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Retrenchment

The new abortion laws being enacted across the country should come as no surprise. This was going to happen. This has been in the cards since Reagan. Reliance on the courts to defend the right to choose was as much an indication of how much we underestimated the threat as it was any kind of faith in our institutions.

Right after Roe was passed, amendments to state constitutions should have been passed to nail it down. Other laws should have been written and passed to nail it down. One of the inherent problems with a federal solution is that it’s a one-time solution that can be reversed the next time across the board. Roe should have been the start of a long series of embedding legislation which should have been taken up on the assumption that Roe could be overturned.

It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. One, I believe, is that too much support for the right to choose is tepid. It is too often circumstantial, waffling, and uncomfortable.

Now we’ll find out. Penalties are being attached. Some have already been enacted. This means one thing that has traditionally scared the anti-choice movement off—it will now be in the courts all the time.

Let me say here that in my opinion, as a male, I should have no say in this. At all. I was never at risk in this issue. I could never get pregnant. I was never going to suffer consequences from being denied the right to an abortion. This should not be something I have any stake in.

That said, it has become politicized to the point that having an opinion is unavoidable because now it is a civil rights issue, and civil rights affect all of us.

And no, as far as I’m concerned, a fetus has no civil rights. A fetus is not a person. At best, a fetus is a manifestation of an idea, and it only becomes a person if all the parties involve follow through. All the moralistic posturing about when life begins and what constitutes a human are just that—posturing. By taking the position that a fetus—now, in some cases, a zygote—is a human being with a full suite of rights, you automatically strip rights of personhood from the one carrying it. Personhood is an aspect of autonomy. Autonomy at the very least is a matter of self-determination. By declaring that a collection of cells has greater claim to state protection than the one carrying them is by definition declaring that woman less than everyone else. You can’t have it any other way.

Until we stop waffling about that, this issue will not be resolved.

Resolution, however, entails several other issues that are hanging upon the thread of ongoing discomfort. Like equality, for instance, and not just for women.

Education for another. The rationalization of sex. Not to mention the ongoing squirming about gender, orientation, and identity. All of this is tangled up and therefore it is difficult to know just what some people are objecting to when they go on a jeremiad about abortion. We may believe our response is exclusively aimed at the words coming out of their mouths, but then when their next response comes, laden with contradiction and vehement rejection, we sense that we did not know just what we were arguing about.

This is simple:  if the goal is to reduce and/or eliminate abortions, then a sensible solution is to substantially invest in meaningful sex education and the wide availability of contraception. Attack the causes of unwanted pregnancy and empower individuals to protect themselves. How hard is that?

Apparently, very. Almost no anti-choice group does not also include a ban on contraception as a stated goal. One of the justifications touted for this stance is the notion that contraception is simply abortion by other means. Pre-emptive abortion, if you will. That contraception inculcates a lax attitude toward the value of life. That contraception leads to an acceptance of abortion.

This facile excuse-making masks a very simple reality:  that the real issue is not abortion but sex. Sex practiced outside the bounds of what is hoped to be strict social parameters that will control behaviors said advocates find unacceptable. (A recent declaration by Alabama Republican state Senator and sponsor of the bill Clyde Chambliss, responded that, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” That’s about as clear as it can be made—he and probably his supporters are not interested in the “facts of life” regarding fertilized egg—they are concerned with pregnant women and making sure they stay pregnant.)  This is a direct assault on a woman’s right to be her own agent.  It is punitive and it is a curtailment of her civil rights. This has nothing to do with fetuses except as a means of control.

Until we largely get past the traditional views that linger like mold that sex is somehow bad and that women who try to live their lives according to the same privileged sensibilities men do are “unnatural”; until we get to a place where we can accept that sex as an act of communication is separate and distinct in intent and outcome from sex as procreation and that all of us have a right to manage our own aspirations free of outside interference, we will continue to have this problem.

It is the start of a chain, though.  If you can dictate pregnancy this way, you can dictate all the rest of the privacy concerns adhering to questions of free association and identity. This can be enlarged for purposes of a resurgent legal challenge to homosexual rights, transgender rights, adoption rights, marriage rights, and so on.  Not that it necessarily would go there but by accepting the legitimacy of such limitations on one group for purposes having nothing to do with their innate and autonomous desires, you can construe a challenge to any group failing to fit an arbitrary social “norm.”

That is not a society I care to live in.

Until we quite clearly and loudly start dealing with the underlying (and not so well hidden) issues involved, we are destined to keep fighting these back-and-forth legal wars.  Despite the distance traveled since the 1950s and all its suffocating social restrictions, people still seem reluctant to defend their right to have healthy sex.  Indeed, we still have too many people who do not believe sex is healthy. Too many people who excuse their desires and passions by making babies and therefore proving a legitimate reason for having such a good time was there all along.

It sounds silly, doesn’t it?

When you disassemble the challenges and look at the arguments and then look at the policies advocated, it doesn’t sound so silly.  The anti-choice movement has depended on the tepidness, the discomfort, of too many people in order to build the momentum they have. They have relied on our collective ill-ease with the whole subject.

Well. Be that as it may. Sad to say, the pro-choice movement is likely going to lose this one. Having lost it, we will regroup, and maybe next time do the necessary trench-warfare in the state legislatures, and school boards, and town halls to instantiate this right in too many places, too deeply to be effectively challenged.

We need to. I am not willing to live in a Calvinist dystopia. I don’t think the Fifties were all that wonderful. I don’t want my friends to suffer a retreat from the dream of equity.

This has been a fight with ignorance. The depth of that ignorance is on display now across the country. People who don’t know—and who don’t want to know, because knowing confuses them, makes them doubt. They want a pure, righteous cause by which to feel virtuous.

For the life of me, I’ve never understood why genuine equality doesn’t fill that bill.

Equality? For the ignorant—that a woman can be shackled by a condition and have her entire life twisted and reshaped through no choice of her own and that men can never be so trapped automatically makes this an equity issue. That is reality. And I have no doubt that many if not all the architects of the so-called pro-life cause know that perfectly well and they are glad of it, because they think that’s as it should be.

 

 



On Being Overwhelmed By

Too many things.

I’ve been on Facebook for years and I have a great many people on my friends list. I belong to a few interest groups, one of which was, till recently, a Science Fiction discussion page. Natural fit, yes? I left the group. I had two comments arbitrarily deleted by the admin.

I hasten to explain that this was not an arbitrary decision on my part, to leave, at least not as arbitrary as it sounds. Nor am I particularly thin-skinned. This was a question of how much time I’m willing to waste. It had entirely to do with the nature of the post to which I responded and the nature of my comment. Thinking it over, I realize that this sort of thing is indicative of a problem most of us are facing.

Now, to the post. It was about Nichele Nichols and her iconic role, Lt. Uhura. One of the responses quoted Whoopie Goldberg, who recalled seeing her first Star Trek episode and running into the other room to alert her family that there was a “black woman on the television and she ain’t a maid.” This led to someone demanding that “politics be kept off the board! This is for science fiction, not politics.”  Well, I had to scratch my head. “How,” I asked myself, “do you talk about SF without discussing politics?”

That was the nature of my response. Mainly, to point this out, and that in some 50 + years of reading the stuff, I cannot recall a single worthwhile work that did not, even if buried in layers of subtext, have something political about it. Because science fiction is inherently political. It’s all about change. Worldbuilding? Substitute the phrase “regime change.” You don’t get there without politics. Utopia? That’s a mode centered on political theory—outdated, perhaps, but nonetheless. Dystopia? That is about the collapse of one form of politics and the substitution of another. Interstellar travel? Hugely expensive, entire nations would have to vote for it. Politics. New technologies replacing old? Political ramifications from beginning to end.  And meeting aliens, well! We have actual experience with that on a cultural level. Major politics ensue.

There’s no getting away from it. Science fiction is fundamentally, inherently political. It can’t not be. As soon as you suggest the future will be different, somewhere in there is a political question, and if you then go ahead and describe how it got to be different, you’re up to your eyeballs in politics.

So the demand to keep politics out of a discussion of SF is prima facie ridiculous.

Now, really, I know what the poster meant. He didn’t want present-day, in-the-news politics interjected in what he regarded as his “safe” escape medium. But as soon as Nichele Nichols as Lt. Uhura came up, photograph and all, that was not possible, because she was all about equality, and that is an argument we are having.  At the time she was first cast in that part, it was for many people incendiary politics. The character of Uhura was a slap in the face to white supremacists, a statement that the status quo not only had to change but would change. Damn right it was political.

But this is an indication of something we may be in danger of losing, at least for a short time, and that is the ability to talk about such things without descending into a partisan mud wrestle. Not that we ever possessed this ability completely. I remember many a conversation that proceeded along on what one might describe as a theoretical basis, and it would be civil and interesting. But there was always a line, usually somewhere that a suggestion was made along the lines of “how come we don’t do this now?” Then ranks and minds closed.

But there was that space, for a short while, where issues could be discussed like adults…

That space has shrunk in recent years.

So we end up with the absurd demand from some who seem not to realize that what they ask is not possible, not if a real discussion is to be had. Keep politics out of science fiction?

Get real.

But people are overwhelmed lately. I know I am. It manifests in a brevity of response to stupidity. It manifests in my growing willingness to call certain things stupid rather than politely engage until some clue as to the source of said stupidity emerges. I have neither time or patience lately, because the stupid is threatening to destroy too much.

It may well be, though, that we should develop a new appreciation for science fiction. All things being equal, it may end up being the last “safe” place to discuss these things among people on opposite sides of an issue.

For the sake of the future, it would be worth a try.



The Undoing

Here is a fact. The Republican Party, at the state and local level, is engaged in a purge. With a few exceptions, the apparatus is ousting members who do not support Trump. Anyone who has spoken against him, who will not support the Big Lie, who wish to move the Party away from him, are being removed from offices, barred from positions of responsibility, and pushed out the door. They’re welcome to call themselves Republicans but if they will not throw their lot in with the Trump cult, they are being treated as unreliable and untrustworthy and being removed. This goes all the way up to congress, where Liz Cheney is engaged in defending herself from exactly this.

One might say this is delusional on the part of those rallying to the former president, but we see people who publicly denounced Trump’s allegations about a fraudulent election now joining in on the big purge. Delusion is one thing. This is something else.

The comparisons to the Nazi Party have been going on for a long time, to the point that it has become almost a cliché. But it is valid to look at how such organizations operate historically and compare. This is is very much how such things go. In order to guarantee lock-step conformity, any independent voice, anyone who might hold conscience above program, has to go. The organization cannot afford the muddying effect of actual diversity of opinion in its effort to achieve its goals. In this sense, the GOP is becoming an antidemocratic organization. Along with the systematic attempt to enact voter suppression laws in state after sate, no one should doubt that this is a party bent on achieving unquestioned dominance of our civic institutions.

To what end?

That’s been the question for me: just what is it they wish to see?

I don’t think it’s subtle at all. They want this all to be Theirs. Even conservative supporters of such things as Social Security and Medicare seem to be joining the effort to undo those things. Every time someone talks about privatizing one of these programs it is entirely an effort to exclude. Even as some talk about expanding the GOP, making it more inclusive, the policy agenda the party pursues is one of stripping the government of the power to represent all the people. When you privatize something, you basically say that anyone can have these services if they can afford them. Pay for play. What about those who can’t afford them?

Too bad.

The twisted logic on display suggests that those who can’t afford to play are not Americans.

While no one has actually said those words, it is fairly obvious from four decades of programmatic reduction of common service that this is the ethos. No money? Gee.

But they have been thwarted often enough that what we see now is a last-ditch attempt to shore up Party Purity and make it impossible to mitigate the worst effects of what seems to be an attempt to destroy all safety nets and render all movements toward a more egalitarian society impotent. Basically, if certain people cannot choose who to exclude from services they feel they rightly deserve, they will dismantle it all so no one can have them. Then, afterward, when they have control, they will rebuild them with exclusions already in place.

We’ve seen this before, most clearly in school systems.  We’re seeing it now in voting restrictions. Party spokespeople have stated clearly that if voting rights are made more accessible, more egalitarian, the GOP will be at a disadvantage.

There is a deep admission of elitism at the heart of this that goes beyond simple competitiveness. These are people who believe they are chosen to be the only true Americans, and all these other…people…are the unwashed, vulgar, below-the-salt commoners who need to be shown their Place.

Pointing out what they’re doing to them does no good.  They know exactly what they’re doing and see nothing wrong with it.

Trump is meaningless, even to them, as anything other than a point of focus.

This is more dangerous than anything we’ve seen since the Depression. It is dangerous because the message has appeal to people who can’t fathom why they have to share something with strangers who don’t look like them, talk like them, think like them. It has appeal to people who think being an American entitles them to being superior. It has appeal to people who think taking care of everyone only means there will be less for them. It appeals to people who harbor resentments and think if only they could do something about those people over there then life would get better. It appeals to people who think if they hand their conscience over to the self-appointed vanguard of a New Order, that order will make sure they can keep their property. It appeals to people who, while perhaps being circumspect about their sentiments, actually feel a little bit safer every time a black man is killed by a cop.

The GOP is currently dominated by people who seem to believe that they alone know what being American means and in order to see that vision into dominance are willing to destroy everything that mitigates the damage elitism does in a country they feel is rightfully theirs and only theirs.

Right now, the various philosophies that have sustained them since the Seventies are being held up to review and seen wanting. The economic program known as trickle-down is being openly criticized and more people see it as a failure. Their record of gerrymandering and voter suppression is a public disgrace. It’s unraveling on them. But. It would not take much for them to simply regroup, abandon any attempt at soft-selling themselves, and just taking the forum. We cannot rest on the limited success of the last election, not while it’s still being challenged by the lies. It will take a few more elections to return our institutions to sanity.

In the short term, it may well be that Liz Cheney and a few others could form the basis of a new party that may well finish the destruction of the GOP as it now stands.  I’m not sure that would be any kind of a fix in the long run, but it might give us all the breathing space to find the common ground we’ve had yanked from beneath our feet and exorcize these demons of disunity.

I don’t know. Have a care. As Wellington said once, “it was the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.” That, I think, is what we’re facing.



Management Style

Since Bill Clinton’s win over George H.W. Bush, I’ve held the opinion that what we need is less “inspiration” and better management. Not sexy, of course, but when you consider the enormous complexity of our institutions and the tangled interconnections with the world, it should be obvious that someone whose chief virtue is a Chautauqua Meeting ability to command attention and inflame an audience into tongue-speaking, emotion-laden excitement is not likely to either care or understand the true requirements of the job of president.

Usually, such abilities are at least understandable in a wartime leader. Rallying the troops, so to speak. But then, after the speeches, the hard work of actually running things must happen, and that requires a different set of skills, many of which are far from inspiring other than in the abstract.  (Consider, most successful military actions have always depended more on logistics than on tactics and the guy leading the charge. But we rarely pin medals on the supply officers.)

Eisenhower understood this. He was not a frontline commander, but he understood people, and knew how to organize, and could prioritize necessities. He was not a particularly inspiring speaker, but he was solid, dependable, even if most people didn’t quite know why. (His last speech as president addresses a technical issue which probably most people simply didn’t get—the military-industrial complex is an abstract concept about systems. He understood perfectly, though, how systems and institutions can develop enormous momentum and end up running us over, all because we ignore them because they seem so impersonal. He warned us about it and while some knew very well what he meant, we were never able to activate the political will to counteract it—because we tend not to vote for that sort of representative. We’re too hooked on Being Inspired.)

With the smoking ruin of Vietnam and the civil unrest that accompanied it, we began relying more and more on “inspiring” candidates. By the time Clinton came along, it seemed obvious that we had been running the country on a war footing practically since the end of WWII, and it was beginning to show signs of unendurable stress.  We needed to slow down, so to speak, stop fighting a war we were increasingly complicit in fueling for the benefit of an economy that was also clearly serving fewer and fewer people the way it ought to. The loudest voice extolling the most patriotic qualities in opposition to one existential threat after another in order to save the country from the shame and wreckage of movements no one really understood well enough to honestly oppose kept winning elections and overbalancing our institutions in favor of more extreme versions of an America Triumphant became the accepted standard of candidates.

When what we really needed was a good manager, not a General on a stallion leading a charge.

This trend gave us the last administration, which was almost all bombast and bluster and inspirational excess (for some, at least) and almost no actual management.

For years, I’ve been saying that I no longer care to be inspired. I want a competent person who will manage things. We needed that when Clinton won. We got some of it, but he was hampered by the jingoistic hunger to be A LEADER.

Well, fingers crossed, we may finally have what we need. According to this editorial in the New York Intelligencer, Joe Biden may have learned something from the last 40 years and has the presence of mind to act on what he’s learned.

We’ll see. It may fail, but I think this approach deserves a chance.  Because the other way, the mindless, adrenalin-driven screaming of hordes of followers behind that Leader On A Charger leading us toward the next hill has been tearing us apart.

Besides, the next hill may well be a cliff.



Pathological Ownership

Beth Moore has left the Southern Baptist Conference. If you are unaware of her and what this means, you should look into it. Beth Moore has for many years occupied a special place within that community—a preacher without portfolio, one might say, as the SBC does not permit women to hold the title “pastor.” The straight-up “pure quill” fundamentalism they espouse holds the inferred Biblical injunctions inviolable in this instance, but she has been such a forceful speaker and operates such a large organization that they are loathe to relegate her to silence. So she held that special position.

Till now.

She has split with them over Trump. The schism is instructive. Ms. Moore cannot find common ground with the majority of her colleagues over Trump.

“He became the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America,” she said. “Nothing could have prepared me for that.”

Since 2016 she has been on the outside of the SBC over this issue. She identified Trump as an exemplar of everything they should stand against, and yet she was met with silence, then disapproval, then warnings, and finally with the loss of her publisher. She could not understand the attitude of her (male) colleagues in their support for this man she saw as a walking “poster child” for evil.

To be sure, this has puzzled those outside the evangelical camp all along. The slogans and protestations over perceived moral lapses in Democrats would seem to support a no-holds-barred moralism that should have found Trump utterly unacceptable. And yet we have been witness to very public campaigns of image rehabilitation all along. It has been with mixed incomprehension and horror that we have seen people who flew into paroxysms of condemnation over Clinton’s behavior make showings of almost servile support (bordering on worship) for a man who bragged about pussy-grabbing and attempted to pay off a porn star to keep her from talking about her paid services to him. The very public ridicule he heaped on anyone who did not fit a shallow model of Americanism that combined a host of clichés and segregated anyone who didn’t meet the standard—essentially the acts of a bully picking on the weak—seemed to gain favor with the very people who claim Jesus as their exemplar. Beth Moore saw this for what it was and tried to convince the SBC to abandon its support for him, and instead found herself more and more at odds with them, more and more isolated.

It is fair to ask what is going on with this enormous contradiction. How could the self-professed moral arbiters of the country, the Christian Right, support this?

Beth Moore’s ambiguous status holds much of the answer.

It is by now a convention that in many religions women are relegated to secondary (or lesser) status. One may puzzle about how this can still pertain in a time when the evidence for any rational justification for it has been shown to be nonexistent. Certainly it is an aspect of male privilege, but that does not satisfactorily explain the complicit acquiescence of so many women. Moore is a good example of the conundrum. (Just as with people like Michele Bachman, who espouses a paradoxical belief that women should be subservient yet she herself sees no problem with holding leadership positions.) In Moore’s case, she has been in accord with the evangelical attitudes toward women and accepted a lesser status even while she has risen to a commanding position in her community. She felt the larger message important and, no doubt, felt protected within the larger community.

But when Trump’s very public attitudes toward women became a very public issue, and she protested, that community seemed to withdraw its protection.

In my opinion, this apparent betrayal is due to a basic misunderstanding which is not only endemic to communities like the SBC, but to our society as a whole, and it has to do with Ownership.

The only reason to deny equality to women and then justify it, you have to understand who thinks who owns what.

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, The Dispossessed, there is a scene early on which strikes the issue squarely. It is a flashback of the protagonist, Shevek, as a child in, basically, preschool:

…the fat infant was at this moment coming towards the knobby one rapidly…he approached out of boredom or sociability, but once in the square of sunlight he discovered it was warm there. He sat down heavily beside the knobby one, crowding him into the shade.

The knobby one’s blank rapture gave place at once to a scowl of rage. He pushed the fat one, shouting “Go ‘way!”

…The knobby one stood up. His face was a glare of sunlight and anger. His diapers were about to fall off. “Mine!” he said in a high, ringing voice. “Mine sun!”

“It is not yours,” the one-eyed woman said with the mildness of utter certainty. “Nothing is yours. It is to use.  It is to share. If you will not share it, you cannot use it.” And she picked the knobby baby up with gentle inexorable hands and set him aside, out of the square of sunlight.

The knobby one shook all over, screamed, “Mine sun!” and burst into tears of rage.

Baby Shevek has determined that things belong to him. Personally. Perfectly natural, to a degree. The world is centered on him, he feels he has a right to the patch of sunlight, that he can, in fact, own it. We read the passage with a mix of amusement and enlightenment. We recognize this to be an infant’s response to the reality of the world.

But.

Our culture is based, largely if not wholly, on an idea of ownership that was in the beginning a redress of imbalance. The idea that anyone, regardless of “station”, could own property was radical, especially in its unremarked egalitarianism. Communal ownership was more common, but this was not the aspect of ownership that captured the imagination—rather, it was the sole ownership, the possibility the individual, any individual, could own outright the equivalent of a kingdom that became the unquestioned ethos of the American experiment. This idea—so powerful, so very American in its expression if not its origins—fueled the growth of the United States and rocketed us to heights unparalleled in history.

And it underlies everything that is currently wrong with the republic. It has always had its dark side, it has never been free of abuse, but it has gone through cycles during which it was tempered—by circumstance, by public morality, by the very excesses of those most adept at acquisition. Boom and Bust cycles are the product of poorly controlled acquisition. Theodore Roosevelt knew it and attacked it. His relative, FDR, went further.

But it’s very difficult to regulate that which is an outgrowth of a cultural feature, part of our own mythology, our identity—our psychology. Any attempt to regulate it feels like theft.

This is not new, by any means, but it has become so dominant in our culture as to be like the very air we breathe, at least for some. Ownership has come to possess us as the only worthwhile aspect of anything and everything. If looked at from this perspective, all our present ethical and social conundrums clarify, from taxes to fashion, gun ownership to healthcare, voting rights to marriage, property to opinions, abortion to minimum wage.

What Trump has done for the membership of the SBC that puts them at odds with Beth Moore and seems so perverse to many of us is to reaffirm for them what they feel proprietary about, what they believe they rightfully own, that their claims of possession are legitimate. Beth Moore does not, for them, have a right to be shocked and repulsed by Trump because she is not an owner. They are. To put it as bluntly as possible, while perhaps most of them are dismayed and censorious about Trump’s pussy-grabbing, it remains a fact for them that the pussy is there for him to grab. His grabbing it makes it his, because the woman does not own it. Women’s sexuality is not theirs.

Beth Moore does not even have a right to her own voice—they have tried to take that away from her—but only has use of it because it serves the self-presumed owners.

Absurd? When you look back at the history of personal rights over the centuries, one thing becomes clear—it always revolves around some formulation of ownership. As the franchise expanded, those opposed railed against it out of a sense of privilege, that they are losing something which they act as if they owned. What we are seeing right now across the country is exactly that—people trying to limit voting rights, reduce them, take them away from those they see as a threat. (Because the consequences of such expanded voting might impinge on other things that self-styled elites feel are theirs.) Many reasons are given, but the presumption that such restrictions are even considered is based on a notion of proprietary civic ownership that goes back centuries.

Plato discussed communal space, where everyone in a polis “owned” things in common. Aristotle thought this was a bad idea since in his view (to simplify) common ownership like that would dis-incentivize care, that without the added encouragement of private ownership, no one would feel obligated to preserve, maintain, or build. Aristotle was the one “good pagan” that the Catholic Church used to build its own social ethics and so this idea came into the mainstream of thought through the dominant religions of the modern era. Plato and Aristotle approved of limited forms of democracy, but felt that not everyone was suited to participate equally and Aristotle made no bones about believing only elite males had a natural right to ownership, which meant the ability to participate in the politics of the polis. Hence the franchise came down to us from ideas of suitability and because so much history, property, conquest, and nation-building has accrued around these ideas since, it is difficult to tease them apart. They are the air we breathe, as I said.

There has always been a cycle of balances set against this. Simple ability to enforce, the reach of government and church, the situation on the ground at any given place and time—all have made a pure form of this hard to achieve and there has always been some push-back. But we cannot seem to be rid of it. One would have thought that by the Enlightenment, the categorical denials of agency necessary would have fallen by the wayside, and yet…

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696 – 1792) was a major figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, a patron of David Hume and Adam Smith, among others. He, with others, established the Philosophical Society of Scotland. A precursor to the much more influential work of Adam Smith, he was concerned about the importance of property to society. The economics aside, when it came to the franchise, he wrote:

“Those who depend for food on bodily labor, are totally void of taste, of such taste at least as can be of use in the fine arts. This consideration bars the greater part of mankind; and for the remaining part, many by a corrupted taste are unqualified for voting.”

With some allowance for the passage of much history, this would have fit rather well with Aristotle (and even Plato). Specific justifications aside, the idea that it is not only permissible but desirable to exclude certain people from participation is clear.

The rest of the 18th Century, in terms of Enlightenment thinkers, wrestled with questions of nature, merit, innate value. Property emerged as a key concern and with the creation of the United States, the momentum of such concerns barreled on with increasing force until, today, property has become everything.

The United States, however, has an in-built conflict. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are neither one based on such blatant exclusions and form the basis of a tension that has grown along with the self-conception of the country. Property, as it turns out, is only valuable when made exclusive. Politics, however, always intrudes on the uses of property, which brings in the concerns of those excluded. Rights occupy a special space that seem beholden to the ephemeral even as the exercise of Rights inevitably impacts the temporal. Because we have a love-hate relationship with ideas of property that transcend mere material objects, the inextricable dependence of one on the other creates a conception of property that seems to encompass Rights and treats them as a species of Things Which Can Be Owned. My Rights, My Land, My Freedom, My Things, My Self.

The most accessible way to conceive of all this is as property. Which means that when Rights are expanded, some people will see this as an encroachment because it depletes the value of their property. And so, the question at the center of modern conservatism, whether stated explicitly or not (or even acknowledged), is: What can I own? The next question, then, would have to be: how can I maintain the value of what I own?  This becomes the justification to deny ownership to others.

For most people, historically, the goal was autonomy. The freedom to be who you are, unapologetically, without having to justify yourself to authorities. But autonomy—agency—is not the same as ownership. Unlike property, agency should not be—cannot be—a contract or title to the claims of self possession. It must be a given, unbarterable, nonfungible, and universal. The American myth is that here, we have that. In practice, most of us do not. It is traded away every day by the fact that without money—the means of ownership—we have nothing anyone feels obligated to respect.

So alliances are made, groups are formed, coalitions emerge. Churches are ready-made for this, because by joining one the agency we seem unable to possess on our own can be “borrowed” from the cadre. But churches aren’t the only method for becoming something by allying with many. Political parties, certainly, but the principle works with businesses, charitable organizations, clubs, special interests, schools…

All these things, however, exist—here—within a framework that has promised agency.

But that’s a slippery idea to pin down. It’s the thing implicit in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in the enumeration of rights to be kept free of outside (government) interference (or any other), like speech, freedom of worship, privacy, assembly, legal redress, and equal access to public determination. Agency. Rather than that, we have come to regard ownership as primary, as established throughout our history by repeated referral to property as a qualification for common regard. As time marched on, the meaning of the franchise expanded, and in each expansion the issue has been centered on ownership. In the beginning, only property owners could vote. While not so explicit today, there is still a property qualification (permanent address).

In the advance toward a universal franchise, those opposed to the expansion have insisted on more and more qualifications—amounting to proof of ownership—to bear on the people they wish to exclude. After 250 years (here) of this, we have come to a point where almost everything has been, in some sense, transformed into a commodity.

Things that can be owned can be controlled.

How does this relate to the Religious Right’s support of Trump and their censure of Beth Moore?

Trump is all about ownership. His “brand” is everything. He is admired (by some) for having things. Having things is the hallmark of success in this country. Not “who you are” but “what you have” matters more to most people, because the former requires a sense of Self that is neither publicly evident or reliably fixed (people change).  (Also, who you are may be terrifying to other people, so it is easier to reduce the Self to a set of traits that you “have”—implying that you can trade them in, get new ones, swap them out, or just put them away.) Success at Having Things is understandable, accessible, universalizable. It also validates for others the presumed right to have things.

Trump is popular among certain groups because he does just that—he validates their view of what it means to be an American, which is entirely wrapped up in Having Things.

One of the things he “has” is the prerogative to deny agency to those he sees as inferiors or, at least, unworthy of consideration.

For evangelicals this includes many of the kinds of people of whom they disapprove. While Trump’s “manner” may offend their sensibilities, they do not find fault with his presumptions. In the case of the “pussygrabbing” it comes down to the fact that the pussies he is grabbing are attached to “fallen” women. After all, their wives would never be in a position to be so treated, because they are not “that kind” of woman. They know better than to put their pussies in such circumstances.

I phrase it that way because below all this, the reality for these men is that their wives’ pussies belong to them. Because this is a factor of our culture that underlies much of our disconnect over women’s rights and equity. For them, women don’t “own” their sexuality. They carry it around until a man claims it. Which is why so much of the anxiety and anger over gender equality remains a muddle for certain people.

And Beth Moore? She had the temerity to express the idea that Trump’s pussygrabbing was in all cases immoral, obscene, and deserving of censure. But she can only make that charge if women are their own persons, whole and worthy of regard as free agents.

And agency is the one thing evangelicals cannot grant outside the confining circle of their faith, which is a club of limited membership, very exclusive, and cannot admit to any kind of baseline equality. Doing so would require they change their message on so many fronts and accord respect to people and persons they a priori consider beyond the pale. Unredeemed. Damned.

Just the fact that Beth Moore has for all these years been disallowed from holding an equal position within her chosen conference demonstrates that the principle of ownership is in force to deny her agency, because she cannot own what her colleagues already claim for themselves. They see it as their prerogative to grant status and people outside their selective regard have no right to claim anything for themselves.

Consider their stance toward transgender persons: this is a threat to their purview because it is individuals taking possession of their Selves and claiming agency. That they would have to know that Self intimately enough to move beyond the reach of simple possession is a denial of the message of “salvation” through superior agency (Christ). And, on a more basic level, it frightens because gender orientation is one of those things that is “owned” and often regarded as a separate thing to be scorned (denial of the flesh). That it is fundamental to identity creates too many confusions and contradictions for the smooth apprehension of a theological proposition which is supposed to be Otherworldly.

But in practice it comes down to an ownership issue.

Consider an example outside of questions of Self. The rejection of government economic support for the poor. This would seem paradoxical. If the point is to alleviate poverty, what does it matter where the aide comes from?  But it matters if you consider the dispensation of that aid proprietary. They see it as charity and according to their own philosophy, charity comes from the heart. Governments render this moot, because it becomes a matter of economic systems. There is no “charity”—hence no Good Works, no affirmation of moral mission, no opportunity to demonstrate one’s christianity. Charity has become a wholly-owned trademark of religious expression and no one should take it away, least of all systems that might render the matter solved.

Beth Moore ran afoul of an unexamined aspect of American culture as expressed through a religious lens. Trump may be an immoral, foul, odious being, but he affirmed for them the basic right of ownership of so many issues, and hence condemning him and withdrawing support was not possible. It might have played out a little differently had a man in Beth Moore’s position done what she did, but it still would have intruded on the majority’s presumptive rights of ownership—in this case, the ownership of male privilege.

On an even more perverse level, Trump was also the proof of government corruption—he fit their idea of what the government already was. If the end game was to destroy the beast, why not support the one who best exemplifies everything they claim to hate? Putting a good man (or woman—unthinkable!) in that office would seem perverse, because what could a good man accomplish? It would only delay the advent of freedom from what they see as secular attempts at creating a baseline equality that denies their “right” to judge.

And here it generates endlessly stranger ideas of what may have been going on.

But Beth Moore turned on the juggernaut and was trampled by the unstated assumptions of the inner circle. That evangelicals can show a history of their own indulging in all the things she condemned Trump for doing ought to have been a signal that she misunderstood just what she was dealing with.

Agency, as I assume it here, is something beyond ownership. But it’s personal, and it’s malleable, and it is uncontained by convention. It actually cannot be owned, so it becomes necessary to prevent its manifestation.

I do not here claim everyone is so ensconced in this morass of what I’ve termed Pathological Ownership—but then it never requires many people to subscribe to an idea to have an impact on how the culture responds. Because we have a rather nebulous set of alternate models, the idea of Having Things being a substitute rather than an expression of Self can distort all out of proportion to the numbers involved. It helps if we know what it is we’re talking about, identify the issue at hand, instead of stumbling on assuming a different set of values at play.

Just about everything in the divisive cultural and politic mess we’ve experienced for the last few decades can be explained by this idea. The GOP won’t cooperate with the Democrats? Why? Because they seek to own the issues. If they cooperate, then they must share, and sharing is the road to ruin, because no one can own what is shared. The moment you share something it is no longer exclusively yours,.

Too many people just want to own everything.

 

 



Empty Thunder

In the aftermath of the Civil War (once also called the War of the Rebellion), many people were certainly concerned, uncertain, and baffled about the future. The purpose of the war had been the preservation of the Union. That statement, that explanation, however, contains within it manifold intentions and issues with which we evidently struggle to this day.

Chief among them being the question, Union of What?

Lee’s surrender at Appomattox gave a formality to the end of the war which was deceptive. Hostilities raged on in various places for years. Look at any war and it is obvious that formal declarations of surrender, victory, etc, are only that—declarations. State intentions. Conflagration continues in the aftermath, small conflicts, what we call brushfire wars, go on over unresolved questions of territory, national identity, ideology, all to some extent driven by the refusal to acknowledge that it is over.

If we look at the events of this past January 6th and take them as evidence of a civil war, then it might be legitimate to say that the successful inauguration of Joe Biden marks the formal end of that war, and it would be about as true as any other such declaration. It might be well for us to examine all the elements of that event to see where it might lead.

Firstly, is there a Civil War?

Let’s look at the prior one and see how it compares.

Our Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery.  (Issue number one, among many “issue number ones” this time, is the accuracy of that claim. Despite the wishes of naysayers, it is indisputable that the secession movements of the 1860s were centered on that one issue. They said so themselves. The desire to claim otherwise in recent years is one of the hallmarks of our current difficulties and in a significant way the reason the current movement lacks any credibility.)  Dress it up any way you like, slavery was the issue. I can say this regardless of claims to the contrary even without the written proof by the hands of the secessionists by a simple formula. States Rights is the less odious claim. But States Rights to do what? To be a state? That right already existed and was not under threat. The drive to secede must therefore have been spurred by a sense of threat to a perceived right that was at issue. The “state right” under threat was the right to hold human beings in chattel bondage. Period. That was the defining issue for those states, that they claimed the right to maintain the one institution that they saw as essential to their very identity, i.e. slavery. 

All through the Trans-Atlantic Slave period, there were people arguing that slavery was immoral, inhumane, and ultimately despicable, so it was not that they didn’t know any better, it was only that those practicing it believed in their own self-interest more. Inasmuch as we regard this as at least in some part a class issue, the assumed superiority of the slaveholders is demonstrable across social lines. If they could have found a way to enslave the poor of any ethnic group, they would have (and in many ways did). The racist aspect becomes evident when the clearly-stated and institutionally pernicious differences between the various forms of bondage are examined.

How does this relate to the present?

That desire for self-superiority has never been fully dealt with and drives most if not all of the current politics informing those who participated in the insurrection on January 6th.

What the states that formed the Confederacy possessed that the present agglomeration of socially and economically disaffected reactionaries lack was a concrete set of conditions over which to separate themselves from the Union. Concrete but ultimate insupportable. Slavery as an economic system had limits, and was reaching them. The only thing that would have allowed the South to maintain the system in any economically sustainable way was expansion and that was severely threatened politically by the actions of the North. Even without that, the South was in many ways trying to maintain a dying system that could not be sustained either environmentally, morally, or economically. At some point it would have become clear that the slaveholders would not have been able to afford to maintain the system. The returns were already trending in that direction, hence the urgency in expansion. They were on the long road to bankruptcy. Outlawing slavery outright would have brought that about much sooner. 

By comparison, what do the present crop of the disaffected have to fear?

Going down a list of issues, few have the kind of concreteness faced by the antebellum elite. And yet, there is a similarity that is tragic in much the same way.

The casualties (on both sides) of the Civil War fell most heavily upon the poor. Men drafted into service to fight for a cause of which they had no real stake. The average Confederate soldier did not and never would own a slave. 

In the same way, the people in Washington D.C. who invaded the Capitol are not and never will be independently wealthy.

And yet in both instances they were coopted into fighting for those whose ranks they could never join—in both instances, the rich.

Before going into that, though, consider the issues presently fueling this movement. Most of them are entirely fabricated. QAnon is entirely nonsense, and yet it has dangerous momentum. The libertarian aspirations on display are at most distractions. The protests against LGBTQ rights are informed by the worst kind of misapplied identity tropes. Abortion is the one issue with any real traction and even it is projected in opposition to secularism and questions of gender equality which on their face require one to ignore so many ancillary realities as to be little more than antiquated prudery dressed up as a moral crisis.

These are all wedge issues, existing for only one purpose—to divide people into camps that can then be manipulated into fighting each other. Reasonable solutions are available to answer differences of opinion, but they are cast as betrayals to some kind of fundamental morality and undermines American Exceptionalism.

The tagline for the movement gives it away. Make America Great Again.

That begs so many questions.

Now, this is the kind of thing that seems to annoy the reactionary the most, the request for definition. They know what they mean, and see your inability to understand what they mean as a sign that you are part of the problem. That you would ask the question automatically defines you as their opponent in a struggle for the unquestioned emergence of the wonderfulness they support. It should, it seems, “go without saying.”

It must be asked, though—what good is anything that cannot be said? And is the lack of definition just a mask for that which has no reality?

Greatness, however one defines it, is only legitimate as an emergent property. If it is a set goal, with predefined shape and expectations, it is both unachievable and illegitimate.

Those who seem to be Trump’s loudest and most energetic supporters seem not to understand this. They seem to regard Greatness as a prize to be won, a condition with evident benefits that can be bought, a state of being understood by the adulation it commands. This is clear in Trump’s case by any casual look at the produce of his life—if it looks great, that’s enough, never mind what substance it contains. He is, above all, a promoter, and the promoter never has to produce, he only has to sell. The “promotion” comes into play when what is being sold is not quite what it is claimed to be.

Consider: the insurrectionists invaded the precincts of the Capitol. They invaded, they took the halls, the floors, had run of the building. They rushed in there believing they were about to achieve their goals. And then what? They acted like children. They wandered around, they collected trophies, they took selfies. 

They had no plan.

What if they had captured some congresspeople? Some were clearly prepared to arrest those they had been told are the source of their disaffection. What then?

What demands might these people have made? And on whose behalf?

Many are now lamenting how they had been misled. They blame Trump, certainly, but that misses the point, which is that had they not prepared themselves to be misled, he would never have been able to draw them in. They were there because they wanted to be.

But wanted to be for what?

Among the various signs on display, a variety of bigotries were evident. Antisemitism. Ethnic exclusiveness. Libertarian protestations. QAnon messaging. As one digs through the morass of ideological motives, it moves from ancient hatreds to contemporary fantasy. A melange of distortions, absurdities, and petty insecurities. It is not difficult to find ample information to debunk and delegitimize each and every position. But it has all found common ground among people who would rather attack the institutions defined for them as their enemy than consider reexamining the bases of their disaffection.

One woman recently charged by the FBI posted about her intention to find Speaker Pelossi and “shoot her in the friggin’ brain.” This is evidence of a profound disconnect with any reasonable picture of reality. 

Again, though, the question must be asked—over what?

So far, no one has been found with any after-takeover plans. Nothing has been revealed about the intended replacement of current institutions with something different. Given that the complaints about the government have become surreal and that of the people who chose to go to Washington and who participated in the insurrection, an answer to this question is a bit more than academic. The stated intention to abduct representatives (not only federal but state officials), in some cases kill them, in every case render the government as it is unable to function requires an explanation. And at some point at least an idea what would take the place of what would be destroyed.

Instead, we see the fire and fury and no plan. No intention to govern in place of. No one stepping up to the plate with a set of ideas on what to do instead of what has been done. 

Largely, this is because we have a method, a plan, a set of procedures here to put forward changes. It’s called an election and representative democracy. The insurrectionists seem unable to make that work for them. Essentially, because they cannot get what they want, they feel the entire system is a failure and should be burned down.

But what it is they want, other than not to have to deal with what is? 

If this were only a problem of a rabble it might not be such a problem. But in fact, the Party that presumably represents them the most—the GOP—exhibits the same frustrating condition. They block, they oppose, they condemn, the filibuster, they deny, they appoint judges, challenge legislation, and except for one tax cut after another, they do not put forward substantive plans as a Party to replace what they clearly seek to tear down. So the model is there, writ large, for the rabble to follow. Just tear it all down and the “right thing” the thing that will “Make America Great Again” will simply emerge.

For decades now we have been subjected to an erosion of public trust and a decimation of public programs fueled by the antagonistic politics fomented by people who are increasing their market share by virtue of the violence and division created with the intent to destroy. It was learned long ago that chaos can, in some instances, allow profit-taking at an elevated rate. Greater prosperity across the board can be created only in periods of greater unity and cultural amity, but that is neither fast nor easily funneled into the narrow channels that currently feed the so-called 1%. We have been led to places where it seems the only rational response to change and to people different from us is exclusion, intolerance, hatred, and rebellion.

The pot boiled over. We have just been through a battle of the current Civil War. 

And for what?

As odious as the institutions the Confederacy sought to defend were, they were substantive. There was something to them. They needed to go, but the battle was not over fantasies and mirages.

This current battle is over…

“I don’t want to.”

There is a petulance about it all that, despite the intensity of violent imagery and posturing and the cacophony of belligerent rejection, cannot be denied or ignored. Anti-maskers trying to make their refusal to cover their mouths and nose for the sake of public health into a First Amendment issue, which it is not. Anti-vaxxers trying to elevate folklore, self-entitlement, and ignorance to the level of responsible citizenship, which it is not. Anti-immigrant sentiment couched as “border security” rather than what it is, bigotry and the tribal howl of fear of the outsider. Anti-tax sentiment that somehow assumes that taxation is the chief impediment to an economy that will allow greater prosperity, which it is not. Anti-safety net, pretending to be a principled stand against “socialism” rather than a species of political resentment toward people believed to be receiving aid “unfairly,” which is really just class envy and fear of losing privilege.

Petulance. We have a civil war going on over petulance.

There is no plan because any plan can only be another version of the same set of systemic resentments that are presumably the current problem.

All thunder and no rain.

For those who understand this, those who for a long time have been tolerating the lies, the targeted destruction, the flouting of all standards of evidence, and the assumption that all opinions are of equal validity, it is perhaps time to stop allowing the space for it. Nonsense is nonsense and the more it is allowed to go unchecked, unchallenged, and unaddressed, the harder it will be to find solid ground when we need to come together.

There will be no secession this time because there is no Lost Cause at the heart of this. There are only the Lost. The problem is, they are armed and they are angry and they believe that as long as they can shout reason and reality down, then they are right.

Now that Trump is off the playing field, they are milling about and feeling betrayed. All they had to give them focus was him. A blowhard who played them for the benefit of his brand. 

His entire legal team has just quit on him. There is nothing left for them to make any bank on. It is a hollow cause, devoid of substance, and yet of such density that it will suck those still in attendance down into a mire to drown. 

The question now is not, what did they actually think they were going to do? but rather, what are we going to do with them now? Millions of people, many of them the likes of Representatives Greene and Boebert, believe in substanceless conspiracies, false theories of government, and the apparent right of people to separate themselves from everything in order to live according to standards that are only supportable within a community, the very kind of community they reject, are among those believing in…

Well, that’s the problem. Believing in what?

We have four years to figure this out before it all comes back to try this nonsense again.



The Day After The Rebellion

Mark Twain (presumably)* said that if one does not wish to appear foolish, it is best to keep silent rather than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. Sound political advice as well.  Advice far too many Republicans failed to take.

I say “failed” but really, they didn’t fail in this—to fail at something implies you tried to do something but just couldn’t make it work. No, they never intended to do anything else.  They’ve been riding high on a rhetorical wave assuming their quasi-populist Everyman shtick would stand them in good stead with the voter, who they clearly believe is an idiot.

Trump appeared to be a godsend to a category of charlatan that believes the voter should be ignorant, unaware, preferably stupid, so that the voter will never interfere with what the charlatan intends to do.  In this case, conduct business that excludes the average voter from any say whatsoever. Partly, this is a species of elitism, assuming the average person cannot possibly understand the things done at a high level. Mostly, this is a desire to act without oversight, rule without criticism, and enjoy power without accountability. Behind the screen Trump supplied, the GOP has become a party of clerics tending to the mysteries of the temple, jealous of their access to the secrets of state and success.

The average American, if I may speak generally, wants very simple things—security, a feeling of place, and access to degree of self-determination.  It is, I think fair to say, a slate of expectations neither party has been adept at supplying, because the one thing that underlies all of this is a recognition of human equity and the rights incumbent thereto. Equity and rights, in the simplest terms, are power. And power is the one thing the powerful will not willingly share.

But we’ve been trying to move in that direction.

Since shortly after World War II, the powerful have been trying to maintain their privilege. They found a method and have been applying it consistently, basically fomenting resentments between groups of people in order to create the conditions whereby their mouthpieces could win elections and achieve positions from which to serve the powerful. Too abstract? Let me put it this way: the Koch Brothers and their associates have seeded resentments and aggravated disparities (many of which they themselves created) in order to achieve their tax agenda. They finally produced a block of Americans who consistently voted against their own best interests because they were convinced they were voting to preserve their “values” and their “country” and their “heritage.” All the powerful (i.e. the rich) wanted was lower taxes.

Which translates into power.

They probably did not wish to foment a rebellion.  Rebellions are fickle things and as likely to get the powerful killed as anything else. No, they wanted to keep the country at a simmer, disrupting coalitions that might become effective counters to their agenda.

Now, this does not require conspiracy.  All it requires is a set of common interests and goals. No secret meetings to lay out complex plans, just dinner and conversation and tacit agreement among equals, as it were. We tend to overcomplicate such things here as a matter of narrative consequence, that things which can unfold of their own accord must necessarily be done by the machinations of a cabal.  The reality is more banal and harder to manage, which is the nature of institutional predisposition. This is the basis of institutional racism. Institutional sexism. Institutional classism.

They were managing. Since Reagan, the flow of wealth has gone pretty much in one direction, till today it is, without exaggeration, obscenely uni-directional.

But then it went a step too far.  The simmer went to a boil and now we have a mess.

What we witnessed in the Capitol is the result of finally losing control of that narrative. In recent years we have seen a number of the primary movers pull back, deny they wanted this. Trump was supposed to be their puppet, but once off the leash, so to speak, he was anything but. And he fed the beast till it came to our political doorstep and demanded meat.

There are those who argue that this is all a matter of style—look at what he has accomplished rather than at the façade. Fair enough. But then we must take the next step and ask:  have these accomplishments happened uniquely because of him? Would they have happened under anyone else? The hallmarks—his brag points—have been the Wall (failed), Muslim ban (mostly failed), the tariffs (not complete failures but hardly raging successes), and the withdrawal of troops from the Middle East. Did any of these depend wholly on him?

A response to China has been in the works for a long time. The hammer blow he brought down did as much harm as good. But any president with congressional support could have begun this. He started a trade war which has had, at best, mixed results. The Wall was one of the most ill-advised acts in recent memory and served nothing but to feed the resentments and prejudices of his base, at exorbitant costs, diverting moneys in possibly illegal ways from other projects that would have had more efficacy. It will fall down of its own (sections of it already have) and overall fail to address a problem that has been allowed to fester because of the optics and campaign material. Withdrawing from the Middle East has become fraught with ethical and moral peril, but again, the draw-down was begun by Obama. The ban on Muslims….well, that was simply pandering.

Everything else, most of which goes on beneath the surface of the public gaze—not because it is secret but because it is complicated and not very sexy and only bores people—in any administration, depended on a civil service that he has decimated by categorical firings, departmental closures, and the appointment of sycophants who have no clue how to run the bureaus they have been charged with overseeing.  Betsy De Vos?  Her entire purpose was to hamstring the Department of Education and lay the groundwork for private education for profit.  Why is this bad? Because the one place where some kind of egalitarian recompense can start and possibly succeed is public education. Private education doesn’t care about that, whether admitted or not.  It cares about who can afford it, which is by definition anti-egalitarian.

In summary, the only thing that has made Trump unique is his vitriol and his “populist” cheerleading of the worst aspects of our culture. The proof is in what has happened in the Capitol. He egged them on with false claims of voter fraud (the most debunked lie of recent times) and when it got out of hand he urged them to go home with a familial “We love you.” We love you? Who, may I ask, is this “we” of which he speaks?

Trump has always been about the brand, the optics, the soundbite, and the ratings.  He has run his office like the set of a reality television show and as long as the news was covering something that was consequent upon his actions, this was success. It didn’t even have to be favorable coverage, in line with the old adage that even bad press is good. Armchair diagnoses abound regarding his personal problems—sociopath, narcissist, what have you—but it all comes down to someone who cannot abide being ignored. The price we’re paying for his insatiable need for attention is an unstable union, an endangered democracy, the humiliation of the country in the eyes of the world, and the highest debt in history.

And at the end of the day, he is the de facto leader of a cult that has no point. The mob broke into the Capitol, drove congress out, did some pillaging, and then…what? They had no plan, no goal, no end game.  Nothing but the clichéd rantings of the self-afflicted burdened with illusions of oppression. Like their idol, all they seem to want is to be noticed.

I knew a man once who before our eyes became a Nazi. He had stepped onto the path of conspiracy-driven alternate-history myth and little by little it ate into him. He could not seem to grasp where the lies and reality parted. He was not unintelligent. In fact, he had gifts and had he applied himself in more productive pursuits he could have been a success at life. But he chose a path that for some reason fed his insecurities, teased his suspicions, and made him feel, however absurdly, that he Knew The Truth. It empowered him in a way he could not reject, like a drug addiction. Going any other way would have meant…I was never sure, but perhaps dealing constructively with reality was simply too mundane. It would not have made him feel special.  Finally, his wife left him, took the children, he lost his home, and the last I saw of him he was handing out Nazi pamphlets outside a Steak’n’Shake poorly-dressed and wearing an armband with a swastika.

Such delusions eventually empty the soul. Like a narcotic, they seem to make the user feel wonderful, in control, superior. Then slowly it becomes apparent there is nothing to sustain the user and little by little vacancy supplants substance, stupor replaces awareness, and decay overcomes growth.

Listening to the “protestors” it is clear they have nothing but the moment.

It would be easy to see them as victims, but we should not. Victims have no choice, their circumstances overwhelm their will. These people chose this path.

False comparisons abound. Blame is being heaped on Antifa, BLM, all the social justice movements. This will not stand scrutiny.

But scrutiny is being assiduously avoided.

We have tolerated a condition wherein legitimate authority has been conflated with demagoguery, disinformation, and jingoism, to the point where we see that a significant part of our society has simply been allowed to reject reality in the name of their well-nurtured grievances and unexamined prejudices. We have seen idiocy and delusion take the stage with reason and responsibility as if they are equal. We have primed ourselves for this moment, perhaps thinking that somehow in the contest, that which is worthy of trust will somehow emerge, like a boxer from the ring. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Left to its own, idiocy and delusion can outpace and overwhelm reason and, for a time, displace reality, unless we choose the latter and confront the former.

Finally, Trump, in my view, represent—embodies—everything we must stop admiring and see for the destructive perversion of American values he is.

With that said, I believe he should be forthwith removed from office and his enablers stripped of their powers and charges of insurrection and sedition be made against the perpetrators of the four year fraud we have lived through.

And those who turned out in record numbers to vote this election cycle, do not ever fail to show up again.  This has been enabled as much by the apathy of the voter as by anything else.

Have a better 2021.

____________________________________________________________

  • My mistake. Abraham Lincoln said this. But I will leave the original as an example of what to do when one misspeaks.

 



Onward

We stayed up till past midnight, so heard the revelry, stepped outside in the cold and saw some beautiful firework bursts, and retreated back inside where we toasted each other, wept, laughed, and made stabs at promising to have a better year. Some excellent bourbon and he late hour and I feel a bit…strained.

But it is the first of a new year, and while I am not much for symbols, I respect them to the degree that they enable rather than encumber.

This morning, we had this:

 

Tomorrow? Who knows?  I exhort you all to find beauty, turn away from bitterness, do something fine in the world, and indulge your dreams (where possible).  Harm none, smile a lot, and be the solution rather than the obstacle.

May we find ourselves on the far end of this year with our friends, homes, and sanity intact.



And So It Is Christmas

Late thoughts on one of the strangest Christmas Days I’ve experienced. Strange in that the world has become strange and yet, in here, inside our home, it is so warm and normal, that the strangeness is made even more so.

I worked Christmas Eve, which is not unusual. Short day, not much business, which turned out to be usual, too. But the store is still shut to foot-traffic. We who worked gathered briefly before closing and just exchanged looks and a few wishes for good weekends, all of us sharing a sense more of having been through battle than merely holiday retail. The barrier between us and our customers took a toll. All of us were immeasurably worn. We have done good work, we served, we filled expectations, and provided…but my word, are we beaten up.

But we are also fortunate. Left Bank Books is still open, and we survived. So many other places have not. I have no idea what 2021 will bring, but we are going to be there to see.

I count myself fortunate that I have my partner. We have each other and a home and in so many ways have found ourselves lucky.  So many others are not.

No matter what happens in the coming year or two, it is clear that we must remake our collective appreciation of community. We will weather this time, but I suspect it is not a one-off. More of this is ahead. We will have to confront it in ways which 12 months ago may have been unimaginable. Things Have Changed.

But we have what we need to manage and do well. We have an abundance of each other, no matter where we are, and this year, today, perhaps was the time to look at where we are and take account of what we have and construct a better way of being.

In any event, no matter what label you use, what name you give it, my wish is for all to be well and embrace love and banish the fear, which is only a symptom of feeling abandoned. We may be isolated, we may be spending today in company with fewer people, but we are not alone.

And as long as we believe tomorrow is worth greeting, we will find each other and all the ways we can create wonder, for ourselves and each other.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Peace, Joy, and Fearlessness.




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