Category Archives: politics

“Captain, I’m afraid I don’t know where we are.”

If your threat ganglia pop out, there’s usually a good reason.

That line keeps repeating in my head.

As all good science-fiction should do, Star Trek: Discovery used fantastical but relatable metaphors to comment on our situation here and now.  The conceit of the Mirror Universe, the place Saru didn’t recognize when he made the statement above, was as good as any to explore the deep and pervasive sense of disorientation so many of us continue to feel.  (For those who missed it, the Mirror Universe– the one where, you might remember, Spock had a beard– was populated by the same beings as our own but was a twisted place where humans ran a cruel, xenophobic, racist empire based on war.)

Much of the first season of Discovery was deeply dark and very 2017-18.  It appeared that even Starfleet captains had renounced virtue in favor of expediency.  Of course it turned out that the brilliant but ruthless Captain Lorca was really a denizen of the evil universe’s Terran Empire, and had never been meant to represent Federation values at all.  But then, in desperation to survive against the Klingon onslaught, which was threatening the existence of Earth itself, Starfleet came to the brink of committing genocide, leading to this exchange:

Admiral Cornwell: “We do not have the luxury of principles!”
Michael Burnham: “That is all we have, Admiral!”*

In the face of destruction of our entire planet– a situation we DO face in real life– and against threats not only to any chance of democracy but to truth itself, is this valid?  Do we have any room to maneuver at all?  Can we survive without compromising our values?

The wide-eyed optimism of Star Trek, which has never died, says that there is always a better way.  To choose compassion over fear.  To choose the Federation values of peace, fairness, inclusiveness, and respect for those who are different. When trapped between unacceptable alternatives, to find a third path.

In Gene Roddenberry’s cosmology, things got a whole lot worse before they got better.  I remember some adults talking that way when I was a kid, around the time of Classic Trek, explicitly expecting that there would be an era of horrendous upheavals and destruction to live through, somewhere about now.  I don’t know what made them think that way, but they seem to have been correct.  One can hope that the calm really will come through after the storm, and that somehow it will all make sense.  Personally, my threat ganglia are still out and waving.

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About a week ago I wrote this, in response to people asking me for my thoughts about the current primary season.  Non-New Mexicans probably won’t care:

I’ve been wanting to write something about my choice of candidates for the gubernatorial and congressional primaries, in part to explain my thinking to myself. I am helping two campaigns, to the small extent that I have energy to do so. People I’ve spoken with are expressing a lot of confusion, because we have the blessing or curse of multiple decent human beings running. So let’s think a few aspects of the races through. I’m interested in the thoughts of others who may have come to a different set of conclusions.

I was a little bit concerned that I might be basing my choices on emotional reactions to my favorite candidates, so I have spent time thinking through the matter as dispassionately as possible.  [My Vulcan ancestry at work again.]  Yet, I have to say that my two candidates are nice, pleasant people to be around, and that is a big part of my support for them. At the same time, they’re tough and they don’t knuckle under. I think they’ve got the right combination of the two.

There’s no confusion with the governor’s race for me. I’ve been a fan of Michelle Lujan Grisham for years, and every time I have the opportunity to speak with her in person, I like her all the better. The last time I saw her was at the annual meeting of the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign on April 28. I had the good fortune to be getting out of my car at the same time she was getting out of hers, and we had a bit of a walk to get into the building, around two sides of a block, so I had her to myself for a few minutes. We discussed health insurers and some maddening issues for health care providers like me. Michelle has the health care wonk thing going on, having run the state health department, and that’s important for me. I know from previous discussions that she would try to get the superintendent of insurance to work more for the people and less for the insurers, and that she has some specific ideas about that.

The fact that she showed up for our meeting at all was big, of course. But this was bigger: When I asked her how an ordinary person could go about contacting her on a specific issue like the one we were talking about, she replied, “I work for you. Call me.” OK, that might not really happen very easily in practice. But the sentiment seemed real. I do believe that Michelle acts out of a spirit of service and that she does not put herself above her constituents.

One of the first things our representative did when she got to Congress was to try living on a food budget equal to that of a food stamp recipient, to see how real people can manage it. She reported on how difficult it was. This was when I first took real notice of her, and I immediately developed respect for her. In the past she’s done hands-on investigations like going undercover at a nursing home to expose abuse. She doesn’t take the easiest paths and sometimes she upsets those who are in charge. She is exceedingly tenacious, maybe to the point where she annoys some people; that’s a big reason why we finally got the cleanup of the Kirtland jet fuel spill going after so much dithering around. She knows how to build a coalition; that’s how a bipartisan group of female lawmakers broke the logjam on VAWA.

Jeff Apodaca did not show up at the Health Security meeting himself, but he did send two representatives, his wife and former candidate Peter DiBenedittis, who now works for him. Apodaca stated forcefully in the debate televised today that he would put a single-payer system in place in the state. That’s quite commendable, but he seemed to think he could do that all by himself, making me wonder if he really has much of an idea how state government works.

Apodaca has expressed a number of ideas that strike me as interesting, fresh, and utterly unrealistic. Yes, it would be totally great if we could pipe water from areas that often have flooding to those that have drought. (He suggested that if water were piped to Texas, the Texans wouldn’t need to take water from NM!) Maybe someday that could even be done. Is it a real-world, near-term solution for our desiccated state? Um, no. My impression is that he may not even realize that what he’s saying comes off more like science fiction than policy. Perhaps I’m being a stick in the mud (the long-dried mud, that is), and I should be more welcoming toward way-out-of-the-box possibilities, but I’d rather we would start with something we could actually get done, and soon.

There is something that disturbs me more about Apodaca, though, and that’s what I perceive as negativity and anger. His speech at the Progressive Summit in January struck me as one of the nastiest and most venomous presentations I’d ever heard from a candidate. I can’t remember the specifics of what he talked about, but he belittled others rather than lifting everyone up. He lost any chance at my vote there and then. That unpleasantness was on display in today’s debate, as well.

Joe Cervantes is more of a conundrum for the progressive Democrat trying to choose a governor. His TV ads include endorsements from people I really respect, Jerry Ortiz y Pino and my own beloved state senator, Mimi Stewart. He comported himself quite well in the debate this evening, and the fact that he represents Sunland Park, right on the southern border, makes his perspective especially useful in the present climate. I still have to go with Michelle, though, because of my personal experience with her and more importantly her broad experience in both state and federal government.

What we can’t lose perspective on: The candidate we pick will go up against Steve Pearce in the fall. If you’re bothering to read this, you probably realize how dangerous Pearce would be as governor— a man who, among all his other alarming qualities, believes that his wife should obey him because that’s biblical!

In 2014, we ended up with an incredibly weak Democratic candidate, Gary King, and Susana Martinez wiped the floor with him. Those who had any idea what was going on repudiated King at the party convention, but he was able to gather enough extra signatures to get on the ballot anyway. Name-recognition and fondness for his dad put him on top in the primary, but there wasn’t enough enthusiasm to take him through the general election. We can’t let this happen again. King is universally hailed as a nice guy, but niceness isn’t necessarily a great thing when it’s wishy-washy.

I can’t help remembering how it was in 2010, when then-lieutenant governor Diane Denish wrote out pages and pages of specific and actionable policy ideas while running for governor. She had plans up the wazoo. Her opponent, Susana, said practically nothing and appeared to have little idea what she was getting herself into. But she represented law and order, and Denish was tainted by the corruption into which Bill Richardson had sunk the governor’s office. We all know how that worked out.

Now we have to pull ourselves out of a different sort of morass. I agree with Mayor Tim Keller, who made the point many times during his own campaign that we have to do our own lifting and can’t rely on help to swoop in from somewhere else. But there are better and worse mechanisms we can use to get it done, and more and less knowledgeable and energetic people to lead as we do it.

****************************************************************

Rep. Lujan Grisham, when asked why she was giving up her seat in Congress to run for governor, said that with Washington so dysfunctional, the state and local levels are where things can get done. (Mayor Keller said something similar when he left his job as state auditor.) Yet, we still have to have someone warming those seats at the Capitol and at least attempting to do something positive. My choice for NM CD1 is Deb Haaland.

I’m not being a great help to any campaign, but I did get out and knock on doors in the past couple of days to get out the vote for Deb, my first experience of canvassing. Most people weren’t home, or at least didn’t answer— no surprise there. I had the privilege of walking a really lovely neighborhood, and even got to see one of the “spaceship” houses close up and talk with its very friendly owner. (If you’re a local, you know the two houses I mean.) The most heartening interaction today was with a guy who told me, “Oh, I’m a Republican. My wife’s the Democrat. But we still live with each other.”

Of course I had to explain why I was bothering to walk around with a Deb yard sign and why I had picked her out of the crowded primary field. Everyone knows by now that she’d be the first Native American woman elected to Congress. That is a major matter, since Indians have practically no representation in DC at all, and women are still quite underrepresented. Especially in this time of environmental peril, I do think it’s well worthwhile, even crucial, to include a Native point of view, and we need far more than this one individual to express it. But people want to know what else there is about Deb.

I could go on about renewable energy being a critical necessity for the state’s economy and the world, and her championing of it, or her support for universal health coverage. I could add that she’s had a broad range of experiences, rather than, for example, being a lawyer for her entire adult life. She’s known for working hard for progressive causes and candidates over the years, for always showing up. She showed up at Standing Rock with the water protectors, too. Growing up in a military family, although she did not go into an armed service herself, will give her perspective when the present administration pushes for war. 

But what originally attracted me to Deb was something very simple, a small gesture that made a lasting impression. I was at a gathering hosted by Equality New Mexico a couple of years ago, where I met her and also Santa Fe’s new mayor, Alan Webber. The room was crowded, and I was trying unsuccessfully to slip between bodies and furniture to get a glass of water. Deb saw this, filled a glass and brought it to me. She was the chair of the state Democratic party at the time, but she so didn’t make a big deal of herself. She was real and down to earth. She saw a need and literally filled it. That graciousness and warmth has characterized every interaction I’ve had with her.

In addition, Deb is my age and has been a small-business owner, so I see her as a woman like me. As a single mother of one daughter, she is like my own mother. Her daughter is an LGBTQ person (a different one of the letters from me) and I know Deb will always do whatever she can to protect us from discrimination and worse.

Having said all that, I’d be happy if we could hire all the primary candidates as a team (with one possible exception), because they all have considerable strengths.

It’s a little bit painful not to be able to support my city councilor, Pat Davis, in this primary. I have great respect for Pat and his work with Progress Now, and as with Deb and Michelle, he is always a delight to meet in person. He can articulate his position on issues with great clarity, and I’d say he won the debate that was televised a few days ago, though other viewers might disagree. However, whichever Democrat we elect in the primary has got to be able to win the general election in November, and I’m afraid Pat is too polarizing a figure to manage that. The unopposed Republican, Janice Arnold-Jones, is non-loony and also very articulate, and it’s possible that she could come off looking like the voice of reason, a comfortable and non-threatening choice.

It’s a burning question for all the Democratic candidates this year, at least the leftier ones— should we push as hard as we can for our progressive values, or try to be palatable to a broader swath of the electorate? I honestly don’t know. It’s looking, from elections that have already taken place, like strong progressives are doing quite well. Pat Davis decided to go for it with his “Fuck the NRA” ad, which was, shall we say, a bit surprising to the viewing audience. A former cop who has been shot himself, he concluded that being nice and polite was getting us nowhere, and I can’t fault him for trying to push the gun conversation in a more useful direction. He did get national attention. However, it’s possible that he committed suicide as a candidate, and that the audacious ad caused some people to stop listening to his usual far more measured and reasonable arguments. We’ll see more as this continues to play out.

I was very unhappy with Davis when he voted for the ART project, although he said he had come around to it reluctantly, and he did fight to get a stop put in my neighborhood, which was going to be left out. Worse, every day when I drive to my office, I curse his decision to make Zuni one lane. He pushed for the re-striping of the road in order to stop pedestrians from getting killed, and no one could argue with that as a reason, but with traffic getting backed up for blocks, cars using the bike lane for turns, and still no clear places for pedestrians to cross, I question whether Zuni really is safer for anyone. Early on, one of my patients was involved in a car accident, when another driver hit her while failing to merge where the road goes from two lanes to one at San Mateo, a poorly-designed area if you ask me. And this redesign was done while the ART construction was at its height and Central was virtually unusable. Zuni was never meant to be a major artery to begin with, as my former councilor Rey Garduno once told me— yet the ART proponents blithely assumed it could take on the extra traffic Central, while reduced to one lane. Yeah, right. Pat Davis stands by his decision, since it was meant to save lives, but it seems to me that the Zuni situation is an example of not quite thinking things through. (End of Zuni rant.)

Damon Martinez’s enthusiasm about the ATF sting that was supposed to get the “worst of the worst” of local criminals and instead netted low-level guys, most of them black, entrapping and victimizing at least one harmless person and costing millions in the process, was enough to lose any chance at my vote.

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez is probably a fine choice for this office, and she is supported by a lot of people I respect. My husband and I think that Deb’s range of experiences will be more useful.

I don’t know much about Damian Lara. As an immigration lawyer, no doubt he does excellent work. He too may seem relatively extreme to the general electorate— though again, maybe that could be a good thing.

Paul Moya speaks well and seems to have good ideas, but he’s very young and could use more experience for this national-level job.
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I had a terrible time deciding about the lieutenant governor and land commissioner candidates. Both Rick Miera and Howie Morales would likely make fantastic lieutenant governors. I voted for Miera on the basis of his support for us Doctors of Oriental Medicine and our patients, as well as for the Health Security Act.  All the land commissioner hopefuls have useful experience and excellent ideas, though Garrett VeneKlasen gives the most detail about his plans.

So we have a wealth of strong, qualified, apparently sincere and decent candidates, but it’s a little hard to feel confident about the future of US government in general this year. I can only hope that we’re accomplishing something more than rearranging the Titanic’s furniture.

In any case, GO VOTE!

 

* The fates of the Klingons and the Federation are decided largely by a quartet of seriously badass women.  We have strong women on both sides in NM as well.  May the Burnhams among us prevail!

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The Authoritarian Personality and the National Divide

‘In talking to right-wing authoritarians (RWAs) — in any situation — the first and greatest challenge is to reduce the level of fear and increase the level of trust. They cannot hear or see you at all until this happens.’ — Sara Robinson

I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Americans are completely boggled that so many of our fellow citizens are willing to believe so much crazy crap that is so utterly disconnected from reality. Just saying that they’re nuts is not helpful. Strangely enough, there is actual research to help explain why and how they are able to continue living in their alternative reality and steadfastly fend off any facts that might attempt to intrude. And it’s been around since before the last period of far-right fantasy hegemony.

I came across a very useful set of posts by Sara Robinson, who was raised fundamentalist and closed-minded but was able to transcend her upbringing, and who has a lot of understanding about how to communicate with those who are still inside the “Wall” of insulated post-factual unreality. So much became clearer for me. (Scroll down for links.)

Robinson was summarizing the work of John Dean— yes, that John Dean, from Watergate— who wrote Conservatives Without Conscience, which is based on the work of social psychologist Robert Altemeyer.  Although Robinson’s posts pertain to right-wing Americans, certain evangelical Christians in particular, the dynamics of authoritarianism are the same across cultures and religions.

“Research into ‘authoritarian personalities’ began in the aftermath of WWII, as scientists tried to figure out how otherwise civilized people succumbed to the charisma of Hitler and Mussolini and allowed themselves to be willingly led into committing notorious atrocities. The inquiry continued through Milgram’s famous experiments at Stanford in the early 60s; later, some of it became subsumed in the work of The Fundamentalism Project convened by Martin Marty at the University of Chicago in the 1980s and early 90s. Long story short: there is now over 50 years of good data on these people coming from every corner of the social sciences; but since almost none of this has been common knowledge outside the academy, nobody on the progressive side has really been putting it to use.”

The bully leads

The description of authoritarians who are on the leader side of the equation sounds eerily familiar in our present environment:
“High-SDO [social dominance orientation] people are characterized by four core traits: they are dominating, opposed to equality, committed to expanding their own personal power, and amoral. These are usually accompanied by other unsavory traits, many of which render them patently unsuitable for leadership roles in a democracy:
“Typically men
Intimidating and bullying
Faintly hedonistic
Vengeful
Pitiless
Exploitative
Manipulative
Dishonest
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
Mean-spirited
Militant
Nationalistic
Tells others what they want to hear
Takes advantage of ‘suckers’
Specializes in creating false images to sell self
May or may not be religious
Usually politically and economically conservative/Republican”

“Dean notes: ‘Although these collations of characteristics…are not attractive portraits, they are nonetheless traits that authoritarians themselves acknowledge.’ In other words, these guys know what they are, and are often quite unabashedly proud of it.”

But these leaders wouldn’t get very far unless there were legions of authoritarian personalities on the follower side, and unfortunately there are. It seems that there are all too many people who want to be told what to think and what to do.  Robinson postulates that while the bullying leader types may be beyond the possibility of redemption, a lot of followers may have some openness to communicating across the divide.

I can easily sympathize with the desire to be given simple answers and clear directions. The world is so overwhelmingly complex nowadays, and our path forward seems so uncertain. Sadly, I expect that fundamentalism and authoritarianism will continue their ascent in the near future as climate change and population growth create even more conflict and pressures for water and other resources. They may even provide some sort of genuine protection against chaos, at least temporarily and in limited areas. However, this kind of mindset works against the innovative drive and mental agility that is needed most under fast-changing and stressful conditions.

Dedicated to the cause


“RWAs are sadly accustomed to subordinating their own needs to those of their superiors; in fact, one of the struggles we often see in recovering fundies is a complete inability to even acknowledge that they have needs of their own, let alone identify them, let alone act to meet them. They simply don’t know where to begin. Also, because their own authorities use guilt and shame to control them, they’ve seldom been allowed to see themselves as truly good and moral people.
“Giving an RWA permission to recognize, give voice to, and take action to satisfy his or her own needs is a powerful act. In affirming that they are not just allowed, but entitled (in the name of fairness) to feel their own emotions, own their own goodness, indulge a few harmless appetites, enjoy themselves, assert their boundaries, or stand up and say ‘no’ to overweening authority, you are being an enlightened witness to their true self — something many of them have seldom if ever had. In the process, you are also giving them a direct view over the wall. Often, it’s a view that they never forget, and will keep coming back to until they’re persuaded to go over it for good.”

Red Family, Blue Family

“The best writing on this I’ve seen comes from Unitarian writer Doug Muder, who has taken George Lakoff’s model of ‘strict father’ versus ‘nurturant parent’ politics one step further, and uses it to explain precisely how the right wing came to believe this preposterous notion…. Muder asserts that, while Lakoff’s right that family models are the right frame, the real dialectic is between families of ‘inherited obligation’ versus those based on ‘negotiated commitment.’ Go read the article, then come on back. We’ll be here.”

Here’s the article: “Red Family, Blue Family” https://www.gurus.org/dougdeb/politics/209.html
I strongly recommend that you read this. In fact, I implore you to read it. Lights will go on for you. For example:
 “The Inherited Obligation model, on the other hand, is ambivalent about the social safety net. On the one hand, it is good that people don’t just die when they have no one to take care of them. But on the other hand, the safety net weakens the network of familial obligations. A young adult who moves to the big city to seek his fortune doesn’t come home when he fails, he draws unemployment. Social Security and Medicare may provide an excuse not to take care of aging parents.
“…The Inherited Obligation model is likewise ambivalent about freedom. Freedom to fulfill your obligations according to your best judgment is a good thing. But the kind of freedom that releases people from their obligations is not. In the Negotiated Commitment model, a life without commitments is empty, and there can be no commitment without freedom.”
“Their demonic liberal is a person with no moral depth or seriousness. Convenience is his only true value. Words that we revere, such as freedom and choice, rebound against us: We like these words because we want to be free of our obligations and choose the easy way out.
“Just as married people sometimes imagine the single life as far more licentious and libidinous than it ever actually is, so people born into life-defining obligations imagine a life free from such obligations. The truth about liberals – that we more often than not choose to commit ourselves to marriage, children, church, and most of the other things conservatives feel obligated to, and that we stick by those commitments every bit as faithfully, if not more so – easily gets lost.”

Sometimes those on the left are accused of attempting to control and tyrannize others in the same way that the right does. That isn’t really characteristic of liberals, with their tendency toward fluidity and emphasis on choice:
  “As a final point: Dean’s book puts to rest once and for all the right-wing shibboleth of ‘liberal fundamentalists’ and ‘liberal authoritarians.’ Altemeyer and his colleagues have found, through decades of research, that authoritarians almost universally skew toward the far reactionary right on the political scale. This very much includes Stalinists and other ‘left-wing’ totalitarians: though these men used socialist rhetoric to create ‘Communist’ political orders, they’re classic examples of high-SDO leaders taking control by whatever means they had at hand, and using them to create archetypal far-right authoritarian states. Dean and Altemeyer make it clear that authoritarianism is, by long-accepted definition, overwhelmingly a right-wing personality trait.
“Dean is also emphatic that authoritarianism, in all its forms, is completely antithetical to both classical conservatism (he still considers himself a Goldwater conservative), and to the founding ideals of America. We must be clear: when right-wingers threaten liberals, they are directly threatening the seminal political impulse that created our nation. An operative democracy depends on having a populace that is open to new ideas, able to think for itself, confident in its abilities, willing to take risks, and capable of mutual trust. America was founded as the world’s first radically liberal state. History has shown us that the nation’s best moments, past and future, are created by people with a strong liberal orientation.”

(Note that standing up strongly for principles, such as equality of opportunity in jobs and housing, does not constitute tyranny.)

“Alt” authoritarians

Then there are those who reject established authority but believe in “alt” authorities without question. It’s easy and seductive to see oneself as part of a persecuted minority, a group that’s in the know and smarter than all those “sheeple.” Robinson’s “A Short Detour” section is about them:
“I’ve known way more than my share of these guys, since Silicon Valley is one of their primary native habitats. And my take is that they’re at least as driven by their burning desire to fit in as any other RWA. In fact, their feelings of victimization may be rooted in the belief that they were promised an acceptance in liberal intellectual circles that they intensely wanted but never really found. The most extreme ones were frighteningly bright and well-read, and usually also from very religious family backgrounds. Those two qualities alone guaranteed that it was going to be hard to find a niche among the better-rounded, more secular big city liberals. So they decided that, if they were going to be outcasts anyway, they could at least claim moral superiority. I may be a nerd, but I am RIGHT — the possessor of Ultimate Truth! — and that’s what really matters in the end.”

Why so many of them?

I’ve wondered why the authoritarian-follower trait has been so persistent in the human population, being that it involves so much unwillingness to face facts and thus to deal with real and immediate threats. There must be some advantage, or it wouldn’t exist. Authoritarians do know how to organize and come to agreement, for good or ill, and perhaps that confers an ability to respond more quickly to danger than a dithering, contentious group could, despite their propensity to live inside their imaginary constructions. (Even more than the rest of us, I mean.) Black and white thinking is faster and easier than taking all the grey into account. Perhaps group cohesion has been historically favored over innovation under adverse circumstances?

(Since to be a Christian is to see everyone as your neighbor, and to love your neighbor as yourself, it’s particularly perplexing to me to see that right-wing fundamentalists are so invested in being part of an in-group and demonizing everyone else.)

The most depressing thing about all of this is that Robinson wrote it back in 2006, so hopefully, but nothing seems to have changed, except to get worse. At least, that’s how it looks. I would love to see evidence to the contrary. Please tell me if you’ve got some.

 

Sara Robinson’s posts:

Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-i-defining.html

Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-ii-listening-to.html

Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-iii-escape-ladders.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-i-divide-and.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part II: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-ii-nothing-to.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part III: A Bigger World
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-iii-bigger.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part IV: Landing Zones
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/09/tunnels-and-bridges-part-iv-landing.html

Tunnels and Bridges: A Short Detour
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/09/tunnels-and-bridges-short-detour.html

 

 

 

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Some Strong Words about Strong Words

effin-sale

One can hardly blame the folks at this store in Osaka who thought these signs were in perfect contemporary English.

Have you noticed that we need a whole new set of cuss words? The old ones have been neutered by constant exposure and are now pretty much useless.

In particular I speak of the venerable F-word, now so completely defanged that one may use it in front of one’s grandmother without even noticing. (Though the grandmother is likely to notice still.) It’s so ubiquitous that at times I wonder if anyone remembers how to use any other words at all.

I’ve noticed, in some internet interactions that were both amusing and annoying, that if someone complains about being constantly effed on, they are instantly jumped all over and told to eff off because they have failed to understand the subtle and subversive meaning that is intended, and they’ve totally missed the point. Whereas they may simply have found the writing ugly. I’ve certainly had that reaction. There’s not much of a subversive effect left anyway.

I was just visiting the fun pop-science website www.iflscience.com.  The full name, used on their Facebook page, is “I fucking love science,” which makes me feel a little bit embarrassed when I share their posts.  I noticed that their Twitter handle is @IFeakingLoveScience, though, and the section of their site where they sell things is the “I Love Science Store.”  So I suppose they are not entirely comfortable with That Word, either?  (I was unable to find any rules on Twitter that say you can’t use the F-word in your name, but perhaps that’s the case?)

The amount of effing on John Oliver’s show mystifies me. Oliver and the Last Week Tonight writers are surely persons of wide vocabulary. They don’t need to repeat the same word over and over; they have plenty more to choose from. Yet it seems like almost the only adjective used on the show is “fucking.” It gets old. I don’t understand why such a clever, insightful, educated bunch of people must use such monotone speech.

And that is my main complaint. I’m not making a moral judgment. I would like to preserve the ability of the strongest words to add seasoning to our language. Cuss words are known as “salty” language, right? Well, constant effing is like having every meal drenched in the hottest chile. There’s no variety, and one becomes numb.

Where can one go, these days, to add emphasis, outrage, or shock value? When the most shocking word can no longer shock, what is left? Do you have any candidates for a possible next Very Most Shocking Word?

And why is the very “worst” word one that signifies one of the very best things?

What do you think?
*******************************************************

I wrote the above a while back, and then Pussygate* occurred. Apparently the capacity to be shocked still exists. The term usually shows up only as p***y or the like in print, and now seems to be a contender for the top Shocking Word. Of course, this was not merely a matter of the word used— the word was a description of a heinous and criminal action that had been done to real women. (The objective meaning of the noun itself, again, is something quite positive.)

Even a small child can easily figure out that this is not the way to speak or act.  Colin Farrell, the actor, reported on his 7-year-old son’s sadly hilarious reaction: “Now he can’t stand Trump because I had to explain to him why [he] keeps on being mean to kittens. He just keeps grabbing those kittens.” It seems that Henry can’t understand why people are being so mean to other people, either. He knows it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a powerful speech last week, Michelle Obama mentioned another little boy who took exception to the use of coarse language by a certain candidate. She quoted the boy as saying (as nearly as I remember it), “He called someone a piggy. You can’t be president if you call someone a piggy.”

I suppose these young men will become jaded and contaminated in the not too distant future, but at least for now they are wise, and they give me hope. Let’s remember what we all learned in kindergarten. Surely we can bring the level of our public discourse up at least a couple of notches from the deep trench it’s fallen into. I am fucking determined to try.

 

* For those reading in the future when this wretched election season is mercifully forgotten, Donald Trump was revealed to have spoken enthusiastically about assaulting women, using the P-word in a particularly disgraceful way.

 

http://www.japansubculture.com/its-no-ordinary-sale-its-a-fuckin-sale/

https://www.yahoo.com/news/colin-farrells-7-year-old-son-dislikes-donald-trump-because-he-keeps-grabbing-those-kittens-173035282.html

http://www.rolereboot.org/family/details/2016-07-im-not-going-stop-swearing-front-daughter/

http://the-toast.net/2014/12/09/linguist-explains-syntax-f-word/
https://solongasitswords.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/on-the-origin-of-fuck/

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Another Human Being’s Identity Is Not Yours to Dictate

(Rant Advisory! I am as upset about this as if it pertained to my own child, or to me.)

So very often I am reminded of the old song that goes “None of us are free if one of us is chained.” It adds, “And if we don’t say it’s wrong then that says it’s right.”

Sometimes the chains are kept locked by those who think of themselves as far beyond bigotry or intolerance.

In the past week I have encountered two attacks against transgender people that appeared on the surface to have some higher intention. Both were warmed-over versions of old arguments.  One came in the form of a supposedly spiritual look at gender identity through the lens of reincarnation, and the other purported to be a principled defense of the rights of women by a feminist group.

GIVE. ME. A. BREAK.

I could call out the “spiritual” thinker by name, but I’m not going to, because his presentation is not just his own but represents a turn of thought that is all too common. It’s been used against gay people, too. The idea is that if you are not comfortable twisting yourself to fit into a gender-binary, heteronormative life, it’s because you were a different gender in a previous life, and either through confusion or through willful stubbornness, you are still clinging to identification with that gender. If you persist, you are stupid and bad. You should just get over it and move on, and then you’ll be fine.

This is the exact same paternalistic crap promulgated by religious groups who insist that God made you either male or female and that’s that. God doesn’t make mistakes, and so if you don’t feel right in your body, you are going against God, and therefore you are sinful and bad.

I’ll get to the so-called feminists later. First, I want to take a look at exactly what God/nature/biology did make. Because we do have some actual facts to work with.

While it would be nice to have human reproductive biology all wrapped up in a neat, understandable package, the more we learn, the more we see that things are complex and fuzzy. “Male” and “female” are not definite categories with hard edges. I’m sorry if someone dislikes this, but it’s reality. Some easily accessible sources of information follow.

http://www.isna.org/faq/ten_myths/rare
According to this, about 1 in 2000 humans are intersex. Another source estimated 1.7% of births. That’s a lot of people. Some may never realize they are anything but typical male or female, or may only find out late in life. One person I’ve read about was a seemingly ordinary middle-aged man with a bunch of kids, who had an abdominal surgery and was found to have a uterus in addition to his full set of male reproductive parts.

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001669.htm
There are a variety of possible intersex conditions, with varying appearances and health considerations, briefly summarized in this article.

If that’s not enough, take a look at the fascinating case of the guevedoces. A few weeks ago I learned about them in an excellent PBS program, Nine Months that Made You. In the Dominican Republic, about one in 90 boys have this condition, which has also been found in Papua New Guinea. They have XY genotypes like “regular” boys, but they lack an enzyme that is needed to develop male genitalia in the womb, so their parents think they are girls and raise them that way. At puberty, they have the usual surge in testosterone and become obviously male all of a sudden. Of course, they were biologically male all along.
http://www.pbs.org/show/9-months-made-you/
http://www.newsweek.com/rare-condition-causes-girls-become-boys-puberty-374934

So are we clear now that external genital configuration does not equal gender? Likely we’re not clear at all and I’m still going to get a big argument from those who insist on a binary world, but in that case, they’re going to have to register their objections with God, because this is the way nature is put together. A religious and/or spiritual viewpoint, it seems to me, would have to say that there must be a good reason for things to be this way. A purely materialist viewpoint would say the same— that nature has shaped human bodies and brains in a dazzlingly diverse variety because it’s been helpful to our survival.

Some might then point out that transgender people are not the same as intersex people, and that most probably have clear male or female genotypes or phenotypes. But there appear to be differences from cisgender folk in those cases too, albeit subtler ones. As far as we can tell, transgender people have brains that function more like the gender they say they are rather than the one indicated by their genital apparatus— though this too is complex and a bit fuzzy.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-something-unique-about-the-transgender-brain/

Here is a link to another useful PBS program.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/growing-up-trans/
What struck me most about it was that the kids decidedly look like the gender they say they are. That’s not a hard scientific fact, but to me, it reinforces the concept that there is a physical basis for being transgender.

I don’t pretend to understand much about these aspects of our biology, nor how they fit with how we become who we become when we enter a new life on this planet, or what choices we have or don’t have about our embodiment. My conjecture is that gender exists as a spectrum so that we can experience every permutation of it, but that’s not fact. What I know for sure is that it makes no sense to tell others how they feel inside themselves— either how they do feel or how they should feel. It’s illogical and it’s just plain mean. And when it’s coupled with a holier-than-thou or more-enlightened-than-thou message, it’s positively sickening.

Now, to the lawsuit filed by the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF. It’s the bathroom thing again, same as the extreme right’s fearmongering, strangely enough. They are insisting that “men” in women’s restrooms are a threat to women’s safety. I’m not going to rehash the reasons why trans women are no threat to cis women in this context (or anywhere else, really). You can find those all over. I’m only going to point out that trans women are not men. In their brains, the part of the human body that matters most, they are women. So denying ordinary human rights to those women cannot be feminism. Not in any way I can recognize it.

The latest post on WoLF’s Facebook page, in reference to the rule allowing kids to use school facilities consistent with their gender, states: “Girls’ rights to personal privacy and freedom from male sexual harassment, forced exposure to male nudity, and voyeurism have been eliminated with the stroke of a pen.” This makes my stomach churn. I am of course not a trans girl trying to navigate high school (which is hard enough for the rest of us), but reading this, I can viscerally relate to what they experience. It is terrifying. To be just a kid and know that others assume you are a sexual predator, when all you want to do is attend PE class and not get beaten up… to be hated and censured by “righteous” people one has never met… it boggles the mind and even more the heart. Imagine being, say, a second grader, too young even to have a concept of voyeurism or anything like it, having no idea why people are saying these terrible things about you.

(Please note that I don’t mean to ignore trans boys.  It’s just that WoLF seems to be targeting trans girls and women specifically.)

WoLF’s lawsuit clearly contradicts two of their main stated goals, and they seem to have no clue that this is the case. The home page of their website says: “WoLF is a radical feminist organization dedicated to the total liberation of women. We fight to end male violence, regain reproductive sovereignty, and ultimately dismantle the gender-caste system.” The total liberation of women has to include ALL women, not just the ones who look a certain way. Dismantling the gender-caste system (a laudable goal) has to mean completely dismantling, so that no gender is discriminated against.

Why should we settle for anything less?

 

It’s a great song:
http://www.altheaknight.com/None-of-us-is-free-if-one-of-us-is-chained
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC2mmeA9CA8

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Not Left or Right but Up: The “Undivine Comedy” and Our Comedy of Errors

In 1833, the young poet and playwright Zygmunt Krasiński penned Nie-Boska Komedia, the “Undivine Comedy,” which is still an icon of Polish literature.  Krasiński was a one-percenter who was acutely aware that things could not go on as they were in his intensely inequitable society. In the play, the fed-up 99%, led by the charismatic but cruel and unbalanced Pankracy, rises against the ruling class. Count Henryk, a character who has much in common with the author, is the central figure on the aristocrats’ side.

An apocalyptic battle ensues, taking place in a Dantesque, fantastical setting that could not be fully realized on a physical stage at the time. Henryk and his cohorts represent a tradition that has fallen away from its noble ideals and become vain and selfish. The revolutionaries are an unsavory rabble who espouse justice and equality, but are willing to destroy everyone and everything in their way. Neither side is worthy to lead the country into the future.

In the end, the revolutionary forces win the battle, Henryk dies, and Pankracy orders the execution of the remaining aristocrats. Suddenly he is overtaken by a brilliant vision of Christ, so brilliant that it paralyzes him and blinds him to all else. In the vision, the clearly displeased Christ is leaning on his cross as if on a sword, and lightning flashes from his crown of thorns. Pankracy cries out “Galileae vicisti!” (“Galilean, you have won!”) and drops dead on the spot. The end.

When I first read a translation, many years ago, I thought it was the most facile, brainless deus ex machina ending anyone could ever have come up with. Krasiński was only 21 at the time, I thought, and he was trying to deal with hopelessly intractable social problems; he must have just thrown up his hands and walked away. I couldn’t get this crazy, surreal story out of my mind, though. Eventually it percolated through my head long enough that Krasiński’s insight got through to me.

You may have figured this out a lot faster than I did. Krasiński was saying that humans cannot mend the injustices in their world through conflict, and that no human point of view is entirely right or deserving of victory. Only a spiritual awakening can bring about the needed transformation, and that can only happen within the individual.

Well. Obviously we are not there yet. It’s going to be a while before enlightenment strikes every human heart.

Krasiński wrote in a time of fundamental dissolution and transition. Poland had been obliterated as a nation by the Russians, and many of his compatriots had emigrated to form a sort of country in exile, rather as has happened with Tibet under Chinese rule. Poland had been in shaky positions before, but now it had officially ceased to exist. It must have seemed as if nothing could ever be normal again. Yet Romantic-period sensibilities included a robust belief that a utopian world could be created (at least on a small scale), along with a willingness to imagine the wildest of possibilities. We are not there, either. We are cynical and disillusioned and far beyond the naivety of the 19th century.

Despite his pessimistic portrayal of Henryk and his followers, Krasiński held to the view that an educated, cultured elite, steeped in old-fashioned values and Christian ideals, would be best suited to run society. He was bitterly opposed to the Tsar’s regime, but also opposed to radicalism and insurgency. He distrusted the disorderly mass of the 99%, preferring at least the possibility of a redeemed 1%.

In this dark moment we have our own kind of Pankracy, an uncouth, uncontrolled pseudo-revolutionary who claims (falsely!) to be an outsider and populist, and who has already succeeded in blowing apart longstanding power structures. On the other side we have an establishment figure who embodies the American version of aristocracy. Those of us who identify with the educated and cultured elite are horrified that anyone would even momentarily choose the former. We are appalled at his utter disregard for civility and for reality itself. Like Krasiński, we would much rather have one of our own in charge, someone with solid intelligence and broad knowledge of the world. But as in his time, hallowed power structures have become calcified and disconnected from the ideals they were originally intended to serve, and we no longer trust those who have found success within them, no matter how competent they show themselves to be.  So we have widespread frustration and discontent.

We find ourselves watching a drama as lurid as anything the Romantics dreamed up, rapt and hypnotized, unable to tear ourselves away. The only path out of this, I think, is not left or right but up. Awakening is the only possible solution to the national nightmare. And it is most difficult to achieve, requiring us to pull the beams from our own eyes when we would rather pay attention to the motes in the eyes of others.

May all our eyes open.

 

Here is a quick overview of Krasiński’s career: http://culture.pl/en/artist/zygmunt-krasinski

 

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Wibbly-Wobbly Sexy-Wexy

don't existA few months ago I wrote a post entitled “Identity and the True Self,” in which I alluded to the concept that none of us truly exists.  The “not existing” referred to in this meme is something else– it’s a deliberate attempt to erase or marginalize someone, in this case someone who identifies as bisexual and thereby makes someone else uncomfortable.

I was halfway through another planned post about being treated as if I don’t exist because my entire profession is considered by some to be nonexistent, to deal in the unreal.  Then it came to my attention that this is Bisexual Awareness Week, and that today, September 23, is “Celebrate Bisexuality Day (often abbreviated CBD), an international awareness day that is also referred to as Bi Visibility Day and Bisexual Pride Day. Three bisexual advocates– Wendy Curry, Michael Page and Gigi Raven Wilbur– conceived of the event as a way to combat bisexual invisibility. CBD, which began in 1999, is celebrated with events around the world celebrating bisexual culture, community and history. In 2013, the White House held its first bisexual community issues roundtable on Celebrate Bisexuality Day.”  http://www.bisexualweek.com/about/

We have a day?  We have a whole week?  We have White House roundtables?  How did I not know this?  Until last year, I didn’t know we had a flag, either.  (It’s what you see behind the words in the meme above.)  I’m honestly not sure why none of this came to my attention, especially since I’m very much interested in gender politics and I follow gay and transgender rights issues assiduously.  Is my ignorance simply my own, or could it be in part a measure of that erasure and invisibility?

What also had not come to my attention until the past year or so was the fact that people who identify as bisexual are often seen as untrustworthy, disease-ridden, greedy, sexually voracious, shallow, unable to commit, confused, actually gay but afraid to say so, actually straight but looking for attention, and/or basically lying cheating creeps.  In addition to not really existing, that is.  We sure have a lot of awful qualities considering that we’re not supposed to exist.

I must admit that I’ve lead a rather sheltered life in some ways.  I’ve been with my husband for 36 years, since I was 19.  I never really was part of the dating market and I am blissfully ignorant of its workings.  I have not been much pursued by members of any gender, and those I would have liked to pursue have tended to run the other way.  So I can’t claim to have a complete picture of what’s going on out there.

I’ve also been extremely lucky in not being given much guff about my 360-degree sexual orientation.  Some guff, but relatively little.  As a teenager, I knew other people who had attractions to both males and females, so I felt, if not normal, not too terribly outré.  My husband has always been fine with me being me.  I haven’t remotely experienced the oppression that a great many people have.  (There was that one woman I had a youthful crush on for years, who, when I told her how I felt, looked at me as if I’d crawled out from under a rock and refused to ever speak to me again.  That was the worst of it.)  The straight world has been pretty gentle to me for the most part.  The gay world has been too, in terms of my interactions with individuals.  I didn’t know that there was a deep prejudice about people like me.  Here’s someone’s take on it, which may or may not reflect what any specific person thinks:

oppressed

Well.  Perhaps people would have had more of a problem with me if I were trying to date them?  Then I’d be rejected by all sides?  I decided to ask some trusted gay friends for their point of view and what they were hearing out in the world.  I’m not going to quote them directly, because I want to preserve their privacy, but what I was told was eye-opening, to say the least.  In one case it was positively vicious.  Even the more compassionate statements concerned why the person would never want to get into a relationship with a bisexual.  I was taken aback.  No wonder a lot of people like me want to use some other label.

If it’s necessary to use a label at all, that is.  I hear that the young whippersnappers increasingly are saying what I’ve always said, that they are interested in the person, not the plumbing, that sexuality is fluid, and that labels are too limiting and they don’t want them.  Maybe at some point all of this distinction-making will seem quaint and outdated, and people will just be who they are and feel how they feel.  That day isn’t quite here yet, but there’s hope.

I do “pass” and that has probably been a benefit to me– a degree of “bisexual privilege” for real.  I’m not trying to pass, though, and don’t particularly want to.  I’m still using the old-school label bisexual, understanding its limits*, because it is what I’ve always called myself, what I’ve known myself to be ever since I was aware of having any sexuality at all.  But now I’m beginning to think of myself as:

wibbly-wobbly

*“Pansexual” might be better but doesn’t feel quite right.  And I haven’t come up with a word for someone who is in love with a person who has been dead since 1849, or who is almost exclusively attracted to musicians, or who thinks pianos are a turn-on.  “Sapiosexual” is a great word and fits me well– someone who is attracted to intelligence.  Mary Oishi expanded this to “sapiocardiosexual”– attracted to a fine brain and a good heart.  Far more important than the organs lower down.


Whovians may very well have a word for those of us who think the Tenth Doctor was seriously hot.  He’s the one who explained that time is not linear, but instead is more like “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.” 

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Identity and the True Self

By Mike Luckovich. http://www.gocomics.com/mikeluckovich/2015/06/02 (I did my best to look into getting permission to use this cartoon, but could not find out how. Go Comics does allow free sharing on Facebook etc., so I hope this is OK.)

 

 

So much has happened in the past couple of weeks! Looking at the news optimistically, despite the horrifying attacks that have occurred, I see tremendous opportunities for healing in the national conversations about race, gender, and sexual orientation. That is, the fact that we’re having the conversations at all is extremely positive.

I usually try not to jump into any of the rings of the media circus. I am way behind the news cycle with this post, because I’ve been cogitating for quite a while about what I want to say. All the headlines lately have to do with identity in one way or another, and that’s my subject today. It’s complicated, as you know, and I’m afraid that someone may come away from reading this feeling insulted or minimized, which is certainly not my intention.

I started on this back at the time earlier in June, which seems like ages ago, when everyone was talking about Caitlynn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal,* and we were endlessly treated to analyses of those two cases of identity change. I don’t normally pay any attention to celebrities-for-celebrity’s-sake; it wasn’t that long ago that someone had to explain to me who Kim Kardashian was, and I wasn’t clear how Jenner was related. (Argus Hamilton quipped that before Dolezal identified as black, she identified as a Kardashian-American.) But there has been some real usefulness in the confusion people have been expressing and in their attempts to work their way through it.

It seems like the group mind has concluded that it’s pretty much OK to change your appearance and who you say you are in order to fit with who you feel you are on the inside, but that it’s not OK to lie. That’s fairly simple. There’s nothing simple about identity, though.

The fact that same-sex marriage is now legal and recognized in all 50 states (Lord, what fun it is to type those words!) is one sign that our view of human identity is more flexible and tolerant than it used to be. The lowering of the army of northern Virginia’s battle flag in some Southern states is another. The burning of African-American churches—six of them in four states in just the past week— following the murders at the church in Charleston is a sobering sign that the opposite is still true.** We have a long, long way to go.

From a biological viewpoint, race is nonexistent, and gender is fuzzy. Each of us contains multiple lines of ancestors and multiple genetic potentials. Why shouldn’t identity be large enough to contain those multitudes? I am so accustomed to switching roles in the course of a day or a week that it’s hard to imagine being limited to existing as any one thing. I wonder if we can or will get to a point where being intentionally multiple will be seen as normal.

In the matter of race, it seems inevitable; there are more and more mixed-race people all the time (all of us are mixed-race, of course, but I mean those for whom it’s an overt identity), so surely everyone will get more and more used to that. Genetic studies have shown how closely everyone on the planet is related, and that fact will most likely become more widely known.

With regard to gender, I wonder what would happen if our concepts of male and female expanded enough that a boy who feels like a girl could be comfortable remaining identified as a boy while expressing feminine aspects without restriction. That is, I wonder if trans people would feel less pain and less need to transition if society got over the idea of gender being binary and opened up the possibilities. But I am fortunate in that my own identity is not painful and is not being forced on me in any way, and I cannot speak for anyone else.

I read an impassioned essay from June 9 by Fr. Robert Barron, who strongly criticized trans people for saying that they are mentally one thing and physically another.+ He wrote that the Church has always seen the material body as good (which doesn’t sound to me like the Catholic Church I was brought up in), with identity being a characteristic of the body and not just the mind. “Moreover, the mind or will is not the ‘true self’ standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self.”

Since I am very much aware of the existence of human beings who are not currently living in bodies, I find this point of view astonishing. I wonder what in form Fr. Barron imagines humans to exist in his version of heaven, where physical bodies must be irrelevant. I don’t mean to say that the mind should be set against the body, but it is clear that the body cannot be the “true self.”

Speaking of a council that was apparently convened in Rome the week before, he said that he was particularly bothered by “the claim that the secret council was calling for a ‘theology of love’ that would supplant the theology of the body proposed by John Paul II.++” Christians espousing a theology of love? Shocking! Certainly no basis in the New Testament. No idea where they could have gotten such stuff.

If I had the chance to converse with Fr. Barron, I might ask him how his body-centered spirituality deals with the fact that the body is always changing and does not have “distinctive form” or “finality.” The many, shall we say, gifts of middle age put this fact in front of me every day. For example, my vocal range has changed enough to cause a new label to be applied to my voice, one that feels like it doesn’t belong to me, and I am trying to gracefully let go of the old one. It would be silly to get overly involved with concepts of having to sound a certain way or having a certain hair color or even being a certain height, because those are going to be different, and sooner rather than later. My mother, at age 90 1/2, has been expressing surprise that her body is changing so quickly and dramatically. My elderly patients and friends often say things like that, but add that they feel exactly the same on the inside as they always did.

On the spiritual level, none of our outer identifiers, the things other people see when they look at us, have any real meaning at all. I don’t have to tell you that body shape, size, color and the like are not who you really are. But let’s go a bit further. Some philosophers say that there is no “real you” at all.

Brian Hubbard, husband of Lynne McTaggart, wrote the book Time-Light, describing his theory that what we think of as our personality is nothing more than an accumulation of experiences we have not sufficiently understood, that stick to us and make us “time-heavy.” He claims that he got over his persistent depression by letting go of the past and returning to a state much like that of a small child.

Brent Phillips, a healer and teacher whose work I encountered a few months ago, is one who insists that the you that manifests in the physical world is only a kind of fictional character— he likes to use Harry Potter as the example. When you look further and further inward, he says, you find that “no one is home.”

I have been very uncomfortable with this concept that there is nothing and no one at the center of a person. Not because I particularly want to cling to my own existence; in fact, I feel empty of it much of the time, as if there is someone talking and doing various things, typing this right now, but “I” am not particularly identified with that being, and even the “I” that is observing its activities does not feel fundamental. The problem is that I, whatever I that means, directly experience a something in a human being, some irreducible spark behind all those characters in their shifting roles. That something exists in animals as well. At the core of all is an awareness. That is what’s home.

A long time ago I heard a talk by the Dalai Lama in which he was asked what the nature of consciousness really is. I remember him saying that it is a “luminous I.” Now I can’t find that quote anywhere, but I’ve found standard Buddhist references to consciousness as being “luminous and knowing.” Consciousness is the thing that illuminates, meaning that it lights its objects so that they can be apprehended, and it is the thing that knows, independent of what is known. At least, that is my best effort at understanding this. And the awareness that is found at the center of everyone is the same awareness that is found at the center of everyone else. This gets tougher to grasp. If one follows along through Phillips’ teachings, it becomes apparent that he too is talking about this universal awareness, not truly saying that there is no one home anywhere.

Universal awareness has found a staggering variety of ways to express itself, and I find that to be a tremendous joy. The “luminous I” is free to manifest as any physical appearance, any set of interests and talents, any gender or sexual orientation. The objective human mind sets limits, but in reality there are none.

 

*For those who have been living on Mars or who may read this in the future when these names have faded into history: Caitlynn Jenner is the name of the person who used to be the Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner before she transitioned. Rachel Dolezal is a white woman who changed her appearance and identified as black, and who led a chapter of the NAACP before she was outed as white by her parents.

**http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2015/06/26/string-of-nighttime-fires-hit-predominately-black-churches-in-four-southern-states/

+http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/bruce-jenner-the-shadow-council-and-st-irenaeus/4785/
Fr. Barron uses Jenner as a reason to attack his real target, Gnosticism, which he trashes viciously, and which he appears to understand poorly, as seen in his use of the term “the Gnostic heresy” at this late date. It seems, also, that he has more of an issue with dualism than with Gnosticism; he conflates the two, and this is misleading. But all that is a subject for another day and probably a very long post.

++ http://www.jp2.info/Theology_of_the_Body.pdf
Here is a summary of Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body.”  I had not heard that term before, but I was all too familiar with his resistance to contraception and to any kind of sex outside of marriage (not to mention an equal role for women within the church).  I always admired John Paul II overall, but he went much further than I realized with these ideas, which seem to me to dismiss and denigrate the body’s biological needs just as Catholicism has done for centuries.  I am deeply saddened by words such as this:  “Therefore, in such a case, the conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love.” “If the procreative aspect of conjugal union is excluded, then that truth of the person and of the act itself is destroyed.”   There is no room at all for those who are anything other than heterosexual and monogamously married, nor even for those of us who have been sterilized for medical reasons or who have undergone hysterectomies!  This does not reflect the reality of nature on this planet.
  And for a celibate old man to suggest that since I had a tubal ligation in my late 20s, in all these years my husband and I have not experienced “an act of love,” is beyond offensive.  I am well and truly ready for a theology of love to replace this one.

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