Thursday, May 31, 2018

Greed Doesn't Have To Win



In the small, rural town where I live, there are two of us who protest Trump regularly.  Twice a week me and my friend Sid, who is in his eighties, stand with our signs for an hour.  This is a year-round thing.  Our goal this last winter was to stand unless the temperature dropped below zero degrees Fahrenheit.  Although I did pretty well at braving the cold, Sid did better.  He would go out on days that I wouldn't.  When I was there, I marveled at his hyperborean stamina.  He wore nothing but layers of old sweat pants and sweaters, and one not-so-thick worn coat.  I, on the other hand, always had a puffy parka. 

In the 'off season' especially, when tourists aren't around, we have time to reflect and converse.    We go back and forth on political follies, but also deeper questions of ethics and life.  Much of it, of course, revolves around the Trump phenomenon.  However, we make sure to remind ourselves that the United States had been descending before the election of the unconscionable bastard.  This doesn't mean his rise wasn't seismic, a sudden trench on a slippery slope.  Still it is crucial to acknowledge the lineage of corruption, brought on by decades of policies that fed money to the rich while taking from everyone else.  The effect was a slow bleed, one that amassed greater and greater malfeasance, delivered in a thousand cruel cuts.  Painful cuts to social services for the majority, lucrative cuts on taxes for the rich and the corporations.  In the 1960's the wealth curve was fair.  The middle class thrived.  Since then, it has only become more and more lopsided.  By the time Trump arrived, it was long past the point of grotesque.  He rode this disparity like a wave.

So, Trump is not the origin.  Nor is he the end.  Standing at Flatiron Corner with my anti-Trump sign ("Lock Him Up"), I've had ample time to reflect on the trajectory of moral decay, from past to future.  Driving it all is a perverse impetus of psychology, one that seems as sure and reliable as a force of physics.  This impetus is greed. 

Although "greed" is usually applied to wealth, as in the myth of Midas, it has a broader definition.  The American Heritage Dictionary offers, "An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves."  And Webster's, similarly, has "excessive or rapacious desire."  Trump's insecure psyche takes such excess to the extreme, unchecked by guilt or fact, impelled by impregnable delusions of grandeur.  

The epitome of greed, its consummate embodiment, is an individual wholly enslaved by it. 

One hurdle to the spread of greed, and the designs of those shackled by its Marley-esque weight, is the counteraction of entrenched belief systems.  Religion, for instance, instills strict and venerable warnings against avarice of all kinds.  Another protective barrier is the hallowed secular ideology embedded in our Constitution.  Common sense virtues, such as kindness, fairness and graciousness, present yet another failsafe.

If people used intellect to ferret out contradictions in their own actions, and the actions of their leaders, instead of using it to obfuscate and self-deceive, we'd be in a much better place.  Any legitimate scholar of history, however, will point out our susceptibility to dogma, prejudice, denial and superstition.  Modern psychologists add concepts like confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.  Research demonstrates that conformity is relatively easy to implant at a deep cognitive and perceptual level.  Contradictions go unseen, superficially dismissed.

Back to Sid, he is skilled at pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians who follow Trump.  He has become adept at writing darkly humorous lampoons.  Every time we meet, he hands me another sheet of paper.  Lowering my cardboard placard to my shins, I read these short yet pungent proclamations out loud, right on the green.  Their style is a blend of carny barker and burlesque, an attempt at outlandish description of a man almost immune to hyperbole, an egotist known for his garish vices.  Another of Sid's targets is the obsequious fascination of Trump's priggish followers, and hence the focus on the religious right.  

Sid and I often ask each other a question that has become almost rote, shaking our heads in a way \that has become sadly familiar:  How did the devout and principled worshippers of Jesus get twisted around  to praise a man who is the utter opposite?

If greed is the antigen, and its resistors, like religion, are the antibody, how does greed prevail?  Theorizing with Sid (in our informal yet somehow efficacious way) the answer has been etched deeply into my neurons.  That answer is this:  division.  By "division" I mean simply the old 'divide and conquer'  strategy.  Create an in-group and out-group, thereby fracturing the whole and co-opting one of its parts to demonize the other.

Trump sows division through dog-whistles in his speeches and Twitters.  The inundation is endless, the repetition incessant.  Month after month.  Year after year.  It goes back at least to the start of the Birther movement.  No compunction slows the orange-haired fire-eater down as he not-so-subtly preaches hate.  His obsession for attention saddles him with a bottomless itch, stoking a razzle-dazzle of flummery, sophistry, perversion and lies.

Deconstruction of his facile appeal to the 'good old days'--Make America Great Again--yields a mixture of racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism.  In short, Trump pitches the glory of patriarchy to white US citizens.  The price of buying into this image?  Obedience, adulation, hate.  Obedience to the nativist movement.  Fanatic praise ofTrump.  Hatred for those who are not in the in-group. 

Sid says the corrective is education, starting out with young children, and I agree.  But there's a catch-22.  To educate properly, you need to elect the right leaders.  To elect the right leaders, people need to be educated properly.   Republicans under Trump, spineless lickspittles who have accepted his dark falsehoods, have no reason to support open-minded, critical thinking  or scientific consensus based on experimental method.  Their legislations, adjudications and executive orders reflect as much.

So, the truth is hard to face.  It is devastating.  Yes, greed and division are winning.  They have co-opted the belief systems of a large number of Americans.  The Good Samaritan's kindness for a stranger has become, under the spell of Trumpian metamorphosis, 'kindness for a stranger who is white like me'.  Refractory in their support of Trump, evangelicals see no contradiction in their embrace of a crass bully whose own behavior is the antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount. 

If you look at global politics, Trump-types reign everywhere, accompanied by the herds who follow them.  The motive for the herds, in many cases, is cynical and venal:  privilege gained by oppressing those who aren't in the ruling party.  In other cases, where the dictatorship has ramped up to full god-mode, the herds have little choice left.  In North Korea, being part of the in-group could mean the difference between eating or starving; a relatively stable life or one in a concentration camp. 

Where does fear fit in?   I've had plenty of time to reflect on this while holding my protest sign.  Fear is another force of psychological physics.  It is even deeper than greed.  It is greed's driver.  It is obedience's driver as well.  Fear, though, is not necessarily a bad thing, and at times is wise and necessary.  What it comes down to is how you handle your fear.  People like Trump would have this force bind you to them, make you a mouthpiece for their agenda.

Most of all, what I've learned standing with Sid is that I am tremendous lucky.  I was born in a place where human rights have been somewhat honored, although weakly and unevenly.  I've come to greatly appreciate my freedom of speech.  Part of the reason I stand on the corner these days is to savor this gift, knowing it is a fragile one, denied to most human beings.  It is a gift that could soon be taken away. 

"Greed doesn't have to win."  The phrase takes ink readily enough.  Sort of like,  'Love triumphs in the end'.  The reality, though, is that greed often triumphs.  It has condemned many people to lives of poverty.  It erects cruel, unjust hierarchies.  It establishes ignorance as a foundational massif.  Indeed, the US has often installed puppet dictators in third world countries, dictators at least as diagnosable and vicious as Trump.

After fifty-five years, it sometimes feels like it would be easy for me to give up; to concede that we are all pathetically selfish; to hold nothing but contempt, as Trump does, for the human creature as petty and vile.   What gives me strength?  Honestly, sometimes I have no strength.  But other times ... For a start, maybe just the fact that there are people who have ideals and fight for them.  Maybe that's enough.  Any ethical act that challenges an unjust system is an extraordinary manifestation, given the prevalence of tyrants and punishment.  Chrysanthemums of shining behavior and noble philosophy spread their glowing seeds, even if, individually, they are snuffed out.   Sometimes these seeds find purchase.  The Civil Rights Movement.  The Women's Movement.  The advancement of LGBTQ.  The UN Declaration of Human Rights.  A budding Earth Awareness.  And yet it is easy to become disillusioned because change takes time, while we individuals are prisoners of the suffocative moment.

Simple things.  The simple fact that many people endure for equality and human rights, regardless of the odds, sometimes risking their own mortal safety.  Whatever happens, wherever we are going, maybe that's enough. 



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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Competence Versus Impotence


Emotional competence (EC) is a relatively new and evolving concept.  It overlaps with "emotional intelligence" but emphasizes learning instead of aptitude.  In basic form, EC is a capacity to deal with emotions in a healthy way.  I employ it in the heavy duty, practical sense used in the mental health profession, where psychologists, therapists and counselors struggle to protect, maintain, and regenerate themselves, sometimes even flourishing, while they work face-to-face with people besieged by woe. 

In this context, EC takes on heroic proportions.  Practitioners, who typically see multiple clients over the work week, can be easily triggered.  A client's ordeal might impel unwanted and intense reminiscence, unsealing a therapist's wounds.  Death.  Abuse.  Suicide.  Accident.  Obsession.  Addiction.  On and on.  Any similarity in a client's story can be a stimulus.  So can body language, whether subtle or intense.  Or clothes or jewelry.  Something physically small yet soulfully titanic, like a bruise in a certain place, might catapult a therapist through turmoil and time.  

To remain empathically engaged in the workplace, both validating and caring, while also aware of ethical boundaries, therapists must avoid some psychic pitfalls.  Projection and externalization, which involve scapegoating, are in this category.  So is repression, hiding the truth by locking it away in the unconscious.  Let me take a moment to distinguish these defense mechanisms from suppression.  Suppression means putting one's feelings aside for a while

Emotional competence utilizes suppression as part of its skill set, while avoiding the totalitarian mechanisms, which are components of what I call emotional impotence (discussed more below).  As they are definitive components, I want to elaborate on them.  These totalitarian mechanisms, such as repression, create walls in the mind, blind spots in perception.  Not facing the truth means not facing traumatic pain in a healthy way.  Instead of catharsis, a release of positive motivational energy, there is distortion that generates disgust, fear and hate.

The unacknowledged pain cries out to be heard.  This results is a worsening cycle.  Walls lead to more walls to hide from the pain, more 'compartments' in the psyche.  Addiction or fixation can result, as these 'patch' and distract from what is lurking below, unacknowledged and outraged.  The classic symbolism of a maze-like haunted house with a vengeful ghost very much applies.  

To do their job, and sustain themselves, mental health professionals  must face their inner pain.  They find and validate their ghosts. This is courageous, a journey to gain better understanding that nurtures a liberated way of perceiving and being.  This is the path of emotional competence.  It offers freedom in the sense of an open, inquisitive, adaptive mind.

An essential component of EC is heartfelt sincerity.  A deep, longitudinal candor.  Therapists strive to investigate and express their feelings in relation to any issue along the daunting scale of an entire life.  New experiences, talks with colleagues, research, and personal breakthroughs (which not uncommonly come from therapy for the therapist herself) are all part of a quest for psychological and philosophical growth.

Some terms associated with emotional competence are self-care, self-knowledge, self-acceptance, ethical awareness and mindfulness.  Emotional competence is not so much a unitary skill, such as riding a bicycle, as it is a mode of being.  Since life is everchanging, it is not something that can be truly mastered.  However, EC engages with the meaningful, the salutary, the profound.  Ancient greek wisdom, Gnothi Seauton, translates simply as Know Thyself.  This is not simply rationality.  It is a matter of locating rationality within emotionality.  A marriage of intrapsychic aspects.  The haunted house, its rancorous compartmentalization, is replaced by comity in celebration--of life, its journey, its miracles, and the self as centered in these.

Emotional competence leads to universal compassion.  It is consanguineous, in this sense, with many great religious or spiritual practices.  Such compassion, a great underlying Love, induces neither self-abnegation nor self-aggrandizement.   The egoistic/altruistic divide merges.  There is a balance, in a way, but it is more like an equilibrium, a dance.  One of the hardest lessons for therapists to learn is self-care.  They are often such self-abnegating people that they burn out for no other reason than that they give so much yet regenerate so little.  When emotional competence connects with universal compassion, it doesn't solve all problems or engender enlightenment;  but it does underscore a quintessential point:  to sustain good care for others, you must care for yourself.  The inward/outward dance  across the exquisite terrain of life is ongoing, a life that is inherently about relationships.

I've grounded this discussion in the mental health professions for a reason.  EC is not just for secluded mystics.  Maybe it sounds fantastical and otherworldly.  But EC is not only attainable, but also necessary and practical, especially within the business of healing.  Indeed, a primary purpose of therapy is to facilitate emotional management, so clients partake of EC as well.  Feminist consciousness raising, or the simple 'letting go' of mindful meditation, are samples of other routes outside the profession.

You might say, "The larger culture is totally lost to this way of living."  And there you would be completely right.  That is part of why EC might seem so alien and impossible.

However, there have been plenty of radical changes to our culture, accelerating as we rush into the computer age.  One example is women gaining the right to vote (and since then other advances, like #MeToo).  So it is worth asking, What if people were acculturated into emotional competence?  What if cleansing perspectives were instilled in us, starting from birth?

The task seems daunting .  Where we are today?  Stymied in a consumerist, egotistic culture.  The system feeds off self-doubt, insecurity and belittling competition.  Gushes of ads inundate us, ads claiming that our self-worth depends on what we buy, what we own, what we consume.   Those who eat beef at McDonalds are, ipso facto, of a 'higher' status than the global majority.  Those who wear certain jeans or sneakers attain yet another rung.  Owning a Mercedes Benz is a major leap.  The hierarchy of toys and envy proceeds all the way up the condescending ladder.  If you think about it, the marketing industry bullies us.  We are body-shamed constantly, especially women.  Status-shamed.  Health-shamed.  Relationship-shamed.  Ours is a crass, material, juvenile collective consciousness that demeans humanity in the early 21st century.

Riding the fear-wave of Trumpism, things have become, if not more despicable, then more obvious.  It's about who you can swindle.  What you can get away with.  How much you can abuse others.  How much you can gloat..  The USA, obscenely wealthy after WWII, initiated a wrestling match between two worldviews:  greed and indulgence, on one side, and the social virtues that shepherded people through the Great Depression, virtues such as humility, charity, and thrift, on the other.  Given the current political theater of fear and hate, its colosseums of cruelty, it is hard to deny that greed and indulgence have utterly won. 

This brings me back to emotional impotence.  EI epitomizes a complete inability to deal with one's emotions in a healthy manner.  It is a disordered state athwart purification.  Instead of self-acceptance, it dwells in self-loathing  It demands a gargantuan dishonesty.  The defensive, vulnerable swagger of a middle-school mentality.  Bullying.  Bragging.  Intractable envy.  Fixation on conquests and toys.

As a diagnosable narcissist, with a hole in his heart that he will never face, Trump represents our country to the world.  Insatiable insecurity harnesses him to insatiable need for attention.  His weapons of psychological warfare are repression and scapegoating.  'Truth' ("alternate facts") is what he needs it to be.  He is never wrong.  What is wrong is the other, the object of fear and hate.  Immigrants.  Mexicans.  African Americans.  Liberals.  Feminists.  Anyone who threatens his ego.  His vituperative invective knows no bounds (see my previous blog entry, "Moral Cowardice").

We are all trapped in Trump's excruciated, abysmal place.  It is the place where white nationalism is the fixation and addiction of a very powerful man, head of the mightiest military in the world, a tyrant with tens of millions of avid followers.  It is a place where this white nationalism is his means to seek infinite and unconditional worship.  A Red Queen's race.

The authoritarian coin has two sides.  Trump is not alone in his emotional impotence.  At this desperate juncture, dragged down to a national nadir, a hate-infested dysfunction, it would seem that only therapeutic techniques offer any serious hope.  At the very least, emotional competence provides a means of personal ascent.  And yet maybe it can do more.  Maybe it can uplift entire communities, and then, with snowballing traction, salvage the nation.

Owl

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Moral Cowardice Syndrome




In the movies, the norm is the fairytale.  Good and evil are clearly defined, and the anti-hero is obvious.  To make it easy, there is usually a mea culpa.  The anti-hero revels in being bad and says so.  If not, their acts are so blatant and extreme that no doubt remains.  The motive is crystal clear, something petty and narcissistic:  power lust, envy, a personal grudge.  The villain accepts and even wallows in this lack of virtue.  If they do happen to object, the denial is so thin that the audience scoffs.

Enter Donald Trump.  We all know reality is more complex than the movies.  Or do we?  Because Trump embraces Disneyfication.  Over the past few years, his oratory has woven casuistic strings to tug people like puppets.  Trump takes the black-and-white template of childhood fears and imposes it on reality. There is a good side and a bad side, nothing in-between, and he is the champion of the good.  He has seduced tens of millions of people to look at the world this way.

The momentum is still on his side.  False visions can spread by accumulating and offering power to a select group.  Even the most amateur historian knows this.

I want to make it clear that Trump is egregious or evil.  Actually, it is enough for my argument that his actions and words, viewed as a whole, promote things we consider egregious or evil.  Things such as sexism and racism.  

Furthermore, the evil of Trump's actions is obvious from a reasonable point of view. No one without psychological blinders could deny that he is pushing white nationalism.  This conclusion has been argued many times, many ways.  I'm just going to accept and meme it:

MAGA = MAWA.

Trump is the villain.  But, as I will elaborate, he deviates from a fairytale villain in that he absolutely denies he is the villain and, in fact, calls those on the other side the villains.  At the core of his great darkness is a colossal dishonesty.  

I can now make some points about moral cowardice syndrome.  Moral cowardice is (a) promoting evil in ways that are obvious from a reasonable view, and (b) claiming that you are the good one and that those who oppose  you are the evil ones.  Not just a little evil, or partially evil, but rather completely evil.  Full-on Disneyfication.  Apply endless adjectives like repulsive, reviling, disgusting, and so on.  The cruel rhetoric of the moral coward is ceaseless. 

In fact, this harangue and abuse of those opposed to the moral coward is itself a terrible sickness and obsession, an immoral way of acting.  Another aspect of moral cowardice, then, is (c)  ceaseless, obsessive, specious, spurious, grandiloquent rhetoric to bury what you are doing even from yourself and to coerce others.  This anti-reality of utter abuse is one of the most abhorrent parts of the syndrome.

To emphasize, such rhetoric is abuse.  It is sheer bullying.  Right now, everyone in America lives under an abusive roof at the political level, the level that steers our country and, in effect, everyone in it.  

Those reasonably opposed to the moral coward, those being viciously attacked, are honest and ethical.  They see the hate-mongering, stereotyping and effigy-building for what it is, a mental disorder resulting in a raw power grab.  Not so ironically, then, moral cowards not only promote Disneyfication, they match the ugliness of the fairytale villain's motives.

Claiming you are fighting for certain ideals, such as freedom, while in fact pushing for fascism, is cowardice.  Following a leader who does this, accepting--no, worshipping--that leader's false narrative, is cowardice.  To paraphrase the Bible, Woe unto them who call evil good.  Of course, this is useless as a curative tool.  Presented with such a statement, the coward simply claims that their opponents are the ones calling evil good.

There is no way that logic can reach someone who has embraced a full-fledged moral cowardice.  So, I add yet another component, (d) the coward can no longer see that they are perpetrating evil.  In a sense, the coward has sold their soul by fracturing their mind into a severe compartmentalization.  Such compartmentalization is the antithesis of freedom.

Add to this the ability of the demagogue to fill hearts and minds with twisted emotions that are, in effect, psychic chains.   So, (e) the moral coward is trapped, subconsciously, by twisted emotions such as hate.

In conclusion, villains who admit to evil, like those in the movies, are little threat to society as a whole.  Their actions are horrific to the audience.  They are relatively easy to spot and therefore neutralize.  The true threats to society, the worst of the worst, are those locked in the iron maiden of moral cowardice.  I say "iron maiden" because the syndrome torments those it enshrouds.  It pulls the debauched soul into an abyss of us-vs-them, blinding and binding them.  The coward sits in the darkness of this abyss, chained, while claiming it is light.

There is no worse defeat.

The grip gets tighter as moral cowardice grows stronger.  The vector is toward a country like North Korea.  That is the road we are on, herded down painful miles of collective transformation by Donald Trump, the great Coward.  We are on a journey of fear and delusion.

Hopefully the concept of Moral Cowardice (MCS) will help the resistance.  A force of darkness is easier to deal with once it is classified and understood.

If history is a guide, things are far worse right now than you and I think.  In other words, we all need to fight against Trumpification, but even if we do, right now, with all our strength, we might get crushed. 

Still, as Elie Wiesel beseeches us in Night, we should try.


Owl






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Friday, January 12, 2018

Against

[I was unable to access this account for months.  Below are some posts written during that time.]


This is a one-hundred word story I wrote.

-----


Against

It was the worst day of his life, a profoundly sad realization.  People said that the truth set you free.  But truth was pain.  A sudden, immortal guilt.

He wanted to be like those at the top, the world leaders who sculpted awareness to their own needs.  But he could not.  Truth made you a slave to your conscience, not a master.

He looked out at the narrows, tottering on muddy feet.  The tidal pull was fierce.  The entire ocean struggled to breathe.  Selfishly, he threw the red cap into the crosscurrents, not waiting to see it float or sink.

-----


Yule Reflections


[Originally published on December 25, 2017]

This is my first Christmas alone.  It's not so bad.  Hermit mode may become my norm, if society survives long enough.  In any event, solitude affords me the space to express from the depths of my soul, in ways that socializing does not allow.  It is a place where I feel most confused but also most alive.

As alluded to above, humanity is quite close to thermonuclear war.  The head of North Korea is a paranoid, narcissistic dictator.  The same is true in the United States (though Trump is not a full dictator as of yet).  Both leaders use fear and hate to herd the masses.  Their method?  The stark simplicity of a binary ethos: we are righteous, the other side is essentially evil. It is an historical tactic, one that readies the population for war and motivates the soldiers to kill without qualms.  It is a tactic that has demeaned and debauched the human condition for millennia.  It has led to all kinds of slaughter and infernal cruelty. Hatred and fear for those on the other side of a stark ethnic divide.  It is an addictive condition.  One that gravitates, and at some point accelerates, toward the infliction of genocide.

Figuratively speaking, to be ready, even eager, to kill a whole demographic of people, such as Muslims, is to worship your own god of hate.  It only adds to your utter failure that you claim to champion the good.

As I've said many times on this blog, unless we transcend Manichean tactics, we will not be able to weld the great power of recent technologies.  Misuse of said technologies will destroy us.

Why do people like Donald Trump rise to the top?  Absence of a conscience helps one appear confident.  Combine such immunity to guilt with an utter conviction that you are always right.  That it is your destiny to win.  Add a certain skill at rhetoric, especially concerning the manipulation of those prone to fear of 'the other'.  Add an anti-intellectual platform of us-versus-them.  These factors lift a person like Donald Trump.  He deceives with ease, a mere game for him, while climbing up rungs of pettiness, rancor, and tragedy to achieve the throne.

Conditions were ideal for this "malignant narcissist."  A fertile field of resentment and bigotry was already in place.  Angry white males, traditional hierarchists, know-nothings, racists, nativists, patriarchals and supremacists rallied to the call, not so subtle, in the motto, "Make America Great Again."

In one of the most pitiable displays of ethical failure in American History, perhaps in the course of human civilization, the Republican leadership bowed down.  It was an act of submission that epitomizes the decline of the American empire.  They sold out for the most venal of reasons, to maintain personal power and avoid political loss.  Their short-term strategizing went so far as to delegitimize the USA as a moral leader in the global community.

And of course there is the potential for WWIII ...

Many pundits have remarked on the horror of going to war with North Korea.  From what I've seen, the focus is on what will happen to South Korea and possibly Japan.  The potential death toll is stated as being in the hundreds of thousands.  Sometimes it rises into the millions.  What is missing from this morbid calculus is one simple factor:  the launch of a single nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing.  Uncertain rulers in other places would be inclined to push their own red buttons.

China and Russia, for instance, have already indicated that they will attack the United States if we attack North Korea first.  That's World War III right there.

Given the phenomenon of chaos that would ensue as a result of any attack--a phenomenon commonly referred to as the 'fog of war'--how could any side be clear on who launched first?

It's that dire.  Christmas, December 25, 2017.

Kim Jon-in overlords a hell-on-earth of totalitarian mind control, backed up by Nazi-level concentration camps [1].  Donald Trump has been called a "malignant narcissist" by scores of highly accredited psychologists.  Twenty-seven of them co-wrote a book to warn us [2].

This is the world in which I find myself, Christmas, December 25, 2017.  It is a human-crowded planet on the brink of holocaust and fire.  The ruler of the mightiest military on Earth is insane. He is inflexible even in the face of obvious empirical truths.  He cannot adapt.  In his mind, he is always right.

It is a stomach-dropping horror to watch Donald Trump rail against science and hurl crude invective at reality-based media.  He denigrates women, and has clearly sexually assaulted many of them, even as he claims that 'no one loves women more.'  He demeans the FBI and other security and police institutions when it serves his needs.  His praise for Russia's Putin, and his remarks on the moral equivalency of Russia and America, are a stinging indicator of the threat he poses in his pursuit of monarchy.

Christmas, December 25, 2017.  If war doesn't claim us, there is always human-caused environmental collapse.  We are in the midst of a mass extinction event.  Global warming is unprecedented, quicker in effect than the rhythmic Ice Ages.  Of course, Trump denies its existence and mocks those who agree with the international scientific consensus.

I open pages on the internet (itself a quite new invention) and see large areas of India and China saturated by stygian smog.  I see Venezuela, recently a 'first world' country, chained to misery and malnutrition.  I read about Jakarta, home to 30 million people, sliding more and more into the sea.

That's just a sampling from one week of headlines.

Christmas, December 25, 2017.  Despite all this, believe it or not, I am happy.

I've been grappling with the heaviest of issues for decades.  I struggled to earn a PhD in applied ethics.  I published almost a thousand poems, many of them the equivalent of prophetic rants.  I battle ignorance in the world and within myself, usually to little avail; and yet sometimes I glean a speck of insight or catharsis.  My life journey--in its stupidity, stumble, and seek--has wandered to find some themes of beauty, joy and goodness.  Omnipresent themes in the fabric of nature.  Themes reactive to the dark.

"What if this present is the world's last night?"  To answer this, I would say that love soars in so many ways, has showed us so many paths to paradisiacal futures, even if they will not be ours to take

Owl


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/north-koreas-prisons-are-as-bad-as-nazi-camps-says-judge-who-survived-auschwitz/2017/12/11/7e79beea-ddc4-11e7-b2e9-8c636f076c76_story.html

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/diagnosing-donald-trump

Reflections On Ignorance

[Originally published December 9, 2017]


The following is dedicated to #MeToo, the platform employed by so many brave women to speak out.  The nascent movement marks an uptick on the moral graph of US history, one that will hopefully endure as a new standard, even as elicits a higher level of national justice and a widening florescence of conscience.

This blog has often railed against institutionalized denial  The sort of denial that infects the American psyche in relation to sexism, racism and other forms of oppression.  From a psychological perspective, it is mind-boggling to observe the entrenched, willful ignorance of the nation.  Emotionally, it is heart-wrenching, agonizing and isolating.  Feminists challenge an epidemic of violence and lies.  For this straightforward and brave honesty, they get ignored, passive-aggressively goaded, punished or attacked.  The problem is like an unseen elephant in every room.  Rape, domestic violence, child abuse, harassment, coercion, stalking, street-taunting, they happen all the time, if not to you then a friend, colleague, relative or lover,.  But no one wants to hear.  Men especially are badly and pitiably lagging.  It makes me ashamed to be a man.

It is obvious that they-who-hide know what's going on.  They know, even while claiming the opposite.  Maybe this knowledge is subconscious, but it exists.  The 'objectivity' of bureaucratic condescension and derision is, in fact, a case of knowing while pretending not to know.  One of the most common tactics of they-who-hide is to cherry-pick certain individual cases while refusing to look at the larger picture. 

Sexism has an invisible, subliminal, deceitful, insidious aspect, one that is dynamic, couched in an adaptive ignorance.  This ignorance is a great challenge to any open-minded activist.  It forces a mighty frustration on those who would seek the good.  It is easy for this frustration to slide into hate.  Feminists are human.  To deal with hate in a healthy way is incredibly hard.  It is a virtuous feat, one far too rarely validated. 

As Donald Trump has demonstrated in his deranged way, hate can be seductive and magnetic. Hate, wielded by a dark leader, pulls people into blind passion and locks the doors of critical thinking.  Donald Trump's followers go that route.  But feminists, seeking to dissolve the power of ignorance, rather than reinforce it, must avoid that path at any cost. 

This is not to say that feminists don't feel frustration and even hate.  They must strive to form very different relationships with those emotions than people seduced by demagogues.

In this sense alone, aside from the rest, feminist activists face a huge challenge.  The moral strength required to fend off destructive hate cannot be overstated.  Confronted by the stonewalling ignorance of patriarchy--and all the violence and wrongness that ignorance cloaks and perpetuates--it is so very hard to keep frustration from bursting into a froth of spite, and from there descending into a state of cruelty beyond reason.

Feminists struggle--with great difficulty--to nurture their ethos and caring while dealing with the pain of their moral awareness.  Again, this is tremendously hard.  And, again, it is little rewarded or even acknowledged as a task.  In defense of their own sanity, a feminist might step back from a personal perspective.  Go scholarly.  However, it is quite possible to step back in  the wrong way, to succumb to a kind of bureaucratic 'objectivity'--the sort of 'objectivity' that is not reasonable at all, but rather obliterates personal concern and surrenders to the status quo. 

Indeed, our justice system (USA), with its own 'objectivity', fails to see the obvious:  the ubiquitous blight of abuse, derision, dismissal, assault, rape, and harassment. 

When challenging sexism, whether through protest or scholarship, it is important to appreciate its versatility.  When we think of ignorance, we often think of a flock of sheep.  Sheep = dumb.  The association is almost automatic.  But it is also highly misleading.  As I've written in the past, ignorance is smart.  It maintains and regenerates itself, often through new frames and slants.  It swims in the steady flow of mini-arguments and memes presented by politicians and media manipulators.

Ignorance contains specious arguments, prejudiced appraisals, contumacious verisimilitudes.  It includes a hate-fear dialectic.  The fortification and maintenance of sexist ignorance is a mighty task, a central task, of a male-ruled culture.  It needs to coopt all cognitive layers of the brains it saturates.  Ignorance is not so much about not seeing as it is a means to entrench 'not seeing' as an unacknowledged norm.

Even the physical senses, studies show, can be coopted.  Hence someone can see two lines as being equal, when in fact they are of very different length.  Subconscious filters are vital to the interests of ignorance.  Deep within the synaptic pathways, that is, by far, where the primary battle takes place.

The power of ignorance shapes civilizations.  Accepted expressions of art, music, science, religion and philosophy mold minds.  One generation programs the next.  Thinkers and artists rise to prominence because they satisfy the gatekeepers of the status quo.  Genius usually supports, rather than subverts, what those in power authorize.  Such co-opted genius may be zealous and direct; or insidious and passive, a simple failure to address injustice.  Pleasuring and mollifying the masses--a lotus-eater effect--is at least as important as is the direct reinforcement of patriarchal ideology.  Pleasuring is a seduction of diversion, whereas direct reinforcement is a legerdemain of casuistry.

What does it mean to confront ignorance?  It means facing a mental power, a political patience, a confrontational stamina, that far exceeds your own.  Ignorance is, in effect, a commodity for those at the top.  It is something manufactured that pays dividends.  A way to control the masses.  The investment is protected at the Faustian cost of corrupting both society and soul.  The process is addictive for those in power.  It becomes habitual, as well as stressful and desperate.  A failure to properly manufacture ignorance could make the masses to turn on you.  Or, perhaps worse, your conscience rises from its ashes.  What more painful than the realization of your life's purpose as malign?

To conclude, confronting sexist ignorance is a tremendous task, one carried out by courageous feminists, those who are continuously tarred with ridicule and threat.  Feminist bloggers receive floods of invective.  Graphic depictions of their upcoming murder and rape.  To deal with this constantly, or even slightly, is to stare the darkest, most raw side of humanity in the face.  It is, in a sense, to witness an archetype of Evil in action.  Because it is so hard and courageous to face such total darkness--and tangible physical risk--many feminists eschew their websites and seek other routes. 

Again, the fury that targets them is torrential.  Beyond scary.   Welcome to the USA, early 21st century.

Sometimes, however, seemingly out of nowhere, even during the darkest of times, there is a miraculous shift.  For those of the greatest and yet least-rewarded virtue, those feminists who have challenged the system all their lives, these rare moments come only after a soul-grinding journey of conflict, pain, and fortitude.  Indeed, such special people often don't live long enough to see the blossoms of positive change that they helped to seed.

For all of us, there is the following inspiration to be had from the #MeToo movement. Even when we don't think we're making a difference, we well might be.  The initial rumblings of seismic change take place below society's collective mental surface.  Only afterward do they manifest consciously.

This quote, from a recent op-ed on #MeToo, reinforces the point: 

We are seeing an example of how social change often (and increasingly) takes place. Advocates of a cause can push for a long time with little apparent effect. Then, in a historical blink, what seemed incredible becomes inevitable. Over a period of years, this is what happened with the same-sex marriage movement. A type of inclusion that initially appeared radical and frightening became an obvious form of fairness to a majority of Americans.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/no-country-for-scary-judgmental-old-men/2017/11/23/4faa93de-cfb2-11e7-81bc-c55a220c8cbe_story.html


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Happy or Aware

John Stuart Mill said it is better to be an unhappy human than a happy pig; but I would ask you:  Is it better to be a happy human, or to possess an unhappy yet vastly more intelligent super-awareness? --Rexus Tarotte


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Friday, September 15, 2017

To be heard at all..

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I think it sad that to be heard at all you have to be dishonest. -- Galaras Sphinxwyld




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Monday, August 21, 2017

In the End, Love


As I reflect on this year, since my last birthday, it is far too easy to focus on what is heavy or dark.  I could, instead, focus on the positive.  There is danger in that, however, of utter retreat.   I've been a poet since age sixteen, and in that sense an artist.  I've made pacts with passion and truth, both costly.  A focus on exposing injustice and deception has long been my calling.  And I've seen the damage that denial and quiescence can reap, especially when unchallenged..  

I will, then, start with something hard, and that is the rise of Trump.  More to the point, it is about white nationalism.  People on both sides have apologized for him since he first started.   He's naive.  He'll learn.  He respects our founding values.  Ages ago, so it seems, he was considered a mere clown.  Inconsistent.  Boorish.  Foolish.  Misogynist.  Racist.  Unelectable. 

Many refused to see what was happening.  I consider this to be a matter of psychology, not rationality.  For Trump has always been consistent.  The white nationalism has always been there, bold even, for those who dared to see.  What I've learned from his rise, sadly, is that human nature (or maybe I should say the human condition in our time) is worse than I thought.  I knew fascism could rise in countries where things were dismal, such as Germany after WWI.  Massive inflation, great poverty, no escape.  But the USA was ranked a great place to live when Trump rose.  He climbed with no military or government experience, and with the blatant pedigree of a charlatan, to become president.  

Hate does not need material desperation to grow.  Or to win.  In my own plodding way, I've learned this in the past year.  

Have you heard of Fermi's Paradox?  Trillions of planets in our beyond-gigantic universe; and yet no sign of sentient life anywhere.  Why?  

Fermi's answer:  sentient life destroys itself.  Everywhere.  Surely he meant it destroys itself with technology it cannot properly handle or control.  Warfare would be one obvious vehicle of utter demise, once nuclear weapons are present.  Fermi saw a pattern in xeno-development across the entire span of the cosmos

In my novel, the characters bring up what I call the "Fermian Veil."  What must a civilization do, anywhere in the universe, to pass through it, not destroy itself, and survive?  The answer, surely, must be the opposite of hate.  The opposite of a worldview whose lens is a fear that lays the kindling of war.

So, yes, love is the answer.  It is the greatest answer.  This is also something I've learned. 

As a philosopher, with a PhD, here is where I am at now:

I've studied everything from quarks to cosmos.  Natural selection to morality.  Sentient life, anywhere in this universe, given the basic parameters of physics--the laws, the particle/waves, how it all sets up after the Big Bang--is going to get led into war.  This is assuming it makes it past the hunter/gatherer stage and spreads.  Homo sapiens, in fact, almost didn't make it.  That is why we all have a common ancestor, an original Eve.  But that is a different tale.

Life from bacteria to humans involves struggle against death.  Hunger, for example, is a terrible pain and progressive cruelty.  Nature made us this way.  We suffer if we don't act to survive.  At a minimum, eat and protect ourselves. But the sex drive is also vastly strong.  On the other side, nature gave us the ability to feel incredible pleasure from all kinds of sensations, food, and sex.  The carrot and stick are built into us.  You can take various perspectives.  We are prisoners of our own bodies.  We are blessed.  The right view, I think, in general, is that life is a miracle and we should ride the wonderment of it all.  Live balanced, but enjoy as much as possible within that balance.

In any case, we live in a fragile state of equilibrium and struggle.

Through evolution, species adapt to adversity.  That is how life creates, changes, grows.  In early phases of human--or sentient--civilization, the fight for food leads to war, and war is waged most effectively through an 'us versus them' mentality.  A fanatic mentality seems optimal (not so rigid, though, as to reject invention).  Soldiers must be willing to sacrifice their lives for their god.  This makes them better fighters.  So it is, even today.

It is easy to stop here, and say we are all doomed.  That life is nasty, brutish, and short, as Hobbes does.  But that would be very wrong.  That is the most tragic of all mistakes--

because it is possible to pass beyond war.  I'm utterly convinced of this.  War is just stage in sentient progression.  It may be very hard to make the leap to the next stage; but it is doable.  The sentient mind is keenly adaptive.  Adaptive to hot or cold environments, to crowds or isolation.  Humans feel comfortable around combustion vehicles, those bizarre new additions to the Earth.  The malleability is extreme--as long as the dendrites don't harden into denial.  As I've written before, ignorance is very smart.  Ignorance can use intelligence to reinforce itself, batten the hatches and lock all the doors.

Adaptability, then, can even counteract adaptability.  But this great power, this vast flexibility, is also what makes it possible for a sentient species to break through the Fermian Veil. 

The scientific method, and the discipline of critical thinking, a subfield of philosophy, can help our adaptability to keep in touch with reality.  They are like sextant and compass. With their guidance, we steer wisely.  

I believe this is what the universe is 'searching' for:  a species that can break through the Fermian Veil, accept Love not Hate.  All the universe needs is one species.  Just one, among the billions of attempts.  

This whole universe could be seen as a grand experiment.  A chance for Love to blossom beyond our wildest thoughts and hopes.  Such Love must motivate beings capable of managing vast technologies.  It is a necessary condition.  

Here is my basic point:

Intelligence evolves, in an individual, yes; but just as importantly, it evolves in a civilization over stretches of time.  At a crucial turning point, the intelligence evolves the civilization.

Evolution, in other words, can go beyond evolution.  At some point, the collective consciousness steers society, instead of being steered by it.  

Imagine making a wish and having it come true.  What becomes critical, then, is what you wish for.  And why.  How your wish plays out.  Technology in the hands of sociopaths and narcissists, who were raised in a violent culture and who expect life to be cruel and merciless, will manifest one way.  That same technology in the hands of psychologically honest people who embrace compassion, not hate, will produce a very different path.

Frankly, at this point, I don't think humanity is going to break through the Fermian Veil.  We are going to destroy ourselves.  Trump was my tipping point.  It's too late in the game for the leader of the mightiest army on the planet to be a hate-filled fascist (and I might also add, someone ill-prepared to deal with the real possibility of environmental collapse).

But--in a big way--that doesn't matter.  I can keep hoping.  And something in me just wants to chase after Love.  After the moral Good.  Meditation helped me to find this state.  I can shout out to this universe:  "I feel what you are trying to do.  You want some sentient species to break through the Fermin Veil with Love."

It is such a beautiful, noble task that the universe has given us, albeit tremendously hard.  My view, ultimately, is optimistic:  if we, as individuals, seek Love and strive for Good, however flawed our attempts (and they will be flawed, for we are mere mortals), the universe smiles on us for trying.  Maybe spirits and angels do as well.  Maybe our ancestors.  I really don't know.

Love!


OWL

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Moment's Thought


Thought

Those butterflies [six or seven of them, on the sprawling oregano plants] don't care that I'm unshaven and shabby [as I watch them from feet away, doing yoga on the deck].  They aren't bothered by it at all.


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