Monday, September 13, 2021

Our Toddler Nation



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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 11, 2021

In 20 Years Since 9/11


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Dreaded Vaccinations



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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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

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


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

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.

Some are saying that all the persuasion, bribery, counseling, cajoling, ease of access, and even shaming has now been concluded. Like the true Trumpist, there is nothing more that will penetrate their beliefs. Say, do, feel whatever you want and that makes it true. Have we heard this before? Wait for it.

Capitalism has incentivized and will now be used to create important disincentives: what if you can't fly, go to work, or visit a restaurant without proof of vaccination. How far will mandates go to isolate those who refuse to abide? We're on the honor system in my neck of the woods, virtually no one wears a mask, and I am confident that far less than 50% are in fact vaccinated. I don't trust my neighbors' judgments or choices.

While I'm confident that my contracting the illness at this time would prove mild and with little chance of hospitalization (much less death), I find myself simply not wanting to be anywhere near people I cannot trust to make the simplest decision based on the evidence of science. And there lies an important part of the problem.

We are not contending with people who _value_ science even if they in fact understand its methods and discernible conclusions. Now I am willing to concede that the majority of Americans are nearly wholly illiterate in the fundamentals of science and the basics of critical thinking. However that plays into our equation, it is the value of scientific knowledge that is in question, not its comprehension.

As we all know, science can be mistaken because it is human and knowledge is subject to revision. In the present case, of course, there is little left to dispute and the situation is grave and plain: the vaccinated are not getting sick and the unvaccinated are spreading disease, claiming important resources, and dying. So in the face of the evidence (and the odds), why is this population impenetrable? 

I think the answer to that question is complex even though I am about to suggest that there is a "dominant explanation." Some claim to be suspicious and distrustful of all authority. But somehow these same people will license their cars, stop at lights, get on an airplane they don't control, and eat blue Fruit-Loops. Just where their compliance ends or where their doubts begin is complicated by their irrationalities.

The point of course is that there's not much rational left to argue about or for: their faith lies in a neurotic need to claim an identity rooted (as we all are) in anxiety, fear about a world that is beyond control. Their particular version of this common human situation is to assert a personal reality no matter what other evidence is presented.

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.

Others may express their "truth" as a political conviction or feel compelled (with or without awareness) to adhere to the shared tribal claim (the price of violation being excommunication of some kind). But now we're closer to my point: it's getting religious, this is about faith or sharing a faith. This is about asserting a claim rather than working within shared systems of experimental knowledge. Put simply, it is belief in lieu of critical thinking. Belief may or may not inform faith but it is the faith itself that will kill them. It's not hard to see why.

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.

The church historically has posited that its incontrovertible truths are God's revelations and that human choices are fundamentally flawed, incomplete, and unreliable. Thus science as a human endeavor cannot produce truth that contravenes tenets of faith. In much of American Protestantism it need not be some or another _tenet_ of faith, doctrine or idea, but the _faith itself_ that must be upheld. Thus, it is not what one believes but belief itself that must stand over any method, evidence, or outcome that is _wholly human_. 

When mandates (coercion) and money (incentive) can't work it is faith that leads the way. When larger social pressures fail, it is faithful to remain in your own neurotic conviction or within the group that shares faith (or face the consequences). When people are literally dying _and_ denying the reality of the disease as much as the vaccine, the problem is not their beliefs but belief itself. The particular beliefs are window dressing. The matter cuts deeper.

Faith is killing them, no matter what other ideas, skepticism, or resistance they profess. They have been taught that faith is not only superior to the provisional, constructed values of human knowledge hard won by experiment, failure, and putative success, but that these are not to be trusted or valued if faith somehow tells them otherwise.

Human beings are wholly capable of inventing worlds of conviction that have little bearing on the facts. Facts are, in the end, merely human and thus inferior to faith. Facts may obtain in some limited realm of conditionality, but the most important matters in life are matters of faith. This is what people have been taught since, well, more or less ever.

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.

How can we know for sure if we are merely human? Well of course we cannot. But with faith we no longer need to bring the problem of certainty into the equations of choice or understanding. Faith provides what our shared absence of certainty clearly reveals: we are vulnerable beings because we are forever incomplete in knowing. Rather than that fact being the best we can do, the reason we must trust in the best human accomplishments, it becomes the reason to believe, to have faith.  Next thing you know it's another reason to "cling to guns and religion."

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 obvious counterexample was right before us: Vedic ritualism is not about any kind of faith or even belief. It is about the claim that this makes that happen even when the "this" is mantra and fire and the "that" is prosperity or heaven. Smith just couldn't get that. But I don't think he was acting in bad faith---he was transparent in making his arguments and his intentions were, dare I say, noble. He was just wrong, wrong in the sense of positing a theory as universal which was demonstrably inadequate, as I in good faith was eager to point out.

He didn't dismiss me when my disdain for his theory was palpable (and still is) and for that he demonstrated good faith despite the fact that faith as such was not important. What was important was that he could take my objections less personally and that I think he cared about me---though he thought as little of my talents as I thought of his theory. We were able to argue without being too disagreeable personally. Now, democracy is tedious, cumbersome because it demands negotiation, compromise, and, above all, a good faith effort to include those with whom you disagree. In effect, it is ill-suited to instant gratification, ideological intransigence, and the kind of feel-good and make the other guy hurt that characterizes our Twitter Age.


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.)

Obama got trounced in 2010 by voters who voted for him in 08 not only by the revivals of racism but also by the fears invoked over Obamacare's putative implications. Bad faith then furthered fueled everything that was untrue or made people dislike everythingObama. That slope isn't just slippery, it's downhill and going back uphill is something very few people are willing to do. Most hard climbs will be avoided and that is said in good faith.

People are easily scared because the world of oligarchs puts all but the oligarchs at their mercy. They have no mercy, which is what we have always known. Don't you also routinely agree to the "terms and conditions of service" set forth by Corporation Oligarch? I just did it again this morning. Why should I read the endless pages of legalese when there is nothing I can do but submit to a system that I think I need to use? When we aren't protected by the government of the people, we are on our own: and that is the operative principle of Republicans nowadays, that being on your own is better than anything we the people can create. Get off my lawn means I can say or do anything I want, no matter how it affects others.


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.

We need a society, a vast majority, willing to act in good faith. Not with faith or from faith but merely in good faith. And that is what we do not have.

A very imperfect Obamacare bill has in fact made medical care more accessible to millions who previously had none. Did you get screwed? That's wholly possible. We need not debate how utterly inadequate, corrupt, or worse our system is in America when we know no matter how bad it is, it was worse before, at least for most. If you got creamed, that's what happens in systems of compromise that turn problems into intractable disputes without any ability to compromise. But as I wade here momentarily into policy, I miss the point. The real issue is bad faith, which any academic knows is something of a technical term.

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).

How does one's own "faith" impact others and so become a positive detriment to the public good? When we question nominees to the Supreme Court about their religion we act in good faith when we ask such a question about their faith. Bad faith is answering knowing somehow that what you are saying ("I will act on the evidence alone...) is in fact a dissimulation. But what about the situation when you don't know or fail to appreciate your position? Can you act in bad faith when you don't know you are? I think not. I think then you are just acting mistakenly and that if such errors are pointed out they can be corrected---so long as there is good faith.

So bad faith doesn't require faith as such, it requires self-consciousness regarding one's intentions and means. When that is possible then a faithless person like myself and a faithful Christian like Professor Smith can figure out how to get along just well enough that we both survived and even flourished.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Perils of Truth and Censorship

I am inclined to err always on the side of free speech. One of the bad faith arguments of the Right is that the Left wants speech codes and censorship and uses political correctness to inhibit speech. When Colin "Weapons of Mass Distruction" Powell came to the UR I declined to participate in a boycott though I signed the letter objecting to the fee they were paying him. He should be able to be denounced in public, I said. When it's not yelling fire in movie theatre, I am strongly of the opinion that censorship is the path of tyranny. Hitch and I agree on this even when I found his opinions deeply offensive (re: that war thing again). So what about COVID disinformation?

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

In Pursuit of Shared Blessings

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:

"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.".
34m

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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2XYH-IEvhI&feature=emb_logo

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.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-coronavirus-vaccinations/2021/01/15/342a7282-55c9-11eb-acc5-92d2819a1ccb_story.html


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.