the terrorists' acts. America would need a kind of vengeance that would have little to do with the terrorists, we would find some way to go to war on scale without achievable goals or purpose but to satisfy feelings of revenge. I just knew we were going to fuck this up, I mean how could we not? With Bush as Cheney's poodle it was a guarantee.

What we needed was justice and that was far too long in the coming because it was not our first aim. It's what we said we wanted but it's not what we did. You could see that coming as clearly as the planes on that perfect September day.

I take no pleasure in where we have come since that day. I can't say it better than what Michelle Goldberg wrote this week, "We inflated the stature of our enemies to match our need for retribution. We launched hubristic wars to remake the world and let ourselves be remade instead, spending an estimated $8 trillion in the process. We midwifed worse terrorists than those we set out to fight...The attacks, and our response to them, catalyzed a period of decline that helped turn the United States into the debased, half-crazed fading power we are today. America launched a bad-faith global crusade to instill democracy in the Muslim world and ended up with our own democracy in tatters."

Now the gravest threat to America comes from our fellow Americans as they slow walk the coup that will end democracy right before our eyes. For the most part, we do nothing. Unless we see the danger they will instill one party rule for as far as the eye can see. Like that day when the villains with a solid plan pulled it off because we were asleep at the wheel, we are asleep again---and the country is driving over a cliff.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Dreaded Vaccinations



As I continue to move more deeply into the Upanishads I've come to notice how certain emotions are further nuanced and located in the larger matrix of feeling and action. How do we get from one to the other, that is, from whence the feeling arises to how we process the process of consequences of activation (that is, doing something about the feelings, not just the topic.)


This morning I had an interaction with someone we care about deeply who is not yet vaccinated. She's no anti-vaxxer, intelligent and caring, and she knows "I should have already done this and I don't know why I haven't."

 No one really likes to be explained to---it's annoying at best no matter how caring---but alas, like a good pundit (aka college professor) it's sorta' my job to state the obvious until it gets through. With your friends you can't just make them do what you say by threat or mandate of consequences. With college students, I am not so merciful. With pals, I try to offer a sweetness. Here she asked a good question. Why has she not yet acted?


At least some of the reason is that dread is a complex species of fear. It is fear in abeyance, not yet realized or with immediate consequence; dread is fear on the radar but not yet in sight. It comes with some important foreknowledge that things can be done---like you can write a will or get a vaccination. Dread includes the understanding that there's no endgame you can prevent but rather things to make the world better just for awhile.


You're not merely procrastinating over the fear itself. You are also residing in the space between the outcomes of fear and ability to act on them. Much of what dread portends isn't something you prevent or stop, like death or old age. That sense that what we could do is not enough to stop what we don't want plays an important role because it's precisely where we pause. We pause in dread.


Dread is also fear plus enervation or, to put it another way, another enervation-induced fear. This means we would rather not when we know we should but must right now is not wholly realized. Let's add that we just used the word "should" and little makes the autonomous human pull out the Gadsden Don't Tread On Me quicker than should ought must imperatives; make something normative (ought to) and it's suddenly not normal (regularly agreed upon by most?)


We feel dread when we feel our freedom is being impinged upon when in fact it is the dread that is creating the more insidious impingement.


The Upanishad reminds us that it’s in the words. Just saying them matters.



In English we first reference the word “dread” somewhere around the 12th century. The etymology suggests it is shortening of the Old English adrædan, which is itself a contraction of ondrædan "counsel or advise against.” The ond- is "against" and there lies the first root from Proto-Indo-European, that is, *ant (like in “answer”) plus the OE rædan "to advise,” which is from the PIE root *re, as in “to reason, count"). (Cognates would include the Old Saxon andradon, Old High German intraten.)


The key to it all is the relationship of apprehension to action. We are answering to something we feel deeply and we are simultaneously reasoning, or we might say rationalizing. 

As the Upanishad explains we are using both feeling and reason but in a less than effective ways or perhaps too effective ways. But in both cases the dread is doing us more harm than good, which leads the sage to declare that it helps us draw an important line between what is good and just downright evil.


Evil isn’t merely wrong anymore than it is unfixable but it is real enough to bring us to a less than healthy possibility when there are better ones before us. We might not be able to stop the thing that dread ultimately speaks to—death, taxes, whatever—but we can do something about the dread. Now just what would that be? More later.