New Toy

A pause in the somewhat draining labor of watching the global political landscape turn itself into a Cubist exercise in sharp lines the never quite match up.  I bit the bullet and got the new Photoshop.  I have a lot of learning to do, but as is my wont I dove right in.  Sample of first efforts.

Classic Blue (1)

Embracing Stupid

I’m hearing from some folks about Brexit and by and large what I’m hearing says this is a calamity.  The idiots “broke the U.K.”

There were plenty of people explaining what would likely happen if they did this, but hey, what do experts know?

Well, quite a lot, actually, but that fact alone makes them unpalatable to the voters who actually cast a Leave vote.  We see precisely that kind of—what would we call it?—“learning fatigue” here.  Who do you think supports Trump?  People who know little or all the most useless things when it comes to politics and economics and quite adamantly do not want to know, because knowing would contradict the fantasy world in which they stand forth at weekend keggers loudly proclaiming positions that might hold some value in a Game of Thrones episode, but since the folks they’re holding forth to know just as little or less, no one challenges them and they feel justified in clinging to their ignorance.

This is the same crowd whose collective eyes glaze over when you start talking about the mechanisms of trade deals, the dynamics of boom-and-bust cycles, or the pathology of bigotry.  People who can’t seem to think outside of very broad categories (i.e. Radical Islamists are Muslims therefore all Muslims want to kill us) and feel empowered whenever someone gets up on a podium and tells them they’re right to be terrified of boogeymen.

So a lot of people, and by the demographics a majority of older British voters, decided that leaving the EU is the same as getting rid of the immigration problem (and somehow they’ll be safer, even though they ought to know better because of past history, namely the IRA, but they at least were white) and that all their money, which will now disappear at an even greater rate because of the catch-up homegrown institutions will have to do to replace EU systems (either that or just let people die, which may happen anyway), will magically reappear in their private bank accounts, and anyway they didn’t understand a lot about what was going in Greece much less down in the Levant and they’d rather not know, as if removing themselves from a source of information somehow eliminates the problem.

Look, knowing things is hard.  Not only is it a bit of work to find out in the first place, but it can be difficult to know what to do with what you’ve learned, and often enough knowledge has the consequence of making you feel responsible.

And that, I think, is where much of the problem is.  People are past exhausted being told to give a damn.  And the less they know, the easier it is to be confident in dismissing problems that don’t seem to have anything to do with them.

But of course, problems always have something to do with you.  Maybe not directly or even tomorrow, but somewhat and eventually, and left ignored will grow.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

I’ll let that sit out there for a while.  More later.  But think about it.

Isolation is a guarantee of eventual extinction.

Come Again?

The evangelical embrace of Donald Trump is, to my mind, one of the most bizarre aspects of this election cycle.  The pretzel logic by which these endorsements come defies Oedipus.   If there had been any doubt before that the Christian Right (which is in substance neither) is dedicated to any program that will see the established order overturned to make room for their brand of idiocracy, this would be it.

Because the only way this makes sense is to see Trump as the prophesied  Anti-christ who will bring about the Apocalypse and prepare the way for His return.  Back when Bush was in the oval office, it came out that a umber of “advisors” were pushing his Middle East campaigns because it comported with their view of biblical fate.  Whether Bush himself bought into this is a matter of conjecture, but some of the people whispering in his ear did.

So whatever the evangelical right claims to believe about Trump, on its face  they can only hope to gain one thing—the demise of the secular state, either through mismanagement, revolution, or the intervention of heavenly hosts.  Trump, if his rhetoric is to be believed, will bring a wrecking ball to the office of president and, lo, chaos shall follow.

Jerry Falwell must be grinning in his grave.

I listened this morning to such a booster on NPR describe in glowing terms how he “knows” Trump and sees a man ready for repentance.  Wouldn’t that be a feather in their cap, to convert a man like this?  And his serious ineptitude is a bonus.  This is a flawed, fallen soul who will fail and in failing come to the lord and all these sycophants will be waiting with prayers and possibly militias behind them to move into the gap left behind by broken institutions.  Trump, they must imagine, will preside over the end of the secular United States, thus bringing on the Last Days and the salvation of the world!

Because such people say “Jesus” every third or fourth sentence, people are loathe to see them for the empty suits they are.  Well, some people.  I suspect most people find them…odious.  But it’s hard sometimes to condemn the mouthpiece without being seen to condemn the apparent message.

On the other hand, if, as might be possible, Trump has been playing the part of the Big Guy in the ultimate reality show, and is doing all this in order to bring the vermin out of the woodwork and completely disrupt the Fundie poison that has been sickening our republic since Reagan brought the Moral Majority into mainstream politics, then these fatuous rubes are playing into his hands with the wide-eyed fecklessness of a kid at Christmas, participating in what could be their ultimate loss of any political credibility.  Trump is making them all look like the fools they seem unable to understand.

Moderate Republicans, if any actually remain in the Party, have been scratching themselves, trying to get the funk off, seeing what is nothing less than the distillation of everything the GOP has been moving toward, supporting, and embracing since 1979 rise up out the swamp and shamble toward the convention.  Because of the Tea Party, because of the Christian Right, because of the supposed constitution fundamentalists—because, really, all these elements have been bought and paid for by the moneyed interests who would love to see the federal government either completely emasculated or safely conjoined to Wall Street—and the unholy growth of the thing Eisenhower warned us about back in 1960, the GOP is a caricature of what it once was.  It has become a haven for the intolerant, the small-minded, the regressive, the xenophobic.  Perversely, I think, not because they actually hate but because protecting the rights of the marginalized, the other, the outgroup requires a strong government dedicated to civil rights.  And they have set themselves in opposition to a strong government purely because it is strong.

And the Religious Right has cheered them on because they see, whether admitted or not, a strong government as a barrier to their preferred template for the country.  If the government says you may not discriminate against anyone based on their religion—or lack thereof—then they have no real power to aggressively convert.  When you let people make up their own minds, many, maybe most, will do things you just don’t like.

It’s been a close-run thing for them all this time.  They had to couch their intentions in rhetoric that played well to an audience not wholly sympathetic.  They couldn’t just come right out and say what they wanted.

Till now.  They think they have their shot.  Trump’s their guy.  So the gloves are coming off.

I think they’re in for a serious shock.

Phobic Identity

Here’s a the thing.  If you need someone to be in some way “less” than you in order for you to feel good—or even adequate—about yourself, you have a problem.  It’s not their problem, it’s yours.

This “pastor” who spewed all over Twitter that we shouldn’t feel bad about the Orlando killings because they were “perverts” is a prime example.  If he’s really a pastor, a religious leader, there is no reason for him to say any of that unless he’s just trying to assert superiority.  Which is entirely not the point of Christianity, as I understand it.  The point is to embrace the commonalities among people, not sort them out into boxes labeled “Preferred Types” and “Types To Be Condemned.”  No, he’s just indulging in bolstering a shaky self-image by dumping his own head full of crap on a group he finds personally—

What?  Offensive? Incomprehensible? Or simply indifferent to his beliefs.

But, then, how would he know?

People who try to make themselves feel better by denigrating others have always been among us but they have never been so able to broadcast their inadequacies so loudly and regularly and they have found each other and formed support groups. I can’t imagine a gloomier or, frankly, duller forum.

I have found that prejudice rarely survives real knowledge.  Actually knowing someone makes it very difficult to shove them into a category and hate “just because” they are a particular “type.”  Oh, it’s possible.  I have heard all manner of tortured rationalization to continue hating a group while embracing individuals from that group as friends.  But that requires, I think, a profound myopia. (And I have to wonder how much of a “friend” they can be.)  Generally, once you know someone, I believe it becomes harder and harder to categorically judge and hate them and those like them.

Which is why much of this hatred is based on ignorance.

But a particular kind of ignorance, one based on identity.

After 9/11 we saw people who suggested we learn more about Islam condemned as some species of traitor.  How dare you suggest we learn something about this group that just hurt us so badly!  How dare you suggest that we can’t programmatically cast all of them into the same box and deal with our pain by blaming them all and hating them!  How dare you suggest that more knowledge will benefit us!

It was a spasm of national smallness.  “I know who the enemy is, don’t tell me more about him or I might stop hating him.”

Reality is always more complicated.

People who feel squeezed by circumstance, unable often by virtue of their own ignorance to make the decisions necessary to get themselves out of their own cesspools of anger and frustration, seem to contract into themselves and put up a wall to keep out any ideas or facts that might tell them they are in error.  They end up hating, many of them, and you see it all over, with signs that are not only wrong-headed but in too many cases suggestive of poor education, illiteracy, and parochialisms that reinforce a siege mentality that grows daily more dense and difficult to penetrate.

No, sir or madam, “they” are not the problem.  There are conditions and circumstances that make for a toxic situation and someone has told you that “they” are the cause, the consequence, and the catalyst, all rolled into one, and if we can just be rid of “them” then you will stop being afraid.  Whoever told you that lied to you, probably because in so doing they have made themselves feel (falsely) more in control of their situation or they have a power agenda that depends on you buying into the lie.  It certainly depends on you never asking deeper questions.  Easier to just target and hate.  There, the shots have been fired, the bodies are on the floor, “they” have been dealt a blow.

Then why don’t you feel any safer?  Why can’t you get past the hate?

Why must we now shift aim to yet another group you know nothing about except that they don’t look or sound or act like you?

Too many people in this country harbor and nurture identity hatreds—we know who we are because we hate those people over there, who are different.

While you’re feeding on that, someone has been stealing your soul to use for purposes you’re too busy hating gays or Muslims or socialists or single parents or blacks or Latinos or Asians or Liberals or Democrats or anyone who knows something you don’t know or has an education or a vocabulary or anyone who reads or supports birth control or feminists or accepts evolution or advocates tolerance or the group of the day to notice.

On some level, along the way, inside, you are one or more of these very things. Hate them, you hate yourself.  And if by so doing you define who you are, then you have created for yourself a prison, with bars on the inside, through which to look and resent a world of which you have little understanding.  Because you refuse to.

And that pastor?  He’s one of the wardens.

The Anxiety of Innocence

I have too many reactions to what has occurred in Orlando. They clamor for attention, shove each other aside, roil and ripple. Fifty dead, and why?

Because a man decided, on his own, to “do something” about homosexuals.

Why?

I don’t think anyone will ever have an satisfactory answer to that, but it would seem to stem from the same impulse that drives certain men to beat their wives, to terrorize their children, to post hate-filled screeds on social media, and then, once they have done all these terrible things, go arm themselves in anticipation of the inevitable storm troopers they expect to come silence them.

And when those storm troopers do not show up?

They have the weapons, they might as well carry the fight to the enemy.

An enemy they have created, for themselves, to give shape to the loathing inside that dominates all their waking hours.

It must.  Everyone has a bad day, gets up with an antisocial cloud around them, from time to time. Snapping and snarling, nothing working right, stumbling through interactions that do nothing but abrade.

But we don’t kill people as a result. We solve the problem, get some sleep, be with friends, and the mood or whatever passes.  To get anywhere close to this kind of insane reaction, you’d have to live with the brooding ugliness day in and day out, for months or years, until you can’t even see other people anymore, only the threat they represent.  Until you can’t carry it anymore and you have to Do Something.

But where does that come from?

That someone can get to this point does not dismay me.  It saddens me.

That others goad him on, cheer him, then in cowardly support behind the anonymity of a faceless mod fistpump the air when the bodies have dropped—that enrages me.

One post I saw applauding his actions was glad that he’d “taken out” the perverts.

It’s that question of innocence that seems to underlay so much of this.  Protecting the innocent, dealing with the guilty.  Somewhere back in the 1980s Reagan dropped a remark, late in his presidency, about AIDS victims after visiting a hospital ward with infants and children:  he didn’t know “innocent” people could die from this disease.

Innocent.

We hear this in so much.  Innocent people.

Who are they?  Why aren’t we all?

More to the point: who the hell are you to say who is or is not?

We feed on hatred, vampirically. It drips, intravenously, daily. Most of us seem immune to the worst effects, but some embrace it.

Omar Mateen thought They were out to get him. They must have been, he hated them, it only makes sense that they hate him back.  And we helped him do the hating, every microcerebral homophobic lapel-pin patriot goading him on, ranting about the state of the country, posturing and pissing in the ocean, venting frustration as if it were a holy cause, listening to professional demagogues who peddle bigotry to meet their bottom-line who delight in the slaughter because it makes their irrational squeelings seem somehow prophetic, and then the rest of us who are polite or incapable of separating common sense from ideology or want to believe we do not enable the broken and malign, who are so terrified of losing a presumed right that we hand over our humanity in exchange for a safety we refuse to believe can be had by better means.

Because when our bitter uncle or our next-door neighbor starts ranting about how They are ruining the country, we demure, we don’t want to make a scene, we don’t want to wreck the day. Worse, we may not be so certain they’re wrong, because who, after all, among us is innocent? Maybe…maybe…it might be…well, I don’t know…everyone is entitled to their opinion…who am I…?

And then one day we wake to the news that the monster has fed.  We’re shocked.  We condemn.  But maybe we helped.  Not directly. No, we didn’t give him the gun or send him to the address or—

We just never challenged the sickness.

Petals

For whatever reason, this spring we’ve had some very cool blossoms int he yard, all seeming to know how to pose. For myself, I’ve bestirred my bones to take the camera out early to capture the light through textured membranes and…

Iris Cave 2, May 2016 Iris, Profile, May 2016, b&w Peony & Dew, May 2016 Iris Petal, May 2016, b&w Sun Through Iris and FGence, May 2016

Make America…Again

Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate.  One may wonder how things have gotten to this, but it’s not that hard to understand, just hard to accept.

There is a good side to this.  Ted Cruz will not be the next president.  We may see him try again, but not this time.  All the rest of the slate that began last year has fallen by the wayside and rarely have we seen a scarier bunch of potentials.  It’s not even so much their policies as that they seemed so incredibly unintelligent and uninformed.

But this is America and if it’s one thing we have plenty of it is unintelligent and uniformed people.  Someone has to represent them, I suppose.

Not that Trump is any better.  In fact, he’s become representative of the fact that for some people the less substantive content you put out there, the more you’re liked.

His tag line has been Make America Great Again.

I hate that line.  We’ve seen it before, it’s not like Trump is doing anything original here, but it doesn’t matter who uses it, I find it offensive.

Not, for anyone who might challenge me, because I wish my country not be great, but because that line is a fraud.

First, it assumes we’re not.  Great, that is.  In order to make that claim you have to define what you mean by Great. Right there we run into a problem.  Great by what metric?  According to who?  In what way?  Define your terms.  What do you mean when you suggest that we are not great?

And you then run into the million-issue problem.  What I might mean by the term is not what you mean.  And what you mean might be cause for me to reject that definition.

But set that aside for the moment.  Assume your terms.  Next, you have to explain why we are no longer that.  Why aren’t we great, even according to your values?

Then look around and see how true it is, what you believe.  Don’t rely on that guy behind the podium to tell you what’s wrong, go see for yourself.  If you know how to google at all, do some research.  Or go to some community center meetings.  Or, for the love of the future, read something other than the usual feel-good screed.  Stop watching Fox news.

And get some perspective.  History, oft-neglected and painfully necessary, goes a long way to bleeding off the panic of current-affair myopia.

But I suspect the people really supporting Trump will not do that.  If it was in them to do so, they would not be supporting him.  They would recognize the jingoism, the empty emotionalism, the patriotic deceptiveness.  But it also means they have no idea what he’s actually saying that is getting them so pumped.

Replace one word in his tagline and it makes perfect sense.  He’s not challenging his base to Make America Great Again, he’s challenging them to Make America White Again.

Several years ago I wrote an essay about the blowback on the part of the extreme Right against social change.  I asked what it is these people are so frightened of and I suggested that what really bothers them is that they don’t like the way their country looks anymore.  It’s pretty much that simple.  They don’t like gay people living right out in the open, they don’t like women holding certain jobs and having their own lives, they don’t like the fashions, the food, and they certainly don’t like the banners raised protesting what they never thought were such bad things—like big banks, segregation, and constant war.

They certainly don’t like the complexion of the country these last few decades.  It’s why they often can’t tell the difference between a citizen and a terrorist when their skin color or choice of attire is at odds with what they think America ought to look like.

I’m simplifying, of course, but only in the details.  As individuals, everyone has their own trigger for intolerance.  But when you look at Trump’s rhetoric and the things he gets cheered about and the reactions of his fans, it’s fairly clear that, however one might dress that pig up in pseudo-intellectual drag, it comes down to white people scared of colored people, be they Mexicans, Syrians, Asians, Africans, or Native Americans.

So Making America Great Again seems to be code for making things so we don’t have to pay any attention to Other People—their rights, their cultures, their privileges, their needs, or how they might have reasonable grievances against Business-As-Usual Americanism.  It’s code for trying to make the country resemble what we think it was like just after World War II, with Frederick March coming home to the wife and the picket fence.

You may think I’m being facetious, but I’m not.  As Tom Brokaw showed us, there is a Greatest Generation aspect to that entire period.  It was one time in our whole history when we seemed to be all on the same page and everyone pulled together and things were simple and when the War was over we were “blessed” with an explosive economy and just gushing oodles of righteous purpose.  WWII and the Fifties are this monumental epoch that we worship, idolize, and compare ourselves to constantly.  If only we could return to those days, when everything was so simple and we knew who we were.

That is the image, I believe, intended by all the politicians who use that line and accepted by all the people who swallow it and follow along.

There was something special about that era.

But we can’t have it anymore.  We aren’t those people, the world is not that place anymore, and things aren’t like they used to be.

In short, we have to find a new standard for Great.  That one was used and belongs to another time.  And forcing the country into some kind of mold so it kinda sorta resembles that just because the future frightens you is, well, infantile.

Besides, it wasn’t all that great then, either.  It was just that certain issues were so big as to dwarf the other things that needed fixing.  We were segregated, civil rights were not equally distributed or accepted, many women lacked the opportunity to be their own selves, and poverty still clung to vast areas,mainly in the South.  We had problems, some of them the same ones we have now.

Things aren’t like they were in the “good ol’ days”—and they never were.

But myth has momentum (and creates inertia) and we take from the past what we need to dream a new future.  That future, no matter what, will be different and many people will be afraid of it, no matter how shiny it looks.

You can’t maintain a civilization based on fear of change.  Change happens whether we want it to or not.  We have one choice—be part of it or try to stop it.  If we’re part of it, we can help shape it.  If we try to stop it, we will be run over and forgotten.

As far as I’m concerned, what’s great about this country is that we can, if we want, make a wonderful and wonder-filled future.  We’re not bereft of talent and imagination or resources.  We have everything we need to build a really cool tomorrow.  What makes America Great is what has always made it great—the potential of its people.  I get up in the morning and I can live and work with great people.  I can find and enjoy great art, music, I can eat well, I can think crazy thoughts and sometimes do something amazing because that’s the heritage I choose to recognize.  In that sense, we don’t need to be made Great Again—we are, have been, and will be.

But some people seem to believe that greatness is measured by military strength, social conformism, high-minded bigotry, and constant paeons to nationalistic bombast.  They believe it’s us bullying the rest of the world and telling poor people to just get a job.  It’s size and influence and the ability to order other countries around.  It’s a willingness to reach for a gun at the first hiccup in diplomacy.  And it’s inculcated in nurturing a wealthy class that has no regard for anyone else anywhere else as long as the GDP keeps going up, in spite of the consequences to the environment and working people.

That’s not greatness.  That’s just size.  And arrogance.

So I’m not inclined to accept Mr. Trump’s challenge, because on the one hand it’s without meaning to me.  On the other, I’m not sure we could survive being that great.