Monday, August 29, 2022

What You Haven't Earned Is More Important

This week there’s been a lot of hubbub about forgiving student loans. I had them. I paid them. I am thrilled others will find relief from such onerous debt because why should they have to go through this? Just because I have?

Is this one of those Two Kinds’a People Thing? You know those who think everyone should suffer as they have to “earn their way” or maybe that others needn’t have to go through it quite so ? Do we all have to suffer more to somehow be better? I think not.

Don’t mistake me, as Spinoza reminds us, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” But there’s always room for more care, compassion, and insight than self-important claims to meritocratic virtue, most of which ignore how they’ve been built on privilege, luck, and appanage. The value of an education is not merely a job, a profession, or in what you've earned. It's in the heart that can open to a deeper appreciation of what might be possible.

“Merit” has its own complications---not the least of which is that its shadow is virtue. But when you have worked really hard for something it can lead you to work harder and harder and harder and then you forget to do other important things like take time to love what’s valuable.

Merit surely has value but not everything valuable comes from merit. We don’t need to earn love. Grace must have priority.


No one could possibly believe that this loan forgiveness is a "solution." It was not meant to be. It was a political effort that appeals to important elements of the Democratic Party. The question then is whether it is good politics in addition to whether it is morally adroit. I would argue that the former is open to debate and the latter is plain.

Republicans will use this to rally resentment and pose their grievances. This is, after all, their sole political platform. They have no ideas other than to anger and inflame their base with culture wars. This will suit them just fine. Nothing Biden or Democrats could do---and I mean NOTHING---would be acceptable to them in terms of any action or policy. Part of their grievance is simply to hate us, we the Libs.

So does it rally Republicans even more to vote? Purely a political question. More importantly, does it anger, estrange, or disaffect Democrats from voting and who does it incentivize to vote? I think the people most benefited by this policy are also unlikely to vote because they received it. In other words, I find Democrats unreliable voters on issues, on voting _for_. Dobbs will more likely draw voters, as Kansas proved. Thus I think the policy is likely neutral.

Nothing changes the venal Republicans; not much affects Democrats. Are there any Democrats estranged by this policy? Not enough to matter. Politics solved. However, this was bad politics insofar as it is a distracting talking point that cycles in the news. Biden and the Democrats must talk about how Republicans are a real and present danger to democracy---because that is TRUE and that message must dominate, penetrate, be made every single moment every day.
Was this a good thing? A moral thing that attempts to redress an onerous, horrid situation? Namely that education is unaffordable and yet so important that it drives people into debt? I would assert that to be paramount. This was a good thing and certainly not the best thing or a solution. There can be no solutions without the political will to alter systems and structures. In today's America, that is a pipe dream. So Biden did what he could, appealed to some segment of his diverse coalition, and helped a ton of folks who are most in need of such relief. It is a fact that the majority of beneficiaries will come from under represented communities and working class families. It is a good thing and that might be the best we can hope for under the circumstances.





Welcome to the Department of Irrelevance and Dead Languages


You will notice from the chart above that I teach the least popular, perhaps the least important subject in the humanities.

Our Department is Religion & Classics.

As professional fields these are two very different worlds---journals, conferences, guilds, etc. Our original intent was to rescue a failing Classics program (circa 1986) but also to form a Religion Department that demurred from the apologetic description as "Religious Studies." We meant to say that we are of course NOT a theology or advocacy department (or supposed to be) but rather critical secular historians and linguists, etc.

They don't call the people down the hall from my office "Historical Studies," so "Religious Studies" is an apology implying a distinction that might be useful for some but is essentially insulting and wrong-headed. We imagined that we are NO DIFFERENT from every other subject: assumptions, evidence, reasons, conclusions, these are the things we do and we investigate. So far, so good, right?  We who study religion professionally have always had to argue for our legitimacy in the academy.

Of course the problem is exacerbated because so many Religion Departments are filled with religious people who shamelessly advocate one (usually) or another (or many?) religions. This undermines our mission.  Being religious doesn't disqualify you from studying religion but neither does it have anything to do with teaching religion.  In fact, the conversation about being religious only complicates and confuses the matter.  There should be a wall of separation between studying religion and being religious that is taller and more formidable than church and state.  Keep your religiousness out of the conversation.  I don't talk about my personal chemistries in chemistry class do I?

I also argued from the outset that Arabic, Sanskrit, and other languages we teach (not Modern) should be treated as "Classics." This angered the Classicists who saw it as undermining their guild, even their subject. You can only study Sanskrit in Religion and Classics yet Sanskrit is apparently neither religion (because it is not) nor is it classic (because the Classics guild hold that "classics" means only Greek and Latin and are ill-disposed to admit others in their sandbox).

At a place like Rochester we originally in R&C made a BFD out of our secular identity and insistence that we are not advocates.  I think that no matter how clearly or frequently we have made this case it doesn't much matter.  It is too culturally ingrained, too nuanced a point, and we are too unwilling to learn this important, nay vital distinction.  All we can continue to do is shout about it and hope someone/anyone listens.  Maybe it doesn't matter that much either.

I would not personally describe myself as advocating or adhering to any religion since that is irrelevant to my profession and work. However, our method in the study of religion is secular, I happen to be both an atheist and a Hindu measured by the duck test. Does it waddle? Quack? But so what? Who cares? BEING one IS NOT qualification of expertise.  (I might describe my own religiousness as utterly secular too inasmuch as the method and the "belief" is nothing but what I also do academically.  Secular critical study is as much my "religion.")  I am biological and chemical but that is no qualification for expertise in the study of biology or chemistry. Being "religious" is ZERO qualification for the critical study of religion. '

Being "religious" is data, it is what we study. One's personal relationship to a religion must be irrelevant if the subject belongs at all in a university. Most scientists are so ignorant about what we do as scholarship that they think we are advocates and dismiss our subject or would prefer to abolish us.

That said, now imagine how students or, worse, their parents understand NONE of these points and arguments. Religion is worse than Art History, which even Barack Obama told us could not be any longer justified. But why? Because costs make college prohibitive.

I will continue to rant.  And this is shameless advocacy but not for being religious.  If you are religious I might study you.  If you are religious I might not care if you don't make your religion my problem.  Many religious people do make their religion my problem, like Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas. 

Unless we study history, literature, language, and culture we will be under exposed and ill informed citizens and humans. How can we presume to organize socially and politically if we have so little appreciation of what we might learn about being human from one another? The Humanities are not a luxury but a necessity, especially if we have any hope at the more complex and precarious human endeavors like the rule of law or the public good.  

However the same necessity of inquiry frames topics in science. Because we are culturally illiterate we are unable to fathom climate science. Because people are under educated, ill-informed, and under exposed to the truths of science, we frame debates about vaccines and disease in ways that should embarrass and shame us all. We look stupid. Worse, because we don't know how to study religion and how opinion, faith, belief, and unexamined data operates on the human psyche we confuse religion with science. Then we are worse than stupid because now what we feel or believe has more weight than reasoned argument.

We are human, imperfect and science is not infallible. But it is the best we have and if it is a test of personal belief versus the evidence of reputable academics, there is no serious choice. Are you with the magical goatherders of the Bronze Age or do you understand what academics has in fact done to advance the human cause?

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Confederate Party of Lincoln

When Lincoln wrote that the nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal he knew this wasn't true because it had not been realized. He proposed a new birth of freedom of, by, and for the people. These phrases are so well known we likely don't fully appreciate how radical it was to say in its day.

Lincoln was conceiving the United States that had been merely United States. In that he was targeting the Confederate oligarchs who had maintained a minority rule and a federal government that secured the rights of all people. In their view government must not be the peoples' unless it serves the interests of the few who are competent to decide for the collective. Reverting to claims of State's rights was their means to secure power in the hands of the few thus insuring that the will of the people could not interfere with their cultural claims and financial interests.

It is the combination of these two Confederate features that has once again seized control of our system. The minority means to govern and if they cannot govern with the consent of the majority or use the system to secure their power, they mean to rule by any means. Should that process fail to maintain their power they have demonstrated the willingness to use violence. Rule over the majority by intimidation and force are key elements of fascism.

It is no small irony that the current Republican Party and the illegitimate and corrupt Court that imposes their will over the majority mimic the interests and agendas of the Confederacy that Lincoln brought to defeat. At some point I think the impositions of minority rule will once again not only splinter us but will bring the kind of civil unrest and protest that we may not be able to resolve using the mechanisms of liberal democracy.

As rights are taken away---and Roe is just the beginning of that dismantling---people will actually come to realize more palpably the oppression that the minority means to impose. There is a forthcoming ruling of the Court that will likely effectively eliminate the ability of the federal government to delegate regulations to agencies, thus wrecking havoc on the EPA, FDA, well, all of it. The rules will somehow belong to the States where business oligarchs will make sure, as they have with guns and climate, that the majority's will has no power.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Seven Point Plan

Cheney declared there was a “sophisticated seven-part plan,” and future hearings will dive deeper into its components She did not enumerate the process, so I thought I would suggest the process.
(Kudos to Susan Glaser for the core listing references.)

1. Trump’s spreads election misinformation;
2. he plots to fire the acting Attorney General in order to get the Justice Department to further his false claims;
3. he pressures Vice-President Mike Pence to block the counting of the electoral votes, and he pressures military, CIA, DOJ and others to confirm his lies,
4. he pressures Republican officials in the States and Republican-led state legislatures to switch their electoral votes and scheme to send fake electoral certificates to Congress;
5. he coordinates with violent conspirators, including Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, largely through his proxies, like Stone
6. he summons the mob to the Capitol on January 6th;
7. he refuses to do anything to stop them once they are there, rampaging in an effort to stop the vote count (removing Pence from the scene, declaring the votes illegitimate, and eventually getting a stooge like Grassley as Pro Temp to do the "re-count.")
Voila. The Coup almost works.
Don't think they haven't learned from these mistakes. Next time they mean not to fail. Next time means the next election they lose and will never again admit to losing. Tyranny is not quite here but the grounds for democracy are gone. What remains are we the people responsible for establishing the rules for free and fair election and compelling integrity.

Willful Ignorance, Critical Thinking, and the Matter of Unknowing

If we want to understand why Republican America is so blithely ignorant, misinformed, and disinterested in the truth about a seditious insurrection conspiracy led by a grifting, lying, fraud who is mentally ill and utterly unfit for any political leadership we need to understand from whom they get their news.

This trail of misinformation and manipulation helps further explain why those who could know better---persons less mentally deficient than Trump in Republican leadership have decided to ignore the truth. Their relationship to money and power precludes their interest in the truth. Rep Cheney made that point crystalline this week.

But after we account for willful dissimulators, what do we make of the vast swath of Republican voters and other ignorant Americans who care not for the tasks of citizenship?

Two articles appeared this morning that caught my attention. The first appears in The Atlantic. Here David French outlines what so many in his circle of Republican friends don't know and how little they do. He also outlines the putative misdeeds that these seemingly "good" people attribute to Democrats. You can easily find this piece via the googlemachine.

We can dismiss the majority of Republicans as pathetic, unfit for democracy but it is as important to note how they have been manipulated and corrupted. In true Orwelian doublespeak fashion this is what they say about those of us who read The New York Times or other journalism that might actually have a shard of integrity.

We might retort that if you can't believe "the media" then the January 6th Committee invites you to believe your own eyes and the sworn testimony of those who suffered "carnage" and "chaos", police officers beaten and slipping in blood to fend off the mob that Trump brought to support Proud Boy and Oath Keeper white nationalists bent upon overthrow of the duly elected government. Facts are not alternative.

In our culture getting "eyes on" is more important than any form of written or spoken word. American short attention spans, illiteracy, and willful disinterest in matters of import cannot be underestimated.

That said, what half the county prefers is Fox News, another Orwell-worthy name since the propaganda channel's shameless efforts espouse the Trumpista claim: whatever we say the dupes believe. In order to keep their dupes in line Tucker Carlson's show during the Jan6thComm hearing did not break for commercials for the first hour to keep eyes off the truth.
If you follow Twitter in the rightwing universe you are being told that the gravest threats to American democracy involve support for Pride. I kid you not. And of course the espousing of violence is shamelessly advocated without the slightest moral consideration since these advocates of hate deem themselves the true Christians. Abhorrent as this all is, it's like junk food: you become what you consume.

Eyes off is as important as eyes on. This means as The Atlantic and the NYT article below demonstrate that America is not only ignorant and manipulated by the power of rightwing propaganda, it has little critical ability to move out of its information silos.

We hear only what we want to hear while we are being told what it is we want to hear is true. There is no both-sides-ism to my point. The "left leaning" news includes the facts. Facts are pesky and difficult to create because they require serious human efforts that involve critical thinking. We have to trust, for example, in the methods and evidence of science and scientists when we are ourselves less capable of understanding the material ourselves. You might do as much when you ask Google Translate for a bit of help with French too. I mean simply when you don't know, you need help, you have to admit your vulnerabilities. Whether people have the capacity to understand what learning entails is another matter entirely.

Given the nature of global events it's fair to say that everyone is under-informed. I am distraught when matters of science done by actual scientists is dismissed just as I am when folks are unwilling to consider journalistic standards and efforts at professional integrity.

Republicans use "the media" to mean their political adversaries s when they are their propaganda advocates. I for one think there is still such a thing as professional, personal, and moral integrity. To discern that requires critical abilities. Those need to be understood, taught (they are not intuitive), and applied. Get on your Spock or your enterprise might crash into the sun.

Offering up our best understanding, being transparent about methods and sources, and holding ourselves to ethical standards may be a requirement for functional democracy. Confirmation bias needs its counterpunctual: how could I know if I am mistaken? Do your best to create the facts and interpret them honestly: this is what you are taught to do in college if you actually received an education. It should be what is taught by 8th grade but that is another discussion.

What we need to understand here is not that both sides are ill-informed or stuck in silos of preferred political values or persuasions. What we need to see that that a significant portion of the American electorate is participating in well-orchestrated conspiracies, subject to fraud, and can't tell the difference because they refuse to consider the quality of their sources and the agendas of those who would manipulate them.

Friday, June 10, 2022

All is Not Lost, Everything is a Footnote to the First Word

Another thought today about the January 6th Committee because it's important to mitigate our not unwarranted, perhaps overly cynical view that nothing will come of it. Is our government hopelessly lost to dysfunction?
The evidence is in. Not yet.
Take to heart this fact: the recently defeated president of the United States attempted to overturn the Constitution rather than accept the outcome of an election. He and his cohort conspired and executed a coup attempt. They failed. Why?

Brave and patriotic people stood up for the truth and stopped him. Brave and patriotic people now seek to hold him to account. In the future brave and patriotic people will likely have to stop them all again. This is not cynical anymore than it is pointless. This is the real work of citizenship. How quaint? This is your country. This imperative of citizenry obtains only if you care about democracy. Democracy has not yet failed.
Be one of those brave and patriotic people. Do not let our democracy fail. Continue to do the right thing. Insist that others join you so that we do not fail. If you don't we will fail because everything about democracy actually depends on We the People.
If you want democracy you will have to save it but not by yourself. We is the first word of the Constitution. All the rest is We too.

The Coup in Progress and the Committee

 In case you missed it there is coup-in-progress that is the continuation of the January 6th Coup Attempt that very nearly succeeded.  Republicans mean not to fail this next time.   The Committee is underway.  Last night was the first hearing and here's what I think.

Three Takeaways and Futures
1. It is the Committee's intention to demonstrate that this was an orchestrated, planned coup that Trump sponsored like a mob boss using his underlings to execute. It happened to fail.
This time.
AG Garland? Are you listening? If this is not the crime of seditious insurrection led by a former president what exactly is?
2. Republicans know that their voters explicitly or tacitly endorse the Coup. Last night Fox did not break for commercials while the Committee was in session so that its viewers would not be tempted to change the channel. Of course, Fox is culpable in establishing the narrative after the coup attempt that it was not a coup but "legitimate political speech" and that the big lie is not the clear and present danger it is to democracy.
Fox will insure that the vast majority of Republican voters, content as they are to endorse the coup, the lies that caused it and the lies that support the coup-in-progress, remain in line. Rep Liz Cheney telling the truth is being lionized for telling the truth while she is being run out of her party. Expect only more of the same. Minds are made up. Nothing about these hearings will move the electorate.
3. Should they lose the next election Republicans and Fox intend for their coup-in-progress not to fail. Democracy no longer matters (i.e., you must be willing to lose, as Democrats clearly are) and they mean to gain power and never relinquish it again peacefully. Their voters endorse their claim to power at any cost. Many would prefer a "peaceful" takeover thus seizing the government by destroying norms and using the law to carry out the coup-in-progress.
The minoritarian rule of white supremacist nationalism will prove more important to the Fox viewer than democracy. Wall Street will endorse the rise of fascism as the oligarchs secure power. If we do not act to protect democracy there will no recognizable America once Congress is Republican. As soon as 2023 we may well see their vindictive agenda at work: don't be surprised if they impeach Biden. Cruelty is the point: they are fueled by fear, grievance, anger, and revenge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

More About the Widening Gyre

Let us be frank though I know that is not an inviting thing to say.
Uvalde, Buffalo, Heller, January 6th Committee, war in Europe, the planet burns, gas is $5 a gallo, food is expensive, and I fear that America is losing itself or whatever it may have ever had of democracy's promise. Too grim? Because too true? I cannot and will not "blame" anyone much less President Biden because that is facile and as unhelpful as it is unfair.   We need each other and a reckoning.  I think we are not up for it.  They are running out the clock, like they always do.

There is a blank gaze, a pitiless sun as the darkness drops again and yet we must with all good hearts come to meeting. We must continue the conversation no matter the sense of futility. We must hold each other in the centre that does not hold. And so we must find a way to contend with what will be made better only by a million small turns that demand every ounce of care. We doubt we are as able these things as we are sure that it took as many turns to get here albeit with far less attention.

The President commented that he is hoping for "rational Republicans." I tried to restraint my chortle so as not to reveal the obvious with too much disrespect for decency in the face of fact. The only question I have is whether he knows this is bullshit and he needs to say it because he thinks he does or if he thinks there is such a thing. The latter is more frightening than the former.

It doesn't help to be the pessimist though I find optimism, especially in the face of facts, equally pointless. Biden, like Obama, even like the cynical, grievance driven Republicans has to say that things will somehow "get better" or that we have a bright future only if.

What they all understand but will not say is that the facts are refused as much as they may (or may not) be in dispute. With the Jan 6th hearings coming I wonder whether any public airing of the evidence will matter one bit. Whose mind will change? What motivation will be kindled? Why would we believe that truth telling will make things better when so many are served by their lies and delusions? There are apparently no rational Republicans, or at least that how it seems to me.

Facts are often too hard to bear and the remedies are not actually remedies at all. Rather our struggles will depend as much on our willingness to live in complexities we cannot fully fathom, much less control. If we are folks who understand those things then how does that bring us to any reckoning with advantage over the forces of disarray? What destiny we don't make may befall us because we aren't in truth the change we wish to see happen---no mortal has that kind of power over worlds of karma and lila. We can only be part of meaningful movements of change. But it is no small matter to create such movements, much less ones that depend upon perseverance in the face of honest travail.

It would be helpful to understand better the difference between the kind of world we wish we lived in and the kind we do---and what we can do to address that chasm. What I think we see when we do reflect upon the shared situation is how frustrating and difficult it is to effect a collective better. Coming to terms with the facts is no small matter but what we cannot agree upon in America seems to be anything like shared facts, even those most hard won. We don't have much collective trust in science or critical thinking because most of us have little capacity for either. Harsh but untrue?

I'm not suggesting we were better off when the few media outlets gave us the same paternalist palaver on the evening news. But I am saying that our abilities to collect ourselves to create serious civil conversation has never seemed harder, even in the face of all of the information that is readily available. Virtual worlds have made harder truths harder still to agree upon.

We need a more sophisticated, serious, and mature level of discourse, just like we need helpful even buoyant narratives to frame the changes we must face. But for most of us change is disruptive, difficult, and reluctant even as we admit that the constraints of education and emotional capacity test our abilities to communicate effectively and honestly with each other. If we make a necessary personal commitment to engage would that really help? I proffer the contrary to bolster the rhetoric: Where else could we go that wouldn't make matters worse? We need to make things better. Now what?

Our pace and the demands of making it through another month give us little opportunity to reflect as we feel the pressures to just do something. In the meantime of course there is war, climate, sickness, and the costs we seek to address in our everyday lives. And we must hold the centre that does not hold, as Yeats reminds us. In that widening gyre and passionate intensity find ways to make meaning inside ourselves. That can only happen if we continue to reach out and connect with each other.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Sure to Offend Someone: The Easter Bonnet Problem

On Giving Good Hat

So it's Easter and who doesn't like bunnies, chocolates, estrogen, and spring? It's snowing in Bristol as I write this. If you happen to like ham, I suppose I can easily get with the bacon part of the ham. It's all so goyam, you know?

If you like to say "Happy Easter" that's cool with me 'cause everybody should be happy about something. I suppose I should start there because it'll be interesting to find out if this next bit offends you, somehow.

You've likely noticed I have a penchant for offensive religious jokes but I will insist that they need to be funny. No professional scholar of religion who can't laugh at---not just with---religion is anyone I want to hang with. (<--very awkward sentence structure, hehe...) 
Then again, I almost never hang with fellow religion scholars. They are almost to the last nicer and more likable than I am and that only sometimes bothers me. But far far far too many believe stupitshit. And this is not limited to, say, Easter.
A pal of mine who I do work for just said, in effect, and I kid you not, "Do you think you could be nicer to the people who don't really know you, people on our team?" I merely reminded him that I am not nearly as funny as I wish I were and that even my mom said once that my brother was better looking but I was smarter. This is actually true. I know I can sound unnice. I can even sound arrogant and obnoxious because I have an unwarranted amount of self-confidence when I'm not up all night gaslighting myself with imposter's syndrome.
Like the Canceled Easter joke---they found the body. Of course I made myself into a faithful child when my parents, bless them, looked at askance at my interest in religion. It took me a while to figure it out but I was interested in eastern religious bypass until I met Appa who had the most remarkable way of not trying to persuade you of anything. Appa taught by merely pointing things out and sorta'kinda'hopin' that you would come to it of your own accord. I mean I went to him lookin for Full On No Kidding Advaita Oneness Bypass and instead of merely calling Utter Bullshit on this nearly psychotic theory of yogic bypass, he merely worked his way around the edges until he landed on the core of the matter---and never once, not ever did he call it out. Like I just did. Mere name calling here, not even a worthwhile argument. But meh. That doesn't make it less bullshit. So I nearly got tossed out of Divinity School on a weekly basis and I do love me some Hindu temple and pilgrimage. You do know that it's because it's a long, strange trip into the darkest corners of our Collective Unconscious, a one way ticket to the abyss of meaning that we can only make while here, in this limited, conditioned, unfinished and always three-fourths unknown self of embodiment. Wow, that was way too serious for a post about bunnies and chocolate. WTF is wrong with me? But here's the core of this. I am reading allllll sorts of SINCERE wishes for a Happy Easter. I even have friends who can say this with a straight face. I mean, I'm all for the Durkheimian sociology of ANY holiday, just get together under some religious pretense and have a few laughs, don't invite that Trump Uncle who you never liked that much anyways (and if you did, well, it was a mistake), and get on with the food. If there's booze involved, I won't object unless it's a more serious matter for you, in which case my actual serious support and I'll pour you something vegan non-alcoholic no problem eva'. But when I get the sorta' serious Happy Easter greeting it's just f'in' weird to me. I can't separate this from the Jesus Died for Our Sins and then Didn't Really Die part 'cause I not only think that is obviously untrue to even people who say it is but because it's just a very bad myth. I'm all for a good myth---tell yerself a healthy lie for better reasons, but be careful because people will not get the joke. Next thing you know you are apologizing and blaming the interwebs for not conveying your in-person sincerities. I dunno, but people are so easily offended about f'in' everything these days. I suppose many have good reason but life I tell you is basically offensive to anyone paying attention.
Then there's the "happy easter to all those who celebrate" bit. WTF does that mean? Does it mean you like to get together with yer peeps for some food lovin'festing? Who could object to that? Does it mean you grew up with some traditions and your family was swept up in the fictions of history that could have been much better had we told other stories? Does it mean this is an allegory you can roll with? Okay, fine. You might say Jesus was supposed to be a swell guy, that he told us to love each other and not be dicks. Last I looked the people claiming the Christian mantle are mostly not like that, and never have been (but who's judging that ye be judged? John somethingsomething endzone sign here.) Anyways, I resent 2000 years of lies that have been told as literally true. Cause they really do think it's literally true. Ask our pal d'Current Pope who you may say is a swell guy 'cause he's not a Nazi like that last guy. I think their hats suck too. I dig hats. I like religions that give Good Hat. Give me some Dalai Lama banana slug hat anytime. Way better hat. All the rest is just bunnies and chocolates and I'm totally okay with that. Any you. For real.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Silent enim leges inter arma: When Silence is the Voice of the Sacred Calling Us to Speak

The atrocity of war, killing human beings---what more can be said that hasn’t before voiced the lament, the confusion, and paradox that invariably arises when we ask ourselves when is it “justified” to defend living, to secure one’s way of life?  I cannot subscribe to a passivism or any resignation to the machinations of karma, as if the arc of justice will somehow right itself without our value, commitments, and actions.


In the Epic Mahabharata’s “call to the yoke” an honest choice is put before us: turn to engage the battle or accept the consequences imposed by one’s conquerors.  This choice further suggest one of the earliest uses of the word “yoga” to mean the engagement that puts before us the stakes.  To raise the stakes may not be an individual’s choice; we are more likely, as it is here in the Epic, subject to the whirlwinds of history, the turmoil arriving like a storm, a reality we must accept factually, not of our individual making but undoubtedly remaking us.  The bell tolls for thee.

Should the better decision of such painful reality be to flee and seek refuge from the battle, who could condemn such a choice?  It is a modern fact that two-thirds of refugees never return home. The price of such exile cannot be gainsaid.  Estimates at present are that more than 300K+ Ukrainians have left the country since the Russian invasion.  At the same time we know that ordinary civilians are being armed to fight alongside the military or however they can to defend their homeland.  I offer no judgment as to the choices individuals need to make for their families, their conscience, or their principled values.


I was reminded this morning of a legal phrase inter arma enim silent leges, which means “for among (times) of arms, the laws fall silent.”  It is used in cautionary ways not to justify the use of arms but more importantly to remind us that the laws should not fall silent even as we acknowledge that the most rational acts of self-defense will take us further into crisis of conscience and ethical reflection. 

The oft-cited legal phrase is actually a restatement from Cicero’s speech to Milo (, where he writes, “Silent enim leges inter arma” which means something like “for the laws between arms are silent.”  It is what he says next that reveals further his intention.   He writes, “nor do they order them to wait, since one willing to wait must be punished before an unjust punishment must be repaid before the just (nec se exspectari iubent, cum ei qui exspectare velit, ante iniusta poena luenda sit, quam iusta repetenda).

That sounds a bit confusing to our ears but in effect we are being asked to consider how taking a more immediate action to defend one’s self or repay a criminal action may eventually bring the law down upon ourselves.  Alas, how do we hold ourselves to account for choices we never wanted to make and yet must.  The ever-prudent Cicero knows well that we have to live with ourselves and in society that holds sacred the value of law that organizes sacred boundaries. 

It is not merely justification or rationalization we seek when we take up arms but the sacred itself.  We want to know, to feel, to experience the boundaries that say “here, not there,” “this, not that,” “now, not then” in ways that speak to dignity, decency, integrity.  


We want to find out more about what makes us human and what it means to defend the very notion of humanity itself.  Humanity is the sacred we are seeking in the face of a world in which the profane is untold horror and oppression.  To acquiesce to the defeat of  freedom and dignity is to deny our human sacred need.  We create the law to honor the sacred because without those claims it becomes all too clear what we will do to one another.  We want something we can stand on when the storm will not abate.

“Although very wisely and in a certain way silently, the law itself gives the power to defend, which forbids a person to be killed not with a weapon for the purpose of killing a person; so that, since the weapon was not being investigated for the purpose, one was judged to have used a weapon for the purpose of self-defense, not to have had a weapon by means of threatening to kill another.”


When we see the courage of ordinary people taking up arms against an unprovoked and criminal incursion meant to defeat their ideals, their principles of self-governance, from those come to steal their liberty and their way of life, we see such self-defense not only as a legal right but as a call to the sacred.


If there is nothing sacred for which we live then there will be no meaning to the realities of suffering and death---and that we must not forsake when the claims of the criminal aggressor call us to the yoke.  We are faced with the implications that come with raising arms and violence that with all our hearts we did not seek nor seek to inflict.


Defending humanity is no simple choice to engage the fight or seek another refuge: it is the call to a sacred that invariably brings forward the complications of shadows that accompany the light we seek.  However just the cause, the pain inflicted and the shadows of conscience are as much the truth of the sacred as they are a manifest profanity.   We must not rationalize the need for violence but defend the sacred as cause to live freely.


Here is the passage cited from Cicero:

11. Silent enim leges inter arma; nec se exspectari iubent, cum ei qui exspectare velit, ante iniusta poena luenda sit, quam iusta repetenda. Etsi persapienter et quodam modo tacite dat ipsa lex potestatem defendendi, quae non hominem occidi, sed esse cum telo hominis occidendi causa vetat; ut, cum causa non telum quaereretur, qui sui defendendi causa telo esset usus non minis occidendi causa habuisse telum iudicaretur. Quapropter hoc maneat in causa, iudices, non enim dubito quin probaturus sim vobis defensionem meam, si id memineritis quod oblivisci non potestis, insidiatorem iure interfici posse.


For the laws between arms are silent; nor do they order them to wait, since he who is willing to wait must be punished before an unjust punishment must be repaid before the just. Although very wisely and in a certain way silently, the law itself gives the power to defend, which forbids a man to be killed not with a weapon for the purpose of killing a man; so that, since the weapon was not being investigated for the purpose, he was judged to have used a weapon for the purpose of self-defense, not to have had a weapon by means of threatening to kill him. 









Monday, January 24, 2022

Can We Be Whole in a Partisan World? The Superficial Truths Need to Come First

24 January 2022

This weekend I read about a man who was privileged enough to retire, buy an island, live alone for decades, spending most of his time planting trees, and then refusing millions of dollars to sell his island. I could be that castaway because I feel ready to cast away this world. Is that a time in life or feature of the world? Could it be both? This may just sound like complaining. Or even envy. If it does then apologies in advance. I think there are a few points to make and when they are less then sanguine or "hopeful"---not a word or even an idea that I much fancy under the best of circumstances---even a point worth making can sound peevish or malcontent.
I haven't been reading as thoroughly over the past few months in public affairs. I cancelled subscriptions to podcasts, newsletters, and no longer watch or listen any talking heads, not even my favorites. I'm glad they are out there sounding the alarms and raising a clamor but to what end? For my part, I have retreated into what I call "the work"----any and all things I would consider "yoga." By that I don't mean things exclusively Indian or from the histories of yoga properly speaking. What most people think is "yoga" has little or nothing to do with what I mean here. They aren't wrong. Meanings need to be understood for us to communicate. That is at least part of this repine. I include in the term "yoga" all literature, art, reflection, and criticism from any cultural source that speaks to my soul. The criteria of inclusion is
sahrdaya: that's the word for soulfulness, literally, with heart. I want to spend the rest of my days thinking, reading, having rich, serious conversations. That's all I really want. It seems to me I should want more but for now this will do. Politics should be in that realm, for it is Dharma even if that is but a limited sense of the meaning of that word. We must work to hold ourselves together---Dharma's literal meaning---and to negotiate with those whose values and visions are not ours. We need to find ways to live with each other even when, frankly we'd rather not have much of a relationship at all. It's like having an ex- with children involved: you need at least a working relationship to prevent misery. Misery prevented is a good day. that may lower the bar but can we just start there? I don't need to have my all of neighbors to dinner. I do need them to show up when the house is burning down---that still seems to work. Thank you, Fire Department. But I also need them to admit to a common set of facts and that is clearly failing. Not much about living together in this society seems to be working well or even tolerably. What happens when things are intolerable? We tolerate still because that is what we must do. What does that mean? Democracy can argue over what to do about the facts but it cannot have too, too much variance over what constitutes the shared formative assumptions and renderings of the evidence. Simply put, we need common facts in order to have diverse opinions. Opinions subject to the tacit rules of reason are called arguments. We need to be able to argue, not merely quarrel or fight. Democracy stands no chance when we cannot debate more or less the same facts.

My turned down personal volume admittedly has elements of resignation---I mean resignation from this society. That is not a responsible or serious position. One does not live apart from the social contract, the law, the ethos of culture and its formulations in the world. I believe I am suffering from a lack of seriousness about what I need to do to be whole person in this society. But is that really the case?

Like it or not, we are participants and not spectators to our world and as Americans that means this culture, however fragmented, diverse and segmented, however its differences appear from place to place. Furthermore, it is not only impossible but irresponsible to abdicate the de facto participation of citizenry if we want democracy---the best worst form of government we know.

Here's the rub and it chafes me to the point of erosion. First, I see no remedy to the misinformation (actually the dysinformation) of our current ecosystem. This means no common set of facts and please no false equivalencies here about both sides and how we choose our "news" sources. The Fox nation is fed a steady stream of culture war racism and Confederate ideology inciting violence and commending hatred. Not so many liberals are asking if we can use our guns yet. Let us hope we on the side of reason---the only alternative to voilence---stay rational. Because we cannot share facts we cannot argue meaningfully. But it's actually worse than that. Their "conservative" denialism is part of their identity formation, so the facts simply don't matter. Masks are mandated in New York right now and the other day I saw dozens of people in Wegmans without them. How to enforce when the culture's social contract is broken? We are not only two (or more) nations, we are not even a culture or a society: we acting as if we live in different worlds because that is what people want.
Those who dispute the facts cannot be reasoned with---let us say just that's about vaccines or the election's results, the particular topic doesn't matter. More personally, I see no point in such conversations and I want more soulfulness and less futile engagement with, well, life. I cannot in conscience wholly resign because already defeats democracy. We must stay informed and vote, even if they destroy democracy and none of our agenda is reali zed. Democrats hold all three branches of government and cannot among themselves agree on what needs to be done. How frustrating is that in the mix? Their opposition is determined to see them fail and they are seemingly determined to fail themselves. Currently, I cannot abide more participation than this. Last, and this charges further feelings of resignation and our political failure: there appear to be no consequences to criminal and traitorous behaviors. Of course since we can't agree on the facts and the courts are stacked with partisans, there can be no justice. Trump's criminality is like climate change. It can't be denied, it is right before our eyes. And what do we do about it in any meaningful way? There appear to be no consequences to anything that demands our collective will to bring the facts to bear. Trump so far has walked, as he always has, largely free of any consequences not only because he is a crafty, rich enough to use the system con artist but because his "I can do anything" view of the world is what "conservatives" want. This is, of course, a foundation of fascism, not of liberty. The Gadsden Flag, truck decals of Calvin pissing, refusal to mask---you name it, it's all of a piece. The idea of "freedom" is not only irreparably corrupted, it is meaningless.

I would be disingenuous if I said that these circumstances don't evoke a measure of hopelessness. No matter the facts it seems, there are few meaningful consequences.
So the world literally burns and floods, we witness the slow-march to democracy's death, we are the majority and "control" the levers of federal government and are apparently utterly powerless to prevent failure that is plain to the meanest eye. Pandemic and politics have cured me of people is what I said the other day when we returned from a "vacation." This involved normal things like travel, going "out" and seeing the world filled with other people. No, thank you.
Of course it's also clear that I don't know what vacation means, I apparently don't like it, and if I never go on another it'll be too soon. If taking a day to ride the bike or read something I want to or not have to talk is vacation, then I'm all in. Otherwise, come see me here, at the end of our driveway, in the still-burnt house that may never be fully repaired. Come spend some time on the porch but don't ask me to mingle with the population, at least half of whom apparently think that guy should still be president or that the current guy is a doddering fool. (Joe is neither a fool nor does he suffer doddering senility, even if you don't agree with him.)
The worst of these politics is yet to come, not to sound the cynic. The slow walk to fascism doesn't seem so slow. Republicans are using the law to make sure they will never lose again. Their behavior insures that the circumstances of pandemic will only continue to ebb and flow leaving us all in danger. And like you, I'm tired of wearing a mask.
I will of course wear one on the outside when I must interact with our fellow citizens but the mask on the inside seems more comfortable and more likely where I want to be.
I don't feel like I need more friends, though that would be welcome. I want more time with the friends I have. What I am sure about is that I will have to think long and hard about wanting to go out into the bigger, wider world just to see you.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Peaceful Secession Theory

Alas, there is more talk of secession and what Congresswoman Greene is calling a "peaceful divorce."  I am in favor because their alternative is undoubtedly violence against those they despise.  Good Christians are what they call themselves.  I would agree: there is nothing unusual about their Christianity.  

(Not all, blahblahblah.  Not all is always true, which means it isn't interesting or the point.  If someone somehow identifies with "Christian" are they responsible for these dangerous fools too?  I think not.  But what are they thinking?)

Christians began in apocalypticism those 21 centuries ago and they are still at it.   The End is near.  The End is not our fault but rather it is theirs: it is sin, they are the sinful.  We are the saved.  Well, we are too sinful but not like them.  They need to be extinguish, that is God's work that will expiate our sin.  Redemption is nigh!

Some people never learn or, to put it more honestly, can't learn. And when you can't learn from your mistakes because you can't admit them or accept what life really delivers, you create the religious fantasies you need to address the fear, anger, anxiety, and delusion that are only further stoked by the narratives you are creating.

This means that the cycle of delusion that comes with religions that teach us we are helpless to understand the deeper facts will only advance: the incapacity to address the problematics of truth only fuels more of the same.  So we cannot know and yet we are the ones who really know.  It's that kind of absurdity we must contend with.  These good Christians believe it is all God's plan and that it is both a mystery and perfectly available and clear.  Clear?  Umm, sure.

Apocalypticism postpones what is coming but is always basking in the certainty that it is.  You don't know but you could know.  The paradox must abide: we are at God's mercy and that too must also come with a dose of secret, esoteric knowledge that confirms one's "deeper" understanding. This is why our crazy Trumper uncle who is of course a "good Christian" is reading those websites and telling us all about our ignorance, the "real" truth, and more stupitshit: he has to be privy to the "real" truth.  Another key to the end is near is that "they" are the devil. The next move is to "stop the steal" by stopping "them" from butdestroying what is "ours."  You can Make America Great Again while the world is also ending.  Go figure.  But this is no joke.

Trumpism is just Neo-Fascism, which is why these Christians are his most ardent supporters. It's all of a piece: we are the rightful heirs, the true believers, we are the ones who must stop "them." So all of this talk about guns and secession is not idle talk. January 6th was prelude and Armageddon is not far if we just take them seriously. We should. Your life might depend on it. These are Christians who will send any of us to death in the name of their savior.

Once in a Divinity School class in front of a whole clowder of Christians, I said aloud "people who can believe a human being resurrects from the dead will believe anything..." and so long as it is said to fulfill a fantasy of denial and invention.   (N.B., this comment did not go over well.)  I cannot wish misfortune on these folks but they are likely anti-vaxxers and Trumpers and all the rest too---and so I have no shard of concern for their outcomes. I hope they take care of each other and are less of a burden on our already burdened world.

Good people will suffer because stupid people do willfully stupid things---is that too much to admit? Why is it that people we think are not stupid do such things? Because fear and anxiety are far easier to access than calming powers of reason and tolerance. Despair and hope are light and shadow, of course, but it's the way fear can stanch empathy that poses the greatest risk to "others." Our crazy uncle might love us enough not to shoot but certainly not if we were "them." Otherness is anxiety's scapegoat.  

I ask rhetorically about their burden because it sounds so cruel and I don't like that feeling. I do feel for their pain and the horror of their loss. I don't need my own house nearly burning down to imagine what it feels like to see your house burn down. The powers of empathy require imagination and care---we can reach across consciousness into other's hearts if we dare to think that the other is another form of ourselves. The fine line is always present: I am also not you, which means I cannot pretend to know your life, even as I am nothing but you. The place we must inhabit to coexist is that somehow I am like you.

But compassion fatigue is no sin, I say, when it is the honest outcome of offering more than is deserved that is received with dismissive opprobrium. So, let them burn. May the rest of us survive and flourish, best we can.