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.