A Declaration of Interdependence for Our Times

Months ago, I put up my last post, on the topic What are we for? In the interim, there have been ample new opportunities to find yet more things to be against. Attacks on access to healthcare. Arrests and deportations of immigrants. Military engagements abroad of questionable value and wisdom. Dramatic reversals of the country’s longstanding commitment to provide for a cleaner and healthier environment. Serious suspicions that the electoral process itself was materially influenced by foreign agents working in concert with people closely connected to Mr. Trump. In an epoch when the shallowness of the consensus around common values has become evident and when there is no longer broadly shared understanding about what may be taken as true, it is no surprise that currents of fear, outrage and despair are running strong. The good news is that  many citizens have discovered that a viable and healthy democracy depends on active participation. While the Administration and Congress undertake and contemplate actions which will result in profound and unjustifiable suffering for millions of human beings at home and abroad, hundreds of thousands of people are actively communicating their unwillingness to go along through demonstrations, meetings with elected officials and organizing resistance activities.

At this stage, one might say the body politic has contracted an infectious disease. While the agents of the infection are running rampant, judgment and decision-making are compromised by a fever, and the long-term well being of the body is at risk, the immune system is responding as it should. Antibodies are deploying energetically to combat the illness. Resources are being redirected from routine activities to help combat a clear and present danger to the well-being of the society as a whole and the governmental process by which it does its business. The whole body is affected by the conflict, therefore resistance is sweeping through it.

Consider now, though, what a body restored to health might look like. Indeed, what might an even healthier body look like – one in which all the internal systems and operative functions are healthier than they have ever been. One, where resources are distributed on an as-needed basis and where the ability of all parts to perform optimally to the common good is the standard for healthy living. To get there does not require anything new to be added to the mix. It simply requires a reordering of how things are done and priorities are set. The United States of America is a rare construct among nations, insofar as it was created on the basis of a set of ideas, not as a result of peoples with common customs and common languages happening to settle in their places by fortune or conquest or historical accident. Working off of some of the seminal ideas which shaped the union before it even had a proper name, as a vision a broad mix of citizens could be for, regardless of their present perspectives on current affairs, I would like to propose the following statement of principles:

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A Declaration of Interdependence for Our Times

As citizens of the United States of America, we recognize that our lives and well-being are inseparably bound up with the lives of all others, as we seek together to fulfill in our own ways the rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness set forth in the first sentence of our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. We further recognize that we are all united by our shared desire to live meaningful and rewarding lives, regardless of our differences.

We therefore commit to:

  1. Speak of and treat all people with respect and dignity.
  2. Conduct ourselves privately and publicly in ways that are caring towards others, whether they are known to us or not.
  3. Demonstrate in all our conduct towards others appreciation for the gifts they offer, understanding of the circumstances in which they live, and recognition of the challenges and limitations they face.
  4. Follow these principles in all our interactions and relationships with others, be they citizens, foreigners living among us, or people visiting from other places.
  5. Take a long view regarding the consequences of all our actions for our children, grandchildren and those who come after, and for the Earth itself and the well-being of all other creatures with whom we share this planet.

These commitments will guide us in our personal conduct, in our work, in our social activities and in our law-giving, public policies and jurisprudence. We will incorporate them in how we rear our children, how we welcome immigrants into our national community, how we provide help to those who are ill, aged or disabled, and how we communicate our values through the media about matters of general interest or concern.

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This Declaration rests on two operative assumptions. First, it assumes that citizens have, recognize, and are willing to act on a shared responsibility for the well-being of all other citizens. Hence, the importance of the commitments. Citizens are called upon to make them individually. Implied is a recognition that we are all in one and the same boat. None of us has the option of shoving anyone else off the boat. Short of genocide or orchestrating a mass expulsion of “undesirables,” however defined, this is a plain statement of fact. We cannot wish for others to be gone, blindly ignore the fact they are here, treat them badly or tolerate such treatment, without consequences for our own well-being or that of our descendants. Not at least if we want to uphold the idea that we live in a society we can without hypocrisy call free.

This is a moral imperative, but it is not only a moral imperative. It is a statement rooted in the deep truth that we exist interdependently. From the moment of our conception to the moment of our passing away, our existence is bound up with and dependent on others’. Where and how we live, what we eat, how we are cared for when we are sick or injured, how we are prepared and educated for meaningful and rewarding lives, how we live our lives, how we amuse ourselves, how we seek meaning, how we express ourselves – everything about how we come into the world, spend our time here, and leave it entails interdependence on others. We depend on numbers of others who are known to us, and even more on countless others who are not known to us. And they depend on us likewise.

Secondly, the Declaration assumes that the distinguishing hallmark of a free society, drawing its legitimacy from broad-based citizen support, is that it offers to all equal opportunities to lead meaningful and rewarding lives. The key term here is “equal opportunities.” What constitutes a “meaningful and rewarding life” is not a matter for the society to determine. The aspirations and determination of people themselves are the measure of what brings meaning and rewards worth striving for to their own lives. The critical point is that there is a consensus that it is desirable for all members of a society to have equal opportunities to live meaningful and rewarding lives by their own understandings and to the extent that they are able, within the limits of what is practically and reasonably possible, and without thereby infringing upon others’ abilities to do the same.

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What are we for…?

As I continue to reflect on the disturbing differences that became unambiguously plain in the United States with the recent election, I am struck by how much of our discourse about public affairs, no matter our political orientation, is about what we are against. Comparatively little of it is about what we are for. When we are on the liberal side, we tend to be against free access to guns for all comers, reliance on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs, constraints on a woman’s right to choose whether to abort a pregnancy and having the highest incarceration rate in the world. When we are on the conservative side, we tend to be against socialization of healthcare, impositions on the “right to carry”, taxes to pay for anything from which we do not immediately benefit and regulations setting limits to what goes on in the marketplaces for pharmaceuticals, financial securities and energy supplies. Depending on our views, we are against Islam, police brutality, gay marriage, the Confederate flag, sexual abuse, Vladimir Putin, immigration, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and political correctness.

It strikes me that the preeminence of against is rooted in fear, the most primal of all emotions. Whatever we hold to be of high value, we fear anything that seems to pose a threat to it. Add in the deeply human and very ancient predisposition toward tribal identification, and anything that we perceive as coming from some Other opposing tribe will, barring some highly evolved reflective self-awareness, be registered as a threat. In the face of a threat, if we don’t go into flight mode – in which case you won’t hear from us in the public arena – we go into fight mode, beginning with making sure we and our tribal allies are in sync and on message, and then making threatening noises toward the Other tribe(s) to let them know we are not to be trifled with, whatever their plans. Much of what goes on in social media concerning public affairs manifests both of these things – making sure we have clarity with our allies about our shared message, our party line, and alerting  opponents to our readiness to take them on.

To be sure, embedded in many against-positions are for-positions. People who are against a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion will affirm that they are for a fetus’s right to life. People who are against fossil-fuel powered electric generation plants will affirm that they are for clean air and a habitable planet. Yet, we nevertheless live in a culture where we are much more aware of what people are against than what they are for and why. Because I don’t run in the right circles, I have not explored what “Right to Life” actually means to people who are adherents of it. Nor have I had a chance to hash out with doubters why #BlackLivesMatter to my way of thinking is a life-affirming statement, pointing a way forward from which we would all benefit, regardless of race.

Fear is truly primal, and life offers lots of opportunities to feel frightened, regardless of who we are or where, when or how we live. All the world’s great spiritual traditions put considerable effort into helping followers deal with fears, beginning with the biggest one, fear of our own mortality. It’s natural. It’s nothing new. Yet, here I want to focus in on the ubiquity of fear in public life. First, to be clear, public life is framed and sustained by mass media. There are no ideas, no shared sentiments, no visions that are not propagated, challenged, critiqued, or suppressed by mass media. To understand the role of fear in public life, we have to look at the basic business model followed by mass media. When views are expressed and exchanged, it happens almost always in the virtual space maintained by the media, only rarely face to face or shoulder to shoulder.

It is no news (no pun intended), that the media organizations that command the most attention are big businesses.  Fundamentally, big businesses exist for one reason above all – to maximize the profits they generate for their owners. That is what they are for. They may stake out an ideological space, as for example Fox news unambiguously does, yet basic market economics still apply. Fox has identified and shaped a particular target market, thereby successfully generating a sweet rate of return for Rupert Murdoch and other investors. Fundamentally, the same applies to CNN, MSNBC and the rest of the big players in the media universe, whether or not we like the style and flavor of their delivery.

For media, the saleable product is “eyeballs” – unguarded and receptive audiences. Profits are generated by selling advertising access to businesses, institutions, interest groups and political campaigns, who want in turn to sell their own goods, services and messages to as many consumers as they can reach. Consumers are generally most available and receptive when their reflective, critical capacities are idling, preoccupied or at rest – chilling on the sofa, going through the daily commute, hanging out while the spaghetti cooks. How best then to grab and hold their attention? Sell fear. Sell fear of being out of fashion. Sell fear of not knowing the latest NFL rankings. Sell Islamic terrorism. Sell Climate Change. Sell Abortion Mills. Sell neo-Nazi rallies. When time-dollar value is calculated in seconds, selling serious thoughtfulness about the complexity of issues can’t compete with fear.

Suppose, though, we were to redirect our public discourse in more positive, life-affirming, joy-enhancing directions. What might we then really be for? Imagine a bunch of us randomly mixed in a room, no knowing how we voted, what we value, what we hate or what makes our hearts sing. Imagine a conversation framed with exactly two ground rules: 1) We will speak and listen respectfully in all of our exchanges; 2) Our testimonies will be exclusively about what we positively believe in and want to see in our lives and in the world. I confess, just putting this out there this way gives me pause. What do I want to see? What makes my heart sing? Inwardly stuttering here, I recognize that there are parts of me that believe it is naive to talk about the sources of my hope and joy, while remaining silent about the pervasive risks and threats among which I must negotiate the forward progress of my life. It is even more naive to put it out there, implying that it would behoove others to follow suit, and if they did what a wonderful world it would be.

For starters, though, to get the conversation going, with respect to matters of public concern here’s what I am for (in no particular order):

  • I would like to live in a society where all members can joyfully manifest all the greatest gifts, inborn and acquired, they are endowed with, in their work, their interpersonal relationships and their play.
  • I would like to live in a society  where all citizens live healthily and, when needed, have access to the best healthcare, from before they are born until they die.
  • I would like to live in a society where relationships with people at home and abroad are mutually affirming, sustaining and peaceful, and where all people are skilled at building such relationships where they are lacking or at-risk.
  • I would like to live in a society where people approach others always with appreciation and respect – including the non-human others we share the planet with and depend on for our own sustenance and well-being.
  • I would like to live in a society where men and boys have  a strong, vital and enthusiastic sense of what it means to be male; where women and girls have a strong, vital and enthusiastic sense of what it means to be female; where people have a strong, vital and enthusiastic experience loving others intimately, no matter if they are male or female; where people of every skin color, cultural heritage and faith tradition have strong, vital and enthusiastic experiences of their respective similarities and differences.
  • I would like to live in a society where we all treat the planet we live on with a sense of careful stewardship, out of an awareness that it is the most loving thing we can do for our children, grandchildren and descendants on down the line through countless generations, as well as for the other creatures we share it with.
  • I would like to live in a society whereof I could say, if asked by a visitor from another galaxy what its greatest excellences are, that it is known for its peace, its love and its joy.

Your turn.

Talk Politics

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a general rule we all know, at family gatherings like Thanksgiving or other social affairs where people come together who may not have lots in common, that we should “never talk about religion or politics.” Right now, in the wake of the deep, painful and frightening divisions the election brought to light, that’s likely good advice for those of us who will be breaking bread tomorrow with people whose views and votes go in very different directions than our own. And yet. And yet, maybe a good New Year’s resolution would be to start a new practice. At a wonderful yoga studio I used to frequent, we spoke of New Years Resolutionaries when the post-holiday surge kicked in. My thoughts right now are running along similar lines. Let’s learn the practice of talking politics where and when it’s hard.

Take me as an example. I am taking stands all over the place right now. I am completely on board with #BlackLivesMatter, have started making regular donations to Planned Parenthood, the Islamic Networks Group, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and several other organizations advocating for people who are directly at risk due to the ascendancy of the “alt-Right” white nationalists since the results of the election were announced. I have put my stakes in the ground. I have skin in the game. What I don’t have, however, is opportunities to dialogue with people who believe abortion is murder and should be treated as such, who believe for political and/or religious reasons that Islam is a threat to all the qualities that make this country great, who hold intimate relations of any sort outside of heterosexual marriage to be despicable and immoral, or who are convinced that the presidency of Barack Obama was a political catastrophe. I live and move in a universe in which most everyone looks and talks like me, holds the same views as I hold and is distraught at what has now befallen us. This is not okay.

It is not okay, because, with the exception of a very small number of true psychopaths, most of the people on “the Other Side” have reasons that on some very human level make sense and resonate with them for wanting to see homosexuality disappear, “big government” cut down to size, welfare cheats made to work and propagators of “political correctness” made to shut up. I can’t well point fingers at others for agitating to see some group of human beings marginalized, expelled, silenced or (heaven help us) exterminated, while at the same time wishing something similar be their fate. It’s not a matter of wishy-washy-Kumbaya-can’t-everyone-please-just-get-along foolish moral relativism. It’s a matter of, whether I like it or not, we truly are all in this together, for one; and it’s presumptuous of me and  my kindred spirits to think we have a corner on wisdom and moral authority, for another.

In a life rich with many blessings, one I am especially grateful for is the opportunities it has offered me to connect with and get to know many different sorts of people, people of different backgrounds, cultures, faiths, ages, educations, occupations, etc. etc. etc. Why then should I be afraid to sit down and break bread together with someone who deeply believes it would have been a catastrophe for the nation had Hillary Clinton been elected as our next president? The simple reason, of course, is that I don’t really know how to do this and I expect with some justification that likely conversation partners may not either. As with any other difficult skill I wish to learn, there’s no way to do it other than doing it. And I can’t very well tell you that you should start engaging with people on the Other Side of whatever painful issue divides you, if I’m not willing to begin learning to do it myself.

A lot of hard ball politics is going to be played in the years ahead, hard ball such as this country may well not have seen since the run up to the Civil War. I know where I stand on most of the issues getting press now. As far as that goes, I am indeed fired up and ready to go. However, I’d heck of a lot rather figure out where folks on the Other Side are coming from, in the off chance we might find some common middle ground, than go for a zero-sum game out of which all of us will be losers. It’s unlikely I will find much to work with where the Steve Bannons of the world are concerned, but with the cousins and school and college friends and neighbors I hold in high esteem, we might just be able to work a few things out together. If nothing else, it’s not healthy to run around constantly on high alert, wary of attacks from every corner. Not for me personally, not for those I hold dear, and not for the nation I am a part of.

Talk politics. That’s what I want to learn how to do. Not with people I agree with on most things. With people I don’t on some, or even many, things.

A reminder to me: Here again are all the ways we are unique. Happy Thanksgiving.Human Endowments (3)

Be Not Afraid

In these reflections, I find I frequently feel impelled to begin with my own stories, to show the roots of where I have arrived at. So let me say, I am bringing a couple of my own personal truths to the historical moment we now find ourselves in. Chief among them is the fact I was badly bullied when I was in what we now call middle school. The harm it did has taken me more than half a century to work through, to the extent that I can finally tell it out loud, without feeling ashamed or as if I somehow deserved it. It took sending me away to boarding school at the age of 15 to liberate me from that toxic environment. Had that not happened, I seriously doubt I would be here today.

One of the consequences of the bullying, and the fact that people around me did not know how to support me or protect me, was that suicide became a credible option for me in difficult times. I lived with suicidal ideation from my early teens until well into my adult life. Suicide was a recurring possibility, whenever some adversity came my way. Like many emotionally damaged people, I sought solace in substances until they no longer did the trick. At the age of 39, with all sorts of wonderful adventures already behind me, I finally came very close to cashing in my chips. Dear people in my life, and what I to this day consider an act of divine grace, guided me into a 12 Step meeting. I was blessedly able to hear the messages shared there, and the rest, as they say, is history. I will tell anyone who asks, and many who don’t, that the 12 Steps are one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it breaks my heart when I meet or hear of people who sorely need what is to be found there and can’t receive it.

So, it is an objectively true statement to say I know from the inside what it feels like to be a Victim. It is also an objectively true statement to say I know what it feels like to be a Survivor. Life has given me repeated chances to move forward by stages with the work of healing, to the point that I now consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I am immensely grateful for the countless other gifts and blessings that have come my way – wonderfully exciting and formative educational opportunities, chances to live and study and travel abroad and get to know the world from other points of view, a multi-phase career that has allowed me to connect with lots of different people in different walks of life, active participation in several of the world’s great spiritual traditions,  a relationship I am finally worthy of with a most remarkable woman – and none of it would ultimately have mattered much or become even possible, had I not found my way onto a healing path. On that path this Victim became a Survivor.

Now, when the chips are down, this Survivor does not do fear. Been there, done that. Sure, I fear rejection and worry about my finances and whether or not people will appreciate some professional or creative work I am doing, or whether I am being the sort of partner my beloved has a right to expect me to be, or whether I have enough gas to get to the nearest filling station. I went into and came back out of a very serious heart attack that might have sent me packing for good, feeling annoyed and inconvenienced, but not especially fearful. Indeed, I am no longer afraid of death after visiting the Great Beyond, except that I’d prefer it happen at my convenience, when I don’t have other plans. It is from this vantage point then, that I am contemplating the  historic moment that is now unfolding before us.

As we begin to process the shock of Donald Trump’s election, I notice high tides of fear are flowing. I mean the kind of fear that can be incapacitating, as distinct from the sober, well-grounded, justifiable fear of what the future holds. There is absolutely no doubt that the Trump administration, with the support of a disturbingly misguided Republican congress, will take steps that will have very bad, very direct, life and death consequences for millions of human beings, at home and abroad.

Given my history, I know what a bully looks like and  how a bully behaves. Trump is a bully, no news there. Bullies need two things to really get their jollies, and Trump needs both of them. They need weaker people to pick on and hurt and humiliate, and they need audiences to cheer them on while they do so. “You’re fired!,” after I humiliate the crap out of you; while an audience cheers me on. “Lock  her up!,” … while an audience cheers me on. “I grab her by the pussy!,” while an audience cheers me on. This behavior is not going to stop on Inauguration Day. Be it noted too, that bullies are quick to identify and defer to other bullies – lest we be wondering what the deal is between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. We are well advised to be afraid of what he might do to anyone he perceives as weaker, above and beyond whatever policy initiatives he and the new Congress take.

On a very practical level, then, we have arrived at a point in the history of the nation and the world when some very bad, scary stuff is going to happen. Make no mistake. And yet I say, be not afraid. By which I mean, let not your fear incapacitate you, because we need all your energy, all your good will, all your cleverness and experience, all your acquired savvy for the fight that is now beginning. This is not about being desensitized. Share the pictures of the bloodied gay man beat up by Trump supporters. Share the stories about the Muslim man beaten up and murdered in Wisconsin. Share the stories about women having their hijabs yanked off their heads. Share the pictures of hate messages spray painted on peoples’ doors or left on peoples’ cars. Share the stories of kids unable to sleep, because they are afraid of what Trump is going to do to them. Share your outrage with loved ones and friends and kindred spirits.

And yet, be not afraid. Be cool. Think hard about what is to be done to support, assist and comfort victims of such assaults. Go forward, not back. Speak truth to power. Trumpies think it’s a patriotic American thing to do, to beat up on and humiliate women and gay people and immigrants? Spread the word. It ain’t. Get together. Take action. Interfere with every single step the Trumpies take, from beating people up in the streets to depriving people of access to quality healthcare. (Here’s a wonderful sample of how to respond directly in a critical situation, one transferable to other circumstances.)

It’s on us to see that we come through this and out the other side, stronger and healthier and more caring than we went in. When tired, take a nap. When freaked out, breathe deeply. When broken-hearted, find a shoulder to lean and cry on. When frightened, look for encouragement. When bad news comes in, think about how best to respond creatively and forcefully and then get together with others and do it.

We didn’t ask for this, though we also did not do what we might have done to avoid it – namely get down with the “deplorable” people we preferred to despise. We can now get on with the business of fixing that, as noted in my previous post. No matter, for now it’s Game On.

Fired up.

Ready to go.

We can do this.

For real.

The Fight is On

[Trigger warning: If you feel the election of Donald Trump is a wonderful turn of events for the future of the nation, you might want to take a pass on this. I don’t and I have trouble getting inside the mindset of those who do, with all due respect.]

Throughout the campaign, though I watch little TV and could name few of the pundits who shape/massage/feed whatever passes for public opinion, I couldn’t imagine that a man who systematically gave offense to women, black people, Hispanic people, disabled people and Muslims, and who was cozy with white supremacists and neo-Nazis propagating racial bigotry and unabashed antisemitism, could put together enough votes to get himself elected president of much of anything, let alone the United States of America. I watched the polls, snagged snippets of mainstream messaging from social media, and stewed not so much about whether Hillary Clinton would win, but about what sort of Congress she’d have to deal with. For no clear reason, abruptly this last weekend I found myself suddenly wondering what would I do if Donald Trump were elected, got a serious sinking feeling in my gut, and began speculating about what might happen should that come to pass. Nevertheless, I went to the polls yesterday, reasonably confident Hillary Clinton had done what needed to be done to make it first across the finish line.

As the evening went on last night, the clouds began to gather as Trump kept leading in electoral college votes, though I still thought she’d pull it out in the end. However, when international financial markets started plummeting, I decided it was time to try to get some sleep. Unlike media smartypants, those guys, with their billions on the line, don’t miss much, I generally believe.  I didn’t get much sleep, up two hours early for me, at least, to learn that the worst possible scenario had been fulfilled, with Trump victorious and both houses of Congress secured by the Republicans. Hope for a Supreme Court configured to meet the needs of the nation in its present configuration was out the window.  Like kindred spirits across the land, I had great trouble simply taking it in. Fight or flight? Flight was all could think of. GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!! Or at least give me a great big rock to hide under. I felt personally betrayed by the Nate Silvers of the world, who had led me to formulate such bogus expectations and assumptions as I went to the polls with. I was grateful when a friend posted a link (here) on Facebook, reminding me to breathe. So much for my yoga practice: it actually seemed like a novel idea.

I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that I should do something productive with the day, like do the work I get paid for as an independent contractor. For the most part, I stayed away from the media, not really wanting to know what the same smart people who so badly misread the mood of the country might have to say about the new state of affairs we find ourselves in. I communed with my beloved, puttered away on a creative project I have in the works, and generally let the feelings have their way. I’m glad I did. I am clear we all have a great deal of grieving to do. We need to allow space and take time for our depression, our anger, our outrage, our shame at being American, our bewilderment, our feelings of hopelessness and betrayal, to rise and ebb and flow. That being the case, for some people, what I have to say here may be premature. If it is, bail out and come back another day when you feel better. You will feel better, I promise, at least if you care for yourself and let yourself. Personally, I know I am not out of the woods by a long shot.

I should be grateful for that cloud that passed over me last weekend. It gave me a head start on reflecting about what we do if the worst case scenario should be fulfilled. Two things become clear: 1) We have to fight. Washington is not going to fix this. Consider how little the finest President I have seen in 55 years, since I became grown up enough to pay attention, was able to fix, and his successor is proclaiming his intentions to undo as much of that as he can. 2) We need to make it our business to open our hearts and our minds to the half of the electorate who think Trump is their guy and said so, where and when it counted.

These two things are actually related. Take the second one first: I’m not sure what the smart guys are saying, but I have a strong conviction that Hillary Clinton’s greatest liabilities were not that she is a woman or blew it in Benghazi or was too sloppy with her emails. Her greatest liability was that she was perceived as part of The Problem by people for whom the problem is all the insider baseball played by “liberal” mainstream media, Washington big shots, elected and appointed, and their corporate backers – all the insider baseball where “political correctness” is promoted, while jobs are outsourced to China and wage scales are driven down by immigrants flooding in illegally, who don’t even speak English or worship the God We Trust. For such people, it wouldn’t be hard sell to suggest that the only way they were going to get Washington to pay attention is by sending someone to the White House who is not a Washington insider. Trump may have used the language of bigotry and misogyny and nationalism to get and command their attention, but the reasons that messaging worked go deeper than personally wanting to hurt black people, assault women or drive people from the country. 59 million people don’t get up every day thinking about how they can mess over black people and immigrants and women. They do get up every day feeling disrespected, neglected and short changed. Washington is never going to fix that, even with their guys in the White House and controlling Congress; but a warmer embrace from people like me and most of the people I think of as kindred spirits, people who honestly do hold them in varying degrees of disrespect and contempt, might be a start.

We may not subscribe to their analysis and we may think that they will soon be sorely disappointed by The Donald’s inability to meet their expectations for reasons both systemic and personal. However, the people who voted for Trump are my fellow citizens. Their well-being concerns me. Even if I dislike them, I can hardly appeal to them in the name of the general welfare and having a livable future for our children to care about the people they despise, while despising them myself. We truly are in the same boat, cruising through space on the same planet.They may be misguided, ill-informed and bigoted, but few of them are psychopaths, even if they may have voted for one. And I actually believe, their sense of grievance and resentment may eventually offer a point of contact for change-agents tuned in to the deeper drivers. We write them off at our peril.

Which brings me back to my main point. The fight is on. The future is ours, but it is our responsibility to claim it. For reasons only partly related to the campaign, in 2016 overt racism, homophobia and misogyny rose to levels of public awareness unseen in decades. It is not that the levels of abuse increased, rather our tacit tolerance of it reached breaking points.

Police officers randomly killing black males is not news. Having it recorded and broadcast in real time on social media is. As a result, #BlackLivesMatter is now an active factor in our civic life.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign alone has unleashed numerous initiatives to take on misogyny in all its forms, from employment discrimination to sexual assault. Those initiatives are following the lead of the National Organization for Women and a raft of other organizations that have been fighting for equal rights for women, going back to the days of women’s suffrage.

Having made great headway with marriage equality, the LGBTQI community ran up against fierce resistance by local officials unwilling to recognize its hard-won rights, overt bigotry from the now newly elected Vice Presidential candidate, and the hateful law passed in North Carolina regulating who uses what bathrooms. Yet, the community’s rapid, intense, and concerted resistance led leading corporations, trade associations, sports leagues and others to change or cancel plans to do business in the state, so long as the law remains in effect.

So: Once we have caught our breaths, how ever long it takes, the game plan is clear: Whichever issue is closest to home for you – race, gender and orientation, the environment, access to healthcare, employment opportunities and livable wages – join the fight, recruit others, form alliances, and don’t give up or run. If showing people how to breathe, come home to themselves, love themselves and others, feel peace, is what you do, do it with an open and trusting heart. If  you are a person of faith, of whatever denomination or tradition, reach out and care for the strangers among you, and prepare to offer sanctuary when need arises.

Whether Trump and his cronies and supporters like it or not, the nation’s future is not going to be white, straight, male-dominated, native-born or Christian-only. It is not going to be addicted to fossil fuels. It is not going to be permanently in hock for such essentials as healthcare and education. Nor is it going back to the employment patterns people like me came of age and went to college on. But we will be fighting to protect what we have achieved in the last decades with respect to equal standing for all, equal opportunity for all, and sustainable living and environmental action on behalf of the children and the future. We will make it a priority to attract more allies and more supporters. We will make it our business to educate others who don’t know or understand or believe. We will write off no one, no matter where the dialogue begins, no matter how uncomfortable they make us. We won’t assume “any reasonable person”, or “any moral person” sees things the way we do or is a defective human being because they don’t.

Frankly, I find this a hopeful scenario. I wouldn’t have chosen for history to deal us this hand of cards to play, but I believe it is going to give us an opportunity to grow up, get comfortable living in the real world, to discover neighbors we are suspicious or distrustful of, and to get unhooked from the idea that somebody else – Washington, Wall Street, the boss,  the Superintendent of Schools, the hospital CEO, the president of the university, the head coach,  the teacher, the priest, the rabbi, my neighbor, my mother, my father, my lover, my spouse, whoever – is going to make it good for us.

I have long felt that we in the United States, with our mere 300-plus years of (Euro-centric) history under our belts, frequently behave like adolescents compared to people in most other parts of the world, where thousands of years of shared history are not uncommon. We have the energy, imagination, dreaminess and ambition often found among adolescents. We also have the irritability, self-centeredness, comparative ignorance, and general immaturity about how to handle ourselves among ourselves and with others, that go with the same territory.

Thinking we could blow into Baghdad, of all places – Baghdad in Mesopotamia, where the oldest cities in the world were formed 6,000 years ago – take care of business in a few years and take our leave at our convenience, was the height of folly. An informed grown-up would have known better. Destroying Obamacare with no alternative plan for addressing the healthcare needs of the third of the population who can’t afford to pay going rates and of the Baby Boomers slowly moving into those costly last decades of their lives is at best foolish and at worst cruel: unbecoming of that “Great America” written on the bill of goods Trump sold his supporters. Do the numbers and come up with a plan. It’s what sensible people would do.

This is our time. It is time to grow up. The work is now ours to do. No mommies or daddies are going to do it for us. Let us be positively surprised if the next President actually does something we are on board with. But let us not expect, even tacitly, inwardly, that such will be the case. We know we are right, where our issues and aspirations are concerned – right to fight for equality across the board, for a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren, and for rewarding and gratifying opportunities to make a sustainable living. Back in the day, I learned a lot from reading Karl Marx – the real deal, not the caricature promulgated by Cold War propaganda and alt-Right foolishness. His measure of a humane society was this: “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” Sounds good to me. But we’ll only get there by going together.

Fired up.

And ready to go.

The fight is on. For real.

Hope Springs Eternal

So here we are, a couple of weeks later, and there was another terrorist atrocity, this time in Nice; a thoroughly bizarre police shooting of a black man with his hands in the air in North Miami; an attempted coup followed by martial law in Turkey; and the Republican Party has selected as its candidate for the most powerful job on the planet, a man with a very large ego, a very mixed track record, a very threatening demeanor toward many groups of people, and a very unclear vision of how he would actually make the machinery of government work if elected,  while camouflaged militia members carried assault weapons openly outside the hall. Given the headlines, we no longer seem to be able to get through a week without some event rocking us to the core. And that’s not counting Climate Change, the greatest threat the human species has ever faced, whether we think or talk about it (or even admit it) at all.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
(From W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”)

In this country alone, it is reasonable to claim that we have not been more politically fractious and the domestic peace more deeply threatened since 1860 and the run-up to the War Between the States. And since the United States remains the most economically and militarily powerful country in the world, it is not only our own 319,000,000 human residents whose future well-being is at stake. If we mess up, the lives of billions of human beings elsewhere will be affected too. That the American empire is in crisis is a truly scary state of affairs, no kidding around.

Personally, I’m not a fan of empires, whether Roman, or British, or Russian, or Ottoman, or Chinese, or American, despite their benefits. But no matter, we’re still it, for the moment. Note though that nature is not big on monolithic structures and systems either. It likes diversities, complexities and adaptability in systems that endure. Hence, in the interest of long-term planetary sustainability and to foster conditions hospitable to all children and other living things, I long to see the day when we can gracefully let go of our self-appointed role as the world’s Peacemaker; a role we took on, when the rest of the developed world lay in rubble. Since 1945, the US, despite all our fumbles (Iran, Viet Nam, Chile, Afghanistan, Iraq, anyone?), has indeed been the guarantor, in the messy way of all empires, of whatever stability there’s been; most especially since the Soviet Union threw in the towel in 1989.

And yet I remain hopeful, for a mix of reasons. Some of them are deeply personal, some of them are philosophical and spiritual, and some of them are based on more or less informed observation. To begin with the first:

As suggested in a previous post,  a poem called “But That Was in Another Country“, I see myself as having been reborn twice. The end result is, I no longer see myself as a victim. I am a Survivor. This is the perspective I now bring to everything that happens, whether close to me or far away. The first rebirth happened when I came as close as ever to committing suicide, an idea I had lived with as a regular companion since I was thirteen years old. Rather than follow through, I allowed myself to be nudged into a 12 Step program. I had been badly bullied as an adolescent, and the injuries sustained left deep, unhealed wounds. Joy was not a concept I had any familiarity with from that time until I hit my very hard bottom twenty six years later. Yet I walked into my first meeting, sat quietly, listened, and it took. I learned to walk the walk, and in short order I went from feeling that my life, countless blessings not withstanding, was a fundamentally questionable proposition flawed at its core, to finding a path forward toward a richer, more rewarding and more promising life than I ever conceived possible. I got used to the idea that I am a work in progress, and I’m here to tell you progress continues.

Then 23 years later the second rebirth happened: A near fatal heart attack, arriving without warning, took me to the border to the Great Beyond, before delivering me back among the living six days later. I came back transformed. I felt myself floating in a cloud of love, created by the numberless people, many of them unknown to me, who were praying, sending blessings, lifting me into the light, caring for me, and keeping watch over me. I knew I came back for reasons, and that I had some say in the matter. And I knew – I use the word “knew” advisedly – that life is a miracle. That any of us exist at all, that our bodies work the way they do, that we relate the way we do, that all the rest of the creatures we share the planet with live and die and live again as they do, heck, that the friggin’ cosmos exists and works the way it does, is miraculous. There is no other word for it.

Philosophically, I have thought hard about the fundamental purpose and meaning of life since my early teens, beginning at the time when daily danger lurked and safety was nowhere assured. That questioning drove me as far as a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the humanities. Eventually though, I recognized that academic diligence, no matter how persistently pursued, was not going to solve my problem. For all their virtues as guardians of long and rich legacies, scholars are rarely equipped to play the role of Merlin, or Dumbledore, or Jesus, or Muhammad, or Lao-Tzu, or a Shaman, or the Buddha, or any of the other bearers of wisdom they keep the books on. Still, there were guiding lights I discovered in the course of studies, and I remained comfortable with the idea that study can be one of the paths to wisdom. Not for nothing do all the great wisdom traditions have bodies of holy scripture their devotees are urged to master.

Years later, after the second rebirth, prompted by a discussion heard on a podcast, I pulled a book I’d dragged around for years unread off the bookshelf and began reading Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man. Teilhard was a Jesuit priest and a leading paleontologist during the first half of the twentieth century. As a priest, he thought hard about the meaning of human existence, and as paleontologist he thought hard about how to consider the question scientifically, taking a very long view of evolution. Short and sweet, Teilhard was fascinated by the fact that, as far as we could tell – and if anything the science for this has only grown stronger since he passed on in 1955 – from the beginning of the universe on down to the present, there has been a tilt toward ever greater complexity and diversity, culminating in the emergence of conscious and, finally, self-conscious creatures: us, humans, creatures who know that they know. He imagined the entire process would finally come to fruition at what he called the Omega point – drawing on the assertion in the Book of Revelations that Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” He foresaw a continuing evolution of consciousness until that point, where the purpose of the whole cosmic undertaking would be fulfilled.

For a variety of reasons too complicated to explore here, I am not yet sold on the details of Teilhard’s vision of the Omega Point. However, I was and remain deeply affected by the notion that there is a positive tilt built into the cosmic operating system. Yes, death, yes darkness, yes destruction, yes things come into being and pass away, from the level of stars down to the level of the skin cells I slough off as I go about my life. But at the end of the day, as far as we can see, there is a slight plus at the bottom line each time you do the books.

Make no mistake: the horrors perpetrated by humans on humans and on other creatures are truly horrible and manifestations of unfathomable cruelty. The Inquisition, Genghis Khan’s massacres, the Holocaust, the current and seemingly endless atrocities going around and around in the Middle East are no jokes. Think hard about what crucifixion entails and how and when it was used, and you’ll see humanity at its most diabolical. Slavery was and is an abomination, by any name and any standard. Likewise genocide and ethnic cleansing. It’s bad news when orderly systems of public life disintegrate – witness Russia and Germany in 1918 and the following years. Having visited Auschwitz, and the slave quarters at Monticello, and worked in the shadow of the Berlin Wall – and being a survivor of meaningless human evil myself – I have no illusions about such things. They have happened, they do happen, and likely they will happen again. Yet still, the idea that there is a tilt towards ever greater enlightenment resonates with me, not least because of what I learned visiting the Great Beyond.

To come now to our present circumstances, despite the scary news, despite the armed agitation evident at Trump rallies and the Republican National Convention, despite the agitation triggered again and again by instances of police brutality for which there is no accountability, despite the constant questioning of Hillary Clinton’s competence and character as a candidate for the biggest job in the world, despite ridiculous laws being passed regarding who uses what bathroom, despite ISIS attacks,  I still find reason to hope. This is not 1860. This is not 1914. This is not 1945. This is not even 2001. We know so much about so many people living different lives in different places. I may want to snub my nose at people who think the election of Donald Trump would be a marvelous turn of events, yet some of them are my friends. I know it and they know it. Trump may want to build a wall to stop Mexicans from coming north, yet it’s not news that walls don’t work. Ask the ghosts of the Chinese emperors or the First Secretaries of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party how they made out. Europeans wish Syrians would stop coming north, seeking refuge from the mortal madness at home, yet they keep coming in small boats across a tempestuous sea.

Remarkably, the internet and the globalization of trade, finance and the dissemination of knowledge, trivial and profound, suggest that we may finally be evolving into an entirely new ecological system. Millions of people are in regularly daily contact with people many thousands of miles away, people they may never have met in the flesh. Iran is not an abstraction, nor is China, nor is Zimbabwe, nor is Syria. People know people. Neither, from my own little point of view, is Alabama or Georgia or South Carolina, places my inner Yankee would as soon kick out of the union, because of the fact they keep voting for the wrong people, in the view of my liberally inclined inner Yankee. They are places where deeply beloved and creative and fascinating people live, and I have daily evidence of that. Mutatis mutandi: Shift the variables around, the same applies to you and you and you, and to Iranians and Ukrainians and Israelis and Palestinians and Republicans and Democrats. Some of you would like to kick me and my kind out, but you know I’m a good guy with good heart and a good soul and your world would be poorer without me. So you won’t.

Realistically, shit keeps happening, and bad shit may be coming, but through all of it, remember there’s a tilt, and at the end of the day, there will be a plus in the ledger. Having been where I went, I’m even willing to say you’ll see it, though maybe from the Other Side. That you’ll have to take on faith though. When you get that far, just remember, I told you so.

There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.

We shall overcome. Join in. You won’t be disappointed. Watch.

 

 

 

We Shall Overcome

Well suffice it to say, I am not picking up the thread where I supposed I might when I left off my last post on the topic of fear.

“And yet. And yet fear is really not where it’s at. Not when you’ve paid a visit to the Other Side and come back to talk about it as I did. Not when your frame of reference is broader, deeper, higher, and more expansive than the stuff of the daily news and the permutations of contemporary public affairs. More on that next time around…”

Since then, we have all been emotionally battered by yet two more appalling killings by police officers of black males, in questionable circumstances, followed this time by killings of five police officers in Dallas keeping watch over a peaceful protest rally, by a sniper apparently seeking revenge for the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Again, waves of fear rushed over the land. #BlackLivesMatter met up against #BlueLivesMatter. Within 48 hours, outrage and grief sweeping through black communities and among the countless friends and allies who care about them, like me, flowed together with the outrage and grief that overwhelmed not only the colleagues, families and friends of the slain Dallas officers, but also the countless people who support and care about law enforcement officers throughout the nation. Here we are, at a time when the nation is bitterly divided along political, regional, economic, generational and social lines, wondering what condition we will be in on Wednesday, November 9, when the voters have marked their ballots and results are finally known; here we are, and the deepest, most painful, most morally divisive, most consequential rupture in the tissue of the body politic once again confronts us with the most incontrovertible reason there is for holding the assertion the United States of America is the Greatest Nation in the World to be the height of hypocrisy: Racism and the legacy of slavery.

Once again those of us who believe that #BlackLivesMatter expresses a deep truth about the United States’ moral condition, a truth that must be confessed and repented for by white citizens as an absolute precondition for there to be civic peace in the land finally, 150 after the supposed end of the War Among the States on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse; once again we feel compelled to take deep breaths and patiently explain to the #AllLivesMatter contingent that #BlackLivesMatter is a matter of focus not exclusion. #BlackLivesMatter does not mean only Black Lives Matter. It means if #AllLivesMatter, then we have a lot of fixing to do to ensure that the Black members of the All really get the same treatment in all respects, not least by law enforcement officers, as the rest of us do.

As I have said before, I am very conscious of being a highly privileged member of contemporary society for a bunch of reasons I had little or no say in: Straight White Anglo-Saxon Protestant male with an Ivy League education. Not a bad hand of cards to start with, given the givens of how power and privilege are distributed still, here and now. #BlackLivesMatter is not, however, just a little something I decided to get on board with because I want to be terminally and liberally hip. For me it could hardly be more personal. I have three bi-racial grandchildren, which to our twisted collective way of thinking really means they are black when they walk through the mall or go to the movies or sit in the classroom. They will be black when some police officer eventually pulls them over for any of the myriad of reasons, good and bad, just and unjust, police officers pull people over. Like any self-respecting grandparent, I will tell you with a straight face and without the least hesitation that they are the three coolest kids now living on the face of Planet Earth. I will tell you all you have to do is hang out with them for an hour or two and  you will discover what I say is objectively true. Of course, the fact is, cool though they may be, they are growing up in the same messy circumstances in the early decades of the 21st century that the rest of us are living in. Many of those circumstances would apply to them, even if they were not bi-racial. They are blessed, however, that they are coming along surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close family friends who are truly devoted to them and as madly in love with them as I am. Every child should be so blessed.

We were midway through the week’s atrocities and I was trading posts on Facebook with one of their aunts, who was distraught about what she should do with her young black son so he doesn’t end up like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Alton Sterling or Philando Castile, and with her mother. In the midst of a stream of affirmations about how important it is that the black community actively organize to work for change in community – police relations as a key to ending such killings, it was her mother who first flagged for me what had just gone down in Dallas. Ethel is underprivileged in just about every way that I am privileged, yet her first reaction was distress at these new killings: “LET US GO. THE OTHER WAY. THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED BY BLACKS UNIFY, DEVERSIFY AND STRENGTHEN WHAT WEAK BUILD UP WHATS BROKEN AND ACT LIKE WE WANT PEACE THE KILLING TO STOP!!!” In the instant, I got a knot in my stomach about the news, and a surge of hope from Ethel’s heartfelt and immediate response.

I came of age with the Civil Rights movement. I was 13 when Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, were killed in the bomb attack on the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I was 15 when the March on Selma, a pivotal moment in the campaign for voting rights, took place. I was a month shy of my 18th birthday and less than two months away from graduating from high school when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. There is ample reason to be discouraged that half a century down the road racism continues to be a powerfully shaping force in our common life. Yet I took hope from Ethel’s spontaneous reaction to the news from Dallas. I take hope from the fact that Jennifer and I can share our wishes and fears for her delightful son, who is easily just as cool as his cousins. I take hope from the fact that leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement immediately condemned the killings of the police officers. I take hope from the fact that the video post below, which had some hundreds of thousands of views when I first saw it on Friday morning, now as of this writing has well over 32 million views. I take hope from the fact the people of the United States twice elected a black President and there are now prominent black leaders in every field and discipline. We are making progress, despite the setbacks, despite the persistent and too often successful efforts to roll back voting rights, and despite the outrageous numbers of black people incarcerated, living in desperate poverty, and dying as victims of intra-communal as well as police violence.

I came of age with the Civil Rights movement. I came of age with the Beatles and Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, and with Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and the Supremes. But ask me to name the tune, the defining tune, the tune that most clearly expressed what the period was about, and I’ll give you this one:

… and this one:

… and this one:

This “We” is not exclusive. Not “my team” will win out over “your team”. “We” means all of us, whether we are ready to sing along or not. This “Shall” is not predictive. It is imperative. As in “Thou shalt…” This “Overcome” is not about conquest. It is about liberation. Liberation above all from the cultures of fear that cripple all of us and make us miserable, when life happens in ways that it need not have happened. What happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were not accidents. What happened to Sgt. Michael Smith, Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Officers Michael Krol and Patrick Zamarippa, and Transit Officer Brent Thompson were not accidents. They were the results of deliberate actions undertaken by people who were afraid. Afraid of what they were facing in the moment, or afraid of some future circumstance beyond their power to control – such as an endless perpetuation of racism and all the violence that it entails.

I live with fear as much as the next guy. But I refuse to let it run me. One of these days I will get around to laying out just why. As promised.

Meanwhile, We Shall Overcome, for real.