Monday, January 29, 2018

The Power of Uncertainty

The paradox of uncertainty--calling out our fear and vulnerability in the face of the unkown while offering us the possibility of something new and suprising in an unexpected episode of our lives.  A door creaks open to a dimly lit room.  We see something in the shadows barely detectible.  Between memories and imagination we entertain the multitudes of phantoms and specters of fables and foibles drawing us inward to the shapes hidden in the grayness.  We project our fears into the darkness and are rewarded with the chill of our own nakedness staring back at us in a foggy embankment.  It is in this moment we can choose to turn away and return to the relative safety from whence we came or to reach forward to embrace our naked selves to bring warmth and comfort to that which stands exposed, to encloth our uncertainty with an openness to what is possible.  When we cease to try and control or reject that which we fear, it begins to have less control over us; we begin to see ourselves in the darkness and with each step forward we see the brokenness that rises in the mist. 

The power of uncertainty is the power of possibility just as the power of certainty is the power of disillusionment.  When we fail to dream, we fail to live fully and truly honest lives.  The walls we build to protect us eventually imprison us. We are doomed to lives of despair having failed to challenge the steep walls which surround us; we crave their sturdy protection and they give us the cold comfort of carefully crafted stone stacked one upon the other until we can no longer look out to the world beyond.  Our isolation makes us safe.

Love is not possible without uncertainty; it is wholly dependent upon it and cannot exist without it.  When we try to control others, our emotions, or our situation we destroy the possiblitily of love.  Love and control are opposites.  Love is the possibility of the uncertain happening in relationship to another.  It is the doorway through the walls we have built for ourselves.  It is a window into the soul of our shared humanity. 

Life is by nature uncertain.  No matter how many times our heart has beat in the past there are no guarantees that it will beat in the next moment or next after that.  We can accept that uncertainty and live moment to moment; or we can refuse to accept it and build a fantasy world of our own creation to retreat into, hiding our emptiness behind material and sensorial splendor.  We can shut ourselves into castles of solitude or catherals of religious devotion.  We may relish in our victimization at the hands of powers not of our own accord to explain away our inability to find satisfaction.  Or we may huddle with the masses doing what we are told to do and believing what we are told to believe.  Living our lives in quiet desperation.

Creativity is living in uncertainty; reaching out into the liminal space just beyond the known to embrace the treasures buried in the darkness and making it our own we share it with others.  For creativity cannot happen in walled fortresses; for it is an expression of our naked selves given to the world not knowing what will come back to us in return.  It feeds off the joy of uncertainty and discovery taking us further down the road into the deep forest we were warned not to tread by the timid gatekeepers and stallwart custodians of social convention.  Uncertainty is chaos and from chaos comes creation.

Friday, September 16, 2011

In the Between--Trying to Find a Way Out

I live in the in-between. The world is typically viewed as quite cartesian in its cosmology--things are black or white, right or left, up or down.  But that’s not the world I live in--I live in a world of neither and both. 
I wanted to be an architect at an early age because it was both technical and artistic.  We live in a world that likes things to be well classified, one or the other.  Often the question is asked in bemusement are you right-brained or left-brained, more logical-verbal or spatial-nonverbal.  We like right brained, reality based thinking, they are the technicians that make the world happen.  Artist are the left brained, weird spatially groovy creatively inclined types.  They are a minority in our world but nevertheless an accepted archetype and function in our society.  Obviously, the two don’t mix well.  Yet, I am both.  (In the process of pondering this point, I even took a quick online Right-Left Brain test and came out a statistical tie at 51:49 percent.)
As an undergraduate I got my Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science (at UCLA we called that South Campus, the hard sciences) but I spent much of my time studying history, psychology, architecture, and art (if you hadn’t guessed that was North Campus).  Later I went back and got my Masters of Arts in Depth Psychology and then postgraduate certification in Drama Therapy and Experiential Psychologies.  Professionally I ended up as a technical consultant in Information Technology, the more lucrative choice for someone with the capability of comprehending the big picture, communicating that with the stakeholders, and then breaking it down into byte size computer code.  Although with my bi-spherical orientation I have the distinct sensation of Doctor Frankenstein, feeling every sinew and nerve of my glorious creature (yes I know I am whacked, but I really do get off on it--I sometimes wake up late at night overcome by an effervescent mad-scientist chortle... oops did I say that out loud?)  On the other hand, in regards to our right brain world, we don’t really value psychological health that's what drugs and alcohol are for, the comparative economist early on said, not a good career choice; but for me it was a necessary field of study.  It was not a career path as much of a life path, which I am still trying to figure out.  If nothing else, I just needed to understand me (a rather expensive form of personal therapy I might add.)
So on one hand I don’t fit into either world but because I am in the middle I actually fit into both, as long as I try to keep my big mouth shut.  I have the unique opportunity to co-exist, to disprove the primary hypothesis of things must be black or white, right or left, up or down. 
However, I guess at times I feel like I am hiding, no matter who I am present with.  I feel like sort of the Ugly Duckling, a misfit in the middle of duckdom.  It doesn’t matter if you see both sides, if no one really cares or wants to understand that the world isn’t the way they want it to be.  People want it to be just the way they see it.  Anyone who doesn’t see it their way is stupid, ignorant, foolish, fill-in the blank.  I can argue both sides of the argument, and lose them both.
What makes it worse is that I am a deep intuitive.  I go in between the between.  I see what is and what it will become; projecting the possibilities out.  Try mixing that with an expertise on personality theory and psychoanatomy on a date with someone you just met.  Needless to say I am still single.
Of late I am exploring what this all means.  How I fit into the world.  How I make sense of it.  How do I explain myself in terms others might understand.  How do I arrive where I think I am suppose to be.  How do I complete what I have started.  I think they call this a mid-life crisis.
I am a successful businessman.  I have accumulated more than most people have in an entire lifetime.  I am in the middle of a number of projects that express my enjoyment and purpose in life—including building my dream home (I never became that architect, so I am building me my own version of what a 21st century home was suppose to be ala a futuristic 1960’s George Jetson meets Star Trek by way of Frank Lloyd Wright.)  I am halfway through writing a book that expresses my passion and advocacy for psychological and spiritual health laid out in what I hope is a creative manner.  I have a great community of friends who I trust and believe in.
 Yet time ticks away and I feel stuck.  I feel at odds with a world that I both understand and don’t understand.  A world I guess I am suppose to help change for the better according to some subliminal voice that attached to my cerebral cortex sometime around the age of 5, but somehow it still looks the same as it ever was. 
I suppose the big lesson is don’t drink two glasses of wine (actually I think I am gonna top this one off before I finish this sentence) and then try to make sense out of life in a pretentious format like a blog.  I am sure none of this will make sense tomorrow.  Or then again, maybe it will all make sense….  I guess it just depends on which side of the bed I wake up on whether the right or left.
If this is the last blog I write it's because I figured it all out.  I will be waiting for you on a exquisite precipice somewhere in the Himalayas where you will find me sitting on a modest but impressive stone pedestal.  You may then approach humbly and ask me one question...  ahh...  I said one question only, so think carefully...
Otherwise tomorrow morning I will be sitting in a booth at Woody's Diner and you can ask me whether I think the Daily Special is all that good....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Imagine--A Day of Remembrance and Hope

In the middle of an ideologically based war against an enemy that some would argue intended to destroy Western democracies, capitalism, and the ideals upon which America was founded, one wacked-out hippy had the audacity to invite the world to imagine a different kind of world, a world of peace, tolerance, and acceptance; in his words to "imagine all the people living life in peace...  the world will live as one."  Ironically, shortly thereafter a gunman put a bullet in his head, and it seems a dream died with him; an end of an era of soul searching and idealism that was John Lennon.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of  September 11, 2001 when some 3000 victims of various nationalities, citizenship, and religions lost their lives due to an attack by "Islamist Terrorists" a term used to identify a group of self-described revolutionaries bent on purifying the Islamic world of Western influence and restoring a medieval Islamic caliphate throughout the traditional Islamic Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian crescent.  While a few Islamist mullahs did espouse broader worldwide ambitions, the main focus was on the medieval Islamic territories which predated Western colonization and territorial demarcation.  America was not the target of the jealousy of  impoverished stone age peoples lusting after American wealth and freedom as Bush shortly after 9/11 tragedy absurdly and naively declared, in his own words, "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world."  Rather America was attacked because American foreign policy has been instrumental in maintaining a system of oppression and impoverishment that pervades the post colonial Islamic world by direct economic exploitation of regional resources and by support of corrupt dictatorial regimes that actively and brutally suppress their own peoples.  The truth is that we Americans are often hated in these third world parts because of our history of deception, exploitation, and at times violent intervention; including our political support of Israel, whose dismal human rights record in the takeover and homesteading of the Palestinian territory after the British receded in the 1940's, has instituted a decades long struggle between competing views of who did what first.   More accurately, the attack on America was a strategic salvo to repress or destroy American infuence in the world in order to bring down the regional powers of the Islamic crescent in a worldwide revolution which these Islamists hoped would rise up in the aftermath.  However, the religious and social basis and support for such a military take over of the Islamic crescent is dubious at best and universally denied by the majority of Islamic (and non-Islamic) peoples in the region.  They may still resent American meddling and abuse (usually making a distinction between American policy and American people) in what they perceive to be helping to institutionalize their suffering and oppression, but most have no desire to replace one authoritarian state with another in the model of the repressive Afghani Taliban.

In the middle of another ideologically based war against an enemy that some would argue intended to destroy Western democracies, capitalism, and the ideals upon which America was founded, a contemporary of Lennon's would famously reimagine peace entirely in a great example of Orwellian Doublespeak stating, "I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace."  The statement was made in 2002 by then president of the United States, George W. Bush, after having just gone into Afghanistan to ostensibly find and punish the leadership of Al-Qaida who claimed responsibility for the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks on 9/11.  Eventhough the Taliban had nothing to do with attacks and offered to gather up Osama Bin Laden with others in Al Qaida and send them off to be tried in a Muslim country, the Bush Administration reimagined the war as being against the Afghani Taliban which they argued had provided safe haven for the Al Qaida militants while they were preparing for the attack.  Shortly after that Bush would reimagine the war on terror as including Iraq eventhough they also had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.  When the original flimsiness of the Iraqi terrorist argument fell apart (though the propaganda was very effective as years later the majority of Americans still believed Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks), the Bush Administration invented the idea of a "preemptive strike" based on contrived and unfounded evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction which was firmly disputed by most regional experts including the inspectors who were on the ground in Iraq.  Ultimately the predetermined invasion was architected by Bush's Neoconservative administration based on long standing principles laid out in their Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century policy written in September 2000, which argued that:

We must restore the foundation of American security and the basis for U.S. military operations abroad... The current American peace will be short-lived if the United States becomes vulnerable to rogue powers with small, inexpensive arsenals of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads or other weapons of mass destruction. We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or threaten the American homeland itself.  (p.75)
The document goes on to recognize that the Neoconservative policy of rebuilding American's military preeminence as the unchallenged superpower "is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor." (p. 51)  This poorly veiled attempt to justify the predetermined military opportunism resulted in arguably the greatest public backlash in world history with as many as 36 million showing up to protest the impending invasion in the early months of 2003.  Somewhere in the process "truth" took a bullet, lost in the middle of a war of propaganda and deceit to win a war that quickly lost track of the identified reasons that those who supported it, claimed justified it.

After ten years, however, the same ignorance that led us into this mess still pervades the public discourse in news, blogs, and commentaries.   The great American philosopher and pacifist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, insightfully stated, "Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding."  Yet, ten years in to this venture,  Muslims are still viewed by many Americans as enemies of the good Christian American people in spite of the fact the Muslims are inclusive of the American social fabric making up around one percent of the populace and, moreover, very few of the one billion Muslims worldwide support the Islamist agenda.  The fabled take over of America by Islamic fascists under Sharia law has paralleled a more real militant form of Christian fascism bent on taking over the American government enforcing a Christian fundamentalist agenda and practice in law and government conduct.  The Islamic battle cry "God is Great" (Allah Akbar) has been supplanted with the Christian battle cry "God Bless America" in an overt attempt to weaponize God, invoking the Almighty to destroy one's avowed enemies.  Hopefully there are many who have come to understand the facts of the struggle we face, to build bridges of tolerance and acceptance, but on the street level the evidence is that the American mob mentality is still ridiculously committed to the war propaganda that  9/11 was an attack on Christians by Muslims who envy America's freedom and want to take over the world, and furthermore, that all Muslims are hate-driven, co-conspirators.  Any modest attempts to try to rebuild relations with the Muslim world by the current Obama Administration have been characterized as traitorous and un-Christian.

After ten years, then, are we any closer to peace?  Mother Teresa once remarked, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  Aside from the aforementioned distrust of all things Islam, America, today, is more divided internally than it has in decades, if not ever, with the rhetoric and propaganda reaching monumental proportions.  Hatred fills the blogosphere with obfuscations, ignorance, and shameful accusations and attributions, with no light at the end of the tunnel.  The clear leader in the demise of the American commons, is Fox News with their absurd self-description as "fair and balance" while unabashedly proclaiming their advocacy of what they describe as conservatism.  Yet theirs is not a conservatism that is founded in Jeffersonian democratic ideals of respectful discourse yielding to a greater public good based on value judgments of a defined set of facts and evidence.  Rather it is a authoritarian conservatism  devoid of any intelligent discourse of conservative principles or respect for the majority of Americans that disagree with their perspective which they argue should be foisted upon the American system under the simple argument that "well the other side is wrong so we should just do it the right way, our way."  As with all authoritarian propaganda their arguments are based on deliberate distortions of the facts to manipulate an emotional response to a crass compendium of juvenile name-calling, fear-mongering, and overt distortions of a polarized straw-man universe of their own disturbed creation.  It incites a breakdown in civil discourse that preempts and prevents any discussion of the public good necessary for a democratic society.  It condescends any attempt to find the obvious middle ground that benefits the majority of the citizenry while protecting minority rights.  It is purely a world of "us and them," in the most ugly and despicable displays of partisanship and arrogance, in the aphoristic tradition of "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face" in which everybody loses.

Ten years ago, in the moments right after the attack, the world was for a moment unified in its resolution and disgust for the perpetrators who in many cases had killed many of their own nation's citizens in the World Trade Center.  Those who were traditionally critical or even antagonistic of America throughout the Western and Islamic world were prepared to unite and cooperate with America in changing this unsavory world order that had just raised its ugly head.  Sadly, Islamic terrorism probably could have been stopped dead in its tracks at that moment cutting off public and material support and bringing the perpetrators to justice through broad cross-national cooperation.  But this was the defining moment that the Neoconservatives were waiting for to push forward their plans to build the military preeminence of the United States.  This was quite literally their "Pearl Harbor" that justified the policies and programs they had been promulgating for years.  In transforming the human tragedy into a political strategy, they alienated the world forum and instead justified the hatred upon which perpetrators were fueled, turning the perpetrators into heroes in many parts of the world as icons of resistance to American hegemony.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. once remarked,
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Ten years later, certainly many things have changed but we are still at war on two fronts.  After years of torturing and humiliating thousands, the resentment burns deeper than ever.  After trillions of dollars spent in support of our best and brightest military strategists, we have succeeded in boxing in the foes, killing many of their leaders including their chief leader Osama Bin Ladin.  But even from the beginning it was known that this is not a winnable war; there is no final humiliation or domination of the enemy that ends in any peace treaty or resolution.  The only exit strategy is to break the cycle of war and violence; to go back to the first few moments of the human tragedy of 9/11 and reclaim our common humanity.  This was not an American tragedy although it effected us profoundly and deeply as a nation.  But in the truest sense it was a human tragedy and horror that included victims from nearly every region of the world, a tragedy which we shared with the world; and which can only be resolved when we recognize that very connection to the world.  Imagining the most basic quality of our shared human vulnerability--trust and respect.  Imagining a world where all the people live life in peace; in the dream of which John Lennon spoke--"the world will live as one."

May God  bless those who have striven to peacefully rebuild America's spirit and community through compassion, tolerance, and hope.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Live Free or Die: The Chains of Freedom

"Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils." 
General John Stark 
American Revolutionary, New Hampshire Militia

In each generation there is a political establishment that serves a particular need in society.  Sometimes it serves the needs of the many and more often it serves the needs of the few--the powerful, the wealthy, those who own the chains of freedom. We each hold a belief that if only I had such and such, then I would be happy, free to be my own man or woman.  It is the owners of said such and such that in turn own the people and dangle the perception, the lure of freedom as a way to profit and control.  The stories in a society define who we are, the storytellers control our identity. In modern society we call the professional storytellers marketers, advertisers,  public relations reps, and politicians.  They spin story so artfully we forgive the deception.  Will I really be that popular if I drink that beer, wear that perfume, drive that car?  Are they really so beautiful, clean, and likable as they are on the red carpet or in that show or movie?  Well, of course they are, I read it/saw it in the news.  

In the early part of the Eighteenth Century, the dominant story was still the divine right of Kings.  Good King George certainly relied on it to extract the wealth of his colonies for his own purposes.  Taxation without representation was a given, the King was instituted by God to rule the people.  Allegiance to the King defined one's prosperity.  The King as patriarch oversaw the people's safety and well being.  The King owned the chains of freedom, serve him wholeheartedly or suffer the consequences.  While the Magna Carta had changed the story slightly taking away absolute power from the King bestowing specific rights on the people.  This became a stepping stone for a new chapter in the story, a new story where those who are exploited rise up against the oppressor, fighting to live free or die.

Before Hitler was the supreme leader of the Third Reich, he was a demagogue, an artful storyteller of the people, weaving a story of honor, strength, and fortitude in the face of adversity.  He used and reused symbols and myth to define the identity of a people, deserving and invincible, true patriots of the cause of freedom.  Those who held the chains of freedom, the industrial owners, bankers, foreigners, and cultural elitist who opposed them were on the wrong side of history and truth--they were the oppressors, the degenerates who held down the true strength and destiny of the German people.  They must be destroyed at all costs.  It was this story which made the German people nearly invincible, conquering most of Europe and part of Asia.  For the German people, it was also live free or die.

Were the newly founded Americans right and the new Reich Germans wrong because one won and the other lost the fight for their freedom?  Both believed emphatically in their cause, giving heart and soul, life and limb to their cause célèbre.  Does passion for an ethic, a value system, devotion to God and Country make one right?  What is the difference between a revolutionary and a terrorist, a patriot and traitor, a hero and a oppressor?

Ultimately the questions are answered by how one defines freedom.  The American Architects believed in a society where different values were respected and protected, all Men are created equal without regards to class, religion, or presumed divine rights, where Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness were protected by the state.  The chains of freedom were loosed by the state giving individuals rights and privileges that had been reserved for Kings and their Consorts.  

The German Nazi Architects, on the other hand, believed in a society based on a racially defined Aryan feudal system of privileged aristocratic supermen served by lesser evolved, degenerate populace.  Inequality bore the chains of freedom which was defined by service to the state--those who served became feudal overlords.  Happiness was a product of eugenics and utility to one's race; only when one accepted one's racial fate could one truly be happy.  There is only one state defined Truth, one story that is acceptable to tell--everything else is the product of a degenerate society; belief in such liberal propaganda only verifies one's degeneracy.

While in the German Nazi story the storyteller was unequivocally the state, in the American story the storytellers were a free, open, and unbiased press, what Jefferson emphasized as The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by a despotic government and Thomas Carlyle popularly referred to as the Fourth Estate equal to the three traditional representational branches of government.

America was born before the industrial revolution.  The Architects lived in an agrarian society surrounded by city dwelling craftsmen, merchants, and traders.  Land was the primary basis of wealth and power.  By the end of the industrial revolution just over 100 years later, the power base had shifted to the industrial giants, those who owned the mechanisms for production.  Corporate owners became the power brokers in the new American social and economic structure.  Freedom under the Architects was the freedom of the individual to live their lives according to their own values and beliefs unfettered by the State or the exploitation of others.  As the power base shifted, by the end of the twentieth century, Freedom was redefined as the freedom of the economic power base to exist unfettered by the State and exploitation was no longer a moral principle but a right of the corporation to utilize whatever means to profit.  While the German Nazis were looking backwards to a feudal land based utopian (for Aryans) society and economy, the World War ushered in an economic power structure that dismantled any last vestiges of the society and economy that America was founded on.  

The story of who and what America was forever changed, the chains of freedom were now in the hands of profiteers and capitalists.  The storytellers were now owned by the corporations. In the American political system, propaganda was no longer the property of the State but rather was now a means of survival of the corporate infrastructure.  While industrialist Rupert Murdoch reinvention of Fox News as a political propaganda machine is the most blatant and well documented example of the downfall of the democratic journalism espoused by Jefferson, the entire field itself has become the "news business" and now is owned by major corporations that to some degree influence the stories that are told.  One of the few exceptions being National Public Radio and the Public Broadcast Service which are membership supported with a small part being granted by Congress.  Not surprisingly the deeper one is in the hands of the corporate till the more likely it is that storytellers will try to devalue the non-corporate owned entities as unpatriotic and biased.

Fundamentally, what has happened to the American value system?  Are we now longer citizens of a representative democracy but rather consumers of a corporate political system?  Has the story of individual freedom and respect been lost to the social and economic changes of the last 200 years?  Is the new morality of exploitation and domination the new, true American spirit?  

In the mid twentieth century a new form of storytelling became popularized as a grassroots challenge to the status quo.  It became known as "Rock and Roll"--it challenged the politics, morality, and economics of traditional American society.  It crossed racial boundaries, asked hard questions, protested wars, and even at its most light-hearted challenged a button down, keep in your pants Victorian moral system that excoriated the unfaithful.  It was at the heart of a popular revolution in the spirit of Stark's "Live Free or Die."  With money to be made Corporate America found ways to tame and commoditize it, which gave birth to a second generation of popular protest, the Punk movement of the late 70's and 80's which shunned commercialization and challenged the greed and hypocrisy of Reagan's Corporate America.  By the mid-90's the corporate machinery had silenced the last channels of protest. Even when the internet opened the doors to popular communication, true democratic exchange, it failed to find a broad base in the political discourse.  The chains of freedom were fitted by the Corporate storytellers and we no longer wanted what are forefathers fought and died for, now satisfied with an X-Box and McDonald's cheeseburger, too often we now live in mediocrity and die in obscurity.

Ultimately we as a society must address a fundamental question, are we a democracy or an oligarchy of multinationals and wealthy business owners?  Should the owners of the means of production and service be the primary influencers and controllers of social and political life, a form of exploitative capitalism heralded in modern libertarian economics--everything is a commodity and the people "vote" by their dollars, a system without political protections for minority views which unceremoniously discards the vulnerable and incapacitated in back alleys and cardboard cities?  Or do we choose to require businesses to operate within the bounds of the public good by offering goods and services with full disclosure and value rewarding innovation rather than conceit--a representative democracy of the people, where businesses serve and are accountable to the people and are not allowed to invest in politicians?

Live Free or Die in Corporate America... the choice is up to you.

Happy Independence Day

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the Cross-Hares of the Easter Bunny Christ

Spring is sprung and the Easter Passover Vernal Equinox Fertility Festival is now upon us with all the vibrant symbolism of blood, bunnies, eggs, crackers, crucifixion, death and resurrection.  In Greek mythology this is the time that the Vernal-Death goddess Persephone returned from Hades to bring the world back to life from its Wintery death, and reminding us that if we ever are on a weekend excursion to Hades not to eat the pomegranate seeds, lest we find ourselves the Endless Purveyor of Seasons.  In Jewish mythology the spring festival of Passover celebrates the passing over of the Angel of Death in Egypt when all the faithful Israelites marked their door post with lamb's blood whilst eating barbecued Lamb and waiting, staff in hand and sneakers afoot, for morning light to bring liberation from slavery--and also perpetually warning us to beware of making our holiday plans with a travel agency named anything like Desert Tours or Desert Holidays.  In the sequel, Passover II: Revenge of the Death Angel, Christians celebrate the brutal demise of the Christian Christ on the Cross at the hands of the Jewish religious authorities and Roman political system during Passover which was necessary to fulfill the unconditional love of  the loving God by assuaging the conditional wrath and righteous vengeance of the holy and just God, who are mystically one in the same (a cosmic case of either multiple or borderline personality disorder); but leading joyfully to the Christian Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday morning as the Eternal Easter Bunny (1), metaphorically speaking of course, who symbolically hides colorfully colored easter eggs, promising that if we diligently seek we will surely find them (well at least that is how my travel brochure from Desert Holidays advertised it.)

Not to be out done by the religiosity of the religious, this is also the season those who proclaim the joys of being without god, the dour Atheists, come out with their message of existential delight that to believe in nothing (except of course the veritable belief in the "belief in nothing") is the greatest joy of all.  Unlike their traditionally religious brethren who believe everyone should agree with their supreme enlightenment, the Atheists believe that they are different from those others who believe that their beliefs are the beliefs that are most worthy of believing because the world would be a better place if we all believed the same beliefs that they believe--it is simply more obvious, more "rational", everyone should just get it the way they get it.  And so goes the most recent overture to religious rationalism, by the actor-comedian Ricky Gervais, his Easter Message demonstrating this years traditional atheistic Intolerance of the Intolerant holiday diatribe.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the masses reprises in the hearts of the faithful.  The term "religion" comes from the Greek meaning ritual indicating a prescribed way of doing and believing that draws people into a common focus.  As a spiritual philosophy they are all forms of moralism, structured belief systems that by their nature of exclusivity and institutional compulsion divide people into the faithful and the unfaithful.  While "love" and "relationship" are common focuses, the terms only apply to the convenient and necessary, Jesus' command to love one another only goes as far as you can keep from becoming soiled by the filth of the world.  In moralism, relationship is fundamentally predicated on behavior; behavior defines what relationships are acceptable and worthwhile and conversely, where relationships are unacceptable, the Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist each describes a way to attack the world that is different from them and separate out-- Onward Christian Soldiers, Chosen People, Jihadists, and the Anti-Religious.  Spiritual Abuse is the last acceptable way to hurt or even kill the infidel in one's midst--after all its God's will or the Rational thing to do. Hatred isn't hatred if God already hates them.  Hatred is a virtue bestowed on the faithful.

Oops, did I say "hatred" I meant religious fervor.  If your religion says homosexuals are an abomination, then it is religious fervor to call them horrible names, alienate them, and call for their absolute annihilation, in Jesus' name.  If your religion says non-Muslims (as well as Muslims not of your favored sect) are infidels whom Allah hates, the righteous warriors of Allah have a duty to avenge Allah's honor and destroy the unfaithful.  If your religion says you are the chosen race that God favors above all others, then oppressing and conquering a bunch of unchosen rif-raff who happen to be in the way of God's will is a blessing.  If your religion says that only stupid people believe in God, then insulting them and desecrating their sacred symbols is just a free thinking Man's form of free speech.

Spiritual abuse as a sacred form of justifiable hatred has become the defining force of 21st century culture and society.  From talk show hosts and politicians spewing venom to inspire hatred in their audiences to attack some targeted population, to Mullahs declaring Fatwas for the faithful to destroy the enemies of Islam, to Pastors invoking the political Messiah to justify their divisive right wing political hate-mongering, are among countless examples of the moralist impulse to stir fear and loathing in the heart of an otherwise compassionate people..

It is perhaps a truism to state that there will always be the henchmen among us who will blindly follow whatever calls to them, but in the heart of humanity stirs a deeper spirituality that defines us as something more than the instinctual drives to compete, survive, or dominate our surroundings.  Beyond the fear and intrinsic vulnerability of our existence is our fundamental capacity to transcend our circumstances; to judge things not as they are but as they can or might be; to believe in the best of all possible worlds; even when the world may be crumbling around us; to see ourselves in others with honesty, compassion and generosity; to come together for the common good.

Whether you celebrate the Vernal Equinox, Passover, Easter, or just another weekend, the truth of our humanity is not in our beliefs or our religion, it is simply our capacity to care for one another in spite of our differences as fellow human beings.

May this season bring great blessing and joy to each and everyone.


(1)  For a deeper exposition of this version of the Easter message refer to theologian Chuck Jones' animated work A Wild Hare with Elmer Fudd playing the Angel of Death and Bugs Bunny playing the Eternal Bunny that perpetually defies him.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul: The Descent

Well it's been ten years and a thousand tears, and look at the mess I'm in.
A broken nose and a broken heart, an empty bottle of gin.
Well I sit and I pray in my broken down Chevrolet
While I'm singin' to myself, there's got to be another way.
Take away, take away, take away this ball and chain
Well I'm lonely and I'm tired and I can't take any more pain.

Life is a figment of our imagination.  We all imagine life to be lived a certain way, to follow a certain story line, to have a specific texture and flavor with which we are familiar.  Guys typically grow up with stories of heroes and villains; eventually finding a role within society that fits their instinctual reality.  Girls typically grow up with stories of goddesses and princesses in waiting or of Cinderella servitude.  Regardless of how close anyone may fit those culture identity plays the nature of becoming a part of society is to live out some expectation in the grand scheme of our shared imaginations.

But then life happens.  We are fragile creatures who don’t bend easily without breaking.  And break we do, over and over, until we often lose sight of what it was we thought life was suppose to be.  At the heart of darkness, where all that was thought to be, crumbles; the people we thought would fulfill our destiny, disappoint; the roles we thought we would be playing, disintegrate without any hope of fulfillment.  At that moment, we either turn to escape, or we brace ourselves to face forward to a new unfamiliar, unintentioned reality beyond our expectations. 

Escape is by far the more reliable strategy.  Why suffer when we can numb our senses with soul altering substances that empty us of the capacity to feel pain?  We can hide behind false identities that mask our vulnerability to the world; or, we can enjoy our despair, finding new ways to show the world our pain over and over again, taking our place in the great hall of tragic victims, that didn’t deserve to be what they became—the failure, the drunk, the addict, and the outcasts.

As "satisfying" as the soulless victim might be in the grand scheme of shared imaginations, the question still stands, what would it be like to face the emptiness of a life unfulfilled, to actually move through the “Dark Night of the Soul” to discover what is on the other side?  To many, the prospect is too terrifying to even entertain; a complete deconstruction of identity and personal history.  And in truth, the journey can be most terrifying, which leads most into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry and drug oriented psychiatrists or to self-medicate.  The obvious problem is that it doesn't attend to the underlying issue, the call for psychological transformation within the individual psyche.  Antidepressants and Anti-Anxiety medications are great at masking the symptoms and creating a person that can mutely function in society.  And if that is what one choses to do, nothing should prevent one from taking that path of cyclical but less intensive depressive episodes.  In some cases where the boundaries toward suicide are psychologically unmitigated it can be lifesaving.  

But there is a different path that can also be taken what the great Mythologist, Joseph Campbell, outlined as the Hero’s Journey, the archetypal path of the unwitting initiate’s descent into darkness to face the great monster deep within or without, to eventually emerge chastened and wizened, the heroic persona who transforms the society he came from and then returned.  Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz series is a good example of the hero’s journey in modern literature.  George Lucas deliberately used Campbell’s work in writing the Star Wars film series. 

Well I've searched and I've searched to find the perfect life,
A brand new car and a brand new suit, I even got me a little wife
But wherever I have gone I was sure to find myself there
You can run all your life but not go anywhere
Second Stanza, Ball and Chain,

In personal terms, the Hero's Journey is the process of letting go of dysfunctional expectations and behaviors that keep us circling the same spot day after day when we are actually trying to go somewhere else.  The tremendous energy that is experienced as psychological pain at that moment, is refocused on moving through to an authentic space beyond the portal of what we know and with which we are comfortable, to find our own heroic identity within, to finally embrace the integrative calling from what Carl Jung described as the Self, the core sense of wholeness within each individual. 

Not surprisingly, with our penchant for “quick and easy’ this has been paralleled in popular storytelling with the “Action Hero” the warrior/magician who rather than go through the uncomfortable deconstruction of the hero’s journey instead conjures up the great powers of the unknown to control reality to meet their own imagination.  Rather than be transformed they become the transformer, dictating a new reality by a secret formula/weapon which they uniquely possess; overcoming all odds.  In popular storytelling we intuitively understand the difference between a Hero and an Action Hero--a Luke Skywalker and a Conan the Barbarian, or a Dorothy of Oz and a Helen of Troy.  But once the credits role, are we willing to descend into our own story to face the forces within that conflict and inhibit our ability to live freely?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In Defense of Violence: The Great Liberal-Conservative Divide

America was born of violence between liberal colonists and conservative royalist some 240 years ago and this past week with the assassination attempt of a high ranking liberal political figure Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has shown how deeply violence still stirs in the heart of America. The facts remain unclear as to the motivation and influencers of the mentally unstable young man who shot 20 people, killing 6. However, what is clear is the attitude of suspicion and disdain in the present political environment. Over the past year, the level of American political discourse has sunk to incredible lows. During the election season, we saw conservative gun activists show up to political rally's of the opposing party with weapons in hand, then candidates of both parties found numerous ways to bring weapons of all sorts into their campaign events and ads, representatives of the Tea Party took it a step further by brutally attacking opposing activists and press members at their rallys, and assassin gunsights were used to mark specific politicians for removal in Palinist propoganda. The later became particularly poignant this last week given that Giffords was one of the politicians marked for "assassination"; a fact that prompted both Palin and other conservative politicians to refer to it as harmless political theater. While the Palinistas were undoubtedly just being careless in their hate speech, not intending it to be taken literally, a review of any number of blogs/discussion threads found that a percentage, small but yet alarming number of her supporters do take it seriously, stating that the campaign material and the attempted assassination were "a good beginning" or a "warning" to liberals and/or a call to arms to continue the assassination of more politicians and liberals alike.

The fight between liberals and conservatives in America was born out of a struggle for self-determination, and in defense of a hope and idealism about human natures capacity to come together for the common good, the first modern democracy, by the rule of the people. Appealing to a higher authority in God and nature, these traitorous liberal rebels risked everything up against the conservative Tory’s and British Royalists, declaring independence from nobility by asserting that "all men are created equal" taking up arms against their former British King. After winning the Revolutionary War, the liberal rebels, then founded the United States of America under the Articles of Confederation, and later after that proved inadequate, made a second attempt reframing the government under the US Constitution.

Eighty years later, the liberal Republican Party, under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, appealing to a higher authority in God and nature, challenged the US Constitution’s legal recognition of slavery and instantiation that African slaves were only 3/5 of a human (it should be noted that it wasn’t until the mid 20th century under Joseph McCarthy that Republican’s reinvented themselves as the bastion of conservatism and fear-mongering that they are known for today.) Conservative Northerners objected to Lincoln's liberal prospecting and Lincoln initially retracted from any abolitionist agenda. But then conservative Southerners threatened by the economic and philosophical impact of Northern Abolitionist movement on the unabashedly racist Southern culture and livelihood, went to war to ensure their right to enslave Africans which they argued weren't really human. The liberal Northerners prevailed in the ensuing bloody civil war and the constitution was amended to abolish slavery; but also culminating in one of the finest examples of "political theater" in American history, the "assassination" of Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C.

In the fight between liberals and conservatives in America in the 20th century, in slightly less dramatic fashion, liberals in the early 20th century fought for women’s and worker’s rights, in the mid 20th century for the civil rights of black and non-European minorities, finally resulting in an amendment to the constitution and landmark federal legislation; however, in the tradition of great "political theater" leaving a trail of blood with the "assassinations" of several prominent liberal leaders, most notably the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr.

Conservatives have consistently been on the losing side of the great moral debates in American history. Whether you consider that good or bad, and whether you buy into revisionist portrayal of the founding fathers as the conservative patriots of American History, is becoming the great divide in 21st century politics. It certainly begs the question what would America look like today if the conservatives in this county had won any of these battles for the soul of our democracy and the liberty of America? Moreover, in today's world, does the conservative fight to establish a Christian government and to promote civil rights only to religiously approved groups of citizens equate to these historical battles to prevent the establishment of privileged religious institutions or traditions in government and the equal protection of rights under the law? Do the lines between liberals and conservatives today even equate to the historical battle lines that were waged in the social and political institutions of America over the last 240 years?

On the other hand, given the growing threats by conservative groups such as the Tea Party rebels, Christian Fascists, Gun Rights activists, and various militia movements, calling for their followers to take up arms, both figuratively and literaly, against the liberal foundations and representatives of the United States government, is it time for liberals to begin to take them seriously? Have liberals fallen behind in arming themselves for the next great American civil war that is brewing in the pages and punditry of conservative blogs, television, and radio?  Should liberals step up with their own hit list of conservative politicians to "assassinate"--all in the name of good political theater ala John Wilkes Booth?  Have we come to the point where we must decide whether we are a Red American or Blue American? 

But in the end, is that what we really want--haven't we learned anything from this long history of the violence between liberals and conservatives in America? America may have been born out of of violence, however, the basis for our democracy is not domination, nor abject agreement, but respect for those on both sides of any argument.  Democracy embraces the peaceful transition of power based on majority opinion and the protection of minority views.  Appealing to a higher authority wherever one finds it, we are challenged to move beyond the battle lines artificially drawn between "liberals" and "conservatives" presented too often by self-promoting political leaders and talk-show pundits who manufacture conflicts where often there are none, who polarize the American public when in reality neither of the major political parties is actually identifiably right or left, but a hodgepodge of special interests on both sides of the politcal spectrum.  When we tear down the curtain hiding the political machinery, there never was a boogieman out to destroy America on either side of the debate. 

Rather, perhaps now it is time to return to that common ground imagined by the founding fathers of this country.  Despite the propaganda on both sides, there is a shared belief and value system by the majority of Americans that is not represented by the politicians trying to get elected to a government which is increasingly oligarchical, out of touch with the needs of the people, preserving the privilege of the few and the powerful. The Tea Party movement radicalized that notion and made it self-serving by fomenting anger, hatred, and fear against a fictional political foe that was manufactured and funded by conservative think tanks and libertarian ideologues, rather than a true grassroots effort of the people for the people.  The reality is "we the people" are the government, any criticism ultimately points back to us; we elect representatives for ourselves and our neighbors.  If we only elect politicians that represent special interests--the greatest special interest being the political parties themselves--who can't get along with one another to do the people's business, it's nobody's fault but our own.  So rather than focus on the few issues which form the basis of rancorous debate in the electoral rampage, maybe we can join together, “liberal” and “conservative” Americans, to reform a system that is increasingly out of touch with the common good of ourselves and our neighbors, we the American people.