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, 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?