Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Gimmick that Owns Countless Souls



The essential problem of humanity’s continued existence can be approached as follows:  many if not all of us are vulnerable to a simplistic way of looking at things:  instead of recognizing the real complexity of moral problems, we grasp only two possible options on how to behave.  Not surprisingly, one represents good, the other evil.  You’re either with us or against us.  If you’re against us, you are unacceptable at a fundamental level.  This basic x-or-y view is stubbornly held, with no chance of a critical argument fazing the believers.

Consider this quote from To Make Men Free:  A History Of the Republican Party.  Author Heather Cox Richardson describes the rise of Movement Conservatism in the US, starting in the 1960’s:


What Movement Conservatism had going for it, above all else, was that it offered a clear, simple, positive solution to the terrible tangles of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  In those decades, America floundered through the Vietnam War, soaring inflation, social unrest, Watergate, and the Iran hostage crisis.  These were complicated issues all ... but Movement Conservatives explained them in black and white terms that made it easy to tell which side a good American should take ... That their rhetoric did not address reality mattered less than that it seemed to offer a comforting route to bring back the prosperity and security voters associated with an idyllic American past.  (p.273-4)


Very important to this mentality is its complete intransigence:

Helping their cause was that they were so convinced they were right they refused to budge on anything.  As they held fast, they forced the rest of America to leave the middle of the political spectrum and move toward them.  (p.273-4)

A psychological gimmick that performs an end run around rationality, one that provides release from the pain of doubt, backed by charming/hateful (good side/bad side) rhetoric and a brick wall of denial--this is the danger to our future as a species. Probably anyone who cares to read this blog can sees the consanguineous link between Movement Conservatism and today’s Tea Party. Also obvious is that this black-and-white gimmick is amazingly powerful. Oodles of humans are readily susceptible and recruitable. Once captured no logic, common sense or even ‘right before your eyes’ evidence can stir even a ripple of questioning.

Also scary:  in times of uncertainty, as with war and economic flux, the allure of the black-and-white fallacy gets stronger and stronger.   Many politicians must grasp this, at least subconsciously, and push for what is generally detrimental to increase their own power.

What happens to a democracy when this bifurcative delusion grips a large segment of the population?  The government, elected by the people, loses touch with basic truths.  The great ship of state steers in fog without admitting the shoals, or even the nubilous opacity itself.  We can’t afford this kind of denial, not when global warming is threatening to redescribe the geological surfaces of the Earth and, in conjunction, induce worldwide anomie.  We can’t afford the short-sighted comforts provided by obtuse ignorance, not with so many nuclear weapons poised to launch, about 16,000 of them. 

It’s a recipe for doom:  A world with 16,000 nuclear weapons and virulent fire-eating politicians screaming that you are either with us, or you are the evil enemy.   You’re with God or Satan.  You’re with the “real” Americans or you’re a traitor.

The ancient habit of mass fanaticism is not going to work, not in a world overtaxed with billions of humans,  a world with terrible technologies such as ICBM’s and microbes engineered for biological warfare.  In the past, fanaticism lead to great slaughter, torture, inquisition, oppression, racism, sexism, and so on--all absolutely disgusting.  And of course, we continue to be awash in tides of woe driven by willful Ignorance and it’s awful minion Violence.

But the price is now literally unbearable.  We are all interconnected more than ever before.  Unless humanity can rise to a new level of psychological awareness, one in which black-and-white rhetoric cannot grip the masses, we’re going down.

It’s not a matter of awakening.  A consciousness-raising related to empathy and understanding that moral issues are complex.  The Humanities are a good route to such consciousness-raising.  Alas, we are cutting them back.

So far, in the journey of human history, fear and hate have been as strong as love.  But now comes the has come to make the great choice that will determine the human future:  will we open our minds and, go with informed empathy and critical thinking, say in the fashion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, or will we go fall into the maw of the irrational, a place immune to logical where facades of green, white-fenced grass hide the snarling teeth of hate? 

A lot of people have made the right choice anyway.  So it can be done.  We are not doomed by ‘human nature.’  We know that ‘human nature’ is a combination of biology and environment;  and that the environment, which includes the general ideas that guide us, largely rests within our control.  If it didn’t, women would not now have gained the right to vote, and Martin Luther King, Jr. would not be seen as great.  Only in the last few years have gay people started to receive the rights of marriage.

Good change happens.  So does backlash and the most vehement hatred.  Welcome to the tightrope walk over the valley of doom. 

Owl

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Bill Cosby Syndrome




The case of Bill Cosby serves as a metaphor for much of our general dysfunction.  A powerful, charismatic man inflicted major harm on those who had no chance of being heard, let alone finding justice.  Only now does it come out that he is a serial rapist, though the label still has not stuck, even though dozens of women have come forward.  It seems he will avoid all prosecution, that he will never tell the truth, and live out his life in material and perhaps psychological comfort, aided by his denial and the denial of his wife and hardcore fans.  What does this say about our society?  That he is a serial rapist, but can avoid the label “serial rapist”? 

There are similarities on a larger scale:

What about Andrew Jackson, whose polices insured the dispersal, removal, and death of Native American peoples?  A policy that is, if not stated, then in effect, genocide?  Who heard these victims, or even listens to their ancestors today?  In modern times, there are many examples of US Presidents abetting vast injustice on people in third-world nations.  It has been forcefully argued that the Vietnam War was genocidal (e.g. the book Kill Anything That Moves).  Even the land was scorched and poisoned in an attempt to uproot and exterminate the “gooks”.  Do the people of America acknowledge this?  Has their been justice for this wrong?

No.  We fall into a great fanfare of stars-and-stripes, wrapped in our conceited patriotic pride.

Let me refocus again, this time on a smaller scale than the (in)famous Cosby:  what about a parent who sexually abuses their children?  Or a priest who abuses children in his congregation?  How often will justice be served in such cases?  The victims themselves often won’t admit what happened, even inside.  It’s just too painful, but they still suffer in crippling ways.  The torment from the physical violation lingers and continues the assault, until (if ever) the wound is honestly examined and the mental pus released.

This is the essence of the dysfunction:  Our culture digs canyons of denial that run so deep that even the strongest evidence often cannot shake the impression of a violator as an “upstanding citizen worthy of emulation” and such. 

Rapists, abusers, and politicians who use racist rhetoric to incite atrocious wars, can speak convincingly.  Often, it seems, they truly believe they are the best of people, even though they leave anguish and blood in their wake.  They have filtered out the obvious.  A famous experiment demonstrated that peer pressure could get people to not only state an obvious untruth (that two lines were the same length, even though they were very different) but to come to believe it.  The Cosbys of the world have a selfish motive for taking this path, not just consciously lying, but deluding themselves into a false sense of the real.  

And their fans and followers insure their sins get buried by the shovel of adamant complicity.

This does not negate guilt.  It makes those who brutalize others even more despicable.  To inflict the great wrong itself is horrific.  To run as far away from any admission of that crime, deceiving others and yourself on the deepest level, that is a further reviling stigma.

Power does not necessarily corrupt.  We all have a certain amount of power over some others, including animals and the environment.  If we want to have a healthy society--actually, if we want to survive as a civilization--we need to avoid the Bill Cosby Syndrome, the phenomenon of letting the powerful and charismatic get away with horrible things as if they never happened.  If we don’t, we will continue to be creatures with divided, irrational minds, hostage to continued abuses and atrocities, incapable of avoiding war, and unable to steer humanity wisely in these very dangerous (nuclear weapons, global warming, etc.) times.

We need nothing less than a transformation of our psychological priorities.  When obvious injustice is in our face we must actually face it, not hide, deny, and attack those who speak with clarity.

The only way I can see forward is to direct the collective human conscious away from narcissism and greed  (fostered by numb, jingle-fueled consumerism) and toward a concept of The Good (an idea founded in human rights, empathy and cooperation, one that transcends any one religion).

Owl

PS:  Perhaps I sound all academic, but I am so so so disgusted.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

In Los Angeles



It feels to me like everything I do is or should be in recognition of the terrible, awesome changes we are  inflicting on the planet Earth.  A huge segement of humanity is either in denial or  has no conscious recognition of the enormity of what is occurring; and the rest of us tend to stray because we have personal exigencies and practicalities to deal with:  children, infirm relatives, money woes.  The economic system, which is as dysfunctional as one would expect given the global catastrophe underway, squeezes us, manipulating, cajoling, acculturating and extorting to gain our complicity in its radical course.  It is so successful that usually we don't know we are being mentally massaged into a conformist sculpture of acceptable yet neurotic, stressed-out, self-centered, petty behavior.  

 This is where the world of advertising, which is the psychological weapon of the world of corporations, wants us to be.
 
How many of us even think how strange it is to refer to Nature’s vast beauty as nothing but a “resource”?  Or to talk about interaction with the Great Miracle of Creation as nothing but “consumption”?  The mathematical quantification, so useful to the powerful and avaricious, acts as both euphemism and catalyst for the specious argument.  “We must expand more, consume more, multiply more, rush more, compete more, fight more.”  And so we push as fast as we can through this great metamorphosis of the Earth.  From the viewpoint of a passenger in an airplane, the damage is transformative to the horizon.

How many of us even think us about how incredible it is that, at night, a lattice of bright lights coats the  surface of the planet as far as one can see, from a vantage of 10,000 feet?  Do we even think, anymore, about how strange it is that only a hundred years ago, this urban monstrosity we call “Los Angeles” did not exist?

I just can’t  stop thinking about that ... and similar things.  And I feel, like a good introvert--the sort of introvert who likes to observe but not plunge into the social fray--that I am the only one. 

I’m not obviously.  And much of my time, I too flee into escapism, or my novel, or poetry, or talking with the few close people I have in my life.  In my opinion, a great cataclysm has already occurred, the mass extinction is well underway.  Even if we avoid more upheaval, the sort that tears civilization apart, or threatens to, we have already acted with intolerable selfishness as a species.  Rarely do I hear anyone in the mainstream media admit this, or even acknowledge this as a possibility.  TV’s squawk by the billions across hundreds of channels, all of it avoiding the truth.  Billions of squawking boxes strewn in squares across the North American Continent, which once hosted herds of millions of free-roaming buffalo--and that was in 1850, less than two hundred years ago.  Two hundred years is a mere blip on the scale of the geological clock.

Anyway, yeah, amazing denial.  An electronic Tower of Babel.  We are so much the stupid herd heading for a cliff--a cliff we dug out and made for ourselves, while denying it all the while. 

I probably sound like a teenager (thank god for the young!).  I often say to myself:  “How stupid, blind, greedy and willful we have become.”  Of course, on the surface I am saying nothing more than my essayological  opponents say.  Each side blames the other.  Does it matter who is correct?  I think it does.  Either global warming is primarly human-caused or it isn’t.  Either the predictions made by scientists about the future damage caused by GW, based on lots of solid research, are reasonable and sound, or they are the product of a liberal conspiracy, as many on the right not only claim but fulminate with zealous fervor.  One side is correct, the other isn’t.  If enough of those who are currently wrong don’t change their minds, those of us who are currently correct cannot initiate transformative progress.  If one hand of a body starts to build a house, but the other hand takes every piece of lumber away, even as it gets positioned, no house will rise.  There will be no shelter from the storm.

I have become so absorbed in the enormity of the time we live in, it is very hard for me to 'play the game' enough to keep sane and stable.  I try.  I do try.  I also try not to.  It's a tug of war between webs of thoughts and needs I barely understand.

Owl

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Poem: Closer

Recently published in Offcourse.  See it with two more of my poems here:

http://www.albany.edu/offcourse/

Best To All ... I suppose,

Owl

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Closer

sunset baked the folk, millions of them,
all flavored different the same.
AC’s whirred on volt-bound coal,
while the swelter of lets and sublets
played on.

jetliners
owned the decibel extremes,
but in a corner of the emulsified sky
a pair of hawks tread.

after they funneled off,
flies in the amphitheaters of kitchens had to do,
or disaporic house spiders,
steadfast in lank mezzanines.

(no one counted
the machinelike ants
migrated from scalded dirt
to cool cornucopic parlors.)

crows whittled the sun away,
such tired and cranky switch-wing punks.
Fibonacci throngs of them, congealing,
superimposed a whirlpool
over the effluence
of this brake-light time.

the city wasn’t
supposed to be about swerving birds,
or even the trudging phlegm of cars.
faces hung inside
like fruity cyborgs:
orange, grim, and cherry splashes
across the herded glass
of spectral visors.


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