Monday, April 19, 2021

Banned Speech Here

This post was removed from Facebook on the grounds that it violated community standards and constituted "hate speech." Exactly how? You may not agree with my assessment that Afghan politics are lost in a kind of incorrigible malaise that no American aid can repair or reform.  That said, how is this hateful?  It's rough, I might have been less acerbic but this is somehow beyond the pale?  I think not.  Drop me an email if you disagree.

I wrote this:

"Tom Friedman often means well and so often gets it wrong. The reason I say that is that, like politicians like Obama or Biden or nearly anyone else, it is just too painful and perhaps even immoral to be honest.

Here is what is going to happen in Afghanistan after we leave: the Taliban will be in full control, they will execute and punish all American collaborators, they will mercilessly repress women and girls and undo every tiny bit of progress made, they will be vindictive, punitive, and barbaric. There is nothing we can do to stop them short of staying in an endless war of blood and treasure---that should never have been entered in the first place.

There is nothing we can do to reform or win over or convince the Afghans that Madisonian democracy is a better way to live or that modern values regarding opportunity, justice, and gender must be our future. Americans are liars and hypocrites and failures at all of these things so what right exactly we have to preach is another matter.

But that said, there is no stopping their barbarism and it will retake the country in less than a year. We stay, we prop up a regime that has not won hearts and minds. We leave, it is their problem but in defense of our stupidity I would say no worse off than they were before we got there---but for all the dead on both sides who didn't need to die. So if we leave them to barbarism is that our culpability?

This is where Obama and the rest come into the story. They want a better outcome and then there is the right who thinks that losing a war is the worst thing that can happen. Nota Bene: we lost the war to the Taliban because the majority of Afghans do not want to win what we hope or want for them. That might be the definition of an unwinnabe war or some small part of it.

But truth is, they died for for a good cause that wasn't good enough for those we died for, so it was a waste. Admitting that is not something Americans will tolerate politically because, as it is with so many things, we prefer fantasies to reality, hypocrisy to truth. I'm pasting in further here my reply to Friedman which is in the comments column.

 *** To Friedman: Are you prepared to admit that you were both dead wrong about hope for Afghanistan? For at least 17 centuries these folks have wanted nothing to do with the rest of the world and still don't. It's a shame, maybe even a crime when we think of how girls and women are treated---and what will happen when the Taliban take over again. But if you can't learn after 20 years and trillions of dollars that this is a hopeless place, you can't learn. You and Joe should have known better in the first place because some of us---professionals with degrees in history and language---would have told you as much.".

Friday, April 9, 2021

What Happens If We Don't Care Enough, Because There's Nothing Normal Ahead

I think we might all be craving some normalcy while we know that the old normal is not only gone but needs to be gone. Truth is, we're not in either place yet, that is, we're not normal enough to pause in our big hunker down and we're not rid of the old normal nor have anything better having really taken its place.

The pandemic exacerbated what was already underway and the upheaval is real. Interestingly, a better future is being wrought rather quietly and competently by a near-octogenarian president who wants normalcy but knows the old sort has failed. He's making amends about his role in those failures and seems to express urgency for the Paradigm Change that we so desperately need.

The core of the past failure entails America's more recent history and our original sins. The combination of the two plus some puts us in a fragile, dangerous place as a society and as nation heading into this post-industrial age. To revert back or attempt to sustain the models of the past as advocated by Republicans (insofar as they advocate anything but culture wars) is to doom the planet, not just the nation. Our topdown industrial economy is now global and digital.

Part of what troubles us is where and how industrial needs are met that create a viable, sustainable earth. It seems to take years to make anything new that meets our needs---buildings, cars, trains, you name it, we seem incapable. The vaccines give us some signs of hope that goodness can happen when the best and brightest are fully engaged and the government is run by competent people. There is hope that the end of Reaganism is finally here, that government is not the problem or the enemy but rather reflects us. That is precisely the problem and the possibility.

When you look at the likes of DeSantis, Noem, any of the other hopelessly vile, incompetent regressive deniers, you see government being the problem. Others are vile, say, Cuomo but in different ways and some, particularly Joe, are selling decency, more openness, and honest effort to address and redress. Americans are sorely under prepared, under educated, and poorly informed. Remember that Trump sold coal to West Virginians and Rs have no plan but their mendacious slogan about making American great "again." For whom? That we shall take up with alacrity.

But even those who know the Trumpists are a scam, a grift, and a lie are not prepared for the work that lies ahead if we are to emerge the better. "Infrastructure" must now mean training and education, child- and senior care, and it must somehow raise the information level of a populous that has a short attention span, low capacities for comprehension, and seemingly little interest in the serious issues we face. When half the country watches Fox and the other half is either exhausted, disinterested, incurious, or somehow beleaguered, the really consequential changes we need to make are denied, sabotaged, or ignored.

We can be grateful that there is now someone in charge delegating to others committed to paying attention but for how long? Will this last past 2022 when the process of competence comes to a shrieking halt with Republicans taking Congress? We are closer to worsening entropy and collapse than anyone likes to imagine. Imagine it, if only because what's true is always the best place to start. If America does not build back better, as the slogan goes, we're screwed because "back" doesn't mean back then, it's got to mean what's next now.

Those old jobs either won't exist or they won't pay the bills. The bills are already outta' hand: kids, education, medicine, age, retirement, working to exhaustion, just getting to tomorrow. Our economic opportunities must be re-envisioned with a population prepared to do the work. We have no such population ready for these challenges or even seemingly committed to making these changes a part of their personal lives.

Everyone seems to want things to work out without having to do the work. We are too busy telling ourselves that we would rather be entertained, that our fantasies and grievances matter more than doing anything unpleasant, like re-imagining ourselves. Now onto the 21st century implications of our original sins. These are finally coming home because we are at last becoming by demographics a multiracial society.

In less than 20 years whites will comprise less than 50% of the population and, say what you will about the ignorance of Trumpers, this is fact is not lost on Republicans. The majority of whites still vote Republican even when it is against their economic interests and not merely out of force of habit. Rather, they vote because they know their dominance is being replaced and all of these bills in States aimed at restricting voting are the plain and simple evidence that white people are desperate, scared, angry, fearful, and armed.

January 6th was not the end or an aberration if you consider the fact that this hardened, bleached with Fox and worse crowd is saturated with conspiracies, lies, misinformation, and anger worthy of an id that knows it's losing. The majority of insurrectionists were middle class people and they came principally from towns and cities that are experiencing these demographic changes. In other words, the Trumpists aren't just rural people buying guns because they want to be ready when "they" come for them but your neighbors on the cul-de-sac whose deep structural relationship to racism is being reinforced everyday by their television and media choices.

The information war is real and sanity is losing. It's an easy sell because the truth is always more complicated, more difficult to fathom or accept, and because those selling them the lies stand to profit from their manipulations. Greed is an inexhaustible motive for those without conscience or care. The Murdochs know this the way Amazon apparently does too. If corporations can't be brought to sustain the calls for change because shareholder profits are their only purpose for existing, then we may not survive either economically or socially.

Mitch thinks Coke and MLB will cave before he does and that they will continue to give him and his cronies money because they deregulate and cut their taxes at any cost to any other real concern. Greed only fails when the greedy have to find another, a different way to profit.

So this transition to a digital economy and a multiracial society is contending with two principal forces: those who think things are changing too fast and those who know that they cannot change fast enough. Those who don't know they are one side or the other are merely blithely ignorant or indifferent or just being left behind with little hope for anything but more of what's really painful. There's the hope that Coke and Delta and professional sports and the like will choose the right side but do note they were late to the game in Georgia and will be bullied, cajoled, enticed, and even induced to return to their craven ways because capitalist profits must be made for shareholder gains to continue.

If Biden succeeds in raising corporate taxes to pay for goodness that may only continue to happen for two years (sure to be reversed at the first opportunity by the vile Republicans) then we may see the core inequities shift just a tiny bit. Where goes the money has always been the issue in America. That white people want it to go to themselves because they live in some kind of zero sum game racist delusion is nothing but familiar. That corporations have managed since Reagan to make their profits passed on to shareholders and used to bolster their own power is the real name of that tax game.

In an Eisenhower world, America's corporate money was spent on American needs and the middle class reaped much of the benefit, albeit without minorities gaining much in the process. Our new and shoulda' been old variable was not only class but race, because white grievance and corporate greed are now intractably linked and will bring us to the precipice of failure if we do not address inequality and inequity simultaneously.

The right and the Trumpists will use their culture wars to frame the issue. It won't matter if they are as stupid as Mr Potatohead or Dr. Seuss and they don't care if the Big Lie has always been a lie. What they care about is seeing their power diminish, their futures displaced, and their resentments left unfed. The Cold Civil War shows no sign of relenting and, in fact, we know it's getting worse. Just damage about to be done with voting laws and gerrymandering insures that the white minority has disproportionate power and that democracy is on the brink.

We are one election, just one election from autocracy. That autocracy not only means to set back further any strides towards equality, it means to deny and reject every plan for a viable future planet and a population equipped to deal with what is already here. I see no end to the partisanship nor any reason to hope or believe that those who resist, deny, or reject the change upon us will wake up, much less compromise. The opponents to change, the white supremacists, the authoritarians, the fearful, angry, misinformed Fox and worse viewers are likely to become more mired in conspiracy, denial, and rejection. 

Because there is no hope for their redemption or sanity our only hope forward to move faster than they can stop us. If we effect and sustain the changes we mean to make---so that we are a more just, equitable, and sustainable society---then the planet has a few more years before environmental collapse.

Earth will regenerate if we give her space and stop this race to the destruction of life as we know it. We cannot stop change but we can ruin what good is possible if we somehow don't rally our exhausted, indifferent, torpid society to understand the gravity of our situation and the need for collective response. If political outcomes lag behind these needs, we're doomed and I say that without hesitation or hyperbole. If we can marginalize and care for those whose poor judgments will ruin every worthwhile end then perhaps we stand a chance. Those of us who care had better care more.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Addressing the Cold Civil War in Winning Terms

The Preamble to the American Constitution begins with the words "We the People..." and creates a possibility not imagined by the founders in their compromised document, which defines rather narrowly what "we" means.

Lincoln revisits the problem at Gettyburg when he declares us a government of, by, and for the people. But his transformational understanding was set back when Reconstruction performed its mighty work of oppression to reestablish and enforce a more familiar systemic racism. It would be another 100 years before civil rights would again be made a matter of the American conscience confronting itself.
It has been more than 50 years since voting rights were putatively extended so that all of "the people" might vote. And once again the forces of revanchism and repression are busy and committed to insuring white supremacy. There is no irony that the current party of Lincoln represents those determined efforts to keep power from the people, especially brown and black people and native peoples, is what surprises. What is noteworthy is how little those racist values have actually moved from their perch and how shamelessly Republicans stand up for racism implemented by the manipulation of the law.

John Kavanaugh chair of Kentucky's Government and Elections Committee explained that Republicans were happy to create measures that kept people from voting because “everybody shouldn’t be voting…. Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.” Could their position be clearer? 

There are concerted efforts in dozens of States, all run by Republicans, to use "fraud" and other dogwhistles for racism to be the reason to make it harder to vote. What they do no accomplish by creating the New Jim Crow, they may take by gerrymandering. In North Carolina, for example, in 12 of the state's 13 congressional districts Democratic candidates got well over half of the total votes, but Republicans won eight of the seats. In two-thirds of those races, the margin of victory was more than 20 percentage points. The effort to thwart democracy could not be more explicit.

Note President Biden's remarks in contrast, here pleading for a national response to the COVID pandemic, "“The government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital,” Biden said. “It’s us. All of us. We the people.” Even on matters of public health, Republicans are determined to claim that their personal"liberty" gives them the right to decide for all of us power over life and death. Some 50% of white Republican men say they will not take the COVID vaccine. They are not only determined to rule over the majority but to infect us.  Sturgess anyone?

Given the demographics of the Senate and the prospect for losing Congressional power in the 2022 midterms, Democrats must understand that voting rights are as essential as, say, infrastructure, climate change, and justice reform. They must fathom the depths of our Cold Civil War and that H.R. 1, the voting rights act now conceived may not have the votes in Congress to pass.

There is little they can do to change Senators who will not end the filibuster, seeing it as the legacy of Jim Crow that it has always been. Still they must act to pass something like H.R. 1 or Republican state governments will instantiate once again their racist objectives, insuring that it is so hard to vote that their advantage means fewer and fewer people participate in democracy.

Could anything be less American? We might counter, could anything be more American than structural prejudice used to insure white power?

This is a harder issue to get people to understand with the same urgency as bread and butter issues. Hopefully President Biden will not only explain the American Rescue Act, which may in fact reverse the scourge that Reaganism set in motion 40 years ago, but use his competence and popularity to tell Americans that democracy is at stake, that the republic may yet fail, and that unfortunately one political party is determined to make sure that voting is not a right extended to all. 

Biden will not resort to the language that we propose here, that we are in the midst of a great Cold Civil War. And he should not. That would not win enough hearts and minds just as there is some light on the horizon.

But he has to make clear the urgency and fragility, and indeed the threat posed by the political party of racist authoritarianism. Just how to do that?

Tell people that it should be as easy, as normal to vote as it is to get a vaccine.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Dancing with the Darkness

Frank Bruni Bruni doesn't want us to be them. We're supposed to be the decent people who seek to avoid the moral calumny, the furtherance of a self-debasement. When we speak ill of the dead, we break a rule of probity. But do tell me how we take history seriously if we don't tell the truth? Are these truths we should ignore? I too lament giving them too much oxygen but that is what the living breathe. And my point is actually about the living. So how shall we bury Limbaugh when what he helped create is now such an important feature of our current America?

Limbaugh defined the "conservative" message machine and its true purpose---to be as callow, cruel, relentless, boring, bigoted, and above all, utterly self-serving as is possible---and so to say the unsayable again and again, to normalize the hate, anger, and distrust of all who might have another point of view. Lie and repeat the lies until they are just another day on Fox News. Perhaps I should take the kids on vacation to Cancun and not indulge these truths? After all, like Cruz' apologists are saying, what could he have done anyway to make it better?
Oh, and let us not forget the special place for demeaning women, brown and Black people, and other "takers, not makers." Or was that the more dulcet toned Romney? Anyone seen the dog? Roof of the car? Perhaps I should be the snowflake? I am not comparing character, merely the message. Trump merely took that Republican Party to its logical Rush conclusion, not that Limbaugh had any kind of argument but for power, money, and hate. That is the point: there is no argument and never has been. It's about power at the expense of others because that is how power keeps power when it is the only point.
And so we must avoid hate speech and instead take note of the speech we hate? That is quite the dance we're invited to perform. That millions of Americans listened to this horror show day in and day out and then voted in record numbers for Trump should tell us all we really need to know about our fellow citizens' dance and their partners. Who could want to become like them? The irony of this comment isn't lost on me. It's just that truth often hurts. Everyone. But not all hurt is the same and neither is the dance.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Common Ground or Else

 Common Ground or Else and Here's Why

Let's start by quoting none other than Mitch McConnell who said, “Winners make policy, and losers go home.” If the take away from this is that Democrats need to act like Republicans to get anything done, well, that would not be irrational. The bonus schadenfreude adds flavor too. But then what?
Our the situation demands we consider more than the need to wield power to reverse, correct, and progress---the damage done in four years has compounded the damage caused principally by Republican rule since Reagan. The take-away---to do to Republicans what they do so effectively when they are in power---has been mitigated by Biden's proposals for bipartisanship. Can this work? We should have our doubts. Such bipartisanship requires two things: 1. good faith efforts to compromise and serious counterproposals, real negotiations. Republicans have shown us that they have neither interest; the recent Republican Senate "moderates" counter offers may not have been wholly in bad faith but they were in effect disingenuous. That is a path to nowhere but more partisan decision making and that may be necessary. They did not make an honest counterproposal. So, what should the Democrats do? They have no choice but to go forward and to play by McConnell Rules, which means they simply use their power to do what they want until the power shifts and they simply can't. What this will do _for_ the country is different from what it will do _to_ the country. The country will begin a process of redressing inequalities and oppression, it will start to mitigate the spread of disease and so bring back some semblance of normalcy (my prediction: that will take a year or more, not by this fall); they will reclaim American roles in foreign policy with allies and begin to heal our fractured, implausible moral claims of democratic leadership. But what it will do to the country will not depend on these successes. Does anyone believe that because the lot of voters in Mississippi or South Carolina or Missouri improves significantly, measurably under a Biden Administration that these voters will recognize that these are the result of policies _forced over the objections of Republcians by Democrats? I think not. The likes of Hawley and Q. Greene will raise huge money and be reelected by landslides despite the fact that they will have done worse than nothing for their constituents. So the question I have is why are people so incorrigible? Why are they so unwilling to compromise or give credit where it is due? Why is this partisanship so utterly irrational? Ahh, the last question holds the key that opens the door. None of these failures to recognize the facts are rooted in evidence or reason. For that to happen Republicans would have to use reliable sources of information. And then they would have to be able to think rationally through the evidence. Misinformation serves emotional needs that are both personal and tribal. We're in for more of that because we don't know how to stop it. What makes that bipartisanship wholly impossible is that the propaganda networks have only incentive to further their disinformation. If Fox sounds like CNN or, god forbid, MSNBC then what makes them different? And wouldn't their viewers notice? Even the slightest deviation from The Crazy has caused ratings to drop and viewers to head to the Even Worse Sources of Disinformation, like NewsMax and OANN. Profit will continue to drive information: _not_ truth, not decency, not responsibility to maintaining democratic norms, nothing but money will matter. Only libel suits can slow them down---and thank goodness Dominion and Smartmatic have figured out how to hurt them. That said, we live in an unprecedented time when "opinion" means you can believe anything regardless of the facts or simply conjure your own "facts." The anti-vaxxers on the Left contribute to the madness but they strike me as outliers. Let us not make false equivalencies. We know where the problems of disinformation are rooted and where the infection is rampant. Americans are lazy to do the right things because that requires real effort. Further, the things they "want" mean they won't do the right things if it costs them---economically, emotionally, you name it. Apparently a significant portion of the already-vaccinated are failing to return for their second shots despite the fact that there have been next to zero reported side effects. How many of those are also in situations where they have no support systems to get them their second shots? In other words, a significant portion of the population is proving itself unfit for democracy. One way or another, under whatever circumstances, people need to be vaccinated. 

And worse, a significant portion does not _want_ democracy: they want their agendas or their ease or simply whatever they regard as familiar or preferred. A lot of people are too afraid, too disenfranchised, too oppressed by systems that leave them hurting and desperate---by the racism, sexism, and our failure to live our ideals. To participate in a functional democracy requires respect for the facts: America is showing itself illiterate _and_ disrespectful of science. You know, science? Where we try to sort out the facts from beliefs or feelings or delusions and desires? When you can't discern facts, you can't know _when_ you need to compromise, that is, when _after a reasonable assessment of the facts_ you make reasonable choices that meet conflicting interests. You have to be able to tell facts from falsities, assess their importance with respect to conflicting interests, and then come up with a plan that serves what Washington called "public administration..." with the aim of achieving “consistent and wholesome plans.” Yeah, good luck with that under the current terms of disinformation and a poorly educated, personally irresponsible, neglected, oppressed, frightened, angry, indifferent, and suspicious populace that has no incentive to change. If 460,000 PLUS dead can't convince the Republican Governor of Iowa to sustain important COVID restrictions, what we can expect from those of us who see this as madness is our continuing belief that more failure is more likely than real success. This is _not_ cynical. Cynicism is when you work to undermine decency or truth because you have an interest in doing so. Don't mistake sober pessimism for the cynical. Q-Tip Greene isn't smart enough to be cynical. Hawley and Cruz are. But the rest of us who are reasonable and who would actually WANT a more bipartisan approach to create healing and less deep distrust and disdain for our opponents cannot help but be more resigned and even fatalist. Why? Because there is zero effort on the part of our opponents to act in good faith or to want any of that healing. The idiots, conspirators, and bad faith cynics all _need_ our mutual disdain and foster our disunity in order to profit. Theirs is a grift, pure and simple---they stand to profit from more anger, fear, and failure. After all, everything Republicans are doing now is about regaining power in 2022, which requires Biden to fail. If Biden fails, of course, how many more will die of COVID? That's just sad truth. Should we give them our disdain and direct our anger towards them? I think not because what good would that do? It doesn't unite us any further in the effort to do good. The only question then remaining is if our fighting amongst ourselves---thank you, Senators Manchin and Sinema---will ruin us. Or if we argue against our own interests. But we must meet in the middle. Somewhere. We must or everything that I have said here will come true and for the worse. We must find a way with each other. The demons aren't going away but we need to see each other as human beings---and make sense of our conflicting interests. Ask the Boss. In America it can take a Jeep commercial to get any of this message through the noise.

Monday, January 18, 2021

MLK Day 2021 and the Long Road Ahead

"We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right." ---Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our creative time is our life before us. Nurture healing and accountability, pursue with greater diligence and decency the knowledge we need; take up an even greater urgency and also greater resilience our heart's desires, make patience and exigency unlikely companions.

It's not over, rather it's only just begun. There's always time to do what is right and If there is to be justice and more honest conversation ahead, we're going to have illumine hearts and kindle minds. We're going to need each other, understand better who we are, who we can be, and imagine the more we could be.

We celebrate this day, look forward to the inauguration on Wednesday and, yes, hope for better in time as we ripen the fruits of our labor. Rage on, calmly.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Vaccine Puja: A Brief Primer

Forgive my need to make this a teaching moment but it's my job. An article appeared this morning in The Washington Post that warrants a moment, particular for the unfamiliar. Start here: ahh, Hindus.

This post is for civilians, that is, for those who might need some Hinduism 101---and that is no crime. After all, not many have a chance for formal study, even introductions. So let me make just a few very superficial comments so that some less familiar can try to understand why it is obvious that these good folks are offer their ritual to the vaccine chest.

I will be brief, if you can believe that. But as we shall see, belief is not what is being shared so much as it is behavior that allows us to ponder and conside, even for a brief moment, including our beliefs.

This is a rather typical looking puja. Puja is "worship" but that is misleading so let's instead think of puja as recognition, offering, exchange, principally _seeing_, that is an opportunity for exchanging vision, for visualizing, for deeper "seeing" (darshan).
The moment of puja captured here is it's summation called the arhati, which involves the waving of fire after offerings of incense (dhupa), light (dipa), food (naivedya), and other substances of symbolic value (hence considered auspicious or sacred). It is literally creating a moment of value---the word "arhati" _literally_ means worthy, capable, and something like noble-lizing or valuable.

People come in their temple best to honor the light inside and out. That it is directed to the vaccine chest just shows you that nearly anything of individual and social value can be brought into a collective act of value recognition, of seeing.

If any of this strikes you as awkward or just unusual, we can easily dispel the latter. This is nothing unusual because any important object or event can be occasion for puja. We have no idea what people are thinking or believing here. No one will ask. There is no dogma or formulated pre-interpretation; there is no assumption that people share a particular faith or ideology. No dogma is in evidence but rather a simple orthopraxy.

Thus, we have a ritual that lets people feel and think in ways that give them purpose to live with the facts of their world and with the shadows of feelings that are better expressed than denied. You do puja to the vaccine chest because you want light in a world where so much that is dark is dismissed or uninvestigated, particularly in emotion and meaning.

The ritual itself is meaningful because it is principally an opportunity to mark significance, to reflect or consider even in a simple ceremony how to arrive at a more auspicious (affirming) sensibility of possibilities. We invite and dispel, we recognize and address: the "gods" and the "demons" are inside _and_ out. The power of recognition is an invitation to reflection and care. Will that do for starts?

If this still strikes you as unfamiliar or awkward we can then invite the idea that unfamiliar and awkward are invitations to allowing discomfort to be a reflection. Let me go further. Is something about this idolatry or seem...dare I say, silly? For Hindus this is not at all silly precisely because it is an individual and social opportunity to see, to try to recognize significance and value _as such_ and then to put those matters into a very everyday and practical situation.

This vaccine _is_ important and it does signify light (the gods) and our complex relationship to the demons (in this case, disease). We don't eradicate our demons but we can figure out how to keep them where they belong---because everything has to go somewhere.

As for the "idolatry" part, that's just your western customs steeped in iconoclastic religions. We may not know or recognize it but our awkwardness comes from a resistance that this is "golden calf" material. But alas, it is just another human way of saying how do we see what is important in ways that inspire us to do something of commensurate value.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Without Truth, Democracy Fails

The lies. It could never have gotten to this point without the cooperation of an entire political party and its propaganda system advancing agendas of misinformation. They have been determined to turn policy differences into "war." And Trump is merely the outcome of this long degeneration into indecency and violence.

I'm not talking about ordinary political lies. Some of those are well-meaning, like "we are better than this." We are? Not a chance when there is a lynch mob and a scaffold erected at a rally where the president and his enablers speak. Some of those lies are all just more insidious grifting and power grabs that serve monied interests. Like McConnell who will never do anything but what serves his donors. And as for policy, it was all just lies, ask Stuart Stevens. He helped create the lies and has, at last, admitted it. New polls suggest that the vast majority of Republicans believe the lies and support Trump. Would they if their leadership told the truth? Apparently such "leadership" is incapable of the truth.

Oligarcy is a serious issue in America: we are fundamentally a society of economic injustice and privilege for the rich. Much of that is the tawdry underbelly of racism and the fear of white people that they are soon to be the minority of voters. Who are we kidding?

Back to the moment.
There never was fraud to be investigated---that is all part of the lies. There never was a conspiracy to undermine the election and there were no "irregularities"---all according to _Republican_ officials who presided over the vote. Sore losers?Sure. But it cuts so much more deeply. Until they all repudiate the lies, clearly and unambiguously we must not let up. No lessons have been learned. Nothing has changed and, worse, it could happen again.

In the next week Trump may in fact foment more civil war. State Capitals may well be besieged by violent insurrectionists. And the entire Sedition Caucus has to go. What would it take for them to be "forgiven"? For that, we need a story.

Once a man told lies again and again about his Rabbi. Coming to his conscience by hard lessons, he goes to the Rabbi to ask for forgiveness. The Rabbi says that he will consider it but first he must take a feather pillow to the top of the hill and shake out all the feathers. The man says to himself, "Okay that's weird but I will do it." When he returns the Rabbi says to him, "Now go back to the hilltop and pick up every one of those feathers."

It is far more than Trump. The House Republicans are not just a joke, they are by majority seditionists. And the Sedition Caucus, the Republican leadership and all of their enablers who have advanced these lies must own their part inciting the rioters.

We must also ask why so great a percentage of Americans have believed _and continue to believe these lies_.

This did not happen overnight. It has been decades in the making. Whatever legitimate concerns people have for their diminishing lots in life---for example, the vast majority of Trump voters have less than $2000 of savings---they have been poisoned like water in a well since at least Goldwater advanced the New Jim Crow that is now the policy of Minority Leader McCarthy and the rest who have sought to disenfranchise legitimate voters. Imagine if they had had the majority? It is more than likely they would have voted to overturn the election. Whose votes are they so happy to disenfranchise? That is easy to answer. Racism, our original sin, is in full view.

There is zero chance that the criminal Trump will do the one thing he would need to do to put this country on any tract to heal. That is, to admit that he lost in a free and fair election. That _fact_ is beyond him and everything else will continue to flow from this Big Lie. How can we begin to discuss the pernicious effects of racism and other facets of our national failure until we agree upon the facts and _tell the truth_.

Until Republicans in one voice denounce the Big Lie, purge themselves of conspiracists, and stop the propaganda machine of Fox, Rush, NewsMax and the rest, they are unfit to lead. We are one election away from their plausible rule. Are you not afraid of that? Even Republicans with just the slightest dose of sanity remaining?

There are deep structural reasons why so many are so susceptible to all of the lies: structural racism undermines every effort to address income inequality, failing job opportunities, the fears that come with health insecurity, and the rest. It's easy to rile up the mob with conspiracy, culture war fears and anger, and it will be no small task to change such views. Whether its guns or Jesus, the fact is that the relentless onslaught of misinformation and stoked hatred has brought us to a sad and dangerous time when the very fate of the republic is at stake.

How about telling the truth? Until that happens there is nothing more to do than marginalize their power, turn out the vote, and hope that the current version of the Republican Party simply rots into its own factional civil war. If Democrats don't deliver some progress for _all_ this is going to get worse before it gets better. And yes, there is worse. So let's make it better.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

On Understanding Rajanaka as a Spiritual Philology

Tomorrow I'm being interviewed on a podcast about the meaning of yoga. So I offer here a few notes from my journal. I cull notes to remind myself of ideas and phrases.

It's never been terribly easy to describe Rajanaka teaching. The core of that challenge isn't about describing our methods---we use accepted, nay routine forms of critical and scientific method, we have humanist aims and goals, and we lean into Jungian interpretations of myth and ritual. We are devoted as much to the truths that science creates as genuine human achievements and mean to integrate the most contemporary understandings into our "practice" (sadhana).

Our challenges have to do with both traditionalist and modern Hindu interpretations of our common sources, i.e., a broad sense of canon. The reason is that Rajanaka has its deepest ties to the Nataraja/Tillai Kali temple myth (and ritual) tradition and the Srividya goddess Tantra. Our interpretations however take us far from the traditional goals and claims of liberation and supernormal powers---because our goal is humanist: love your life, there is no "problem" of samsara. 

Rajanaka shares the core aim of older pre-Hindu Vedic religion expressed in the phrase, "give to me, I give to you" (dehi me, dadami te), not as mere transaction but as reciprocity and care for oneself and for others. You know all of this, I think, because I never tire of telling you how the original Rajanaka mandali (circle of conversation) in India were making the same points (albeit without universal agreements, inasmuch as they were a diverse bunch). 

Once we no longer endorse any explicitly religious (or mystical) claims, we can reconsider how religious practices, like rituals, meditation, pilgrimage, myths, art, etc.) inform our humanist aims. This is important to us because our "practice" can be confused with religious goals and be confusing because we take religious "contributions" as serious data and endeavors. After all, we closely connect with many religious practices and source materials; we just don't share their traditional interpretations or meanings. Specifically, practices like pilgrimage and darshan have always been at the heart of Rajanaka. These things get you out there in the world and deeper inside yourself. 

Now if ya' think about it, one of the important things Rajanaka does might be called "spiritual philology." The problem with _that_ is that virtually no one knows the term "philology." (Disclaimer: I am by profession a comparative philologist. I made my bones reading texts and describing what they say without prejudice or preference. Trained in the comparative study of religion and philosophy, my work has been both philological and anthropological, meaning I study classical texts and languages and I study actual humans and cultures.)

So what is philology? It's not a common word.

Philology is literally "love of words." All definition, formal and more idiomatic, extend from this etymological point of departure. "Spiritual" can mean a lot of things to folks, so let's add that into our mix and sort this out a bit. Words are essential to our humanity. It is only because we have words that human beings are capable of complex tasks (wanna go to the moon?) and, more importantly, organize themselves culturally to create informed meaningful relationships with each other, with vital matters like justice, law, and the furtherance of moral life. (As an example, think of how Ramayana or even the American Constitution (presumably) uses "law" (dharma) as a way of defining our humanity, human ideals, and possibilities.) We can accomplish remarkable things because we have words and can attend to their use and meaning.

The love of words is a gateway to the soulfulness that extends into other artistic endeavors. However, Rajanaka teaches that _all_ artistry, in a far broader sense than word-love, brings us into processes of valued human investigation and expression---thus music, art, dance, craft, practices like asana, you name it, if what you do is a pilgrimage of soulfulness, a journeying into the heart, than your practice is a Rajanaka sadhana (spiritual practice). Feelin' Soulful? Caring about the world, the planet, nature, yourself, each other, people you don't even now? Exploring those experiences deeply? How do _you_ do that?

If words as such aren't your thing, share with us what you do and what it means to you. That's the idea. So "spiritual" here means "soulful" and what I mean by that is that you are moved deeply in body, heart, _and_ mind. The somatic, emotional, and intellectual are of a piece, woven into the fabric of a human life. Soulfulness is an effort to deepen sensitivities of all sorts, to reach down into our shared humanity and to extend further into our individual experience. You don't have to love James Browns' music but he taught us that soul reaches _through_ words and sounds and music. As the Boss once put it, "when I'm gone I would like to have been known as a soul man." That's it.

Are you looking for more soulfulness in your life? What are you gonna do about that? Find your artistry in the things you do, live your love life deeply and seek connection to inquire into what is important (and what is by comparison merely transactional)---that's called yoga. Now let's get back to philology because we spend a lot of time in Rajanaka with story telling and the love of wisdom (philosophy) that means to inform our psychology and every day life.

Formally, all philologists do linguistics but not all linguists are philologists. This is because philology studies languages while linguistics is the study of language. Thus linguistics tells us how languages work (this is inherently comparative) while philologists study particular languages, usually through historical study (i.e., ancient material that comes forward into more modern forms). Not all philologists are comparativists. One can be a philologist of, say, Greek or Latin with little interest in other related (or not) language and culture. (Thus all Classicists are philologists and only a few are comparative philologists who might also study Sanskrit or some other sources.)

Philology studies the history of language as a window into culture, ideas, history, and language itself. In the less formal sense, philology is the study of texts as well as oral and written records in their original form. Philology then translates and interprets those works. But for what purpose? That depends. Academically it solely for the purposes of explanation using historically sound critical methods. Rajanaka wholly endorses and plays that game. But in Rajanaka it is ALSO for our "spiritual", soulful purposes, not merely lucid understanding. We can put down that marker between academic philology (which means to understand and explain without greater personal investments) and "spiritual philology" but they are thoroughly complementary and not at all opposed. Deeper truth is our common goal.

It is from this important task of spiritual philology that we move into other realms of human inquiry, particularly philosophy and psychology. Our philosophies focus on Indian sources but are not at all limited to them because we are comparativists---we take in whatever we find, like honey bees looking for the nectar across history, continents, cultures, and traditions. Our psychological studies look to Jung and the contemporary cognitive sciences. Rajanaka loves us some science because science looks for truths (durable and shared) and everything has to do with keepin' it real. I hope this was a little helpful or clarifying about, you know, the love of words and a soulful life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Nothing to See Here

The President of the United States who is deemed unfit for a Twitter account still holds the nuclear codes. The Senate chamber acts as if nothing of import happened today but some brief upset to everyday business. Sasse talks about shoveling our neighbor's driveway and Graham slurs his jokes after a few too many. The likes of Toomey continues to say he had hoped Trump had won but concedes Biden won. Really? You can still say such a thing? What shall we call this? Another hump day in Trumpland? Hawley undoubtedly has more fund-raising tweets at the ready. Can we call this what it is? The banality of evil.

Tomorrow the insurrectionist criminals in their Trump grift gear, those who breached and vandalized the capital, will be telling their tales, showing off their selfies with police, and bragging about the day they showed America what freedom means. That was good, wasn't it? You know, when we draped the capital in Trump banners and took the battle flag of the Confederacy into the building by breaking through the doors? They'll go home to tell more stories and report to the militia.

There is nothing to suggest that American democracy is actually safe tonight. Half the country is so broken that they cannot tell right from wrong, have no care or understanding of democracy, and are so desperate for power that they will undoubtedly vote to re-elect every one of these treasonous grifters.

We are still one election away from these same Republicans ruling the majority. Nothing about their venality has been tempered much less changed. They know there will be no real consequences to their behavior and they will make sure that the insurrectionist mob gets away with it too. What happened today really was not enough to move them. So what would? They need those treasonous votes, after all.

With two more weeks of Trump we have not seen the end. Republicans remain enablers, guilty in this sedition, and they plan on holding no one accountable, much less themselves or Trump. The 25th Amendment means nothing and there will be no urgency for impeachment of a president who incited sedition---those are the pipe dreams of the majority who actually care about democracy.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Sedition Caucus and the Raffensperger Call

I am going to (try to) avoid doomscrolling this morning. You're familiar even if the neologism puzzles. We doomscroll when we roll the news not looking for doom but finding it because we are still determined to face fact before we conjure belief or, god forbid, hope.

When the task is better clarity and an aversion to delusion---our own and the danger theirs clearly poses---we must once again sort through the parables. We may yet need to separate the sheep from the goats but I for one am not interested in anything like the coming glory of the Son of Man. I can get with that whole idea that what is done to the least of us is done to all of us, so let's just stick with that for now.
We are in for a spectacle of national humiliation where half the citizenry (or at least those who vote) and their elected enablers feel no shame and will experience no regret. Instead they will reassert their identity, which is what our politics is being reduced to further.

Democracy involves an implicit paradox: one must be deeply convicted to one's principles and values and, at the same time, willing to compromise and, yes, to lose an election. The goal is not to thwart the process or somehow overcome the paradox but to live to fight another day in civil discourse. The further assumption needs to be that the winners serve the interests of their opposition as much as themselves. But while that is asking too much, it is very much the point. When politics is mere identity than nothing matters other than our side---our identity dominates at any price.

We know that the corruption of power knows no end with this guy. We've been saying it all along. [n.b., aargh, I just doomscrolled again, dammit...] but here's what we now have on record: the president of the United States called upon the secretary of the state from Georgia to aid and abet his treason in a scheme to overthrow a fair and free election. How's dem'apples?

Of course, the last time we had _recorded_ evidence of crimes against the republic followed by ten clear counts of obstruction of justice, the president's party ignored, excused, and ultimately exonerated their criminal because their own craven political interests were tied to his. Who needs truth or democracy when you can have reelection and a grift that will make you millions? How many Republicans from Kansas want to go back home after drinking from the ambrosial fonts under the Dome where there's money to be had. We know they will excuse anything and enable the worst failures of a sociopathic autocrat.

Now the plan for sedition is once again right before our eyes and this week is another point of no return. Instead of repudiating these vile, destructive claims, a significant portion of the Republican House and perhaps as many as half of the Republican Senators will _advance_ sedition and attempt a coup. We all seem confident that they will fail and they will. The military has overtly signaled that it will not participate. Former secretaries of defense have drawn a line. All of that is testimony to the fact that we can feel confident, beleaguered, assured and endangered all at the same time. Let's think about that further for practical prophecies. 

What this means for the week after this week or after January 20th remains to be seen but let's consider a few immediate likelihoods. 

There will not be any grave consequences for the Sedition Caucus or the president. We have already witnessed obstruction of justice, grifting, mob boss coercion and how many other craven acts democracy's subversion and what has happened?

Right, like I said, not much will come of this either. Americans and particularly Republican voters will largely ignore (too busy, don't care, etc.) or agree with Sedition Caucus. Think of the 70 million plus who voted to give this another four years---how that would have undoubtedly consolidated this kind of power to the point of...of what? We shudder to think. We are only one election away from finding out. So this charade is no charade. This sedition is no mere effort to placate the toddler in chief until he leaves for his golf resort. He knows he is in legal trouble and debt up to his pasty encircled eyeballs.

But once this overt effort at treason fails, these duly-elected (despite their own claims) Republicans will dodge, lie, evade, and otherwise deny they were part of it all. Because the American attention span has not seized upon the wonders of jellyfish, they will not remember and these despicable tyrants will get away with it, see no consequences, and possibly be in position to take the House in 2022. Don't tell me they will pay a grave price at the polls.

Like they know, you know they will nearly all be re-elected using the standard white-identity politics that has served to preserve power since, well, since the country's founding. They are all going to pardon themselves, one way or another, and get back to the business of seizing power---this time making it clear that it is at any cost, in any way possible. That is the first, important take away. What real damage is done to the republic because democracy is indeed fragile in the face of tyranny does not bother them in the least.

The process has been underway for years with voter suppression, gerrymandering and the rest, but it matters less now because the desire to _rule_ outweighs any other means to the power of governance. Our second point now should be clear: a president desperate to steal an election and have it recorded is desperate enough to self-pardon. We think that can't happen. But you know there is no bottom. Of course, if you can pardon yourself, you can order any crime or commit it yourself.

And that is precisely what happened on that Raffensperger phone call. Aside from the not so implicit mob boss threats, the denials and shakedowns, what you heard was an effort to _further_ a crime that is _already underway_. That crime will be committed in full view on the floor of the US Congress on Wednesday. By then it is altogether probable that the Sedition Caucus will be emboldened by two victories in the Georgia Senate races. 

So after the sedition fails but they gain power---and that may take more than one day---we can expect more self-pardoning to begin. Will that be challenged or dismissed for the sake of "moving on"? The damage to democracy is as incalculable as our unwillingness to create meaning accountability. How exactly is this conspiracy of treason and these explicitly seditious actions to be held to accounts?

Mitch will control the Senate and the effort to govern democratically will again be of no interest, only the prospects of thwarting Biden and gaining more power in 2022. If we there will be accountability by elections and the will of the people, I say that it appears half the country doesn't care or would prefer the sociopathy and autocracy. (Remember that 7 million plus margin of popular vote victory comes largely from only 2 States.) So what can we hope for? As far as possible, Biden and the elected Democrats must work to produce results for the whole country.

Biden may be dead wrong in his belief that he can work with these contumelious villains but at least he gets the idea of democracy: the winners represent everyone and attempt to make life better for everyone. May something, anything like that actually happen in the coming year. Democrats may still lose power in 2022 even if things are appreciably better but we will have another two years to keep democracy from failing and maybe, just maybe live to fight another day. I for one am tired of fighting and would prefer more cooperating, even if that means compromise.

That would tell us we are actually fit for democracy, mature enough to self-govern and face the onslaughts of autocracy and oligarchy, but remains to be seen. So long as we try to tell the truth we stand apart from those who no longer care for the facts but prefer their solidarities formed by identities rooted in cruelty, fantasy, conspiracy, delusion, and power at any cost. We may be the majority that resists such failure but we will have to reach out to those failing, the ones who keep electing the grift and lies, and see if we can help them.