Sunday, March 22, 2015

Release: Offcourse #60, 100th issue!



offcourse@albany.edu

Offcourse, a very special literary journal, has released its 100th issue (#60).  I very much recommend it.  Below is a poem of mine from issue 59.  The title is “Closer” (as in ‘to close’ a deal).  It is one of my latest meditations on Los Angeles.  

Owl


--------

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.



-------------------------

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ignorant We



Researchers have announced that the east Antarctic ice sheets are melting.  We already knew the west side was melting.  This new info doubles down:


A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/03/16/the-melting-of-antarctica-was-already-really-bad-it-just-got-worse/


As I’ve written, ad nauseum, we are going to look amazingly selfish, ignorant and greedy to future generations, and rightly so.  The USA, the ‘wonderful’ consumerist empire, has contributed more to global warming than any other country.  And now China is taking over as the champion of economic ‘freedom’.  It’s an Orwellian joke.  Obscene wealth (1%) next to obscene poverty (80%) , this is called "freedom.Global destruction is termed "development.War is called the only way to peace.  Of course, the US leads the world in arms sales, and has been at war continuously since 2002.

We were told these wars would be over in a matter of months.  The patriotic citizenry doesn’t seem to care.  Lesson in political psychology:  consumer capitalism makes for easy mind control.
 
Although future generations will rightly blame all of us, the Republican Party of the Empire is the primary culprit.  They are in the pocket of Big Oil and Big Energy, and they use fear, racism and sexism to whip up their (primarily white) followers into a blind furor.  I don’t think it is a conscious mechanism.  The right wing has simply become obsessed with contradicting anything liberals (especially a black President) tries to say or do.

In fact, global warming is a liberal hoax.  Why?  Because right wing media outlets say so.

Meanwhile, a nuclear warhead could launch any day.  The geopolitical scene is endlessly volatile.  Once one missile flies, more will probably follow.  Silver lining:  the seas, prompted by global warming, will rise to cover the ugly wounds of nuclear war.  Nothing but tips of broken skyscrapers, sticking up out of the swollen brine, to remind future citizens of our ultimate stupidity.

But I think they’ll know.  And maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize that greedy selfish ignorant capitalism is NOT the way.

Owl

Friday, March 13, 2015

The R Hypothesis



I’m not sure how you would prove that the Republican Party is racist; and yet, despite the difficulties of verification, it makes for a strong theory.  Let’s just call this the R hypothesis.  It is a sickness of our times that R can be obvious yet socially deniable.

You might want to say that detachment from simple truth--the trickery of submerged racism--is just part of the “human condition”; but I believe there are feasible societies that could rise above such fundamental deceit.  In the future, it is possible that an enlighted culture will look back on us in dismay: “how could they have acted like that and deny it at the same time?”

It is hard enough to prove one person is racist (even if a definition can be agreed upon--another towering hurdle).  Racism can be conscious or unconscious, and virulent in both forms.  It is also possible to be aware of one’s own racism, and to actively work against such inculcated bias. This sort of positive awareness and remedial approach can arise from a formal, progressive education.  Given R, Republicans would attempt to warp, inhibit and replace such education.

What do you think?

(The basic mechanism by which the right approaches higher education:  (a) no government 'handouts' to subsidize college, (b) make colleges run for-profit like a business, (c) proceed to downsize according to dogmatic preferences and the needs of the 'free market').

On the other hand, there seem very few Republicans who will admit they are racist.  This means (given R) they are either unaware of their racism or just lying.  How could someone in either of these conditions even begin to mitigate their prejudice,as might someone who, in contrast, admits they have been molded by an encompassing culture of prejudice? 

Actually, when you toss R at Republicans, they tend to call you racist in return.  On the battlefield of rhetoric, a strong offense is often the best defense (in the Empire, violent metaphors concerning battlefields, etc, are readily applied).  On a deeper level, a psychological one, the defense mechanism of projection comes into play:


Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person ... Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, or they feel completely ill at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry at their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings.

http://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-defense-mechanisms/0001251


I think the description above sums up a large part of the problem.  In a nutshell, it is simply too painful for Republicans to admit R, whether in themselves or as endemic in their Party.  Hence they retreat from awareness.  They lack “insight and acknowledgement” of their “own motivations and feelings.”

Part of the irony is that by hiding from such pain, you increase its power over time.  Again, I want to emphasize that racist behavior is not unavoidable: such two-faced cowardice is not necessary and I  condemn those who dismiss it as ‘human nature.’  Racists are culpable.  We can change and should.

What is the evidence for the R hypothesis?  I can’t even come close to a full account here.  Actually, I find it ridicuous to even argue it.  Logic isn't why racists hold onto racism and it isn't going to change their minds.  But maybe the following is helpful to some people in some ways.

You could start by looking at recent themes in political history:  Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Reagan’s “welfare queens.”  Currently, we’ve got a very white GOP, male-dominated, that refuses not only to cooperate but even to recognize the legitimacy of the first black President (Obama).  Recently, 47 Republican US Senators wrote a letter to Iranian extremists, saying that Obama’s policies were not theirs and could easily be overturned.  Obama’s birth certificate is still challenged.  He is still called a Muslim, despite his professed and clear Christianity.  He is constantly referred to as being in league with Arab terrorists.  And so on. 

Hateful stuff.  What is the explanation, given R?  Those who believe in white superiority cannot abide a black President--it creates too much internal conflict, too much cognitive dissonance.  If Obama is a decent leader, or even just as competent as the least white leader, it shatters the view of black inferiority.  Hence, to avoid painful acknowledgement, Republicans raise up walls of denial, bolstered by hate, and they engage in the psychological defense mechanism of projection.

It seems that the assumption of R leads to learned, plausible explanations for the invidious behavior of the right wing.

Foundationally, the Republican stronghold is the racist South and Midwest, where racial tensions are high and inequality is right before your eyes.  The town of Ferguson, Missouri is currently a flashpoint, due to the recent shooting of an unarmed black man. The resulting firestorm of media attention, and protest, points to our much larger national woes. 

Now let's consider the South.

The theme of ‘lazy blacks on welfare’ resonates with statements made by Southern secessionists right after the Civil War (of course, they were Democrats back then).  Amazingly, the GOP's anti-government, lazy-poor-people theme goes all the way back to the "aggression of the North" against the South.  Such is the endurance of the mental poison.  Such is the importance of studying history, not just business management in college.

When we ask questions like the following, we reflect on the past in manner similar to how the future will reflect on us:  "How could the antebellum South have possibly denied that black people were human?"

Today, Republicans control a huge block of the government.  Racist themes surge.  Power brings privilege.  Privilege allows spin.  Given R, if the Republicans gain more power, their insidious, virulent form of racism will spread.  Much seems to hinge, sadly enough, on monetary flows, not the level of ethical reasoning in the population.  

We all suffer from the negativity and rancor generated by R.  The evidence for R is overwhelming.  And yet society pushes to pretend that R isn’t true.  If we trumpeted R, we would deeply offend people all around us, ordinary people, perhaps even our next-door neighbors.  Indeed, as I mentioned above, all of us have been socialized in a racist culture; so it's not so much a matter of who is racist, as a matter of how a person deals with it.  

Welcome to the 'United' States, where truth can get you ostracized quick.

Yes, we citizens of the Empire live in a volatile tinderbox of social complications.  Let's hope it doesn't get as bad as the ideological chasm that preceded the Civil War.  As mentioned, that wound never healed. And, despite the progress made in the 60's, I fear its continued oozing.  If left unaddressed and therefore unhealed, it will lead to the demise of the 'United' States.

Owl

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Release: Hermaneutical Chaos Issue 7

See my poem "Cold Start" in the newly released issue.  This may be the last poem you see from me for a while, as I am working full ahead on my novel.  I'll try to post previously published poems and occasional thought-memes here.

A special thank you to the very professional, eloquent and kind Editor, Shinjini Battacharjee.  She is truly rare.

Best To All,

Owl

PS: direct link to poem:

http://www.hermeneuticchaosjournal.com/march-2015-chris-crittenden.html

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Intolerant religion is the adult version of Santa Claus.
   Ava Hummingbird Singer

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 its awful minion, Violence.

But the price is now literally unbearable.  We are interconnected more than ever before.  Unless humanity can rise to a new level of psychological awareness, one in which the masses eschew black-and-white rhetoric, we are all going down.

It’s a matter of awakening.  A consciousness-raising related to empathy.  And understanding that moral issues are complex and unavoidably uncomfortable.  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 our great choice that will determine the human future:  will we open our minds and go with informed empathy and critical thinking, in the fashion, say, of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches; or will we fall headlong into the maw of the irrational, a place immune to logical, where facades of white-fenced grass and 'goodness' hide the snarling teeth of hate? 

A lot of people have made the right choice.  We are not doomed by ‘human nature.’  We know that ‘human nature’ is a combination of biology and environment;  and we know that the environment, which includes the general ideas that guide us, resides largely within our control.  If it didn’t, women would not have gained the freedom to vote, and Martin Luther King, Jr. would not be seen as great.  Progress continues, in fact.  Only in the last few years have lesbians and gays begun to receive the right to marry.

Good change happens.  So does backlash and hatred.  Welcome to our tightrope walk over the valley of doom. This is such such such such such an incredible time to be alive.

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.