Sunday, January 29, 2017

Some Observations On the Rising Tyranny





Anyone who thought Trump was going to 'lighten up' or retreat into familiar politics should by now recognize the truth:  it is only going to get worse.  He is a lot like a drug dealer, one who sells designer hate to a sizeable audience vulnerable to his wares.  The recent ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries is a starter dose.  Trump darkly nurtures his blood-boiled base.  As a charismatic narcissist, he also needs increasing amounts of his own drug:  adulation.  Although he only mimicks a drug dealer, he is, in fact, a real abuser.  As such, he employs mind control techniques that twist reality backwards.

In both Trump and followers, the subconscious reigns.  Unacknowledged insecurity yokes Trump to his course.  He is never wrong in his eyes (on rare occasions, out of tactical necessity, he might say that he is wrong).  Similarly, his core followers do not admit anything wrong or contradictory in their own behavior, even though it is overtly and grossly destructive.  They blame others for anything bad on the level of national or international strife.

This is a lot like the imploding alcoholic who denies they have a problem.  Reality is not real for them.  Critical thinking is ineffective.

Trump sends dog whistles to his followers and the followers cheer.  They cheer especially loud and long if Trump hits the right mental chords.  There is, then, a feedback loop.  Stimulus/response.   Give me what I want, and I will praise you.  A dark gravity takes hold, a malign back-and-forth of innuendo that moves ominously toward abyss.

In terms of depth psychology, the followers basically indicate to Trump:

Just make America white again.  If you do this, you can be our king.

This Id-like, taboo-ish statement is shocking to vocalize.  Indeed, that is why people repress it.  But there it is.  The unspoken, seditious core.

It is that serious.

Some will object to my argument:  the economy and jobs are what concern Trump's followers. 

No.  Trump has masterfully welded the trope of jobs to fear.  Fear of the 'other'; of the outgroup of Muslims, blacks, liberals, feminists, LGBT, intellectuals...

'Economy and jobs' is symbolic.  Money represents food and shelter.  Trump to followers:  your food and shelter are being threatened.  And not just by anyone:  by an encroaching, disgusting horde.  The dark foe.  I, Champion Trump, shall lead you to victory.

Why delve into the painful intricacies of self-doubt when Good v. Evil is simpler?

By the way, this sort of psychological sketch that I am giving is pretty much useless in terms of reaching Trump's followers.  Months ago, Trump himself pointed out that he could shoot someone in the street, and his masses would not desert him.  Fear and hate take root below the cerebral cortex.

Confront the unrepentant addict and see what happens.  You get nowhere.  Mass addiction by a populist is worse, in a sense, than an isolated addict--because the populist provides ready-made scapegoats and denialisms.  Those buying hate from the hate-peddler don't even have to come up with their own deflections.

So, what to do in terms of reaching out?  Building bridges that take us out of the us-or-them trap?

First of all, I want to say that activism is essential.  Protest is vital.  Maybe protest alone is enough to defeat Trumpism, if it is intense and forceful.  However, if it tilts into violence, (a) that is egregious in itself, and (b) we might see irreparable harm.  Violence could meet defeat at the hands of a militarized resistance (the new Trump-driven police state).  Violence could also transform us into the very thing we despise.

I suggest the route of the Civil Rights movement.  Satyagraha is the approach most likely to build bridges, preserve the union, and draw support from the undecided.

Below are some points that move us in the direction of holism, not dualism.  First, though, I want to emphasize how frustrating it is that Trump won the election; that he now proceeds to dismantle what made America great in the name of making America great.  It is Orwellian.  It is tragic.  Globally, it could be the end of the Enlightenment era and the beginning of the Totalitarian.

Maybe Trump will alienate enough people to lose the next election.  Maybe he will foment a tremendous backlash that stifles his thrust.  Maybe.  But history shows that hatred feeds off the masses to escalate.

Trump is not making people racist.  He augments a bias already there.  It started long ago:  in the 60's with Goldwater; the victory of Reagan in the 80's; George HW Bush's racist commercials, and so on. 

Indeed, all the stuff about "State's Rights" goes back to the Civil War, the bitterness of the slavery-defending South.  The collective consciousness of the USA still bears that primal scar.

Unless we heal the divide, we are going down fast.  As part of my activism, I want to try and reach out across the chasm.  Yes, it is scary.  MLK was assassinated, after all.

Anyway, here are some bridge-building points, for what they are worth. 

(1)  Stop calling Trump stupid.  He is a genius at what he does.  His followers think he is smart, and they are right.  Just admit it.  However, his followers are turned off by him, too.  Seek out commonalities.

(2) Insults don't help.  They hand entrenched minds a bigger shovel.  Outraged chanting, while cathartic and necessary, might make Trumpsters gleeful--in the same sense that liberals become gleeful when right-wingers are upset.  It is important to vent anger and frustration--but find hate-defusing ways to protest as well. 

(3)  Projecting superiority is a kind of insult.  It is true, those of us not trapped on an accelerating treadwheel of racist rancor are superior, in some important fashion.  However, humans are complex, society is complex and there are many ways to praise or condemn people--all people.

I guess what I'm saying is:  humility.  Assertive tactics, always, but married to humility.  The more you threaten, the less they listen.

(4) Rational arguments about racism, narcissism, and so on, won't work.  If you hammer on someone's denial, even using heavy logic, it only sinks them deeper. 

(5) I read a great article today by an educated man who suffered under Cesar Chavez's populist dictatorship.  I strongly recommend this piece.  Here is one point:


In Venezuela, we fell into this trap in a bad way. We wrote again and again about principles, about separation of powers, civil liberties, the role of the military in politics, corruption and economic policy. But it took opposition leaders 10 years to figure out that they needed to actually go to the slums and the countryside. Not for a speech or a rally, but for a game of dominoes or to dance salsa — to show they were Venezuelans, too, that they weren’t just dour scolds and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show that they were real. This is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization.



            (6)  The enemy is Hatred and Fear, not people.  The more you use hate and fear--or related anger--you play into the worsening gyre.

            (7) Validate Trump's followers.  Like everyone, they have suffered immensely.  Like everyone, they tread life's difficult paths.  They feel.  They struggle.  They sacrifice.  They belief in higher Good.  They have passions.  They love.  They are smart, accomplished, capable.  They are you and me.

            (8)  If someone challenges you, by saying, "You think you're better than us!" then perhaps a decent response is honesty:  "I think you're wrong about certain things, yes; but I admit I am often wrong about things.  None of us is perfect."

            (9) Develop patience.  Patience is almost ultimate.  Trump is patient in his own dark way.  He expresses anger with precision.

            (10)  Trump thrives on conflict and chaos.  Violence works for him.  It is like an injection of fear straight to his followers'  femoral arteries.  He wants violence.  When it happens, people are afraid.  They give up freedom for (perceived) security.  Higher thought ceases.  Read Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism.

(11)  Again, Trump wants chaos.  If you refute him by saying, "You're sowing chaos!" he responds in way that ups the ante.  Chaos is his anvil.  It will help him forge his 'law and order' police state.

(12) Keep aware of what is at stake.  Trump craves more praise and power.  Soon, the only route to these will be open fascism.   White, misogynous fascism.  



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Friday, January 27, 2017

WERU radio interview

I was recently interviewed on WERU, a well-known station in Maine.  The interview concerns writing technique and related philosophies and whimsies.  It addresses life's miraculous side, but does not discuss the current political situation:

http://archives.weru.org/writers-forum/2017/01/writers-forum-11216/

Owl

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

For Whom the Trump Tolls



I haven't written since Trump won.  It's been too traumatic.  I've been processing.  Here's a passage from one of the Op-eds that struck me hard, by Paul Waldman:


Trump realizes that ... you can take any idea, no matter how preposterous, and make half the country believe it. And when journalists push back, it’ll only make your supporters more firm in their loyalty.




This quote gets to the heart of it.  One theme of my blog has always been that people are primarily psychological, not rational.  Now, thanks to Trump, I see how psychological.  He says things that are clearly contrary to the physical evidence.  He puts forth straight-up contradictions.  He flip-flops.  The only thing he can't do, as I've argued, is seriously challenge his underlying, insinuative theme of white nationalism. 

Even for someone like me, who has been cynical and disappointed in humanity for decades (genocide, slavery, mass extinction, and on and on), it's a shock to stare so baldly at the brute side of the human psyche.  The reach of fear.  The harness of hate.  The victory of ignorance, its will to write history as it wants.  Well, not just to write history, but also to end it. 

I was born in the sixties, when nuclear weapons almost annihilated civilization during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It was luck, actually, that saved us then, so historians say.  All my life, humanity has dwelled in the shadow of a high potential for Armageddon.  At various times, I've been relatively alert or numb to this fact.  Trump's win has made me more alert than ever before.  Trump is my Cuban Missile Crisis (I was an infant back then).  In a way, he is worse.  His Presidency shows us we haven't learned anything; that the abominable side of our psychology is winning, despite the accumulated evidence.

It all comes down to:  Can we be smarter than blind?

I will keep fighting, at least I hope.  People tell me to stay optimistic.  For me, that means staying inspired.  But it also means not lying to myself.  The truth is, given Trump, humanity is probably doomed.  Ironically, perhaps, that could be a reason to fight harder--not only to cling to a small percentage of survival, but also to show that humanity, in some  ways, can be stubbornly good.  Our legacy, even if we go down, deserves to showcase some moral heroism.  It gives the universe hope. 

When xeno-archaeologists arrive in spaceships and find our ruins, I want them to see the potential for advanced civilization to evolve; to cradle a chance, however small, for an angelic ethos, beyond the threat of war.  Given the billions of galaxies and all their planets, somewhere some sentient life-form might find a way.

Even in our death there can be hope--for the countless extraterrestials.

Paul Krugman made an analogy to the decline of the Roman Empire, its transition from Republic to autocracy.  In 2016,democracy failed to protect us from our own worst tendencies.  Indeed, it empowered those tendencies.  It gave them broad latitude to cripple our system of choice, such  that we won't have the option to vote more wisely next time.

Having written the above paragraph, I see what has floored me, this historic punch to my essence that leaves a permanent wound.  I knew about idiocy and ignorance on a grand scale.  But now I have witnessed them.  I've had a close seat as they debauched the one country that gave me hope.  Is China, with its police state, its anti-human-rights stance, going to take us in the right direction?  Is Russia?  The USA was the one hail mary for universal human rights.  We had the power, the imperial prerogative.  But the USA, rather than changing China and Russia, has shifted toward them.

Yes.  I have witnessed the disfigurement of something Beautiful, even if it was mostly potential, right before my eyes.  Ideals were building.  Now whatever they had accomplished wobbles.  It's the end of a global period of ethical renaissance.  We elected a man who bragged about sexual assault, a person who openly demeans blacks.  Abortion will probably become illegal in this nation, during Trump's tenure.  White nationalism has surged.  One of its main proponents, Steve Bannon, is in the new Cabinet.

Having written this, on this Christmas, I see what ails me.  I have witnessed the ugly betrayal of our last, best  Hope.  It's one thing to read about the emperor's new clothes, and the punitive downfall.   It's another thing to see it play out on the table with the highest stakes of all--this planet.

What awful karma we instantiate.

All of us who we see Trump for what he is--a clever narcissist who plays to the worst in souls, an insecure tyrant who could take us into World War III, or decide to advance his own Hitleresque pogroms--we need to keep going.  We need to appreciate the gift and the miracle.  Our reward is our realization and the resultant appreciation.  If I die tomorrow, I can say, I lived well.  There are miracles everywhere.  Our senses feed them to our lucky minds.

The artist's path embraces candor to seek ultimate compassion.  Counterpoise the hate.



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Poem: Not So Vacant Lot



This poem is from my book, Escape From the Orchard of Wheels.  It was also published in American Poetry Review.  I think it's more about people than ants.

I wrote a poem yesterday or so, the first in about a year and half.

Best to All,


Owl
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Not So Vacant Lot

ants stream from a nipple,
blur of apricot roan.

no psalm binds them,
no sergeant-at-arms yells stop.

they scatter like drams
of fiery milk, curdling

as they go, gnashing emeralds
that skew in their mandibles,

and hounding nature
with snicks of flame.

a slyphid trips, blunders,
gets torn to gobbets,

each the size of a
matchstick head.  the ants

ply their conga all day,
milling in droves, whirlpooling

to stuff their spoils
back down, into the adored

breast.

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