We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Burned Love

Imbolc                                                                              Imbolc Moon

ash wednesdayThe first day of Lent falls, this year, today. That means, as Allan Metcalf, the author of the article quoted below says, that we’re dealing with hearts and ashes. Makes sense to me that my 71st would fall on such a day. Since hitting three score and ten a year ago, I’ve passed into birthdays that commonly show up in the obituary pages. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we deconstruct, returning our enlivened elements. #Recycle Me as the green burial folks said.

This reminder,  a mark made from the ash of palm leaves used a year ago, would be good for all of us. It doesn’t have to come with the whole freight train of Catholic dogma. We could use soot from the chimney or ash from a burned log in the fire place.

yamantaka3

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

It invites comparison to Yamantaka. “Yamantaka is a violent aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, who assumes this form to vanquish Yama, the god of death. By defeating Yama, the cycle of rebirths (samsara) that prevents enlightenment is broken.” Met Museum

The holiday of Easter, which comes at the end of Lent, celebrates a god who conquers death. We do not defeat physical death though Christianity posits that great wakin’ up mornin’ sometime in a future dimly understood. Mebbe so. Mebbe so.

As for me, I’m with Yamantaka whose wonderful mandala hangs in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It encourages a focused meditation on your own death so that the Bodhisattva can help you clear your mind of fear. That is the victory over death that Yamantaka offers, release from the fear of physical death. An ash mark on the forehead once a year is a start, but the Catholic one comes with strings created by texts. So let’s create our own and use it to recall our work with Yamantaka.

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.

 

 

 

Oops.

Imbolc                                                                       Imbolc Moon

stocksStocks have begun to sink. Good. I hope they go down a full 10% at least, a decent correction and a return to market volatility. This puffed up market, glowing and expanding as if by orange-haired demagogic magic, was never his. It was the tail end of the Obama economy; the one, lest we forget, that he rescued from the worst economic crisis of recent times.

Irrational exuberance. Greenspan may have presided over the last inflation, pumped up by his own Randian version of combover ideology, but he nailed the bubble feeling. How else to explain the glee which has followed the rise and rise and rise of the various indices? And, now, its opposite, irrational anxiety.

Stock-Market-BubbleIrrational because the underlying fundamentals are still sound. We’re adding jobs, inflation and interest rates remain low, and international economies began growing together, for the first time in a while. Fluctuations in stock prices are, and I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Mike Pence here, normal. They represent the ebb and tide of sentiment not necessarily anchored, at least in the moment, to any real world economics.

Trump is a blowhard, a hardcore racist, a not disguised at all white supremacist, a misogynist, a cruel man. And somehow, damn it, our President. His approval ratings, already abysmal, may plummet further along with the Dow Jones. May it be so.

Very. Stable. Genius. Yeah.

Winter                                                                   Moon of the Long Nights

bone brothBone broth still gently boiling on the stove. Its been there since yesterday afternoon at 5 pm. First time I’ve made this. At 8 or so this morning I’m going to start a beef stew in the slow cooker.  Beer is one ingredient so Kate bought a six pack of Dos Equis. Sacrificing for the cause.

Our very stable genius has just cavalierly unmoored the lives of 200,000 Salvadorans. That’s a small city of immigrants. Lack of empathy is a hallmark of this administration, necessary for gutting the future with one trillion dollars plus in tax cuts, pretending that climate change is a liberal conspiracy, trying to dump transgender military personnel over supposed medical costs, and elevating pedophiles and other sexual predators.

trump3In the debate over his mental illness I’m agnostic, agreeing with those who say he’s obviously dysfunctional, yet unwilling to ascribe his character flaws to a particular diagnosis. It does a disservice to all people with mental illness when such a man, a man whose moral compass has been rendered useless by the powerful magnets of fame and money, is seen to act as he does because of possible narcissism or whatever else others find in his public persona. They may play a role, yes, but there are still underlying values toward which this particular man gravitates, values inculcated by a racist father and a distant mother, values embraced by a hollow man needing to fill a vast internal vacuum.

Nixon and Trump, cancers of the U.S. political system.

Sad about Rigel. A sort of dark blanket over our lives right now. There’s a bit of hope that we’ll find something other than cancer, but it seems slim. We want to know her prognosis, how best to care for her right now. She’s a sweet, sweet dog.

 

What’s Your Diet Like?

Samain                                                                   Bare Aspen Moon

An interesting graphic. What’s in your media diet today?

media diet choices

 

“You’re not supposed to do that.”

Samain                                                                       Bare Aspen Moon

Assistants_and_George_Frederic_Watts_-_Hope_ 1886

Assistants and George Frederic Watts                         Hope  1886

 

Yesterday the bagel table, an informal shabbat service with, yes, bagels, focused on three stories in the Torah that dealt with difficult situations involving sexuality: the stories of Dinah, Tamar and Potiphar’s wife.

The conversation included several #metoo acknowledgments, including my own. I was ten or eleven and on the train to Dallas for a couple of weeks with my Uncle Charles. I regularly took the Greyhound to visit relatives in Oklahoma, but this was my first time on the train. There was a layover in St. Louis and I decided to get out and see the downtown.

It was a Sunday so the streets had almost no people on them. I had my brownie camera with me and went looking for someplace to take pictures. I did that, finished a roll and needed to change film. The air was pulsing with heat, so I went into the alcove of a closed store to be in the shade. I had the camera open when a man approached me.

Squatting down beside me, I was also in a squat, he reached between my legs and touched my testicles. I said, “You’re not supposed to do that.” got up and left. He did not resist my leaving and my memory is that he was gentle. Though it did ruin the moment, I recall feeling relieved that he didn’t use force. He did accept my no as a no.

It’s a little hard from the distance of 60 some years to recall how I felt, but I know that for me it was scary, but not scarring. I remember it, so it obviously had an impact, but I don’t remember it as different from any other sort of scary moment in my childhood. It was the only time I had that sort of experience and that may have weighed against any larger impact. If I’d had a string of them, as some girls and women do, I sense my reaction may have been stronger.

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Republican Virtues

Samain                                                                        Joe and SeoAh Moon

Citizen Rights & ResponsibilitiesRepublican virtues. Gary Hart referented the founding fathers often in his speech last Sunday night. In particular he used them to emphasize the difference between a democracy and a republic. We inhabit both. In a democracy we focus on our rights. In a republic we focus on duties, responsibilities. Unfortunately, I can’t recall all the republican virtues that Hart enumerated, there were four, but I do remember the thrust of his argument.

The major point was that we tend to focus on the democratic virtue of attending to our rights as citizens, especially those enumerated in the Constitution and, of course, those in the Bill of Rights. This is claiming our privileges as citizens of the United States, but that claim is itself passive. It wants what it is promised and should be given. Of course, there are the struggles over civil rights that has taken very active work by African-Americans, Indians, LGBT folk, women and the parody of struggle over so-called “gun rights” and “property rights”. Though important these are all within the frame of special interest pleading.

Founding-Fathers-320x192Two of the republican virtues about which Gary Hart talked that I do remember:  seeking the common good, not the good of special interests, but the interests of all citizens; fighting corruption, that is corruption as more broadly defined by the founders, that is, government twisted toward the service of special interests.

In the latter case, fighting corruption, Hart cited an astonishing statistic. There were, according to him, 146 to 150 registered lobbyists when he came into the Senate in 1974. (I couldn’t corroborate this number.) and 13,000 today. This last number I did confirm. Corruption, according to the founders, was governing for special interests rather than the common good. A lobbyist, is, by definition, pleading for a special interest, whether the spotted owl, for or against gun control, particular provisions for particular commercial interests, or any of the myriad thousands of other causes.

Not only is this corruption in the broader sense of the founders, but it is corruption in the more narrow sense of using money to influence policy. Why? Because of the millions, even hundreds of millions, of dollars lobbyists pour into congressional campaigns.

Scale-1So, if we’re to take our politics toward an interest in the common good, fighting lobbyists and their outsized role in the determination of legislation (and, an often opaque one, too) is necessary.

Republican virtues require active participation in the politics, large and small, of our nation. This means attendance at school board meetings or county commissioner meetings as well state legislatures and congress. This means paying attention to policy debates and weighing in from time to time. Hart mentioned a class he took in high school called Civics. Studying civics is the inculcation of republican virtues. Is this part of a student’s curriculum these days?

Small r republican virtues are those which require more of us than a passive insistence on rights granted. They involve citizen participation in governing. They involve educating ourselves, in depth, about issues that matter to the nation as a whole.  They involve an active role rather than a passive one.  Other nations, those where we promote democracy, ask, “How can you push this on us when often less than half of potential voters actually vote?” Good question. Voting is a republican virtue.

Populism.image_-425x425_mediumBoth democratic assertion of rights and the republican virtues of citizen engagement are necessary for the health of our nation. Populism, for which Hart offered a shorthand definition, angry citizens, wracked our country in the late nineteenth century and brought Trump to power in this one. But, we managed to contain its spread the last time. How? Richard Hofstadter’s 1956 book, The Age of Reform, recounts the story. Hart recommended reading it. I plan to.

Based on our reaction to the first instance of populist rebellion Hart said he was confident we could weather this current manifestation of it, too. This was the pivotal point of his talk for me, a part where the dismal present got placed into a larger context, one with a historical precedent, and one which we can eventually resolve. Slowly, probably, painfully surely, but still a sort of rebellion from which we can learn, grow and change. I’m ready. Are you?

Yes or No

Fall                                                                       Joe and SeoAh Moon

fear2Fear. Been thinking about it. It explains a lot of the political abyss threatening to swallow our democracy. Friend Tom Crane sent me a collection of articles about the neuroscience of political orientation, material I’d read in different places, but neatly summarized. It got me going.

Fear on the part of the white middle and working classes, fear about their jobs, their children, masculinity, the other taking, taking, taking, terrorists sneaking into our country, the future found their perfect amplifier in Donald Trump and his populist message. But Trump is not the problem. He is a problem, I’ll grant you that, but not the problem. Fear is the problem.

Fear_is_enemy2Meanwhile, my side of the abyss has focused on fear of a changing climate, the oppression of minorities, lgbt folks, the poor. Since liberals are more highly educated and usually wealthier than the white middle and working classes, we are more able to take our eyes off survival and focus on larger, more abstract issues. This feels more righteous because it seems selfless, disinterested when compared to chauvinism and day-to-day economic fears.

In the moment, the one defined by the nature of your real life, however, concerns about shrinking viability as a “race” (yes, it’s a false signifier except for those in the grip of its occult power) and as an individual will always trump (pun intended) concerns that seem far away or downright evil. This is a political reality suggested by Maslow’s hierarchy.

Fear is the killer

Fear is the killer

I’m trying to grasp the fear, to feel it from both sides. Not easy. For either side. This exercise is made more difficult by the apparently different neurological realities of liberals and conservatives. Conservatives have a larger amygdala, making them more inclined to fearful responses, while liberals have more gray matter in the cerebral cortex, making us more able to cope with complexity.

This means, I think, that liberals fears are felt less intensely and drive our politics less powerfully than those of conservatives.  The larger context for those things we fear may be more apparent to us, more capable of diminishing how large they loom in our lives.

fearsWithout going into exactly how it stimulates this thought (too complicated for a blog post) kabbalah sees yes and no as two of three primary pillars of creation. It seems to me that liberals are the yes, we can do that for others, folks. Conservatives are the no, there are limits to what we can do, folks. Another way to name these pillars is possibility and limits. Liberals see possibilities; conservatives understand barriers. Neither, by itself, is adequate.

Yes needs limits. No needs the push of possibility. We need, again, a politics that recognizes the interlaced need for Yes and No. Somehow we have allowed the difference between Yes and No to become absolute. We have allowed difference to become not difference, but a yawning chasm, one crossed only by the flimsiest of bridges. We might fall! We need the dialectical tension of hope and practicality. In fact, kabbalah suggests that not only do we need it; we are it. We are neither yes nor no, but both. Not knowing this is a form of sin, I suppose. In our time it may be the original sin.

 

 

 

I Care

Lughnasa                                                                            Harvest (new) Moon

20170919_170415

Yesterday, after Ruth’s cross country meet, Kate and I drove over to a Vietnamese restaurant we like on Federal Avenue. A Jeep ahead of us had a full size flag flying from a flagpole attached to the back bumper. It read “American Truckers.” When we got closer at a stoplight, I noticed this strange juxtaposition of bucolic pastime and outright hate speech. It was chilling to me that someone would find, purchase, then choose to display on their rear window such a message.  As DJT might say, Sad!

 

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