Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lost Between Ant and Angel



            At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US had racial segregation, and yet the Civil Rights Movement was going strong.  Today, the rhetoric of Donald Trump is dragging us back in an immoral direction.  Not only that, he promises torture of our enemies, and he hasn’t ruled out nuclear options.   We can’t afford this mentality.  We can’t keep saber-rattling and rolling the dice of war.   Sooner or later, the numbers will add up to BOOM.  A single Russian submarine captain, acting on his own initiative when communication  was disrupted, saved us in 1962.  It was that close.
Even though our very existence is at stake, we are stuck in habits that override our ability to think clearly.  It makes us pitiable.  We seem hell-bent.  When I say “we” I mean Trumpism most of all; but there are plenty of levels of falsity and misperception.  Hillary Clinton serves the Wall Street status quo.  It is this corruption, the obese inequality, that laid the soil of frustration cultivated by Trump.  If Clinton beats him, and nothing changes (the rich keep getting richer while the rest of us sink), the next Trump-like contender will likely win.
In this election, don’t be sure that Clinton’s softer deceptions will win out over Trump’s violent ones.   Hate is strong and he is a master at bulking it.  Democracy everywhere is under assault by black-and-white thinking.  Demonizing the other.  Look at what just happened with Brexit.
The status quo (Clinton) wears the mask of togetherness and warmth, then turns around and stabs the masses in the back, say, with international trade deals that take jobs away.  At the expense of US workers, corporations become attractively ‘leaner’ and their stocks rise.  Clinton’s is a pleasant-faced treachery.  Give the rich cuts.  Hide the loopholes or argue that everyone will benefit.  Meanwhile many Americans can’t afford a doctor.  A few stitches costs many hundreds of dollars.
Trump points out the corruption, and coarsely hammers home the racism that Republicans have long used on the sly.  The white masses he commands don’t trust the old school Republicans anymore, not to carry out the segregationist deeds they crave.  They trust Trump, due to his virulence, to make good on his bigotry.  None of them, of course, will dare admit they are actually racists, even to themselves.  In this sense, they are as cowardly as they are selfish.
Clinton’s plastic smile can’t validate the people’s need to hear the muckraking truth about their government.  Trump gives them that, which generates trust.  He then manipulates that trust into a dark, unreasoning place.  His fascism will take our country, if not the world, down fast.  He will make the establishment’s twisting of the thumbscrews, carried out since Reaganomics, look relatively benign.  Trump might increase manufacturing, but fascist governments, historically, are disgustingly corrupt.  And they require hate, kind of like a drug.  The people’s anger must be diverted onto scapegoats:  immigrants, foreigners, liberals, feminists, and so on.  At the core is the strong insinuation, or sometimes straight up, of a superior race.  The superiority of the nation above all others is loudly trumpeted and taken for granted.
That’s what Trump will bring us, in all his narcissistic, reckless, delusional glory. 
He may not hew to something like Hitler’s Final Solution--gas chambers in concentration camps that starve inmates down to twigs--but he will be tyrannical and power-crazed.  By his own words, he will torture enemies, a net he casts broadly, and he will kill their spouses and children.  He needs the spotlight, and his preferred method is the immature aggression of the schoolyard bully.  Imagine someone with the temperment of the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland backed up by the might of the US military.

The one who has it right is Bernie Sanders.  He exposes both the fascist and the corporate shill.  Following the Scandinavian mixed model, he would directly subsidize the people, thus providing for basic needs and promoting dignity and self-actualization.  The standard mantra today is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  No one asks about the quality of those jobs, whether they are soul-demeaning.  Whether they debilitate pride and extinguish the little candelabra of one’s hopes and dreams.
Indeed, those jobs, jobs, jobs often contribute to global warming, massive pollution and extinction.  The  short-sighted, greedy corporations don’t care.  Those jobs, jobs, jobs could be manufacturing the tools of war, that is, mass slaughter and death.
Scenario:  Trump starts a war to boost the American economy.  Roll the nuclear dice.  Rinse and repeat.
This is a terrible time to be alive, not because humans are worse than they ever have been before--in fact, there have been some fantastic advances in ethics--but rather because (a) global collapse is quite possible, (b) democracy is succumbing to fear, and (c) because of all this, whatever advances we have made in our collective awareness could shatter.  Human rights are a fragile thing. 
Are Trump’s followers simply so sick of humanity that they’ve given in to the desire to see it all blown up?  Do they embrace an obvious narcissist to make a statement about something broken inside us all?  Perhaps they have very low self-esteem and project their self-loathing onto others, but it’s not a matter of conscious choice. 
Research on obedience has shown that people not only hide from the truth, but actively fight it.  In so doing, they build cognitive filters that add up to specious worldviews.  Hence, if you point out the racism of Trump’s platform, you are called the racist.  You are taunted.  Any weakness in anything you say or do is used as a fulcrum to belittle and hurt you.  Anything to keep from looking at the truth.
There was a study in which  two lines were placed together on a chalkboard.  One was much shorter than the other.  Under peer pressure from strangers, however, subjects would say the lines were equal in length.  They repeated the obvious lie.  Further research showed that subjects were not just dissembling to fit in.  They came to truly believe that two lines of very different length were actually the same.  This is the kind of creature we are, capable of deluding our perceptions.  In evolutionary terms, solidarity with the group can sometimes be more important than the actual truth for survival.
Our neural nets are adaptive.  But such plasticity can ossify.  Some belief systems help to keep the mind open and questioning.  Others work to shut curiosity down.
 Trump is an ossifier.  Under his deceptions, millions upon millions of people can be made to walk over the proverbial cliff of doom, without even seeing the obvious edge.
We're all vulnerable.  Most sadly, once we become locked in knee-jerk, know-nothing, unethical habits, how are we any different from ants?
In this fashion, we are judged by how we think, and what that makes us become.  There are many possibilities, both for flourishing--to truly seek after the ways of angels--or wilted desecration.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Poem: Last Ride

This poem is from my chapbook, Cantabile of Whims.  My friend Jon Wing Lum liked this little collection.  He died recently.  He was a great man.

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Last Ride

a vole scrabbles
to unlock a cactus nest,
cranes into the hush of owl talons,
seeing with a last glimpse

an earth-brown rattlesnake
swallow a blue egg;
and a moon that rears parched,
hissing over a pilgrimage
of tarantulas.

beyond gallows of racked joshuas
and tanblack capes,
somber mesas confer,
as close to a Great Judge
as doomed squeaks will ever get.

and farther away,
tawny as sand,
a dislocated cougar
slouching through the heat waves,
prowling their miles.


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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poem: Wind Thought

Although I find work on my novel satisfying and fully challenging, I miss my poetry.  I hope to return to those voices when the novel is finished.

I might start posting some of my poems here somewhat frequently.  I'm proud of them, and honored that they chose me.  Each required a great deal of mental struggle and passionate upheaval.

This one is from one of my nine chapbooks.  I hope to consolidate them into a full-length collection someday.

But, you know, in the end one must ask, Why do we write?

Who can, or will, really listen?

And why?

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Wind Thought

its broken career
makes goblins
out of trees,
whistles wounded
in their teething
fissures.

it steals hats,
pulls Medusa
from our heads,
writhing locks
like Marley’s chains,

all of us Scrooge
near this astral waif
who craves our gifts—

this first panhandler

who sups fall leaves
like hors d’oeuvres from mud,
catapulting its thirst,
restless for a bed

but finding only space,
emptier greedier space,
a vortex of racks
stretching all ways—

as if wind were
some protean Atlas,
trapped yet fleeing,
breaking out
in tantrums that lurch,

only to lick god’s
toe.


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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Denial, Trumpism, Judgement



One of the essential ironies of our time is that world-changing events are happening, things unseen in all of human existence, or even since the beginning of the Earth--and yet somehow they fail to get much serious attention from the general population.  Ice sheets  melting away at the top of the world.  Land masses sinking.  Epochal extinction.  The rise of robots, artificial intelligence, precision genetics.  And so on.  The phenomenon of widespread numbness undercuts our ability to think clearly.  The  21st century citizen stresses and bustles along, abetting these changes, hampered by a conscience riddled with blind spots.  It’s as if lightning were flashing all around, and yet those in the storm insist on an appearance of drab blue. 

That the United States rose to greatness on the back of genocide, and continues to be propelled by violence and viciousness, this is, from the perspective of many Americans, basically irrelevant.  The general behavioral pattern of the population, in effect, proclaims, ‘Who cares?’  Consider the epidemic of sexual assault, mostly against women and children, that runs wild in our society.   What is the general attitude?  In the nature of the daily routine, the people basically respond, ‘So what?’ 

This ethical vacuum extends even to issues that threaten our very survival.  The environment is degrading in unprecedented ways.  Yet this merits a mere shrug.  Or you get the ignorant, “It’s always been changing.”  If you press a typical individual on even the most stark injustices, you often get an answer that endorses the horror, like “It’s just human nature.”

With social ease we endorse horror while not even admitting it is horror. 

One of the hardest lessons for anyone  to learn, because our culture makes it so, is that, although the system looks rational and honest on the surface, it is not.  It is dishonest and irrational.  It is ugly below the facade of a chiseled Justice, blindfolded, holding a scale.  Perversely, we use our minds to hide from the truth, not uphold it. The subtle acculturation includes all our institutions, and proceeds via multiple interlocking subliminal prods, backed up by the very real threat of poverty or imprisonment.

It’s very hard to learn about, and accept, that the ideals, rituals and celebrations trumpeted by our culture actually reinforce wrongdoing.  It’s like being Truman in the movie, The Truman Show, except far worse.  Every 107 seconds another person is sexually assaulted in America (https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/frequency-of-sexual-assault). 

Nuclear war could occur any day.  It is quite plausible.  If somehow humanity survived it, future people would look back and label us as utter fools.  Indeed, we are utter fools whether or not nuclear holocaust occurs because we have fostered conditions in which it could occur. 

Magnifying our foolishness, if that were possible, are the constant proclamations about America's greatness and “exceptionalism.”

Donald Trump has, for a brief time, has made us look at our foolishness.  He has brought the ugliness out of the mental cage, yanked it from its hidden, numb niche. In so doing, he birthed his own shocking, amazing moment.  And he has done it so fast that our mechanisms of denial can’t keep up.  The virulent racism, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia that infect the American public have been laid bare.  We are like bugs exposed by overturning a stone.  Even our institutions recoil.  Even the Republican Party, a longstanding proponent of (unstated) white superiority, is caught off guard.  The GOP never wanted to confront this side of itself.  It’s as if Dorian Grey were being forced to look into his secret sin-accumulating mirror.

It won’t last long, the shock.  The pain of inner conflict is too great.  We are too uneducated, have underdeveloped ethical and emotional skills, to wisely handle our feelings.  We turn to rigid ideologies--frameworks that split the world into black and white--for mental support, at the price of the ability to think freely.  Our media and institutions have already begun the process of normalizing Trump. 

Soon he will be seen not as a vulgar, unethical bigot, but rather as the new standard of an obnoxious, yet acceptable,  right wing politician.  A plausible enfant terrible.

Commentators are already tailoring their approach.  They claim that his followers are simply protesting the injustice of the establishment.  This “protest movement” explains and forgives Trump’s tendency to ballyhoo even the most outlandish and bizarre claims, to cock-a-doodle forth whatever he wants, even the most unwieldy lies.

This ‘protest’ slant by the media sugarcoats his sickness.  The truth is, Trump can’t just say anything he pleases.  If he stopped promoting white-superiority, he would fall.  If he ceased to champion the motto, “Make America White Again” (clearly that’s what it’s all about) the hatred he has amassed and stoked would abandon him.

It’s simple:

Donald Trump = bigot. 

And yet Hilary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, won’t say that.  She refuses to speak the obvious.  No doubt she’s afraid of offending some demographic slice.  She is known to drop racist cues herself, albeit not on the scale of her opponent.

Clinton embraces the mealy-mouth-ism that has made most Americans sick of politicians.  Our leaders, including Clinton, have perpetrated decades of corruption, transferring money from the middle class to the rich.  Their duplicity and prideful arrogance have fertilized a soil ripe for the xenophobia in which Trumpism takes root.

It is heart-wrenching to watch the national media bend around fascism, accommodating and shielding it.  The Republican Party is in an early stage of acceptance, pretending right now, it seems, that Trump is okay--forcing themselves to smile.  You can almost see the psychological struggle that results in awkward smiles and troubled faces, the mental pressure to accept that Trump isn’t so bad after all.   You can almost see the truth being stuffed away, deep into the subconscious, where it can’t be riled up by logic.

They are in turmoil, experiencing cognitive dissonance, but the GOP is stepping into line, more and more eager to take up the banner of hate.  The more they accept Trump, the more the hate coils over their hearts, like tendrils of a weed, taking control in increments.

Calling Trump the leader of a “protest movement” is fallacious.  It ignores much, and implants a twisted suggestion:  that Trump’s message is somehow enlightened, like the protest messages of the 1960’s. What a sad misuse of semantics to satisfy the specious mind.

A common normalizing statement is, ‘He will bring jobs.’  In other words, it doesn’t matter if he is a virulent racist so long as we get some money.  Racism isn’t so bad, not next to a paycheck.

It’s shocking, amazing.  Or it should be.  So many politicians who said Trump was terrible just months ago, who lambasted him with the darkest rhetoric, now kowtow and roll over behind his monstrosity.  It is gut-awful to watch.  It validates how petty humans can be.  No liberty.  No equality.  Not decency.  Just an hypocrisy beyond abhorrent.

There is opposition to Trump.  Tens of millions of people.  But many of them are making the mistake of thinking that  Hilary Clinton, a longtime member of the establishment, isn’t part of the problem. 

The Huffington Post, to its great credit, runs the following editor’s note after pieces on Trump:


Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.


Don’t expect the obvious to affect Trump’s followers.  They epitomize the key insight that, first and foremost,  humans are not rational, but rather psychological creatures.  Trump is consistently inconsistent.  He speaks in contradictions.  This is not only fine with his claques, it gives them an outlet for their hate.  Hate thrives on ignorance, especially the most willful.  And what is more willful than disregard for logical contradiction?  As long as Trump promotes whiteness and offers outlets for hate, he can curry mass favor.   He recently accused Ted Cruz’s father of involvement in the JFK assassination.  Ridiculous.  And yet it worked for his hardcore followers. It worked from the perspective of championing ignorance and energizing hate.

If human society is to move forward, we must admit that human beings are primarily psychological.  Advertisers and political campaigners already know this and act accordingly.  It’s a dangerous myth that citizens will vote rationally, and thereby steer the country well. 

Trump’s style goes back to despotism, the scepter-heavy standard of might makes right.  History tells us that this leads to cycles of revenge and great bloodshed.  But knowing this history requires education.  Trump has said, “I love the poorly educated.”  He surely also loves fear.  It’s hard to imagine someone admitting they love fear--perhaps the most hardened criminal--but at some level, Trump must.  Fear is his grease.


In regard to normalizing Trump, Paul Krugman is perhaps the best op-ed writer.  He points out the danger of “false equivalence”:


One candidate is engaged in wildly irresponsible fantasy while the other is being quite careful with her numbers. But beware of news analyses that, in the name of “balance,” downplay this contrast.

This isn’t a new phenomenon: Many years ago, when George W. Bush was obviously lying about his budget arithmetic but nobody would report it, I suggested that if a candidate declared that the earth was flat, headlines would read, “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” But this year it could be much, much worse.  (from “Trump and Trumpism”)



We should all be shocked and amazed at the slide into dark conformity taking place.  The shameless kowtowing.  The descent into a yawning prejudice.  Trump ‘s aggression is innately bellicose, and threatens not only the moral nature of western civilization, but also its very life.  To quote Denzel Washington’s character in the movie Crimson Tide, “In the nuclear age, the real enemy is war itself.”

To put it another way, the mottos of ‘winner take all’ and ‘might makes right’, in the nuclear age, are the real enemy.

The spoiled-brat aspect of all this adds to the ethical grime.  The American people have been the number one consumers of energy, the number one spenders and guzzlers of endless products.  They have wallowed in materialism and excess.  Other people on the planet, billions of people, live in penury.  Those who aggress for the right to carry a gun everywhere seem to forget that their fancy piece of steel costs a year’s salary to many laborers around the world. 

A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes aired a segment about a region in India where mine work is done by families, including children, using hand tools.  They break rocks down with hammers.  On the show, a family couldn’t afford their first meal of the day until they had earned enough money, which didn’t happen until around noontime.  It was emphasized that a  seven-year-old girl was going hungry, until she and her family broke enough rocks with hammers.

We need empathy, if humanity is to survive, not hate.

In the 21st century, you would think that some of the wisdom of the civil rights movement, of the women’s movement, of the LGBT movement, might have taken hold.  But progress has meant some people progressing.  It has meant a bifurcation, two subcultures going different ways.  The subculture of white superiority, if it gets strong enough, will impose its will by force.  As long as you win, all is good and fine, according to the new puppetmaster of this faction, Donald Trump.  America was built on taking land from the indigenous peoples, after all.  Because we were wicked yet mighty, we got a new continent to ‘develop.’  We got to spread our genes.  And because we won, we got to write the narrative, a narrative that claims we really weren’t wicked after all.  We were only exercising God’s decree.  Manifest Destiny.

In the end, despite the sophistical rhetoric, we do get judged.  We are sworn in and sentenced by our own actions.  As individuals and as collectives.  Greed, as with previous empires, has been America's decline.  The fuel of the country's immiseration.

 The final judgement could come very soon.  If ignorance ‘wins’,  we all go down.  In the nuclear age, the real enemy is ignorance itself.