Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The World is Stranger Than Religion Can Imagine

 That we make the cut and have evolved to be human is miracle enough. Usually I don't land the plane first.

I refer to the last two paragraphs from Ross Douthat, the rightwing Catholic columist for the NYTimes, in a piece entitled "Where Does Religion Come From?" Unsurprisingly, Douthat argues for supernaturalism as if it's there to be found, like UFOs. I could go on here about how he confuses different forms of the imagination and our needs but he does concede that people conjure divinity for the purposes of inidividual consolation (aka the existential crisis) for fear of death and because they seek to share a social narrative that locates them in support communities. What's interesting to me about this piece isn't Douthat's utterly lame argument for the supernatural, it's that he buys into his own need it to make himself feel better about death and community narratives. The irony is pours like motor oil off the page.
He writes also, “[T]he world is much stranger than the secular imagination thinks.”

Douthat is confused: the world is much stranger than the religious imagination can think. Religious imagination reduces reality to narrative fantasies without necessary regard for logic. We'll tell ourselves nearly anything, including conspiracies and fact denial, because it feels better. Why not prefer our imperfect human understandings of reality that demystifies as better methods and more evidence emerges.
He concludes:
"Given the existence and influence of Christianity, it makes sense that some intellectuals in a decadent post-Christian society would be drawn back toward its consolations. But why were we given Christianity in the first place? Why are we being given whatever we’re being given in the U.F.O. phenomenon?
The only definite answer is that the world is much stranger than the secular imagination thinks."
Here is what I wrote in reply in public:
People need personal consolation because mortality and death are real and they need each other for support because, well, life is hard. All of the narratives of religion about divinity are factual nonsense but at least Douthat acknowledges that people use nonsense because they need consolation. Once you dispense with the supernaturalism, you can get on with loving a life that ends with death. I'm not thrilled with extinct because I've gratitude for the miracle of experiencing mortal consciousness. I still like living. It's a "miracle" not because science and humans can't explain it but because we can.

Chop wood, fetch water as the Zen adage puts it.
Here's the Douthat link:

Thursday, October 19, 2023

America's Angry Children and the Real Future of Democracy

It appears that a significant number of people in my personal demographic---mostly older white folks, more of them rural than suburban, more of them much more religious than I---neither understand democracy or reject it. They may not know they reject democracy because they don't in fact understand it.

In all cases their behavior resembles that of petulant children (with apologies to real petulant children) or of authoritarians. These folks like authoritarians so long as they look like them or fuel their grievances and claims. What we are seeing while the world burns, war rages in Europe and Middle East, and the country is less than a month from closing down is not a Republican Party that is merely dysfunctional. That is far too kind and understates the problem.


It would be an error to think there is a mature and governing majority within the larger Republican Conference or that it is but a few raging children, like Jordan or Gaetz, who need to get out of the way. The fact of the matter is that the current R-Maga Congress was elected by their voters not to govern. The majority of these elected representatives voted overwhelmingly not to certify the last election and cannot or simply will not admit that it was legitimate. It's hard to believe anything they say because they will say anything.


Those who are not election deniers will resume drowning government in their bathtub of grievances, conspiracies, and fantasies because that makes their voters feel good. The point of being elected isn't to do the difficult business of democratic government, it is merely to please those who vote and give you money.


What we have before us as a country might be called a Cold Insurrection but in fact appears to be its own kind of Slow-Walking and Not Without Violence Civil War. Trump just said on his platform that the people have "other rights" to secure the "justice" of his First Amendment rights, which should include threats and calls to violence directed at anyone who disagrees with him. By that he clearly meant that the Second Amendment somehow gives people the right to overthrow the government should it appear that the rule of law does not suit them. 


Leaving aside that even this current corrupt SCOTUS could not endorse as a majority that utterly ridiculous interpretation of "the right to bear arms," it is nightly stated on Fox and Newsmax to titillate their viewers. Jim Jordan's stated aim is authoritarian rulership, that is, government not by democracy and compromise but instead absolute rule or more cynically by simply rejecting the function of any government.


The real problem is that Republican voters have apparently internalized every bit of the cynicism that Trump and the GOP opportunists around him use to manipulate them. They care not for any connection between national politics and the health and security of the United States. They have never known a United States that is as broken as they hope to make it, so their soothing lies and fantasies of destroying the deep state are more like the next good show on TV.

Ironically these voters, a fairly significant portion of whom, rely on the government for their very survival in the form of Social Security, Medicare, etc., must rely on everyone else (aka Democats) who they deride as the “deep state" to keep the country functioning. Wouldn't want Big Government to take away their Medicare, now would we? Unfortunately, and I say this with no glee, Republican voters are apparently that stupid.


That they prefer to vote for masters of performative nonsense, like Jordan and Gaetz, needs no further explanation: all of the Angriest Children and all but a few in not yet gerrymandered districts will get landslide reelections. But it matters not that these are the Angriest Children because the entire party has proven itself rotten to the core. Shall we ask Liz Cheney?


The MAGA voter will reelect representatives who do nothing for “forgotten” working families because it is Democrats who have somehow left them behind. Fox makes sure to stoke that grievance every day because anger secures eyeballs and makes for profit. Elected MAGA grifts on the endless narrative of discontent, conspiracy, and blame because that is more lucurative than serving their constituents with law making. Benghazi! Hunter Biden! Whatever the flavor of the day is, there's room for more soothing lies that capitalizes on ignorance and performative anger.


"Conservative" Never Trumpers argue that MAGA is not conservative. But this is yet more nonsense. Theirs has always been welfare for the rich and corporate profit over every other consideration: their trickledown economics, "private sector solutions" for medical care, education, the environment, even civil rights have been nothing but catastrophic folly. 


"Conservative" ideals---smaller government, tax relief for the rich, deregulation---have been shown time and again to produce only more economic disparities and civil injustices. They bought the Gipper's lies because it sounds great and fills the pockets of their donors. Why this isn't obvious to any who claim decency when even their own economists admit to their motives is yet another characteristic of their failure. Follow the money to figure out why they don't care. 


But there are no "conservatives" even of this ilk left in Congress who aren't merely MAGA. MAGA doesn't care about any of these "conservative" objectives unless it profits them and keeps them in power. The usual failed conservative policies only serve this cynical objective. And to be clear: there are no elected Republicans who are not MAGA. Trump is almost certainly their standard bearer and they will all fall in line.


We can reasonably ask why so many rural white voters, especially of a certain age, vote as they do for policies that don't serve their actual lives? First, like all Americans, they think this way because they have never had to live under a government that has actually been so dysfunctional as to cease operation, or has been burned down, or defunded. Jordan and the Angriest Children have made careers only out of encouraging such nihilism. This makes them unfit to govern but effective politicians because they never intended to govern.


They will get elected by gerrymandered majorities and if given power will only foster more chaos: it's not a quirk, it's a feature. But here's the more important point that strikes home at the real problem before us: they actually do deliver what their voters want. Peering into living rooms blasting Fox, the MAGA voter wants a good show, and that means show trials, passion plays, and, above all, confirmation of their own misery while watching other people also feel unsettled and angry. The miserable also want "those people" who are coming for their stuff to be miserable or dead: it's not merely we didn't get ours, it's that they got ours. This is the message coming out of their information silos and anything to the contrary is "fake news."


To admit otherwise would be to admit their own mistakes and failures and, well, that just won't do, MAGA voters are incapable of recognizing serious legislators because by definition they reject compromise. They call this recalcitrant nihilism being "principled" when in fact it is an ignorance of the democratic system itself. When democracy gets in the way of their world view and, more significantly, their tender self-esteem then that doesn't matter either.


You can't be committed to democracy if you don't understand it and MAGA voters are more like a case study in widespread group Dunning Kruger Effect than actual citizens of a functioning republic. Fox and elected MAGAs know to keep the circus lively and tell their viewers how smart they really are.


They've done the research, you know, on things like vaccines by reading stuff on the internet that proves the Deep State is trying to anniliate them. That science saved so many of them from disease and death isn't even a distant memory---that can be as soon as fifteen minutes ago given attention span---but because they never learned the truth. They were too busy listening to Republicans like DeSantis and watching Fox.


MAGAs have been told that Trump will win in a landslide and that their favorite representative will stand by their president. Gerrymandering likely insures that their elected representatives remain in place to take their money and grift on their grievance. But it won't matter if they lose because they will not accept the results.

We're headed either for another January 6th Insurrection or a Speakership that will not accept the Electoral College results. Any of them are capable of rejecting votes because they don't believe every American actually should get to vote. Republican "leadership" knows that they are going to need to be the vote counters to win in the crucial places and have long realized that majority elections at the presidential level are irrelevant to their rulership goals. There would be a need to burn down the government should they lose because they could not control the outcomes.


They are actively engaged of course in doing just that: controlling process and outcome to assert their rule, which makes them wealthy and keeps the TV appearances coming in. If this sounds too cynical, I suggest we merely consider what is in fact happening right before our eyes.


The threat to democracy extends to the Russians, the Chinese, the Saudis and other authoritarians who see our failures more clearly than we do. But if the hopes of the American people rest with the American people then I say we're in for much worse than we can blame on others. Is there any reason to believe this Cold Insurrection will fail? Landslide victories from Democrats and a wise Joe Biden easily elected to a second term defeating Trump who will likely already be a convicted felon is perhaps our only real hope for better. 


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Democracy Must Save Itself

There is still media talk about a Republican reckoning, that Trump’s legal troubles will catch up with voters.  These voters loathe the notion of Democrats in power, particularly a second Biden term, but are going to finally concede to Trump’s unelectability.

The argument here is that there is more at stake than Trump himself and that the Republican Party’s political objectives are significant enough to distance from Trump.  What else could DeSantis or Tim Scott or Nikki Haley be thinking?  Thinking?  This requires the presumption that MAGA voters, the base of the party that no Republican can win without, are indeed motivated by political interests.  That they are moved by policy ideas.  Trumpism is indeed rooted in an idea but it only political inasmuch as it embodies a menacing look that means to become retribution against enemies.  Trumpism is inseparable from him, from what that mugshot means and him.

We needn't go so far as to say that MAGA voters have no politics or that politics does not inform their choices.  But it is a mistake to see their loyalty to Trump as political.  The presumption that politics determines the choice of the MAGA base is just plainly false.


Trump is a cult leader, not a politician because that is what MAGA loves about him. It’s not about particular policies, though cultists are often bemused by slogans (including those that appear to be policies, like "build the wall") and the sheer fun of it all.  It’s really about being part of it, and it isn’t more than what he is so long as he provides the entertainment.  What is most entertaining is the feeling, including the exhilaration and the sense of power that MAGA means you can do what you want, and particularly what you want to do to them.

It’s like going to the game.  You root for "us", for "our team" and against "them."   It’s what you do.  It’s who you are.  You don’t change fandom from week to week, much less to the opposition.  At best you might lose interest.  But that takes time, much more time than we have before the 2024 election.  MAGA will die a slow death made from its own boredom before it succumbs to truth or shame.


Cults often do espouse beliefs and even consistent  beliefs---but this is not a particular feature of Trumpism.  The fact that Trumpism isn’t about beliefs is a key to understanding that it is more about belonging and being one of us.  In Trumpism identifying through him is the point.  Ramaswamy out Trumping Trump makes not one iota of difference.  He is the point because he tells his followers that they need nothing but him to have everything they want.

In Trump’s mugshot you see it all: it is about defiance, about giving them what for, it's about exactly what he said: I am your revenge.  Such a base emotional commitment is more than enough to rally the fandom.  Nothing can make a Red Sox fan ever admit the Yankees are less loathsome.  But here the team isn't a cast of players or a franchise or an institution, it's him.

Cults don’t need to be religious to make devotion and heresy essential elements of identity.   Trump stands for the kind of self-identity that will not be denied, not in the fact of facts or even criminal conviction.

Without MAGA, no current R-candidate can consolidate enough votes to win the nomination and MAGA has no intention of leaving Trump no matter what he says or does.  As indictments pile up and the real threat of conviction on any number of crimes manifests, the majority of R-voters will rally around their leader. They may not like Trump any more than the evidence before them but to change teams at this point is to admit failure, a failure that pre-dates Trump's take over of their party.  These folks simply cannot vote for the D and will more than likely pull that R lever under any circumstances.  Just ask them.  There will be no such reckoning on political grounds because we are no longer dealing with a political movement.

That so-called “reasonable” Republicans, like the governors of Virginia and New Hampshire, are acting as if the politics are at stake is shameful.  Worse.  It is morally contemptible.  Continuing to say that the fate of the country is in fact a matter of politics, that is, of Democratic policies they cannot abide is more than a mere failure of imagination or political dissimulation.  It is a serious, even profound moral failure that must be assigned and repeated until their shame, conscience, and intellectual dishonesty becomes unbearable, even for the power-craven.

Nearly all elected Republicans have announced that there is nothing is more important than preventing another Democratic victory: they raise hands, like their Junior Varsity colleagues on stage at the Republican “debate”, agreeing to support whoever is the R-nominee, knowing full well that if Trump bears their standard they will have likely participated in the end of America as it has existed at least since 1864.   Apparently, the need for power and the ability to dissimulate for the sake of personal survival is more important than the fate of the republic.  


So the most important question isn’t whether Trumpism is a political movement but what we are going to do in face of a cult that appears powerful enough to take political power because so many are willing to deny the danger the cult leader poses to democracy itself.

To call MAGA a cult is not hyperbolic.  I think it wise in fact to avoid hyperbole just as it is to continue to address Republican voters with a certain stoic curiosity about their choices.  It’s unlikely Trump is moving any previous Biden voters.  Our partisanship is as immovable as Rs are unpersuadable from their cult mind.


In terms of behavior, the assimilation of information, and emotional connection, Trump has near complete control over his followers.  Information is siloed and restricted such that followers are told what to accept and what can be ignored.  Few actual beliefs or principles are at work because in this form of cultism more important is purity,  that is, that one remains inside the group.  Purity translates directly into following the next directive and sustaining the rejection of alternatives, particularly anything to do with Democrats.  Last, Trump’s emotional grip on the cult aims at their most primal self-identity: feelings themselves are a refuge because to deny him would not only admit to error, it would be to deny self.


This means that the facts, be they legal or logical and evidentiary, are unimportant.  Nothing can be said that the cult has not heard and dismissed before.  Any admission of error now would be tantamount to admitting they’ve been wrong all along.  Once you’ve been conned, it’s nearly impossible to admit you were conned, and it’s far more likely you’ll continue to play the game and raise the stakes.  There’s little reason to believe anything will persuade the MAGAs to alter their behavior, much less admit to error or a changed mind.   


We can only reasonably surmise that MAGA itself can’t be stopped and that most Republicans will refuse to acknowledge the gravity of the threat before us.  Why? Because this is exactly what has been the case for the past eight years.

There are a few voices of more recent “conversion” like Chris Christie, but to think that there is a Republican anti-Trump and pro-democracy movement of consequence that will save us is simply not realistic.  The Lincoln Project, Steve Schmidt, the Bulwark have been anti-Trump since voting against him in the last election.  Are there really more hearts and minds to be changed that haven’t already made up their minds?

Trump and Trumpism can be defeated if there is an election as free and fair as the last.  What that will take is every Democrat voting again and in truth more Democrats.  Trump won more votes in 2020 because those people were voting for him.  They will likely do as much again.  

Younger voters must turn up and if they do on the basis of issues well-articulated, political positions including women’s body sovereignty, the climate catastrophe, civil right, gun violence, and the rest, then Trump will lose again.

But it’s going to be close.  And as disheartening as that is, and as shameful as we might say are those R-voters who really do know better but fail the moral test, there is something still something worse:  Should Democrats fail to show up in significant enough numbers in the purple States and somehow Trump gains yet another minority Republican victory, we will have lost the country.  Can we please pause for a moment to consider that?


We must make a positive case for policy and values, for moral decency and democracy even as we make clear the real danger this cult poses to the existence of the country.  Making just the existential case for America may not be enough.  People need to vote for something that moves them and, as I see it, democracy however posed will not alone suffice to motivate folks to get out to vote.  Outside the cult, voters need policies and positions that stand for their values.  We will not defeat the cult by being cultish.  We can only defeat them with ideas that motivate a positive initiative of real political value.  Of course, we still have to hope that all the votes will be counted.

MAGA will retreat back into its bunker only when its elderly voters die.  It will take generational change to reject a cult’s influence and role in determining destinies.  The children of cult members don’t necessarily buy into the cult.  Some MAGAs may even retreat quietly, even be influenced by news, facts, and events right before their eyes and may choose not to vote.  But those folks will not vote for anyone else which means the fate of the country really does lie with voters.

The MAGAs will never admit to the conn, that’s a bridge too far, but that is not important.  What MAGA voters will latch on to next need not concern us: we live in a culture of cults, whether that means sports teams or guns, or cooking and antiquing.  People have plenty to do that isn’t MAGA.


MAGA is going to have to die a natural death and fail because it lost recruits and its leader is somehow out of the mix.  Trump must be absented from power by decisive electoral failure if we are to have the slightest chance and any meaningful future.  There is not going to again be normalcy until generational change occurs and that itself is contingent on the next election.

At present we have but one choice and one way to save the republic for any meaningful future: we must get out every vote and hope the system has enough integrity to count them honestly.  We did this before and, sadly, that is once again our only effective play.  Neither persuasive arguments nor convictions are going to matter much.  It won't be the courts, some brilliant interpretation of the 14th Amendment, or a magic wand that will save us from ourselves.  Democracy can only be saved by democracy.  And if it does not, it will almost certainly not get another chance.




Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Is there no virtue among us?

"Is There No Virtue Among Us?"

For me the year always begins in September. I am among the lucky few for whom the coming of school was something good, something I could understand not because it was easy but because it brought us together to learn about ourselves.

I had fears and trepidations but I thought no matter how challenging or overwhelming it all might seem, this was a place where we could grow understanding. What are our assumptions and from whence do they arise? What is the evidence, from whence and what has not been allowed? What are your reasons? How do you draw your conclusions? What are the implications of your understandings and how will they guide, inform, or fail to inform your actions?

Now I wonder how much of what matters is open for honest discussion. I'm not interested in causing a stir but no matter what our personal preferences may be, we live in perilous times where it is difficult to attempt undisguised conversation. Questions that should be matters of policy, debate, and, yes, compromise to reconcile our genuine differences have devolved to nothing less than existential matters of survival. I wish this were only hyperbole.

There are too many examples to note but a report this morning from the Washington Post tells us that we are deeply, irrevocably broken and divided on a partisan basis over the climate, and how much less the fragilities of this democracy and the relentless culture wars that threaten to ruin the last shards of decency and civil discourse. We seem incapable of sharing even the same facts, much less agree to disagree. And so very few seem committed to learning the skills of argument grounded in good faith and respect for the truth.

Truth has been reduced to performative grifts and silos of misinformation that seem impenetrable to break. You will see plenty of that if you can stomach the Republican "debate" this evening.

I came across a piece of James Madison this morning regarding Judicial Powers of the National Government, dated June 20, 1788. In this complex comment, Madison tells us that our liberty requires consideration of restrictions and principles upon which there is likely to be contrary interpretation. He is particularly keen to point out the distinct role the courts will play in framing the rule of law in a democracy. He frets over jurisdiction and gives countenance to the privilege of jury trial, and above all what he terms the "uniformity of justice."

If we cannot abide the outcomes of equal justice under the law, we will become little more than the mob or will revert to the claims of the powerful autocrats to whom the law does not apply as it does to all. We seem to be on the verge of losing democracy to the autocrats who have duped masses of people to reject democracy itself for a racist populism.

For all of Madison's own many inexcusable faults, he grasps the heart of the matter wholly germane to our current crisis---for what we face as a nation is a crisis and of existential dimensions. Those who cannot accept the results of elections are not likely to accept the rulings of the law either.

Madison asks rhetorically, "Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks--no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea."

So there we have it, the question plainly put: is there, will there be "any virtue in the people"? We have spent very little time in the past few decades teaching how virtue is made much less how to think, read, and write critically with respect for the facts. Madison didn't expect these skills of the people to be well-honed but he did understand that without a real sense of virtue, of knowing the difference between right and wrong and being able to act upon it, that we would not survive in this democratic experiment.  

Whatever next happens in the circus of the media, the court of public opinion, or the legal system, we will certainly fail if this current "wretched situation" finds no solution. I am more than a little worried that a significant percentage of the American people would prefer a morally flawed, proven criminal autocrat than the deliberations of the law and messy workings of this fragile democracy. If we must count on virtue then we will have to make some and not merely count on it.

I think we shall know before too long if there is the slightest hope for this country, or if our flaccid indifference, short attention span, and under developed considerations of virtue will be our end.

I for one am tired of shouting matches with those for whom there is no respect for fact (or even the notion of fact) nor a shard of decency in their hearts. No pointless debate will solve our problems until we are prepared to have the more authentic conversations that invite the difference between right and wrong.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

A Bridge Not So Far

May 21 2023

I read the news this morning, have you? I know. Who wants to do that?

There is so much of real concern. Today the headlines are more than war, climate catastrophe, corruption, racism and bigotry shamelessly advocated by one of America's two political parties.
Today it must include a crisis that does not need to happen, one entirely of our own making, one wholly avoidable. What sort of society conjures such madness when there is so much that needs to be addressed in shared interests? Why do we seek our own pain, our collective ruination?

To appreciate the debt ceiling crisis---and it is a crisis---we must first opine a bit on human nature. I may not know jack (or his best friend's name) about economics but I pretend to contemplate our shared humanity. What I know is that humans are capable of things worse than we ever like to admit and sometimes better than we imagine.

Let's start with the importance of denial. In the face of illness, death, impending catastrophe, even inevitability there is no quota placed upon our willingness for denial as a strategy. We would, as Bartelby reminds us, prefer not to. We postpone, live "as if", and do everything we can to say not me, not today, even never because admitting otherwise is traumatic, painful, far too real. To put this in our vocabulary, we need the Maya because reality is just too much to deal with before the sky actually does fall.

Denial is a feature not a quirk when it comes to being human. It's no more solvable than any other shadow that occupies the human light that burns as consciousness. 

Let us add to the normal denial (not a good thing, just a normal thing) the abject ignorance of those driving this bus over the cliff. It is genuinely painful to hear Republicans speak about, well almost anything but economics in this case is as dangerous as it is (and I don't like this word but it seems undeniably true) stupid. Think of the fact that 68 million voters thought Trump competent to run this economy. Think of who controls the votes in the Republican Congress. Yes, we are in serious trouble because they simply don't comprehend where this is taking all of us with them.

Then there is the cruelty, the sheer vindictiveness blended into mendacity, craven indifference to consequences, and the shameless joy they take in making people hurt. Cruelty is the point and again Trump is their example: the law like any tangible advantage should belong only to them and must never apply to anyone else, especially their enemies. But that latter point is crucial: they may define themselves with madness, ignorance, and cruelty that they refuse to admit but they are much happy to define themselves by who they perceive to be their enemies. They are not partisans, they are nihilists because they don't care to protect even their own if that means giving in to their "enemies".

I say the problem isn't partisanship. I think it is that we are not partisan enough. Partisans stand with their side but care not to destroy their opponents. Rather they merely figure out how to live with it all. Refusing to accept racism, bigotry, the expurgation of women's rights, the rejection HUMAN rights is not hate: it is to side with humanity. Nihilism is not an abstraction, it is a way of life. "They" must fail at any cost. It's not as if we have not seen this before. But ironically we need to say that the Nihilists must fail and that we are also in the business of helping them live to see another day. Enter Joe who says as much every single day.

Republican white supremacy along with their nihilism must fail.  Caring about all people, even those who want the world to burn if it means destroying themselves and somehow admitting that these shameless, willful bigots too are human and so warrant concern, this may not be a solvable dilemma. I will not grieve their demise in any form that might take even if I will not seek to expedite the worst for them. We are going to need peace even if we cannot have reason. We will not survive a culture based principally on menace and violence.

It seems apparent that playing Russian roulette with the entire structure of the American (and so the world) economy is not beyond this intellectually arrested and ethically bankrupt Republican Congress. The debt ceiling, according to those who really understand this mess, is no joke. But Republicans enjoy watching sane people squirm, they will do anything to "own the libs" and that includes driving the country over a cliff.

The gambit to use the 14th Amendment would require litigation and even if that were expedited to the SCOTUS (as the country melts down), what then? This is a novel legal theory and what makes anyone think that this corrupt Court will not simply allow the world to burn. Remind me, wait you don't need to. Dobbs. Shall we entrust the full faith and trust of the American economy to the likes of Alito, Thomas, and the drunken frat boy sexual abuser? There is really no sane way to rely on the Court to fix what this Congress can ruin and Biden I think knows this. Otherwise the threat of the 14th Amendment or the trillion dollar coin would be made much more.

None of this needs to happen so why didn't the Democrats eliminate the debt ceilng move---why a two step, where you spend the money and then refuse to pay the bill? Because the politics of saying there is no ceiling for debt despite the fact that the spending was authorized by both parties is too hard to sell to people who can't understand or refuse to pay attention to even this simplest argument. Never underestimate the ability of people not to understand when that depends on thinking with a shard (just a shard) of complexity----call me the cynic for that one. If reason made for politics we'd be living on Vulcan. Earthlings for all of their rational achievements prefer simple feelings to complex ideas. Politics is 99% "gut feeling" which is why it is equally foolish to think that Trump cannot win again.

So Yellen is running out of paper tricks, Powell is likely shitting his establishment Republican pants---MAGA hates McConnell almost as much as Democrats. (Check that, they hate Democrats more than they love life: this is why they are nihilists, not just racists and morons.) So now what?

We must be better than we want to be. As they rig and manipulate the system, use their corrupt courts and the power of the structural advantage (think electoral college because the popular vote really does NOT matter), we must be smarter, wiser, more prudent. We must not become bent upon their destruction but rather the victory of decency. They live in a world in which not only must dogs win but cats must lose. We must make room for the cats (no matter how we might feel about them) because without difference we are nothing but sameness and that, that leads to everything that is destructive about humankind.

I don't know if cooler heads will prevail. I don't respect holding the world hostage for the sake of hypocrisy, stupidity, and nihilism. I am going to spend my day reading something more humanizing and enjoying the beauty of this late spring day. But I am not indulging in denial so here I am with too many words writing to you on a Sunday morning. We should be scared enough to step up and pay attention, at the very least, especially when we are more or less powerful to control what happens next. Sometimes paying attention and deciding who you want to be as a person is all you manage. Let us manage that together. We must be that bridge not too far but close enough to hold each other.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

RE: The National Divorce

 I'm a little slow on the uptake but David French is the new right wing commentator on The Time op-ed page. He is of course wrong about almost everything since Republican policies have proven themselves utter disaster since Ike was President. That said, he's not unreasonable, he's just usually wrong. Meh. My unhelpful judgment notwithstanding he makes no case here why secession is a bad idea other than that it would be terrible, dangerous, and undoubtedly violent. That's reason enough.

The problem at this point of partisan inflection is not simply that we disagree but that we neither respect nor much like each other. People divorce for many reasons but irreconcilable differences are cause (certainly that is the legal case). In what world are our differences reconcilable about fundamental issues? On gun safety? Police reform and violence? Climate catastrophe? Education, ummm, Florida? Women's healthcare? Racism? Our fellow citizens traffic in overt, shameless hate and we are supposed to respect these as values, particularly justified by their religion? All the while Red Republicans live off the Feds when it come to Medicare, Social Security, you name it, they take more than they ever give. Sounds like grounds for divorce to me. That said, such a parting is as French says impracticable, surely dangerous and if we can't agree on naming a Post Office or the facts of an effort to overthrow the government, we're going to amicably part? Of course not. There is no solution, no way to around the problems, and nothing good comes of burying our heads in the sand and pretending we don't have to care. If you ignore politics it's because you not only have the right to do so but a sense of privilege that abdicates democracy itself. Such folks might well deserve to live in an even worse authoritarian oligarchy that passively accepts dictatorship. I'll repost my reply to French. My not really public conclusion is that we can't retreat to our Blue refuges and think that immunizing. You may live in happy blue dots but the red infection is certainly going to ruin the fun sooner or later. Blithe indifference and insouciant superiority will not suffice. So what is the solution? To rally politically as far as it is truly possible with the active intention of marginalizing Red power over us. We must use the resources of the law to reduce their effects. Problem is, they are about half the nation so it's also likely we're just screwed.

Monday, February 27, 2023

What I Am Tellling Them and Why

Yet another well-documented article today about the death of the humanities in higher education. Once again the issue that receives no consideration is the one that matters most to me.

What is left of humanities studies is nowadays centered on the politics of inclusion and how and if our study of being human will make for a more just world. Who could possibly object to these needs and aims? Of course the article further details the impracticalities and so the apparent irrelevance of college work that doesn't land a job with a particular skill and expertise purchased at this great expense. Thus the humanities are consigned to navel gazing and less than basket weaving. After all, who doesn't need a good basket and what how do Dante, Dickinson, Tu Fu, Kalidasa, Shakespeare, Patanjali, and Akka Mahadevi have any relevance to making at least a decent basket?

Undoubtedly accomplished students with STEM degrees are going to have employment opportunities and advantages going forward. No one could possibly dispute this and, you will recall, even Obama told students not to major in Art History. I knew then, in something like '08, that I was merely rearranging the deck chairs on civilization's Titanic.

It is a privilege to sail into the heart if life has presented you a near empty or too crowded life boat. But reducing life to survival, resources, and shelter is yet another kind of crime. We cannot make every conversation about survival if we are to live lives of value. We must do better. Everyone deserves the privilege of searching the heart and exploring the greatness of human creativities. I would suggest it's something of a necessity.

So I will continue to play in the string quartet even as the boat sinks. When these kids are 40 and success has brought its usual damages and life is beginning to catch up---sickness, children, death, aging parents, the rest---what will really finally get them is their impoverished souls. The gateways to the soul do not remain forever wide open. In truth, they narrow as we claim the benefits of worldly leisures and address the required banalities of success. The heart is never a desert but sooner or later you must drink from its well-springs and they are filled only with the resources of learning and creativity: if there is no poetry, no music, no literature, no critical thinking and mythic imagination, the thrist will dessicate, the soul will shrivel.

They are unprepared for life not because they have chosen STEM or something practical but because the most important things that are going to happen to them as human beings having nothing to do with practical matters. Without serious study of the human past and our literary and artistic achievements we will become a soul-less society. And of course incapable of claiming the resources we will need to live with ourselves.

The task of the humanities may involve our social and moral betterment but that is not its best or most important purpose. The reason we study human creativities---as we study myth and the rest---is because the deeply private experiences of the heart must enter into these conversations in order to be human at all. Neglect those efforts at your peril. At some point we are all going to recognize that the bell tolls for thee.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Making Peace In the All of It

"I read the news today, oh boy..."

And of course, no one likes the bad news. We seem to get a belly full nearly everyday if we dare to pay attention. To ignore it may be a matter of mental health. Just how much can we take? And the good news is that there usually is good news: life isn't just a vale of tears, life itself should never cease to be the wonder it is. We can make wonder but we can just as much appreciate what is right on offer.

To be grateful is heaven itself, as Blake reminds us, and to be paying attention to all the rest of the truth surely has its consequences. It's likely "bad for business" to offer up here, in social media, views that encourage the whole of the conversation. Why not just tell folks what we'd all prefer to hear? Wouldn't more come to your yoga class?

I've always maintained the yoga means engagement with everything we experience and that it asks us to be vigilant, serious, to develop our critical awareness, and not to shrink from the uncomfortable truths. That can prove stressful and make us reach for an alternative definition, that yoga provides us the relief, the reprieve, the place we go to find remission and restfulness from the world. That is not an argument without merit if we consider the full spectrum, especially from those proposing a nirvana (extinction) of the recurrent suffering (samsara).

But I've never been sold on the soporifics. I do love puppies (alot), rainbows, and memes about how we can distinguish suffering from pain as much as the next person. I don't love being in the fray or feeling frayed anymore than you. I'm not looking for a fight. Still I will not look away. I won't stop caring about learning the truth even when I can't do much about it.

We may be afraid of the truth because we've learned the hard way that it does not always set us free. This means however that we must take up the task of living with ourselves no matter our commitments to understanding and honesty.

A case in the news is worth our reflection on this matter, I think. You will have had to have paid at least some attention to the news to follow. There is far worse news in the news, so this will come as little surprise.

You will recall that Dominion is the name of the company that made voting machines used in th last election.  They were singled out by Trump, the insurrectionist conspirators, and the right wing media as having had a hand in "rigging the election."  Dominion has sued for defamation and this week the process of legal discovery proved unremarkable: Fox and its minions all knew there was no rigging, no fraud, that the case against Dominion was slander, false, a ruse to feed their audience the story they wanted to hear.  What we know now about the Dominion case is that the Fox Propaganda machine was concerned over their credibility in this one case because they actually had told the truth: Biden won. That was the problem. What they also knew was that their viewers were not willing or able to accept the truth. So they sustained the lies not because they believed them or even because they wanted to but for the money. (It's always the money, btw.) (H
ere's the op-ed from Michelle Goldberg that makes the case, plain as day:

Should these revelations concern Fox? That they've been outed and hold their audience in such contempt? Hardly. The Fox audience will either never hear (from Fox) or won't care that they've been had, that their heroes are grifters, liars, and frauds. People so determined to believe what they want will either find an excuse for them, deny the truth, or simply turn off any message that doesn't conform to their world view. Empires have been built on lies and fantasies with even less credence. Emperor Constantine knew this just like the Murdochs.

My point is simple enough: are we content to live in our safe delusions or do we dare to find out what's true? And then how do we choose to live with those facts of life?

I say, there is no time to be merely cynical. Better to hold fast to the heart, and while we reckon with our own foibles and flaws, sustain a certain humility for the difficult processes of learning and learning from our mistakes, we stay the course, we try to be human with all our will and effort. Being good may be optional but it is the better option. When others need help to withstand the onslaught, offer what you can. But don't turn aside. If you need help, reach out. Life's blessings should be abundant. Its upheavals will remind us there is more to do. Yoga can be about more than the easeful. Yoga can make peace with staying in the fray.