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.



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.


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.