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
"Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats." — Voltaire
Sunday, December 26, 2021
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
You Might Not Like Change Anymore Than I Do
The times are a’changing and it seems undeniable we must adapt and adjust. But change itself is not something that comes to me or maybe to any of us all that agreeably. I am a creature of irenic habits, not all of which are virtuous or solicitous or even complaisant but are nonetheless mine.
We can argue about being possessive of our possessions but as the protectors of life on the icy moon of Jupiter put it plainly, “All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.” Asimov was on to something. And I take this personally. I might need change to expand horizons but I want it without intruding on my icy moon. Is that too much to ask for?
How did I get on this jag? I mean, why bother? It's all very vogue-y to say that change is a good thing until we think about how much we don't really fancy it. So I set to thinking about this because I would be dishonest if I said that I like change. So the impetus for the essay.
Two of the artists I admire most---Tom Petty and the Boss---both remarked in personal memoirs about how much they hate change. They really did use the word “hate” and not to speak for them but for myself, I get it.
I think hating change is easily misunderstood, which is why I cite Petty and Springsteen. I want to associate my own change-hate with them to get myself on their jag. How’s that? Neither of these guys ever decided to be oldies acts, though are both deeply sentimental. Neither is nostalgic because they don’t want to go back in time, only forward---with the past along for the ride, sometimes sitting in the back, sometimes riding shotgun. They’ve spent lives creating new and more art not without a love for their audience’s hopes or without regard to pleasing them but always to please themselves.
As Rilke would have it, what’s the use of art that isn’t also for yourself? But neither Petty nor Bruce have been willing to bend with the trend, answer to others’ demands for songs to sell to some new audience that demands change. Change demands and who can like that? So instead they’ve cast their lots, accepted the consequence of hating change, ‘cause know who they are, what they want to be. It’s certainly privileged to take such a stand but what exactly is the alternative? If you know, I’m listening.
You can know what you like, you can really hate change, and still be warm to difference, tolerant and broadminded, clement, magnanimous, receptive, and progressive. It strikes me that one is more likely to be charitable, good-humored, and easy-going precisely because you hate change.
Seen in these terms change is loathsome because it indulges and imposes, because it too easily concedes to craze and bends to vogue. We don’t have to despise a fad or a fancy much less be cross with others because we don’t share tastes or preferences. I don’t mind change in others if that’s what they like. But I might be suspicious that their judgment is speeding ahead of their wits and wonder if identity is moving faster than any better comprehension.
Wisdom is pretty much the antithesis of change because it is hard-won and moves and through rather than merely with the furor, the folly, or the rage. We can still rage on and rage on, calmly, but not change-ly.
I like things to be fresh, sometimes new, well-kept, and best of all better with use, but I don’t much fancy surprises unless they won’t change things too much. I won’t chase the latest, at least not if it's going to change things too quickly for my tastes, and most of all I don’t go looking for change.
Change is gonna happen, evolution like entropy is a state of affairs and not much of a choice. We all gotta’ get on with life because time really does wait for no one. Change may have to be accommodated, even reconciled, but it doesn’t have to be loved. Tolerance has little to do with love or at least not necessarily so. I can tolerate change and hate it at the same time. Now that tells you something about tolerance too.
When I hear “change:” I rally to unhappy meanings like reckless, careless, thoughtless. We mustn’t mind urgency when it’s the order of the moment or disdain dispatch when there is not a moment to lose. And when do we ever have moments to lose?
I will try never to doubt the value of the spontaneous even when it seems rash or hairbrained. I will sing the praises of the intuitive but not at the expense of the rational because they need not be opposed. Change is a false dichotomy: it’s telling you that who you are now is not connected to who you want to be. If that’s the case, you’ve got a lot more to do to help yourself than just change.
We must certainly not be opposed to time doing its business of change but I won’t find myself interested in being timely, fashionable, and I positively dislike being hurried. I admire the uninhibited for their courage and the unexpected shouldn’t be treated as inadmissible when we must first accept it and only then decide where our exceptions can be made. But I always prefer to lace my boots slowly as a kind of pleasure, I would never rush the stage even if I might be the first to applaud. Change disrespects time and time is the honor we share with the living.
None of these things strike me as careless but change certainly does. Change may not be telling you to reject what you like but it it may well be telling you that you need to be more than you are and not what you have. If you find change exciting, titillating, or groovy, I won’t object and I might even be intrigued. But I won’t necessarily do what you want me to do because you think I need a change. I’m not going to change but for the ways I hope I can still grow and get better at being myself. As for the rest, use them in peace.
Monday, September 13, 2021
Our Toddler Nation
Robert Bly is still with us and I am glad everyday for all that he wrote in his storied career. The book that followed Iron John, which was immensely influential on culture, was the little-read Sibling Society. Bly's thesis is that America has refused to grow up, that people seek attention childishly rather than do the work required to deal with a complex self in a world they cannot control. Bly was pointing to the false proclamations of freedom and the bypass, the barely concealed racism and nostaligic nonsense that was fueling the "Reagan Revolution." Robert was not only insightful, he was prophetic.
We are now a nation of three year olds with car keys and guns.
As we witness the coup of the minority Party to seize control of the government, dispose of democracy, and impose their rule, we are also watching their base embrace the failures of their narcissism. Rejecting the vaccine has become a badge not merely of stupid or absurd conspiracy theories (i.e., implanting computer chips), it has revealed itself to be the desperate need of fellow Americans to gain attention.
Saturday, September 11, 2021
In 20 Years Since 9/11
9/11 was a Tuesday and I was walking to class at a few minutes past 9am, like I always am. I didn't know that the second plane had hit the tower nor about Flight 93 or the Pentagon. I knew something horrible had happened in NYC but I went ahead and taught the class. I think that wasn't the right thing to do and I think about that not only as a failure of vision but of my own need "to carry on" when things go wrong. It was still too early in the day to see what these events meant. By the time class was over at 11am, matters were before us.
Today twenty years later is a day to remember the innocent and the millions of lives changed because nihilists chose to inflict their horrors on our shared humanity. Destiny has a way of revealing both what we knew then and are yet still coming to understand. I grieve for all of these losses but never for the nihilists.
As soon as I found out the rest of the day's news I was certain we were heading down the wrong road, that our response would be even more catastrophic than the terrorists' acts. America would need a kind of vengeance that would have little to do with the terrorists, we would find some way to go to war on scale without achievable goals or purpose but to satisfy feelings of revenge. I just knew we were going to fuck this up, I mean how could we not? With Bush as Cheney's poodle it was a guarantee.
What we needed was justice and that was far too long in the coming because it was not our first aim. It's what we said we wanted but it's not what we did. You could see that coming as clearly as the planes on that perfect September day.
I take no pleasure in where we have come since that day. I can't say it better than what Michelle Goldberg wrote this week, "We inflated the stature of our enemies to match our need for retribution. We launched hubristic wars to remake the world and let ourselves be remade instead, spending an estimated $8 trillion in the process. We midwifed worse terrorists than those we set out to fight...The attacks, and our response to them, catalyzed a period of decline that helped turn the United States into the debased, half-crazed fading power we are today. America launched a bad-faith global crusade to instill democracy in the Muslim world and ended up with our own democracy in tatters."
Now the gravest threat to America comes from our fellow Americans as they slow walk the coup that will end democracy right before our eyes. For the most part, we do nothing. Unless we see the danger they will instill one party rule for as far as the eye can see. Like that day when the villains with a solid plan pulled it off because we were asleep at the wheel, we are asleep again---and the country is driving over a cliff.
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
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.
Friday, August 6, 2021
Death By Faith
Within a few weeks the sane will have done everything possible to convince our fellow citizens that COVID is not only a matter of public responsibility---a fact which apparently will not move a significant portion of our population---but that it is also likely a matter of personal survival. If the Delta doesn't kill you, another more virulent strain will be coming next if we do not manage the disease.
The numbers are indisputable and despite increases in vaccination the enormous number of people who will not cooperate will spread infection, get sick, claim valuable medical resources, give the virus further opportunity to mutate into even more virulent forms, and may well die.
This situation must remind us that mental illness is not in the least uncommon. It's illness because there are better, healthier ways to live in a world that does indeed warrant degrees of anxiety and fear. Living well is coping with a world in which we are not the authors of our every choice or circumstance.
Republicans---the majority of the unvaccinated---are not only fiercely tribal but also more inclined to put their religious faith in front of any human understanding. Not all religious people are as captive of the faith vs. science problematic---and that problem is worth a few more words.
Faith is not certainty because faith is thought to be better than certainty. Faith provides not only what limited, conditional human knowledge cannot, it surpasses the problem of certainty. Note, I didn't say that faith solves the problem of certainty, only that it surpasses it. Faith allows for uncertainty but its more powerful feature is that it also creates a shadow of distrust for all that is human in creation, like facts.
We are all uncertain beings but with faith our human limitations are revealed and our power over human truth is addressed---with religious truth. Religious truth is tested only inasmuch as it causes the "crisis of faith" as Kierkagaard put it, but the "knight of faith" endures while the crisis itself gives license to reject mere human truth. As if we had more than that mere human truth. Where there is faith there is the "truth" of one's own immovable fantasies. We are left to distrust the human rather than revere the imperfect and, in this case, life-saving processes of learning.
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Good Faith Arguments Without Faith and a Definition of Bad Faith
I have long railed against "faith" as a universal category for understanding religion or even for understanding how people go about being human. I am not a person of faith if the contrast is to evidence, analysis, and facts such as we know them. The latter may be provisional and incomplete but they are sure better than "belief" or "feeling" that flies in the face of the former. You can't tell me that one got up from the dead when all the rest of us stay dead---however if you convey that faith to me, you may not be acting in bad faith. You are just wrong about the facts and we can then decide how much that matters to the rest of us. When someone's faith becomes problematic to the welfare of others then it is no longer a private matter.
I'm wounded about "faith" too because I studied with an eminent scholar who wrote a book called Faith and Belief that I feel confident in saying was among the worst efforts in the theory of religion I have ever read. He was the director of my doctoral program and needless to say we could not get along. My response to him once was, "I refuse to sing from your Protestant hymnal." This did not go over well.
The core of the problem is that we are not mature enough to understand that a good faith argument, like democracy, takes time to reveal its intentions and outcomes. Much like Professor Smith who may not have liked me anymore than I liked him but was actually willing to continue to act in good faith because I too was acting in good faith. That is what it took for both of us and for me to survive his program. Good faith requires patience; bad faith is rewarded when we convulse into impulses and immediate gratifications. (Krsna makes this point in the Gita, obviously.)
Biden stands in opposition, actually closer to the Eisenhower Republican ethos of government rather than any socialism; that is, he wants government when it can do what individuals cannot, thus closer to "leave me alone until I need us." It's not the nanny state and I suppose I warm to some of that ethos because no one likes to be told what to do. If there were more honest (i.e., good faith) justice and less systemic prejudice we could actually warm to the idea that liberty has a cost but there is too much structural corruption for any individual to change. I doubt we can wait much longer before the world---both naturally and politically---burns down around us.
The core of "bad faith" has two principal requirements. First, one must assume the stance of a blithe indifference to the welfare of others. This isn't the same as wishing ill on others; rather, one need only fail to consider what happens to others given one's intentions and behaviors. Second, one has to prioritize one's own interests in such a way that the effort to secure one's personal interest outweighs any commitment to reveal those interests honestly. These criteria let spies spy in "good" faith while lying and allows the "faithful" to say (or even believe) in things that might be regarded as patently absurd (e.g., virgin birth).
Monday, July 19, 2021
The Perils of Truth and Censorship
Disinformation is rampant. There is a direct corollary between Delta variant infection, hospilization, and death and Trump voters. These people are spreading disease that will lead to further shutdowns and the making of misery for those of us who, you know, can manage to understand science and deal with the consequences of a risky world. So should FB permit this spreading disease of misinformation? Where do we draw the line about censorship?
America rife with conspiracy theories, the Big Lie effectively destroying democracy, and an incorrigible, willfully ignorant, dangerous and proven violent population, what should we do? People are free to be stupid so long as it doesn't "break my leg or pick my pocket" as the inexcusably flawed Jefferson once put it, the hypocrite who also wrote the immortal words.
None of us is without flaws, any who have accomplished much of anything have deep shadows; there's no reason to make excuses but there is every reason to think about how truth makes life more complex, not always easier, and invites inner conflict. If we're not conflicted, we're not paying attention but that doesn't solve the problem either. I am willing to embrace the paradoxes of truth---living with conflicts of interest, value, and truth---but I am disturbed by problems that could be solved were our fellow humans less willfully ignorant and craven.
What should we do? We're going to have to try to figure out the difference between living with human paradox and the problematics of human problems. Problems, well, some problems can be solved. And COVID is a problem with a solution. That leaves us with another question: why do humans act so plainly in violation of their self interests? For that, we have even more opportunities to ponder how humans wager with existence when other living beings know better.
Sunday, July 4, 2021
A Fourth of July Sermon In the Pursuit of Liberty and Justice for All
The more closely we look, the more to consider. Some writers mean every word because they are inviting our most careful scrutiny. Others are just as careful to take us off the scent of what words could mean because their possible meanings have never in truth occurred to them or have been dismissed and rejected. I have in mind today particularly Lincoln and Jefferson.
Jefferson lived in a world in which he regarded the privilege and power of white men much as any other self-evident truth: an unalienable endowment of the divine. That the words he (and his colleagues) composed and agreed upon did not include people of color or women was not debated. And in that so-called Age of Reason all plausible facts are worthy of debate. That tells us everything we need to know about how power arises from systems and structures that mean to serve themselves.
To break into other plausible meanings, reasonable claims, and so truths we pursue through debate does not test the self-evident but instead helps realize its purpose. Self-evident truths are regarded incontrovertible---and so the threat of disproof by reason alone is treated as beyond the pale. Until it is not.
Jefferson's basis for self-evident truth is that it is not human-made, which must strike us as ironic in light of the prevailing religious beliefs of his Deism. But notwithstanding this invocation of Divine sanction what is regarded as self-evident because it is incontrovertible might just as well be understood as shared premise. Not only must we be willing to make our assumptions, explicit or implicit, a foundation for further reasoned argument, we must understand that human-made claims are more than vulnerable; they fragile when untested.
If we abandon the assertion of the incontrovertible, we are not abandoning truth but rather the divine claim, the assumption of ordanance beyond evidence, reason, and debate. We are then left with very human selves to pursue truth. We the People must make the case that what must be true is something we alone must manifest and claim for all. This is no small matter. The humanist-alone truth is no longer self-evident but founded on premise and proposition.
This is what Lincoln did to Jefferson's argument, even though Lincoln is arguably far more the theist than his predecessor. Lincoln restates what was supposed to be self-evident as a propositional argument, which will necessarily have premises as vulnerable as the arguments themselves. We discover that our search for truth beyond conditions is once again conditional. What we want to be true before and after our analysis must be remade true in every effort, as the continuous argument.
We shouldn't dismiss Lincoln's theism---for it seems clear that he thought a just God would demand from us the pursuit of truth that is continuously true, which would make it for all purposes much the same as self-evident: always true from before, during, and after the argument. But that idea of pursuing truth is, I think, the genius we see in Lincoln reimagining the problem of truth itself. He aims not to dispute Jefferson but to force upon his self-evident claim the plausible argument that we uncover meaning only insofar as we are willing to pursue truth.
Truth for Lincoln is no longer static, a thing we possess or something known. Truth becomes a pursuit, an unfinishable business that needs to remain unfinished in order to be true. Thus the self-evident requires we work with the premises and test the propositions because they need to be made true, not because they "are."
What I'm suggesting here is that America's claims to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness means that we must dedicate to propositions rather than assert, that we must continue to seek what is moving rather than devolve into immovable declarations.
This kind of truth is going to require toil, tedium to learn and relearn, argument and the slower-moving processes of honest debate. There is no arc of justice but the one we create and for any such arc to exist will require re-dedication and re-application of its unfinishable goals. Justice to be just must pursue what cannot be completed but by our continued efforts to remain engaged.
Lincoln was right when he observed that the self-evident was not only unrealized and unwarranted but in effect unhelpful. What we need is not a static Justice (n.b., the capitalization like we would "God.") Rather what is demanded is dedication and the pursuit of justice--- above all that we agree to our shared premises and propositions.
That last requirement, I fear, is where America is currently failing, our greatest peril. Truth is like democracy: it is hardwon, fragile, and in need of continuous renewal and dedication. Truth like democracy is difficult, often messy and unclear; it is a process that tests our patience and requires inclusion and debate. But truth is also a matter of good faith, shared facts hardwon, and demands we reject the insidious purposes of disinformation. We must not accept the facts but win them in the crucible of arguments well-made.
How is it that 156 years after the Civil War we still cannot agree that all are entitled to the blessings of liberty and justice? To this we must rededicate, for those blessings are like truth itself---not things merely to treasure but rather treasures to pursue.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Addressing the Cold Civil War in Winning Terms
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?
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?
Sunday, February 7, 2021
Common Ground or Else
Common Ground or Else and Here's WhyLet'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?
Monday, January 18, 2021
MLK Day 2021 and the Long Road Ahead
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.
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Vaccine Puja: A Brief Primer
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
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.