We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Daily archives for February 7th, 2018

Sky. Slope. Rock. Streams. Evergreens. Being in the journey.

Imbolc                                                                               Imbolc Moon

Wanted to mention two internal conversations. Both have occurred while in transit through the mountains.

20150512_141606The first, perhaps the simpler, has been about how to describe our environment in the most economical way possible. I know, I didn’t say it was deep, just persistent. I’ve come to these nouns: sky, evergreens, slope, rock, streams. Yes, it leaves out houses and wildlife, roads and cars. But. The context for life up here can be described using those five words.

The second has been about destinations and journeys. Whenever I leave home, on foot (rare) or in the Rav4, I have a destination in mind. I’m leaving Black Mountain Drive and going to Beth Evergreen or to Jon’s house or to King Sooper or to Dazzle. Something is attractive enough or is needed enough to make me get up, go outside, start the car and go.

Because of these motivations, whatever they are, the journey tends to focus itself on the destination. Not surprising, eh? What do I need to get at the store? Did I remember everything? My wallet. Coffee. Keys. Phone. The destination can infect the entire journey, put us in blinders so that we’re like horses headed to the barn for hay.

Yet. The journey can occupy more time than we spend at our destination. But we view it as incidental and the arrival at the destination the real act. This is not about whether the destination is more important than the journey, the two require each other, rather it’s about intention and attention.

14608842_1689729854679011_2228956598700838196_oIf the present is all we ever have, and it is, then the journeys we take, no matter how mundane, are also the present at the time we are on them. There is no future. We only imagine it. There is no past, it is a memory. There is only this moment, keys clacking, letters and words appearing on the screen, a car going by, Black Mountain and blue sky out the window.

So. What? What I’m trying to do is appreciate the journey for what it is, not as wasted time between this destination and that one, but as an experience sui generis. Our whole life is a journey between emergence and disappearance, how sad it would be if we missed our life along the way.

Splitters and lumpers

Imbolc                                                                           Imbolc Moon

splitters2Last night at Beth Evergreen three presenters, a University of Colorado Regent, a newly hired diversity specialist for Jeffco schools and an Evergreen woman, formerly a philanthropist and LGBT activist, now working in corporate social responsibility spoke about labeling and identity. It was, in some ways, disappointing.

Though the focus was on labeling, someone or something else (like census forms, school boards, the dominant culture) describes you, and identity, you describe yourself, the topic veered rapidly into a mode of doublespeak. It’s difficult to describe, but identity politics has become a minefield of careful positioning, trying not to cause offense, and further and further journeys into talking but not changing. Each person in the room last night, presenters and audience included, brought authentic concern and a willingness to be part of a solution. But, to what?

I kept thinking of the hoary argument in plant classification between lumpers and splitters. The same analytical dynamic plays out in many fields. Lumpers look for commonalities, seek to reduce the number of categories in any particular area of study while splitters look for differences, for nuanced distinctions that allow uniqueness to flourish. Neither approach is right or wrong, it’s almost a psychological tendency, I think, rather than a reasoned stance.

splitters3In identity description the nod now goes to splitters. As one presenter last night said, “I see gender like the stars in the sky, some may be brighter, more prominent, but there are many stars in the sky.” That’s breathtakingly broad.

A key word that emerged last night was fluidity. It basically means that the ground shifts frequently in this conversation, not least because people claiming their own identity often make different distinctions as they learn more about themselves and their community. There are, too, regional differences and age cohort differences. It’s a splitters’ paradise.

Here’s why it was disappointing to me. It felt like conversations from the mid to late sixties, though those were blunter in their focus. They were, at least at first, focused on civil rights for African-Americans, or Blacks, or Black-Americans. The power moves involved in labeling versus identifying were in bold relief. We’re not niggers or coloreds or darkies. We’re Americans with a particular historical background.

Remember Black is beautiful? Afros. Kente cloth. Angela Davis. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Last night was the contemporary version: male, female, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, intersexual, asexual. Gay. Lesbian. It all felt depressingly familiar, as if we’d moved in time away from the sixties, but not in content.

beltane2017gorbachevThat’s not to say that “racial” distinctions were absent from the conversation. Not at all. Unfortunately. The strange, weird thing about this is that race is a nonsense category, not supported by genetics at all. So creating a splitters nomenclature for various “races” reinforces a non-existent and damaging conceptual paradigm. Of course, the culture, in diverse ways, uses race as a placeholder for attaching secondary characteristics to others. Of course it does. But how do we move away from that convenient slotting, or lumping of people based on skin color? Does it happen by emphasizing color? It cannot. Does it happen by ignoring the racist who does? No.

And that was the problem I had with evening. There seems to have no movement forward in the land of identity politics, only movement crabwise.

I did not ask my question, because it occurred to me on the way home, naturally. “Has identity politics by the left contributed to, even caused, the rise of populism now roiling our nation?” That is, have we, in slicing and dicing the particulars of personal difference blinded ourselves to the plight of working class Americans? It seems so to me.

A movement against oligarchy, plutocracy and autarchy must be first made of lumpers. These lumpers must find, express and celebrate the commonalities among those who suffer as a result of concentrated wealth, purchased power, dynastic ambition. Right now we have given away our power with a navel-gazing splitter mentality. Of course, we must be able to define and describe ourselves. Yes. But we must not only reach for the unique and particular, but for the broader and more universal. No political change can come without joining hands, so the more difficult, the more necessary task in the Trump era belongs not to the splitters but to the lumpers.




February 2018
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