POLITICAL POEM: Fighting Exclusively

It was his thing
Fighting exclusively
Battles he could win
His crowning I deal
Never finding himself
On-the-cide of losers
Whirled why’d
Naught ails
But win
Filling his sales
Whatever
He could bye
A captain of destiny
In habiting the same owed ship
Where awe is lost
Save hope
For another class

The modern conservative is engaged in man's oldest exercise in moral philosophy: the search for a moral justification for selfishness -- John Kenneth Galbraith POLITICAL BUTTONTake any conservative position on a social or economic issue and boil away all the rhetoric and what you have left is 'I got mine, screw you' -- Justin Rosario POLITICAL BUTTONThis poem is about doing most anything to win, and where pragmatism provides cover for sociopathy.  What one will not do, that sacred “NO”, defines the boundaries and character of one’s ethical system and ultimate values.  Without “no,” there is only sociopathy, boundless amorality.  This is synonymous with “winning is everything.”  The ability to lose, suffering loss, making sacrifices for a greater good, is at the heart of any mature system of values.  This is not saying that suffering is intrinsically good, but some suffering is a necessary part of any process which seeks to trade up to greater goods.   Our capitalistic culture provides easy cover for amorality, a mysterious “invisible hand” that will turn our selfishness, shortsightedness, and greed into durable goods.  This makes nonsense of literally any system of ethics and human values.  Capitalism is a meat-grinder of all that is human and humane.

In our contemporary context, Donald Trump is the consummate example of “winning is everything,” willing to trample anything and anyone to satisfy his rapacious appetite and infantile desires.  I DON'T ALWAYS LIE, BUT WHEN I DO, I AM DRUNK ON POWER POLITICAL BUTTONHis staggering indifference to coherency is perhaps the best testament to his sociopathy and megalomania.  As his collection of infantile desires churn about from crying to be fed by others, being lulled by the prospect of absolute security, and to poop and have others clean it up, momentary contradictions are twittered away.  During his campaign, Donald Trump illustrated well the height of his foolishness by claiming that he would regulate himself when he was president, even though he considered it his sociopathic duty to behave with no self-regulation in his shady business dealings, his defining “success.”  The fact that so many Americans ate up this pablum attests to the worshipful status of the mythical “invisible hand” at the center of capitalism that will magically fix our bad behavior while encouraging bad behavior (sic).

Though it is any easy target to point out Donald Trump’s extraordinary stockpile of character defects, “winning is everything” is essentially a corollary of electoral politics.  Losers don’t govern.  The threat of apparent helplessness induced by electoral defeat is enough for most politically active human beings to habitually subjugate their highest ideals and dreams.  Ideals and dreams are easy prey in the capitalistic meat-grinder of democracy for sale and ensuing plutocracy/oligarchy/kleptocracy.  The nonnegotiable principals of “losers” are better served outside electoral politics where this different class of human (“losers”) can demonstrate the true winds of change needed for equality and justice for all.  Losers, in terms of electoral politics, are simply those whose basic needs and human rights are not met by the governance of the current rulers in power.  The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quote POLITICAL BUTTONThere are a lot of losers!  When the many “losers” unite in solidarity against the fewer privileged elites, the electoral “winners,” justice is expanded.  You may correctly note that in this equation the truest source and force for justice for all resides with the “losers.”  Truth is on the side of the oppressed. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONWhen people with “skin in the game,” whether from involuntary disenfranchisement or in voluntary solidarity, confront those with soothing privilege, truth and justice favor the side off the oppressed.  May all of the “losers” of the world unite!

POEM: Joining That Mystical Union

Having
Evolved
Too keep
Every last won
Of this sophisticated specious
Under opposable thumbs
Like a perch
In a stream of consciousness
Executing my porpoise
The best
I can do
A thwart on the phase of humanity
This avowing
That it is
Just us
And by what means
Can we make a diffidence
Of that a ledge
Too due
Joining the crowded
Signing off
On that
Collective bargain
As wee
All a greed
As far as we reckon
Bunching up
In a scanty throng
Of self-proclaimed wizzes
In the brook of life
Where awe is swill
In our out standing potable potty
In the heat of august
Quenched
Buy the patently falls
That is
Not so
Crappy
Requited in terminally wading
Who gets
The last ward
From what sores then
Only then
Where naught else fallows
To find oneself
In silence
A loan
Yet not feeling solo
In fact
Feeling unrivalled
Caching in
Empyreal cents
Fore that which is
Unfallible
Without rank
Revolting
Caste a side
Even without
Empty congregation
For going
As it is written
Upon stationery
In place of life
Wear awe is won
In a corporeal merger
Of all that is ardor
With all that is light
Enrolled into one
That mystical union
Joining arts
And boundless trades
Uniting awe
In a baptism of matchless flare
Emerging from water
Besting the supposed fin
By no less than two feet
Upright
On wholly ground
Accompanying sound sole
In the rarefied guardin’
Of one constitutional
Heartwarmingly vein to sum
Countless succeeding
With heir to breathe freely
Living in
The hear and now
Beyond what can be herd
No longer weighting
Only to expire
That which is fleeting
Trafficking in exclusion
Flailing to sea
The catch all
Recognizing each
To be won
Of a kind

Here is a poem that plays with themes of the oneness of consciousness, the oneness of humanity, and the merging of the spiritual and physical realms.  Of course, it begins with recognizing the sea of vanity that passes for much of so-called civilized life.  Seeing past this pollution is a necessary precondition to more fully experience life’s ever-present gifts and freely give our unique selves to the world.  This requires mastering letting go more-so than grasping.  Letting go prepares us to receive the perpetual, dare I say eternal, stream of gifts available to us at any given moment.  This process of freely receiving this veritable tsunami of presents is only possible when harmoniously matched with freely giving, letting go, which continues, reflects, and magnifies the true abundance in which we are awash.  The difference between this process and the close-minded, close-hearted clinging and collecting of much of daily life is the difference between heaven and hell — perhaps even heaven and hell!

Giving and receiving is one of the central yin and yang of our lives.  Much of the pain in life can be traced back to the felt need to keep account of all of the giving and receiving that is going on, and then expending precious energy (sometimes called ‘work’) attempting to make sure that the receiving side of our ledger is adequate.  Then, when we have ‘enough,’ we can be gracious on the giving side.  I suspect that how we answer the question with our lives, “how much is enough?” lies at the heart of how well we contribute to our shared humanity and shared reality.  The harmonious yin and yang of giving and taking is often befuddled and turned upside down by a predominant (and ultimately dominating) focus on receiving, aka taking.  This conundrum rests on how we answer the proverbial question of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” — in this case, giving or taking.  As any practiced Taoist would realize, these yin and yang questions are ultimately incomprehensible without a deep appreciation for balance, or, as the Taoist would say, complementariness.  I think this is also why Buddhists are not big on origin or creation stories (‘egg’ stories); what we have at any given moment is much more important than accounting for where it came from.  The Christian contribution to this dialogue is a focus on grace, that any giving on our part is only made possible by something outside our selves gracing us with anything to give.  In the human experience, grace, and the gratitude that evolves from living in it, quite universally leads to more harmonious (happy) living.  Our natural propensity toward accounting cannot escape the balance shit completely!

There Is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the WayAs a devotee of social justice, the problem of the balance sheet often consumes — or at least dominates — any conception of justice.  I prefer to frame justice as harmony and injustice as disharmony.  Both the way and the goal, the means and the ends, is peace (harmony).  As one of my favorite pacifists, and fellow Hope College alumnus, A.J. Muste proclaimed, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  I see the chicken and egg argument about which comes first, peace or justice, as the divide between self and other; that is, injustice is typically described as conditions of disharmony outside one’s self, amongst the human community and our shared reality. The role we contribute to bringing justice into the world is one of bringing harmony.  And as most any human would agree: you can’t give what you don’t have!

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quoteIf you are still convinced that justice is fundamentally a balance sheet then ponder this: how can you possibly experience injustice if you came into the world on no account of your own, experience a measure of life, and return to nothing (or at least certainly not something less than something) — how can you ever be in debt?  The only “debt” that we have is the positive reality that we have been given anything and everything we have.  This is well captured by Alice Walker who declared, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” I see this debt as the foundation for any ethical system, a shared debt owed with each and every human, setting up solidarity as a fundamental shared human reality. This was eminently stated by Albert Schweitzer: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”  Injustice can be viewed as some having more than others (earned/unearned more than others?) but any conception of this is still rooted (and must give just due) in the harmonious relationship between giving and receiving.  The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quoteTaking away, WAY different than receiving, is dishonoring the mystical ying-yang of giving and receiving, in whatever brand of accounting one might ascribe too.  Any thought that re-framing your account of justice as “giving” justice to others might be well served by meditating on your dependable feeling when others want to give you their justice.  While there are immature forms of resisting others actions “for our own good,” I suspect that resisting others taking our account is rightly and justly rooted (a gift of human nature) in the shared and absolute nature of each and every human being’s life as a sheer gift beyond merit.  Fights about whose debt is bigger are probably best resolved by demonstrating the recognition of our own immeasurable debt.  Albert Schweitzer also infamously said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”  Be the Change You Want to See in the World - Gandhi quoteThis is a close cousin to my favorite Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Hopefully, amidst such ponderings you will find this awe difficult to take!

May you join this mystical union, and whatever dues you may pay, may they be well worth it…

POEM: Tracing Humanity

Tracing Humanity

They say that
You can tell
A lot
About a person
By what they do
This, of course, is on track
Still, there is a better weigh
The difference between animals and humans
That which earthly scales can’t fathom
Consider what someone won’t do
To trace their humanity
The difference between can’t and won’t
That sacred space
Where freedom occupies
And character reins
Cryptic secrets contain
Not in the telling
By lyings in the sand
But outlined simply in chalk
After words fly
And beings are grounded
You can judge one’s humanity
By where they stand
And where they won’t

Many folks assert that you are what you do.  This may be correct, but it is not the complete story of who we are.  All ethics and morality implies some restraint of power, refusing to do something that we have the power to do.  If we have no choice in the matter, no power to choose anything differently, then you are no more bound by ethics than a billiard ball.  Certainly there are aspects of our lives that are out of our control and these aspects define us to a certain extent.  In addition, our lives are defined by the choices we make, sculpting a positive manifestation of who we are, an example to others.  However, to fully trace our humanity beyond the motion of molecular physics and merely measuring external behaviors, we need to ascertain that which we will not do.  This will more fully complete the outline of our integrity and character, defining our humanity.  Because ethics and morality imply restraint, there is an irreducible type of rebellion at the heart of spirituality — the refusal to do something simply because one can.  In popular psychology, such limits are called boundaries, and boundaries are considered essential to our well being.  These boundaries, the outlines of our humanity, are marked not by words, but by our very selves, whatever skin we have in the game.  What we are willing to die for fleshes out what we are willing to live for.

Nevertheless, many “heady” folks get lost in the puzzling reality that we must voluntarily limit our freedom, in the face of questionable authority, in defining ourselves.  While capturing the rebellion at the heart of spirituality, many are extremely uncomfortable claiming any authority.  They get lost in a related conundrum: by what authority do we question authority?  I believe that the truth that is contained in this conundrum is that an irreducible amount of faith is present in skepticism.  Faith is unavoidable!  What we choose, and refuse to choose, manifests our faith to the world.  I believe that the uncertainty, or tentativeness, that pervades the human condition, is evidence that remaining open is a fundamental way of of being congruent with reality.  Of course, an irreducible amount of tentativeness need not result in perpetual indecisiveness, just openness.  This openness also speaks to a dynamism in life where we adapt and grow in response to changing conditions — may we not settle for less!

Every great spiritual tradition is aimed at openly moving beyond our self, nurturing that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism, and not settling for a “self” contained logic or worldview.  This process can lead to greater harmony within our own experience and within the world we live in.

When I see people caught up in recursive conundrums, cursing over and over in frustration, I find this perfectly captured by the French word “oubliette,” which is a little place of forgetting, a small, windowless room where someone is locked away, forgotten, left to go mad.  May you not forget to nurture that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism.  Denying that you have any faith is maddening, and the surest route to a room without a view.  Faith is unavoidable; enjoy the view.

Sometimes believing is seeing.  Changing our perspective allows to see more of reality.  Plus, how we view a situation helps form that situation.  Like I used to say to my kids, with the not uncommon reluctance to go to school, “You don’t have to go to school, you get to go to school.”  The same situation with a different attitude changes that situation.  May you find that glorious balance of serenely accepting that which you have no choice about, wholeheartedly jumping into that which you may, and stubbornly resisting that which you cannot take with serenity and a whole heart.

 

How Much is Enough? Enough is Enough

David Sirota writes in In These Times about Embracing Enough.  How much is enough?  I consider this one of the most important questions for humans to answer both for themselves and to work out a reasonable relationship with the other people on this planet.  He writes:

Of all the no-no’s in contemporary America–and there are many–none has proven more taboo than the ancient doctrine of dayenu. Translated from the original Hebrew, the word roughly means “It would have been enough.” The principle is that a certain amount of a finite resource should satisfy even the gluttons among us.

I know, I know–to even mention that notion is jarring in a nation whose consumer, epicurean and economic cultures have been respectively defined by the megastore, the Big Mac and the worship of the billionaire. Considering that, it’s amazing the word “enough” still exists in the American vernacular at all. But exist it does, and more than that–the term’s morality is actually starting to suffuse the highest-profile debates in the public square.

Observers of politics in almost any era, have probably exclaimed, “Enough is enough!”  Politics and power are prone to excess.  Resisting the ability to acquire something when someone has the power to acquire it is perhaps the most difficult human challenge.  In fact, that is the whole business of ethics.  Ethics by its very nature is about restraint, not doing something that we could do.  Thus the concept of “enough” is integral to defining the boundaries of one’s ethics.  I agree with the author of this article that somehow the concept of enough is viewed as anti-American.  This probably goes a long way to explain why many people are critical of America’s behavior, i.e., the immorality of it.  In political discourse, I usually see the term freedom as a code word for overrunning moral boundaries.  Ironically, it is often people of the traditionally conservative bent, who view themselves as particularly moral, that seem to espouse so-called freedom.  On close inspection, you will likely note that when they are espousing freedom, it is typically their own freedom.  This sets up a certain hypocritical aspect of freedom lovers, demanding a change or restraint in behavior in others and expecting that their own desires for freedom be respected.  It is this freedom derived from overblown individualism that eats away at the social fabric.  Certainly, a just balance of freedom requires a just balance of freedom between oneself and others.  Unfortunately, it is all too convenient to demand morality of another in lieu of the difficult task of restraining their own desires and abilities, i.e., behaving morally and ethically ourselves.  Of course, this takes us back to the concept of power.  Perhaps the great privilege of power is the ability to enforce an unjust balance of freedom.  In other words, in having greater power we have a greater ability to act unjustly, immorally, and unethically.  Thus, the truism that with greater power comes greater responsibility, being legitimately held to a higher standard.  Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, having greater power gives a greater ability to enforce a different standard for other people than ourselves.  I suspect this is why politics, the way we deal with power between people, is routinely and authentically observed as hypocritical much of the time.

Ultimately, to be free and moral, we need to define how much is enough.  We cannot outsource this responsibility to the free market.  We cannot blame it on others.  At some point we need to declare, and act in accordance with, enough is enough!

Make Crime Illegal

Make Crime Illegal – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Make Crime Illegal - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Make Crime Illegal – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Political Buttons.

This design plays on the absurdities of logic and the confusion of means and ends.  It makes sense to oppose crime in the vast majority of cases.  This is a reasonable foundation for civilization: the rule of law. Of course, there are notable exceptions, namely, unjust laws and the unjust enforcement of laws that cry out for civil disobedience.  No set of laws, no matter how comprehensive or well-thought-out, can fully capture moral or ethical behavior, let alone enforce it.  With a simple proposition of making crime illegal, a simple tautology, being that which crime is commonly understood to be is,in fact, that which is illegal.  The first of my desired effects with this design is to see the foolishness of applying ever-increasing illegality to address crime.  This could be called the fascist solution.  And I want to speak to anti-fascists solutions.  As alluded to earlier with the case of civil disobedience to disobey an unjust law or an unjust application of law, morality and ethics are not equivalent to legality.  Certainly, there are many actions that are legal that are not moral or ethical.  Similarly, there are actions that are moral or ethical which are illegal.  The ultimate difficulty of enforcing moral or ethical behavior through coercion, i.e., law enforcement, forces us to look beyond brute force or even social norms to gain moral or ethical behavior amongst any group of people.  Gandhi button: Be the change you want to see in the worldThus, like many of my designs, the message poses both an answer that may jar some people’s current thinking, as well as a question, a more difficult question, regarding the nature of right behavior and how to create more of it.  One of my favorite quotes along these lines is from Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”  In the end, law enforcement reaches a natural limit in controlling others through physical force, coercion, violence.  If we want moral and ethical behavior then we need to model moral and ethical behavior.  Like Gandhi proposed, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And as he lived, “My life is my message.”