24 January 2022
Monday, January 24, 2022
Saturday, January 1, 2022
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
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.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/26/us/oklahoma-masks.html
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
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
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.
Saturday, September 11, 2021
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
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.
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.