Hope in the Dark

It’s easy to grow discouraged in this life. Adversity—whether it’s an illness or failing health, economic stress, loneliness or isolation—or in Mary and my case, losing Mark suddenly and tragically: elements like these can grind even the strongest person down, and make them want to give up.

The case can also be made forcefully that the charge that many of us were given when we were young that life in America would be better for us than previous generations is no longer a reality for most. We’ve just elected a president who is at best, a boorish and self-centered man unlike anyone who has sat in the oval office prior. Some believe however, that our current president is an authoritarian with designs on dismantling what remains of our nation’s functionality and crumbling civic and physical infrastructure.

Peggy Noonan, someone with legitimate Republican bona fides calls Mr. Trump, “Woody Allen without the humor” in an op-ed written for and published in the Wall Street Journal. She paints him as a pathetic and weak little man. She’s probably right, although don’t understimate the damage possible by “weak little men.” It’s also far too easy to locate our reasons for despair in one man or a devastating life event.

In the midst of walking a personal path buffeted by discouragement and sadness, I’ve noted how many others are dealing with their own dark journey. In my own grief, I’ve recognized this collective sense of loss all around.  So fellow travelers, why so sad?

Rebecca Solnit is an American writer and activist. She’s been engaged in environmental and human rights campaigns since the 1980s. Her writing is informed by a life lived with boots firmly planted in real life and direct action work, not academic posturing. Maybe that’s why her book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, has made such a strong impression on me over the past two weeks as I made my way through it. Continue reading

Trump Tic Tac Toe

Donald Trump dominates yet another news cycle. How often can one man suck the air supply from the room as illustrated by yesterday’s Trump/Comey media circus, masquerading as functional governance? We seem to have slipped into the political version of Groundhog Day.

Back when Trump was a reality star of sorts, it was kind of funny, in a late-night joke-telling kind of way. Now that he’s president, it’s become fucking scary.

What is it about America that empowers (and emboldens) stupid, doughy (and angry) white men like Trump? They continually feel the need to tell you how great they are, how rich they are, how smart they are, while downplaying the size (or lack, therewith) of their hands.

Dueling white men.

Continue reading

Elections and Alienation

With the 2016 election clanking to its completion, like a car with a malfunctioning transmission, I’ve taken a different tack the last few weeks—disengagement—imbibing next to nothing from the mainstream. My inner environment has been almost tranquil. Rather than alienation and discouragement, removing myself from the ongoing dysfunctional din of reality has been a positive and necessary corrective.

Just because someone demands that you see the world one, or two ways, doesn’t mean that you have to. Binary thinking leaves you dead-ended, painted into a corner.

If voting mattered...

If voting mattered…

Over the weekend, I picked up several books that seemed to be waiting for me on my local library shelves. These books provided historical context, as well as reminding me of perspectives I hadn’t considered in quite some time.

What I found fascinating in reading about America’s history of radical politics, was the role of European immigrants in bringing socialist, Marxist, and anarchist perspectives to these shores. What I’ve also been ruminating about is why the town where I grew up—with many immigrants from Europe—was and continues to be a place where conservative values reign supreme. This is a topic that I’m likely to come back to at some point. Continue reading

Billionaires Like it in Black and White

In a Balkanized place like the U.S., every issue becomes  a reductivist exercise. Too often, discussions devolve into arguments.

Take Black Lives Matter. One side thinks that the aim of this group is to bring attention to blacks being killed by the police. The other side resents the attention placed on blacks and wants “all lives” recognized. The other side says this is “racist”, the counter argument is “no it’s not,” and the two sides stand on opposite sides of a chasm lobbing rocks back and forth at each other—mostly figurative, but there’s some literalism inherent in this, also.

Economic deprivation isn't a black/white issue.

Economic deprivation isn’t a black/white issue.

Except, there’s more to the story than the usual two-pronged understanding, if you dig just a little deeper. You also have to leave behind those sources that profit from their binary issue frames.

Consider another kind of analysis, Marxist in orientation about Black Lives Matter, and their funding. Why would billionaires back the cause of Black Lives Matter? As in funding to the tune of $100 million from the Ford Foundation over a six-year period to several groups and organizations occupying the vanguard in the movement.  So what kind of other associations does the foundation keep? Oh, for years they maintained close ties to US military and intelligence agencies. Frances Stonor Saunders, a historian of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), described the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in her book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters as “conscious instruments of covert US policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence.” Continue reading

Dreams and Songs

I’m not a poet. Many years ago I wrote some bad poetry and sent it into the college literary magazine at UMO. This was during my freshman year, and my poems got soundly rejected. I now leave the work of poetry to my son, Mark.

I mention poetry and a particular work of poetry for a reason that will soon become apparent.

John Berryman was a popular poet during the 1960s when it seems poetry was ubiquitous in America. That period was many things—both good and bad. It was a time when artists (and poets) had more cultural cred, or so it seems now in retrospect.

"The Dream Songs," by John Berryman

“The Dream Songs,” by John Berryman

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Claiming Your Deck Space

A month ago, I decided to take a break from writing about anything overtly political. I’m glad I did, as the last few weeks have allowed me to step away from the shrill pitch and tenor of our national debate about which candidate (s) is less tainted than the others. Today, I’ll covertly brush up alongside the topic, albeit briefly.

Be careful where you place your deck chair.

Be careful where you place your deck chair.

Whenever you frame things in an either/or paradigm, you severely limit possibilities for change. Merely mentioning “hope and change” won’t alter a thing, unless you open up a dialogue vastly different that the current one centered on maintaining the American status quo. To do so would require all of us (not just the “other side”) to dramatically reorient how we think and ultimately, how we live. No one (save for a few) are willing to do this. Instead, we’re left with re-arranging deck chairs, to reference one of my favorite writers/bloggers, John Michael Greer. I’d highly recommend this week’s post, about merely “rearranging the deck chairs,” once more. Better, bookmark The Archdruid Report, and spend some time working your way back through what I consider some of the most thoughtful writing out there on the interwebs, about our present malaise. Continue reading

My Truth is Better Than Yours

Boiling every political argument down as being either conservative or liberal is a limiting critique—a binary straightjacket, so to speak. This kind of posturing has poisoned the current political well for sure.

What it’s also done very well is to create an undeserved smugness on one side, or the other. Where this smugness often gets exhibited in these heady digital days is on social media platforms—Twitter and Facebook, mainly.

Like the other day. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Hear It

We all have opinions. Most of us have strongly-held ones. The desire to share my opinions, as well as some of what I thought was foundational information behind those opinions, were reasons why I started blogging back in 2003.

I still have opinions. Many of them have evolved over time. Having an opinion and sharing it is also seems fraught with danger, 12 years later. Now, I’m less likely to add my two cents worth to whatever battle is being waged over symbols, or people’s preferences.

Being hesitant to weigh-in on the Battle Royale raging at the moment also leaves a limited amount of topics to write about at times, or so it seems. Also, that’s what Facebook and Twitter are for. Spending time wasting words via a blog seems so 2006. No one seems interested anymore in reading several hundred words. 140-character tweets are now de riguer with the cool kids holding court, ruling the turf formerly held by bloggers. Who cares if they have nothing behind their prattle except their strongly held opinions?

"La, La, La, La..."

“La, La, La, La…”

My previous post touched down on binary thinking. I’ve mentioned the topic enough before. I won’t go there again today. I will only say that our inability to have a dialogue on a variety of tough subjects, even those deemed by our arbiters as “controversial,” doesn’t bode well for us. Screaming louder than your foes, or using your newly-found majority status doesn’t indicate rightness, either.

Perhaps I’ll just blog about the weather and puppies—no one is opposed to sun and cuteness, right?

The Search for Threes

I’ve mentioned the flaws of binary thinking before. The concept—framing things in terms of duality, or opposites—isn’t a new concept, and it tends to be the way that most issues are discussed in America and arguably, the West.

From a philosophical standpoint, the origins of this kind of thinking date back to Aristotle and Descartes. They first structured this type of logic, which consists of dividing, distinguishing and opposing items. When you see things in a binary construct, there’s no room for in-between or shades of gray; everything is black or white, good or bad, nice or ugly, good or evil, etc. It is the law of “all or nothing.”

Unfortunately, this kind of dualistic framework often leads to dead-ends, and at the very least, can divide people unnecessarily.

One of the best explanations and the one that really made me sit up and take notice, was written by John Michael Greer, and posted a few years ago at his blog, The Archdruid Report.

Greer takes the origins back even further than Aristotle and Descartes. He writes,

Most of the snap decisions our primate ancestors had to make on the African savannah are most efficiently sorted out into binary pairs: food/nonfood, predator/nonpredator, and so on. The drawbacks to this handy set of internal categories don’t seem to bother any of our primate relatives, and probably became an issue—like so much that’s part of magic—only when the rickety structure of the reasoning mind took shape over the top of the standard-issue social primate brain.

The problem with this snap-judgment way of seeing and making sense of the world is that in our current, non-hunting society, the binary framework eliminates the middle ground. In fact, we don’t even recognize a middle position. More often than not, it leads to division and conflict. Continue reading

Building Bridges

Political dialogue of the binary type, common in these late days of empire, usually centers on a small set of topics: taxes, government size—big for liberals, small for conservatives—military spending, entitlements (like social security), and a few others (maybe). Like a feedback loop, once begun, it continues without variety.

Also, the race to become the new occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016 has begun. Establishment candidates—Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, maybe Chris Christie—will be opposed by more marginal candidates on both the right and the left. They’ll debate the issues, or at least create the aura that a debate is actually taking place. Then, the party bosses will demand that everyone line up behind whoever they deem most electable, and the sham we participate in every four years will again occur a year from November.

Do you really believe that 73-year-old socialist, Bernie Sanders, has a snowball’s chance to get the Democratic nomination? And if you say that his role is to push Hillary to the left on issues, then I fear you might be giving our current political process far too much credit as means for necessary change. Continue reading