Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Westerner’s Journey to the East

Can Mindful Meditation
Overcome Trumpism?

            Raised as I was by a rational mother who educated herself by reading the world’s great books, I was discouraged from pursuing meditation. Paraphrasing Carl Jung, my mother believed that meditation was an eastern thing—passive and inwardly directed—whereas western man’s nature is active and outwardly directed. Therefore an American or European who meditates is as out of place in his culture as an Indian selling life insurance might have been in his.
            At least that’s the way it was before the eastern gurus began sending their best and brightest to England and America to teach we highly amped westerners how to cool our over-heated frontal lobes with the practice of yoga meditation. Exactly what western man was not supposed to do!
            But there was no turning back the hemispheric change, which entered our pop culture in the 1960s and ‘70s as a further, safer step beyond psychedelic drugs—a viable if less spectacular substitute for getting high—and best of all it was free. You didn’t have to score. You became your own supplier.
Jose Silva
            My first introduction to what I’d call entry-level meditation was an editorial assignment for a weekly alternative newspaper to cover a week-long workshop in a program called Alpha Awareness. It was a generic brand of Silva Mind Control, run by a former Silva instructor who’d in some way rebranded his master’s product without legal challenge and now traveled about offering a Silva course under a new name and a discounted price. A couple dozen people turned out to avail themselves of the bargain.
            For my part, I took to Alpha Awareness like the proverbial duck-to-water and practiced it regularly for five or six years—counting down to my “level,” establishing my laboratory with its beachfront view, relaxing completely in my own safe space, watching the flow of scenes and faces streaming by my closed eyes as I tried, according to instructions, to program my subconscious mind to manifest my desires.
            Before long I went through a career change from part-time journalist to part-time playwright and actor in my own community theater company which then evolved into hired actor and playwright working for several different theaters in our locality.
            To supplement my irregular income in theater, which was generally less than my desires, if not my needs, allowed, I found a job that required more of my attention than the deep relaxation of self-hypnosis provided. I began to work as an art school model. For the next dozen years I met my day-to-day expenses by offering my nude body to college students, many of them fine arts majors, to draw, paint, and sculpt for what was for me at the time a pretty good hourly wage.

Think This Is Easy?
            But to reach that level of success where I was under contract or on call at half a dozen college art departments, I had to pass through an initiation into radical mindfulness. Holding an interesting pose without moving for twenty, thirty, forty minutes, even up to an hour, is a practice in itself. In time I learned to breathe into all the pockets of pain developing in my body as a pose went on. I learned to relieve the aches with the subtlest of motions that, even with all the eyes of a class upon me, no one detected. This required a near-laser focus on my body in space at any given moment, rushing relief to any distressed part like a nurse on call. Emergency! Cramp in left thigh!
            Aside from addressing my muscle aches and numb limbs from blocked circulation, I spent many an hour in art class over those years in a rarefied space where hallucinations danced on the walls—wagon trains, animal faces, Egyptian princesses and African dancers, images of people I’d never met, occasionally of people I knew. It was liberating, in a strange way—to be so confined in body yet so free in my mind. It reminded me of The Hanged Man card in the Tarot deck, a paradox containing a reward worth a lot more than ten or fifteen bucks an hour to me.
           And it all came about from a fixed attention on my breath—in and out, in and out. Nothing dramatic, just a very slowly developing cumulative effect.
            In the mid-1990s I began practicing a sit-down meditation of at least 20 minutes every morning and evening, following instructions periodically mailed from Self-Realization Fellowship, an institution founded by Paramahansa Yogananda to transmit the teachings and practices of his line of Hindu gurus to the spiritually ignorant West.
Yogananda
Yogananda, by all accounts an enlightened master himself, came to America from India in the early 20th century and became popular as a teacher, writer, and lecturer on religious and metaphysical subjects.
            Practicing these mail-order lessons for three years left me rather devout, but the organization putting them out disappointed me for its orthodoxy. After Yogananda passed away, it seemed his breadth of spirit also passed away from the institution he’d founded. That seems to happen regularly between master and disciples.
            Following my own regimen, then, I continued meditating daily into the millennium and beyond, a practice supported when I joined a Buddhist sangha focused on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the internationally known Vietnamese monk who has spread his gentle brand of Zen Buddhism around the world.
Thich Naht Hanh
Under his absentee guidance and supported by my new Buddhist friends, I rode the mindfulness wave onto the shores of 2017, where living mindfully in the present is all the rage. Even my local TV station advertises its commitment to the Now.
            Meanwhile, after years of “the Practice,” I’m finding that meditative mindfulness, like water dripping on a stone, has hollowed out a dent in my consciousness so that I actually walk around during the day with my mind in the present a good bit of the time.
            Or, I should say, I did, before Donald Trump. Now there’s a new challenge—to stay present and mindful as the world as I’ve known it from my earliest days collapses around me. Can I survive, let alone thrive, in a world run on cut-throat business principles?
Needs No Caption
It’s a rude awakening. Change is coming down like lightning strikes bouncing along Tornado Alley from Minneapolis to Baton Rouge. The barbarians have taken the Capitol. The Age of Enlightenment is canceled.
            But I am committed to my practice above all because of a set habit going back forty years to Alpha Awareness and the forms that came after and also because, as an antidote to ease the anxiety of mortality, it works. However dire or catastrophic the circumstances, remembering to breathe—to open that mental door to the memory of the meditative state—immediately breaks the spell of doom that seizes my mind when serious obstacles loom. A second breath, and then a third, secures the shift. This simple practice brings a wider, potentially cosmic perspective to the issues that unnecessarily roil the majority population.
            Meditation helps us to see clearly through our fears. Our world never needed that more.
Peace


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Popularity of Hell

Why Politicians Love War

            Now we know, if we didn’t before. For me, it was good to have my memory refreshed. I’d lost perspective in the political tsunami of the past year, forgotten my basic ABCs of non-partisan truth. Once Bernie Sanders, who best represented my political views, was bumped off the bus, the election for me became a defensive measure to keep Donald Trump’s hands off the levers of power.
            When that strategy failed and the inconceivable happened, I lost all sense of a political base for myself. The right-wing corporatists had finally taken over. All those heart-warming policies, like letting more people with non-violent offenses out of jail early, going easy on illegal immigrants and pot smokers, requiring non-discrimination in public facilities, granting equal protection under the law to sexual minorities—all those policies of mercy Obama put in place, inadequate as they may have been in truly relieving suffering, poverty, and a poisoned environment—are suddenly wiped away, and gone with them are many more protections and charitable measures to help ordinary people struggling in an increasingly top-heavy economy.
            The Democrats raised hell about all this, of course, but how many of them will give up their corporate donors—who have become their social friends—to embrace humane policies already in place in every other major industrial democracy? Almost none.
            So they hedged. They always hedge. They’ve hedged so long they’ve lost their relevance.
            Curiously, though, when it comes to war, there is very little hedging, very little partisan divide. As the news broke of Trump’s “decisive” action against the contemptible  Assad regime, Democrats fell in behind him and his gang like mindless robotoids. “He did the right thing,” a block of them agreed, “but he should have asked us first.” The news media, of course, noted how the Democrats seemed more supportive of the attack than many Republicans.
            What message does that send to us, the people, when two sides who would rather slit one another’s throats than back one another’s ideas suddenly become comrades-in-arms, cheering on the peerless leader for his act of war and only criticizing him for not letting them approve it first? Obviously, they would have approved it.
            The message I get is that the Democratic Party is no place for me or any true democrat who supports the franchise for all citizens of age, which we now set at 18. Maybe there should be a Voters Rights wing within the Democratic Party to distinguish Democrats who uphold full participatory democracy from Democrats who want to keep the corporate thumb on the scale, just to assure that “the People” don’t get too much power through the electoral process.
            That strategy didn’t work so well in the last election, but Democrats show little sign of giving it up. Chuck Schumer’s rails against the Republican agenda come across like the rants of an impotent goat butting his own image inside a bank vault. You almost have to laugh at what a clown act he’s putting on.
            What will it take for politicians to recognize and correct the imbalances in our society caused by the unequal distribution of wealth and power? We spend so much of what we have to assure ourselves that we’re ready for war that we have little left to make peace in our own land. War—or its domestic equivalent of police shootings and citizen reprisals—becomes a default position, not a last resort, in a society permeated with fear and paranoia because of our monumental failure to get along with each other.
            We need to disarm before we can dispel our fears. That’s counterintuitive, I know, and I know that even with hands up—or arms open—you can still get killed by a nervous cop, who will likely get away with it. But more weapons, more high-tech killer bombers and drones—all that war stuff that costs so much money, some portion of which finances friendly politicians—that’s  what we can count on Democrats and Republicans coming together to protect. They are the War Party, always a majority, always a priority. War is the common ground of our elected government, and it has been for decades. It’s the one issue politicians consistently cross party lines to agree on, and not by slim majorities, either. Peace is political suicide.
            But it’s very disappointing to consider that of the great many human activities supported by government, war is the most popular of them all.
            How can that be? Few disagree that war is hell. Is it a human thing to prefer hell when there’s an idea called heaven available? If we can create hell on Earth with war, it seems we could do at least as well in realizing its opposite, just by figuring out what hell is not. And then funding that.
            Hell is not love, for instance. Hell is not comfort. Hell is not generous or kind to strangers. Hell is the opposite of everything that warms your heart or gives you pleasure. You can fill in the list for yourself.
            If we spent half as much money addressing the causes of war as we now do on the preparations, chances are at least even that the risk of war would decrease, maybe even significantly. But we need better politicians on both sides than the ones we’ve got now or we’ll never see the end of war, though we may see the end of a lot of other things we’ve come to value, including the whole Enlightenment-era idea of America. It still shocks me how many of our people don’t even know what that is.
            Then again, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it. Maybe the Enlightenment experiment is over. Maybe it ended when a black man, defined in the Constitution as three-fifths of a person, became President of the United States, fulfilling America’s enlightened destiny in the nightmarish hell of history.
            And now that play is over. A new drama, a thriller, has opened on the world stage.
            If people like the nightmare—the thrills and chills and clashes of passions that keep us ever on edge behind locked doors—more power to them. But if they don’t, they should lay down their arms. That’s the alternative I’m working on. It’s not a single action, either. It’s a way of life.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Thinking Dog Barks

Breaking Silence on Donald Trump

            Since the election of Donald Trump, I’ve had nothing to say in this space. What can I add to the noise that isn’t an echo?
            Now, though, it seems that even an echo is of some value, because as a country, as a democratic system however flawed, we’ve crossed a line, and more people have to say it. Not that “getting back” is an option. You can never go back, any more than you can stop going forward. But you can try to see where we are and where we might be going from there.
            And some things become less opaque when you shut up, keep your eyes open, and listen.
            Having done so for the past four months and counting, I see hysteria on all sides. Exaggeration draws conclusions that wheel out of control, emotions flare which exaggerate the exaggerations, and very soon alternative realities begin to clash in public spaces, eventually inviting an excuse for riot police and perhaps martial law.
            So I want to calm down from all that.
            We know that America is divided—about 50-50 between conservative and liberal, right and left. In our politics that settles in as Republican and Democrat, red and blue. But to leave it at that doesn’t get to the essence of the “great schism” in America, as trend-tracker Stephen Schwartz names the split. Our political parties only reflect the divide imperfectly. They don’t necessarily define it.
            The real divide is between mercy and severity, qualities of consciousness. Excessive mercy enables liberality and moral decay, which triggers severity—a crack-down. Too much severity cries out for mercy—a liberalization of the laws. These forces work like two poles of a constantly active pendulum.
            But, speaking as an American, it’s a pendulum few Americans understand is always operating beneath events. The die-hard law-and-order types represent severity, a quality always with us, as are the anarchists and libertines who thrive under the liberality of mercy. Getting the balance right in a society and in a world of constant crisis—caused precisely because we haven’t yet got the balance right—is the struggle I see in happening in America, where the ideal of equality among citizens once led the world but is now fallen like an eagle with a broken wing.
            Basically, we Americans can’t agree about who to punish and who to reward. But it seems many of us agree that the curse of poverty is the fault of the poor, which of course implies its opposite, that the rich deserve their bounty. This is old-time Puritan Calvinism. Did you think it went out with the Salem witch trials?
            Donald Trump is no angel. Morally, he’s black as coal, by his own public admissions. But he’s rich. And if he’s rich he must be successful. It seems the average American is easily seduced by people who appear successful because they’re rich. Obviously a great many American voters overlooked Trump’s outrageous lies and unbecoming behavior because he represented something they admire more than squeaky clean. They admire ostentatious, untraceable, bottomless wealth. If we had all the money in the world, wouldn’t we be happy! That’s the shadow side of American free enterprise, which we’ve now entered, like an eclipse of our dream, to be realized in full with the election of the present government.
            Having been seduced by the siren song of a proudly “successful businessman” whose opulence we envy, Americans are now learning what it means to change the concept of the U.S. chief executive from President—the one who presides over the government—to CEO—corporate executive officer, the one who runs the government.
            As has been noted by others, a corporate executive is a dictator. He may be merciful or he may be severe, but he’s the one who says what’s what. That’s the structure of corporate life, which runs from the top down. It’s at odds with the U.S. government structure, which is a (limited) democracy. The balance of power crafted into our Constitution requires a political process to enable a President. A President is not free to do as he pleases, and legislators, unlike corporate minions, are not free to betray the interests of their constituents. If they break the bargain, they lose their jobs, in a perfect world.
            But the new men in Washington, backed by enough voters to put them there, don’t care about the old values of democracy. They are businessmen, corporate creatures, and they are not going to save us, they are going to try to mold us into corporate citizens who do what we’re told or we’re out in the cold.

A National Identity Crisis

            This is a national identity crisis. What America really stands for is in the balance. Are we for profit (severity) or non-profit (mercy)? Do we believe more in human rights (mercy) or states’ rights (severity)? Do we offer the impoverished a hand up (mercy) or a kick in the face (severity)? How you feel about distributing wealth? Should we lead by example or by force? Where is the balance between mercy and severity which will satisfy a voting majority of Americans in fair, ungerrymandered elections?
            With Trump & Co., we’re at a point where Americans will either capitulate to our new corporate state and the changes it will bring to our national mission and way of life, or we will turn back the forces of corporate rule by electing politicians with better ideas of social organization than bottom-line, top-down despotism with the protection of wealth its highest priority.
            The outcome is truly unpredictable. It all depends on how far we’ve gone down the road to oligarchy. In that dictatorial rule by a coterie of the very rich who run society as a for-profit business, people can be hired or fired at will with no recourse to a court of appeals to reverse the executive decision. No unemployment benefits, either.
            In the next year or two, I read in persuasive sources, our CEO will likely be fired himself on a variety of charges, and then the real corporate enablers, already in place, will take over. President Pence will be no friend to democracy, but if we decide to go forward as a corporate state he’ll be the perfect front man and do everything he’s told. He’s proven his willingness to serve a boss without question, an uncanny ability to spin straw into gold for the benefit of the privileged.
            My hope, of course, is that a majority of Americans won’t stand for it—stripping the poor of all assistance, letting corporations operate practically tax-free, charging the elderly extra for healthcare while cutting their Social Security benefits, criss-crossing the country with leaking oil pipe lines and earth-quaking fracking. Are they going to cut aid to war widows and orphan, too? Just wait, Paul Ryan's got the plan.
            A word about Ryan, a college sophomore mentality blinded by his attachment to “conservative principles,” which seem to involve loyalty above all to a balanced federal budget. I’m not one to argue about economics, having dropped the course like a hot potato in college, but my understanding is that the United States is still the richest country on Earth, and if “conservative principles” were as important to Ryan as he says, there should be no problem with saving money with healthcare for all or demanding the Department of Defense cut its enormous waste, as everyone knows exists in the military.
            It seems it would also be cheaper to preserve our natural resources rather than squander them on short-term, profit-generating projects that create wealth for a few in the present and misery for the many in the long run. I’m so tempted to scream into the wind, “What the fuck is wrong with us?”
            But I will exercise Buddha-like restraint and only say, I’m quite sure we’ll come together one day, when enough of us agree we’ve had enough. I only hope I live to see that day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Preparing for Trump

The Practice of Dispassion

            As the fateful coronation...er, I mean, inauguration of Donald J. Trump grows ever closer, I realize I must find a way to keep my wits in the spray of hostility and intimidation coming from the other side, whose triumph reminds me of an old saying, “The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner.”
            But for my own good I have begun the practice of dispassion in dealing with people who attack me. I need to disarm my own buttons.
            I’ve been taking to leaving comments to articles I read online. In an article in the Jan. 9 web issue of The Federalist, writer Julie Kelly proposes that “alarmist” climate-change scientists are “the real deniers” and will soon get their comeuppance for all their fake science funded by government grants.
            The glee-tinged threat is that they’ll all lose their jobs when Trump cancels their phony research projects.
            I felt compelled to leave a comment. There were already a couple hundred posted, so my impact would obviously be negligible, but I did it anyway, saying that even if you don’t accept climate change there can’t be much doubt that human activity has impacted the planet in a negative way and we really ought to stop doing it.
            I thought that was a fairly dispassionate reply.
            So far I’ve been jumped by five different thugs...I mean, readers. One suggested that if I don’t like it on this planet, I should go find another, and good riddance. I replied that I’d never said I didn’t like it here. I said I thought we ought to quit polluting it.
            Another said climate change has always been part of Earth’s history and that humans and animals are adapting to each other as the critters move into our neighborhoods and live off our leavings. Therefore humans are part of an ecosystem that is always in transformation. There is no catastrophic climate change, just natural adaptation to ever-changing conditions.
            I said the disappearance of countless species before human “advancement” seems to argue against that point.
            The third response pointed to the increase of life expectancy in today’s world compared to the past, arguing that things are better now than in the days of pristine wilderness. To that I replied that they may be better for humans in the short term, but what price do we and our planet pay in the long term?
            A fourth informed me that conservatives are, by definition, conservationists while people like me who belong to the “Church of Environmentalism” want to decapitate Golden Eagles on wind farms just to brag we’ve reduced our carbon footprints. I replied that I wish conservatives were conservationists but I didn’t see much evidence of it, pointing to the Gulf Oil Spill, the Exxon-Valdez, earthquakes in Wyoming, etc. I added I thought his comment rude because he doesn’t know me and I wish no harm to the Golden Eagles, I only want to preserve an inhabitable planet.
            A fifth called global warming “nonsense” and said there is no contradiction between wanting to preserve the planet and denying climate change. I said that was exactly my point, except I don’t agree global warming is nonsense but that makes no difference if we agree to clean up the planet.
            So far, thankfully, I haven’t heard from anyone else. That doesn’t mean I won the argument, of course, but it means I had the last word, that I didn’t make anyone mad enough to keep it going. I’m glad for that because I don’t want to fuel anger, either in me or in others. But I don’t want to be silent while people are saying important things that I don’t understand, don’t agree with, or find offensive.
            My worst enemy in this practice is the concept of “I feel strongly....” That needs to be examined because feelings may be legitimate but they may also lead to inaccurate assessments if they are not regarded dispassionately. That is, without the influence of “I feel strongly.” The “I” in that construction may be out of order, and in my case often is. Feelings are important, but when they overtake the mind they are as dangerous as when the mind tyrannizes the feelings.
            Dispassion is setting all duality aside to consider carefully what the other person is saying before framing a reply. It’s attempting to understand while not necessarily agreeing. It’s an aspect of self-control.
            Many Americans on both sides of the aisle which has become a battlement are out of control. They see the other side as looming monsters and rise up in righteous rage or break down in paranoid hallucinations. I understand, because I too feel threatened by this new regime. None of us on the liberal side was ever happy with the streak of conservatism and religious revivalism which defines a good bit of the American character.
            But the other side was just as terrified when Obama was elected. Two sides, both wanting to take their country back.
            Which country are we fighting over?
            Unless I take in arguments dispassionately, carefully considering what I hear while keeping tight rein on my knee-jerk survival fears, I’ll function in a state of war. In this case, civil war.
            Is that what we’re still fighting about? That “Northern War of Aggression” against “The Southern Way of Life”?
            I’ve always been a conscientious objector, even before Vietnam. I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to defend myself against my past. I’d rather surrender with a clear conscience than live with the nightmare PTSD.
            Yet I reserve the right to disagree. Dispassionately.
            That is my mindful practice these days.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trump's Press Conference

Is He Really Serious?

            With Trump’s first press conference since July, we now know we’ve entered a bizarre world where entertainment has finally merged completely with reality. What can we call it?
            Reenterality? Enterealitainment?
            The President-elect of the United States is poised to come into office declaring what amounts to war on the U.S. intelligence agencies and the international press. He faults the agencies for leaking bogus information about his business deals and after-hours exploits in Russia, and he excoriates the press for reporting it.
            If this were a movie, we might be on the edge of our seats. We wouldn’t know what to expect. Whose side would we be on? The CNN reporter who made an ass of himself shouting questions that it was obvious Trump would not acknowledge? Or the man himself at the podium, turning every aspersion cast on his character back upon his accusers while promising to make everything better than it’s been in America for a long time, and to do it practically overnight?
            At a certain point I have to step back and run a sort of diagnostic on myself.
            Q: Has America ever been a real democratic republic, as the founders intended?
            A: No. There have always been powerful factions trying to limit a full democracy of one person, one vote and even citing the founders as their authority to do it.
            Q: Is Trump really a threat to our democracy, as many people warn?
            A: No. He can’t really get away with false claims and lies forever, even within his own party.
            Q: Is this really a coup d’etat by the right wing of our nation, which has long plotted to reverse our social gains going back to the New Deal?
            A: Uh-oh. That could be. But it’s an imperfect coup because the President is unstable.
            This is where Enterealitainment gets creepy, but if I were writing the script from here I’d have that instability at the top implode and, like the Towers on 9-11, the whole party which supported that top, essentially trying to control it and use it for its own ends, would collapse under the weight of its exposure and fall into the abyss of a lost identity.
            The Democrats in my script are not too far behind that chaotic scenario, as an elected minority tries to hold the ship of state steady on the course as we’ve always known it, pounded by storms that rock the very Earth on her axes. And then the Democrats split apart and fall into quarreling factions, as well.
            We’ll need a hero to save us, then—a Great President to rise from the people, the one some of my friends thought Obama would be. He wasn’t, but he could be the One Who Came Before.
            No, no, no, not a Second Coming! The first one caused enough trouble in the world!
            Bottom line: I think the Trump Presidency is a mistake. Countries make mistakes. People make mistakes. They recover. Or sometimes they don’t. That’s the suspense of mistakes. It usually takes courage to recover, especially from the big ones.
            We’ve been making mistakes at the top for a long time—mistakes compounded upon mistakes. Mistakes of hubris, mistakes of lust. Those mistakes are our mistakes. We are all complicit in them, in one way or another. Trump, larger than life, rises from the  consciousness of the Americans who voted for him and, frankly, of the Americans who didn’t, to show us a side of ourselves which very few, according to polls, are that happy with.
            But some of us think that because he’s a successful businessman he will make things better for us, give us a better deal, even if he is a snark.
            I’m drawn right back into my annual one-man show, “The Concise Dickens’ Christmas Carol” and poor Jacob Marley’s after-life torment for his misspent existence. As a successful businessman.
            In short, Trump’s first news conference, where he attacked the people who advise him and the people assigned to keep him honest, doesn’t bode well for the future of his presidency or of our democracy, which Obama the night before pleaded for us to keep alive.
            Whether or not it’s a coup, it’s shaping up to be a schism. And don’t think the real figurehead is Trump. Trump could easily be dumped by the House and the Senate, and then our President would be Pence.
            “Are there no prisons? Are there no work houses?”


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Obama's Legacy

We're on Our Own Now

            Barack Obama's farewell speech Tuesday night was a bitter-sweet affair, especially given the look and feel of the oncoming train of frontiersmen about to disembark in Washington. Current media discussions of the strength or weakness of his legacy don't make the emotional experience of separation any easier to absorb.
            I agree with many on the left who criticize Obama for what seemed like his timidity in breaking with established institutions like the Wall Street banks, the insurance industry, and fossil fuels. I was disappointed with his orders to re-enter the Mideast militarily, his bungling of Syria, his hesitation to take definitive environmental positions, his surrender of a public option for Obamacare. The list could go on.
            Obama governed as a moderate—until the last two  years when he saw there was no hope of getting anything vaguely progressive through a recalcitrant—indeed, a defiant—Congress. Then he began issuing executive orders, making things happen that brought a sigh of relief to many on the Left, including me. Right on, Barack! Stick it to them!
            But all of that could be—probably will be—wiped away with a swipe of the Trump pen, just as it was put in place by an Obama pen. That's depressing to me, to say the least. More depressing is the thought of what might replace the social advances Obama finally made for us when it became clear all Congress had for him was the back of a hand.
            Still, the policies Obama put in place with his “executive over-reach,” as the angry white men (and women) like to charge, are not the principle reason I will miss Obama. I'll miss Obama for what he stands for, and what he articulated repeatedly and eloquently over his entire career, including in his farewell address.
            It is his vision of a diverse America, the Rainbow Coalition Jesse Jackson first brought to the fore when he ran for President in the 1980s. And, indeed, during the Obama years there was a grassroots surge of mingling traditions and races as people got to know each other outside of the comfort zones in which they'd been raised. I loved that!
            A diverse society based on the recognition that we are all human beings—far more alike than different—is a stronger common bond than any differences we may imagine divide us.
            That's what I'll miss—that ease of mingling among Americans of all colors and backgrounds which Obama's election enabled.
            Unfortunately, this was not to the taste of all Americans, and it seems we are about to enter the era of backlash, as if the price we must pay for electing Obama is the return of the White Avenger.
            We'll see. But I feel—or perhaps fear—that spirit of diversity shutting down in our national consciousness as the old American bug-a-boo re-emerges, the myth of the chosen people—white, Christian, and business-savvy with a secret, or not-so-secret, bias against the people they hire and serve.
            Life under Obama was like a reprieve from the oppressive right-wing vision in which military defense against potential enemies is the foremost duty of government, with citizens left on their own to promote their general welfare.
            That's not exactly what the Constitution says our government should be.
            Only Obama held back the faux-Constitutionalists pelting him with legislation to turn back the clock on benefits to the American people. Now that firewall is withdrawing. Will his enshrinement of a diverse society—a diverse world—be preserved?
            It looks as if we're on our own, as the tide turns against us. Practice your swimming. Or get out of the water.


Monday, January 09, 2017

The Real War

It’s Not Just Them

I
            So it now appears we’ve got to prepare for cyber war. I try to unpack that concept in my aging brain. For my generation the terrifying threat was nuclear war, horrifying enough, but if it didn’t hit your city you could still survive, unpleasant as survival might be.
            But with cyber war you’re sitting with your family at dinner some cozy winter evening when, in an instant, everything goes off. And as the invisible response-in-kind is launched, whole sections of the so-called civilized world lose their infrastructure. Electricity, gas, telephone, water, internet—all gone in an irretrievable instant.
            The elite, of course, will carry on with their generators and back-up systems. We “civilians” will do the best we can, but conceivably in this type of war the modern world as we know it will collapse, and there will be universal suffering for everyone, even the most well-stocked. And who’s to say cyber won’t come home to nuclear in a nervous breakdown of everything we’ve known?
            So of course we must mobilize. We need more geeks, more skilled hackers, more brilliant programmers, more drones, all oriented toward military objectives. A cause! At last we have a cause beyond just finding good jobs and making enough money for retirement (because we all know Social Security won’t last and never paid enough, anyway).
            Is anyone else tired of this? Why, exactly, are we attacking one another? What’s the point, when everyone suffers horrendously as a result of whatever gene causes some people to enjoy—indeed, thrive—on making enemies to defeat, capture, or kill?
            Donald Trump is saying he wants to get along with Russia. That offends even his honest supporters in Washington. Frankly, it doesn’t offend me, although Donald Trump generally does. But I read Crime and Punishment four times, on my own, before I was 21. Dostoevsky, Russian to the core, shaped my conscience and my consciousness in a major way. How can I call Russia an enemy?
            Yet the problems Obama and Putin have had getting along with one another have become problems for us all. How many thousands have died because two proud men, leaders essentially of rival gangs, get on one another’s nerves?
            In my opinion, as a person raised as a pacifist in the most violent, militarized country in the world, we need to look at the way we raise boys. It really makes a difference in how a boy thinks if he’s taught from an early age that violence committed against another is not just unacceptable behavior. It’s damage done to himself.
            But what alternative is there for a boy growing up in a world where he’s expected to be competitive and, if necessary, defend himself and others with violence?
            And now girls are ramping up their defensive skills as well. You can’t blame them. You can’t really blame anyone, violence is so ambiguous in our culture. You almost need a rule book in your pocket to double-check when it’s acceptable and when it’s not.

II
            If I had conquered my own violent tendencies, I could now give my formula for how you, too, could become violence-free. Maybe I could even charge money for sharing the secret to that exalted state. But that’s not a point I can make.
            I did realize early on, though—around the age of 12—that I had a temper which could get me into a lot of trouble if I didn’t curb it. Because I was raised to understand that violence is an inferior way of communicating, I was able to grasp that my capacity for blind rage was not productive. It didn’t resolve differences, it made them worse. But if I disabled or at least delayed that response to every situation which crossed my will, I entered a calmer state of mind. I encountered patience, a valuable skill.
            But what if I’d not been trained primarily by my mother to forswear violence (my father had problems of his own containing his temper) but learned it as a cultural standard? What if I’d been formally and culturally educated for peace, not for defense against enemies?
            It’s not visionary to say that we need a better way to conduct civilization if we want to lay claim to being a civilized world. That’s obvious. But there is vision in the suggestion that we raise our kids wrongly when we tell them to fight fight fight for their right not just to survive but to thrive.
            What if life isn’t really a fight but an inevitable process of unfoldment as we learn to know and understand ourselves and live together in mutual cooperation, not just because it’s in our self-interest, which it is, but because we want to?
            How do we learn to want to live in peace? That’s the point, I think, which needs to be addressed. To live in peace seems to be a beneficial state of being. What’s preventing us from prioritizing it?
            A big problem, I submit, is our stubborn commitment to the honor and glory of war, a serious human focus largely supported and advanced by the male sex. As a group we haven’t learned the art and, I’m sure, the science of side-stepping the passionate surge of will-to-kill every time someone threatens our quietude, crosses our interests, or has what we want but can’t get for ourselves or for our families.
            But if we would prioritize skills of self-management, I’m sure the enemy on the other side of that red line would look a lot like us.
            It takes courage to go into battle, no doubt about that. But it also takes courage to lay down your arms and walk free with no back-up plan against attack. This is not naiveté. It’s living as though peace is the universal condition and violence but a temporary disturbance, like a growing pain, on the way to realizing a better quality of life.
            And if, defenseless, you get killed or irreversibly maimed? It can happen. No path is a guarantee against tragedy and death. But the risks of death and injury are omnipresent and certainly far more magnified in a society sworn to the sacred cult of the sword.
            The question isn’t either/or but what is best for the health and happiness of our world? I’m proposing, if only for fun, that we pretend we live in a peaceful, restorative dream rather than a nightmare. If enough of us practiced that delusion, perhaps it would cease to be delusional. Or, if not, it would surely be more pleasant than a life lived in constant preparation for attacks from abroad or from thieves and killers stalking our streets at home. I speak from experience.
            The only thing worse than a knife at your throat is the fear of a knife at your throat. And there aren’t enough weapons in the world to defend you from that!
            But you can take on the fear in your mind. Careful, though. That struggle goes deep before it comes out on a sunny beach.
            Even so, it’s the real long war we could all be waging, within ourselves rather than with each other. It’s more effective in defeating enemies, too, and certainly cheaper than an outward struggle with all its waste of life and limb and howls of grief and rage.
            An angry man is his own worst enemy. And I guess that goes for women, too.